Editor’s Note – The Culture Of Harassment And Sadism
Shameela Yoosuf Ali
The ugly topic of Ragging once again came into the limelight after a video went viral on social media recently. A bunch of new students from a reputed university in Sri Lanka were ragged sexually by their seniors.
When the staff found the students, they were in tears, and dumbfound while witnessing and experiencing the horror. The psychological trauma behind this dark and disturbing mania is unimaginable.
The video took me back to my undergraduate days. I was one of the targets and my University life ended very suddenly, due to the emotional and mental torture I had to undergo.
At that time back in early 2000, in Sri Lanka, Ragging culture was dominant in most of the universities.
My dream of excelling in the field of Humanities perhaps with a first-class and becoming an academic ended abruptly. I had to follow an external degree before joining in for my Masters as an internal student once again.
I was ragged by the seniors from my own community. The extreme verbal abuse killed my soul. I became sick and had a fever lasting for days. I never wanted to go back. Some of my friends said that what I went through is nothing compared to what others had to go through. And they suggested that I should have tolerated it.
But, I did not want to pawn my self-dignity at that stage. Being young and naive, I did not have the courage to fight against the system.
Ragging which is counted as a subculture in the Sri Lankan Universities is no more than a series of sheer acts of cowardice.
This unforgiving, ruthless and aggressive culture still prevails in many of the higher education institutes in Sri Lanka. Newcomers are generally pressurised into doing things ordered by their senior batch as part of an initiation process.
Ragging originates from a complex mix of several factors, predominantly of the herd mentality, inferiority complex and the urge to prove one’s masculinity.
Ragging or hazing has a long history. ‘Ragging underwent a massive transformation after World-War 1. It was during this time that it started to acquire its real brutal form. Soldiers returning from war re-entered the college and brought with them the technique of hazing (ragging) learned in military camps.’
Later this practice spread into other educational institutes and Universities in the West. With the English educational system disseminating it, ragging behaviour spread across many countries and became more and more violent and sadistic with time.
‘In its several years of existence ragging has done more harm than good. It has claimed the lives of several thousand innocent students all across the world. Today, ragging no longer exists in its brutal form at places where it actually originated but is rapidly proliferating in the under-developed and developing nations of the world. Presently Sri Lanka is the worst affected country in the world.’
During the last two years, in Sri Lanka, around 2000 students said to have left the state universities due to the merciless sexual and gender-based violence at the universities.
Some severe incidents of ragging in Sri Lankan Universities.
♠ In 1974, ragging of some trainee mathematics teachers at the then Vidyalankara University (now University of Kelaniya) prompted Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government to appoint V. W. Kularatne Commission to probe the incident. As a result, twelve undergraduates were expelled and four officials were penalised for their failure to take appropriate action. This is the first major step taken against university ragging by a Sri Lankan government.
♠ In 1975, University of Peradeniya reported the first ragging related death when a 22-year-old female student of the Faculty of Agriculture, Rupa Rathnaseeli became paralyzed as a result of jumping from the second floor of the hostel “Ramanathan Hall” to escape the physical ragging carried out by her seniors. It was reported that she was about to have a candle inserted in her vagina just before she had jumped out of the hostel building. She committed suicide in 2002.
♠ In 1993, Chaminda Punchihewa, a student of University of Ruhuna, died as a result of ragging.
♠ Prasanga Niroshana, a student from Hakmana, died as a result of ragging he underwent at Schools of Agriculture, Angunakolapallassa.
♠ In 1997, 21-year-old S. Varapragash, an Engineering student of the University of Peradeniya, died from kidney failure following severe ragging by senior students.
♠ In 1997, Kelum Thushara Wijetunge, a first-year student at the Hardy Technical institute in Ampara, died from kidney failure after he was forced to do tough exercises and drink excessive quantities of liquor.
♠ In 2002, Samantha Vithanage, a third-year Management student at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, who pioneered an anti-ragging campaign, was killed at a meeting, while in a discussion on ragging.
♠ In 2006, Prof. Chandima Wijebandara, the Vice-Chancellor of University of Sri Jayewardenepura resigned from his post as a result of students failing to comply with his orders to eliminate ragging from the university.
♠ In 2014, D.K. Nishantha’s body was found hanging from a tree within the premises of the University of Peradeniya.
Interestingly, I met one of my raggers years later, not face to face but in social media. I did not have the slightest idea that this family man, with a seemingly kind nature, could have been the violent guy who once was my enemy. An enemy for no reason. Until he sought forgiveness and regretted whatever he and his friends did to me, I did not have a clue.
Nothing can be changed. My life has changed forever. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again.
I do not have any feelings or desire for vengeance towards him. However, although my life has evolved in so many positive avenues, he can not give me back what I had lost. This encounter also taught me to see that situation with deep insight.
In many cases, ragging is carried out as a spectacle of masculinity and power dynamics.
Logically whatever the juniors are undergoing, the seniors have experienced the same or even worse. When the same freshers who went through this cruel ordeal continue the tradition. And the vicious cycle continues.
I strongly believe that attitude change can bring more resilient transformation than enforcing laws.
Isn’t it time we put a full stop to this ugly culture of sadism as a nation and as part of the growing global community?