Inter University Students' Federation
IUSF comprises student unions representing four main universities in Sri Lanka. They are University of Peradeniya, University of Kelaniya, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and University of Ruhuna. Several student unions from other universities also come under the IUSF. The sole official of the union is known as the convener. Convener carries out all administrative and legal work on behalf of the union. Inter University Bhikku Federation is an affiliated organization to IUSF.
||This section possibly contains original research. (February 2014)|
As neo liberal reforms were initiated in Sri Lanka in 1977 under the guise of introducing an ‘open economy’, the student movement in Sri Lanka emerged as a key battle force which represented the dissent towards the reforms. Inter University Students’ Federation was formed in 1978, with a formation of a leftist mass movement and Shantha Bandara, a student in the science faculty of University of Peradeniya, was elected as its first convener.
Before the establishment of IUSF, Lanka National Students' Union, which was affiliated to the traditional ‘‘old’’ left (represented by two major left parties at the time – Lanka Sama Samaja Party and Communist Party), was the leading force within the student movement. Leadership of the traditional left got discredited as it entered in to a coalition with the Bourgeoisie Capitalist parties betraying their initial cause. This was one objective factors which constructed the atmosphere for the emergence of IUSF. In 1977, United National Party got elected in to office with an extra ordinary majority power in the legislature and with the aid of that majority it began enforcing neo liberal reforms in an arbitrary manner. These circumstances set out the objective conditions for the formation of a militant mass movement, which can gather all forces against the on going neo liberalization.
Although an oppressive political atmosphere which brought the entire society in to a passive silence reigned at that time IUSF through its activism began attracting a wide layer of social support. J.R. Jayawardhana regime decide to cut food subsides provided to families with a low income in 1978 and in a context which the opposition was liquidated in front of state suppression it was the IUSF which took the leading role of the struggle against the cuts. Though the anti cuts campaign did not achieve its objective, it successfully generated a significant amount of resistance towards the cuts. Government reacted to the movement in an oppressive manner. Eight students, including IUSF convenor Shantha Bandara, were expelled from their universities and their studentship got suspended for life. IUSF was not ready to turn back no matter how powerful the suppression was.
With carrying an authoritative constitution in their hands, the ruling elite, taking the advantage of a weakened opposition rapidly began implementing neo liberal reforms in the late 1970s. Free education system which was established during the pre neo liberal - State monopoly capitalist phase now came under attack. The offensive struggle fought in the previous era in order to widen education opportunities now took an defensive formation in to a struggle to defend free education. In a global atmosphere, where privatization of education was in progress in many other countries, thousands of young students’ lives were to be sacrificed in Sri Lanka to defend the right to free education in the upcoming period. The 1980s marked the dawn of that period. In July 1980, Sri Lankan working class launched a militant strike action demanding a wage increase of 10 rupees in a condition where inflation was high. Government refused the demand. A repression took place against working class organisations. 144,000 workers got expelled from their jobs. In a repressive manner the government crushed the trade union movement which used to be one of the strongest trade union movements in South Asia. This defeat appeared as a warning sign for other militant forces in the country and it implied the complexity and difficulty in confronting governments’ authoritative policies. From the government's perspective, the defeat of trade union movement made neo liberalization easier. Structural reforms began in the education sector with the so-called “ White paper on education” which was introduced as a proposal in 1981. Lowering the compulsory education boundary from grade 10 to 8, establishing a semi-public school system funded by students’ school fees, making English as the main language of instruction in science and mathematics streams in the advance level sphere were some significant proposals laid out in the white paper. Deterioration in quality of public education and encouragement of private education were inevitable if these reforms were to be implemented. This white paper was due to be approved by the legislature in January 1982. The student movement succeeded in organizing a massive resistance against these reforms. Over 20 000 students and masses occupied the outer space of the parliament building in protest. Security forces attacked the protest and as a result of the brutal attack 8 students got permanently paralyzed while hundreds got injured. But the widespread protests compelled the government to withdraw the proposals. A government which crushed the trade union movement, was compelled to take its step back in front of the militancy of the student movement. But the government didn't withdraw its reforms permanently. State-sponsored ethnic riots occurred in 1983, and the regime used it as an opportunity to ban political parties, trade unions and other mass organizations. Students' councils with in universities were banned. But students' militancy began growing continuously. To confront resistance government decided to establish police stations with in university premises. In June 1984 When it established a police station in University of Peradeniya hundreds of students came out in protest. Comrade Padmasiri Abeysekara got killed in a police shooting during these protests. When students in university of Colombo launched a protest campaign in opposition of the police brutality, another student, Rohana Rathnayaka, was killed by the riot police.
1985 became a landmark year to the student movement, giving birth to the struggle against the private medical college of Colombo North, established in 1981. This protracted struggle had to be fought until 1988. 129 students, including Padmasiri Thrimavithana and Venura Edirisinghe were martyred during this struggle. As a consequence of students’ opposition the government finally was compelled to nationalize the private medical college in 1988. This protracted struggle by no means was a struggle which limited its scope to the problems in the education sector. At that time it was a symbol which reflected the mass anger towards the arbitrary conduct of the State. Thus it represented the hope and aspiration for a just society.
Meanwhile in May 1987 the government decided to ban the May Day celebrations. At that point, there was neither a strong workers’ movement nor strong opposition to combat this repressive measures. Student movement took the initiative of challenging the government anti may day resolutions and organized a May day celebration defying state restrictions. This celebration was attacked by the state forces and Kithsiri Mevan Ranawaka of Jaywardhanapura University got killed in a police shooting. In 1987 the Indo-Lanka accord was signed. Widespread protests occurred against the Indian occupation and the student movement actively took part in these protests. In its part this was not just a struggle against the Indian occupation for the student movement, but was a part of a wider struggle for a just and an equitable society. With aligning itself with other organizations it created the Patriotic Students’ Movement. Protests broke out in the day which the Indo-lanka accord was signed and as a result of military shootings comrade Nimal Liyanage and Clifford Perera were killed. Another key leader of this movement, S.M. Nishmi, was murdered during the campaign and hundreds of other student activists faced the same fate.
By the dawn of the 1990s, 11 conveners of the IUSF were among the dead. Over 627 university students were either murdered or disappeared. It is estimated that over 5000 school students got killed. During this white terror, over 60,000 young people were reported having been killed. By 1992, the entire students movement had came to a standstill.
But that setback was temporary. In the mid-1990s, the student movement marked its re-emergence. School development board Act (1993) and Jayathillaka committee report (1997) were two significant attempts which made targeting commercialization and privatization of education. In both occasions student movement initiated in organizing widespread resistance which combined the opposition of Students, parents and masses against the reforms.
This re emergence paved the way to a new wave of suppression. The “ Anti ragging act” was passed by the legislature with the combined votes of both government and opposition bourgeoisie parties. Under the guise of eliminating “ragging" (an equivalent practice to which is known as “hazing” in US), the government aimed setting up a legal framework to suppress students' activism. This act was passed in a context which the Supreme court has declared that 9 sentences out of 17 sentences in the act were incompatible with fundamental human rights.
In 2001 another attempt was made to establish private universities. Over 10 000 students came out in protests. This militant resistance compelled the ruling elite to with draw its attempt. Further attempts of privatization proposed by “regaining Sri Lanka” programme (2002-2004) and Thara – Harald report (2005) were defeated by the student movement.
Mahinda Rajapaksha was elected to office in 2005 and under his regime attempts of privatization continued. In 2009 the civil war which lasted for 30 years came to an end. This increased the nationalist popularity of the regime among Sinhalese masses and it resulted in accumulation of massive political power in the hands of the regime. This power was used to accelerate neo liberal reforms. Commercialization of education was encouraged and in order to achieve it establishing private education institutes were encouraged. Even with in public schools and universities the regime attempted in commercializing education by introducing education fees. These unpopular reforms were met by students’ resistance. The state introduced new repressive methods. A compulsory military training was introduced for the new entrants of universities. Using the military to train university students was done with the clear intention of transforming the consciousness of the new entrants to a subordinate position to the state. Principles of schools were also required to go through a military training. This brought a new dimension of suppression i.e. militarization of education institutes. State intelligence unit officers were sent to universities as students to spy on student activists. Security systems of universities were brought under the ministry of defense. Today this suppression has taken the form of brutal para military attacks, abductions and even murder. This new methods of suppression openly came in to existence in 2009 and dozens of student activists got expelled from universities. With the estimation that it has successfully weakened the student Movement, the government in 2011 introduced the “ private universities act” which aimed setting up a permanent legal body to legitimize private universities. But massive protests spread rapidly literally in each and every university in the country and protest marches, pickets and various other protest activities took place with the participation of thousands of students. In 2012 a massive anti privatization protest march was organized from Kandy to Colombo. During its organizational work two student activists – Comrade Janaka Ekanayaka and Sisitha Priyankara were assassinated by the state and it officially claimed that it was a “road accident”. In this moment the state is in an offensive against the Student movement and through official and non official means it tries to eliminate students’ resistance. This suppression is interwoven with the neo liberal policies of the government. But the students' movement is not ready to turn back and give up its battle due to this repression and in its resistance against the neo liberal offensive it is willing to carry on the struggle with the widest domestic and international solidarity of progressive forces.
Protests and campaigns
First campaign of the union was against the revoking of rice welfare given to people who suffered from poverty. Then it conducted similar protests against the infamous "White Paper on Education" in 1981, prohibition of May day and plans to set up North Colombo Medical College in the early 1980s. Due to these protests, it was prohibited in 1984. The ban was lifted few years later. IUSF states its mission is ..to save free education and [act] against the privatization of education that turns education in to a commodity. In recent times, most of its campaigns were against the plans to set up private higher educational institutions on the grounds of destroying free education which existed in the country since 1 October 1945. It claims that it is the front in saving free education and academic and welfare matters in education.
- Shantha Bandara - Founding leader and the first convener of IUSF. Drop-out of University of Peradeniya and a prominent leader of JVP. Involved in the unsuccessful JVP insurrection during 1987-1989. Killed in January 1990.
- Sunil Handunnetti - Former convener of the IUSF, member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, member of the central committee of JVP and contested the 2010 Sri Lanka Parliamentary elections under the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), which is led by former army chief Sarath Fonseka and was re-elected to Parliament from the Colombo District.
- Ranjitham Gunaratnam - Former convener of the IUSF and a drop out of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya. He was the leader of the Peradeniya AC (Action Committee) in 1985, a JVP Central Committee Member and its Kurunegala District leader. Gunaratnam was abducted in December 1989, detained, tortured and killed at Wehera, Kurunegala. Corrections required here: Ranjtham Gunaratnam was not the leader of Peradeniya AC in 1985. The leader (we called the position as convener) of Peradeniya AC in 1985 was Gunapala Gajanayake, a student from the Faculty of Engineering. He was not a member of the JVP or its student arm, Samajavadee Sishya Sangamaya (Socialist Student Union) like Ranjitham.
- Ravindra Mudalige - Former convener of the IUSF.
- Chameera Koswatta - Former convener of the IUSF, JVP Chief Ministerial candidate for Sabaragamuwa Province at the provincial elections 2008.
- Duminda Nagamuwa - Former convener of the IUSF (May 2004 to February 2008), drop-out of the Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya and JVP Chief Ministerial candidate for Western Province at the provincial elections 2009.
- Udul Premaratne - Former convener of the IUSF (February 2008 to January 2011), drop-out of the Faculty of Dental Sciences, University of Peradeniya.
- Sanjeewa Bandara - Former convener of the IUSF. A student of University of Ruhuna.
- Najith Indika - Present convener of the IUSF. A student of Colombo University Medical Faculty 
Conduct of the student union has drawn much criticism in media and university administrations. As a result, University of Jaffna banned IUSF from entering to the university premises in June 2010. Previously, University of Colombo and University of Moratuwa have taken steps to ban the student group from the university. IUSF has been accused of the murder of Samantha Vithanage, a third year Management student of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, who pioneered an anti-ragging campaign in the university.
IUSF admits that it uses strikes as the primary method to meet their demands as it sees no other plausible way. This has raised number of issues regarding the student discipline. Boycotting lectures has caused delays in student graduation time and cancellation of studentships in number of occasions.
IUSF is also criticized for not being able to take necessary action to prevent ragging in Sri Lankan universities. Instead, rival groups such as International Students for Social Equality have suggested that IUSF uses ragging as a means of attracting a following among more backward students. At the beginning, ragging served as a social equalizer in the universities. But with the emergence of JVP-backed student unions such as IUSF, ragging has served primarily to ensure the continuing domination of JVP political power within the universities, academics suggest.
Violence inside universities has steadily increased due to political intolerance. IUSF has been accused for obstructing and engineering clashes with rival political groups inside universities. In 2009, Prof. Nalin de Silva - Dean of the faculty of Science at the University of Kelaniya - complained that pro-JVP IUSF students have threatened him with death for not agreeing to their political ideologies.
Picketing is another form of protest employed by IUSF to meet their demands by forcing the government. The purpose of most of those protests refer to the protection of "Free Education System" and protecting the student rights. Picketings around Lipton Circus, Maradana and the country's busiest urbs has become common in the recent times. These picketings usually cause traffic jams and chaos in the city with police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse the gathering. This has resulted in public inconvenience.
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