Ragging in Sri Lanka
Ragging is a verbal, physical or psychological abuse on newcomers to educational institutions. It is similar to the American phenomenon known as hazing. Sri Lanka is said to be its worst affected country in the world.
There is no record to prove such an act has prevailed in the ancient Sri Lankan educational institutions such as Mahavihara or Abhayagiri Vihara. In the post World War II era, a concept called ragging came into existence. Ragging is not an indigenous phenomenon, but a direct result of the British colonialism in Sri Lanka.[a] Soldiers returning from war re-entered the college and brought with them the technique of ragging learned in military camp. These techniques were used to make individuals fail as an individual, but succeed as a team. Eventually, when less military persons entered the universities, ragging lost its primary objective and became a violent and hazardous exercise.[a]
Ragging continues to happen in most government universities and several private institutions. In majority of the cases, ragging implies that seniors mocking and jesting at freshers. There is a certain period of time, usually the first few months in the university, assigned for each and every undergraduate to undergo ragging. This period is known as the ragging period. In Sri Lanka, several types of ragging can be observed.
Inception of ragging can be pleasant at first, hence the name Mal Samaya. During this week or so, all newcomers are ordered to memorize the name and hometown of their peers. The objective of this exercise is said to be increasing the friendship among batch mates (locally termed as batch fit).
Dress code ragging
The freshmen are asked to dress in a specific dress code for a particular period of time. For the dress code prescribed is generally weird, e.g. dressing totally in white or black with the hair oiled and combed in a particular style, dressing shirts that do not contain stripes, dressing long skirts for girls. The dress code ragging may make the freshmen feel awkward and uncomfortable as it often brings them unnecessary attention from everybody else.
Playing the fool
The freshmen may be asked to do silly things like climbing a tree, kissing a tree, proposing to someone from the opposite sex, holding a hand of someone from opposite sex and walking etc.
Verbal torture involves indulging in loose talks. The freshmen may be asked to sing the lyrics of any vulgar song or use abusive language in the presence of a large number of peers. During this time, seniors assign an abusive and demeaning nickname, known as card to the juniors and they have to be called by that name throughout their entire university life. In some universities, this nickname is changed to a less vulgar name after the ragging period. These aliases are used primarily as a means of preventing the university authorities identifying the students who are involved in ragging and other unlawful activities. The form of verbal ragging differs from one institution to another. In some universities, students have to memorize poems made up of filth and recite them in front of others.
This is the severest form of ragging that could take place in a university. Some seniors are mainly interested in details such as the anatomical description of one’s body parts, his or her sexual interests etc. In many cases, the freshmen have been asked to strip before the seniors. However, sexual abuse of female students remains rare. Outstation students who stay in hostels are most vulnerable to ragging. They may be asked to do odd acts such as having showers several times per day, and having showers around midnight with cold water. Some extreme cases like inserting candles in vaginae (as in the case of Rupa Rathnaseeli), putting testicles in a drawer and having it closed, pushing straightened out coat-hangers into ears, striking the penis over a long period of time (termed bonchi kadeema) are also reported. This period of time is termed Bheeshana Samaya in university jargon.
Ragging has been frequently associated with a broad spectrum of physical, behavioral, emotional and social problems among the victims. It has independently increased suicide risks in Sri Lankan universities. It is reported that few students have left their courses due to unbearable ragging they undergo. And a new tendency is emerging as students who complete their GCE Advanced Level examination enter private higher educational institutions where ragging remains minimum, without entering government universities. Ragging is not merely a socio-legal problem. It has a certain psychological basis too. Most of the senior students do not wish to rag their juniors. But they also succumb to the peer pressure in the end.
Politics of ragging
Various academics have pointed out that politics has taken control of the university students’ unions and thus has a direct influence on ragging. Some of the student leaders who are controlling the movements, predominantly the convenors of Inter University Students' Federation have become members of political parties just after they finished their undergradaure course.
- In 1974, ragging of some trainee mathematics teachers at the then Vidyalankara University (now University of Kelaniya) prompted Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike's Government to appoint V. W. Kularatne Commission to probe the incident. As a result, twelve undergraduates were expelled and four officials were penalised for their failure to take appropriate action. This is the first major step taken against university ragging by a Sri Lankan government.
- In 1975, University of Peradeniya reported the first ragging related death when a 22-year-old female student of the Faculty of Agriculture, Rupa Rathnaseeli became paralyzed as a result of jumping from the second floor of the hostel "Ramanathan Hall" to escape the physical ragging carried out by her seniors. It was reported that she was about to have a candle inserted in her vagina just before she had jumped out of the hostel building. She committed suicide in 2002
- In 1993, Chaminda Punchihewa, a student of University of Ruhuna, died as a result of ragging.[a]
- Prasanga Niroshana, a student from Hakmana, died as a result of ragging he underwent at Schools of Agriculture, Angunakolapallassa.[a]
- In 1997, 21-year-old S. Varapragash, an Engineering student of University of Peradeniya, died from a kidney failure following severe ragging by senior students.
- A a first year female student of University of Ruhuna committed suicide in 1997 as a result of ragging.
- In 1997, Kelum Thushara Wijetunge, a first-year student at the Hardy Technical institute in Ampara, died from a kidney failure after he was forced to do tough exercises and drink excessive quantities of liquor.
- In 2002, Samantha Vithanage, a third year Management student at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, who pioneered an anti-ragging campaign was killed at a meeting, while in a discussion on ragging.
- In 2006, Prof. Chandima Wijebandara, the Vice Chancellor of University of Sri Jayewardenepura resigned from his post as a result of students failing to comply with his orders to eliminate ragging from the university.
- In 2011, a female student attached to the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Ruhuna, was semi-paralysed in one limb as a result of ragging she underwent at the faculty canteen.
The human rights of citizens of Sri Lanka are protected in terms of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka which is the supreme law in the country. According to this Constitution, any citizen can produce a petition to the Supreme Court in terms of the article 126 of the Constitution in case of a human right violation or a case closer to the infringement. The Constitution further highlights ruthless, brutal or contemptuous treatment to any party by another as a violation of human rights. University students are also considered as citizens and are subjugated to the Common Law that prevails in the country. Accordingly, the constitutional constrains specified above are equally applicable to university students. Any form of civil or criminal offence executed by them are liable to be punished and in an instance of violation of such rights committed by university students, they shall be produced before the relevant Court and subject to suitable punishment that followed by the trial. After the series of ragging-related incidents happened in 1997, Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998 was passed in the Sri Lankan parliament. As specified in the detailed note of the Act, it is identified as an Act to eliminate ragging and other forms of violent and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment from educational institutions. The Act specifies the relevant Higher Educational Institutions coming under the Act and that includes all the Higher Educational Institutions established under the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978.
Unlike in India, there is no official anti-ragging movement in Sri Lanka. But with the situation of ragging worsening yearly, there is a spontaneously emerging anti-ragging movement in each and every faculty of the university that ragging exists. In the case of University of Peradeniya, the largest university in Sri Lanka, anti-ragging movement has emerged in the year 1996. Prior to that, there was no movement against ragging, but certain individuals who escaped from the rag. In the mean time, anti-ragging movements started to appear in all other universities. Several faculties in several universities have become rag-free due to these movements, strengthened laws as well as practical difficulties in conducting ragging such as not providing accommodation facilities to the first-year students. Internal clashes have erupted several times due to the friction between ragging and anti-ragging movements, best example being Samantha Vithanage, a third year Management student at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, who pioneered an anti-ragging campaign was killed at a meeting while in a discussion about ragging. The Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake has stressed that firm action will be taken against those who are found guilty of such activities in future and would be expelled from the university. In December 2011, he claimed that the levels of ragging has gone down drastically in the recent times and "only Peradeniya and Ruhuna are still affected by this 'malaise'".
- ^ Rathnasiri Bandara, S.M, Nawaka Wadaya Saha Nawaka Sathuta, Quality Printers - Hettimulla (2002), ISBN 955-96223-2-X
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- Ragging in Sri Lankan Universities and Anti-Ragging Act of Sri Lanka