21 October, 2019

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Jaffna University Sinhala-Tamil Student Conflict Was Insane!

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

When you come to think of it, the Sinhala-Tamil student conflict at the University of Jaffna last weekend was insane. This was all pretentiously about welcoming new students to a faculty of undergraduate studies. This said faculty is not about ‘performing arts,’ let alone physical prowess, but about Science. But the conflict was ostensibly about ‘drum and music’ (Thavil and Nathasvaram) and ‘cultural dancing’ (the Kandyan type!). As the Vice Chancellor declared last year in the Faculty’s Handbook,

“I consider that the new entrants of the Faculty of Science are very fortunate to pursue their undergraduate programme in such a well reputed faculty. Thousands of science graduates passed out through the portal of the Faculty of Science during the last forty years and serving the community and the country as eminent scholars, scientists, administrators, teachers and software engineers.”

It was not obviously the Freshers who were involved in the brawl or violence, but their ‘esteemed’ seniors. These are the people, according to the Vice Chancellor, who are supposed to be the future “eminent scholars, scientists, administrators, teachers and software engineers.” Most amusingly, when you look at the pictures of the brawl, one cannot identify a Sinhalese from a Tamil. I am not condemning the violence in that faculty or that university alone. This is the situation unfortunately in many universities and the country at large for a long-long period. This insanity of violent conflict is also not peculiar to Sri Lanka alone, but common in many countries involved in perceived and actual conflicts of many varieties.

Look at what Mohamed Bouhlel did on the Bastille Day in Nice, two days before the Jaffna incident, on the 14th. He took his delivery truck and rammed into innocent bystanders, killing 84 persons including 10 children. ‘Frustration-aggression theory’ should not justify insane violence. There are democratic ways and means available particularly to the educated youth to resolve their disputes, whatever the existing defects. It is our own duty to improve them, if they are defective.

The Danger

Most alarming and dangerous in this particular incident in Jaffna is that it transpires not only juvenile insanity like in many episodes of university ragging or group violence, but much more with possible future repercussions. This conflict was waged with stones and sticks (like in the stone-age!) pretentiously on behalf of millions of ‘innocent and peace loving people’ belonging to the two main human communities in the country, the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

I was particularly impressed by Prof. S. Srisatkunarajah’s message to the new students last year, as the Dean of the Faculty, addressing them as ‘My Dear Students’ and emphasizing this humanness. He didn’t talk about Tamils or Sinhalese. As he said, “We are human beings and our thirst for knowledge is innate. In this respect, cultivation of knowledge in basic and applied sciences is fundamental. The Faculty of Science is committed to fulfill your desire and ready to mould you as a competent graduate, excelling in learning and research, and capable of making useful contributions to the development of the nation.

I am not condemning one group against the other. Both groups should be condemned equally, for being responsible for the unwarranted confrontation and consequent violence. Both groups, on the other hand, may be excused, if they genuinely repent, apologize and reconcile, given fortunately the minor character of the incident. It is not the dispute per se that should be condemned, but its modus operandi or the resort to violence which has not at all resolved the dispute. Disputes are normal part of life although when you come to think about most, they are generated by created issues than real ones. Politicians of all sides are the culprits behind these creations who thrive or try to thrive on these conflicts, but most often fail themselves at the end.

This is the actual danger of the last weekend’s event. After the event, the extremist politicians and the extremist media outlets/channels on both sides seem to work overtime not to appease but to exacerbate the conflict. They should be condemned more than the students.

Issues of Dispute

The immediate dispute seems to be trivial compared to many issues underpinning various challenges confronting the country or the university students on reconciliation. A ‘main’ challenge seems to be the language, and thus the communication and the cultural barrier. Even that cannot be a major one because they all study in the English medium. Sinhala and Tamil (also Muslim) students have been studying ‘together’ in this faculty now for over five years. I wonder whether there had been any ‘love affairs’ (I mean between men and women) leading to inter-marriages!

As reported by some, if the request to include Kandyan dancing in the welcome procession was made at the last minute, then the Sinhalese students should have understood the reluctance or the refusal, and satisfied with its inclusion on the stage after the arrival of the new students at the auditorium. If the introduction of ‘Thavil and Nathasvaram’ were a new item of the welcome ceremony this year, then it is also natural for the Sinhala students to be weary that their ‘Dance’ was not included. Perhaps this new inclusion was part of a ‘cultural assertion’ of the Tamil students, having seen the ‘cultural intrusion’ of the Sinhalese at Wesak and Poson ceremonies, let alone the ‘Sinhala-Tamil New Year’ in the Sinhala style.

There seems to have been some interesting cultural competition going on between the two groups in recent times. This is where the ‘science’ students have gone ‘unscientific.’ But three years back, in 2013, they even had a ‘Couple-Dance’ welcome party for the new students, nothing to do with the traditional Tamil or the Sinhala culture! But who started the ‘aggression’ first is a typical chicken and egg question. It is unfortunate, because, culture particularly in the Sri Lankan context is considered a uniting factor compared to the language.

Perhaps the Sinhala students or others are not fully aware of the Mission of the University of Jaffna. The Statement says the Mission is:

To produce intellectual, professionally competent and capable graduates to meet the emerging needs of the national and international community, with a special emphasis on the social, economic and cultural needs of Northern Sri Lanka. (My emphasis).

Broader Context

The evolution of the University of Jaffna is clearly discernible in two or three stages. The first one was during (our senior friend) late Professor K. Kailasapathy’s time, as the Vice Chancellor, and the origin as a Campus of the (one) University of Sri Lanka in 1974. He was a great scholar with ideals, values and humanism. During this period, the university was a multicultural center with immense respect for the Jaffna culture from the Sinhalese and the Muslims alike.

Then came the second stage in 1979, where independent universities were reinstated back in the country and the University of Jaffna was formed under the Universities Act (1978) with relative autonomy. This was the aftermath of violence against the Tamil community in 1977, not to speak of the Vaddukodai resolution, and as a result the reconstitution of the university had a clear imprint of Tamil nationalism. Apart from the mission statement quoted above, even the crest of the university had ‘Nanthi’ (the bull), the symbol in the flag of the Jaffna Kingdom at its center. This is not unusual as many other universities in the South having the ‘lion’ (i.e. Peradeniya) or Buddhist symbols in their crests.

Perhaps it was a third stage that was intended after the end of the war in 2009, by sending Sinhala students back to the University of Jaffna, rather haphazardly and without much planning or creating necessary conducive conditions. On the other hand, there has been much goodwill, as far as I know, from the academic staff, particularly in the Faculty of Science to invite Sinhala students. However, this is apparently not the case in other faculties or among the non-academic staff. In this context, having 60 percent of Sinhala students in the faculty is undoubtedly overbearing and an invitation for trouble.

There are Tamil students in other universities in the South, but as far as I am aware, there has been no much resentment when Tamil cultural events are held. The main reason being that the holding of these events perhaps have not been raised as a matter of pure right. In major ceremonies, however, Tamil or Muslim cultural events are also not accommodated. As Ven. Galkande Dhammananda Thero has rightly explained “in any university, due prominence is always given to the respective university’s cultural background” (Colombo Telegraph, 22 July). This also shows that even the ‘rights’ should be claimed or raised in a responsible manner or otherwise those can lead to unnecessary conflicts. Cultural rights by nature are sensitive issues. This should not mean that ‘multiculturalism’ should not prevail at the University of Jaffna or any other university. But ensuring multiculturalism, particularly after a long drawn out war, is a process and all sectors should act with utmost responsibility in this process. What should be condemned forthright of the Jaffna University incident is not the dispute (however humorous!), but the violence and the confrontation.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    6

    This has a glossy feel about it because something is being glossed over. Dancing will not move the night away. But on the other hand if Tamil Dancing is welcomed by Sinhalese Donkeys then Sinhala Dancing will be welcomed by Tamil Donkeys as well…Shall we have some Tamil Dancing for the Sinhala Donkeys in the so called “Sinhala” areas and see how well it is received…for starters…?

    It will be a good thing if all the Sinhala Donkeys are chased back to North India…Orissa or wherever they came from. That way the Tamil Donkeys will be left in peace.

    • 0
      0

      This proves my point,
      ON Colombo Telegraph the so called Minorities and linked to Diaspoar,[Edited out]

      • 2
        0

        Dear Prof. Laksiri,
        Truth is gradually coming out. The solution for this is to remove Sinhala security forces and Police and replace them with Tamils in both northern and eastern provinces barring Amparai electorate as what happened during IPKF deployment. Until and unless this is done as a priority, these incidents are bound to happen as some of the Sinhalese have supremacist mentality and will colaborate with security personnel to impose their nonsense on Tamils.

        Now that you are in Australia, please impress upon Sinhalese in Australia to have Tamil music and dance in all their functions. I wish to point out to you that my request to have Tamil music in the procession of dignitaries in festival of Cricket 2013 in UK, when I was President was turned down, but I did not by force try to barge in Tamil musicians or get Sinhalese assaulted. Had those Sinhalese accepted the decision nothing would have happened.

    • 2
      0

      Most Sinhalese are Kandyan or Low Country ?
      Cultural rights have to be ascertained among the Sinhalese too !

    • 1
      0

      Dr. Laksiri Fernando and RE:crazyoldmansl comments

      RE: Jaffna University Sinhala-Tamil Student Conflict Was Insane!

      //”But on the other hand if Tamil Dancing is welcomed by Sinhalese Donkeys then Sinhala Dancing will be welcomed by Tamil Donkeys as well…Shall we have some Tamil Dancing for the Sinhala Donkeys in the so called “Sinhala” areas and see how well it is received…for starters…?”//

      //”When you come to think of it, the Sinhala-Tamil student conflict at the University of Jaffna last weekend was insane.”//

      Yes. Insane. The Para-Mootals and Para-Modayas are very emotional.

      Now Sri Lanka and Tamil Ellam have an epidemic, the epidemic of expanding Modayas, that has infected the Students, both Tamil and Sinhala, and EVEN, the science students!

      Thre Para-Sinhala Students and the Para-Tamil Students have transformed the Land of Native Veddah Aethho o be illegally populated by the Hora-Oru Para-Sinhala-Modayas and Kalla-Thoni Para-Tamil Mootals.

      So, what is the solution?

      Send ALL the Hora-Oru Para-Sinhala-Modayas and Kalla-Thoni Para-Tamil Mootals, back to their homeland, India.

  • 8
    5

    I very much appreciate your article and enjoyed the video. I think that students of both communities have taken part in that recital. Thank you. However,the problem lies not on the Students themselves but an outside force because there still exists majority minority complex and subjugation of the minority by the majority and also to minimise the Tamil majority in the North and East. That complex have to completely wear out for a permanent peace among the two communities. The war was unfortunate and unwanted but the responsibility for the war has to be borne by the majority. There are many instances which could be elaborated. It is the majority who should embrace the minority and the minority should feel at home in their own land without subjugation and power sharing. Now they live in fear still with the large number of military personnel stationed in the North occupying private lands.

  • 10
    0

    Without non university outsiders backing this would not have happened so the focus should be on those forces and factors. Student are only the pawns.

  • 0
    0

    Hi Dr.
    What has the below statement got to do with the instant case?

    “Look at what Mohamed Bouhlel did on the Bastille Day in Nice, two days before the Jaffna incident, on the 14th. He took his delivery truck and rammed into innocent bystanders, killing 84 persons including 10 children,…”

  • 5
    3

    Universities in Sri Lanka breeds extremism. Let it be Jaffna Uni or Peradeniya or Colombo etc., etc. the historical mindset of radicalism preached by the extreme forces like JVP, JHU, Tamil Tigers, Dinesh Gunawardene etc., etc. are there to prop up and must be banished.

    Even the media plays its role to energize this culture.

    • 1
      0

      The Jaffna university has a tradition of welcoming freshens instead of ragging them as happens in other universities. In any welcoming process it is a Tamil tradition to use the Nathaswaram and Thavil combination which together are referred to as ‘mangala vaathyam’ the meaning of which will be clear in both Tamil and Sinhala. This tradition has been there for some years now at the Jaffna University and that practice was not something that cropped up freshly this year! Apparently any changes or additions to this practice would have been possible if the suggestions had been made in time and not at the last moment which lapse led to the unfortunate incidents. Let us all treat this as a passing dark cloud and hope to contribute something positive to build reconciliation and to always take positive attitudes!
      Sengodan. M

  • 8
    7

    Racism and Violence are dirty.And, in academic institutions are unacceptable -despicable. The perpetrators need to be disciplined- severely punished. But, I have a problem with the Southern Politicians and the mainstream English & Sinhala media, owned and operated by Sinhala big brothers.How come they were profoundly silent, deaf and dumb when Tamil undergrads were repeatedly attacked at Sabragamuwa, Eastern Universities. And again, Muslim students were attacked at South Eastern university ?. No murmur – No protest, let alone raising hue and cry

    • 3
      2

      The English media was silent this time too. So was the government. Perhaps, they feared a backlash. There are and have been provocations from both sides of the Tamil – Sinhala divide. Tamils have the apartheid mindset and want to preserve the North unto themselves whilst demanding the right to live and prosper in other provinces. The remedy is to encourage more Sinhala and Muslim families to move to the North and make that area multi cultural and eradicate the current ghetto mindset of the folks who live there.

      • 1
        2

        Lal,
        The Northern province is now the only province where the Tamils have some chance of preserving and enriching their culture and traditions. Now are you suggesting that too should be wiped out through swamping the place with Sinhalese and Muslims or assimilating the Tamils in the North too into the majority community?
        Sengodan. M

  • 1
    1

    Dear Mr Fernando. This was not an instance of a conflict. This was an organised, barbarous assault by a marauding group armed with clubs and poles on a section of the population of the same campus at a cultural event.
    [Edited out]

    • 0
      0

      Conflict according to the English dictionary, means a protracted war between two groups people or populations OR a mere difference of ideas or views.
      Mr Fernandoka perhaps unknowingly refer to a well orchestrated violent rampage as a conflict.

  • 3
    2

    Where can you find jobs for these undergraduates, when they come out?.

    Yahapalanaya has been all about hunting Rajapaksas and trying to hoodwink the poor Sinhala Masses to vote for a new Constitution, which will create Federal Homelands for Tamils and Muslims.

    And create a megapolis for the well off, and the Vellalas and the Wahabis who do not want to migrate to their homelands.

    TNA who already runs the North want to show their authority in every aspect of the administration there.

    Mr Sambandan didn’t invade the Killinochchi Camp to have a cup of Tea and a Bikkie with the Army boys,,.

    Tamil Student Leader in the University took cue from Mr Sambanadan perhaps, and wanted to assert his authority.

    When he was arrested it was none other than the TNA heavy who appeared pro bono.

    And the Magistrate couldn’t do a thing about the police report.

    But the Magistrates in the Yahapalana South remand even Buddhist Monks for not bashing but feeding Elephants.

    But I have no issue with the Jaffna Magistrate,

    Because the UNP heavy and the big ass Yahapalana Minister Kandy Kirra, told the media, that our Sinhala brothers from the south came to pelt stones and bash the Sinhala kids in the Science Faculty.

    So what could the poor magistrate do?….

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out]

  • 3
    2

    Correction to my comment.

    Yahapalanaya has created 42 new jobs.

    They are all appointed as consultants by the UNP Heavy, Minister Kandy Kirra to the RDA on a retainer of LKR 65,000 a month.

    Even a Buddhist Monk is a consultant along with two members from one family.

    How cool….

    Wonder whether the Monk is from Malwatta or Asgiriya …

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out]

  • 3
    0

    The role played by a ‘Hanguranketa’ Sinhala student group and an Arts Faculty Tamil students group in bringing matters to a boil is interesting. The participation of Sinhal7a soldiers in civics in Sinhala/ Buddhist functions on campus is also rationally explained. Please read the following link:

    http://dbsjeyaraj.com

    Further, I returned to Jaffna last morning after a gap of two weeks. Most ordinary people I have spoken to had no idea or very vague idea about what had transpired in the Jaffna campus. Life seems to be ‘ AS USUAL’. This was also true of the Thirunelveli area, where the campus is located.

    The government has apparently handled the matter with finesse. What the MR gang is alleged doing to instigate violence in campuses around the country in pursuit of power, if true, is abominable.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 1
    1

    The incident was serious and only insane will refer otherwise. In the history of Sri Lanka, have you ever heard a Russian president welcomed with Tamils traditional percussion instruments…..The answer is NO….Why?

    I don’t have to reiterate the incident here. Sinhala students should avoid Tamil area University for their own safety. Tamils should reciprocate the same.

  • 2
    0

    It seems insane indeed if we view this as clash between Sinhala and Tamil students. It appears that the initiators of the clash were Tamil. Nevertheless it is inconceivable that the overwhelming majority of Tamil students would have a hand in it. It is very apt that the Doctor has not used the meaningless pet word these days, ‘reconciliation’ in this context. What should be expected is an investigation by the University authorities and reprimand those responsible, and find out any outsiders involved which is a strong possibility.

  • 1
    2

    As freshers in Hilda hall I was in a room with 2 other Singhala Students. They never wanted to be friendly with me and ignored me. Later I met the brother of one of them He was reasonable and friendly.

  • 1
    1

    What we see current events around the world is not good for future pease of human life.
    Srilanka has undegone a terrible time and still reconciliation is not agreed by some section of the majority community.
    Don’t continue to supress the minority. The majority should embrace the minority and show the world that we are grown and compassiate community. I beg those involved behind the scene, please dont use innocent students for your own benifits.. God bless SL

  • 2
    1

    I guess it is a part of the continuing ethnic cleansing of the North started years ago by the Elaamists. The recent utterances of the Chief Minister of the North might have contributed to this scenario.

  • 0
    2

    The kandyans have roots in South India. The last kandyan king was a south Indain. The kandyan dance would not be just sinhala culture. The sinhalese students might have got agitated to see the Natheswaram promoting a pro Tamil(hindu) at the Jaffna University.

    • 1
      0

      The musical instrument nathaswaram has no religion! One can play even Western music in it!
      Sengodan. M

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