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.
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