Ragging, human rights and Aragalaya
Posted on October 1st, 2022

Susantha Hewa

In Sri Lanka, there are two enduring issues that annoy all those who detest blatant use of ‘institutionalised’ repression, as it were. The first is the torturing of the new entrants to universities, which is customarily called ragging”, which conveniently camouflages its perverseness behind a mask of pseudo-intellectuality. The other is the abuse of power by our so-called representatives to amass fabulous wealth, engaging in every form of corruption with impunity and resorting to strong-arm tactics when the public come to the streets to voice their discontent- all behind a façade of democracy.

For the raggers, the confines of the campus provide immunity to harass the hapless newcomers at will. Our politicians rattle off the mantra of law and order!” to make any of their excesses appear legitimate and get the people to toe the line. Now, the raggers have taken their cue from our politicians and chant human rights!” to defend ragging! They are now asserting their right to rag without being videoed! Believe it or not, they are scandalised by anyone who dares film their harassing the freshers. How dare you do it without our permission? Do you know you are violating our ‘Human Rights’?”

Tigers might as well talk about their right to kill deer. All tigers unequivocally agree that they have that right; their claws have made the Deer’s Rights”, i.e. to live unharmed, to enjoy freedom of movement, not to be killed, totally irrelevant. So the rights of the new entrants to start their academic life happily in a pleasant and peaceful environment without being persecuted by a depraved gang of so called ‘human rights warriors’, go the same as the rights of deer to live without being mauled by the ‘rights conscious’ tigers in the jungle.

Here, we have the Aragalaya– a union of many sections of society including the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF). The IUSF itself is said to be composed of students with different political affiliations. They seem to have shed their differences to be a vibrant part of the Aragalaya– fighting tooth and nail against the excesses of a regime bent on using strong-arm tactics to stifle dissent- which has been facing stiff resistance from the police and the armed forces, in addition to being the victims of goon attacks as it happened on May 9, at two agitation sites in Colombo. The point is, aren’t the raggers in universities, who are bullying the hapless new entrants, aware of the thousands of their colleagues participating in the Aragalaya against state repression are seriously undermining the authenticity of the latter, by their acts of barbarity? Can they be so loutish as to act as if they are living on another planet?

Let’s come to the more hilarious part of the raggers’ concern for their own ‘human right’ to rag without the inconvenience of being filmed by concerned onlookers. They not only protest against their being videoed without their permission but they also display their brilliance by asking some profoundly disturbing questions like- whether the ‘busybody’ had ever bothered to film how they had suffered in life, how they had managed to make ends meet, under what taxing conditions they had studied, how much their parents had sacrificed to educate them, etc. No, the nonplussed voluntary-cameraman had not lived up to their expectations! Having successfully snubbed him for failing in his ‘duty as a concerned citizen’, they demand that the ‘busybody’ delete what he has recorded.

What defies comprehension is the total lack of empathy of these self-proclaimed ‘human rights activists’ with the pitiful condition of their victims. Haven’t the new entrants come from the same land of woes? Haven’t they experienced the same deprivations which the raggers claim they had experienced? Do they expect to exorcise the consequences of inept politics by terrifying the newcomers? What kind of perversity drives them to traumatise their own younger brothers and sisters, who had already been equally victimized by an unjust system against which thousands of their own colleagues fight on the streets?


activists, including the IUSF, have never protested against the numerous instances of their being harassed- being teargased, pounded by water cannons and manhandled by law-enforcement officers and also wanton attacks by thugs. In fact, using cellphones to capture any instance of harassment or even any intervention by the police, for instance, for traffic offences, has become an established practice. After all, it is strong evidence that can be used by the ‘victim’ when resorting to legal action.

Usually, it is not the victims- it is the tormentors who are worried about being captured by cameras and cellphones. The video footage on the now famous Mihintale Sermon showed some government VIPs, caught in an unexpected tragicomic misadventure, making valiant efforts to appear nonchalant- even affable, but squirming in their seats all the while. Today, cellphone has become the sworn enemy of those who feel guilty of what they are doing. If the raggers are so pious, they should encourage their being videoed instead of crying foul.

All these years the raggers have had no reason to pretend to be serious about human rights because they had been so well-organized to make them irrelevant. However, now cellphones have become the most useful companion of the vulnerable in society, in its potential role of being an eyewitness” of any excesses. In a twist of irony, today raggers, who have thus far managed to thwart all efforts to neutralise this barbaric practice, have been outraged by being videoed in action. After all, the cellphone is becoming a liberating agent in our troubled paradise. Ragging should be condemned as a shameful relic of a barbaric civilisation. It can have no justification in a society fighting against all forms of depravity, injustice and suppression. The raggers must be sternly told that all that nonsense about building fellowship, ‘guiding’ the ‘novices’ and the rest can only expose their lack of rudimentary civility and sophistication.

Susantha Hewa

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