More than 200 people gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi a few days ago for a candle light vigil in the memory of Amann Kachroo, a 19 year old student of medicine, who was brutally murdered on the medical college campus in Tanda, Himachal Pradesh a couple of weeks ago.
Amann would have been alive today, had his parents taken his previous accounts of ragging on the campus a lot more seriously. Alas, like most parents they thought of ‘ragging’ as innocuous initiation in college life, a rite of passage, which everyone undergoes. They did not realise that what passes for ragging in our institutions of higher learning is often criminal assault, physical and mental torture and now I guess murder. I hate to add this but the college authorities by remaining silent and often trying to push everything under the carpet are equally complicit in these crimes.
Let me rewind to the year 1990. A fresh batch of students had joined the State Engineering College, in Raipur a city then in the province of MP in Central India. Most of the students were boys and had been assigned hostel accomodation on the sprawling college campus. They were straight out of school and almost all of them had stepped out of the safety of their homes for the first time. They had heard of ‘ragging’ on the campus, but they were completely unprepared for what was to follow.
These students were made to walk in the college in straight lines, all of them were to look at all times at the third button on their shirts and they were to greet everyone who passed by without looking up (they often greeted any moving object that went by). Any deviation from this code, would result in a sound thrashing by the hands of the ‘seniors’.
In the hostels things were a lot worse. All the students were required to open the rooms of their doors before two knocks, had to be properly dressed right down to the regulation black boots and had to be prepared for any indignity that the ‘seniors’ may want to subject them to. These included making students strip (in under 1 min), dance in the nude, march in the corridors in a train formed by clutching the genitalia of the guy ahead and a ‘game’ which involved making a huge pile of garments, switching off the lights and asking everyone to get dressed in under 5 mins in the dark. During the rains the students were asked to jump in filthy rainwater and catch female frogs. Failure to comply attracted severe beatings. In fact beatings were always around the corner because that appeared to be the standard form of amusement for most ‘seniors’. Choicest abuses and epithets were hurled as a common form of address and even greetings.
I can imagine Amann Kachroo, being subjected to this and perhaps a lot more as he struggled to find his feet in the college. If all this happened almost 20 years ago, I am sure ragging practices must have evolved on the college campuses. They must have become a lot more ingenious, more humiliating and degrading. Resisting and complaining to authorities has always been the surest way of being singled out for some really special treatment. Amann, did that and had to pay with his life.
The Supreme Court of India has issued strict guidelines against ragging and yet it continues on our campuses unchecked. The college authorities for some reason fail to act in time, are often willing to turn a blind eye and hope that things will settle down. In most situations that is exactly what happens but not before a bunch of bright and innocent boys have been subjected to some of the worst forms of perversion, often transforming them into brutes, who repeat this with greater hatred the following year and the cycle continues.
Ragging must end on our campuses. I am completely against ragging and have only contempt for those who believe that it is a form of ‘introduction’ and is harmless singing and dancing. The college authorities must ensure that no student is subject to any kind of humiliation or forced to do any act, which he is not comfortable with. Exemplary punishment must be meted out to those who rag juniors on or off the campus.
The reason I have such strong views on ragging are (and you might have guessed it by now) because I was one of the students who suffered at the hands of the ‘seniors’ in Raipur. Even after 20 years, I feel a strong loathing for those brutes and bullys who tortured us so. I was fortunate that my parents seeing my distress took me out of the hostel and made alternate arrangements for my stay. Life was a lot more bearable away from the hostels and I survived to narrate this tale.
My sincere condolences to the family of Amann Kachroo and like them I do sincerely hope that something like this never ever happens again.