Protect rights of fellow students before demanding system change!

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The University of Peradeniya made headlines this week, unfortunately not for some kind of world recognised academic achievement, but for a sickening video circulating on social media that showed a group of seniors assaulting Law Faculty students. Their only crime was visiting a canteen that is ‘prohibited’ for ‘anti-ragging students.’

Ceylon Today on Tuesday (20), reported that the administration of the University suspended three Arts Faculty students in connection to this assault. The administration has also decided to conduct lectures online for all arts students. The three students were arrested last evening after they were surrounded by Police.

Two female students and two male students who were injured in the incident were admitted to the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital. Following the incident, a group of Arts Faculty students protested against the suspension and decision to conduct lectures online. The university administration stated that a group of students have not left campus despite being instructed to do so.

The first question is how a group of students can ban their fellow students from entering certain places in a university, when these places are maintained by public funds. This is nothing, but a blunt violation of human rights of the students. The next question is what the university administration is doing when these types of abuses and rights violations are happening on campus. It is not like they are not aware of these so-called ‘prohibitions’.

Certain dress codes are forcibly imposed on freshers. In some universities male students cannot wear shorts and female students cannot wear three-quarters inside university premises. When questioned the senior students ‘proudly’ say that those are ‘customs’ and ‘sub-culture’ (upa sanskruthiya) and they should be protected. They never hesitate to assault or even kill students who do not want to follow them. But is this so called upa sanskruthiya is worth more than human lives?

It is not a secret that some university lecturers and senior administration silently endorse the ragging. They are aware of ‘dress codes’ imposed on freshers. Also, they are perfectly aware that there are places which ‘anti-ragging’ students cannot set foot into. However, many administrations turn a blind eye towards these abuses, letting so-called senior students carry out their pervert desires under the guise of ragging.

If a student dies from ragging, the administration should take the responsibility for it is their duty to ensure the protection of students. However, only Prof. Chandima Wijebandara resigned from the Vice- Chancellor post of University of Sri Jayewardenepura in 2006, as a result of students failing to comply with his orders to eliminate ragging from the university. There is no reported instance of university administration taking responsibility when a student died as a result of ragging.

One can say that, these are just few cases of suicide and many students survived ragging. People wipe their hands from brutal murders like O.V. Samantha’s at University of Peradeniya as unfortunate events. Some also say that the students who commit suicide are weak spirited.

In Sri Lanka, going through mental and physical trauma is glorified claiming there will be no gain without enduring such type of pain. It has been sealed in minds of Sri Lankans that trauma makes a person stronger. Those who had gone through ragging in their university times, justify the mental and physical trauma they endured as a ‘pleasant and sweet’ memory. Some former students claim they learned to behave properly owing to the ragging.

Some even go to extend to label ragging as ‘simple’ and ‘brutal.’ Such former university students say that ‘simple’ ragging is no harm. How can abuse, humiliation and harassment divide as simple or brutal? Abuse is abuse, plain and simple. There is no grey area in ragging.  Also, if students claim they learned how to behave from ragging it implies the serious loopholes in the education they receive for 13 years in schools. On the other hand, there are many ways a person can collect sweet memories rather than abusing someone or being subjected to abuse. It is pathetic that Sri Lankans, specially the adults do not know that.

It is because of these types of mentalities, ragging cannot wipe away from universities.

In last few months, we saw university students doing a commendable job against a family rule, corruption and economic crimes. They took to the streets demanding a system change. But how can they win that system change, while subjecting their fellow students to abuse and harassments?

Students’ movements worldwide have done so much to protect democracy. It is sad that Sri Lankan university students are more focused on the attire of freshers and so-called upa sanskruthiya rather than academic achievements and improving the out-dated education system in the country.

It is high time for them to sort out their priorities just like the leaders of the country. Otherwise, they will not be any different to the leaders who dragged the country into an abyss.