Ragging in colleges is once again in the news. The death of Aman Kachroo has shaken people. And rightly so. Many ask if we can stop this menace. Yes, we can. How? Correct the students’ understanding of power and abuse.

When I visit colleges, I see notices posted across the campus that “Ragging is strictly prohibited and offenders will be severely dealt with” or words to similar effect. Yet ragging persists. Why? Because such notices do not address the cause of the problem – the students’ incorrect understanding of power and abuse, be it the abuser or the victim. And society is responsible for this wrong understanding.

For instance, the victim who complains is seen as weak, while the victim who silently submits to the abuse “because it is a part of college life” and hence ‘survives’ ragging is seen as strong. Everyday the news carries stories of abuse. Sadly even law enforcers blame the victim for the violence they suffer. In all these instances, the argument runs that it is the victim or someone else who is responsible for the violence unleashed. A few weeks back there was a news report about college students damaging buses when they were not permitted to ride on the rooftop of city buses as part of their ‘Bus Day’ celebrations. A student leader blamed the lack of cultural events at government colleges for the students’ misbehavior. In short, the abuser is not responsible for his or her actions. So, why are we surprised when our youth resort to abusive behaviour?

While most people would not overtly support or condone violence, they tacitly do so by buying into the false argument that a victim should have known better than to resist/provoke a bully. This false belief must change. The bully must be held responsible and accountable for his or her behaviour. Abuse needs to be recognized as the act of cowardice that it is.

Ours is a hierarchical culture. We need to define what legitimate authority is and what isn’t. There is much top-down communication. But communication needs to be a dialogue and not a monologue. We need to teach our children to use dialogue as the means for resolving conflict. We need to teach them that aggression only exacerbates conflict. We need to teach youth how to dialogue with those who have a different point of view.

We need to redefine our understanding of discipline and how we exercise authority to shape behaviour. In an earlier post I had written of a child being expelled from school because he fidgeted while the National Anthem was being sung on Republic Day. The school authorities justify the decision as ensuring discipline. But what message has the child heard?

We don’t need more rules against ragging and notices warning of dire consequences to offenders. May I suggest workshops, seminars, street plays, poster competitions, skits and other cultural events on ‘gandhigiri’ / the ahimsa way as an alternative?

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