Monday, 9 December 2013

Our New National Epidemic

This is a column I wrote for the June 2013 edition of the Youth INC magazine.I'm reproducing it here . This is a world away from the topics I usually comment upon. Hoping it makes for an insightful read.The original can be read at the Youth Inc website.

 Students in India have always incurred some kind of ragging or bullying in their  lives. Society has grown to accept it but there are horrible consequences no one talks about. Nisarg Kamdar investigates
Bullying and ragging have long remained a smear on independent India’s script. Countless efforts have been undertaken to tackle the deepening menace and various legislations have been enacted, and while some have been effective, there is an overwhelming feeling that the law can have more of an impact to improve security of students in Indian institutes.


Ragging is widely defined as ‘any action or situation created by a group to intentionally produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule among those wishing to join the group.’
Professor of psychology, and a key researcher in bullying, Dan Olweus defines school bullying in a general way as “repeated negative, ill-intentioned behaviour by one or more students directed against a student who has difficulty defending himself or herself.  Most bullying occurs without any apparent provocation on the part of the student who is exposed.”
The fundamental difference between ragging and bullying is that ragging is intended as a method of initiation into the group whereas bullying is intended at keeping the victim ostracised.


While ragging was originally meant to help freshers mingle with their seniors and break the ice, it has become a tool for seniors to impose social hierarchy and implement their will upon their juniors.
Bullying on the other hand arose due to school students seeking an effective way of making themselves known. It is heralded as a product of low self esteem by modern day psychologists.


When it comes to ragging, a victim who has been physically and mentally tormented by his seniors might start believing them to be his friends who are putting him through a rough time to prepare him for the future. This can be equated with Stockholm Syndrome where a kidnap victim empathises with their captors after having spent enough time in their presence. Unfortunately, this will ultimately result in the victim justifying the act of ragging who will, in turn, impose it on their juniors in the following years.
Bullying causes physical and emotional pain among the victims from continuous tormenting by their perpetrators. But with time, the effect is also felt by the perpetrator who spirals further into trouble-making activities which can be in the form of conduct 

disorder, substance abuse and other forms of crime.


When it comes to ragging, helplines are crucial to aid a student who is suffering from turmoil at the hands of his seniors under the guise of a socially accepted norm. However, strict laws need to be set up which will allow legal redressal to the victim and book the perpetrators for their heinous acts. It is only by effective legal recourse that a mass taboo would be placed upon the act of ragging, thereby eradicating it from our schools and colleges.
Bullying dances to a different fiddle since it stems from a psychologically affected individual or group of individuals who are asserting their will upon a weaker person. Emphasis should be laid on providing appropriate care to the victim as well as to the perpetrator in the form of counselling and psychiatric therapy. Restructuring the juvenile crime system will also allow strict legislation which will nip the root in its bud and help eradicate the problem from modern society.


The University Grants Commission established a 24×7 helpline to aid any students who have been victims of ragging. The student may call the toll free number 1800-805522 or send an email to helpline@antiragging. net to file a complaint.


In December 2004, a 19-year-old electronics and communication engineering student committed suicide by hanging himself from a ceiling fan in his hostel room at SKR Engineering College in Tambaram, Tamil Nadu. The student was being continuously ragged and humiliated by his seniors to the extent that he was forced to bathe in his own urine. Unfortunately,  his written complaints to college authorities were ignored which led to this drastic recourse of taking his own life.


India ranks third after China and Singapore when it comes to cyber bullying. Reports have indicated that cyber bullying cases persist in the country due to perpetrators believing that they can get away scot free and because of intolerance towards minority groups who have been the prime victims of the crime. Cyber bullying is punishable under Section 66A of the IT Act which states that a person can be booked for sending false, offensive messages through communication services.


Many Bollywood celebrities are openly against ragging and have spoken about the need to eradicate it. Amitabh Bachchan has vaguely spoken of a traumatic ragging encounter in his college days while Arjun Rampal has also spoken of a vow he took in college to never rag his juniors after he was subjected to ragging by his seniors. During the launch of 3 Idiots, Aamir Khan said that the film was specifically anti ragging and hoped to highlight problems in the education system.

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