University Ragging in Sri Lanka

By Dr. Tilak S Fernando | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 1 2020
Columns University  Ragging in Sri Lanka

By Dr. Tilak S Fernando

“The best things in life are free, and the very things people value the least are those things that people receive free”. It is an illustrious dictum. When these two sentences are compounded together, one finds the answer in Sri Lanka – The University Education.

Ragging

Ragging is a form of intimidation or harassment of freshers by senior University undergraduates. It is globally part and parcel of University life. In Sri Lanka it continues vigorously. The commission headed by V.W. Kularatne in 1974 revealed that perversion and sadism existed in Sri Lankan Universities. 

Senior undergraduates predominantly get involved when ragging freshers. Occasionally some of the senior females too get entangled in bullying the juniors. It has to be acknowledged that ninety-nine per cent of seniors do not get involved in sadism, but those who are hellbent on pestering the newcomers choose lecture halls, University gardens, cafeterias, hostels and privately rented residences to accomplish their craving in taunting the first-year students in Universities.

Ragging by senior undergraduates has been established as a means to display their authority over freshers for different motives. It may involve pressurising non-smokers to ‘smoke a cigarette’ or rather poking the lit-end of a cigarette inside fresher’s mouth. Newcomers are not allowed to bring their mobile phones to ragging areas. They impose difficult exercises for prolonged periods. Freshers are made to walk up to first-year female participants and perform despicable acts and also get subjected to removing their clothes and display various parts of their anatomy disregarding privacy. In some instances, male newcomers have to bear up certain sexual activities against their will. A recent case highlighted in local news about an undergraduate suffering from extensive brain damage as a result of a lorry tyre thrown on his head. The victim had to spend considerable time in the hospital for treatment.

The difference

Some of the demonstrators prefer to paint posters, and others endeavour to occupy property that does not belong to them. Few defiant students threaten to go on hunger strike and fast-unto-death. Others attempt to get their disruptive buddies released, who are either suspended or expelled on account of ragging; including intimidating university lecturers. During such protests buckets of urine and faeces were thrown at students with verbal abuse who attended lectures.

In British Universities, for example, new entrants are given a cordial welcome by the senior undergraduates as opposed to the practice in Sri Lanka. They accept, guide and assist the freshers by separating them into groups. Each group is headed by a leader, and the group leader is known as either ‘uncle’ or ‘aunt’.  The leaders are bound to assist and guide newcomers in an attempt to orientate the freshers by showing them where the lecture halls cafeteria, toilets, etc., are on the campus. Any problem experienced by any new undergraduate is undertaken by the ‘ uncle’/ ‘aunty’ of the particular group.

In Sri Lanka, the experience of a newcomer to a University is a nightmare due to the offensive ragging. It is a real shame that even after nearly five decades when the V.W. Kularatne Commission disclosed how pervasive and sadistic was the level of ragging in Sri Lankan Universities,  it still continues and is getting worse.

‘Ceylon Today’  exposed the latest type of ragging on 17  September 2020 under the caption “Cyber Ragging Racket at Jaffna Uni.” According to the news item, ‘a group of senior undergraduates of the Management Faculty of Jaffna University subjected one hundred and twenty freshers to a high-tech technique of ragging. A male and female were ordered to send their nude photographs, videos and acts of masturbation on WhatsApp and through other social media platforms. Those who refused were warned against visiting the University. Because of this unpleasant scenario, a fair number of undergraduates were not willing to return to University life again to recommence their studies. The news item also highlighted how an external party brought this shameful act to the notice of the Management of the University, but ‘no action was taken.’ Meanwhile, the Management of Peradeniya University obstructed a set of second-year Engineering Faculty undergraduates upon complaints received on ragging.

Mental disorder

Some of the University students suffer from a mental ‘disorder’ by their inability to assess any situation in the correct perspective. It is only a tiny percentage of students in Sri Lanka who manage to get University admission.  Under such circumstances, it’s rather a sad situation if an undergraduate either gets expelled or suspended as a direct cause of ragging. This is where the malady lies!

When senior undergraduates are allowed to behave in this despicable manner, getting freshers to strip as part of ragging, they naturally lose their dignity and self-respect. What’s puzzling is that every student has to sign a document when they get admitted to a University promising to adhere genuinely to all stipulated conditions laid down by the seat of learning. Failure to observe such conditions, naturally, one has to face the consequences  - such as suspension for ragging or intimidating lecturers.

The problems stem from the majority of senior undergraduates who  continue to rag but not comprehending teasing or taunting as immoral and wicked, but consider it as their right. This very fact of disobedience is the cause for raggers to become  barbarous over the years. After all, they are going to be the future generation who will hold responsible key positions in Sri Lanka.

The function of a University depends by employing a vast number of academic and non-academic staff.  Their wages alone add up to millions of rupees a month. Additionally, the cost of electricity, maintenance of gardens and playgrounds and buildings need to be considered in any University annual budget. When undergraduates do not turn up due to condemnation or fear of ragging or boycott lectures, the amount of wastage and expenses on the part of the Government go up, which does not seem to affect these rebellious undergraduates in their puny brains! The ‘undeveloped’ mind of the defiant undergraduate appears to be: “We can do whatever we want, whenever we want and to whomsoever we want. If we get into trouble as a result of our actions, we are committed to a bigger protest, whereby finally we can get away with it by forcing the authorities to give in to us.”

Government Proposals

The proposal of the new Government to impose a complete ban on ragging is a step in the right direction. Otherwise, how long can the University Authorities and parents afford to allow a few distorted mindsets of some of the ignoramuses in Sri Lankan Universities be allowed to cripple the fate of thousands of future university students? 

The University Grants Commission suggested to set up a website and introduce an anti-ragging mobile App so that any one will be able to report direct to the authorities on any ragging, sexual harassment, bullying or gender-based violence and intimidation. The Commission has given a hotline telephone number, as an additional bonus, to report on any form of ragging in Universities. Anyone can telephone the given number to complain to the University authorities daily from 8.30 am to 4 pm, except on public holidays.

“Yesterday was history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” 

– Bill Keane

[email protected]


By Dr. Tilak S Fernando | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 1 2020

More News