Yashodha Wimaladharma, one of Sri Lanka’s most celebrated actresses was chosen by Kelaniya University to be awarded a meritorious honorary award for Arts. However, on the day she was chosen for this award she spoke about her bitterest experiences in her life when she was subjected to ragging at the same university. Our sister paper Rivisarasi of Sunday Rivira spoke to Yashodha about her traumatic experience.
Q Let us open with this meritorious award.
I entered acting from a very tender age. That is about 31 years earlier. I received my first degree from the Kelaniya University. Appreciating my contribution to acting and the honour it brought to the university, they decided to honour me with this award. Every year they select three exponents from various fields and confer this award. This year they chose Ven. Rambukana Siddhartha Thera, Raj Somadeva and me.
Q Is it true that at the Kelaniya University you had one of the bitterest of experiences?
That is true. Regarding ragging, I am saddened by the culture in all of Sri Lanka’s universities.
Q Wouldn’t you like to talk about what happened to you?
I do not mind. By now I have come out of that trauma. I was chosen to the university in 1989. Because I had heard about ragging I disliked enrolling at the university. During that time, my father Ravilal Wimaladharma was a lecturer of Hindi Language at the Kelaniya University. My father liked very much my entering there.
Q You enrolled to make your father’s dream come true?
Initially I said I will enrol as an external student and read up to the degree. But, my father liked to see me studying drama, arts and literature as an undergraduate. That is why I enrolled as an internal undergrad.
Q Even at that time, were you not popular as an actress?
Yes, the people who came to rag me had watched the roles I had acted in. Even though, people of Sri Lanka loved me and were my fans, the seniors in the university only had a deep hatred towards me. They thought I was a very rich person. One question they kept on asking me was why a person like me denied the chance of another person receiving free education. That was a very foolish presumption of theirs.
Q When they ragged you did not your father come to your rescue?
No, my father was a very kind- hearted person. Apart from that, when students behave so aggressively, they cannot be controlled by the academic staff. They scolded me in raw Sinhala filth. Some of the things they did to me cannot be published or retold in the media. It was exceedingly dirty. My father could not bear to see what happened to me, by trying to make his dream come true.
Q What happened to him?
Because of what happened to me he went into depression and after that, a nervous disorder. He was compelled to retire and give up what he loved. They did not stop ragging even after a few months. Every time I went for lectures they had organized to catch and rag me.
During this time my father lost his entire memory. He could not even recognize us. He became critically ill.
Q Didn’t you think of stopping your studies?
No. I completed the degree during the time my father had lost his memory and was deranged. I lost a person who could teach me Hindi. A friend of my father, a professor in an Indian university, found a lecturer to teach me, and that is how I studied Hindi. Then, to get my Bachelor’s degree I went to India. In the Indian university there were no beasts like those at our Sri Lankan universities.
Q When you accepted the award what memories came into your mind?
Whenever, the word university is mentioned, the first thing that comes into my mind is my father who was a very effective lecturer. I took the award to felicitate my father and also to signify the trauma of each and every student who has suffered beastly and crude ragging at the hands of these so-called seniors.
Q Is ragging not an issue still that people have not been able to stop?
This renews with every new batch. What I say is that the law they must be stringently applied to the perpetrators.
Q Even though you are a graduate, do you feel that you are not fully utilizing your knowledge?
Never, the education I received made me more effective as an actress. The education I received opened windows about people, the world and the society.
QWhy are you not seen very much as an actress?
I only choose the roles I like.
Q Is there a strong woman hidden inside Yashodha?
Even though I am a woman I am indebted to my parents who taught me to be strong.
QDon’t you think being attractive is sometimes a social problem?
The movie business I am in is a diverse place. There are many men who are waiting for opportunities to entice a woman to take the wrong path. But if you have a strong mind and a good understanding you can exist well.
QWhat are your plans?
Until I give up acting, this will be my profession. It is my dream to start a School of Acting for which there is a great vacuum in Sri Lanka’s movie industry.
Q No plans in your personal life?
My mother is very old. I personally tend to my mother and look after her. That is a great blessing for me. I think I am lucky to be able to do that for her.
Q Don’t you think you need someone to protect you, a person as attractive as you?
I don’t like to say that I have hopes. Whoever may be there, I have to face society alone. I don’t need a bodyguard to protect me. As I have a good upbringing, I can live with discipline.
Q No plans of a marriage?
Marriage is only one part of life. I have not yet met a partner who I think is suitable for me. I do not know whether I will ever marry or not. Life is not something you can have blueprints for or one can pre plan.