Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rag-time Blues - Is Ragging in tune with college culture?

Ragging (also known outside of India as Hazing) is a form of ritualistic social induction into a group usually in an educational setting. Depending on whom you ask the induction can be described as anything from fun to abuse.

In 1992 when I entered dental school as a freshman, Ragging was not only necessary but an inevitable part of social interaction and familiarization. Avoiding it meant social isolation and a very low place on the popularity scale. Every freshman dressed themselves up in a senior mandated uniform of slippers, formal pants and shirts. We shaved often to maintain a clean hairless face and cropped our hair close to our scalps. Like animals nearing extinction we were tagged with these easily identifiable features and our actions on and off campus were closely monitored for non-freshman like behavior. The session of ragging lasted almost six months or until the end of the first semester.
In this article I attempt to understand two of the supposed justification and incentives to engage in Ragging:

Ragging promotes Camaraderie and Friendship?

Although the justification for ragging was the eventual familiarization between freshman and senior it is hard to see that as the strongest incentive for one to engage in it. "I want to get to know you, therefore I must rag you" sounds almost preposterous. Surely we are and have always been aware that there are more innocuous ways of making friends. But with ragging having become so ingrained in the college culture, interacting with a freshman in any other way makes it almost awkward. This method of social interaction has worked for years that simple introductions or an evening at a bar getting to know one another becomes uncharted territory. You simply did not get to know a senior if he doesn't rag you! It is easy to see how over the years everyone including those being ragged believes it to be a necessary tool for eventual friendships.

When ragging is either curtailed or banned often students complain that they go through their college years without ever knowing their seniors. This is consequence of fear among seniors of of being reprimanded for even casual conversation with the freshman and/or the lack of any alternative organized social interaction. When ragging is suddenly not an option, other forms of interaction are new and unexplored. It takes time to integrate other forms of communication into the college where ragging has been the norm for years.

Ragging is fun to all?

Within a really small boundary ragging can be fun. But it takes a lot of parameters for that to happen. Most importantly the freshman has to accept ragging as inevitable or even necessary. Since a lot of the amusement comes from subjugation, humiliation and mockery, a freshman also needs to shed all of his ego and inhibitions. Finally he needs to trust the ragger to find limits that would be acceptable for him. When all this comes together, harmless acts such as serenading an unsuspecting stranger, dancing to imaginary music etc become amusing to all the players.

But not all freshmen are alike and often have a harder time dealing with the mockery or trusting a stranger they only know as "Senior". Even the slightest form of ragging can make them anxious, fearful and sometimes angry. Often the resistance to ragging becomes an annoyance and the seniors begin to push the boundaries. Simple amusing tasks transform into physical assaults or taunts. Some raggers become notorious for being harsh and physical from the get go. Unfortunately they bask in the notoriety and remain unchecked.

Ragging has no rule book of what is allowed or disallowed; seniors get to make them as they go along. Ragging can be anything a "ragger" decides where the only things constant are the freshman and the senior(s). And that is where this argument for ragging falls apart. If there is no way to contain the harmlessness of the act then there cannot be any justification for it.

After my freshman year, I tried my hand at ragging the new batch. I wanted to build friendships and have some fun. I had strict boundaries and stayed clear of anything I had thought of as unacceptable during my year as a freshman. But none of that made it right and I realized a bit late that there were plenty of other ways to befriend the juniors and definitely a lot better ways to have fun.

To engage in something that can easily get out of hand is helping perpetuate it further. There might not have been any tragic consequences of ragging at our college, but do we have to keep at it until something like that makes us stop?

Almost all of us have been involved in some form of ragging. Please leave your comments regarding your present opinions on the issue so as to start a meaningful debate.


Neeraj said...

In my college ragging was fun and harmless. No one got hit or anything bad happened. But I can see how things can easily get out of hand.

kamna said...

"Ragging" the first thing that comes to mind is most definitely my freshman year. I might have cried tears of blood but still have some of the people who ragged me as my closest friends. I wasn't a big time "ragger" myself but must admit that I did indulge in harmless 'getting to know each other' ways...I enjoyed both sides of the coin and miss the good old days.

Anonymous said...

Ragging has lead to some really bad situations, even if there are only a few of them, it's too much of a risk to take for a college to allow it. Things can easily get out of hand and who is to say who will not go overboard and who will?

Dr. Arun Grover said...

Very well thought and written. I agree with your thoughts. We all have been ragged and have indulged in it to various degrees, thankfully most of us made strict boundaries and stayed well within them. I also remember, that during our freshman days, most freshers were kept together in the same hostel for added security and there were weekly official ragging/acquaintence days wherein supervised, time-bound, ragging was allowed. Seniors were given about 5 minutes per batch of freshers and all activites were closely monitored.

Neera Dahiya said...

Lord, so much to say! Was I ragged in school? Yes. Did I like it? Of course not! Who are the people I remember the most from school now? The people that ragged me.

It's really one of those complicated situations, with no right answers. Yes, most of the people that ragged me became very close friends, confidantes, and moral support through the years. Some of them, however didn't. And it was the ones that had no boundaries, or used ragging as a means to "get work done" (i.e. journals/ records they didn't do themselves), or used ragging as a means to act on their personal biases (you're from the north, you have an accent, you think you're pretty, you think you're smart....the list of paranoid biases is endless!) that never made friends with juniors.

I never got to rag my juniors. Like Samir said, rules changed, and it was "too dangerous" to interact with juniors- and some of them even cried wolf to the authorities. As a result, I didn't get to know my juniors at all-- I didn't even want to try.

However, it was the people that ragged me within "normal limits" (sing a song, fetch me water, inane task 21365) that I ended up forming close relationships with.

Closing two cents? Ragging serves an important purpose-- when done within normal limits. People that have taken ragging to the extremes to act on personal agendas/ biases have ruined what was a healthy practice. Would I undo all the ragging that I had to go through if I could? Most of it, I wouldn't. It attuned me to the traditions of the school, helped me understand the "pecking order" that is the lifeline of medicine, helped me make very close friends, helped me learn how to just shut up. For those that hated the way I talked/ walked/ smiled/ dressed/did whatever, or made me scrub bathroom floors at 3 am/ miss class/ strip...I'm sure the narrow confines of their mind haven't allowed them to grow (intellectually or otherwise), so life is pretty fair. Peace out.

no_ragging_foundation said...

The excueses that justify ragging are the absolutely BOGUS.

This "fun" has taken around ( at least ) 31 lives in last 7 years, including 7 since May , this year.

This "fun" has made hundreds "handicapped" for their ewntire lives.

If you justify stipping freshers naked makes a better relationship, why do the seniors not strip themselves before the juniors???

Why don't you try stripping your brothers, sisters and other family members to have "fun" together ???

Ragging is done for several CRIMINAL reasons, the most important being to satisfy the lust of a handful of "PERVERTS" , who are unfortunately having more power than their victims by virtue of seniority.

I know, you may not like my comment, but as a leading Anti Ragging Activist, it is my responsibility to bring every such act ( that supports something clearly stamped as a serious "CRIME" by the apex court ) to the attention of the Committee monitoring the situation on the order of the apex court.

Hope, your I.P. address will assist the authorities to take action against you for supporting a "CRIME" , or at least disable your blog that is justifying "CRIME".

Thanks and regards,

No Ragging Foundation team.

Anand said...

Colleges need to take a strong hand against ragging. While one student might be a willing participant another might find it mentally and physically too disturbing to function. We are only 17 or 18 when we enter college, who is to say that all of us are strong enough to handle ragging. Besides Senoirs just a few years older cannot be trusted either to only dish out what some call "fun" ragging. No to Ragging!!