The dark side of ragging in State universities | Sunday Observer

The dark side of ragging in State universities

6 November, 2022

Do you have any children who are about to do their Advanced Level Examination or who are about to enter into any local university? Then take your time and continue to read. After reading, please do not decide to send your children abroad for higher education or employment.

The best thing that you can do as parents is equip your children with all plans, information, tactics, and so on to obtain the degree and come out alive without any permanent mental or physical disability.

If you really want to do it, you can do it now because the current Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe has already started to ensure the safety of your child after he or she enters into any State university as a fresher. We are going to talk about ragging.

20th death anniversary of Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha

Tomorrow is a historical and the darkest day for all local State universities because it marks the 20th death anniversary of Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha (Samantha Vithanage), who was brutally murdered in broad day light inside the University of Sri Jayewardenepura on November 7, in 2002.

Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha who was popularly known as Samantha Vithanage was a Third Year Management student who pioneered an anti-ragging campaign, and was killed during a discussion to stop the brutal practice of ragging in the university.

On November 7, 2002, the anti-ragging campaigners sat for a discussion with the pro-rag controlled student council- the General Students Union of University of Sri Jayewardenepura, that defended the practice.

The meeting took place inside the premises of the Department of Marketing Management. Midway through the discussion, a mob of around 200 strong supporters of the political party which is popularly known as the `Three Percent’ with clubs and stones stormed into the room and viciously attacked Vithanage and others in the anti-ragging camp.

The attackers stabbed their victims with shards of glass, pens, pencils, compasses, dividers and all the other available weapons and Vithanage, who was struck, fell to the floor.

President of the General Students Union at that time (November 2002) crashed a heavy computer monitor on his head. Vithanage was seriously injured. Then the pro-ragging students blocked the vehicle carrying the injured to the hospital, delaying proper medical treatment. The first hour of any seriously injured person is called `the golden hour’ by doctors because it decides whether the seriously injured person lives or dies. That is why such victims need to be hospitalised as soon as possible.

When Samantha was about to be taken to the hospital, his attackers laid on the ground blocking all internal roads inside the university preventing the vehicle reaching the main gate. Two days later Samantha Vithanage died.

My own story

It was March 8, 1993 (nine years before this murder). The time was 8.30 am. I walked into the Sri Jayewardenepura University as a first year undergraduate.

I underwent severe ragging for one year, fell physically ill, recovered, fought against raggers, won my lonely battle as a young girl and graduated alive. My only strength was my own planning, tactics and skills. Nothing, or no one else helped me. It was hopeless to expect any help from any lecturer because some of them openly supported ragging. This situation is still the same in State universities and some lecturers openly or secretly support ragging because of their political ideology.

I had a very good knowledge about the university premises before entering into it. As soon as I was selected to this university, I visited the place with a relative who had graduated from the same university and toured inside and around the institution spending several hours in order to take a very good understanding about the location of the facility and its surroundings.

I knew every single corner of the university before entering from the gate. In addition I had all the details of all possible raggers who were in their second year by that time, their personal details such as home addresses, parents’ details and so on. I had more than one plan and many help lines in hand to face the ragging. I implemented them one by one matching specific situations and raggers. Before entering I changed my appearance by 100 percent to match the raggers’ mentality, their beliefs and their ideologies.

I gave fabricated details about myself to all the raggers which are similar to the backgrounds of raggers. I avoided hostels completely because the hostel is the `headquarters’ of ragging. But the biggest issue is that the university authorities give priority to maintain the positive image of the university rather than the safety of students.

From 1974 to 2022, they killed around 25 innocent poor undergraduates while making several others permanently disabled (physically / mentally or both). They did not stop there. They caused temporary disabilities and mental diseases in many undergraduates and chased away thousands of innocent poor undergraduates from State universities. The families made unthinkable sacrifices to send them into State universities.

There are several family members such as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents who died in pain after losing their loved ones or after seeing their tragic lives in bed or in a wheelchair.

They looked after their differently-abled sons and daughters at an age their sons and daughters should look after them.

Earlier all the raggers were from the political party popularly known as the ‘Three Percent’ and now they have broken into two very small political parties but secretly operate as one. The country has been witnessing this since the Aragalaya in April this year.

Who killed whom and how?

This well planned torturing system commenced in 1974 with the torturing of a mathematics teacher at the Kelaniya (then) Vidyalankara University.

In 1975 it was Roopa Rathnaseeli who jumped from the top floor of a university building to escape ragging and then committed suicide in 2002 after suffering 27 long years as a permanently disabled person.

The list of undergraduates killed is very long. Chaminda Punchihewa (1993), Prasanna Niroshan (1993), S.Varapragash (1997), Kelum Thushara (1997), Samantha Vithanage (2002), Shanika Dilhan Wijesinghe (2019). There are many others.

The incident of 24-year-old D.K.Nishantha who died in 2014 after being sexually abused by senior undergraduates. He obtained three A passes and entered into the Arts Faculty of the Peradeniya University despite many financial difficulties. Later his lifeless body was hanged on a tree by the killers.

It is very significant not because of the victim or the way he was killed. It is because of how the murderers faced the punishment given by the judiciary. They forcibly collected Mahapola scholarship, bursaries and all the other allowances received by undergraduates in order to pay legal costs.

This injustice, pure violation of the law, rules, regulations, human rights, was not noticed by any authority or media. No media reported on this dark side of the incident except one article in a Sinhalese Language newspaper.

Amali Chathurika made a remarkable turn before she died in 2015 at the age of 23 due to ragging. She was a student of Applied Science in the Sabaragamuwa University. Before her death, she wrote down very clearly who did what to her, with their names, ages, addresses and all the other details which helped to trace those individuals.

The law was not implemented because various `authorities’ wanted to hide the murder but later the then Education Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe commenced to implement the law in connection with this case.

Brutal ragging is one of the main reasons for local talented students to go abroad for higher education abandoning State universities which offer free education with a Mahapola scholarship of Rs.5000. If the Government stops ragging in State universities, Sri Lanka will be able to save millions of US$. Until now we were talking about history. The present day is also full of various media reports on ragging. 21-year-old J. A. Pasindu Hirushan from Kamaragoda in Minuwangoda was a first year student attached to the Sri Jayewardenepura University Management Faculty.

After a party, he had been ascending the staircase of the university playground pavilion. Raggers sent a tyre downstairs. It hit him on the head. He collapsed on to the ground with severe head injuries.

Pasindu struggled on life-support for a long period at the National Hospital.

Doctors and his family struggled to save his life. After four months he returned to his university with the help of his family, friends, university staff and so on.

Severe cases of ragging has been reported from the Universities of Peradeniya and Kelaniya during the past few weeks. Students were attacked and injured. Last week the Court of Appeal upheld the death sentence imposed against the accused who committed the murder of his fellow junior student Selvanayagam Varapragash who was an Engineering Faculty student at the Peradeniya University in 1997.

Arts faculty Dean of Peradeniya University received death threats from the raggers.

Are you preparing to enter into a State university here in Sri Lanka or a first year undergraduate?

Then this is for you. Please take revenge from these who tortured you and not from unknown individuals who were not there at the time you went through hell. Usually we hit who hit us and not a stranger who appears in front of us after one year from nowhere. We attack those who attacked us and not strangers. This is the natural way of the world. Do you want your loved ones to be protected? Then simply refrain from voting and bringing `murderers and torture experts’ into the next Parliament.