Posted on September 20th, 2022


Any insurgency has to have a base for the recruitment of cadres, training and indoctrination observed analysts. JVP decided to use the universities of Sri Lanka for this purpose. The university was ideal for this purpose. It was a loosely organized enclave.  The university is a good recruiting ground for the JVP, observed critics. First year students were the most vulnerable.

By 1978, JVP had established itself in the universities as the strongest group among the students. JVP has pushed out all the other political parties   and is able to dominate in student matters,  said an informant in 2007.      Other parties have no involvement now in student politics. The JVP leaders come in expensive vehicles, park them outside campus and walk into the campus.

Weeramunda   did a survey of ragging in three universities in 2007, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, University of Kelaniya and University of Colombo. He observed that the JVP alone, of all political parties, has succeeded in obtaining a firm foothold in the student bodies of all three universities.  UGC report on ragging (2018) stated that that JVP continued to maintain its foothold in the student bodies of universities.  

JVP does not have the support of the majority of students. The JVP group, who do the university ragging, are a minority compared to the overall student population in the universityobserved Hettiarachchi in 2020 Only 2.7 %of students who completed more than 75 % of attendance found to be harassing their juniors through ragging said UGC in 2018.  About 10 or 15 students are activists. Others follow like sheep, said an informant in 2007.

However, despite small numbers, JVP has succeeded in recruiting and indoctrinating new batches of enthusiastic supporters and activists every year from the university, said analysts.

JVP is   assured of a continuous supply of new entrants with the recruitment of new batches of entrants every year, they said. Through ragging, JVP managed to replenish its cadres, by catching some of the freshers into its net every year.

 Weeramunda (2008) stated that JVP has followed a systematic method to recruit and indoctrinate new batches of enthusiastic supporters and a hardcore of activists every year, from the new arrivals in the university. JVP’s methods were founded on the principle of making the most out of laxities and weaknesses of the university system, Weeramunda said.

The JVP modus operandi consist of a series of clandestine operations that takes the form of a hidden insurgency, Weeramunda continued. JVP starts by running awareness programme for new entrants before they enter the university by contacting them privately at the district level and preparing them for entering the university.

Next, when the freshers arrive in university, JVP administers an orientation programme for new entrants for a period of 3 months.  They do this with the approval of the university authorities. This is most effective in the Arts faculty where the freshers are more vulnerable and the JVP is strongest, observed Weeramunda.

During this period, the new entrant is given a new identity, with a new name, shown the administrative setup, the facilities available such as library, hostel and medical services and how to use them, names of seniors, and rules for behavior within the university. This would have been gratefully received by those coming from remote areas.

Freshers were also treated to lectures on free education, history of the JVP, JVP’s role as protectors of student rights and sacrifices made by JVP heroes. Freshers are forced to memorize the names and deeds of student heroes” and sing the student hero song at events, said informants. Many of these heroes died in the 1988-89 uprising after they had left the university. Those like Samantha Withanage who resisted ragging and were brutally murdered on campus are not mentioned. Dead activists were also commemorated on Vira Sisya Day.

Seniors then subjected the freshers to serious ragging. This was done for multiple purposes, one of which was to   replenish the JVP cadre in the university. Those who ragged well were made JVP union leaders or batch representatives in the university.

Every year, a new set of leaders are appointed from the     second years, for JVP work.  The JVP group meet and decided each year who is going to contest student union elections and who is going to rag, reported Weeramunda.

Seniors secured the loyalty of certain  pro-rag followers from among the freshers. These freshers then become informants  and betray their fellow peers, noted critics. They report on fellow freshers.  They act as messengers to the seniors.

Freshers now rag freshers in a new trend, informants reported in 2007. Undergrads failed to see the significance. They simply complained, we freshers have to rag other freshers. But this was a test to select JVP recruits. 

The ragging helped JVP to enroll its next generation of JVPers. It helped spot potential JVPers among the freshers. The more aggressive students and those who have earned a good ragging record from the first year batch are recruited into to the party, said Weeramunda. 

This small group were then secretly indoctrinated outside the campus on the JVP policies. They were given lectures on free education, history of the JVP and the JVP role as protectors of student rights and the sacrifices made by JVP heroes. JVP spends money on this and that cannot be stopped, remarked informants.

Weeramunda explained, those undergoing the ‘rag’ are watched and promising freshers are recruited into the JVP. The more aggressive students and those who ragged the freshers well were selected. They were then indoctrinated secretly, outside the campus on JVP ideology. They are taught the history of colonialism, its negative impacts on society and economy, JVP vision of a socialist state, JVP’s organization, and the responsibilities of JVP cadres. These recruits are promised jobs and told that their role is to influence other students. Student leaders believe they have power, said informants.

Outside elements then start to   control these students, said informants.  Student activists are given cell phones so that they could maintain contact with JVP leaders and carry out their instructions. JVP pays the activists and targets are set for them. These undergrads do not attend lectures. They assign students to stand in for them and copy notes.

The JVP seniors in the university puts the new recruits to work. They are made to paste posters, attend pickets and demonstrations and learn to lead various protests.  The party gives money to display expensive banners and posters.

At least once a month   undergrads are sent out across to all corners of the island to collect money for the JVP. Collecting (keta hollanawa) is done by the freshers, under JVP direction. JVP recruits were given  a monthly wage in return for organizing tin collections all over the country. A person from outside comes to collect the collection.

JVP has fulltime workers assigned to each university for this and they are given a target for every year. At Ruhuna each group was given one till and they were expedited to go everywhere, even to small places,   like Angunakolapalessa Walasmulla, as well as Beliatta, Tangalle. They get about 2 lakhs from a town, the total is about 10 million.

JVP used students to show to the public that they have power. There is a march every year for one reason or another in the university , directed against the  university administration. If there is a protest tomorrow, the leaders are there in the hostels tonight, informants said in 2007.

Students are also used for public demonstrations and protests. The  students activists are expected to synchronize  protests and demonstrations in all campuses so that they have  maximum impact .

First year students who support the JVP are made to participate in protests taking place outside the university . Freshers are placed right in front, while the seniors stayed safely at the back. These protests  mostly end with water cannons and tear gas and the freshers were the first to be affected.

Most of these students don’t even know why they  are demonstrating. They go unwillingly. We walk to UGC or Parliament. We have no idea what will happen, whether we would be sprayed with tear gas or water. But we had to go in the front, said undergrads.

In one instance we were taken to picket and 10 of our students were suspended. In another instance, seniors took us to picket and as a result, we were not able to attend lectures. They promised us that they would see  that we had no problem about attendance  but they did not do so   and we were penalized for not attending lectures. We trusted the seniors a lot but they let us down.

University students leave the university after four years and move onto adult life. JVP must be able to ensure their loyalty after they leave university . Weeramunda found that about 10-15 students per university continue  JVP  activities throughout their university  years and continue to work for the JVP after they have left the university . Student leaders are promised jobs after they leave.  This is welcome news for rural youth, who cannot be sure they would get a job after graduation. This gives them the chance also, of joining the power elite.

The university was also  used   for recruiting for the baby brigade of the JVP. The Students Union of  Kelaniya University,  holds arts festival called Bihi Dora   and invites schools to participate and compete in its events. They identify skilled  school children, give them prizes and certificates and catch them at an early age, said informants in 2007.

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