How to correctly handle ragging? Akola college shows the way

Updated: Jun 03, 2019, 08:31 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

A case from Akola Medical College from earlier this year may shine a light on how authorities need to tackle cases of ragging

Akola college
Akola college

Amid the public uproar about the mishandling of the alleged casteist harassment of the late Dr Payal Tadvi, a recent case at the Government Medical College, Akola, can show the way for other medical colleges on how to handle such instances. MUHS Registrar Kalidas Chavan said the Akola case was among five reported to the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences in the academic year 2018-2019."

Three gynaecology students accused of ragging were rusticated in February before they got relief from the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on April 12, following which a fresh external probe may be instituted to rule out bias. In a four-page complaint to the dean on February 18, a first year gynaecology student's father allegedly accused three second-year students from Beed, Thane and Nagpur of causing severe physical and mental torture to his daughter ever since she was transferred to their Unit III.

Also Read: Anti-ragging committees in Mumbai colleges to be upgraded

Dr Kusumakar Ghorpade
Dr Kusumakar Ghorpade

He alleged that his daughter and another colleague, both from Tamil Nadu, were allegedly discriminated against due to their language and cultural habits. The complainant also got a PG admission in her home state, but did not pursue it as she would have had to pay a R20 lakh penalty if she gave up her Akola college seat. "Juniors are not allowed to make eye contact and made to fold their arms and bow to seniors," the letter said. "One of the three told them to do "donkey's work and not ask any questions." The letter lists 16 instances of alleged harassment in all. Akola Medical College is no stranger to such cases. On January 31, 2014, eight second-year MBBS students were accused of brutally ragging 40 MBBS freshers in a police complaint.

Also Read: Mumbai doctor's suicide: Make central anti-ragging law more stringent, says state

Prompt probe, swift action

Unlike Nair hospital authorities, Dean Dr Kusumakar Ghorpade immediately constituted a high-level inquiry, and the matter was brought to the notice of the internal ragging committee, which submitted a detailed report. "The committee did not come across any evidence in 14 of the 16 allegations," said a college source. "But two instances of harassment could be corroborated." One was that the behaviour of the three seniors changed after Gynaecology HoD Dr Aparna Wahane asked the complainant to present a paper at a program at Mahableshwar. The committee found witnesses that confirmed this. The second allegation was that, while seniors could report to work as they pleased, juniors were expected to report to work earlier than required. And three seniors allegedly tore up the complainant's hospital papers and discharge cards and force her to make fresh papers.

The three told the first-year student that it was 'punishment for not obeying their orders'. While the committee could not find evidence to prove that the seniors tore up the complainant's documents, it confirmed that they had forced her to work even when she was on medical and harassed her. Again, unlike in Dr. Tadvi's case, the three seniors were found to be guilty of violating the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act 1999 and were debarred from representing the institution in any regional, national or international meet, tournament, youth festival, etc and rusticated for two terms. An official complaint was made against the three with the Kotwali police. "I had to take an impartial decision and when the internal committee found them guilty, action as per norms was taken against the seniors," said Dean Ghorpade.

Also Read: Youngsters should know bullying is a crime

Case goes to court

The seniors challenged the action in the HC's Nagpur bench. Justices RK Deshpande and SM Modak on April 12 quashed and set aside the dean's order. The court stated that the dean and unit head were at liberty to follow the principles of natural justice against the petitioners. "The respondents shall also pass an appropriate order in respect of the period spent in prosecution the present petition as it affects the attendance of the petitioners in the college," the bench said. The three were taken back on April 12, the dean said. Colleges have now been asked to take written statements from PG students that they will adhere to the anti-ragging guidelines.

"We never thought this would be required for PG students like with MBBS students," said Dr. Ghorpade. "Now we have been directed to take undertakings from PG students and their parents. This will be applicable to all government and private medical colleges under MUHS." Dr. TP Lahane, director, Medical Education and Research, said, "We have also decided to conduct six-monthly counseling for PG students and unit heads. In the absence of counselors, the psychiatry department will conduct the mandatory sessions at every medical college."

Work pressure to blame?

A Grant Medical College professor said the problem is that while there are 19 government medical colleges, five civic-run colleges, and 17 private medical colleges under MUHS, students who studied in private or rural medical colleges had not experienced or seen the heavy flow of patients that is witnessed in a government medical college. And the hierarchy usually is professor, followed by lecturer, chief resident, senior resident, and junior resident.

"From professor to senior resident, most either do no work or do limited work," the professor said. "The burden is always on the junior resident. Further, Class IV staff (ward boys and peons) is never available, and hence that work too — making admission papers, referring patients from one ward to another, accompanying serious patients to ICU — falls on them. With hundreds of patients, junior residents have to go through a lot." Dr. Ghorpade concluded: "The need of the hour is to create friendly relations between seniors, and juniors as well as PG students. They should work together, failing which such instances will happen again."

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