Thursday, November 17, 2011
In last ten months I have visited over 40 Universities and Colleges in different parts of India to conduct anti-ragging workshops and got to interact with several thousand students and hundreds of faculty members. The experience so far has been enriching and has helped me realize that even after the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in 2007 myths about ragging are still deep-rooted in the minds of the people across the length and breadth of the country.
At the beginning of every workshop, the first question that I ask students and teachers is how many of them think ragging is bad? Within no time almost every hand in the audience goes up. Next question is, is ragging necessary for friendship? There would be complete silence. I have to make the atmosphere light and assure that that I am not doing any investigation and students can express their views freely. Then some hands gradually go up and soon many more get the courage and majority of hands are up. Then I ask third question – how many of you think that mild ragging should be allowed? Since I become little friendly and informal with my audience by now so the answer comes faster and again majority of hands go up condoning mild ragging.
I then try to engage students in a slightly humorous conversation and make them think on what is friendship? How did they make friends in school where there was no ragging? Is friendship a natural phenomenon or it needs a catalyst like ragging? Does ragging happen across the world? During my interaction with the students I have to make sure that I keep their interest alive and bypass their conscious mind to make them listen to me and think on this issue. I then proceed to show the documentary Anarth which has some gory scenes of deaths, suicides and sexual abuses that resulted from ragging. When the documentary ends there is absolute silence for a minute. Students and teachers don’t know how to react as they fail to establish connection between ragging they are familiar with and what they saw in the documentary.
In my last session of the workshop I become a little serious and explain the relation between those gory scenes and the so called ‘friendly’ or mild ragging and that how dangerous this method of inorganic friendship is. In the end, I tell the students about the interest International media has been showing lately in highlighting India’s ragging culture and how it is causing a big embarrassment to the country. With this I finish the workshop and leave onto the students to ponder on the subject. However I know even if I continue visiting colleges for the rest of my life it will never be possible for me to cover 20,000 odd colleges in the country and interact with millions of students and teachers who harbor similar misunderstanding about issues that eventually give birth to ragging.
Today major hurdle in eradicating ragging is the dichotomy that exists in the understanding of this issue. After the Supreme Court guidelines nobody disputes that ragging is bad but interestingly, majority still feels that it is an indispensable tool in making friendship. Both students as well as teachers, think that it is fine to have a mild or toned-down level of ragging and it is only rogues and hooligans who make it nasty and are giving bad name to this traditional method of initiating friendship. When any death or serious incident of ragging is reported, students and teachers perceive it as a different ‘form’ of ragging practiced in ‘notorious’ colleges.
If I have to explain the phenomenon of ragging in the simplest possible way then I would classify different aspects of ragging into three stages, with one stage followed by the other and finally leading to unfortunate consequences.
Stage 1 is the stage of myths and ignorance. As mentioned earlier, people have wrong notions that (a) ragging helps in friendship (b) is practiced across the world (c) helps in personality development (d) mild ragging is good and can be kept under limits (e) ragging is an old practice and we have to keep this tradition alive. These myths sow the seed of ragging.
For some students ragging does give opportunity to interact and make friendship and also provide an informal platform to display their talent if they have, in certain fields, limited to, singing, dancing, acting and mimicry. For these students ragging not only helps in winning friends and becoming popular in college but it also becomes the only mode of entertainment in otherwise dull college life, not offering much extra-curricular activity to students. It is therefore not a surprise to later see these students becoming strong proponents of ragging. However, several others lacking talent in singing and dancing or not comfortable with the idea of forced and speed friendship find ragging humiliating and an invasion on individual’s liberty and choice. Most of these students quietly suffer the agony so as not to jeopardize their career and shatter dreams of their parents. Many such cases gradually fall into the trap of stage 2 and ragging starts taking dangerous turn from there.
Unfortunately, our effort to act at stage one is limited to creating deterrence among raggers. When I visit any college the first thing I notice or drawn attention to by college management is the large number of posters and standies warning students of the consequences if they indulge in ragging. Similarly I regularly see government advertisement in national newspapers warning students not to indulge in ragging. I wonder is deterrence the right antidote to bust myths or is logical reasoning and debate better way to address it?
Stage 2 is when socio-economic complexities that exist in our country start influencing ragging subtly. A slight variant of these complexities could also be found responsible for the problem of bullying in schools. Once the concept of ragging gets legitimacy it becomes impossible to ward off the influence of various prejudices and socio-economic factors from ragging. Soon the so called mild ragging starts getting caste, regional, class, gender, sexual, campus politics, etc color to it. Visit to any professional college can show us how students are divided into groups based on these social, economical and regional identities. These identities decide the nature and severity of ragging and from here ragging starts treading the path that leads to violence and abuse.
Given the enormous diversity we have in our country, stage 2 is the most complicated stage in ragging and very difficult to address or even acknowledge. Currently we don’t have any mechanism in place to deal with stage 2. The only way to get rid of it is to impart school education that inculcates feeling of brotherhood and encourages school children to appreciate diversity in our society and think beyond social identities.
Stage 3 is the final stage of ragging that often makes newspapers’ headlines. Once stage 2 gets out of hand it results in violence, hospitalisation, sexual abuse, physical assault, death and suicide. When these cases are reported in the media there is hue and cry and strong appeal from all corners for stricter laws against ragging. Anger at this point is so high that we want nothing less than death sentence for ragging. However because of our myopic approach our focus gets fixed on stage 3 and we tend to overlook the bigger picture how everything started at stage 1 in the form of small prank for speed-friendship and personality development.
Taking action at stage 3 is too late and doesn’t help much in preventing future incidents of ragging. There is no doubt that due to deterrence created by the government in recent time ragging has come down to some extent however this is also true that the effect of deterrence is reaching its saturation. We must not forget that ragging originates at stage 1 from a set of illogical reasons and therefore perfect prescription to cure this problem is to attack those reasons right at the inception stage of ragging.
Lastly but most importantly, policymakers in education need to revamp the curriculum and method of teaching by infusing critical reasoning and encouraging individual thinking among students to not only spur creativity, innovation and research in the country but also to ensure that irrationalities like ragging are not able to conquer educated minds ever again.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Internship: Associate Program Coordinator
CURE: Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (www.noragging.com) is a non-profit organization dedicated solely towards the elimination of ragging and promotion of more positive ways of interaction among seniors and freshers in Indian universities. CURE is a research, awareness and advocacy body and is run by alumni of IIT, MIT (USA) and those with experience in Planning Commission of the Govt. of India. CURE acted as a consultant body to the Supreme Court-appointed Raghavan Committee, provided research input to the Govt of India and was cited several times in the Raghavan Committee Report. In 2007, CURE launched the first song and video on `Ragging' (www.noragging.com/video) which was featured on MTV, NDTV and Aaj-Tak. CURE has been quoted and featured by leading national and international media including BBC, The Economist, The Washington Post, TIME Magazine etc. You can follow us on facebook by visiting www.facebook.com/noragging for regular updates about ragging.
Associate Program Coordinator: CNA (CURE NoRagging Ambassador) Program
CURE is making the largest network of NoRagging Volunteers across the Country under the branded program of CURE NoRagging Volunteers. These volunteers work as work-from-home volunteers for CURE, help us in creating awareness about CURE and ragging through online and offline channels. They participate in activities such as promoting CURE on facebook, sending awareness emails, distributing fliers, etc.
We are looking for an individual seriously interested in helping us develop and manage this network across the country. The candidate shall work as Associate Program Coordinator, CNA Program. His/her responsibilities shall include:
- Getting sincere individuals to register in the CNA program from across the country
- Provide work allocation, guidance and do proactive follow-up with CNAs.
- Develop innovative ideas for spreading awareness about ragging and implement them through CNA network.
- Provide operational support from head-office whenever required for CNA program.
We plan to hire only 2 individuals, who are very serious, enthusiastic and committed to run this program with us. The position will require minimum 5hrs of work through internet and telephone every week. It can be done from your home/college/dorm. Apart from that two meetings on weekends every month will take place in NCR. More than counting time spent, we are looking for an individual who is passionate about the program and strives to make it successful. We are looking at a minimum commitment of 3 months, though enthusiastic individuals may continue to work beyond that.
Why you should apply:
* If you want to take the challenge of building a pan-India voice for a social cause
* If you want to take the challenge of channelizing the energy of multiple people across the Nation positively
* If you want to make an impact
* Do not apply to us for just a certificate, a mention in your resume or at impulse. We are serious about this
We do not think you should apply to this, if you are doing it just for the money. We understand money is important to all of us and we need to pay if we get some work done by an individual. However we wish that you apply to us only if you are passionate enough about the cause to think of this as *your own work* and not as being done for us. We will provide a token stipend.
How to Apply:
- Your updated resume
- Answer the following questions. Put them in a single well-formatted document with your name
-- Why you want to be Associate Program Coordinator: CNA Program? (250 words)
-- Why do you think you should be chosen for this position? (250 words)
-- Tell us 2 things you have found on CURE's website, facebook page or wall which you think shall be most effective to make people aware about ragging. Why do you think these two things are important? Also point out if you find anything to be completely ineffective!
Your application will be rigorously scrutinized by our team and shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
1.Do you think the incidents of ragging have fallen in 2010? If yes, will you attribute this to presence of a stringent and in a sense a deterrent law or awareness as a result of intense media focus following some cruel incidents?
It is very difficult to say whether incidents of ragging have increased or decreased in any particular year. We keep a track on cases that are reported in English media across India and based on that we compile our annual statistics. Total number depends on how actively media reported incidents of ragging in that particular year. Nevertheless this is a good indicator to understand how rampant and widespread ragging is, its severity, and to study various sociological aspects associated with it. But this doesn’t necessarily give a good trend of annual rise or fall in incidents. However if we compare present situation with what it was 10 years ago then certainly there is a slight decrease in the overall trend. Colleges are a little scared now or are at least forced to show that they are concerned about it. Ten years ago ragging was considered a normal phenomenon, nobody used to talk about it, today it is a social issue.
Yes stringent laws have definitely played a role in reducing the incidents and degree of ragging in recent years. But I think that effect has somewhere reached its saturation as well. Too much focus on deterrence alone and our failure to punish the offenders (colleges and students involved in ragging) is setting a bad example and soon this deterrence would also fade way.
2. Do you feel, incidents are still under reported and the tradition or malaise of ragging is so deeply entrenched that it will need more time and effort to end it from campuses?
Incidents of ragging are highly underreported. We don’t get to hear even a minute fraction of the actual number of incidents taking place- which is for obvious reasons. Ragging is done in an organised manner under extreme secrecy. There is tremendous fear in the minds of freshers in filing complaint. They know that the consequences of compalint could put their career and life at stake and thus prefer to bear the torture. College authorities also try their best to suppress the incidents to save the reputation of the institution. Moreover, ragging has a general acceptance on the campus. People have been seeing this for past several years and thus don’t find anything wrong about it. This acceptance and psychology behind ragging is so strong that victim himself becomes a perpetrator in a short span of twelve months.
Laws have been made and ragging has been banned but the practice is still rampant because the concept continues to exist in the minds of the people. We therefore need a comprehensive awareness and education to change the thinking of the people. We have to engage our students and faculty in debates and seminars on ragging to make them think and understand the insanity behind this concept. Only then we would be able to wipe out ragging. Yes this would be a gradual process and would take time and effort and I don’t see any short cut solution to this problem.
3. You have met and spoken with many heads of institutions in various parts of country, could you summarize the attitudes, impact of no-ragging campaign and their knowledge about ragging in their campuses?
In my interaction with the heads of institutions I have felt that their general attitude is to avoid any discussion or activity related to ragging. Because of the strong laws, it is now a taboo to talk about ragging. On the other hand, college-heads don’t take no-ragging campaign seriously. This attitude is generally shown by heads of government-run and established colleges. They find themselves in safer position and are perhaps not concerned about the Supreme Court guidelines and not worried about getting into trouble in case they fail to check ragging in their institution. Also I have come across principals who condemn ragging in any formal conversation but inside their mind they are ardent supporter of it. But there are also principals, who are genuinely worried about ragging in their institution and make all possible efforts to curb it. I have met some such principals and professors who are sincerely making efforts to prevent ragging. I think we need to highlight their efforts and inspire others by this.
4. Is it true that hostels are places that breed the menace of ragging? Are there any historic, societal or psychological reasons? Is there any program that sensitizes wardens?
Yes hostels are places that mainly breed this menace. In fact worst cases of ragging usually take place inside hostel premises or in paying guest accommodation around campus areas. It is so because ragging inside the four walls of a hostel room provides a general sense of security to seniors. Moreover, students in hostels have strong bonding and are organised in group, which ensures that nobody would raise voice against ragging. Intrestingly freshers are ragged badly in hostels on pretext that this would help in developing bonding with their hostel mates. Also during my visit to colleges across India I saw hostels in deplorable condition. Students don’t get basic amenities in hostels, food served in the mess is of poor quality, there are no facilities for extra-curricular activities for the students and now we have so many new colleges which are situated on highways, far away from main city. I believe all this somewhere does affect the psyche of the students and they then think of seeking entertainment from ragging.
Wardens are aware about ragging in hostels but generally don’t take action because like the freshers they are also scared of the consequences. Raghavan Committee has made several recommendations to improve hostel administration and tackle ragging but those recommendations have not been implemented by colleges.
5. Discrimination is practiced even in ragging, does it reflect social bias and inequality?
Ragging is an excellent example that highlights how deep-rooted the practice of discrimination is even among the educated class of our society. In majority of professional colleges across India, students are discriminated and are ragged on the basis of which region or state of the country they come from or the caste or religion they belong to. Students with characteristics (language, caste, region, religion, economic background, etc) that are in minority in a particular setting are worst victims of ragging. They feel extremely suffocated and low and because of this they are often not able to perform well in studies.
Given the extent of diversity we have in our country, I think it is imperative for us to have school education that inculcates feeling of unity and brotherhood in our youth.
6. What kind of support is offered by your group and how do you plan to take your work forward?
CURE is primarily a research and advocacy group trying to establish public opinion against ragging. We regularly publish research reports, produce audio-visual content and use them to create awareness and educate masses to change the mindset towards ragging. We also conduct seminars and workshops in colleges across India. CURE is soon launching a ‘CURE Ambassador’ programme which would encourage students to take up awareness programme in their college. We are planning to expand our reach and activities to more number of colleges in India. We also do media advocacy and work with the government bodies to bring effective policy change to address this menace.
7. Some people are of the opinion that bullying in schools is the early signs of ragging leadership, have you come across any link?
Bullying is an act of teasing or humiliating someone mainly based on the person’s characteristics such as physical features, accent, ethnicity, religion, ability, gender, economic background, etc. I feel that bullying is a milder form of ragging and it won’t be wrong to say that it is like a seed that germinates into ragging. However we don’t need to go to a school to see bullying. We can experience bullying and find bullies in our daily life. Bullying can happen at home, school, college, workplace, or any other public place.
Bullying is a primitive human behaviour in which you humiliate someone to establish your supremacy. Advance societies look down on bullies. Several countries in the west have made bullying a serious punishable offence. This tendency can be best curbed at young age.
8. Not many people are coming forward to lend support to this campaign, your comment.
There are several reasons behind this. Firstly, people don’t consider ragging as a serious issue and have a tendency to compare it with other bigger problems in the country and find ragging trivial.
Secondly, there is a strange paradox in ragging. Victims of ragging who are expected to join anti-ragging campaign and raise voice themselves become perpetrators and supporters of this menace. I blame the education system of our country for this anomaly. Our education is based on rote-learning rather than on reasoning and discussion. This dull method of education leads to lack of individual thinking and strong thought process in students, and encourages herd-mentality and makes them susceptible to brain washing. It is for this reason that students so easily get influenced by their seniors and never question the illogical reasoning given to justify ragging. Violence and humiliation are so contrary to education. It is shocking to see educated youngsters involved in something which is irrational and gross. Perhaps our model of education is failing to serve the purpose what education is actually meant for.
9. Lastly, could you summarize your personal story that led to your initiation into this cause.
In the year 2000 I qualified 4 All India/State level medical entrance exams and joined MLN Medical College in Alllahabad. For a month, I was ragged so badly that I was left with no other option but to leave the college. Later I pursued government ministries for two years to get transfer to any other medical college that I had qualified. But this never happened. My case was even taken up by NHRC but that too was of no help. It was a rude shock to me as I had never heard of such a phenomenon (ragging) before it actually happened with me. More shocking was the casual response of the people whom I came across during those two years. It was difficult for me to comprehend that something like this exists in our higher education and that most educated people like doctors and engineers are involved in it. I started looking for an organization working on ragging but was disappointed to find nonet. Then one day in July 2002, while surfing internet I came across two students, Varun Aggarwal and Mohit Garg who were running a website and a yahoo group against ragging and we soon joined hands to work for this cause Today after 10 years of journey with CURE when we see activists coming forward to take up this issue, media writing about ragging, movies being made on this issue, court taking serious view of it and society condemning ragging, we feel happy to see this change but at the same time we know that a lot still needs to be done to eradicate this menace from its roots.
Friday, March 18, 2011
interacted with more than 5000 students across India.
A Summary Report of the Tour
Recently, Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), did a month long (from February 7th to March 7th, 2011)nationwide tour to conduct anti-ragging workshops in campuses across India. During this tour, Harsh Agarwal, Co-founder, CURE traveled over 12,000 kms and visited 28 Universities and Colleges in different parts of the country. In this tour he gave 30 presentations and interacted with more than 5,000 students mainly from Engineering and Medical Colleges in 16 districts across India and explained various issues related to ragging. Each presentation was of one hour duration in which a 23 min long documentary (Anarth in the name of education) on ragging was screened along with series of interaction with the students.
Places visited during the tour are: Nagpur, Nasik, Pune, Surathkal, Mangalore, Trivandrum, Chennai, Bangarapet, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Anakapalle, Visakhpatnam, Kolkata, Shibpur, 24 Parganas (South), Kanchrapara and Kalyani.
Following are some analysis on ragging based on the experiences and observation from this tour:
(i) Before setting out for the tour CURE wrote to more than 100 Universities and 700 Colleges regarding this tour and sought approval for conducting anti-ragging workshop but received less than 10 responses.
Most Universities and Colleges are still in denial and hesitate to openly talk about ragging and are afraid that by conducting such workshop they would invite controversy and bad name to their institution. When such institutions were approached personally, most of them made various excuses to avoid such activity. Most interesting response was from a Vice Chancellor of a prestigious University in Karnataka who wrote that there is no ragging in the University and in fact by conducting such seminar students would get involved in ragging.
(ii) On interactions with college heads over e-mails, phone and personally, it was felt that Government Colleges were more non-serious and evasive on the issue of ragging as compared to private ones. Among private colleges non-seriousness was more from old and established colleges and ones that have achieved Deemed University status.
Heads of Government and established private colleges perhaps find themselves in comparitively safer positions and are not concerned about the Supreme Court guidelines and not worried about getting into trouble in case they fail to check ragging in their institution. Staraight forward reply given by them is that University/College has taken all preventive steps, there is no ragging in the institution and there is huge acedemic pressure thus no need and time for the workshop.
(iii) Regionalism plays a significant role in ragging. Students are discriminated and are ragged on the basis of which region or state of the country they come from. Students who are in minority in any region or state would have to get ragged by the senior students of the same region to gain acceptance in the respective regional group to feel safe and protected in the college. When these freshers become senior they have to follow the tradition and rag their juniors from their state to show loyalty to the group. Lot of students said that they dislike ragging but have to get involved in it due to peer pressure.
Students with characteristics (language, caste, region, religion, economic background, etc) that are in minority in a particular setting are worst victims of ragging. They feel extremely suffocated and low and wanted to speak privately after the presentation.
(iv) Though ragging is rampant across India and people have strong opinion supporting it however discussion and debate on this subject is a taboo in colleges. College Heads, Faculty and Students don’t want to talk much on this issue.
(v) During interaction with the students it was found that they have several misunderstandings about ragging. They think that ragging is practiced across the world, it helps in their personality development, helps them to become strong and face difficult circumstances in life, it helps in bonding between the students and that ragging to some limit should be allowed. Understanding on this issue is so poor that in several colleges students talked about the racial attacks on Indian students in Australia as ragging in Australia. Lot of students said that ragging is a sort of fun, an easy way to become popular among girls and also to get elected in the Student’s Union.
There is also an unnecessary apprehension among students. They feel that without ragging they would never be able to interact with anyone. They think that the kind of ragging they are involved in is ‘safe and friendly’. It was seen that Girls were far more logical and sensitive on the issue of ragging. It was easier to convince and explain the irrationalities behind ragging to girls than to boys.
Even some College Heads and Faculty, though spoke cautiously but expressed that ragging has various positive effects as well. Like the students, they also quite strongly believed in various misunderstanding associated with ragging.
(vi) Colleges feel that putting up anti-ragging posters on campus and taking affidavit from the students would make their institution ragging-free. Colleges still don’t understand the importance of awareness workshops and the need of conducting debate and discussion on ragging on regular basis. Focus of the colleges is to prevent ragging by deterrence alone. It seemed that there is very little emphasis at college level on changing the mindset of the students.
Since, students as well as faculty have strong opinion supporting ragging. Punishment alone would not work in this situation. A comprehensive awareness to systematically address these misunderstandings is imperative to eradicate the menace of ragging.
(vii) Also came across some Professors and College Heads who were extremely sensitive and serious about the issue of ragging. They have been making all possible effort to prevent ragging in their college for past several years. Two such excellent examples are Prof. S N Murthy of NIT Surathkal and Dr. Sandhya Avadhany, Vice Dean of St. John Medical College in Bangalore who are extremely dedicated to this cause.
(viii) A lot can also be said and analysed about the education system and the state of higher education institutions – infrastructure, remote location, hostel, food, strict restriction on interaction between girls and boys, lack of avenues for extra-curricular and recreational activities, etc - in the country. Education is heavily based on rote learning rather than involving reasoning and discussion thus making it dull and mechanical and making students vulnerable to brainwashing. These could perhaps be the reasons behind problems like ragging, campus violence, eve teasing, poor innovation, research and academic standard, etc.
Bigger picture that emerged from this tour was that Ragging is not just a problem in itself but more importantly a symptom indicating serious problems and gaps in the higher education system of our country.
(From July 2009 – June 2010, 164 cases of ragging have been reported in English media. There have been 19 deaths and 56 students have been hospitalised due to ragging during this period)
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