Student Riots And Closing Universities In Sri Lanka

Yesterday, there was another incident of students rioting at a university here in Sri Lanka. It happens with a frequency that I found alarming, and it led to all sorts of questions.

Like, these students know that their school will be shut down, whether for days, weeks, months, or longer, so their education will be interrupted, so why do they riot? What happens to their education? Does a 4-year degree suddenly take 5 or 7 years to complete? What happens to the courses and exams and everything? And… why?

I asked Fahim about it, and we had a bit of a lengthy discussion about it. It’s all a foreign concept to me. Anyway, this is the situation as I understand it, but of course, with my faulty memory in combination with my own cultural prejudices, I could be getting some details wrong. So, especially if you’re Sri Lankan and reading this, please feel free to correct/expand upon my comments.

First things first. University, or what Americans would call college, where you get bachelors degrees, that are run by the government here are free. Very competitive to get in, of course, which is also why there are private universities that help to ease the congestion and load.

But the fact that the education is free makes a difference, I think. No mommy or daddy telling a student to shape up and behave because they’re forking over however many rupees to pay for the thing. Reduced accountability.

I’m also under the impression that student clashes don’t happen at the private educational institutions, or if they do, it’s at a far lower frequently than in those universities run by the government (and are free).

Apparently, many political parties recruit at the universities themselves. I’m told the JVP (I think) is especially active in this, and that some universities are JVP-run. I think run in the sense that the other political parties don’t have much foothold, although I could be wrong. And the JVP party will feed the students BS about how the rich are keeping them down and all that jazz (you know, The Man, The Establishment, and so on), so of course they protest or riot or whatever without realizing that, if they had half a brain, they’d diligently finish their education, work hard, and make a lot of money using their education, and therefore become part of that establishment.

The reasons for the rioting? Political ideologies. There are a huge number of political parties in this country anyway, and political anything gets very heated here. Elections always include body counts/counts of violence in the news here. So, this, that political ideologies is the reason behind the clashes, isn’t entirely surprising to me, although I don’t really understand it, what with being a typical Canadian who’s really rather apathetic about politics.

The bit about education continuing and what happens to it. Apparently, the school year/term/whatever it’s called ends up being extended. So if riots close the school for two weeks, then the term is extended for two weeks. The schools must teach the required curriculum and they take the time to do it. So if a term is normally four months long, if there are enough interruptions, that term could become 6 or 8 or 10 months long.

And of course other students who are supposed to be admitted for the next school year can’t get started until the current school year is completed, even if it’s months late.

Fahim told me that, when the student protests/rioting were at its worst, some students were delayed in getting into universities by up to three years. Translation? A four year degree took seven years for those currently in. And meanwhile, some of those students might take temporary jobs while waiting for the school to reopen.

Anyway, this is my understanding of the situation, and perhaps a gross oversimplification. If I’ve got any details wrong, if there are points that need clarifying or expanding on, or if there are questions, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Author: LMAshton

3 thoughts on “Student Riots And Closing Universities In Sri Lanka

  1. You were spot on with the interpretation of the problem within Sri Lankan state universities. Being an university student myself, it is really pathetic even to hear how one could attack their own peers mercilessly.

    According to my experience most of the students enter into university without having any political bias or feeling separation. Almost all freshmen have high hopes on having completing good education and pulling out their families from the hardships.

    But during the “Rag” season (which is literally the bonding period) is when things starts to change. The so called seniors tries to cultivate ill-feelings via mental and physical harassments. This is when most of the students get brainwashed and drawn into thoughts of discrimination and separation among themselves. These separations can take various forms – it could be either as raggers and anti-raggers, posh and poor, or by seniority, by faculties they study or political party they support.

    Most of the time what happens is handful of people who are after their own personal agendas use other innocent students as their pawns. Whoever goes against their will suddenly become their enemy and full force will be used against them. At the end of the day you will find these manipulators coming scott-free and live lavishly, while the the innocent ones disrupting their future.

    I wonder how long it will take the students to actually understand the reality of this rat-race.

  2. Lakshan, thanks for commenting. I’m glad to hear I didn’t get anything aggregiously wrong.

    How long does rag season last? BTW, in US/Canada, it’s called froshing, and has actually been outlawed in parts of the US because of resulting deaths. It wasn’t a part of my university experience at all, and as far as I know, in Canadian universities, it only takes place in conjunction with frat and sorority houses, but doesn’t happen otherwise. So it’s one more experience that’s completely foreign to me.

    The way Fahim’s explained local rag season, it sounds a lot more like socially inept students taking out their aggressions from their rag season on the latest batch. Because they can and for no other reason. At any rate, it doesn’t sound at all fun to me, nor does it sound like it accomplishes anything at all. Am I wrong?

  3. Hi Laurie,

    Sorry I missed the comment thread..
    Anyway here are the answers to questions you had..

    The rag season normally lasts for 1-3 months. It depends on the university and academic schedule.

    >> it only takes place in conjunction with frat and sorority houses, but doesn’t happen otherwise.

    Here too, most of the physical form of ragging happens secretly inside hostels and boarding houses.

    >> it sounds a lot more like socially inept students taking out their aggressions from their rag season on the latest batch

    Yeah, most of the students don’t have any clue of why ragging exists. They just take the revenge of what happened to them from their next batch. It’s just a form of releasing their mental pressure. Also there are hidden intentions like getting the loyalty from the freshmen, or promote their political agendas, etc

    However the whole idea of ragging should be to make the freshmen comfortable with the campus environment and promote friendship. But I doubt whether it’s achieved. I believe, most of these conflicts among students, are consequences of the ill-treatment they had in their freshmen period.

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