What REALLY happened at the Gampaha Bandaranaike National School?

10 March 2014 09:43 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


“The school ground was a total battlefield last Monday,” Jayantha Navarathne, a parent who was at the Gampaha Bandaranaike National School last Monday (3) says, recalling the series of unfortunate events that occurred within school premises under the alleged influence of the cadet master and several other teachers in the school.

The events that expired following the violent entry of the students resulted in damages worth over Rs. 1 million to school property and left several parents injured including Navarathne. The mob that is said to have contained about 150 students was protesting against the administration of the Principal Lal Dissanayake, particularly his reaction towards the cadet master over an allegation of assaulting a student.

“Once the mob broke through the gate into the school grounds, they were unstoppable. There was a queue of motorbikes and bicycles parked along the way, they pushed through them and ran towards the main hall and into classes. I saw several teachers attempting to hold back the students in their classes but the mob broke in yelling ‘warew eliyata’ (come out!) with massive poles in their hands,” Navarathne says.

Those present at the clash on Monday say the majority of protesting students were members of the cadet corps and claim that several ex-cadets too had joined the mob dressed in school uniforms.

“As they began drawing out students from the classes, I kept begging them to stop and instead to discuss the issues. They turned to me and said – ‘this is the method we solve our issues’. One student walked up to me and punched me in the face afterwards,” he said.

The starting point
The starting point of this violent clash was the alleged assault of a student by the cadet master – Dinesh Tillekeratnne. On January 23 preparations were being made for the Sports Meet and the march past was being handled by the cadet master. All students of Grade 12 had been instructed to take part in the march past but Pasindu Ranjana had refrained since it would have interfered with his practices for the 800m run.

“On January 23 my son had been helping some students prepare house badges when the cadet master had noticed he was not taking part in the march past. He had inquired as to why he wasn’t taking part in the march past and my son had said that it is due to his participation in the running event. The cadet master had slapped my son three times. Each time he had stood at ease and after slapping, at attention, in the likes of a military official. The third time he had slapped my son with so much force that my son had been pushed away. Afterwards he had said, ‘umba danaganin mama cadet sir.’ (I am the cadet master, keep that in mind),” says Jagath Ananda Silva, Pasindu’s father.

 Silva who is also a teacher and an old-boy of Bandaranaike said he was extremely disturbed when Pasindu informed him of what happened. “The school had allowed students taking part in sports to bring a phone to school. Those days my wife was also almost bed ridden due to a nerve complication so we told Pasindu to keep the phone with him at all times. When my son initially complained, I was at work and didn’t wish to get involved with school issues. I waived it off and told him to undergo the necessary punishment if he did something wrong. But I realised Pasindu must have been in pain when he repeatedly complained.”
Pasindu had been driven to a private medical centre where he had been prescribed some pills and an ointment for the eye. “When the principal informed me that Pasindu was given medications I thought the issue was over.”

However, Silva says he realised the situation was worse than he imagined upon returning home. “Pasindu’s face was swollen and his eye was bloodshot and puffy. He kept complaining about feeling faintish and nauseous. I immediately contacted the Education Ministry Secretary Anura Senanayake who advised me to hospitalise my son and lodge a complaint with the police.”   On January 24 Silva and Pasindu had lodged two separate complaints with the Gampaha police on the incident. “My son in his complaint had stated that his main concern was returning to school as he was sure he wouldn’t be allowed to return. It was only then I realised the manner in which the cadet corps and its master in charge terrorised the students. I had heard stories earlier about the unruly behaviour of cadets in Bandaranaike but refused to believe them,” Silva says.

On January 28 Silva and the suspect cadet master were called to the Gampaha police for an inquiry. Silva claims the cadet master admitted assaulting Pasindu adding it was only because he was not aware that it was his [Silva’s] son. The cadet master had been arrested by the police and bailed out the same day.

School property worth over Rs. 1 million destroyed
Thereafter the issue had taken a turn for the worst. On January 29, Silva had lodged a complaint regarding the assault with the Special Investigation Unit of the Education Ministry as well. “My son was in fear of being assaulted that he did not even participate in the sports meet and neither did he attend school,” Silva says adding, “We are facing grave issues with concern to our child’s safety still.”

Meanwhile, on February 26, Education Ministry officials had visited the school to record verbal statements for the inquiry.  On February 28, a group of students armed with poles had stormed into the principal’s office threatening to bring the principal down to his knees while another group had searched for Pasindu. As they roamed around the school denouncing the principal, they had smashed some 14 CCTV cameras fixed at various points around the school premises. However, the violence had been contained with the involvement of parents and the police. An attempt to raise black flags within the school had also been prevented.

On March 3, however, all hell had broken loose when a group of students intercepted about five buses of the ‘Sisu Sariya’ transport service in the morning and took students travelling in them to stage a demonstration at the Gampaha town against the principal. Thereafter, according to villagers, they had embarked into public buses and threatened to be dropped near the school. The mob had stormed into the school claiming they are going to ‘strip the principal naked in the main road and bring him to his knees’. Their aim however had been unsuccessful as the principal was attending a national school principals’ meeting. The turmoil that began at about 7.30 am had ended at about 11 am when the police intervened and promised to leave the students unharmed.  School authorities and parents accuse mainly the cadet master and several other teachers of orchestrating the violence perpetrated within the school over the past few weeks until last Monday.

Result of suppressing students – cadet master
But the suspect cadet master refuses all allegations levelled against him. Speaking to the Daily Mirror he said, “I never assaulted any student. At times, I use strict language but that is only because this is a boys’ school and the discipline cannot be maintained like that in a girls’ school. I am an old boy of this school and have sacrificed my time and energy towards bringing the Cadet Corps to a recognised state. It was after close to a decade that Bandaranaike National College won the Herman Loos Trophy as the Best Cadet Platoon of Sri Lanka in 2012. If it was in any other school we would have been commended highly. Instead, my cadets and I are levelled with allegations regarding actions we didn’t commit,” he says.

He believes the events that expired over the past few weeks, is mainly the result of unnecessary interventions of the Old Boys Association (OBA) into the school administration.  “The principal does not understand cadetting and bears certain misconceptions. Children do not respond to threats.
The students were heavily opposed to the installation of CCTV cameras because it made them feel as if they were in a prison. Moreover, the administrative tier just below the principal consisted of female personnel and the boys did not like it because they did not want to respect them.  Also, every time an issue concerning students surfaced the principal would always advise the parents/ students to take it to the police. Unlike the former principal he never intervened and attempted to solve it within the school level. So these actions are not my doing – they are a collection of issues that have been building for several months now,” he said.

Presently, three students from Grades 12 and 13 linked to last Monday’s attack have been arrested by the Gampaha police. Meanwhile, the cadet master and another teacher allegedly involved with the incident have received transfer orders with immediate effect while the cadet master claims he has also been ousted from the cadet corps.  “The students’ unrest within this school will not stop just because of our transfers. In fact, there is a possibility the students might feel even more cornered,” he said.  

Drug issue at Bandaranaike?

S. K. Mallawarachchi
Some of the parents who were present at school during the clash on Monday said some students of the mob seemed as if they were under the influence of drugs, due to rate at which they charged and damaged school property.

Zonal Education Director S. K. Mallawarachchi speaking to the Daily Mirror said since the Bandaranaike National School falls under the purview of the Central Ministry, they could not take any action although concerns were repeatedly expressed regarding few attached to the cadet corps of the school.
“These students behaved in a way that exceeded limitations of mere school level students. The primary responsibility of this issue should be borne by the former principal who gave these students unlimited freedom. It is not the students who should be blamed but the administration of the school,” Mallawarachchi said.  If the discipline of the students is to be maintained it is important that all extracurricular activities of the school are limited between 6 am – 6 pm,  Mallawarachchi said adding, “Some children practically used to live inside the school particularly for cadet practising. My staff collected close to two empty barrells of cough syrup, beer and arrack bottles along the boundary of the school and zonal education office a few years ago. But over the years it has reduced. It is only a minority group that created chaos within the school – the majority of the students are hardworking,” he said.


Students only followed orders – School prefects

Head Prefect and Deputy Head Prefect of the Bandaranaike National College – Shantha Sandaruwan and Vishwa Indrachapa say the clash within the school was a result of a few students influenced into behaving disruptively.
“The relationship between a teacher and a student and a cadet master and a cadet is entirely different. Cadets and their master share a closer relationship and when these students were given instructions, they simply carried out the orders. But now that the issue is sorted, we don’t think there will be any more clashes,” they said.


‘I was appalled by the students’ behaviour’

– Principal –

Lal Dissanayake
“How can a student perpetrate this kind of violence? I am still appalled,” Bandaranaike National College Principal, Lal Dissanayake said.

He said the unrest within the school was created under the influence of a few individuals. “I don’t see why students should have issues with female authority figures. When the students behaved violently, it was only the female teachers who stood up against.” Dissanayake also refuted accusations against the OBA attempting to control the school. “The OBA has carried out a significant service to this school and continues to do so. How can the OBA control a school? It’s in the hands of the administration,” he said. The school which closed indefinitely last Monday following the unrest of students, will reopen today for Grades 6- 9. A separate investigation has been launched by the school into the incidents that occurred over the past few weeks and the principal said cadetting activities have been temporarily halted.


The cadets were terrorizing  the school

– OBA –

Y. K. Gunawardena
“We have not at any point attempted to intervene into school administration and neither will we because we have very well understood our obligations,” the Bandaranaike College OBA said.

OBA members claim most parents were scared to send the children to school or allow them to be involved with any cadetting activities because of the power and control maintained by certain platoons of the Cadet Corps. “If a child joined cadetting and later wished to leave, the cadets would not allow it. They would physically assault the child and force him to continue. But we shouldn’t blame the students alone for the incidents that occurred. They chose to place their trust on wrong individuals and were exploited as a result. Our priority now should be to work together to build the lost glory of the school due to these damaging incidents,” OBA member Y. K. Gunawardena said.


Pix by Pradeep Pathirana

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