Watch Out!
Student Media
Body of IITR
About Guide Get Involved

Big Story

Call me sire: Senior complex in R

February 10, 2021

Socializing with seniors is the first opportunity for freshers to engage in networking. It is considered important to form strong bonds that are allegedly crucial for a comfortable and efficient campus life. Before arriving at Roorkee, freshers are fed many stereotypes regarding engineering colleges. These include notions on women’s role at engineering institutes, the supposed importance of seniors and the unfortunate, matter-of-fact acceptance of unnecessary hostility from seniors.

From the horror stories of ragging during University of Roorkee days, IITR has undoubtedly come a long way towards eradicating the toxicity that pervaded the campus culture. Still, the power dynamic between seniors and juniors continues to be plagued by the same elements to some extent.

In a new environment, students are reluctant to stand out, especially if they are made to believe that it would lead to being socially isolated, denied opportunities or even harmed. Combined with the general resentment of snitches, freshers tend to go with the flow and minimize all potential and perceived dangers. All of this leads to the juniors being talked down to, seniors using humiliation as a means of communication during initial interactions, and the glorification of degrading activities as part of senior-junior bonding.

Into the culture

A major issue is the perpetuation of the idea that someone deserves unconditional respect simply by virtue of being a senior. This idea is instilled right from the first weeks through “instructions”, passive-aggressive demands and even pestering until the junior gives in.

The justifications for this practice include respect for experience, training for future workplace interactions and in some cases even the lingering fear of being addressed in a certain way by the freshers (for instance the commonly used “bhaiyya/didi”) which may be embarrassing in front of their peers. The latter argument is circular - this feeling of humiliation would not exist if the notion of respect wasn’t boiled down to the use of a fancy title.

Most workplaces in today’s day and age are fairly inclusive and have done away with titles like “Sir/Ma’am”. Instead, colleagues at all levels of hierarchy are referred to by name or by their job title - a title associated with an office and not a person. Such titles are used by professionals to refer to each other as well and are not restricted to a hierarchy of use. For instance, even professors at IITR refer to each other as “Professor” and “Doctor”. And while they do also sometimes use “Sir/Ma’am” to refer to their colleagues, their use of the words differs from the student populace in that they use it as a sign of respect for someone of equal standing, while no senior refers to their own batchmates with these titles.

The use of “Sir/Ma’am” at Roorkee, by contrast, denotes a one-way, hierarchical relationship - there is no equivalent title to address a junior. This creates an artificial sense of authority over a junior, that the junior must obey and defer to the senior. Being a senior does not (and should not) imply this sense of authority.

While there may be a small minority of those who willingly refer to their seniors as “Sir/Ma’am”, the attitude is almost always instilled by some form of coercion at some point in their time at Roorkee. Even if a few ideal cases exist, they enable an environment that supports those seniors who choose to impose this language.

The use of “Sir/Ma’am” by itself could still be disregarded as a simple manner of speech if it wasn’t for the fact that it highlights deeper issues with the skewed power dynamic in Roorkee as a whole. Interacting with seniors who have faced the same issues as oneself can be quite helpful during troubling times and this is not to take away from the benefits of a strong peer group, but a problem arises when the other side starts to see this recognition as something they are entitled to. There are two sides to this

  1. The senior who forcefully demands respect instead of earning it. The attitude may stem from
    1. A need for external validation in the absence of any justifiable means to get it.
    2. The simple idea of “upholding tradition”. It’s something they were subjected to early on in their college life and is therefore something that feels natural to propagate further, thus feeding into a vicious cycle.
    3. Fitting in. Seniors are not immune to peer pressure either. When everyone around you acts a certain way, it can be hard to speak up against it even if you disapprove of it for fear of rejection. Going with the flow and staying low is usually the easiest way out.
  2. The fresher who gives in, owing to
    1. Peer pressure from other people in their batch who are willing to go along with these practices.
    2. Networking is commonly marketed to freshers as one of the most important aspects of college life, rightfully so, but an incomplete idea of what good networking actually looks like, combined with preconceived notions about seniors prompts freshers to believe that they should jump at every opportunity to interact with a senior, no matter the circumstances.
    3. Validation from seniors and a sense of belonging. Willfully following these ‘rules’ makes you come across as a good sport and makes it easier to fit in.
    4. Fear. Although seniors hold no real power over an incoming batch, it can be easy to feel intimidated when you’re so new to the environment and have little to no idea of how things work around here.

It is to be noted that the reasons for falling into the Sir/Ma’am culture are not that different for both sides of the aisle. Peer pressure is a very real thing and the fear of not fitting in is a powerful motivator. It can get people to conform to a culture that they wouldn’t otherwise approve of.

Fresher Parties

In the context of “unsolicited activities” during informal fresher’s parties, there are those who can genuinely have fun with some mild to moderately intense “interactions” and that is not something we take issue with. However, often times, even if those uncomfortable with the arrangement are given the option to leave, it is merely an illusion of freedom as this choice comes packaged with sentiments like “not being a good sport” and not being “cool enough for the big leagues” which can eventually lead to them being excluded from their peer group. Similar dissent held over the period of 4 years can lead to an individual being ostracized, both from the perspective of a senior and a junior.

Every class is different and while considerable fluctuations can be observed in the attitudes of consecutive batches, the relative prevalence of this culture in certain branches and groups (campus, regional or otherwise) points to a twisted lineage of oppression that cannot be ignored. To put it simply, some groups are more prone to the “Senior Complex” than others, meaning it is something that is passed down from one campus generation to the next.

While in many cases this passive-aggression may not have any material backing and is just bravado, a fresher that is new to IITR would not know this and cannot always ignore it. It is this vulnerability that some seniors exploit. Even if there is absolutely no backing to their words, an environment that produces fear and discomfort is undesirable.

The Treatment of non-Hindi Speakers

To say that Hindi speakers are at a considerable advantage over the rest of our student populace is an understatement. The change in moving to Roorkee is especially jarring, which makes people from the rest of the country even more apprehensive and vulnerable. Since they form a minority, they do not dominate most senior groups either.

They are often either entirely ignored, encouraged to speak Hindi to their Hindi-speaking seniors or treated as a dancing monkey - the quintessential “teach me a curse word in ‘haddu’”. The relative isolation from the mainstream combined with lesser interaction with a large fraction of seniors leads to a completely different version of the Roorkee experience that goes unaddressed.

This is not to say that other groups of seniors are saints - all practices described in this article apply to them as well. Their small numbers also mean that these groups tend to have to stick together and are not as many.

Gender-Specific Differences

Guys are more vulnerable to the direct effects of assertive actions by the seniors whereas the females are followed up by the trailing creep outs. Males are much more vulnerable to direct humiliation, open scrutiny and overall exclusion by their peer group upon refusing to cooperate, with most of the more intense “interactions” being targeted towards them.

Women being minorities are often exempted from the direct impacts of these inconveniences and superiority complexes but definitely face other problems of their own. Some men treat them like a possession of which they can be proud of and feel that makes them superior to other guys. A frequent occurrence is where boys are teased using the names of girls they may or may not know. While doing this at a personal and informal level may be fun and acceptable, in a public setting it is treated as a competition and often some seniors treat this as a source of humiliation for freshers that they do not know very well.


While the practice of calling seniors Sir/Ma’am may seem harmless at first glance, it conceals within itself many power constructs, none of which hold meaning. These constructs coerce seniors into demanding uncalled respect, and juniors being forced to give in. Peer pressure, tradition and networking, things whose utility can be put to debate, are shown to juniors at such a high pedestal that the idea of the choice of opting-in to the fresher parties crumbles. The second problem that shows itself within these parties is the treatment faced by the minorities. Non-Hindi speakers are either treated as mystical beings to grace the college or blatantly ignored to the point their only friends are people from the same region. Girls, who might be treated well within the parties, are affected by a combination of the male and senior complex, which manifests itself in ways which undermine their dignity.

With this, it is absolutely not to say that all seniors must be toxic. A large portion of the seniors at R do not follow any of the ‘respect’ norms and are rather modest about their interactions with their juniors. However, it IS important to understand that a few moments of ‘traditional’ bonding can lead to far-reaching consequences, both for the people involved and the people watching from the sidelines.

This article aims to help future freshers differentiate between good and bad networking and interaction, as well as a call to sympathetic seniors who are capable of putting an end to this cycle. Juniors can be expected to treat their seniors and peers with basic human decency but should be reciprocated with the same kind of fundamental respect. Degradation is not a necessity for bonding.