University teachers yesterday demanded that Army Commander Lt. Gen. Daya Rathnayake and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa resign from their posts over ordering the army to fire on innocent civilians who were protesting against the contamination of their well water allegedly by a factory.
Addressing the media at the Colombo University, President of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said that it was a joke for the Defence Ministry to attempt to resolve the Weliweriya issue, as there were two ministries – the Ministry of Water Supply and Drainage and the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resource Management – responsible for water issues, while several other high profile ministers represented the area.
The FUTA President asked why the army had been deployed in the first place to control a protest.
“This is another example of militarisation of the country’s civil institutions, including education, through such initiatives as the leadership programme for undergraduates and the conferring of military titles on school principals. This needs to be questioned and reassessed,” Dr. Dewasiri said.
The senior academic said that the government’s response had been that the armed forces had acted in ‘self-defence’ and that a ‘third party’ provoked the attacks, but amateur photographs and videos of the incident showed the armed forces chasing and beating fleeing villagers.
Despite Sri Lanka having 15 national universities and many other research bodies, the government had not commissioned an independent and scientifically rigorous investigation into the alleged water contamination even after the villagers had raised the issue several months ago, Dr. Dewasiri said.
By Dasun Edirisinghe