Tradition vs. Trauma : Hazing in Universities Worsen
By Himaya Perera and Asiri Ekanayake
Hazing, also known as ragging, is a common occurrence in state universities and is used to establish seniority within the student body. Initially, hazing was a way of eradicating the social hierarchies which exist beyond the boundaries of the university. Everybody got hazed therefore, everyone was equal. However, in status-quo, it has evolved into a display of power. Seniors will pressure freshmen into engaging in various acts, on the threat that their lives at university will be miserable if they refuse to oblige.
Hazing could include anything from being asked to sing in public to forced consumption of various substances and even inflicting physical and sexual harm on students. Once hazing gets out of hand and causes emotional and/or physical harm, many students are driven into committing acts of self-harm such as suicide or to leave the particular institute altogether. Around 20 students have committed suicide due to hazing and according to the University Grants Commission, out of the registered university students, 1989 students have dropped out due to ragging incidents that occurred in 2017 and 2018. Since the students who enter local universities are those who passed their Advanced Level examinations with flying colours and are the cream of the crop, every drop-out is a huge loss to our nation.
This topic was brought to light recently because of an incident that took place at Sri Jayawardenapura University. On March 5th, 21-year-old Pasindu Hirushan from Kamaragoda, Minuwangoda was descending a flight of stairs around 1.30 a.m. after a “bucket party” (an event celebrating the end of the ragging season) when a group of senior students had sent a tractor tire down the stairs. The tyre had hit Pasindu causing him to collapse on the ground and hit his head, causing severe damage. It is still unknown whether the seniors were under the influence of alcohol. As of now, Pasindu is paralyzed. According to medical professionals, even if he recovers, he will have many side effects including loss of memory.
The response on social media was fast and passionate. Among the many tweets, stories, and posts calling for justice, the police and the Sri Jayawardenapura University administration have launched separate investigations to inquire into the incident.
Pasindu is only one of the many victims who suffer permanent consequences of ragging. But given that this issue has existed for many decades, why aren’t effective preventive measures in place yet?
Under the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998, ragging is a punishable offense by law. Moreover, the UGC has set up a 24-hour hotline (011- 2123700), a website (https://eugc.ac.lk/rag/), an anti-ragging mobile app to report different forms of threat and harassment on campus grounds as well as a special office at the Commission that is open on all days from 8.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., excluding government holidays.
Despite the governments’ and universities’ best efforts, hazing still prevails, often carried out in remote locations around campus or even in private residences that are rented specifically for hazing such as in the incident at the University of Peradeniya in 2017. Ragging cannot be conquered by merely establishing a few laws; there is a dangerous age-old herd mentality that needs to be changed to make a significant difference. In order to do so, the government and higher authorities cannot take action alone. The youth must take a stand on enforcing morals within themselves to protect their peers from being succumbed to such injustice.