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A Trip down the Ragging Lane

by Stumblebee
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Nostalgia – that bittersweet window to the past does occasionally rake up memories more bitter than sweet. Ragging thankfully is no longer a part of student life at IIT Bombay, but a discussion amongst alumni recently brought forth recollections of this not so pleasant custom at our institution. We reproduce here some selected excerpts from alumni from the early years to the more recent to record the passage of ragging and how it was systematically rooted out from the campus. This is one tradition that thankfully belongs where it should – in the pages of history.

Stumblebee

I love IIT, my friends and my time there. IIT made us. IIT was undoubtedly the best thing that happened to us, most of my friends will agree. But in this emotional euphoria, I do not want to imply that everything was great. Throughout my first year I felt the atmosphere in the hostel was more hostile than friendly, thanks to the scourge of the disgusting rituals of ragging (hazing or bullying) that went on for several months into the year with significant emotional and often physical harm to some. I remember at least three or four people seriously thinking of dropping out within weeks of joining just because of this torture. For a couple of years I was actually afraid of several of our “seniors” in the hostel.

There are good traditions and bad ones, and terrible ones. It is idiotic to continue to a bad tradition because it is a tradition.

The Snobs

I also recall two distinct groups – one of us, the shy Gujjus, Ghatees and Bhayyas (somewhat derogatory slang for the people from the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh) and the other, the group of those fast-talking sophisticates, a cigarette dangling from the mouth, they could say motha, fatha, teacha and the like in “perfect” accent unique to Indian Convent Schools and knew British Public School slang and all the cuss words, and they used them with incredible ease and linguistic facility. Every other word out of their mouths had to be a b- word as in “you bugga” or “you bastard”. Inspired by the incessant stream of obscenities from their mouths, I was indeed tempted to say to those clowns, in the only language they understood, “Shut the hell up, you Motha Fucka!”, but good sense prevailed and I never did. There was an unspoken but undeniable tension between the two groups until at least some of the people “grew up” in later years and we were all friends.

If I could fight and stop hazing when I was a freshman, look into my eyes and see what I will do as President.

In subsequent years, with seniority, a small number of the raggees became the raggers and began to enjoy what they hated so much during their freshman year. The raggers were a sorry bunch. They were losers in life and absolute cowards; they always operated in groups of ten or twelve, never alone for they lacked courage as well as sanity. Despite the wonderful memories some deviants may cherish both as raggers and raggees (some might call it the aberration of sado-masochism), educational institutions will be much better off without this terrible tradition which has no socially redeeming value.

Dnyanendra Natwarlal (aka Dan) Mayur. (B.Tech, 1967, Chemical Engineering, Hostel 4)

 

First, let me share two philosophical points and then come to several practical examples of my putting my money (actions) where my mouth is.

I totally reject the “tradition” argument, which was often heard (both at IIT and in the US).  Very simply, there are good traditions and bad ones, and terrible ones.  It is idiotic to continue to a bad tradition because it is a tradition.  Surely, we (society in general, and IITians in particular) have sufficient intelligence to distinguish between these!  You have to put your brain on the shelf and not use it simply to claim that you are a lemming with no power to decidejust because it is a tradition. (It is unknown why lemming populations fluctuate with such great variance roughly every four years, before plummeting to near extinction.) I note that these same arguments were used to keep Blacks and women out the US military and out of many clubs and organisations as well.  They were going to irreparably damage these institutions!  That tradition has gone the way of the dinosaur, and the fabric of the universe has not unravelled.

I also reject the “bonding” argument, i.e. seniors and juniors bond because of ragging.  I do believe bonding can happen under certain conditions and often have spoken publicly of this thumb rule: if the senior is doing the same activity as the junior, it’s a bonding exercise; if not, it’s ragging/hazing.  For example, when we all go and clean up a dirty stream or a section of the road (as I have done at IIT and in the US), and all of us are doing the same thing, that is a bonding activity, and it does make for great bonding (and does some good).  If I, as the senior, am telling you to do some unpleasant thing or doing something unpleasant to you, while I watch and laugh, the “bonding” claim is a lie.

I agree that there are very harmful results of ragging (differential impact on different people, but we are all different people), and few redeeming features.

Now, to the practical examples:

I joined IIT in 1966 (your fifth year, Dan), and was in Hostel IV throughout my five years.  Because (as it happened that year) there were a large number of freshmen that year in H4 (over 50%), ragging was minimal, and we actually developed a system of calling for help from fellow freshers if needed.  [Amusing sidebar: My birthday is at the end of July, and I brought a cake to IIT to share with some of my new friends that weekend, which of course was close to the start of the academic year.  One of them called out to another that evening, “Beheruz says come down to his room.” Within minutes, there were 25 freshers at my room — they thought I was being ragged and were there in an instant to overwhelm the seniors.  There was no ragging and there were no seniors, but now I had five times the number of people I had invited.  We all had a teaspoon of cake as a result.  But, it showed that the system we had devised worked well.]

I was, and still am, totally opposed to ragging (called hazing in the US), and I have backed up my feelings with real action.  In my second year (I think I was on the H4 Student Council but honestly cannot be sure), and my third year as GS of H4 (continuing in my 4th year when I was GS of the IIT Gymkhana, and 5th year as well), I would not tolerate it.  I used my position and the support of friends to stop it in H4I don’t pretend that it was perfect, but H4 was a haven of non-ragging. Several times, when seniors from other hostels came to rag our freshers, we threw them out (made them leave).  I believe that we really made a difference to the culturethere was essentially no ragging during my senior time in H4 (at a time when ragging at IIT was pretty bad).

Once at NCC camp when I was a fresher, the seniors decided to rag freshers and brought down a fresher tent late at night. Wellthey messed with the wrong guy.  I was their junior (by far) at IIT, but I had gone through two years of advanced NCC training before I came to IIT, and was the most senior NCC cadet at IITand held the rank of Under Officer  (later became Senior Under Officer), and all the Army staff knew me well.  So I (with permission) roused all the seniors and made them parade up and down in the middle of the night!  As you can imagine, I had a lot of very senior IIT guys mad at me.  I remember going to meet a senior (I think in his third year at the time) in his tent, and the other seniors were cussing me outthey didn’t dare touch me because they knew what I was capable of, but they were being really nasty.  I wish I could remember his name and thank him again, but he said to them that I was his guest in the tent, and that they should quit doing that.

Fast forward to decades later when I was President of the University of West Georgia and we had some hazing incidents (a very small percentage, but one was too many for me), despite our education efforts.  I have actually de-chartered a fraternity and sorority due to hazing.  They could not re-charter for 3-5 years!  I have done battle with their lawyers and with others on this issue.  Once, after an incident, I convened a mandatory meeting of every fraternity and sorority member in our gym, and told them that I had had it (again only a very small percentage of them engaged

The stern attitude that the Institute has maintained against ragging since 1995 has been effective

in such activities, but I wanted to make sure the message was heard).  I actually told them about the philosophical points and the IIT stories I have related in the preceding paragraphs and then I ended with this sentence.  “If I could fight and stop hazing when I was a freshman, look into my eyes and see what I will do as President.”

It stopped.

Beheruz N. Sethna (B.Tech, 1971, Electrical Engineering)

 

There is no ragging in IITs any longer. It stopped around 95-96, with a huge push from administration and professors keeping a strict vigil. The professors could come into your hostel anytime of the day or night and go to any room to investigate. Any senior even talking to a fresher was questioned for the first few months of the first semester. There were anti ragging committees created within the hostels to help the freshers settle in and to stop any small incidents which the professors were not able to capture. Any complaint, big or small, by a fresher was taken very seriously and the senior was penalised. The senior was assumed guilty by default and only if there was enough proof of innocence was he released.

Rajat Garg. (B.Tech, 2000, Chemical Engineering, Hostel 2)

 

Yes, Rajat is right. Ragging was gone when I entered. Simply because I think when you don’t get ragged, you don’t know how to rag. It is more sort of a transfer of pain, if you don’t have it, you can’t spread it.

I remember there was a senior fondly known as Suddu in H2. To sort of rag, he’d just sit and stare at you at the mess table or in the lounge with his intense gaze. I remember one of my batchmates called from the Hostel internal to DOSA saying he’s been ragged. When being asked what happened, and him describing that he’s being “stared” at, he was politely informed that it was not ragging. When he told us what he did, we laughed at him for 2 days.

Suddu was awesome; him, Aditya (Baddy) and Jose rekindled my habit of reading, and lent me lot of Sci-fi and Fantasy over the years.

When I went to H5, expecting heavy ragging, it was far from it. Sure, some of us were made to sit in the alcove above the door to be an owl, or to roam around the wing dressed as Superman/He-man, harmless practical jokes compared to the atrocities I heard from my other school batchmates who did not make it to IIT.

More so, there was no time. Here was a co-curricular year for a freshie.

 

Sem-I

Orientations, participate in Freshie GC, cheer in Sophie GC, Yantriki , MidSem, cheer for Main GC, start working for Insight/TF/Moodi, EndSem, MoodI

Sem-II

Techfest, main GC, MidSem, Elections, PAF, Valfi, EndSem

There was no time to get ragged, and you wouldn’t rag someone whom you expect to work with you in the co-curricular you have ambitions for. The downside of this was the Institute became very heavy handed in its approach to raggingeverything was black and white, no shades of grey.

My best friend, Devendra Rane, whom I’ve been playing with since I was in Std. V, from my hometown, joined a year after me (he took a drop). To welcome him, I went to his room in H2 and we chatted for hours, me telling him what to expect in coming months, and him telling me how coaching in Kota differed from that in Bhilai.  We even had the room open. I had forgotten that seniors are not allowed to enter a fresher’s room for first  two months, and almost got the Disciplinary Action Committee (DAC) on me, if not for the kind H2 seniors who intervened on my behalf. We then met only in public places, and could not develop further on our friendship as much as we wished it to.

The second incident happened a year later when I was in third year. I was part of H5 impromptu team, and was giving orientation to the 2nd year-ites for an Intra-Hostel event 2 days later. The time rule was lights out at 9:00pm.  At 9:00, couple of teams wanted to practice more and asked us that would we watch if they did some practice, and we agreed.

At 9:15pm, DOSA and campus security were in the hostel, and I again almost got a DAC against me. The saving grace this time was the Hostel Cult Co, and the Cult Secy were also “watching”.

Since then, I followed the rules to the letter, scared of interacting beyond a point to the “untouchables” in their protected period. On the plus side, in 2003, they started a mentorship program (like Big Brother) where there were appointed mentors in each hostel, and these people could interact with freshers anytime they wanted (and vice versa).

Over time, I’ve realised that they tried to do the best from the resources they had, it would be tough to maintain no-ragging over 528 new kids, from thrice the amount of seniors. And the rules were there for my protection as much as the freshers. I just wished that we maintained “innocent until proven guilty” in matters like this. It was such a heavy handed approach back then that my friend Rane in the 1st case, or the 2nd yearites in the 2nd case were not even allowed to talk on our behalf.

Abhishek Thakkar (B.Tech, 2003, Civil Engineering, Hostel 5)

 

Just to build on what Rajat and Thakkar have written, ragging in IITB was clamped down starting 1995 onwards and has never raised its head since. The key person who really drove this was Prof. Dipan Ghosh (DG) who was the DOSA (Dean of Student Affairs) then. And while it did appear that the administration was being heavy handed, I think they were fair. I quote 2 incidents below.

1. A group of sophies was ragged by a group of seniors in H6 in 1996 (or was it 1997). The DAC found the seniors to be guilty – approximately 25 seniors were shifted out from H6 and distributed to other hostels. Hostel change was a significant punishment as anybody here would vouch (imagine being sent to H3!). But on the other hand, as  DG used to say, even if 1 or 2 of these 25 have been falsely accused, we can afford to go wrong. After all we are not impacting academic careers, we are just changing hostels!

2. Another case was a false complaint in H2 in 1996. I was the 4th respondent in a high profile case against Arvind Singhal (Institute GSec Sports), Rahul Saini (Hostel Sports Co), Ashish Bhujang and Rishi Sanwal. I was interrogated by DG and the hostel Warden (Prof. T. Anjanelu) in DOSA’s office – I was threatened with a hostel change – just like that. But since we hadn’t done anything which could be called ragging (and it was accepted that just remembering mothers is not ragging ;-)), all 4 of us were let off with DOSA’s warning – if ANYBODY for ANY reason whatsoever, harms or harasses that particular freshie, all 4 of us will be punished!

The stern attitude that the Institute has maintained against ragging since 1995 has been effective, and I don’t know of any instance where innocent were punished (even AT’s examples also prove the same).

Rishi (aka Tau) Sanwal. (B.Tech, 1999, Mechanical Engineering, Hostel 2)

 

I do agree with Tau and Thakkar here that the Institute was heavy handed, yet reasonable in dealing with ragging. To recall another example – the decision makers at IITB (DOSA, Chairman Sports, etc.) at one point (’99 or ’00) were thinking of not allowing freshies on Institute teams for Inter-IITs because they were concerned about how seniors will deal with freshies away from IITB campus.

Fortunately, coaches were consulted before making this decision. Naturally, coaches rubbished the idea and gave examples like the Kopikkare brothers (for swimming) and Kishore Bhalerao (for badminton) who won their respective events as freshies. So finally, after a lot of back and forth and with plenty of reservations, the decision was made to allow freshies on the teams and make coaches responsible for making sure that there was no ragging. I suppose they also realised that the number of freshies on the Institute team was so small that it would be pretty easy to keep an eye on them (rather than the seniors) to prevent any ragging.

All said and done, my conclusion (with the great benefit of hindsight) is that the Institute people tried to do the best they could to get rid of the issue and to a great degree have been reasonably successful at it without too many negative effects.

Kalpesh (aka Pa). (B.Tech, 2002, Engineering Physics, Hostel 5)

 

1 comment

Rajendra Dheer August 3, 2014 - 10:08 pm

Interesting episodes in support of a well reasoned policy. Just recalling that I switched from IIT Kharagpur back in 1958 and came to IITB because of horrible ragging prevalent at Kharagpur. In IITB it was the first batch so no ragging and the pull of Bombay (then) and Powai and Vihar Lakes were strong enough reasons for the change. In Kharagpur the administration looked just the other way. In any case it all turned out alright.
Rajendra Dheer, IITB 1962, Met. Engineering

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