A group of new students at the Institute of Indigenous Medicine (IIM) at Rajagiriya were hauled aside by their seniors for a ragging session at their hostels one night recently. They were told to dress only in bath towels. After a series of acts they were told to recite kavi using obscene language and when [...]


Country’s brightest hopes ruined by ragging

Perpetrators take anger out on society by humiliating others

Bucketing: One of the 'less harmful' rituals of university life

A group of new students at the Institute of Indigenous Medicine (IIM) at Rajagiriya were hauled aside by their seniors for a ragging session at their hostels one night recently.

They were told to dress only in bath towels.

After a series of acts they were told to recite kavi using obscene language and when they showed reluctance their towels were pulled down and some were threatened with sexual torture.

“We feel humiliated and embarrassed. They did not stop at that. On the following day the names of those who suffered the ragging appeared on noticeboards along with derogatory remarks,” one of the students said.

Some of the female victims compiled a list of names of those involved in the ragging and handed it over to IIM management but senior students got hold of the list and are now looking for the complainants.

IIM Director Dr. Swarna Hapuarachchi claims the administration did not receive any such list.

One fresher described the humiliation and abuse he and others suffered.

Requesting anonymity due to fear, he said seniors usually never allow them to have their lunch in peace and ruin their food by squashing and mixing all the food into an inedible heap.

“We are then told to eat the unpleasant food together like a pack of animals,” he said.

The students had to pass a saliva-coated toffee from mouth to mouth.

Students who are in hostels face more severe ragging.

“We are here for education and we don’t need to go through this pain,” he said. “Most will turn to private universities. The seniors who cry for free education are the ones who are destroying it.”

Ragging is a problem in almost all higher educational institutes and universities.

One student who fell victim to the brutality of ragging at the University of Colombo shared his dark experience.

The ragging started soon after the new students entered the campus premises and even those who were accompanied by the parents were taken aside and ragged, he said.

First, the students are showered with obscene language and thereafter subjected to physical ragging.

Males experienced harsh physical ragging while females suffered verbal abuse.

The ragging usually started at 7 a.m. and continued until late in the evening for males while females were allowed to leave around 5 p.m. The males were slapped, beaten and pushed around so that they fell down.

“I left this university and transferred to another after the seniors took some bats and sticks and beat my rear so hard that I could not sit for three days. I could not take it any more so I stayed away from university,” he said.

Another Colombo University ragging victim alleged that a senior lecturer of the faculty was involved in supporting those carrying out the ragging.

He said his mother had been brought to tears because of the way he had been assaulted. He had lost interest in studying.

He had been able to transfer to another university through contacts related to higher education while some of his friends left university.

University leaders to meet on ways to combat menace

Ragging and sexual and gender-based violence in universities will be the focus of local and international academics at a meeting next week in Colombo.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will open the session on April 21 at the Galadari Hotel.

The programme is organised by The University Grants Commission(UGC) Sri Lanka and the Association of Commonwealth Universities with the aim of preventing ragging and sex and gender-based violence.

The Indian University Grants Commission (IUGC), which says its actions have reduced harsh ragging by 70 per cent in universities notorious for the practice will explain its strategy.

Those attending the meeting will include Professor Kumudu Wijewardene, Co-Chair, UGC Standing Committee on Gender Equity/Equality, Dr. John Kirkland, Deputy Secretary General, Association of Commonwealth Universities, Professor Uma Coomaraswami, former vice chancellor, Open University of Sri Lanka, Professor Jaspal Singh Sandhu, Secretary, University Grants Commission, India and Professor Raj Kachroo, founder-trustee of the Aman Satya Kachroo Trust (movement for the eradication of ragging).

A student of the University of Jayawardenapura said ragging was carried out at every university, at varying levels. In some faculties ragging is invisible but secretly operates in verbal form.

He said the beatings and verbal assaults drove some students to mental illness and drugs, and some became “infected” by the violence and used their experiences to attack society.

“We come here to pass exams with high scores in order to climb up the social ladder but what we face is undeserved torment,” he said.

The President of the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA), Dr. Rangika Halwatura, analysed the psyche of the perpetrators.

“Students who engage in ragging are people who have been rejected by society and are striving to gain respect and attention through ragging. Little do they know that they are mentally ill individuals,” Dr. Halwatura said.

He said ragging is an outdated concept and must be replaced with a new programme of student introduction that does not affect the sub-culture of each institute. Students should be introduced to seniors but not through ragging and torment, he said.

“Students should step up and complain about ragging while lecturers too should distinguish between ragging from and normal student behaviour,” Dr. Halwatura said.

The Chief Marshal of Jayawardenapura University, W.A.A. Verahera, said marshals of the university took special measures to reduce ragging and maintain discipline at hostels.

Mr. Verehera said programmes were arranged to protect freshers, with marshals receiving the support of wardens, proctors and student unions.

He said accommodation for the new hostellers was changed during the customary ragging period so that all the boys were gathered in one hall while girls were housed in three separate halls away from the boys.

“We escorted the students to their halls at 7.30 p.m. and remained there to make sure no seniors bother the new students. We allowed student to interact with elder students but ragging was not allowed,” he said.

He said 17 students had been suspended due to involvement in ragging, which had affected the Indigenous Medicine and Management faculties.

The Proctor of Peradeniya University and Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Clinical Studies, Professor Ashoka Dangolla, said ragging is increasingly carried out using mobile phones and social media.

Freshers were sent anonymous Facebook messages with instructions for them to perform actions.

“Once, two students jumped from the first floor of a building due to fear they will be subjected to severe punishments by raggers,” he said.

Professor Dangolla said university staff were unable to check all student phones but had been able to prevent some incidents of ragging with the help of student associations who had intercepted messages between seniors and freshers.

He stressed that teachers should develop closer relationships with students to find out if they are being oppressed. Teachers should protect victims and lodge complaints about students involved in ragging so that action can be taken under the Anti-Ragging Act.

New students should be introduced to seniors through extracurricular activities, he said, and parents should be alerted to ragging behaviour.

IIM Director Dr. Hapuarachchi said she was aware that ragging was illegal but claimed she had not received any serious complaints from first-year students through wardens and marshals.

She denied claims that she provided information about complainants to students engaged in ragging.

“How can names of complainants be provided if complaints were never lodged?” she asked.

The Vice Chancellor of Colombo University, Professor Lakshman Dissanayake, said so far there had not been any serious ragging incidents in the Law and Science faculties while the Arts Faculty, where ragging is not as severe, had not yet opened for the academic year.

He said he detested ragging or any activity related to it.

While some students have ended their campus education or opted for private education due to ragging, statistics are unavailable as the reasons for quitting are not listed.

The Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Professor Mohan de Silva, said the commission has records of student admissions but was unable to provide instances of students having left over ragging because no complaints had been lodged.

He said the commission supporting actions against ragging but did not interfere with university autonomy.

 No-one listened, laments psychology expert  

Ragging can cause mental illness and even result in death, the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Jayan Mendis said.

“Freshers are subjected to harsh comments about their appearance, sexuality or behaviour to make them hate themselves,” he said.

Beatings and sexual abuse also contributed to adverse mental effects while causing physical disabilities.

“I’ve seen many students who underwent ragging having acute stress disorders, post-trauma stress disorders, depression, unwanted anxiety, panic attacks and fear,” he said.

Dr. Mendis, who is also a senior consultant in Psychology, said most student victims he had seen had been unable to concentrate on their studies and had persistent fear. Most would give up studies and drift towards suicide, he said.

“I complained to universities, complained to human rights organisations but unfortunately no one reacted,” Dr. Mendis said.

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