Posted on July 27th, 2022


University of Peradeniya was the one of the main centers of JVP activity,  in the 1987 insurgency. It was the epi-center of JVP activity in 1989. Some members of University minor staff and University security were in the JVP military wing. Instructions for prison attack and central command attack in Kandy were issued from Hilda Obeyesekera Hall, Peradeniya.

Universities were paralyzed in the period 1987-1989. JVP dominated the university through the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF).  It was well known that these University campaigns were carried out by IUSF and the Deshapremi Sishya Viyapraya, said analysts.    

 The JVP members who were active in the University included final year students and university staff.  There was also a group of third-liners,  who were clearly followers not leaders.

University agitation started in March 1987. Students would walk in unannounced to the VC office and made demands with impunity. Staff were threatened not to report to work. University staff was held hostage.

University teachers were compelled to march the streets of Peradeniya, recalled Channa Ratnatunga. Doctors, nurses and professors were marched to the Peradeniya Bridge, buses were stopped, passengers also made to join, and walk in front of us. The guy with a gun who was handling the event was the lift operator in a hospital nearby.

JVP made undergrads demonstrate and protest at the slightest thing. Students were made to go in procession; they hung flags, put up posters, distributed leaflets, sprayed and wrote on buses.

In the 1987 insurgency, Peradeniya was the hot bed, and several JVP leaders came from the Medical Faculty. Several final year students in the Medical Faculty at Peradeniya were   JVP. Well dressed males with executive bags were      seen coming to the canteen in the Medical Faculty. The five lectures were being delivered.

Of a batch of 150 medical students only about 2/3 sat the finals, rest were missing, said Dr Channa Ratnatunge of the Department of surgery. Medical student Podibanda was from Dambulla Maha Vidyalaya .There was no teacher for physics or chemistry there. So he bought books and studied on his own. He got high marks at A levels and entered    Peradeniya medical faculty. He joined the JVP and was killed.

these JVP medical students would make subtle threats if we did not comply with their requests, which we didn’t, recalled .Channa. They demanded that Channa attend a JVP meeting. when he refused, he was reminded of what happened to Stanley Wijesundera, VC at Colombo, who was shot dead. Channa had got death threats because he had given priority to the Registrar of the Medical Faculty when he was in the surgery queue.

JVP medical students did not attend classes but quietly got JVP members admitted to wards in the hospital. These patients came with infected wounds, one with gangrene of the limb.  The rest of the patients had to face delay when the JVP patients arrived at the hospital.

JVP used to roam about the Faculty of Medicine and enter the wards in the hospital. In1989 a gun toting JVP walked into the ward, recalled Channa and wanted an ambulance to bring an injured to hospital. the Director of the hospital said no, ambulance was for armed services only. He left after threatening them.

Dr.  Sarath Edirisinghe, who taught at the Medical Faculty, Peradeniya, spoke of his encounters with the JVP in the University in the Bheeshanaya period. One day a group of medical students who were JVP informed us lecturers that they were going to have a meeting in Physiology Theater and all the staff must attend. We all trooped in there, a medical student activist spoke, and scolded us for not being receptive to the vast changes taking place. We must respond to the youth uprising. They said, among other things, that they had to     right to stop and check any vehicle passing Wijewardana. We were not allowed to voice our views, said Sarath.

On one occasion Sarath watched the captive medical staff of Peradeniya Teaching Hospital, carrying placards against the IPKF, herded along toward Peradeniya road junction. A consultant had told him later that they had been taken to Peradeniya Bo tree bus stop, given paste and told to paste posters on the buses that stopped there.

Once there was a huge commotion at the turn off to Wijewardana Hall. There was a huge crowd and much chaos. Sarath saw a man tied to a tree. Someone started beating him.  He was later taken away.  We heard later that he was the driver of a passing vehicle owned by a UNP MP. He was found murdered in a nearby quarry.

The Meewatura University house complex, where Sarath lived, had been visited by JVP and identity cards confiscated. Electric transformers in the area had been bombed or vandalized. On dark days” the residents did not switch on the lights. Sarath was pulled up for putting on lights when all round it was dark.  These JVP were definitely University students, said Sarath.  

JVP said they were going to send him a set of instructions to be conveyed to the rest of the houses. Sarath had said how to read instructions when there are no lights. He was told that around 3 am, instructions would be pushed through the door and to comply. Use torch to read it. However, since they had a baby, he was told to have a 15 or 25 watt bulb in a back room.

The document arrived. They were told to display a large placard saying that IPKF must leave Sri Lanka, also hang a black flag. Their activities would-be closely watched throughout the day. At dawn Sarath saw a row of University houses with black flags. Some had torn umbrellas to get the black cloth.

Then the army came. Sarath and others were warned in time, they pulled the black flags down. An army jeep came, with two rows of unsmiling soldiers scrutinizing the houses, When the army left the academics put back the placard and flag. Throughout the day, there were young men on motorcycles checking our houses.

Then JVP bombed the Water Purification plant, nearby, which meant no water for the houses.  The Vice Chancellor appealed to JVP by poster   to get the plant working. JVP complied.    The    ‘Reply’ poster came, saying plant will be repaired and water will be issued for two hours a   day.

One day, Sarath found that there was no one in the Medical Faculty and he went along to the Dean’s room, where he found Dean and the Senior Assistant Registrar, Miss Jayasuriya. While he was there, the door opened with a bang and a well dressed, bearded young man came in and wanted to know why the Faculty was open, it was a hartal day. Miss Jayasuriya had shouted back and said the man had no business entering the Dean’s office and ordered him to leave immediately. The man said something threatening but left the office. The man was a technical officer in the Medical Faculty, said Miss Jayasuriya.

After several murders had taken place at Peradeniya campus, a dozen senior academics, from the Medical Faculty, led by Prof Ralph Panabokke had gone to see Vice Chancellor Arjuna Aluwihare, by appointment. There were three student activists there, recalled Sarath. We were introduced to the students.

 Prof. Panabokke said his say which was translated to the students, who said very eloquently in Sinhala that there was a liberation movement taking place and we should recognize the fact and as academics we should extend our support. Panabokke said that murders by University students should be stopped.  The students looked agitated, they had a short discussion among themselves and the leader blurted out that they had no control over these activities.

Sarath and his family then went to Nugegoda, where again they met the JVP.  Sarath’s wife, Jayanthi visited an uncle who was a retired army man. when she knocked on the door,     a young man holding a gun pulled her into the house. Jayanthi, who was a lecturer in the University, guessed that these were probably University students.  She shouted at the gang telling them she was a University don. She asked them to leave the house immediately. They had a whispered conversation and left, warning her not to leave for one hour and not to get the police. They had cut the telephone wires beforehand. They had vanished into thin air, there was no sound of a motor cycle.

Sarath and his family   returned to Peradeniya . A Senior Assistant Registrar had been killed near Senate House. In retaliation, around ten youths  were killed and  their severed heads placed round the Alwis pond. ‘One can imagine how brutal the government backed counter terrorist activities were at the time,’ said Sarath.

Towards the end, there was fear, panic and danger everywhere. Militant students patrolled the area on wheels and on foot. They were checking vehicles. They expected a showdown with the government and counter preparation were being readied by them.

The showdown came soon after. In the biting pre-dawn, Sarath and other academics  living in Meewatura heard  students in Hilda Obeyesekera Hall, ( then a male student hall) calling out  names of lecturers and begging those lecturers to come  and rescue them as they were surrounded by the army.

Instead of running to the rescue, the lecturers in the Meewatura houses were all in their back gardens watching. We did not see any army activity until a helicopter came by. The cries of students rounded up by the armed forces could be heard, then there was silence, said Sarath.

Helicopters kept swooping down on  the Halls of residence till mid day. There was also bus after bus transporting students out of the campus. As they went past Meewatura to Gampola  villagers hooted, some shouted don’t come back.” The Bheeshanaya was blamed on University students and  the  surrounding villages were relieved to see the student evicted from campus. The  Campus was closed,  concluded Sarath.

Wiswa was  teaching political science  at University of  Peradeniya , during the Bheeshanaya  period. The    violence inside the University  particularly University of   Peradeniya   was such that the University could not control it,  said Wiswa. No one was safe inside the campus. The Inter University  Student  Federation  formed Action Committees and  these committees were behind the violence.

The frightened University authorities gave recognition to the Action Committee, in order to avoid open confrontation and prevent destruction of life and property. The Action Committee   turned itself into a parallel administration  making use of the University administration and issuing orders to University officials.  There was  sporadic stoppage and boycott of lectures. No Department could function steadily. Academic programmes came  to a standstill, said Wiswa. ‘Palamuwa mawbima devenuva upadhiya’ said the slogan.    

Wiswa observed that the  JVP leaders in the University  came  not from Arts faculty, but from science, engineering and medicine. This was  strange  because they  were sure of getting jobs and rising in life,  but these   students, unlike in the past, came from different social backgrounds. The undergrad community of the 80s was entirely different to that of the 50s, they were more militant and aggressive.  Wiswa was a strong critic of the JVP. He got a threat on his life.

Violence, threats and killings were the order of the day inside  Peradeniya  campus. Nobody  was safe inside. Any trivial matter was enough for the students to indulge in violence and they were armed with lethal weapons, said Wiswa.

A Senior Assistant Registrar was shot at the entrance to Senate House at 12 noon by a JVP who came on a push bike. Victim died leaning on a car. Over one hundred staff and students saw  the killing take place in the early afternoon. Gunman escaped in a push cycle warning the audience in the Senate  building not to come out or use phone. No one dared to stop them. Culprit escaped and no attempt was made to apprehend him.

On another occasion, there were ten bodies in front of the arts theatre.   it was rumored that this was done by the state, which shot them one by one as a message to the JVP. this murderous act  was a part of the reprisals of the state. Those responsible for this terrible event blocked the roads so they could commit the crime with impunity . This act devastated the academic community, said Wiswa.

One activity of these students was to watch the comings and goings of the academics. When Wiswa’s brother in law, a Brigadier in the army  visited Wiswa,  the JVP ‘had the audacity  to come and question me as to why there was an army visit,’  said Wiswa.  When  B.S. Wijeweera, one of his post graduate students had visited Wiswa at home, JVP  thought that Rohana Wijeweera had visited .

Osmund Jayaratne, a lecturer in Physics said in his autobiography, that he was informed, after he left Peradeniya that the academics living in Mahakanda had put up a notice saying ‘Osmund Jayaratne no longer lives in this housing scheme’.  

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