CIMOGG has constantly emphasized that it is the duty of the State to punish, without discrimination, citizens who commit criminal offences, subject to the general principle that all relevant steps are carried out in strict accordance with the law by duly authorised institutions and agents. This view is undoubtedly supported by all law-abiding citizens. Consequently, the public cannot understand why a situation has been permitted to develop in the universities, where using threats and physical force to rag freshers, often in the most cruel, demeaning, and physically and emotionally injurious manner, is tolerated or excused. It is no secret that scores or even hundreds of victims, being unable to cope with the physical and psychological assaults perpetrated on them, were driven, with great bitterness and anguish, to give up their hard won places at the universities. Some even committed suicide because the trauma was more than they could bear. A few were murdered.
If a group of citizens outside the universities were to inflict on anyone what the seniors at most of our universities do to new entrants, they would be liable to be imprisoned for unlawful restraint, assault, rape, attempted murder, murder and similar criminal offences. Hence, it is saddening and disappointing that the academic staff of the universities as a whole have not taken strong enough collective action to eradicate this monstrous cancer from their midst. Too many of them remain passive, outwardly justifying the horrible practice of ragging on the grounds that they, in their time, had also been ragged and that this is a good way of establishing close camaraderie between freshers and those who had entered the universities earlier. We do not know what initiation ceremonies were practised when such academics were freshers but there is no doubt that the cruelties inflicted during ragging have progressively become ever more sadistic and barbarous.
We give below a selection of some egregious cases connected with ragging. Brief descriptions of the horrendous treatment meted out to freshers, attacks on those who oppose ragging, some academic opinions, and a few tragic consequences are set out below from information published recently in the Press by several responsible sources.
1. In 1975. a Peradeniya student leapt off the second floor of her Hall to avoid a candle being forcibly inserted into her vagina. She was paralysed and eventually committed suicide.
2. In 1993, a Ruhunu student died as a result of unbearable ragging.
3. In 1997, a female Ruhunu student committed suicide after severe sexual harassment.
4. In 1998, a Peradeniya student died from the ragging injuries inflicted on him.
5. In 2001 or 2002, anti-ragging leader Samantha was murdered at Jayewardenepura.
6. In 2011, a female Ruhunu student became semi-paralysed in one limb by the severe ragging to which she was subjected.
7. Also in 2011, three Peradeniya students were arrested for sexually assaulting a fresher.
8.. In 2013, a group of freshers were stripped naked and forced to perform indecent sexual acts.
9. In 2014, a male student left Peradeniya because he could not bear the ragging; and then committed suicide.
10. In 2015, a female student at Sabaragamuwa committed suicide because of the unbearable ragging.
11. This year in Kelaniya, a female student was verbally abused, beaten and threatened with sexual abuse because she insisted on wearing jeans.
12. Freshers have been compelled to do exercises without stopping, to the point where their muscles break down and they have to be treated for renal failure.
13. Untold numbers of them have been forced to have cold showers at midnight, or to stay immersed all night in ponds containing dirty water, or to have their testicles inserted into a drawer which is then closed, and so on. They have been terrorised into eating stale food from bins, lick toilet bowls, consume foods in which cockroaches have been mixed, or crawl through a makeshift tunnel after being soaked with a bucket of liquid consisting of a mixture of outflows from drains and sinks, urine and sewage infested with worms.
14. This year, some university lecturers at Kelaniya were assaulted for trying to stop ragging.
15. There can be no doubt that those who managed to survive their humiliating initiation ceremonies, without being driven out, injured badly, or murdered, total many thousands over the years. There are bound to carry mental scars that cannot be erased and are too humiliating to recall.
A Chairman of the University Grants Commission has expressed the view that most of the worst ragging is sexual in nature. A Head of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Peradeniya has opined that ragging is a complex psychological issue with elements of mob mentality, thirst for power, student politics etc. It is a sub-culture which is also violent and gender-based.
We respect greatly the lecturers at Kelaniya University who opposed ragging but were assaulted for their initiative. It is gratifying to learn that about ten students will face criminal prosecution in this connection. If a sufficiently large number of academics join hands in this same spirit to oppose ragging, the government will be obliged to decide that taxpayers’ money should not continue to be spent on humouring a bunch of perverts in our universities.
An Anti-Ragging Act was passed in 1998 but the terror instilled into the minds of freshers makes them fearful of coming forward to give evidence. Similarly, most teachers in the universities obviously prefer a life of safe inaction to one of righteous activism. It is an utter shame that such bright minds have not felt motivated to devise and promote a reasonably foolproof system to enable victims of ragging to help identify and convict their tormentors without endangering themselves. How heartless and cowardly it is to continue to look the other way! If the academic establishment wishes to claim that it is inactive because it is powerless, it should hand over the responsibility to the government and call upon it to set up a strong Police presence in the campuses and outside hostels, with adequate intelligence-gathering units to which freshers may furnish information, even anonymously, to facilitate the monitoring and elimination of ragging activities.
The mere presence of the Police in and around the campuses, initially in large numbers, should be sufficient to make it more difficult to rag. The few who may be caught red-handed may be indicted and will lose their chance of completing their studies. Of course, it is vital that the Police should not adopt their often heavy-handed methods but use more subtle techniques to get the cooperation of the vast majority of students who are not criminally deviant.
We are bound to be told by some academics that the real culprits are usually the Ministers of Higher Education, who do not like to cross swords with violent student organisations which sponsor ragging for their own ends. Is it too much to ask academics to join hands in large numbers and protest in a non-violent manner by insisting that they will not carry out their teaching responsibilities if Ministers do not tackle the problem of ragging?
In any event, the Constitution requires that all citizens should be treated equally and that no one group shall be given privileged treatment. It is, therefore, a major violation of the Constitution that the law of the land is not enforced only within university premises. If students act in a violent and unlawful manner, the Police have an inescapable duty to intervene. It is unacceptable that successive Ministers of Higher Education have interfered with the Police and given in to the lawbreakers. They must not be allowed to continue to ignore the glaring crimes that are being perpetrated on thousands upon thousands of helpless students who merely want to get on peacefully with their studies.
We need to remind ourselves that university students, with rare exceptions, have lived off their parents or guardians from birth until they enter university. Thereafter, they receive free education and, in many cases, financial assistance. It is the indirect and direct taxes collected from the poorest citizens to the richest wage earners and other taxpayers of this country that pay for these privileges. This being so, how is it that university students, including some who are attached to various religious orders, are given the right, once they have completed their first year of studies, to break the law with impunity whereas, in similar circumstances, the citizens who pay for the education of these students would be subject to the full might of the law?
We call upon the government to ensure that the law will be applied in an independent and fair manner in all sectors of our society without conferring special privileges only on university students. We urge all political parties to declare clearly and unequivocally that they stand for the Rule of Law and that they will support whatever government is in power to rid ourselves of the small number of criminals and psychopathic monsters masquerading as students. We most earnestly request the academic establishment to work actively to protect the human rights of all members of the university community.