Print edition : April 10, 2009

Parents and friends of Aman Kachroo, who died after being ragged by his seniors, at a protest against ragging in New Delhi on March 14.-SHAHBAZ KHAN/PTI

TWO incidents of ragging in higher educational institutions, one in the North and another in the South, have exposed the nations inability to stem the menace, which has defied solution.

The death of 19-year-old Aman Kachroo at the hands of senior students in the Rajendra Prasad Medical College in Tanda, Himachal Pradesh, on March 8 raised disturbing questions about the culpability of the college authorities and the regulatory bodies, who are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring compliance of the college with the anti-ragging guidelines. Amans killers have been swiftly arrested and will be prosecuted, but the culpable negligence of these authorities is yet to be established.

Another victim, a girl, from the Government Engineering College at Baptala in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, consumed a pesticide after senior girl students in her hostel forced her to dance naked in front of them.

Although these incidents are shocking, it is their recurrence that should outrage any civilised society. A study by the Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE) revealed 14 cases of suicide by victims of ragging and 12 reported cases of serious physical and mental torture by way of ragging between 1998 and 2007. In this decade alone, 198 incidents of ragging have been recorded across the country.

It is not as if the governments are unconcerned about the need to stem the menace. A report on the measures to stem ragging, by a committee set up at the instance of the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 1999, referred to the Government of Indias notification banning ragging in the aftermath of the death of two freshers in a Regional Engineering College in the late 1970s.

Since then, various State governments have been experimenting unsuccessfully with ordinances, laws and circulars to deal with the menace. Six States Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh have enacted statutes against ragging.

The UGC set up a four-member committee, chaired by K.P.S. Unny of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in 1999, in response to a public interest petition filed in the Supreme Court by the Vishwa Jagriti Mission. The committees recommendations were exhaustive. On the basis of these, the Supreme Court issued a set of directions in 2001. The court said that the police, while dealing with ragging cases, should not treat students as criminals but should only resort to corrective action.

In 2006, the court, concerned with the non-effectiveness of its directions while hearing the case University of Kerala vs Council of Principals of Colleges, felt the need for another committee to examine the measures afresh. A committee, headed by R.K. Raghavan, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, was thus set up.

The Raghavan committee analysed 198 incidents of ragging between 1998 and 2007, from the compilation forwarded by CURE. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were among the first States to enact dedicated legislation, way back in 1997, prohibiting ragging. Ironically, Andhra Pradesh recorded the highest number of incidents (23) during the period. The committee explained that this might be because of greater awareness brought about by the law and consequently even isolated instances being highlighted by the media or reported by the victims. Another reason could be the growth of professional colleges, where incidence of ragging is known to be high.

The committee noted that while Uttar Pradesh did not have a State law against ragging, it had reported almost as many incidents as Andhra Pradesh. West Bengal, despite having a State law (enacted in 2000) against ragging, reported the third largest number of incidents (16).

The major contribution of the committee was to highlight the dimensions of ragging. These are: 1) Exploiting the services of a junior student for completing the academic tasks assigned to an individual or a group of seniors; 2) Financial extortion or putting expenditure burden forcefully on a junior student by seniors; 3) Physical abuse including all its variants: sexual abuse, homosexual assaults, stripping, forcing obscene and lewd acts and gestures, causing bodily harm or any other danger to the health of the victim; and 4) Any act or abuse by spoken word, emails, snail-mails, and public insults so as to derive perverted pleasure, or vicarious or sadistic thrill from actively or passively participating in the discomfiture of others.

Extracted from the CURE report of incidents reported in the news media.-

The committee noted that it had not come across any instance of educational institutions approaching the police to report even extreme incidents of ragging. This attitude was of concern to the committee, which sought to make the institutional authorities accountable in a number of ways. The committee also reported that it had not come across a single instance of any action being taken against an institution or their authorities concerned.

In the Jagriti matter, the Supreme Court held that collective fines could be imposed where those committing or abetting ragging could not be identified. The committee did not, barring one or two isolated instances, come across any instance of collective punishment being imposed.

To address the root cause of ragging, the committee recommended a variety of measures right from the school level. One is introduction of human rights education, of which awareness against ragging is a compulsory part. The committee felt that bullying and corporal punishment at the school level legitimised ideas of power abuse, harassment, and violation of dignity and privacy, and prepared the ground for ragging at the college level. Corporal punishment has been banned in Goa, Delhi and Tamil Nadu.

The committee urged that every incident of ragging be treated with the heaviest hand possible, however isolated or mild or positive it might appear. The punishment, it suggested, had to be justifiably harsh to act as a deterrent.

In its order on May 16, 2007, the Supreme Court endorsed many of the major recommendations of the Raghavan Committee. In particular, the court held that any failure on the part of institutional authority, or negligence, or deliberate delay in lodging a first information report should be construed as culpable negligence. The court also held that the authorities and functionaries of the concerned institution should also be open to scrutiny so that one could find out whether they had taken effective steps to prevent ragging. In case of any failure on their part, action can be taken; for instance, denial of any grant-in-aid or assistance from the State government.

The Rajendra Prasad Medical College, for instance, gets Rs.120 crore as annual grant from the Centre. And the State government and the college management are keen to raise the colleges standards to the level of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly took note on March 16 of the recent incidents of ragging and remarked that the authorities in both Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh had prima facie committed contempt of the court by not complying with the guidelines. The court issued notices to the State governments, besides the educational institutions concerned, to show cause why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them.

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