Sri Lankan students in eight-year campaign
Students at the Institute of Aesthetic Studies in Colombo have been struggling for eight years to win hostel accommodation, better facilities and increased funding. For the last two years, they have been occupying the buildings of the institute, and they fly red flags all over the campus. SUJATHA FERNANDES and MICHAEL TARDIF talked to a group of students from this campus after a vibrant rally on January 17 in which students, lecturers and deans from universities all over Colombo participated.
What led to the recent campaign and what are the conditions that students live in?
It was the lack of hostel accommodation that led to this recent campaign. Almost all of the students have no accommodation. The boys have captured the buildings and lecture halls of the university, and they have been living in these for the last two years. The girls are staying in boarding houses, but their subsidy is insufficient to pay for these. Boarding houses are very expensive in Colombo, so many of them share small rooms and it is extremely crowded.
The main subjects studied in the institute are music, art and dancing. The halls where students do their practicals are in very poor condition. There is no place to study because all the available halls are being used for music and dance. Even for lecturers and staff, there are no facilities.
In the other universities, especially the science faculties, they spend about Rs1000 per student. On the arts faculty, they spend no money. The conditions make it very difficult and particularly in the art and sculpture sections there are no facilities for drawing. No materials are provided, and subject choices are severely restricted due to this.
The reason for disproportionate funding to arts is that an artist is a creator. This capitalist system does not need creative minds, it only needs fodder for the factories. The project of the capitalist class is to break down traditional culture and build a new system that alienates people from their creativity.
Who do you blame for the current situation?
The people who carry out this project are the PA [Popular Alliance] and UNP [United National Party] governments, but the root of the problem is the policies dictated by the World Bank. Our government acts as the agent of the World Bank and the IMF.
What is the role of students in challenging the government and fighting the World Bank and IMF policies?
To be independent from the World Bank and the IMF, we need a socialist government. At the moment our major issue is to recover free education, which has been cut back since 1978. Through this we aim to recruit forces who are also fighting the capitalist system such as workers and peasants.
As a whole, students are not directly involved in political parties, but we are directly involved in alliances with political parties fighting for socialism.
Before the general election in August last year, there were two movements in which students were involved. These were Solidarity between Students and People and People's Movement for Liberation. It was the students who came up with the policy of how to face the capitalist economy and build an alternative.