Time to rid ragging from University System

Ragging in higher education institutes especially in universities is prevalent despite many measures taken by the relevant authorities to do away with it.

Ragging is the term used for the so-called ‘initiation ritual’ practiced at higher education institutions. However, ragging is reported from the Indian subcontinent, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and a few other countries.

Ragging is seen in many forms as involves abuse, humiliation, or harassment of new entrants or junior students by the senior students. It often takes a malignant form wherein the newcomers may be subjected to psychological or physical torture.

A survey conducted on ragging by H.M.T.Y.K. Hulangamuwa, S.R. Lowchiong and S.K. Dharmakirti revealed that ragging has not been a traditional event in Sri Lanka. “It is an act that came into being during the colonial era. The concept was started when soldiers who fought in the Second World War returned to universities and continued the practice of ragging that they encountered at military camps. Following this tradition, civil students at universities still conduct the act of ragging. At the same instance ragging can be used as a mode of humour and a way to have fun; but, in the current context ragging has been used for students to let go of their frustration and cause harm and pain to others.”

According to its definition, ragging can be defined as the verbal, physical or psychological abuse that newly enrolled students undergo when entering universities in Sri Lanka. It is considered as a mechanism used to welcome new students or freshmen to universities by the immediate or very senior students of the university.

The ultimate purpose of ragging in universities in Sri Lanka according to the ‘raggers’, is to form a bond between the newly enrolled students and their seniors. In local university language this is called forming a ‘batch fit’. This act is also conducted to lessen the gap between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ students who enter university.

Ragging is a subset of bullying. Unlike various complex forms of bullying, ragging is easily recognizable as dress code ragging, verbal ragging, physical abuse, sexual abuse are commonly seen. However, a few months ago a novel form of ragging was reported from the Peradeniya University as certain undergraduates had been banned from obtaining the service of a university canteen by a group of politically motivated seniors of a certain political movement.

Dress Code ragging

The freshmen are asked to dress in a specific dress code for a particular period of time. The dress code prescribed is generally unusual. For instance dressing completely in ordinary frocks called Cheeththa Gawuma for girls and with the hair oiled and combed in a particular style, dressing in long skirts for girls, dressing in shirts that do not contain stripes for boys.

It is noticed that dress code ragging may make freshmen feel uncomfortable, as it often brings them unnecessary attention from everybody else.

Verbal abuse

Verbal torture involves indulging in loose talks or vulgar words. The freshmen may be asked to sing the lyrics of any vulgar song or use abusive language in the presence of others. During the ragging period, seniors assign an abusive and demeaning nickname, known as card, to the juniors and they have to be called by that name throughout their entire university life. The form of verbal ragging differs from one institution to another. In some universities, students have to memorize poems made up of filth and recite them in front of others.

Physical abuse

The freshers are asked to do various tasks, exercises, such as sit-ups or push-ups and so on. Physical abuse may vary from university to university as it is reported that in certain universities freshmen are asked to stand on one foot for a long time.

Sexual abuse

The freshers, mostly the male juniors, were often made to strip of all their clothes and stand naked in front of their seniors and are entitled to other kind of sexual abuse as well. In the Sri Lankan context sexual abuse is not commonly reported but it doesn’t indicate that the university system in the country is free from sexual abuse and its forms. On the other hand, even though such incidents are happening in universities, those incidents may not come to the surface. Anyhow, it is reported nearly from almost all universities from time to time that boys were often made completely naked in hostels in the name of ragging.

Academic performance

The seniors may attempt to harass or threaten the junior to complete their assignments for the senior, write down and complete senior’s notes etc. Sometimes freshers refrain from attending lectures, classes and not to take part in any activities or be a part of clubs related to politics etc.

The “Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998” has been ratified by Parliament. The broad meaning of this Act assumes to totally abolish ragging and other forms of violence such as insults and cruel acts. It is notable that this law makes ragging a distinct and punishable offense. Any act which causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury, fear or mental pain in an undergraduate or a member of staff is called ragging. While this act has defined ‘undergraduate’ institutions, it also includes all universities under the 1978 Universities Act.

As par the power vested with the Act, after an individual is found guilty, the punishment for ragging inside or outside of the university premises is two years’ rigorous imprisonment. In addition, the court can award compensation to the victim.

According to UGC sources, where ragging leads to sexual harassment or grievous hurt, the punishment is increased to ten years’ imprisonment and an award of compensation.

“The punishment for anyone who acts with the intention or threatens to cause injury to the person, reputation or property of any student or threatens to cause injury to a person known to the student is Rigorous Imprisonment for no more than five years. If any person forcibly occupies any premises of an educational institution, that person is guilty of an offense.

Such a person could be imprisoned for no less than 10 years and no more than 20 years. In accordance with the Act, a fine can also be imposed,” the UGC sources revealed.

In addition, the court can, depending on the gravity of the offense, order the expulsion of a student from an educational institution if that person is found guilty of any of the offenses contained in the Act. It is clear from the above acts that students found guilty of ragging and other forms of violations face harsh punishment under the law. Even bail is often set within specific limits. The sole intention is to rid ragging from the university system. Other than the above mentioned laws, it is possible to punish those who rag or violate another’s rights using certain laws that exist within the higher education system.

Meanwhile, it is a pleasure to note that the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Higher Education Ministry are jointly creating a peaceful and free educational atmosphere for all university undergraduates and taking stern action against students involved in ragging.

It is notable that legal action can be taken against university students involved in ragging under the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998. With the powers vested with the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence Act, university students involved in ragging can be sentenced to up to 10 years Rigorous Imprisonment, a Ministry source revealed.

It is an alarming fact that owing to ragging many students leave the universities after registration. “Due to ragging, 637 registered undergraduates for the 2016/2017 academic year have left universities due to the fear of ragging and other forms of violence. The amount for the 2015/2016 academic year is 1,350. There are a large number of students leaving the universities due to ragging and there are also instances of suicide attempts,” the sources added.

The law is firm against those who engage in ragging in universities and even the bailing out of a ragging suspect does not come within the jurisdiction of a Magistrate. If convicted, such a criminal would be sentenced to 10 years Rigorous Imprisonment.

When concerning the moves taken in the world context, it is reported that in 2009, the University Grants Commission of India imposed regulations upon Indian Universities to help curb ragging and launched a toll-free ‘anti-ragging helpline’. Parallel to these moves, the UGC of Sri Lanka also introduced a toll-free ‘anti-ragging helpline’ and a mobile-app aiming to end this menace, which has become a severe burden to the higher education system. Besides, a 24 hour hotline number was also introduced. Under this, university Vice Chancellors and other relevant officials have already been instructed to take action against the students who go against the law.

However, the Anti-Ragging Act which was not fully implemented right along will now be brought into full force to curtail ragging at universities. According to UGC statistics, the Government spends an average sum of Rs.500,000 annually for a university student. This amount is only the recurrent expenditure. With the capital expenditure, the figure would be around Rs.1.5 million and therefore it is a prime duty of all in the university system to get the best use of these funds by not involving in unnecessary activities such as ragging.

– Daily News Sri Lanka

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