Political meetings at college campuses picked up momentum in the early 1980s following the black July massacre of Tamils in Colombo and the rise of armed struggle of the LTTE for a separate homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Key speakers at the college campuses in the 1980s included former minister K Kalimuthu and MDMK general secretary Vaiko.
On May 31, 1981, the Jaffna Public Library destroyed more than 90,000 books, including many rare Tamil manuscripts, while invaluable historical works were burnt. In Sri Lanka, another major communal violence began in August 1981. Besides the Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils were also attacked by the Sinhalese in various parts of the island nation.
These incidents had severe repercussions in college campuses across Tamil Nadu. On June 5, 1981, students of various colleges in Chennai, visited the office of the Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka and presented a memorandum condemning the alleged atrocities on the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Students of various colleges in Tamil Nadu, abstained from classes then. Students of colleges in Madras city, went in a procession from Napier Park to the Deputy High Commissioner’s office of Sri Lanka in Madras on August 19, 1981. Tamil Nadu medical college and Annamalai University students abstained from classes on April 17, 1984.
Institutions during the Chinese aggression
Even before the DMK exploited the college platform for raising the anti-Hindi pitch, Congress leaders had used it in the late 1950s and early 1960s to trigger public anger against Chinese aggression.
On November 4, 1959, students themselves conducted a public meeting at the Triplicane Beach and passed a resolution urging China to leave the Indian territory and appealed to the union government to take suitable steps against it, if Beijing persisted in its hostile attitude.
Youth Congress leaders held a series of meetings against the DMK’s separate Dravida Nadu plank at a time when the nation was battling the Chinese aggression before Anna himself announced that the DMK would give up the demand.
Hotbed of anti-Hindi agitations
College campuses were active in the 1960s when DMK leaders addressed students on Hindi imposition and sought to raise the anti-Hindi fervour. Student leaders of the DMK conducted meetings in college campuses to mobilise the students for a historic agitation which changed the course of Tamil Nadu’s history.
College students themselves began protests in Madurai, where they went on a procession against Hindi and a group of Congress workers started attacking them. As the news spread, students from all parts of the state boycotted classes and joined the protests in their areas.
The next day, in Chennai, the Beach road turned out to be the centre of anti-Hindi agitations with about one lakh students carrying out a procession from Napier park to Fort St George. The police were unable to control the surging students who were coming out from all the lanes and bylanes, joining the main column of processionists.
The state government indefinitely closed all the colleges and schools from January 28 and raided the college hostels to arrest students. Railway stations and other central government offices turned out to be the targets of the protesters who burnt Hindi name boards, cut telegraph poles and damaged railway tracks.