A comment by one of our readers in another thread prompted us to bring this sensitive issue for discussion.
This input (text and cartoon) is from Tamilnation.org is just to start the discussion. We not necessarily endorse it or otherwise.
“Everyone has the right to education… higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit” – Article 26.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“In 1971, a system of standardisation of marks was introduced for admissions to the universities, obviously directed against Tamil-medium students (referred to earlier). K.M. de Silva describes it as follows:
‘The qualifying mark for admission to the medical faculties was 250 (out of 400) for Tamil students, whereas it was only 229 for the Sinhalese. Worse still, this same pattern of a lower qualifying mark applied even when Sinhalese and Tamil students sat for the examination in English. In short, students sitting for examinations in the same language, but belonging to two ethnic groups, had different qualifying marks.’
He observes that by doing this in such an obviously discriminatory way, ‘the United Front Government of the 1970s caused enormous harm to ethnic relations.’
This was not the end; in 1972 the ‘district quota system’ was introduced, again to the detriment of the Ceylon Tamils. The (Sinhalese) historian C.R. de Silva wrote:
‘By 1977 the issue of university admissions had become a focal point of the conflict between the government and Tamil leaders. Tamil youth, embittered by what they considered discrimination against them, formed the radical wing of the Tamil United Liberation Front. Many advocated the use of violence to establish a separate Tamil state of Eelam. It was an object lesson of how inept policy measures and insensitivity to minority interests can exacerbate ethnic tensions .’
(A.Jayaratnam Wilson, The Break up of Sri Lanka, C.Hurst & Company, London, Orient Longman Limited, 1988)
“…Nothing aroused deeper despair among Tamils than the feeling that they are being systematically squeezed out of higher education. They have complained particularly of the system of ‘standardisation’ in force after 1972, in which marks obtained by candidates for university admission are weighted by giving advantage to certain linguistic groups and/or certain districts…” – Walter Schwarz: Tamils of Sri Lanka – Minority Rights Group Report, 1983
“The Government should re examine its policies on university admissions with a view to basing admission on merit rather than on racial grounds. Tamil and Sinhalese young people alike will then have equal rights to university education on the basis of capacity rather than on race.
One of the major points of tension among many Tamil youth has been the implicit racial quota under present university admission policies which has barred many competent youths from pursuing higher education .” – Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka – Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981