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The ragging monster is alive and kicking in India

September 18, 2007

Another ragging incident. 22 year old management student Sanjay Pal Singh was hospitalized with “a psychotic disorder” because of ragging.

Inspite of a Supreme court ban in 2001, ragging continues in India. Its thriving here, even though the rest of the civilized world has abandoned it. Its thriving because it is accepted by society and even educated people! And it isn’t even an Indian concept. It came from the west, imported by the British. The British call it fagging, and the Americans call it hazing, but their society frowns upon it now. And laws against ragging in India don’t work because its considered harmless! Laws only work when society disapproves of something…unfortunately Indian society doesn’t show any signs of changing.

Shivam Vij explains it like this:

Last year at the height of some very unpleasant ragging at my elite college in Delhi, I met a geriatric woman at an elite club, who began defending ragging. “Freshers and seniors get to know each other,” she said. I wanted to tell her: “Ma’am, I want to know you better. Please take off your clothes.”

A little history
Ragging started off as far back as the 7-8th century A.D in Greece, in the sports arena, but spread to the uniformed services. Over the years, it reached college campuses. By the 18th century, it had spread to Europe, and then it spread to America. After WW1, fagging became more violent. And the British brought it with them to India. It was seen in the English public schools they established…and also in the army.

However inspite of ragging being alien to Indian culture, it not just survived after Independence, but actually thrived after the British left. Today, people might frown at youngsters eating burgers and wearing skimpy clothes (the influence of the so-called evil west!) but not at ragging, which is a criminal offence!

Fagging is not considered acceptable by society in Britain or in other developed countries today. Ragging is also a crime in Europe and the US. But more important, society thinks of it as harassment.

Why do people do it?
The same reason why people bully ofcourse! As it says here:

They may see it as a way of being popular, or making themselves look tough and in charge. Some bullies do it to get attention or things, or to make other people afraid of them. Others might be jealous of the person they are bullying. They may be being bullied themselves…

Why do Indians do it?
Well, we have always been a hierarchal society, and this makes people hesitate to complain…which gives a free hand to tormentors. And some feel that it could well be caste-based as incidents of ragging were seen to increase after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. Caste is just but one angle however. Resentment can be towards any group considered ‘below’ the bullies, and this could simply mean juniors! Hierarchical attitudes were already well entrenched in the Indian social fabric before the British arrived and this made ragging ‘acceptable.’ In fact, any sort of bullying by a ‘higher’ group is socially acceptable here…but I am sure the British had no idea what they were unleashing!!

Ragging, simply another name for bullying and harassment, but with a social sanction in India, also has another dimension to it here. The fear of punishment is absent. Students don’t complain until they have reached the limits of their physical and mental endurance, and even when they complain, their complaints are not taken seriously enough by the college authorities.

I want to conclude with a quote from Amit Varma of India Uncut who has explained it on his old blog:

It is common to speak of ragging as a normal initiation rite freshers go through, but it actually encompasses a number of acts that are defined as crimes in the Indian penal code. Indeed, students know that many acts that would not be permissable in any other context suddenly become a little more acceptable if the term “ragging” is attached to it. What would otherwise be a crime can be condoned as, at the most, “going a little overboard.”

What will it take to change such attitudes? To start with, colleges should have a zero tolerance attitude towards any kind of coercion on campus, and cops should come down much harder on such crimes. Some kind of national ragging database would be perfect (with checks and balances, of course), and anyone who feels the urge to rag someone — or see someone naked against their will — should realise that it will probably result in the end of his academic career. People who rag should be treated like child-molesters — given the age and vulnerability of some victims, it really isn’t all that much different.

(Photo from Tribune India)
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27 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2007 9:40 am

    Ragging. like corruption, has started being accepted as something that cannot be prevented. Somehow, I feel, the high level of tolerance we Indians display in general, is the reason for this. Tolerance, is as much our weakness, as it is our strength.

  2. September 18, 2007 10:42 am

    Just a few years ago there were several stories of extreme hazing in junior hockey leagues here. A few years before that one of the most respected army units in Canadian military history was disbanded over some videotapes of extreme hazing. Hazing in itself isn’t banned here, it would be next to impossible and needless to do so, but current laws regarding assault and battery are now being applied, as well there has been a move to educate young people about the dangers of extreme hazing. And it is working.

  3. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 18, 2007 11:26 am

    Some of the more extreme forms of ragging, such as physical violence, sodomy, forcing freshers to masturbate before an audience, consume excreta, and other disgusting acts, are downright criminal, and must be treated by the concerned authorities as crimes. No right-thinking person can condone them, whatever the sugar-coating given (inititation rites, building rapport, bonding etc.).

    I am shocked by the attitude of the elderly lady that Shivam Vij reports. It convinces me that at least some women are no better than men in giving free reign to the basest of instincts. For many years I was told by a number of women friends about the kind of ragging that some girls indulge in at college. I always felt they were exaggerating, and told them so. But now I am prepared to unconditionally accept everything they said. To any of them who are reading this, I extend an unconditional apology for my incredulousness. And since I am not writing under a pseudonym, I don’t think my sincerity should be under doubt.

    The only way I can see of doing away with this evil is to adopt a zero-tolerance policy, which bans even milder, allegedly “good-natured” ragging, since that only serves as the thin end of the wedge, paving the way for more monstrous acts.

  4. September 18, 2007 11:42 am

    Harish, that is indeed a good point. We Indians are fairly tolerant which I think is partly due to of the ‘collective’ mindset that we have….

    Gabriel, thanks for telling us about Canada. I guess hazing is always more omnipotent in sports and the army…where one is supposed to be ‘tough.’ Here even in an army hostel (for kids of army officers) there is more ragging than in other hostels, even though the students are not in the army or any related service.

    Vivek, I never doubted that girls can be as mean as the boys as I have experienced some ragging myself when I was studying at Miranda House, Delhi. Ofcourse it was pretty mild, basically just to do sit-ups until I almost fainted! 🙂
    But I was meek and cooperative and was a day scholar so I escaped the severe punishment! the kind of things the hostelites had to do were horrible!
    yes, even good natured ragging should be banned as not only is what is ‘good-natured’ varies from person to person, it is indeed a thin line as you said!
    and also, everyone’s endurance level is different!

  5. B Chopra permalink
    September 18, 2007 12:30 pm

    Usually freshers are hesitant or feared to give a police complaint..

    Parents or relatives should make sure they give enough counseling to them well before.. In my case my parents did give enough knowledge about handling it.. and On very first day when some senior tried it on me I called my relatives immediately to help me to give police complaint & and that worked.. Police were very active(that was my luck I guess!), they interacted with principal, warden & few seniors.. and that stopped ragging almost everywhere in my campus. Initially I faced few problems from seniors indirectly.. I wasn’t cared about them at all.. Why should I care? Why I needed them? and Later after few months things went very cool… same senior became very friendly with me as I didn’t reveal his identity to police.. he survived b’coz of me.. he he 🙂

  6. September 18, 2007 1:52 pm

    ragging should be frowned upon by society. it is largely seen as a heroic act to perpetrate ragging, and to undergo ragging. it’s seen as a rite of passage, an experience everyone should undergo, something that builds character.
    the media should take it upon themselves to bust this myth of it being a character-building experience.
    most people i know who speak positively of the whole ragging experience say it was a learning experience or some such nonsense. though i dont quite get how getting slapped for trifles by a tribe called seniors builds character or teaches you anything worth learning.
    it’s a many-headed monster and should be tackled head-on. it’s inhuman and general public must understand the evils of ragging, and i just dont mean the gruesome forms that make it to the news. even the “milder” forms should be frowned upon and it should be hep to EARN the respect of juniors, not demand it.

  7. September 18, 2007 2:51 pm

    Bharath, thanks for telling us about your own experience. Good to hear that the police acted…actually the police can only act if someone complains and its good that you did!

    Wanderlust, yeah I too have heard people talk about how important ragging is to become a tougher person etc, but all it does is drive some people deeper into their shell…and only those who are already tough can take it!

  8. September 18, 2007 2:59 pm

    Ragging exists in Pakistan as well but nothing in comparison to India. I think one can only put a tap on it if the seniors should show some maturity. The concept that I will rag because I was ragged last time is plain stupid.

    But its really surprising that the issue is so huge in India that the authorities needed supreme court to create a law for it.

  9. September 18, 2007 3:26 pm

    Ragging is a very sickening CRIMINAL ACT.

    I have witnessed the horror of ragging during my university years in REC, Calicut in 1961-67. Thank God, I was the first batch so that I was not ragged.

    But I feel so sorry for all those BABY-FACED youngsters. Some of them were subjected to all kind of SICKENING SEXUAL THINGS.

    It is so sad that EVERY ONE TAKES RAGGING AS A JOKE, when poor, innocent BABY-FACE youngsters are subjected to all kind of horrendous unmentionable things.

    Lecturers and professors joke about that, but they do not do anything. College authorities keep a BLIND EYE to the atrocities that are committed in the name of ragging.

    Ragging is bullying and many use that an excuse to abuse innocent youngsters. It is cruel and it has to be stopped.

    Students who indulge in ragging should be criminally prosecuted. School and University authorities who allow Ragging also should be criminally prosecuted.

    Let them be thrown into jails where they will be subjected to the same treatment they gave to innocent victims by fellow prisoners.

    I was very sick of the whole RAGGING, and I wrote an article about it. The THE HINDU, Madras published it in their Sunday magazine section in 1967…..

    Alas! after all these years Ragging is still going on every where in India.

  10. Arun permalink
    September 18, 2007 4:29 pm

    This is saddening to hear that ragging still exists. Being a day scholar i did not face much of it, but few of the hostel students faced extreme things. One of the guy complained it to the authorities and the students were not allowed to wirte the exams for 2 years. That was extreme but served the purpose.

    Also, the college authorities made sure that the seniors were not allowed to the junior rooms for few months till they became comfortable. This continues even today and i’m proud to say my college doen’t have ragging.

  11. September 18, 2007 5:36 pm

    well well what a nice topic….

    now what should i say…it is bad and all…believe me when i as in junior classes we respected our seniors and were scared of them,but now the juniors blackmail what are you trying to rag me i will take you to court….i used to get ragged badly and still do by everyone basically(now it is the harmless mocking but before it went real overboard)…but as you say it needs to be controlled…the thing is i know how it feels and i want to do something…infact a lot about many things which are presently happening….it is not that people can’t say it out…if i complain i get ragged you see they have a nice way….and since its all vs you….they can create stories and put you against the wall..

  12. krenim permalink
    September 18, 2007 7:43 pm

    As with everything else in India I am sure there are plenty of laws and well thought out ideas just very poor execution.

  13. September 18, 2007 8:01 pm

    This year police has taken some action against ragging. Some students were arrested and a few others were rusticated in DU. Ragging mostly takes an ugly turn when hostelers are invovled.

  14. September 18, 2007 8:10 pm

    Ammar, I think that a few bullies tend to take the lead and then it becomes a kind of group thing…bullies are present in every college and the fact that ragging is the done thing gives them the right to do it . ofcourse some people will also do it mindlessly, just because they went through it!

    Ed Viswanathan, good to read those strong words!

    Arun, I guess ragging is more prevalent in some colleges. I read today in the papers that it is less prevalent in Mumbai colleges…

    Vishesh, I got a sense that you think that tolerating ragging is a way of showing respect to seniors?

    Krenim…I guess you hit the nail on the head! But I think that if people do not approve of something, it dies out faster. The reason why dowry is simply not dying out is because many people don’t think anything is wrong with it. after all, someone has to complain to the police!

    Hi Prerna, I posted this comment and then saw yours. thanks for giving us some delhi news! I heard that ragging gets pretty bad in Delhi.

  15. September 18, 2007 8:48 pm

    Detestable practice, and I completely agree to Vivek’s suggestion of a zero-tolerance policy. I’d never understood this phenomenon, so thanks for the links providing the historical context.

    I do see a ‘one more evil thing the British gave us’ kind of attitude in the linked articles, and hence would like to caution anyone who tries to pin the blame on the British instead of the actual perpetrators of this crime today.

    Like Prerna pointed out, there as been increasing legislative action against this, and it is a very good sign. I do have very positive hopes that this will be curbed effectively.

    //Why do people do it? The same reason why people bully ofcourse!//
    I’m not sure about this, but I thought there was an important distinction between bullying and ragging in that ragging has a stronger psychological justification of “if I went through it, others must too”. I’ve always thought that the Saas-Bahu ragging is not very different from ragging in academic premises, but I may be wrong since I’ve never actually lived in a hostel.

    BTW, is the monstor you’re referring to in the title actually a monster? 🙂

    Spelling changed Mahendra. Thanks.

  16. September 18, 2007 9:11 pm

    I think people rag basically to compensate for their inferiority complexes – basically to make another person look bad “so that he/she won’t think too much of himself/herself”. Of course once a gang of guys/gals get together to rag someone – other basal instincts get into the mix, and hence it is really on the same path that leads to gang rape – isn’t it?

    I went through ragging a bit – but somehow was lucky to escape the worst of it. When I became a senior, I found the whole concept silly to get involved in.

    It is indeed pathetic that people take silly pleasures in seeing someone look stupid and completely humiliated, i.e. having fun at someone’s expense and misfortune. But if I ponder on this, I see that this is perhaps an extreme of a more common phenomenon. Take all the forms of humor (movies, real-life, acts) in the world today – what % do you think is aimed at the expense of someone? I think it is quite high – very high. In other words, perhaps we laugh most of the time [u]at[/u] someone and that is accepted as ok most of the time. Ragging uses that but crossing many many limits? I don’t know if this adds up – just a thought that occurred to me.

  17. September 18, 2007 9:43 pm

    Mahendra, actually ragging originated in Greece, and the British got it from there! People do have a tendency to blame outsiders for their ills though and India is no different I guess but that is why I emphasized the fact that it is due to the inherent nature of our society that ragging took root.
    Ofcourse I don’t quite agree with the fact that people rag because they have been ragged, but I guess that’s debatable. I know personally a lot of people who were completely put off by their experiences…and this applies to the saas-bahu sagas too. I believe that the bullying mentality has to be present…either that or it’s follow the leader.

    Arunk, I agree, I do believe that often people rag or bully others to compensate for a lack in themselves…or a perceived lack…there is a certainly personality type which takes the lead in these things.

  18. wishtobeanonymous permalink
    September 18, 2007 11:08 pm

    Look at child abuse thats happening in Indian society – I call it child abuse because it is abuse – parents yell and think it is right to hit their kids. They think this will make their kids better and more disciplined. So far, I have seen that all this hitting and yelling only leaves emotional scars on the child for life. I have seen very angry people(close to me) who get irritated at the smallest of things and delve into their past and you will see parents who had abused them physically and mentally. And the vicious cycle continues because the grown up adult now thinks the only way to discipline his child is by shouting at him or hitting him. Society still accepts this kind of thing and so many other ills. We need to grow up! Development is needed not only on our land, but in our mind too and right now, thats where it is needed most. Ethics, tolerance and respect of other human beings/animals, rule of law and obeyance of the laws of the land – these are pointers to a developed society. A mass education campaign is needed; unfortunately our govt. itself is uneducated, what do we do?

  19. Bhuvana permalink
    September 19, 2007 12:46 pm

    Ragging is a form of harassment and ppl invlovng in any kind of thing that will harm others should be punished.. Let this be the medium to bring the ruthless idiotic ppl to be heard by public. Lets get all these ruthless acts published with facts and make it reach almost everyone in the internet..atleast 5% of people reading the content might be in a position to take serious action agianst raggging and i am sure this 5% will keep growing over period of time and create peace allover.

  20. September 19, 2007 3:58 pm

    I just want to say it in advance, I DO NOT SUPPORT RAGGING. I hate bullies. I have stood up against them and I still do. That being said, there is something else.

    Why is it that parents cry foul when their child is subjected to some bullying in schools/colleges? In almost every culture a snitch is looked down upon. In Indian culture we have a funny sense of hierarchy, we frown upon the kids who point out the wrongs of elder/respected. We look away from crimes think that it does not happen to us. Ho many parents you know would admit that their kid is a eyewitness of a crime and will testify. Hell, I don’t know many parents who will say that about an adult. Most will look away and backoff if there is a bully in day to day life. What does that tell you? Our kids learn :
    1. It is wrong to complain about something.
    2. The senior / older crowd in their college needs respect etc and they are right
    3. Respect is given based on age / money / power etc.
    4. Complaining about someone will only invite more trouble

    What I did learn was:
    1. All bullies are scared to death
    2. Respect is a highly regarded thing. It needs to be earned.
    3. Ignoring the problems does not make them go away.
    4. Standing your grounds might be the toughest thing to do, but it pays in long run.
    5. Like someone rightly said, its not about the size of the dog but the size of fight in the dog
    6. Stand no bull***t and no one will bull***t with you

    Our patronizing ragging victims can save them from one trauma but our support to them in standing their grounds will give them strength to do the right thing.

    We can all wash our hands and accept bullying as a fact of life, but I choose to do the right thing.

  21. September 19, 2007 4:16 pm

    Wishtobe anonymous, I guess being mean to your kids is a form of bullying too, and worse because the kids have no one to turn to. But things will change. I see it changing. For the first time in its history India is getting tough laws on child abuse…ofcourse it will take longer for the society to change. One mother actually told me that her child belongs to her and she can do anything with it!

    Bhuvana, yep, we need more awareness as to the actual facts of what people suffer because of ragging and then it will open people’s eyes to the problem!

    Hey xnegvx, thanks for that analysis. Some good insights!

  22. September 19, 2007 6:13 pm

    I recall reading some years ago of a British study that found the people who were most opposed to ending ragging in the schools were the very people who had been most ragged when they were in school. That seems counter-intuitive to me, but it’s what the study found.

    I personally believe ragging is bullying and should be treated as such.

  23. September 19, 2007 6:38 pm

    Paul, I instinctively believe that those who suffer usually want to fight against such things, maybe because of some people I know.
    Also, when to comes to any kind of unacceptable behavior, whether its child-abuse, ragging, harassing etc, I find that those who do such things often a ready excuse…oh, it happened to me! that annoys me because I feel that as responsible adults we need to take responsbility for our lives and our actions..
    and I feel those who are bullying have that wicket streak in them (whatever the cause or reason!) and when they are in a position of power, they will abuse that power.
    Also there is a point which wishtobeanonymous made about child-abuse. Abused kids who grow up and enter educational institutions could well have internalised their parents behavior, and have in fact become their parents – and see nothing wrong in hurting someone weaker. But this kind of thing can only happen in childhood. A normal person, who is not a bully, will not turn into a bully if he is ragged. At least that is what I believe.

  24. September 20, 2007 7:46 pm

    no way…what i mean to say was how kids now days are aware of things and the rules….i don’t mean tolerating infact i don’t let my class mates or anyone around me to try it…i know how hurting it is and i don’t them to face it….but you need to put some sense …well it isn’t wrong of seniors to look for respect from 4ther…

  25. amreekandesi permalink
    September 23, 2007 3:46 am

    ragging is in a way a rite of passage for the new kids to get to know their seniors, and vice versa. Of course, sometimes it gets taken to the extreme and that is bad.
    I remember they made me shave off my moustache my first day in college. I didnt really mind it much, coz i was going to do it anyway. But those first few weeks got pretty unnerving 🙂

    Amreek, you were lucky.

  26. November 6, 2010 9:04 pm

    ragging is not a bad thing i think, it is a great deal of seniors with their juniors as it is expected by them so called “seniors”… i think their a very thin layer between devloping character of juniors or just use them as a utility of fun.
    most of the juniors involves in ragging because they think it helps them to make contact with seniors so they don’t resist of that or in some cases juniors are forced to do so….but i think it is just a deal which is a first step to make them in “business of soul” ( thought behind is different as i used ” business of soul” ) it is not a bad thing. but it doesn’t come through inside . i see my frnds ragged because they are divided in groups based on their area ,their cast or their languages . in which india is always divided ……it is a profitable deal so i think freshers do so …..but for a sensitive person or a fool it is a worst experience so i am not involved……i just want to say ragging is tool to build newcomers mentally tough but it should not be used for enjoyment of seniors however physical ragging must be prohibhited the attitude of seniors should be positive about what their responsiblities about juniors ….what to learn them….i know some people are not satisfy with my comment but if they think if seniors take it in rigth manner it is a total character devloping tool….

  27. Rahul permalink
    August 25, 2014 10:43 am

    Ragging is just like corruption.In my college it led to serious trouble if seniors were seen harassing juniors inside the college.In 2010,after a month of joining while returning in college bus they started harassing us and forced us to give introduction and started insulting us.Their excuse was that they were only taking our introductions and their seniors did worse ragging to them.The worse thing is the teachers were seating infront and did not bother to interfere.I believe that I have every right to not be harassed or forced to do anything.Even mild ragging should be strictly banned.Since juniors hostel was separated from seniors,they could not do ragging in hostels.But in 2nd year when they stayed with seniors,they had to go through extreme ragging.The juniors agree to ragging since they believe seniors won’t help them with books,assignments,etc if they don’t go through it.I believe ragging is going in all colleges even in 2014 secretively.Whenever juniors asked for my suggestions in 4th year,I had helped them in all possible ways and never resorted to ragging them.If corruption can’t stop in India,ragging won’t.We can make as many laws as we want,they won’t be implemented effectively until we change our mindsets.

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