By Dheeraj Sanghi
(An alleged incident of sexual harassment in the guise of ragging has put IIT-Kanpur in the spotlight. Recently, a panel constituted by the institution found several senior students guilty of ragging and has recommended strict action against them. In the backdrop of the current developments, Dheeraj Sanghi, a professor of Computer Science at IIT-Kanpur, writes this blog stating that the "whole thesis that ragging is good for first year students and there is no better way to forge friendships is plain and simple bullshit".)
A group of 2nd year students call a group of 1st year students, ask them to remove all clothes and press each others' genitals. The abuses and acts last for hours. (There are other things that have happened. But let me not waste time in describing everything in all their gory details.)
What is strange is not that this happened, but the widespread support this activity enjoys, the kind of justification that are being given (of course, anonymously on IITK Confessions page on facebook), and how it is not ragging, and how it is not sexual harassment.
So what are those justifications:
1. The foremost is that this is part of "IIT Kanpur culture" and professors won't understand the value of culture anyway, and hence this should not have been investigated by a committee where the majority of members are professors.
2. We (the 2nd year students) are doing a great favor to 1st year students by doing something to them which we ourselves don't enjoy, but has to be done. This will initiate them into adulthood, they will become more mature, more confident. They will be able to handle difficult situations in life more easily. By reading those "confessions" it seemed that sexual harassment is a magic that instantly converts a shy villager into a confident Kanpuriya.
3. This is the price they have to pay for all the help that they will get from us in the next 3 years of our overlap with them, and even after graduation. Isn't this such a tiny price.
4. Of course, this was completely voluntary. Anyone could have, at any stage, said that they are feeling uncomfortable and they would have been let go. After all, it was for their own good. What do we get out of this, nothing. And consensual acts cannot be considered as ragging or harassment.
5. The first year students are advised by their respective Student Guides to go through this tradition. Now, if the Institute Counseling Service, who are the first line of defense against ragging, is itself advising the students to go through this tradition, obviously they think that it is not ragging.
Then there are people who argue that even if it is ragging, no action should be taken against the students involved. Their arguments include:
1. It would be impossible to get proof of anyone's involvement. A couple of 1st year students naming someone cannot be considered as a proof. They have just come in and could easily be confused about the identities of people who are present. And there is no video recording or photographs of such events. So, if we only consider memory of a 1st year student as evidence, we would be punishing many innocents. If we do not have any other proof, everyone should get a benefit of doubt. (Of course, they have been around for a month, and in many cases have met those 2nd year students multiple times.)
2. It has been going on for several years. Counseling Service (read, Student Guides) has been involved. When several 100 students get sexually harassed (if you can call it sexual harassment), is it possible that wardens did not know, Dean did not know, the head of Counseling Service did not know, the anti-ragging committee did not know. Of course, everyone must have known, and yet they did not even issue a warning. If so many authorities knew and did not even warn, we can only conclude that this was acceptable to the Institute. We always thought that consensual acts are not ragging. Now, if you are changing the rules of the game, the new rules can only be applicable prospectively and not retrospectively.
3. Even this year, this has been done by 100s of students. The Institute has been able to identify only a few (because only a few stupid and weak first year students have given complaints). Is it fair to penalize a few for something that has been done by a large number of students. (If you can't catch all criminals, you shouldn't put any criminal in jail.)
Now, my take on this.
I feel really sad when an IIT Kanpur student tries to argue that sexual harassment for a few hours is not ragging, is for the benefit of 1st year student.
In 2017 when there appears to be a consensus in the society that ragging never helped and there are better ways to have introductions and make friends, our student body appears to be stuck in the 20th century beliefs.
The faculty always blame the societal ills for student indiscipline. If students cheat in exams, it is because of what they see in the society. But in this case, the society has moved on. And it is only based on what they have learnt at IITK. We must take those to task who were responsible for ensuring that such things don't happen. What were previous Deans and Associate Deans doing. What was Chairpersons of counseling service doing.
The only point I agree with is that innocent students must not be punished, particularly if the punishment is removal from IIT Kanpur. I hope the committee has reasonable evidence against each of the 22 students whom they have recommended for termination. And just to satisfy the student body that due diligence has indeed been done, may be the committee can indeed invite all these 22 students and talk to them for a few minutes each. May be some of them will be able to convince the committee that they were not present when this act happened and could be given the benefit of doubt. The others, of course, must be removed from the rolls of the Institute.
My prediction. The current Director, Prof. Manna, has only 7 weeks left in his term. Throughout his term, he has been very reluctant to punish any student, even for grave issues. In a few instances where the matter reached Senate and Senate decided on a tough punishment, he has taken the matter back to Senate after a few months, and requested them to undo the earlier punishment. Even in this case, as per the law, an FIR should have been lodged against all these 22 students. (Even if some of them are innocent, that is up to the legal process to find out.) But it hasn't been done even though it is almost one month since the complaints were received and 10 days since the committee report has been received. One of the recommendation of the committee is to remove the President Students Gymkhana from his position since he has been named in one of the complaints as abetting ragging. Even though the recommendation was initially accepted by the Director, even this has not been implemented. The matter of termination has been forwarded to Senate as per rules. The Senate meeting is on 21st September (Thursday). My own prediction is that the matter will not be discussed in Senate on that day. If it indeed gets discussed, the chances are that the disciplinary committee (SSAC) will be asked to do additional due diligence. The Director cannot afford to let Senate rusticate 22 students, since he does not have time left to come back to Senate a few months later to undo the rustication.
The other issue is the feeling of 2nd year students that they are the best well wishers of 1st year students. In all my interaction with 1st year students, I always tell them to avoid seeking any advice from 2nd year students. They are very immature, and have really not experienced enough to answer questions of 1st year students. I always advise them to contact 3rd or 4th year students. When I was at LNMIIT, we made sure that 1st year students lived in the same hostel as 3rd year students. At IIITD too, when a mentorship program was being designed, it was decided that only 3rd and 4th year students should be mentors. Once the first year students have spent a few months on campus, they would know which 2nd year students can give good advice (and of course, 2nd year students will also mature as weeks and months pass by).
Lately, I am interacting with many folks from IIT Gandhinagar, Ashoka University and IIIT Delhi, and I find that in all these places, the relationships across batches are far stronger and more mature than relationships at IIT Kanpur, and all these three places have no ragging. So this whole thesis that ragging is good for first year students and there is no better way to forge friendships is plain and simple bullshit.
IIT Kanpur has no option but to become a ragging free zone again.
(This blog first appeared here and has been reproduced with permission.)