Arindam Chaudhuri
[November, 2010]

I am sure that after reading the heading, everyone must be restless to know how? But have some patience. It’s a story I repeat often. And I must repeat it again today. As a child, I remember having considerable friends in school. I am sure everyone has. But my friends’ circle from the very beginning had a specialty – it had only those people who were all very, very good in studies. If you are wondering how, the answer to that is in the place I used to stay, and still stay; a locality called Chittaranjan Park in New Delhi. This was originally that locality in Delhi where all those who had gotten displaced from Bangladesh during the partition were given a place to settle down. So, it used to be called the ‘EPDP colony’ i.e. East Pakistan Displaced Persons’ colony. This locality had its very special characteristics – maybe someday I will write about them all – including the one I referred to; i.e. it gave me, during my very early childhood, a group of friends who were all toppers! Being a locality of mostly lower middle class displaced people, the relatively well-to-do amongst them – that is, those who were middle class – managed to put their children in public schools like mine – the reputed Delhi Public School (DPS) – and believed the only way out of this lower middle class or middle class existence was to be exceptional in studies. Of course, coupled up with the Bengali orientation towards arts and literature, our locality produced some of the most brilliant students for our school. So, if our school had 15 buses and 150 scholar badge holders (the ones who excelled in studies), I believe more than a fifth of those students used to go in the bus that used to go through CR Park. My father being a teacher, he attracted friendship with all those parents whose children were toppers; and that’s how most of my friends were exceptional in studies!

It’s a different story – again to be told some other day – that as I grew up in life and started making friends of my choice, I changed this very friends’ circle. But for now, for this editorial, I will stay with the story of these friends. Lower middle/middle class. Very good in studies. From timid Bengali art and culture loving families. And typically weak built, as most Bengalis were and still are. If someone were to have told me then that these boys would go on to become partial murderers of the Aman Kachroos of this country, I would have shouted “impossible” at the top of my voice. They were/are from good families. Toppers of their respective schools and classes for heaven’s sake; and most importantly, of such weak built that they couldn’t even have harmed a fly! But as time unfolded, I saw just that happen in front of my eyes. They went on to become the topmost raggers of this country. Here is the story how.

I remember how these boys studied like crazy. Their aim was to top in the class. And being the son of a teacher, who knew something about education, I used to be surprised at what my friends were doing. My father had always told me that it was not important in life to get high marks. He told me to be good – again, the emphasis was not on high marks but on expansiveness of reading – in English and Maths as that was all that mattered in life. Rest, he asked me to do what I loved doing; and to develop passion. So luckily, I had a relaxed childhood and grew up really loving my father. His support for my endeavours was my biggest strength. And he was always questioning things himself. I remember when I was in class 1 or so – yes, some memories remain etched in your mind – when one night at 12 my father picked up the phone and gave a piece of his mind to our school principal. He was seething with anger that the school had given so much homework that I hadn’t been able to finish the same on time. I remember him criticising our schooling system, weighing my bag every now and then, and getting furious with anger seeing it weighing so heavily on my back. And while my father advised me not to run aft r marks, he did motivate me to read books. He once said, “Read so that those scholar badge holders feel ashamed of their lack of intellect when they talk to you.” And I spent my childhood reading and reading and reading more books. I didn’t get a scholar badge, still, I have no guilt because my parents never expected one. And today, I thank God that I didn’t get one. That’s why I know what education is about.

Coming back to my friends. I remember how even after my class 10th board exams, I wouldn’t find many of these friends of mine to play cricket with – because their coaching for the IIT entrance exams had already started. They studied hard. They did not play hard. In fact, they almost got locked up in their respective rooms for three to four years of their lives leading to the class 12th board examinations. The reason was that they had to make it to the IITs. Upon being asked why they wanted to go to an IIT, the standard response was, "Papa has said so; so I want to go to IIT." I would hear my neighbours shout at their kids that the neighbour’s kids had gotten into IIT – they were obviously referring to some other neighbour, not me – or that their relatives’ kids had gone to IIT. They would reprimand and rebuke their kids comparing them to donkeys who would put their parents to shame by not being able to make it…“Poor kids,” I would think. They missed out on the good tournaments we had, the new films which came and much more than that, they lost their individuality and personality. My friends never realised their over zealous parents were making them dwarfed forever.

And finally, after all that, most of them made it! Made it to some of the country’s brightest engineering and medical colleges. By then, most of them were just friends of mine. Not good friends. Because I had made up my set of good friends who had more to their character than mugged up knowledge of text book material. But nevertheless, I remained friends, so I kept a track of their lives. Something that interested me very much was how all my engineering friends ditched their parents and went on to stay in campus hostels even if they stayed a stone’s throw away from their institutions. The same reflected later in life when they all – one and all almost – decided to go abroad or at the least away from the town where their parents stayed... making CR Park today a place of old parents living in the false glory of their children going to IITs etc, while hiding the pain of the fact that actually they went away… at times, these parents are left behind with a semi-retarded second son who never made it to IIT; but never made it in life too because the parents thought nothing of him, so he indeed became nothing. You are but what your parents make of you after all! When parents say you are a winner, you become a winner. When they say you are a loser. You are destined to be a loser…

But what happened to the so called winners? Those who made it to the IITs? Well, their first months in IIT were traumatic to say the least. They would cry in front of me. They couldn’t take in the humiliation of ragging. The humiliation of being stripped totally naked and being made to run around the IIT Delhi campus. After all, after four years of exile and being locked up in their rooms while their commerce and arts friends made merry and socialised, my friends now wanted to socialise too. But alas, this is what they were getting in return! This is what their papas had put them into! The engineering and medical colleges of India are the havens of the worst possible ragging in this country. Why? Because these boys who went searching for socialisation got nothing. To socialise, they need to have normal people around. Unfortunately, those locked up in rooms for three or four years aren’t really normal. And most importantly, a healthy socialisation happens when there is a good ratio of the opposite sex. They keep men sane. But when you reach an institution where the girls’ ratio is ten to fifteen per cent and often less, you know your next four years are doomed. So then your socialisation takes perverted and sadistic forms.

And that’s when you call a junior and tell him, "This is my underwear. You will wash it for the next one year. And yes, before that, open your underwear and run around the campus first." And these were the set of seniors my friends encountered. They were aghast. I was aghast too. Not then; but next year. My friends – those weak, timid, book muggers – were now meeting me all excited. Why? Well, the new batch had just come in. And it was just awesome to make them run naked around in the IIT Delhi campus (in a mob those thin and weak looking Bengali boys were also heros). I protested, “Weren’t you crying last year, my friend, that it was so ugly and so humiliating? And today you are a part of this?” Pat came the reply, “Arindam, in this one year, we realised one thing... Ragging se personality banti hai boss...” I was studying management and behavioural science then. And I knew by then their personalities had become retarded forever. And by pushing them so much, their parents had not only lost them forever, they had also made them potential ragging killers too.

Their concepts of socialisation had become perverted because they never had a proper social life. They never found the joy of becoming passionate readers, sportsmen, friends and normal human beings. Their suppressed frustration and lack of guidance forced them unknowingly to take to ragging as a release – rather a volcanic eruption – against the years of suppression at home and forced-focus on a pathetic notion of education undertaken not to fulfill their own desires and wishes but to fulfill their parents’ inferiority complexes vis a vis their social circle. Last year alone, there were 19 ragging deaths in India and four attempted suicides according to a report by CURE – Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education – and needless to say, the incidence of perverted and inhuman ragging being highest in engineering and medical colleges of India.

The Supreme Court of India has passed orders against ragging; but education being a state subject, most states have failed to implement the orders properly. In the last six months itself, the ragging helpline has received more than 1.5 lac calls. Lack of fear of punishment is one reason why ragging prevails unchecked. But at one point of time, the parents must take a moment off and think. Did they give the right education to their children? Or while forcing them to study like maniacs, did they actually make them potential ragging killers? And teachers should also answer one question. Did they give the right lessons of life to their children or did they only concentrate on finishing their wretched course syllabus?

Oh yes, these same boys, upon realising that engineering was never something they wanted to do (and after wasting about fifteen to twenty lacs of taxpayers’ money, which subsidised their education), went ahead and made their lives on their own. Without their papa’s advice this time. Many of them cracked the CAT and went to the IIMs. It’s a place where the population has 85 to 90 per cent engineers (the girls there are also as less, keeping socialising dreams here too at bay). Great input, making a great environment indeed for the country’s premier business schools – thanks to the irrational admission system called CAT – which is supposed to make and host the country’s best personalities! The ‘personalities’ do learn all the mathematics and management formulas very well for sure. But people skills? Well, you can imagine how much of people skills can be imparted to those who bring to IIMs this superb learning, “Ragging se personality banti hai boss!"
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