By: Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee
“Break the ice not through ragging”. I saw no such billboard in the Virginia Commonwealth University where I am doing my assignments as Affiliate Faculty. I met all the top persons in Administration including the Honourable Provost, Dean Humanities, Director Global Education Services or Dean Grad, I met the group of Young new faculty in the Orientation Program. No one is really bothered about the nonsense of ragging here. All are busy with project preparation and the semester syllabus, lectures and talk. Online and offline all are busy in the campus, in the library, in the classroom everywhere. In fact it seems to me that ‘Ragging’ is almost an unknown word in the Campus of this university which is one of the top ranking national universities. Two students one from Pakistan and one from Bangladesh asked me why the Jadavpur student died. I told it was because of ragging. They were surprised, “Sir can a student be killed for ragging? I felt shy and embarrassed.”
What extent can ragging go to in the campus? It is not always physical but mental also. Providing psychological harm or raising the fear of apprehension is always coined as ragging. In India most of the time, ragging is done in the institutions either to show power as superior over the fresher’s or just an act of sadistic pleasures. In either way, it is the juniors that suffer. I was disturbed after reading the news of ragging in Jadavpur University and so when the Provost Office invited me to attend the Grad Fest, my mind was fixed on the issue of ragging. The freshers will start coming to the Library Conference hall from 11 am and the time is fixed. It must round up by 2 pm. Today I woke up early for attending the Grad Fest On reaching there. I saw the wonderful get together for the Freshers Grad students, scholars, researchers all meet and enjoy in the James Branch Cabell Library conference room especially meant for any short gathering.
Enough amusement material was there but not the blaring microphone and songs at the loudest scale. No mad dances. Girls and boys were sitting and walking in the hall silently discussing softly and the various stalls organized from different departments of the University were giving free gifts to each participants. Even the Police of VCu gave a stall. Police here is at every moment at your beck and call. Their alertness is noticeable. Even if you are trapped in a locked room police and fire service people come immediately to rescue the victims. They are friendly to the students and not controlled by the political leaders in the campus. In fact there is no sign of politics, slogan poster or any banner from the political parties. No Political person is invited. All academic minded and renowned persons from Research field are invited to the University events. Food is served free and students can enjoy all in a relaxed mood. Time is fixed for Freshers. This year Grad Fest was from 11 am to 2 pm. After that no one is there. The tables and chairs were all cleaned. All these things are unthinkable in Indian institutions after any event. Even in Grad Fest the stall were providing good advices and directives for the first semester students as to their well being , health consciousness, and accommodation especially project preparation. Students too were discussing serious issues related to the semester and many came to take good selfies with me.
Even the Police VCU invited me to stand in the middle and take a photograph jokingly said, “Hi Sir you are doubly protected.” Grad Fest raised the issue of ragging and I was stunned to hear many don’t ever know it happening on the campus. First thing that I noticed is that there is no politics I met Dr. Manu Gupta Dean Grad School in a good mood. While I was framed in a picture with him, I asked him if there is any ragging in the campus , he simply laughed out and told me that there is no such thing at all to happen and for the last ten years there happened no such thing in the university hall or the campus residency. There is no political leader invited in the Grad Fest. It is all academic that was happening and discussed. Only in the morning I read an article in Times of India recently that discussed the issue of international students being ragged at foreign universities. I was surprised that no such thing happened here in real where I have been doing my assignment for months. Stern action will be taken if any such thing at all happened, said Dr. Jill Blondin the Director of Global Education Services where I got her in a super excited mood. She wanted to know about ragging in Indian Universities. As I am from Kolkata she asked me what happened in one university in my city. I felt awkward and uncomfortable and evaded the question by saying I am not fully aware as I have been abroad for months in the Virginia Commonwealth University. She did not extend the matter. Ragging is not their cup of tea.
Probably this is why the academic milieu is so peaceful in Virginia though many Indian newspapers made a huge cry over gunman in Virginia University campus. This is not related to the student and teacher relations. The time that I spend here as Affiliate Faculty I have got the opportunity to talk to the learners here who are from all parts of the globe. They work amicably with one another and ragging or political madness are just unknown things for them. Silence is self imposed and courteous behaviour with a smiling face each time uttering a cordial ‘Hi’ makes the relations sweeter. When I think of the ragging in Jadavpur one of the premier institutions of Bengal nay India or when I hear that wine bottles and drugs are flooding the academic campus of Presidency or Jadavpur universities I feel sad. For development of academics no ragging no politics are needed. Students in American universities whom I meet everyday here are no less smart from their counterparts in India. Why should ragging be done to make the freshers smart?
Ragging is basically humiliating and it means the uncountable possible ways to humiliate a fresher in the academic institution. It is a craze for satisfaction of the sadistic pleasure by some inhuman mindless seniors. It is illegal everywhere and deserves serious punishment. Some ways of ragging done in the college and universities hostels include the following actions. One is dressing the freshman in embarrassing outfits with makeup like clowns, babies, etc. for whole day or night or even for many days. A fresher is forced to eat a meal without using their hands, especially one that’s considered “gross” (baby food, edible insects, or mixtures of foods like ketchup and chocolate milk. Another way of torture is to make the freshmen compelled to sing funny songs or read a script in the middle of a busy courtyard. The freshers who never even smoked or took any drug or wine are served strong alcoholic beverages to induce intoxication.
Sometimes the seniors go down so low to make the freshers ask to pose for naked photo clicks or take collect signatures from the opposite sex near their private parts. They revel in gay and lesbian sex and the freshers are forced to dance in public. Many freshers come from poorer section and they too are forced to give treats to them and inhuman tortures are meted out if they fail. In the biting cold of December they are forced to stand naked in the bathtub filled with icy water. For comic appearance they put lipstick or makeup on men’s face. I know from one incident that happened in our neighbourhood that some private institutions in the South India admit students taking huge fees and then after admission the students are ragged fiercely by some local hooligans who are involved in plotting with administration and a section of the seniors. Then the newly admitted is forced to leave the seat in fear. The same seat left vacant is sold to another new student and the vicious circle continues as long as it is possible for them. Many freshers stop going to classes in fear of being ragged and bunking or skipping classes begins. This is one way to save oneself from humiliation in front of all the new classmate boys and girls who will be the future friends. Thus the freshers miss a lot by not going to university on the first days. To acquire the help of a friend is difficult for two reasons. First they are scared to go against the vicious nexus of administration, police, Student Union leaders given protection by political parties and a section of the seniors. Secondly, the seniors who earlier suffered in their subconscious mind feel that the juniors should go through the same trauma and the ordeal is allowed to continue. No real help comes from the meek and jealous seniors. So who is there to go and then tell outside all about what happened.
Ragging is unethical for sure but not always illegal in India is illegal and so is in 41 states of United States of America. However, some countries and states still don’t have any law on it. It also depends on the university. Some universities have strict rules on ragging and take serious actions against those who do it. Some don’t care and in some universities Ragging is not allowed but they don’t have any strictness on it and let students enjoy. But from my practical experience in the Virginia Commonwealth University I can say that here students do not have much time for all these nonsense. From the day one in Semester they are all busy preparing their lessons and projects. One student who came from Brazil said the most important thing; “East or West, ragging free zone is the best.” (The author at present is in Virginia Commonwealth University as Affiliate Faculty in English and a senior Columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com)