Ragging in universities has been discussed as an equalizer that brings students from all backgrounds to an equal platform. So some think that a little bit of a falling out doesn’t hurt unless it gets out of hand and gets violent.
Sri Lanka has seen many deaths from gagging and several universities have been at the forefront of its final elimination. In recent decades, ragging has been a systematic tool of oppression for the enslavement of juniors by seniors and has been criticized for being the cat’s paw of political parties to address ulterior motives.
There are many cases where innocent bullying has turned violent, destroying the lives of students.
A student who fainted from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Kelaniya University said hazing can be tolerated when it is not serious. Naminda Chandrasekara, who passed out in 2016, says she was asked to do simple things like sing a song or dance, but for the boys things were very different.
“Our boys, especially those in the hostels, had bad experiences. I don’t know exactly what they went through, but I heard it was worse than the girls,” he said. she declared.
“Ragging is fun as long as there is humor attached to it. But don’t go overboard,” she added.
another student [name withheld] from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura said that ragging brings all students to the same level. “Students come from different backgrounds and ragging is done to make everyone equal and to socialize because we have to spend several years in college,” she said.
She is a shy person by nature, but she says she had to do what the old people told her. “When our elders ask us to do something, we must obey them. They laugh at us and isolate us if we refuse. But I think a slight ragling is okay as everyone gets to know each other,” she added.
However, Professor Sujeewa Amarasena, Vice Chancellor and Senior Professor of Pediatrics at Ruhuna University, has overturned beliefs that hazing can be an equaliser.
“It’s a misconception. People should be made equal by giving them equal opportunities, not by doing stupid things and forcing someone to wear a uniform. Moreover, elite students hardly suffer any bullying as they spend little time at university and most are not involved in university activities.
They come by car and leave after class. Those in rural areas who have to be in university buildings and hostels are the ones who get shredded. If someone refuses to be torn, he is discriminated against. All seniors are responsible in one way or another if bullying occurs at their college; perhaps as active raggers, helpers or passive observers,” Prof Amarasena said.
He said ragging has been present in universities since the beginning, but has taken different forms. Sometimes it is mild, but many incidents are violent and traumatic. Professor Amarasena said it was a tool to achieve political goals.
“Ragging today remains a violent, traumatic, uneducated, uncivilized and politically organized phenomenon. It is organized by student unions attached to the Interuniversity Student Federation. This is related to political parties. In the past, this was all the responsibility of the JVP and they have been responsible for ragging for 40 years, except in faculties over which it has no control, such as the faculties of medicine and science. Now the frontline Socialist Party controls all faculties of all universities,” he said.
The Vice-Chancellor added that there are written protocols for different types of ragging and passed down from seniors to juniors. For example, Kehelkan banawa harasses boys in hostels where they have to cover themselves with a sarong from top to bottom and walk down the stairs about five floors. Some perceive this as funny, but for the victim it is traumatic because he could accidentally fall, get injured or die.
“Another incident occurred when a student broke his skull and damaged his brain when elderly people threw a tire at him. He became permanently disabled,” the Vice-Chancellor said.
More and more incidents have been reported from time to time when the harassment escalated into sexual harassment, inhumane punishments and abuse. Professor Amarasena said that this type of robbery amounts to terrorism since robbery terrorizes innocent people with serious mental and/or physical injury or death. Ragging depersonalizes an individual, tarnishes identity and character, he added.
Victims lose their freedom to think and act due to fear psychosis. Professor Amarasena said university students are expected to become free thinkers and should be encouraged to express their opinions.
“Students become obedient servants of a political force because of ragging. This is what the political parties want. They force students to raise money for them and fight for their political cause as they are trained during ragging to follow instructions.
Ovitigala Samantha died nearly 20 years ago for opposing ragging. Deaths occur directly and indirectly as a result of ragging. Suicides also occur which are not taken into account. Many leave university prematurely and others do not enter university at all due to bullying, resulting in the loss of intellectuals for the country.
Professor Amarasena added that the JVP and the Frontline Socialist Party have studied the impact of ragging and used it to their advantage.
“After the JVP turned into a political party, they systematically changed the ragging process, understanding the science behind converting people. The ragging system was put in place for their benefit, from checkout campaigns to rallies and so on. I calculated in 2019 that their checkout campaign brought in Rs. 9 million per month. The political survival of the JVP depends on this money,” he said.
The Vice-Chancellor added that there were cases of student union members stealing money from these campaigns. “We had such an incident where a student union president stole Rs. 500,000 and he was charged. Likewise, they abuse their power.
They are against me because I do not allow any political party to dominate in my university. I have been targeted and attacked for 25 years by the JVP for opposing their conduct. They have big advantages because of the ragging, that’s why they don’t want to stop it,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor, said since his appointment in 2019, he has consistently eliminated hazing from Ruhuna University. It had been a meticulous process of evidence gathering, education, engineering and implementation.
“I have motivated my staff, both academic and non-academic, against ragging. I have told them about incidents of ragging. One example was when a student was asked to urinate into an electrical outlet that was on. He was electrocuted instantly and had to use a catheter to urinate afterwards.I don’t know what happened to him later in life, if he was married or had children.
I told these stories to my staff and they supported the elimination of bullying in Ruhuna. The raggers resisted and once assaulted our security personnel. On this, we informed the police. The culprits have been identified and the law has been applied.
“I informed all students that the minimum penalty for bullying is dismissal, not just suspension. I put this in place with the most senior leaders of the Union. With this we managed to eliminate the ragging. The last incident of violence at Ruhuna University was on July 8, 2019. The Socialist Frontline Party had to move its headquarters from Ruhuna to Sri Jayewardenepura University.
All evidence of ragging has been exposed and published. Our success is due to the fact that we openly admitted that there was nonsense, that we were authors and that something had to be done. I apologized to civil society for having had it in the past. The historical error has been corrected. We are proud that Ruhuna is not pissed off now,” Prof Amarasena said.
Since the concept of ragging was initiated as a socialization mechanism, students should be introduced to other ways to bond that do not inflict pain on others. These could take the form of social gatherings, parties, sporting events and other entertainment where everyone is having fun rather than just one party being abused.
A study conducted by Sir John Kotelawala Defense University recommends more bonding activities such as leadership camps, field trips, freshman club, talent shows, chat sessions, etc., to divert the ragging student attention and creating a friendly university environment.
Ragging does not break ice, but rather breaks lives. With the elimination of this menace in higher education, students would have a more conducive and safer learning atmosphere to contribute with a healthy body and mind to the development of the country.