} Lalith Abeysinghe: February 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The ‘First’ Victim of the Executive Presidency Demands An “Official Apology” and Rs 10 Million Compensation

The ‘First’ Victim of the Executive Presidency Demands
An “Official Apology” and Rs 10 Million Compensation

I was a final year student in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Peradeniya in 1978.  Politically it was a tough and a crucial time with regard to the fate of the working class and the disadvantageous groups in particular and to the future of the country in general. Mr. J. R. Jayewardene securing a landslide victory at the Parliamentary Election in July 1977, seen preparing for a total dictatorship misusing the mandate got through the election. It was crystal-clear of the motives of JR that the whole country was ‘constitutionally’ converting to a hotbed for the benefit of the handful of rich and understandably for the agony of the poor.  
I was a member of Nava Samasamaja Party led by Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne and Vasudeva Nanayakkara and the President of Lanka Students Federation (Peradeniya University), the party’s student arm. After the first Party Congress in December 1977, it was decided to hoist Black Flags all over the country and declare 04th February as a ‘National Mourning Day’ to protest against the Bonapartist constitution, which was proposed to give massive and un-challengeable powers to the Executive President.  As a Political Science student and a responsible citizen, I was quite convinced about the agony which the country is going to face with the introduction of such a dangerous constitution. Hence I with the guidance of Dr Vickramabahu, who was a Senior Lecturer in Engineering Mathematics at the Engineering Faculty, at that time, took the leadership to organize the protest in and in the vicinity of the University.  We were hoisting Black flags and writing slogans to protest against the constitution. Incidentally, the government was preparing for the ‘National Celebration’ to introduce the new constitution and Mr. Jayewardene to take oaths as the First Executive President on the Paththirippuwa of the Sri Dalada Maligawa on the same day 04th February. 
As a new born party, though we realized the gravity of our act, which could be suicidal in a way, have to commit ourselves to alarm the entire nation of the devastating effects and the danger of the proposed constitution. While we were hoisting black flags and writing slogans on the Kandy- Gampola road, the police arrested us; Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne, the District Secretary of NSSP, Nissanka Karunathilake (who was murdered with his whole family in 1988 by JVP) and I were remanded for 14 days and then released on personal bail. However the police couldn’t frame any charges against us and subsequently we were discharged on 19 September 1978.
In the meantime, on the 1st March 1978 the University authorities took steps to cancel my studentship and on the same day Dr Vickramabahu was interdicted. We also learned that the ‘order had come from the higher authorities in Colombo’.  All the Campuses in the island went on a strike to protest against this unfair and undemocratic act of the university and, the government took steps to close down all the campuses. The student leaders who organized this protest at the Peradeniya University were also suspended indefinitely.  Communist Party student leader and social activist Sunil Shantha, Nissanka, left activist Dr Richard Perera and JVP leader Shantha Bandara (who was later killed by the armed forces), were among them.
Meanwhile the student council filed a case in the Supreme Court in my name and requested to issue a writ of certiorari nullifying the order of the University. As the Final Year examination was scheduled to be held in August, we appeal the Supreme Court to order the University to allow me to sit for the final exam.  Just before 12 days to the Final Year Exam, permission was granted to sit for the exam, though my application for the writ of certiorari was not granted.
In February 1979, the results of the Final Year Exam were released and my name was not in the ‘Pass’ list. I immediately met the then Vice Chancellor Mr. Panditharathne, and inquired whether my name is not in the ‘Pass’ list because of the suspension. He ‘arrogantly’ affirmed so.  The Degree Certificate was NOT released for 10 years and he demanded me to apologize in writing for the incident in which I participated. The ‘charges’ they originally framed were,
1.     (a) You have been fixing or have attempting to fix a black flag to a post to protest unlawfully to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka who is also the Chancellor of the University of Sri Lanka.

(b) You have been writing or attempting to write slogans unlawfully against His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka who is also the Chancellor of the University of Sri Lanka.

2.     By such acts or by causing such acts you have affected the goodwill of the University and also acted improperly as a student of this University.
(Highlighting are added)

The then Secretary to the Ministry of Education Mr. Stanly Kalpage, offered me a government job, if I apologized and obtain the Degree certificate. As all may agree with me, I turned down the offers and refused to apologize.

This unlawful unjust and undemocratic act by the University authorities has caused me a tremendous mental, physical, monitory, higher education, employment related hardships for the last 37 years. I had a discussion with Dr Arjuna Aluvihare, who became the Vice Chancellor in 1988, and asked him to release my Degree Certificate. He looked at my file and requested me to tender an apology, as the correspondents in the file indicated it. When I asked him whether a University student should apologize for participating in a very democratic act as a responsible citizen, he looked at me and said, do not apologize, but just give him a letter stating “I truly feel sorry, if any inconvenience caused by my act to the University”, which I did as I was pretty sure that participating in a very democratic act as a responsible citizen and as a student have not made any inconvenience to the University. He immediately ordered to issue my Degree Certificate and I got it within 3-4 hours. It was apparently a very simple act for the University which Prof Aluvihare performed understanding the nature of the university students and democratic and academic values.  He was regarded as a ‘pro student VC’ and thus a very respected VC at that time.

Even I got the degree certificate as a matter of a right and as a result of Dr Aluvihare’ s conviction, it didn’t have any value, as almost all the higher educational, scholarships and employment opportunities have already passed by then and by ten years.  By 1988, some of my batch-mates were in the high positions in government and private sectors and got higher educational qualifications. I say this to remind the authorities that I missed all these opportunities because of their unjust and arrogant decisions and attitudes.

This unlawful act of the University has led a student to crush to zero level academically, socially, economically and morally. We were regarded as ‘criminals’ as we were thrown out of the prestige Peradeniya University.

By now, almost all the political parties, civil society organizations, academics, the University Teachers Association and almost all the citizens have realized the ugliness of the Executive Presidency and the Constitution.  It has taken 37 years to realize this. We feel very happy about it and lucky to see the change in our own lifetime.

It is now evident, that as a student of the prestige Peradeniya University, has acted lawfully, properly and has contributed to upheld the goodwill of the University of Peradeniya, which are quite contrary to the charges leveled against me by the University in 1978.

But, we suffered a lot. My suffering is not comparable at all with the students, student’s leaders who have faced suspensions, cancelations of the studentships, been remanded and imprisoned some time face death as a result of fighting for a better society and for the rights of the others. My demand is in way to uphold their commitments as well.

Therefore, I demand two things from the University authorities.

1.     To make an ‘Official and Formal Apology’ to me stating the decisions that they took in 1978 to 1988 were wrong.  It is necessary to place this apology in my personal file in the University of Peradeniya for future reference. If not, the whole file indicates that I have acted unlawfully, improper manner and damage the goodwill of the University. This is proved otherwise by now.

2.     To pay Rs 10 million  compensation for the sufferings I went through during the last 37 years with regard to the losses of higher education opportunities, employment opportunities, financial losses and mental and physical hardships.  The amount, Rs ten million is not sufficient at all when compare to the damage the University did to me. This is reduced, understanding the fact that the present authority is not personally responsible for this particular arrogant act of the University.  But as an Office they are responsible and thus demand a ‘manageable’ amount from them.

This move is NOT ONLY to demand an Official Apology and to claim compensation from the University BUT ALSO to make the present and future University authorities and officers concern aware that they are responsible, answerable and accountable for the decisions they take. I could understand the move by Mr. Panditharathne to sack me and interdict Dr Vickramabahu, which is unlawful, undemocratic and barbaric in academic terms though, to show his political loyalty to the new government and its leader JR. But I cannot accept at all the way in which he holds my degree certificate for 10 long years demanding an apology in writing for participating and leading a very democratic act. 

We, Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne, Nissanka Karunathilake and I were the ‘First Victims’ of the Executive Presidency. JR did not hesitate to take immediate action on the same day he become the ‘First Executive President’, 04th February 1978 to crush us in order to ‘teach a lesson to all who intend to go against his will’.

I have already sent the letters to all concern and expect a just answer from them.
Lalith Abeysinghe