Another provincial politician has been accused of making a teacher kneel at his feet and apologize, but unlike the first incident, the politician has this time been compelled to resign from one of his portfolios. Earlier it was a member of the North-Western Provincial Council, who had made a teacher kneel for having warned a student on disciplinary grounds. This time it was the Uva Province Chief Minister and former Provincial Education Minister Chamara Sampath Dasanayake, who is alleged to have forced the Badulla Tamil Balika Vidyalaya Principal Bawani Ragunath to apologize to him for not having admitted to the school a child whom he had recommended.
It is said that the Principal had refused to admit the child on the grounds that recommendations by politicians should not be entertained. If that was the case, she has to be commended. Neither the chief minister nor the education authorities who had sided with him in this controversy had said that the issue in question was something else. Therefore it is only clear that the first offense committed by the chief minister was to have recommended a child. What right does the chief minister have to direct the Principal to admit a particular student to the school?
Admission of students to schools, especially to popular schools has been blatantly riddled with rackets involving millions of rupees. Many school Principals countrywide are known to take parents hostage to plunder money or highhandedly reject the applications for admission. Every year the Central Government’s education minister issues directives stating that charging money to admit students is illegal, but these directives are openly ignored by the school authorities. Therefore one can argue that the monitoring of school admissions by the political authority is justifiable. Yet, the chief minister in this case should have complained to the relevant education authorities in case the principal had erred and was unable to handle the matter by himself.
It is a well known fact that politicians request principals to admit students to schools and those requests are in many cases well entertained. And education ministers in some provinces even allocate unofficial quotas to provincial councillors for student admission to various schools. In spite of the Badulla School Principal deserving praise for rejecting the chief minister’s recommendation, the question remains as to whether this was the first recommendation she had received during her career. If not then what had happened to the earlier recommendations?
The chief minister had not denied that he summoned the Principal to his residence in connection with the rejection of his recommendation. That proves the second offence he had committed and led to the third offence that went viral in the media -- making the Principal to apologize to the chief minister. It is not clear whether the CM himself had asked her to kneel down or apologize to him, for that matter. However, it is clear that the implied intimidation by summoning her to his residence might have indirectly pressured her to apologize.
When the teacher trade unions went public with the alleged kneeling down and apologizing incident, the CM denied the allegation. The Principal, in the presence of the Provincial Education Secretary who had been already accused of pressuring the principal to deny that the CM compelled her to apologize told the media on Friday that the education authorities in fact pressured her to deny the incident that took place at the CM’s residence. Adding insult to injury, the Badulla police on Sunday had taken the Principal to the judicial medical officer, claiming that she had made contradictory statements -- to claim first that she was made to apologize and then to deny it and then again to claim that she denied under coercion. This clearly shows on which side the police are. As public officers they must understand that they too might someday have to kneel down before politicians and apologize for not obeying them.
The chief minister, under pressure has stepped down as the Provincial Education Minister until the investigations are over. But he is still the all-powerful chief minister of the province. Whatever the outcome of the investigations over this matter, it has already been proved that the CM had meddled in the school’s affairs and intimidated the Principal by summoning her to his official residence. Is the political authority that boasts of good governance prepared to take action against those offences?