Say no to ragging | Sunday Observer

Say no to ragging

On March 31, this year Shanilka Dilshan Wijesinghe committed suicide. He was in his early twenties and had just gained admission to the Diyagama Campus of the Moratuwa University to follow a Technology course. His letter said that he had decided to commit suicide because he could not bear the brutal ragging by a group of seniors which was continuing for many days.

This is the 15th suicide caused by ragging in Sri Lanka.

A few days after this, President Maithripala Sirisena said, “Ragging which destroys the future of students cannot be allowed to happen in our universities any longer.” He added that thousands of students do not enter university due to the fear of ragging while thousands of others suffered physically and mentally after entering state-run campuses.

Effects of ragging

What exactly is ragging? The dictionary defines it as a verbal, physical, sexual or psychological abuse on newcomers to educational institutions. Some educationists opine it is a severe human right abuse systematically practised by seniors on newcomers. Forms of ragging may vary from a mild physical to a severe sexual and traumatic mental abuse leading to a victim’s death.

Ragging was introduced to Sri Lanka during the British Empire. Soldiers returning from war re-entered the university and brought with them the technique of ragging the learned in military camp.

These techniques were used to make one fail as an individual and succeed as a team. Eventually, when lesser number of military persons entered the universities, ragging lost its primary objective and became a violent and hazardous exercise.

It is seen that behind the facade of ‘welcoming’ new students to university, ragging is an ill-famed practice wherein some groups of senior students get an excuse to harass their junior counterparts, and make them easy targets to satiate their own perverse sadistic pleasures.

Apart from sustaining grievous physical injuries, those students who succumb to ragging either develop a fear psychosis that haunts them throughout their lives, or worse, quit their university education even before it begins.

For any student who works doggedly day and night to secure admission to a university, ragging can be his or her worst nightmare come true.

Suicides and deaths

In 1975, the University of Peradeniya was the first University in Sri Lanka to report a major ragging related incident when a 22-year-old student of the Faculty of Agriculture, became paralyzed as a result of having jumped from the second floor of the hostel hall to escape the physical ragging being carried out by the seniors. She later committed suicide.

During the past 45 years, we have witnessed enough of ragging- related deaths and hundreds of students who underwent life-long effects of traumatic mental abuse due to ragging.

Each year, thousands of students began to leave their study courses due to the unbearable ragging. Minister of Higher Education, Rauff Hakeem, recently revealed that 1,987 undergraduates had abandoned their education in 2018 due to ragging and ragging-related activities, while there may be many others silently suffering lifelong psychological trauma and depression and other illnesses.

Act

In 1998, the Government enacted the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20. The purpose of this Bill was to eliminate ragging and other forms of violent and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment from educational institutions, particularly, universities.

According to the Act, any person who commits or participates in ragging is liable to rigorous imprisonment for a term, two years to ten years, according to the nature of the violation. The convicts may also be required to pay compensation to victims.

Despite the Act, and the severe punishments prescribed, ragging still continues in all higher education institutes without hindrance. Some of the incidents reported in the past few years have crossed the limits of decency, morality and humanity.

What is the solution?

The University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education have taken certain steps to combat the ragging menace. With their cooperation and the involvement of citizens, parents and senior students, ragging can be effectively curbed and uprooted, as has been in countries such as, Canada and Japan.

There are a few guidelines we can adapt based on the successes of other countries.

(1) To reduce ragging, total awareness must be created among students that it is a reprehensible act which does no good to anyone. Simultaneously an atmosphere of discipline must be generated by sending a clear message that no act of ragging shall be tolerated, and any act of ragging shall not go unnoticed and unpunished.

(2) A high-powered anti-ragging movement should be initiated by each university, from the time of admissions of students. The would-be students and the current students must be informed in writing that ragging is banned in the university and anyone indulging in ragging would be punished appropriately which may include expulsion from the institute.

(3) Each would-be student and current student should be given a document to be filled and signed by the student to the effect that he/she is aware of the institute’s approach towards ragging and the punishments to which he/she shall be liable if found guilty.

(4) Failure to prevent ragging will be construed as an act of negligence in maintaining discipline in the university on the part of the management, and those in authority. Similar responsibility shall be liable to be fixed on hostel wardens and superintendents.

(5) The hostels/accommodations where newcomers are accommodated shall be carefully guarded, if necessary, by posting security personnel, and placed in charge of a warden/superintendent who should himself/herself reside thereat.

The punishments alone would not effectively deal with this problem given the current setup in the university system. What we need is initiation of a broader dialogue among university teachers, parents, senior and junior students and the public at large. That is the only way to identify long-term effective remedies for this problem.

It may also be worthwhile to study other proven solutions in depth and evaluate whether we can use them for the solution we are searching for.

Comments