Dear Mr P. Chidambaram,
On 8 March last year, Aman Kachroo was lynched to death in a college hostel in Himachal Pradesh. It was just another case of ragging. It happened nearly eight years after the Supreme Court of India banned ragging in May 2001. In fact, since May 2001, there has been at least one ragging death every other month, as reported by the English language media. You can imagine how many cases are hushed up, blamed on academic pressure and ‘depression’, and never investigated. We are also not going into the much larger number of cases of attempted suicides, drop-outs, and not even measuring the psychological impact on freshers.
In 2001, the Supreme Court’s orders said that an educational institution that is unable to control ragging would face grant cuts or even disaffiliation by affiliating bodies such as the UGC, AICTE, Medical Council of India and a host of others. Not one of them ever found any college unable to control ragging. Their bureaucrats issued circulars and thought their signatures on the circulars were good enough. Years later, some of them told the Supreme Court that they did not have the powers to act against institutions – even though a Supreme Court order had empowered them to do so!
Such matters clearly concern your colleague Kapil Sibal, so why am I writing to you? We shall come to that, just let me tell you what happened thereafter.
Sir, in 2006 the Supreme Court took note of the fact that despite its banning of ragging five years earlier, it was continuing. So it set up a committee, headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan to find out why. This writer, in the capacity of an anti-ragging activist, was taken upon by the committee as a consultant. I got to see closely the working of the committee. They went from state to state, met students and educationists, conducted surveys, studied state laws. If the committee can be faulted it is for working too had, for making too many suggestions and for believing that their report will have an impact.
While the Supreme Court was still deliberating upon the committee’s report last year, the Aman Kachroo was killed. Most ragging deaths are suicides. When the fresher feels that he, and it is mostly him, has no recourse, he chooses to hang himself to the ceiling fan of his hostel room. Throwing oneself before a running train is a less popular method to escape the four walls of the hostel. The Aman Kachroo case was a rarity only to the extent that he was lynched to death. But since he was a Delhi boy, the Delhi media played it big, and everyone was taking note. Aman’s father ran from pillar to post trying to get anti-ragging measures implemented. It took him a few months just to get the HRD ministry to get going a national anti-ragging helpline. Despite very little publicity of the helpline by the HRD ministry, it’s got 1.6 lakh calls in eight months until this February. While that is some indication of the prevalence of ragging, it is worrying that of this huge number only 350 complaints were registered and of those 350, only 18 educational institutions chose to respond!
Two days after Aman Kachroo’s death I had written that this won’t be the last. Sadly, I was not proved wrong. Aman Kachroo’s father had vowed he’ll not let another ragging death take place. He now says he feels defeated. Since then the death cases reported include those of Ankita Vegda in Ahemdabad, Sneha Dani in Mumbai, Chintumoni Bordoloi in Guwahati, Dheeraj Kumar in Amritsar, Anirban Dutta in Durgapur, Poonam Mishra in Lucknow, Satyendra Singh in Jamshedpur, Greeshma Shanker in Trivandrum, Ayan Adak in Kolkata, Prashant Chitalkar in Pune, Sridhar in Puducherry, Gaurav Sadanand Raut in Nashik, Premlatha in Kancheepuram and a few days ago, Satwinder Kumar in Mumbai.
I dig out names and cities because numbers don’t count.
So why am I writing this to you rather than Mr Sibal? I do so because I think the most important recommendation of the Raghavan Committee is the 45th of its 50 recommendations. It says that the Indian Penal Code should be amended to make “ragging” a cognisable offence along the lines of section 498 (a). This does not ask for any special punishment, only the implementation of other IPC sections such starting from wrongful restraint to murder. We need the law to enshrine the word ragging as a Crime with a Capital C so that freshers and parents feel empowered to go to the police stations and police officer do not think it’s a trivial matter that can end with a ‘compromise’. As the report argues, “We see no reason why enrolment in an institution or an academic programme should immunise perpetrators of heinous crimes which otherwise attract the penal provisions of law if committed by an adult citizen outside the academic precincts.”
Sir, the Supreme Court had asked your ministry to consider this recommendation, but your esteemed officials felt (as reported by The Indian Express on 12 March 2009) that the Supreme Court directives were good enough. If the Supreme Court directives were good enough then why did the Supreme Court make this recommendation? And if the Supreme Court directives are good enough why is my list of names of young lives lost to ragging increasing faster than it ever did?
Sir, I know you are busy fighting big things such as Terrorism and Naxalism. But there are demons within. A simple step by you could make thousands of hostel corridors places of hope rather than despair.
(An edited, shorter version of this article by me appeared a few days ago in the Hindustan Times.)