A Hazing Murder Roils India

Student harassment
is on the rise as more schools go private

The hazing death
of a 19-year-old Indian student earlier this month at the Dr Rajendra
Prasad Medical College in India’s northern state of Himachal
Pradesh has sent shock waves across the country. Aman Satya Kachru, a
so-called quota student at the school, the son of highly qualified
parents, died March 8 of a brain hemorrhage triggered by torture by
four senior fellow students.

With Kachru's
parents accusing his college of trying to hush up the incident, the
youth’s death has raised questions about extreme hazing, called
ragging in India, which goes on unchecked in professional schools.
Just weeks before, on February 11, the Supreme Court ordered all
universities to follow guidelines from India’s Medical and Bar
Councils and the University Grants Commission on ragging and that
college personnel read regulations to all students at the time of
admission.

According to the rules,
students could be suspended and police were to be informed to begin
criminal investigations. If schools sought to shield errant
students, they were open to losing grants in aid, the committee said.
But despite that, little is being done on campuses across the
country. In fact Kachru’s college has been notorious for
ragging, to the extent that even senior doctors say they dread
being posted there. No anti-ragging laws are in place in the Himachal
Pradesh state government, which supervises the Dr Rajendra Prasad
Medical College. A 1992 ordinance to deal with the problem has faded
into oblivion because it wasn’t converted into law by state
governments that have come into power.

It isn’t
just northern India. The malaise is deep-rooted in the entire country
and has ruined countless careers, injured thousands and killed many.
Scores have been sexually exploited. A few months ago, two students
in the south of the country committed suicide after becoming victims
of violent ragging. K. Harika, an engineering student at Osmania
University hanged herself in Hyderabad and S Harish Kumar died at his
home in Kurnool, three months after he
had swallowed acid over persistent ragging and humiliation by senior
students. He was made to clean toilets and was paraded naked, he
wrote in his suicide note.

There are many
such horror stories. Last year, in a case that dominated the front
pages, a student at IMT-Ghaziabad – a management school in
India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh – tried for 68
days simply to register a complaint against three senior students who
had been ragging him for months. The hapless student finally had to
knock at the Prime Minister’s Office because police refused to
register his complaint. The youth had apparently been forced by
upperclassmen to undress after which they threw lighted matchsticks
at his private parts. The local police finally registered a complaint
but only after the PMO's intervention.

Education analysts say
that with higher education increasingly privatized, academic
institutions have been experiencing increasing ragging-related
excesses. In 2007 for instance, 42 cases of physical injury and 10
deaths were reported across the country. The practice continued
across the country in 2008. Last year, as many as 70 cases of
ragging, nine of them suicides, were reported. Overall, 30 deaths
have been recorded over the last seven years, with many youngsters
required to be admitted to mental hospitals.

The problem of ragging
in India, say experts, is brushed aside as a "sociological"
one. Education authorities say it reveals a feudal mindset that goes
back to the British Raj – of seniors who feel the need to
"dominate" their juniors by abusing them. This is amply
demonstrated in Kachru’s case. He came into the school through
a quota system for minorities, thus making him a target for
intimidation from socially higher-ranking seniors with a colonial
mindset.

"Ragging,"
says sociology professor Veena Deb, "can only be checked by
creating awareness among students, teachers and parents. There should
be an atmosphere of discipline and an unambiguous message ought to
relayed to the offenders that their misdemeanors will not go
unnoticed or unpunished. There has to be zero tolerance on the
issue."

The punishment, Deb
continued, can take the form of withholding scholarships or other
benefits from erring students or even expulsion. As for the
recalcitrant colleges, their funding ought to be stopped or they may
be disaffiliated till they rectify the situation.

In fact more and more
analysts believe the blame needs to be pinned laid at the
institution’s door. Kachru, for instance, was killed on the
premises of his college. Before his death, he and 13 of his
classmates had filed written complaints with authorities, who
employed no punitive measures against the errant students. The
college simply brushed the matter under the carpet for fear of its
reputation getting sullied, observers say.

Shivam Vij,
editor, www.stopragging.org,
recounts in an online article a case at the National Institute of
Technology (Allahabad) in 1990. He describes how a session of "mass
ragging" — which involved beating freshmen black and blue —
prompted one to escape by jumping from the window. He broke his neck
and died subsequently.

"I see
ragging simply as a systemized form of abuse and exploitation,"
Vij wrote. "And the price of not obeying the seniors can range
from ostracism to violent and/or sexual retribution."

The Society
Against Violence in Education (SAVE), a registered, non-profit,
voluntary organization, advocates that the public and authorities
work towards putting an end to the violations as well. However,
sporadic measures by voluntary groups are only a part of the answer.
Ragging is not perceived as a serious human rights issue. Until it
is, such initiatives can at best only serve a supplementary role,
authorities say. The primary thrust, they say, must come from the
academic institutes, the parents and the students themselves. Not to
mention the Indian government which should strengthen its law
enforcement mechanisms in such a way that in future no serious case
of ragging goes unchecked or unpunished.

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