Rising Ragging Cases In Odisha: Where Do We Fail To Guide Our Youth?

TNI Bureau: It was around 6:30pm on 4th January, I was sitting leisurely with my evening tea. My mobile beeped, there was an alert from TNI in the whatsapp group. The story was about the ragging case that occurred recently in BJB Junior College, Bhubaneswar. Where two +2 first year students were beaten mercilessly by their seniors inside the college campus. When I watched the video clip of the case on a news channel portal it was clearly visible that a boy was being beaten by a gang of guys in uniform.

Few others are standing and watching the whole procedure. According to reports, the whole matter was some sort of love affair. The victim was warned by his seniors not to accompany a particular girl, to whom he has been a friend since school days. But the boy continued to go with the girl, ignoring the threats of his seniors.

This instantly reminded me about another case of ragging that occurred around mid November 2022 in Binayak Acharya CollegeCollege in Ganjam district, where a group of +3 students were found engaged in the act of ragging a +2 girl. In the viral video of the shameful incident, a group of so-called students were seen asking the minor girl to be kissed by a stranger (member of their gang) on her cheeks and lips. Although 12 students were expelled from the Institution and were booked under POCSO act. But for me the most shocking and shameful part was that few girls were also involved in the disgraceful act. Few among them were busy filming the entire scene.

I was really shocked and speechless, when I came to know that those virmints didn’t even hesitate to upload the video on social media. While discussing about ragging cases we can’t forget to add here the very infamous Ruchika Moahanty suicide case of BJB autonomous college of July 2022. Ruchika, a 19 years old girl, who was in the 1st year of +3, committed suicide in her hostel room and the police found a suicide note in the room, in which she said she was mentally harassed by three seniors of the college. Similarly in another incident a 1st year MBBS student of Bhima Bhoi Medical College and Hospital, Balangir had fallen to death from his hostel roof and his father had alleged he was subjected to ragging and mental harassment by the seniors. 

As per reports Odisha is the third highest among states reporting ragging cases in the country for the last two years. According to University Grants Commission (India)’s anti-ragging cell data, 511 complaints of ragging were registered in India in 2021,  compared to 219 cases in 2020. Medical colleges lead in ragging complaints, with most from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

In the current academic session of 2021-22, Odisha has reported 21 cases till April 3, 2022. The number of cases was 39 in 2020-21 taking the total to 60 in the last two years. Of the total cases in Odisha, MKCG Medical College has reported 9, the highest, followed by Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research or VIMSAR 5;  and Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology- Sarang, 8. When it comes to gender-wise distribution of the 21 cases this session, 16 were filed by boys and the rest five by girls. According to the UGC’s regulations on curbing the menace of ragging in higher educational institutions, released in 2009 and amended last in 2016, ragging may include any act of physical or mental abuse (including bullying and exclusion) targeted at another student (fresher or otherwise) on the ground of color, race, religion, caste, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, nationality, regional origins, linguistic identity, place of birth, place of residence or economic background.

Supreme Court-ordered notification of anti-ragging regulations and formation of mandatory anti-ragging committees in every higher educational institution. Despite UGC’s regulation act and Supreme Court’s order, the menace has not been curbed in Odisha which has remained among top-5 States reporting the maximum number of cases in the last 13 years (602 since the year 2009). As per UGC guidelines, every higher educational institution in the State has an active anti-ragging cell comprising 4 to 5 members and sometimes more depending on the number of faculty members and staff available. Institutions are also supposed to keep a watch on students by installing CCTV cameras and alarm bells at vital points on campuses.

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Students, on their part, sign an undertaking during admission not to indulge in ragging. In a written response on 20 December 2021, union minister of state for education Annapurna Devi told the Lok Sabha that ” 2,790 complaints of ragging had been received from students since 2018, of which action had been taken in 1,296 (about 47 % of the cases)—this included 616 complaints in which accused students were let off with a warning, 620 cases in which students were suspended and only 17 cases that ended in rustication of accused students”.

When a student is found to be guilty of being engaged in the act of ragging then administration actions against the student like suspension from the college and hostel, prevention from attending classes and examinations, withdrawing scholarship or fellowship, cancelation of admission and expulsion from institution may be taken up. Also ragging is considered as a criminal offense, so when a FIR is lodged then a case can be made under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) which will lead to more serious charges, like jail time or a fine. Also the student found guilty can be charged under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 341 (wrongful restraint) of the IPC and POCSO act, 2012 (case specific). Even the provision of stringent punishment has not deterred the students from ragging. Because, according to experts, junior students don’t complain against ragging due to fear of physical abuse (not always sexual) by seniors or being isolated in the college or even in a fear that their social image might get spoiled. Also few students who have faced ragging in their initial years, think harassing their juniors is their right.

Again at some instances when a ragging case is brought into light, college authorities and administration try to cover up the case and force the victim to withdraw the case, to save the image of their institution. Also members of the anti-ragging committee of a few institutions say that, “though faculty and police are a part of such panels, they cannot keep an eye on students round-the-clock; ultimately it’s the student who decides what to do”. Though revealing the name is not necessary, when someone informs about a ragging scene, still people hesitate to do so. So by establishing a thousand number of committees or making law and bringing up new punishment is not going to make much difference, the mindset needs to change through awareness drives. 

Not only institutions or students but parents should also be made literate about various laws and actions that can be taken against ragging.They should understand different types of ragging such as verbal, social, physical and cyber (there is much increase in their number during pandemics). In many cases students fail to find a way to cope with the situation of ragging and of protecting themselves, often they fail to overcome the emotional trauma. Eventually they develop the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, it might also lead to severe depression.

At this point they don’t find a better way than suicide to save themselves from the situation. Some risk factors associated with suicide from ragging are childhood trauma, nutritional deficiencies, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Parents of young students can save their children from any such mental and physical trauma or ragging by being engaged in their lives like daily work, activities of college and social media. Parents should always be aware of the friend circle of their children. Helping then in changing their sleeping, eating, reading patterns and helping them to get involved in more family and social institutions can make the bond strong between them and their children. In this way children will never hesitate to share the bitter and bad experiences they are facing in their college life.

The friendly and understandable behavior of parents can help a child to overcome the emotional trauma they are going through. Similarly, instead of showing only various ragging and crime cases and shouting loudly on the pattern involved in the crime, our present day media should also focus on the follow up of each case and the punishment given to criminals should also be pronounced in a powerful voice. Instead of debating on modes involved in a particular crime and recreating them on screen, the discussion should focus on various laws and punishments available against the crime.

Teaching the students about “how, when and from where” to obtain the help can surely make our institutions safe for our youth. Alongside its 2009 regulations, based on the SC order, the UGC also launched a toll-free helpline number (1800-180-5522) and a website (www.anti-ragging.in)  where victims can complain about any incident of ragging.

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