POHOTTU AS USA’ S PROXY Part 8Mi
Posted on September 29th, 2022

KAMALIKA PIERIS

 Weeramunda made the perceptive observation that JVP has made use of the laxities and weaknesses of the university system   to get a foothold in the university.  JVP’s methods were founded on the principle of making the most out of laxities and weaknesses of the university system, he said.

 The weaknesses of the university systems are well known. The Vice Chancellor is appointed by the President and can be removed by him. He is therefore vulnerable. JVP has exploited this. Some VCs have taken a strong stand on ragging. Vice Chancellor, University of Ruhuna forcibly opened the rooms used by student unions for ragging and installed CCTV cameras.

But other VCs have given into JVP demands or followed a policy of appeasement. When undergrads are to be punished about 1000 students come and surround the VC office and the VC will give in. Anti ragging groups get demotivated and demoralized while the raggers/harassers are motivated by this, commented analysts.   In Kelaniya, a student had been hit with a bicycle chain.  The offender was caught. The student counselors made a complaint and his classes were stopped. The Students Union wanted the sentence removed.

An academic who was also a Proctor in University of Peradeniya stated that in 2016 he had been called to settle a ragging related incident at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences. It had  turned into a brawl. I took down the curtains to the students common room to curtail future such incidents since that is where the student union does organized ragging.

 The Student Union had complained to the VC about my intervention. A JVP parliamentarian had also inquired about this incident from the VC. Without consulting me, the VC announced to the media that my services would be terminated and had told the same to the students.  A preliminary inquiry barred me for four years from any administrative posts and examination work. In 2020, a formal inquiry exonerated me from all charges.

This event shows that politicians also interfere. They tend to take the side of the JVP. In the University of Colombo the VC had installed the fingerprinting machine to mark attendance. The Minister had objected and a JVP MP wanted to talk about the issue in Parliament, informants said.

There have been instances where the academic staff supported the JVP against the VC. The staff   does not want to upset the JVP forces in the campus, said critics. When the VC insisted that Students Council show their financial accounts and did not allow JVP posters to be displayed   in the university, the staff and students opposed him.  When the VC wanted the university to organize the batch photo some lecturers were opposed to it.  

JVP has interfered with the university administration. JVP was behind the work stoppage by non-academic staff in the University of Colombo. They will create issues out of anything, said an academic, even mosquitoes on the university premises.  

JVP demands are not about student facilities but weaknesses or deficiencies in the administration such as corruption in building contracts   or the reinstatement of employees who have been suspended  from work. These issues have nothing to do with  the students.

Student political groups have become the watchdogs of university administration whereas legitimate authorities such as the UGC or the office of the Auditor General’s Department should perform this function, complained academics.,

JVP makes implacable demands regarding students, reported Weeramunda. Concessions obtained by the JVP include favored treatment for students in police custody for crimes committed, silence on the issue of whether police should be kept out of the university premises, and pressure on the VC to release students in detention.  

In Kelaniya, on one occasion, students had occupied part of administration building and refused to leave unless their demands are met. Administration is playing a waiting game without resorting to forced eviction, said an impatient academic on that occasion.

Media says that the university authorities are scared of the JVP and do not inquire into the atrocities committed by the JVP in the university.  All governments since 1971 were dead scared of the JVP and did not properly investigate any of these incidents properly. No action was taken against the culprits, media said.

A female undergraduate had committed suicide after the ordeal of ragging. She left a letter with full names, addresses, and all the other details of all those who had ragged her. The list of murderers was there in the letter for any full investigation, but nothing was done. Two small bankrupt political parties with a very dark history cannot dominate all state universities, concluded a Daily News editorial.

University ragging” is part of the long term disruptive policy of the JVP said analysts. Student activism is part of a political agenda and projected by interested political parties. It is a master plan to destroy the universities. We are sitting on top of a volcano   said various academics.

In my opinion, ragging in Sri Lanka will continue as long as there are politically motivated parties exploiting vulnerable students, particularly, from deprived backgrounds. Giving solutions to the student problems is not going to stop the unrest, academics added.

However, reforms have been suggested. Here are some of them. The official welcome given to new entrants is only held at the end of the semester, after they have gone through the indoctrination of the JVP. It should instead be held at the start of the semester.

University should not allow the JVP to conduct the orientation programmes for newcomers’. The university should handle this.  There should be a well planned induction program organized by the administration   where the students are told of  the services available at the university.  Seniors have not been authorized to hold ‘discussions’ in the canteen or exert their influence over freshers, UGC said when interviewed. 

Hostels and canteen are the most used venues for inhuman ragging. It is advisable to re-think   university hostels. Their residential facilities have been regularly misused. By contrast, non-residential educational institutions such as the Open University of Sri Lanka and government-run vocational training institutes have virtually no incidences of violence and indiscipline, observed Weeramunda.

The JVP raggers in the university come mainly from the Arts Faculty. in Kelaniya  out of a total of 9000 students, only 25 or 30 are directly involved in violence  .All are Arts students with 1 or 2 from commerce, said an informant in 2007. Arts also has the most number of students from impoverished backgrounds.

Daily News editorial of September 2022 drew attention to this. It is no coincidence that the students belonging to the pro-ragging group and responsible for the mayhem at Peradeniya were products of the Arts stream, the editorial said. It is the undergraduates in the Arts Stream who are behind most of the unrest in universities. They hail from far-flung villages and carry a chip on their shoulders. They carry with them baggage derived from their depressed social backgrounds and economic deprivation.  

The solution is obvious. The Arts intake must be entirely on merit with no district quota. This is will immediately reduce the number in the Arts faculty, improve the quality of those coming in, make teaching easier and send out a far superior Arts graduate.

Universities are not allowed to select their own students,   students are allocated to university by the UGC on a complicated system marks and districts. But a rank order is now emerging. This is taking place informally through the  z-score  cut off marks. The z-score needed to enter Colombo, Peradeniya and Moratuwa are greater than for other universities.

It is suggested that the  University undergrad is a special protected species that should be treated indulgently and be allowed to do whatever it wanted .similarly, University was a special place  which the police cannot enter. Calling in the police and prosecuting offenders through the use of the civil or criminal law go against the spirit of university education, said an academic.

That is not so. The university is an institute of higher education and research, and like all other institutions,  it   is subject to the laws of the land. Further, a university is located within a police division  .The police are legally  entitled to enter a university when summoned and take suitable action. Lastly, sexual harassment is a Penal Code offence regarding which police can take action, with or without university permission.

Daily News editorial  commented on this aspect recently. It spoke of implementing the country’s existing relevant laws against all culprits without considering them as ‘special citizens’ just because they are undergraduates.  Academics agree. Undergrads should also obey the law of the land and should be taken into custody if they violate the law. They should not be allowed to put up posters all over the place, said academics.

Sri Lanka seems to treat criminal ragging in a university as unavoidable. Sri Lanka has enacted a law on ragging in university, , the Prohibition of Ragging and All Forms of Violence in Education Institutions Act No 20 of 1998. Sri Lanka seems very proud of this law. Sri Lanka should be ashamed of the fact that it had to bring in  such a law. Do other countries also have such laws?

In a normal university, there  are no regular programmes of criminal ragging taking place year after year in university owned locations such as canteen and hostels. This appears to be something unique to the  Sri Lanka  university .

Respondents to the Weeramunda survey   advised as follows. Among factors contributing to the incidence of student violence and indiscipline are the lack of proper guidelines for university administrators when confronted with such situations with the result that each vice-chancellor is left to his or her own strategies or devices to cope with them. Counselors are full-time academics who are not professionally trained to enforce law and order .The university does not have a proper system for enforcing law and order,  respondents concluded

The last sentence in the paragraph given above is relevant to university administration, the rest is not. A university  is associated with scholarship, not  violence and criminal activity. Vice chancellors and     counselors   are  expected to  do teaching and research, not learn how to control criminal ragging. Criminal activity, if it occurs  in a university ,would be dealt with by the security department of the university, which is trained to handle such matters.

The university should stop violations from happening rather than taking decisions after something happens said academics. Instead of dealing with the problem at its root, university only deals with the results. There is no indication of this happening.

In September 2022 four students of the Peradeniya University’s Law Faculty have been hospitalized after a clash between pro-raggers and anti-raggers. A group of Arts Faculty students at University of Peradeniya had attacked a group of Law students   who were having their meals in the university’s Gemba Canteen. Students who are against ragging have been banned from eating in the canteen. The law students were against ragging and the Arts group was in favor of it.

Three pro-ragging students have been suspended by the university authorities, which sparked a protest by the pro-ragging students who are refusing to leave the campus premises and continue to remain in the university hostel.

Comments from UGC on the recent fighting in the Peradeniya canteen  ignores the key issue which is ragging versus non-ragging. We are told that the arts faculty is closed and teaching will be done on line.    Criticism focuses on what the police did wrong,  not what the raggers did  wrong.

 A new deterrent is proposed. Undergraduates involved in ragging in universities will be blacklisted. These undergraduates will not be able to enter public service even if they complete their degree courses, announced UGC, ignoring  the fact that employment is outside the scope of the UGC. Ragging will continue. the University system has no intention of controlling  inhuman ragging at its rootS.   JVP will be happy.

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