Teasing, bullying and the need to control… no mild ragging this...

It was the first day at college, and among the first things Radhika Gurumoorthy remembered to do was, ‘stay in a group.’ “We have been assured by the college management that there is no ragging on the campus, but I was a bit nervous,” says the computer science student at a private college in Chennai. Days passed, and Radhika and her friends learnt to be comfortable.

“Senior girls came and told us we need to address them as ‘madams’. Then one day, we were asked to wear ribbons. That is it, it was very mild,” says Radhika.

Freshers's week

“As long as it is just breaking the ice, it is all right,’’ says a professor in Radhika’s college, about ragging. “ In many colleges, in and near Chennai, interaction between seniors and juniors is strictly prohibited. We don’t want to be a campus like that,” he adds. Other colleges celebrate a freshers’ week every September. The I-year students wear clothes with ‘checks,’ and socks and shoes to college.

“The theme changes every year. It is fun,” says a senior student. By definition, ragging means acts of teasing, taunting, playing a practical joke upon someone or holding comic parades and other activities during a certain period of a college term — traditional and systematic way of behaving with junior students practised by seniors.

But often it is seen that while physical abuse gets highlighted, psychological harassment resulting from verbal forms of abuse often go unnoticed. “It is part of culture here. There is no harm inflicted on anyone. It is a tradition, we have games, competitions. This is how you get to know your seniors you depend on later,” says a student at IIT Madras.

There is not much juniors can do here, because senior students think they have the right to rag, explain G. Gajendran, a I-year mechanical engineering student in Avadi. Students think seniors who rag them will help them later and many feel that they get to know their seniors only because they were ragged, which ensures the legacy of ragging.

What they forget, explains counsellor Tara Sharon, that every student has a different level of emotional sensitivity. While asking someone to sing or dance may be dismissed as friendly ragging by many, it can have a lasting impact on some, she says.

SC order

In 2007 the Supreme Court passed an interim order based on the recommendations of the R.K. Raghavan commitee, set-up by the Ministry for Human Resource Development, according to which it is obligatory for academic institutions to file a First Information Report (FIR) with the police in any instance of a compliant of ragging. This, it said, would ensure that all cases would be formally investigated under the criminal justice system, and not by the academic institution’s own ad hoc body.

Ragging in all its forms is totally banned in institutions, whether done within the campus or outside. The institution must take strict action against defaulters and the police should be informed, says Mr. Raghavan

Harmless?

“Gone are the days when ragging was restricted to ‘so-called’ mild form of introduction. Ragging is violating the fundamental rights. Accepting milder forms of ragging is like giving impetus to the more harmful kinds,” says Ms Sharon. Attempts to defend it like, “it is all harmless and in good fun,” “no one really minds it,” “it helps one to grow up,” and so on, try to conceal the trauma experienced by the victim, she adds.

The student community has a differing take on this. Lavanya Jairaj, a law student, says, “As long as ragging merely involves teasing of a mild kind, it is all right, but if seniors resort to violent forms, it is bad and dangerous.” A mild form of ragging, as in the seniors quizzing the juniors or playing little tricks on them is not bad; it only helps in building a better rapport, she adds.

Not always, and not for everyone. Linisha, who joined SRM University, after she dropped out of a dental college in Bangalore, says, “My seniors there asked to recite a poem again and again, knowing that I stammer. I didn’t go to college after that and came back home. There is no mild ragging and it may even result in bitter memories of college life,” she adds.