Unlike during the communal riots in the past, very few groups tried to rouse the communal feelings of Sinhalese and Tamils following the clash between the Tamil and the Sinhalese students in Jaffna University that took place on last Saturday.
In the South it was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his right-hand man National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa who seemed to be attempting to take political mileage from the incident by stirring feelings among Sinhalese while Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leader and former Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran did the same in the North.
Rajapaksa had said that one should not take lightly the attacks on the Sinhalese students by the Tamil students at the Jaffna University that had forced the Sinhalese students to leave the university as well as from the Northern Province and claimed that he did not allow such things to happen in the north during his tenure. He argued that it was during his rule that reconciliation prevailed in the North. On his part Weerawansa told that this kind of clashes did not take place even when Prabhakaran was fighting.
Needless to say, the incident was serious. But what Rajapaksa and Weerawansa seemed to have attempted to do was to blow it up further and create fears among Sinhalese that the Maithri- Ranil government had allowed the LTTE to raise its ugly head again. However, this was not the first untoward incident that occurred in the North, or in the Jaffna University for that matter, after the end of the war. For instance, pandemonium reigned in the same university in November 2012 when the students attempted to commemorate the LTTE cadres killed in the war and several students had been arrested. Also Weerawansa was wrong when he said that no incidents took place in the Jaffna University even when Prabhakaran was fighting for a separate state, as it was the Jaffna University that had been the cradle of the Tamil separatist movement at the beginning in 1970s and 1980s.
The same group attempted to paint a bleak picture on the situation in the North and rouse communal feelings when a suicide jacket was recovered a few months ago from a house in Jaffna where Nagulan, the former commander of the LTTE’s elite Charles Anthony Brigade was living after he had been rehabilitated by the government. However, they might not have forgotten that it was during the last lap of former President’s tenure that three armed youths including a person called Gopi was killed and the government claimed that they were attempting to regroup the LTTE.
Premachandran, a politician always sees only the dark side of incidents questioned as to whether the higher education minister and the governor of the province who visited the injured Sinhalese student this time paid the same concern when the Tamil students of the Eastern University were assaulted by the Sinhalese students sometime ago. In fact, there is a point in his question, but his argument as well as the remarks made by his two counterparts from the South run counter to attempts by almost all other political parties to bring in peace among students as well as among communities.
According to a statement issued by the Student Union of the Jaffna University the incident had been triggered after the Sinhalese students had attempted to include Kandyan dance in the programme for the ceremony to welcome freshers to the university. They had said that the situation went out of hand when southern students had attempted to include the item while the programme was on, despite a request to do so having been rejected earlier by the organisers as well as by the Vice Chancellor.
What Rajapaksa and Weerawansa seemed to have attempted to do was to blow it up further and create fears among Sinhalese that the Maithri- Ranil government had allowed the LTTE to raise its ugly head again
No fair-minded person would see any wrong in including Kandyan dance along with Tamil cultural items such as Thavil and Nathasvaram in a programme in Jaffna University as it would depict the multi-cultural character of the university. It would also help bring the communities closer. Tamil cultural items are being rightly added even in national events while roads in Colombo and many other cities and towns are sometimes closed for Hindu processions such as the Vel festival.Some roads in Colombo are being closed for about an hour on Fridays to help facilitate Muslims’ Jumma prayer. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian M.A.Sumanthiran also had pointed out to journalists on Tuesday at a function in Jaffna the need to accommodate cultural items of “others.” In fact it would help create understanding among communities.
All cultural items of a community might not be acceptable to another. For instance, a belly dance might not be received by a Muslim audience. But there cannot be a reason for the Jaffna University to reject a Sinhalese cultural item such as the beautiful traditional Kandyan dance,especially when there are Sinhalese students as well in the university.
However, one cannot thrust his or her culture on others by force, especially challenging the majority of an institution or a society. High-handedness even in the name of reconciliation would disturb the reconciliation itself. What triggered the clash in the Jaffna University seems to be a conflict between the regional majority mindset of Tamil students and the national majority mindset of the Sinhalese students.
The TNA’s stand on this is commendable. Apart from the remarks made by Sumanthiran his party had issued a statement following the clash, stressing that the multi-ethnic character of the university should not be disturbed. Also the party had invited the Sinhalese students back to the university to continue their education while calling on the Tamil students to welcome them. This seems to have had an impact on the Tamil students of the university. When three ministers who had visited the university on Tuesday to look into the problem met the representatives of university students, the latter had reportedly called on the authorities to open the university soon for them to continue their educational activities, while giving an assurance that there would not be a recurrence of violence at the university.
All in all, extremism has failed to take its toll this time after the initial unfortunate incidents. However, it cannot be an assurance for the future as the student union, Vice Chancellor and the Higher Education Minister had said that there had been ‘an outside involvement in the clash between the student factions’.