Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Universities as torture chambers

The Islan, Editorial, December 25, 2011, 4:38 pm The government may have thought its controversial residential leadership training programme for the prospective university entrants, at military camps, would serve as an effective antidote to campus ragging because the trainees were physically and psychologically prepared to stand up to the sick elements in the garb of undergraduates. But, if the very high incidence of ragging reported from universities during the past few weeks is any indication, that scheme has failed to yield the intended results. Unable to bear it anymore, some first year undergraduates have gone public with the suffering they are made to undergo in the name of ragging. There have been several unfortunate incidents; one female student of the University of Ruhuna was admitted to hospital due to ragging the other day. Time was when the government used to blame the ultra radical political elements for using ragging as an instrument of indoctrination. But, today, the pro-government student groups who used to haul their rivals over the coals for torturing the new entrants stand accused of ragging! Brutal ragging where force and violence are employed is an act of terrorism, which must be treated as such. The severity of that offence does not diminish in anyway because it is perpetrated at the seats of higher learning. The government, the university authorities and the police are duty bound to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice to make universities safe for others. It is also imperative that university teachers stop running with the hare and hunting with the hound; they must come down hard on ragging. They should put their own house in order before campaigning for restoring the rule of law in the country at large. Some dons at the Colombo University have taken up the cudgels for the victims of ragging half-heartedly. They as well as their counterparts elsewhere must go the whole hog and protect the cowering, voiceless students. It's no use urging new entrants to confront their violent, organised tormentors who hunt in packs. One cannot reason with mobs to act rationally. Even the university teachers lack the courage to do so, don't they? So, what needs to be done is to deal with the torturers severely according to the law. While there is absolutely no need for any intimidating police presence inside universities, the law enforcement authorities must be able to move in, in case of breaches of law, unless the university authorities are capable of handling such situations themselves. In May last year we pointed out in these columns the pressing need for the police to be deployed to arrest lawbreakers in universities. In 1953, no less a person than Sir Ivor Jennings had this to tell the Warden of the James Peiris Hall, Peradeniya University, at that time, who in a letter to Sir Ivor opposed police action against students during riots in that year: "It is of course the practice of this University as it is the practice of other Universities, to endeavour to maintain discipline among its students, including the observance of the general laws, without requiring the assistance of the police. The police in Ceylon, as in England, help the university by drawing attention to any threat against the laws of Ceylon of which they become aware, in the hope that the University will be able to prevent it. This practice does not, however, deprive the police of the right and the duty to take steps as may be lawful for dealing with actual or threatened breaches of laws … The simplest and the best way for the students of the James Peiris Hall to keep the police out of this Hall is for them all to do their duty as citizens and observe the laws of the island … If either because of a request from the University or because of their general duty under the laws of the island it becomes necessary for the police to enter the Hall it is the duty of every student to assist the police in the execution of their duty. The university itself will give the police every assistance and in no circumstances will it condone or excuse breaches of the laws of Ceylon in the James Peiris Hall or elsewhere." The government boasts of having removed the scourge of terrorism. But, sadly, it has failed to clear some pockets of terror. The time has come for it to liberate the universities from the clutches of terrorists who employ mindless violence and torture for political purposes. Its reluctance or hesitance or failure to do so will bolster the contention of its critics that under the pretext of eliminating ragging, it is only trying to neutralise the JVP-led student unions and consolidate its power in universities with the help of another bunch of thugs.

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