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17th January 1999
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Anything goes in Kandy, believe it or not

Catholic demo over schools ratio rule

More than 2000 Catho- lics staged a demonstration in Kandy on January 10 (Sunday) led by priests of many parishes in the Central Province.

The demonstration, according to the Vicar-General and Moderator of the Central Province Catholic Education Foundation, was to demand of the Government to:

(a) Provide schools for Catholic children who have been denied admission to Government schools in 1999 in the Central Province; (b) To appoint teachers to teach Catholicism/Christianity in Government schools where there are a sizable number of such children in schools in the Central Province; (c) To provide schools mainly for Catholic boys and girls, separately, in the three districts of the Central Province and allow Catholic children easy access to such schools; (d) To confer Principal grades to Catholic priests, religious and lay persons in Government service so that they can be appointed as Principals of schools.

The protest was called following a "ratio ruling" by the Ministry of Education where every Government school has been instructed to take in only 29% of Christian/Catholic students. What is at issue is that many of the largest Catholic educational institutions in the Central Province were taken over/handed over to the State. 

These institutions have always been sought after by Christian/Catholic parents for the education of their children.

As one priest said, there would be no contention if the large Buddhist schools like Kingswood and Dharmaraja etc., also taught Hinduism, Islam and Christianity/Catholicism. However, these schools teach only Buddhism as a subject. Thus, a Catholic child offering Christianity/Catholicism as a subject cannot be taught this subject in a Buddhist school.

Now, with this ratio rule, Catholic students are being shut out of Catholic schools. Strangely enough, it is learnt that Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim students who enter Catholic schools can continue to learn their religion since all such religious subjects are offered to students in Catholic schools. It is confirmed that in Kandy, Good Shepherd Convent and St. Anthony's College teach Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam as subjects.

The Church has sent a memorandum to the President, pointing out the total unfairness of this ratio ruling but has not been favoured with a reply. Catholics in the Central Province feel their children have no place in Catholic schools any longer and that 60% of Catholic children are now denied entry to such Catholic colleges as St. Anthony's, Kandy; St. Thomas', Matale and St. Xavier's, Nuwara Eliya, as well as many other Catholic schools and convents in the Province.

It is urged that Government Buddhist schools should also be equipped with the facilities to teach Hinduism, Christianity/Catholicism and Islam as subjects. 

If this is done there will be really no need to protest since the facility to follow the religious subject of choice is available in all schools. But, even as Catholic schools offer this multi-religion choice to all its students, Buddhist schools ignore such a necessity. "In such a case, Catholic students must be given the opportunity to study in Catholic schools," one priest said. He even suggested that the ratio rule be applied justly in the case of each school where the Ministry could define intake according to the rights of both parents and children. For example, St. Anthony's, Kandy, could be permitted a student intake on a 60:40 basis with 60% Catholic/Christian students and 40% of other faiths. "This is the reasonable way," he said, "and the Church will always appreciate the reasonable way. We must remember that in this country we have Catholic Sinhalese and Tamils as well. If we begin to discriminate on religious grounds we discriminate racially as well."

The demonstration, which began at 10 a.m. saw a long line of placard-bearing Catholics who marched from the Kandy Cathedral to the gates of the Department of Education, held a prayerful public protest (with hymn-singing too) and then made an orderly return. Placards read: "Is there free education for Catholic children?", "Give us back our schools!", "Are not we Catholics citizens of this country?", "Are Catholics needed only for votes?", "Where is the promised appointment of Catholic teachers?", "Why no response to memorandum to the President?"

The Vicar-General, Father Cletus C. Perera, said that in the Central Province there were 22 parishes and 420 churches. There are 80,000 Catholics and 25,000 schoolchildren presently threatened by the ratio rule.

The demonstration ended at noon with a special word of thanks to the Kandy Police for helping to keep the good order of the public protest.

From the hills to the desert

Chula Ekanayake, the Queen's affable Food & Beverages Manager flew out last week to join the beautiful new Al Maha Desert Resort in Dubai, a five star, superluxury hotel owned by Emirates Airlines. This has brought Nimal Siriwardene, the Queen's Restaurant & Bar Manager a lot more to handle as he covers for Chula. Not that it really matters to Nimal, a former audit clerk, who has been F & B Controller and Co-ordinator in his long years of service. In fact, when Oberoi was managing the Queen's, Nimal was personally trained by the Oberoi's F & B Controller, Mr. Kosala. Nimal joined the Queen's in 1977 and 21 years experience is something he can confidently fall back on.

Pawlonia for Lower Hemingford

It was not long ago that this paper carried an article by Ray Wijewardene on the potential of Pawlonia as a timber tree. Now, Lower Hemingford Estate, Parakaduwa, will propagate about 30,000 Pawlonia root cuttings. In Kandy, the Estate Forest & Water Resources Development Project (EFWRDP) has also recommended this tree species as a "high potential reforestation timber for Sri Lanka." The root cuttings, brought in from Australia, is a first step towards the reforestation plan of the plantation industry which is being undertaken with an ADB grant.

Wilhelm Balthazaar, Managing Director of Pickle Packers & Growers Ltd., has shipped in the root cuttings for propagation. The German Team Leader of the EFWRDP said that his project will provide support to the plantation industry in the field of timber harvesting and processing.

It's dangerous, this Sunday service

In lighter vein, this may seem a pretty far-fetched story but the man who told it swears that it's true. Being a doctor and a respected member of the community, I couldn't just say, "go on! Tell me another!" And, if this story is anything to go by, one could go to church on Sunday and come back with not one, but two black eyes!

It had happened this way. There was this man, full of the milk of human kindness, one supposes, and with not much of sense in his head. Also, a creature of impulse. It seems he went to one of these churches where the pastor plays a guitar and his wife plays a zither and there are people clanking tambourines and they sing - no, not sing, roar their hymns in various barima-tones because either God is deaf or is on another call. Our man parked himself in a pew behind an over-sized lady who, as he told our doctor, was as large as a German horse-keeper's daughter. Interesting simile, that.

Anyway, they all rose for the hymn and our man was dismayed to note that when the GH-KD's daughter rose, her skirt was wedged firmly between those globes which, by any other name, are just as globular. For a second or two he stared, quite fascinated, and he did hear whispers from others who had also taken due note. He decided that this was a distraction. With a swift movement, he reached over, yanked the skirt free. The large lady would have none of it. She had not come to church to have her skirt re-arranged by a man she did not even know. She swung round, glared, and clouted him. One eye puffed up considerably. She wielded a pretty hefty hymnal. Whispers became little titters and sniggers but the man said not a word. They all sat to listen to the preacher and our man fell to thinking that he had deserved it. Apparently our fat lady liked to wear her skirt that way.

Came the next hymn and the congregation rose and our man, one eye tearing and getting quite pasty, saw that the lady's skirt was hanging in a most orderly fashion. This couldn't be right. She had hit him because he had pulled her skirt out of its confines. She wished it the way it was and now, it wasn't. You guessed it. He reached over and shoved the skirt back where he thought it belonged. The blow he received blacked his other eye. What is more, the rumpus stopped the singing and the pastor hustled him out of the church while the lady burst into a hymn of her own making that would have made the angels blush.

"I say, doctor, just look at my eyes. This churchgoing is a very dangerous thing. My wife put Optrex and ice and I had a headache the whole of Monday also. Only went to do a kindness, no?"

As I said, this could be a tall tale but in Kandy, anything goes. I simply had to tell you the tale - believe it or not!.

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