The Minister of Higher Education has taken on the student leadership. He has taken students to Courts, suspended student unions at Peradeniya, claimed that Lecturers are inciting students and that Police posts are needed in the Universities. An element of frustration has crept into his attempt to run the Universities as the pre-University military based training which was expected to reduce ragging has not had the desired outcome.
The rag which is organized and controlled by the JVP through its student leadership involves 2-3 months of harassment of students both at the Faculty and at the halls of residence. Having learned in the ’80s how easy it was to control populations, the JVP has used the ‘candidates lists’ procedure of the UNP University Act together with their slogan of ‘Eka matha’ to ensure no contest in student elections.
While the list at Faculty level has very few JVP nominees, it is they who are nominated to the University Student Council and from them the JVP leadership appoints the Inter University Student Federation and its co-ordinator. The rag serves to humiliate the student and destroy any independent thinking which may lead to a challenge to the student leadership. Since halls are much cheaper than outside and living in the hall requires submitting to the rag, few students are prepared to confront the thuggery of the rag organizers or report ragging or raggers to the authorities. Furthermore Vice Chancellors whose survival depends on their Universities not being closed by student agitation are afraid to deal sternly with ragging or report incidents to the police.
While we should not tolerate the rag, getting rid of the rag is easier said than done. Banning student unions is no answer at all. It will only increase solidarity and support for the present leadership and may if followed by repression make the student movement go underground and lead to a repetition of the events of the late ’80s.
The student leadership claims perhaps with some justification that the policy of confronting students is aimed at ensuring a smooth passage and implementation of the Minister’s bill to promote private Universities. The repression of students and their Unions, the warning of University lecturers against agitating with the students against private universities and greater involvement of Police and Army in student control can be construed as steps in this process. While private University education has a role to play, the double-dealing, lack of transparency and dishonesty of the mudalalis running the Malabe medical college with the apparent patronage of government does not augur well for the future of such education in the country. Sri Lanka still spends the smallest proportion of its GDP on education in the region and the government cannot expect to obtain popular support for establishing private Universities until it shows the people that it is prepared to invest much more on University education and find places for most of the students qualifying to enter the University system.
Article is provided by the Team Anik Pituwa
*Vijaya Kumar is senior Professor of chemistry at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. He also a senior member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party Left Tendency.