A bull in a classroom

There is a pressing need for most parliamentarians to go back to school if what they do and say, especially during parliamentary debates and political cockfights on television, is anything to go by. Deputy Minister Palitha Thewarapperuma did so the other day; he rushed to a primary school in his electorate—unfortunately not to catch up on what he had missed out decades ago, but to teach the teachers and the education officers a lesson of sorts.

Thewarapperuma had staged a wayside fast for a couple of days against the failure of some children in his electorate to secure school admission before making a suicide bid. Having hogged the limelight through cheap theatricals reeking of infantilism, he finally forced himself into the school concerned and tried to hang himself. Obviously, he did not want to take his own life. No politician dies for the people! Instead, the latter are made to die for the former.

Like an overgrown schoolboy Thewarapperuma stopped a fast spinning ceiling fan with his hands, put his belt around it before making his ostentatious suicide attempt in full view of students and teachers one of whom fainted. His guards had been waiting to ‘save’ him. If he had really wanted to end his life he could have gone into the same classroom the previous night on the sly and made it a silent affair.

It was only the other day that Thewarapperuma was suspended from Parliament for one week for exchanging blows with another MP of his ilk from the Opposition ranks. We thought the menace was confined to Parliament!

Each and every child has a right to enter a state-run school and anyone who violates it commits a punishable offence. The process of school admissions is corruption-ridden as is public knowledge and many poor parents with legitimate grievances are left without anyone to turn to. The situation has become so bad that not even the powerful doctors’ union can have the children of some of its members on transfer admitted to state-run schools. Successive governments have neglected the school system and outsourced the management of the seats of learning to old pupils’ associations to all intents and purposes. The elitist schools backed by wealthy alumni are in a position to fund themselves and their underprivileged counterparts who cannot do so have been left to wither on the vine.

The onus is on the people’s representatives to ensure that children’s right to education is guaranteed. Deputy Minister Thewarapperuma’s concern for the children who had been deprived of school admissions should be appreciated, but in fighting for them he acted like a bull in a classroom. His conduct was unbecoming of a parliamentarian, to say the least. He shouldn’t have involved the children concerned in a public protest in the first place. His party is now in power and he could have taken up that issue with the Minister of Education or the Western Province Minister of Education. He could have raised the violation of children’s right to education in Parliament, which is the best forum and locked horns—yes, pun intended—with Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam or even got the matter raised at a Cabinet meeting through one of the UNP ministers.

What will schoolchildren learn from the Thewarapperuma drama; they may think the best way to have their problems solved is to hold public protests and hang themselves from ceiling fans!

Now, it is up to the police to deal with Thewarapperuma. But, one should not be so naïve as to expect the guardians of the law to do so. It may be recalled that following the Feb. 19 hit-and-run accident in Rajagiriya, where a minister was allegedly involved, the footage from all the CCTV cameras in the area got mysteriously erased.

Most of all, the UNP which Thewarapperuma belongs to, will have to ensure that disciplinary action is taken against him. Else, it ought to have a room ready at Sirikotha with a ceiling fan so that its politicians can perform their hanging stunts there without troubling the people and public employees who don’t give in to them.


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