Battered student-monks vow to strike back

By Isuri Kaviratne, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara and Saman Kariyawasam, Pic by J. Weerasekera

Undergrad monks who were teargassed and dispersed on Thursday in Colombo have vowed to continue their campaign until their demands are met. Ven. Namal Oya Ananda Thera, convenor of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), said they would meet the Mahanayakes and Parliamentarians to explain their grievances and launch a public awareness campaign in the coming days.

Student-monks of three universities Anuradhapura Buddha Shrawaka Bhikku University, the Buddhist and Pali University and the Colombo University, met at Lipton's Circus in Colombo on Thursday and marched towards Temple Trees in support of several key demands which include the reopening of the Anuradhapura Buddha Shrawaka Bhikku University, which was closed on June 6 after student-monks protested over horrid hostel facilities. The other demands were that the authorities release a student-monk arrested a few weeks ago in Anuradhapura and the setting up of a Buddhist faculty at the Colombo University and an English unit at the Buddhist and Pali University.

Scenes of mayhem on Thursday.

The Riot Police, which barricaded Dharmapala Mawatha near the Public Library roundabout, used teargas and water cannon to disperse the monks. But the young monks demonstrated their defiance by staging the protest for four hours. Police later baton charged and arrested several student-monks.
Addressing a public rally later in the day, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he was not aware of the police action against the monks and urged the student-monks to discuss the problem with the relevant authorities.

See the Video
March to Temple trees halted
01:10 min

Expressing surprise at the president's statement, Ven. Ananda Thera said they staged Thursday's protest only after they realised that four months of talks they had with the Vice Chancellor and Higher Education Ministry officials were a futile exercise.

The student-monk leader said the President's comment that he was unaware of the happenings on Thursday was quite ludicrous. "For nearly four hours, the Police had been attacking the monks. And now the President is asking the Police not to deploy Riot-Control Squad to quell the student-monks' protests," Ven. Ananda thera said.

He vowed to continue the protests until the university was reopened with better hostel facilities and all the detained monks, including those arrested in Anuradhapura earlier this month, were released.
"If the president had really wanted to solve this problem, he could have done it within an hour by reopening the university and giving us an assurance," the student-monk leader said adding that they were offering an opportunity for the President to prove that he was concerned about Buddhist education in the country.

On Friday, the student-monks petitioned the Human Rights Commission complaining that the Defence Secretary and the Police chief had ordered excessive force to disperse a peaceful march of student-monks who were exercising their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Ven. Ananda Thera said a student-monk, Ven. Palamugoda Sumana-wansa Thera, was arrested in his temple and had been in remand for more than a month while 20 other student-monks had been served with arrest warrants.

The student-monk leader said the release of the monk would be one of their main demands in their renewed campaign for justice. Meanwhile, Inter-University Student Federation convenor, Upul Premaratne, setting out problems in the Colombo University and the Buddhist and Pali University said that besides their main demands, they were also calling for disciplinary action against corrupt officials.
"We have been discussing and protesting over these issues for a long time but no solution has been given. Now we want to talk to the President himself, who has said that promoting Buddhist studies is one of his priorities," Mr. Premaratne said.

Monks walking to the Human Rights Office on Friday.

Meanwhile, Police spokesperson Ranjith Gunasekara yesterday assured that in keeping with the instructions from the President, the police would not deploy the riot-control squad to disperse any student protests.

He said they would use gentle persuasion to disperse the student protesters. When asked to elaborate, SSP Gunasekera said the police would allow a few student leaders to meet the officials if the protesters agreed to disperse peacefully.

Asked what action the police would take if the gentle moves by the police did not work, the SSP said the police had been authorised to use force to maintain law and order.

Commenting on the arrest of Ven. Sumanawansa Thera, SSP Gunasekara said he had been charged with damaging state property. The police had arrested only him while other monks were evading arrest, the SSP said. The case against the monk will be taken up in courts tomorrow.


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