Sri Lanka: The church has a proud record of service: people have been educated and refugees looked after – it is a proud witness to the immutable message that God loves each one of us.
St. Luke’s Church, Tharmapuram, three miles towards Mullaitivu from Paranthan, is a community that was formed when many Tamils came flooding there to escape the 1956 riots.
With the shortage of priests, I remember my father finishing Sunday mass at St. James’, Nallur, and rushing there. This beautiful community was destroyed in 1990 during the war when the Church precincts and the school in front were bombed. Over 1,000 children ran out of the school, but the bombing continued.
Now the community has come back. They need rebuilding. The Army had occupied the church.
A region known for Christian service
Rev. Dr. Sam Muttuveloe, the son of a Jaffna priest, medical doctor and now Anglican priest in the UK, had persuaded UK’s Hope Outreach to build a new church. They did it for Rs. 20 million. October 18 is St. Luke’s Day. The Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey came to decommission the old church and consecrate the new. Christians from all over – the UK, Colombo and Jaffna – were present. St. Luke’s, Borella, donated the new altar.
I accompanied Rev. Fr. S.S. Jebachelvan, Vicar of St. Paul’s, and enjoyed the fellowship. It was refreshing to mingle with the poor and to feast on tasty vegetarian lunch with the buffalo curd that Tharmapuram is uniquely famous for in the Northern Province.
However, even in peacetime. Rev. Canon Julian Reindorp of Hope-Outreach who came to Tharmapuram insists his driver was under 60 kmph when ticketed in a 70 kmph zone. As a priest, he could not pay the Rs. 300 to take care of it. Now the driver has to pay the Rs. 1,000 fine and return to the area to get his licence back, or spend days in court and on thousands of lawyers.
The Paranthan area got much-needed missionary service. Miss. Muriel Hutchins, my mother’s teacher at Chundikuli Girls’ College, was a CMS Missionary with an Oxford degree. Upon her retirement at age 60, she returned to the UK, felt out of place there after a lifetime in Jaffna, and hastened back to found Karunanilayam for unwed mothers, and St. Paul’s in Kilinochchi. She was an icon there till her death after some 30 more years of service. She took up citizenship. When she wanted to vote while bed-ridden and feeble with age, men carried her to the polling station.
Sister Elisabeth Baker, MBE, a British missionary from a wealthy family came at age 29 in 1931 and after 20 years in the Eastern Province, came to Jaffna. Pooling their meagre resources, says Neville Jayaweera, she and Rev. A.C. Thambyrajah built Navajeevanam in 1959, on 10 acres of land, as a farm for disabled children. She taught the boys, cycling everywhere. I too spent some time there teaching her adopted son Rev. Mahendran for his GCE O/Ls.
Gurukularajah Thambyrajah is perhaps from one of the last line of missionary families serving there. His father, Rev. Thambyrajah, literally left everything and took his wife and young sons to the then malaria-infested wilds of Paranthan. Gurukularajah, their youngest son, stayed with the poor during the war serving as Principal, Director of Education, and later as Provincial Council Member and Minister.
That rare sense of camaraderie was visible when Gurukularajah was seen seated on the floor with the choir, accompanying it on his guitar, during the commissioning service.
Navajeevanam continues after it was handed over after the war to the Methodist Church which revived it.
The story of Arumuham is not atypical of the residents of Tharmapuram. I got to know him when seated next to him during lunch. He came from the hill country, fleeing the violence and married a local woman from Neduntheevu. During the war, he went to Colombo on business and got stuck there. In his absence, his wife had come under the care of the church. She got baptised. On his return, she persuaded him to accept her new faith. Their son is employed in the state sector and his wife holds a managerial position in the Bank of Ceylon. When I asked him for his name, he said ‘Arumuham’ with a laugh, adding, “It is a Hindu name, but I am a Christian.”Arumuham is a regular worshipper at St. Paul’s.
State schools in Jaffna
Paranthan is rising, but Jaffna? Going by figures obtained by a Jaffna Municipal Councillor, there are 99 education zones in the country of which the Northern Province has 12 with 983 schools. Schools with a primary section number 878. These schools presented students for the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam from the Northern Province this year. Not one student from 458 schools passed the cut-off mark. A total of 18,363 students appeared for the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam. Of these, only 2,240 passed the cut-off mark.
From the wealthiest Jaffna zone, of 2,789 students presenting from 92 schools, 537 had passed the cut-off. They represented 45 schools. That is, from the remaining 47 schools, not one passed the cut-off. From Valihaamam, 124 schools presented 2,606 students. Fifty-nine of these schools had only 309 students who passed the exam.
From the Islands’ Zone, 54 schools presented 612 students. Only 21 schools had students passing and these numbered 35. From the famous Vadamarachchi Zone, 73 schools presented 1,505 students. Only 47 schools had anyone passing. These numbered 206. In Thenmarachchi, 54 schools presented 876 students. Only 101 students from 54 schools passed the cut-off. That is, 25 schools failed to have even one student passing.
In Kilinochchi district, there are 104 schools with a primary section. Ninety-four schools presented 2,752 students. Sixty-eight schools together had 306 students who passed the exam. Mullaitivu district has two education zones. From the Mullaitivu Zone, 55 schools presented 1,589 students. Thirty-three schools had 218 passing the cut-off mark. Thunukaai Zone has 61 schools. Of these, 58 schools presented 829 students. Fourteen schools saw 34 students succeeding.
Mannar district seems the worst in the North. Madu Zone has 52 schools. Of these, 39 presented 493 students. Fourteen schools had 27 students succeeding. In the Mannar Zone, there are 88 schools. Eighty-three schools presented 1,809 students. One-hundred-and-three students from 26 schools passed the cutoff.
In Vavuniya District, from Vavuniya South Zone, 79 of the 96 schools presented 2,296 candidates. Forty-five schools had 327 students who passed the exam. From the Vavuniya North Zone, 63 of the 76 schools presented 655 students. Nineteen schools had 47 students passing.
In summary, of the 878 schools in the Northern Province, 458 schools failed to produce even one student passing the cut-off mark.
Take-over of mission schools
The take-over of mission schools, I think, is a disaster.
In the Northern Province, the exodus of the educated is compounded by reduced birth rates. There were 20,506, 19,090 and 18,363 in the years 2016, 2017, and 2018 respectively. In contrast the numbers for Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar have remained steady.
The Northern Provincial Council played political intrigue, seeming to show that nothing can be done with PCs. The Education Ministry’s allocation to the Northern Provincial Council for school expenditures was reassigned because estimates were not put forward.
Some details in rupees are Vaddukoddai Hindu College – Rs. 1 million, Ilavalai St. Henry’s – Rs. 25 million, Urumpirai RC School – Rs. 12 million, Kilinochchi Ramanathapuram Vithyaasaalai 14.5 million and Vallipunam School – Rs.10 million. Kilinochchi GA Suntharam Ariyanayagam was furious at a development meeting in Jaffna. He promised to spend the money even if there is no approval. Mullaitivu GA Rupavathy Ketheeswran responded that if Ariyanayagam could do it, so could she. The Ministry has promised not to take the money away if estimates can be submitted by January. It is precious money for the most destitute areas. Did Northern Provincial Council politicians care?
The neglected status of the North is best summed up by what National Languages and Social Integration Minister Mano Ganeshan said after he allocated Rs. 400.77 million just for the North East out of his ministry’s total allocation of Rs. 850 million, and this was returned by the Northern Provincial Council without submitting any estimates: “I am one of many who fought for the NPC. Now I am eagerly awaiting the day its term ends.” (The term of office of the Northern Provincial Council ended yesterday.)
Lawlessness by Northern officialdom
When I returned from Tharmapuram, I was aghast to see the front part of my old school across our home turned into a Heritage Centre. The Board declared that it had been opened by the Chief Minister who should know the law.
The Assisted Schools and Training Colleges (Supplementary Provisions) Act No. 8 of 1961, Section 7 reads:
Property vested in the Crown may be used for the purpose of a school.
(1) Any property vested in the Crown by a Vesting Order may be used by the Director for and on behalf of the Crown for the purpose of conducting and maintaining a school. The provisions of the principal Act shall not apply to a school so conducted and maintained.
(2) Where, at the date of the Vesting Order in respect of any property, that property was used for any religious purpose by any religious body which is the owner of any place of public worship, abutting, or situated in the immediate vicinity of that property, the Director shall make available to such body the use of that property for that purpose during such hours as that property is not required for the educational and extramural activities of that school, but shall not permit the use of such property for any religious observance or worship by anybody other than the body which at the date of such Order was the owner of that property.
The Church’s Teachers’ Training College is the Zonal Education Office. My Practising School by its side is now the Heritage Centre. It has some 30 students. So it becomes a government office. Similarly the Methodist Church in Vembadi has the office as a shrine room.
We who insist on devolution and the observation of the law by the government, must stop bashing minorities in our midst. The law demands the return of these schools to the church.
After I wrote to the Bishop Canagasabey, he raised it as a concern with the Minister who has agreed that if any vetted school is not used for teaching, it must be divested. Could a Tamil Chief Minister not understand what a Sinhalese Minister can?