Matara Police has charged 19 students of the Ruhuna Campus with ragging and sexual assault after a concerted campaign supported by the university and spearheaded by freshman student-victim Darsha Udayanga.
The Police Media Spokesman’s office confirmed to RepublicNext that the students were remanded for two weeks on 6 Aug by the Matara Magistrate under the Ragging Act No 20 of 1998 which was enacted by Parliament after a series of incidents across campuses during that period.
The student Udayanga has been the focal point in the investigation into ragging at Ruhuna. He had been one of the first to come forward with a complaint, Vice-Chancellor of the Ruhuna University Prof. Sujeewa Amarasena told RepublicNext.
Although other students had complained no one had been willing to use their names or lodge a formal complaint.
“I thought Udayanga would be in danger if he was exposed to the Media. So when he went to the University Grants Commission and they wanted him to go to Media. I was concerned,” he added.
But eventually, Udayanga was interviewed by the Silumina weekend paper and finally did a TV interview which was broadcast on Hiru News.
“That TV interview changed the whole game,” Amarasena said.
In the interview, Udayanga described graphically how he was sexually assaulted with a stick. That form of torture was inflicted on other students as well he said.
“I was very upset and eventually had to be hospitalised,” he said. The final straw was when his mother who was stressed out about what was happening to her son died of a stroke, he said.
Then he went to the police.
Police ordered University to produce the students but the accused students did not co-operate.
Then letters were sent individually to the students to report to police and their families had also been informed. Later they surrendered and were arrested.
Prof. Amarasena says Udayanga “displayed immense courage and he is the hero in this tale.”
Despite ragging being a constant feature in Sri Lanka’s free universities action against the practise have been few and far between.
Ragging in the past has been a mild form of teasing to break the ice. But now it has become something else.
Professor Mohan Silva, the UGC Chairman was quoted by Counterpoint.lk as saying “I can tell you, we do not have ragging in the universities, what we have is a dangerous form of violence and sexual abuse.” The UGC has received nearly five hundred letters from parents and students describing what is going on the Chairman said.
In response, the Police Department has instructed DIGs to appraise officers about the Anti-Ragging Act and use the law to combat this menace.
University dons had a meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in July and urged him to amend the University Act to change regulations governing university student unions “as a multi-party system.” In the past, after the student council elections, the posts were allocated proportionately according to the percentage of the votes each party or group garnered.
“Now if a party wins then the posts in the entire Council is given to them, as a result, there is a dominance of single-party rule. The entire Parliament must come together and change this law on a priority basis,” Prof Amarasena told RepublicNext.
“The Prime Minister agreed but they have other priorities at this time and they may not get down to doing it,” Amarasena said.
He says the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) which now dominates the student unions in many of the free universities have a method of control they exercise over new entrants from the very beginning of a student’s life.
“When the University entrants’ lists are ready, formerly the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and now the FSP, use their grassroots activists to visit poor and vulnerable students in the villagers and recruit them. At that stage, they promise them funding when they come to University. They are given between Rs. 13,000 to Rs. 15,000 per month, plus in some cases motorbikes and smartphones,” he alleges.
“So in the freshers batch itself, they will have a group of dedicated flowers who do their bidding. These students are not ragged and they become the facilitators of ragging. The seniors rag the freshers for one whole year, in fact breaking their spirits to the point that they will do anything the seniors ask them to do so. Rag resisters have been brutally assaulted” he said.
By intense ragging, the FSP has broken the spirit of the students and they obey the party leaders without question, Amarasena said.
This has allowed this particular party to stage demonstrations in various parts of the country ostensibly in support of free education, but it has paralysed Medical Faculties postponed examinations and potentially affected staffing in the government health sector.
Freshman students are also sent out to collect cash from passers-by in dozens of urban areas sand University staff say they collect “millions of rupees for FSP activities.”