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a fresher at the Faculty of Management in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura

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Ragging is responsible for the misogynistic and anti-intellectual culture in our universities

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 a fresher at the Faculty of Management in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura

As has been shown at the University of Ruhuna, with strong leadership, the university community is capable of eliminating the scourge of ragging on their own

When universities closed on 15 March, Pasindu Hirushan, a fresher at the Faculty of Management in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, was in intensive care. He was hit by a heavy tyre rolled down the

 a fresher at the Faculty of Management in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura

stairs during an event organised by the student union. This was allowed to happen despite the recent memory of Samantha Withanage, a student opposed to ragging in the same university who was murdered by raggers.

Our indignation over these crimes may rise with each incident, but a greater crime is taking place every day for every penny we spend on these universities. It is the perpetuation of a political ideology which is anti-intellectual, coercive, and misogynistic. Administrators and university teachers are responsible, some directly and others by their silence.

In this column I draw from reports, research papers, and first-hand accounts from credible individuals, to bring to the attention of the public, the damage done to our higher education institutions by ragging and the associated political agenda.

Universities receive 75% of post-secondary funding, to serve 7% of youth

According to the 2019 Budget estimates, the total allocation tertiary education including higher education, technical and vocational education and youth services was Rs. 110 billion. Of this allocation, 75% goes to universities which serve only 7% of a given youth cohort. 

To put this percentages into perspective, Government budgets 40 times more for a student attending university than for a youth in the neglected 93%.

The responsibility of universities is that much bigger

The taxpaying public do not oppose this anomaly of a small fraction of a youth cohort receiving a lion’s share of scarce public resources. They believe that our system gives opportunities to all youth to attend school but sends the cream of the cream to the universities where they would make a great contribution to national development. Both assumptions must be questioned, but my focus is on the latter. 

Our public universities are a national asset. The contribution of a university to society is through teaching, research, and service. Our universities, which are essentially undergraduate colleges, may not produce cutting-edge research, but they have a responsibility to synthesise existing knowledge and guide students to be informed and inquiring consumers of knowledge. 

Being anti-intellectual is the anti-thesis of a university. But that is exactly what is happening in our universities because they have been captured by ‘a political ideology’ with the complicity of academics, intentional or otherwise. 

Ragging as an instrument 

of political indoctrination

As we try to make our campuses safe for students, we must understand the forces behind the ragging. A study commissioned by the National Education Commission (NEC) in 2014 stated:

“The lacunae in university administration and teaching have given occasion for entry of national level political parties and organisations outside the university to encroach on and usurp duties that should properly fall within the purview of university administrations. These lacunae also serve as opportunities for political parties to recruit new members, mobilise students for protests and demonstrations, and use them as instruments for enlarging the party revenues and activities. One party in particular, namely, the JVP, has followed a systematic method to recruit and indoctrinate new batches of enthusiastic supporters and a hard core of activists every year, the party is also assured of a continuous supply of new entrants with the commencement of the academic year at all three universities [included in the study]. The most vulnerable students are, therefore, those who are in their first year at the university.”

Unfortunately, these observations have not been published, let alone acted upon. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna was the first academic leader to appear on popular media to put ragging in the context of its political reality. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idUG1dI3n5g). To quote from the interview:

“Annually, university freshers are subjected to extremely inhumane harassments. These rituals are called by different names in different universities, but they involve violence and even sexual harassment. These acts are carried out by the senior students who are led by the student unions, who in turn are led by the Inter University Federation of Students (IUFS). The objective is to make these new entrants to think the way the IUFS want, behave the way they want and even to eat, dress and walk the way they want. This IUFS is led by political parties – in fact it is one political party. …Ragging is a political enterprise. It is just not a one-or-two-week event. Ragging is used by a certain political Party for gain recruits for demonstrations, picketing, etc. This political party also uses university students to raise funds for their politics. At least once a month these students are sent out across to all corners of the island to ‘shake the till’ and collect money.”

What political party is this? The 2014 NEC report names the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as the party responsible. Since then, the Peratugami Party, a breakaway of the JVP, is thought to be a force, but overall it seems to be a complex interplay of the two.

Indoctrination leads to anti-intellectualism – the antithesis of a university 

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