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Corporal Punishment Cause For Suicide

2014 Mar 01

By Nirmala Kannangara in Kurunegala - Pictures by Asoka Fernando

Venusha Imandi Bandara in good old days and Chatura – another victim of the accused principal

Failure to take any action against the Principal of Sir John Kotalawala College in Kurunegala, for alleged corporal punishment to a student, and for using abusive language, leading to the child taking her own committing suicide, has raised the eyebrows of many educationists in the country.

Questions have also been raised as to why students of Sir John Kotalawala College were kept after school forcibly, on Wednesday; to welcome the Principal who was arrested the previous evening, when the case was not even taken up at the time the school was over.

“How did the school know that the principal was getting bail? This clearly shows how the law enforcement authorities planned to get the accused bail well before he was produced before the Kurunegala Magistrate on Wednesday afternoon. The police and the politicians were behind this move,” said an angry lawyer from the Kurunegala Bar.

Meanwhile a leading educationist said that there is a way a principal or a teacher should act when taking disciplinary action, but criticized the accused Principal Saman Indraratne for overstepping his commands to beat the student on her thighs and upper arm while calling her a prostitute.

“Before taking any disciplinary action against this Principal, the Provincial Education Ministry should direct him to a psychiatrist to check whether he is mentally sick. If the psychiatrist confirms that he is mentally unsuitable to hold such a responsible post he should be taken off his post immediately.

If not let the Provincial Education Ministry hold a full inquiry into this. Neither a teacher nor a principal can give corporal punishment to students but there are many ways that they can discipline the children while winning their hearts,” said the reputed educationist on condition of anonymity.

According to her, this is the mentality the principals who have undergone the introductory training courses conducted by the National Cadet Corp have.
“Some of those with low attitude who have gone through this training course think that they are military officers and try to implement military rules in schools. I do not think that even military officers are as tough as this Principal. The Provincial Education Ministry should take stern action against this Principal immediately, if not principals in other schools will follow suit,” she added.

In the meanwhile, more details into the cruelty of Principal Saman Indraratne, and one of his lady teachers Ramya de Silva, at Sir John Kotalawala College have now emerged, after the suicide of 15 year old Venusha Imandi Bandara.

Attorney-at-law Anil de Silva who is appearing for Chatura Sri Lalitha Bandara, another victim of Principal Saman Indraratne and Ramya de Silva, said that a fundamental right case was filed in Supreme Courts in 2012 (case no:461/ 2012) against the two respondents Saman Indrarate and Ramya de Silva for causing injury to his client.

Questions have been raised as to why Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena is silent and his Ministry is dragging their feet to conduct an inquiry into this, and speculation is rife that the politicians in the province are backing this Principal.
It is learnt that there are many complaints against this Principal with, the police as well as at the Education Ministry, but surprisingly the Provincial Education Ministry and the Kurunegala Police have maintained silence on these matters over the years.

“Is it because the Principal has political clout that he is allowed to harass the students? It is said that the Principal was appointed to this school by the former Wayamba Chief Minister and is well looked after by the present Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera. We know that if politics are involved no one can expect justice but if the same happened to a powerful family, the Principal would have put behind bars soon after the child committed suicide,” said a teacher of the same school.

According to this teacher who wished to remain anonymous, the Principal had caned 15 year old Venusha for posting a photograph of herself with a boy on Facebook.

“Through the public address system the principal wanted Venusha to come to his office after school on Monday, February 3, and she was caned for putting this picture on Facebook.

Although Venusha said that she knew nothing about this, the Principal went on beating her and called her a ‘wesi’ (prostitute). Since this is not new to us we were not surprised by the way the Principal handled this situation. He never uses the words ‘putha’ or ‘duwa’ to the students. Even certain teachers who are close to the principal use the same language when scolding their students.

The Zonal Education Director has to intervene and should reprimand all teachers and principals in the area and ask them not to use such abusive language on children. We cannot have a military rule in schools and should know how to talk to the students and correct them, but not harass them,” said the teacher.

According to him, this was not the first time Venusha was humiliated by Principal Indraratne for some misconduct in which she was not involved.
“About one year ago, at the weekly assembly, the Principal called Venusha on to the stage and scolded her for going to a film with a boy. There again this Principal called her ‘wesi’.

All of this happened in front of the entire school –teachers and students. Although Venusha refused to accept the allegation against her, the Principal went on scolding her using abusive language over and over again. Most of the teachers are disgusted with this Principal, but since he is so powerful everyone is scared to advise him,” the sources said.
Ultimately, it is the Bandara family that had to bear the loss of the apple of their eye- Venusha Imandi Bandara.

They are yet to come to terms with the fact that Venusha is no more among them, and they are still waiting to hear her voice from somewhere.
“Chuti duwa was so upset because the Principal scolded her for something she never did. Teachers and principals are there to advice students and to correct them. But should they use foul language and mete out corporal punishment? We don’t mind hitting the child to correct her but even if my daughter was wrong, there should be a way this was handled – humanly, not inhumanly,” said the weeping father.

“It was Monday, February 3, when all of this has happened. Every day I drop my two daughters at school and pick them up in the afternoon. On this particular day chuti duwa wanted me to bring her some school books, when I came to pick them up, as she had to go for maths tuition after school. Since my daughter concentrated more on extracurricular work than studies, she had to go for these tuition classes. When I went to pick her up on this day, Venusha did not turn up only my youngest daughter. She told me that Venusha was asked to come to the Principal’s office, and said she may get late.

I waited for her as I had to drop her off at her tuition class by 3pm. Since chuti duwa did not come I assumed I may have missed her and went to the tuition class to give her books, but the tuition master told me she had not come to class. Then I went back home with my youngest daughter and found Venusha at home. It was then that she told me, in tears, what happened in school,” the father said.

According to him, Venusha had also, that evening, questioned him as to how people die if they are hung. “I cannot remember the answer I gave her, but I did not realized, even in my wildest dreams, that she was asking that question for her to commit suicide in the same way,” said the father.

Venusha’s mother, who was away at work at the time of the interview, returned home and joined the conversation, describing how the Principal and the teachers were now slinging mud at her daughter, claiming she came from a troubled family, and that she had hung herself as she could not face the family because she was pregnant.

“As they know that the school has to take the entire responsibility for the suicide, they are now fabricating stories for their survival. What is this troubled family they are referring to? Until this happened we lived happily and my daughter was a virgin till she breathed her last. The Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) who conducted the post mortem specifically told me that he checked her virginity, and confirmed she was a virgin.

Till the very last moment the Principal did not send any student or teacher to the funeral, other than those who came in coloured cloths, in fear of the Principal,” said the mother.
She further accused the Principal for calling her daughter ‘wesi’ when she is not a prostitute.

“This is not the first time this Principal has used this word on my daughter. A few months ago she was called onto the stage at the weekly assembly, and was accused for going to watch a film with a boy – which was not true. She went to see this particular film with my other two daughters, the next door aunty and her two children.

However the Principal has called my daughter onto the stage and has scolded her saying, ‘meki wesiyek to go to see a film with a boy’ (she is a prostitute to go to see a film with a boy). She was scolded in front of around 5, 000 students,” she added.

She added that the principal had scolded her when she went to tell him that it was her husband and she that sent Venusha to the film with her elder and younger daughters an aunt and her two children.

“The next day I went to the school to tell the Principal that my daughter did not go to see the film with a boy but with our family members. When I said this he shouted at me saying that ‘thoth wesiyek mewata udav dena’ (you too is a prostitute who encourage these things). I felt embarrassed, as that was the first time I ever faced such a situation,” said the mother.

According to her, Venusha on many occasions told her about how this principal used foul language on students and about the way he assaults them in order to take revenge.

“My daughter was upset at the way in which this Principal treated his own students. On many occasions she told me that if the Principal assaults her the way he does to the other children she will leave the school at once, as we have never hit her, as she is a sensitive child,” said the mother.

Describing how they found Venusha hanging, the father said that his daughter was fast asleep when he left home to his shop next door.

“I took my younger daughter to school and my wife too went to office on this fateful day. I went to the shop with the domestic but completely forgot that chuti duwa was at home. It was around 10am when I suddenly remembered that my daughter was at home and sent the domestic to call her.

No sooner the domestic went home she came back shouting that my daughter has committed suicide. When I came I saw her hanging, took her down and rushed to the hospital. Although the doctors tried to review her lifeless heart they could not and pronounced dead,” said the father.

The letter Venusha had written before taking her own life states clearly the fact that she was called a prostitute by the principal, and how she was humiliated before 5, 000 students a year ago.

Meanwhile, Chatura Sri Lalitha Bandara the other victim of the Principal, who has now filed a fundamental right application in Supreme Court, said that he was inhumanly beaten by Principal Indraratne for filing a court case against his class teacher Ramya de Silva, for causing grave injuries to him.

“This happened in July 2012, I was slapped by my class teacher on my ear for not trimming my hair. That afternoon I got high fever and was rushed to the Polgahawela hospital and was transferred to Kurunegala for further treatment.

It was then the doctors diagnosed that my ear drum was damaged. When my parents called the Principal to inform him of this they were told that he (the Principal) would spend all his money to protect the teacher, and has wanted my parents to take any action against the teacher,” said Chatura.

According to Chatura his class teacher’s animosity towards him was because he did not attend to her private tuition class.

“When I went back to school, the Principal scolded me several times because the Kurunegala police had filed a case against the class teacher in Kurunegala Magistrate Court (case no:1323/ 2012). Once the Principal called my mother to his office and scolded in foul language claiming he is not scared of the court case,” said Chatura.

However the Principal had made attempts to bribe Chatura’s parents to stop them from giving evidence against the teacher, and when he failed, he had once again beaten Chatura mercilessly.

“The day we finished the O/L exam in 2012, I was asked to come to the office and was hit mercilessly. While assaulting me the Principal wanted me to tell my parents to see what will happen to them if they lodge a complaint against him for assaulting me,” he added.

Chatura’s mother meanwhile accused the Kurunegala police of not allowing them to lodge a complaint against the Principal for assaulting her son for no reason.

“My son did not tell us that the Principal assaulted him after the exam was over. However when we were told, the next day we immediately went to the Kurunegala police to lodge a complaint against the Principal. The police refused to entertain our complaint claiming that they cannot take it down since the incident did not take on that particular day but the day before. What law is that? Although we are not very educated, we know that we can lodge complaints even after one month, as there is no time frame,” said Swarnalatha Manchanayake.
When contacted Principal of Sir John Kotalawala College Saman Indraratne refused to make any comment, since the case in court.

“I am at a meeting now. Thank you very much for calling. I cannot give any comment since the case is in court,” he said.

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