Students are not above the law

Sunday Leader Editorial

Sri Lankan society is periodically woken up by the shocking and barbaric behaviour of its students who are often patronizingly referred to as ‘our children’ (ape daruwo).

The latest shock was administered by students of the Agriculture Faculty of the prestigious Peradeniya University. Eight freshers were found by the police locked up in a house near the campus, stripped naked and being tortured by 15 of their seniors. This senseless barbarism was being perpetrated under the name of ‘ragging’.

Students, mostly undergraduates, are today seen marching in their hundreds shoulder to shoulder braving police batons, water cannon and tear gas to fight for ‘noble causes’ and ‘their rights’. Next we see them committing acts of extreme savagery on their colleagues for inexplicable reasons. The excuse is often trotted out: ‘Not us but some others’. But having taken to street insurrections under the banner of common students’ bodies such as the Inter University Students’ Federation to fight for lofty ideals such as maintenance of professional standards, can a certain section wash their hands off the barbarism of fellow students? We have yet to see even a condemnation being issued by some of these righteous student bodies. Are the elitists using the hoi polloi for the promotion of their cause and then rejecting them?

The public expects high moral standards and discipline from those who are demanding the same from the authorities.

Reams have been written over decades by learned academics on the causes of ‘ragging’ and proposals made how to eliminate them. But ‘ragging’ goes on. Sociological and political reasons have been given for the elimination of this social malaise but to no avail.

Perhaps medical advice may help. Are we a mentally sick society?

Laymen may answer in the affirmative if the subjects concerned are politicians. We are however now discussing students. We wonder whether there has been any medical research done on the state of mind of undergraduates of today. Articles and letters published in newspapers have queried the mental stresses and strains these students would have undergone since entering the ‘rat race’: Entering ‘good schools’, Grade V Examination, GCE-O and then 4 As at the GCE-AL.

We leave that problem to our learned doctors but we have to point out that our mental health medical services are far off the mark. Sri Lanka appears to be nowhere to other countries on the state of mental health of various categories of persons or even institutions serving the mentally ill despite claims of leading lights being the ‘best in the world’.

The paucity of medical specialists in this field may be due to there being little money to be made in this field.

Going by the media publicity given on TV and the press to events in schools, much more potential disasters awaits the nation with future generations of undergrads.

Today’s tiny tots are regularly seen on TV and in press photos demonstrating against their principals and teachers at times with the support of their screaming parents. Is this primary school training for demonstrations on the streets ten years later? The protests may be justified but the use of little children as pawns to serve the interests of adults is atrocious. With this kind demonstrations catching on and spreading fast, thanks to the media, the end products of higher education we would see at universities is not surprising.

The rejection of the old adage: Spare the rod and spoil the child could be a reason for the present chaotic state of affairs. In the distant past miscreant boys who dared to stray away from accepted ways and conduct were whipped into submission. Old timers recall their former masters with nostalgia even though they say the revered teachers under today’s laws would have been behind bars for the violence unleashed on the boys. These generations of students were largely responsible for what post-independence Sri Lanka is today. They were fairly well disciplined in the youth and so are they in their senility.

The practice of frog marching principals and teachers in schools was first observed during the days of the 1988-’89 JVP revolution when student revolutionaries frog marched their teachers and principals. There is no more frogs marching now but the respect and regard for teachers are gone.

It has been reported that the sadistic and cruel punishment which new students in universities are subjected to by some student leaders are motivated to break down the spirit of the victims and making them obedient to their political diktats. This repeated over two to three years builds up a political cadre.

We have no solution to ragging or student agitation with political motivations other than to recommend discipline to be enforced from kindergarten to post-graduate level.
Students are not above the law. They should be subjected to the same laws as all citizens of Sri Lanka.