MORE tension is brewing in Sri Lanka’s universities as details of horrific ragging emerge, causing even student unions to deride the practice and putting pressure on authorities to find a sustainable solution to a decades old problem.
In the latest development it was reported that authorities were investigating four female freshers being sexually molested inside the Colombo University.
According to Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake, the unidentified victims have given details of their ordeal in an unsigned letter sent to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and pleaded with the authorities to take immediate action so that future acts of this nature could be prevented.
Dissanayake had said that according to the contents of the letter, a group of female students were forced into a dark room in the university complex and ordered to lie on the floor. Later a group of male students are alleged to have entered the room and forced the girls to massage them. The male students could not be identified since the room was in darkness, the Minister said.
This shocking development has prompted the public to fear that perverts and sociopaths are involved in ragging, resulting in many students having to leave the system. Often the victims do not come forward as they fear ridicule and humiliation from society. These social boundaries give more impetus to offenders, who can carry out their disgusting actions without fear of reprisals.
Sri Lanka in 1998 passed the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, yet the country’s image remains tainted with several world publications claiming that Sri Lankans practice the worst forms of ragging.
The ragging practiced in a decent manner has a functionary role in that it helps create equality among students who come from different social and economic backgrounds, defenders of the system say. They also say it helps build strong personalities and promote camaraderie among students. Sadly, this is not what happens within the walls of Sri Lankan universities.
Statistics show 15 students have died, two have committed suicide, 25 have been disabled, six sexually abused and more than 6,000 students have left universities, all because of ragging by seniors and the failure of university and State authorities to take effective countermeasures or implement the law strictly.
In a surprising development, even the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) has admitted that they are against ragging. This is an incredibly positive step as student unions have safeguarded and indeed even promoted ragging in the past. Union activities, which are at their strongest in hostels, create the environment for ragging victims to suffer in silence. Students are also used to promote political ends and unfairly manipulated to disrupt the functions of universities.
While the nominal stance against ragging by the IUSF is commendable, they have the responsibility to implement safeguards against the heinous practice. Officials of student unions need to educate their members on the physical and psychological negatives of ragging. Union members can report fellow students engaged in ragging and protect hostellers, who are often the worst affected.
Cooperating with authorities to punish offenders and eventually clean the university system of ragging will gain them significant public approval and even increase the masses’ empathy on other issues that they campaign on such as privatisation of universities.