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Handcuffs for sit-ins: Government’s panacea for unruly university undergrads

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(October 30, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) In 1975, my alma mater, Holy Family Convent in Jaffna had the most number of students qualifying to study A/L’s in the science stream in its history. Ergo two excellent chemistry and physics teachers from my brother school St Patrick’s College, the late Mr Sam Alfred and Mr Gnanapragasam, offered to teach us these subjects free of charge.

But the nuns decided we should pay a monthly fee of Rs20.00 apart from the facilities fees towards their tutoring. So it came to be that during the end of the year term test, those who did not pay the monthly fees were asked to stand outside the principal’s office and not sit the exam until the fees were paid. Now my younger sister who also was in the same class as myself (don’t ask me why I was in the same class as my sister) decided to join those outside as a mark of protest and solidarity with those who did not pay although she had coaxed my reluctant father to pay the fees.

(My father was a paranoid case who thought teachers were out to fleece him out of his last cent and that were the teachers capable of imparting sound education then they should not be asking us to buy new books every year. His theory was that second hand books were good enough and if necessary we could hot-foot it to the public library for reference.)

Sam entered the classroom and began the test. Suddenly he noticed half the class were missing and wanted to know where the rest of the students were. I stood up and replied that they were outside the principal’s office for not paying his fees. Sam said he did not charge and that his lessons were free.

Subsequently the embarrassed principal waived the fees.

It is the right of the university students to stage protests when the authorities use heavy-handed tactics such as suppression of one’s liberties. UC Berkeley in California became famous for its demonstrations against suppression of free speech, racism, compulsory drafting and the Vietnam War which the US waged on flimsy grounds in the ‘60s.

UC Berkeley students adhered to the popular antinomianism, a concept that members of a particular religious group are not obliged to obey the laws of ethics or morality presented by religious authorities and subsequently followed by secular bodies.

The series of riots which erupted at Berkeley Campus changed the course of the political process of successive US congresses and compulsive drafting came to an end and Black Americans were given opportunities to enter managerial position through student protest

by the Black Panther Party.

Udul Premaratne’s arrest is the latest example of our police state interfering in the democratic rights of university students who strove hard to enter the prestigious seats of higher learning and therefore very enlightened individuals with independent thinking. The authorities have no right treat them like Montessouri kids and discipline their thoughts and actions be they lustful, dreamy or downright reactionary.

Someone in this blog alerted that Sri Lanka is following in the footsteps of China, its latest comrade in arms, and is paving way for another Tiannemen revolt. There could be excesses among university undergraduates such as bullying in the name of ragging which needs firm disciplining but there is no way the state can interfere in student demos and handing out pamphlets when they feel their rights are violated.

First the government goes to the jugular of the media and now university undergrads. What next? The Rajapakse government thinks it can party till the cows come home and dictate to its citizens on how to conduct themselves not realizing it is sowing the seeds of discontent for a greater uprising than it has seen in the 30 year old war.

Strangely some media organs are actively supporting the government’s stand against the student protestors and even justify the arrest of University students’ convenor Udul Premaratne. I suppose it is hard for the government to shirk off its hands which are customarily used to exerting threats, arrests, intimidation and extra-judicial killings and it found the right scapegoats in university students. Tell a Friend

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