The phone rang. I had just woken up on a glorious morning with the rays of the sun making their way through the curtained window. Sipping my cup of tea, I watched the trio in conversation under the margosa tree. On the phone was Pedris Appo, short for Appuhamy who is a retired agriculture expert [...]

Business Times

Hooliganism in universities


The phone rang. I had just woken up on a glorious morning with the rays of the sun making their way through the curtained window. Sipping my cup of tea, I watched the trio in conversation under the margosa tree.

On the phone was Pedris Appo, short for Appuhamy who is a retired agriculture expert now engaged in farming. “Hello friend, long time no see,” he said. “Hi, hi … nice to hear your voice after a long time. What’s up?” I said, in a welcoming tone.

“Well, I have been a bit concerned about the state of universities particularly over ragging. There was this one video last week showing a group of seniors viciously attacked a young undergraduate because he had objected to them breaking the queue at a cafeteria,” he said.

“Yes I too saw that. It was a vicious attack indeed,” I replied.

“Ragging is getting out of hand and the university authorities seem to have no control over this sadistic kind of behaviour,” he said, in a tone of concern, adding: “My son faced the same trauma in a university and had to quit the hostel to save himself from getting assaulted.”

“Why don’t you write about this crisis in universities,” he suggested.

While on the phone, I could also hear snatches of the conversation among Kussi Amma Sera, Serapina and Mabel Rasthiyadu. They appeared to be discussing the same issue – hooliganism in universities.

By the way, there have been two videos that went viral over the past 10 days; one was the brutal attack on the student at the Colombo University and the other, a similar attack, on a student at a university outside Colombo. Looking at it, parents of first year students who are subject to ragging would shudder, thinking of the pain newcomers to these institutions have to undergo.

Instead of looking forward to a university career, newly-enrolled students enter these once-hallowed portals of learning with fear and trepidation as they embark on a future to serve the country and society at large, in their chosen profession.

Under the margosa tree, Kussi Amma Sera reading from a local newspaper, said: “Me navaka vadaya hari barapathalai. Aei me wage hasirima navathvanna beri. (These ragging incidents are very serious. Why can’t they stop this behaviour)?”

Eka karanna hari amarui. Aluth lamai avasanavanthai (It is very difficult to do this. Very unfortunate for the new students),” commented Serapina.

Mage game lamayek navaka vadaya nisa vishva vidyalayen ayin wuna (I know of a student in my village who stopped going to university because of ragging),” added Mabel Rasthiyadu.

As I reflected on their views, I ended the conversation with Pedris Appo after discussing a range of topics which included the ‘juicy’ phone recordings of parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake which have exploded into the public domain.

Will ragging ever be stopped? Over the past several years, official data show that at least 2,000 students have ended their university career to escape from ragging, while 16 deaths, essentially suicides, have been reported owing to ragging, over the years.

For the record in 2018, 267,111 candidates sat the GCE Advanced Level – the entry examination to universities. Of them, 141,172 qualified to enter the university. However, only 23,000 were admitted due to a shortage of places. All universities in Sri Lanka can accommodate only 20,000 + students every year with the balance who are eligible compelled to do a foreign university course locally or overseas at enormous cost or opt to do a job without a university qualification.

Thus the select few who enter universities should be doing so with a lot of pleasant expectations, which is not the case. They enter with fear wondering what is in store for them because they know that they have to undergo the ordeal of inhuman ragging.

Dinesha Samararatne, Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, in a May 2013 article in a newspaper referred to the Anti-Ragging Act of 1999 (The Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act) which was introduced in Sri Lanka to penalise ragging as a specific form of criminal activity as a response to this grave issue.

“This law was welcomed as a progressive response to ragging but since its enactment, at least one student has died to violence related to ragging and the practice of ragging continues unabated among many university students,” she wrote.

Ragging as per the law includes unlawful confinement, damage to property, hostage-taking and wrongful restraint, she said, adding that, ‘ragging’ is defined in the law as ‘any act which causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury or mental pain or fear to a student or a member of the staff of an educational institution’.

“Regrettably, ragging presents a classic example of a law which has failed in its enforcement and as an example of a law which is observed in the breach. Within the specific context of the Sri Lankan university system, it might be worthwhile to consider (or reconsider) why such an unacceptable state of affairs has been accepted by many,” she said.

Last week, the government announced that it was appointing a committee to examine this issue and recommend measures to prevent its occurrence. Appointing committees is fine as long as their recommendations are taken seriously and acted upon forthwith. This, however, is not the case in Sri Lanka and if ragging is banned by law, its blatant continuation and the inability of the university authorities to stop it needs to be addressed.

The new committee needs to examine why the anti-ragging law is not enforced. Severe punishment should be meted out to wrongdoers including expulsion from the university. These hallowed seats of learning which have now turned into torture chambers of fear for incoming students need to be salvaged and restored to their former glory.

Hoping to learn more about ragging, I called up a friend, a veteran university teacher for more clues into this inhumane behaviour which seems to be deeply entrenched in our university culture now.

“Ragging? Unfortunately even if the university authorities want to stop it, it would be impossible,” he said. “Why do you say that,” I asked. “Well, because often these culprits are rescued by influential people including politicians,” he said, adding that his son too was forced to leave the university hostel owing to excessive ragging.

With these thoughts on my mind, I sat at my computer to write this piece. At the same time, Kussi Amma Sera walked into the room, this time, with a cup of coffee, saying: “Navaka vadaya hari kurirui (Ragging is very brutal).”

I nodded my head, while reflecting on the challenge of transforming university students into good, educated citizens who contribute to the economy of the country and the wellbeing of society.

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