20 March, 2019

Blog

Why Is Jaffna University Imposing An Authoritarian Dress Code?

By Ruba Ratnasingam

A new dress code for students has been promulgated by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Jaffna. It seems to assert Hindu cultural norms on the rest of the student community.

This code comes at a time when an important debate rages in Colombo Telegraph on whether there is racism and casteism among Tamils especially at the University of Jaffna. The interest in the subject is so intense that there have been nearly 300 comments.

DressCodeJaffnaWith the University of Jaffna placed under a microscope by that article, one would think that university authorities would be cautious. Instead, they seem to tell the world that they would do as they please, regardless of the university’s role as a multicultural institution.

The office of Dean/Arts at University of Jaffna has issued this controversial dress code for staff related to academic work and for students. It seems to settle the Colombo Telegraph debate by showing the university to be very Hindu to the exclusion of others. Dated 17.02.2016 from the Faculty of Arts, the dress code is claimed to flow from a Directive of the Council of the university and the subsequent meeting of Department Heads at 11:00 AM on 16.02.2016.

The new directive says that

  1. Staff related to academic work and students must avoid wearing denim clothing and T-shirts to lectures.
  2. Next Friday and every Friday thereafter women must wear sari to Lectures and men must not appear at lectures with a beard.

Given that there are over 600 Muslim students in the arts faculty alone, their organization the Majlees, has protested against the prohibition of their religiously mandated beard and burqa. Others with their own religious loyalties ask why Friday? Women who consider the sari indecent for showing body shape and exposing the midriff (especially lecturers who need to raise their arm to write on the board) and prefer the very decent blouse and long skirt, feel scandalized by this imposition.

We recall that Dean N. Gnanakumaran who signed the dress code memo, presented an unsolicited letter from his brother, former Colombo Law Dean Selvakumaran, at the Jaffna Council. He and his brother argued against the suspension of Music Senior Lecturer Dr.S.R. Dharsanan pending inquiry into widespread charges of sexual harassment from students. However, after reading that memo at the Council where others objected, Gnanakumaran withdrew it at the next meeting because it proved so embarrassing to the two siblings. Yet the fact remains that when the Council moved to protect female students from alleged sexual harassment by a lascivious academic, Dean Gnanakumaran tried to have that suspension lifted

We wonder why this man who showed no concern for the safety of female students suddenly wants to force them into a sari and thereby purify them. Indeed he seemed to care little for female dignity and freedom from abuse.

With the hartal culture returning to Jaffna, is the university trying to create race riots? A TamilCNN news report dated 25 Feb. 2016 suggests that anti-Muslim sentiments are being stirred up: “The Jaffna University Community held a peaceful rally on Tuesday condemning the UN deferral on the investigation report and insisting on immediate release of this report. Sinhala students studying at this university participated in this protest rally, but no Muslim students participated in this protest.” Previously, according to another news report, “The prayer room used by Muslims for worship at the University of Jaffna in Thirunelvely was vandalised during night by unknown persons who poured waste engine oil and defiled the premises.”

Will Minister Lakshman Kiriella who is “responsible for the general direction of university education” please take note. National policy after the new government took office is for a united Sri Lanka where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists at University of Jaffna are equal and entitled to live by their faith and culture – not by the dictates of a majoritarian, hegemonic dispensation.

A Sinhalese academic with Cambridge and MIT backgrounds on his batch (67/68 Peradenya Engineering) reunion trip to Jaffna had tried to visit the campus on the 24th in shorts and was turned back by the security guards. Thus the code was implemented well beyond the Arts Faculty for a week at least. Yet when the VC was interviewed on radio this morning, 26th, about the discrimination, she said it was the fault of Prof. Gnanakumaran and the Council had taken no decision as claimed by the Dean. She said minorities were free to wear their religious clothing and beards. She did not make clear that sari and no beards would continue to apply to non-Muslims.

Time was when students imposed authoritarian dress codes on freshers as ragging. What right do administrations have to impose this fundamentalism? At our universities students learn to think and be free. Let them be truly free.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 5
    4

    I can foresee how the Elam will be run if there is one! It will be utter chaos and even the south will be in danger.
    One more reason for no self rule!

    • 3
      0

      Why cannot the Sinhala Buddhist fanatics campaign for Eelam?
      If they persuade the state to grant Eelam it will only be months before the Tamils destroy themselves and the country will be as they want it to be.

      As for Muslims, make the ties even closer with Saudi Arabia and the Wahabis will do the job for you.

      • 1
        0

        SJ

        “If they persuade the state to grant Eelam it will only be months before the Tamils destroy themselves and the country will be as they want it to be.”

        Lalith Athulath Mudhali expressed exactly the same sentiment. Why didn’t he grant Eelam?

        • 0
          0

          LAM was not probably as clever ass we thought.
          The same is true of all fanatics. They stop reasoning at some point.

    • 0
      0

      “One more reason for no self rule!”

      do you prefer UN rule,indian rule or US rule in lieu of devolution?sinhalese will be safe then as they will be much more benign rule than tamil rule.

  • 5
    5

    SRH.Hoole.

    I would suggest that the Dress code at the Jaffna University should be broadly classified to highlight the castes on the following lines.
    1.Vellala[Chola]
    2.Pinkish Vellala.
    3.Theevu Vellala.
    4.Vellala with an admixture of Kaikulava,Kariyar,Kovia,Chiviyar etc.
    5.Others below the cut-off point.
    But you have to be careful on item 4.
    For Example:The ChIVIYAR should have a sway [Palanquin carrier]when they walk.
    The Uni:of Jaffna can then decide who wears what.
    But,I ONLY HOPE AND PRAY that those in item 5,are not given the freedom to not wear anything!

    • 3
      0

      Pygmalion,

      The irony in your words is quite profound!

      Dr.RN

    • 1
      2

      Sarcasm apart, Pygmalion
      Kindly avoid comments that can hurt the feelings of communities.

  • 1
    3

    A Perspective: Jaffna Penninsula has always been a highly divided society along caste and religion. The political class (people of higher caste) has always wanted an enemy either within (lower caste, non-Hindus) or without (Sinhalese, Muslims, Vanni/Eastern/ upcountry Tamils) to stoke their pride and ego, and to exercise power and control. During the nearly 30 years of LTTE dominance (led by, and comprising mostly of, lower caste Tamils), the caste and religious divisions within the Penninsula Tamils were kept in check with the focus on the common enemy – the Sinhalese. With the demise of the LTTE and the end of war, the Penninsula Tamils have defaulted back to their old state.

    The Government would do well to get India to accelerate the construction of the Sethu Bridge that will keep the Penninsular Tamils’ preoccupation with Indians forever, and give long term peace to the lower caste and non-Hindu Tamils in Penninsula and the rest of the country!!!

    • 2
      1

      Indi, your suggestion about the construction of the bridge merely to appease the “Peninsular Tamils” is to ignore the massive environmental implications (not to mention the social and cultural ones) that this will incur.

      Myopic, to put it mildly!

    • 1
      0

      No it would be one more group to look down upon- the “vadakkathaiyan.” (Derogatory term, people from the north, Indian Tamils). Funny how the Jaffna Hindus call them vadakkathaiyan, won’t easily rent a room out to Indians. Look at their culture. It all comes from the vadakkathaiyan or Indian Tamils.

      With the Sethu there will come even more castes like thurumbar, who will have to drag a coconut palm behind them while walking to wipe their footprints.They will have to hide at seeing these self-elevated Jaffna caste men.

      Jaffna people’s caste madness is sick and the mystery is they use it as a sign of their Hinduness and they are proud of it!

    • 0
      2

      Sorry, the sethu bridge connecting us to India will not give us peace. but even more dominance by the ultra wealthy Indians, Bollywood and everything else. You will also get back the smallpox, typhoid, TB, leprosy and all the other diseases that are rampant in Tamil nadu, but virtually non-existent in Jaffna Peninsula.

    • 0
      0

      Dear Indi you say:
      “During the nearly 30 years of LTTE dominance (led by, and comprising mostly of, lower caste Tamils), the caste and religious divisions within the Penninsula Tamils were kept in check with the focus on the common enemy – the Sinhalese.”

      Do you still believe the myth that the LTTE kept caste in check. If people readily revert to old habits, what does it mean? They were only pretending.
      Ask the people who lived in rehabilitation camps. Ask the people who fled to the Vanni in Year 2000 and returned. Plenty has been said on this website in another context recently. Caste remained very much alive at the level where it was in 1970 or so when public discrimination was put an end to.
      The LTTE allowed denial of entry to those considered low by caste in temples in Vadamaratchi.

      Do you think that the Sinhalese as a whole are the ‘enemy’? I think that the Indians and the West have been worse enemies than even the Sri Lankan armed forces in several ways.

      Whom did the LTTE kill most? Sinhalese? Check the numbers.
      Were the leaders of the LTTE from the so-called “lower caste Tamils”?
      They were non-Vellala but not so-called “lower caste Tamils”. The latter were mainly cannon fodder who remained for they lacked the resources to run away.

      • 0
        0

        Sekara,

        Point taken. Just to clarify, I wrote it tongue in cheek. Meant to say that one set of oppressors (Penninsular upper caste/ political class) was kept relatively quiet by even greater oppressors (LTTE). I absolutely don’t think of Sinhalese as enemy. Was highlighting the fact that in the past, the Tamil political class has regularly played the race card portraying the Sinhalese as the common enemy to get the Tamil votes.

      • 0
        0

        Indi
        Thanks very much

  • 1
    4

    The truth is that poor respectable Singala as wel as thamil children are deprived over the last 200 years of their culture. We all are just continuing to follow forien cultures blindly.

    We can see when the good Singalese people trying to find their land and their culture when they come with sarees and offer simple flower to the gods in Nallur.

    As we ( tamils as well as singalese) are loosing all our lands culture to forien and small minded ideologist whilst they poke their own brand of cloths and culture. There is no harm in some one in Srilanka ask their children to wear – one day their original clothing such as sarees. No harm has been brought upon to us srilankans by oneday wearing the srilankan clothings.

    Regardless of any thing -please protect srilankan tamil as well as singalease culture – that sadly, we can see is slowly eroded and the land people are slowly loosing because we are continuously influenced by colonial cultures as these are being soft pedeled to us through the education system so far.

    • 1
      0

      Raju
      You mean let all the men shed their shirts, shorts and trousers and tailored underwear.
      If you say the same for Coke, Pepsi and other bottled drinks, Nestle products, mobile phones, luxury goods etc, I am game.

  • 0
    0

    Why Is Jaffna University Imposing An Authoritarian Dress Code?

    Coming from the Arts faculty with so many perverts, it is because the saree is the sexiest dress in the world.

  • 2
    0

    I made inquiries.
    This is what I found:
    There was no University Council instruction of any such nature.
    There was general consensus in the Council for some time that the students should be decently dressed as appropriate to a University. Nothing more than that.

    The second instruction is plain stupid.
    It has been withdrawn.

    The VC has clarified the matter.

    • 1
      1

      It is a mistake to think that major decisions are made by the Council. It is now common knowledge that the VC controls at least 17 members of the Council of 27. Those who dissent feel it is unproductive to get into cross talk in the Council with a well organised set of filibusterers backing the VC. Appointments have been made without advertisement, which has for example set the Engineering Faculty on an unpromising course as regards its future.

      As for the dress code there was no council decision. One councillor felt hurt that Tamil culture in behaviour was being undermined by Sinhalese students. But no decision was taken. Enough reasons have been given that Dean Gnanakumaran in issuing the order would hardly have done what the VC disapproved. After all the Dean’s notice had been around publicly for about a week before the VC disowned it.

      • 0
        3

        “Tamil culture in behaviour was being undermined by Sinhalese students.” — Aru Thirumurugan at the University of Jaffna Council

        Aru Thirumurugan, Head of the Aum Muruga Soceity, is known for his social, religious and educational activities in Jaffna, Sri Lanka for the past 20 years. In recognition of his services, University of Jaffna awarded him the Honorary Doctorate in 2011.

        Dr. Thirumurugan as he addresses himself now, is a Rtd Principal of Skanda Varodaya College. Unmarried, his charitable works include building a dowry house each in Colombo for his nieces.

      • 0
        0

        Dear Pushpam
        Will I be wrong to guess that you are a member of the Council of the University as you seem to be very confident about the goings on?
        If not, will you kindly put me in touch with your source. I assume that this person is not one of the intimidated 17 and will come forward with serious matters of interest to me.

        I also am inclined to think that you are an engineer or in a related profession. Could you kindly elaborate on what is not promising about the engineering degree programme. I have influential friends in the profession whom I could talk to and do through them what I could to repair the courses.

        • 1
          0

          Prof. Sivasekaram

          The talk at the Council is that you have taken the VC under your wings. Is that why you are always writing excuses and covering up the facts for her? No Council member is then going to reveal his identity to you. It is asking for trouble because she will refuse to sign our documents or pay our travel allowances for that.

          So much for free expression at Jaffna.

  • 2
    1

    Aruva meesai.

    Unusual Pseudonym!

    The Thurumbar are already in Jaffna! The bridge is not going to bring them from South India.
    What a terrible punishment imposed on this so-called caste group; They could walk on the streets only after dusk,and if they see a Vellala they need to cover their faces!
    This carrying a coconut palm to wipe out their foot prints,I have not read.
    Mans inhumanity to man has no horizons!

  • 0
    0

    Dear Student
    If a teacher has to teach a student to think, there is something wrong with both student and teacher as such ‘teaching’ stifles free thinking.
    A good teacher merely lets the student think and work things out by himself/herself.
    I had many such even at my semi-urban school, and I am sure that there is no dearth for such teachers in our universities.

  • 0
    1

    I reproduce in full an article in the Island a decade back on the attire of men and women, Sinhala and Tamil in the Lanka/ Ceylon of old. As the photographs are not copiable, they have not appeared. I however give link as it appears on Google.

    http://www.livingheritagd.org/toplessness/htm

    It is largely a review of the book on subject by Nira Wichremasinghe.

    “The Garb of Innocence: A Time of Toplessness

    • 1
      1

      The correct format for the above link should be:

      Living heritage.org/toplessness/htm

      The Editor has disallowed the full contents of the the above article to appear.

      Dr.RN

  • 1
    0

    The dress code has been withdrawn this time.

    For the future my advice is for the students and staff to be ready for non violent resistance to protest.

    In the case of a dress code a clear protest would be to behave exactly in the way that has been forbidden. Would the university manage to turn away thousands of bearded students wearing jeans?

    • 0
      0

      Inspector Sir

      I fully endorse your position on protest (although it may cost women a little to sport a beard).

      The way students have been reported to have clashed in the name of faculty, batch and other forms of identity is worrying. The dress code issue could have united them. But it got corrected too soon.

      The sad thing is that the Tamil students are by and large no interested in bigger issues and have, since the days of the Tamil youth movements’ meddling in campus affairs, been initially polarized politically to be later monopolized by narrow nationalist politics of a particular kind.
      Intimidation by LTTE kept social conduct ‘disciplined’ but now there are worse things than ‘unacceptable’ clothing to worry about, which cannot be rectified by diktat.

      The student community should return to the tradition of democratic discussion of long past.
      But that is not easy in a society in a crisis of values, aggravated by the flux of ‘free’ cash.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically shut off on articles after 10 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.