When any incident occurs in Sri Lanka, often there is more to it than what gets told of it in the media and at times depending on the type of incident and who is reporting, biased reviews are made that cause knock on effects. True it is not possible and does not serve any purpose for all to know every detail of each and every event. Past week saw some brutish behavior of few undergraduates ending up in a clash between student groups at University of Jaffna campus at Thirunelvelli. It was not the first time a clash between Sinhala and Tamil undergraduates, earlier in 1977 when the university was started in Jaffna an incident took place took place and fizzled out like many other incidents in the past in other universities between elsewhere in the country. Let this type of incidents not disturb the SLFP-UNP tandem ride, for it needs to last the full term.
During the period of the civil war the University of Jaffna had mainly Tamil speaking undergraduates, after the war ending in 2009 Sinhala speaking undergraduates also joined in to read for degrees. This process was facilitated by a policy to increase admissions to universities for which many new courses were introduced in all the universities. University of Jaffna too included new courses and as sufficient applications were not received from the region the places were allocated to applicants from the rest of the country. Southern undergraduates adjusted to their new environment and local students accommodated them and all pursued their studies for many years. With time they were able to learn of each other’s culture through mixed cultural programme arranged by the student’s unions. It appeared that in spite of minor incidents on and off due to language barrier, the southern students had adopted a ‘When in Rome be a Roman’ attitude. On the other hand local students were very receptive of many southern cultural activities introduced into the programme of cultural events, in fact this year Wesak festivals were well celebrated at the University and there was no fuss made over it. Unfortunately, there are always extremist elements on either side of the ethnic divide that were not happy to see this harmony grow among the undergraduates and it is suspected as the cause for the incident at the university. While attempts are made by the opponents of the government to make and issue of it; President and the Prime Minister took firm actions and the authorities are issuing reports and the Police are investigating into the incident; all are focusing on the effect – the details of the incident as to who started the fight and who got hurt and so on, while the cause appears to be elsewhere.
There have been many incidents in the past during the seven decades of independence; the first in 1958 and others occurring in 1977 and 1979 attacks on minority Tamils by civilians’ mops where situations have been manipulated by elements in society for their own benefit, by exploiting the ignorance of the people; which had led to conflicts between communities. All these events gave birth to an uprising from Tamil youth, who took to guerrilla war against the state, which started a tit for tat confrontation leading up to by far the worst that many Sri Lankan wish to forget– the Riots of 1983, known as the ‘Black July Pogrom’. Then biased report said that the riots were provoked by Tamil separatist insurgents in which an incident took place where few army personnel died; not very far from the Jaffna University campus at Thirunelvelli. In fact it was done in retaliation to an offensive by army days earlier from a series of incidents causing a knock on effect. But prejudice in the 1983 Riots was conspicuous for its highly organized character that had received direct support from the then ruling United National Party (UNP). ‘Black July’ of 1983 was the turning point in the ethnic conflict, when the scene changed from a hit and run guerrilla war to a full-fledged military confrontation; due the military training given by India to the Tamil separatists, while the arrogant executive President of Sri Lanka failed to talk to the sincere Tamil legislators to negotiate a settlement to the ethnic issue. The rest is history, the knock on effect continued and grew in intensity that led to the state tri-forces and Tamil separatists fighting the bloody civil war lasting three decades and causing untold hardship to thousands of ordinary people and pushed the country back by five decades. This situation of bad governance persisted after the end of civil war in May 2009 during the negative peace years under the past regime led by Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) till 2015.
All governments that ruled the country after independence were inexperienced in democracy rule dogged with their discriminate policies, failed to understand the implications of global politics on a small multi-ethnic nation and ignored reactions from international community. The 1983 riots made way for external interference into the internal affairs of the country. The cause and effect of events during three decades prior and post 1983 riots and beyond (1948 – 2015) is a lesson on bad governance for any young Sri Lankan taking to politics, to learn how not to rule a multi-ethnic country.
The responsibility falls on the concerned authorities to be on alert to avoid the recurrence of such conflict like the one at the University of Jaffna. The public too has a responsibility to assist the authorities in this process and the State as guardian of the people has to ensure proper checks and balances are made from time to time. The incident at the University of Jaffna gave the media supporting the rebellious legislators from the previous regime in opposition, opportunity to report the incident in the larger context of the on-going unresolved ethnic conflict, they are bound to use it as a slogan material for their proposed Paada Yathrawa scheduled end of this week. Not surprisingly, such attempts by dissent legislators and certain media attempting to destroy the government by instigating disharmony among communities were criticized both by the President and the Prime Minister.
In fact, it would help the consensual Government of the two main political parties UNP and SLFP in tandem, supported by other minority parties to continue its full term; with its rehabilitation efforts and in the preparation of the new constitution to conduct a series of seminars followed by workshops to educate all those in politics irrespective of which political party they represent both at center and provincial level. It would be beneficial if it was done prior to the local government elections due early next year.