[Reader-list] Hostel as home, college as country?

Stop Ragging Campaign stopragging at gmail.com
Mon Jun 20 03:44:01 IST 2005

In my previous posting, I had established how the hostel community
sees hostel as home – not as an *extension* of 'home', but as a new
family. You can read it here:

This includes, for one, ideas of 'honour': just as one's actions
should never let one's family be disreputed, a hostel resident should
never do anything that brings shame to the hostel community.

This family has its own codes and customs, and ragging is the means of
making freshers aware of these codes and agree to them. A fresher does
not have the *right* to reject them: ragging is like the 'license' of
a software: if you do not accept the terms and conditions of the
license, you cannot use the software. You cannot be a part of the
hostel 'community' without agreeing to abide by these codes. You
cannot be a part of the community in the sense that you will be
excommunicated – or even ridiculed, singled out, beaten up.

This implies that the rights of the individual are not guaranteed in a
hostel space: they are governed and ruled over (in effect violated) by
the codes of the hostel community – the greater common good of the
hostel. The assertion of individual rights is tantamount to blasphemy.
A violation of the code undercuts the very identity of the hostel
community and can potentially attack its very foundations. The hostel
community will therefore do everything it can to assert itself against
individual interest. This is why ragging is so ritualistic: it defines
how the fresher should stand, how he should speak, how shall he 'wipe
off' his smile in an elaborate ritual assuming that he makes the
mistake of smiling at a funny limerick that he's been asked to recite.
Ragging therefore is an initiation ritual: initiation into the codes
and customs of the hostel community.

So if hostel is like home, is college like country? Consider this:
'public schools and colleges structured in the British mould have
flags and cadet marches and "sports displays" (like Republic Day
parades). They have their founder's days (like Independence day), they
have their famous alumni whom they felicitate (like the Bharat Ratnas
and the Padma awards).

No, this is not a joke: educational institutions even have
sovereignty! There is an unwritten law in India that the police do not
enter a college campus without the 'permission' of the principal. Just
as the Central Bureau of Investigation cannot pursue a case against a
minister without taking permission from the state Governor! Even the
landmark Supreme Court judgement on ragging (2001 SOL Case No. 431)
refers to this: "Students ought not ordinarily be subjected to police
action unless it be unavoidable.The students going to educational
institutions for learning should not remain under constant fear of
being dealt with by police and sent to jail and face the courts." The
problem here is that the much-romanticised Indian hostel life has no
place for 'learning'. Passing an examination for the sake of a degree
is not 'learning'.

In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, criminals have been taking advantage of
this convention by living in university hostels, locally made arms in
their pockets. Matters have come to such a pass that universities
actually have police stations on campus. In the University of Lucknow
you can see more police than students.

Ideas of nationhood can be devastating, as those who saw the World
Wars will tell you. So you have the Republic of Hindu College pitted
against the Republic of Stephania, and the Republic of
Bihari-dominated Ramjas seeing the Republic of Jat-dominated Kirori
Mal as rivals. Ragging helps in such identity formation.

The University, of course, is the world which sees itself as a
parallel 'Universe'.

The discourse of ragging enjoyed complete legitimacy in society before
anti-ragging laws in states and court orders began to corrode it. So
there have been cases where a fresher complaining to the principal
about ragging would be told that he's timid, and the seniors would be
tipped about it, making him the centre of attention before the
community which hits back through further ragging. Police officials
have often refused to take ragging FIR's seriously, merely informing
the principal about it. Parents, relatives, friends, teachers: there's
hardly any section of society where you will not find a rejection of
the discourse. You will invariably hear: "Ragging, if taken in the
right spirit, can be fun." Notice how the onus is on the fresher: it
is up to him to 'take it in the right spirit'. You will constantly
hear, "Ragging, if kept in limits, can be useful." But crossing the
limits is precisely the purpose of ragging: it's designed to shock and

The reason why the discourse of ragging has such acceptance is because
society is full of raggers: the engineer who builds bridges was once
in the hostel of an engineering hostel where he ragged. A fresher who
left college because of this was probably not destined to be part of
the community. He could not become an engineer: that guilt of not
having 'taken ragging in the right spirit' continues to haunt him as a
matter of personal failure. Like impotency.

And what will the engineer tell his children? "Ragging, if taken in
the right spirit, can be fun."

* * *

So what are the codes of the hostel community? I will explain them in
another posting, but briefly:

1) There is no such thing as privacy.

2) Warden? Who's that?

3) Us and Them: the Principal as Enemy No. 1.

4) Alcoholism and substance abuse.

5) Are you a sissy?

6) Never complain.

7) Freshers are slaves.

Education? What's that?

(Those who don't agree are requested to 'take it in the right spirit'.)

www.stopragging.org | info at stopragging.org

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