‘Crushing the villain’ | Sunday Observer
Say no to ragging

‘Crushing the villain’

30 October, 2022

Gaining admission to a State University in Sri Lanka is not easy by any means. The Advanced Level examination is very competitive and out of about 100,000 who qualify for university admission, only around 30,000 actually enter the universities every year. It is thus a rare privilege.

Any student who gains entry to a National University (there are 17 of them now, with several more in the planning stage) goes in through those gates with lots of expectations for a brighter future after finishing their university education. They have every right to expect a warm welcome from the seniors, who have gone through those same gates many years earlier.

Instead, they are often “greeted” with a brutal “rite of passage” called ragging, whereby the seniors harass the freshers physically and mentally. This can sometimes extend to sexual harassment as well. This is a phenomenon rarely witnessed in countries other than Sri Lanka and India, though bullying in schools is more common in many other countries.

Adverse effect

Ragging can have adverse effect on the mental health of students and some of them leave the universities or even take their own lives, unable to bear the physical and mental pain. According to a survey carried out by State Universities countrywide, 9,834 undergraduates had given up their studies during the past 15 years due to brutal ragging by seniors.

The survey also found that nearly 9,900 female undergraduates had been subjected to sexual harassment by their seniors. It has also been found that most parents and guardians have pulled out their children from State Universities and admitted them to private universities and higher education institutions since ragging is not permitted or tolerated at such places. This is one more reason why the country needs more private universities, though that is a topic for a separate article.

The high rate of student exits from State universities due to ragging should be viewed with utmost seriousness by the education authorities since this could lead to a serious dent in the higher education system not to mention the very feasibility of free education initiated by the late C.W.W. Kannangara.

There is and had been a lot of talk about eradicating the menace of ragging from our universities, technical and vocational colleges and even teacher training colleges and tough promises by successive Education Ministers, but incidents of ragging keep cropping up from time to time frustrating all efforts to rein in the problem. There is, in fact, an anti-ragging law, though this seems to be rarely implemented, if ever.

Drastic punishments

Encouragingly though, some university dons have spoken openly against ragging and called for drastic punishments against the perpetrators in a clear departure from the past where the Vice Chancellors looked the other way while ragging continued unabated.

The authorities should take the cue from this encouraging development and go all out to halt not only the menace of ragging but also the decline of universities which have become hotbeds of violence instigated by extremist political elements. There can be no half measures in this regard. All this time there was only tough talk but nothing concrete to eradicate ragging, which has emboldened those with perverted mindsets to indulge in their popular pastime of inflicting suffering and torture on innocent students. This could be another reason why our universities fail so badly in World University Rankings, which take many factors in account.

Incidents of ragging in universities was off the public radar for nearly two years due to the closure of universities in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and perhaps, also by the diversions created by the daily hardships of the populace stemming from the economic chaos. However, no sooner the academic activities commenced there was once again a serious incident of ragging reported at the Peradeniya University which shows that old habits die hard.

Hence, the Government should not allow universities to once again become hot spots of violence depriving the genuine students their right to higher education. The authorities should be prepared for any eventuality. There should be no interruption to university life as has been happening from time to time.

Poor punishment

One perplexing issue about ragging is that the perpetrators are hardly punished. They may be suspended for several weeks from lectures and the matter usually ends there. Then they emerge from the university as “clean” individuals. In this context, the suggestion by Minister Suren Raghavan to “blacklist” those found guilty of ragging deserves praise. Under this proposal, they will be ineligible for Government or semi-Government jobs and many other opportunities. Their bad record will follow them wherever they go throughout their lives. This is a commendable proposal that will make the raggers think twice.

The late Education Minister Richard Pathirana vowed to end ragging in universities. However, the menace of ragging has continued. This has to stop. It is also a worthy idea to educate the senior schoolchildren in this regard, as was done recently by President Ranil Wickremesinghe when he met a group of senior students from Royal College.

President Wickremesinghe had questioned the silence of students of leading schools, when ragging takes place in universities. During the meeting the President said that it seemed that students who attend universities from schools such as Royal College, Thurstan College, Ananda College and D. S. Senanayake College, turn a blind eye when ragging incidents happen. The President said that students of those universities have a responsibility to bring ragging in universities to an end. This is a worthy suggestion.

The free education system should not be abused by any party or group to achieve political ends. The Government spends between Rs 500,000 to Rs. 700,000 to turn out a single graduate from our universities. The cost is even higher for medical and engineering graduates. But for what purpose one may ask if for most of the time our universities remain closed due to student unrest and academic activities are disrupted by incidents of ragging resorted to by elements out to derive sadistic pleasure at the cost of innocent students.

Depressed social backgrounds

It is no coincidence that the students belonging to the pro-ragging group and responsible for the mayhem at Peradeniya were products of the Arts stream. These students carry with them baggage derived from their depressed social backgrounds and economic deprivation. They are largely unemployable due to their lack of skills to meet job demands that call for proficiency in subjects related to technology.

They have not equipped themselves to face the future after their academic lives nor are they equipped with the necessary skills to take up employment in a formal work environment. The lack of knowledge of English (called Kaduwa in universities) of a majority of our graduates too has proved to be a major impediment for obtaining gainful employment. Although not directly related to universities per se, it was recently disclosed that only four out of 422 Sri Lankan nurses had qualified to gain employment in the United States, as all the others could not pass the English proficiency test. The situation of our universities is similarly dire, no doubt.

While graduates are ill-prepared to fit into formal employment, there is another glaring anomaly which our education authorities had been trying to set right for decades but are yet to get around to – namely, a radical change in the university curricula and the entire education system.

Producing unemployable graduates

Knowing that our universities are producing unemployable graduates, we persist with the same old subjects which are essentially exam-oriented. Whatever happened to the scheme to offer training in job-oriented subjects of a technical nature to Arts graduates? There was another program a few years ago where mostly Arts graduates were offered internships in private companies, along with English courses. This program should be revived.


It is these undergraduates who are behind most of the unrest in universities. Their depressed social backgrounds and lack of knowledge of the Kaduwa has given them an inferiority complex which forms the basis for the violent ragging we see in universities, targeting their colleagues hailing from more privileged stock. This vicious cycle is bound to continue in the future if the authorities in charge of education fail to bring the necessary changes and make our university education more meaningful and productive for all students.

In the meantime, the universities themselves can take more steps to reduce the number of ragging incidents, some of which take place even outside the university premises. The system of university marshals should be strengthened, and they should be given more powers.

Also, there is a raging debate on whether the Police can enter the University to control any student unrest. This is a very sensitive issue, but there is no harm in having a police post outside each university.

While researching this article, I came across an interesting news item published in an Indian newspaper on the steps taken by their University Grants Commission (UGC) to control ragging. According to this news item, the UGC has written to universities and colleges detailing guidelines on how to deal with ragging on campus, just as the admission season is beginning. An anti-ragging committee, surprise checks, and installation of CCTV Cameras.

In fact, the latter was done at several Sri Lankan universities too after the Easter attacks, but unruly students dismantled the CCTV system at least one university. A CCTV system can help detect any ragging incident in progress and the university can then take appropriate action.

Lesson from India

Indian UGC Secretary Rajnish Jain, in a letter to universities, asked them to adhere to these guidelines as they prepare for admissions this year. “If any institution fails to take adequate steps to prevent ragging or does not act in accordance with these or does not act in accordance with these regulations or fails to punish perpetrators of incidents of ragging suitably, it will attract punitive action against itself by the UGC,” Jain said in his letter.

Parents and students will also have to sign an anti-ragging undertaking online at the website – www.antiragging.in. “An online undertaking in every academic year is to be submitted by each student and every parent, in compliance with the UGC regulations and its second amendment regarding submission of undertaking,” the UGC wrote in its advisory.

The UGC of India has also asked to constitute anti-ragging committees, anti-ragging squads, and anti-ragging cells across campuses, and said that formation of these bodies and their members should be publicised in prospectuses and brochures. In its advisory, UGC also asked institutes to carry out surprise inspections of hostels, canteens, restrooms, and bus stops, and anti-ragging posters should be available across admissions centres, classes, libraries, canteens, hostels, etc.

This is a good template for our universities to follow. In fact, our UGC should initiate discussions with the UGC of India to learn from their experiences in controlling the menace of ragging. These positive steps could help end ragging once and for all from our universities and other higher educational institutions.