Yesterday, I came across this article on myths about ragging, written by Shivam Vij, from across the border. It was an interesting read, and I thought I just had to share it since parts of what this article says hold true for Pakistani universities as well. Here’s what this article has to say:
“It is astonishing how the practice of ragging finds so many defenders amongst students, parents, and academics. Too many people concentrate on what are their personal views on the subject, without being aware that ragging is a punishable crime. The law, when you donâ€™t agree with it, is an ass.
When a fresher enters a college hostel, he enters a new, unfamiliar world. Instead of hospitality, he gets hostility. This ranges from fetching seniorsâ€™ luggage from the college gate to the hostel room, to brutal sexual abuse that has lead to countless suicides. Yet ragging finds defenders.
1) Mild ragging is okay: Mild ragging, which means asexual ragging, is also objectionable because any form of ragging involves subjugating a fresher. Any kind of domination hurts oneâ€™s self-esteem and dignity.
And who defines what amount and kind of ragging is â€œmildâ€? The ragger. The ragger is both the law and the lawmaker. Every ragger thinks he has not been harsh, what he did was mild. He likes to think he is not guilty. And the harshest of ragging begins â€˜mildlyâ€™ with an introduction. It takes fifteen minutes for matters to come to stripping. The ragger is surprised to see how he is able to exercise so much control over someone, and he loses self-control.
Ragging, even when it is not sexual, can be traumatic because it operates on the basis of the fear of the future. â€˜Do this or weâ€™ll make you do that…â€™ is how every senior behaves. So even if a fresher is just made to fetch water, he is troubled because he doesnâ€™t know if he will encounter another senior on the way who will ask him to undress. Sexual abuse is an inextricable part of ragging. College hostels have particular â€˜traditionsâ€™ of exactly how this abuse is to be carried out: nude parades, nude dance, nude kabaddis, pouring after-shave lotion on genitals, forced anal sex…
2) My fachch strongest: They say that ragging makes freshers strong, and yet the process of getting ragged actually weakens them. (They compensate for this by becoming raggers from the next year.) A fresher is ragged not once, and not by a single senior: he is ragged again and again, by the same senior and by other seniors and by their friends from other colleges. He is ragged day and night, and more in the night. Just when he thinks the worst is over, comes another ragger whose name he does not know. This goes on for months with no respite.
One senior was shocked to know that I thought of hostel ragging as harassment. â€œYou call this harassment? In Doon school a hockey stick was shoved down my arse. That is harassment. All this has toughened me.â€ What he calls toughening is actually a process of making you insensitive: you face so much that nothing affects you. You become comfortably numb. Are these the sort of people we want our civil society composed of?
3) Ragging is fun: Popular discourses on ragging never focus on the trauma that ragging victims face or the post-traumatic stress disorders (PSTDâ€™s) they face, leave alone recognise ragging as a violation of human rights. Popular discourses on ragging â€” be it newspaper coverage or representations of ragging in films like Munnabhai MBBS (2003) â€” insist that ragging is â€˜funâ€™. They donâ€™t elaborate that ragging is fun only for the ragger, not for the ragged. They donâ€™t tell you that ragging arises from repressed sexuality and results in forced homosexuality. Is reciting under duress limericks composed of incestuous expletives at three a.m. in the morning â€˜funâ€™? Not to me. But itâ€™s fun for the ragger to see how he was able to exercise the kind of authority over me that he can never do on anyone in normal circumstances.
4) You get to know your seniors: Every fresher begins to be ragged afresh by giving his â€˜introâ€™ which consists of, amongst other things, names of the people who occupied his room before him. The senior does not even provide his name. So whose introduction is it anyway? The fresher, because he is under duress, does not reveal himself honestly. He tries to give an answer that is likely to please the senior. And pray, why does a senior have to see my private parts to know me?
No college hostel calls ragging by its name. The pseudonyms are phrases like â€œpersonality developmentâ€ or â€œpositive interactionâ€. But ragging is neither positive nor interaction. Interaction is a two-way process that involves debate and dissent. Ragging, however, is a series of dramatic monologues where the bullying, bellowing senior takes it upon himself to â€œpsyche outâ€ the fresher. The purpose of this exercise is sadistic pleasure and that only. A senior asked me: â€œAll first years shiver when they hear my name and you say leave me alone? Either youâ€™re mad or youâ€™ve been sneaking.â€ Had it been â€˜interactionâ€™, I would have asked him: â€œWhy do you want people to be afraid of you?â€ I still want to ask him this question, but alas, we are estranged.
5) Raggers become best buddies: Another myth is that your worst raggers become your best friends. Not necessarily. But even if he does, why should every friendship in college begin with â€˜Oye fachch! Come here you mother*****â€™? Why should I suffer physical, mental and sexual abuse to become friends with someone?
Iâ€™m told that ragging contributes to a closely knit hostel community. This is lies. For example, some seniors insisted on asking me if I was a believer. I honestly said I was an atheist, for which they ragged me all the more, and are still prejudiced against me for my lack of faith. Had it not been for ragging, faith or the lack of it could well have remained a private matter. But privacy and ragging are strange bedfellows.
Ragging is actually a divisive strategy: it is a way of choosing who are the people I can get along with, and abusing the ones I wonâ€™t get along well with. This has also been demonstrated in an article by Madhu Kishwar, in which she writes about how ragging was a tool of class-based discrimination in her alma mater, Miranda House in Delhi. Recently in Bargarh in Orissa, a fresher was beaten up badly in the name of ragging because of his backward caste.
6) Ragging is tradition: Ragging is also justified with that hollow word, tradition, which might be a synonym for colonial hangover. â€œRagging is a part of our college tradition.â€ Sati too is a tradition. So is hypocrisy. But unlike Sati, ragging is certainly not a part of Indian tradition and thought.
This talk of tradition also has to do with alumni nostalgia. One example. In an essay called â€œThe Lessons of Rudra Courtâ€, Amitav Ghosh describes how ragging in St. Stephenâ€™s College, Delhi, brought him close to a senior called Rukun Advani and a junior called Mukul Kesavan. Ghosh shows how his association with the two was germane for his literary career. Amidst this romanticisation of ragging there is only one line that gives you a larger picture: that he and his batchmates often had to sleep in pipelines in Kamla Nagar to escape ragging.
People tend to forget, or rather try to forget, that trauma and remember only how their friends ragged them as seniors. The pain of first year is more than compensated in second and third years, and so the vicious cycle continues.
7) Ragging makes you a man: â€œHow many roads must a man walk down,â€ asked Bob Dylan, â€œbefore you call him a man?â€ The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
There is a pseudo-academic argument that ragging is a rite of passage to manhood. I asked someone to explain this in simple Hindi, and he said: â€œRagging nahi hogi to mard kaisay banogay?â€ Can we live with such archaic notions of gender in the twenty first century?.And does this mean that day scholars who have never lived in a hostel, donâ€™t â€˜become menâ€™?
Inability to survive ragging is termed cowardice. Giving into one demand after another of irrational seniors is bravery. Freshers who are ragged the most should be bestowed with the Param Veer Chakra along with a citation that reads extracts from the Supreme Courtâ€™s anti-ragging law.
8) You can refuse to be ragged, complain to college authorities: If a fresher refuses to be ragged and/or complaints to the college administration, he can face anything ranging from marginalisation from the hostel community to violent reprisals that may also be sexual. College authorities are often uncooperative with a fresher complains about ragging, for reasons ranging from pressure from the student union to a private faith in ragging as a healthy practice.
Even when action is taken against seniors, the fresher may be at the receiving end of the classic power strategy of blaming-the-victim. His parents may be told that your child is seeing ghosts, or that he is hyper-sensitive. An insensitive world sees hyper-sensitivity as a crime. When people condescendingly sympathise with him as a victim figure, it hurts his self-esteem all the more. He is made to feel that the fault lies with him and not with the system. The system has no exit clause.
9) Girls donâ€™t rag: Ragging is not restricted to the male sex. There are heart-wrenching stories of sexual ragging and suicide in girlsâ€™ hostels. Heterosexual ragging exists too, but it never gets as bad because hostels of boys and girls are mutually exclusive zones. A society that doesnâ€™t trust its children with their sexuality, but is happy with homosexual ragging.
10) If even the army does it surely it must have some use: In the army you can have an argument, though still debatable: if you canâ€™t handle ragging from fellow Indians how will you face the enemy in the battlefield? But students of engineering, medicine, humanities or the law donâ€™t have to fight wars on the border. They have to be responsible law-abiding citizens with a sense of public morality and decency. Exactly of the opposite of what ragging teaches you.
A college hostel under ragging is a situation other than â€˜normalcyâ€™; it is a situation of a social breakdown. Like an earthquake that shatters your faith in the stability of the ground you stand on, ragging shatters your faith in universally accepted social norms as well as the law of the land. Ragging has driven countless thousands towards drug abuse and smoking; ragging has destroyed the careers of so many people; there are people who have not even been able to complete graduation because they couldnâ€™t handle the ragging. And there are those who committed suicide; if they were alive they could tell you how much fun it was to be ragged. You probably havenâ€™t hear their side of the story – how would you, your newspaper insisted that ragging was fun. But if the papers had taken the trouble of going into hostels, they would have found so many mini Abu Ghraibs.
But ragging does serve one purpose. Walking four kilometres at dawn to fetch parathas for a senior does introduce you to popular eateries around the college. Raggers unwittingly introduce you to all aspects of college life. This means that elimination of the practice of ragging will have to be replaced with a more civilised institution. This should be on the lines of what many countries follow, and some Indian institutions like IIT Kanpur follow it too. This is the system of student guides, where every fresher, or a group of freshers, is under the charge of a senior, who helps these freshers settle down and be at ease with their new environment.
Thanks to ragging I was afraid of exploring all parts of my college several weeks after admission. A senior who hadnâ€™t got the chance to rag me and later became my friend, asked me to meet him at the back gate in the evening, but I didnâ€™t know where the back gate was. He said I was in this pitiable state because I hadnâ€™t been ragged. He then showed me the way to the back gate. Now I know that part of the college without having been sent there by raggers. And the senior who ultimate took me there is one of my closest friends now, even though he never ragged me.
Ragging has been gradually declining across the country, thanks in part to the Supreme Court judgement which says that if a college canâ€™t eliminate ragging, government grants to it can be reduced or stopped altogether, and the college may even be disaffiliated. This does not mean that ragging suicides have stopped taking place. Scenes of freshers dancing in DU colleges in the middle of July finds lead photos in all the Delhi papers, with articles that mourn the decline of ragging.
Seniors invariably tell juniors: this is nothing, we faced worse. This may be exaggeration in order to justify oneâ€™s guilt, but if itâ€™s true, why are we mourning it? If the perverse practice of ragging has been tottering to a fall we must assist it to a peaceful demise. We owe this to countless teenagers who went to college in another city with hopes of a bright future, but became a part of the past. If there is no Amitav Ghosh to write their obituaries, we must fill the gap.”