Friday, March 18, 2011

CURE’s Month-Long Nationwide Anti-Ragging Tour

Traveled over 12,000 kms, visited 28 Universities and Colleges and

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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