Protests against violence in Sri Lankan university expose government’s privatization agenda

Student leaders fear that violence in the universities is a precursor to the larger scheme of privatizing the education system in the country

January 20, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Students at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka have been protesting violence within the university.

Students of Sri Lanka’s University of Colombo are up in arms against the university management after a video circulated on social media showing a student being severely beaten up by a group inside the campus premises, on January 15. Following this attack which took place in a suburb of the capital, twelve students were arrested by the state police and presented before the Colombo Chief Magistrate. They were later released on bail. As per the Colombo National Hospital officials, the injured student has been discharged. 

Protesting students claim that they are feeling intimidated by the growing number of confrontations inside the varsity and have demanded strict action against those who carry out violent acts against students. Prior to the student protests over this latest attack, complaints of intimidation and harassment have been raised repeatedly by the student union, but the management has not taken measures to curb such incidents. 

Progressive student groups, including the left-leaning Frontline Socialist Party, have undertaken initiatives to strengthen student resistance, to form a united front against the university system and fight for the issues students continue to face inside universities.  This includes the current Sri Lankan government’s plans of privatizing the education system in the country, which will also result in the disbanding of the student unions.  

According to Duminda Nagmuwa, a member of the Frontline Socialist Party, the confrontation between students appears to be more than just a ragging issue. “The Inter University Student Federation has taken a revolutionary stance to bust certain political ideologies and therefore it is being portrayed as an unethical body. Ragging is one example of a primitive culture that we live in. However, this government has stated that it will move into the privatization of the education system as a means of attacking the union. But we are well aware of how they get hold of Chief justices, senior lawyers and have created a mess among the Executive and the Legislature. This is a power struggle,” he told the Daily Mirror, last week. 

Last week, students affiliated with the Inter-University Students Federation had gathered outside the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo, demanding an increase in the Mahapola Scholarship Fund. However, the protest had ended peacefully after they were given assurances by the officials of the Ministry of Higher Education that their demands will be fulfilled.