Reaffirming several reports published in the recently highlighting physical ragging to be intrinsic to the university subculture, fifteen students from the Peradeniya University were apprehended recently on grounds of brutally ragging eight freshers. Despite our effort to expose the severity of ragging in several universities in the past few weeks, ragging is unabatedly perpetuated.
Peradeniya University is in the limelight once again for ragging
A group of freshers had been taken to a solitary house in Megodakalugamuwa by fifteen, second year students of the Agriculture Faculty of the Peradeniya University, who sexually abused and tortured the victims. When the place was raided the perpetrators were caught in action. The victims were found stripped naked. There are photographs and videos of the rag that took place.
Acting on an anonymous complaint the senior student counsellor of the Agriculture faculty and Marshalls had gone to the rented house in a remote area three miles away from the university to discover the horrendous manner in which freshers were ragged. Thereafter police assistance was sought and the victims were hospitalised. The fifteen suspects were further remanded yesterday till March 16 under the orders of the Kandy Chief Magistrate.
Physical ragging still in operation
The Daily Mirror has already revealed the extent of the physical, sexual, mental and verbal ragging prevalent in State universities through accounts we received from lecturers, parents and students of the Colombo University, Sabaragamuwa University, Ruhuna university and the Rajarata university. Their grievances have not still been addressed. We have received detailed accounts from students subjected to ragging. If they boycott the seniors’ activities or not comply with their rules, freshers are not merely ostracised but also humiliated, abused, threatened and physically attacked. One female student under conditions of anonymity said how male students were beaten when the female students refused, or were reluctant to obey the seniors’ orders. Strong willed students have surrendered to the seniors on grounds that the university administration has not taken adequate action to stop the rag when they complained.
Students are afraid that they might be forced to drop out of university
Lecturers should go beyond their comfort zones to win the confidence of students and help them lodge complaints
We hope the recent enlightens the VCs, Deans, lecturers and student counsellors
“From a students’ perspective they are afraid to complain because the backlash”
Prof. Mohan De Silva, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission
Prof. Mohan De Silva, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission said that without anyone coming forward and complaining, action cannot be instituted against culprits. It is true that people can make false complaints especially if the complainant is completely anonymous to the authorities. However, from a students’ perspective they are afraid to complain because the backlash can outweigh the positive outcome. The university authorities should look into such complaints whether or not their credibility is ascertained as the present situation is so dire that anonymous complaints cannot be regarded as untrue.
Samantha Vithanage, a third year Management student at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, who initiated an anti-ragging campaign, was murdered at a meeting on ragging in 2002. There have been incidents where anti-raggers and those who complained have been assaulted, harassed or acid thrown onto them.
Students are afraid that they might be forced to drop out of university if they don’t adhere to the policy of the irrational and sadistic raggers. The Daily Mirror learns that this fear has compelled many to participate in the recent protests against SAITM though the students did not personally believe in the cause the protests were staged against. The university sub culture which perpetuates ragging does not appreciate the opinion of the individual.
"Their silence is the raggers’ victory. When speaking to students we were quite surprised to note their submissiveness"
Deans and lecturers of certain faculties are equally complicit in perpetuating ragging. They may categorically state that ragging is not accepted and is prohibited. But behind the closed doors of lecture halls, canteens and hostels grave human rights violations take place. Several reports we received were from individuals who had complained to the university authorities though their complaints have not been effectively looked into.
Lecturers should not limit themselves to merely advising students on why they should not accept rags. Instead lecturers themselves should go beyond their comfort zones to win the confidence of the students and help them lodge complaints. Freshers themselves need to complain and pursue action against the offenders. Their silence is the raggers’ victory. When speaking to students we were quite surprised to note their submissiveness. They believe adherence to the illogical policy of the seniors’ to be essential to survive in the university. This also raises the concern as to whether our youth are capable of standing on their feet.
Ragging is crippling our youth who have strived to enter State university. The violence encountered at the university has made many disillusioned and many have dropped out. Students are not ‘ragged’ in certain faculties but this does not mean that freshers are independent. Seniors continue to interfere with their lives and intimidate them. The severity of ragging is escalating. Raggers have found ways to continue their schemes by blindfolding the university administration. They have become trickier and more manipulative. A torture house was discovered recently and the whole country was shocked and dismayed. However, this is not the only instance of extreme brutal and downright deplorable ragging.
Student counsellors and Marshalls in certain faculties have been powerless to put an end to or control the situation. We are yet to see any positive signs of ragging being wiped out though there are significant steps being taken to curb it. We hope the recent torture house enlightens the Vice Chancellors, Deans, lecturers, student counsellors and other staff members of all universities of what they may have overlooked or ignored in their universities, and take appropriate action.
“The suspects will either be suspended or expelled”
Prof. Upul B.Dissanayake - Vice chancellor of the Peradeniya University
Speaking to Daily Mirror Prof. Upul Dissanayake, the Vice Chancellor of the Peradeniya University said the suspects would either be suspended or expelled after the incident was inquired into. “At the moment the suspects are in remand custody. They will be charged under the Anti-ragging Act. We have suspended the fifteen students indefinitely. In the meantime we are appointing an inquiry board and we will conduct a proper inquiry at the end of which they will be punished according to the offence. They will be either suspended or expelled,” he said.
"Within the university premises there is no way of ragging students. This is why they have taken a new initiative to go somewhere else"
He added that there were videos and photos of the physical rag that took place. “But we are not divulging them because they will be used before courts,” he said.
“Within the university premises there is no way of ragging students. This is why they have taken a new initiative to go somewhere else, away from the university. There are counsellors, proctors, deputy proctors, and the staff who are all vigilant and therefore they can’t rag students within the premises,” he said.
When asked if lectures were conducted as usual, he said that the university functioned though the second year students of the Agriculture faculty have been requested not to come to the university. “Lectures are conducted as usual, but due to the SAITM issue the medical faculty is not functioning. We have asked second year students of the Faculty of Agriculture not to come to the university. We have made them out of bounds because of this particular incident,” he added.
“We can’t use violence to change students’ perception”
Lahiru Weerasekara- Convener of IUSF
In his comments to the Lahiru Weerasekara, the convener of the Inter University Students’ Federation said as the IUSF they opposed any form of abuse within or out of the university. “People ask why we don’t get onto roads and demonstrate, but this is not a problem we can solve in that manner. We have a programme to prevent and eradicate ragging in universities,” he said.
“We hope to have in-depth discussions with students and lecturers to solve this problem. Ragging is not found only in universities, but also in certain schools, in the army, police and offices. We can’t use violence to change students’ perception. It can be changed through knowledge and then we can develop brotherhood,” he added.
Actions taken since the latest incident
Consequent to the Daily Mirror recent incident, the University Grants Commission has set up an online complaint mechanism to complain on any form of ragging, intimidation or harassment. It can be accessed through http://ugc.ac.lk/rag/ and the victim’s’ confidentiality is maintained and the site promises to act promptly. Complaints can be made to the UGC through their hotline 0112-123700 and 0112-123456. President Maithripala Sirisena has asked the IGP to coordinate with university authorities to take action against ragging.
"People ask why we don’t get onto roads and demonstrate, but this is not a problem we can solve in that manner "
Diary of a fresher and the tragedy of the University system
The following is an account sent by a first year university student
We enter university at 7am, in our long skirts, blouses, rubber slippers and plaits with a knot at the end, to simply commence the rag. I did try to avoid the morning rag, but they note you, single you out and your rag merely gets worse.
We are verbally abused on a frequent basis, we are forced to eat from one rice packet in groups of six and we are forced to do numerous tasks that we wish not to at the raggers bidding.
My friend and I avoided the lunch rag on the first day of university, but as we were going to class we got caught. A group of seven male raggers scolded the two of us in Sinhala filth; they forced us to look into their eyes while they yelled at us. I just felt a sudden surge of anger, I am 21 years this year, and we have waited for university to open for more than a year, why should we tolerate such hate for no reason. Some people even had the nerve to say that the rag is fun and I will surely enjoy it, but the rag is just an excuse for the frustrated to spew hate at the innocent. We are forced to know everyone’s name and village, but I honestly cannot make friends or let alone remember names under the pressure.
"I stood up to wash my hands in the jam-packed almost stuffy canteen. A ragger who clearly saw that I had just eaten directed me to another table to eat again"
On the first day in the interval I was confused because I knew the rag was in the canteen, I tried to tell many people that we do not have to go to the canteen. But, my fellow strong willed batch mates simply kept walking into the lion’s mouth. If we all refused to go into the canteen, there is no way that they can rag us. My friend and I did walk away from the canteen, but a ragger found us and said that if we do not go to the canteen they would make the rag for our batch worse. We had to comply.
I was in a group of six, and we had to share a rice packet. The boys are not allowed to sit and eat; they have to eat though, while standing. I ate in that group of people that I hardly knew yet. I did not fuss because I was scared that they would make me do something worse if I did go against them. My friend though, had beef and rice, and people in our table said that they did not eat beef. She then ate it alone in her lunch box. A ragger suddenly came up to her and said, ‘ubata load da’. She completely froze. He told her to stop eating; my group of 6 had almost finished the rice packet. There were some oily capsicums that were half eaten, in the rice packet, we were almost going to throw the packet away, but my friend was forced to eat the capsicums as a punishment for eating alone.
I felt so sad and powerless. I stood up to wash my hands in the jammed packed almost stuffy canteen. A ragger who clearly saw that I had just eaten directed me to another table to eat again. The new group that I went to had almost finished eating, and the ragger was screaming into my ear saying, ‘Eat! Eat! Eat!’ and I had to eat the scraps from that rice packet. I honestly felt my bile rising. Another girl who has high blood pressure was yelled at by two raggers, because she laughed while eating.
After the canteen rag, I went to the wash room. A group of raggers saw me going and started yelling at me for no reason. Since, I was wearing a T-shirt instead of a blouse with my skirt, a sleazy ragger came up to me and said that he could see everything underneath my shirt. I truly felt disgusted. After I came out from the wash room, he once again reminded me that he could see everything underneath my clearly opaque shirt. We cannot even go to the washroom in peace.
My friends and I formed a group and planned to escape the evening rag, which was after lectures. But, many declined to join us and said that they would rather face the rag and that they were scared to escape. There are many exits in university, other than the main gate, that we could have escaped from. But, after our final lecture the raggers had positioned themselves in every exit path.
"The new group that I went to had almost finished eating, and the ragger was screaming into my ear saying, ‘Eat! Eat! Eat!’
and I had to eat the scraps from that rice packet. I honestly felt my bile rising"
But, our group still stood strong and we passed the raggers who were yelling at us and left from the main gate. We did feel triumphant, but it was for a trifling moment. We got messages from unknown numbers saying that the raggers would be waiting for us in the morning, and we better get ready. Some batch mates told us that their rag got worse and that some boys got hit because of us. I do not know the validity of these comments, but I know that my batch had the choice to join us and leave the rag too. The raggers also asked our batch to corner the 7 girls who left the rag.
A senior told me it was better to comply with the rag, otherwise we get left out from university activities and it becomes difficult to join clubs and sports. This repercussion is unfortunately how the raggers perpetuate the submissive mentality within us.
Our fear gives the raggers their power and authority. If we are united as a batch we can defeat the rag. But, that would be a utopian reality, because many are afraid to stand against it and some even enjoy the rag and act as messengers to the seniors.
Some even believe that the rag makes us stronger. But, it truly makes us weaker as we become submissive to a completely false authority. I feel like the rag culture has completely warped our mentality. It has made us both weak and disunited.
The administration knows what exactly is going on, however they simply turn a blind eye towards it. There are a few lecturers who are completely against the rag and they tell us to stand up for ourselves. The university hands out pamphlets on numerous occasions stating the anti-rag laws, however nothing is being implemented. Our precursor batch complained about the rag, and this simply prolonged the rag. It is also difficult to procure evidence of the rag, because we are not allowed phones or electronic devices during the rag.