Ragging is the term used for the so-called “initiation ritual” practiced in higher education institutions in South Asian countries, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The practise is similar to hazing in North America, bizutage in France, praxe in Portugal, and other similar practices in educational institutions across the world. Ragging involves abuse, humiliation, or harassment of new entrants or junior students by the senior students. It often takes a malignant form wherein the newcomers may be subjected to psychological or physical torture. In 2009, the University Grants Commission of India imposed regulations upon Indian universities to help curb ragging and launched a toll-free ‘anti-ragging helpline’.
Ragging is a subset of bullying. Unlike various complex forms of bullying, ragging is easily recognisable.
Several highly reputed Indian colleges, especially medical ones have a history of ragging. Sometimes it is even considered to be a college tradition. It has become increasingly unpopular due to several complaints of serious injury to the victims and stringent laws pertaining to ragging. Ragging is now defined as an act that violates or is perceived to violate an individual student’s dignity.
Following Supreme Court orders, a National Anti-Ragging Helpline was launched by the Indian government.
A high-level committee in 2009, which probed the death of Aman Kachroo, revealed that alcohol was the main reason leading to serious forms. of ragging and violence in the campus.
A report from 2007 highlights 42 instances of physical injury, and reports on ten deaths purportedly the result of ragging. Ragging has reportedly caused at least 30 deaths in the last seven years. In 2007, approximately seven ragging deaths were reported. In addition, a number of freshmen were severely traumatised to the extent that they were admitted to mental institutions.
Ragging in India commonly involves serious abuses and clear violations of human rights. Often media reports and others unearth that it goes on, in many institutions, in the infamous Abu Ghraib style, and on innocent victims.
However, the Anti-Ragging NGO Society Against Violence in Education (SAVE) has supported that ragging is also widely and dangerously prevalent in engineering and other institutions, mainly in the hostels.
Anti-Ragging Helpline and anonymous complaints
Following a Supreme Court order, a National Anti-Ragging Helpline was created to help the victims and take action in cases of ragging, by informing the head of the institution and the local police authorities of the ragging complaint from the college. The main feature of the helpline is that the complaints can be registered anonymously.
India’s National Anti-Ragging Helpline started working in June 2009 to help students in distress due to ragging. It can be reached through email and a 24-hour toll-free number. Provision for anonymous complaints was considered of utmost importance at the time of establishment of the helpline, since the victim after making the complaint remains with or close to the culprits, away from a fully secure environment. Since many ragging deaths, like Aman Kachroo, occurred due to seniors taking revenge for the complaint made, anonymous complaints were equally allowed at the helpline.
As per UGC regulations, it is mandatory for a college to register an F.I.R.with police against the culprits if any violence, physical abuse, sexual harassment, confinement etc. takes place with any fresher. After receiving any such complaint from the helpline, it becomes the duty of the head of the institution to register the F.I.R. with police within 24 hours. In 2013, a police case was registered against the director, dean and registrar of a reputed college in Delhi for, among other charges, not informing the police and registering F.I.R. within 24 hours of receiving the ragging complaint.
The database of the Anti-Ragging Helpline indicates that it has been to an extent successful in ensuring a safer environment in colleges from where it registered the complaints. In many cases, it forwarded the complaint to the University Grants Commission (UGC) for an action against those colleges which refused to take any action against the culprits.
Central Government and Supreme Court Legislation
The Indian Supreme Court has taken a strong stand to prevent ragging. In 2006, the court directed the H.R.D. Ministry of the Govt. of India to form a panel which will suggest guidelines to control ragging.
The Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), following a directive by the Supreme Court, appointed a seven-member panel headed by former CBI director Dr. R. K. Raghavan recommended anti-ragging measures. The Raghavan Committee report, submitted to the court in May 2007, includes a proposal to include ragging as a special section under the Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Court of India interim order dated 16 May 2007 makes it obligatory for academic institutions to file official First Information Reports with the police in any instance of a complaint of ragging. This would ensure that all cases would be formally investigated under the criminal justice system, and not by the academic institutions’ own ad-hoc bodies.
Welcoming the Supreme Court’s judgment on ragging, Dr. Raghavan said, “there are finally signs that the recommendations to prevent ragging in colleges will be taken seriously”.
In 2007, the Supreme Court directed that all the higher educational institutions should include information about all the ragging incidents in their brochures/prospectus of admission.
Anti-ragging movement in India
With the situation of ragging worsening yearly, there is emerging a spontaneous anti-ragging movement in India. Several voluntary organisations have emerged, who conduct drives for public awareness and arrange for support to victims.
Online groups like Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), Stopragging, No Ragging Foundation became the major anti-ragging groups on the Internet. Among them, the No Ragging Foundation has transformed into a complete NGO and got registered as Society Against Violence in Education (SAVE) which is India’s first registered anti-ragging nonprofit organisation (NGO).
The Indian media has exposed ragging incidents and the indifference of many concerned institutions towards curbing the act. The Supreme Court of India has directed, in its interim judgement, that action may be taken against negligent institutions.
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