Amidst the criticism of not informing the public about the Jaffna University clash, the Government has today lied about the nature of the brawl, saying it was not racially or ethnically motivated.
On Saturday the clash erupted at the University of Jaffna’s Science Faculty between groups of Tamil-Sinhalese students, with the university’s Vice Chancellor Professor Vasanthi Arasaratnam ordering the Sinhalese students to leave for Vavuniya, after the Faculty was closed indefinitely. Four buses were brought in to transport the students back to their hometowns in the South.
The background to this skirmish is a freshers’ welcome at the Science Faculty which took place last Saturday. The organizing student committee of the Science Students Union (SSU) had planned a march with traditional Tamil welcome drums and music, garlanding and escorting the Dean and Academic Staff from the Science Faculty gates for the event in the mathematics department hall.
On Friday evening however, the Sinhalese students put in a request for Kandyan dancers too to join the procession. The committee-meeting considering the request went on for long, refusing to accept a suggestion at the last minute. The matter then was passed on to the University Students’ Union dominated by the arts/management students who insisted it should be only the Tamil welcome form.
Some senior science academics intervened and urged that the march from the gate be scrapped and that the music should be only inside the hall where both groups could offer their form of welcome at 1:00 p.m. when the staff would also be there.
On Saturday however, as the event began, musicians playing Tamil drums and music were seen at the gate. Seeing this, the Sinhalese students joined in with their Kandyan music escort. First the arts/commerce students started pelting the Sinhalese students with stones. The Sinhalese students took shelter in the science building by the Physics Department signboard. The building had glass windows. As the panes broke and fell, some Sinhalese students sustained minor cuts, said a Senior Lecturer who was watching.
Issuing a statement today the government information department says “although some people tried to stress that it was a racially motivated conflict, this was a clash between two groups of students and the government condemns the violent behavior of some students. During the last six years students numbering about 7000 and belonging to several ethnic and religious backgrounds peacefully co-existed and studied.”
Contrary to the information department’s stance that this is not a racially motivated clash, Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Champika Ranawaka said “Are they trying to say that the Jaffna University is only for Tamil students, does this mean that Sinhala and Muslim students can’t go and study there? There is a deeper meaning to this incident, this is not just an assault on students, this is outright racism,” he said.
Northern based political party the Tamil National Alliance also expressed their deep shock saying “We regret that several students have sustained injuries and that the Sinhala students had to be evacuated from the University and Jaffna as a precautionary measure”.
The Government Information Department continues to stay mum regarding this evacuation. They have not yet explained or mentioned the reasons for this evacuation or why only the Sinhalese students were evacuated, if this was not a racially motivated clash.
The former President of the FUTA Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri after obtaining information from the Jaffna University lecturers said on his Facebook page that this is a racially motivated attack against Sinhala students.
However, the Government Information Department also said in the statement that the situation at the university has returned to normalcy and steps are being taken to reopen the Science Faculty. The Government condemns the incident and every effort will be taken to ensure that the safety of the children and the University authorities will be protected at all times.