The issue of ragging has once again raised its head among universities. Seven students of the Kelaniya University were recently arrested and remanded for ragging. This has triggered arguments and counter arguments over the act of ragging in universities, which have been prevalent for decades.
The issue has now become so serious that it has been reported that at least 10 university entrants drop out annually due to ragging.
However, many are of the view that the act should be done away with since it has come to a point where it affected the students physically and mentally. Following are the views expressed by politicians and officials on the matter.
Ragging now an act of violence – Mohan Lal Grero
State Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Mohan Lal Grero stated that the necessary legal framework was already in place to stop ragging but said that the change of attitude needed to come from the students themselves.
Speaking at a media briefing recently, the State Minister pointed out that the act of ragging initially started off among students as an act of socializing. However, said that it had now become an act of violence which harmed students both physically and mentally.
He pointed out that nine deaths had been reported as a result of ragging since 1975. “Four students had committed suicide while three deaths were reported due to injuries sustained due to ragging,” the State Minister pointed out.
“Sri Lanka is also signed the UNESCO SIDA agreement and the Vienna Convention where we have pledged to wipe out such issues. But nothing has been done so far,” he added.
Uni officials and political parties should discuss – Prathiba Mahanamahewa
Senior Lecturer at the Department of Commercial Law of the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa has called upon University authorities to engage in a dialogue with political parties who patronize student unions as part of a mechanism to curb ragging.
He observed that Universities as public authorities were duty-bound to provide a preventive methodology and added that a lapse on the part of University administration to provide such could be reported to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
“Political parties are responsible too and they must give a pledge to take disciplinary action against raggers,” he added.
The Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998 defines ragging and forms of ragging.
Proving ragging beyond reasonable doubt requires evidence in the form of a medical report and psychiatric evaluation report of the victim, audio recordings and video footage (including closed-circuit television camera footage) and statements recorded by the Police from the victim and witnesses to prove that an action took place, he noted, adding that the perpetrators could always state that they never ragged but were merely conducting an introductory discussion or induction.
“Students must be made aware that a University is not isolated from the society and that therefore they are granted no immunity from the civil and criminal laws applicable in the land,” he explained.
“Ragging can be a non-bailable offence. The Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act, No. 4 of 2015 can provide protection to witnesses who come forward to testify on behalf of the victim. Sri Lanka has ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” he said.
Uni administration should be blamed – FUTA
The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) placed the blame of the failure to curb ragging squarely at the feet of the administration of the universities.
President of the FUTA and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Civil Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, Dr. Rangika Halwatura said that the administration of the universities had not been competent in handling the matter and had also shied away from their responsibilities with regards to stopping ragging.
If an undergraduate, an academic or a non-academic staff member witnesses an incident of ragging (by which freedoms are also forcefully taken away), he or she can firstly report it to the relevant university’s administration and secondly, if they feel that the university administration is not taking any action or looking into the matter, they can report the matter to the FUTA through its branches, he noted.
The FUTA will then report the matter to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and along with the UGC go on to pressure the relevant university administration and the Vice-Chancellor of the university in question to look into the matter and act, he remarked.
Although law enforcement authorities such as the Police could inquire into incidents of ragging, the university authorities nor the Government should misuse this opportunity to control student unions or student politics, he pointed out.
“Currently there is a separate effort to put in place a legal framework to address sexual and gender based violence including harassment and ragging,” he said.
Ragging has nothing to do with politics – Vijitha Herath
Propaganda Secretary of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Vijitha Herath dismissed allegations that the party was giving political backing for ragging in universities.
“There is no truth in such allegations. We don’t need to do ragging to promote politics,” Herath told Nation.
While stating that ragging should be done away with, he pointed out that it cannot be done by passing Acts and laws. “There should be a proper long-term plan through which the students’ mindsets are changed. Such regulations would only result in students isolating themselves from others,” he said.
He however said that ragging had reduced considerably over the years.
Imposing rules won’t curb ragging – IUSF
The Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) opined that the Act concerning ragging was being enforced and implemented by the authorities including the administration of the universities not with the genuine intention of curbing ragging but with a political agenda.
Convener of the IUSF, Lahiru Weerasekara said that the issue of ragging could not be solved by imposing rules and laws but only by creating a broad social discourse and with discussions with all stakeholders.
The IUSF is committed to correcting this situation and will be taking steps to eradicate ragging, he added.
“Within a social milieu and social group, the transference and handing over of sub-cultures takes place and in this process, both positive and negative aspects are assimilated and it is in such a context that ragging takes place,” he elaborated, explaining that contrary to popular belief ragging was not a sub-culture in itself but symptomatic of the social conflict that is common at present in the society at large.