Midweek Review

Creators and destroyers of Peradeniya
by An Old Alumnus

Several readers have responded with acclaim to The Island Editor's forthright condemnation of the thugs of Peradeniya who, as knolwdgeable people are aware, are mere puppets being activated by hidden political masters elsewhere. Fortunately no one so far has tried to defend the thugs and their hidden masters. But there was one response from reader C. Wijewickrema for whom Sir Ivor was a man who "created a university for his western masters and not the Sinhala or Tamil villagers" and also "created a constitution with section 29(2) to take the soverignity of the Sinhala people." Unfortunately reader Wijewickrema, lover of the Peradeniya university he is and a person who displays much knowledge of recent history, does not seem to have read Jennings' The Road to Peradeniya, so abley edited with a beautiful introduction by the eminent librarian, the late H.A.I (Ian) Goonetileke. Also, if Mr. Wijewickrema reads Sinhala newspapers, I can recommend that he reads "Sir Ivor Gena Apata Ette Weradi Chitrayak" by Prof. K,N.O.Dharmadasa which appeared in the Divayina of 11.10.2007.

May be that many readers are unaware of the fact that Sir Ivor, being a liberal thinker was against Britain holding on to the colonies and did all he could as an academic to disband the British empire. It is in that spirit that he went out of his way. He came to Sri Lanka to help create a university) and started working with and assisting D.S.Senanayake and other Ceylonese leaders to gain political independence for this colony. Many "colonials" of that generation saw in him a British expert in constitutional law who was willing to help them out in their struggle for freedom. Thus we find his name going down in history as constitutional advisor to Pakistan,Malaysia,Singapore,Malta,the Maldive islands,Ghana, Guyana, Eritrea and Nepal. What the people of these countries did with their freedom is another story (We know what a mess we have succeeded in creating in our country, doing away with section 29 was also part of that mess) People today some 60 years after the momentous events of the 1940's can vilify the political leaders such as D.S. and pontificate on "freedom," "soverignity" and "the poor villagers" etc. They do not seem to realize what the leaders of that generation, working as they were within the confines of circumstances they could not change, did to gain political freedom and uplift the peasantry, to develop agriculture etc. etc.

Sir Ivor in his autobiography talks openly of the poverty of his childhood (he was the son of a carpenter) . As Ian Goonetilleke says he was "haunted all his life by the poverty of his childhood days." Being the typical unassuming Englishman he never went to town on what he did to prepare the ground for deserving young men and women to obtain scholarships and bursaries. I remember when we entered the university in the 1950's a good number of the students, some even undeservingly were enjoying "full bursaries", "half bursaries" and even "quarter bursaries." This man who could have washed his hands of "Ceylon" after he left the island in 1954 was so much concerned about the "People of Peradeniya" – those in it as well as those who were to come their in the future (Because he thought the University as being built "for a thousand years") that he in his small way wanted to establish a "Peradeniya Fund" to help the institution to purchase works of art for a future museum and to provide scholarships so that even "the poorest students can come to Peradeniya" (see p. 200-201 of the Road to Peradeniya.)The motive of writing his autobiography was providing money for that Peradeniya Fund. Can we name a single Vice Chancellor after that "Sudda" who did anything similar to help "poor students" aspiring for higher education? I really wonder whether we deserve the munificence of such a great man. I do not think that Sir Ivor ever wished his name to be displayed anywhere . We need not patronizingly have his bust displayed as a museum piece (as suggested by reader Wijeyawickreama). Let us display our insensitivity and ingratitude by forgetting him altogether.

As reader Wijeyawickrema has said it is indeed unfortunate that the Island did not mention the name of the man whom the present day "students" of Peradeniya want to commemorate. As reported with a video coverage by Sirasa evening news on the 12th of October, the man they want to commemorate is one "Ranjitham Gunaratnam." Who is this Ranjitham Gunaratnam?. Let me quote from an article titled "The Best of Times and the Worst of Times" by an alumnus of Peradeniya named Imran Marker (which appears in a symposium titled Peradeniya:Memories of a University edited by K.M De Silva and Tissa Jayatileke, Kandy ICES,1997)

"The JVP's association with the student movement has always been close.Four of the thirteen politburo members during the height of JVP power from 1987-89 were ex-Peradeniya students. The leader of the Peradeniya AC (Action Committee) in 1985 , Ranjitham Gunaratnam was also the head of the ISUF (Inter-University Student Federation), Central Committee Member of the JVP and Kurunegala District leader. It soon became clear that the AC under the domination of the SSU ( the Socialist Students Union- the student wing of the JVP) was totally under the dictates of the JVP. The domination was particularly severe at Peradeniya where there was no opposition to the JVP unlike the Independent Students Union (ISU) at Colombo University …. The JVP ethos was never to tolerate dissent, which if it did occur was crushed brutally by the JVP tough guys. Students who opposed the JVP were violently assaulted with clubs and cycle chains …During this time the Deshapremi Sishya Vyaparaya (DSV) the precursor to the dreaded Deshapremi Janata Vyaparaya (DJV) was formed in the universities by the JVP to give military backing to the SSU. Thus the JVP was able to effectively control the destiny of the entire student body in Sri Lanka... During the post-1987 period any pretence of democratic leadership in the AC was terminated Dissent was ruthlessly supressed. The AC's position was that the country was in danger and it was the patriotic duty of every individual to rally round the JVP. It was argued that under the circumstances there was no point in having an education.The slogan of the times was 'country first education later' " (pager 191 -193)

So instead of commemorating the man who created Peradeniya we can commemorate the man who virtually destroyed university education in this country. Truly enough institutions called universities exist after restoration in the post- 1989 period when the JVP leadership was decimated. But can the people who have gone through the period forget the fact that three full years of 12 generations of students (from 1989 to 2001 ) were robbed by these destroyers of education. Every one who passed A Level exams had to stay at home for three years to enter the university because of the "backlog" created by the disruptions of these "student heroes."


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