Tamil students protest over attacks

Place: Puthukkudiyiruppu | Courtesy: TamilNet
| Date: 19970810

The Tamil Students Union of the Puthukkudiyiruppu education division (Mullaitivu district) has written to the Sri Lankan President on the 10th of August 1997, protesting over the systematic shelling of their exam halls and the general disruption to their education. To date, no response has been forthcoming and it seems unlikely that the students will be able to obtain any qualifications this year.

The annual GCE Advanced Level (A/L) examinations commenced on 4th August 1997. Since the 4th of August, the Sri Lankan army had launched artillery attacks on the exam halls, according to the Puthukkudiyiruppu TSU. Sri Lankan air force jets had also carried out harassment raids on some schools.

The examinations had been disrupted across the Vanni region by the Sri Lankan attacks. There was widespread dismay among the Tamil students and the TSU had drafted a letter of protest to the Sri Lankan president, pointing out the systematic and deliberate nature of the attacks on the examination halls. TamilNet has a copy of the letter.

The letter which had been signed by the President, Secretary and the Treasurer of the TSU also protested about the general discrimination felt by the Tamil students. "We...have been denied the facilities afforded to the students in the south." it read. "This...has been made worse by the imposition of the economic embargo and the continual [Sri Lankan] military operations"

The TSU went on to say "On a directive issued by your Excellency, the Government Agents have turned sixty percent of our schools into welfare centres to house displaced persons....Rendered homeless as we are, most of us shelter...under trees... Under these trying conditions, we managed to do our studies...We have been denied our fundamental right to education".

The TSU letter has not drawn a response from the Sri Lankan government. The silence has left many of the students feeling even more frustrated. Most of the students were sitting the examinations with the intention of seeking admission to higher education.

The apparently deliberate disruption of the exams by the Sri Lankan military is fuelling support for the LTTE amongst the students. The A/L candidates had continued to focus on their studies and unlike many of their fellow students not taken up the Tigers' call to arms. The youth who had joined the LTTE are now contacting former class mates asking them to join as well.

This mood is reflected in the letter. "It may be recalled that your kind attention has been drawn to the...discrimination...and injustice perpetrated on us....It is painful to note that your Excellency has not done anything positive or constructive by way of a solution".

The letter concludes with a plea to the Sri Lankan President "we earnestly hope that your excellency would take appropriate action. It is our fervent belief that our cries ...would fall on sympathetic ears."

Ironically, the successful conduction of the exams would have given the Sri Lankan government a major success in the 'hearts-and-minds' war. Education is deeply rooted in Tamil culture. This has not been lost on the LTTE: many of their recruits are being encouraged to follow part time studies as well as their military training. Almost all the Tamil movements were formed mainly by Tamil university graduates.