Monday, June 30, 2008

[SundayObserver] Legal framework on university ragging and establishing student unions

Every citizen of Sri Lanka, belonging to any ethnic group, race, religion or caste or any social position should come within the existing law of the country. The Penal Code, Civil Procedure Code and other statutory laws subject certain human activities into criminal or civil liability. These precepts ensure the right to life and the freedom to live for all citizens.

Further, the human rights of citizens of Sri Lanka are protected in terms of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka which is the supreme law in the country. According to this Constitution, any citizen can produce a petition to the Supreme Court in terms of the article 126 of the Constitution in case of a human right violation or a case closer to the infringement.

The Constitution further highlights ruthless, brutal or contemptuous treatment to any party by another as a violation of human rights.

University students are also considered as citizens and are subjugated to the Common Law that prevails in the country. Accordingly, the constitutional constrains specified above are equally applicable to university students. Any form of civil or criminal offence executed by them are liable to be punished and in an instance of violation of such rights committed by university students, they shall be produced before the relevant Court and subject to suitable punishment that followed by the trial.

University education is the outcome of free education. It is a privilege for being able to acquire higher education gratuitously for Sri Lankan students who complete their secondary education successfully. Each student entering the University/Higher Educational Institution should prioritize the idea of reaping the best harvest out of it.

The Government allocates about Rs. 15 billion per year out of the decentralized budget on university education and a considerable sum is allocated on students’ learning needs. libraries, and other service facilities as well as the welfare needs. The students should be mindful to utilize the maximum use out of the money spent and complete their education successfully to step into the society as responsible human beings.

However, there has been an apparent increase in ragging in recent times and other forms of violence in the university system. In contrast to its original idea of making it an entertaining process to befriend the fresher, it has gradually become a strategy to fulfil various mental, physical and political needs of a certain group of people.

This is not a phenomenon that can be accepted in any civilized society. It has been revealed that a considerable number of university students has dropped out due to physical and mental disability caused by ragging. As a result a Parliament Act namely,

Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998 was passed.

As specified in the detailed note of the Act, it is identified as an Act to eliminate ragging and other forms of violent and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment from educational institutions.

In terms of the Act, ragging means ‘any act which causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury or mental pain or fear to a student or a member of the staff of an educational institution’.

The Act specifies the relevant Higher Educational Institutions coming under the Act and that includes all the Higher Educational Institutions established under the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978.

Provisions of the Act are as follows:

* Any person who commits or participates in ragging within or outside the Educational Institution, shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and on conviction after summary trial be liable for a term not exceeding two years.

* The victim shall be paid a compensation of an amount determined by court in respect of the injuries caused to such person.

* If a sexual harassment or grievous hurt is caused whilst committing ragging the person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years on conviction after a summary trial. In addition he may also be ordered to pay a compensation of an amount determined by Court to the victim.

* If the victim is threatened to cause injury to the person, reputation or property of some other person of whom the victim is interested, with the intention of causing fear in the victim or compelling the victim to do any act which the victim is not legally required to do, or to omit to do any act which the victim is entitled to do, shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction be liable for rigorous imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

* Any person restricting the personal liberty and the freedom of movement of any other person shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to rigorous imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

*Any person unlawfully obstructing the right to proceed in any direction of another person shall be liable to the above mentioned punishment.

* Any person unlawfully restricting the other person from proceeding beyond certain circumscribing limits can be punished as stated above.

* Any person occupying premises of an Educational Institution by force without a lawful excuse or causing damage to any such property shall be on conviction after a summary trial and can be imprisoned for terms not exceeding 10 years and 20 years respectively and shall be liable to a fine as stated in the Act.

* In addition to the above mentioned punishments the convict can be expelled from the institution by the Court. (Article 8)
* A special provision of the Act is that, if a person suspected or accused of committing an offence of sexual harassment or causing a serious injury whilst ragging in terms of Section 2 of Subsection (2) of the Act in an Educational Institution, he/she shall not be released on bail expect by the High Court.
* The provisions of this Act shall be made effective in addition to the provisions of the Penal Code and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act No. 22 of 1994.

The above mentioned provisions clearly explain that convicts are subjugated to severe legal constraints. It is evident that the main intention of laying down restrictions over the act of bailing out is to ban inhuman acts from Educational Institutions.

In addition to these provisions, in terms of by Laws of each Higher Educational Institution, action can be taken against those who engage in inhuman and violent acts by that Institution.

The steps which a victim can follow are!

1. Inform the authorities of the Higher Educational Institution; and

2. Pave the way to Police to take actions under the above mentioned ragging Act by lodging an entry at the nearest Police Station.

Accordingly, a convict is liable to be subjugated to the punishment under the Act and other forms of punishments and fines ordered by the Court in accordance with the other legal provisions. Further, it is emphasized that the studentship is automatically cancelled and naturally is subjected to disgrace and insult.

The provisions made under Part XIV of the Universities Act, No. 16 of 1978 on establishing Student Unions and other Association are as follows:

* Section 112:-

1. Each Higher Educational Institution shall have a University Student Union.

2. Each Faculty of the Higher Educational Institution shall have a Faculty Student Union.

3. Selection of office bearers of these Unions and their activities should be defined by the Councils of the respective Higher Educational Institutions through by-laws.

* Section 115: Any Higher Educational Institution may recognize any Union, society or other associations of students of that Institution for the purpose of furthering academic or social objectives, provided that the membership of such union, society or other association consists entirely of students of that Institution.

* Section 118: If any union or society to other association of a Higher Educational Institution conducts itself in a manner, which, in the opinion of the principal executive officer of that Institution, obstructs the proper administration of that Institution, or acts in contravention of the Universities Act or any other union, such principal executive officer may suspend or dissolve such union, society or other association, as the case may be.

* Accordingly, it is emphasised that the students of the Higher Educational Institutions are authorized to establish only the following unions/societies and other associations:

1. University Students Union,

2. Faculty Students Unions and

3. Societies formed for the sole purpose of furthering academic or social objectives as stated in Section 115 of the Act.

* Any person manipulating students in the guise of Student Unions or disturbing the Management of the Higher Educational Institutions/Institutes or obstructing the education of same are liable to be severely punished under the prevailing civil law and the by-laws of the Higher Educational Institutions.

* Finally, the students are warned that they should not use the above unions/associations to achieve political objectives.

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