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DateLine Sunday, 3 June 2007

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Vignettes - by R.S.Karunaratne


Say no to ragging

The Indian Supreme Court's recent directive to governments and educational institutes to comedown hard on ragging has set the stage for curbing the menace. The SC's directive was issued in the wake of a committee report which recommended the addition of a new section to the Indian Penal Code to make ragging a punishable offence.

The committee has further recommended a new definition of ragging which includes abetment to ragging, public nuisance created during ragging, violation of decency and morals through ragging, injury to body, wrongful restraint, use of criminal force etc. that violate human dignity.

As far as Sri Lanka is concerned we do not know of any amendment to the Penal Code to make ragging a criminal offence. Despite many administrative measures to curb all forms of ragging, the menace raises its ugly head at periodic intervals. Like any other crime, I do not think that ragging can be eliminated by laws alone. We need to do something more to arrest this unhealthy trends.

Like the terrorists 'raggers' are a minority in the student population. The reason for them to rag freshers can be numerous. If you analyse the situation ragging takes place mostly in the arts faculties. It may be that those reading for art degrees know the difficulty of getting jobs after passing out of the university. There is also a strong bias towards students following courses in English, foreign languages, science and medicine.

They are at the butt-end of humiliation. Sometimes, ragging goes beyond the limit of endurance forcing some undergraduates even to commit suicide. When such an unfortunate incident takes place we protest loudly and conveniently forget the issue until another mishap occurs.

The committee that studied the problem of ragging in India has recommended that all such cases should be dealt with speedily. University authorities should take the initial step to curb ragging by punishing the wrong doers and creating an atmosphere for harmony. Undergraduates must be told in no uncertain terms that ragging is a social malady.

Another method is to rope in potential 'raggers' when freshers enter universities. Meanwhile the causes of ragging should be eliminated at the school and college level. If all these fail, 'raggers' must be brought to trial and punished.

In practice, however, educational institutes do not take legal action against offenders. Even parents do not report serious ragging incidents to law enforcement authorities. The situation is almost the same here as in India.

As such the Raghavan committee has cited a Kerala case in which a female undergraduate of the Kottayam Medical College was subject to sexual harassment during a ragging session. On her complaint to the police those responsible for the ragging were arrested. Not only were they punished but the college authorities were also pulled up.

As a preventive measure students in schools and colleges should be taught the basic human values. If you take a step further parents should inculcate morals in their children before they attend school. Society at large including religious leaders and the media also have a role to play in making the country favourable for living in dignity.

Undergraduates are products of society. If society is rotten to the core, its products cannot be paragons of virtue. So the whole issue boils down to correcting ourselves. Ragging cannot be eliminated by laws alone, no doubt the offenders should be punished. However, punishing offenders is not going to put an end to indecent ragging.

Ragging should be tackeled at many levels. It is mainly a psychologically problem. Secondly it is a social problem. It is also a political, economic and cultural problem.

What is more it is also an academic problem. When the problem is such a complex one, law alone cannot solve it. We need to adopt a multi-pronged attack on ragging.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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