May 14, Colombo: Academics of Sri Lanka's Jaffna University have raised the question why the Sri Lankan government has barred the Tamils from commemorating the dead in the war that ended five years ago.
Issuing a statement titled "Jaffna University: In the Shadow of War and Peace On A War-Footing", President of the Jaffna University Science Teachers' Association (JUSTA) Dr. J.P. Jeyadevan asked why should Tamils speaking of the war be such an explosive issue five years after it ended.
According to Dr. Jeyadevan, early in the week beginning on 5th May, the Registrar of the University with no explanation has sent out letters announcing the closure of the University from 16th to 20th May, which coincides with the days of the final battle between the security forces and the LTTE terrorists.
On the 7th, leaflets were posted on the University premises making death threats against professors who are allegedly guiding students to support terrorism and student leaders of just the Arts and Science faculties and the leader of the University Student's Union, he says.
The academic, in his statement published in Colombo Telegraph, asked why should Tamils speaking of the war be such an explosive issue five years after ending the war, in which neither side owned a monopoly on terrorism.
"The answer has to do with the ideological polarization that remains because there is even less hope now of a political settlement to the national question that has been with us from Independence," he said.
The statement, noting that the government meanwhile has planned to observe the same anniversary in grand style in Matara, asked whether "it is to prevent the Sinhalese people from asking awkward questions that the Government needs to play on their fears by harping on the revival of terrorism?"
"Why should the Tamils be barred from remembering thousands of people, young and old, most of them innocent, who died during the last phase of the war," Dr. Jeyadevan asked.
He said the Tamil people should have the freedom to mourn collectively the untimely death of a large number of members of their community whether or not the dead persons are members of their family. When Sinhalese people remember dead JVP insurgents they are not subjected by the authorities to such repressive measures, he pointed out.
He criticized the University Administration's move to close the University for the period during which the commemoration of the dead falls.
"The authorities and the Council should have condemned such crude intimidation, which strikes at the very root of a University - that the LTTE did this in its day is no excuse," he said.
He also noted that the threatening letters to the faculty members curtail the academic freedom and inhibit collegiality and the open exchange of ideas that are needed to produce excellent teaching and scholarship.
"If the university cannot be a safe place for the exercise of freedom of speech, for dissent and debate; if faculty are afraid to teach known facts, if students are afraid to attend classes, and if rehabilitated ex-combatants are never allowed to pursue their studies but are continually detained, pressurized, or made into informers, then we are not only cheating our youth of the chance positively to change their futures, but cheating our entire society of the opportunity to transform itself for the good of all who live in Lanka."