The Sunday Leader

A Search For Answers After Jaffna Uni Clash

  • Hidden hand suspected on incident on eve of Black July

by Easwaran Rutnam

Tense situation at Jaffna University

A traditional cultural event to welcome first year students at the Science Faculty of the Jaffna University turned violent last weekend threatening to destabilize the reconciliation process and raise suspicions of a hidden motive on the eve of ‘Black July’.

The clash took place between Sinhalese and Tamil students of the university after a traditional Kandyan dance ceremony was staged to welcome the students.

Tamil students of the university told The Sunday Leader that the Kandyan dance was staged despite the students union insisting that the first year students be welcomed the traditional Tamil way.

Sources told The Sunday Leader that the Kandyan dance was staged on the advice of a top level government official in the area.

Tamil students were of the view that like in any other university in the South, the traditions of the particular province, where the university is located, should be followed and so a Tamil and not traditional Sinhalese ceremony should have been held.

The Tamil students felt the Kandyan dance was staged in a predominantly Tamil university in an attempt to create tensions between Tamil and Sinhalese students.

The Sinhalese students however said that the Kandyan dance was staged to welcome the first year Sinhalese students as that is the Sinhalese tradition.

Tamil students who had objected to the staging of the Kandyan dance clashed with the Sinhalese students resulting in some being injured and admitted to hospital.

The incident raised fears that frustration building among Tamils youth in Jaffna led to the clash and this forced political parties and others to call for calm and a full investigation.

The Inter University Student’s Federation (IUSF), while condemning the incident, raised concerns over attempts by some groups to make use of the incident to incite racial hatred.

IUSF said that if clashes take place based on race or religion it will prevent more important social issues from being addressed.

The IUSF urged university students to join hands against racial disharmony and prevent politicians from gaining the upper hand from such incidents.  Meanwhile Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran and Leader of the oposition S. Thavarasa said that incidents like what took place in the Jaffna university should not be viewed from a purely criminal law standpoint.

“We must first try to find out the underlying causes that led to their violent behavior. Thereafter we must determine ways and means of dealing with such underlying causes and implement them. This would ensure that such incidents will not be repeated. Merely condemning such incidents or punishing certain students after an inquiry would not be able to bring about understanding and unity,” Wigneswaran and Thavarasa said in a rare joint statement.

They said that in the past when the legitimate demands of the Tamil People were disregarded and they in turn ventured to claim justice for their demands peacefully and by non-violent means, their actions were identified as criminal activities and such identification led to youngsters taking up arms.

Therefore, they said that when university students have decided to resort to violence there is a responsibility to determine the underlying causes that had led to their behavior.

“It is for that reason we demand a full-fledged Commission of Inquiry into all aspects of the incidents. Such a modus operandi would bring to light the frustrations of the university students. Thereafter we could formulate ways and means of dealing with them. Any attempt to deal with these incidents at a very shallow level would only precipitate matters and would not pave the way for real understanding and goodwill,” Wigneswaran and Thavarasa said.

They also noted that at a time when the demographic pattern of the North and East after the War is being consciously changed, when the independent ‘War Crimes’ Inquiry is being dragged on indefinitely, when students from other Provinces are being admitted in large numbers into the Jaffna University, when such entrants are bent on forcing their arts and cultural background on the Jaffna soil, when there is reluctance and delay on the part of the powers in delivering political solution, that would allow the Tamils to look after their political affairs in their areas of historical habitation, when there is a tendency to retain in the Province with the Military far in excess of its the needs, all these activities must be considered by such a Commission in consonance with the recent violence to determine whether all such activities added fuel to the behavior of the students.

“The appointment of such a Commission would prevent the racialists in the South trying to make political capital out of such incidents. We both have come together to issue such a joint statement to show the world that the Northern Provincial Council views such incidents beyond the mundane political differences that usually engulf us,” Wigneswaran and Thavarasa said.

Meanwhile the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka said that such incidents polarise communities and deter efforts to build a society based on respect and dignity.

“Sri Lanka’s reconciliatory efforts can only be sustained in an environment where cultural diversity is celebrated, communities are sensitive to one another’s heritage and cultural reservations and differences are resolved through dialogue. Intolerance of other ethnic and religious identities, as Sri Lanka has learned from its past, can only breed hate and violence,” the National Christian Evangelical Alliance said.

It also noted that it was disturbing to note that cultural values of hospitality and goodwill towards other communities have grown negligible and this has led to feelings of mistrust and insecurity among communities.

“In such a context, universities have a unique opportunity to offer a model of how individuals from diverse cultural, religious and social backgrounds can not only coexist, but also cooperate with and be sensitive to the rights and cultural attributes of one another. This responsibility lies with the university administrations, student leaders, student faith-based associations, political parties playing an influential role in student politics and other concerned stakeholders,” the National Christian Evangelical Alliance said.

The issue was also raised in Parliament last week with Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake making a special statement on it. Dissanayake said that the clash cannot be seen simply as a clash between two student groups. He said that the clash had occurred in an environment where racial hatred was being spread by some groups in the North.  Dissanayake said that the investigations into the clash must look at all areas and a report with recommendations to prevent a similar incident from taking place in future must be submitted.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe later told Parliament that investigations into the incident had been launched.

He said that some elements had attempted to spread communal disharmony using the incident but yet most political parties called for calm and this helped bring the situation under control.


6 Comments for “A Search For Answers After Jaffna Uni Clash”

  1. Park

    It does not matter if Tamil Students or Sinhala Students were at fault. Who ever was at fault should be kicked out of the University.

    • Samson

      Well said. Enough of these students running riot and not focusing on their studies. Kick the fellows out and black list them so that they wont be able to get a job for five years. Why should my taxes pay for these idiots to play the bloody fool…

    • S D Perera

      Totally agree. Perparators should be dealt by the law and punished. We need to root out these incidents before they get out of hand.

  2. Lal Silva

    Students are students. Sometimes even very small things can blow into out or proportion incidents. Even they, after maturing will see how stupid they were at that time. For communal harmony, we need to endure lot of give and take attitudes, which lack in the young. So elders need to get more involved in these situations, to calm the situation. One nice thing is, it is very easy show the respective students their follies, they usually accept it readily. Only problem is when interested parties want to create problems for their own interest.

  3. gamarala

    The “hidden hand” permeates civic life at all levels in the north.
    All know its identity. It flourishes under the PTA.

    But the maiden venture to befriend freshers by seniors rather than rag them is new and good.
    This should continue.

  4. Sylvia Haik

    What the Jaffna University students have shown is that they are incapabale of deciding among themselves how best to arrange ceremonies. If all the communities cannot be represented, then the Administrators should take over, put it to a vote and then decide and be governed by it and all the students should abide by that decision or face the consequences of being chucked out.

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