It is the third day of college, and the sprawling University of Delhi campus teems with new students looking to make friends and familiarize themselves with their new lives.
At 9:30 on the windless, humid morning, two female commerce undergraduates nervously walk into their college with heads down. They pass five khaki-clad constables standing guard against the newly outlawed practice of “ragging,” as hazing is called in Indian English.
This year, colleges in the capital are for the first time trying to stamp out hazing, using closed-circuit TV, police and special squads of volunteers. But some seniors aren't ready to comply.
“Fachchas!” screams one of them to the two undergraduates, using Indian campus slang for first-year students.
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“Are they calling us? Will they rag us now?” asks Rupika Pant, 17, a short girl in blue jeans and a brown T-shirt, clutching her bag tightly.
“Don't turn to look, keep walking,” whispers her friend Nihar Goyal, 18, who is wearing a traditional long tunic and pants, hastening her steps.
But within seconds, senior students surround them, ready to tease, taunt and torment.
“What are your names?” one of them demands. “Don't you know you have to say good morning to senior students?”
“Do a hot Hindi movie song for us. Show some moves,” commands a young woman.
Pant and Goyal play along, singing and trying to move in a snakelike hip swing common in Bollywood films.
Everybody laughs. “Go now, and don't breathe a word to anybody that we ragged you.”
But not all the seniors are so bold. Nearby, a group of them sits at the cafeteria just watching new students.
“There are so many suicides, rapes, complaints of physical and psychological abuse every year, so the court banned it,” says Natasha Bawa, 20. “But we don't want to do the dangerous type of ragging. We just do the fun stuff. Ragging is a college ritual. It is synonymous with the first few days of college life.”
Inside the college auditorium, activists prepare to screen a music video about hazing.
“I was a ragging victim, and I was abused for months,” says Harsh Agarwal, who runs the Coalition to Uproot Ragging From Education. “I could not talk to anyone, because people think it is OK to rag. They laugh if you complain. But the lines between mild and heinous ragging is blurred because it is always nonconsensual.”
Rajendra Prasad, the principal of the university, aims to change that.
“I will not allow any ragging in my college. It is against the law,” Prasad declares. “…College life is not only about fun, freedom, liberty. It is also about responsibility.”