Rage.lk Committed to fighting against harassment, violence in Sri Lanka

Seminar at University of Sri Jayewardenepura Discussion with Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians with regard to registartion of Lama Piyesas

  • Despite legal provisions, ragging persists, affecting countless lives and perpetuating a toxic culture
  • Rage.lk has stepped up to confront ragging, sexual harassment, and cyber sexual and gender-based violence
  • The issue of Cyber Sexual and Gender-Based Violence encompasses a range of harmful behaviours that specifically target individuals through digital platforms

In light of the recent events highlighted in the Sri Lankan media, it is evident that cases of harassment and abuse in various forms and environments are on the rise.

While some of these incidents receive widespread attention in the media, the majority remain hidden due to financial constraints, cultural norms, and other factors.

Rage.lk is an organization that has stepped up to confront ragging, sexual harassment, and cyber sexual and gender-based violence (CSGBV). Its mission is multifaceted: it provides pro bono support, raises awareness, and offers legal advice. Most importantly, the organization serves as a powerful voice for the voiceless victims of these heinous acts.

Ragging, a deeply entrenched practice in Sri Lanka’s educational institutions, has far-reaching consequences. According to reports by the Ministry of Education approximately 2000 students dropout annually due to ragging. There are several reported cases of students taking their own lives due to the extreme psychological and physical abuse they endured as a result of ragging. As per the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998, ragging is defined as any act that causes physical or psychological injury, mental pain, or fear to a student or a staff member. Despite legal provisions, ragging persists, affecting countless lives and perpetuating a toxic culture.

Executive Director of Rage.lk Yasu-e Karunaratne, Attorney at Law and Economist, said, “We have conducted anti-ragging and anti-harassment seminars at several universities, including the University of Colombo, the University of Kelaniya,  University of Sri Jayewardenepura and the Eastern University. We’ve also provided pro bono support to students. Our long-term goal is to eradicate ragging and other forms of violence in universities by establishing student-led Rage units. These units, trained by Rage members, will empower students and lecturers to address ragging and harassment effectively. Additionally, they can contact the central Rage branch for pro bono legal support when needed. Establishing Rage units in every university will act as a deterrent to ragging and harassment and provide crucial support to affected students. This goal is honestly a dream, and I truly believe it will eradicate ragging forever”.

Section 345 of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka defines sexual harassment as unwelcome advances, whether through assault, criminal force, or verbal actions, causing annoyance or distress to the victim. The penalties for sexual harassment include imprisonment, fines, and court-ordered compensation. However, implementation of these penalties remains a challenge.

The emerging yet pervasive issue of Cyber Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (CSGBV) encompasses a range of harmful behaviours that specifically target individuals through digital platforms. Perpetrators utilise online channels to cause physical, sexual, psychological, social, political or economic harm. Examples of CSGBV include online harassment, cyber bullying, revenge porn, stalking and other destructive actions that inflict emotional distress and fear upon victims. These incidents can occur via social media, messaging apps, email, or any other digital communication medium.

Sri Lanka has a history of severe ragging, sexual harassment and CSGBV incidents; some resulting in fatalities and severe injuries. This underscores the urgent need of strict measures to be taken to prevent them. The fatal incidents reported at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in 2002 and at the University of Kelaniya in 2015 are a few among many cases etched in the country’s history. Victims of these incidents often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression due to the trauma, which leads to long-term emotional distress, lower academic achievements, and social isolation. Sexual harassment incidents also result in physical injuries and long-term health issues, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.
The effects of CSGBV have significant and multifaceted impacts on individuals and society at large, where CSGBV disproportionately affects women and gender minorities, aggravating existing gender inequalities and hindering efforts towards gender equality.

Steps to take if you are a victim

If you experience any form of ragging, sexual harassment or CSGBV it is vital to take immediate steps to protect yourself;

Report the Incident: Notify university authorities or the relevant authorities about the incident.
Document the Incident: Keep a detailed record of what happened, including dates, times, locations, and any witnesses.

Seek Support: Reach out to trusted individuals, friends, family, or university support services for emotional and practical support.

Speak Out: It’s essential not to stay silent. Sharing your experience can help prevent further incidents and provide support to other victims.

How Rage.lk can help

Rage.lk, through its dedicated team of professionals and volunteers, offers pro bono support and legal advice to assist victims affected by ragging, sexual harassment, and CSGBV. Their commitment ensures that those in need receive the necessary assistance. The organization has already taken on several pro bono cases addressing harassment such as students facing sexual harassment at University. 

Recently, Rage.lk intervened on behalf of a youth from the Southern Province who had been assaulted by multiple police officers, violating his fundamental rights. When the youth reported the incident to Rage.lk, the team promptly notified and sought relief on behalf of the victim from both the Human Rights Commission and supervisory police authorities, advocating for justice and accountability. 

“The victim suffered arbitrarily and was assaulted by certain police officers who were misusing the authority given to them by law. The youth was assaulted simply for asking why his friends were rounded up, assaulted, and taken away while they were playing a cricket match” said Attorney at law Rajith Samarasekera, a core team member of Rage.lk. “When the victim reached out to one of our team directors, Praveen De Silva, Attorney at law, we immediately took action to identify and start proceedings against those officers through the proper legal channels. As these processes move forward, Rage.lk is considering pursuing litigation if the victim deems it necessary to ensure justice and accountability,” said Samarasekera.

Expanding the mission

Recognizing a broader societal need, Rage.lk has extended its mission beyond addressing specific forms of violence. 

The organization initially focused on advocating against ragging in universities, providing information and educating young undergraduates to break the entrenched mold of ragging that has held universities and undergraduates as hostages for decades. Rage.lk has conducted anti-ragging seminars in various universities such as the University of Colombo, University of Kelaniya and the Eastern University of Sri Lanka. 
The struggle is ongoing and the support for Rage.lk’s endeavours within the undergraduate community has bolstered its scope. Rage.lk also focuses on safeguarding children against bullying and corporal punishment as well. Additionally, it collaborates with the College of Pediatricians of Sri Lanka to establish safe havens called “Lama Piyasas” in designated state hospitals across the island. These safe havens aim to create nurturing environments for abused children, providing them with the medical, mental, and legal support they need. Furthermore, Rage.lk assists in registering Lama Piyasas in all nine provinces and continues to offer pro bono support to victims of child abuse.

Looking ahead, Rage.lk aims to further its initiatives, ensuring a safe and supportive environment for all individuals, particularly the vulnerable. They aim to educate these groups via digital media, workshops, and seminars on how to shield themselves against ragging and other forms of harassment.

Rage.lk has several long-term goals, including distributing a Help Kit for all local university students in Sinhala, Tamil and English to protect against ragging and harassment. They aim to establish student-led anti-ragging and harassment organizations within each university faculty, which will collaborate with Rage.lk to prevent ragging and provide pro bono support to affected students.

Additionally, Rage.lk has produced an anti-ragging film that it plans to showcase at all universities to help eradicate ragging. 

It is imperative for students to know their rights and empower themselves with knowledge, awareness, and proactive measures. Rage.lk urges anyone affected by ragging, sexual harassment, or CSGBV to reach out for support and to get involved in spreading awareness.

A safe and supportive environment fosters a sense of security and trust for children, where they feel safe, respected, and valued, enabling them to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

Rage.lk calls on university students, lecturers, and university-level organizations to collaborate with them in this mission of creating an environment free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination for generations to come.

(The team at Rage.lk can be contacted via their email address: [email protected], Instagram handle: @rage.lk, and Facebook page: Rage.lk) 

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