Ragging is a disturbing reality in the higher education system of our country. Despite the fact that over the years ragging has claimed hundreds of innocent lives and has ruined careers of thousands of bright students, the practice is still perceived by many as a way of ‘familiarization’ and an ‘initiation into the real world’ for young college-going students. By rough estimates, from reports in the English media alone, there are more than 10 deaths, 40-50 cases of serious injuries leading to hospitalization and several cases of rioting in colleges due to ragging every year.
It is not unreasonable, given the extent of denial and subterfuge, to think that this figure is just the tip of an iceberg and the number of unreported incidents and serious consequences from ragging are likely to be much higher.
Despite the government’s ban on ragging since the late 1970s and two subsequent interventions by the Supreme Court (1999 and 2006) issuing guidelines to eradicate ragging, it is still found that a significant section of stakeholders continue to support ragging and justify it by dividing the act into severe and mild, with the latter, in their argument, being benign in nature. Indeed, some believe that ragging is a rite of passage that helps young people to grow up and prepare for the harsh world outside. Disturbingly, people in positions of responsibility to understand and implement anti-ragging policy and guidelines are often ambivalent in their beliefs, and therefore, approach.
Although it has been more than three decades since we recognized ragging to be an entrenched problem causing profound damage in our institutions of higher learning and have been looking for viable solutions through this time, it continues to make news at worryingly regular intervals. It makes one question our understanding of this phenomenon, particularly in the context of the deeper psychological and sociological determinants that eventually manifest as ragging behaviours.
The Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), an NGO working against ragging, has been monitoring the incidents of ragging reported in the media and highlights the current trend of ragging in the country through its annual status report. According to CURE’s reports and that compiled by the research team, a total of 717 cases of ragging were reported in the English print media across the country from January 2007 to September 2013. The highest number of incidents was reported from Uttar Pradesh (97), Andhra Pradesh (75), West Bengal (73), Tamil Nadu (54), Kerala (48), Madhya Pradesh (48), Maharashtra (42), and Punjab (35). A total of 71 deaths due to ragging was reported in that period with Andhra Pradesh (11), Tamil Nadu (8), Maharashtra (8), Uttar Pradesh (7), Karnataka (6) and West Bengal (6) registering the maximum deaths due to ragging.
Table 1: Ragging cases reported in select English media between 2007 and 2013
|Year||Reported Incidents||Deaths||Attempted suicides|
|2013 (Till September)||59||8||0|
During this period, there were 199 cases of ragging that led to major and minor injuries to students, including 81 incidents leading to hospitalization and causing permanent disability. A total of 128 cases reportedly involved sexual abuse of freshers. Furthermore, 129 cases of ragging led to serious group clashes, protests, strikes and violence between students. Drugs and alcohol abuse, and forced smoking was noted in 35 cases while 25 cases involved caste, region or religion as determining factors.
Table 2: Reported incidents of ragging disaggregated by nature
|Cases leading to injury||199|
|Cases involving sexual abuse||128|
|Cases leading to group violence and disturbance||129|
|Cases involving drug abuse, alcohol and smoking||35|
|Cases involving caste, religion and regionalism||25|
Analysis of media reports indicates high percentages of incidents from Engineering and Medical Colleges with a total of 314 cases (44 per cent of total cases). Hostels and paying guest accommodation for students seem to be the breeding ground for ragging as 358 cases (50 per cent of total cases) were reported from residential places located in and around the campus area.
Clearly, ragging is a serious problem that continues despite efforts to curb it. The data above is probably only the tip of the iceberg based as it is on media reports that tend to focus on extreme instances. It does reveal the perversity in practices associated with ragging as well as the involvement of social factors like caste and region. However, it does not reveal the true extent of ragging nor the variety of ragging practices that characterises the phenomenon at large.
Interventions made in the last four decades
It was in the late 70s in the aftermath of the death of two freshers in a Regional Engineering College that the Government of India for the first time issued a notification banning ragging in the country. However, despite the national ban, incidents did not come down, prompting several universities to bring ordinances and state governments to issue executive orders or bring modifications in their state education act or initiate legislation against ragging. The Supreme Court’s interventions in 1999 and later in 2006 led to the formation of committees with clear mandates to address the problem of ragging, and has no doubt increased our understanding of the phenomenon and the ways in which it is viewed.
Prof K.P.S. Unny Committee Report (1999)
The anti-ragging campaign got an impetus in 1999 when the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in response to a PIL filed by the Vishwa Jagriti Mission, asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to issue guidelines to universities to curb ragging. The UGC formed a four member committee under Prof K.P.S. Unny, Registrar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, to examine and submit a report on ragging.
The report of the Unny Committee noted that ‘ragging has negative and positive manifestations’ and that ‘it could be considered positive if it is done within decent limits’. The report opined that ragging could be positive if it is ‘enjoyable by all’, ‘helps freshers to shake themselves out of inhibition and inferiority complex and to smoothen their angularities’ or ‘helps ease the pent up tension of modern students without harming anyone’. The report also listed out in detail various acts that could be considered ragging, the reasons for ragging and locations where ragging is commonly carried out. It concluded that the major reasons for ragging lay in senior students’ desire to show off their power and superiority, to feel important by helping the juniors, and to avenge their own ragging experience by doing to juniors what they themselves faced.
In their recommendations, the Unny Committee put forward a Prohibition, Prevention and Punishment proposal i.e. prohibition by law, prevention by guidelines and punishment if the prohibition and punishment do not work. They recommended that central and state governments should enact laws against ragging. They suggested punishments ranging from cancellation of admission to a monetary fine of up to Rs. 25,000 and rigorous imprisonment of up to three years. The Committee also recommended various measures to be undertaken for sensitisation against ragging and highlighted the need for incentivizing wardens and students for their good conduct and anti-ragging activities. It was also suggested that institutions failing to curb ragging should be disaffiliated.
Raghavan Committee Report (2007)
In 2006, the issue of ragging was once again brought to the forefront when the Supreme Court expressed its disappointment in the implementation of its previous guidelines and constituted another committee under Dr. R K Raghavan, Director CBI, to suggest means and methods to prevent ragging; to suggest possible action that can be taken against persons indulging in ragging; and to suggest possible action against institutions that fail to curb ragging.
To understand the phenomenon and to make appropriate recommendations, the Committee held extensive meetings with all stakeholders involved in ragging, including the NGOs working on the issue, student victims of ragging, parents, teachers, wardens, heads of institutions, representatives from student bodies, government, etc. in twelve cities across India. The committee made several important observations. It noted that ragging has many aspects, including psychological, social, political, economic and cultural, and that it adversely impacts the standards of higher education. It considered ragging as our failure to inculcate human values from the schooling stage. The Committee made some strong recommendations to curb ragging. It noted that the view taken by the apex court that students indulging in ragging should not be treated as criminals needs to be reviewed. It also suggested that behavioural pattern among students, particularly potential raggers, need to be identified. A sub-group appointed by the Committee made an observation on the sexual forms of ragging and stated that such behaviours are a manifestation of widespread sexual repression in our society.
Carefully examining the Minutes of the meetings of Raghavan Committee (listed as Annexure III in the Raghavan Committe Report) and the details of the ragging incidents reported in the media from across India in the last 15 years, it is clear that ragging is not merely a disciplinary or a law and order problem that can be solved by punishment alone, but has complex social and psychological dimensions. In the meetings held by the Raghavan Committee where people shared their experiences of ragging, the contribution of complex factors related to caste, region, sexuality, substance misuse, personality and so on were evident
State Laws against Ragging
An analysis of different state laws on ragging was comprehensively carried out by the Raghavan Committee. It noted that different states have issued executive orders or there are ordinances by the universities; however, very few states have enacted specific laws against ragging and those too are difficult to implement. The Committee found the definition of ragging common to the Acts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
The Kerala Prohibition of Ragging Act 1998 defines ragging as doing of any act by disorderly conduct, to a student of an educational institution which causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological harm or raising apprehension or fear or shame or embarrassment to that student. The State law in Andhra Pradesh defines ragging as doing an act, which causes or is likely to cause insult or annoyance or fear or apprehension or threat or intimidation or outrage modesty or injury to a student. The Chhattisgarh Act of 2001, is quite comprehensive and defines ragging as causing, inducing, compelling or forcing a student, whether by way of a practical joke or otherwise, to do any act which detracts from human dignity or violates his person or exposes him to ridicule or forbear from doing any unlawful act by intimidating, wrongfully restraining, wrongfully confining, or injuring him or by using criminal force to him or by holding out to him any threat or such intimidation, wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, injury or the use of criminal force. However the most important aspect missing from the State laws is the range of sexual acts that are reported in many ragging incidents across India.
Different state laws have laid down varying punishments for ragging. While the Chhattisgarh Anti-ragging Act states that an offender could be imprisoned for up to five years or fined up to Rs. 5000, the Andhra Pradesh Act lays down a provision of imprisonment ranging from six months to 10 years and fine up to Rs. 10,000. Similarly, other State Acts (of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam) have punishment ranging from six months to two years and a fine up to Rs. 10,000.
Though steps have been taken by the government to curb ragging, and we also see a progression in the understanding of the issue among stakeholders, the problem is far from over. Being a social phenomenon brimming with layers after layers of complexity, ragging has been a difficult issue to address. Apart from its complex nature, another significant reason why ragging is difficult to control is that it is a “soft” problem – one that is subjective and dependent on how it is perceived by the victims and perpetrators as well as various other stakeholders. Therefore, it becomes difficult to formulate efficient means to control or end it.
We can say with conviction that the law and order approach adopted to control ragging has not been successful and efforts by the government in this direction in the past four decades have been of little help. A more nuanced understanding of this complex issue, replete with its social and psychological dimensions has become the need of the hour.
(The article is an extract from the Supreme Court of India mandated study titled ‘Psychosocial Study of Ragging in Selected Educational Institutions in India’. The report for the study was authored by Prof Mohan Rao, Dr. Shobna Sonpar, Dr. Amit Sen, Prof. Shekhar Seshadri, Harsh Agarwal & Divya Padalia. For the full report, visit the UGC website)