Ragging in universities: A black patch on the free education system in Sri Lanka
Bullying in universities, commonly known as 'ragging' has continued to reveal the ugly side of the Sri Lankan higher education system. Over the years, ragging has reached newer levels of brutality, at times taking away innocent lives and permanently disabling others. In response to the previous article titled 'Ragging and Free education: A distorted correlation', several past and present university students related their experiences inside the university premises to Life Online. Their stories are as follows:
*The names of students have been withheld for privacy concerns
Raggers have no power outside the university: Rishani
*Rishani, a first year student of the University of Peradeniya related her experience at the university. "During the first week, seniors 'welcome' us in a very pleasant manner, mainly because we go there with our parents. They help us in to fill registration forms and even address our parents like their own. This week is in fact called the 'mal sathiya'. When I went to fill the registration form, two girls accompanied me. During the process one of them said, "You can't dress like this." My father was next to me and he was quite impressed. I was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. In fact they force girls to wear a blouse with a collar and a skirt. Since my father saw how they treated us during the registration he asked me to go to the hostel. So I paid Rs. 750 which is hostel fees for the year and obeyed his request. The people in my room were from poor families and they were helpless. Although I thought I have settled myself to stay here for the next few years, the ragging episodes then took a different turn."
"Once we settle in our rooms, the next thing that the raggers do is 'escort' us to lectures. So we have to find a 'partner' and go in a line of twos for our lectures escorted by the seniors. Until the lectures are over, the juniors cannot even use a washroom. I realized that I couldn't be a part of all this torture and therefore my group of friends and I decided to ignore them. The ragging goes on till juniors step in to their second year and start ragging the first year students who enter the university after them. Freshers are given a formal welcome in the 'social' organized by the seniors after their weeks are fulfilled. Anti-raggers have the freedom to do whatever they want and the raggers find them to be a challenge. So my friends and I decided to be a part of the anti-ragging group. Another fact is that raggers have no power outside the university. The student union has a meeting and once lectures are over, the juniors have to be present at this meeting. So here they try to introduce the culture of the university and try to convince the juniors to support them. The raggers eventually locked us up in our rooms and they even give us a time to wake up. My friends and I watched everything but decided to stay away from the madness," Rishani said.
Speaking further, Rishani says that there are three canteens called 'Gemba', 'Ala' and 'Vuse' within the university premises. "The 'Vuse' is like a small city which has been built quite extravagantly by the raggers. The anti-raggers are called 'Ala' and we are supposed to go to the 'Ala' canteen but we wanted to check out 'Vuse'. So one fine day, I went to 'Vuse' with three of my friends and had a juice there. Then one ragger spotted me and came to ask what I'm doing there. She spoke in a really filthy way but I didn't hesitate to respond. Afterwards one of their people took her away. Another hilarious fact is that juniors should address them as 'Uthumanani' or 'Uththamaviya' (which translates to 'Your honour' or 'Your highness'). The freshers are also given an English exam by the English Language Teaching Unit (ELTU) and in this 800 people are in the basic level. In fact the second year students have no knowledge about English and that is one of their biggest worries. Since these students do everything else other than studying, they end up doing odd jobs within the university itself."
"Juniors go through horrible experiences, some of which cannot even be related. "Sometimes senior girls watch juniors bathe, boys are asked to sit on bottles and do various other inhumane things just to please the raggers. After some time, I too couldn't handle the stress and asked my father to take me away from this menace. Quite surprisingly, even lecturers are involved in these acts because in some instances their marks depend on how well the juniors get involved in this 'sub-culture'. The monks too face a similar fate. Senior monks rag junior monks and if a monk becomes an anti-ragger he is not allowed to visit the temples within the university premises."
"The Student Union - down to the raggers - protests about unwanted things but they don't even care about hostel facilities or the food in the canteen which could use an upgrade. On top of the education we get, students go through permanent depression after they complete their university life. No university wants to be ragged; in fact they all want to enjoy their days at the university. It is supposed to be one of the best times in your life but having to sacrifice it for a few maniacs is quite saddening," said Rishani in her concluding remarks.
Raggers who are good in their studies don't have time to study: Kumudu
Relating her experience while in her first year, *Kumudu, a second year student at UOP shared her memories with us. "They have something known as the 'batch fit'. On this day all girls should wear long dresses. Juniors have to eat from the same plate and they teach the boys about the sub-culture with filthy words. The boys have to teach these terms to the girls. If the juniors fail to respond when the seniors ask them these terms, they scold the juniors in filth. The juniors have to welcome them at any time during the evening once seniors return from a trip. They pass a toffee and all the juniors have to suck it. The freshers have to go to various meetings and those who don't like to go these meetings usually hide. Some students who don't like to rag others just leave their 'cause'. Most of the students join the ragging team because they are helpless. Those who are keen on their studies don't have much time to dedicate to books because they are always out there ragging someone. This happens especially to boys because they have to be part of the ragging team in order to avoid being bullied afterwards."
My father sacrificed his life as a result of what I went through: Yashoda Wimaladharma
Renowned actress and television personality Yashoda Wimaladharma, too has gone through a horrific experience while she was studying at the University of Kelaniya. In her story, Yashoda related the difficult times she went through, sometimes in fear and isolation. "My father was a Professor in Hindi Language at the University of Kelaniya and he wanted me to be a student there. But I wanted to do an external degree because I thought it would be better for me. But he urged me to get a new experience in the university and after much hesitation I decided to obey his request. Ragging was quite a common occurrence in the university system back then, mainly because of the upheaval of JVP riots and university students were brainwashed by their movement. As soon as I stepped in to the university premises, I was treated with nothing but ragging. They knew that I was the daughter of this professor and therefore they must have thought that I might be favoured."
"I didn't receive the common rag, but they individually ragged me. This was done by the students of the Arts Faculty because they were from rural areas and most of them were going through a difficult time. After lectures they didn't allow me to go home and I had to go through some of the most brutal experiences. I remember my father waiting for me till they released me after their ragging sessions. I do not know why these students had such a mentality because they are taking away the opportunity of another student to learn and give something back to the country. By that time people knew me because I was acting in tele-dramas. But because of what I went through my father had a nervous breakdown and he was eventually bed-ridden. He had to retire one year before his service ended and he lost his memory in the end. One thing that these raggers kept telling me was that I have taken away the opportunity of another person who should have been a student in my place. I think that was such a stupid presumption but they kept that reason to bully me continuously."
Speaking further, Yashoda said that then the media started to talk about ragging and her incident was highlighted in the media. "I cannot speak of certain things which happened to because they are extremely horrific. What I cannot forget is that my father had to go through all trauma. I have no personal grudge against anybody and victims should have a strong background to come out of it. I had a strong background and my career helped to move out of the trauma. Victims of ragging should be able to reach their goals."
In her concluding remarks Yashoda said that she has forgiven everyone but she will never be able to forget what she went through. "Recently the UOK felicitated me and I accepted it in the name of my father and all victims of ragging. I do not want anything like that to happen to students in future and our responsibility should be to protect and encourage the next generation to do excel in their studies and give back to the country."