A shocking story of a teacher in an estate school allegedly abusing a young student led to the teachers living quarters being torched, as angry villagers protested over the incident that has shaken the quiet hillside town of Ragala, a few miles from Nuwara Eliya.
This happened a fortnight ago on September 8th, as an assistant teacher Ratnayake (not his real name) who had been known as the most persevering among the staff of this school, was confronted by a group of villagers who claimed he had sexually abused a twelve year old boy.
The following morning when the other teachers came to work, all what they saw was smoke coming out of Ratnayakes living quarters which had been entirely gutted by fire. Ratnayake had gone into hiding, but it did not take long for the police to find him on a toilet seat at some faraway place.
Some reports from the village said that angry villagers who could not bear the agony of a small child being sexually harassed by a school teacher, had set fire to his quarters. But others claimed that the fire was started by Ratnayake, before he fled the area. None of his belongings were there in the debris, a villager said, so he must have done it.
Most of the teachers declined to talk about the alleged incident. But the year seven student, who claimed he had been abused spoke freely about what passed between him and the teacher.
Mr.Ratnayake was our Sinhala and Maths teacher. It was in April, during a sports festival that he asked me if I could visit him after school. The boy says that when he went there, he found his teacher acting in an unusual manner. He asked me to remove my shorts. I reached for the door, but it was locked. Ultimately I had to give in, because he threatened to kill me if I did not, the boy added.
This continued, according to the boy for some months, until September 2. The boy who was caught for allegedly stealing a bottle of gum, was ridiculed by Mr. Ratnayake. He was trying to take advantage over this, and said that he would report the theft to the Principal if I did not continue going with him, the boy said. Unable to take it any more, the boy told one of his friends who had later on taken the story to the boys family members, and other villagers. It was a violent afternoon at the school, on the 8th. Ratnayake was asked to seek an immediate transfer and leave the village for his own good and the others.
It did not stop at that, as an unknown group of people set fire to Ratnayakes quarters that night. Villagers staged a Sathyagraha the following day, with all the pupils seated on the road. The police following up on the matter, arrested Ratnayake based on the boys statement to police. However after three days he was released on bail.
Destroyed in the fire was the brand new laboratory equipment of the school, which was inside Ratnayakes quarters when it was razed down. The damage has been estimated at Rs. 1 million.
The boys mother who feels ashamed to face the community, broke out into tears, when queried about her son being sexually abused. It is a shame that a school teacher, whom we trust the most, had stooped to such a low act.. I do not know how we can trust the rest of the teachers, she said.
She said that she had noticed that her son used to give some sort of excuse in the afternoons, to get back to school. He would come home after a while and would say he played with his friends, she added. He also used to bring home ten rupees from time to time, but when asked he would say the school paid him for work he did.
The father, who is employed with road developers, has hardly any time to look after his children. But hurrying back from work, very early the day The Sunday Times visited his home, he said I came to go for the parents-teachers meeting. I have to settle this matter.
I could have hardly imagined my son being abused by a school teacher. If action is not taken it is a shame for the entire community here, he said reacting angrily over the incident.
The school principal who took advice from his staff at every turn, was last week being questioned by Education Department officials about the unfortunate incident. At the time of going to press the Principal had convened a Parents-Teachers meeting where several issues related to the incident were to be taken up.
The Principal and the staff came under severe pressure from the villagers who were planning to sign a petition seeking the replacement of the entire staff. We do not trust any one of them; we want all of them removed, a villager said.
What action will be taken, however, remains to be seen. Nothing seems to have emerged from the villagers protests, and they allege lethargy on the part of the police as no charges have been framed. The estate community, though worried about this incident, stands helpless and inexperienced to handle it.
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