While some call it a “toughening” process that builds trust and camaraderie between cadets, a few have also opposed it as “harassment”.

IMA demotes 16 cadets for beating juniors Where does one draw the line between ragging and trainingNewly commissioned officers jubilate after their passing out parade at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai; PTI Photo
news Saturday, April 30, 2016 - 14:03

In an unusual move, the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun recently demoted 16 of its under-training cadets for reportedly "ragging" their juniors. 

The action was taken against the cadets from the spring 2016 batch for beating their juniors and clicking objectionable photos of them, The Times of India reported.

A career in the army can be as grueling as it can be exhilarating, and those who choose it are usually aware of what they are getting into. The training, which can be mentally and physically challenging, churns out the best from the select group of young men and women.

During their training, juniors are often mentored by their seniors and over the years there have been several reports of alleged ragging in military academies in India. However, there is some disagreement about some methods adopted during this mentoring  process. While some call it a “toughening” process that builds trust and camaraderie between cadets, a few have also opposed it as “harassment”.

When Rohan V (name changed) decided to join the army in the 2000s, it was purely out of his own will. He did not come from an army background, and wanted to discover himself. However, his stint in the army was short-lived as he quit after a brief period.

Rohan, who did finish part of his training, says it was an individual choice to leave the army. “Life can be tough in the army for people who easily react. The army is a small place and you have to deal with the same people throughout your career. I didn’t want to take things lying down,” he asserts.

He mentions that what would constitute “ragging” in an army lifestyle is very different from the same thing in a civilian set up. While cadets are put through a lot of hardships, Rohan says, it preps them up to do a better job.

Having led his life on both sides of the civilian-cadet divide, Rohan agrees with the training.

"There is a certain pressure to perform, to prove that cadets are tough and valiant. And that, to a certain extent, is necessary. But are there people who go overboard? Yes, there are,” he says.

According to Rohan, juniors have very little say in what they are asked to do in the army.

“In the army, the line of command is followed religiously at all levels. A junior in such a set up hardly has any voice. You don’t have any option to choose from. Whether you like it or not, you have no other option but to do it. That is the thought-process that is promoted there,” he explains.

Rohan now is an IT professional based-out of the US. He does not have any qualms about either joining the army or leaving it soon after.

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In 2006, Digvijay Singh from Vadodara left the Officers' Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai where he was undergoing training, alleging that he had been ragged by his seniors.

“We were severely harassed by the senior cadets of the academy. The harassment didn't stop at verbal assaults. Many of the seniors also beat us up and kept us awake for many nights. They asked me to sit like a frog without any support on a small chair, despite my protest. I lost balance and fell flat on the floor. I was unconscious for some time, but they didn't take me to the hospital for the next two days,” Singh had then told TOI. He had also added that junior cadets were also forced to eat food from garbage bins, all in the name of “training sessions”.

Digvijay had also said that he did not file a complaint because he was threatened with “dire consequences by his seniors”.

On the other hand, according to a senior cadet, the punishment doled out to the 16 IMA cadets recently was not justified as junior cadets were “mentored” under the wings of their seniors for some months as per academy traditions and that they were “allowed to give punishments to their juniors”.

Where is the line between “ragging” and a healthy training exercise?

Sagar S (name changed), a retired Lt Colonel who also went to the IMA during his training years, says that ragging has been banned in the Indian Army for as long he was a part of it and that ban still remains.

“In fact,” he argues, “it has mellowed down significantly now”.

“Nowadays, communication has improved between parents and children. During my time, not a single cadet would complain to their parents about anything that happened to them in the army. But now, one gets a swollen cheek and directly reports to their parents, who in turn charge the administration,” he says describing a similar incident involving the son of a defense personnel.

In the army, he explains, there’s a thought that is widely followed — you can do what you wish to as long as you don’t get caught. But the activities assigned to juniors by their seniors helps both the parties bond with each other. And that is exactly the attitude in the army, Sagar maintains.

Some of the tasks that seniors may give to their junior cadets include making the latter do PT in the hot sun, climb a rope several times, or lift cycles and run. A few could also sound mundane or purposeless, like asking juniors to assemble outside at 2 am or 3 am and wait for several hours for their seniors.

But Sagar says that some cadets make good on their training.

“Like if someone had never done a high jump in their life and was made to do exactly that by seniors as ‘punishment’, they could use it to clear their training where they would be required to do a three-feet high jump. But none of these tasks have been made mandatory by anyone,” he says.

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In 2014, a controversial video was published on StratPost, a website on South Asian military affairs, of a military cadet being beaten with a hockey stick. Said to have been recorded in a military school in India — though the exact location was not confirmed — the video showed an alleged senior thrashing a person, supposed to be a junior, several times.

The army took suo motu cognizance and reiterated its stance that it is against corporal punishment.

Sagar too asserts the same.

Speaking about physical assault, he says that while a slap or two is not usually taken in offence by anyone, he agrees that there could be a few rotten apples in every batch “who don’t have control” over themselves and their egos.

But anything like lashing people or undressing them is totally unacceptable in the army, he says.

He says that the action taken by the IMA recently could be more of an exception than the rule.

Just like other colleges, the IMA too has its own sets of rules and those who disobey them are relegated. While one or two cadets being caught for indiscipline is not an issue of major worry, a group of them rebelling could be seen as a sign of mutiny in the army, he says.

“If they can’t take orders now or aren’t able to have control over themselves, what will they do once they are working in the field,” he asks adding that this could apply to both juniors and seniors.

Both Sagar and Rohan however agree that it is not very easy to draw a line between what constitutes acceptable behaviour and what does not in such cases.

This could be due to the tolerance capacity — physical, mental, emotional and psychological — of individuals.

Rohan feels that “somebody who is entering the army at 18 or 19 may not have the maturity to deal with the kind of situations thrown at them. And this may be overwhelming and may impact them psychologically. Maybe some kind of counseling available to cadets in the academy could help."

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