Aditi Maheswari (Bhopal)
Despite ‘ragging’ — an archaic initiation ritual during which new entrants into schools and colleges are teased and bullied by seniors having been banned by the Central and state governments and inviting the wrath of the Supreme Court — acts of ragging are punishable by fines of up to Rs. 50,000, jail terms ranging from six months to ten years — this brutal rite of passage, refuses to die out.
In an unprecedented judicial verdict on February 5, a session court in Bhopal sentenced four women pharmacy students of the RKDF Medical College, Bhopal, to five years imprisonment for abetting the suicide of a first-year student following continuous ragging. Additional sessions court judge Amit Ranjan also imposed a fine of Rs.8,000 on the convicts.
According to the prosecution, the convicted students mentally and physically tortured Ankita Sharma driving her to suicide by hanging on August 7, 2013. In a suicide note, the deceased named the four senior students and also indicted the college management for not paying heed to her complaints and failing and neglecting to stamp out this humiliating practice.
Shortly after Sharma’s tragic suicide, a PIL (public interest litigation) was filed by a medical student in Indore, and the Madhya Pradesh high court served notice on the state government to implement the Raghavan Committee’s report (2007) and Supreme Court directives to curb ragging in education institutions statewide. The PIL petition listed corrupt practices including ragging that are rife in 23 medical and 15 dental colleges of Madhya Pradesh (pop.73 million).
Admitting the PIL on September 2, 2013, a division bench comprising acting Chief Justice K.K. Lahoti and Justice Subhash Kakade served notices on Barkatullah University, Bhopal, the district collector and RKDF Medical College, where the accused students and the deceased were studying. However, neither the Congress (Dec 2018-March 2020) nor the incumbent BJP government has addressed the ragging ritual which is practicised widely across the state.
According to data compiled by the Aman Movement, which manages an anti-ragging helpline for the Delhi-based University Grants Commission, although ragging cases in higher education institutions countrywide have fallen sharply from 40 percent in 2009 to 4 percent, 132 ragging complaints were filed in MP in 2019. This is the highest number of complaints filed from any state since the Aman Movement started receiving complaints a decade ago.
To curb the incidence of this pernicious college initiation rite which often has serious consequences, educationists and human rights activists are calling for specific anti-ragging legislation from the state government on lines of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999.
“Andhra Pradesh has its own state legislated anti-ragging law, titled Andhra Pradesh Ragging Prohibition Act, 1997. Consequently, while Andhra had only 29 ragging complaints last year, in MP, 132 ragging complaints were registered. There is a need to have a state enacted anti-ragging law,” says Deepak Gour, a Bhopal-based lawyer.
Clearly, an idea whose time has come.