16 July, 2019

Blog

Dear Shanilka

By Paramie Jayakody –

Paramie Jayakody

I never intended to make this note public, and I hoped I would never have to. Shanilka, it may be too late for you, but I think you would have agreed that no one should go into the hell we went into uninformed. 

To everyone reading this letter, all of you think the local Universities are the great shining beacons of promise for you, your sibling, your child, your friend. Let me dash your hopes at the very beginning and tell you, it’s not. Not at all. Dashing your hopes is very important because more than anything else, hope is what screws things up for you. You’ll see why when you read on. 

The first day, you walk into uni (mine was Mora, so I’ll just tell you how it was like for me). You get amazed at how big it is, how spacious, how sprawling. You look at the map and see a medical center, a bookshop, food court, sports area, auditorium. It’s like a mini city. Life for four years here wouldn’t be bad at all, you think. After all, you look forward to it. You already talked to a friend who is also studying here, and they assured you that Mora was a rag free, friendly place. 

You sit in the auditorium wearing a white blouse, surrounded by 200 other white blouses and shirts, receiving a welcome token from the senior batch. You listen to the welcomes given out by various members of the institute, boasting of the prowess of the university and how lucky we are to get selected into state universities. You listen to them say how mora is a rag free and peaceful place, and the seniors welcome you in a very friendly manner. 

You finish day 1. You’re happy. You go to your new boarding place, which is within walking distance, and like that too. It’s nice, secluded, and private. It’ll be a haven for you if you need it, but you’re sure that’ll never happen.

Day 2 and 3 pass, orientation happening. The people are bunching together like quiet herds of sheep, with the female and male herds keeping a clear gap between the two. It’s all quiet, but its the first week. It’s okay. Day 4, the student union comes to talk. Mix up, they tell us. Wear skirts, they tell the few girls who are wearing trousers. They proceed to lay down rules, most reasonable, some not. They’re strict. They raise their voices. That’s the first sign you get that something isn’t right. 

Lectures start from week 2. We’re supposed to go to breakfast, then lectures, make friends, finish lectures and go home. Don’t talk to the seniors, don’t go for sports, no extracurriculars, nothing else. Just that. How the hell do you make friends if you have no time to bond, you think.

The lectures start. It takes you all of one day to realize that out of the 3 hours of the lecture, 1-2 hours are spent on lecturing the students on non-subject related things, boasting about themselves, and boasting about the government university system. 

Over the next few weeks, life falls into a boring routine. Wake up, get dressed, hate your skirt (in the boys case, hate the shirt and slacks),  go to uni, have breakfast, go to class, lunch, go to class again, get a guy to take you home (cause we girls aren’t supposed to go alone) the long way, cause juniors aren’t allowed to use the back gate, the shorter route. You don’t make many friends other than the one other person who went to school with you, cause you don’t have time to talk to people, and you don’t want to be seen with one person too much because that is how they target you.

Week 4, the student union tells you that the senior batch is ready to meet you. Oh okay, you think, especially since you can now meet your friend. Not even 10 seconds after they come into the group, they start yelling at the whole batch, using vile filth that is only good enough for the gutters from which they probably crawled. 

For the next two hours they proceed to terrorize the batch, picking out individuals and ripping into them for things like growing beards, not coming to uni at 7am for breakfast (even though lectures are at 8.30) not wearing a long enough skirt, not knowing who a random other batchmate is, for speaking in English and so on. By the time they leave, the whole batch is shaken, and half the girls are reduced to tears. 

Your friend, who you looked forward to meeting, looks through you like you don’t exist. No rag, you realize, meant only that they wouldn’t touch you physically inside the campus.

After that, you live in terror. Cause they know exactly who you are, where you live, who lives close to you, where you come from, everything. Their eyes follow you every minute of every day and if you step out of line, they know, and not only you, the entire batch has to suffer the consequences at the next weekly meeting. The boarding was to be a haven, but they know where that is too, and they know if and when you walk out of it. They make a show of not doing anything to the girls at first. If a girl does anything wrong, the guys with her, or the batch reps, pay the price. And then at the next meeting, the entire batch gets yelled at because of that.

You have to know all 300 people in the batch, they say. All 300 numbers in the phone, their names, hometowns, parents names, occupations, schools, all of it should be in your head, they say. And every week, people stay up late into the night trying to remember, but consequently failing, and every week the yelling doesn’t let up. You know its an impossible task and they just want to yell at you anyway, but knowing doesn’t help anything.

Telling the family is almost not an option. They sent you here with hope and dreams, how could you tell them you don’t want to go there anymore? You hear the pride in their voices when they talk about you, and you don’t want to disappoint them. 

And then, you feel it creeping in. The despair, as you slowly realize the dreams you had of having a life here, to live freely, of making your life better, were never going to come true. And with that realization, you start wondering if it’s even worth it. But it’s free, you convince yourself. You came here to not burden your parents with money for your higher education, you tell yourself. Its just four years. You can get through it. But night after night, you feel it crashing in your mind, and sometimes, you can’t remember when you were last happy. Every morning you dread waking up, until getting ready is simply a mechanical action to you.

As it gets worse, and you’re forced to stay late at uni, sometimes until 1 or 2 am, or go back to uni at unorthodox hours, you try to reach out to people. You reach out to people you haven’t spoken with in ages. They mock you, tell you you’ll never make it in local uni, tell you that you’re a stupid idiot for even trying and that you’re just weak. You get hurt. Talking about emotions doesn’t work, you think. 

You speak more and more to people who seem to understand. And you find yourself going all the way to Colombo after lectures, just to meet people that don’t force you to be anything but yourself. Just to have an hour of time without the pressure in your head. Just to have some little time of peace. You’re desperate, because you feel so alone. 

It doesn’t get better, it always keeps getting worse. You wonder why no one else doesn’t understand how fundamentally wrong this is. You go on a batch trip, instead of enjoying yourself, the batch reps are more concerned with breaking up the small groups of friends and putting on an act of ‘batch fit’ for the seniors. No one seems to realize how wrong it is. Isn’t a trip just to enjoy yourself? 

You wonder why all the staff just turns a blind eye. Surely those people aren’t that stupid, right? But all they do is preach about ‘rag free Moratuwa’ and ignore the blatant bullying that happens just around the corner.

In early November, the torture was doubled. They still kept their hands off the girls, but started calling the guys away during the night, where they would take them to their boardings and rag them till 3 or 4 am. Since it was off campus premises, they got physical.

The girls weren’t supposed to know, but we noticed when the guys came to class moving gingerly. After that, every night was stressful, waiting for a message at 10 pm to say “Not tonight” so you could sleep till tomorrow. If not, you would be awake in the early morning hours, waiting to see if they got back okay, and seeing if your friends who lived in the boarding next to you needed anything. 

You struggle to live, to keep your sanity. The thought of home, friends and family, is all that keeps you from jumping off the balcony, even when you end up there with no recollection of opening the doors. You struggle, you cope, but you’re not sure how long you can last. 

You start skipping lectures. It’s not like you like them anyway. You feel at peace, all alone in your boarding room. You try to tell yourself that it’s okay, that it’s fine. You take a break, and after ages, go home for an entire week. Vacation starts.

But vacation wasn’t like you imagined. Home is stressing you out. You feel antisocial, introverted, not ready to mingle at all, and you have to deal with your family’s endless questions and pride, not realizing they sent you into hell. 

You wonder, later, what was wrong with you? Why were you so weak that you weren’t even able to endure a few months of that? But what sealed the deal was, after vacation, when they said rag season is over, you walked into uni and saw the seniors watching you, saw your batchmates cringe, and you realized it was never going to end. We were already conditioned that way. You walk out after just one session, never intending to come back. 

You dread telling your parents, but you finally gather your courage and do it. You try to explain how they torture your mind, not your body. You try to explain the constant pain and despair. You try, you fail, but they understand. You never set foot in Mora again. You don’t answer the phone, you simply try to forget it ever existed. 

From my own experience, that is how it is. And my batch, my batch was a bunch of stupid cowards, like all the batches before us. Stupid for not realizing we could change things if we stood against them together. Cowards for not even thinking of that option. And bullies, for I’m sure they are now inflicting that same torture on the batch below us. Why can’t you ever learn?

And for that senior batch who terrorized us, and their seniors and their seniors, and everyone in this never-ending cycle, why did you do it? Did you get some sort of sick, twisted pleasure in watching the fear in our faces, watch all our hopes die? Did you enjoy crushing our spirits? Was it all just a game to you? Let me tell you this. I blame you. I blame you for going through the same thing in your year and not being man enough to stop the cycle. I blame you for not understanding that this is not okay. I blame you for knowingly stepping over the limit. You’re not building up our characters, you’re breaking them. I blame you for being classless, tasteless bullies. And most of all, I blame you for the nice civilized mask you present the world. 

When I’m still told that I’m a disappointment for quitting a prestigious local uni, I blame you. When I’m reminded to go to my appointment with my counselor, I blame you. When even a light-hearted ribbing among friends makes me sick to my stomach, I blame you. When I dreaded starting going to a new uni so hard the first student union meeting made me ill for half a week, I blame you. When at my new, private university, I’m plagued with flashbacks and nightmares that leave me shaken, I blame you… And I always will.

Why everyone else is still okay, how they pretend university life is so great, how it all looks so amazing in their social media, I will never understand. But maybe they just didn’t have better moments in their lives to compare. 

Shanilka, I am so so sorry, for what was done to you. I don’t know what you went through, and I’m sure mine doesn’t even compare. I had a family to go back to. I had other options. Or I convinced myself to make other options. I’m sorry that fate decided only one of could make it out of there (barely) alive. But as always, we live in Sri Lanka, where the public face matters more than dealing directly with issues. 

Sincerely, 

Someone who tries, every day, to leave the past where it belongs.

Writer’s note: This is a response after a recent ragging related suicide was reported in local media. Shanilka Wijesinghe hung himself at his home in Kurunegala after several months of enduring mental and physical torture from his senior peers at the Diyagama campus of the University of Moratuwa. The writer, having attended said university (which boasts a rag free environment) and left, shares a similar experience. Shanilka was a first-year student at the time of his passing.

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Latest comments

  • 14
    0

    We tout Sri Lanka having a very civilized culture going back about 3,000 years.

    With the ways these free-loading ungrateful thugs behave, we have gone 3000 years!

  • 10
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    Raj_UK: Very welcome input of your experiences abroad. I too experienced that, WARMTH; FRIENDLINESS; ASSOCIATION; when my son was taken on the first day of entrance to a University abroad. He was well received and groomed to be one among all that made him to be the Vice President of the Student Union, in his second year of studentship. Today, he has proved to be an “ASSET” to that country. On that day of his entry to the University, everything from the entrance gate to the registration process were handled very ADMIRABLY by the Student Union members. Even my son’s belongings were taken to his room in the dome by the SU members. If “Peratugami” and “JVP” want to see this process of “Student Union Involvements” in the Universities, it could be arranged with ease, of course, their “Mutti Casi” collected have to be spent on travel. It is worth doing it and an “Investment” for the sake of all student population of Sri Lanka. I stand in prayer and meditation on all those who lost their lives and suffered and suffering the degradation at the hands of these “STUDENT THUGS” and “BARBARIANS”,

  • 3
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    Raj-UK / This will not last for ever. This budget had facilities to send the bright to prestigeous Universities.It wil bed the bright who will go in 2019 and 2020 There after it will be darling children of Ministers, MPS and Politically correct Govt servants. Mark my word.

  • 1
    13

    Our education system is totally f***ed.
    =
    So-called ‘overseas’ schools produce culturally alienated, denim and T-shirt wearing rascals from the new-rich families including the drug dealing ones. They have no knowledge of local history, culture and values, and simply ape American values, music and dress styles.
    =
    We can’t eliminate the scourge of ragging until we stop giving licenses to overseas schools and start producing university entrants brought up in local culture and civilisation.
    =
    Change America and American university recruiters from our shores. They are bad news.

  • 15
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    Should not the Vice Chancellor have immediately tendered his resignation after a student of the Moratuwa Campus committed suicide following “ragging” ( an euphemism for campus torture ) ?

    After 40 years in academia fighting against ragging and working with brave anti-raggers, I am convinced that the problem of campus torture in Sri Lanka continues due to the apathy, malaise, incompetence and indifference of the academic staff, university administrators including Vice Chancellors and those on the various boards and councils of the higher education system. Indeed there are many academic staff who having been raggers in their own day may even regard this abominable scourge with a degree of benign approval

    .In my considered view if the government and all higher education authorities approach this campus curse with the required moral outrage and firm resolution, ragging can be wiped out immediately. On the contrary the indifference of higher education authorities is epitomised by the fact that whereas according to the 1998 Anti Ragging Act the legal penalty for ragging may range from 5-7 years rigorous imprisonment, nevertheless in the universities “ragging” is not even punished with MANDATORY EXPULSION despite all the talk of “zero tolerance” !!

  • 9
    0

    Should not the Vice Chancellor have immediately tendered his resignation after a student of the Moratuwa Campus committed suicide following “ragging” ( an euphemism for campus torture ) ?

    After 40 years in academia fighting against ragging and working with brave anti-raggers, I am convinced that the problem of campus torture in Sri Lanka continues due to the apathy, malaise, incompetence and indifference of the academic staff, university administrators including Vice Chancellors and those on the various boards and councils of the higher education system. Indeed there are many academic staff who having been raggers in their own day may even regard this abominable scourge with benign tolerance.

    .In my considered view if the government and all higher education authorities approach this campus curse with the required moral outrage and firm resolution, ragging can be wiped out immediately. On the contrary the indifference of higher education authorities is epitomised by the fact that whereas according to the 1998 Anti Ragging Act the legal penalty for ragging may range from 5-7 years rigorous imprisonment, nevertheless in the universities “ragging” is not even punished with mandatory expulsion despite a hollow comittment to “zero tolerance” !!

    • 3
      2

      Oh, my God, Professor ANI Ekanayaka has joined the discussion!
      .
      Make no mistake, readers. He’s an excellent and an honest retired Professor of Dentistry, but his views are Frightfully Right Wing.
      .
      Somebody on the previous page was suggesting that some retired Army type should be put in charge of this aspect of University life. Professor ANI would be much much better. He’s honest, decent, and at least knows what a University ought to be. Unfortunately, he won’t understand certain aspects of the problems.
      .
      So, welcome, Professor ANI Ekanayaka, but do be careful not to display class prejudice.

      • 4
        3

        Sinhala_Man

        “Somebody on the previous page was suggesting that some retired Army type should be put in charge of this aspect of University life. “

        Militarisation of every aspect of ordinary citizen is going on overtly and covertly. Every knee jerk reaction ultimately demands a military solution. Kamal single handed Gunaratne was put in charge of CREDIT CONTROL at private school. The army, navy, airforces, … run businesses, projects, …

        I find it worrying when right wing hooligans come up with military solution to every politico, socio economic problem.

        Is this island overpopulated with fascists in addition to lynch mob and crooks?

        Imagine what happens when sadists take control of interrogation of innocent people who are being detained under suspicion or for other motives by state authorities.

        Must speak to our top torture expert Sisira Mendis.

      • 1
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        Sinhala_Man: Should the Mora Uni VC publicise the Shanilka tragedy?
        This requires only a bit of courage.

      • 3
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        Why worry about whether Prof Ekanayake is left wing or right wing, we are talking about inhumane ragging and the blatant violation of basic human rights by a fascist bunch of thugs and hooligans who are simply pawns of the Peratugami party.

        Coming back to the Shanilka affair, When a reported contacted the Vice Chairman of UGC, he says that this institute belongs to the Moratuwa university, Moratuwa VC says that the Homagama institution is an autonomous institute although it comes under the University of Moratuwa and the director of the Institute has conveniently put his phone off. Police say that there is no complain to investigate. Can’t imagine how everyone passes the buck. The solution by the Homagama institute is to close the institute. Everybody will play the waiting game and people will forget about it in time to come. This is exactly what this director wants too and when it reopens all the raggers will happily come back and carry on as if nothing happened. The only losers are the poor parents who have lost their only son.

    • 0
      0

      Prof ANIE
      Did the Vice Chancellors of Peradeniya resign after an attempted suicide in the seventies and a murder in the nineties?
      Those were days when academics did not beg and plead with the high and mighty to be made a VC even after they were not the real choice of the Council.

    • 0
      0

      Prof ANIE
      Did the Vice Chancellors of Peradeniya resign after an attempted suicide in the seventies and a murder in the nineties?
      Those were days when academics did not beg and plead with the high and mighty to be made a VC even after they were not the real choice of the Council.
      *
      This is a country where people do not dare to protest against mass murder. Much has changed since Executive Presidential dictatorship came into being.

    • 0
      0

      There is a serious problem about punishing the bullies.
      When a senior is suspended from the university for cruel misconduct, there is massive protest with the victims joining the chorus.
      It is not only pressure from seniors. The group mentality is part of the psychological make up of students. The rule is that one shall not let a fellow student be punished for any offence.
      I know exceptions. They had to pay a heavy price, being targetted by batch mates.

  • 7
    1

    My friend was ragged at Pera in the Seventies. After forcing him to drink a large amount of liquor the seniors blocked his nose and mouth so that he couldn’t vomit freely. His lungs were affected and he ended up in hospital. He is now abroad and will never return.

  • 5
    7

    What Sri Lanka needs very badly is Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President. He is the only one with Balls who will whip the bloody shit of the arseses of the bloody university thugs and trade union thugs.
    If Gotabaya cannot do it then no one else can do it for the others don’t have Balls.
    Hope he comes into power for Lanka’s good.

  • 0
    2

    That is because if you admit the ones below IQ 79s to Unis, they would not know why are they there. Their place is in the middle of Diyawanna Lake.

    I heard Swedish managers are really very efficient on their jobs. One time there was many International-global companies were situated. So I searched for hazing in their Universities to see if that really contributed to molding those managers. (“Hazing” is North American word used by students for some activities like ragging. But ragging is morally, socially and legally horrible. Hazing is simply forcing to overdo, during introduction. NA has one that is violent even than ragging, called as gang initiation, but that is not with in Unis). Swedish students are calling their version as “Nollning”. If you are interested:
    https://somethingswedish.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/nollning-swedens-school-hazing/

  • 5
    0

    Sri Lankan education is shit right from the word go. That is the cause of all this bullshit ragging. We still follow the colonial system of learning by rote – students are never encouraged creativity, critical thinking or the real depth and meaning of education. Parents too only value those children who get good grades and pass their exams – nothing less nothing more. The so-called elite have emphasis on learning English, and believe that it sets them apart as a superior class! So it goes on, leaving the sprogs of all these ambitious but rather dim parents producing half-wits who assume bullying others empower them somehow. Just listen to some of those University Dons on public platforms pouring forth garbage, illustrating that having education qualifications on paper only would not make one a well-rounded decent being.

  • 2
    0

    This is not Ragging in our Universities.This is unadulterated Thuggery, Torture and Sadism, that has been going on for almost 50 years.Half a Century!
    Prof: Ratnajeevan Hoole has described his disgusting experience in 1970 at the Eng:Faculty @ Moratuwa.
    K.A.Sumane our erstwhile columnist has come out with a possible solution to this menace.Why not install the AAVA Group for each of our Universities? Of-course after calling for sealed Quotations.Just 50 days and this practice of 50 years could be wiped out!
    Calling on the Vice-Chancellors and the Academic staff has proved to be unproductive.

    • 3
      1

      Plato

      On the positive side don’t you think it is a good on the job training and experience for potential torturers who will be unemployed and looking for job after completing uni?

      We must consider including torture (Theory and Practice) as a new subject at A Levels.

  • 3
    0

    So called rag free UOM. i’ve seen people gone through it and i’m glad i did not took part in it. these buggers taking their ragging off the university premisses to avoid getting caught.

    “In early November, the torture was doubled. They still kept their hands off the girls, but started calling the guys away during the night, where they would take them to their boardings and rag them till 3 or 4 am. Since it was off campus premises, they got physical.”

    that’s the way it happened in our department too. People who has gone through this,are still afraid to tell what happend, they don’t have guts to say that it happened and its bad. They are afraid of some higher power, and they think they will lose their place when they get in to the industry. Nonesones, we can’t expect governing bodies alone to stop this idiocy within universities. Students has to stand against it. If not now, it will never happen and it will become worst.

  • 3
    0

    Iam shaken to see how accurate this is… But Iam glad I walked away from all this ragging shit and stood head strong with my principles intact.

  • 3
    0

    Iam shaken to see as to how accurate this article is however Iam so glad that I walked away from this intimidation game of the Seniors with my principles intact. I will continue to spread awareness on how to avoid ragging and how much this mental harassment affects uni students.

  • 4
    0

    Ragging is treated rather patronisingly. Some may say “It made a better person out of me”. What this means is the person was in the ragging gang the following year, the next and so on.
    Paramie Jayakody has presented the victims point of view very sensitively. Thank you for opening up a debate from a new starting point. She has brought out the coward in raggers. She is, quite rightly, critical of the indifference of the staff.
    .
    Spare a thought to the plight of the authorities.
    The authorities will plead that there be no ragging and encourage the victim to report. If a ragger has some political connections, the authorities will be intimidated into dropping the case. Usually the victim may not have much say.
    With increase in student numbers ragging is taking a turn into masochism. There were cases where raggers bring outside guests to take part.
    It comes down to the prevailing ‘Culture’ of corruption/nepotism/impunity.
    PS: The authorities must publicise the Shanilka tragedy.

  • 1
    0

    This is where the policies adopted after 1978 have taken this country step by step.

  • 2
    0

    Thank you Paramie for coming out with the truth – the ugly psychological harassment the newcomers are forced to undergo in so called top of the class state universities.
    For those, who underwent ragging 30 – 40 years back, who are parents now, please understand that what is being discussed here is not the same type of fun-based notorious activities conducted for a specified period of one or two weeks at the beginning of University life.
    In the present context, what is there in the state universities as ragging is a completely different, sponsored (in some cases by political parties, in some cases by the higher administration of universities etc) crime where the newcomers are harassed all through their stay in the university, in a systematic process.
    Those who do not support this process are labeled as ‘alaya’ (අලයා) and they are deprived of most of the facilities and services that are provided under free educations. For example, ‘alayo’ cannot stay in university hostels, so that they have to stay in outside places, paying on their own, while rooms allocated to them are being occupied by so called ‘ayyialaa’, ‘akkalaa’. (අයියලා, අක්කලා )….. In some cases, ‘alayo’ (අලයෝ) cannot use canteen, use leisure facilities provided in the University – and they call it free educations ….
    On the side of university administration, there are vice chancellors, deputy vice chancellors, there are deans, there are marshals, there are security personnel, wardens, sub wardens, student counselors .. but does the system work … no, it only gets worse .. you need to think for a minute to understand why…. for those in the administration, for most of them, ragging is a tool for them to get to the next level, get the promotions ..hardly anyone is interested in solving the issues…
    If any member of staff is against the ragging, he or she will learn in a hard and bad way the consequences of speaking up against this menace…and majority therefore opt to stay silent, turn a blind eye…

  • 0
    0

    Every year we are listening to similar stories and we are advising the new batch not to repeat this bad behavior. But what happened is present first year students doing more ragging when they are in second year.

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