Why Aman Kachroo’s won’t be the last ragging death, and what his family should do
Update: Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam, who is I think the amicus curae in the ongoing case, says he will ask the Supreme Court to take note of the case and charge the Principal and Vice-Chancellor with “contempt, inaction, negligence and failure.” But who will charge whom for lack of implementation of the SC orders on ragging?And Himachal Pradesh has an anti-ragging ordinance too. (The ordinance had expired in 1998 1992, I gather, as it had not been turned into a law within six months)
I don’t know why this report does not use the word lynching, because that is what seems to have happened at the Dr Rajendra Prasad Medical College, Tanda.
I hope I am not committing contempt of court here by mentioning that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had first banned ragging in May 2001. Eight years and two Supreme Court-appointed committees later, the celebrated Public Interest Litigation method of reforming India did not come to the rescue of Aman Satya Kachroo. (It is not clear whether he spelled his surname as Kachroo or Kachru.)
What the Supreme Court process did do, instead, was to make the state governments and the HRD Ministry lazy; they gave up passing and implementing anti-ragging laws. The few states that did, most of them, as the Raghavan committee shockingly found, have not notified them!
The Union HRD Ministry has also not taken any steps to either pass a national anti-ragging law or amend the Indian Penal Code to make the “ragging” a punishable offence.
The problem, as always, is that of implementation. The SC’s 2001 order, based on the Unnikrishnan committee report (.pdf here) had said that it is the responsibility of college principals and directors to check ragging. That’s where the buck stops. But the order had not specified what it would mean to not follow that responsibility! What happens to a principal in a case like this, where he was clearly and deliberately negligent? Under what law do you charge him?
Secondly, the order had said that it would be the responsibility of affiliating/funding agencies to make sure colleges affilaited to or funded by them are following anti-ragging measures. Even today there arev colleges, even in Delhi University, who do not follow the details of the 2001 SC order, such as forming an anti-ragging committee in college and making it accessible in person or through phone at any time of day and night. You can read what seems like an excellent order here; the loophole here is that since the measures mentioned sounded illustrative they weren’t taken seriously. Most importantly, nobody ever asked UGC et al as to what they had done to implement the order.
But these affiliating and/or funding agencies – mainly three: UGC (University Grants Council), AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) and the MCI (Medical Council of India)- didn’t do much apart from notifying the institutions under them about the SC order. Many secretaries came and went, students kept dying of ragging, some cases of rape and alleged murder even, and finally in 2007 the Supreme Court again took suo moto notice of the fact that ragging was still on!
This time the SC set-up a committee headed by former CBI chief RK Raghavan. In the second meeting of the committee, they invited me along with a few people to make presentations, and subsequently hired some of us as consultants. I remember going on and on in my presentation that the problem was implementation, and if only the first committee’s recommendations and the ensuing SC order of 2001 were implemented in letter and spirit, there wouldn’t be the need for this committee. I remember the first question I was asked after my presentation was about the need of an all-India anti-ragging law to be passed by the Parliament. I said absolutely. This was the single-most important thing that was needed. Everyone agreed. Although everything that makes for ragging is covered by the Indian Penal Code, the police does not think this way.
The committee submitted its report in May 2007 (.pdf here). The illiterate Delhi media took a copy of the recommendations chapter of the report and hyped it as though it had already become the law of the land. The problem that the illiterate media faced was that there were 50 recommendations! The committee had put in almost everything they had been suggested. So every paper/TV channel highlighted some of the recommendations. Some missed out the most crucial one – that the IPC should be amended and ragging made a cognisable offence. This would mean that a fresher like Kachroo can go to a police station and be taken seriously about a ragging complaint – if you know what Indian police is like you can imagine how they tell freshers not to fear, everyone gets ragged, it is okay.
The Supreme Court has not said anything about this particular recommendation so far, and those against law-by-PIL would say that it should not. The HRD ministry, and state governments, are mum on the question of outlawing ragging and implenting and monitoring anti-ragging measures because they hink that the Supreme Court, like god, is taking care of it. Why increase our work?
So what the Supreme Court has done this time round is issue this order:
(1) The punishment to be meted out has to be exemplary and justifiably harsh to act as a deterrent against recurrence of such incidents.
(2) Every single incident of ragging where the victim or his parent/guardian or the Head of institution is not satisfied with the institutional arrangement for action, a First Information Report must be filed without exception by the institutional authorities with the local police authorities. Any failure on the part of the institutional authority or negligence or deliberate delay in lodging the FIR with the local police shall be construed to be an act of culpable negligence on the part of the institutional authority. If any victim or his parent / guardian of ragging intends to file FIR directly with the police, that will not absolve the institutional authority from the requirement of filing the FIR.
(3) Courts should make an effort to ensure that cases involving ragging are taken up on a priority basis to send the correct message that ragging is not only to be discourages but also to be dealt with sternness.
(4) In addition, we direct that the possibility of introducing in the educational curriculum a subject relating to ragging shall be explored by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the respective State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). This aspect can be included in the teaching of the subjects “Human Rights”.
(5) In the prospectus to be issued for admission by educational institutions, it shall be clearly stipulated that in case the applicant for admission is found to have indulged in ragging in the past or if it is noticed later that he has indulged in ragging, admission may be refused or he shall be expelled from the educational institution.
(6) The Central Government and the State Governments shall launch a programme giving wide publicity to the menace of ragging and the consequences which follow in case any student is detected to have been involved in ragging.
(7) It shall be the collective responsibility of the authorities and functionaries of the concerned institution, and their role shall also be open to scrutiny for the purpose of finding out whether they have taken effective steps for preventing ragging and in case of their failure, action can be taken; for example, denial of any grant-in-aid or assistance from the State Governments.
(8) Anti-ragging committees and squads shall be forthwith formed by the institutions and it shall be the job of the committee or the squad, as the case may be, to see that the Committee’s recommendations, more for particularly those noted above, are observed without exception and if it is noticed that there is any deviation, the same shall be forthwith brought to the notice of this Court.
(9) The Committee constituted pursuant to the order of this Court shall continue to monitor the functioning of the anti-ragging committees and the squads to be formed. They shall also monitor the implementation of the recommendations to which reference has been made above.
This was in an interim order of the Court in May 2007, nearly 2 years ago. That has not been able to prevent Kachroo’s murder. I have no doubt that more ragging deaths will take place. You can read here a critique of the interim order by me.
If only Aman Kachroo had been able to call a helpline number or email somebody, anonymously, and write that this kind of ragging was going on, and a fact-finding team had immediately visited his college, not only could the death have been prevented but also possibly Kachroo could have enjoyed his college life without even the mandatory ostracisation that freshers who speak up against ragging have to face in their college and hostel. The setting up of such a helpine on the model of Childline was one of the recommendations of the Raghavan committee. But can the Supreme Court set up something like that? Surely, that is the domain of the executive and not the judiciary. An HRD Joint Secretary is Member Secretary of the Raghavan Committee, but the HRD won’t do anything because, well, the SC is looking into it.
To model the helpline around Childline was suggested by HRD Joint Secretary Sunil Kumar himself, but that would need identifying and funding NGO’s to do that. The Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education is ready, but the HRD forgot about this and the SC had no comment.
So two things needed to prevent ragging: a law and a helpline. Simple.
So what should Kachroo’s family do, to get justice for his death and also to contribute to the larger anti-ragging cause to prevent such deaths?
1) I think it is important that they hire a good criminal lawyer and sue the Principal, Suresh Sankhayan, on criminal charges. In at least one case that I know, the director of the educational institution was arrested. Don’t know what happened thereafter. It is important that negligent Principals be put behind bars; it will drive home the point to principals and institute directors that even if they personally think ragging is okay, the law does not think so.
2) Another party to be sued in this matter is the Medical Council of India, whose responsibility it is under the Supreme Court orders (both 2001 and 2007) to disaffiliate institutionsthat are unable to curb ragging. This implies that they have to go around checking, and they haven’t done that.
3) It is obvious that the seniors who lynched Kachroo to death have to be given exemplary punishment. But it reminds me of the case of Pon Navrasu of Annamalai University in 1996. The then Vice Chancellor’s son, his body was hacked into many pieces by a senior named John David. Given 36 years’ jail by a sessions court, he was freed by the High Court for want of evidence. Evidence is a big problem in ragging cases, and the only conviction we know of was a ragging-rape case recently. This was achieved after a lot of hardship, and six were even then acquitted. That’s why it’s important to have a good lawyer and to collect evidence pronto.
4) In the Kerala case, controversies over which led to the SC taking notice of the prevalence of ragging despite the 2001 ban, the Kerala Nursing Council had de-recognised the School of Medical Education, where the rape had taken place after an exam in the name of ragging. This is the only example of de-affiliation. This is important, and Kachroo’s parents should push for this in the case of Dr Rajendra Prasad Medical College, Tanda. Students who are studying there and are not involved in ragging should be accomadated in other medical colleges. This is a price that institutions must pay for not being able to curb ragging. They must be dissolved altogether, as is the case with hazing in the US where fraternities and sororities unable to end hazing are just shut down.
Apart from this legalistic discussion, I have to say that part of the blame goes to Aman Kachroo’s family itself, even if this is the wrong time to say this, because like typical Indian parents they didn’t take his ragging complaints seriously. If even a ragging victim’s family does not take the issue seriously until he dies, you can imagine how seriously society at large thinks of ragging as a problem. Let it also be said that they are not the first parents who will always rue their indiscretion, and perhaps not the last.