the power balance
was not the first from his family to upset the power balance at
the Sri Jayewardenepura University. His brother Dayantha had in
fact been the main cause of halting ragging at the Science
entered university, I made sure that I was never ragged and in the
second year, few of us got together and put an end to ragging,”
he told The Sunday Leader.
just took after his elder brother. Dayantha knows very well that
you court physical injury when you stand against the established
campus culture. He had been attacked on several occasions.
incident occurred during the early hours of March 1, 2001, when
Dayantha was studying with four others inside the campus. Their
room was surrounded by a crowd of around 15 students armed with
clubs and stones.
out for any ‘bogas,’ campus slang for those who go
against the JVP culture, to come out. “We took a decision that
we would hammer before we get hit,” Dayantha said. And that was
precisely what the five did. When the attackers entered the room,
before they could turn their heads, blows rained down on them.
retreated, but for one and half-hours kept throwing stones at the
room. Dayantha suffered a head injury that required four stitches
during the attack.
observed that the attacks were influenced by much more than the
anti-rag sentiments. “We stood against their political survival,
so we had to go.”
brother of the slain student did not hold back his criticism of
the JVP. “Bimal Rathnayake has visited the same hostel that the
attackers ran to on several occasions in the past at night,” he
Students Council of the university
has organised public lectures at the university for the
likes of JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva, but booed off Prof.
G. L. Peiris when he attended a job fair organised by the
the democracy here — the way they behaved at the job fair no
graduate from Jayewardenepura would get a job at a bank.”
Dayantha went on, “the ‘independent’ student activists, go
and paste posters for the JVP, join their election work and some
have contested local government elections from the party. The JVP
has to prove it is clean here, not the other way round.”
glance at the CVs of some of the JVP members of parliament would
suffice to figure out what a fertile breeding ground the varsities
are for the party.
Two of its
MPs cut their teeth in politics as members of university students
councils — Bimal Rathnayake and Gamini Rathnayake from the
while parliamentary group leader Wimal Weeravansa’s
ticket to big time politics was as a journalist covering the
campus beat for a Sinhala tabloid.
universities have always been a hot bed for JVP supporters.
According to Western Province Chief Minister Reginald Cooray,
important discussions on the launching of the 1971 insurrection
took place at the Sri Jayewardenepura University.
influence of the Student Wing was felt in no short measure during
the 1988-89 insurrection as well. The leader of the JVP military
wing who went by the dreaded name Keerthi Wijebahu was none other
than Saman Piyasiri Fernando, an undergraduate of the Kelaniya
University. Fernando assumed the leadership of the party when
Rohana Wijeweera and Upatissa Gamanayake were killed by state
Wing has been linked to attempts made to assassinate the then
Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne among other accusations.
1988-89 mauling in the hands of the state forces, the JVP Student
Wing made a cautious, yet calculated entry to the universities.
But at no time was it out of the scene.
In 1991, an
organisation called the Sisu Jana Sahayogitha Peramuna was formed
in Colombo under the auspices of
many opposition parties. It was used as a front to get the
Student Wing moving once again. Within a few years, the JVP was
back in business.
The JVP is
careful enough not to get entangled in campus politics in any form
that is directly affiliated to the party. The JVP university wing
goes by the name Samajawadhi Shishya Sangamaya. But it very rarely
contests any campus election.
The front used at Sri
Jayewardenepura is the Eksath Shishya Sangamaya. “It is one and
the same thing,” according
to the brother of the slain undergraduate, Dayantha. The
difference is that one contests elections while the other
propagates pro-JVP ultra-leftist doctrines.
searchlight fell on the party and its student wing last week with
the murder, Bimal Rathnayake tried to distance the party from
university politics. “There is a notion that the universities
are a big part of our power base. That is not true. Our base in
the villages is much more,” he said.
politics have been violent in the past as well — at
Jayewardenepura itself several clashes have taken place, dating
back to 1994 when a group of anti-raging students launched a
violence has been part and parcel even when politics and elections
are far from the picture. At the Kelaniya University, the Students
Union which Gamini Rathnayake headed in 1993-94 , bore witness to
such an incident in 1994.
A group of
students had organised a get-together at the Jayewardene Centre in
Colombo. The Student Council launched a violent campaign barring
students who attended the get-together from university. The
argument put forward was that the students had collected money
from sponsors using the university name while they were not
registered under the Registrar.
were assaulted and others were bucketed with filthy water in the
university cafeteria and asked to apologise. If the victim
students had not relented, they would have been prevented from
sitting for exams.
Rathnayake, who these days speaks of high nobles and criticises
government corruption, did not utter a word during the entire
get-together was just a ruse used to violently over power a group
of students whose numbers were growing, especially in the Science
Faculty, and was becoming a threat to the Podu Shishya
survival. The controversy of the get-together however, resulted in
the Podu Shishya backed candidates losing power of the
Science Faculty union.
incident had taken place at Jayewardenepura as well. A Podu
Shishya gang had surrounded the Science Faculty get-together
and demanded it be stopped. The reason, girls and boys were
dancing together at 11 o’clock in the night.
the hypocrisy. These fellows don’t say anything about what takes
place under trees, behind faculty buildings and all over after 6
p.m., but no dancing,” Dayantha observed.
girl-boy dancing charge had been levelled during the Kelaniya
University incident as well.
backed students’ power has been on the wane in the Science and
Medical Faculties. The rag is never an issue at the Colombo
Medical Faculty or the Engineering Faculty at Moratuwa. But
is always an issue at Kelaniya, Jayewardenepura, Ruhuna and
Peradeniya dominated by arts faculties.
The rag is
an integral part of the university system, the way it is now. The
rag is the first session of brain washing. If there is no rag,
there needs to be another means by which freshers can be herded in
their numbers to listen to the doctrines of seniors.
that are taken over by the rag are powerful tools, considering the
26,000 graduates, mostly from the arts streams still remaining
think-alike politically oriented student leaders would never rag
— there are more than enough others to do that duty. But never
in history has the JVP taken an active stance against ragging. It
has always been an attitude of laisser-faire.
against murder and ragging
he heard of the demise of the Sri Jayewardenepura undergraduate,
the first thing that Samurdhi Minister R. A. D. Sirisena did was
to try and get in touch with a fellow undergraduate that his son
failing to contact Samantha’s friend, Sirisena thought it fit to
make a statement in parliament on the murder. He could not proceed
since such a statement was against standing orders.
reaction was typical of the UNF. Most UNF members were working
overtime to take cheap advantage, leaving the JVP room to wiggle
out. Government ministers and MPs who knew next to nothing about
campus politics kept trooping in to the funeral house.
of Tertiary Education Kabir Hashim told The Sunday Leader
that if the assassins were proved to have links with the IUSF, he
was contemplating action against the federation which he said had
no legal power.
options that were on Hashim’s table included getting all
outsiders out of hostels, having a police post in campuses, taking
tough action against raggers and getting rid of politics in
and Commerce Minister Ravi Karunanayake has decided to withhold
the Mahapola Scholarship from any student who is connected with
was Interior Minister John Amaratunga who was leading the battle
against the JVP in parliament. He told the house that according to
the police report, the IUSF connection with the assailants was
established. He was holding the JVP responsible for the murder of
the Walallavita Pradheshiya Sabha Chairman and the violence at
last Friday, 22 students were in custody on suspicion of
involvement in the Samantha murder and there were unconfirmed
reports that one was an office bearer of a student council.
top of murder charges, the suspects are to be charged under the
new law against ragging.
the scene, other government ministers too were active. S. B.
Dissanayake had assured witnesses under death threats that the
government would protect them and was urging them to act with
caution. “We have to deal with the JVP in
a much more intelligent manner,” he told the students.
PA too was reacting to the murder. The speech made by President
Chandrika Kumaratunga to the nation last week was readjusted so it
did not play up too much the PA-JVP axis.
the likes of Anura Bandaranaike paid his last respects to
Samantha, despite not so long ago going all over the country
singing hosannas to the JVP.
Leader Mahinda Rajapakse made an oration at the funeral. He urged
the authorities to look into the reasons behind the murder and
take steps to prevent a repetition no matter who was behind it.
condemn this no matter what political party is behind this,” Ven.
Baddegama Samitha Thero said. The monk who is no stranger to
campus violence said that authorities should take action to
prevent new students from falling prey to group pressure exerted
the most virulent attack on the JVP came from PA MP from Kesbewa,
Chandana Kathriarachchi. He kept repeating that the JVP should
prove its credentials that it was not connected with the murder.
Arguing that the murder was well planned and carried out by
persons committed to violence, he charged, “the JVP has to show
the country that it in no way contributed to the murder.”
the funeral, before delivering President Kumaratunga’s message,
Kathriarachchi delivered a poser to the entire country.
ask you, should the murderers of this young man be pardoned by the
legal system and by society as a whole?”
was clear that an emotionally charged Kathriarachchi was not about
to allow the culprits to get off easily. Samantha had had a close
rapport with the MP.
most violent reaction to the murder came from the village that
surrounds the Sri Jayewardenepura University.
villagers broke into the university, dismantled the Viru Sisu
Smarakaya (the memorial of the dead student), brought it to
Gangodawila Junction and kept it there with a JVP board.
were only two boys from the village who entered the university and
these bastards took one away,” said an angry resident Wimalasiri
Wimal Weerawansa, Sunil Hadunhetti, Tilvin Silva or that bugger
Mudalige (convenor of the IUSF) to come to the campus, we will be
ready for them,” he said soon after the funeral.
villagers had set fire to the memorial soon after the funeral and
posters had appeared all over the village and on university walls
warning that there was no pardon for the JVP or to students
supporting the party.
Samantha’s colleagues admitted that the villagers were bound to
assault students whom they thought were connected with the murder
as soon as they lay their eyes on them.
between the village and the Podu Shishyas is a long running
one. Some time back a village youth was mercilessly assaulted by
undergraduates and the villagers in return had attacked an
undergraduate who suffered severe leg injuries.
undergraduate according to villagers had taken part in the deadly
assault on Samantha and crowd, gloating “look I can walk now.”
The villagers are demanding blood for the blood that was spilt.
a big issue over small mistakes
Samantha died, the initial reaction of the JVP was that of
absolute silence. When UNF Minister R. A. D. Sirisena rose in
parliament to speak on Saturday (9) morning, it was only prevented
because the speech was against standing orders. The JVP usually
vociferous, was never its usual self when dealing with the murder.
It took the
party four full days to come out with something substantial. By
that time, the entire country was buzzing with the accusation that
it was JVP backed student unions who were behind the murder.
Wednesday morning, Wimal Weerawansa wanted to make a special
statement in parliament, but was prevented as there was an
adjournment debate on the murder that very evening.
thereafter addressed a press conference and said that the
government was putting the blame on everything that happens on the
the day, Bimal Rathnayake and three other JVP MPs were chaperoned
by PA’s Mahindananda Aluthgamage to a meeting convened by the
UNF to form a MPs organisation against all forms of violence.
Rathnayake more or less aired the same sentiments as Weerawansa.
The JVP he
said condemned the murder as brutal and called upon the
authorities to bring all culprits to book, handing over the
requested the media and the country at large to examine the
JVP’s track record since it re-entered mainstream politics in
the early ’90s. “We don’t have to prove our innocence, we
are innocent.” He challenged the government that was pointing
the accusing finger at the JVP not only concerning Samantha’s
murder, but of clashes with police in Walasmulla and the murder of
a pradeshiya sabha member, to even use the CIA and show a
public statements, JVP members were privately rejecting that they
or the party were in any way involved in the violence. Sunil
Hadunhetti being one such.
such protestations, the JVP was finding it hard to extricate
itself totally from the mess. While the likes of Weerawansa and
Rathnayake were going public with their side of the story,
national television aired pictures of the raid carried out at the
Student Council office at Sri Jayewardenepura. The rooms were full
of JVP propaganda material, JVP literature and even posters.
and friends of the murdered undergraduate were equivocal in
blaming the JVP. And the JVP had not rendered any help to the
family or to the investigation despite having a strong presence in
has to come out and show the world its credibility. It has to help
in apprehending the suspects,” PA MP Chandana Kathriarachchi
said that the blame game was only helping the government,
but that the JVP was willing to provide whatever information that
was with the party, if it was going to help the investigation.
“But no such request has been made.”
that the JVP was ruffled like never before in recent times was
quite clear. Inadvertently or otherwise, the pressure spoke on the
JVPers. At the party convention held the very morning of
Samantha’s funeral, Weerawansa said the government was making a
big issue of small mistakes that individual party members had
that to Samantha’s parents standing in front of the university.
JVP too came under attack soon after the murder. On Wednesday, the
JVP’s Maharagama-Pannipitiya office was burnt down. And the day
after, a party printing press at Batapotha was burnt and an office
in Godagama was attacked. The attacks were few and far between,
but gave the legroom for the JVP to cry out that the party was
once again being victimised by state sponsored goons.
simmering anger against the party in and around the university. On
the night of the Maharagama office attack, a UNP MP from the
Negombo area had visited the funeral house with a crowd and the
indications were that the attack was carried out by the crowd.
of the Batapotha office is interesting. It was more or less a
publicity hub for the party, with several computers and a mini
off-set machine. The press that was housed at an old walawwa was
used by Wimal Weeravansa as an office and was not that easily
A gang of
about 60 had come at night and set fire to the house as well as to
two vehicles parked outside causing damage worth Rs. 13 lakhs.
however, stopped at that and the feared attacks on the JVP
convention and buses transporting supporters on Wednesday did not
materialise. The JVP was allowed to commemorate its dead in peace.
There was a
heavy police presence around the Sugathadasa Stadium and at
Gangodawila. Authorities had taken the precaution
to induct army as well as Special Task Force units to meet