Why university students ‘rag’ – and academics think it’s normal

21 March 2016 03:18 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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he  academics at the University of Kelaniya have reportedly suspended  teaching activities in protest against on-going ragging at the  university. Since a dog biting a man is no news, university protests  which happen equal if not a greater frequency are also hardly considered  as news. However, this one is special since it is academics, who have  finally given up their passive connivance to ragging- and have decided  to take a stand.  
During   my undergraduate years, some fifteen  years back, I learnt a thing or two about the dynamism of ragging.  At  the end of the ragging season in our first year, after being forced to  crawl, kneel, recite filth, and worst still masturbate in public in  dormitories, all for the sake of this egalitarian exercise of ragging,   students were utmost certain about its manifold virtues. So cometh the  next year, they were ever more willing to unleash the same on the new  comers.  In our second year, couple of us told the rest of the  batch-mates, we should break the cycle. However, sense does not prevail  in student politics. We were told by the majority that they wanted to  ‘rag’. The logic is simple: ‘since we were ragged, we have a right to  rag’. That is a right as much as a duty that is inviolable, and the  whole foundation of the ‘university subculture’ or whatever the rubbish  you call it, depended on this virtuous exercise. The logical extension  of this thinking is that ‘no one else other than us in the state  universities should have a degree level education’.  It goes further to  believe in an entitlement of government jobs after graduation.
So  with the majority decision, it was decided to ‘rag’, failing that would  have been a major breach of university tradition.  I was told if I  myself didn’t want to rag, keep an eye on the other chaps, who could  overdo that. In our universities, it is difficult to make an individual  stance, because, individuality is killed during your very first couple  of months there and is confronted with ruthless efficiency akin to the Marxists culled class deviance. 

 

"Our universities ought to be bastions of liberal thinking, instead   they are hostage of a regressive ideology"


So I said, ‘Yes’,   rather than committing hara-kiri. One fine day, while my colleagues were  propagating their glorious new ideologies to the freshers, the  vice-chancellor barged in.  All the champions  of student activism ran  away, leaving me. I went to tell the vice-Chancellor that we did not rag  at that particular moment and that we had been ‘thela bedanawa”. The  professor was livid not that we ragged, but that I did not run away. He  grabbed my student ID card and left. Next day, I went to see him with  our student council member.  That was where I realized why this whole  exercise of ragging was played out so smoothly that not a lecturer was  ever seen in vicinity while the ragging was going on.
 “ Sir, we  want another two hours tomorrow (for ragging) my colleague tells the  vice- chancellor.  He says ‘OK’ and cautions not to overdo it. Then my  colleague briefs him on the planned ‘bucketing’  (the ritualistic  bathing) of freshers.  He acquiesces. Then finally my colleague tells  him, “Sir, can you give Ranga’s ID card”. The vice-chancellor lambastes  me for accosting him (not for ragging) and returns the card.  So, as for  me, it was a happy ending—though ragging continued for several more  weeks, with the approval of the vice -chancellor.  I do not know whether  it happens the same way in other universities. But for sure, there are  plenty of ineffectual charlatans masquerading as administrators in this  country, which explains why we are in the current dismal state.

 


Ragging  happens in universities because both students and the majority of  academics acquiesce to it. A few who want to take a stand, hesitate   due to inevitable repercussions. The logic of the academics, I realize  in conversations with those pursuing their PhDs here, is no different  from that of the undergrads.  Since all of them have been through  ragging, and subjected to its pernicious social conditioning efforts, it  is hard  not to come out without sympathies to ragging. What ragging  does is killing the individuality of an individual. That was what  communists, fascists and terrorists did through their nihilistic  ideologies. They turned individuals into zombies . Mao Zedong used them  to unleash  a proletariat cultural revolution,  back home, Rohan  Wijeweera  was stopped, though at a tremendous human cost, before he  turned this country into a killing field.
Ragging and student sub culture are rooted in this monopolistic ideology, which is poisonous garbage of the yesteryears. 
Local  universities, partly due to their lopsided admission criteria  have a  diversity akin to the Pettah bazaar. What ragging does is bringing all  that diversity to the lowest possible denominator of a ‘Kankun’ seller.   Equality is laudable, but that cannot be achieved by repression.  Systems and states that used force to that end degenerated into massive  open prisons. They leave no room for frank intellectual discourse. 

 

"The Higher Education minister who believes that he has a  constitutionally mandated right to appoint stooges to universities"


Our  universities ought to be bastions of liberal thinking, instead they  are hostage of a regressive ideology, of which ragging is a  manifestation. That prevents universities from providing a cosmopolitan  exposure to students. When the universities fail in doing that, the  private sector cannot be blamed for not employing graduates. That is a  vicious cycle.
Interaction of diverse entities is bound to cause  conflict. That is why we have basic laws governing such interactions.  And when the rule of interaction is not clearly stipulated or enforced,  in our social conditions, a regressive majority trumps over a minority.   Universities (and the country at large) should be  a place where ‘live  and let live’ is the cardinal rule. When that is infringed upon, the  laws of the land should come into force and bring the violators to book. When the second year students of the Kelaniya University “forced  women to stand under the  sun until they fainted” and prevent new  students from attending lectures, as quoted by the Sunday Times,   university administrators should let the law of the country to take  precedence.  Let the police handle the job and file charges before the  court. It is dangerous to let universities and student politics,  in particular, to operate beyond the remit of the law. We have seen the  repercussions in 1971 and 1988-89. On extreme instances, there could be a violent fight back from students who refused to succumb to this  monopolistic ideology. We also saw that in its ugly details when the  Independent Students’ Union of Colombo University ganged up with shadow  para military groups to hound their student rivals. They did that after  the untrammelled violence of the JVP affiliated unions forced them to  the wall.

 

"What ragging  does is killing the individuality of an individual. That was  what  communists, fascists and terrorists did through their nihilistic ideologies. "


The Higher Education minister who believes that he has a  constitutionally mandated right to appoint stooges to universities can  do better if he can come up with  and oversee  the enforcement of a  programme to root out ragging. Still better if he could get the help of  leaders of the private sector to design job oriented degree programs, so  that the next generation of graduates would not be condemned to the  plight of the majority of their present day peers. Otherwise, a good  amount of public funds invested in higher education would end up in  drains, and would only fuel street protests.

 

Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @ RangaJayasuriya on Twitter.  

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