By Ranee Mohamed – Photos by Asoka Fernando
Despite vehement denials by the Vice Chancellor of the Sri Jayawardenapura University, N. L. A. Karunaratne that he sent six girls for a virginity test, The Sunday Leader met with and spoke to two of the girls who had been subjected to this humiliating act.
“It was about 6.30 p.m. There was enough light and we just could not engage in ‘such things’. We were not misbehaving. The Vice Chancellor suddenly came upto us and shouted at us and said that he is going to send us for a virginity test. He took ‘aiya’ away. The security officers came along and took us all into an ambulance and we were driven away to the Kalubowila Hospital,” said the girl, almost in tears.
She spoke to The Sunday Leader on condition of anonymity.
“My heart was racing on the way. I felt ashamed and scared. This was the greatest insult one could thrust on a woman,” she said.
“When we reached the Kalubowila Hospital, the men who were in the front – and the driver of the ambulance got off and went into the hospital. We had to wait for some time and then we were driven back. There were four others with me. What I overheard from the conversation is that the doctors had refused to do the test,” she said.
“In the meantime the Vice Chancellor who collected our ID cards had informed our homes and told our parents that we be married off or face shame….” she cried.
According to Student Leader Udul Premaratne, the girls were forcibly bundled into the university ambulance bearing number 325-2594 on August 25 at about 6.30 p.m.
“I don’t know the details of whether they ascertained whether their hymens were in tact, but the disturbing fact here is that the girls were taken for the test from the Sri Jayewardenepura University,” said Premaratne.
Another student went on to say that the Vice Chancellor had himself allegedly spoken about sending five students for a virginity test to the hospital during a ceremony held in the Computer Room.
“The incident also ought to have been recorded in the complaint book with the proctor,” said the student.
Karunaratne meanwhile has a different version. “First they surrounded the building and wanted to drink my blood, then they poisoned me, so much so that I cannot bite a (bonchi) green bean today,” said N.L.A Karunaratna, Vice Chancellor of the Sri Jayewardene University at a media briefing held on Thursday in the hallowed precincts of the Sri Jayewardenepura University.
“They even slashed the tyres of my car,” said the Vice Chancellor. “These are students who are spies; they accept money from overseas. I don’t have to fight them. I am a man who observes pansil,” said the Vice Chancellor.
As docile students stood under trees and buildings, chewing their finger nails and peering from afar at journalists from the print and electronic media, the Vice Chancellor and others went on to counter allegations that a group of students were forcibly bundled into a vehicle and sent for a ‘virginity test’ on the orders of the Vice Chancellor.
“This disgruntled lot are but a 0.05% of the students. They are angry that they cannot rag and have their own way that is why they made up this story of a ‘virginity test’ that I supposedly initiated,” said the Vice Chancellor, flanked by the Librarian G.N.P. Gallaba, a Student Counselor Sepala Samarasinghe and a Proctor. He went on to point out that he has brought an unprecedented change to the Sri Jayewardenepura University.
The Deans of the Faculty of Management, Science, Arts and Medical Science however were reportedly at a ‘Talent Show’ and did not participate in the press conference. There were about 15 lecturers in the audience.
The Vice Chancellor went on to say: “Today a fresher can use the library, a fresher can walk around without fear of being ragged. Ragging and mischief making are relics of the past. So it is only natural that there are a disgruntled few here.
“If you gave so much publicity to an incident which never took place, if you gave prominence to a totally fabricated story, then you must give equal publicity to what I have to say,” said the Vice Chancellor.
Treating journalists with utmost respect, the Vice Chancellor said “I want to take care of these students. Today there are societies for sports, arts and literature. I want to make this university the best in Sri Lanka. There is zero ragging today. Our library was prohibited for freshmen by the seniors, but I changed all that,” he said. “Our nation must be made up of guna yahapath (good) citizens. My students are very happy here,” said the Vice Chancellor.
Professor Swarna Piyasiri, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies who was in the audience of the media briefing speaking exclusively to The Sunday Leader said that allegations that the Vice Chancellor sent students for a virginity test are not true. “It is impossible. He is a very nice person. He likes the students and he protects them from ragging and bad things,” she said.
“Produce these students who were taken for a virginity test,” challenged the Vice Chancellor. “Where are they?” he queried.
As we walked out of the media briefing, we were mobbed by students who said that they are disappointed and miserable with the dictatorial attitude of the Vice Chancellor. “Students who have never consumed alcohol in their lives have been suspended for drinking. When we put up a death notice about a parent of one of our fellow students, those who put up the death notices were suspended. Walk around this place, and ask any student at random and he or she will tell you that there it is impossible to study here with this kind of terror hanging over our heads,” they said.
Handing over documents to us, the students said that over 60 students have been suspended and some of them who were at home at that time did not even know why they were being suspended.
When The Sunday Leader asked why the girls are not coming forward to speak up about their experience, an enraged Premaratne said, “He wants to harass these girls. He wants to see who will come forward so that he can destroy them. We must be off our heads to make up such a story about the Vice Chancellor. Then we should make up a similar story about the Vice Chancellor of the Kelaniya University too.”
“We will produce these girls only to courts and that too with masks,” said the Student Leader. “We don’t want them to be subject to any further harassment or acts of revenge than what they have already been through. He does not have the authority to play with the lives of these students,” said Premaratne.
Meanwhile a lone voice, contacting this journalist said that he is not speaking on behalf of the student body. “I voted for the President. I am not looking at sending the Vice Chancellor home. What we want is to change him. The Vice Chancellor of a university is like the father in the family. We must be able to look up to him. He has got rid of ragging and I appreciate that because I am against ragging too. But he has suspended approximately 60 students. Just imagine how they feel. Their photographs and details are at the security gate. They are not allowed to enter the university. Approximately 50 students are being taken to courts. Some of the girls who were sent by the Vice Chancellor for the virginity tests are from a minority community. Their futures have been destroyed by being sent for this test alone…” he said begging that he not be identified.
Director of the Colombo South Teaching Hospital, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, contacting this journalist said that the report that the Kalubowila Hospital carried out a ‘virginity test’ on students at the Sri Jayewardenepura University is not true.
“Such a test is done only in the case of a rape victim or at the request of courts or police authorities,” said Dr. Jasinghe. I have checked up with the OPD and JMO whether such tests have been done in mid September but there is no such record,” said Jasinghe and went on to insist that his hospital does not routinely do such tests.
“Even if anyone is brought for such a test, medical ethics will not allow any doctor to do such a test at random,” pointed Dr. Jasinghe.
Meanwhile a lecturer at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, speaking to The Sunday Leader on Saturday on conditions of anonymity said that the Vice Chancellor is his friend but went on to say that the staff are unhappy with him but are unable to speak out due to insubordination or disloyalty. “Many of the members of the staff, including myself are very uncomfortable with him. These students are adults and we cannot interfere in their personal lives,” he said.
“He is trying to establish a Sinhala Buddhist, Jathika Chinthanaya. All that is good. But 50 students have been suspended and never in the history of this university has this happened,” he said.
Going on to allege that staff are recruited according to their political leanings, the le
cturer said that sending some students for this virginity test is a fundamental rights issue.
“We Are Horrified”
Womens’ Rights Activist Shreen Saroor said that sending women for a virginity test is unlawful. “There is no way that anyone can send a woman for a virginity test or any kind of medical test on a woman’s body for that matter without her consent,” said Saroor.
“We are much perturbed. It is disgusting and cause for concern that a head of a university can be so backward in his thinking,” alleged Saroor. “Women ought to have the freedom to do what they want and not be controlled by men. Virginity tests are but a myth,” said Shreen Saroor who went on to observe “Doctors refusing to conduct such a test shows that the medical profession is far ahead and is aware of socially constructed norms.”