30 October, 2020

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Ragging, Student Violence, & University Academics: A Brief Note

By Kumudu Kusum Kumara

Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara

Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara

If Sri Lankan university academics turned a blind eye to ragging and student violence as they are accused of by some, the reasons for that could be complex. Ragging and student violence in Sri Lankan universities have been linked to student politics to which the teachers’ politics also has been linked at certain times and varying levels. Students and teachers in the universities shared an interest in politics from the early days of university, when the traditional left parties such as the Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party dominated the university political scene. There was a healthy atmosphere of political activism mainly among students. Teachers adhered to ‘Queensbury rules’ of staff politics that kept staff politics away from students. However, these rules were discarded soon even before the end of the first decade since the University of Ceylon was shifted to Peradeniya. In the 1958 tar brush campaign against Tamils at Peradeniya, university teachers influenced students. Students were manipulated more openly in politics during 1970-77 period where both the manipulated and those who manipulated them received rewards, in terms of political patronage and protection.

In the history of Sri Lankan universities ragging has been traditionally interpreted as a measure to level out the influence of class element among students in terms of economic and social background and habits, the school one attended, and whether one was rural or urban. At the beginning at Peradeniya University the difference was identified as one between the ‘cultas’ (the cultured) and the “hara” s (the rustics) and the ‘cultas’ claimed superiority over the hara s in terms of “culture.” Consequently the hara s ragged the culta s presumably to even out the class and social differences. The idea of using ragging as a means of levelling out which would have been acquired from the Oxbridge model got heightened in the universities established later to teach in the swabhasha which were dominated by students from rural areas and lower socio economic backgrounds.

In the context of student politics, ragging would have been used as a means of “getting to know” the freshers and thereby recruiting them to political groups. It is with the entry of the JVP into student politics in the late ‘60s that ragging and student violence takes the pernicious form that the Sri Lankan universities have experienced since then.In 1970s Sri Lankan universities turned out to be strongholds of the JVP, signalling the end of an era dominated by mainstream left politics. The JVP led Samajavadi Shishya Peramuna (SSP) dominated university student politics since 1970s and violence associated with their radical politics has affected the universities negatively. The JVP led SSP used ragging as a means of recruiting cadres to its student movement and then to the party. In the post ‘77 period with the UNP coming to power in national politics the UNP led Samavadi Shishya Peramuna sought to challenge the JVP domination by using state power. In the 1980-81 period at Peradeniya University there were violent election clashes between Samavadi and Samajavadi student groups, which were re-enacted in other universities as well where the JVP had a stronghold. Later in the 1989-91 period the Minister of Higher Education in the UNP regime Shaul Hameed followed a policy of what has been termed ‘craven appeasement’ of the JVP led SSP which unleashed violence.

At Peradeniya University teachers have opposed ragging and the violent JVP student politics and in the 1980s have supported anti ragging and anti-violence moves taken by the university administrations. Such opposition to ragging and violent JVP student politics has not been uncommon among the academics in other Sri Lankan universities.

University academics who are themselves products of Sri Lankan universities tend to be affected by their involvement in ragging during their student days as either perpetrators or victims and therefore tend to hold views on ragging influenced by their own experience. One such view that prevails among some academics is that ragging creates a mind-set that is conducive to collective action of students and university academics that are recruited from among the ranks of such students. However, university academics as a collective cannot be said to condone ragging especially in its harsher forms or student violence.

In their efforts to counter ragging and violence carried out by JVP led student groups in the university, the governments in power have created pro-government and pro-administration student groups who continue to engage in ragging and violence. Under the Rajapaksa regime, it was reported that attempts by university academics to stop ragging and student violence were hampered by the pro-government student groups who get the backing of the political regime and university administrators. By now, the mantle of leadership of university student politics led by the Inter University Students Federation or the Anthare as it is popularly known has been passed on from the JVP to its breakaway group Frontline Socialist Party whose leadership is fighting shy of admitting the involvement of its student groups in the universities in using ragging to recruit cadres to the party fold, just like the JVP did previously.

One major factor contributing to the perpetuation of ragging in Sri Lankan universities is that there has been no demand for accountability on the action of students in terms of absence from class flouting the required levels of class attendance, undemocratic political acts, violence on fellow students in the form of ragging, and other forms of violence. Due to this absence of demand for accountability, students have learnt they could get away by violating rules as long as authorities pay only lip service to applying the rules and the political authorities turn a blind eye at the best and at worst, they themselves sponsor student groups within the universities for political gain.

( In writing this brief note, I have borrowed some material from the book The University System of Sri Lanka, Vision and Reality edited by Prof. K.M. De Silva, and Prof. G. H. Peiris, International Centre of Ethnic Studies in 1995. )

*The writer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Colombo.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    10

    Put Gota in charge of solving all this cruelty and sadism and it will cease overnight. Whatever you may think of him, that is the truth.

    • 7
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      Paul
      Are you referring to the man who started the WHITE VAN culture in Srilanka

      • 2
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        Proudman, the white van culture was started by the JR government in their attempts to crush the second JVP uprising in the Eighties.

        Of all our current politicians Gota is the only one who kept his promises. He was given two difficlut jobs to do and he completed both. I know that all our politicians are corrupt thugs, but at least he is a capable and efficient man, and that is a very rare commodity in this country.

        • 0
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          MR HAD A GOOD RAG AT LAW COLLEGE
          An invitation to the front of the cue as expected by politicos and a session of sweeping in his undergarments

    • 7
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      As the author has said, the Rajapakses had been overtly supportive of the ragging when the student groups were counter-acting the JVP inspired student group’s ragging. I cannot also go along with the author’s excuse of it being historical. Historically, criminals were impaled on stakes and exhibited to deter others but we don’t do it anymore. The universities in UK still enjoy ragging, but they are now a charity fund-raising exercise and receive everybody’s co-operation. There are many charities in Sri Lanka that need help and if only these unproductive ragging could be employed peacefully to their benefit, then the surrounding communities and the academics could begin respecting these students again.

    • 0
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      Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara

      RE:Ragging, Student Violence, & University Academics: A Brief Note

      “If Sri Lankan university academics turned a blind eye to ragging and student violence as they are accused of by some, the reasons for that could be complex”

      ” Due to this absence of demand for accountability, students have learnt they could get away by violating rules as long as authorities pay only lip service to applying the rules and the political authorities turn a blind eye at the best and at worst, they themselves sponsor student groups within the universities for political gain.”

      Alternative View: The Most Worthless College Majors. What do they study? Ragging Studies?

      Common Sense!

      Published on Apr 18, 2013
      Terrible College Major Choices : The Definitive List

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sOeLUCeDsA

  • 11
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    When under privileged/poorly brought up youth come to the campus, they quickly end up in the shadow of extreme political groups and low self esteem groups which provide them a sort of belonging, that same belonging gives them power for the first time and they use this as a tool to get a sick thrill by humiliating others, may be once in their life chance to abuse the privileged/beautiful! I believe jealousy, lack of dignity, hatred and narcissism main cause for this.

    I have seen they (girls and boys) abuse especially girls and say things they would not dream to tell their mothers and sisters, In fact they would disown them if they heard/saw their beloved’s behavior!

    If you are strong enough you can stand up to these maniacs, Nothing they can do to you! But it is not easy.

    Decent youths never engage in these practices and only way to stop this is send few of them to courts! Ragging aint fun if the raggee does not enjoy it. This has even spread to schools in rural areas.

    Get you naked and subject you to physical exercise and going to the girls hostel and verbally abuse freshers in common rooms are among the few things I noticed in Katubedda and Peradeniya!

    It is good to write down these so everybody should know what exactly happening!

    • 4
      1

      Yes, srinath.gunaratne, the ragging is truly horrendous; the normal law of the land ought to prevail even in universities. However, the reasons for the perpetrators having such perverted minds are complex, and I don’t think that we should rush in to “solve” everything in a ham-fisted way.

      The author, Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara, may be right in placing the blame for most of it on JVP recruitment policies, although I usually end up rejecting such theories. However, he has probably studied the manifestations of the problem during the past half century, while I rely mainly upon four years of personal experience.

      I entered Peradeniya University in November 1982 as an undergraduate who was fifteen years too old, and left at the end of 1986 after being a Temporary Assistant Lecturer for a year. In my experience, the JVP was both anti-ragging, and non-racist. I have commented on that long before now.

      • 3
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        I am not joking, This is why I encourage formation of brothels in Sri Lanka,
        Thanks to taboos and laws, preventing consensual sex, Most youth especially males are deprived of simple human rights. It just get vented in these violent actions. especially to female kind!

        The violence perpetrated by politicians also make people lose respect for law and order and encourage them to follow them! If you read the the MP Thewarapperuma’s interview in FT, how he justifies his behavior and boast that people encourage violence at the same time condemning his actions!

        The culture of political impunity brought by MR regime must also be blamed for this degradation of values!

        Our religious leaders do not grasp the changing world and change their establishment to help the current moral demands shaped by universal human rights!

        And finally Are we teaching our kids to do the right thing? Especially middle class educated.
        Do we teach them to lie?
        Curry favors by passing standard process for school admissions, Job applications.
        Lawyers colluding together with judges to deprive justice nad cheat citizens,
        Doctors charging exorbitant fees from citizens getting their free education from the country!
        Evading tax at every possibility!

        People build walls narrowing the roads and then blame each other for congestion!

        The individual corrupt actions have joined together and has created a shit storm of corruption in Sri Lanka. Dog eating dog culture is slowly destroying all of us!

        And we have Sinha le! may be this is the problem! Could have been better if had manussa le!

        Do w

        • 0
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          Dear srinath.gunaratne,

          “I am not joking, This is why I encourage formation of brothels in Sri Lanka,” Hmmmm! You’ve got a point there.

          I wonder what women’s libbers would say? I guess some of them could condemn us for MAKING the suggestion, but they may also welcome the suggestion since that would help another marginalised group (i.e. “sex workers”) to live with some dignity.

          “Progress” in these matters has been amazingly swift world-wide.

  • 4
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    It is my belief that politics, particularly, post 1970, have influenced, and even encouraged, violence in Universities in the form of ragging. Student leaders & participants, obviously suffering from some inferior complex, who condone this sadistic form of ‘ragging’, eventually end up as high ranking Govt. officials after graduation. So if this is the mentality of an average SL graduate, it is no wonder the current state of affairs in SL is caused by self serving, corrupt & inefficient bureaucrats, failing to serve the public who have paid for their education. Universities in SL have failed to instill integrity & Professionalism among graduates. The private sector does not always open doors for SL graduates because of this reason & also because some of the Degrees offered are not relevant to the dynamics of the modern world, which further escalates the grudge SL University students have on society.

    In contrast, there is no ragging in Universities of developed countries, perhaps, even in other less developed countries. In British Universities, the seniors are paid a small allowance by the University to volunteer as mentors for new undergraduates. On the first day at a British University, a new undergraduate will be welcomed by the seniors, shown around the campus & introduced to all the facilities provided by the University. They even organize welcome parties (‘Freshers’ week’). The student Union is not politically influenced and it’s objective is the welfare of students. They run bars, cafes & book stores on a non profit basis. In fact, University days are considered the best time in the life of a graduate.

    Universities in developed countries are not free any more. British students can apply for a Govt. loan which will be repaid over a period only after the student starts earning over £17k annually & less privileged students can apply for a grant which needs no repayment. Maybe SL should also consider introducing University fees because anything free is not appreciated. This would attract students who are serious about higher education, & with professionals as lecturers, will turnout a better class of graduates who can contribute effectively to the progress of the country. However, I doubt very much if any Govt. will have the guts to introduce fees. It was unpopular when the Tory Govt. introduced fees a few years ago in UK but they stood by their policy & even currently, the present UK Govt. has not bowed down to the objections of junior doctors of the new work contract that has been introduced, even though the British Medical Association (the equivalent to the GMOA) is in support of junior doctors. Obviously, these politicians are better educated & rational but have much less privileges enjoyed by SL politicians.

    We already have uneducated yobs in politics but it appears Govt. institutions are run by educated yobs who support them, and so the vicious cycle continues.

  • 0
    4

    Some of the things they do come from the Hindu Sangam Kumbh Mela culture.

  • 3
    0

    So what does this author’s stand as a former JVPer.

    Does JVP promote ragging rich students or something else ?

    Ragging is completely jealousy, inferiority complex and lack of self respect to oneself among students.

  • 0
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    The author, despite giving credit to some historians, got the history wrong. JVP DID NOT got the university students’ council power in the whole of the 1970s.

    When the universities were reopened after being transferred to prison camps after ’71 Communist Party got the power (with leaders like SB in Vidyodaya). Then an Independent student movement swept to the power in mid 70s defeating CP, starting from Vidyodaya (which incidentally launched a quite effective anti-ragging campaign) until that movements charismatic leaders quit politics because the Dharmasekara-Cooray cabal highjacked that movement and subsequently JVP swept to the power starting late 70s.

    When so-called “professors” write they should do there research first otherwise it tells the quality of SL academy!

    • 2
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      When I say that “The JVP led Samajavadi Shishya Peramuna (SSP) dominated university student politics since 1970s ..” I am referring to the general trend compared to the previous phase in which student unions loyal to the Old Left dominated universities. By 1971 Vidyodaya was a JVP stronghold and after the insurrection the JVP would have been inactive there for sometime. I do not deny that other student unions would have had some influence in some universities at times during the post 1971 period.

      To my knowledge, G.I.D. Dharmasekera and Reginald Cooray left the Communist Party to join the JVP and was active in the JVP in the late 196os. Later, Dhramasekera group itself broke away from the JVP to form an independent group and students loyal to them managed to come to power for a couple of years in student union at Vidyalankara University by 1977-78 defeating the JVP. But such happenings, I think, do not deny my general point regarding the JVP dominance in an overall sense, of university student politics in Sri Lanka since 1970s.

      Ajith Samaranayake to whose article titled “University killings and five-star gun fights” Uvindu Kurukulasuriya has today referred to in a comment on the facebook has this to say about the JVP dominance in the universities, in the post-Old Left period.

      ” The rise of the JVP within the universities was the result of the old Left (in the form of the LSSP and CP) being discredited among the young because of their collaboration with the SLFP in a coalition government. Other groups such as the Independent Students’ Union (whose leader Daya Pathirana was also brutally killed presumably by the JVP), the Vikalpa group of Dayan Jayatilleke and the Jathika Chinthanaya group of Dr. Nalin de Silva sought to fill this vacuum from opposite directions but nobody has been able to challenge the writ of the JVP which controls the Inter-University Students’ Federation and most of the Student Councils in the universities which are burgeoning more and more as more and more expectations grow.”

      When Ajith Ajith Samaranayake referred to the “The rise of the JVP within the universities” he was obviously thinking about the period leading to the 1971 insurrection. I do not think that the Old Left ever fully regained their dominance in the universities since then. Daya Pathirana was killed in 1986.

  • 3
    0

    Anyone involved in ragging should be expelled from the university immediately and his place should be given to someone else. Where there is a (political) will there is always a way.

  • 3
    1

    Why not talk about more deeper problems in public sector Universities rather than useless ragging issue:In order to be a real international professor your PhD from world top 100 University, minimum 20 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals, 10 text books with international publishers and three countries have to appoint you as a Visiting professor. But all these Sri Lankan Professors are jokers and more than 40% University Lecturers are relatives to each others and they give degrees to each other. MY3 clean University system and sack fake professors. Some Dept are family trees. Grandfather Emeritus and all others are relatives, henchmen, lovers, pimps, etc. We well know how they recruits and promoted in University Mafia. First find a person and then advertise according to his/her requirement and send aboard for their friends’ places for PhDs. Go beyond Sri Lankan airport and see International job market. Even in Middle East job market, without PhD from accredited Western University you cannot become even Assistant Lecturer. But in Sri Lanka more than 80% professors do not have PhD. The countries they (University teachers) go to do higher studies, no person is going to studies: China,Thailand, Malaysia and India.Develop comprehensive web sites for each University and say to show Publications with indexing place to public by each academics (not joke conference papers) and degrees where (Country and the University and international ranking of that University) they got their PHD. Today the most important thing is your PhD must come from accredited, ranking (at least 100) best University of the world to recognized your University basic products. Now see academic sections in Sri Lankan local Universities are rotten to death. Somebody has to clean it.

    • 2
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      Yes very true. Without cleaning Public Universities from fake professors you can not develop this nation. See now religious University degrees also given Senior Lecturer positions.

    • 0
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      [Edited out]

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

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