19th October 1997


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From rag to hospital bed

Ragging has been and is still the bane of undergraduate life. No more is it the light– hearted tradition of having fun with the freshers. In a horrifying incident last week, a young engineering fresher of Peradeniya University suffered a kidney failure after being ragged. The student's parents are determined to take legal action. Shelani de Silva reports

Twenty one year old Varapragash gained admission to the Engineering faculty after obtaining Two As, a B and a C for his Advanced Level from St .John's College, Jaffna. He followed the English course for freshers in August and on September 1 he started his studies at the Engineering Faculty. Barely a month later, Vara went through this traumatic experience at the hands of his seniors.

Vara who had to wait for nearly two years after completing his exam to enter the university had begun studying for Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) examinations.

He excelled in this and was due to complete his finals next month. Although he lived in the campus, as he was studying for the CIMA finals he had rented a room close by. Every weekend Vara would come down to Colombo to attend the CIMA classes.

It was on Friday October 3 that Vara was first confronted by the seniors who ragged him. He had been leaving for Colombo when the seniors had accosted him and requested his Identity Card, which he had refused saying that he was leaving for Colombo.

The seniors had then asked him why he was going to Colombo every weekend. Vara had replied that he was sitting for his CIMA finals next month.

This had apparently angered the seniors who had threatened him by saying that they would meet him on Monday. They had infact joked about the CIMA classes and asked him to concentrate well.

Vara who had not taken the threats too seriously had told his family about the incident, before returning to Kandy. However the seniors who might have kept watch for him did not forget their threats.

On Monday after lectures Vara had gone to his room to give some notes to his room-mate. Before he could reach his room the seniors had stopped him in the corridors and after much abuse asked him to do 500 dips or pushups. Although a good sportsman, Vara had fainted after this ordeal

This somewhat scared off the seniors who had taken him to a nearby hotel and treated him to a hearty meal. But by the time he returned to his room, he was not his usual self. By Tuesday he was passing blood and could not get out of bed. His room-mate sensing something serious immediately called his home and alerted Vara's parents.

Vara's father on hearing this rushed to the university, but says he never expected to see his son in this condition.

"He was lying on the bed not able to move an inch. It was only when I saw him that I realised how serious his condition was. He could not even put on his trousers, I had to carry him to the vehicle," said Dr. Sivaguru Pragasam, Vara's father.

Brought to Colombo, Vara was diagnosed as suffering from kidney failure. As Dr. Pragasam is attached to the Health Ministry, Vara was warded at the National Hospital. By Thursday his condition worsened and all tests indicated that his kidneys were badly damaged. Later he was transferred to a private hospital where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.

"He became really bad on Friday when he stopped passing urine. Even the doctors got worried. For three hours we went through hell, not knowing whether my son would come out of this alive.

"I being in the medical profession knew his exact position. I was helpless but so angry about the whole incident," he said.

Vara came out of this ordeal but he is still in the ICU under observation. According to Dr. Pragasam, Vara has suffered a kidney failure.

"At the moment he is on the Haemodialysis (an artificial kidney in day to day language) machine. As he is weak he will be like this for some time. He can only take liquids. Only time can tell what repercussions it will have on him. The only consolation we have is that since he is young there is time for healing," explained Dr. Pragasam.

Today although he is still on the machine Vara is much better and is regaining consciousness. Hospital sources said his condition has improved. In case of failure to improve further, he might have to undergo kidney transplant, they added.

He has managed to identify his seniors. Of the seven seniors who had allegedly ragged Vara, four have been identified. Two were not involved in the ragging. One is still to be identified.

But he still does not know how bad his condition is and is determined to go home and prepare for his CIMA finals.

"He keeps telling me to bring his Walkman so that he could study using the cassettes," said Ms. Pragasam.

The Pragasams have already lodged a complaint at the police station and are hoping to take legal action. They say they are determined as they do not want any other student or parent to go through such an ordeal.

"A parent who had gone through a similar incident three years ago when her son was severely ragged and was hospitalised for two weeks, phoned us and said that if they had done something at that time we would not have had to go through this anguish. So we have vowed to do every possible thing to bring the culprits to book," said Dr. Pragasam.

Ragging, has been and is still the bane of undergraduate life. No more is it the light-hearted tradition of having fun with the freshers. Today it has become a nightmare that some even choosing to stay away from campus for this reason.

Every year, cases of ragging are reported from the four main universities in the island.

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