RAGGING is perhaps one of the most despicable acts that can be carried out within a university and hints at larger emotional and socioeconomic issues among students. The recent reports of a Peradeniya University student being admitted to hospital in grievous condition has reawakened the ragging debate and will hopefully pave the way for its overdue end.
This particular university has been the scene for many serious ragging incidents. The story of a student leaping out of a building and being consigned to a wheelchair for the rest of her life to avoid ragging is folklore. Over time, stories regarding this reprehensible act have surfaced only to merge back into shadow once the limelight has faded. Sadly, the students live on with their scars and no justice has been given to them or steps taken to prevent such inhuman behaviour.
There have been times when the Colombo Arts Faculty, not so long ago, extended the holidays of their senior batch so that new students would not be ragged. This not only underscores the menace, but challenges the consistency of action that can be taken to stem ragging. Even though an anti-ragging movement has risen within universities, it is often too small and powerless to have effect across the board, leaving students without protection. One can argue given the Peradeniya incident that legal action taken by the present Government earlier this year to make ragging a punishable offence by law has not acted as a significant deterrent.
Solutions to ragging are hard to implement, this goes without saying, because of the unique make-up of the university fraternity and the power which student unions leaders and other parties have as opposed to the academic or other administrative staff. This makes empowering of new students extremely difficult as they depend a great deal on the approval of seniors to gain acceptance into the university fraternity.
Well aware of this, scores of students, particularly from well-to-do backgrounds, prefer to avoid the local university system altogether and go abroad, sometimes for the rest of their lives. The resulting brain drain as well as the depletion of local universities due to the ragging menace needs to be dealt with by the authorities. Having said that, it is unlikely that bludgeoning them with punishment will be an effective cure.
The complete focus of the Government on introducing private universities into this country could be one solution for the ragging issue, but again it cannot be a situation where poor kids are relegated to remaining in public universities while rich kids end up in private ones. This could further widen the rich-poor divide between students and block the real potential of the country by extension.
Clearly a stronger dialogue between student unions and authorities is needed to discuss the issue of ragging, which is part of larger contentions within the university system. The power balance between new students and the old as well as the university staff needs to be enhanced so that there is sustainable protection where youth are free to confidentially present their problems.
Counselling on ragging, both with those who do it and the victims and more awareness and empowerment of new students are all part of a complex solution to a menace that has lasted for decades.