Needed practical steps to prevent ragging in colleges

Ragging in institutions of high learning, going by media reports, appears to have reared its ugly head again, this time claiming many innocent lives. It is a fact that many cases go unreported while extreme cases like suicide and attempts to suicide only come to light.

Most of the cases are suppressed within the campuses for the fear of getting adverse publicity for the college or the institution. It is also well-established that the extreme cases of harassment by senior students tormenting the juniors in the name of ragging is rampant more in professional colleges like engineering, medical, architecture and management colleges than other institutions. Even among such colleges, the ones, where high capitation fee is collected are said to be the sanctuaries for such ragging practices.

It was N Sanjeeva Reddy, former President of India who in the 1970s made a fervent appeal to see that the evil practice of ragging came to an end in the educational institutions in the country. But unfortunately, no one at the political level cared to take his well meaning message forward so as to end this inhuman practice. This social evil not only continues, but has been gaining greater momentum year after year unabated. As ragging is perpetuated by seniors on juniors, the victims, when they are seniors, feel it is their turn to follow their predecessors with greater innovative intensity. This vicious syndrome continues with no end at sight.

The numerous surveys conducted at various times have suggested that ragging is not a general phenomenon. Such incidents are highly localised and limited to few elite institutions where vested interests try to hush up cases of ragging with the fear that marketability of those institutions will be at stake. It is shocking to know that in some cases, the staff and management of few colleges criminally collude with the perpetrators.

It is not as though there have been no efforts on the part of the  governments  to combat this scourge of ragging. There are several legislations prohibiting ragging in several states. These Acts prescribe stringent punishment ranging from imprisonment for six months to life term and fines ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 50,000 depending on the nature of crime like teasing, embarrassing, humiliating, assaulting, criminally intimidating or causing hurt or unnatural offences, abetting suicide etc. 

These Acts also direct the colleges to circulate brochures, put up posters, secure declarations from seniors and organise meetings between the various sections
of the students. Some states have also Council for Higher Education to direct the universities to help address such maladies. Some universities have gone a step further and decided to install CCTV cameras at all vital points on the campuses. Surprise inspections in all affiliated colleges are also suggested. But sadly, these measures have their own loopholes which defeat the very purpose for which they are intended.

The Acts will be of no avail if they are not properly invoked and faithfully implemented. With no effective coordination between the State Councils of higher education and the universities in the states, the existence of such bodies to check menace of ragging have only remained on paper.

In every state, on an average, 20-25 cases pertaining to ragging are reported every year. Barring a few minor offences, they are mostly tormenting acts, leading in some cases even to suicide. The latest incident in Guntur that hogged the limelight of the entire nation  was that of a 19 year old, first year student of architecture  Rithikeshwari at the Acharya Nagarjuna University who committed suicide in after being ragged by her seniors. Her death has forced the government of Andhra Pradesh to draft an anti-ragging legislation on the lines of the Nirbhaya Act.

Preventive steps 

Ragging has to be tackled more by taking preventive steps and by changing the mind set of the students than by stringent legislations to punish post facto. The delay in conducting the fresher’s day at the beginning of every academic year is said to be one of the potential causes for ragging. 

Absence of regular vice-chancellors for  long durations in the universities which has become order of the day, is another major cause for the malady as students feel the absence of any surveillance. Such  avoidable lacunae could be attended by the authorities the with no further delays.

Besides, every college, university or institution should have a plan of action to  effectively check ragging. In this, the practices at some of the Central universities is worth recounting. Each department in   many  Central universities has the system of appointing one or two of its faculty as   student-counsellors who keep a watch over the potential raggers among the seniors.  The counselling has been effective with telling results.

Another innovative step the Central  universities have initiated and follow  till date is involving of seniors in the process of settling the juniors on the campus. The seniors attend to the needs of the juniors  right from the time they step in to the campus on admission. The seniors take them to the concerned counters to attend to all routine matters like filling up the challans,  help seek hostel admission, show them the canteen, class rooms or library; and  attend to every other errand. 

The new entrants are thus literally rehabilitated by the seniors. This process  helps all of them creating an ice-breaking session and enables the freshers to interact with their seniors in the most healthy and informal manner from day one itself. Such practices, if emulated,  may be of immense use for the universities and colleges to keep ragging at bay.

(The writer is retired professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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