Please note that I have said ‘bad’ ragging, not all ragging.
I believe that ragging does have value, provided it is carried out the right way.
I certainly do not condone the type of ragging we have been reading about, in which a young boy is abused in such an inhuman manner that he loses his life. This is totally wrong, and must not be allowed to happen, anywhere and at any stage.
Okay, that is ‘bad’ ragging.
What other ragging is there, you may ask? Isn’t all ragging bad?
I respectfully submit that the answer is ‘No’.
The purpose of ragging is to:
- deflate the ego of the recipient;
- teach the recipient to handle pressure; and
- unearth talents in him that he didn’t know existed. (This happened to me, and to some others I know.)
Most importantly, ragging connects freshers to seniors, paving the way for receiving help, guidance and mentoring.
In the vast majority of ragging scenarios, there is no violence, abuse, or humiliation. If these enter the ragging process, I would call it ‘bad’ ragging.
The fact is: Ragging is not unique to colleges alone. A new recruit in almost any job will have to face, and endure, ragging in some form or the other.
A newly inducted engineer trainee is assigned to a machine shop where some 30 sophisticated machines are running. He is the ‘assistant’ to an experienced supervisor.
A worker comes to the trainee and says, with a grin, “Saab, machine bandh ho gaya.”
Other workers turn to look, also smiling, and one of them says “Saab, you are an engineer from …. college. Why don’t you fix the machine for him?”
What is the young trainee supposed to do? Run to the supervisor for help? Admit ignorance? Call the bluff? Just grin and look foolish?
The point is—he has to learn, all by himself, how to work out the best way to handle the situation.
Everybody has been through, or at least seen at first-hand, umpteen instances of this sort of ragging in a workplace. Young recruits in banks, offices, sales teams, and factories face such ragging all the time.
Ragging in a college hostel is a preparation for real life.
Most unfortunately, we are hearing of instances where ragging has taken a really vicious form, often extending to physical violence.
When I was in IIT, I did come across situations where ragging turned bad. But, there was an informal mechanism that dealt with such matters swiftly.
For instance, a second-year student in my hostel caught a fresher from another hostel and brought him to his room with the intention of ragging the poor fellow quite harshly. Other inmates of his hostel block heard voices, went to the room to find out what was happening, and stopped the proceedings.
The fresher was escorted back to his hostel, and the offending senior was dealt with in our own hostel. He was made to work in the dining room three hours a day for a month. In full view of everyone else, he had to sweep and mop the floor, remove dirty plates, etc, while enduring jokes and jibes from all and sundry, including freshers.
The message was not lost on the other seniors, and especially the freshers, who knew what would hit them if they crossed the line in ragging when they became seniors the next year.
Another example of prevention by peer action.
In 1970, when Naxalism was rife in colleges all over West Bengal, the senior students of IIT Kharagpur decided to prevent its entry into their college.
They decided to take ‘direct action’.
Every single known, or suspected, Naxal sympathiser was rounded up one night. They were force-marched to the large common room of a hostel, and beaten up by a team of seniors, all night long.
Brutal? Unfair? Undemocratic? Yes, yes, all of that, maybe more.
But superbly effective.
The Naxal movement ceased at IIT Kharagpur the next morning, and our college remained Naxal-free thereafter.
I am not suggesting a similar approach to quelling ragging.
What I am suggesting is - instead of trying to stop bad ragging by using laws, policing, helpline, etc, we should use the power of the student community.
Present a potential danger to the student community at large if bad ragging continues, and the student body will take effective action in its own self-interest. People won’t sit in their rooms studying while someone is being ragged badly, thinking ‘What is it to me?’ They will come out and stop it from happening.
Peer action will follow when you pose a threat to what the students value.
Do students strive to get good grades? Deduct 30% from the grades/ marks of every student in a hostel where bad ragging happens.
Want to go further? Blacklist colleges where bad ragging happens, and stop campus recruitment for a year.
Believe me, make these things happen once or twice and bad ragging will disappear because the students will unite to monitor ragging themselves, and stop it from going bad.
Yes, my suggestion may sound outlandish, but I promise you, it will work.
Warning—it may not work in colleges and universities where politics has taken a firm grip. Once an institution gets mired in political interference, and acquires militant student unions, the focus shifts from graduating, getting a good job, etc. to getting a political grip on the institution.
In such circumstances, my suggestion won’t work. But yes, it will work in colleges where students are interested in studies and careers, not politics.
But, the purpose shouldn’t be to eliminate all ragging—just the bad stuff.
A good dose of ragging, kept within civil limits, is worthwhile education for a budding engineer or manager.
I have ‘been there, done that’ and so have countless others, and most of us are the better for it.
I rest my case.
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)