Monday, July 31, 2006

life in a ‘ladies hostel’ - hazing, indian style

In India nowadays, a form of hazing called ‘ragging’ is an integral part of college life for all incoming students, not just those seeking to join a fraternity or sorority. All upperclassman have the right to rag on all freshmen in their schools. Some of the senior girls in the hostel I stay in have decided to ‘rag’ some of the incoming freshmen, and for days I am privy to all their planning and plotting. One night, as I walk past the dining area, I see that the ragging is in session.

Ragging, as it turns out, is not merely a way to wield one’s power over those socially weaker (though of course it may be that too), but in fact involves both ragger and ragged in a set of social commitments that will last throughout their college careers. Once the junior has successively passed through the ragging, the senior will tell them that they can come to them with questions or problems while they are at college, and if any other senior students attempt to rag the junior, the seniors have an obligation to head them off. In essence, the younger must demonstrate their willingness to show respect and humility towards their elders, and the elders must protect and take care of them as they are able. Ragging continues until both sides accept these roles in relation to each other.

Seniority is based here not on social, economic or caste position, but simply on one’s year in college. At least in theory. Once a senior is satisfied that the junior has accepted the terms of the relationship as they see fit, a kind of friendship may begin to take shape.

In the hostel I am living in, the upperclassmen have chosen to rag the freshmen in the hostel because one of them have behaved in a way that seemed arrogant towards the seniors. How did this arrogance manifest? Mainly in giving flip answers to polite questions, as far as I could tell.

This ragging continues from the first day of classes until a ceremony called ‘Freshers,’ in which the upperclassmen stage a night of entertainment for the freshman, usually a few months into the first year. After ‘Freshers,’ all ragging stops. It may stop earlier, if the seniors are satisfied that the junior students are appropriately respectful towards their elders. My friend Sharada explains to me that once the freshman have satisfied them with their handling of the ragging, if any other girls want to rag them, they will say, “No, please don’t. We have ragged them and they answered properly.”’ If the upperclassman are still not satisfied by the time ‘freshers’ is held, what happens, I ask? Are there any repercussions after the day of Freshers? ‘We are their seniors,’ Sharada explains. ‘So there will definitely come a time when they need our assistance or guidance, and we will not give it to them.’ Effectively, if the junior students do not agree to their side of the relationships by showing respect to their elders, the elders will not take them under their wings.

At least this is how it is meant to work in the college that my friend in the hostel attends. Engineering colleges are notoriously bad for ragging, and there it has gone as far as some of the worst fraternity hazing incidents. A couple of years ago, a boy died jumping off a roof when given the choice between jumping and walking barefoot over glass. Since then, ragging is banned and police will come to campus during the first months of the year in an effort to prevent it. It continues of course, though perhaps with a bit less venom. My friend Sharada at once laments the harshness of ragging at engineering schools and justifies its use in her own, albeit in a milder form.

The night of ragging at our hostel consisted in making freshman talk about themselves and their hobbies and then meet challenges. One freshman cites singing as her hobby, and is asked to song for the group. One who names watching football as her hobby is asked to name all the members of India’s national team. She is unable to do so, and is told to have the list memorized for the following day. Those who seem submissive are let off lightly. The arrogant girl leaves with a list of eight tasks.

The ragging would have continued the following day, but the arrogant girl calls her parents and have them call and complain to the manager of the hostel, who is also effectively its RA. She puts a firm stop to the ragging. The upperclassman have been outmaneuvered.

I return from Hyderabad a few weeks after this took place, and in that short time, I can see that the freshman who handled themselves satisfactorily that first night have formed bonds with some of the upperclassman. Friendships are in the offing.

The arrogant girl whose parents called to stop the ragging eats alone with a couple of other freshmen who had taken her side. They make little eye contact with their housemates.


Anonymous said...

sad article with an even sadder consequence

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