When Sinhalese students began studying at Jaffna University, they discovered that their prejudices were unfounded.
“When we think about Tamil friends on campus, we could never think they are a different race,” said Thamara Kumarasiri a student at Jaffna University from Kandy. Brought up as a Buddhist, her family was reluctant to send her to a region where war dominated for 30 years.
“Even I had some reservations about coming to Jaffna,” said Kumarasiri, who has been studying business management since 2016.
“There was a war in Jaffna and that is why we were afraid but after making Tamil friends on campus, that fear went away completely,” she recalled.
These Sinhalese students discovered commonalities with Tamil students.
Finding a common language
Nilumi Seneviratne a staff member of Jaffna Universty’s Management Faculty, said language was not an obstacle in enhancing friendships with Tamil friends.
“At the beginning we exchanged views in English as common language. After a while they started speaking a little Sinhala and we started speaking a little Tamil. Now we don’t have any communication barriers.”
The number of Sinhala students in Jaffna has increased, up to 50% in some disciplines. At the dormitory, two Sinhala and two Tamil students share a room.
“We think we get a better experience with communities than Colombo University students do. As a Sinhala student I had a different opinion about these people,” said Seneviratne.
Forgiving the past
Chalani Dinushika Tennakoon entered Jaffna University in 2017.
“We are staying in the homes of Tamils. There is a question whether we would accept them like this, if we underwent problems like them. I have lost no one. But my friend sharing the room has lost her two brothers at the hands of a Sinhalese.
Clashes amongst students have been reported in southern universities, forcing them to close. Jaffna University has had its share of clashes, but students say the incidents with quickly dealt with. “After a fight it was over. It did not become a big issue.”
Yet students like Dinushika find themselves having to reassure their families and friends that they are safe.
“The people in our neighborhood ask whether there are problems in Jaffna now. When they ask us we tell them the truth. But they hear different things.”
Thushyanthan says he has bonds with Sinhalese students.
Rethinking old prejudices
Thushyanthan is an arts student at Jaffna University. He said his attitude towards Sinhala students changed after he got to know some.
“We had a wrong understanding with the problems we had. Initially I did not want to be with Sinhala students, but later, we realized they are innocent people with human feelings. We do not have differences among us. Even if someone tried to separate us, we have bonds that would not allow that to happen.”