Ragging: is it a crime? | Sunday Observer

Ragging: is it a crime?

Eleven senior students of the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education in Veyangoda has been remanded for allegedly ragging first-year students of the same institute.

Ragging in our higher educational institutes is still a brutal reality. It seems, we still have a long way to go before this menace stops completely. It has caused several fatalities over the years and has also increased suicide risks among the freshmen student population. Unfortunately, this practice is still perceived by many senior undergraduates and past graduates as a way of ‘familiarization’ and an ‘initiation into the real world’ for young university students.

The Act

In 1998, Sri Lankan Parliament ratified the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998. The purpose of this Act was to totally abolish ragging and other forms of violence such as, insults and cruel acts within the Institutes.

The Act defined ‘ragging’ as any type of behaviour which causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury, fear or mental pain in an undergraduate or a member of staff. The law made ragging a distinct and punishable offence.

Considerable punishments were prescribed under this Act. They included: (a) two years’ rigorous imprisonment for the accused and compensation to the victim, (b) If ragging leads to sexual harassment or grievous hurt, 10 years imprisonment with compensation to the victim. (c) If anyone threatens or acts with intention to cause injury to the person, reputation or property of any student, rigorous imprisonment up to five years, (d) If anyone forcibly confines an individual, up to seven years imprisonment.

Despite the government’s ban on ragging, and imposing rigid punishments, it is still found that a significant number of senior students continue to rag freshers and also justify it.

Disturbingly, people holding positions of responsibility have failed to understand and strictly implement anti-ragging policy and guidelines. The reasons for their latitude are not clear.

Indian experience

It has been more than two decades since we recognized ragging to be an entrenched problem causing profound damage in our institutions of higher learning. We have been continuously looking out for viable solutions throughout this time. We banned ragging, and made it a punishable offence. Yet, it continues to make news at regular intervals.

It poses the question, have we understood this phenomenon in the correct perspective. Have we thoroughly examined it in the context of the deeper psychological and sociological determinants that eventually manifest as ragging.

In 2006, the issue of ragging in Indian universities was brought to the forefront when the Supreme Court expressed disappointment in the implementation of its previous guidelines. The Court, therefore, constituted another committee under Dr. R K Raghavan, to suggest methods to prevent ragging, possible action that can be taken against persons indulging in ragging and action against institutions that fail to curb ragging.

After extensive studies, Dr. Raghavan made several important observations. He noted that ragging has many aspects, including psychological, social, political, economic and cultural; and that it adversely impacts the standards of higher education. He considered ragging as society’s failure to inculcate human values in children from their schooling stage.

He made some strong recommendations to curb ragging. He noted that the view taken by the apex court that students indulging in ragging should not be treated as criminals needs to be reviewed. He also suggested that behavioural patterns among students, particularly, potential raggers, need to be identified. A sub-group appointed by Dr. Raghavan’s Committee observed the sexual forms of ragging and stated that such behaviours are a manifestation of widespread sexual repression in society.

Lessons to learn

When we carefully examine the Minutes of the meetings of the Raghavan Committee and the details of ragging incidents reported in the media across Sri Lanka in the last 20 years, it is clear that ragging is not merely a disciplinary or a law and order problem that can be solved by punishment alone. It has complex social and psychological dimensions.

Hundreds of past university students shared their experiences of ragging with Dr. Raghavan.The final analysis revealed the contribution of complex factors related to caste, region, sexuality, substance misuse, personality and so on, to the ragging mania.

Steps to be taken

Based on Dr. Raghavan’s observations, what could we do to minimize the ragging mania in our higher education institutes?

One suggestion is the appointment of an Anti-Ragging Committee to be nominated and headed by the Head of each institution. It may consist of representatives of civil and police administration, local media, Non-Government Organizations involved in youth activities, representatives of Faculty members, parents, students in the freshers’ category, etc. It should be the duty of the Anti-Ragging Committee to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Regulations.

Furthermore, an Anti-Ragging Squad must be nominated by the Head of the Institution for maintaining vigil, oversight and patrolling functions and will remain mobile, alert and active at all times. The Anti-Ragging Squad should be authorized and empowered to make surprise raids on hostels.

The Heads of institutions should submit a weekly report on the status of compliance with Anti-Ragging measures and a monthly report on such status thereafter, to the Vice-Chancellor of the University.

The Vice Chancellor of each University will then submit fortnightly reports to the higher education authorities.

Apart from its complex nature, another significant reason why ragging is difficult to control is that it is a ‘soft’ problem – one that is subjective and dependent on how it is perceived by the victims and perpetrators as well as other stakeholders. Therefore, it becomes difficult to formulate efficient means to control or end it.

A more refined understanding of this complex issue, replete with its social and psychological dimensions has become the need of the hour. Perhaps, we need a replica of Dr. Raghavan’s Committee here and now.