May 16: Colleges can no longer wash their hands of ragging — the campus rite of passage that has lost its innocence — and among the first beneficiaries could be a student in Bengal.
The Supreme Court today made it incumbent upon educational institutions to file a first information report with police if an incident of harassment is brought to their notice.
Other than imposing “personal liability” on institute heads, the court asked the government to consider withdrawing aid to those failing to check ragging.
Under normal circumstances, lodging an FIR is the responsibility of the victims or their representatives, such as parents.
Many institutes, wary of either a backlash from other students or a possible blot on their reputation, choose to sweep complaints of ragging under the carpet.
But the court today said the onus lies on the institutes to activate the process of law if the parents are not satisfied with the action taken internally.
Bengal could become the first state where the order will be put to test. Relatives of Sarojit Biswas, a polytechnic student who fled his institute in Birbhum because of ragging, said they would visit the college tomorrow to file a complaint against the six students who harassed him.
The college has been saying that an FIR would be lodged only if an internal probe panel found the suspects guilty. However, after today’s court ruling that kicks in immediately, the institute will have to file an FIR if the relatives insist.
The institutes’ FIR will be in addition to the disciplinary and other deterrent actions taken by the educational institutions and previous reports lodged by them.
Heads of institutions or wardens would not be absolved of their liabilities even if the victim or parents had already filed an FIR, the court clarified.
“Any failure or delay in lodging an FIR will be construed as culpable negligence on the part of institutional authorities,’’ a bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat said.
The directives were based on the recommendations of a government-appointed committee headed by former CBI chief R.K. Raghavan.
Calling for exemplary punishment, the court said institutes should expel a guilty student while other schools should refuse admission to prevent recurrence. In the case of criminal complaints, courts should deal with the matter on a priority basis.
However, ragging does not figure on the list of offences under the Indian Penal Code. Each incident of ragging is treated as a specific form of violence such as attempt to murder, grievous hurt, hurt, outraging modesty and other sexual offences.
The Raghavan committee had recommended amendments to the governing laws and suggested making ragging a separate offence.
Another proposal is to ensure that the burden of proof lies on the perpetrator. Normally, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the complainant.