Brazen attempts are being made by vested interests to distort the truth about the incident where a Lady teacher was forced to kneel down in public by a United Peoples Freedom Alliance(UPFA)Provincial councillor from the North western province.
Although President Mahinda Rajapaksa personally telephoned the lady teacher and promised that justice would be done it is reliably learnt that a systematic campaign is underway to intimidate potential witnesses into denying or distorting the truth about the incident that has been widely condemned.
According to informed sources a powerful group of politicians close to the Provincial councillor concerned is engaged in this campaign with the aid of some senior Education Department officials in the Puttalam region. It is also alleged that Wayamba Province Governor Tissa Balalle is somewhat partial towards the Provincial councillor in this matter.
The infamous incident that has upset the teaching fraternity of Sri Lanka occurred on June 14th 2013 at Navodhaya Maha Vidyalaya in Nawagattegama in Puttalam district of the North Western Province. Earlier the lady teacher Ms.Priyani Susila Herath who was in charge of discipline at school had admonished a schoolgirl for wearing her uniform shorter than the prescribed hemline level and ordered her to remove the stitches to make it longer. Apparently the teacher was compelled to take such action because she had repeatedly warned the student about the uniform length who had not obeyed the directive.
The student was the daughter of Provincial councillor belonging to the ruling UPFA named Ananda Sarath Kumara. Upon hearing of the punishment meted out to his daughter an infuriated Sarath Kumara had stormed into the Nawagattegama Navodhaya school carrying a heavy pole.He was accompanied by a gang of his “catchers”.He was apparently intoxicated
The UPFA Provincial councillor had started abusing the teacher threatening physical harm and demanded that the teacher kneel down before him.She had refused to do so but the vice-principal and other teachers were terrified and had compelled her to do so. With her fellow staff members buckling under Sarath Kumara’s threats the shocked teacher had the knelt down on the ground in front of the provincial councillor in full view of the teachers and students.
Sarath Kumara had then said the school assembly should be held on Monday and the teacher should apologize to his daughter in front of all teachers and students.He said the teacher should kneel down in front of his daughter and worship her. The teacher should also clasp his daughters feet and ask her for pardon. He had then compelled the teacher to fall at his feet.
Sarath Kumara had then left shouting out threats .The students however rallied around the teacher and wanted her to complain to the Police. Encouraged by the support of the students ,Ms. Herath had gone to the Police station and lodged an entry about the incident. She was accompanied by the vice-principal and six teachers who were cited as witnesses to the incident. A large number of students also went along
After the complaint was lodged the students started shouting that action should be taken.The Police assured them that they would follow up the complaint.Meanwhile teachers trade unions were also alerted.Teachers union representatives started to follow up the complaint and lodged protests at multiple levels if the Government. They also launched demonstrations.The media too started giving wide publicity. The entire nation was shocked.
As pressure mounted President Mahinda Rajapaksa intervened and instructed that immediate action be taken. He also telephoned Ms.Herath and promised that remedial action would be taken. The presidents action was publicised and received a lot of praise.The Police took action and took Sarath Kumara into custody on June 15th. He was later produced before the Puttalam acting magistrate Mohammed Iqbal who remanded him. Sarath Kumara was taken to the Negombo jail.
Subsequently UPFA Puttalam district MP Arundika Fernando along with Private secretary Asela Dias and media secretary Sumith Galvitige went to the Negombo remand prison and met Sarath Kumara. He was asked to submit his resignation from the Provincial councillor post pending further inquiries. Sarath Kumara remonstrated saying he was innocent. He was then asked to write another letter giving his version. Sarath Kumara did so saying that the complaint against him was a conspiracy by his political opponents and that the alleged incident had not happened at all.Sarath Kumara was then told not to worry and that matters can be “shaped up” in due course.
The letter addressed to President Rajapaksa was delivered to him. Copies of the letter were also sent to the General secretaries of the UPFA and Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP). Another copy was taken personally by Provincial councillor Indrani Dassanayake to NWP governor Tissa Balalle. President Rajapaksa then ordered Arundika Fernando to release the contents of the resignation letter to the media. This was done but the other letter was not divulged. President Rajapaksa then instructed NWP governor Balalle to probe the matter and submit a report to him.
Meanwhile the lady teacher Ms. Priyani Susila Herath was undergoing much stress and strain. She found it difficult to continue teaching at Navodaya.Her case was treated sympathetically and at her request Ms.Herath was transferred to the school in which her husband was teaching. She is yet to take up duties.
Ananda Sarath Kumara was now trying to deny the entire incident and saying that he had not even gone into the school on that day.A group of thugs connected to him started an intimidation campaign. They began riding their motor cycles in a group and hovering around the residences of Ms.Herath and the other teachers cited as witnesses in the Police complaint.Rumours were also spread that teachers and students at Navodaya school would be attacked if Sarath Kumara was not released safely.As a result of this campaign a climate of fear prevails at the school.
Adding further pressure was the conduct of some senior Education department officials in Puttalam with close links to Sarath Kumara. When school teachers in Puttalam wanted to strike en masse in protest over the incident these officials stepped in and through coaxing and coercion prevented such action.
Worse still was to follow. A very senior regional level education department official has personally contacted the vice –principal and six teachers cited as witnesses to the incident to retract their testimony. They have been “advised “to distort the truth by saying that none of them had seen the reported incident on the day concerned. Otherwise they would face consequences was the warning given.Apparently the intimidated teachers have agreed to comply. They are most likely to deny the incident and say they saw or heard nothing.
A teachers trade union official described the situation to a Colombo newspaper thus”The teacher who was abused is extremely upset and the rest of the teachers in the school feel intimidated and are afraid to speak out. They’re obviously afraid of what would happen to them if they come forward to speak about the incident,”
While these moves to suppress the truth are going on the NWP governor Tissa Balalle when contacted by the media has responded in a manner that suggests he may be partial towards Sarath Kumara. The Governor told the “Ceylon Today”newspaper that President Rajapaksa had requested a report on the issue and that he was compiling it. “Sarath Kumara is saying he did not do anything, while the other side is saying he’s guilty. The police arrested him based on that complaint,” Governor Balalla said.
In a pathetic confession of the prevailing environment the school principal MTM Samaratunga told “Janarala” that the affected teacher should have handled the matter quietly and not made an issue of it.The principal reportedly said that he himself had been threatened and abused by Sarath Kumara several times. Even his motor cycle was burnt once by Sarath Kumara but he had not made an issue of it. Samaratunga said that even he as a principal had always kept quiet and not made a noise and that the teacher too should have resolved the problem that way instead of making a fuss.
Against this backdrop it seems quite clear that Ananda Sarath Kumara is a thuggish character who has terrified the school and staff. Ms.Herath’s act of complaining against him is therefore an act of defiance which makes her extremely vulnerable.
With provincial council elections around the corner the services of notorious politicians like Sarath Kumara become essential to the UPFA. So the chances are that he would be soon absolved of all charges and restored to grace. The campaign to distort the truth and obstruct justice would ensure that Sarath Kumara will nbe back soon to terrorise the school,principal and staff.President Rajapaksa’s act of telephoning Ms.Herath would turn into a sick,nasty joke.
Mervyn Silva MP who tied up a Samurdhi official to a tree cleared himself of charges by intimidating the official concerned to make a statement that he had tied himself up to the tree. In the case of Ananda Sarath Kumara , he politico has denied that the incident had ever taken place. So what we may witness soon is the sight of Navodhaya school teachers led by the affected teacher going in procession with flower trays to Sarath Kumara and kneeling in front of him and his daughter the student and worshipping them as penance for complaining.
Only widespread agitstion and protests by opposition parties and teachers unions can prevent such a horrible travesty of justice happening in the near future.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org