Ragging: the crooked comedy in campus

Ragging is still there. Is it a result of the failure of the university administration, or a manifestation of a larger systematic problem in our higher education? Talking to many students, faculties and university authorities, Nahid Riyasad scrutinises different aspects of ragging.

Socilist Student Front's Jahangirnagar University unit protesting at ragging on campus ; February 2018

Socilist Student Front’s Jahangirnagar University unit protesting at ragging on campus ; February 2018

 The pervasive practice of ragging in the public universities of Bangladesh is neither new, nor unreported. Isolated incidents of harassment and humiliation of new students at private universities are surfacing too. The lingering question is why such a practice, that scars students for life and turns universities, more specifically residential halls, into prisons, is institutionally and socially tolerated!

However the analogy between university dormitory and prison may appear unreasonable or even outrageous to some, it is not so for the students who have been subjected to ragging. On February 15, six newly admitted students of computer engineering and electronics department of Shahjalal Science and Technology University were called at a students’ mess at Topobon area near the university by senior students of the department and they were ragged all night long. Ragging included forcing them to take indecent photos, and then those photos were shared on social media.

On February 9, a new student of computer science and engineering was ragged all night in his dormitory by senior students of the same department. The experience shocked him to his core, causing him to lose his mental stability to the extent that he could not even recognise his family members. As the news of his mental breakdown was doing rounds in social networking sites, some apologists of ragging commented that this is an extreme case, implying this is not normal, ordinary ragging. So, what constitutes the ordinary practices of ragging?

Talking to students from various public universities, New Age Youth has collated a set of actions considered as ragging or in Bengali, phapor deya ( ফাপর দেয়া )  memorising names of seniors, sometimes names of BCL leaders of hall committee with their party position and home town, if your memory fails, slapping-thrashing is punishment that you have to accept without raising any question; 2) if your seniors are bored, they could ask you to measure the entire length of a large room by using a matchstick; 3) strip your clothes and stimulate different sexual positions, cover your body parts with papers and posting those photos in social media; 4) showcasing of unquestionable inferiority to any senior is an absolute must; 5) forcing students to strip down, take a tour to the university campus and perform a nude dance.

The ganaroom of Bijoy 71 Hall of University of Dhaka

The ganaroom of Bijoy 71 Hall of University of Dhaka

Ganaroom, also known as the guest room, the large dormitory space shared by freshers before they get their own room allotments. This is where seniors find their captive victims to teach them manner, something popularly known as doing ganaroom. In many cases, more than hundreds of students have to share a single room. For example, DU has 21 halls, including five for females, with the capacity of 16,180 against the 37,000 students. The unofficial norm is, sophomores, who just passed first year final, come to visit their fresh juniors at night and in the name of teaching manner and university-level etiquette, they are made to do all that have been listed earlier in the article.

The ganaroom phenomenon is known to all.  The analogy between residential hall and prison also rose from here. The problem persists partly because there are more students than the available rooms in the dormitories. Even if it has, many shared rooms are occupied by student leaders, for themselves and for others, to secure their supply of activists, to practice their domination over students, which contributes a lot in seat crisis. Many rooms are still occupied by students who have graduated years ago. This is where the role of university administration, more specifically hall administration comes to play. It has been repeatedly reported that most provosts in public universities do not have control over room allotment process. It was reported in New Age on April 27, 2017 that Bangladesh Chhatra League controls the allotment of rooms at male dormitories at DU depriving meritorious students of residential facilities and forces the resident students to join political programmes.  Therefore, failure of the university administration is manifold here.

After visiting some of the male dormitories of DU, particularly the ganaroom, New Age Youth have contacted the proctor, professor Golam Rabbani and his response was quite nonchalant, ‘I do not have any notion of ragging on campus, neither have I received any complaint yet. Still, if there is any such case, the university will launch full probe to the matter… Residential halls are the responsibility of respective provosts, I do not interfere there. Seat crisis and its eventual way towards ragging, if there are any, is not my concern, rather, it is the responsibility of the provost of the hall.’

After walking into an incident of ragging, as it was happening in JU campus, New Age Youth have also contacted the proctor of the university, professor Tapan Kumar Saha. He acknowledged the problem, ‘We are always conscious about the ragging, administration doesn’t sanction any kind of ragging in the campus, neither does it allow such behaviours.’ About the university initiative on such matters, he said, ‘In two separate incidents of ragging in the campus, we already completed our investigation within a short time and it was sent to the disciplinary board’. Professor Saha admitted the connection between guestrooms and ragging, ‘The seat crisis is the main reason of ganaroom. As ragging usually occurs in the night, we will try to build new dorms for the students to mitigate the seat crisis, six more dorms will be built quickly at the campus to battle this crisis.’

Since the problem seems to exist in all public universities in some scale or other, New Age Youth have also contacted the University Grants Commission, the supervisory body of all higher educational institutions.  Shah Nowaz Ali (UGC, public university member) very clearly stated that, ‘Ragging is not acceptable and it should not go on as a means of drawing entertainment by some students. The universities have their own administration, teachers’ body, disciplinary committee et cetera. It is their responsibility to take care of this excruciating matter. The UGC takes step in every case, but the universities have some autonomous bodies, there are some institutional aspects which cannot be crossed, some of them are doing their job, some of them are not. In any case, UGC is closely observing the issue of ragging, if necessary steps need be taken, UGC will definitely do that so far as I know.’ It is evident that authorities concerned tend to look at the problem as ‘behavioural problem’ of some individual students and takes punitive actions when they receive complaint, meanwhile systematic, structural concerns leading to the problem remains unaddressed. They also tend to pass the responsibilities on each other as evident from the comments of DU proctor Rabbani and UGC member Shah Nowaz Ali.

With a series of interviews, students have expressed varied opinion on the practice. While increasing number of students is finding the practice as antithetical to anything positive, disturbingly, there is also a good group of students who could identify it as part of ice breaking process.  Even more perplexing is that juniors who have survived the horror of it, actively participate in ragging in the following year. Sociologists and psychologists in the country have blamed the social norms that cultivate an unhealthy hierarchy between senior-juniors and approve unquestioned elder-supremacy leading to a bhai-culture. On the one hand, our culture advocates respecting people simply based on their age and on the other hand, from our childhood we are generally discouraged to raise our voice, or ask questions. The mainstream student political organisations advocating a yes-man culture further aggravated the situation. As a result, such practices continue and are normalised to a certain extent. This is precisely why the conscientious faculties and students of different public universities have protested against this practice saying, ‘Universities are not a place for producing loyal subjects.’

In Jahangirnagar University campus, the fresher male students are in no way allowed to roll their shirt sleeves up; they are expected to walk looking down at their feet.  A ‘rule’ that defies the great philosopher and scientists Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on the quest of knowledge, ‘Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.’

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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‘Social norm needs to be renegotiated’

Dr. Shahanur Hossain

Assistant Professor

Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka

This is just a power exercise. The tendency here is, a senior has a power for which juniors will have to respect him, and if the power is not shown, juniors will not obey them. The trend of ragging has its root in the established autocratic or authoritarian pattern in our society, it is infused in and derived from the authoritarian social structure. We observe the similar kind of behavioral pattern in our work places too, that is, a senior must be obeyed blindly. Although there is no such organogram as that of a work place or organization in universities or among students, but these activities are highly similar to that.

The fact that someone is hurting from such treatments is not a matter of concern to them, rather making the freshers familiar with this culture is the focus, along with that, to ensure that he’s being respected as a senior matters the most.

Now, some of the students who have been ragged, hate this culture, but these are the students who have a moral view and obligation towards the actions they take. They will neither agree with this trend nor practice it. But those who have a poor moral upbringing, they will use the scope for building up a space for themself.

A message has to be sent to the perpetrators, that, people need to be evaluated based on competency rather than on seniority-juniority. A junior might be more knowledgeable or smarter than his seniors, if so, he has to be respected thus. The teachers could treat their students better, it is possible that a student might know certain things better than their teachers. In this respect, teachers have to be the examples for their students. Showing respect to people for their deserving qualities do not put us in a lower stage.

It is imperative to bring up the habit of evaluating people from an individualistic perspective, because every individual has some qualities unique to them, and that is how we shall build up a culture of mutual respect. Students and people in general have to get out of the practice that entails forcefully getting respect and obedience from juniors just because they are senior by age and institutional history.

 

 

‘Criminalising ragging is a step towards preventing it’

Jyotirmoy Barua 

Barrister
Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh

Harassment in the name of ragging has been going on, especially in the public university campuses, for long, leaving grave impact upon the victims. There had been reports of suicide due to ragging by the senior students in the campus. There is a common tendency of seeing it lightly and as a tool of bridge building among the students. This clearly shows that society approves criminal acts to some extent and this is clearly sick part of the society’s thought process. In the name of comparison, we see politicians legalising their criminal acts. Despite its presence for long, there is no law in Bangladesh criminalising the same. Therefore, there is no definition of it either.

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh often plays a vital role in defining offences when there is none in any existing laws. It has contributed to define ‘sexual harassment’ in a writ petition brought by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) against the sexual harassment in the public universities and in other institutions. Very recently, the Supreme Court interfered into a writ petition brought against ‘prank’ though there is no law criminalising prank as a criminal offence. Though ‘prank’ seems to be less serious than ragging, the court did not hesitate to interfere. Had there been an incident of bringing the matter before the then there is a high probability that the Supreme Court will interfere into ragging as well. But there should be a specific law like the Indian one criminalising ragging as an offence and imposing serious penal provisions for the same. In the absence of a specific law in this regard, there is no remedy for the victims.

Having said that the public universities run under their own statutes and the university authorities have full power to criminalise ragging as an offence. Rather, instead of doing that, we see them covering up incidents treating it as a matter of prestige for the university. I don’t understand how this becomes a prestige issue while protecting innocent victims should have been their prestige. The victims can always sue the university authority for failing to provide required protection to them but there is no such practice in our court as the authority is very much vindictive and in most of the cases takes the matter seriously against the victims rather than taking stern action against the wrong-doers. If the university authorities of the public universities take a strong stand that they will not allow ragging in their campus, there will be no one to dare rag any students.

 

 

 

 

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