|The R.K. Raghavan committee recommends a new section on ragging in the IPC, the burden of proof on the accused, and that education institutions help the victims file FIRs.|
Students of Delhi University during a demonstration.
THE SUPREME Court's directive to governments and educational institutions to come down heavily on ragging has set the stage for a fresh debate on how to curb the menace. The Court's directives come in the wake of a detailed report submitted by the R.K. Raghavan committee, which was asked to study the problem and make recommendations to redress the situation. What are the salient features of this committee's report and the focus of its recommendations?
"The committee recommends that rather than subjecting each incident of ragging to a different penal treatment under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, a new section should be added to the IPC, making ragging a punishable offence on the analogy of Section 498A, dealing with cruelty towards women [related to dowry deaths]. We have already explained that ragging is an offence with a multiplicity of ingredients, each of which constitutes an offence punishable under the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code. We further recommend that the Indian Evidence Act should also be suitably amended on the analogy of Section 113A of that Act, to shift the burden of proof on those accused of ragging.
"We recommend that a comprehensive definition should be included by way of explanation in the proposed new section of ragging in the IPC, and all the punishable ingredients namely, abetment to ragging, public nuisance created during ragging, violation of decency and morals through ragging, injury to body, causing hurt or grievous hurt, wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, use of criminal force, assault as well as sexual offences or even unnatural offences, extortion, criminal trespass, offences against property, criminal intimidation and attempts to commit any or all of the above mentioned offences against the victim should be incorporated thereto, prescribing appropriate punishments in respect of one or a group of offences."
Another significant recommendation relates to speedy trial. The committee wants the Criminal Procedure Code to be amended to ensure that cases involving ragging are tried on a fast-track basis, keeping in mind the academic priorities of students who may be required to depose before the courts or assist the prosecution.
The basis of the committee's work, direction, and recommendations stem from the following perceptions:
Primary responsibility for curbing ragging rests with academic institutions themselves;
Incentives should be available to institutions for curbing the menace; there should also be disincentives for failure to do so;
Enrolment in academic pursuits or a campus life should not immunise any adult citizen from penal provisions of the laws of the land;
Ragging needs to be perceived as a failure to inculcate human values from the schooling stage;
Behavioural patterns among students, particularly potential "raggers," need to be identified; Measures against ragging must deter its recurrence;
Concerted action is required at the level of the school, higher education institution, district administration, university, State and Central governments, to make any curb effective;
Media and civil society should be involved at all stages.
The other members of the committee were: S.G. Dhande, A.K. Agarwal, S. Sathikh, Chandra Krishnamurthy, Rajendra Prasad, and Sunil Kumar, Member-Convener.
In a Special Leave Petition last year, University of Kerala Vs Council of Principals of Colleges, the Supreme Court directed that a committee headed by the former CBI Director, R.K. Raghavan, be set up to suggest means to prevent ragging in educational institutions. Its terms of reference were to study the various aspects of ragging; suggest means and methods of prevention; suggest possible action that could be taken against persons indulging in the practice; and to suggest possible action that can be taken against college or university authorities in the event of ragging.
The committee made it clear the problem has several aspects — psychological, social, political, economic, cultural, and academic. Of late, sexual dimensions have also crept in. It said: "In none of the interactions did we come across any instance of the educational institutions approaching the police authorities in reporting even the extreme cases of ragging. Usually, the complaints with the police are lodged by the parentsof the victims. Most of the parents have reported that the university/college support for following up on the case with the law and order machinery has been lukewarm — indeed, in some cases, the institutions have actively dissuaded persistent parents. The committee is concerned with the evasive attitude of institutions and it is therefore necessary that the institutional authorities are made accountable in a variety of ways." It therefore wanted the educational institutions to assist the victims to lodge an FIR with the police on any incident of ragging.
To illustrate how timely complaints can prove effective, the committee cites the Kerala case in point — of a girl student of the Kottayam Medical College. Her complaint against senior men students resorting to sexual assault while ragging led to their arrests and prosecution as well as action against the college authorities.
The committee notes: "Almost all the stake-holders have failed to act in some way or the other in curbing the menace of ragging in every State. The State Governments have not monitored if the ragging in their State has been curbed or not. The authorities of the institution have not played a pro-active role, which was very necessary in terms of the guidelines of the apex court, where primary responsibility was cast on the institutional authorities. On the contrary, it was told to the committee that the authorities dissuaded the victims of ragging from making any complaint."
The committee's recommendations relate to actions to be taken at the level of schools, higher educational institutions, district administration, universities, State and Central authorities. Not only that, it wants civil society and the media to be involved at each level to tackle the problem of ragging.
At the school level, it calls for introduction of human rights education and counselling for students. The School Leaving Certificate should mention the character of the student in terms of behavioural pattern.
In college, there must be an annual undertaking to be signed by students and parents, jointly, stating that they have read the relevant instructions on ragging and punishment, and the ward, if found guilty, will be proceeded against. The committee recommends a carrot and stick policy towards educational institutions in relation to curbing ragging, and this should extend to funding as well as grading.
There should be institutional level, district level, and State-level committees to monitor ragging and curb it. At the national level, the University Grants Commission must coordinate and monitor the anti-ragging movement. The governments and the media should sensitise the people, including students, and create awareness about the problem. A toll-free helpline could be created for easy access to students in distress.
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