IIT Kanpur is penalising 22 students for its own failures

The Institute recently suspended 16 second-year undergraduate students for three years and 6 others for one year on charges of involvement in an incident of ragging. The IIT Kanpur Academic Senate took the decision upon recommendation from the Student Senate Advisory Committee (SSAC). Deputy Director, Dr. Manindra Agrawal was quoted by Times of India, saying that because the charges against the students were extremely serious, the decision had to be taken to send a strong message to students to say no to ragging and maintain decorum.

The committee found them guilty based on the statements of the students of freshman year and confessions of the accused. It must be noted that not all the 22 students were directly involved in the ragging. A few of them were, by their own admission, absent from the venue where the said incident took place. They were charged with being guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to prevent the incident in spite of holding ‘Positions of Responsibility’. (These students were members of Hall Executive Committee)

Regardless of the unfair nature of the judgement, the decision was a vicious one, given the culture of the institute students are groomed in. At IIT Kanpur, freshman undergraduates are ragged, typically by sophomores, during their first year. The ritual is so well-ingrained into the culture of the institute that various acts performed have specific monikers attached to them. The acts can range anywhere from being made to introduce oneself in chaste Hindi to stripping and putting one’s clothes inside out (in one’s own privacy but within a stipulated time). Although the practice is horrifying enough as it is, it is only fair to mention that at no point during the course of ragging is a student touched physically by a senior (several reports in some national dailies have suggested that the students were thrashed, which is utterly incorrect). The incident in question was one of the many such incidents that have been happening in the institute for a long time and are most defintiely, not an aberration.

While there can be no rationalisation for such behaviour, it must be said that the decision to suspend students for such prolonged periods is unreasonable, one that tries to correct decades of institutional wrong with one monstrous judgement. Most students, including the ones being suspended, have been ragged with equal brutality in their freshman year. They have learned, to their astonishment, that the administration is all too complacent to care. Most freshmen come to IIT Kanpur detesting such practices as much as any rational being would. But by the end of the first year, they, too, are a part of this malicious spiral, all thanks to the enabling environment that sustains it. Such is the normalisation of ragging IIT Kanpur that a substantial proportion of students sincerely believes that it is beneficial, even necessary for the development of freshmen.

The only brief a freshman gets from the Counselling Service with respect to ragging is that when a particular interaction (an innocuous-sounding euphemism for ragging in campus parlance) gets uncomfortable, it should be made known to the senior driving the interaction. The word uncomfortable works quite like a codeword and in most cases, the ragging is stopped immediately. But for someone facing ten odd seniors in a position of presumed power, what is comfortable and what is not lies in the realm of the occult. Just the fact that institute’s 7-day orientation program for freshers (which includes sessions on ‘road safety’ and ‘community welfare’) makes no mention of ragging or its redress goes a long way in explaining how little the institute cares to curb it.    

During 2016, a hostel warden, on receiving a written complaint for ragging, responded by telling the freshmen in the hostel, during its General Body Meeting (the only time of the year the warden actually meets the students), that all such complaints must be sent to the Hall Executive Committee (HEC) and not to him. The HEC is the student body which was accused of ragging in the complaint. This incident is to say nothing of countless other complaints that have yielded no or meek responses. One is left wondering how the institute suddenly starts suspending students on charges of ragging when it was forwarding similar complaints to the accused until last year.

The freshers being being made to enact a pole dance (with one student becoming the pole and another the dancer) on stage in the auditorium during the orientation programme is a peculiar case. The Academic Senate almost punished over a hundred student volunteers of the Counselling Service for allowing it to happen in their presence. The Counselling Service is headed by a professor and includes three institute appointed counsellors. The fact that an institute body allowed this activity to happen for all these years and then found it fair to punish the students epitomizes the legitimacy accorded to ragging in the institute.

It won’t be a stretch to say that everyone, from the security staff to the Counselling Service, were aware of the all too common incidents of ragging that happened inside hostels (many of the professors are recent graduates of IIT Kanpur too). As such, they tacitly approved of the practices all through the decades. Yet the Senate had no qualms about suspending 22 students for actions they were told, during their one year of stay in the college, were completely normal.

The efforts of the institute to stop ragging on the campus have been shallow and skin-deep, restricted to the ritualistic displaying of anti-ragging posters. The historic supreme court judgement of May 8, 2009 ordered the implementation of recommendations made by Raghavan Committee to ‘see that the ugly scar of ragging was obliterated from the face of educational institutions’. Over the years, IIT Kanpur has brazenly flouted many of the guidelines including, but not limited to, the ones paraphrased below.

1. Joint sensitization programme and counseling of both ‘freshers’ and seniors by a Professional counselor

2. Joint orientation programme of ‘freshers’ and seniors to be addressed by the principal/Head of the institution, and the anti-ragging committee

3. Each batch of freshers should be divided into small groups and each such group shall be assigned to a member of the staff. Such staff member should interact individually with, each member of the group on a daily basis for ascertaining the problems/difficulties if any faced by the fresher in the institution and extending necessary help.

4. Freshers shall be lodged in a separate hostel block, wherever possible.

5. Brochures or booklet/leaflet distributed to each student at the beginning of each academic session for obtaining undertaking not to indulge or abet ragging, shall contain the blueprint of prevention and methods of redress.

Had the institute adhered to these guidelines, generations of students would have been spared both the emotional trauma of being ragged and the agony of becoming perpetrators themselves. Perhaps the institute can start following basic guidelines to stop ragging.

The institute must realise that the cure to the menace lies in taking reformatory action against the students involved and sensitising its students regarding the issue, and not in handing down barbaric punishments to ones who are but victims of this sordid culture. It has, for long, overlooked its responsibility in eradicating ragging from the campus, exemplified by nothing better than its failure to adhere to Supreme Court guidelines. The institute cannot hold its students to the same standards of Supreme Court regulations that it has failed to abide by. By choosing to give exemplary punishment to an unfortunate bunch of students for decades of institutional wrong, IIT Kanpur is more than just mislaying its moral compass.