Friday, March 13, 2009

Toughening juniors by killing

They say ragging is just a bit of fun. They say it helps seniors to know juniors. They say it toughens juniors. They say post-ragging the ragger and the ragged enter into a benign friendship that can last a lifetime. So they say. Then we hear of suicides and deaths which are not called murders because the seniors were only brutally beating up a junior and it was ridiculous of the junior to go and die. S/he should have known it was just a bit of fun.

Typically, fathers and mothers to whom youngsters like Aman Kachroo, the latest fatality of ragging, complain, later say, "We never thought that it was so serious." Young brides tortured for dowry by their in-laws, also complain. But they are sent back after "patch-ups" to die by fire or hanging. Why do parents not take their children's life-and-death problems seriously? I suspect it is because of the huge amounts of money they have spent on getting them admitted to college or married. Unable to bring themselves to write off those costs, they end up writing off their children.

The point to take note of here is that dowry is part of our culture. Ragging isn't. It is part of our colonial legacy. Yet ragging is tolerated when other colonial legacies are aggressively questioned because it fits in with our feudalism. Those who have social/economic/political power are expected to use it to torture/exploit/kill the weak. Ragging follows the same principle.

I remember an incident from decades ago that has stuck in my memory to this day. The daughter of a family friend came home from her first term of college in Baroda full of happiness at how she and her gang had tortured a new girl in their dormitory so consistently every night that she had left the college. They hadn't liked the girl for the amount of oil she put in her hair.

Here's an account that I wrote home of my first day in a Hall of Residence at Bristol University. Having described how freshers get invited by turn to high table so that the staff get to know them and then to the junior high table so that the seniors get to know them, I go on to describe the post-dinner meet freshers were invited to in a senior student's room. All the seniors in our annexe came for coffee and biscuits. Amidst much joking, laughter and horseplay, "the seniors told us exactly how to manipulate things if we were in trouble. We are expected to be in by 10.30 p m on weekdays and 11 at weekends. In case we were late, we were told which window was always open to get in through. If it happened to be closed, we were told which balcony was the easiest to climb!"

In feudal terms, I was the weakest of the freshers. I was the wrong skin colour and race. I was also thinner than the others. I was perfect material for raggers to pick on. But I felt instantly included and went on to make many friends amongst the seniors.

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