Ragging is a form of abuse on newcomers to educational institutions in India and Sri Lanka. It is similar to the American phenomenon known as hazing. Hazing is a term used to describe various ritual and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group. Currently, Sri Lanka is said to be its worst affected country in the world. There is no record to prove such an act has prevailed in the ancient Sri Lankan educational but It was in the post World War II era, a concept called ‘ragging’ came into existence. Ragging is not an indigenous phenomenon, but a direct result of the British colonialism in Sri Lanka. Soldiers returning from war re-entered the college and brought with them the technique of ragging learned in military camp which were used to make individual fail as an individual and succeed as a team. But eventually when lesser number of military persons entered the universities, ragging lost in primary objectives and became a violent and hazardous exercise and to the worst extreme ended up in murders.
Though ragging remained without any outside speculation for many decades it was in 1975 the first serious Ragging incident took place in the University of Peradeniya – Ramanathan Hall. A 22 year old student of the Faculty of Agriculture, Rupa Rathnaseeli became paralyzed as a result of having jumped from the second floor of the hostel Ramanathan to escape the physical ragging being carried out by the seniors. She later committed suicide in 1997. Then another horrendous ragging murder occurred in the same year 1997 when 21 year old S. Varapragash, an Engineering student of University of Peradeniya, died from a kidney failure following severe ragging by senior students – this is the point when the public and the government understood the seriousness of this so called ‘culture’ of local universities. Being a civilized nation for many centuries even before the birth of Christ yet it is very pity to note that the ‘cream’ of students in this nation are involved in the sinful barbarian act of Ragging. It did not stop with Varapragash, A girl, also a first year student – in the University of Ruhuna committed suicide in 1997 as she was unable to bear ragging by her senior students. Then another murder, Kelum Thushara Wijetunge, a first year student at the Hardy Technical Institute in Ampara, died in 1997, from a kidney failure after he was forced to do some tough exercises and drink excessive quantities of liquor as a part of ragging. 3 brutal deaths due to ragging in the same year did not only raise the voice of public against ragging but also forced the government to enact legislations to prevent Ragging.
In 1998 the Parliament of Sri Lanka unanimously passed the ‘Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998’ (the Anti-Ragging act) – the first legal enactment of Sri Lanka on Ragging. As specified in the detailed note of the Act, it is identified as an Act to eliminate ragging and other forms of violent and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment from educational institutions.
In terms of the Act, ragging means ‘any act which causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury or mental pain or fear to a student or a member of the staff of an educational institution’.
The Act specifies the relevant Higher Educational Institutions coming under the Act and that includes all the Higher Educational Institutions established under the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978.
Provisions of the Act are as follows:
* Any person who commits or participates in ragging within or outside the Educational Institution, shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and on conviction after summary trial be liable for a term not exceeding two years.
* The victim shall be paid a compensation of an amount determined by court in respect of the injuries caused to such person.
* If a sexual harassment or grievous hurt is caused whilst committing ragging the person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years on conviction after a summary trial. In addition he may also be ordered to pay a compensation of an amount determined by Court to the victim.
* If the victim is threatened to cause injury to the person, reputation or property of some other person of whom the victim is interested, with the intention of causing fear in the victim or compelling the victim to do any act which the victim is not legally required to do, or to omit to do any act which the victim is entitled to do, shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction be liable for rigorous imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
* Any person restricting the personal liberty and the freedom of movement of any other person shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to rigorous imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.
*Any person unlawfully obstructing the right to proceed in any direction of another person shall be liable to the above mentioned punishment.
* Any person unlawfully restricting the other person from proceeding beyond certain circumscribing limits can be punished as stated above.
* Any person occupying premises of an Educational Institution by force without a lawful excuse or causing damage to any such property shall be on conviction after a summary trial and can be imprisoned for terms not exceeding 10 years and 20 years respectively and shall be liable to a fine as stated in the Act.
In addition to the above mentioned punishments the convict can be expelled from the institution by the Court. (Article 8)
A special provision of the Act is that, if a person suspected or accused of committing an offence of sexual harassment or causing a serious injury whilst ragging in terms of Section 2 of Subsection (2) of the Act in an Educational Institution, he/she shall not be released on bail expect by the High Court.
The provisions of this Act shall be made effective in addition to the provisions of the Penal Code and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act No. 22 of 1994.
The above mentioned provisions clearly explain that convicts are subjugated to severe legal constraints. It is evident that the main intention of laying down restrictions over the act of bailing out is to ban inhuman acts from Educational Institutions.
This statute clearly shows the government’s obejctive to totally evacuate this inhuman and barbarian act of Ragging from the Sri Lankan educational institutions. It is notable that the act does not only apply for the students but also to the staff of the educational institutions (as prosecutes or plaintiffs). It is not a hidden secret that these brutal acts by students are at times supported by some staff in many ways – the worst support is ‘ignorance’. Though the Higher education institution has the right to take severe actions against these brutal acts, until this Act No.20 of 1998 was enacted none of the university authorities took any strong action against the students and others who are involved in Ragging.
The Prohibition of Ragging and other forms of violence in Educational Institutions Act, No,20 of 1998 – a very compact but clearly drafted legislation with 17 articles explains the definition of ragging, forms of ragging and applicable penalties, legal procedures and Interpretation of terms. It was believed that after 3 brutal murders in the year of 1997 and then the Anti-Ragging enactment in 1998 the disease of ragging has been evacuated from Sri Lanka, and no other severe cases were reported in the next 3 years but in 2002 another horrendous murder occurred. Samantha Vithanage, a third year Management student at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, pioneered an anti-ragging campaign was killed at a meeting while in a discussion about ragging. Even after a very strong Anti-Ragging act enacted – another murder and of course a murder of an anti-ragger definitely shook the country. Though the then government claimed that there was Political involvement of JVP is the murder of Vithanage the University student body declined the claims.
Now in 2010 – myself in a University, I shall not fool myself by saying there isn’t any ragging in University. I have seen the brutality but never experienced since I remain an Anti-Ragger. It is clear to all that Ragging is still a strong practice at these government educational institutions, despite the Act No.20 of 1998 with an objective to ban Ragging is implemented. This is where people start thinking about the failure of Law. There is a Law against ragging but ragging is still in practice – so it shows that a Law doesn’t change the society in a whole, this causes disbelief and unfaith in Laws.
At contemporary Laws are enacted by the Parliament. Parliament being the representation of the Majority of the country, the Laws passed by the Parliament is considered to be the wish if the majority, yet it cannot be assured that all citizens will be happy about each and every statute passed by the Parliament. The Anti-ragging statute was passed unanimously by the Parliament without any objections; still most of the Sri Lankan university students were not happy or content about legislation. There were comments saying that the government is trying to poke into the educational institutions and influence the students. Some even said the government is limiting the freedom of the students and denying their rights thus it is not just.
It is a common belief by the raggers that ragging is a way to build up strong bond among the students and also play a major role in Personality building. How pity this thought is. The ‘freshers’ are brainwashed with sweet words like above said and forced into ragging. The logic is by some means the innocent students fall into the trap made with those sweet words and suffer by the brutal acts of ragging. The pro-ragging community believes that this is a unique culture / custom belongs to them and it is their right to practice that and it is just to involve in ragging.
Though the legislation says committing or participating in any form of ragging is a punishable act, The pro-raggers doesn’t accept the legislation. They consider it unfair because they have their own belief on ragging – which as mentioned above they think it is a unique custom of them to enrich the bond among the batches of students. So unless this mind set or thinking pattern is changed the implementation of the Anti-Ragging statue will not succeed.
The statute clearly defines the offence and the punishments accordingly, but in my opinion it has failed in analyzing the background of these violence acts and did not concentrate on terminating those or finding a remedy to the fundamental aspects which are the foundations for ragging. Though we see the senior students ragging the new comers, not all seniors get involved in this and on the other hand it is not an act of instinct, it is a well planned and organized act which is most commonly organized by the so called ‘Student Unions’. Mathuranga Kalugampitiya – a lecturer at the Arts Faculty of the Peradeniya University in his article on ragging “Who will guard the guard?” published in the Sunday Observer states “The fact that the representatives of the student bodies that keep this “initiation” process live and kicking first openly and voluntarily commit themselves to the cause of eradicating ragging from the university context and then openly negate their commitment by getting actively involved in ragging the freshers indicates the unregulated autonomy that these student bodies enjoy.” It is no more a secret that these student bodies are the back bone for such cruel activities. But according to the provisions made under Part XIV of the Universities Act, No. 16 of 1978 on establishing Student Unions and other Association says:
* Section 112:-
1. Each Higher Educational Institution shall have a University Student Union.
2. Each Faculty of the Higher Educational Institution shall have a Faculty Student Union.
3. Selection of office bearers of these Unions and their activities should be defined by the Councils of the respective Higher Educational Institutions through by-laws.
* Section 115: Any Higher Educational Institution may recognize any Union, society or other associations of students of that Institution for the purpose of furthering academic or social objectives, provided that the membership of such union, society or other association consists entirely of students of that Institution.
* Section 118: If any union or society to other association of a Higher Educational Institution conducts itself in a manner, which, in the opinion of the principal executive officer of that Institution, obstructs the proper administration of that Institution, or acts in contravention of the Universities Act or any other union, such principal executive officer may suspend or dissolve such union, society or other association, as the case may be.
* Accordingly, it is emphasised that the students of the Higher Educational Institutions are authorized to establish only the following unions/societies and other associations:
1. University Students Union,
2. Faculty Students Unions and
3. Societies formed for the sole purpose of furthering academic or social objectives as stated in Section 115 of the Act.
* Any person manipulating students in the guise of Student Unions or disturbing the Management of the Higher Educational Institutions/Institutes or obstructing the education of same are liable to be severely punished under the prevailing civil law and the by-laws of the Higher Educational Institutions.
* Finally, the students are warned that they should not use the above unions/associations to achieve political objectives.
Though it says that the Student Unions should act in proper manner and should not obstruct the proper administration and the educational institution authorities have the right to suspend or dissolve the union, in practice things are different. Most of the strikes and all menace are created by these student unions, and though political objectives are banned yet we could clearly see political influences in these unions. On the other hand though the authorities have the right to suspend or dissolve such problematic unions, they hesitate to do so. Nishika Fonseka a journalist at Ground Views states in her article on ragging “The administration at the Colombo Arts faculty, for their part, seems to be willing to control the rag. “The lecturers gave us their numbers and told us to call them if we get ragged or see anyone getting ragged,” said Malini. However, she went on to say that many lecturers seem reluctant to be identified as being anti-ragging. “The lecturers don’t come while the rag is happening,” she said, “they only come afterwards.” One wonders about the wisdom in that.” The power of these student unions and their political involvements can be a major factor why the authorities are hesitant to take action against them. So when the authorities aren’t much worried about these horrendous activities then their authority is questionable and it isn’t just for them to have this authority in hand.
On the other hand, even at a point where the authorities are prepared to take an action, the students who get ragged aren’t prepared. This is because of either fear or acceptance of such activity. Fear is due to the power of the student union and they feel that they might get affected by complaining to the authorities and also after hearing stories on many hesitant authorities the students are not sure about whether an action would be taken against the raggers. Acceptance is mainly due to the brain washing sweet words told by the so called raggers. In Nishika’s article she states an ex.University student’s opinion on ragging. “In Michael’s opinion, ragging is a complex class issue. He identifies those who protest against it as belonging to the middle or upper-middle classes in society and sees those who practice it as coming from the poorer strata of society. The hue and cry over ragging, he says, is a reflection of the intolerance of the rich about being dictated to by people they look down on. He argues that far from the raggers suffering from an inferiority complex, the complainers instead, suffer from a superiority complex, and he sees those who quit University due to ragging as those who can afford alternate forms of higher education either abroad or in private institutions.” This shows how these innocent fresh minds are screwed through and the poison is poured in depth. They misinterpret the term ‘equality’ and assume that ragging is a method to influence equality in to a batch of students who come from various backgrounds. Equality does not mean you treat all equal – which cannot be practically implemented at any given point. In fact it was those myth-full words of Marx which was a starting point to this abnormal way of creating ‘equality’. In the name of creating ‘equality’ they demolish justice, they bury liberty and rights, they kill morality but ultimately it is only a fake delusionary equality which will prevail after such cruel acts.
The government should have concentrated in educating and enlightening the young minds with right policies and show the fakeness of this ‘forced equality’ before enacting anti-ragging statutes. Because a Law will never achieve its objective, unless the people are prepared to accept it. If the students are in a different frame of mind and they do not accept the just in this anti-ragging act or they consider it unjust for them then it is not going to work. We could clearly see that, whenever a student is arrested under prosecuted under the anti-ragging act, we could see numerous strikes happening at the universities pioneered by student unions, and they call that the arrest was ‘unjust’! If this is the case, and no visible change has took place then there is problem about the influence of the law in this society and to rebuild or reconstruct the influence a social engineering process is essential. Apart from defining the offence and dictating the penalties via a statute the government must involve in educating the society with necessary knowledge and design their mind in accordance to accept the statute.
Sri Lanka is a very cultured and conservative country. More than Laws the religious and divine practices are strictly followed in Sri Lanka, yet the immoral and. Horrendous conduct of ragging prevails among the students and most of them never understand the seriousness and immorality of ragging. Generally torturing mentally or physically is considered a worse sin in all religions of the country and it is also considered to be immoral but the act ragging still stays firm at the educational institutions, there are strong proofs that even the religious priests get involved in such activities. Law generally considers the moral part in deciding a case and the Anti-Ragging act was passed in the parliament unanimously not just because it was Just but also considering its moral rightness. It is very well known fact that in Sri Lankans respect education a lot, being a student at a government educational institution in Sri Lanka is very highly respected but that should not be misused by the students. I doubt why the government gives such exceptional priorities for these students. It would cost more penalty if such cruel activities are prosecuted and the penal code, but under the tag “Student” these horrendous activists somehow get excused. Despite 3 murders and a suicide occurred non of the students responsible were offered with sufficient punishment, which has given more guts to other students who engage in ragging. It sad to see that the sympathetic hearts of Sri Lankan educational authorities show a soft corner for these cruel activists and they offer statement at courts enforcing the ‘education right’ of the raggers and help them to get excused. Yes, a person should get the right to education, but a university student isn’t a baby or a minor. He is generally mature enough to take decisions by himself and if he involves in any sort of illegal activity there should not be given any consideration about his studentship, he can be prosecuted under the penal code. In fact I personally feel that this is more just & equal than prosecuting under the Anti-ragging act.
In conclusion, Though there is a “Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998” it seems that the influence of it in the student society is not sufficient to control the cruel act of ragging. Though the common man would consider the act to be just at contemporary the student community, especially the unions consider it to be unfair against the students. For the act to be successfully implemented there is a need for the government to involve in social engineering process and enlighten the citizens with the knowledge on justice, fairness, liberty, human rights, morality and equality – because these ideologies are mostly misinterpreted. If this Social Engineering process is not going to take place it is definite that the Anti-Ragging act will be only a black letter law and will not achieve its’ objective of eradicating the inhuman act of Ragging from the Educational Institutions of this country.
‘Prohibition Of Ragging And Other Forms Of Violence In Educational Institutions Act, No.20 Of 1998.’ Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 30 Apr 1998.
Kalugampitiya, Mathuranga. ‘Who Will Guard the Guards?’. Sunday Observer, 4 Oct 2009, Pg 20.
Fonseka, Nishika. ‘Ragging In Our Universities: A Symptom Or A Disease?’. Ground Views. <http://www.groundviews.org/2009/11/30/ragging-in-our-universities-a-symptom-or-a-disease/>
Fernando, Appekka. ‘Ragging And The Moral Dilemma’. Sailan Muslim. <http://www.sailanmuslim.com/news/?p=1962>
Ruberu, Ranjit. ‘Indiscipline In Sri Lanka Universities’. The Island. 30 Jan 2003.
‘Legal Framework On University Ragging And Establishing Student Unions’, Sunday Observer, 29 Jun 2008. Pg. Feature 01.
Agarwal, Harsh. ‘Ragging: History and Evolution’. Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE). < http://www.noragging.com/index.php/Research/Reports/Ragging-History-and-Evolution.html>