By Rajan Hoole –
While the author of a book strives to be accurate with his facts as the times and circumstance permit, there will invariably be more to be said, and some of it of considerable importance. In 2005 (four years after the book), UTHR(J) had the opportunity of meeting in Canada Mr. Balasooriyan, and consulting others familiar with events in the mid-1980s. Additional information of considerable interest that throws further light on the conduct of the university authorities at Peradeniya was published as:
Supplement to UTHR(J) Special Report No.19: Part II
University of Peradeniya – May 1983: When Majesty Stoops to Folly
– The Beginnings of Mass Mobilisation for the Tamil Militancy, 9th September 2005
For many Tamil students the violence at Peradeniya University in May 1983 was a greater factor in their radicalisation than the more sensationally brutal events of July, which quickly overshadowed it. Peradeniya was the country’s premier institution of higher learning. When Sinhalese students with UNP leanings attacked fellow Tamil students on three consecutive days in May; the authorities and the country’s leading intellects did little to stop it. The excellent report of the committee of inquiry chaired by Kenneth de Lanerolle (discussed at length in UTHR publication Sri Lanka: ‘Arrogance of Power: Myths, Decadence & Murder) created controversy because many thought it went too far. We would argue that good as it was, the report still did not go far enough.
The recently obtained testimonies below suggest that the report did not touch the rot that was at the root of the problem. There is evidence to suggest that violence was not merely the result of passive acceptance by the administrative and academic establishments, but of their active complicity in the actual direction of events. The punishments it recommended against identified offenders were not implemented and the report itself was suppressed.
The main attacks on students on the 11th night took place almost simultaneously at Hilda Obeysekere Hall (HOH), James Peiris Hall (JPH) and Marrs Hall (MH). HOH was attacked about 9.45 PM by students armed with staves and parts of furniture. They were from other halls looking for particular students, some of whom were pointed out by fellow Sinhalese students. A particular target being out called by the mob was first year engineering student P. Balasooriyan who was editing a Tamil magazine and was accused of being a ‘tiger’. What follows is his testimony:
Unknown to Balasooriyan, 4 issues of the magazine ‘Puthusu’ (New) he was co-editing had arrived by post the same day and had been removed from the letter board and opened. The cover had the picture of a dove in a cage chained to a large metal ball. The picture was inspired by those commonly used then in Amnesty International publications campaigning for the release of political prisoners. That was enough to make Balasooriyan a ‘tiger’ although the political line of the magazine was sharply critical of the LTTE and its methods.
Sensing danger, Balasooriyan left his room and went to the room of Thayaparan, also on the first floor, where one bed was vacant. At this point Balasooriyan saw over the balcony the intruders searching his room in the wing across. The intruders came in and asked for their names. Balasooriyan gave the name of Appathurai Mohan. The intruders saw a Milk White calendar with a picture of Mahatma Gandhi on the wall and forced the two inmates to eat it. They went away and failing to locate their prey, came back asking for student record books. Balasooriyan said that he was a first year who came late, and had not got one yet. The mob started beating Tamil students. His fellow Tamil students who were protecting Balasooriyan felt this could not go on long and advised him to escape. He ran along the wing’s corridor and jumped one floor down at the Mahaveli River end. He was spotted and a cry went out. Lying on the ground, he found a torch flashing on him within 5 minutes. He was taken upstairs. He told the mob of 25 to 50 that he was asthmatic and frightened and that was why he jumped out. He denied he was Balasooriyan and gave Thayaparan’s as his room. The mob took him there, gave him water, asked him to lie down on the bed, switched off the lights and went away.
15 minutes later there was a huge rumble, the mob came again and knocked at the door, which Thayaparan opened. Balasooriyan sat up and blinked as the light came on. Asked for his name, he repeated Appathurai Mohan. The mob called, “Bandara, come here”. Bandara was a Sinhalese batch-mate in Balasooriyan’s engineering practical group assigned in alphabetical order. Asked if this was Balasooriyan, Bandara agreed.
The mob took Balasooriyan to an open (long) balcony connecting the wings and began assaulting him with broken legs of chairs and other physical means as he lay prostrate in his sarong. This went on for half an hour with Sinhalese students watching. A number of their faces clearly displayed disapproval and others urged the attackers, without success, to stop. The student who was most violent and unrelenting in attacking Balasooriyan was his own batch-mate, W.M.V. Fernando.
The time was past mid-night and the huge racket had been going on for above three hours without any intervention by the authorities until the warden, Dr. K.N.O. Dharmadasa (now professor of Sinhalese), arrived. The mob made room for him to advance along the corridor. He asked the others to stop beating the victim and that he would take over. Dharmadasa took Balasooriyan gently by the hand as if to reassure him and led him to his office.
It’s a Bomb!
Balasooriyan was astonished to find that all the printed matter and private letters in his room had been neatly arranged in Dharmadasa’s office and it was about 1.00 AM. Among these were Palestinian poems translated by Dr. M.A.M. Nuhman (Linguistics), Letter to a Sinhalese Soldier attributed to the then famous political prisoner Nirmala Nithyanandan and widely circulated among Tamils, and pamphlets issued by almost all the militant groups in Jaffna. There were also the four issues of the magazine Puthusu which Balasooriyan discovered for the very first time had arrived for him by post. Dharmadasa pointed to the cover of Puthusu and asked him what was on the cover. Balasooriyan explained in his then unfamiliar English pointing one by one to the cage, the pigeon, chain and iron ball. Dharmadasa suggested dramatically, “It’s a bomb.”
It struck Balasooriyan that during the rioting that had preceded Dharmadasa taking him by the hand, the belongings of his room had been systematically rifled and brought to the warden’s office. The copies of the Puthusu, which Balasooriyan had not seen before, had been intercepted and almost certainly given to Dharmadasa in advance, leaving the warden pondering over the enigmatic cover while the riot was on around him.
The dove in a cage manacled to an iron ball was part of the imagery popularised at that time (early 1980s) by the worldwide movement for the rights of political prisoners, which was triggered by a convergence of a number of public events: The campaign by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, the murder in 1980 by US-trained death squads of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador and the ongoing repression by Western-backed regimes in East Timor and Chile. Amnesty International had by then recorded about a score of disappearances in custody of Tamil political prisoners. While Tamil activists were circulating these images as part of their political mobilisation, most educated Sinhalese and the Colombo media angrily branded Amnesty International an agent of terrorist propaganda. The two communities in the small island were continents apart, not least in Peradeniya.
Dharmadasa questioned Balasooriyan closely on who sent the magazines and notices, all the time probing his links to the LTTE. Balasooriyan was afraid of naming his friends in Jaffna who kept him posted with literature for his work as co-editor of Puthusu and said that his father had sent the magazines and that leaflets were routinely posted by all the groups to the Press, writers and analysts. He added that Dr. Sivasegaram who taught at the Engineering Faculty knew him well. Dharmadasa telephoned Sivasegaram. At this point a JVP youth called Ranjit Gunaratnam who spoke Tamil came in and inquired after his well-being.
Dharmadasa, looking very severe, took Balasooriyan to Sivasegaram’s house in a university vehicle. Prof. Thillainathan (Tamil) and Dr. Kasinadar (Philosophy) were also there. The three Tamil academics had spoken to the Vice Chancellor Prof. B.L. Panditharatne and tried to explain that they knew Balasooriyan through his literary interests and that the material he possessed was for a bona fide purpose. The Vice Chancellor maintained that the matter had gone to the CID 4th Floor independently of him and he had no alternative but to hand Balasooriyan over to the Police.
Balasooriyan expressed the fear that policemen irritated at being woken up from their sleep are likely to take it out on him. They went to the Vice Chancellor’s place in the jeep. The VC said that Balasooriyan could spend the night in the custody of the University Marshal (whose office had done absolutely nothing to protect the Tamils) and be handed over to the Police in the morning. He also gave an assurance that Balasooriyan would not be beaten; an assurance he should have known was worthless.
Sivasegaram then felt that even the Marshal’s men might beat him and decided that he would stay the night with him. Being bare bodied in a sarong, Balasooriyan was taken to his room to change into trousers, shirt and collect his Bata slippers. His things were in a mess and Rs.96 he had for the week’s expenses had been robbed. He told his roommate to inform his parents. It was 4.00 AM when they reached the Marshal’s office. Both frightened and tired, Balasooriyan began to nod off. Sivasegaram who sat across asked him to sleep and stayed awake, an act of kindness Balasooriyan said he could never forget.
At the Kandy Police station (Wednesday 12th) Balasooriyan was placed in a cell 2ft. by 4 or 5 ft. and taken out to the toilet at the back of the station near the railway tracks. He was told that the CID could not come from Colombo until the next day. About 11.00 PM a police officer asked him who sent the notices. He was beaten when he said that he did not know. A CID party from Colombo took him by jeep to Kotahena police station in Colombo where he arrived at 7.00 PM on the 13th, this time to a longer cell with a toilet behind.
Next day on the CID 4th Floor, a man tried to scare him by telling him that Kuttimani was tortured there and there is blood on the floor and he must tell the truth. During the interrogation lasting 2 to 3 hours, all his materials from Dharmadasa’s office were placed before him. The Muslim translator struck him as sympathetic. They seemed very concerned with Nirmala’s letter to a Sinhalese soldier. A hefty inspector then came in and asked him who sent the letters. When Balasooriyan said he did not know, the Inspector gave him a thundering slap and ordered him to stand bent with his head under the table. Later on they took him to be certified by a doctor and released him to his brother in law living in Colombo. This was on the 14th.
The University’s Complicity
We may point out here that Balasooriyan was handed over to the Police because the University authorities had decided that he was a Tiger. The reason given by Vice Chancellor that he had no alternative because Balasooriyan’s name had already gone to the CID was so patently absurd that it was not repeated before the Lanerolle Committee. In fact the Lanerolle Report says, “A prima facie case by appropriate authorities does not appear to have been made against Balasooriyan before taking a very serious step of sending him to the Police”. The Report further said: “During this critical period what authority existed within the campus was in eclipse. Not only did the Security Service signally fail in its duty, but wardens and sub-wardens appear to have abdicated their responsibility. Here was a situation which could not be handled by the University’s own structures. Yet were serious attempts made to call in the Police?….”
The foregoing facts with the fact that it was students from the ruling UNP who were at the forefront of the attacks point inexorably to complicity on the part of the University at the highest level in the Tiger hunt. While giving the facts from which the reader could frame questions, Lanerolle avoided explicitly embarrassing the university hierarchy. Dharmadasa was then a middle level academic, and would very likely not have acted in such a highhanded manner unless he felt this is what the authorities intended him to do. The Report says: “Dr. Dharmadasa himself admitted that their prime concern was to defuse the situation… Had a less hasty step been taken, regarding Balasooriyan, it would have saved the authorities and his 300 accusers the ignominy of learning (later) that the ‘tiger’ was only an ‘unoffending cat’!” This excuse was after Dharmadasa knew that his foray into Tiger hunting had been less than glorious.
Further, the VC’s claim that the CID was anxious to question Balasooriyan is belied by the CID’s unenthusiastic and tardy, if not bored, conduct of the business. The Police would be concerned about guns, explosives and secret plans, but not over lots of commonplace paper that newspaper offices and libraries had. Contrary to the VC’s assurance that the Police would not beat Balasooriyan, if professors could not make anything credible of the pile of paper, what else could the Police do except to beat the fellow? According to the Report Dharmadasa had contacted the Vice Chancellor regarding Balasooriyan. The circumstances and the VC’s complicity suggest that someone high up in the University had gone to the CID.
It was so light a thing for the University to send a youth already tortured with their complicity to be tortured again by the Police. Other reliable testimony, which also concerns Sivaram, tells us that the attack on Tamils was not a sudden fit of madness, but the University had been teetering towards it for some months.
In 1982 a Tamil student from the East in the Humanities with no political involvement was interrupted during a lecture by a peon from the Dean’s office and handed over a letter. The letter typed in English was from the Gurunagar army camp in Jaffna asking him to come over for an inquiry. Having heard and read stories of torture and disappearance at the camp and the corpses of Inpam and Selvam dumped in public he was frightened. He remembers being given a white sheet of paper and the letter was not even in an envelope. Letters to students from the administration are normally posted on the letter board, not hand delivered in this manner. We may infer that the letter originating from Military Intelligence was addressed to the Vice Chancellor’s office, where it was opened and passed on to the Dean’s office for immediate delivery.
The student thought it best not to let the matter become public, lest he and his family become targets of harassment. He only told his two elder brothers, his brother-in-law, a district judge, his Sinhalese roommate and his teachers Dr. Kasinadar and Rajan Kulathungam. He travelled overnight by bus to Jaffna and at the army camp was surprised to see another batch-mate from Batticaloa, who too received such a letter and was keeping quiet about it.
The interrogation consisted of recording answers to a list of more than 70 questions giving all the details of his life from friends and family. Exhausted, he was left to sit it out as the hours fled towards nightfall, dreading the prospect of all the tortures he had heard about and wondering if he would ever go home. Meanwhile another young man made conversation with him trying to win his confidence. He was given his first food at 10.00 PM and questioned the next day. The young man who had tried to make conversation with him was there as translator.
The translator, a Muslim, asked him if there had been a problem between Muslim and Tamil students. The student remembered that there had been a dispute between Muslim and Tamil second year males over the manner of each ragging of fresher girls from the other community. This particular student had been conspicuous in leading a campaign to stop all ragging. It occurred to him that there were informants in the University passing on information about possible ‘tigers’.
The second interrogation by a colonel was under conditions when the exhausted student’s mind and memory were hazy. It consisted of repeating the same questions of the previous day and comparing the answers. There were inevitable discrepancies, and at each discrepancy the colonel slapped the student. At the end of it Brigadier Balthazar came in, apprised himself of the proceedings and ordered the student released. The student’s relief was short-lived. The Muslim translator took him and described to him the list of tortures they inflicted there. He told him that he must help them by keeping them informed of activities in the University and should he not cooperate and gave them occasion to pull him in again, he would not get off so lightly.
The student found out later that the Batticaloa student had also been released. The student was not troubled again. But he has kept quiet about it to this day. Talking about it could also have opened him to being suspected an army spy. Under these circumstances one can have no idea of how many were summoned in this manner. Our witness, the student, said that he recalls having heard that Sivaram too received a letter about that time summoning him to Gurunagar. The only concrete indication he could cite is that Sivaram dropped out of the University at that time.
The role of the University administration in this matter as an extension of the State’s security arm is unprecedented. The University was acting as a conduit for letters ordering students to attend torture sessions on account of opinions they were suspected of having. Others familiar with the University at that time opine that if the institution complied with such practices, initially at least the JVP was the main reason. The UNP government was then watching the JVP and using a carrot and stick approach, enticing selected JVPers into the UNP. National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali was a leading exponent of this policy.
Instead of a place where ideas are challenged and critically evaluated, the University had taken to policing ideas and opinions as an instrument of UNP party policy. The attacks on Tamils in May logically flowed from this approach. It was not a flash in the pan; it went unchecked by the authorities for three successive days with complete impunity.
The fact that the University suppressed the report of the committee appointed by them and took no action to punish the 10 students identified among the miscreants, is itself a strong indication of complicity. What’s more, the leaders were UNPers and Balasooriyan’s ordeal suggests that the miscreants were not acting on their own.
In the words of the Lanerolle Report, “The purpose of the campaign was to evict the Tamils from the Campus. In complete defiance of authority and acting with blatant violence, the attackers succeeded in achieving their ends.” A tragic irony confronted those who were evicted.
To Arms, Death and Disillusionment
We do not know the number of Tamil students from Peradeniya who joined the various militant movements in the aftermath of 1983, but the figure would run into several scores. More importantly, those displaced by the violence went into political work, particularly in Jaffna, holding pocket meetings and organising the fast in the University of Jaffna demanding Agriculture and Engineering faculties in Jaffna for the displaced students. These activities aided the massive recruitment into the various militant groups at that time. We give a small cross section of the students who joined.
Among those Tamil students who left their studies at Peradeniya and like Sivaram joined the PLOTE were Kirupaharan alias Selvam (Dentistry, Sivaram’s victim), Jan Master (Medicine) and Thayaparan (Engineering). Balsooriyan himself, after his displacement, joined the NLFT, a left and largely political group, led by Visvanandadevan, and alumnus of the Engineering Faculty who had influenced him earlier. Another engineering student Paripooranabala also joined the NLFT, but had returned to complete his degree. Of three students Chandrasekar (from Amparai), Rajakaran (Vannarponnai, Jaffna) and Vasikaran (Mannar) from Balasooriyan’s engineering batch, the first two joined the TELO and the latter joined EROS. All three were trained by the Indian Army, but subsequently left when the atmosphere within and among militant groups became oppressive.
As was quite typical of that time, although Vasikaran joined EROS, his elder brother Suthakaran who was a second year engineering student dropped out and joined the LTTE.
In 1984 he was injured in the leg by Army firing. Although the Army did not come near him, he took cyanide and died. Local peasants, who found his body later, gave it to the LTTE. Paranitharan was a final year engineering student during the May 1983 troubles (from Badulla as another recalls), later joined the EROS and also completed his degree. He was killed in Colombo in 1986 when a bomb he was transporting exploded.
Two students Kuganesan (from Atchuvely, Jaffna), a Peradeniya engineering second year, and Sri Sabesan (Kurumbasiddy, Jaffna), who was due to enter engineering at Moratuwa, were among the students who were on fast at the University of Jaffna. Others in the fast were the girls Mathivathani and Gowri, agriculture students from Peradeniya. Mathivathani was at Sangamitta Hall, adjoining and overlooking Hilda where Tamil students were riotously attacked.
This was January 1984 and the fast which some of the organisers had recklessly called a fast to death had attracted large crowds and the leaders were shy to call it off. They approached various groups to kidnap those fasting. The groups that were politically motivated refused. Mano Master, a Marxist in the TELO, told the leaders that if they had told the public something silly, the correct thing is to admit it. (Mano from Kommathurai, a former science student from the University of Jaffna, was again a major figure at that time, whose tragedy has not been written about. Shortly after he left the TELO in 1984 after protesting against its internal repression, he was gunned down in Pt Pedro by Kittu on the LTTE leader’s orders.)
The organisers of the student fast finally went to the LTTE, which promptly brought a van, abducted the fasting students and took them to India by boat. Mathivathani became the Leader’s wife and Gowri later agreed to join the LTTE. Kuganesan and Sri Sabesan refused to join. This recruitment by the LTTE was something of an anomaly tied to the abduction. Students at that time were politicised and the LTTE had a horror for open political discussion. The main groups, which had ongoing open discussions, were the PLOTE, EPRLF, EROS and NLFT. Many joined the PLOTE, as the students were impatient for military training and they thought that a short and swift campaign would bring them Eelam and then back to studies.
An Ill Omen
The abduction at Jaffna University, which the LTTE claimed was a mission of mercy to save life, has several ironies. They also point to the propaganda impact of the displaced students and the way the fight against state oppression was tragically moving.
A boy of ten or eleven years who was part of the crowd at the fast had secretly got into the van the LTTE had brought, during the commotion of abducting the fasting students. Stirred to join the militants despite his age, he thought getting into the van was a good opportunity. The boy was discovered when the van conveying the abductees reached the LTTE hideout. An LTTE functionary radioed Prabhakaran and asked what to do with the boy. The Leader’s order was to kill him. The boy was shot and buried. The incident is well known to LTTE dissidents of that period. One of them said that the child was first told that he was being taken into the organisation, after his fate had been decided. He was then given a cigarette and asked to smoke it. The child was confused and asked if smoking was permitted among militants. The LTTE functionary concerned later began having nightmares and not long afterwards left the organisation.
In a further irony of acting to save life, four years later the LTTE leader ordered his subordinate Thileepan to fast to death to score a political point with the Indians. The incident about the child also reveals the sadism of the organisation that today abducts young children.
Murugamoorthy (from Vaddukottai), a dental student at Peradeniya, joined the TELO. Divakaran, a student of veterinary science, functioned as an EPRLF sympathizer and later completed his medical degree at Thanjavur, India. Baskaran had been a student at Colombo Hindu during the communal violence of 1977, when he came into contact with EROS political activists helping out at refugee camps in Colombo, and became politically involved with them. He later joined the section of EROS student activists who went to form the EPRLF under Pathmanabha. Baskaran was a third year agriculture student at Peradeniya during the 1983 troubles. Another Baskaran from Trincomalee who was a final year agriculture student was already involved politically in the PLOTE student organisation. After the 1983 incidents he joined the PLOTE.
A figure who in the interests of future generations is deserving of a fuller biography is Muruganesan (popularly known as Muhunthan), a conscientious Marxist of whose kind any people should be proud. Muhunthan was an agriculture graduate from Peradeniya who joined the teaching staff of the faculty and taught agricultural economics. He too became displaced by the events of 1983. From his home in Vaddukkottai, Jaffna, he used to cycle to Manipay and join discussions with displaced students, including Baskaran, who were close to the EPRLF. He had several discussions, including the applicability of Marxist ideas to their situation before committing himself. He later received military training in India.
Muhunthan was however an all-rounder as a freedom fighter. His heart was in ecology, sustainable agriculture and social upliftment. He took a keen interest in fostering local libraries, collecting books and materials on traditional knowledge and sustainable practices, such as economising on the use of water. He with some others in the EPRLF started an experimental plot in Jaffna. They also organised a protest against caste oppression in Siruppiddy and secured better wages for the women. This outlook was common among several left, rather than nationalist, groups from the late 1960s.
Among others who joined in these activities were Ahilan and Rajkumar who had completed their A. Levels at Royal College, Colombo, and their friend Bala from Hindu College, Colombo. Several of these boys from Colombo had joined the GUES (forerunner of the EPRLF) while doing cyclone relief work in Batticaloa in 1978.
As a freedom fighter, Muhunthan lived very simply like the ordinary cadres and kept only two sets of clothes. No longer able to fulfill the social expectations of a professional man, he felt obliged to break his engagement to his fiancée whom he knew from university. Unlike other leaders, particularly from other large groups who walked into shops and demanded the best, he went to the market and negotiated with the vendors for vegetables going bad.
His organisation was thrown off balance after being attacked and banned by the LTTE in 1986, and scores killed under detention. When it returned in 1988 after the Indian Army established control, many of the cadres acted from motives of revenge and killings became rampant on both sides. Under the EPRLF-dominated North-East Provincial Council, Muhunthan was posted to Jaffna as co-ordinator and given a room at the Jaffna Secretariat. At this time the behaviour of cadres was as particularly bad in the Jaffna town and Maruthanamadam camps. He identified Subathiran and Elango as persons to support him in a programme of reform and ordered that the weapons be placed under central control. He further tried to introduce norms for dealing with people, as became freedom fighters rather than ruffians.
Things turned topsy turvy with President Premadasa’s appeasement of the LTTE and the Indian Army’s pull-out in early 1990. Muhunthan could have left for India from Trincomalee in safety, but he went to Jaffna to see to the evacuation of EPRLF cadres and their families and left by boat with the last among them. His boat was apprehended at sea by the LTTE, which then had the full backing of the Sri Lankan Navy. He failed in his attempt to shoot himself. He was last seen at the LTTE’s infamous Thunukkai torture centre. Muhunthan who dedicated himself selflessly for the freedom and dignity of his people, lost everything, and did not realise any happiness in return.
Muhunthan’s tragedy encapsulates those of thousands of young lives who had much to offer their people, but whose persons, good intentions and energies were robbed, buried, and scorned by the fascist tendencies in their midst. Particularly so by the one which decreed that nearly all those from Peradeniya and other universities, for the crime of being able to think, were traitors.
The Poisoned Fount of Knowledge
The university authorities in Peradeniya had decidedly been wrong headed in their moves to police Tamil students, which flowed from the thinking of the UNP government. The students harassed and alienated were those unconnected with any violence at that time. The fact was that many students, especially from the North-East, had encountered the political or student wings of PLOTE, GUES (EPRLF), EROS and NLFT and were influenced by their Marxist-oriented programmes, but had never seen a gun. Indeed, it would have been a very indifferent Tamil student who was untouched by the government-organised communal violence of 1977 executed through the guardians of the law – the Police (see Arrogance of Power… and the Sansoni Commission proceedings).
These were grave issues, and the atmosphere in the University, which itself had become a tool of a partisan ideology, was hostile to any open discussion. Moreover, particularly after the Russian revolution, generations of students have been through universities the world over openly organising around cries to overthrow the system through revolution. But governments in democratic societies largely ignored them, leaving it to the appropriate sections of civil society to deal with them through dialogue, and were better off for it.
One can also see that the security forces were quite lost in carrying out nebulous orders under the PTA to crush terrorism, where distinctions between opinions, intentions and actions were thoroughly blurred. Perhaps the security forces interrogators came off marginally better than university professors in at least understanding the futility of it. This was yet another lesson that the security forces must not be used to buffer political incompetence and procrastination. This is a continuing disease in Sri Lanka that has debased and paralysed the security forces through misuse.
When it became known that Balasooriyan was to be handed over to the Police, his Sinhalese practicals group-mate Bakmedeniya who felt bad approached him and told him that he would supply the notes for the lectures he would miss. The Sinhalese roommate of the student summoned for a session at Gurunagar, told him after the violence at Hilda, “We can now understand why your people want Eelam.” This student from Hatton was not otherwise politically involved. These Sinhalese students showed greater sense than those who should have set them an example and brought these issues and the Lanerolle report out into the open. Instead, the Tamil students were condemned to live and study among their unpunished UNP assailants.
Several Tamil students displaced from Peradeniya in 1983 wanted a socialist and democratic Eelam and gave their life for it. The poisoning of the politics is today reflected in the sorry state of Jaffna and Eastern Universities. While Peradeniya would reflect the average political culture in Sri Lanka, Jaffna and Eastern have become arms of the LTTE. During the 1977 violence, the authorities and Tamil students in Jaffna went all out to protect the Sinhalese students. In 1990 when Muslim civilians along with the Muslim students in Jaffna were evicted, the University was terrorised and dumb.
In 1991, students in the University of Jaffna protested when the LTTE arrested a number of students with allegedly dissident connections. The LTTE placed on stage a senior teacher of Tamil to address the students. He literally threatened the students and called the dissident students traitors, along with the Muslims, weeds to be plucked up and cast away! University traditions in the country as a whole, from 1977, closely followed its political erosion.
In one of its strongest indictments of the of the May 1983 incidents at Peradeniya, the Lanerolle report stated: “To describe the May-June incidents as inter-communal would be inaccurate; rather, with traffic flowing entirely one-way, it would be more correct to call them an unseemly exhibition of racism.” Little wonder then that it was suppressed. But it had its effect. Moreover, it showed that there were some at Peradeniya who were willing to stand up and be counted. To be fair, any academic in the North-East who tried to stand up in a like manner would have been forced to contemplate the brevity of life. That in itself carries a deep message about the politics prevalent there.