Are our state universities torture centres with senior students behaving like sex perverts and sociopaths?
The answer is yes, according to the victims who have suffered untold humiliation or extreme forms of ragging at the hands of some senior students.
Most parents’ dream is to send their children to a state university and make them responsible citizens. But what awaits the freshers in some universities is a gruealing torture course which they are forced to undergo. Unable to withstand the severity of extreme forms of ragging, some students leave the university, while children of affluent parents prefer tertiary education at private institutes in Sri Lanka or overseas to a degree in state universities.
Kasun Bandara did his Advanced Level at Gampaha Bandaranaike College and got selected to the Rajarata University. His father who was in the army died when he was a child and their only means of income was the pension his mother received.
He told his mother that their days of misery were coming to an end and within years he would be doing a good job in a bank. He chose to do a degree in applied science and on November 30 last year set foot on the university where he thought he would be laying the foundation for his future.
But Kasun was shocked when some senior students asked him to walk into an airtight bathroom of the university hostel with the rest of the new batch boys without any clothes on. The boys were kept in the bathroom in near-suffocating conditions for hours.
Kasun was also forced to eat food from a filthy dustbin and disturbed in the night and taken to the bathroom for midnight baths on several days. He was tortured mentally and physically till he made up his mind and walked out of the university after two weeks.
Today Kasun is working at a shop. He wishes deep inside his heart that the seniors had not been as brutal as they were. The so-called raggers continue their studies regardless after destroying the life and dreams of Kasun, who is not rich enough to follow a tertiary course in a private institution.
Sri Lanka in 1998 passed the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, yet the country’s image remains tainted with several world publications claiming that Sri Lankans practise the worst forms of ragging.
The ragging practised in a decent manner has a functionary role in that it helps create equality among students who come from different social and economic backgrounds, defenders of the system say. They also say it also helps build strong personalities and promote camaraderie among students. Sadly this is not what happens within the walls of Sri Lankan universities.
Our investigations show that freshers are asked to mix rice with sand force to eat. Hundreds of freshers are made to stand and forced to pass a toffee or sometimes an egg from mouth to mouth. They are made to bathe several times during night. The girls are forced to perform different sexual acts with senior female students. They are told to play the role of masseuse in a massage parlour of ill fame.
Statistics show 15 students have died, two have committed suicide, 25 have been disabled, six sexually abused and more than 6,000students have left universities – all because of ragging by seniors and the failure of university and state authorities to take effective countermeasures or implement the law strictly.
Higher Education Ministry Secretary Sunil Jayantha Nawarathna told the Sunday Times that the ministry was taking tough fresh measures to eliminate ragging which was a punishable offence.
Asked about the plight of students such as Kasun, who is crying in silence that he could not fulfill his dreams, Dr. Nawarathna said rehabilitation units should be set up to help traumatised students or students could seek a transfer to other universities if they were harassed by seniors.
The Ministry of Higher Education is not the only body that is fighting against ragging. On February 10, the University Student Independent Conversion Movement held a protest against ragging at Lipton’s Circle and two more demonstrations on May 29 and 30 outside the Fort railway station, demanding tough action by the government before another student dies due to ragging.
Sanjeewa Bandara, the convenor of the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) also said his union was against ragging and called for its elimination from the university system.
Traumatised are not only the freshers, but their parents and guardians also. A guardian of a student had this tale of woe to relate:
“I brought up my brother’s son because his parents found it hard to spend on his education. He finally got into the Peradeniya University in October last year but before long he had to quit because he was sexually abused by seniors.
“My nephew Rajitha was about to commit suicide but I told him that I consoled him saying I would there for him. Now he is going to a technical college and following an IT course,” said the aunt, a teacher, who wants to remain anonymous.
Rajitha Lakshitha is the third son of his family. He has a younger sister and his mother earns a living by crushing stones. Rajitha was brutally abused and admitted to the Peradeniya Hospital. “I can’t face the world now, even the villagers laugh at me and I rarely go home now,” he said.
Rajitha said that when he took up his issue with university counsellors and lecturers, they were not cooperative.
Federation of University Teachers Association Chief Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri said that in some cases, freshers were given nick names which were so deprave that several students had been traumatised.
“The staff members of the universities are sometimes desperate and the administration cannot afford to go against ragging because these student groups are powerful. Once I was attacked by a senior student for trying to stop ragging,” Dr. Devasiri said.
He said much of the ragging took place within hostels and the female students were undergoing the worst types of ragging.