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Jaffna University monument: Demolition raises concerns in the South

By Hiranyada Dewasiri

 

Members of the university student community, university teacher community, and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and civil society activists have expressed their concerns over the demolition of the University of Jaffna monument that memorialised those killed in Vellamullivaikkal during the final stages of the war.

Speaking to The Morning yesterday (10), Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) President Prof. Shyama Banneheka, Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Convener Rathkarawwe Jinarathana Thera, JVP former MP Dr. Nalinda Jayathissa, and Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu cautioned that these steps may lead to racial discord and disturb existing harmony between ethnicities.

Prof. Banneheka told The Morning that the demolition of the monument and the branding of such monuments as a threat to inter-ethnic harmony inside the university could lead to unnecessary conflicts.

“The monument was not physically affecting the harmony of student groups, but the statement released by the University Grants Commission (UGC) might have an impact. This is our worry,” said the FUTA President.

UGC Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunga released a statement on Saturday (9) stating that the monument could act as an obstacle to the process of reconciliation.

“The decision made by the Vice Chancellor to remove this monument was a timely one. We need monuments of peace instead of war monuments,” he claimed.

Attempts by The Morning yesterday (10) to contact the UGC Chairman for a further comment proved futile.

Commenting on the demolished monument, FUTA President Prof. Banneheka said that the physical monument had not affected the harmony among student groups.

“What teachers say is that they are building a very conducive environment for all students to go there and learn and the monument had not affected this.”

Speaking to The Morning, IUSF Convener Rathkarawwe Jinarathana Thera said that the demolition of this monument would intensify conflict, and not minimise it in any way, and that they stand with the University of Jaffna Students’ Union. He added that the IUSF is preparing a statement condemning the actions of the university authorities.

“We see that racism is promoted by university authorities in universities such as Jaffna and the Northeastern University, in order to divide students along ethnic lines. This is to prevent students from organising as a unified collective against the authorities.”

Jinarathana Thera said that every person has a right to commemorate the dead, regardless of whether they are Sinhala or Tamil, and that the demolition of the monument is unacceptable.

“These monuments commemorate the common man, those who were close to these students – their friends, family, loved ones. So the monument won’t cause discord among students, but exercises of force such as this might.”

JVP former MP Dr. Nalinda Jayathissa claimed that this is the Government’s way of “distracting the public from their failures”. 

“Racism is the Government’s final trump card, and we see that the Government is harassing the Tamil and Muslim communities and calling for a response for that to get a reaction for it from the Sinhala society. We ask the public not to fall for these tactics.”

He said that it has been about one-and-a-half years since this monument was erected, and if any tensions were to be caused by this monument, they should have taken place during this period.

“It is difficult for us to believe that such tensions would arise now after it has survived in a multi-ethnic environment for so long already.”

He claimed that those who demolished the monument would have been aware of the repercussions of such an act.

“It would cause unrest among students; Tamil parties in the North would intervene; and there would be a tense situation in the North to which South India and the global Tamil diaspora would intervene. This would allow the Government to claim that the Rajapaksa Government needs to be protected, as the nation needs to be protected from the threats of the diaspora.”

The manner in which the decision to take the monument down was carried out needs to be looked at again, said CPA Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

“The sensitivities of the locals have been very badly affected. It was quite unacceptable.”

He claimed that relations between communities will suffer due to actions such as this, and that there are certain elements that do not want people to live in harmony and understanding. “It’s not a post-conflict situation; we continue to allow the conflict to go on, and we nurture it through these kinds of incidents.”

Dr. Saravanamuttu also insinuated that the Government is taking deliberate steps to allow conflict to continue, to distract attention from its inability to respond to the expectations of its constituencies.

“The Government must take responsibility and ensure that this does not happen again,” he said.

A tense situation erupted outside the gates of the University of Jaffna on Friday (8) night, as a backhoe was deployed to demolish a war memorial inside university premises erected by the students in 2019 to commemorate those killed in Vellamullivaikkal during the final stages of the war.

Protestors gathered outside the university gates, protesting the removal, and Police and military personnel were deployed to disperse the crowds. Two students were arrested during the incident and were released on bail.

Tamil civil society groups, political parties, and Jaffna University student unions have called for a hartal to be observed today (11) in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, to condemn the demolition of the memorial.

 

Featured pic via adaderana.lk