THE MENACE OF RAGGING IN UNIVERSITIES



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The police must be authorized to go into the university campuses from time to time to show the undergraduates that they should respect and abide by the laws of the land. The Vice-Chancellors should not try to prevent this in any way. I say this because there have been Vice-Chancellors who have not allowed the police to enter the university premises without their approval. Also some Vice-Chancellors have gone to the extent of going to police stations to bail out students who have been taken into custody for ragging!


by H.M. Nissanka Warakaulle


The universities in Sri Lanka inherited the legacy of ragging from the British along with many more things both good and bad. In the early days of the university the ragging was of a mild nature, and mostly confined to the hostels that existed at that time such as the Brodie Hostel on Bullers Road (now Bauddhaloka Mawatha). Sometimes it was not so pleasant for the freshers as they had to do things that were very unhygienic as they were forced to walk in the dirty drains in their normal attire of long trousers and shoes!


At the Peradeniya campus of the University of Ceylon in the early fifties a senior undergraduate, who was in his final year, was expelled from the university as he had held a light bulb to a fresher’s private parts which resulted in the victim becoming impotent. This was a scandal in the country and given wide publicity in the press.


An unbelievable thing happened when I entered the university. I was allocated a room in a hall of residence which was located in the highest elevation at that time. The room was the one before the last room in that corridor, which I had to share with another undergraduate also from Kandy. The room next to ours which was the last room along that corridor was allocated to a senior and we were not aware who he was. He was the only one who had a single room at that time. However, the good thing about his being there was that he did not allow any seniors to come into or near our room. We did not know why he did this. But later we found out that this was the same student who had been expelled long before we entered the university. Being balcony mates, he became very friendly with me and after he and I passed out we remained good friends and in fact I was able to assist him in some of his postgraduate studies.


During that time there was only one university and the undergraduates of that university were respected by all the people outside the university precincts as they maintained dignity and a decorum when within the university as well as without. There was ragging in the campus and once in a way outside too! The reason I mentioned outside was because when I was a schoolboy and went to see a film at the theatre where English movies were screened, a large number of undergraduates dressed in long trousers, shirts, and wearing ties trooped into the second class section. How they were dressed was what brought loud guffaws from the audience as the shirts and coats were worn front to back and the ties were just knotted round their necks to hang at the back and the best item of their attire was the footwear, for they all had two different types of shoes on their feet! Now the seniors were seated in the first class, may be at the expense of the freshers. One of the seniors would shout out a number and a fresher would get up from his seat and do something funny such as singing a song, reciting a nursery rhyme or doing some other funny thing. This, I think, was enjoyed not only by the audience but even the freshers themselves. So that, this was an enjoyable way of ragging, without resorting to any violence or humiliating anyone and more importantly, enjoyed by both the seniors as well as the freshers.


Just imagine, some seniors get a group of freshers to play a game of cricket on the lawn by the roadside in the campus . They go out of their way to make it interesting with some of the fielders rolling over and taking catches. All passers-by are intrigued by the antics of the freshers and they wait for a while to enjoy the fun. Of course, it is the freshers who enjoy it most as they are not humiliated but have become the cynosure of all passers-by. Is that not a decent way of ragging? Or can you call it ragging?


During the time that we entered the university, the first week was known as the freshers’ week when only the new entrants were in the campus. As the second week came closer all the freshers were afraid of how the rag would turn out. However, it was not as frightening as we had expected. Of the seniors there were only a handful who ragged us. This was because the batch before ours had not been subjected to a rag. It showed that one has to be ragged to be able to rag. This was to our advantage. But we were never humiliated as the ragging was in groups and only verbal. Now take the case of an early morning exercise in the open air quadrangle in the hall of residence when all the freshers are summoned and given an exercise on how to use the toilet. This indeed was a good thing for freshers as some would not have known how exactly to use a toilet!


The so-called rag was only for one week. At the end of the rag week there was a concert and the freshers had to give an item, either individually or in a group. At the end of the concert the seniors splashed water as they were ready with buckets full of water and everyone was drenched; but we did not mind it.


This rag helped the freshers to become friends with the seniors almost immediately and thereafter it was a very friendly existence without any fear of a rag. The friendships were such that they have lasted to this day amongst those who are still breathing without any differences regarding the batches.


Another important principle the seniors adopted at Peradeniya was that they never ragged undergraduates of other halls of residence other than their own. This helped the freshers to go for lectures without any trepidation.


I would like you to ponder for a minute and imagine whether this type of mild ragging can be compared to the inhuman version that is prevalent in the universities today! In some universities the rag goes on for more than three months. Sometimes the ragging can be inhuman and violent with the use of vituperative language which would be strange to some who have been brought up in families of a decent background where such language has never been used.


The seniors believe that this is the way to get the freshers to accept their political ideologies. The new entrants have to adopt methods to counteract and avoid the rag. If they are female undergraduates they would wear shabby dresses with rubber slippers. Male students too would adopt a similar dress code. Even if they could afford it, they dare not go in a car and get dropped and picked up! This would result in the rag taking a more violent form than for others.


The authorities, from ministers in charge of higher education, UGC officials and Vice-Chancellors have been highlighting the fact that about 2,000 students who gain admission to the state universities shun the universities because of the fear of the rag and get their parents to spend large sums of money to read for degrees in universities abroad or institutes which run courses of foreign universities locally, but at a price.


What is the remedy to stop this menace? I believe in the first place it must be instilled in the university undergraduates that the law of the land has to prevail within the university campuses as it does without.


The university teachers should refrain from teaching activities if the undergraduates resort to any form of ragging. This had been done in some Faculties of Medicine and it has been successful.


The police must be authorized to go into the university campuses from time to time to show the undergraduates that they should respect and abide by the laws of the land. The Vice-Chancellors should not try to prevent this in any way. I say this because there have been Vice-Chancellors who have not allowed the police to enter the university premises without their approval. Also some Vice-Chancellors have gone to the extent of going to police stations to bail out students who have been taken into custody for ragging!


When the Vice-Chancellors give in to the students’ demands to curry favour, it never helps to correct the system. If the university administrators stand firm and see that the undergraduates do not resort to ragging, and if action is taken to prosecute the offenders in terms of the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act no. 20 of 1998, this menace could be stopped and all who qualify could enter the universities and continue their studies without any hindrance.


I am also interested and curious to know as why the authorities give recognition to an illegal student body, the Inter-University Students’ Federation which has no place in the legal enactment governing the university system.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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