Discipline and punish: the birth of gonoroom and ragging as microfascism

Oliur Sun | Published: 00:00, Oct 20,2019

Oliur Sun, ragging, Bangladesh education sector, ragging in residential halls,

The production of docile bodies in the gonoroom —Oliur Sun

The cultivation of desire for domination and exploitation finds itself a land through the ragging culture perpetuated by the activists of fascism in gonoroom or, guestroom which operates as another locus of power in addition to the political block/s occupied by both current and former students of the ruling party, writes Oliur Sun

It is not the slumber of reason that engenders monsters, but vigilant and insomniac rationality.

― Gilles Deleuze


AS VIGILANT as it needs to be through constant surveillance of the freshers by the big brothers and as insomniac as it can get with disciplinary sessions continuing till 3am every night, the ever alert-rationality of the big brothers rationally instils monstrous fear and inflicts subjugation.Sit-ups until the brothers command to stop, full-sleeves and full pants inside the halls even when it feels like 46 degrees inside out, ‘don’t talk to the Left’ and a thousand other do-nots,  being called motherf*kers and ‘murgi’s inflicting murgi-hood — chickenising — dehumanising, simulating masturbation for the voyeurs (vai-brothers of the immediate preceding batch) — the daily reality of first year male students at our public universities in gonoroom (which literally translates public room) illustrate the condition of not just the students but also the public or, rather the conditioning — the mechanism of control regulating the public — state-fascism, bourgeoisism and a lot of isms (with the only exception being communism due to its yet to be existence).

While bed bugs and brother bugs simultaneously bite the students in the gonorooms as if to be in a competition, what gets composited in the process is docility — docile bodies that are ready to accept the control of and are submissive to hegemonic power. Hegemonic power which comes in many forms — from hegemonic masculinity to seniority, from goons of Chhatra League to apologists of ragging culture operating under the disguise of fraternity, from fascists to more deceptive (therefore even more adversarial) microfascists — microfascism which makes us long for repression vis-à-vis control. As the French philosopher, Michel Foucault, points out, ‘The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.’

The cultivation of desire for domination and exploitation finds itself a land through the ragging culture perpetuated by the activists of fascism in gonoroom or, guestroom which operates as another locus of power in addition to the political block/s occupied by both current and former students of the ruling party. This connection between the ruling power and the ragging culture that rules was once again exposed at the expense of a life, Abrar who only practiced his conscience through social media but was policed and later punished to death by the vigilantes of the ruling party.

The culture of ragging is not a newly discovered reality but rather a well-known but scarcely addressed culture formulated and formulating for a long time occasionally exposing its murderous capacity though denounced by the authority in discourse but cultivated discursively with silent authorial consent — constructing seniority vis-a-vis juniority, endorsing favouritism in the name of fraternity and resorting to silence with utter sophistication while ‘unruly’ ruling parties rule the halls disciplining and punishing every students unless they turn to docile bodies — ‘something that can be made; out of a formless clay, an inapt body [from which] the machine required can be constructed’. To mechanise the bodies of the new students to be vehicles of the dominating status quo, they are ‘manipulated, shaped and trained’ whether through forceful violation of their bodies by controlling their bodily movements and behaviours or in the form of instructing them to urinate at the gate of female dormitories. Inside the female dormitories, the same language of control is continued signifying the perpetuation of the masculine power matrix through the practice of similar discourses of domination by the ‘senior’ female students — patriarchal discourses of power operating under the idea of hegemonic femininity and state-fascism. The mechanism of control in the female dormitories employs the same behavioural control practices as practiced by the male thugs of the ruling party since both of these parties speak the same language of power that seeks to maintain the patriarchal and fascistic status quo. And gonoroom acts as the room that spatialises this disciplinary power. Though the birth of gonoroom is linked with academic failures of the university in general as well as the lack of democratic culture, the cultivation of hatred toward different thinking and the normalisation of violence transcends spatial-temporality by the merit of power that normalises neurotically and violates not the ruling but the lives and bodies of the ruled.

The female experience of gonoroom varies across universities depending on the severity of domination of the ruling parties in the halls and how their student representatives create the regime of fear. To live through discourse the experience of a female student in particular who prefers to reject individuality and dissolve in the feminine collective to the point where a ‘girl has no name', following is the reflection of a recent Jahangirnagar University graduate —

‘The first few nights in the female dorm’s gonoroom students experience a shocking introduction to the ragging culture when the idea of individuality, personal space, sense of privacy, freedom of expression are distorted in a ‘traditionally’ prescribed way. This saga continues for the next six months or so when seniors’ focus is shifted from collective to individual bashing episodes on handpicked few based on their dressing, gesture, posture or ‘transgressive’ acts. Most of the girls might not have the dictionary knowledge of what the word ragging implies but later they are enlightened in such fashion that somewhere in the dark corner of their heart they promise either to inflict the same on the upcoming junior batch or to stay away from seniors and juniors in the same way or worse, to completely avoid the dorm who can afford that luxury.’

‘As a part of the ragging culture, the knowledge of the new comer is challenged with the orders of unlearning and re-learning. For instance, her etiquette and sense of dressing is questioned, criticised and scrutinised if it is slightly different from the rest of the population. So, shaping is a major policy of the raggers and a junior is shaped in the way the society wants a girl to be, i.e. with a low voice and downward eyes and of course with an orna. A girl with individuality is ostracised frequently and gossips flow from hall to hall. Legends has it, back then headstrong girls were stripped to less clothing and made to stand in the middle of the indoor-field in the cold winter nights — a reproduction of witch-hunting. Currently resorting to body shaming and dress shaming from distance the matrix of control still remains patriarchal inflicting the female bodies with patriarchal conditioning of hegemonic femininity only to make them conform to the idea(l)s of patriarchal domination. Senior’s bashing session on ‘proper dressing’ might end with a warning sent through one of the already subjugated juniors.

‘So after the bashing and scrutinising sessions of seniors are over on her gesture, posture, pronunciation, clothing and so on, she is shaped into the obedient junior who delivers the proper Muslim salutation whenever she sees any senior within twenty yards of her existence no matter what her religious belief is. Such deep-seated fear is injected into the juniors on the first few nights that for the next six months or so, she wishes for Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility at the sight of any senior.

‘Ragging in the female dorms is a discursive practice of spreading hegemonic fear where, though not all, but most of the juniors consent to be afraid of seniors. With the passing of one year another and the arrival of a new batch it will not be anachronistic to find the most meek batch mate turning into a harsh ragger. Edward Said observed that a person is shaped by his/her social experience and a ragger does not live in an archival vacuum.’

Not in an archival vacuum but always being subjected to the systems of oppression systematically that takes the form of gonoroom, guestroom, brothers and sisters of the ruling parties, sometimes even friends. The friendly masking of fascism in the name of fraternity is one of the mechanisms through which microfascism is being cultivated and fascism being injected into the very desire of the students who desperately longs to be integrated into the dominating class. Therefore, the adversary is albeit fascism but not singularly so. The ragging vis-a-vis gonoroom culture is a testament to the plurality of our as Judith Butler observes, ‘The effort to identify the enemy as singular in form is a reverse-discourse that uncritically mimics the strategy of the oppressor instead of offering a different set of terms.’

And we must undo the strategies of the oppressors to offer and invoke a different reality — a reality that is not the reality of the oppressors but of the oppressed however minute in spatiality or temporality — a reality that is not oppressively real.

Oliur Sun is a non-philosopher

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