When I hear the word ragging all I can think of is the conversation I had with my dad before I first joined college all those years ago. We had just finished shopping for books and had bought everything we could think of for my shift into a hostel. Amidst all the excitement and apprehension, my dad had casually brought up the topic of ragging. He’d told me that while ragging was almost a norm in colleges, that just because it was normalized it didn’t mean it was right, that if I were ever hurt in any way, I was to speak up against it, if only to him or a friend. After that, I had been so terrified of being bullied or ragged, that when only a week later, a senior had asked me to come to her room after my lectures, I had locked myself in my room for the remainder of the day.
Ragging can be traced back to as early as 7th or 8th century Greece where ragging was an effort to build team spirit in sporting communities. This, after going through centuries of change, reached the American culture, where something similar to ragging (called hazing)was prevalent where the recruits or pledges of a fraternity had to go through various humiliations to show their grit to be a part of the fraternity. This reached the English after World War 1 when the soldiers rejoined college, they brought along with them the techniques they had learnt in military camps abroad where the various “tasks” were meant for the individual to lose when done alone but to succeed when performed as a team. This then finally India and other British colonies with the advent of colonization . Here, ragging underwent drastic changes. Rather than being something harmless, fun and an ice breaker, it turned into something toxic. People were harmed, emotionally, physically, mentally and sometimes even sexually abused. Finally, in 1997, Tamil Nadu (which had some of the worst cases of ragging) passed anti-ragging laws which were subsequently passed by the Supreme Court in 2001. This lead to a drastic decline in some of the worst forms .
Ragging doesn’t have to be toxic, harmful or demeaning. Under a controlled environment, it can be fun for both the seniors and the juniors. It’s a great ice breaker and often seniors end up being helpful and kind and close friends. When the senior had called me to her room, it turned out she was moving out and simply wanted to give away some of her notes. Had I never approached her, I’d have lost on valuable notes that helped me throughout my first year. In our college, the girls’ hostel had an “induction” program with the hostel rector present. Yes we had to enact various things and make a fool of ourselves, yes we had to call our senior’s ma’am and sir, but did we have fun? A big yes. Did we become friends with our seniors? Of course. Just because ragging has the negative connotations of embarrassment and abuse doesn’t mean it’s always true. Sometimes it’s a way for seniors to get to know you better, just like their seniors got to know them before you. And let us all be honest, having an “older sister or brother” batting for your corner is always helpful in the new world of medical school. Having someone who tells you all the cool spots to hang out, where you can get really good cold coffee, or the best places to party on a budget makes adjusting to new experiences that much easier. And when exams roll in, it’s the seniors’ tips that help us get through. From how to behave with what professor, to important and “favourite” viva questions that have been asked for years in every exam, from what questions can be asked in the theory papers, to cases that are always kept for practical exams.
But, just because ragging seems to be harmless for you, every person is different and their experiences are different. At any point, you feel harassed or are physically, emotionally or sexually attacked, make sure to report it, do not pass it off as a ragging experience. Your body, your feelings are for you only and no one should make you feel uncomfortable or unhappy. The government of India has not only set up a helpline number (1800-180-5522) for those who are ragged mercilessly you can also go on their website (http://www.antiragging.in/) to leave an anonymous message. And of course, every college has their anti-ragging committee where you can approach not only the professor but the student in charge with your complaints. And later when you are a senior, remember pranks can be harmless and fun until they aren’t. Be mindful and be sure the junior is enjoying it as much as you are. Be kind and friendly. After all, college is some of the best years of our life. Let’s make sure to keep it that way.
1. https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-origins-of-ragging (the original was https://contentwriter.in/articles/others/evolution-of-ragging.htm, but has been deleted since.)
Dr Poonam Nayak