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Hazing death sparks call for urgent action

India

April 06 2009

The death of a 19-year-old medical student due to hazing, or ragging, has generated an outcry, with a representative from a Christian educational association urging stricter measures to contain the threat.

"(The) hazing tendency is present all over India, but teachers and management should stay vigilant and take strict action," said Mani Jacob, general secretary of the All India Association of Christian Higher Education, an ecumenical body.

The association encompasses about 400 Catholic and Protestant colleges in the country.

On March 30, India´s Supreme Court upheld the suspension of the principal of a medical school in Himachal Pradesh state, where Aman Kachroo died of brain hemorrhage on March 8 after some drunken seniors beat him up. The court said the school failed to implement its 2007 guidelines on hazing.

Five days after Kachroo´s death, a 20-year-old student of an engineering college in Andhra Pradesh state attempted suicide after her seniors reportedly forced her to dance nude in front of them.

Such cases have forced people across the country to demand stricter measures to make universities safer places for students.

According to the Society Against Violence in Education (SAVE), an organization that fights hazing, the practice caused 39 deaths from 2000-2008. Seven deaths occurred in 2007 and eight in 2008, indicating an upward trend, said SAVE president Kushal Banerjee.

"These are cases collected from media reports. The actual cases would be much more," he asserted. He demanded a strict anti-hazing law as hazing has physically and psychologically "injured countless numbers of students."

Banerjee noted that colleges do not follow Supreme Court guidelines on the matter. The court had directed that all hazing cases be registered with the police as criminal cases. It also wants colleges to dismiss those participating in hazing, and refuse admission to those expelled by other institutions because of such activities.

Other institutions in the country are also trying to contain the menace. The University Grant Commission, the federal accreditation agency for higher education, reportedly plans to issue new guidelines, such as blocking government aid to institutions that fail to implement anti-hazing measures.

A committee formed by the federal Ministry of Human Resources Development has suggested incorporating hazing as a special section under the Indian Penal Code.

Although India has yet to formulate a law to deal with hazing specifically, Jacob, a Protestant, feels that laws alone "would not solve the issue."

Students, teachers and parents should be aware of the dangers of hazing and be vigilant about it, said Jacob, who is also chancellor of Allahabad Agricultural Institute. He claimed that Christian institutions, where "priest and nuns take precautions" against the hazing threat, hardly report any serious cases of the anti-social activity.

Jacob said his educational association conducts awareness campaigns in campuses and make each teacher discuss the hazing issue with students.

Some Catholic educators shared their thoughts on the matter.

Father K.J. Antony, secretary of the All India National Association of Catholic Schools, said hazing incidents are "almost nil in Catholic schools." The Salesian priest added that close relations between teachers and students help avoid such incidents.

Father Denis D´Sa, administrator of Father Muller Medical College in Mangalore, southern India, said his institution has managed to "eradicate" hazing. "We immediately suspend students involved in any form of ragging, whether verbal or physical," he stressed, adding that they had received only one "minor complaint," in 2008.

The college also informs new students about its anti-hazing policy, besides posting warnings on all notice boards, college books, magazines and prospectuses, Father D´Sa said.

Jesuit Father Richard Rego of St. Aloysius College in Mangalore shared that his college has an "anti-ragging squad" comprising teachers and student representatives who keep an eye out for such activities.

Carmelite Father Mathew Chandrankunnel, teaching in Christ College in Bangalore, said "strict measures" taken by his college have helped check the threat.

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