Tigers attempting to shut down Jaffna University
January 28th, 2006
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organization often makes the vainglorious boast that it knows what is best for the Sri Lankan Tamil people. Many tiger actions were and are based on the assumption that they and only they have a monopoly of political wisdom in matters affecting the Tamil people. Tiger propagandists attempt to project an image of infallibility around their supremo claiming that the “great leader” analyses the past, understands the present and anticipates the future. Despite these maneuvers the stark reality is that the LTTE and its leader have often made mistakes. Some can be termed colossal blunders. The better or worse – known among these are the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, expulsion of northern Muslims, killing of moderates etc. It is a sad fact of life that the Tamil people have paid in the past and are paying in the present and will pay in the future for the sins of commission and omission by the LTTE. The latest move by the LTTE in its march of folly is the attempt to close down the Jaffna and Batticaloa universities for a period of around one year. The LTTE claims that it is only a temporary move done in the interests of the University academic staff and students. The campus can be reopened after the present crisis period is over. What many people fear is that the LTTE explanation is only a ruse to shut the varsity down completely. As in many other instances the “temporary” of the tigers will become in reality “permanent” it is feared. Many students out of the 6,000 storng student body are looking at transfer options.
The LTTE plan to shut the Eastern University at Vantharumoolai seems to have gone awry thanks to the Karuna faction factor. The Eastern Tamils are today caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand there is the mainstream LTTE headed by Col. Bhanu and on the other there are the military intelligence backed LTTE renegades professing loyalty to the “name” of Col . Karuna. The mainstream LTTE is restricted mainly to areas in the western hinterland known as “Paduvankarai” (shore of the setting sun). Their movement in the eastern littoral known as “eluvankarai” (shore of the rising sun) is very much on the decline due to the threat posed by the Karuna faction. This has enabled Batticaloa – Amparai undergraduates to defy to some extent the LTTE diktat that the campus be closed. When a tiger team led by Mano master interacted with the Eastern undergrads and pressed for the closure the students refused. One reason for this defiance is the fear that the Karuna faction would target the students if they heeded the mainstream LTTE call and cooperated in a campus shut down. Another and more compelling reason is that the students consisting mainly of the East and Wanni do not want to be deprived of their tertiary education. Being from relatively disadvantaged regions they know that their only hope of upward mobility is through higher education. With the ethnic war virtually stultifying economic growth in the North – East education remains the only way out for personal and community – oriented emancipation.
Already the Eastern University is hard hit due to a dearth of academic staff. The victimization of academic staff by both LTTE groups has caused much insecurity. Around 20 to 25 academics have fled the region. Still lectures continue and students despite the problems try to study. Against that backdrop the undergrads refused to comply with LTTE directives to shut the Vantharumoolai campus. The Karuna factor looms large in the East. The LTTE tried to organize a Tamil resurgence rally in Ambilanthurai on Jan 20th and called upon the people to participate. The Karuna faction operating through its front called “Sennan Padai” issued a counter appeal that no one should attend. The Sennan force which claimed credit for killing Joseph Pararajasingham inside the Cathedral on Christmas day threatened the people with dire consequences if they participated. As a result the resurgence rally recorded a very poor attendance in comparison with earlier exercises. It remains to be seen as to whether the LTTE will accept the undergraduate position and let things simply be or whether they will try and enforce a shut down through devious means. If the continuous functioning of the campus becomes a prestige issue then the tigers will certainly try to get it closed. This will make the Karuna faction react with vehemence. As a result the campus and lecturers and students will be caught in the middle. The fate of the Eastern varsity will to a great extent depend upon what befalls the Northern University. The rebellious violence and tensions in the Jaffna campus and its environs resulted in the university being closed temporarily for some days. It reopened on Jan 2nd this year. The check posts in the campus vicinity were now manned by Police. It was only the cops who checked university staff and students for ID cards etc instead of the army as done earlier. The soldiers however were present in the check posts to give “protection” to the Police.
This led to a somewhat uneasy relationship. Though wary and distrustful of each other the security personnel and the student population slipped back slowly into an atmosphere of co – existence. There was resentment of the pervasive and intrusive security force presence. Nevertheless the situation was tolerable in the larger interests of getting the campus to function. The University began limping back to relative normalcy. A motivating reason for this state of affairs was the place education occupied in the collective Tamil psyche. Higher education is seen as the magic key to upward mobility and prosperity. Any attempt to deprive the Tamils particularly the Jaffna Tamils of this has been resented strongly. The on going Tamil armed struggle has its roots in the youth militancy of the early seventies. This militancy was triggered off when the Sirima Bandaranaike regime introduced media – wise standardization and drastically reduced Tamil intake into Universities. The recent tensions centered around the Jaffna campus saw many fears being raised among Tamils. Chief among them was the suspicion that the “Sinhala ” dominated government was conspiring to shut the Jaffna varsity down and ruin Tamil higher education. There was a lot of indignation over this. The groundswell of Tamil public opinion was that the University should function continuously despite the overall political climate. It was to some extent a symbol of defiance. There was “consent” that the campus functions despite constraints. This feeling contributed greatly to the campus re- opening. But then came the tiger bombshell! The LTTE media had been going to town earlier about the sinister attempts to shut the varsity down and how it should be resisted. Now the very same LTTE in one more example of its illogical somersaults wanted the campus to be shut down albeit “temporarily”.
The Jaffna undergraduates numbering around 6,000 were invited for a meeting with LTTE political commissar Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan at Tharmakerni in the Pallai region. In a disappointing show only about 175 to 200 attended. Thamilselvan flanked by Jaffna political chief Ilamparithy addressed the undergraduates. After giving the students a “history” lesson about contemporary liberation struggles Thamilselvan observed that the war was going to escalate in the near future. The armed forces are going to be driven out of Jaffna he boasted. In such a situation the retreating forces were sure to target the campus Selvan said. A defeated alien force always eliminates intellectuals and academics and students following higher education. Selvan cited the Bangladesh example and spoke about the massacre of the intelligentsia at Dacca University in 1971. “We don’t want this to happen to you all. That is why we want to shut down the university temporarily. It won’t be more than a year. Instead of being clear and vulnerable targets you all can disperse and take safety precautions. All of you can come to the Wanni. We will train you in combat. Then you can be in a state of preparation and fight in self – defense against the Sinhala aggressors and their sidekicks. So you must cooperate. This is the wish of our national leader” (Prabakharan) said Thamilselvan. The undergraduates however did not like the idea. Hesitantly they summoned courage individually and in groups to put across their point of view. They did not want the university closed as they feared the Government may use it as a pretext to close down the campus permanently and locate additional security personnel. The campus was a focal point of Tamil resistance to army occupation of Jaffna. If and when the war escalates the students would devise ways and means of ensuring their protection. They would be eternally vigilant. While appreciating the LTTE “concern” for their safety they were not in favour of shutting the campus down. This in essence was the undergraduate position.
With the mood being overwhelmingly against the LTTE “request” Jaffna political chief Ilamparithy got angry. The man who in his previous LTTE “avatar” as Aanchaneyan supervised the mass expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna saw the undergraduate opinion as amounting to sacrilege. In a voice rippling with anger Ilamparithy thumped the table and thundered “When our national leader expresses a wish it has to be treated as a commandment. The leadership has decided that the Jaffna varsity has to be closed temporarily. So it has to be done. There cannot be two words about it. We all must obey. You all must must comply”. With that proclamation Ilamparithy ended the meeting. Thereafter about 50 hardcore undergrads sympathetic to the LTTE met under the auspices of the Jaffna University Undergraduates Union. A resolution already drafted by the LTTE was “passed “unanimously. The resolution called for a boycott of lectures till the environment became conducive for higher education. Neither the students nor the academic staff was in a proper frame of mind to study or teach because of the prevailing security situation. Therefore all activity in the Jaffna University must cease till the situation improved. This in essence was the text of the resolution. The resolution was released to the Tamil media. The boycott of lectures came into effect from Jan 16th. The resolution was forwarded to Jaffna University vice – Chancellor Dr. S. Mohandas also. The undergraduates were told to keep off campus. The academic staff marked its presence and then vacated campus as there were no students to lecture to. There was widespread resentment of the LTTE decision among most undergraduates and parents. Despite the murmurs of dissent and rumblings of discontent few however were courageous enough to defy the LTTE openly. The past week has seen innumerable messages being sent to relatives abroad by families of varsity students. With the chances of war escalating and the tigers demanding a shut down family members are pleading with kinsfolk abroad to get their children down. They see no hope in the bleak scenario. They want the children to go abroad and continue studies.
What worries parents most is their suspicion of underlying tiger motives. The LTTE is suspected of plotting to close down the campus permanently. Given the pronounced anti – intellectual feeling prevalent in many leading lights of the LTTE and the desperate high stakes gamble of the LTTE in escalating tensions the undergraduates are seen as potential recruits. The LTTE will be aiming at recruiting at least 600 plus Jaffna undergraduates after the campus shut down it is feared. One of the questions in the LTTE conducted social science examinations in Jaffna during the 1990 – 95 periods went like this. “It is said that this – is the greatest resource of the Tamils. But when it was sorely needed this resource deserted the people and went abroad. What is this resource”? The resource referred to was the educated professionals. This then is the dominant opinion in LTTE circles about higher education. It sees those with higher education as being lost to the cause and struggle. The LTTE is gearing up for a desperate last phase war. (Iruthi kattap Por). In this war of liberation the tigers want every Tamil to participate. Dearth of manpower is seen as the biggest weakness. The universities with their young, politicized, skilled youths are perceived as positive assets and potential recruits in the armed struggle. The closure of the campus may be seen as necessary to tap this resource. Besides the non – functioning of the university due to “state terror” makes good propaganda. What the LTTE fails to realize is the inextricable love of education in the Tamil psyche. Tampering with that sensitivity can be dangerously explosive. It could turn counter- productive. When the Jaffna university commenced in 1974 the popular Tamil monthly “sirithiran” hailed it as “valavukkul Valaaham” (Campus in the compound). This illustrated the emotions among Tamils about their long cherished dream of a university in their region.
Today the future of that “Campus in the compound” stands threatened. Ironically the threat comes not from the “enemy” but from the self – proclaimed liberators of the Tamil people. Only time will tell whether LTTE machinations in the Jaffna university issue will be successful or not.
Entry Filed under: MinorMatters