Kelaniya clash: Dispute over who attacked whom

  • Students say attacks were politically motivated; area residents not involved
  • Residents say youth went on rampage but can’t confirm whether Uni students
  • Boarding house landlords warned not to give lodging to students
By Yasasmin Kaviratne, Pix by Athula Devapriya

As tension gripped the Kelaniya and Dalugama areas in what appeared to be clashes between residents and students of the Kelaniya university, evidence is emerging of the possible involvement of an outside group, instigating violence.As a consequence to the mini battles, students boarded in the vicinity of the campus now risk losing their places of lodging as owners have reportedly been warned about accommodating students.

Although the Acting Vice Chancellor Sarath Amunugama is optimistic that the crisis would soon be resolved and classes could be resumed following the campus closure on Thursday (See box story) students fear that they would come under attack again .

According to Anuja Kahandawarachchi, President of the Kelaniya University Students’ Union the incident began with a group of thugs assaulting the students of the Aesthetic University who had come over to lend a hand to assist Kelaniya University students with their preparations for the “Bihidora Abiyasa” cultural festival.

“A group of thugs attacked these students on Tuesday night and the next day around 9 a.m. thugs in three bikes came to the University and assaulted a student and threatened us.

“They were not local residents. We know them and we don’t have any problems with them,” he added.
Anuja said that same afternoon, around 3.30 p.m., some thugs came and damaged property and disrupted a function that was proceeding. They had once again assaulted some undergraduates. “On Thursday, again around 9 a.m. a gang came into the university and burnt the Pandal we had put up for the “Bihidora Abiyasa”. We know that area residents would not do anything like that. These attacks were politically motivated. Minister Mervyn Silva also made an appearence when the thugs were throwing stones at the university and encouraged them,” he charged.

Denying claims by some area folk that a group of university students had damaged their property Anuja said if any property was damaged, that would have happened inadvertently when scuffles broke out after the pandal was burnt.

“That’s when the students started to get agitated, when thugs started throwing stones. The students didn’t damage any property,” he said.

He charged that when students were sent in buses after the incident they were attacked all the way to Peliyagoda, from the University. Buses plying towards Kandy direction with students were attacked in Kiribathgoda, Kadawatha and Nittambuwa and students who were taken to Fort too were attacked at Armour Street. “If this was done by the area residents, how could they be so organised to attack the students all the way from Pettah to Nittambuwa”, he asked.

He charged that a 4th year undergraduate was injured when stones were thrown at a group of students in Fort and another first year girl was hospitalised when a piece of glass cut her head.

“It seemed that the thugs and the police were hand- in-glove,” he said. Meanwhile Inter University Students’ Federation Convenor Udul Premaratne said it was obvious that a politician’s henchmen were behind the attack, since the residents would never throw stones at the university with policemen standing right next to them.

A student being hauled away by an attacker.
Police trying to break up a scuffle
Guess who’s at the scene: None other than Mervyn Silva
A student tries to take cover as attackers approach him.

“There are a lot of university activities going on this week. They would have no reason to create havoc and close the University. They got angry because the pandal they built spending thousands of rupees was burnt by some thugs.

However, villagers claim that the students went on the rampage in the vicinity of the university. A resident who did not want to be identified said she saw some boys entering a house and breaking the windscreen of a three-wheeler parked in that garden calling out for the thugs to come out, if there were any. “Then they broke the glass of a communication centre and an internet cafe and went back,” she said.

Another resident K.D. Janet said she had just opened the gate to throw the garbage and as soon as she entered the house, some students entered through the gate and started damaging the three-wheeler. “We don’t have anything personal against the University students. This is the result of some other problem”, she said.

Some local residents said on the 10th night a group of students damaged vehicles on the road and assaulted young men of the village. However, none of them have been able to confirm that those involved in the attack were university students. They only know that they were youth. The Sunday Times learns that some leading residents believe that the attacks were by university students.

When the fighting broke out many students got trapped inside the University premises, unable to leave the premises with gangs armed with clubs trying to attack and police firing teargas at the students.

A third year student of the University said she saw people running into the departments but they were neither university students or members of the staff of the university. “They were outsiders armed with stones and clubs. The students then tried to protect the university property. I don’t think they were from the area. The knives they had in their hands were not ones that one normally sees in a house”, she added.

A final year student of the university said that the university was surrounded from all sides and they were trapped inside.

“We were innocent. We didn’t do anything. But we were the ones who got assaulted when we were taken out from the University in buses. I saw a youth throwing a stone at me. We had the shutters closed and that saved my life. The shutter broke. The only thing I remembered was the face of my mother and I shut my eyes tightly and waited for whatever happens,” she said.

She further said that when the buses were taken to the police station they didn’t attend to the injured students.

Many of the students have been asked to leave the boarding houses due to threats from gangsters. A student said a group of about eight people armed with clubs had threatened the owners.

“We were not in the boarding houses when the scuffle broke out, but when we were on the way to the boarding house guys in bikes shouted at us. I got to know that they were planning to come to check whether there were students in the boarding houses. So, we left as soon as possible,” he said adding that later when he checked with the owner of his boarding house, he was told that masked men had come in search of them and had warned they would come again.

The Sunday Times learns shop owners, three-wheeler drivers as well as house owners of the area were threatened not to assist any university student.

No politician behind the clashes, says VC

The Kelaniya Universitys Acting Vice Chancellor Sarath Amunugama dismissed the claim that politicians are behind this week’s clash between students and residents.

“It is a minor incident between a few students and area residents . But it had developed into a major clash between the two parties because they resorted to fisticuffs to sort it out,” he said.

“When the riot started, our priority became the safety of the students. True, they were attacked while being transported to safety but things would have been worse if they had been kept inside,” he said.
The Acting VC was also thankful to the police, especially to the Deputy Inspector General who personally took charge of the task to bring the situation under control.

Asked how many students were wounded in the clashes, Prof. Amunugama said officially he was not informed of the number of students hospitalized but six students were treated at the Medical Centre of the University on Thursday.

He said that normality was slowly being restored in the university and he planned to resume academic activities as soon as possible. “But we are not in a hurry. First of all, we have to make sure that there is a safe environment to open the university,” he said.

Prof. Amunugama said area folk were not against the university since they did not harm lecturers or other university employees or damage university property. “They were against the student community. It’s true that not all the students were involved in the incident. But when tempers flare, every student is seen as a bad student,” he said.

Prof. Amunugama said he was working on a plan to bring about a better understanding between the two parties. He said there was a symbiotic relationship between the university and the residents and solving this dispute would be beneficial for both parties. “The villagers earn money by providing accommodation and food to students. So, the university plays a major role in their economy,” he said.

“Most students are in fear and panic. They had nothing to do with the problem. So, we hope at the end of all our attempts to build up understanding between the local residents and the students, there won’t be any problems like this again,” Prof. Amunugama said.

This was the first clash between the residents and the students in 31 years. In 1978, an area resident was assaulted and killed within the university premises when they had entered university to attack the students.

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