4th June 2000
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From rag to ruin

From rag to ruin

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If you think that ragging is no more, you are wrong. Dangerous ragging is very much alive

From rag to ruin

By Rodhana
  • Political undercurrents
  • What they say…

  • A bright-eyed fresher full of enthusiasm and expectation enters the university. A dream fulfilled after much study and competition. The future rosy. He is greeted by seniors with smiles and welcoming words and led to his hall of residence. 

    Just a few minutes later, a group of seniors storm into his room, screaming words of profanity. They ask him to strip. When commanded to perform various humiliating acts, he does so out of fear and shock. The fresher is then asked to engage in lewd acts and self-torture. He refuses and the seniors physically abuse him and threaten him with death. During hours of torment, disorientated and unable to bear the threats and trauma, he breaks down. Weeping in fear and shame, the bloodied figure 'entertains' his seniors well into the early hours of the next morning. The dream is shattered...the nightmare has just begun.

    This is not a re-creation of savage and barbaric times in the ancient world. This is an abbreviated account of what a first-year student, one of many such victims, went through in a university recently. The details are too horrific to be published. This is the 'rag', which many of us are led to believe, is conducted in good fun.

    Seniors establish their dominance over juniors through ragging. "They are just copying the behaviour of their seniors," says Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Kalyana Rodrigo, a senior university lecturer who has studied the problem of ragging. Ragging is also a method of making people of different social and economic strata, conform to a set of values, thus 'making them acceptable' to the university community. Unfortunately, inferiority complexes, frustrations and personality problems are often vented through ragging and lead to verbal and physical abuse, sexual harassment and physical torture. 

    Political involvement has also emerged as a sinister underlying cause of ragging.

    Many students succumb to the rag because they are made to feel insecure and vulnerable by their seniors. "A majority still feel that they must go through this 'necessary evil'," says Dr. Rodrigo. "A lot of students come and say that if they do not go through this procedure, they will be treated as outcasts and alienated."

    The freshers are told that if a student does not 'go through' the rag, he or she will not be allowed to take part in any social activity of the batch and will not have friends.They are made to understand that they will not have the advantage of the 'kuppi class' (a tuition class) given by seniors. They are told that without the seniors, they will not be able to survive on campus. 

    Contrary to this, many who have resisted the rag have not only survived but have also excelled. However, freshers are instructed by the raggers not to talk to those who have 'not conformed'. 

    They are warned to be wary of the academic staff and the university administration dubbed a capitalist group with corrupt views, from whom they can expect no help.

    Some of these ideas are communicated to freshers even before they enter university. "They are brainwashed into thinking that this is the way to live, as a group and that as an individual you are nothing," says Dr. Rodrigo. "This you see in universities. Many people are only able to think as a group. Individuality is out."

    It is believed that the use of organised ragging to destroy the student's sense of individuality to create a herd instinct is politically motivated. "We have reasons to believe that some of this ragging is conducted by politically-motivated groups who want to keep control," says Dr. Rodrigo. These political groups are allegedly operating through some of the official representatives of student bodies.

    This view was shared by many members of the academic staff and the student body of a leading university. "They use the rag to brainwash the students into supporting them without question" says Mrs. Chandrika Maliyagoda, a member of the English Language Teaching Unit at its Faculty of Arts.

    "Ragging has been known to cause severe psychological consequences. Some victims have very acute episodes of anxiety and depression. Some of them even suffer the condition known as 'post traumatic stress disorder'," says Dr. Rodrigo. 

    Being ragged is a blow to a person's ego and self-esteem. Many victims lose faith and confidence in themselves. 

    "Everything inside me has died," said one student who was the victim of horrendous ragging. The most extreme consequence is death and several tragic incidents have been seen in the recent past.

    "University education is to equip a young person to become an independent thinker. But the reverse is happening," says Dr. Rodrigo. As a result of the rag, a very large number of students have lost their capability to think critically and broadmindedly. They have lost much of their character and individuality. Their creativity stifled, they have taken on the 'herd' mentality. 

    These are the youth who will one day become the backbone of our society.

    "Sexual harassment is happening in a big way," says Mrs. Maliyagoda. It is alleged that the raggers encourage the degradation of women. "Women are some times put down to the level of objects to be used by the males," says one student. Public humiliation of female students, forcing them to describe lewd acts are but some of the incidents reported. Forced homosexual activity also allegedly takes place. 

    If no action is taken against these gross vio-lations of basic human rights, it will undoubtedly lead to serious social problems in the future. 

    "In our school system, we as teachers don't encourage independence in children," says Dr. Rodrigo. "Therefore, most children become passive listeners and just take in what is said to them uncritically." As is evident unscrupulous groups prey on such weaknesses. This is why a majority of university students succumb to the rag. They do not have the inclination to think for themselves nor the self-confidence to stand up for what they believe in.

    Our education system and culture, ensures a 'respectful' gap between the student and teacher. Students complain that the staff is not readily accessible and they have no one to turn to, other than their seniors.

    One of the biggest difficulties faced by the university authorities is the lack of evidence to incriminate those guilty of ragging. Rag victims are reluctant to give evidence. 

    They feel they would be identified and face grievous consequences and ostracization, the raggers have threatened them with. 

    "Zero tolerance is what we must have," emphasizes Dr. Rodrigo. 

    Human rights awareness should be promoted in the country. "It should be made part and parcel of primary or secondary education," he says. 

    Parents should also be encouraged to stand up against injustices done to their children. The active participation of parents in the lives of their children and awareness of their needs and problems are vital to counteract ragging.

    Universities must implement the act prohibiting ragging. 

    If anyone is caught or apprehended, the result should be expulsion, says Dr. Rodrigo. Those found guilty of ragging should be treated as common criminals, and should be severely punished under the laws of the land.

    "People should not only be educated about the bad effects of ragging, but also about morality and the need for respecting each others dignity, which is missing in our society," says University Proctor Dr. Prasad Amaratunge.

    Constant vigilance and hundred per cent backing by staff against all forms of ragging are essential. "They (students) must be made to feel that they can go to teachers and ask for assistance," stresses Dr. Rodrigo. 

    "Tactical measures should be taken, so that seniors do not have the opportunity to rag the juniors," adds senior don Prof. Asoka Ekanayake.

    An increasing number of students are saying, "No" to ragging. A group of students and staff who would organise themselves and stand up against ragging would definitely have a tremendous impact. New students and rag-victims would then have another group to turn to, for support. Those who promote ragging would find it very difficult to intimidate and harass them. "I think it is the way forward," says Dr. Rodrigo. 

    With staff support and students at the helm, such an organisation is now being formed in the University of Peradeniya. The courage and strength of a group of rag victims who have helped pioneer this movement in the face of many problems are to be admired.

    Ragging and all its vicious consequences throw up many questions. Are parents aware of what their children are doing? Do they know when their children are being victimised? Do they know when their children are guilty of ragging? Are the university authorities fully aware of what is going on in their institutions? Are they cracking down on this menace or are their hands tied? 

    Ragging is a cancer that is destroying the intellectual elite. Immediate and decisive action must be taken to eradicate it and ensure a safe environment on campuses.

    Universities are places for philosophers to dream, artists to create and scientists to discover. Places for young people to grow into great individuals.


    Political undercurrents

    Certain political groups identify student leaders even before they enter university, a recent inquiry into ragging has uncovered. 

    Once, such a student enters university he is subjected to severe ragging by seniors influenced by these political groups. As a result he appears, or is made to appear as a hero to his peers, the freshers. As most university student elections are conducted in undemocratic conditions, such 'hero' student leaders elect themselves into seats of power without much opposition. The political groups then manipulate the student body via these stool-pigeons. 

    What they say…

    "Organised ragging has been completely stopped. It only happens in isolated incidents," claims a senior representative of a student union. 

    He reiterates that his union "totally rejects all forms of ragging" and that they are doing everything in their power to stop it. "The staff has been hindering our activities by not allowing us to successfully conduct the 'student orientation programme' which is used to 'introduce' the freshers to the university," he accused.


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