Jaffna, July 31 (NIA): Teachers in Jaffna University in Tamil-dominated North Sri Lanka, hope that the hundreds of Sinhalese students who had fled to their homes in South Sri Lanka after a violent clash with their Tamil counterparts on July 16, will come back to the campus quickly because continued fears could make the small students’ issue snowball into a national ethnic problem with far reaching consequences.
The Sinhalese students are still to come back to the campus despite assurances from the University Vice Chancellor that peace prevails and that their security is assured, The New Indian Express reported on Saturday.
Sources in the University’s Jaffna campus told the paper that out of about 800 Sinhalese students, only a handful have picked up courage to come back.
“Their fears are understandable. But we hope to see a good number returning in the coming week,” TNIE paper quoted a senior lecturer in the Arts faculty as saying.
The media in Colombo reported that the parents of the Sinhalese students do not want them to go back to Jaffna until their safety is assured. Perhaps they want the deployment of the army. But Jaffna University lectures think that the deployment of the Security Forces is not at all necessary as there is little of no chance of recurrence of such a violent clash.
“Generally speaking the Sinhalese and Tamil students go about their studies and life peacefully. An overwhelming majority of Tamil students and faculty feel that the incident was blown out of proportion and given an ethnic color. It blew up because of incompetent handling by the university top brass,” the lecturer said.
By way abundant precaution, the government security establishment has deployed plainclothesmen all over the campus.
“We are aware of their presence and have no problem with it,” the teacher said.
The reason for this tolerant outlook is that almost every Tamil in the university and Jaffna district feels that it is important that the Sinhalese students should come back and that normal life should return to Jaffna University.
“If the crisis continues, a students’ clash over the program for a welcome function could snowball into something much larger with certain political forces among the Tamils themselves keen to blow up the issue for their own narrow political ends,” the faculty member said.
The university has appointed a three-member committee to go into the clash. The findings of the committee are not out yet. But in the meanwhile, the Northern Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V.Wigneswaran, told Daily Mirror earlier this week, that even though the incident was a small one which got blown out of proportion, there are related issues which must be tackled if similar incidents are not to occur again.
Wigneswaran said that the sudden increase in the number of Sinhalese students in the various faculties, barring the Arts Faculty, and their being in equal numbers or even in a majority in some departments, have created resentment among Tamils who think that in Jaffna University, being located in a Tamil area, most places should go to local Tamils.
Secondly, the fact that the Sinhalese students have close relations with the army contingents stationed in Jaffna is creating suspicions that they might act at the behest of the army, Wigneswaran pointed out.
The Tamil intelligentsia and the political elite have been criticizing the heavy deployment of the army in the Northern Province even seven years after the conclusion of the war. According to Wigneswaran, there is even now, one soldier for every six civilians in the Northern Province.
Earlier, Northern Provincial Council Leader of Opposition S.Thavarajah had joined the Chief Minister in issuing a statement calling for a comprehensive probe into all related issues, as he felt that the July 16 incident had deeper roots.
However, a section of the faculty feels that the Vice Chancellor and the Student Advisor mishandled the issue, which could have been sorted out easily.
TNIE quoted an Art Faculty member as saying: “The Student Advisor did not advice the Tamil students to accommodate the demand of the Sinhalese students and insisted that the set program should be followed to the letter. He had also advised the Vice Chancellor to stick to this line. It was as if he wanted a clash to serve his partisan political interest.