Addressing a media briefing at the Open University of Sri Lanka, FUTA President Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri said that it was extremely important to engage constructively and critically with students regarding their collective actions.
“We unreservedly condemn the violent response of the authorities to students’ protest and call upon them to adopt a more flexible approach in dealing with student issues,” he said.
Banning of student unions of the Sabaragamuwa University few months ago was a violation of the democratic rights of students, the FUTA chief said, adding that they believed that the crisis that had developed over the last few days was yet another consequence of the short-sighted measures of university authorities in responding to student protests.
Dr. Devasiri said that the government’s response was extremely provocative and high-handed. Even violent demonstrations and fasts by members close to the government were dealt with completely differently when compared to how student demonstrations and protests were handled.
The senior academic also said that the Teachers’ Union of Sabaragamuwa University had grave concerns about student behaviour in the buildup and during the series of protests. However, that did not justify the anti-democratic and aggressive response of the authorities to the student protest.
Undergraduates of the Sabaragamuwa University launched a hunger strike last Thursday, demanding the withdrawal of the eight-month suspension imposed on eight students by the university administration. Another section of undergraduates organised a protest blocking the Badulla–Colombo road on Saturday. They obstructed vehicular movement for six hours, finally the police had to fire tear gas to disperse them and reopen the road.
Meanwhile undergraduates of the Sabaragamuwa University yesterday claimed that the university administration planned to suspend 45 students for organising Saturday’s protest against the suspension of eight students. Vice Chancellor of the University Prof. Mahinda Rupasinghe said that the university administration was yet to take a decision on suspending the 45 students. “We cannot suspend students suddenly,” Prof. Rupesinghe said, noting that it had to be decided through a disciplinary inquiry and relevant procedures.
Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake had earlier said that he would suspend the students who were responsible for the recent clashes at the Sabaragamuwa University.