Ragging in Sri Lankan Universities is the worst experience that a student can have. Ragging is a form of systematic abuse and also a form of gender based violence. When you speak of gender based violence, we mainly speak of women being harassed by men. However this also happens the other way around; women also harass men. Ragging in Lankan universities is deeply embedded in the university subculture however, fighting ragging means fighting the corrupt university education system itself. The 2017 budget has allocated 10 million for the elimination of ragging in Lankan Universities which means that it has become a national cost.
Is ragging a form of Gender based Violence?
If you are a girl or a boy, walking into universities for the first time with high hopes and you get stopped at various intervals being mocked, humiliated, spoken to in filth, and jeered at by other boys and girls that is harassment. If you are physically harassed, slapped or if someone violently pulls your hand that is also an act that is done ‘without your consent’ and hence harassment. It is something that takes you by surprise and a hurtful experience. A victim of such treatment may become mentally affected which leads to mental health issues, depression, loss of self –worth and sickness.
Ragging affects mentally vulnerable students the most and those who let others take advantage of themselves. They often do not know that they are being victimized. This ‘vulnerability’ can be caused due to lack of self-esteem and lack of self-respect. It could also be the way that an individual is raised in their homes growing up in a family of an abusive father or an abusive sibling. Usually those who rag other students have been in vulnerable situations themselves and on entering universities they develop an inferiority complex which they manifest through violence. Each year every senior batch rags the next batch of junior students which repeats in a vicious cycle.
How does this affect the quality of education?
Students who are involved in ragging as both perpetrators and victims are disrupted from attending lectures. There are students who get selected to universities but drop out due to ragging. Some students join private universities or go abroad and excel in their studies causing a huge brain drain. There are still those who bear it all or cleverly avoid ragging who still do not attend lectures properly. This is because there is no strong incentive to attend lectures because lectures in state universities are a minimal experience. The quality of education has degenerated so badly that not attending lectures but doing extra-curricular activities, professional networking and self-studying by finding their own material is a better and rewarding experience.
Addressing the low-standards of education in Sri Lankan Universities is difficult due to the fact that many academics also have engaged in ragging themselves in their undergrad years and hence has accepted ragging as part of the university sub-culture. There are only a very few academics who have studied and taught overseas with a broad exposure into competitive curriculum. Many do not have that same exposure or subject-related work experience to share practical insights and knowledge with students. Hence some curriculums lack gender units and student’s graduate not knowing ‘gender-mainstreaming’ or developing gender sensitivities. Even skill development units are not taken seriously enough. However upgrading curriculum has also become an impossible task for Lankan Universities because it reflects the competences of the academics themselves.
Misguided concept of utilitarianism and leadership in universities
Decisions must be taken to suit the majority of the students. However a majority of the students come from rural areas of the country and many do not network like the undergraduates from Colombo-based schools to find out about career opportunities and how to fix the knowledge gaps in the job-market. Although the universities conduct various programs on career development the percentage of students who attend them are very less and many club activities are also limited to a few. The main reason is because a majority of the students who come to universities engage in political activism and student union activities. They are misguided into believing that disruptive political activism is leadership development.
In my university, students are given internships from the university itself. In some cases they are compulsory but most comment that it was a waste of time. Only a few students network professionally and find an internship on their own which is a hands-on experience to the degree they are enrolled at with dignity. Among those who get these ‘University approved’ internships in government offices, there are those who got arrested as well. Where then is there a deterrence to prevent ragging? As a student I have been warned that getting arrested can be detrimental to a future career because in many prestigious jobs if you have an arrest record you are not considered fit for that job. However in a Lankan University context getting arrested is seen as ‘okay’ because most believe that ‘they are oppressed by the state’ and have nothing to lose.
Through ragging students are brainwashed. They are led to believe in ‘political revolution’ which leads to disillusionments. The student Union itself is the perpetrator of most of ragging. Student Unions are funded by communist political parties and they supply students from disadvantaged backgrounds with textbooks, and financial support and also encourage ragging and disruptive political activism by offering 40% of them jobs in their own political parties. In such a context student leadership is in the wrong hands.
This is why an independent investigation into ragging by either the Human Rights Commissions or a Cabinet Appointed Committee without any political intervention is needed. Even the government has marginalized Arts faculty students as ‘basket cases’. The 2017 budget is willing to offer scholarships to medical, engineering, science, and law students to prestigious foreign universities but does not include students from Arts streams. Does that mean that Arts students are not part of the sustainable development agenda of the country?
In my opinion most academics also relate to the experiences of ragging themselves. Some have come into influential positions from humble backgrounds which are remarkable achievements. However, most lack awareness of the changes that education management has undergone over time. Quality of education does not only lie in building fancier buildings and improving campus infrastructure but it lies in the competitive curriculums and competences of academia. Most students in student unions lack awareness about these issues (Quality education, employment market, skill development etc). Instead of asking for quality education they go around protesting to close down Private Universities which is pathetic. They readily demand for more facilities in terms of infrastructure but campus infrastructure is already state of art. It is the quality of education that should improve. Orientation in Universities must take up these issues and allow student leaders with liberal and positive attitudes to change the mind-sets of students from within the university system
Originally published in UNDP unlocked blog series in partnership with Daily FT : http://www.lk.undp.org/content/srilanka/en/home/Blog/2016/12/16/Ragging-in-Sri-Lankan-Universities-affects-Quality-of-education-Encourages-Gender-based-Violence-.html
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About the Author
Natasha Fernando is an undergraduate double majoring in Law and International Studies. This is her blog sharing her academic writing, essays, poetry and creative passages. She is also a volunteer blogger for the UNDP UNLOCKED Blogging platform.
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