Posted on August 7th, 2022


The University student was a very important component of the JVP.  Undergrads were active in the two insurgencies of 1971 and 1987. In 1971 the army had found large quantities of explosive, weapons, bombs and a transmitter at University of Peradeniya. Uniforms were being stitched in women’s hall of residence, reported General Cyril Ranatunge.

G.R.Morrel recalls, at Kelaniya Campus, where he taught as an instructor in the late 70’s, the Students’ Council was in the hands of the JVP.  Mainly through intimidation, they ran the campus. New students were ragged mercilessly, and staff members who opposed the ragging threatened.

Once, passing the Vice Chancellor’s office, I saw that it was crowded with JVP goons, some even standing on his desk and shouting at the VC, who was seated, obviously terrified. A grandfatherly professor, he was no match for the thugs, concluded Morrel.

University of Peradeniya was a vital base in the 1987-1989 insurgency.  JVP had set up  Action Committees in the University .The frightened University authorities gave recognition to the Action Committee, in order to avoid open confrontation and prevent destruction of life and property, said Wiswa Warnapala.

The Action Committee   turned itself into a parallel administration making use of the University administration and issuing orders to University officials.  The subordinate staff who joined the JVP also enjoyed giving orders to their superiors, to the fury of the academic staff. There was sporadic stoppage and boycott of lectures. No Department could function steadily. Academic programmes came to a standstill. ‘Palamuwa mawbima devenuva upadhiya’ said the slogan.  

The    violence inside the University of   Peradeniya   was such that the University could not control it, said Wiswa. Action Committees were behind the violence. Wiswa was teaching political science at University of Peradeniya, during this Bheeshanaya period. 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. No one was safe inside the campus. Any trivial matter was enough for the students to indulge in violence and they were armed with lethal weapons. Peradeniya undergrads were armed with lethal weapons, observed Wiswa. Where did they get these guns, Peradeniya academics asked.

There is evidence to show that the JVP undergrads  received support from some lecturers of the University , at least at the start.  When the crackdown came,  in 1989  and helicopters swooped down on the insurgents ,male undergrads at Hilda Obeyesekera Hall were heard calling out  names of lecturers and asking them to come to their rescue.

Wiswa observed that the  JVP  student leaders in the University  did not come from   the Arts faculty, but from science, engineering and medicine. These young persons were sure of getting well paid jobs so  the explanation was not unemployment.

.Wiswa said the undergrad community of the 80s was entirely different to that of the 50s.  They were more militant and aggressive. Undergrads entering University in the 1990s,  made  a similar observation. They said some of their fellow undergrads  should not be in the University at all. They were referring to  attitude, not ability.

No one seems to have interviewed these  graduates  after the insurgency was over to find out what motivated them towards the JVP. One possibility was the district quota system of University admissions. Before the  district quota  was introduced, all  entrants to University ,  from all schools and  all districts,  sat the same competitive exam and   obtained the  same required  pass marks. They entered University   the proper way and they knew it.

From 1972, undergrads entered University under a district quota system. it was  considered a politically motivated system .Under this system, the cut off point for admission  , differed very widely from district to district, though they all   sat the same exam.  A low cut off point meant low marks. A large number of competent  students  were denied university entrance, due to  this   system ,while  lesser qualified  students came in.

The students who came  into Peradeniya  from districts with  low cut off points  , knew  very well ,that they were  not equal in knowledge to those who came in on higher cut off points,  (though they may be equally intelligent  and may have blossomed in a better school or different district ) .They would have been on the defensive.

What the JVP offered them,  in 1987 to soothe this chip on the shoulder was the prospect of  instant   power, including  the power to  kill. JVP also gave them the heady power to give orders to their teachers, instead of the other way round. They would have liked  this very much.

All this came to an end in 1989, but the JVP hold on the University continued. Universities were a fertile ground for new recruits. As long as the district quota system, which decides university entrance not on  merit , but on geographic location  remains intact, the JVP would find enough supporters in universities, declared critics.  

After 1971,JVP had abandoned plans to work with  school children, servant boys, unemployed persons and   such like. The undergrad became JVP’s main  source for youth. The University contained the sort of energetic young adults the  JVP needed for its deadly purposes.

  JVP set up JVP controlled  student unions such as the  General Students Union of University of Sri Jayawardanepura (Progressive Front). Rival  organizations were  crushed. Daya Pathirana,  leader of the Colombo University Independent Students’ Union, was killed in 1987 when he formed an alternative to the JVP-affiliated Socialist Students Union.

Pro-JVP student factions emerged as the sole representative of student politics, not because there were no alternatives, but because by using thuggery they crushed all  dissent and alternative opinion   at the very start. The  Inter University Student Federation became the main organ of the JVP in the University.

Inter University Student Federation was established in 1969, in Peradeniya by the Vice Chancellor,  Prof E.O.E  Pereira.  Today IUSF represents  the  student councils and action committees of 15 higher education institutes including all the major universities and technical colleges in Sri Lanka. The  Inter University Bhikku Federation was  an affiliated organization.

The IUSF was  recognized by the government in July  1988, and had its first discussion with the Minister of  Higher Education in the same month. .IUSF has just one official, the Convener, who carries out all administrative and legal work on behalf of the union.

IUSF   soon came under the control of  the political  parties operating in the University .From 1972, IUSF was controlled by the Ceylon National Students’ Union of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka.  In 1976, JVP  gained control of the IUSF    . Most JVP MPs cut their teeth in politics as activists of the IUSF,  observed analysts.  IUSF Conveners  usually  came from the  JVP .  They later held high rank in the main  JVP.

IUSF was not popular. There were complaints about their activities. In 2009, Prof. Nalin de Silva – Dean of the faculty of Science at the University of Kelaniya – complained that pro-JVP IUSF students had threatened him with death for not agreeing to their political ideologies.

University of Jaffna banned IUSF from entering to the university premises in June 2010. That is not surprising, Jaffna has a matching  organization of its own. University of Colombo and University of Moratuwa had   also  banned the IUSF, according  Wikipedia.

The most explosive comment on the IUSF  comes from Gamini Samaranayake, then Chairman  UGC.He made  special mention of  IUSF. He said that anybody who wants to study political violence and terrorism in Sri Lanka   must start from the JVP controlled IUSF. This name is only a cover, he said. The IUSF is a ‘terrorist movement’.

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