The Sri Lanka Medical Association is calling on all Presidential candidates to take a stand against the “grave and threatening’ situation within universities. In a letter dated November 13th, the SLMA is asking whoever wins the presidential contest to ‘publicly condemn and renounce all forms of physical, sexual and emotional violence in universities and genuinely pledge to take remedial action no sooner you take office.’
Pointing out that the escalation of violence, abuse and hate within our society is a reflection of “cruel and extreme forms of physical, sexual and emotional violence” that takes place in our universities now, under the “guise of ragging,” the SLMA has set out five recommendations it wants the new president to commit to, to eliminate ragging in universities.
- Publicly condemn and renounce all forms of physical, sexual and emotional violence in universities and genuinely pledge to take remedial action no sooner you take office.
- Invite all Vice Chancellors with Deans, for a discussion on the atrocities taking place in their universities. Describe with pictorial and other evidence, this extremely disturbing situation. Emphasise the absolute importance of being responsible and accountable for violence within their respective institution.
- Develop a scheme of rewards for university academics, Deans and Vice Chancellors who pro-actively denounce violence in any form. And, who demonstrably take action to eliminate violence, to be rewarded academically and nationally through honors or other mechanisms. Whereas, for academics who are complacent, whilst knowing that violence continues to be meted out to freshers, appropriate action to be taken. This mechanism to be woven into the academics’ key performance indicators, (KPIs) structure, with necessary penalties as well as rewards.
- Ensure that the authorities overseeing university education (including the Minister, Deputy Minister, and the UGC) are fully empowered to initiate inquiries and to take violence related disciplinary processes to completion, so that they can work with the Police and all relevant institutions without any form of interference – political or otherwise.
- Enable the development of a robust Victim Protection System and a Witness Protection System so that complaints can be made by those affected, sans fear of intimidation.
In its appeal, the SLMA states that there is evidence that students are required to lie atop of each other naked, packed tightly in confined spaces and that males are subjected to a form of torture where their testicles are crushed ‘by slamming them inside a drawer’, and points out that this, then, is indicative that we are in the ‘midst of a serious and tragic societal crisis.’
That ragging or what passes for ragging in local universities today is of serious concern was highlighted in articles previously published by Counterpoint. The UGC’s Chairman, Prof. Mohan Silva, speaking to Counterpoint for its Expose on university ragging stated “I can tell you, we do not have ragging in the universities, what we have is a dangerous form of violence and sexual abuse.”(https://counterpoint.lkthe-criminal-mental-and-physical-abuse-in-our-universities-has-reached-crisis-proportions/)
The situation has led to many students dropping out of university, and even taking their lives. As Counterpoint noted in its article of October 18, 2019, titled “It’s not ragging”, while the first ragging related suicide was reported in 1974, to date a total of 16 students have committed suicide due to ragging-associated trauma. As many as 2000 students drop out every year. According to the survey ‘Ragging, Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Sri Lankan University System’, conducted by the University Grants Commission in 2019, led by principle investigator Prof. Uma Coomaraswamy, from among 14,500 University students who participated in the survey, as much as 55% admitted that they had been subject to ragging. (https://counterpoint.lkits-not-ragging/)
The Sri Lanka Medical Association first raised this issue with the presidential candidates in late October this year, when it urged the candidates to give “ the elimination of violence in Universities top priority in your election manifestos.’ The letter highlighted that while almost 2000 students qualified to get into university leave, and 16 have taken their lives over the past years, 270 are in treatment for various health conditions caused by inhuman treatment they have faced as fresher’s.