| by Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne
( January 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In recent months, people in Lanka have seen a dramatic increase in the number of protests involving thousands of university students. Many of these turned violent after clashing with the police, who tried to stop their campaigns. Last week Jayewardenepura student demonstration was stopped at Colpetty junction, but there was no clash. Both students and the police were restrained and one could see students cleaning the streets after the demonstration. Police also were not interested in a clash with the students which reached a figure well beyond five thousand.
University students and the police
One poll said that the people believe the involvement of university students in politics has far exceeded limits, and needs to be curtailed. It claimed, though the elders are still not prepared to confront the government, students are moving ahead of them. Many teachers agreed with the students that the issues are real. While the workers are still mild, in their protest against the rising prices and curb on salary increases, the students are giving expression to the difficulties faced by the masses. Mahinda regime put petrol to the fire by creating a problem in the issue of A -levels results. The disastrous performance of the hitherto successful Examinations Department, hit the people like a thunder bolt. This fiasco has destroyed the implicit trust, Lankan people had in the A-Level exam, as an accurate estimation of a student’s educational ability. To admit that the A-Level results are flawed, is for Mahinda a great set back. It is to admit, a level of unprecedented inefficiency and incapacity totally at variance with the constant boast about development miracles. So the regime must deny 17-3reality, with a series of lies.
Many people reject the claims that the authorities are struggling to tally the Z-Scores. They believe that bigger forces are at play. Obviously the panic and distrust among parents and students regarding government examinations, will facilitate the privatization of education. One teacher has said “I don’t think that tallying the Z-Scores is such a big deal. The statistical formula is hard but it’s not rocket science. But I believe that this is part of a bigger conspiracy to disrupt state education and to drive more affluent students towards private education. People are losing their faith in local exams, so most parents who can afford it might think why not send my child to an international school and make him sit the London A’ Levels? On the other hand they are opening private universities, and those who sit the London A’ Levels would be their market. Some say it’s a conspiracy, but I am making a logical connection.” Naturally students and unemployed will be vexed to hear such predictions and anger is spreading among all communities. New group of the JVP, the ‘Peoples Struggle group, has gained from this development and they have led several successful demonstrations. It has a strong student base in universities. Now, the government has accused it of trying to exploit that support through the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) – to whip up a students’ unrest. A wave has engulfed six of the 15 major universities. Vice-chancellors were locked up; pro government students were chased out; exams disrupted and campus property destroyed. Nearly 200 undergraduates were suspended. Combined army police operations are conducted in universities. Over twenty students were arrested and were detained.
The developing situation
I was told that the joint trade union front is disturbed about the developing situation. If the attacks on youth and students continue with the masses sympathetic to the issues raised by the students, then naturally the trade unions will be forced to take the side of the students. In the mean time the demand to implement the recommendations of the LLRC report has been accepted by many mass organizations. The religious leaders front led by Rev. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero, which includes priests and monks from all religions and sectors, has come out strongly to support the demand. It has appealed to all communities to come together, to pressure the government to implement the recommendation, including the devolution of power as solution to the Tamil national problem. Thus the student unrest created an opportunity for all radicals to get together. Few months back I predicted that such a thing is developing. This unrest could easily affect the estate sector too. They are neither getting higher salaries nor land for cultivation. They have no where to go; they must fight back.