The Tamil National Student Uprising Day, ‘Manavar Elichi Naal’

Written by: Mathusan Mahalingam

The Tamil National Student Uprising Day, ‘Manavar Elichi Naal’ marks the death of Pon.Sivakumaran, the first student martyr who pioneered the path of the struggle of the youth into that of an armed struggle.

Up until 1970, university admissions in Sri-Lanka were based on academic merits. Tamils despite being a minority, had a higher standard of education than the rest of the population groups in Sri-Lanka and thus, their percentage of enrollments in university were far greater ratio than any other group. In 1969, a year before the “Policy of Standardization” came into play, 50% of students studying medicine, and 40.8% of students studying engineering were Tamil (Horowitz, 2000 ; Tamil Information Center, 2006). However, upon the introduction of this policy, this was not the case. What this policy resulted in was systematic elimination of Tamils students from universities as a result of quotas set by geographic district. Previously, university admissions were based on academic merit, following this policy, only a mere 30% was based on academic merit, and the rest was based on geographic district. Since the Sinhalese and Tamils geographically resided in different areas, this resulted in education being highly inaccessible by Tamils as their quotas did not allow enough room for their entry. In 1975, the medical program which once consisted of 50% Tamils only consisted of 20%, and the engineering program which once consisted of 40.8% Tamils now only consisted of 13.2%. (Horowitz, 2000; Tamil Information Center, 2006).

Just take this example of the Jaffna area alone. After examinations, in 1974, 398 students were qualified to enter the university medical and biological sciences course and 575 qualified to enter the engineering and physical science course. However, because of standardization and district quotas, only a mere 34 spots in the university medical and biological sciences course and 37 spots in the engineering and physical science courses spots were available to all these students in the Jaffna area (Horowitz, 2000).

This systematic state-sponsored scheme to reduce the enrolment of Tamil students had obvious repercussions; it limited the opportunities for Tamil students. Slowly, less Tamils had access to education, and slowly, they were filtered out of public service, and professional areas of employment. Eventually, this lowered their standard of living, and reduced their opportunities for betterment (Bose, 2006).

Tamil students were well aware of the negative repercussions this would have on their lives and future Tamil youth. A Tamil youth, 17-year old Pon. Sivakumaran, was a pioneer in the struggle for justice for Tamil youth. Due to his advocacy and activities against the racist entrance of universities, he was trapped by police on June 5th 1974 . Being aware of the torture that would follow in the hands of the Sri-Lankan Government, Pon.Sivakumaran consumed cyanide which he carried with him (Kearney, 1978).

When education is targeted, one must also think of how lack of education breaks down other institutions in society. Think about how many fewer doctors and engineers are graduating, and what this does to a society. Yes, the obvious, it deteriorates the health of Tamil populated areas because there simply will not be enough doctors in the Tamil regions, and it prevents the structural expansion and development of Tamil areas for there will be fewer Tamil engineers able to do so. Thus, over time, with fewer doctors and engineers serving Tamil areas, these communities will have much difficulty in terms of accessing healthcare, thus their health will suffer because of greater difficulty in access, and their lands will have less physical development of their communities, and less innovation because of a lack of engineers.

The value of education is great, and for perpetrators of a systematic genocide, education of the targeted group is an attractive target. The obvious reason education has been targeted, and is targeted is that an educated class has power to fight back, and without this education, power centralizes around the perpetrators (Coloroso, 2007; Jones, 2006). The less Tamils who are in powerful positions, the less change they can initiate, and the harder it will be for them to replace organizers of genocides. For those powerful leaders who are carrying out genocide, educated and powerful people from the group they are targeting in a genocide program are threats. For this reason, politicians, lawyers, government officials holding higher and respectable positions are targeted often in genocide (Jones, 2006). In fact, much similarity can be drawn between the Holocaust’s “Night of Broken Glass” and Sri-Lanka’s “Black July”, in both instances, business of the targeted population was demolished in an attempt to destabilize their economic and political power of the targeted class. With education, comes economic power, and by reducing the entrance of Tamils into university, slowly but steadily, the economic and political power of Tamils in Sri-Lanka will be weaken (Bose, 2006).

The educated elite were first destabilized in Hitler’s Holocaust because their education gave them economic and political power that needed to be weakened before exerting the worst imaginable conditions (Jones, 2006). In the Ukranian genocide, the Holodomor, Stalin’s regime wiped out the clergy, Ukraine’s writers, educators and cultural elite for fear that they would try to gain independence from the Soviet Union.  The 1972 Burundi genocide targeted Hutu senior students, church workers and others who held respectable or educated positions in society for fear the educated class would be able to replace those committing genocide in political campaigns. In Rwanda, community leaders, political leaders, and anyone holding a position of power were also singled out and targeted because they felt that these were the people who would be able to fight back politically, and ridding them would help progress their genocide (Coloroso, 2007).  The educated class poses the greatest threat to combating genocide because with education comes economic, political and social power (Jones, 2006). That’s why educated is so severely targeted when the intent is to destabilize a group for the purposes of genocide.

The targeting of education must not be taken lightly. History lessons speak so clearly. The targeting of education and the educated is a part of a systematic genocide. Pon. Sivakumaran realized the detriments a racist education system would have on the current and future outlook for Tamils, and he advocated bravely for Tamil students education rights. Tamil students around the world observe The Tamil National Student Uprising Day, ‘Manavar Elichi Naal’ as a time of reflection of the struggle for Tamil rights.


Bose.  (2006). Contested Lands. United States: Harvard University Press.

Coloroso (2007). Extraordinary Evil. Canada: Nation Books.

Horowitz (2000). Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley : University of California Press

Jones (2006). Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. New York: Routedge.

Kearney (1978). Language and the Rise of Tamil Separatism in Sri Lanka. University of California Press

Little.  (1994). Sri-Lanka: The Invention of Enmity. Washington: United States of PeacePress.

Ponnambalam. (1983) Sri-Lanka: National Conflict and the Tamil Liberation Struggle. New Jersey: Zed Books

De Silva (1972). Weightage in University Admissions: Standardization and District Quotas. Modern Ceylon Studies.


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