26 January, 2021

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To My Dear Jaffna University Friends

By Pratheep Kunarthnam –

Pratheep Kunarthnam

Pratheep Kunarthnam

My dear university friends,

I am not interested in discussing here what happened at the university on Saturday or how the media and social media reported and responded to it in great haste. I would like to stand away from such exaggerated descriptions as “They raised sticks,” “They pelted us with stones,” “We were injured,” “The Police came,” “We said Sinhalese,” “We said Tamils.” Now it is time for discussion and dialogue.

Riding my bike down the Ramanathan lane last night, I could sense graveyard like silence around the University. The place was cordoned off by the Police. What happened in the morning, the distorted media coverage of those happenings, what I heard on the streets had all overcome my reason. As soon as I reached home, I put up a status post on my Facebook wall only to take it down after 10 minutes. I felt tensed; an emotional crisis was brewing inside me. Many of you would have felt the same last night. But let’s think now and teach our hearts there should be no room for hatred in them.

The ethnic conflict of the long years has made us take refuge in our emotions. The media, many who wrote on the social media and bloggers approached the situation with a divisive agenda. Many want someone or some group to carry arms and stand before them. That is all they want. Such is their desire for revenge.

Those diaspora people inside their safe zones and those with political power want us to take up arms and fight. There are plenty of such selfish folks among all communities.

This is a problem that has occurred at our university. Both Tamil and Sinhala media are using it to fan the flames of narrow-minded politics. In analyzing it carefully, one sees that there are only a few people who are involved in the problem: the ones who succumbed to their emotions and raised their arms first and those who raised their arms in retaliation. Some of them belonging to these two groups are still roaming the campus.

These folks did not emerge all of a sudden. Posters sprang up on the walls calling for the construction of Buddhist temple. The Nandi statutes were recently demolished. The stone benches where enamored couple spent their leisure hours were destroyed. The fuming volcanoes finally exploded on the 16th of July. There was no sudden reason for the violence that shook us yesterday. It was an explosion triggered many sub-events.

The posts that appear these days in the media and social media sound as though their authors want the students to divide themselves into Tamil and Sinhala groups and kick start a war. They want to scapegoat the students to feed their greed for sensational news and racism. Abhorrent men.

There is no question that all communities have the right to articulate their culture-based identities via cultural events and performances. But what we need to ask is when and in what context such articulations happen. When it takes place in a context where the state and majoritarian chauvinism attempt to oppress a community, it will have adverse consequences. Isn’t it ironic that none has pointed their finger at the Buddhist statues that are mushrooming outside the University? Let’s try to understand that there is some force operating behind all of these happenings.

I would like the ones who claim that everyone is free and equal to tell us in detail about the background to the posters that I mentioned above and the demolition of the Nandi statues and the stone benches. I do not want to generalize that these untoward incidents are representative or reflective of the state of ethnic relations at the University. These are acts by a handful of people who hold fundamentalist, backward cultural views.

Why have the authorities suddenly raised the number of Sinhala students admitted to the University of Jaffna over the years without realizing that such a sudden increase may pave the way for ethnic tensions at the University? Can any of the authorities explain why except in one or two faculties Tamil-Sinhala students do not even smile at each other even when they walk past one another? Does any of the authorities have a rational response to it? I do not think the Sinhala students are doing this. The authorities and power centers are responsible for this odiousness.

From the University Grants Commission to the administration of the University of Jaffna, all relevant authorities should take responsibility for the recent clash. When is the university administration going to realize that the relations between Tamil and Sinhala students are getting worse as seen in the recent disputes over getting drinking water from the water purifier?

Centers of power always work against the people and justice. But we allow this cancerous trend which will once again lead us on the path of destruction to develop further.

As we reflect on the Tamil-Sinhala relations at the University of Jaffna, we should also ask ourselves if we can easily overlook the deteriorating relations between Tamil and Muslim students? The oil thrown at the prayer room of the Muslim students at the University has not been cleaned up yet.

All three communities at the University are allowing ourselves to be controlled by the ethnic prejudices emanating from elsewhere. Some false ideas get circulated on the campus.

The university administration thinks that it could underplay the acuteness of the problem by giving leave to the students. It is like hiding the sword inside a cover. How are we going to take this hidden sword out and destroy it? For the university and its administration, conflict resolution is just a course taught at the university.

Let us at least create among ourselves the faith that armed resistance is no longer an option for us to fight oppression.

The ones who destroy our traditions, our selves and our existence are not students. There are larger elements that are trying to make money out of these clashes. There are fundamentalist political forces that are behind the violence that we witnessed at the University of Jaffna. We have to confront these deadly groups ideologically. Then they would be scared to appear before us.

There is nothing wrong in our struggles to protect our existence. But such resistance should not be purely emotional. It should flow from our thoughts.

Be aware that those who instigated you to pelt stones at others will one day appear on the political stage with them.

We are students. We are not like our politicians.

We walk on the same corridors of our university. We study in the same classrooms. We sip a cup of tea in the same canteen. When we run into each other, we cannot avoid our eyes meeting each other. We were all born human. Let’s start with a smile. And yes, let’s take the first step.

*Pratheep Kunarthnam is a 2nd year student at the Arts Faculty

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Latest comments

  • 31
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    Well said; well written. (For a 2nd year student at the Arts Faculty your command of the English language is praiseworthy.)

    • 10
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      Thanks

    • 0
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      Fair point well said.

  • 27
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    Pratheep Kunarathnam,

    Thanks young man. There should be many more like you in our universities! May your tribe increase!

    You have presented the inside story and its background well. In the process you have exposed the ineptitude of the university authorities, the role of the puppeteers and that of the puppets who do their bidding.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 17
    0

    Good thoughts Pratheep. Keep it up. If all the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and all others just strip off all clothes, remove other markings from the body such as pottus and pirith noolas and long beards, all we will see is young bodies, old bodies, ugly bodies and beautiful bodies. We will definitely not see any signs that one is Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Moor, Malay or any such.

    All sickness is in our minds.

    • 1
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      Couldn’t agree more BBs Rep

  • 22
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    Pratheep,I am delighted to read your valuable article.For the brawl that took place,I dont want to put the blame only on the students.The Tamil leadership ,for their own political mileage ossified anti-Sinhala ,anti-government sentiments in the minds of the innocent Tamil youth.So do the Sinhala leadership among the Sinhalese.
    All of us underwent immense hardship during the war.Those who bore the brunt of the war are ordinary civilians,not the politicians. Fortunately,the war has come to an end.We dont want another war on our soil.
    We should respect each other and learn to live peacefully.

  • 8
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    Sane voices are missing in the scene.

    There should be a swift inquiry to get to the bottom of this ‘punch up’. Extremists should be sidelined by everyone.

  • 10
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    Thanks Pratheep for raising the concerns so honestly without fear or favour. The issue of concern to me is not only the increase in number of Sinhala Students but also opening Universities without academics. The case in point is Engineering Faculty of South Eastern University.

    Today I received an invitation from Parakrama Niriella, the Dramatist. His janakaraliya Foundation will be staging the Tamil version of Bertold Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle at Weerasingham Hall on 25th July ’16. He is doing it with some Tamil Dramatists in the North. I know Parakrama very well. Will he get the same treatment on grounds of Sinhala Dramatists trying to enter the “exclusive” space of Tamil Dramatists in the North? I hope that those hold backward fundamentalist cultural views, have now understood that they are being used as puppets by some operating behind the curtain or from overseas via skype.

  • 12
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    I am sure the young man is quit genuine in his statements and would make a great leader from the North to take up from the existing leadership or the lack of it, as it seems to be bogged down in old ideas.
    We must all find out as to why these types of actions do not occurs in the rest of the country’s educational institutions but only in the North?
    Down South we have a mixed ethnic ratio of lecturers and staff that teaches all to work together, but the Northern universities are 95% (?)Tamils, NOW THE QUESTION MUST BE ASKED IS THIS GOOD FOR FUTURE RECONCILIATION?
    TEACHERS/LECTURERS CAN INFLUENCE YOUNG MINDS.
    I AM MADE TO UNDERSTAND THAT EACH UNIVERSITY HAS A RECONCILIATION CENTER , WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

  • 10
    3

    The author talks about a request to build a Buddhist temple ( the story about this was published in CT) , destruction of a Nandi statue and students of each race not even smiling with each other and says only a handful of persons are responsible for this. But the reasons he gives are Buddha status outside the university. The reason for this is Tamils in north have a tendency to reject anything non tamil.
    When the pro LTTE student union in JU were celebrating LTTE heros day and many LTTE related things the ones in CT were supporting it. The government did not do anything to weed out the trouble makers and this is the result.
    I personally do not approve Sinhala society asking to include wes dance in fresher’s parade, that is too much to ask from a tamil enclave but actions must be taken to make this society to fit with any diversity

  • 10
    0

    We are Proud Of you dear son and we salute you.

  • 9
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    Well written Pratheep. I hope this article inspires fellow students from both communities to free themselves from the political shackles and look forward to concentrate on their education and become good citizens who could help to make this country a better place for the future generations to live peacefully.

  • 1
    1

    I am not arguing anything. I posted in many media.talk Good and hear good.it is good mental health.that i would say. If you have problem with your wife. U point out always a particular matter to your wife.u remember it the bad thing it is bad for mental health.so be wise to tackle you with your society

  • 1
    3

    Has ever non violence won?

    • 7
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      It was Gandhi’s Satyagraha that won India her independence, not the violence by some quarters which was going to be crushed by a superior force.

  • 13
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    Very good article. Encouraging to see this kind of youth among many who get carried away by emotions. I put the total blame squarely on the UGC. It should know what awaits when Sinhalese student numbers are increased so rapidly. I posted the following comment elsewhere for Sinhalese readers. I copy and paste it here too:

    I would kindly ask the Sinhalese readers to imagine this scenario. Imagine your village is predominantly Sinhalese. You are so proud of its Sinhalese traditions, culture, food, and way of life. However, there is a bigger neighboring village of predominantly another ethnic group. They used their power to design new irrigation systems into your village, which is good, but settled people from the other village in the new farm lands. You felt threatened by the new settlements. Add to this, you felt marginalized in several other areas like school systems, opportunities to get into universities etc. Tensions built up and a bloody battle erupted. You had a bitter fight for 30 years and literally every night you heard gun battles, shells flying above you, your young ones wanted to get involved in the fight, the mighty air power in the other village bombed some areas, and your houses got cracked walls as a result. You also launched attacks on the other village from time to time and many died. That battle came to an end just six years ago. You still have deep wounds in your hearts, but silence of guns is a big relief.

    Now, the administrative authority of schools which is common for both villages pumps students from the other village to a school in your village to make the student mix in one class (science faculty) to something like 65% from the other village. The sudden change of ethnic proportions naturally lead to cultural changes in the school. Irrespective of ethnicity, student clashes in your village and in the other village have been very violent in the past. Sometimes they crack each others’ bones over political views, disputes between different classes (NDT vs BSc, Government Medical students vs Private medical students) for instance, that have nothing to do with ethnicity.

    Now think, will a reminder of how people were settled through clever irrigation schemes not build up tensions that can erupt violent students clashes? For me, given the nature of student clashes in Sri Lankan universities, what happened is not very surprising, though it is utterly disgusting.

    Adults in the UGC should know the history of Sri Lanka’s conflicts, what led to ethnic tensions, and not go into hallucinations about how ethnic harmony should be brought about. It should be done gradually with constant re-calibration of methods. The approach UGC has taken by forceful change of student proportions by large numbers over a short time has apparently led to violent reactions. This will create another generation of youth who will graduate from universities with ethnic mistrust and hatred. Polarization of the middle-class is the most dangerous pre-runner for lasting conflicts. So, I urge the UGC to be more careful and thoughtful in the future.

    I am a Buddhist, a slightly different Buddhist who prefers regular solitary meditation than crowded temples in cities. I must say that erecting giant Buddha statues in Jaffna is not the best way to get the message of Buddhism to people in Jaffna. Instead, it will create negative reactions from traditionally Hindu and Christian communities there. If government authorities in Jaffna are truly interested in sharing Buddhism with people in Jaffna, first show its benefits by example. Make a relaxing area where people can freely go and meditate. Have monks who have been practicing meditation to guide those who request guidance. If people like it, they will take it. Forcing Buddhism through the throats by displaying statues is not the way. On a side note, those who build Buddha statues do not know that Buddha himself did not encourage building statues (Maha parinibbana sutta, Diga Nikaya). It was the Greeks in India after Alexander the Great’s invasions who started to build modern Buddha statues. Buddha never had hair. But the Greeks put a curly haired Greek wig often found in Greek Goddesses to Buddha. People still put this curly haired Greek wig to Buddha statues, clearly showing their blind following habit. What is more important in Buddhism is the tradition of looking inside our own minds that leads to inner peace and realizations. The author of this article show that ability much more than those so called Sinhala-Buddhist guardians.

    • 5
      4

      I would kindly ask the Sinhalese readers to imagine this scenario. Imagine your village is predominantly Sinhalese. You are so proud of its Sinhalese traditions, culture, food, and way of life. However, there is a bigger neighboring village of predominantly another ethnic group. They used their power to design new irrigation systems into your village, which is good, but settled people from the other village in the new farm lands. You felt threatened by the new settlements. Add to this, you felt marginalized in several other areas like school systems, opportunities to get into universities etc. Tensions built up and a bloody battle erupted. You had a bitter fight for 30 years and literally every night you heard gun battles, shells flying above you, your young ones wanted to get involved in the fight, the mighty air power in the other village bombed some areas, and your houses got cracked walls as a result. You also launched attacks on the other village from time to time and many died. That battle came to an end just six years ago. You still have deep wounds in your hearts, but silence of guns is a big relief.///////////

      Isnt this what Sinhalese had to face until 1948? But any affirmative actions sinhalese used to correct the unfairness they suffered is termed racist

  • 2
    0

    This author dispensing good sense to all Administrators and Divisive politicians debilitating the Country for several decades is admired by many. Will it open the eyes of the Administration and Politicians. I doubt very much. The majoritarian political mindset is not for rethinking in Sri Lanka. If the Administration changed with the new good Governance from January 2015, incidence like this could not have happened. The military and the clergy could not do administration and could not build unholy temples in wrong places and create antagonism with a divisive purpose. The chances are in place for the bad government to take over and not for the good Government to bring back the Country to order.

  • 13
    1

    Pratheep,
    As a young Sinhalese student who saw 83 July riots and piling of dead bodies afterwards due to escalating racial hatred , your letter brings tears to my eyes.The agony continued far too long and misery unfolded was incomprehensible.You had the worst end and the South suffered as well.
    Yes humanity should prevail and extremism should be defeated.
    When I saw this news first I was wondering why 50% of science Students are Sinhalese.This could be the root cause for this tension as it is obviously a cultural invasion.Some body from top brass has used poor students to achieve narrow minded political objectives.It is a pain for Sinhala students as well.They are far away from their home towns and the cost of living and travelling adds to the burden.
    Ethnic mix is good as we can learn from each other.But it should be proportionate.We need young people like you from both sides to come forward to de escalate this tension .We have suffered 40 years and time has come to think differently and move forward.
    All the best son.

    • 3
      9

      Are you mad? For a person as old as to experience 83 black july you are pretty immature. The UGC decides which students to be sent to which university based on their Z score and the rank they had requested the uni. They dont look at the race of the student.

      idiot.

      • 3
        0

        sach

        “idiot.”

        are you signing off as an idiot?If you read dayal’s comment below yours about the UGC, maybe you are.You are a uncultured,unrefined moron.

  • 4
    0

    Pradeep,

    What you have written is what many like to see, sadly many tend to make their decisions based on what they have seen, not on what they need to see take place, that can be very different from what we have seen, and you have made a difference.

    How about we blame none, and fast forward to what we need to do, negotiation 101 – give and take… bring out the best in each other… and most importantly, get to know each other… because deep down we are different…

    And its the difference, that the world needs the most…

    Keep writing and thank you!

  • 4
    0

    on the criticism about the UGC in suddenly sending too many students to north and east in the name of national university.all UGC appointments are politically motivated and all chairmen were party people from prof.kalpage, aluvihara to prof.hiruburegama ,gunaratne and there were others. their qualification is their affiliation to the respective political parties and experience as university teachers. they are specialists in their subject areas-agriculture or political science- but not in higher education/university education.they study about HE after joining the university. they go by common sense approach to education and higher education is not handled professionally.i doubt they do know anything about the history of university education in SL or systems of higher education elsewhere. the entire system of education and higher education are handled in the most non-professional manner.this is the reason for the present predicament in higher education, jaffna university, private medical college etc.
    -dayal

  • 4
    0

    Pratheep,

    Thanks for bringing the real picture of what is currently taking place at U of J. What is becoming more obvious is, there are bankrupted politicians on either side who want to make a political come back playing on younger ones’ emotions- which appears to be a short term goal. What is more alarming and will have long term implications is that police singles out a few students and take them in the pretext of further interrogation and torturing, which forces the other students, who are next in line to get an invitation from police, go undercover and being tagged as LTTE. This was how many students of U of J in the past had ended up in hands of LTTE, as it was a known devil. Hope that pattern will not repeat.

    Be smart, try and avoid falling into these traps. There are peoples who will act as champions of lost rights and agitate you to take the law into your hands and to fix the unfixable, but these people are also not genuine ones, all what they do is they use you to climb up the ladder towards their political destination, Once they have reached their targets, you are no value for them and wouldn’t mind trash you, that is how politic operates.

    It is very unfortunate to note that Nandi and stone benches have been destroyed, and it is being done so for no other reason than to provocate the student population. Hope your fellow students have understood the game being played, and resist themselves from playing into these murderers’ hands. Given these incidents, I don’t think reconciliation with, and reaching out to, the war victims will ever materialize.

  • 6
    8

    Sounds like another Tamil racist trying to justify the attack on the Sinhalese students. Sad.

    Still yet to see a single Tamil commentator openly condemn the violence of the Tamil students.

  • 3
    4

    50% OF STUDENTS IN sCIENCE SECTION ARE SINHALESE.

    Its no surprise. The brights & young tamil lives have been robbed by Velu & the LTTE on an useless war.
    To reduce this % there got to be new births registered it will take another decade or so.

    Untill then UCG had decided to fill in these places with sinhalese who needed to be given a place.
    Also, the Tamils who qualify for Uni education are occupying places in other Unis elsewhere in the country.

    UGC had done it right.
    Tamils have lost another opportunity.

  • 3
    0

    Thank you pratheep. Somebody should share positive and sensitive views on this issue. Hatred is common among humans. Animals fight for food and sex but humans have complex minds. What you have said is true. But the thinking should be more broad. As you said buddha statues can cause disharmony because of low minds. If the sinhalese refuse to tolerate kovils and hindu dances, how will the situation be? As a medical student in 1983, we had more than 70 tamils in our batch. Having a separate faculty in jaffna, is it correct ? From time to time these things happen.

    Main thing is to keep the minds free of hatred. All are humans

    Dr Jayadarie

  • 3
    0

    ah. a breath of fresh air in the midst of all this stink – instigated and perpetuated by racist ultra-nationalists on all sides.

    They are concerned only about getting into and retaining power and privilege riding on racism. They do not care about the future generations of all ethnicities who have no choice but to share this island. Be they politicians in SL, Canada, UK, TN, Norway or the various diaspora around the world.

    Mute them please. Talk to your brothers and sisters from other ethnicities, find a way to co-exist. Don’t let the mistakes of our fathers/grand and great grandfathers ruin our future!

    Thank you Pratheep. nandri.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Piratheep Kunaratnam,
    Your thoughts are appreciated. It is true that University students are supposed to be revolutionary and Universities are supposed to create a justice society. In real terms how far Srilankan universities, University professors and lecturers and University students contributed to bring justice to the society. The evidence and experience suggests that Universities have now become the breeding place of fundamentalism, and terrorism in this country. Professors and lecturers have contributed towards creating a violent society. I don’t understand why this is happening but it is happening. When I speak to some one they talk nicely, talk about equality, justice, law and order and so on. still the country in flames. No one is prepared to stop the fire.

  • 4
    0

    A well thought-out and written article Pradeep. I wish more students tend to articulate their feelings like you have, rather than resorting to demonstration, violence etc. Yes, the UGC needs a complete re-vamp and the Higher Education officials at even the Ministerial levels should be people who have a good knowledge of the subject, not just parachuted in after each election to pay off favours. If only the students stand together instead of aligning themselves with political parties, I believe you will have more success in getting what you want, rather that having to march to otheo peoples’ agendas.

  • 4
    0

    So happy to read an article written with a positive and healthy mentality ! Our adult population is weakened in their independent thinking ability and practice compromise ethics… And the younger generation they raised on houses goes below that level than the current generation . I just read an article yesterday from an Australian reporter about an similar social issue happening in australia now . The reporter took such mentally high overlook to it I wished we had media cover news like this in Sri Lanka and help thru media to bring togetherness and increase our ethical standpoint for the better . Check the full video here … People r the ones than do things to ruin the society and it’s only people that can do things to make society better . Sadly we can have a balanced society when good vs bad is 1:10 … Education is the key to change this ratio or our country and its unborn generations will have to pay for the selfishness of our generation and generation before us !
    https://www.facebook.com/TheProjectTV/videos/10153760912218441/

  • 4
    2

    mr.sam, i whole heartedly and fully without any reservation condemn the violent incidents that took place at Jaffna uni. but pl. note. i was one of the victims of 1983 pogrom. you know at that time this unprecedented and unheard violence was justified by many sinhala intellectuals.one top intellectual said the pogrom was the result of the open economic policy of JR. others said it was a good lesson to arrest the demand for separation. others justified it as a spontanious incident. finally it was chandrika who apologized for the pogrom.
    pl. listen to the speech made by the sinhala student leader, jaffna university.. u will see that the matter will be solved soon and academic activities will resume.
    -DAYAL

  • 1
    2

    Trying to justifying violent incidents while showing up as peaceful minds are the biggest threat, The guy is written well, it does not help his ability to write articulate to justify the incident. It is very clear what has happened at the event, and who are injured, who behaved violently with wooden sticks etc. First of all they must received the punishments, and prosecution against their misbehavior and violent behavior, It should not matter their ethnicity to do the justification and protect rule of law.

    Bringing all the stories, beliefs like, “why did authorities increased number of Sinhalese??? why 50% Sinhalese in Science ?? are showing how these guys are thinking and what is their mind set, if this is One/ united Sri Lanka, anyone should be able to study, work, any where in the country (if they are qualified) so what is the basis for racist quota??? why do they still demanding for this??? We should think again and again …..What ever the reconciliation process is happening, healing is happening/ or not understanding human behavior is the key challenge I guess???

  • 0
    0

    Prather
    Thank you for the positive input spelling out the reasons for the causes that led the recent unhappy events at the JU. In that regard the unanimous call by the CM of the NPC and the leader of opposition for a probe into the recent events at the JU is timely and important.

  • 3
    0

    Well Said Pratheep,

    Here I must say, although not on ethnic lines, there were clashes between two groups while I was at the University. The end result was we spent extra one year and those who led these fight later benefited from the contacts they formed during these events. They were the winners, we are the losers.

  • 1
    0

    Beautifully put Pradeep. Bravo !

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