(This article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appeared first in the “Daily Mirror” of Jul 23, 2016.It was subsequently posted on this blog and is being re-posted here again without any changes to the original heading or content. This article recounts in detail the clashes that took place in the Jaffna campus some years ago and the commendable efforts taken to resolve the issue by the current vice-chancellor who was thent he Science Faculty Dean)
Violence reared its ugly head again in the Northern city of Jaffna on Saturday July 16th 2016 when student groups fought each other within the Jaffna varsity precincts in Thirunelvaeli known generally as Thinnaivaeli. It was basically a confrontation between two undergraduate factions of the University of Jaffna. There was also an ethnic dimension to the incident as one of the clashing factions was Sinhala and the other Tamil. The Government for very commendable reasons downplayed the ethnic factor and referred to the incident as factional strife while others for their own reasons played the communal card and described it as a racial conflict. However the truth as in most matters of this type lies somewhere in between.
Degree Award Ceremony ~ March 2016 ~ Pic via: University of Jaffna
The past few days has been quite hectic for me in contacting a wide range of sources in Sri Lanka from Canada. I was able to speak on the telephone or communicate through electronic mail with a cross section of Tamil and Sinhala undergrads, members of the Jaffna varsity academic staff, law enforcement authorities, political leaders and informed residents of Jaffna and gather much information about the incident and its aftermath. My column therefore will focus on this sensitive topic and attempt to share as much information as possible in this regard .
It is necessary to delve briefly into the historical background of the Jaffna University in order to understand the genesis of the current clash better. A University for Jaffna had been the desire of Northern Tamils for several years.The United Front Govt of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike set up a campus in Jaffna in 1974. Under the higher education set up at that time there was only one Sri Lankan university with several campuses at different places. When Mrs. Bandaranaike visited Jaffna to ceremonially open the campus, the Tamil United Front (TUF)opposed it and staged black flag demonstrations. The ordinary people of Jaffna welcomed the move. The “Sirithiran”magazine hailed it as “Valavukkul Valaaham” (Campus in the compound).
The Jaffna campus initially was located in two places. The “Hindu” Parameshwara College established by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan at Thirunelvaeli and part of the “Christian” Jaffna College in Vaddukkoddai were taken over by the Govt to st up the campus. The United National Party (UNP) won the elections of 1977. It changed the University scheme again by recognizing the different campuses as separate universities. Thereafter the Jaffna College premises were handed back to the school. The Thirunelvaeli campus became the sole Jaffna University. Some lands in Thirunelvaeli were acquired to further expand the campus there. In recent times some faculties of the Jaffna University have been set up in places like Kilinochchi and Vavuniya also.
When the Jaffna campus was opened the undergraduates accommodated belonged to all races and religions. There were many Sinhala students. Generally the Tamil and Sinhala students got on well with each other. Unfortunately there was a clash of a personal nature between some Tamil youths and Sinhala undergraduates at Vaddukkoddai resulting in a Sinhala student being stabbed. Subsequently he was confined to a wheel chair. Most of those involved in the incident were arrested and legal proceedings were instituted.
When communal violence erupted in 1977 none of the Sinhala undergraduates or faculty members in Jaffna were harmed. The Govt as a precautionary measure transported all the Sinhala students from Jaffna back to their homes in the south. Many Tamil undergraduate friends bade them sorrowful farewells. Some of the Sinhala students (not all) did a despicable thing after they reached Anuradhapura. They tore their clothes and raised a hue and cry that Tamils had attacked them and that they had barely escaped death. This was totally untrue but helped serve to aggravate communal conflagration further in the South.
As a result of this “drama” the Sinhala undergrads were reluctant to return to Jaffna. The Govt caved in to pressure and shut down the Sinhala streams at the Jaffna university. Thereafter the Jaffna University became a “Tamil” university in practice. With the ethnic conflict escalating and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil eelam(LTTE) gaining ascendancy in the north the chances of Jaffna University turning into a cosmopolitan varsity with a multi – ethnic student population became extremely remote. So the Jaffna University remained “out of bounds” to Sinhala undergraduates for many years.
After the LTTE was defeated in 2009 fresh possibilities emerged. In keeping with state policy the universities once again became multi –ethnic and multi – religious. Sinhala students began to be admitted in large numbers to the Jaffna University from 2010 onwards. According to University Grants Commission (UGC) figures for last year the Undergraduate population at the Jaffna University was 6590. Of these around 1600 -1700 or a quarter of the students were Sinhala. 1763 new students are to be admitted or have been admitted for this year. Of these around 500 or nearly 30% are Sinhala Students. The largest intake of Sinhala students has been into the Science faculty of Jaffna University where lectures are conducted in English. Reportedly 52% of the Science faculty students were Sinhala last year. With this year’s admissions this figure is likely to go up to 60%.
It is against this backdrop that last week’s violence has to be viewed. The confrontation originated as a dispute between the Sinhala and Tamil students at the Science faculty. There has been a custom among Science faculty students to stage an annual “welcome” ceremony for freshers being admitted each year.Earlier the function had been conducted in Tamil only as the undergrads were all Tamil. With Sinhala students being admitted to the faculty , the Science Students union of its own volition became accommodative of the new Sinhala presence . Sinhala cultural events became part of the day’s program from 2011. There were also cultural events of a mixed nature.
The Freshers welcome event was an all –day affair. It was conducted indoors in a University hall. The morning program was a student only show with short eats and soft drinks being available. There would be dances, songs , musical performances and short dramas. These were fun – filled and rather boisterous. The academic staff does not attend the morning program in order to allow the students to enjoy themselves without inhibitions. After the morning program there is a grand lunch.
A more serious cultural show is held in the afternoon. This is attended by professors and lecturers. It begins with the Science Faculty Dean being garlanded at the University gates and then taken in procession to the hall where the cultural show is being staged. The freshers line up on both sides like a guard of honour. As the Dean and others walk forward and pass the lined up freshers , they break ranks and begin to follow in the procession.
“Nadaswaram and Thavil”
The procession is conducted to the accompaniment of the “Nadaswaram” (Wind instrument)and “Thavil” (Drum). It is a Tamil tradition to play the Nadaswaram and Thavil at auspicious(Mangala)events and ceremonies. After the procession enters the hall a few speeches are made and thereafter cultural events of a higher standard (compared to the morning events) are staged.
After the influx of Sinhala students into the Science faculty the “Welcome” event underwent changes gradually. More and more programs reflecting Sinhala culture were conducted. Mixed events inclusive of both cultures were also held. One change was in the conducting of the procession. After the Dean and others were taken in procession to the accompaniment of Nadaswaram and Thavil from the main gate to the hall “Kandyan dancers” to the accompaniment of “Getaberaya” (drum) and “Thalampotu”(cymbals) would perform indoors from the hall entrance to the stage. A Kandyan dance performance would also be staged later.
A sad manifestation of Sri Lanka’s linguistic divide is the lack of communication between the Sinhala and Tamil ethnicities. This is mainly due to the fact that the majority of people from both communities speak only in Sinhala or Tamil. Only those proficient in English or in each others language are able to transcend ethnic barriers and communicate with members of the other ethnicity easily. This is the situation at the Jaffna varsity too. Though there was no visible animosity or hatred between the Sinhala and Tamil student populations and a general sense of cordiality prevailed, there was very little interaction between both groups. Generally they would nod or smile at each other but there was no small talk or friendly moves. Sinhala students and Tamil students generally kept to themselves.
This was so in the case of the Science faculty students too. Though classes were in English the undergrads spoke in Sinhala and Tamil to each other and had very little interaction with members of the other ethnicity. Despite this linguistic disconnect, relations between the Sinhala and Tamil students of the Science faculty were much better in comparison to students of other faculties. During the Sinhala and Tamil New year in april an event was organized together by both ethnicities. Both groups enacted the observance of April new year in the traditional Sinhala and Tamil manner with games and music performances dressed in traditional attire. When Sinhala students celebrated Wesak in May and Poson in June, many grand decorations and lights lit up the campus. Even a well illuminated fabulous pandal was erected. A large number of Tamil undergrads participated and even had meals at the Dansala on campus.
So it was in the spirit of prevailing cooperation that the Welcome event was organized by both Sinhala and Tamil Students in 2016.It was also going to be a kind of farewell for the Science Faculty Dean Prof. S.Srisatkunarajah.The popular Dean though an Australian citizen with dual citizenship had opted to serve his country and people by opting to be at the Jaffna Varsity. He was well –liked by both Sinhala and Tamil Students. Prof. Srisatkunarajah who became Dean in July 2013 was due to retire with effect from Sunday July 17th. From Monday July 18th Prof. R. Vigneswaran was to assume duties as Science faculty Dean. Under such circumstances the Welcome event for Freshers was in another sense a farewell to Prof. Srisatkunarakah also.
Preparations for the Welcome event got underway with Sinhala and Tamil Students chipping in unitedly. It is said that some Students contributed as much as Rs.2500/ per person in order to make the event successful. The itinerary for the event on Saturday had been finalised and the hall was being merrily decorated by both groups. Everything seemed hunky – dory. It was on Friday evening that a group of Sinhala students along with Tamil student office bearers of the Science students union approached the Dean with a “problem”. The Sinhala students wanted Kandyan dancers to participate in the procession scheduled outside also in addition to the usual indoor performance. The Tamil Students refused saying the finalised agenda could not be changed at the last minute.
Prof. Sri Satkunarajah asked the Tamil students whether they could oblige but the Tamil students refused. They wanted this years program to go on as planned. They were however willing to change the procedure the next year and accommodate Kandyan dancing in the procession also. The Sinhala students (only a small group) were unwilling. They wanted the program changed and provision for Kandyan dancing in the procession to be made immediately. Both sides were adamant and a heated argument broke out. When I spoke to some Tamil students , one of them named “Kannan “ (name changed) responded to my questions. When I asked him why they remained inflexible instead of acceding to the request, Kannan had an interesting reason for being stubborn.
“Kannan” said in Tamil that they could have been amenable to the suggestion if it had been proposed in a decent way.” They(Sinhala Students) could have made the suggestion when we were planning the program and making preparations together. Instead they came at the last minute and started arguing”. According to Kannan the Sinhala students had said that Sinhala Buddhists were the majority in the Country as well as the Science faculty and demanded that Kandyan dancing be included in the procession also. Explaining further Kannan said that this “we are the majority attitude” irritated the Tamil Students. So we told them this is Jaffna where Tamils are in the majority and that the Tamil custom was to have a procession with Nadaswaram and Thavil and not Kandyan dancing.This then seemed to be the reason for Tamil students remaining obstinate in refusing to comply with the Sinhala request and adjust the program in an accommodative manner.
Science Faculty Dean Prof Srisatkunarajah
At the discussions with the Science Faculty Dean , Prof. Srisatkunarajah tried to make both sides flexible and accommodate each other. When he asked the Tamil side to compromise and allow Kandyan dancing in the procession, the Tamil Students refused. When the Professor asked the Sinhala side to compromise by going along with the same routine and include Kandyan Dancing in the procession in 2017 the Sinhala students also refused. It must be noted that there was no Tamil opposition to Kandyan dancing being done indoors as in earlier times. The opposition was only to it being included in the procession. The Tamil Students also were willing for changing the procession format next year. But they insisted that the finalised program should remain the same this year. The Sinhala students were equally determined that Kandyan dancing should be included in the procession the following day.
Unable to reconcile the different viewpoints amicably, the Science faculty Dean decided to maintain the status quo in this regard. In order to avoid further friction Prof. Srisatkunarajah stated that the 2016 program for the welcome event would go on as planned. The 2017 program could accommodate the Sinhala student request. “ There should be no addition or deletion to the already devised itinerary” categorically stated the Science faculty Dean. Both sides then withdrew, The Tamil Students were satisfied but the Sinhala students were unhappy and seemed willing to go along with the ruling.
July 16th dawned on an optimistic note. The majority of Students both Sinhala and Tamil plunged in zestfully into the Welcome event morning program. The Sinhala – Tamil tussle about the procession seemed confined only to a small group on either side. The students enjoyed the morning with fun and frolic and then had a sumptuous lunch. The procession was to commence in the afternoon.While a large number of Science undergrads were enjoying themselves indoors , Trouble with a capital “T” was brewing outside. Tamil and Sinhala students were gathering in groups at the gates in a hostile manner.
A section of the Sinhala students seemed intent on getting a troupe of Kandyan dancers to join the procession from the gates along with the Nadaswaram and Thavil. The dancers were all undergrads but the drummers and musicians were outsiders from among soldiers stationed in Jaffna. Incidently there was a close relationship between soldiers stationed in Jaffna and Sinhala undergrads. Meals were cooked and supplied by the army to Sinhala undergrads at very cheap prices. The army helped in decorations for Wesak and Poson. It is said that soldiers had sponsored the elaborate Wesak pandal and Dansala at the University through funds collected in a personal capacity. Besides many students visited soldiers from their villages stationed in the north on a regular basis. This was quite understandable as people from a particular village living away from home would naturally like to meet and socialise. These perceived links between soldiers and Sinhala students was a cause for suspicion among many Tamil students.
Likewise Many Sinhala students suspect their Tamil counterparts of being Pro – LTTE or Eelamists. There was a time whenJaffna varsity students actively engaged in Pro – tiger demonstrations like “Pongu Thamizh”. Former TNA Parliamentarians with LTTE links like Selvarajah Gajendran exerted much influence over Jaffna undergrads. Gajendran now the secretary of the Tamil national Peoples front (TNPF) continues to be active in the campus. Some of the academic staff as well as non – academic staff are also covert LTTE supprters still. So too is a segment of the students. Posters supportive of LTTE appear within campus precincts regularly in November (Maaveerar Naal) and May (Mullivaaikkaal) each year. Some of the Tamil Varsity Student union office -bearers are perceived by many Sinhala undergrads as tiger supporters( This is something I forgot to mention earlier and am doing so now)
Some Tamil Science faculty students began suspecting that the Sinhala students were plotting to stage Kandyan dancing in the procession. It had now become a matter of prestige and ethnic self –respect for both sides.In what appeared to be a move to counter Sinhala stratagems, the Tamil students appealed to Thankeswaran Sisitharan the President of the University Student union Federation. Sisitharan with about 30 non – science faculty undergrads arrived at the varsity gates. Sisitharan hailing from Kaluvaanchikkudi in Batticaloa was a management studies student. The bulk of his comrades were from the Arts faculty.Both sides were bristling at each other. Again it must be emphasised that the groups spoiling for a fight were only a small portion of the undergrad population. A very large number of students from both communities kept aloof from this confrontational environment.
Upon hearing of the tense situation at the varsity gates Science Faculty Dean Srisatkunarajah hurried there. He told the Student Federation President Sisitharan that the welcome event was a matter for the Science students and that non – science undergrads need not interfere. The Dean then began to reason out with the Sinhala students and appealed to them to abandon the idea of imposing Kandyan dancing in the procession. Even as the Mathematics professor was arguing with the Sinhala student leaders , some Tamil students too moved closer to the Sinhala students and began jostling each other. Scuffles broke out. Suddenly about three or four Sinhala students surrounded Sisitharan and began assaulting him.
Seeing this Dean Srisatkunarajah rushed to the spot and stopped the brawl with great difficulty.Thereafter he kept on appealing to both sides to desist from further confrontation. Dr. Srisatkunarajah told the Tamil students not to go on with the procession and to go inside quietly.The Professor also managed to persuade the Sinhala students go inside the Varsity premises. They did so and stood in a group along the pathway. The Dean also stood with the Sinhala students trying to persuade them to cool off. Meanwhile more and more Tamil students mainly from the arts faculty began gathering at the gates. Likewise the ranks of the Sinhala students also began swelling as more and more undergrads hearing of the confrontation began to converge on the spot.
After a while , hundreds of Tamil Students began marching in procession. Seeing this, the Dean rushed in front with outstretched hands. The students paid little heed and marched on like a rolling juggernaut. When the Tamil students approached the spot where the Sinhala students were standing, the latter group tried to join the procession. The Tamil students blocked them from doing so. Soon there were fisticuffs. Both sides began pummelling each other. Students also started destroying the Welcme event decorations.
The Sinhala students being outnumbered began to retreat. Moreover a few in the Tamil mob had poles and rods. Both sides also began to hurl stones at each other. Most of the beleaguered Sinhala students sought refuge in the Science laboratory.Glass shattered as more and more stone missiles were fired. Several Sinhala students sustained injuries by the broken glass as well as stones. An eye witness to the skirmish told me that most of the Sinhala students were standing together as one bloc whereas the Tamil students spread out and attacked from many sides. As a result the Sinhala students were more vulnerable and were injured more. The wounds sustained by Tamil students was negligible.
Meanwhile the Police had been summoned but the cops could not enter University premises as regulations did not permit it. The situation began taking a dangerous turn as more and more Tamil students armed with poles and stones started to assemble in the vicinity. It appeared that the Tamil students were aiming to charge the outnumbered Sinhala students and overcome them. Fearing the worst, Prof. Srisatkunarajah went to the gates and authorised the Police to enter. This possibly averted a terrible disaster. Soon the Police separated both sides and brought the fighting to an end.
The injured students were rushed to the hospital. There were 10 injured Sinhala students. No Tamil Student seemed to have been seriously injured. Of the 10 injured students 4 had very very minor injuries.2 had minor injuries. 4 had major injuries of whom one was in a serious condition. Science Faculty Dean Dr. Srisatkunanarajah personally accompanied the injured students to the Jaffna Hospital. He saw to it that the injured students received prompt treatment, The Dean also used his personal influence to get Dr. Sivakumaran to the hospital. Saturday was the Specialist Doctor’s off day. Yet he came to the hospital and afforded medical care to the seriously injured youth. He was taken immediately to Colombo where surgery has been performed.
Vice – Chancellor Vasanthy Arasaratnam
Jaffna University vice – chancellor Dr. Vasanthy Arasaratnam and other senior Academic staffers were horrified by the incident. Many of the Sinhala undergrads were in a state of shock and feeling highly insecure. While the first year students were in Varsity hostels the others were all staying as boarders in Tamil homes in the neighbourhood. Their stay had so far been pleasant without any issues. Yet after the incident many were worried about staying in those places. There were many students who did not feel threatened and were confident enough to stay on in Jaffna. Others however were worried. Moreover there was a clique which was spreading fear in the minds of many Sinhala undergrads saying the Tamils were planning a huge attack. Under such circumstances many wanted to leave Jaffna.
The Vice – chancellor also was not prepared to take any risks. In what was perhaps an over reaction , she ordered the closure of all faculties and all campuses after first closing the Science Faulty. Preparations were made to transport all outstation students outside the north in buses with Special Task Force(STF) escort. The Tamil people of Sri Lanka have a long history of being transported in buses, trains, ships and planes to their traditional homes in the North and East after majoritarian violence was unleashed against them. Now a group of Sinhalese were being transported from the foremost Tamil city in the north in buses with STF escort for their own safety. A sad day indeed!
As the Science Faculty had been immediately closed after the violence and Science students had faced threats they were first transported with STF escort up to Vavuniya. Thereafter the Science faulty students – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim –made their way back to their respective homes. The University closure came into effect after the Science faculty students had been evacuated from Jsffna. The other students too were put on buses to be sent away with STF escort. Suddenly at the last minute the move was aborted. The students were made to dismount from the vehicles. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had instructed Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka to stop the transport of Sinhala students from Jaffna. The PM wanted the students to remain in Jaffna with their security enhanced and ensured.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
There was a very good reason for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision.The Jaffna varsity violence appeared to be a one-off thing without chances of recurring. Since affected Science students were feeling insecure there was some merit in them being evacuated. The other students however faced no imminent danger. Evacuating them wholesale as a precautionary move in anticipation of trouble was unwarranted. So too was the full closure of the University. Sending all the students back after closing down the Varsity could convey the wrong impression that there was a serious breakdown of law and order in Jaffna. The Pro – Mahinda Rajapaksa opposition could utilise it to engage in dangerous propaganda against the Tamil people. This could trigger off anti – Tamil violence in the South.
Premier Wickremesinghe also sent a three member team to the North. They were Disaster Management Minister – Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Minister of Prisons Reform,Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs – D.M. Swaminathan and the Deputy minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media – Karunarathne Paranavithane. The ministerial trio met the Jaffna University VC and senior staff, representatives of the Sinhala and Tamil student communities and Security officials.
The trio was particularly elated by four things. Firstly the Sinhala students said their stay in Jaffna had been happy and safe and that they could continue studying in Jaffna as they felt no danger. Secondly the Tamil students said there were no big issues with Sinhala students and that both groups could continue to study side by side at the Jaffna varsity. The Science faculty incident was more of a dispute between two student factions rather than an ethnic conflagration they stated. Thirdly the Varsity V- C and senior academic staff opined that the University could resume smooth functioning within a very short time. The various faculties would be re-opened on a staggered basis they assured. Fourthly top Police and Security force officials stated that the law and order situation was quite stable. There was no danger of ethnic violence and even if there were signs , the security forces and Police could nip it in the bud.The two ministers and deputy minister returned to Colombo satisfied that normalcy would prevail in the Jaffna Varsity very soon.
Injured Sinhala Student
Even as the Jaffna University situation showed signs of improving there was a fresh development. The injured Sinhala student admitted to hospital in Colombo had given a statement to the Police in which he said that the Jaffna Student federation president Sisitharan was the person who injured him. Subsequent media reports said that Police were looking for the student leader. Other news reports said three Tamil undergrads involved in the fracas had been identified from Video clips. They too were going to be arrested speculated the media.
These reports adversely affected efforts to normalise affairs at the University. The Tamil students were perturbed by these reports and feared that a witch hunt was going to be executed against them. Moreover such reports appearing immediately after the visit of the ministerial trio made them suspect the hidden motives of the Govt. The students began to think of organizing a prolonged boycott of lectures until the issue was resolved. This would have brought the Jaffna varsity normalization project to a standstill.
Tamil National Alliance(TNA) Jaffna district MP and lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran was in Jaffna to attend a meeting. Jaffna University authorities contacted him and sought his assistance. Police cracking down and arresting students would be detrimental at a time when normalcy needed to be ushered in , it was pointed out by varsity authorities to Sumanthiran. The university authorities were prepared to produce any student wanted for questioning instead of the Police arresting them the MP was told. Sumanthiran in turn contacted the Inspector – General of Police Pujith Jayasundara and explained matters.
M. A. Sumanthiran
Subsequently Student union leader T. Sisitharan surrendered himself to the Police along with some University academic/administration staff members. He was produced at the Jaffna magistrates courts before Magistrate Sinnathurai Sathiskaran. TNA Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran appeared in court for Sisitharan and sought bail. The Police objected but Sumanthiran pointed out that Sisitharan had surrendered on his own after hearing that his name had been mentioned in a complaint and that there was no danger of him absconding. Sumanthiran also said that the complaint was a belated one made in Colombo and not in Jaffna. He further said that video clips showed Sisitharan being beaten by others during the incident and suggested that his name may have been mentioned by the complainant simply because Sisitharan was well known as the Student federation leader. Sumanthiran also drew the attention of the Magistrate to the on going efforts to normalize the situation at the Jaffna Varsity.
The Jaffna Magistrate set the next date of inquiry for Aug 25th. He also granted bail to Sisitharan. Since Sisitharan’s family was in Kaluvaanchikudi in Batticaloa . a senior Lecturer cum Student counsellor at the Jaffna Varsity and an Assistant registrar in charge of student affairs at the same university stood guarantee signing bonds for Rs 200,000 each. Acceding to a request by lawyer Sumanthiran . the magistrate also ordered Police to record two statements from Sisitharan. Consequently both statements were recorded by the Kopay Police.One was a statement regarding the complaint made against him in Colombo. The other was a complaint by Sisitharan about the attack on him. Tamil media reports state that Sasitharan had mentioned the names of four Sinhala students – Shehan, Aravinda, Manoj and Balasuriya – as having assaulted him.
Apart from speaking with Tamil undergrads I also spoke to some Sinhala students from the Jaffna Varsity Science Faculty. One of the points I kept asking them was about the reasons that compelled them to demand inclusion of Kandyan Dancing in the procession at the last minute and the refusal to compromise in any way. I suggested that the act seemed deliberately aimed to provoke and bring about a confrontation. I was shocked by the revelation made by one called Anura (Name changed).
Hanguranketha Area Clique
Anura said that there was a clique of undergraduates who virtually controlled the Sinhala Graduates at the Jaffna Varsity. Most of them were from the Hanguranketha area in Kandy district. According to Anura it was this clique which pressured the Students into making demands at the last minute and urged them not to relent. It was also this clique which frightened students about a potential Tamil attack and persuaded them to leave Jaffna immediately. These disclosures if true indicate that a group or clique with vested interests may have contributed in no small measure to bring about a crisis at the Jaffna Varsity.
In that context the statement made by Opposition Leader Rajavaothayam Sampanthan in Parliament on Thursday July 21st is also of interest. Sampanthan drew attention to the fact that there had been several other incidents of violence in other Universities too. He did not however explicitly name them. But what Sampanthan was referring to must have been the attacks on Tamil undergrads at different times in the Universities at Batticaloa, Sabaragamuwa, Uva and the Trincomalee campus. It appeared earlier that they were isolated acts. However there also could be a pattern in all these attacks. One important fact is that all these attacks were perpetrated after the downfall of Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2015. Is that a mere co-incidence or something far more sinister? One is compelled to suspect the worst when looking at the recent incident in Jaffna and the blatant attempts by racist elements in the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp to exploit it.
The Govt of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe deserve much credit for handling a very sensitive yet explosive issue adroitly despite such efforts.
What next in the Jaffna varsity issue? Higher Education minister Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on July 21st that action would be taken on the basis of recommendations made by the three-member committee appointed to look into the Jaffna varsity violence.
Responding to a question raised by Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake the minister said: “The committee comprises senior academics of the Jaffna University. They are Engineering Faculty Board Member and CEB Deputy Director D K P U Gunathilake, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department Head Dr K Muhunthan and Pharmacology Department Head Dr Mrs T. S. Navaratnaraja. The Minister also said that University Grants Commission Chairman and other UGC Commissioners would visit Jaffna this week – end. “They will meet the academic staff, non-academic staff and students and will report back to me.” Kiriella said.
This article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appears in the “Daily Mirror” of Jul 23, 2016, it can be reached via this link:
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org