Call for analysis of deeper issues behind University clash

Jaffna UniversityThe continuing public discourse on the recent clash of students at the University of Jaffna has brought to the fore the need for critical analysis of causes behind the clash and the determination of ‘reasonable ratios” of ethnic mix in admission of students to universities.

M.K. Shivajilingam, considered a hardliner within the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), says that while he is also for keeping intact the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic character of the University, the basic reasons have to be ascertained. Also, the government should ensure that there is no backlash in any other part of the country, he has said.

No isolated incident: Thavarajah

Disagreeing with a widely-held perception that the clash is an isolated incident, S. Thavarajah, Leader of Opposition in the Northern Provincial Council and a member of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), argues that the episode has sent out a message that the recurrence of such an incident in some other form on some other occasion cannot be avoided if fundamental issues concerning Tamils are not addressed at the earliest.

“What happened last week in Jaffna was an outburst of accumulated feelings on the part of Tamil students,” says Mr. Thavarajah, who recently served as a member of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms.

‘Students are amicable to each other’

However, D.M. Swaminathan, Rehabilitation Minister, has a different take to offer. He told Parliament a few days ago that the Sinhalese and Tamil students of the University “very clearly” told him and his Ministerial colleagues early this week that “there is no difference or animosity towards any community.” Pointing out that “a majority of Sinhalese students are staying at Tamil homes [in Jaffna],” he emphasised that “the students of the Jaffna University, Sinhalese and Tamils, are living very amicably with one another.”

Supporting the call for understanding the reasons for the frustration of the minority students, the Colombo-based National Peace Council, an organisation that has been working in the area of reconciliation, states that the high proportion of Sinhalese, ranging from 60 per cent to 80 per cent of the student body in some of the university streams in the North and East, has caused a “feeling of being under pressure by the influx” of Sinhalese students in traditionally Tamil (and Muslim) areas.

Call for reasonable ethnic mix ratio

A couple of studies reveals that about 60 per cent of students of the science stream at the University of Jaffna belong to the Sinhalese while 75 per cent of students (2013-2014 batch) in the streams of commerce, science, agriculture and medicine at the Eastern University are from the majority community.

It is in this context that the Council has urged the government and those in charge of higher education to see to it that “reasonable ratios” of ethnic mix are kept, while allocating slots for students to universities in different parts of the country.  (The Hindu)

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