Video Producer Aparna Singh
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Biplab Mukherjee (name changed), a third-year student at Kolkata's Jadavpur University (JU), still remembers his first day in the college hostel.
"On my very first day, one of my roommates and a senior were given the task of explaining the process of ‘intro’ to me," he tells The Quint.
"Seniors in the hostel told me that every night after 11 pm... I would have to be minimally dressed and knock on the doors of all the rooms in the hostel. Once a senior opens the door, I would have to then introduce myself in a certain 'format’. The 'format' was to say my name, my father’s name, my mother’s name, date of birth, and other personal details, which I thought was objectionable. The ‘intro’ would end with my physical description."
He recalls that during the introduction, if he accidentally used any English words, his seniors would punish him. Once, Mukherjee recalls, as punishment, he was made to run down the stairs of the three-storey hostel building he was staying in, 10 times without a break.
"I was out of breath and they only stopped after much pleading. I was also told that I would have to enter the hostel by six pm and maintain a 'military cut' hairstyle. I had to refill water bottles in the rooms of all seniors once in a week and narrate details of my female classmates to the seniors. We had to follow their orders no matter what," he adds.
Unable to withstand the harassment, Mukherjee left the hostel after staying there for about 4-5 months. However, he says that he did not complain about the ragging to anyone.
Like Mukherjee, many students on the campus allege that they have been ragged, bullied, and tortured by their seniors.
(Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide and physical and emotional torture. If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
Last week, a first-year undergraduate student of Bengali at JU, hailing from the Nadia district of West Bengal, died after he fell from the balcony of his university hostel in a suspected case of ragging.
"It was only later [after my son's death] that many people told us that ragging is rampant on the campus – and students are harassed regularly," his father had said last week.
The Quint spoke to students from the university who have allegedly been subjected to ragging and harassment by their seniors.
The university is yet to respond to multiple calls and a questions sent in a detailed email about the allegations made by the students and the staff. The article will be updated as and when they revert.
'Was Thrown Out by Hostel Seniors in Middle of Night'
Subhajit Dutta (name changed), a postgraduate final-year student at JU, recalls how he was thrown out from his hostel before the onset of winter in 2021.
"I began staying on the campus in 2019 when I joined as a fresher. My seniors, as well as some former students of the university, forced me to perform menial jobs like fetching food and alcohol at odd hours. If I refused, I was physically assaulted. One night, a bunch of seniors and former students simply kicked me out of my room," Dutta told The Quint.
Dutta says that he repeatedly complained to the college authorities about his plight. However, the hostel authorities, instead of bringing the perpetrators to task, shifted him to a guest room, he adds.
Dutta says that when the hostel reopened post-pandemic, he thought he could breathe freely for a bit.
"But no, I was instead threatened in front of hostel authorities for filing complaints. I was now being harassed by a new set of seniors as the previous group had left by then. For the next six months or so, I shifted between mess accommodations provided to me by some seniors who empathised with my plight. Sometime during the end of last year, authorities shifted me to the in-campus boys hostel (the main hostel where the incident took place last week is located outside the campus gate) which finally ended my plight," he adds.
'Saw Seniors Asking Classmates to Perform Vulgar Gestures'
Ankita Debnath (name changed), a final-year postgraduate student at JU, recalls seeing seniors torturing some of her batchmates when she joined as a fresher in 2019.
She says the culture of giving an 'intro' has invariably transformed into ragging.
"During my department's fresher's party, some of my male classmates were made to put balloons inside their shirts to resemble breasts. And all the male as well as female students made fun of them. Some were made to stuff long balloons inside their pants to resemble a penis. Some were told to act like they were masturbating while giving an intro. Only the male students were made to do so, but..." Debnath tells The Quint.
Debnath further adds that the freshers were forced to cut their hair short to be "easily identified."
"The freshers were expected to go up to the barber at a salon next to the main hostel, and say they wanted a 'first-year cut'. The barber knew... he would then cut their hair short. This was done so that the freshers could be easily identified," she alleges.
'Bullied Because of My Ethnicity'
"My tribal background was constantly referred to in the taunts. They constantly implied that my parents were from a 'lowly background'. They kept using derogatory, casteist terms," Prashun Subba (name changed), a former student of JU who graduated in 2018, says, claiming he was ragged because of his ethnicity.
"From the very first day that I entered the hostel, I was made aware by the seniors in the hostel, of my ethnicity and caste. I am from a tribal Nepali community from Sikkim, and hence, I have different features compared to mainland Indians. While giving my 'intro' one day to the seniors, one of them implied that I came from a backward class since mainland Indians have 'normal features' and not 'split eyes'," he tells The Quint.
"One among the guys commented that since my grandfather was involved in cleaning toilets, I too would have to do the same to take the 'lineage' further. They made me clean toilets. I was told I had to follow the orders of the seniors at all costs. That also meant getting food, cigarettes, and alcohol for them at odd hours. I shifted to a private paying guest facility nearby in the Jadavpur area – and finally got some peace of mind," Subba tells The Quint.
'Authorities Not Tackling Problem Effectively'
Many people, including those related to the university, are blaming the university authorities for not taking enough measures to prevent ragging.
Partha Pratim Roy, a Physics professor who represents the JU Teachers’ Association, visited the hostel a day after the incident involving the death of the 17-year-old student.
"I had gone on a sort of inspection of the hostels, and I saw about 7-8 first-year students all sporting the same haircut. This was a clear indication that they had all been victims of ragging," he tells The Quint.
Roy claims that the university authorities have not been able to tackle ragging due to a lack of elected representatives in various administrative positions.
"Since 2019, we haven't had our union elections and all the other authority bodies are defunct. We have only one pro-vice-chancellor and no standing VC. Thereby, the anti-ragging cell is sort of defunct, and therefore, there is a breakdown in dialogue between students, teachers, and the administration."Partha Pratim Roy
Roy also alleges that on the day of the incident, the registrar of the university acted irresponsibly.
"The registrar of the university, who is responsible for campus security and other matters concerning safety, did not respond to calls and rather switched off her phone on the day of the incident. This has led to some amount of anger among the lecturers and professors who want the registrar to resign," Roy claims.
The Quint has reached out to the registrar. The article will be updated as and when they respond.
Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission, which is probing the student's death, pointed out that 10-point report submitted by JU did not include a single line on the steps taken by the university to prevent ragging in the campus before last week's unfortunate incident.
All of them were to do with what actions were taken post the student's death.
So far, nine current and former students have been arrested in connection with the case.