Peradeniya uni authorities catch them in the very act: Ragging identifies with violence | Sunday Observer

Peradeniya uni authorities catch them in the very act: Ragging identifies with violence

Arrested students being taken to Court

The Peradeniya University Proctor, Dr. Gamini Hitinayake knew they were taking a huge risk when they decided to check out a tip off received on a possible ragging incident outside the university premises, last Sunday. It was the ‘break’ they were waiting for. The University administration was looking for ways to stop the harassment of newcomers to the university under the guise of ragging. They have heard about incidents taking place in rented houses outside the university.

Among many possibilities, Dr.Hitinayake dreaded the prospect of the house being occupied by people other than Peradeniya undergrads, as claimed. If so they would face legal issues.

Weighed down by the increased number of brutal ragging incidents last year, especially, in the Agriculture Faculty and the apparent impact it had on freshers, the university authority stood guard during the past couple of months. They were determined to apprehend the culprits at any cost and put a stop to this menace. The Peradeniya campus has earned a bad reputation over physical harassment of freshers.

Lead witness

In 1997, Varapragas a fresher at the Engineering Faculty died of physical exhaustion due to ragging, and in February 2014, a drop-out Arts Faculty student, a victim and a witness of sexual harassment committed suicide within the university premises. He was a lead witness in a brutal ragging incident.

Nevertheless, the task before them proved to be highly challenging. The problem was elusive, with no witnesses nor victims. None was ready to reveal their ordeal, even behind closed doors, fearing retribution.

Dr. Hitinayake, himself a student leader during his undergraduate years at Peradeniya in the 1980s, and Master in charge of discipline for three years, prior to his appointment as the University Proctor in January 2017, was well versed with the disturbing ragging trend within the campus. But, no one was able to apprehend the raggers red handed. Everything was happening below the surface. The victims were petrified to complain about the harassment and without complaints and witnesses, this disgraceful culture thrived. According to the university administration, only a few individuals were involved in such brutal behaviour, but the impact was enormous. Parents of victims, mostly from backward rural areas too suffered, as a result.

It was in this backdrop that the university administration led by Vice Chancellor Prof. Upul Dissanayake and Agriculture Faculty Dean Prof. Gamini Pushpakumara thought of a strategy to combat violence during the ragging season. They were on the alert for any suspicious activity. The objective was to catch the few bad eggs giving leadership to such unacceptable behaviour. Last week, the University Proctor finally received the information they were waiting for - a group of students were huddled inside a rented house and were being subject to brutal ragging. At first, they had second thoughts. The officials knew the stakes were high. One bad move could turn everything upside down. They might have to face even legal action.

Offenders

Yet, they decided to pursue this opportunity to catch the offenders in the act. The Proctor summoned 12 members of the University security and six senior lecturers before heading out. The house was said to be some four kilometres away from the Peradeniya University.

They knew these raggers were highly organized and systematic. The leaders at the bottom of this sub-culture were elusive. The freshers were scared not to attend lectures without a licence called the ‘Vaatha Card’. It was considered their visa to survive in the university.

The ‘Vaatha Card’ is issued to freshers by their raggers. The card also gives access to the so-called special lecture notes from seniors. In the lecture halls, students who had faced ragging and the others are made to sit separately, to make a clear distinction. A list is also maintained. Although incidents of brutal harassment are rare, the days of ragging where it was something looked forward to by the freshers are long gone. Most freshers dread the experience, while others avoid state universities due to fear. Dr.Hitinayake said, they must be very careful when dealing with the culprits. “The students apprehended in the act of brutal ragging can well be carrying out instructions under duress. The real culprits can be behind the scene. It can be difficult to discern who is a culprit and who is a victim,” he explained.

The university authorities suspect that third year students could be the masterminds of these organized brutal ragging rituals. Most second year students were being threatened into carrying out their instructions. They obey for fear of losing their ‘Vaatha Card’ and other special privileges. Around 11.20 p.m. the team of officials arrived at the partially constructed house at Megoda Kalugamuwa on the Galaha Road. A young man was sleeping in the verandah outside the house. As they later learned, he was on the lookout for unwanted visitors. The officials were shocked to see what was unfolding before their eyes.

Suspicious house

Chief Security Officer of Peradeniya University, Dinal Ratnayake, explaining their operation that night said, they were getting ready for such a break for a long time. “We had information that inhuman ragging was taking place in rented houses outside the university. We were waiting for a tip off, to apprehend the offenders. When the tip off came last week, it was around 11.00 p.m.”

As they got near, they stopped the vehicles half a kilometre away from the suspicious house. It was not easy to locate the correct house.

“There were two roads leading to the house. We split in two and took both roads. We were careful not to alert the raggers. As we approached the house, we could hear some boys shouting in filth. The windows were covered with flimsy cloth drapes. Inside, the lights were on. We saw two naked boys doing bunny leaps, with an onlooker using a club to threaten them if they paused. There were screams from another room, as if more boys were being tortured. “

“We had the security officers in position to apprehend students trying to flee.” The team was aware of the repercussions if the students were injured in the operation. He said, they took extra measures to ensure their safety.

After sometime, the Chief Security Officer and Dr.Hitinayake entered the house through the front door which was unlocked. “The raggers got the shock of their lives and ran helter-skelter. Some tried to escape through the back door but were caught by the security guards.”

All eight freshers had been stripped naked. One naked boy was seated near the fireplace and some freshers had their body hair removed. The university officials called the police, because of the seriousness of what they witnessed. There was evidence to be collected.

The 15 boys arrested by the police are in the age group of 22, 23 and 24. One was 27 years. He too possessed a student ID. The eight victims are in the ages of 21, 22 and 23 years. Dr. Hitinayake and the team rushed the victims to the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital for medical examination. The doctor who examined the students said they had not received any serious injuries but the psychological trauma was yet to be assessed. The arrested students were produced before Kandy Additional Magistrate and detained at the Pallekele Remand Prison till March 2.

Dr. W.A.L.Wickremasinghe, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Kandy General Hospital said, the students who undergo such trauma at the university turn into social misfits and become a burden to society. Some kids drop out midway and join the unskilled job market with a brewing hatred towards society. “There is a bigger impact. Knowing its vicious repercussions we have completely eradicated such violent ragging in the Peradeniya Medical Faculty,” he said. The torture house was rented out by the students for three months, giving misleading information about their identity to the landlord. The owner said, he thought they were a group of architects on field assignments. “Anyone has to pass my home to reach the rented house but the boys had used another path to smuggle the freshers to the house,” the landlord said. The boys had rented the house on January 2, paying Rs.30,000 as rent for a three month period, and had said they were not concerned that it had only basic amenities. The police believe, the seniors transported groups of first year students from time to time, for the so called ‘ragging’.

According to university administration there is no evidence that the student unions were aware of these ragging incidents. The student union leaders of the Peradeniya University were summoned to the house the same night to show what had happened. Later, the Inter University Student Federation issued a statement saying they had no involvement in the Peradeniya ragging incident. “The students in the university are divided – there are those who support ragging and others who oppose ragging. Of those who support ragging, a very few display such unacceptable or violent behaviour,” Dr.Hitinayake said. A senior lecturer of Colombo University said, one of the biggest obstacles to maintain university discipline is the behaviour of student unions. “They take to the streets and boycott lectures whenever there is disciplinary action against student offenders. Without a responsible behaviour of student unions, it will be hard to tackle the violence in the guise of ragging within the university.”

He said, the student unions are at war against private medical colleges and private universities, but, “why can’t they realise that this type of inhuman incidents drive students away from state universities and increase the demand for private degree awarding institutions. The student unions must make an active contribution and a concerted effort to stop this menace once and for all,” he said.

Asela Kuruluwansha, News Editor Kandy Office, contributed to this article.

Confidential

UGC helpline

UGC hotline

0112-123700,

0112-123456.

Complaints of harassment, ragging, bullying, intimidation can be made by students, academic staff and non academic staff by following the instructions provided through the Interactive Voice Response System

The web helpline

www.ugc.ac.lk/rag


‘Violence can’t have other names’

Chairman, University Grants Commission,

Prof.Mohan de Silva

“Ragging is a sub culture in the university. Those who propagate ragging say, it is done to acclimatize the students to university life. This is not true anymore. What happens in the form of ragging is an extreme type of violence. If it is ragging, both parties must enjoy the experience. The moment ragging incidents get exposed, when news travel beyond the four walls of the university - people call it violence. Violence can’t have other names, be it inside the university or outside. The UGC is seriously treating the incident that happened in Peradeniya. Those arrested under the Anti-Ragging Act, cannot be bailed out. If proven, the offenders can be given a minimum of five years rigorous imprisonment. And, they will be expelled from the university. In this particular instance, there is prima facie evidence, therefore, complaints are not required from the victims.

It is extremely important that parents and children speak up when they see such inappropriate behaviour. The UGC, Vice Chancellors and Deans of the Faculties are pushed into a helpless situation to see these things happen, but unable to take action.

Parents should not relax once their children finish schooling. The child they walked to school for 13 years must be closely guarded even when they enter university. If you see any change in their behaviour, travel patterns, questions need to be asked. If something is amiss encourage the kids to seek help. Even raggers have parents. They must know their kids are at risk of being brain washed by those holding extremist views. The children will not realise the gravity of their action until they get caught. Then it would be too late. Recently, when a similar incident happened at the South Eastern University, 30 students submitted an attested document to say they were harassed. It is a very positive development. The attitudes are slowly changing. To address this issue, we have been working since April 2016. An anti- ragging helpline (a confidential complaints centre) has been set up at the UGC. A hotline and an online service with a special server is operating 24/7. The complaints come to me and to the respected ex-VC , Prof.Uma Kumaraswami.

We take action to alert the Vice Chancellors and student counsellors.

The President, Prime Minister, and the police top brass are aware of this arrangement.

The Centre is supported by the Commonwealth Association of Universities, the Indian UGC, UNESCO and India’s Aman Movement for the Eradication of Ragging. The Aman Movement is founded by Prof. Raj Kachroo whose son was killed in a brutal ragging incident.”


Law should be same to uni students

Immediately after media reports, President Maithripala Sirisena contacted the Peradeniya Police OIC on the matter.

He has instructed the IGP and the police not to be lenient on the offenders as it was a very serious case where these students have shown the lowest levels of humanity, acting as sex perverts and sadists. He said, this incident should set an example to others.

He said, the law should be the same to university students, nowhere can the law of the jungle prevail.


Honesty in application of law vital

Bar Association President Goeffrey Alagaratnam said, “Such offenders can also be dealt with under the Penal Code, the normal law of the country, instead of Anti Ragging laws. Talking about possible reaction from the University Student Unions he said, there may be opposition to the application of law in any situation. But, if the application of law is honest, that is all that matters. “There is clear evidence that extreme means of harassment was involved. It is time we acted towards a decent, civilized society,” he stressed.

 

 

 

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