Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ragging and Abuse

When I entered college in 2003, ragging was very much in vogue in almost all Indian colleges. Understandably, this can get rough for a first year student. Compared to other colleges, ragging at IIT Kanpur can be described as mild, or even feeble. Which was good for me. I was shy and reclusive as a school student and intense ragging would have done little good for me.

One reason ragging was so controlled at IITK was because of the counseling service. They spent a whole lot of time and effort into creating a student culture that was sensitive to issues surrounding ragging. They didn't want to put a complete ban on it because it was seen as a ritual practice wherein the seniors got to know the juniors. But they also realized that it was intensely abusive and sought to bring down the abuse factor.

Non physical abuse is difficult to define. There were first years students who'd get extremely comfortable even as the seniors started to talk to them. And then, where does conversations stop and abuse begin? There are hundreds of variations on just saying 'hello'. You could be cordial or you could be abusive in just that single word.

The counseling service adopted the view that it was upto the first year student to define abuse for himself. Ragging could go on, but only uptil the point that the student felt comfortable with it. If anyone saw that a first year was getting uncomfortable, it was supposed to stop.

Abuse gets even more complicated between two people who are emotionally related to each other. A verbal match can be playful teasing between a couple or it could be a nightmare of verbal violence. Where does one draw the line?

It is even more complicated in the case of parents and children. While individuals in a relationship are often capable of drawing the line of discomfort, children are not. Only adults can draw this line for them and these adults are often the very ones perpetrating the abuse.

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