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JU Student Death: Expressing Shock Isn't Enough, Ragging Needs Hard Solutions

Even if perpetrators of an individual case are brought to book, does it succeeded in curbing the menace of ragging?

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The social ill of campus ragging has claimed one more life. On the fateful night of 9 August, a first-year undergraduate student at the Jadavpur University allegedly fell off the balcony on the second floor of the hostel building he was put up at and died. Many say that he was teased to death.

The incident has sent shockwaves through the student community in Kolkata and across India. The fact that he was recovered naked from the front gate, the possibility of sexual assault can't be ruled out. According to the police, he was heard saying, "I am not gay,” before he fell.

However, this isn't the first time such an incident has taken place.

SC’s Direction on 'Anti-Ragging’ Laws in Indian Institutes

Over the last few weeks, widespread protests and demonstrations erupted across the campus, with students demanding justice for the deceased, and putting an end to ragging. A PIL has been filed at the Calcutta High Court, and of course, a high-level police inquest is on.

Investigations revealed that the Jadavpur University campus did not have CCTV cameras in place, and the so-called 'Anti-Ragging Cell' was more or less non-functional, with even its contact number out of order. Most institutions across the country have a similar tale to tell.

Earlier cases have resulted in the legal machinery laying down 'anti-ragging laws'. Abuse, humiliation or harassment of new entrants or junior students, and includes mental and physical torture, as also attempts at sexual abuse all comprise what can be termed as 'ragging'.

Listed below are some of the cases in point:

  • In 2001, the Supreme Court banned ragging throughout the country. Several states have also put in place their own anti-ragging laws. Implementation, however, seems far from satisfactory.

  • In 2009, the death of Amar Kachru, a medical student at Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, prompted the SC to issue a diktat directing all institutions to strictly follow the anti-ragging laws under which a student found guilty can face imprisonment up to three years in addition to paying a fine. If colleges and universities ignore these lapses, strict action would be taken against the authorities.

  • Further in 2022, two cases of suicide were reported from Odisha. Ruchika Mohanty, an undergraduate student of the BJB College, Bhubaneshwar allegedly died by suicide while Nishant Kumar a student of the Bhima Bhoi Medical College and Hospital in Balangir, jumped off the balcony.

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Who Become Targets of Ragging?

Each incident sparks off a hue and cry, with the same narrative of protests, demonstrations and a demand for justice for the deceased. Making noise of an isolated case is far from being an appropriate solution. The heat soon dies down and the incident fades into oblivion.

Assuming the perpetrators of an individual case are brought to book, whether it has succeeded in curbing the menace needs to be the larger question. The answer is clearly NO.

The Jadavpur University incident poses several critical questions that remain unanswered. At least three of the nine arrested in the case are ex-students. How were they still to allowed to stay boarded in the main hostel?

Most observers claim that students coming from far-flung areas become soft targets of ragging. These are mostly people from humble backgrounds who cannot afford private accommodation and hence, have no option but to stay in campus hostels.

If parents and students were aware, then surely, the college and hostel authorities cannot feign ignorance at this point. Why did they not take steps to segregate the freshers at the induction level? This was done only after a life was lost.

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Measures That Need To Be Effected

Instead of dealing with the problem in an isolated manner, it is imperative that the issue is considered in a broader perspective as a social ill that needs to be eliminated across the country.

Firstly, greater accountability must be demanded from the hostel staff like wardens or superintendents for whom it should be made mandatory to take continual rounds of the premises to keep a check on the residents. Even for the smallest incident of ragging, immediate rustication of the perpetrator should be the norm.

Where things go out of control, the college authorities should be liable for criminal action. Arresting the warden or superintendent is an option that need to be considered.

A proactive approach like this could yield better results rather than having authorities wait for a complaint to be lodged.

More often than not, freshers would be scared to complain for fear of reprisals from the seniors, who would also possibly intimidate them against lodging an official complaint. It is the responsibility of the authorities to provide necessary assistance in doing so.

Further, it should be made mandatory for every institution to have a functional 'Anti-Ragging Cell' which should be entrusted with powers not only of vigilance but also of registering complaints and initiating remedial action, to be followed up promptly by the arms of the law.

It is only when the college authorities start coming down hard on the perpetrators of ragging that precious lives can be saved and students spared of the psychological trauma.

(Shridhar Naik is a freelance journalist and writer based in Mumbai. This is an Opinion Piece and he views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them)

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