The Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) is the latest in a long line of colleges to join the ongoing students’ protest against Sri Lankan war crimes.
The agitation has now spread to dozens of colleges in nearly 20 districts across the State.
The IIT-M campus, usually known to be politically inactive, was bustling on Sunday, as 69 students began a fast under a shamiana. In the evening, the students joined with over 100 others and held a rally and gave talks to create awareness about the war crimes and atrocities committed against Sri Lankan Tamils recently.
Som Prakash Singh, an MLA from Bihar addressed the students, telling them that it was only recently during Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Bihar that the people there began hearing about the killings and atrocities committed.
“At least 40 of the fasting students are from north India. We are fasting to say that this is not a Sri Lankan or a Tamil issue alone,” said Eeveera, an engineering student.
Posters, explaining the history of conflict in seven different languages, dotted the campus. “We even have a poster in Tulu as many of us come from there. Our point was to highlight the issue and spread awareness to as many people as possible,” said Eeveera.
The students also organised a panel discussion in which political experts and analysts talked about several issues relating to Sri Lanka and India.
“IIT-M has students from many states. We are trying to scale up the State-wide protest to the national level in the hope that the Central government will take note and break its silence on this issue,” said Raj Mohan, a researcher at the institute.
Students from Presidency College as well as social activists also arrived at the college. The students said said it was entirely their initiative, free of influences from political parties. The students had been given the go-ahead by the IIT-M administration.
“It is just a day-long fast and we are sure classes will not be disrupted tomorrow. This will help awaken the political consciousness of the student population in IIT. We are sure the other IITs will soon follow suit,” said A. Srinivasan, another student.
Political analysts say it has been quite a while since students in Tamil Nadu took to the streets to register their dissent.
V. Krishna Ananth, a political historian, said, “In the 1980s, students protested against the Sri Lankan genocide. But those protests were different from what is happening now. This time, the students represent a cross-section of academia. Students from almost all colleges are involved.”
More protests are anticipated. While officials at Anna University have been issuing notices to students to stay away, members of the Student Movement Against Genocide and Student Struggle Committee for Tamil Eelam say their ranks are swelling.
“Students from nearly 17 city colleges are coming together to protest against Sri Lankan war crimes outside the Governor’s house on Monday. College managements and police officers have been trying to break the movement but we won’t let that happen,” said Dhiviya, coordinator, Student Struggle Committee for Tamil Eelam.
Nityanand Jayaraman, a city-based activist, added: “Students are harbingers of change. Governments have been mortally scared of people voicing their opinions, so they have always taken pre-emptive measures such as closing colleges. The students have asserted their rights, and shown that they are here to lead.”