Statement of protest against treatment of Swasthika Arulingam



It is with perplexity and disappointment we state our protest against the way Ms. Swasthika Arulingam, Attorney-at-+law, was recently turned away from a lecture she was scheduled to deliver at the University of Jaffna. Ms. Arulingam, a human rights lawyer has championed the cause of justice in a wide array of cases and has stood by so many who had been denied justice: she has fought for the independence of the judiciary and for justice for all people; she has stood against state repression and has stood by women, minorities and other marginalised persons.

At a recent event in Colombo, Ms. Arulingam had, among many other pronouncements on the cause of justice and repressive laws, characterised the LTTE as a fascist organisation. This one remark, an aside in her speech at this unrelated event, had earned the ire of the student union of Jaffna University.

Subsequently, when the Department of Law, University of Jaffna had invited her to deliver a lecture ironically on judicial independence in a time of crisis, on the 31st of October, 2023, certain sections of the student population, including the Student Union, had railed against the conduct of the event. They had forced the Dean and University authorities to cancel the lecture, with threats of gheraos and barricades, barring her entry into and exit from the venue. The University authorities had caved in to this pressure, and had suggested a change of venue, outside the university, which Ms. Arulingam had quite rightly said no to.

Violence in our universities needs to be checked and countered with greater openness and discussion. Universities are places for the exchange of ideas. They are considered the crucibles of new ideas and change. Developments such as these further undermine the history of the university as a space of freedom, a space where one can dissent without fear of retribution, essential for the flourishing of criticality. There is no place for violence and acts of intimidation in our universities. To condone censorship in such a space is a violation of this spirit.

It severely compromises the substantive mandate of the university. There is, in addition, a subtle rhetoric around Ms. Arulingam’s being an ‘outsider’ who was invited ‘in’ for a talk, who therefore should have abided by the tacit rules in place. We find this attitude objectionable, because we should not subscribe to the gatekeeping of ideas nor any form of insularity in our thinking. On the contrary, universities should facilitate the open exchange of ideas, in and across the many spheres of our civil and political lives.

It is ironic that the incident takes place at a time when university students themselves are facing severe repression from dominant state forces. In such a context, it is all the more disheartening to see that students, particularly student unions who have a certain amount of political clout and power within university spaces, engage in willful suppression of views opposed to theirs.

This attitude is visible in ragging as well as in other instances of dissent, such as in this case. The fact that student politics increasingly mirror that on the national level, in spirit and in strategy, signals a dangerous trend of intolerance coming to define life at all levels of society. In this extremely trying time of a severe economic crisis, repressive laws that undo protection for the ordinary people, and a resurgence of majoritarian chauvinism in many areas of policy and populist appeal, the space for independent thinking needs to be kept alive and fought for with vigour.

The incident at Jaffna University is a wake-up call to all of us in the university system, to jealously guard the space for independent thinking and push this ethic to the utmost. We therefore call on all in the university system – academics, students, administrators – to urgently commit to ensuring that the university remains a space of freedom, criticality, and mutual respect. We call on the University of Jaffna and all other state universities to cherish and promote these principles. In this spirit, we call on the Department of Law, University of Jaffna to re-invite Ms. Arulingam to deliver her lecture, in an affirmation of the values of freedom of expression and respect for different viewpoints that she has consistently fought for.

Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Ranil Abayasekara, formerly University of Peradeniya

Liyanage Amarakeerthi, University of Peradeniya

Dewmini Amunugama, University of Peradeniya

Fazeeha Azmi, M. I., University of Peradeniya

Crystal Baines, formerly University of Colombo

Imani Bakmeedeniya, University of Peradeniya

Dhanuka Bandara, University of Peradeniya

Shyama Banneheka, University of Peradeniya

Ann Conrad, University of Peradeniya

Suresh de Mel, University of Peradeniya

Erandika de Silva, formerly University of Jaffna

Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, University of Colombo

Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya

Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa

Pavithra Ekanayake, University of Peradeniya

Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo

Amna Frouz, University of Peradeniya

G D U P K Gamage, University of Peradeniya

Ruwani Gamalath, University of Peradeniya

Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya

Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo

S. T. Hettige, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo

Tracy Holsinger, formerly Open University of Sri Lanka.

Ishafa Illiyas, University of Peradeniya

Kaushalya Jayasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Prabath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo

Jennifer Edama, University of Peradeniya

Jeyaratnam Jeyadevan, University of Jaffna

Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna

Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya

Madhara Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya

Chulani Kodikara, formerly University of Colombo, Visiting Lecturer

Manikya Kodithuwakku, Open University of Sri Lanka

Yasas Kulasekara, University of Peradeniya

Supoorna Kulatunga, University of Peradeniya

N. Savitri Kumar, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya

Vijaya Kumar Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Rohan Laksiri, University of Ruhuna

A. H. Lareena, Sabaragamuwa University

Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya

Saumya Liyanage, University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo

K. W. S. I. Madumali, University of Peradeniya

Lahiruka Madhuwanthi, University of Peradeniya

Sudesh Mantillake, University of Peradeniya

Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya

Sitralega Maunaguru, formerly Professor at Eastern University Sri Lanka

Dushyanthi Mendis, University of Colombo

R. Morel, University of Peradeniya

Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo

M. A. Nuhman, Retired Professor, University of Peradeniya

Gananath Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

Ranjini Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

Buddhima Padmasiri, Open University of Sri Lanka

Sasinindu Patabendige, formerly University of Jaffna

Hasitha Pathirana, University of Kelaniya

Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo

Ruhanie Perera, University of Colombo

Hasitha Perera, University of Jaffna

Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo

Nicola Perera, University of Colombo

Sasanka Perera, Formerly Professor, University of Colombo

Rupika Rajakaruna, University of Peradeniya

Udara Rajapaksha, University of Peradeniya

Dileeshiya Rajarathna, University of Peradeniya

Muthumini Rajasooriya, University of Peradeniya

Harshana Rambukwella, formerly Open University of Sri Lanka

Udayana Ranatunga, University of Peradeniya

Madushani Randeniya, University of Peradeniya

Bhathiya Rathnayake, University of Peradeniya

Sajitha Ratnayake, University of Peradeniya

Gameela Samarasinghe, University of Colombo

T. Sanathanan, University of Jaffna

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, University of Jaffna

Dr Asanka P. Sayakkara, University of Colombo

Kalana Senaratne, Dept. of Law, University of Peradeniya

Hiniduma Sunil Senevi, Sabaragamuwa University

Poornima Senaweera, University of Peradeniya

Tudor Silva, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Krishan Siriwardhana, University of Colombo

Sahani Situbandara, University of Peradeniya

H. Sriyananda, formerly Open University of Sri Lanka

Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya

Ruth Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

Vasanthi Thevansan, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly University of Kelaniya

Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna

Ramila Usoof, University of Peradeniya

Jayadeva Uyangoda, Emeritus Professor University of Colombo

Vivimarie VanderPoorten, Open University of Sri Lanka

Selvaraj Vishvika, University of Peradeniya

Chamini Weerasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo

Carmen Wickramagamage,University of Peradeniya

Kumudu Wickramathilaka, University of Peradeniya

Ranjit Wijekoon, formerly University of Peradeniya

Shalini Wijerathna, University of Peradeniya

Shermal Wijewardene, University of Colombo