Before things get even more out of hand
With denunciation coming from all sides of the country over the gruesome beating and killing of a Buet student by none other than senior students of the same institution, the macabre side of “ragging” has come out in the open.
As Buet students erupted in outrage, many have talked openly about their pent up grievances over the presence of ragging by politically linked students of juniors.
Shockingly, members of the university authority said that they were not aware of the presence of such an abominable practice. Well, it appears that this is one of those things we decide to close our eyes and ears to.
An appalling practice
It’s hard to accept that in this day and age when the young are supposed to be crusaders of human rights, freedom of speech, and liberal values, a young meritorious student has to give his life to bring out an atrocious culture out in the open.
No one would have known about the regular psychological and physical torture of junior students if Abrar had not died. Reportedly, when the unfortunate young lad was taken for a roughing up session, many general students knew that Abrar would possibly come back with bruises and injuries.
This has happened in the past and not just in Buet. As per a Bangla Tribune report, students also faced abuse plus beatings in Khulna University of Engineering and Technology, Kuet, when they complained against the quality of the food.
Reportedly, Abrar had also raised questions about the standard of the food at Buet several months earlier, which, as many students said, was one of the reasons why he was made a target.
In many halls, the food supplying business is monopolized by politically-linked students who never eat the food provided through their connections but make a hefty profit from controlling the service.
In certain cases, the high margin of profit demanded by those who control the system forces the suppliers to compromise on quality.
As per the Bangla Tribune report, there were five political rooms at the Sher-e-Bangla Hall of Buet hall and at 2005 and 2011, students were regularly tortured.
From time to time, the Chhatra League leaders used to confiscate laptops, phones of students, and torture them in the name of checking the laptops. They used to call juniors, asking them to get cigarettes, tea, and other items.
As per general students, the political leaders forced general students to take part in rallies and those who refused, faced their wrath.
In addition, a perverse side of the ragging culture has been revealed where students were beaten and humiliated if they failed to correctly name seniors or failed to correctly name their respective departments.
The unseen damage
The practice actually goes back to the colonial period when this tactic was employed widely in order to shatter an individual’s ability to think and act independently. Coupled with the effective “divide and rule” policy, psychological torture was used to slowly break someone’s resolve and make that person acquiescent.
Naturally, with so many people tilting towards nationalistic fervour and irking the imperial power, ragging was used as part of a process to take out the mojo and turn someone into a castrated slave.
In the West, the term now used is “bullying” and is a serious offense at schools and the workplace. Bullying is similar to ragging though in the former many subtle tricks are used to diminish someone’s self-esteem.
In South Asia, the cadet colleges, run often by military officials, have always been deemed the best schools to make a young person disciplined and tough but “ragging” had always lurked behind the prim and proper exterior with many students experiencing misbehaviour from seniors.
Parents also know that at such institutions, seniors often torment the young and make light of it, though, in reality, any form of bullying has a lasting impact on the human mind, sowing seeds of cruelty in some and injecting complex paranoia in others.
Regrettably, when former imperial countries actively pursue campaigns at schools and other places to root out such behaviour, the vicious culture thrives in developing nations.
Whether universities follow Buet’s example to ban or restrict student politics or not, a thorough probe has to be carried out by administrations of all universities supported/overseen by a board comprising psychologists, counselors, and civil society members to find if ragging or bullying exists.
There is every possibility that such a culture exists and is carefully concealed with general students too afraid to talk about it openly.
Bullying at school level is never given the importance it deserves and, in most cases, the victim is placated with words of affection while the bullying is let off with a warning. The tendency to bully remains dormant and is never addressed, only to rear its head later in life.
One finds a correlation between ragging and the culture of intimidation which the arrested casino bosses applied in order to create an aura of power to subdue or tame others, including law enforcers.
To look at the person(s) who is doing the ragging, over time, the regular beating, insulting of others plus the air of invincibility topped with impudence form the character of a ruthless opportunist, who will not flinch at the thought of killing, looting, or maiming others to serve one’s own purpose.
The small-time thug, if allowed to thrive, turns into the big time crook -- at least, the antecedents of detained youth leaders with stashes of cash and illegal weapons in their iron safes, seem to attest to that.
Bullies at school go on to become sharper in their manipulation and exploitation of others in real life. If at a young age, they beat up others then at a later stage, they usually “gaslight” subordinates, family members, and most disconcertingly, their partners.
In India, after a supreme-court directive, a national anti-ragging helpline was launched by the government. There are several voluntary organizations in India that work to raise awareness among the people about the diabolical aspects of ragging plus its malignant form, which involves beating, systematic torture plus sustained psychological pressure.
The most notable is the Society Against Violence in Education (SAVE) which is India’s first NGO dealing with the issue. It’s high time that such a body was established in Bangladesh, to unearth and tackle an insidious menace which shatters human dignity.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.