Diyagama campus suicide : Justice for Shanilka demanded | Sunday Observer

Diyagama campus suicide : Justice for Shanilka demanded

7 April, 2019
Nandawathie bids farewell to her only son.
Nandawathie bids farewell to her only son.

On Sunday, March 31, Shanilka Dilshan Wijesinghe’s mother stepped out from the rear entrance of their home, mindful that her son was not to be seen around. She was worried because her son was not quite himself during the past few days. The previous day he had complained that life at campus was hell and that he loathed returning to it.

He was being subject to brutal ragging by a group of seniors for the past so many days. More than the physical abuse, he told his mother, he could not stand the mental torture. Shanilka spoke so much of the agony he had to suffer at the campus that the parents referred him to a mental health clinic at the Kurunegala teaching hospital. He paid several visits to the clinic and during the last one the mental health practitioner suggested that he should quit the institute.

His mother’s words to him were, “Son can’t you drop the campus idea and do something else?,” after he explained to the doctor the mental agony he had gone through at the hands of several seniors. But he was not ready to give up his dreams or the opportunity he got with much difficulty, therefore, the doctor promised to issue a medical certificate explaining his condition to the campus administration.

On the fateful day the mother sensed that things were not quite right, she called out to him again, when her eyes caught sight of two rubber slippers under a nearby tree. She knew the slippers belonged to her son. She could not believe her eyes for what she saw, making her heart stop momentarily. Hanging from a branch of the nearby tree was her son whom she took such trouble to bring up into the worthy person that he had become.

Studying Engineering at Moratuwa University had been Shanilka’s dream. But when his GCE A/L results fell short of his expectations, he settled down with a placement at the Jaffna University to do a B.Sc degree in May 2018. He was briefly studying there when he had a chance to join the Diyagama campus of the Moratuwa university (National Diploma in Technology), with the results of his second try to follow a course in the engineering field, something he had always been yearning for. He had joined the campus on January 15.

The boy had to face ragging at Jaffna University too, but he told his mother it was nothing compared to what he was going through at Diyagama. “If they broke my legs and arms I could have handled it but what they are doing to my mind is unbearable,” he told the mother one day. He had returned home a month after claiming the campus had been closed due to ragging.

Nandawathie Warnasuriya, the mother, a midwife attached to the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) office, Polpithigama said her son had been beaten and threatened to reveal the names of the three other students who joined Diyagama campus from the Jaffna university. He had refused to do so, thinking that they too might be subject to torture. Once his raggers had kept him huddled under a bed for many hours disregarding his pleas to go to the toilet to urinate. On another occasion he was taken from room to room in the middle of the night forcing him to name the others who had studied at the Jaffna University.

The raggers learnt that he had a brief stint at the Jaffna University when they found his former university identity card in his backpack, while they were searching the bag as part of a ragging ritual.

Shanilka had his next appointment with his doctor at the Kurunegala hospital the day after, but it seems that he suddenly decided to put an end to all the pain in his head. The parents said he came home after the Diyagama campus was closed due to violent ragging. The campus administration reportedly declared the premises out of bounds to students and suspended academic activities until things settled down.

Acting Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Prof. P.S.M.Gunaratne said the boy had not named the perpetrators and unfortunately with the little information in his letter, it would be difficult to initiate any action against the undergraduates who ragged him. Nevertheless, his three page long suicide note clearly pointed at violent ragging in the Diyagama campus as the cause for his suicide. The note was found in his shirt pocket after his death.

“The police can initiate an investigation and we will fully cooperate with their probe,” Prof. Gunaratne told the Sunday Observer. According to newspaper accounts, the incident had taken place outside the campus premises, he said and added that there was no formal complaint by his parents or the student on the ragging incident claimed to have taken place in January.

It is common knowledge that, given the situation in the campus and the grave consequences most cases of violent ragging in higher education institutes, they go unreported. There are allegations that in some cases the university administration chooses not to know, in their want to maintain a good rapport with the student groups. The UGC Acting Chairman also refuted reports in the media that the university is closed for academic activities due to ragging.

OIC, Kumbukgete Police Station, Jayantha Gamage said the police will treat the case as a suicide. When the incident was reported to the police they took action to perform an autopsy to ascertain the cause of death and get an inquest done. “We can do nothing more about his unfortunate death,” he said adding that the boy’s relatives have not asked for an inquiry into his death.

“How can they wash their hands like that?,” a university student who did not wish to be named demanded. “There has to be an inquiry to find the perpetrators who instilled such fright and hopelessness into Shanilka, to take his life.

His suicide letter proves why he did it and the law enforcement bodies and the administration of the campus must find out who was responsible,” he said.

Prof.Gunaratne said he informed the heads of the Diyagama campus to be vigilant of the ragging incidents involving their students and that there is very little that they can do beyond that.

The father of the boy-Wijesinghe, who is currently self employed, seemed to be the most moved by his son’s sudden death. Standing beside his daughter who is currently preparing for her GCE Advance Level in August this year, he said he had already lost his only son and with him half of his world.

Pausing for breath at the end of every word Wijesinghe said, “My son is no more but don’t ever let this happen to any other innocent child like mine, that is my plea to those responsible.”

For the vast majority of the country’s children it’s a dream to have a university education, due to its highly competitive nature, he said.”If this is the ending for those who finally gain entry with much difficulty, what’s the use ?,” he questioned.

“I know the President wants to save the children from drugs, I hope that ragging at universities too will come to his attention, it is as serious as drugs,” he said.

Without the will on the part of the authorities concerned including the police and the university administration, there is very little hope that Shanilka will be served justice, other than his name being added to the many victims of brutal ragging in higher education institutions in Sri Lanka.

Pix by Ananda Wijetilake, Mawathagama Special Corr.