On the 76th Independence Day of Sri Lanka, the undergraduates of the University of Jaffna, in alliance with civil society groups based in the North, organized a peaceful protest in Kilinochchi. These protests highlighted the ongoing acts of injustice and violations by the state and the Sinhala-Buddhisization of the North and East of the country and demanded a political solution to the national question.
The students who participated in the protests were attacked brutally by the police with water cannons and tear gas. The police were seen dragging the students by their arms, pushing them around and forcing them onto the ground. Several students who took part in the protest were arrested.
The University of Jaffna Teachers’ Association strongly condemns the police’s attempt to suppress the protest using brute force. Yesterday’s violence demonstrates that there is no freedom for the Tamils in Sri Lanka to assemble peacefully and fight for their rights in a democratic manner even on the Independence Day of the country.
The Tamils in Sri Lanka have been fighting for their political rights and resisting state oppression through non-violent means since the end of the thirty-year-long armed struggle in 2009. There have been protests led by Tamils in the North-East of the country against land grabs, militarization and Sinhala-Buddhisization. Some of these protests made a call for the release of the political prisoners and justice for those who were made to disappear. Instead of addressing these issues in a democratic manner, the state often unleashed majoritarian violence on the protesting Tamils.
The current Sri Lankan regime tries to ensure its survival by suppressing protests. It uses draconian laws and violence to curtail, stifle and take away people’s rights to free speech, assembly and protest. The attacks on the peaceful student protesters on the 76th Independence Day is a manifestation of these authoritarian methods of governance and Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.
The University of Jaffna Teachers’ Association emphasizes that the people of this country across ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional boundaries should speak up against the violence unleashed on the Independence Day which undermined the very idea of ‘independence’ and turned it into a farce. It is only by finding just and lasting solutions to the ethnic conflict and the economic crisis that the government can win the trust and confidence of the people. The government will never be able to contain the resistance it faces today by introducing repressive laws or resorting to violence. At a time when we are faced with a serious crisis, it is important that we come together to protect the democratic spaces available to us today. The Association believes firmly that it is only by acting collectively and courageously in these spaces that we can strengthen democracy and defeat state oppression.
The University of Jaffna Teachers’ Association