Ragging no fun, it’s a crime

Sh. Joginder Singh
(Former Director – C.B.I.)

The biggest problem in dealing with any issue in our country is that we do not take preventive action before it becomes a crisis. Case in point: The menace of ragging. The Supreme Court has defined ragging as any disorderly conduct through words spoken, written or by any act which has the effect of teasing an individual. This includes handling with rudeness any student, or indulging in rowdy or indisciplined activity, which causes or is likely to cause annoyance or psychologically harm or raises fear thereof in a fresher or a junior student, or asking the student to do any act or perform something, which such a student will not do in the ordinary course.

The magnitude of the problem of ragging has become enormous. Neither the Government nor our educationists have paid any attention to eliminating this menace, though the Supreme Court had banned ragging in 2001. According to an NGO dealing with the problem, on an average nine teenagers are killed every year in ragging related incidents. Hundreds others get seriously injured or hospitalised. A study has revealed that sexual and physical abuse have become rampant in our colleges, and the students guilty of the same disguise it as ragging.

The Raghavan Committee report released in 2007 revealed that the menace of ragging had assumed alarming proportions, as many new students who join educational institutions in the beginning of the academic year are subjected to torture, extortion and harassment by senior students with a criminal bent of mind. It also uncovered that medical colleges in the country are the worst affected by this menace. However, despite the Supreme Court directive to colleges to curb incidents of ragging, the situation hasn’t improved, as was exemplified by the recent incident in which a medical student in Himachal Pradesh died after a brutal ragging session by his seniors. This was followed by the report of another incident in which a girl in Andhra Pradesh attempted suicide after she was ragged by her hostel mates.

In an analysis conducted of 64 ragging complaints, it was found that over 60 per cent of them involved physical abuse and 20 per cent were sexually abusive in nature. An engineering student who was interviewed for the study revealed that in ragging sessions they were made to do everything from washing utensils to dancing nude. Nobody dared to register a complaint as this would lead to trouble for them. Quite frequently, many students drop out of colleges due to severe ragging. Nothing could be a greater shame.

Ragging in educational institutions has crossed all limits. The Supreme Court’s 2001 order based on the Unnikrishnan Committee report said that it is the responsibility of college principals and directors to check ragging. In its ruling of May 2007 the apex court had also laid down that, “The punishment to be meted out (to those responsible for ragging)” had to be “exemplary and justifiably harsh to act as a deterrent against recurrence of such incidents”.

The order had also made it binding that in every incident of ragging that came to light, a First Information Report had to be filed without exception by the institutional authorities with the local police. Any failure or delay on part of the institution to lodge an FIR was to be construed as an act of culpable negligence. If any victim of ragging or his or her parent/guardian intended to file an FIR directly with the police, it did not absolve the institution from the requirement of filing an FIR of its own. Courts all over the country were directed to ensure that cases involving ragging are taken up on a priority basis to send out the message that ragging is not only to be discouraged but also to be dealt with sternness. Another direction by the Supreme Court said, “In the prospectus to be issued for admission by educational institutions, it shall be clearly stipulated that in case the applicant for admission is found to have indulged in ragging in the past or if it is noticed later that he has indulged in ragging, admission may be refused or he shall be expelled from the educational institution.”

The Central Government and the State Governments were also supposed to launch a programme highlighting the menace of ragging and the consequences of the same in case any student was found guilty of this practice.

Anti-ragging committees and squads were also to be formed by educational institutions to check ragging.
However, the reality is that the orders of the Supreme Court were never seriously implemented till the recent death of the medical student in Himachal Pradesh. Days after the incident, the University Grants Commission woke up and decided to replace its two-decade-old guidelines on ragging with stringent legally enforceable regulations. Expected to be in place in the next academic session, these include punishing institutions for failing to check ragging and awarding incentives to those who create a positive environment for new students. The earlier UGC guidelines were essentially advisory. Now they have been made legally enforceable regulations. Nonetheless, it is a matter of disgrace that we as a nation woke up only after ragging claimed an innocent life.

To fine tune these guidelines the UGC will consult all regulatory bodies, including the All-India Council for Technical Education, National Council for Teachers’ Education, and the Medical Council of India. The Medical Council of India, in particular, does not have any mechanism by which it can inspect all 289 medical colleges in the country, ensure that each student admitted furnish a character certificate from the institution he or she qualified from, ensure the presence of professional counsellors for freshers, have a gap of one to two weeks between freshers and seniors starting a new academic year, or have a mandatory anti-ragging committee.

Ragging and bullying in educational institutions will continue unless it is dealt with a heavy hand. And it is primarily the educational institutions that have to take up the responsibility of eliminating the menace. The police can only come into the scene after a crime has been committed and not before. Thus, what is required is strict preventive action on part of all stakeholders.