Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ragging - An insane practice in Higher Education

(Interview of Harsh Agarwal by an education magazine)

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.

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