Indu Antos, promising student and a keen violinist, painter and poet, was 16 when she died after being ragged in her college in August 1998.
Nine years have gone by and Indu’s parents haven’t got justice against people who had harassed and traumatized her. Indu’s father C L Antos was a management consultant but now all his time is spent fighting in courts and her mother is still in shock. Indu Villa in Chalakudy town of Kerala is still in mourning.
Indu studied in the Class XI in Mumbai's prestigious Sophiya College. Her parents got a call on August 4, 1998 that their daughter had died after falling off the third floor of the college hostel.
Indu had been in the college for 14 days but in that short period she had written home that she was being abused and harassed by her seniors every day. C L Antos says Indu’s letters mention that she was forced to dance naked, smoke, take drugs and take part in “sexual perversions”.
“She complained and on her behalf I took up this matter with the authorities twice or thrice. That was a mistake. After I complained, Indu was summoned in front of the principal. The people Indu had accused—Melissa and company—of ragging threatened her. That day Indu called me and said she was ready to leave the college,” says C L Antos.
Indu last called home on August 3 and a day later she was dead. Sophia College, which has the backing of the Church, said it was a suicide but an autopsy confirmed she had 27 injuries before death.
Indu’s diary says Melissa D’Souza, a final year B.Sc. student, and Greta Collasco, a Class XII student, had ragged her. The High Court accepted as Indu’s diary as her dying declaration but that didn’t lead to arrests. C L Antos’s only victory was that the court ruled that Indu was murdered.
“Society has made us orphans; Sophia College has made me an orphan. She was the light of my family and now she is gone,” says C L Antos.
Ragging begins in schools
Sridhar would have understood the Antos family’s tragedy if he hadn’t lost his sanity after being savagely beaten and thrown off a train by school bullies.
Sridhar, 22, was a Class X student of the National School in Tambaram, Chennai, five years ago. He abruptly stopped going to school one day and would lock himself up in his room and not talk to anyone.
He left home after lunch one day and was found hours later in a hospital with a hand cut off. It was then that his family came to know that Sridhar had stopped school because he feared bullies who ragged him every day.
The day he was found in the hospital the school bullies had caught him near a railway station and beat him up after pulling him inside a train. When the train started moving, the bullies threw him out and Sridhar fell on the tracks unconscious.
Thirty minutes later Sridhar woke up to find his hand ripped off and a train speeding towards him. He was bleeding but managed to pick himself and walk to a station. Doctors later found that he had lost hearing in one ear too.
Sridhar lost his mind after that day. A promising young man now mumbles: "I don't like my name; Manoj is my name. Tamil has destroyed me—Spanish, Italian all good. They laugh at Tamil” and keeps asking his grandmother what happened to his arm.
Any mention of school or books gets him agitated. "I don't want to go to school, don't like it," he says.
Sridhar’s tormentors fled Chennai after that day and the police has now closed the file. His grandparents, who look after him, are old and unaware that their grandson is severely traumatised.
Indu and Sridhar’s tormentors were young but psychologists have long warned that ragging or vindictive behaviour is becoming common in schools.
“There is no age for this. We have got cases where the ragger was eight,” says psychologist Aruna Broota.
Don’t crib, don’t snitch
School or college, obscure institute or prestigious IITs and IIMs, ragging has become a norm. In 2003, over a hundred new students or ‘freshers’ were stripped naked and paraded in the corridors of IIT Delhi’s Kumaon Hostel.
Broota says ragging has taken on a “sexual connotation” and a “pathological connotation. “You are trying to torture somebody by forcing him to undress, pulling his private parts—you are trying to ridicule somebody and you absolutely enjoying torturing.”
P M Bhandari, the director of Samrat Ashok Technological Institute (SATI) in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, says ragging creates a revenge mentality among victims. “Once a student is harassed he tries to get revenge in later years,” says Bhandari.
Rajendra Nikunj could tell Bhandari a lot more about ragging: he was a student in his college and was harassed and tortured for six months.
Nikunj, who lives in Bhopal, almost went insane and it took him three years to recover from the trauma. “They used to forcibly take us in the rooms and beat us,” says Nikunj, who hinted he was molestation too.
Nikunj’s father, Ran Mohan Ram, admits he knew his son was being tortured but asked him to continue at the college for a better career. “I kept telling him to do whatever they asked him to. After all his future was at stake,” says Ram.
Nikunj was in psychiatric care for over two years and changed college after recovering. “I wish that in future no student faces or suffers what I had to go through,” he says.
The Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission ordered a probe into the case, but Nikunj and his father gave written statements to the enquiry denying any incident of ragging. Ram says he doesn’t want his son's trauma to play out in public.
And its not just parents, even students are wary of reporting ragging cases. Akshay, an undergraduate student, too believes that one must not snitch.
“If you do that, for the next few years you will be known as a person who snitched. I think your self-esteem and respect in the college—all of it—would go for a six. There is a social stigma to complaining about ragging,” says Akshay.
It’s no excuse
Hostel space is considered to be a completely private domain. The biggest mistake a fresher can make is to complain to authorities, like the warden or the principal, who are considered outsiders.
Ragging cases are increasing because of this don’t-snitch mentality. Andhra Pradesh has reported the highest number of ragging cases (23) in the last years out: 21 cases were made public a landmark Supreme Court ruling on ragging in 2001. In UP, 21 out of 22 cases have come in the last six years. In West Bengal 19 ragging cases have been reported after the 2001 ruling.
The common excuse for ragging is that it helps break the ice between students but that argument is now considered indefensible and the Supreme Court has forbade the practice.
Some campuses now ‘break the ice’ between students through induction programmes and counselling. IIT Kanpur has a proactive induction programme that makes new students feel at home, not humiliated.
IIT Kanpur’s programme ensures a zero-ragging environment and asks seniors to be friends and mentors to new students. But such peer interaction is rare in other institutes. The Supreme Court’s ruling holds institutions accountable for ragging, so though colleges may warn students there is no guarantee that trouble-makers will be kept at bay.
T Bhaskar Rao, president of the Sri Lok Bandhu Educational Society, says his educational institutes are very serious against ragging and have committees to keep a watch.
Rajendra, 18, wishes Rao had been as sincere last year. Rajendra joined a course in the Thandra Paparaya Engineering College, which is run by the Rao’s society, in Vijaynagaram in 2005.
Nine days later, Rajendra’s life was ruined. Drunken seniors took on Rajendra, angry that he had not turned up for a ragging session. An ugly fight started and Rajendra slipped off the roof and fell on high-voltage power cables. He lost a hand and damaged a leg.
The incident occurred five yrs after the SC judgment and three years after his own college had constituted an anti-ragging committee. “When I was in hospital some parents told me how they lost their children due to ragging. Seniors cut off a student’s ears. Many families were too poor to do any thing against culprits,” says Rajendra, who has now left the engineering college.
Ragging hasn’t defeated Rajendra though. “I've lost my hand and I have a damaged leg but I have decided to cope with the situation. Everybody has 100 percent but I've only 50 percent. But I will continue to utilise that 50 percent and aim for 100 percent,” he says.
People say ragging is harmless fun—it wasn’t for Indu, Sridhar and Rajendra.