Sometimes it is existent, like an inconspicuous needle in a hay stack, sometimes like an ostentatious parade of unity. For decades, if not centuries, this phenomenon, pervasive to say the least, has managed to veil itself in an imperceptible cloak of self deniability. It’s been one of the few practices of man (or to keep the feminist at bay, mankind) that has been able to survive the test of time without having any complaisant reasoning to substantiate it. A vast majority of today’s Indian society perceives it as an occurrence which must be eradicated under all circumstances. However, a seemingly equal majority, surprisingly, extends a silent but steady support to this one-of-a-kind tradition which, more commonly, goes by the name of ragging in our Subcontinent.
So what is the precise meaning of this term which is oft used so unwittingly? Or a more relevant question, in the present scenario, would be-What exactly is ragging perceived to be? Is it a ritual firmly rooted in the belief system of students and a reflection of a deeper malaise plaguing the society? Or is it a term being misused and more often than not, being clubbed with villainous criminal activities? Is it a euphemism being used to shield hideous, condemnable acts taking place on college campuses? Or is it one of those propitious, if not amiable, platforms for healthy interaction with the college seniors? The argument is certainly not, by any means, an easy one and its numerous dimensions, of varying complexities, has made it even more necessary to warrant it a profound deliberation.
“What’s happening today is not ragging. Let’s not get our terminologies wrong here. It’s sadism. It’s gross sexual harassment. And nobody is saying that this is correct. However, we are creating confusion here by terming it as ragging.” says Mr. Jug Suraiya, Associate Editor, The Times of India.
It’s a sentiment that is being resonated by a considerable section of the youth today. Bringing reprehensible acts of iniquities under the ambit of ragging is, it seems, undervaluing the heinousness of the crime. And at the same time, it is generating a grey area of legitimacy where even a mild ragging offence is being dealt with in an over-stringent manner. Preetam Kumar, General Secretary, Azad Hall of Residence is echoing a similar predilection.
”There should definitely be a blanket ban on ragging. However, authorities are, I feel, putting a clamp on everything under the pretext of ragging. We try to bring out the talent in the students of our hall by advising them on a number of things which help them in pursuing their interests. However, the current atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty has discouraged a lot of seniors to even talk to juniors. They are not even ready to come near them fearing action. This will, I fear, permanently increase the distance between consecutive batches and destroy our age-old hall tradition where students of all batches used to live, like a family, in perfect harmony.”
The law, howbeit, does not appear to be making a distinction between the barbaric incidents which have, to be honest, quite annoyingly managed to repeat themselves, and certain acts which a lot of us like to term as ‘mild ragging’. This leads us to another thought-provoking question-Is there such a thing called harmless ragging? It’s, according to many, a tradition which has been around for several centuries. A tradition which helps in forming closer everlasting bonds and in turn, providing a congenial, family-like environment especially in colleges having on campus accommodation. More importantly, says Preetam Kumar, it assists in personality development of the students making them more adept in handling the outside world. Are these strongly embedded notions a mirror of the ground reality? Or are they just judgmental speculations being passed off as fair play? Dr. R K Raghavan, Chairman, Anti-Ragging Monitoring Committee and former director, CBI, is quite clear about his views. “It’s like trying to make a distinction between good Taliban and bad Taliban. The Supreme Court has quite categorically defined ragging (see box) and its implications. The menace has to come to a complete stop.”
Social tolerance for ragging has, in a way, blinded us to the unfolding reality of today. The spike in the number of incidents, nationally, seems to create the impression that harmless ragging, inevitably, will lead to its more lethal form. “There will always be one or two students who would derive sadistic pleasures by torturing their juniors. There’s no way to ensure that these things will not happen unless a ban, in an absolute sense, is imposed.” says Professor Kanchan Chowdhury, Head, Cryogenic Centre. It’s uncanny to witness the number of silent heads which nod in unison when confronted with the question if a total ban is crucial to prevent those sporadic yet fatal incidents arising out of this phenomenon.
The seat of judgment has spoken and spoken in clear terms. The laws may have become astringent and from a moral perspective, a little unjustified. For some, the laws might be seen as tyrannical which is cruelly infringing upon their personal space. However, this should give us all the more reason to proceed with caution and restraint. The administration needs to recognize the fact that they will also be held accountable if they fail in implementing proper safeguards and preventive measures. Seniors will have to accept the fact that a case of ragging, mildest to the slightest degree in their calculations, can bring about a punishment (see chart) they had never asked for. The fear expressed by a lot of alumni and seniors alike, is that a tradition which they like to term as harmless, is becoming extinct in the present circumstances. Well, traditions (good or bad) have to be shown the door when they begin to carry an excess of unwanted baggage. Besides, it would be a somber, harsh and premature obituary of the visions of the founding fathers’ of our nation if we, as a civilized and developing society, are not able to come up with a better, friendlier and more cultured alternative.