Ragging. A word spelling fear for freshers in college. Entertainment for their senior counterparts.
The Oxford Student’s Dictionary defines rag harmlessly as: play practical jokes upon. The American Random House comes closer to its actual use in India: To torment with jokes. (Torment: noun, (something that causes) severe bodily or mental pain or suffering)
When a student first enters college life, he is apprehensive of the new set-up. School and colleges might be both institutions of learning, but there is a great difference between the two. In a school, a student’s field of thought is fenced by his teachers, parents and numerous other factors and hence under greater scrutiny. In a college, on the other hand, the same pasture is wide open to the influences of the outside world.
So most people taste their truths of life here. Moreover, in college hostels, one is more or less alone and free to do whatever one likes and the good, the bad and the ugly all surface.
To the new student, a college is an unfamiliar place and ragging was introduced to ‘familiarize’ the new atmosphere. On the first day of college, seniors would play harmless jokes on newcomers to put them ‘at ease’ and laugh together. It does work in a way as there is some sort of interaction between the seniors and juniors. Otherwise a junior might have spent his entire college life with any senior. Ragging is supposed to be a very good method of breaking ice on the very first day of college. One is acquainted with one’s seniors and is a companion in being ragged with his classmates. It is good clean fun if practiced in the right spirit.
However as power corrupts, students can’t be trusted with such an originally harmless thing in their hand. The jokes become rougher and continue throughout the year instead of the first few days. The net result is that ragging has ended up a nightmare for its victims and is merely another form of harassment.
‘Pretend to be a motorcycle’, ‘imitate a bird’ and ‘how would you propose to your girlfriend’ might sound harmless and even fun. But what is definitely not funny is ‘walk on the narrow railing’, ‘murga bano’ for long durations and troubling some poor student all night or multitudes ganging around him. Physical abuse has to be totally out. Ragging now propagates goondagiri and dadagiri. More violence to the youth. Distractions for both the violator and victim. In most institutions atrocities go unchecked as seniors commit several excesses. Victims who show resistance are in for more trouble.
Some reason that all this toughens the student, but it might also break him forever. Certain scars have lasting impacts on tender lives as cases of suicide are not uncommon. What is much worse is sexual abuse which is reported now and then. This leaves lasting mental agonies and many a times, unrepairable psychological damage.
So ragging, far from familiarizing the student and putting him at ease, makes him uncomfortable and afraid of the system. It also makes oppressors out of some who are encouraged to pursue such activities after passing out. From a harmless word, ‘rag’ is now quite ugly.
Ragging today is an irrelevant college tradition and should be done away with. Senior students would have been ragged by their seniors who would have been ragged by their seniors. So they rag their juniors who rag their juniors. It’s high time we came out of this vicious circle.
Merely passing laws against ragging will not be enough. The concerned authorities everywhere have to deal with the matter firmly. Even minor cases shouldn’t be left off the hook. A sincere effort is needed from the Education Ministry down to the heads of the institutions, teachers and hostel staff. It is finally the students themselves who can bring about a real change.
Or maybe the Indian Dictionary should define ragging as:
Senior students tormenting their juniors in educational institutions
(This appeared in a student’s publication called Cheel in Jodhpur in July 1993)