By Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan –
Dr. Kumaravadivel Guruparan has always been a human rights lawyer legally fighting for the oppressed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the vulnerable, and the underprivileged. He was the Head of the Department of Law at the University of Jaffna until Jaffna University Council informed him on 9 November 2019 that he was not permitted to practice as a lawyer in Sri Lankan courts anymore. The Council, it seemed, without any re-evaluation, adopted the decision made by the University Grants Commission (UGC) losing its autonomy, an institution of higher education in Sri Lanka and the Council vested with the autonomy to reflect and decide on the matters of crucial importance concretely to the University and the country and abstractly to the preservation of democratic values. We suspect that the UGC might have been persuaded by the external elements to remove him from his peaceful human rights work.
Since he has established and the executive director of the Adayalam Center for Policy Research in Jaffna, which functions as a human rights organization, it might have irritated the enemies of human rights violations. Since September 2011, his holding a senior lecturer post and the headship of the Department of Law at the University of Jaffna was his strength in bolstering human rights in the country.
There are departmental procedures to allow him to practice law. The Council should not be interfered with by anybody or any authority inside or outside in university matters. Nevertheless, it succumbed to the UGC confirming on 19 September 2019 of him being barred from the court practice. On 9 November 2019, the Jaffna University Council adopted the UGC decision. However, the Council had the power to fight against the UGC decision that it violates against the existing norms and practice that the university academics can do consultancy and community practice outside the institution like the academics in medical faculties as consultants in private hospitals and other academics in all other departments serving as consultants outside in private ventures and NGOs.
Further academic service or teaching without field experience is ridiculous, and the teachers and the students would become ‘book worms.’ There is a question whether the authority whether the country, the UGC, and the University want the university teachers and students to become like that. Now there are hues and cries about university graduates becoming unemployable and non-creative and non-critical. Real field experience is the surest way to make our teachers and students as constructive teachers and students. The UGC and the government, for the last twenty years, have been wailing over this void state in the university system. We expect the real academic, administrative right, and autonomy from the Council to brave and brace enough to question back the academic and legal validity of the UGC decision rather than cowing down.
We all know, including the dons of Jaffna University that he has been dealing with several high-level legal cases pending before the court. His service tried to make the perpetrators accountable for human rights violations against many civilians, specifically in the north and east of the country. As a result, he encounters many threats and intimidations against his legal fight for justice and fairness. It is an attempt at removing him from his battle for legitimate justice for crimes through the courts.
There is a serious issue, the harassment of Dr. Kumaravadivel Guruparan. Our society never accepts the resignation from his academic position at the University. The Council also should not accept it. It should give him time and space to resolve his issue. Otherwise, it will be a terrible loss of the institution. He should withdraw it immediately. Our society appreciates him as a human rights defender. He is taken revenge for his peaceful and legitimate human rights work. The FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Association) should raise this matter with the UGC. The society demands the university council and the UGC remove all the restrictions against him so that he can constructively function teaching and practicing as a senior academic in law and as a senior lawyer for assisting victims of human rights violations in their pursuit of justice through court.
*Dr. Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan, Senior Lecturer, Vavuniya Campus, University of Jaffna.