Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Good-bye, fag!

Navtej Sarna

Last month, Eton, probably the most British of England’s public schools, banned fagging, which the Indian student knows as ragging.

The ancient quadrangles of Eton will no longer echo with the imperious shout of “Fag!” The shout to which eighteen of Britain’s former Prime Ministers, including William Pitt the Elder and Anthony Eden, have answered through the centuries. Answered to senior Sixth formers who wanted them to fetch a book, run an errand or clean the study.

Fagging had been an accepted practice at schools like Eton and Winchester since the 16th century. The word is derives from ‘fag’, which at one time meant ‘to toil’. Under this system a senior usually takes on one or more juniors under his wing-enjoying full authority over them with the knowledge of the schoolmasters.

Each senior had his own fags. There were fags of various classes and for varied purposes-tea fags, library fags… the most respected position among them being that of Keeper of Fags.

At one time there was no limit to what a fag could be asked to do. He was at the beck and call of the fag-master’s whims. He could be woken up at midnight to blacken the senior’s books or be called up early in the morning to brush his clothes or cook breakfast for him.

Fagging was never one-sided. The fag-master had certain unwritten duties. He was the protector of the fags and responsible for their happiness and good behaviour.

In India, there is not much of fagging at the school level. Ragging comes in at college when the dreaded call is that of Fresher! A couple of months of ragging usually involve gruelling questioning odd jobs, and sometimes “physicals”. Than comes the Freshers’ Nite after which there is no more ragging.