The rag must stop | Daily News


The rag must stop

There is the occasional letter to the editor condemning it, sometimes the issue is discussed academically, the parties regret its occurrence, but by and large, we choose to ignore the disgrace; ragging is specific to the universities, occurs outside the public view; a misfortune that happens to only a few youngsters, somebody else’s children; otherwise fortunate students who have weathered our exclusionary system of examinations to now stand at the portal of higher education, the university; our temple of learning, moulder of character and the beacon of enlightenment.

Having crammed up the various curriculum subjects for 12 years, last of these years more specialized cramming, the bright-eyed adolescents are now eager to undergo graduate studies, preparing to become the leaders of the nation one day; administrators, technocrats, professionals, teachers; the world is wide open. At least, that is the concept. If you look at the state of the country, a country which has now for about half a century being governed by products of its own universities, there is cause for alarm. What are they doing, what kind of products come out of these institutions!

We are a poor country, but yet have persisted in providing a free of charge education from kindergarten to the university. In the early years, our education standards were considered on par with comparable Asian countries. Now, we are realizing that there is no free lunch where education is concerned. Extra tuition is the only way to overcome the relentless competition for the limited intake to the universities. If the child is inclined athletically, coaching and the sporting equipment will cost an arm and a leg. Besides, in substance and quality public schools appear to be in terminal decline. It is not possible to have both a weak economy and a good service standard. Sooner or later, the services will reflect the overall weakness of the country. Gradually, we have lost rank, many competing Asian countries are leading us in education, training and research. Their economies are growing, while we, with our falling educational standards, are becoming uncompetitive, the country is getting weaker, increasingly marginalized.

Centre of learning and high culture

Our aim here is not to examine the reality of our education system or the graduate programmes. That is a complex and many faceted subject, not easy to analyse and even more difficult to put right. It is the other university related activity that interests us presently, the image that comes to the minds of most when Sri Lankan universities are mentioned. The torture, the torment and the humiliation euphemistically called the rag, the extraordinarily perverted greeting of the new comers to the university by its senior students.

It is some welcome! A most loathsome violation of the human person cloaked by a spurious reference to academic freedom, at the country’s so called temple of learning to boot. The offences are committed in the halls and the lawns of our universities. Meanwhile our universities are desperately struggling to maintain their stature as a centre of learning and high culture, vying for ranking among the respected universities of the world.

Many believe that ragging is encouraged by fringe political parties in order to infiltrate the universities. By getting the young students into unlawful activity they are subverted, easily drawn into the web of radical schemes. This is not persuasion by logic. For a true political education, there has to be a coherent philosophy, a teacher of substance and the freedom of choice for the student. Here, the attempt is to poison the mind of the student by degree, indoctrinate him and finally make a tool of him.

As a result of this subversion, our universities have become hotbeds of politics, the callow students screaming out policies on every subject. This is a tragedy as well as a comedy, perhaps there are no other universities in the world, as politicized. There cannot be a less qualified social segment as these inexperienced, unqualified and naive students talking policy.

There is no justification for further deliberation on this infernal practice, ragging in the universities must be stopped, period.

How, it should be stopped is for the authorities to decide. It is typical of this creature called “authorities” to have not been able to stamp out ragging for nearly half a century. But then, ragging is not the only problem they have failed to address. Once being victims of the rag as university freshmen, then ferocious rag implementers as seniors, it is possible that all sense of right and wrong has been snuffed out in those who now sit as “authorities”. They have become passive and awkward adults, solely concerned with protecting their jobs and other benefits; we look in vain for good administrators (authorities) in such poor human material.

May we suggest, forceful, yet legal ways to fight the scourge of ragging. A person accused of ragging will not be granted bail in any circumstance until the end of his trial. If convicted, there should follow a mandatory jail term. A convicted ragger should be automatically dismissed from the university with a life time ban on entering any educational institute thereafter. We must not fool ourselves, fire must be fought with fire.

Such methods may sound harsh, but until stopped, ragging will continue to undermine the wider society, a lawlessness ignored at our peril. We don’t see a similar rag, this brutality, this crudity anywhere else in this whole wide world. Is there a peculiarity in the country’s culture which encourages such conduct, why are our universities the exception?

Abuse and violence

We cannot forget that these students have had twelve long years of school before entering the university. What values have they learnt at school? They come from Sri Lankan families. What is the background here? They probably went to a Sunday school to learn their religion. What were they taught there?

The crudity of the rag leaves us groping for answers. Would their fathers pounce upon a wayfarer to relieve him of his possessions? Are strangers to their homes greeted with abuse and violence? Is anyone who comes into a university after you, an inferior and fair game for perverted attacks?

Questions and more questions.

Be that as it may, it certainly does the country no honour if Sri Lankan universities are the only universities in the world today unable to prevent the abuse of their students by senior students.

These marauding raggers must not be allowed to embarrass our country any longer.