On Saturday, Shreyas Keshwani joined the long list of victims of campus ragging in India. It was painful watching him in the video doing the rounds narrating his nightmarish ordeal and naming his tormentors between hiccups. The video became something of a dying declaration by Shreyas and the basis of a case now being probed by police both in Sambalpur (where he came from) and Vizag where the incident took place.
Just imagine the state of mind of a 16-year old, who has just been subjected to the worst form of physical assault by his hostel mates that broke his bones and was serious enough to cause death a week later. Such was the fear of retaliation and further torture that the impressionable young boy could not even muster the courage to inform Lakshmana Rao, vice principal of the Sri Chaitanya Junior College in Marikavalasa, about what had actually happened. He apparently told him that he had ‘fallen in the bathroom’, a lie he would go on repeat even to his parents till he couldn’t hide it anyomre! Even if had survived the assault, think of the trauma that he would have gone through and the scar that it would have left in his mind for the rest of his life.
Of course, not everyone who is ragged dies like Shreyas did. Many survive with broken limbs, serious injuries or shattered self-esteem. Still others sink into a vegetative state for life – like the character in the movie ‘Table No. 21’ starring Rajeev Khandelwal and Paresh Rawal that depicts the perils of ragging in all its mind-numbing starkness. [This columnist would advise those who haven’t watched it yet to see it now.]
The roots of the scourge of ragging have gone so deep in our country that all the stringent provisions in law, initiatives by governments and UGC and awareness campaigns by NGOs have failed to make any dent in the phenomenon. If anything, it has spread even faster. A few decades ago, incidents of ragging – that too not of the violent kind that one witnesses these days – were confined to the campuses of engineering colleges and other technical institutions. But over the years, it has spread its tentacles far and wide taking in its fold almost all institutions of higher learning – government or private, high-end and low-end, high-brow and low-brow. Incidents of ragging are now routinely reported even from women’s colleges, something unheard of earlier. Of late, even schools have fallen to the ‘charms’ of this practice.
Worryingly, the spread of ragging in terms of the number of institutions has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the quantum of physical torture. What began as a seemingly ‘harmless’ exercise in ‘welcoming’ newcomers through verbal abuse has now transformed into a game of one-up-manship involving physical assault. If the victim resists, s/he risks inviting more trouble as the severity of the torture goes up accordingly. Most students at the receiving end therefore take the pain and humiliation in their stride and never complain about it.
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What is of even greater concern is that most students think it is ‘cool’. A Supreme Court mandated survey funded by UGC in 2016 threw up some startling revelations. According to the findings of this survey, conducted among 10, 000 students spread across 37 institutions of higher learning, 30% of the respondents said they actually ‘enjoyed’ being ragged while 40% said it helped them forge ‘stronger friendships’. Most respondents believed it was a ‘necessary’ rite of passage that prepared them well for the harsh realities of life after education!
Try telling that to the hapless parents of Shreyas or the thousands of parents who had the mortification of having their children killed, maimed, sexually abused, traumatized, reduced to a vegetable or become psychological wrecks – like the character in Table No. 21.
Our children must be made to understand that ragging, even of the supposedly ‘harmless’ kind, is not ‘cool’; it is a crime – not just in law but against humanity itself. Rationalising ragging as ‘cool’ is a crime too. And the sooner our students, parents and teachers realize this the better it would be for our institutions of ‘higher’ learning, the students and the society at large.