Not many people know this, but “ragging” refers to popular Spanish game of “Bull-Fight”, wherein the Bull is shown a red ‘rag’ which is used to infuriate the fighting bull.
When I entered my advertising college for the first time, in the summer of 2007, ragging was already a frowned upon entity, yet still not quite extinguished as a detail in a fresher’s pre-settling in encyclopedia. So it was with caution that we the freshers trod the college lands for the first time, keeping an uneasy eye out for the seniors, some of whom were less than intelligent, and drunk with power.
On the first day, while we were still yet to get familiar with those of our own class, and were standing about like a confused herd of stray sheep in the grounds, a delighted bunch of shark-like seniors sniffed us out. A tall girl lounging near the grounds yelled, “Hey, you, black-shirt!” and someone in my class nudged me and pointed in her direction. I wasn’t thrilled, but I didn’t really have a choice, so I warily made my way to where she was now looking very happy, along with her two male escorts, who flanked her like guards. “First year?” she barked. Routine stuff she clearly wanted out of the way. “You don’t mind, na? Just an introduction” I shrugged politely. “Are you scared of us?” I found that a little amusing, but I shook my head with a “No, you seem like nice people”. This sort of ticked them off. “Why haven’t you bowed to us yet?” my dear friend demanded. “Please bow, we’re your seniors”. I bobbed my head a bit. “No, not like that”, she whined. “Nicely” I nodded at her more pronouncedly, but she was still not pleased. “Bow!” she screamed. “Like this!” With that, she jumped up and bent double in front of me, “See? Like this” This invited some nervous laughter from her pals. She’d bowed to a new un. I was petrified, more than amused-I was going to pay for this! Sure enough, she quickly rallied, “Okay, so what are your talents?” I looked at her in disbelief, and carefully said, “um, art?” “Well, you can’t paint here, can you?” This invited more half-witted laughter from her buddies. “Please sing us a song” And sing I did, like a long-caged, flightless bird of song. And the above repeated itself a trillion times. More creative seniors demanded a one-word-in-hindi-one-word-in-english introduction, almost driving a classmate of mine to tears after she reached “mera name Sakshi is” for the fifth time.
I heard they made the guys in my class buy them cigarettes too, but girls saw none of that. In fact, it only got annoying because of the sheer number of seniors looking for prey. They were pretty decent, for the most part, some more pleasant than others. One of them actually gave me a dairy milk chocolate for “singing well”, which was curiously touching, even from someone who made me repeat “I believe I can fly” thrice.
Three years later, now that we’re the seniors in our advertising college, things have changed so much. My classmates and I honestly can’t be bothered troubling fledglings, but if someone did, it would not be feasible. An anti-ragging committee glues ominous posters all over college a month before term starts, teachers are on the look-about for mischief-makers, and the police, our faithful guardians, are always a call away. In fact, I was tickled to hear that a first-year threatened to file an FIR when a classmate of mine asked her name. Are we over-doing this? Or is it required, in light of the horrific human rights violation it has been seen to result in if allowed unchecked? I have suffered very little, but think it might be.
It started off harmlessly, as is the case with many things with much potential for alarm, as a way for the seniors to break the ice with the fresh entrants into the colleges, by playing practical jokes on them, or otherwise teasing them. It soon took on more unpleasant forms, though, such as physical, psychological or even sexual abuse, and creative new ways to exploit the freshers, such as the case of “paid ragging” in Coimbatore reported in The Indian Express of 5.8.2008, where the fresh students were forced to pay for the luxury trips of senior students in star hotels, began to come up.
Another strange and chilling case of ragging may be used to elucidate the dangers posed by it. In this case, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikousky, a renowned composer of Russia, was reported to have died in 1893 due to cholera, which was said to have been caused due to the drinking of contaminated water. Almost a century after his death, this was revealed to have been a blatant lie. The revelation was made by Alexandra Orlova, the biographer of the composer. She illuminated that Tchaikousky was a homosexual during his education period and this fact became known to college authorities whereupon they decided to punish the composer and to expel him. The news of the proposed punishment leaked to his old classmates and they thought that if the composer was punished it would bring a bad name to the institution. Therefore, the composer was summoned before eight former classmates in the “Court of Honour” and was asked to end his own life to “preserve the good name of the school”. The composer ended his life by consuming the poison provided by one of the Judges, and story of death by cholera was concocted subsequently.
Interestingly, the origin or initiative steps of ragging are not recent at all, but trace back to the Seventh or Eighth Century A.D.In ancient Greece, freshers to the sporting communities were subjected to humiliation and teasing to inculcate team spirit. After the passage of time, such activities were adopted by Armed Forces in which new entrants were made to obey the seniors in off-duty time.
In the USA, in 1828-1845, several student-organizations called ‘fraternities’ popped up in College and University Campuses. Freshers to these fraternities were known as pledges. These pledges were put through ‘hazing’ which was merely a ritual to test the courage of the pledge. This may also have been one of the earlier forms of ragging.
Ragging may be rationalized or justified under the garb of “introductions” and “breaking the ice”, but is more often than not systematic and sustained physical or psychological abuse of fresh students at the college/university/any other educational institution at the hands of senior students of the same institution and sometimes even by outsiders. It is often cold and brutal, and has on many an occasion broached the limits of friendly interaction. Therefore, it is heartening to see that ragging in colleges, which was fast being considered the up-and-coming social evil of our times, has hopefully been nipped in course of the bloom!