BY Methmalie Dissanayake
Incidence of politicians interfering in the schools admission process is not so uncommon in Sri Lanka. No matter how shameful it may seem, if you have a letter from a politician and bundle of currency notes you can gain many things in this country. Political interference came to a climax when a provincial politician forced a lady teacher to kneel during school hours in 2013, after illegally entering the school premises.
That incident occurred during the Rajapaksa regime. It later became a topic harped on during political campaigns when the general election was called in 2015. Pioneers of the ‘good governance’ government assured the country that such incidents would never occur when they come to power. Two years after establishing the ‘good governance’ Government history has repeated itself.
Chief Minister and the Principal
On 9 January, addressing a public rally, JVP Uva Provincial Councillor Samanatha Vidyarathna made a shocking revelation. He claimed that Uva Chief Minister Chamara Sampath Dassanayake had summoned a principal of a girls’ school in Badulla and ordered her to kneel before him for not enrolling a student he had recommended.
“The CM tried to enroll a student by sending a letter to the principal. But, when she rejected it, the CM had through provincial and zonal education administrative officers, summoned her to his house and forced her to kneel in front of him,” the JVP Councillor alleged.
Following this revelation, the Uva PC meeting became heated on 12 January as both Vidyarathna and Provincial Councillor Sachithanandan began to question the CM over the incident. The CM calling a press conference on the same day vehemently refuted the allegations levelled at him by Vidyarathna.
The next day, R. Bhavani, the principal in question, giving a statement to the media, also refuted the reports regarding the alleged incident.
What really happened?
A few days later, UNP MP Vadivel Suresh paid a visit to Bhavani’s school. During that meeting, the emotional principal accepted that Vidyarathna was correct.
“The CM summoned me to his residence and began to scold me badly. I was confused because I did not have any clue about what was happening. Then I had to kneel in front of him saying that I deliberately did nothing wrong,” she then broke down.
She said that she was forced to deny to the media that the incident took place by the CM and the Provincial Education Secretary Sandya Ambanwala.
Role of the Police
This incident caused an uproar in the whole country and it worsened when the police got involved.
Police then tried to direct the principal to the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of Badulla Hospital to test her mental status. It was reported that the Police tried to take her to the CM’s residence before taking her to hospital. This incident saw several protests taking place in front of the hospital and the Police Station.
Following the uproars, President Maithripala Sirisena on 21 January ordered IGP Pujith Jayasundera to immediately launch an investigation into the incident.
The CM had to resign from his provincial Education Ministerial portfolio until the conclusion of the investigation.
Education Secretary Ambanwala was also removed from her post.
On 23 January Dassanayake surrendered to the Badulla Police but was released on bail by a Magistrate because the Police did not object to bail.
Mammoth HRCSL inquiry
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) following complaints filed by Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) Executive Director Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon and the All Ceylon Teachers’ Union (ACTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin, on 25 January summoned Sandya Ambanwala and six others, including the Provincial Education Director, the Zonal Education Director and a media official working at the provincial council.
The OIC of the Badulla Police was also summoned. However, he was not present but had sent another officer to represent him. Principal Bhavani also gave a statement to the Commission.
The inquiries were conducted for over 10 hours, in what is probably one of the longest, if not the lengthiest, HRCSL inquiry in recent history.
Briefing the media about what happened during the inquiry Tennakoon said that that the witnesses contradicted themselves under cross examination.
He said, “It clearly showed that the Educational Secretary and other witnesses had delivered their statements by heart. When we cross examined them they could not answer properly. Also, they only remember certain parts of the story. For an example, they remember the principal coming to meet the Chief Minister, but they cannot remember the way he talked to her and what happened afterwards. The CCTV records also seemed to be incomplete.”
Tennakoon added, “This is a clear example of how much the education system of this country has been corrupted by politicians and education authorities. It is a shame that the administrative officials help politicians to harass teachers.”
Stalin said they would stand by Bhavani till justice is done by her. “Such incidents should never happen again. We will fight to the end to protect the dignity of teachers.”
He added, “What we told the country about this shameless incident was proved again during the inquiry. Police played a significant role in this whole scenario. We suspect that they tried to take the Principal to the hospital without a complaint. They have filed the ‘B’ report incorrectly. It seems that they were under political influence.”
However, Ambanwala and the other officials refused to speak to the media.
Bhavani told the journalists, outside the HRCSL, that she hopes that she will receive justice.
So does the whole country!