By H.M.T.Y.K. Hulangamuwa, S.R. Lowchiong and S.K. Dharmakirti –
This study is based on information derived from an online survey conducted with the participation of 70 undergraduates and graduates from both State and Private Universities as well as a number of online articles. It discusses the ragging that takes place in Sri Lanka as well as the laws related to it. This study was conducted to educate the public about ragging and the existing laws as well as to strengthen and enhance the current laws. In Sri Lanka there are many victims of ragging but they do not have sufficient laws to provide them with much needed protection. In this study we discuss about the prevailing laws related to ragging in Sri Lanka, Alternatives to Ragging, Instances where Ragging has been reported, as well as Foreign Jurisdiction regarding this matter. Our aim is to create awareness and find a path to the elimination of ragging from universities in Sri Lanka.
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. In military camps this is used to help soldiers succeed as a team but to fail individually. Following this tradition, civil students at universities still conduct the act of ragging. At the same instances ragging can be used as a mode of humor 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.
What is “Ragging”?
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.
Consequences of Ragging
There are several outcomes when it comes to ragging. As it can be mental, physical or verbal the outcomes differ. As the capacity of tolerance of every person differs from one to another, the outcome of ragging too differs. At most, the toughest people often ignore the effects of ragging and are left tougher than ever before. It’s often those without a very strong level of tolerance and who are mentally vulnerable that succumb to the horrors of ragging. As these students are mentally vulnerable they indirectly allow others to take advantage of them and they do not often know that they are being victimized. Those who are mentally, physically and verbally abused would become afraid of their own shadow or decide to take out their frustration from their juniors or in worst case, the society and become misfits. They have a lack of self-esteem and self-respect. The physical abuse would often entail students to take part in rigorous physical punishments which are conducted in the most inhumane manner. These forms of ragging may result in students having various forms of anxiety, living in denial, shutting down mentally that could even lead up to death of some students.
Other than these consequences, ragging also often results in students leaving state universities without completing their education or even refraining from entering a state university. This would ultimately count as a huge loss to the government as well as the country as the government has spent a large amount of money to provide free education to these students who have worked hard and sacrificed a lot to gain university entrance and would have to ultimately leave university without completing their degree. When such a person enters the job market they often find themselves unemployed as most jobs require their employees to have a minimum qualification of a basic degree. Also students who have often qualified to read for a, for example a medical degree, if subjected to ragging and finds it unbearable and leaves university, would sometimes enter a private university and there this student would have to read for a degree of lesser importance than what he or she had qualified for.
In some universities there are faculties with movements known as “Anti-Ragging”. Often these students are shunned by other students of the university and they are assigned separate places an-d cornered by others.
Example: in the university of Peradeniya, students who are part of the Anti-Ragging movement are assigned a separate canteen and are called “Ala” in sinhala (අල – අතහරින ලදී) meaning left alone.
Purpose of Ragging
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. By ragging every freshmen or newcomer they hope to give the message that in this university “everyone is equal” and that there are no exceptions.
A survey was conducted among students of universities past and present, in order to get their views and ideas on this topic. A participant stated that most of this ragging is done by these raggers because, “they know they are nothing outside the campus.” This shows that ragging is conducted as a form of self satisfaction as well.
Students who rag others are victims of abuse. They have been in situations where they were once vulnerable. Either being victims of ragging themselves or having an abusive childhood. Due to such situations they develop an inferiority complex once they enter university and they manifest this through violence.
Alternatives to Ragging
As per the results of the survey several alternatives mentioned by the participants are found below.
* Having Socials ( Get-togethers)
* Parties, excursions, clubs and societies
* Talent shows
* Team building sessions
* Conducting special programs for new students which require voluntary participation
* Organizing sports events
* Organizing camps, workshops and leadership development projects.
* Having an English course for the first few months of university.
* Introducing subjects like communication skills which is interactive.
However, some students stated that there was no need for alternatives but the only solution was to eliminate ragging from universities.
Why do we Need Alternatives?
Our country is said to be the worst country affected by ragging. Therefore, we definitely should implement alternatives rather than using the concept “ragging”. Students enter university from all over Sri Lanka, from different cities, races, religions and classes as well as different family backgrounds. The concept of ragging was initiated to make those students socialize with each other and create a bond among seniors and juniors as well as among the peers.
However, ragging has become more abusive and dangerous creating chaos. Ragging has affected people mentally, physically and some students have attempted to commit suicide. To prevent this, we need to put a stop to ragging in universities. Humans should be treated with dignity and respect, by conducting acts like ragging it becomes a violation of human rights.
People tend to leave state universities without completing their degrees and also many students do not enroll in state universities in fear of getting ragged. In such instances the government has paid for the education of a student for a period of almost thirteen years or more, for example, if a student selected to the Faculty of Engineering does not enter university but enters a private university to read for a degree of lesser importance, the country overall loses a good engineer and the work he could have done to serve the country.
In the survey conducted, a majority stated that when asked if alternatives were necessary, there was no need for alternatives but to abolish the concept of ragging completely.
Instances where Ragging has been Reported in Universities in Sri Lanka
There are several instances where it can be observed where ragging has been reported in the country.
One of the first ever reported cases in the country was in the year 1974, where a group of mathematics trainee students were ragged at the present University of Kelaniya, earlier known as the Vidyalankara University. A committee was appointed by the then government resulting in the expulsion of twelve undergraduates and four officials for failing to take proper action. This is considered as the first major step taken by Sri Lanka against ragging.
However, the following year a female student of the University of Peradeniya jumped out of the balcony of the second floor of her hostel to escape from being ragged by her seniors. She was paralyzed due to this.
In 1997, a student of the faculty of Engineering of the University of Peradeniya died as a result of kidney failure after being ragged by senior students. The same year a student from the Hardy Technical Institute too died of a kidney failure after being forced to do tough exercises and consume excessive amounts of liquor.
In 2002 a Management student of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura was killed at a meeting while discussing about ragging. This student was a pioneer in the anti-ragging movement.
Some of the most recent incidents include, the alleged ragging of a first year Management student of the University of Jayewardenepura, where a tyre had been thrown at the student by a group of seniors from a high elevation. This student had sustained injuries to his skull and brain. Six senior students were arrested in relation to this incident but five of them were released on bail after being produced at courts.
In the university of Ruhunu several male students had been sexually assaulted by their seniors. These students had been afraid to reveal their identities in order to punish the raggers. However, one student named Udayanga had stepped forward and spoken to the media regarding how he and his peers had been sexually assaulted. Nineteen students had been charged for this offence under the Prohibition of Ragging and Other forms of Violence in Educational Institutes Act, No. 20 of 1998. This incident has been an eye opener to the authorities of the Higher education institutes regarding the extent of ragging presently. Also a student stepping forward to the media has given confidence to other victims of ragging to fight against it.
Laws that can be Related to Ragging
* Article 126 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
– Any citizen can produce a petition to the Supreme Court in case of a Human Right Violation or a case closer to the infringement.
– University students are also citizens and common law applies to them as well.
* Prohibition of Ragging and other forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998 Act ratified by Parliament to Eliminate Ragging.
– Section 2(1): If a person was found guilty within or outside the premises, convicted after a summary trial before a Magistrate will be liable to rigorous imprisonment not exceeding two years also should pay compensation amount determined by court.
– Section 2(2): If a person commits ragging causes sexual harassment or grievous hurt to any student or a member of the staff will be guilty of an offence under this act, convicted after a summary trial before a Magistrate will be liable for imprisonment not exceeding ten years and also ordered to pay compensation determined by court.
– Section 9(1): This offence is generally non-bail able
According to the gravity of the act committed the court can order the expulsion of the student or dismissal of the staff member.
* Provisions of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act No. 22 of 1994 and the Penal Code will be added to the above act.
– Any person who tortures shall be guilty under this act.
– Section 4: A person who is guilty of an offence under this act will be convicted a trial by High Court. And will be subjected to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and not exceeding ten years and also a fine not less than ten thousand rupees and not exceeding ten thousand rupees.
– Section 5: This offence is not a bail able offence.
* Other than these legal measures the University Grants Commission has introduced a hotline to inform them about incidents of ragging. Also an app has been created to counter ragging. This program has been implemented as a pilot project of the Uva Wellassa University.
Review of the Act : Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998
The act contains a set of rules against ragging. However, these rules are inadequate to punish the raggers. Because often the culprits are not easily identified as the victims and other students are afraid of coming out with the truth to punish the raggers.
The act is vague as it does not directly state the punishments one would receive and as there is no single act against ragging it is difficult to identify the offence.
For example: other than looking into the Prohibition of Ragging and other Forms of Violence in Educational Institution Act, in order to punish the raggers one must also refer to the Penal Code and Convention against Torture and other Cruel, inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act.
This act directly interprets what is meant by “ragging”, “educational institutions”.
The punishments mentioned in the act can be considered as effective to a certain level, as a person found guilty of sexual harassment or grievous hurt would be imprisoned for a period of ten years. Also this act is a non-bailable offence so the perpetrator would be punished for his crimes.
Like in Sri Lanka, ragging is a phenomenon that is found in universities around the world. However, in these countries the laws related to ragging are implemented in a more effective manner than in Sri Lanka.
The concept of “ragging” is known as “Hazing” in the USA and Australia
In the USA civil courts have imposed the liability to bring justice to the victims of ragging upon the university. In Mullins V Pine Manor College, it was stated that the university is liable for the rape of a student within the campus premises as it is the responsibility of the campus to provide the necessary security. Furek V University of Delaware, the court held liable the university as it doesn’t fulfill its mentioned policies, which controls hazing. Here a student had been forced to follow a fraternity ritual where he had sustained permanent damage after having oven cleaner poured on his face and neck. In Regents of University of California V Superior Court, a schizophrenic student had behaved unstably and attacked another student with a kitchen knife. Here the court held that “there was a special relationship between a university and students creating a duty to protect the students.” The decision given by the Regents depicts how much a student is dependent about their safety through the university.
In Australia in the case of SMA V John XXIII College, the court held liable the college for failure to provide necessary measures to protect the victim, who had attended a hazing ritual and after becoming intoxicated had engaged in non-consensual sex.
In order to convict a person of hazing in Australia,
* The defendant required the victim to engage in an act.
* The victim was a student.
* The victim engaged in the required act.
* The act was part of initiation into a student group or organization.
* The act was likely to cause bodily injury or physical punishment.
Ragging is also part of the university culture in India. A National Anti-Ragging Helpline has been established. This helpline has taken the necessary measures to protect the identity of the victim when dealing with such cases. Other than this the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India has passed UGC Regulation on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Educational Institutions,2009. Through this it has become the responsibility of the university to control ragging incidents including taking strict pre-emptive measures like having separate hostels for first year students, conducting surprise raids by the anti-ragging group in the night and signing of affidavits by both students and parents pledging not to be a part of such acts.
Also volunteer groups like “Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education” (CURE), “Stop Ragging Foundation” and “Society Against Violence in Education” (SAVE) have been formed to help victims of ragging in India. These organizations have online groups where students can talk to other victims and get help.
Several states in India have separate laws regarding ragging. The central legislation which includes the Indian Penal Code, UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Educational Institutions, 2009 and Other Institutes Specific Regulations (AICTE, MCI) apply to states which do not have separate jurisdiction regarding ragging.
There are several punishments given to participation in or abetment of ragging,
* Cancellation of Admission.
* Suspension from attending classes.
* Withholding/ withdrawing scholarship/fellowship and other benefits.
* Debarring in appearing in any test/ examination or other evaluation process.
* Withholding results.
* Debarring from representing the institution in any national or international meet, tournament, youth festival, etc.
* Suspension/expulsion from the hostel.
* Rustication from the institution for periods varying from one to four semesters or equivalent period.
* Expulsion from the institution and consequent debarring from admission to any other institution.
* Fine up to Rs. 25,000.00
If it cannot be determined whether the student was committing or abetting the act of ragging a collective punishment would be given.
As mentioned in the survey there are alternative ways to form a bond between seniors and juniors instead of ragging. By following methods like leadership camps, excursions, fresher’s, club and sports activities, talent shows, talk sessions among students we can divert the time of the students to spend time with each other instead of ragging.
Often juniors depend on seniors for notes and various sorts of assistance. This creates opportunities for seniors to rag the juniors. This can be avoided by encouraging the juniors to make their own notes, utilizing the library facilities, staying in boarding houses instead of hostels where seniors cannot have access to juniors at least in the first year. This way juniors are independent of their seniors. Students can form their own group and support each other against ragging.
Unlike in India there is no official Anti-Ragging movement in Sri Lanka. Therefore, formulating Anti- Ragging movements in all universities and faculties should be done. Other than formulating such a movement, steps should be taken to monitor it regularly.
In addition, faculty members can play a vital role in controlling the senior student’s movements regarding their acts like giving dress codes, doling out punishments, boycotting lectures.
Establishing an Intelligence Force to recognize the perpetrators and to protect the privacy of students. This force can hand out punishments like suspension, expulsion, withholding the degree. Through this, a fear of breaking the law can be instilled among the university students which in return can reduce the number of victims of ragging.
Having counselling programs with a trustworthy person or helpline in every department to release the mental and physical trauma of the victim as well as the perpetrator. Students who are ragged are often reluctant to admit they are ragged through fear of being shunned by their peers.
Like in India, we too can form organizations or “support groups” which can help victims of ragging, where students can talk to other victims of ragging and share their experiences and find solutions together.
Creating witness protection programs in order to protect those who stand against raggers.
Most often ragging is done by students with many “have-nots”. The gap between these students should be eliminated before entering university. The underprivileged students must not believe that university is an opportunity to bully other students who are more privileged than them. A “cultural change” is needed.
The mindset and attitudes of students entering university and who are in university should be changed to a positive attitude by the university itself. This will help change the way students look at each other.
Obtaining the assistance of the Media and Social Media to find the perpetrators of ragging and bring justice to the victims.
Since ragging is a major part of the local university culture and as the current laws are not properly implemented, formulation of newer and stronger laws would help reduce ragging and to avoid vagueness and lack of certainty of laws the implementation of a separate act is necessary.
Ragging is considered as one of the biggest menaces in our country as well as universities. The victims and perpetrators of this act are affected by this long after they graduate and leave universities. It follows them like a shadow throughout their lives affecting them as well as the lives of others. In conclusion to this study, we believe that the best possible solution to ragging is to eliminate it completely and have the government pay attention in strengthening and implanting laws and using the alternatives such as those mentioned in this article.
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Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998 1998
*Authors are third Year LLB (Bachelor of Law) Undergraduates at Sir John Kotelawala Defense University