30 October, 2020

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The Pathology Of Ragging 

By Upatissa  Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Several recent letters in the Opinion columns of your paper have dealt with “ragging“ at our Institutes of higher learning, including, of all betrayals, – the Bhikkhu University. That this perverse practice has caused distress, permanent injury and even death of some sensitive students due to so-called “ragging” is unacceptable. That this vulgarity is meant to “welcome” Freshers is utter hogwash or bullshit. That a huge investment in the Universities, stringent filtering of aspirants and the anguish of parents who have sacrificed much, to see their loved ones subjected to humiliation and perversity in order to satisfy the inferiority complexes of some brutes, is pitiable. That the Bhikkhu University and Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara – hallowed symbols of the Dhamma, were “elevated” to destruction by unthinking modernists, is deplorable. The inaction of the Staff is simply appalling. The ‘tradition’ of excluding the Police from entering University Campuses, unless invited to do so by the authorities, must be instantly removed. The Law of the land is supreme. In this context, the recent arrest of a group that has “rented” a private house, for the release of the frustrations of a few undeserving youth, is welcome.

When the Peradeniya campus was being built, the founders planned it on the lines of a modernized version of the hallowed “Oxfam” model. One feature was to allocate single rooms to entrants. This has proved to be unaffordable as numbers increased. It was simply wonderful that our Peradeniya Campus was chosen as one of the most scenic of World Universities. The well-planned location of flowering trees was one important criterion.  

If only our youth possessed, more than a basic knowledge of English, they would appreciate the spirit that should guide the destinies of University products. A few random jottings illustrating what Universities should mean, are presented. It is left to readers  to figure out this message, and judge whether or not, there are better ways to capture the spirit that our institutions of higher learning should represent, far more than the vulgarity and perversity of so-called “raggings”. 

1. A young man of impressive bearing, shares a railway compartment, with an elderly lady. Our man engaged her with a polite and polished conversation, as befits a man of culture and breeding. As the train approaches a station, the gentleman dons his overcoat and gathers his stuff, set to alight at the next station. The captivated lady asks, “Are you at Cambridge by any chance?” Says the man “No madam, I am there on purpose.”

2. A wealthy American decides that he must have a lawn for his home along the lines of the hallowed precincts of Oxford. He gathered together his Head Gardener and his team. They arrive at one of the Colleges and are shown around by the College Gardener, who details all the steps – choice of position, types of grass to be used, fertilizer and irrigation, mowing, pest control and so on. The American team meticulously takes notes of all this. As the American millionaire went to offer his profuse thanks to the host for his refreshing candour and co-operation, The Gardener says “Arhrh, ! I forgot one thing. Having prepared your lawn as detailed and noted by your team, it is necessary that a hundred men of learning should walk across it for a hundred years.” (it being the tradition that only Fellows of a College are permitted to tread on the grass when walking across the lawn) .

3. An obviously American tourist, tired to near exhaustion, squeezes, himself into a crowded compartment. All seats are taken, one being occupied by a dog of a fashionable miniature breed sitting beside an equally fashionable lady. The man approaches the woman and politely asks whether she would mind, if her pet would leave the seat for him, and he would keep the pooch on his lap. “Definitely not” she snaps, “this doggie has paid for his ticket and will stay where he is” The tired man returns to his overhead strap. He waits in hope for the next stop – still no freed seat. He limps back to his strap. This is repeated at the next stop too. Finally, as a truly tired man would do, he walked up to the seat, flung the dog out of the window and planted himself on the now freed seat. A swarthy old gent, looks up from his newspaper to remark “I cannot understand the Americans. You go to their country, and find that they are driving their cars on the wrong side of the road. You go to one of their “Gas Stations” to find that they price petrol not in gallons but in Litres, and finally we get this miserable guy, who comes a long way, only to fling out the wrong Bitch!”

4. The customary Cambridge-Oxford debate was on. The speaker from Cambridge makes a devastatingly clever remark to which his opposite number counters “It is a pity that my friend was at not at my place, where he would certainly have won a half-blue for being a wit” to which the member across witheringly responds, “It is an even greater pity that my friend is not at my University. If he were, he sure would have got a full–blue for being a half-wit”. 

It is plain to see the regular protest rallies – sometimes pertinent to University matters, but often not – and which are merely serving to foment agendas led by political interests.

It was recently reported that more than 300,000 students are sitting the five-year Scholarship Examination. “Policymakers” should wake up to the implications of this Statistic for the near future. The poor hopefuls, on whom the State invests hugely, and the parents sacrifice much for their child’s education are all in for abject disaster. But does anyone care? No, because we have far more important things to worry about – new Constitutions, or 20th Amendment, voting methods, Car Permits, preserving our Cultural Heritage and so many more – including COVID. We have implemented a “Sinhala Only and Tamil also” Policy which I reckon is one of the most idiotic, criminal, selfish and unpardonable crimes that our “Great Patriots” inflicted upon us. The great era of the “Common man” hoax of 1956. Of course, while sacrificing their own children to suffer the torment of learning English (the Language of our Pariah Colonizers), thus denying them their precious patrimony. This cuts them off from even seeking solace as ill-paid slaves in more sensible nations.

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  • 4
    5

    What a witty sermon!

    • 8
      0

      All these example are of dignified people. IN SL ragging/hazing at the time it started would have been as a leveler. Now it has taken a vindictive purpose. the main issues are as below.
      (i.) Free education – no pressure to pay and educate oneself – if no cost then students put no value and loaf around.
      (ii) Z score – this was a leveler at that time but now its a divisor = we need to move back to meritocrasy as all district infrastructure has improved. “A” Colombo should not equal a “C” in Nuwara Eliya. you can give some quota to a district but after that it should be on merit.
      (iii) The students think once they get through Uni entrance – all is done. 4 years to loaf and then a guaranteed GOSL job. GOSL is not responsible to provide job, but politicians have built up this presumption. No other country gives like that.
      (iv) Arts stream degrees were the staple in 1940-1970 but have low relevance in current job skill set. Still SL uni’s are stuck with non-value adding courses.
      (v) Some students will do another course CIMA/Computer/AAT while coming to uni, for which the other students are not willing to accept. The Gap between students wealth manifests as ragging with outstation students trying to take their frustration out of ragging.

      • 3
        0

        Pathology of ragging is the mirror image of the society. My days, my batchas left missing. I left the hostels leaving behind my own paraphernalia. I dont know yet what happened to my Mahapola scholarship savings.

        No matter even high criminals would continue their crimes, people in this country would not care much.

        Recently held elections and the outcomes proved it if anyone would have some sanity: That should be clear to even 10 year olds.

    • 1
      5

      The ‘thumbs Down’ (two at the moment) show that you two are half-wits!

  • 14
    0

    The writer apparently setting out to castigate ragging, suddenly decides to do his own bit of ragging on the readers. He veers off and makes the readers listen to some of his yarns. Maybe he’s suggesting this is how civilized ragging should be: verbal dueling based on refined humour and wit. Anyway the yarns are quite funny and his narration hits the spot. One cannot agree more with his outright condemnation of the type of ragging taking place in Sri Lankan universities. The writer doesn’t mince his words.
    \
    On an earlier occasion in response to “Justice Marsoof’s Report On Ragging: Ten-Point Summary”
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/justice-marsoofs-report-on-ragging-ten-point-summary/
    I wrote:
    \
    When university education was launched in Sri Lanka, it was based on the model of British universities. Along came the practice of ragging, a sort of initiation ritual for new students. Over there, known as hazing, it did involve the humiliation and degrading of freshers, but it didn’t get too physical and lasted only for a few weeks at the beginning of a new academic year. But when it was transplanted here, it took a deadly turn because our society was very different – extremely hierarchical and oppressive. ………………………………………………..[Contd]

  • 9
    0

    [Contd. from above]
    \
    Sharp differences in social status, class, and life-style, and the huge urban-rural divide made ragging much more cruel and damaging in Sri Lanka. Further, growing up in a tradition-bound culture that was sexually repressive meant the students had not developed healthy ways of dealing with their sexuality when they entered the university. But they now found themselves in a situation where they were completely free to do whatever they wanted, and a helpless and panic-stricken batch of freshers were available for brutal exploitation in the name of ragging. Even worse, here the new students have to suffer through their entire first year. The situation at present is even much more dire with the intrusion of politics, drugs, pornography, and the social media. The concept of personal boundaries is something alien to these sadistic seniors.

    • 4
      0

      Well said Ajay. Yet, where is the normal humanity in it all, in spite of the social and cultural divides, repressed sexuality, and modern-day vices? Other suffering countries are hardly like this. Something is terribly weird with our Lankan mindset (the majority mindset)…..haven’t we seen how our our Lankans behave all over the place? If it is not overt perverseness, it is an underhand shady sneaky one. For every one outstanding and dignified Buddhistic Lankan, there are a 10 other bunch of giddy-goats and squeaky rats running around. (ayiooo…may of us have the genes I think). We need to genetically modify.

    • 1
      0

      Dear Ajay,
      .
      I, too, made many comments on the “Justice Marsoof article” that you have linked us to.
      .
      This is an excerpt from one of them:
      .
      “I know that these recommendations sound unnoteworthy, but the fact is that this problem is devilishly complicated. The sociological reasons are real.
      .
      I find that this Justice Marsoof is pretty distinguished.”

  • 9
    0

    witty writing!
    ————
    No, because we have far more important things to worry about – new Constitutions, or 20th Amendment, voting methods, Car Permits, preserving our Cultural Heritage and so many more – including COVID. We have implemented a “Sinhala Only and Tamil also” Policy
    ————–
    who cares about economy , youth unemployment, and Chinese take over of the country. !!

  • 4
    3

    Ragging should be banned. It has become a means for frustrated young people, with anger issues, to take it out of helpless new comers, who are anxious yet eager to fit into their new environment, to educate themselves. It is basically bullying, and discrimination. It is dehumanizing, and mean. How many young people have been terrified, depressed, and have even taken their lives, after these experiences?

    It it time our youth realized that this primitive custom is immature, and realized that human beings need to be treated with dignity and respect.

  • 2
    7

    Upatissa Pethiyagoda need not pay any attention to the distasteful comments he has received. It is not everyone who has the ability to appreciate the musings his anecdotes provide.

  • 5
    0

    Well said Ajay. Yet, where is the normal humanity in it all, in spite of the social and cultural divides, repressed sexuality, and modern-day vices? Other suffering countries are hardly like this. Something is terribly weird with our Lankan mindset (the majority mindset)…..haven’t we seen how our our Lankans behave all over the place? If it is not overt perverseness, it is an underhand shady sneaky subsistence. For every one outstanding and dignified Buddhistic Lankan, there are a 10 other bunch of giddy-goats and squeaky rats running around. (ayiooo…may of us have the genes I think). We need to genetically modify.

  • 11
    0

    “When the Peradeniya campus was being built, the founders planned it on the lines of a modernized version of the hallowed “Oxfam” model.”
    That is a gem!
    More remarkably, the article has little to do with its title.
    *
    What purpose on earth are the four anecdotes meant to serve?
    “You go to their country, and find that they are driving their cars on the wrong side of the road. You go to one of their “Gas Stations” to find that they price petrol not in gallons but in Litres”
    Do they price things in litres in the US? In fact they use the US gallon which is 17% less than the imperial gallon. So one can complain about being shortchanged, certainly not using metric units .
    *
    BTW, the narrative talks of a dog flung out of the window and how did it become a bitch?

    • 4
      0

      I thought that Udurawana was long gone. It seems I was wrong.

      • 2
        0

        Like Andare, he is eternal and omnipresent

    • 0
      3

      Yes, SJ,
      .
      Oxfam
      was the first thing that struck me two days ago, and many aspects of the weird pathology of Pethiyagoda struck me, but I just didn’t get down to commenting. Why? Depression.
      .
      Just now I have searched the web and discovered that Pethiyagoda had been educated at Trinity, obtained a First Class in Botany, and been an ambassador to some country.
      .
      The witty article seems to say that Peradeniya should be only for the likes of him. How did Nathan manage to make those three dumb comment? Plebs, like us, should not sight the place.
      .
      No wonder that ragging (which I abhor) thrives. This man, and Ashan just don’t get it – and no wonder when I write vaguely like this. SAM has made some effort to analyse. But then Ajay and Rajash, and even dear RTF, have shown up the limitations of Pethiyagoda.
      .
      Let me tell you how some of us never got ragged – while others with me imagined that they did!

      • 0
        4

        Dear Sinhala_Man,
        I don’t mind being dumb when it comes to appreciation of good prose!
        I could see that Upatissa Pethiyagoda was using the Title as an excuse to share those anecdotes with us. At least, that’s how I saw it.
        I enjoyed those yarns. There was depth in them.
        I am not going to be bitchy over the gender of the poodle!

        • 0
          1

          Thanks, dear Nathan. I appreciate your comment, but don’t approve!
          .
          I’m afraid that I don’t perceive much depth! In saying these things, I’m trying to avoid all malice, but really, given our social context, I think that using “witty prose” to humiliate is not nice, but I’m sure that both Dr Pethiyagoda and I would enjoy a chat if we met.
          .
          My response has just “growed and growed”. I’ll put it at the bottom of the page.

          • 0
            2

            Dear Sinhala_Man,
            ‘… Having prepared your lawn, … it is necessary that a hundred men of learning should walk across it for a hundred years’.
            If you don’t see depth in it, it is because we are cut of different cloth.

    • 3
      1

      SJ,

      You are right about the U.S. still using the gallon. It is Canada that uses the liter (spelled litre in UK and Canada) to price gas.

      But I think what the author is driving at is that in place of ragging, which often descends into sadistic torture, there can be some humor and teasing.

      As for the dog’s gender, it doesn’t matter as long as the joke is well understood, even though some ladies may find it offensive.

  • 1
    2

    Some of my confusion has emanated from the fact that there are two Pethiyagodas writing here (plus one other whom I had met).
    .
    I’m sure that Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda is a decent and upright man, but his writing on ragging resembles what emeritus Dental Professor ANI Ekananyake regularly regales us with. Totally right-wing reactions with no effort to comprehend underlying reasons.
    .
    Of course, it is true that ragging for some (usually quite innocent victims) is so depraved that there can be no solution but for the full weight of the Law to be applied to the perpetrators. However, that is not going to be a permanent cure.
    .
    And there is Professor Lasantha Pethiyagoda. He writes very down-to-earth intelligent articles, and makes some of the most welcome and consistent CT comments on a range of subjects.
    .
    Plus there was Nanda Wanasundera (nee Pethiyagoda), who used to write brilliantly as “Nan”. I think that she had always been an accomplished writer, just completing a degree externally, when I started on my GAQ at Aquinas about 1978.
    .
    The surname (Kandyan) is rare, thus my request that we be told how they are related.

  • 1
    1

    Dear Nathan,
    .
    Countless manifestations of ragging are horrible. I maintain my stance that to regale a “serious” website with such frivolous anecdotes is unpardonable. They would be in place in an after dinner speech to the Trinity OBA – not here, when we are faced with the issues that Rajash mentions. This is akin to Nero fiddling while watching Rome burning.
    .
    In the grim situation that we have today, credibility is important, and Rajash, you will know that you had posted a comment here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/arumuga-navalar-and-heritage-history-critiqued/
    .
    It says 6 comments – but there are only 4 now. No explanation for the disappearance of some comments including yours. Some “foolish” comments that I make CT seems to quietly drop without acknowledging their submission. I’m saved the humiliation of having others being told that what I’ve said is asinine. In your comment, you had faulted Rajan Hoole for writing the Navalar book which has been authored (foolishly, I think) by his brother, Jeevan – who’s done such good work in the Election Commission.
    .
    I wouldn’t have been laughing at you, Rajash. I’d have been correcting what amounts to the sort of serious error which could have tragic consequences.

  • 0
    1

    PART TWO
    .
    Good prose
    is of all sorts. Some of it is excruciating reading – some descriptions of ragging – or why not I give you this month’s article by a son of the murdered Lasantha Wickrematunga?
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-blood-on-our-hands-how-you-can-go-vegan-to-help-the-voiceless-save-the-planet-in-the-process/

    .
    If it is light-hearted banter that you want, go to what Oscar Wilde wrote before his imprisonment:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoOjUMkRuQM
    .
    You have the entire play there; I don’t know whether that is the version that I saw many years ago. Or sample Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” This is the genre known as the Comedy of Manners. It’s quite popular with the “Lionel Wendt crowd”. Although I appreciate the slick acting and would catch all the “hilarious” jokes, I’d consider a surfeit of it to be irresponsible.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WvqbCi9TcY
    .
    Why not I challenge you? I have worked hard at English Literature and I know quite a bit. However, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit any place outside of Asia. If you knew all the details, you’d consider it tragic.
    .
    I know that if you went to England, and had the means, of all the snob experiences you could savour, this would top the list.
    .
    https://www.glyndebourne.com/

  • 0
    1

    PART THREE
    .
    With the arrival of the Internet
    , and not much else going in the Uva Province, I’ve been learning about opera. Much of it is frivolous in terms of content, and there’s the problem of language. When I select an opera sung in Italian or in German, I find that “foreign’ as it all is, I can enjoy some of it if dubbed in English. I have downloaded some – for my grand-daughters to savour some day – “fat hopes” they say.
    .
    Why wield only the English “kaduwa”. What if I challenge Dr Pethiyagoda to respond to this (probably quite good) version of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”? It’s not something that he will find impossible – in fact, I hope he (and you, Nathan) will start enjoying it. Obviously, I haven’t seen it. Will I? I just don’t know, but you can be quite sure that I will not inflict it on some of the yokels whom I have taught in a Maha Vidyalaya.
    .
    Using culture to humiliate others is nasty. I’m saying all this only to show that “relativity” is what ragging is about. I have no miracle solution to offer.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u92IMZJdH4g

  • 0
    1

    PART FOUR
    .
    Wit
    can be put to serious uses. Try this:
    .
    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1080/1080-h/1080-h.htm
    .
    Truly great writing, not too long, but being the prose of 300 years ago, and not catching all the allusions, you may find the going tough. The satire here is so sophisticated that you may not catch the point of the writing. We have a few days. Why not Dr Pethiyagoda and Nathan read it and get back with your observations. That would amount to an exciting learning experience.
    .
    It is not easy for me to write these things. I had planned to write seriously about ragging, but I wonder if it’s going to be worth the effort.

    • 3
      1

      My stand on ragging was given on Sep 2, 2020, under the Report on Ragging: Ten-Point Summary.
      .
      Ragging is done by Seniors. Not every senior looks forward to ragging the freshers. What is that that separates these seniors.
      The remedy must be built on the answer to that.
      .
      As I have said above, I could see that Upatissa Pethiyagoda was using the Title as an excuse to share those anecdotes with us.
      I see this article as a relief from the political punditry I am fed daily.
      .
      We don’t have to see eye to eye on every thing.

  • 0
    0

    Nathan, PART ONE
    .
    Your comment dated the 19th brings relief
    . Looked also at what you said on Sep 2, 2020. Five have liked, none has disliked. Good for you! However, you say, “a couple of months ago. I gave a solution.” After that, “What separates . . . these seniors? The remedy must be built on the answer to that.” Finally, “Take the hint from there.”
    .
    I speak sincerely, Nathan. I can’t work out a solution from what you’ve said – nor can anybody else, obviously, because the ragging continues, seemingly getting ever worse. Incidentally, somebody is “disliking” all my comments! Neither you, nor Upatissa! I think that I know who, and why! Not Dr Wanasinghe whom I exposed here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-enliven-economic-revival/
    .
    He’s probably given up; thought he could flatter me, but I just don’t tolerate lying! I hope that those who have read upto this, actually click the link and look at how blatantly untruths are told.
    .
    Mistakes? Everybody makes them. “Oxfam” is so obvious that it doesn’t have to be dwelt on – but really, it is the most hilarious take away from the article. But it’s not a moral lapse!

    • 0
      0

      Sinhala_Man,
      On July 18, 2020 under Title A Call To Eliminate Ragging In Our Universities of July 16, I had said:
      Ragging has, over the years, lost its purpose. That has something to do with the quality of the students, Seniors/Freshmen, we get nowadays.
      Ragging, in the (G)olden days was meant to be a quick familiarization.
      .
      I am sure that many of the University Dons who have co-authored this would have some nostalgic memories of their own freshman years.
      What needs to be arrested is the vile conduct of the few brutes. That could be stopped (not in a hurry, now that the disease has spread to the bones) by the lecturers themselves, educating their wards, during the months prior to the arrival of the fresh batches.
      University students, after all, are intelligent enough to see the rationale behind that plea.

  • 0
    0

    Nathan, PART TWO
    .
    Au contraire,
    I’ve come up with a number of comments, getting specific in some, but nobody has bothered even to dislike! What I write is not read, so why write? I know the reason. I suggest far too much reading/listening.
    .
    Prof. Kumar David writes brilliantly. When he wrote this,
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/wiggy-may-outwit-gr-mr-tna-tamil-buddhism-oldness-of-sinhala-lingo-are-beside-the-point/
    .
    197 comments. However, in response to this current article,
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/finance-capital-after-covid-19/

    Only 2 comments – both by me, not pretending to understand Economics. He has told me that he really labours over those, and, in his case, he has to carefully proof-read, because he makes typos. The late Izzeth Hussain told me that he never made typos.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/izeth-hussain-passes-away/
    .
    Incidentally, I have listened to the first hour (of three) of the Figaro link that I’ve provided; it’s a dress rehearsal. Public performance cancelled because of COVID. It’s in Italian. Likely that a man with Dr Pethiyagoda’s c.v. (I checked a couple of days ago) has seen a live performance in Europe or America. If so, he’d be able to follow. But for others I’d suggest this:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IugFH6PxeMQ
    .
    Glyndebourne, 1973 with Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess. It has English subtitles.

  • 0
    0

    Thanks, Nathan for your response on the last day that comments are allowed.
    .
    You have very sensibly stuck to the subject of ragging. That’s how it should be, although I have launched on a digression – which you may not have even made an attempt to follow.
    .
    It would have been nice to have had you entering this discussion. Some authors do succeed in turning their responses into interesting discussions.
    .
    Let me provide a link to the other article by Upatissa:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/some-thoughts-on-covid-19-2/

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