Two of the four Jaffna University undergraduates held at the Protective Accommodation and rehabilitation Center(PARC) at Welikanda have been released on Tuesday January 22nd 2013.
Rehabilitation Commissioner-General Brigadier Tharshana Hettiarachchi confirmed to the media that the two students — Jaffna University Student Council President V.Bavananthan and Science Faculty third year student and union member S.Solomon were released today 22nd.
They were released after undergoing “rehabilitation” at Welikanda for a period of more than six weeks.Both undergrads were released officially in the presence of family members and Jaffna University Vice-chancellor Vasanthi Arasaratnam and senior members of the Varsity academic staff.
Though Bavananthan and Solomon have been released two other jaffna undergrads are still being held at Welikanda. They are Student union secretary Dharshananth and Arts Faculty union President Janamejayan.Both are expected to be released shortly.
Several Jaffna varsity students were taken into custody by the Police in Jaffna after lamps were lit on campus premises on November 27th 2012 at 6.05 pm to observe the “Maa Veerar Naal”(Great Heroes day)of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE)which remains a proscribed “terrorist”organization in Sri Lanka. Arrests were also made in connection to an alleged arson attack on the office of a Tamil organization known as “Sri-TELO” in Nallur.
Among arrested students in Jaffna eleven were brought to the TID office on November 30th 2012 and detained for further interroghation, The arrests sparked off a boycott of lectures campaign in Jaffna by fellow undergrads. The Academic and non – academic staff unions at Jaffna varsity also issued statements in support of students.
Jaffna University Vice-chancellor Dr.Vasanthi Arasaratnam made great efforts to get the arrested students released by interacting quietly with Govt authorities. She personally went to Vavuniya and visited the students in custody.
The vice-chancellor also met with Jaffna Army commander Gen Hathurusinghe, Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Higher Education Minister SB Dissanayake on separate occasions and engaged in quiet diplomacy to get the students released.
Even as Dr.Arasaratnam was engaged in these constructive efforts she was viciously attacked in LTTE and pro-LTTE media for not doing anything to get the students released and for allegedly colluding with the “enemy”.
A section of the academic staff at Jaffna varsity were also clandestinely aiding and abetting the campaign to vilify and undermine the Vice-chancellor
Politicians and Parliamentarians from the Tamil National Peoples Front and Tamil National Alliance staged protest demonstrations demanding the release of students
Meanwhile the quiet efforts of the vice-chancellor began paying dividends incrementally.
Initially seven of the eleven arrested students were released at the Vavuniya TID premises on December 10th 2012.K. Sanjeevan, S. Prasanna, S. Sasikanth, S. Janahan and T. Aparajithan of Jaffna Medical Faculty, P. Sabeskumar of Management Faculty and S. Renuraj of Science Faculty were released by the TID in the presence their parents and respective Faculty Deans.
Four undergrads Dharshananth,Bavanandan, Solomon and Janamejayan who were suspected of having links with LTTE members in the Tamil Diaspora were tranferred to Welikanda from Vavuniya for rehabilitation under provisions of the Draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act(PTA) The order issued under the PTA was for a three month period of Rehabilitation
Prof.Arasaratnam however continued with her quiet efforts to secure their early release by engaging with Govt ministers and Defence officials.
An understanding was reached where the Jaffna university was to resume functioning normally and for the four students to be released after Thai Pongal day (Jan 14th)
Meanwhile TNA Jaffna district MP S.Sritharan gave media interviews that the TNA was going to take legal action to get the students released.TNA national list MP and Lawyer MA Sumanthiran completed the paperwork required for this.
Even as the TNA was about to seek recourse in courts the families of the detained undergrads backed out saying if they went to courts the chances of getting students released could be indefinitely delayed.As a result the TNA did not go to courts on the matter.
In a separate development former MP and TNPF Gen-Secy Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam flew out of Sri Lanka to avoid being “interviewed”by the TID over the Jaffna varsity incidents.
Jaffna university vice-chancellor Dr.Arasaratnam however continued with her efforts to get students released while being attacked by sections of the media.
Her statement that she would resign if there was further trouble in the campus and her meeting with Jaffna military commander Gen.Hathurusinghe were all ridiculed and condemned.
There was a concerted attempt to undermine the vice-chancellor as well as to prevent a state of normalcy being restablished at the Jaffna university.
Even though the vast majority of the 5,000 strong undergraduate community in Jaffna was aghast at what was happening to their studies, a small group of politically motivated students,politicians, media and Diaspora operatives was attempting to impose their will and disrupt smooth functioning of the varsity.
Nevertheless the efforts of the vice-chancellor have been gaining success and normalcy is gradually returning to the campus with student attendance rising steadily.
With the release of the two students being a positive development this state of affairs is likely to improve further. There would be significant progress when the last two undergraduate detainees are released.
Prof.Arasaratnam the first woman vice-chancellor of Jaffna university deserves praise for her endeavours in securing the release of the undergrads amidst great negative pressure by LTTE and pro-LTTE elements.
No vice -chancellor of Jaffna university has in recent times been known to undertake such efforts for the release of arrested students even as an influential lobby kept up personal attacks of a despicable nature.
She has also demonstrated that quiet negotiations can prove incrementally successful in a climate where confrontational politics rules the roost.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org