Ban ragging once and for all

TWO back-to-back man-made tragedies last week shocked the nation and once again grimly reminded us how prone we are to self-inflicted loss of lives.

The physical torture that led to the death of 21-year-old Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, a final year student at the Malaysian National Defence University in Sungai Besi was so brutal that we cannot imagine it could happen in this day and age in a civilised country.

I can’t quite remember the last time I cried when hearing or reading a tragic story but this one overwhelmed me and I am sure others as well. If anyone was able to collect the tears rolling down our cheeks, there would have been buckets of it.

The media reported that for over two days. Zulfarhan, a navy cadet officer who had a promising future ahead of him, was bound, beaten and burnt with a steam iron not by professional thugs but by his fellow university students.

To top it up, it was especially heart-wrenching that he did not get medical treatment until a week later, when two students took him not to a hospital but to a clinic in Bangi.

Even four days later, he wasn’t still warded at a hospital but back at the clinic, and only when he got worse was he sent to Serdang Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

There are so many questions that are begging for answers arising from this avoidable tragedy as well as deplorable criminal act.

Why were all the beatings not detected by the university administration? How could students go on torturing another student at will without being noticed?

And at an institution that bears the name “National Defence” at that?

As many as 36 students of which 32 are Zulfarhan’s varsity mates and four others from the nearby Universiti Tenaga Nasional are now under police custody. This is an indication that he had gone through a serial torture at the hands of so many for days.

Certainly, those suspected to have caused his death would be dealt with accordingly and the case classified as murder.

It goes without saying that Zulfarhan was a victim of bullying which at campuses stems from the ragging culture that has become a norm for new students for a long time.

Let this tragedy be a wake-up call for the university authorities to revisit this practice of ragging and ban it once and for all.

What purpose does it serve?

There have been numerous cases of ragging and bullying reported in the past.

In 2007, the father of a trainee at the Air Force College said his son was forced to drink urine and to gargle water that contained human waste.

In 2010, a student at the Royal Military College died after being tortured by his seniors.

And in 2015, a video that went viral showed a student at the Malaysian National Defence University tied up and repeatedly slapped by other students.

And what about cases that have gone unreported?

Prof Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, a former lecturer at the university, told me that during his time at the university, one of his “brilliant” students was similarly tortured until he became physically disabled or in local lingo, an OKU.

“There were also other issues like unnatural sex acts among students,” he said. “I am devastated by this latest tragedy at the university.”

Ridhuan said it was no longer logical to sweep such cases “under the carpet”.

Social activist Datuk Radzi Latif suggested that the National Defence University be placed under the Defence Ministry instead of being under both the Defence Ministry and Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE).

He said while the university per se comes under the MOHE, its military academy is under the jurisdiction of the Defence Ministry.

“It’s time to have one point of responsibility by putting this university under the Defence Ministry,” he told me.

Radzi argued although the university is meant to produce military officers, the MOHE can still regulate academic standards like it is doing for private universities, adding that the core issue is to resolve the structural problem.

Another heart-breaking tragedy last week was a road crash that killed seven religious school students aged between 14 and 18, just a day after Zulfarhan’s death.

They were on their way to a Quran recital in Kota Baru when the van ferrying them crashed into a house in Kuala Krai.

And guess what, the van driver, who is an ustaz or religious teacher, whose job is to tell others to always behave themselves to become good Muslims, doesn’t have a driving licence!

There have been many calls from fellow citizens in the past on the need for religious schools, many of which are privately-run, to be more safety conscious following incidents of fires that killed many students at hostels and the like.

What kind of negligence is this? For the school’s administrators to close one eye and allow vehicles ferrying students to be driven by someone without a driving licence?