Deplorable Conditions of the Sri Lankan Universities

| by Darshani Wimalasuriya

( February 09, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today Sri Lankan Universities are facing a huge dilemma. The quality of university education is declining and according to the World ranking Sri Lankan universities are lower than the universities in Uganda – a country that has a lower literacy rate than Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan universities are filed with violence, extremist student politics, strikes , low productivity, and moral decay.

Who is responsible for this fiasco?

Recently three students from the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya were arrested by the Police and produced before the Kandy additional Magistrate Mr. Ravindra Premaratne for sexually assaulting a fresher. Three second year students named Charith Lakmal, Ruchira Madushanka and Yohan Sandaruwan of the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya where remanded until the 9th of February 2012. According to the investigations the student offenders had taken the victim to a lonely area of the university and they had stripped the victim by force and sodomized him. The victim sustained physical and psychological injuries and later treated at the hospital. DIG Sudath Nagahamulla of the Sri Lanka Police Department conducted the investigation.

In another incident three second year female students of the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya were charged with ragging a group of female freshers in a lavatory. These female freshers were stripped naked during the ragging and they were forced to perform indecent acts of sexual nature. The University authorities imposed three week suspension on these three female students. According to an unofficial internal report these three senior female students sexually molested a newcomer female student from Gampaha District. The internal report further reveals that the victim was afraid to lodge a complaint to the university authorities. Therefore no further charges were brought against the perpetrators. Although these senior female students had committed a serious sexual offence they will be able to participate in lectures soon after the 3 week suspension.

Sexual violence has been increased in the Peradeniya University and the authorities are reluctant to take adequate measures and sometimes a turn a blind eye says a new student who has second thoughts of leaving the university and applying for an Australian university to continue his higher studies. A considerable number of new students were subjected to various types of sexual harassments and brutal ragging but many are maintaining silence he further says.

Sexual violence and brutal physical ragging is a hidden malady in the Sri Lankan universities and Perdeniya University has the worst reputation. The most infamous and horrible case of sexual violence was reported in 1975 from the Peradeniya University. A young 22 year old female student named Rupa Rathnaseeli of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya jumped from the second floor of the hostel -Ramanathan Hall when a group of seniors tried to insert a pen in to her vagina as a part of sadistic physical ranging. She sustained serious injuries to her spinal cord and became paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair for many years. Her dreams were shattered and young life was wasted. In 1997 Rupa Rathnaseeli committed suicide. Upon this incident the Peradeniya University Authorities made a cover-up story and concealed the evidence. After her death they conveniently forgot about Miss Rupa Rathnaseeli. Those who attempted to administer sexual violence on her working as administrators today. Some are university professors.

The second prominent victim of Peradeniya University was Selvanayagam Varapragash – a first-year engineering student who was murdered on the campus in 1997. He was subjected to sadistic ragging and in the post-mortem a large quantity of tooth paste were found in his rectum. Selvanayagam Varapragash was just 21 years old. For brutally murdering Selvanayagam Varapragash a group of seven Engineering faculty seniors were indicted but many of them were acquitted due to inadmissible evidence. Today his murders are free and some are living in Canada and Australia working as professionals but hiding their murky murderous past.

University of Ruhuna is one of the leading Universities in Sri Lanka. In 1993 an innocent student named Chaminda Punchihewa of the Ruhuna University died as a result of cruel ragging. He was viciously beaten and forced to perform vigorous exercises by senior students. In 1997 a first year female student of the University of Ruhunu committed suicide following unbearable ragging. She was subjected to unbearable sexual harassments. In 2011 Professor Susirith Mendis head of the Ruhuna University informed the media that a group of students administered physical ragging on a female student – Vathsala Kumudini De Silva and as a result of physical ragging she became semi-paralyzed in one limb. Before she faced physical ragging she was forced to repeat 10 filthy words in Sinhala to her group mates by the seniors.

Sri Lankan Universities have student political groups that are manipulated by the extremists. When a new batch of students arrives at the University, they are intimidated and threatened to use physical ragging by the seniors. Often the new students are not allowed to have a dialog with the university lecturers, not allowed ask questions at the lectures , not allowed to take part in the English courses and not allowed to use the university library by these extreme student unions. The freshes have to wear non expensive clothes and for them it is prohibited to wear shoes. In some universities they are not allowed to take baths or clean themselves after using the toilet for a number of weeks. In some universities the students are not allowed to drink beverages like coca cola. This sanction was vigorously implemented at the University of Colombo and University of Kelaniya.

The senior students of the Sri Lankan universities use physical and sexual harassments to control the newcomers. Among the sexual violence forcefully stripping naked, forced masturbation, forced to perform oral or anal sex, sexual act simulation, urinating on victim, inserting pens and candles to the victim’s anus or vagina, smearing tooth paste or marmite in the victims genitals, forcing to wear clothes without undergarments (without panties or jockstraps ) , bucketing or throwing dirty water with animal and human feces, swearing with utter filth, interrogating the victim with thousands of vulgar questions, forced to repeat filthy words or sing filthy songs infant of a group etc. are quite common. Although rape and sodomy are rare the recent reports indicate that these types of extreme form of violence are slowly emerging in the Sri Lankan Universities.

The student political groups use ragging as a weapon to control the new students and to indoctrinate them. There are unspeakable human right violations occurring inside the Sri Lankan universities and many university professors and other authorities maintain silence. Many of the sexual and physical harassments are covered by the university establishment and the general public is unaware of most of the horrible events that occur in these educational institutions. Majority of the university lecturers do not want to get involved in internal politics or to have grudges with the extremist student groups. Sometimes inhuman form of ragging is happening infant of their eyes and still they do nothing to stop it. Many university teachers pretend that they did not see the incident and move away. The professors and lecturers openly opposed ragging were subjected to numerous types of violence and some were compelled to leave the universities for their safety.

Sri Lankan Universities are virtually dead says a senior lecturer attached to the University of Colombo. According to him qualified professors go to the overseas universities seeking prosperous job opportunities. Only the old and inefficient academics are trapped in the local universities. Majority of the Sri Lankan University Professors and senior lecturers do not want to improve the quality of the local universities or stop sadistic ragging. They never send their children to the Sri Lankan Universities. Their children go to the universities in United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. These irresponsible actions have created a huge academic void in the local universities.

When the academics and university authorities were avoiding their responsibility several student leaders took courageous measures to stop ragging and sexual harassments in the Sri Lankan Universities. Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha was a third year Management student of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He was a charismatic student leader who launched anti-ranging champagne at the university and soon other universities were inspired by his humane crusade. A group of student extremists killed him on the 7th of November 2002. He was inhumanly assaulted at the university premises and attacked with a computer monitor and smashed his head. One of his killers and one who masterminded the murder - Sujith Kuruwita used his political backings to evade the charges and today he is at large. After Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha’s death his humane campaign had a lesser voice and again violence and sadism took control of the Sri Lankan universities.

Regrettably Sri Lankan Universities are facing moral and educational degradation especially in the last four decades. One time Sri Lankan universities were the shining examples of higher education and academic leadership. Unfortunately the quality of education and research work in the Sri Lankan universities have gone down drastically. Today Sri Lankan universities are lagging behind. According to the 2011World University Ranking Sri Lankan universities have a lower position and some African countries with low literacy rate than Sri Lanka have far more better educational ranking than the Sri Lankan Universities.

Urgent measures must be taken to stop physical and sexual violence in the Sri Lankan Universities and the quality of education must be improved. Recently the Minister of Higher Education Mr. S.B Dissanayake told the media that he intends to invite overseas students to the Sri Lankan Universities. With current low grade of education quality, massive violence and frequent strikes in the Sri Lankan universities the foreign students might think twice to come to further their education in Sri Lanka. Higher education is the only hope and salvation to the Sri Lankans and do not let anyone to destroy it.


Ragging: History and Evolution by Harsh Agarwal
The Fundamental Threat to Sri Lankan University Education - Prof. Shantha K. Hennayake
Ragging in Sri Lankan Universities and Anti-Ragging Act of Sri Lanka
ගුණාත්මක බවින් තවත් පහළට වැටෙන ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ විශ්ව විද්‍යාල - සුපුන් පෙරේරා
පේරාදෙණිය උගන්ඩාවටත් පහලින්- සුපුන් පෙරේරා
පේරාදෙණිය‍ විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ කාන්තා සමලිංගික හිංසනය - ඩී සුගත් රාජපක්ෂ (