A 27-year-old teacher taking a few moments’ rest in a classroom after a busy day at school was suddenly confronted by a woman – the wife of a member of the North Western Provincial Council – waving a child’s uniform at her. In a loud voice the intruder demanded, “Mokakda me karapu wade?”(What is this [...]


Teacher given lesson in the new 3 ‘R’s – Rage, Rudeness and Ruthlessness

Textbook case of schoolyard bullying

A 27-year-old teacher taking a few moments’ rest in a classroom after a busy day at school was suddenly confronted by a woman – the wife of a member of the North Western Provincial Council – waving a child’s uniform at her.

In a loud voice the intruder demanded, “Mokakda me karapu wade?”(What is this you have done?). The teacher, Priyani Susila Herath, knew straight away what the problem was. That morning (Friday, June 14), prefects of Nawagaththegama Navodya School had carried out a routine inspection – conducted every Tuesdays and Fridays before school meetings – and found a few students (male and female) with uniforms that were shorter than the school standard length.

Traumatised: Priyani Susila Herath. Pix by Hasitha Kulasekera

“Since I was one of the teachers in charge of discipline at the school, I asked the prefects to conduct the inspection and to unpick the hem stitching of the short uniforms to make them longer,” Ms Herath told the Sunday Times in Nawagaththegama.

The teacher – who is in charge of teaching Sinhala language for Grades Nine to Eleven – said this was what the school disciplinary bodies usually do. “First we give the students a warning and if they still fail to follow the rules and regulations of the school we take certain actions. If there are students with dirty footwear we make them clean their shoes. This is what was practised even before I joined the school,” she said.

Ms Herath has worked at the school for seven years and been in charge of student discipline all that time. But when the Provincial Council member’s wife demanded an explanation for what she had done, the rattled teacher didn’t know if she had acted in error and asked the fuming mother to direct her question at the deputy principal (the principal was away at a meeting).

With a shrug the councillor’s wife left the room saying, “Api balagamu meka!” (We’ll see about this!). “I was very scared by then because I know how rude and offensive the Provincial Council member’s wife can be. By this time I did not know what to do,” Ms Herath said.

Ten minutes later she heard the sound of a vehicle screeching to a stop: the Provincial Council member, Ananda Sarath Kumara, had come to the school looking for her. Ms Herath said the deputy principal, teachers and other staff had advised her to leave the school premises for her own safety.

“He (the councillor) first locked the main gates of the school and took the key with him. I heard him screaming angrily at everybody in the school. “My colleagues asked me to go and hide in the dental clinic of the school which is behind the main building. I hurried there but when I heard Ananda Mahaththaya shouting I came out, and the deputy principal who saw me asked me to run away from the school.

“My only means of escape was a small opening that the students have managed to make by cutting open the wire fence in the backyard of the school. I ran towards this,” Ms Herath said. “But I wasn’t in luck that day.” The councillor had got back in his vehicle and roared around to the back of the school, apparently anticipating her next move from his knowledge as an old boy of the school.

“As soon as I reached the opening in the back fence, Ananda Mahaththaya came up in his cab and blocked my exit,” Ms Herath said.
Amidst the dust churned up by the vehicle the ferocious-looking councillor, wearing shorts and T-shirt, approached her, waving a big stick. “I ran as fast as I could and was panting when I reached the place where the deputy principal and the others were gathered,” said Ms Herath.

A poster in protest

“Since he was fat he couldn’t run at my speed but he came at his own pace, screaming at the students and chasing them out of the school and demanding that the karate master stop his class. “There were two or three teachers, the deputy principal and other staff members by me when he approached, screaming filthy words at me.

“He pointed his finger right in front of my face like this (she placed her index finger in between her eyes) and said ‘Tho danagahapiya!’ (You kneel down!). He said that if I did not he will beat me with his stick,” she said. Ms Herath said that she was in such a state of shock that it was hard to think straight. “Then the deputy principal asked me to kneel down saying that otherwise the councillor would attack me. So I went down to my knees. My eyes were burning hot with tears.”

The politician had gone on verbally abusing her. “He said that he would strip me naked and make me walk through the town. He also demanded that I apologise to his daughter and said ‘Thoge gedara awilla thope gedra kudukaranawa’ (I’ll come to your house and reduce it to dust’.

“I was in shock.”
The councillor had threatened to hit her again when she was kneeling in front of him.
“I was there for about five minutes,” she said. “When I saw him leaving I tried to get to my feet again but when he saw me do this he ordered me to kneel again.”

Ms Herath’s cries of protest during the 30-minute ordeal were in vain. “When he finally went, the deputy principal offered to take me home, and at around 3.15 pm I came home,” the teacher said.

T.M. Gayan Chathuranga

D.M Mudiyanse

R.A.H.N.M.P Bandara

“There was no one home. I didn’t want to speak about the incident to anyone but when my father and husband came in a few minutes later, after making them promise not to do anything out of rage, I told them what had happened,” she said. That evening Ms Herath, with her family, lodged a complaint with the police, and the Provincial Council member was immediately arrested. He was remanded until last Monday (June 17) and further remanded Thursday this week (June 27) by the Puttalam Magistrate’s Court.

The incident has shaken residents in the peaceful surrounds of the school, which stands in grounds shaded with Mara trees, blooming in bright orange. A climber growing next to the school gates is clustered with white flowers, adding serenity and beauty to the spot.
To the right of the school is a board stating, “Dana igana gathkama thamai kenekuge wathkama, guna nuwana dakkama obata salakai rate okkoma” (One who learns, gains in stature. When people observe your depth of knowledge, everyone in the country will care for you).

A resident, R.A.H.N.M.P. Bandara, whose home is right in front of the school, said that he went to the school to see what was happening when some students came running to him, asking him to call their parents to come and pick them from school immediately.
“I ran to the school and saw the Provincial Council member there, shouting at people to leave. I saw that next to him was Ms Susila crying and quite shaken.

“When he saw he looking, he asked if I couldn’t understand what he had said, and after a while I left the school premises,” he said.
Mr Bandara said Ms Herath was a very honest, respectful and hard-working teacher. “She is the first to come to school every day, and when she comes she waters the plants and offers flowers to the Buddha.

A poster with the picture of the Provincial Council member, Ananda Sarath Kumara and President Rajapaksa

“Since she is in charge of the school radio club she plays very soothing songs appropriate for children that even I enjoy,” he said,
A Grade Nine student in one of Ms Herath’s classes described her as a very helpful and talented teacher. “She made us understand the subject better, and no matter how many times we asked her a question she answered it without getting mad at the students,” said the student, T. M. Gayan Chathuranga.

He said Ms Herath did sometimes scold and discipline children but only when they had done something wrong. Ms Herath’s father, Heenbanda Andarawewa, 57, said some groups were claiming the whole incident was a political stunt to discredit the councillor.
“We are innocent people and have never been involved in such politics,” he protested. “All my children are well educated and have been brought up with respect. This incident only proves the mental status of the people who are in high places,” he said.

Mr Heenbanda said that people who terrorised villagers and ordered them about should not be given high positions because the innocent public were the eventual victims.

A former grama sevaka of the village, D. M. Mudiyanse, said the villagers were frightened of the councillor and that there had been other occasions when he had attacked and verbally abused other people.

“He is not respected but he keeps his place by force,” Mr Mudiyanse said. “Even the principal gets to his feet when he goes to the school. “We condemn what he did to the teacher and we also condemn the deputy principal who was present at the time and asked her to kneel to the councillor without intervening to protect her.

Ms Herath has not returned to her classes since her ordeal and has applied for a transfer to a nearby school where her husband teaches. She said she had felt let down by her colleagues when she was being terrorised by the councillor. Ms Chandra Kumara, the wife of the Provincial Council member, rejects all the allegations made against her husband.

“My husband worked for the village and that school,” she asserted. “When he came into power there were only two buildings and now there are about five. “This incident was ignited for political means. “We don’t have problems about our children going to school in uniforms that are long but what that teacher should have done is to warn me about the rule,” she said.

Ms Kumara claimed the teacher had taken disciplinary action without giving her daughter the proper prior caution. “When I asked the principal, he said that instructions had not been given to carry out an inspection. Then how can a teacher go against the law of the school?” demanded Ms Kumara .

Her daughter had not attended classes on Monday and Tuesday this week due to the incident, she said, but had gone to school on Wednesday. “Her class teacher had told the students that she wouldn’t take classes if my daughter continues to come. My daughter came home crying and said she doesn’t want to go to school again.”

Attempts to contact the principal of the school failed: he sent this paper a message via the school security guard saying that he had not been present when the incident took place and could not comment on it.News of the incident did, however, spark concerned reaction from other parties. The Sunday Times ran a lengthy account on Page 1 last weekend.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa telephoned the teacher on Monday, June 17 and assured her that justice would served. As well, acting on the President’s instructions, the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, Athula Wijesinghe, initiated an investigation into the incident.

In addition, a protest was launched by teachers, students and members of education trade unions condemning the acts of the Provincial Councillor. The Minister of Education, Bandula Gunawardena, said his office condemned the council member’s actions and that no politician or a political party had a right to harass members of the teaching profession.

At the same time, he added, the ministry did not approve of students being drawn into protest actions. SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, said the party had decided to take the sternest disciplinary action against the council member for the action.

Teachers protest as politico’s son beats up principal

Teachers at an Anuradhapura school have refused to hold classes until action is taken against an SLFP provincial councillor’s son who beat up the school principal on Tuesday.

Mihintale SLFP Provincial Council member, Anil Pushpananda, had afterwards gone to the school and asked his son to kneel and plead forgiveness from the principal and teachers. He had also removed his son from the school.

“Politicians are using their power in an unacceptable way, and now this has come to the schools. The children of the politicians are using the fathers’ power to terrorise the innocent public. We strongly condemn this,” said the President of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Priyantha Fernando.

He said education unions had started protests around the country in disapproval of this trend.  “This week we have launched protests in Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Galle, Matale, Matara and other areas,” Mr Fernando said. The assault ignited at the Nivanthaka Chethiya Maha Vidyala in Anuradhapura when the councillor’s son, a Grade 13 youth, who was at the time on study leave, had entered school with four friends to rag the new Advanced Level students.

In the name of ragging the five students beat some of the freshers. The principal, Somananda Katugampola , who received news of the assaults, had approached them and asked why they were on school premises.  “Since the principal had commenced work in the school just four to five months back the councillor’s son had asked him who he was, and the conversation had extended into an argument,” said teachers’ union leader Mr Fernando.

The infuriated student assaulted the principal, and the action had sparked agitation among the school staff. Mr Katugampola lodged a complaint at the Anuradhapura police, and he had asked the police to send the student home after cautioning him. “This is not the first time that the student was caught in such acts. In the past, he was caught assaulting two male teachers but the actions were dealt within the school because of the councilor,” Mr Fernando said.

“There is also a court case in the Anuradhapura Magistrate’s Court against the student after he threw stones at a vehicle belonging to an Anuradhapura district judge.”

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