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