Sexuality Studies at the Peradeniya Campus in 1980
by Sachi Sri Kantha, December 14, 2020
Presentation script for 1980 Ceylon Studies Seminar Ragging at Peredeniya 1980
Recently while searching for details on Sri Lankan universities, I came across a Ph.D dissertation (313 pages) submitted to the University of Edinburgh in 2011 by Eshani Samantha Ruwanpura. The title was, ‘Sex or Sensibility? The making of chaste women and promiscuous men in a Sri Lankan university setting’. She had mentioned that her thesis supervisors were Prof. Jonathan Spencer and Suzanne Fustukian.
Ruwanpura’s dissertation was based on 15 months of field work at the University of Kelaniya. She had dealt with the perennial theme of ragging (hazing) at Sri Lankan universities. When I glanced at the ‘Literature cited’ section of her dissertation, as one might have expected, citation to a ‘first of its kind’ study on ragging experienced by the 1979 new entrants of all faculties, carried by Prof. Jayadeva Hettiarachchy (then, a senior lecturer of history) and me (then, an assistant lecturer of biochemistry) in 1980 at the University of Peradeniya was missing. As we had to include women students in our study, we persuaded Mrs. Navam Hettiarachchy (who was then my Master’s thesis advisor) to join us. She did agree. The fault lies squarely with us, because we hardly bothered to publish our study in a sociology journal within a reasonable span of time. This was caused by the vagaries of our displacement from Sri Lanka.
Presentation at the Ceylon Studies Seminar in 1980
A humorous component in the results we obtained, was the sexually obscene verses 1979 entrants were forced to recite by their seniors who indulged in the ragging. In our presentation script, we provided only one example in Sinhala and Tamil, as a representative sample. As indicated in our presentation script, altogether we collected 27 and 25 such sexually obscene verses in Sinhala and Tamil respectively. As Jayadeva and Navam Hettiarachchy left the island for USA in October 1980, I retained the original data collected in that study. Subsequently, I also left for USA in August 1981 – leaving behind the originally collected data. The merit of that study was that student samples were from three ethnic groups and the data were in Sinhala and Tamil. After 40 years, now I regret the loss of such collected original ethnographic data. Thus, I also lost out to be the Gershon Legman (an American self-taught scholar of dirty jokes) of Eelam Tamils!!Forty years have passed since we conducted that study. Our presentation was made at the Ceylon Studies Seminar on July 22, 1980. In this study, we had a sample number of 113 students (70 men and 43 women), comprising of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim ethnic groups. We delivered pre (before the commencement of ragging period) and post (after the end of ragging period) questionnaires, and collected the responses. The ragging period lasted for two weeks. While Jayadeva was in charge of the Sinhala scripts obtained from the Sinhala students, I was in charge of the Tamil scripts obtained from the Tamil students. After analysis, we prepared our presentation manuscript. The title was, ‘A social interaction based on derision: a case study of ragging in a residential university’. Luckily, I have saved a copy in my files, and for the benefit of future researchers on sexuality in Sri Lanka, I present a pdf version nearby.
After completing my Ph.D, when I landed in Tokyo in 1986, so as not to waste the data we collected, I prepared the 1980 manuscript for publication and got it published in the Asian Medical Journal, as a short contribution. The caption of this publication was not mine, but that of journal editor. For record, I present a pdf version of this publication as well.
On this theme of ragging at the Sri Lankan universities, I also located a 2008 study on dental students of University of Peradeniya, authored by Premadasa and colleagues, published in Medical Teacher journal in 2011. The sample number of this study was only 65 (21 men and 44 women). Compared to this, the sample number of our 1980 study was 113! Even this Premadasa et al. study published in Medical Teacher failed to cite our 1980 study, published in Asian Medical Journal. It tells something about the quality of literature search indulged by some researchers with higher degrees.
Cornog M and Perper T. Make Love, Not War: The Legacy of Gershon Legman, 1917-1999. Journal of Sex Research, 1999; 36(3): 316-317.
Hettiarachchy J, Sri Kantha S and Hettiarachchy N.S. A social interaction based on derision: a case study of ragging in a residential university. Ceylon Studies Seminar 1980 series no.5, serial no. 89, 21 pages.
Holt J. The history of jokes and those who collect them. New Yorker, Apr. 12, 2004. (about the legacy of Gershon Legman)
Premadasa IG, Wanigasooriya NC, Thalib L and Ellepola NB. Harassment of newly admitted undergraduates by senior students in a Faculty of Dentistry in Sri Lanka. Medical Teacher, 2011; 33: e556-e563.
Sri Kantha S, Hettiarachchy J and Hettiarachchy N.S. A report on the sexual aspects of ‘hazing’ at a university residence in Sri Lanka. Asian Medical Journal (Tokyo), 1986; 29(10): 590-595.