ew recruits undergoing training at the Indian Naval Academy (INA), Ezhimala, Kerala, which is the exclusive training establishment of the Indian Navy, are subjected to physical harassment and ragging in the name of training and making the recruits tougher.
The academy, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009, accepts around 1,200 undergraduate and postgraduate cadets every year from diverse backgrounds including law, aviation and engineering.
A former recruit, who passed out of a premier national law school and stayed in INA after being selected in the Judge Advocate Branch (JAG) of the Navy said that the ragging started from the very first day. In due course of time it is expected that the cadet will accept ragging as a part of the training. "It's like a tradition which has been going on. And it's not just physical torture. Things are done to torture you mentally, in the name of making the cadet mentally tough."
Describing his stay, he said that a recruit is made to stand on his head until he falls. "The punishment methods are many. A recruit is asked to walk on his palms on roads while he is pushed by a batch-mate who holds his leg. A recruit is asked to carry his batch-mate on his shoulders until both of them fall. Making the recruits stand in hot blazing sun for hours is normal procedure. He is sometimes made to run for hours wearing ten sets of woollen clothes. The name of the candidate who is randomly selected for this punishment is announced at the night assembly, which is attended by academy officials."
The recruitment to INA is done after strenuous mental, physical and emotional tests by the Services Selection Board.
One such ragging incident is now being heard by the Kerala High Court. A Navy recruit (name withheld), who joined the INA in 2010 and raised his voice against ragging, was branded as a mental patient and removed from the academy. According to the case documents, the victim's father is a serving commander in the Indian Navy and the victim is a brilliant student who always wanted to be a part of the Navy. The victim was mentally and emotionally ragged by his seniors and was beaten for refusing to heed their orders. At times he was not allowed to eat anything in the mess and was permitted only to drink water. Despite complaining to the authorities they turned a blind eye to his trauma. Later, a medical test of the victim by the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), Pune proved that he was perfectly all right.
Other former cadets this correspondent spoke to confirmed that the practice of forcing a cadet to drink just water and not let him have meals is common in the academy. "Once I woke up to the sound of officials beating my seniors. They were being punished because one of the newly recruited cadets had answered back to the officials. It is like a hierarchy," said a cadet, who left the INA and is now working with an IT company.
Another former cadet, who is the son of a high court judge and is now practising as a lawyer, said that new recruits are not allowed to close toilet doors because they have not earned this "privilege". "I was not able to pass stool for days because of this abnormal tradition. Finally, I decided to leave. But not before letting the officials in the academy know about this. However, everyone said that this was part of our training and someone like me, who is from a 'civilian' background, should have never been selected in the Navy. I was socially boycotted by my squadron members on the orders of my seniors."
According to one candidate who too left the academy midway, he was asked to submit a "no-ragging done" statement after he told INA officials that he was leaving because of ragging. "I met the Commandant and the Squadron Commander and told them that I was leaving because of ragging. They made fun of me by saying that I was too weak for the Navy. I was told that unless and until I signed the letter saying that there was no incident of ragging and that I was leaving on my free will, my departure would be delayed. Every day was like staying in a torture cell there, so I had to sign the letter."
"The INA, like any other military installation, is a restricted and closely guarded area. The cell phones of the candidates are taken away on the day they join. And then what happens to you inside the huge campus remains inside. It's like a prison where everything is justified on the pretext of training. I once met a candidate whose right kneecap was completely shattered, all in the name of training. I was told that I should be thankful that I am in INA and not in the Indian Military Academy for the torture in IMA is much worse than this," said a former recruit, who graduated from the National Law School in Bhopal and is now working for a national newspaper.