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From T. D. S. A. Dissanayake's 'War or Peace...' - University entrance: standardisation suicidal

Today we conclude our serialisation of Chapter I "Sri Lanka: What Went Wrong?" of the forthcoming book "War or Peace in Sri Lanka" (Volume IV) written by the well known author T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka. It will be printed simultaneously in Colombo and New Delhi in October 2003.

In perusing through the manuscript we observed the following inscription on one of the preambular pages:

"All financial benefits accruing to me from this Volume are hereby donated to The Rotary Foundation.

In 1965, when my father was a prisoner at The Magazine Jail, Colombo, as a ring leader in the abortive coup d'etat of 1962, The Rotary Foundation awarded me a splendid scholarship tenable in the United States, which ultimately culminated at Harvard University.

I have never forgotten such magnanimity and never will."


At the General Election of 1970 Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was swept into power by a massive landslide. The coalition of SLFP-LSSP-Community Party won 117 seats in a Parliament of 160 thus securing a two-thirds majority, a pre-requisite to change the Soulbury Constitution. Very wisely the Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike set up a Constituent Assembly to effect Constitutional changes within two years. By the same token Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike very unwisely embarked on a suicidal policy of standardising marks to enter our Universities.

The tiny Jaffna peninsula has a population of approximately 50% of all Ceylon Tamils, based on the Census of 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931, 1946, 1953, 1961, 1971 and 1981.

By virtue of these Census the Jaffna peninsula has by far the highest density of population in the entire island. On the other hand the Jaffna peninsula has an inhospitable soil and has a very low rainfall. There are no rivers anywhere near the Jaffna peninsula. The water table is high but is contaminated with sea water.

Thus even in the modern world, tube well irrigation is not possible.

Besides in the Jaffna peninsula there is no industrial base and no prospect for oil. In view of these constraints since the nineteenth century parents have invested heavily in education and thereafter employment in the salubrious Sinhalese speaking areas. It is largely a matter of opinion whether the school network in the District of Jaffna or the District of Colombo was better organised.

For example the prestige schools in Jaffna, St. John's College, Chundikuli and Jaffna College, Vaddukodai, earlier called the Vatticotta Seminary, were established in 1823 as against the prestige schools in Colombo, Royal College (1835) and S. Thomas' College (1851). The Uduvil Girls School, complete with a hostel was set up in 1824. The Catholic school St. Patrick's College, Jaffna was set up in 1856 as against St. Benedict's College, Kotahena (1865) and St. Joseph's College, Colombo (1896).

The Methodist schools, Jaffna Central College and Hartley College, Point Pedro were established in 1816 and 1853 respectively as against Wesley College, Colombo in 1874. Likewise the Church Missionary Society of London set up Bishop's College in 1875, the Chundikuli Girls' School in 1896 and Ladies' College, Colombo in 1900. The Catholic nuns set up Holy Family Convent, Jaffna in 1861 and Holy Family Convent, Colombo in 1903.

When the Colombo Medical College was set up in 1872 approximately half the students were from Jaffna. When the Technical College was established in 1902 and the Colombo University College in 1921 approximately half the students were from Jaffna. This produced some tantalising results. For example according to our Census of 1971, 72.6% of our population were Sinhalese and 11.8% were Sri Lanka Tamils whereas the breakdown in the well known professions were as follows:

These figures reveal to what extent the Tamil community was oriented towards the well established professions for at least two generations and not due to any favouritism as perceived by some Sinhalese. However since 1965 when the GCE (Advanced Level) examinations for even Science subjects, e.g. Botany, Chemistry, Physics et cetera were conducted not in English but in Sinhala and Tamil, there were ugly rumours that Tamil students were favoured by Tamil examiners, who were basically University lecturers.

The Government was obliged to inquire into these allegations resulting in one Professor being compelled to resign. Against this unsavoury background, the newly elected Sirima Bandaranaike Administration bemoaned that there were too many Tamil students and too few Sinhalese students in our Universities, namely:

University of Colombo
University of Peradeniya
University of Kelaniya
University of Jayawardenapura
University of Moratuwa.

Admission to our Universities was then strictly on marks, with the interview helping those who were borderline cases but had shone in sports and other extra curricular activities. For example in 1964 Chandrika Bandaranaike, the daughter of the incumbent Prime Minister, sought admission to the Faculty of Science of the University of Ceylon and failed in her examination.

She was clearly University material by virtue of her grades at St. Bridget's Convent. Therefore in 1965 she entered the private University, The Aquinas University College run by the Roman Catholics, and in 1967 she left for France to pursue University education on a scholarship awarded by the Government of France. In fairness to her it must be stated that she was not the daughter of the Prime Minister of Ceylon when she was awarded this scholarship.

The remedial action the Sirima Bandaranaike Administration should have taken in 1970 was to set up within five years a University in Jaffna complete with a Faculty of Medicine and a Faculty of Engineering. Then there would be more vacancies for Sinhalese undergraduates in the already existing Universities in and around our major population centres, namely Colombo, Kandy and Moratuwa. Instead the Government immediately opted for the standardising of marks, giving a high cut off point for schools in the Districts of Colombo and Jaffna, on the premise that these two Districts had the best educational schools in the nation. The new policy was not even listed in their Election manifesto earlier in 1970.

The youth in the District of Jaffna were outraged and rebelled against the Government. By the end of 1970 a Tamil Youth Front led by Ponnadurai Sathyaseelan was established to fight for their rights. In 1971 it became the more sophisticated and armed Tamil New Tigers (TNT) led by Chetti Thanabalasingham, which caused havoc in the Jaffna peninsula. In the power struggle within the TNT, Velupillai Prabhakaran liquidated all his rivals including Thanabalasingham and set up the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1975. Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike set up a Jaffna Campus of the University of Sri Lanka in 1974 initially with a Faculty of Arts and a Faculty of Science. That could not contain the rebellion by the youth in Jaffna, led by the LTTE.

In 1973 while writing "Dudley Senanayake of Sri Lanka" I interviewed S. J. V. Chelvanayakam several times. He repeatedly told me:

"Jungle, please put this in your words.

"I am losing my struggle for Federalism because of Bandaranaike, his widow and J. R. Jayewardene (then Leader of the Opposition), I have always told you that if I fail, then the Tamil people will ask for not Federalism but separatism.'

Can you see what the militant Tamil youth are doing? Whereas I advocated peaceful methods such as satyagraha and hartals, they advocate violence."

In 1975 the LTTE assassinated Mayor Alfred Duraiappah of Jaffna who belonged to the ruling SLFP. According to the LTTE the Mayor was a traitor and therefore Velupillai Prabhakaran himself assassinated him. Thus began the ascendancy of the LTTE. (End of serial)

Next week: Addendum 'The Muslim factor'

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