Colombo Telegraph

Church Of South India’s Interference Affecting Well Being Of Students: Uduvil Girls’ College Parents’ Association

The Uduvil Girls’ College Parents’ Association has accused Church of South India of forcefully obtaining the retirement of Mrs. Shiranee Mills, the former principal of the school. In a statement issued today, the Parents’ Association has said that the church has not only deceitfully misled Mrs. Mills, but also misled students. “As parents we strongly condemn such dishonesty. The administration of a popular school behaving in such a manner, had led to producing a negative image for the school,” they said in a statement.

They also said that the interference of the Church of South India has greatly affected the wellbeing of the school.

“Priests from the Church, their family members and relatives have been appointed as teachers of the school. Appointment of teachers to the school is being used as an attractive perk for priests and members who formally left and joined the newly formed Church of the American Mission, to draw them back to the Church of South India. The authority of the principal to appoint teachers was curtailed and the whims and fancies of the church have become the deciding force of these appointments. It is due to such interference of the church a section of the teachers who now serve in the school are found to have unfit educational and professional qualifications. We fear that this situation will further deteriorate after the removal of Mrs. Shiranee Mills. Further, it may lead to a complete decline of the school’s standard,” the statement said.

Below is the full statement issued by the Uduvil Girls’ College Parents’ Association:

Statement by the Uduvil Girls’ College Parents’ Association with regards to the recent crisis situation at Uduvil Girls’ College

As parents of the students of Uduvil Girls’ College, an important section of the community of the school, and as an affected group, we would like to bring to the attention of the public, the deceitful actions during the appointment of the new Principal of Uduvil Girls’ College (UGC).

As a private school there are no legal restrictions for a Principal of UGC to serve beyond the age of 60. Former Principals of this school have served for more than 60 years. For example, Dr. SelviChelliah was 68 years when she retired from the school in 2004. We consider the decision taken by the School Board and committee of JD CSI, to not extend the term of Mrs. Shiranee Mills, who has served the school faithfully as Principal for the last 12 years, a deeply damaging decision for the school and students. The school has functioned well under the leadership of Mrs. Mills in both educational and extra-curricular activities. It is remarkable that under the leadership of Mrs. Shiranee Mills, as women and students, they have gained the courage to question the authoritative mindset of a patriarchal society that tries to suppress women within the family and in the society. As parents we appreciate the contribution of Mrs. Mills towards the students’ personal development.

We regret the manner in which the Church of South India forcefully obtained the retirement of Mrs. Shiranee Mills. The administrators of the Church of South India themselves requested her to reapply for the post of Principal in June. A verbal promise was given by the Bishop of the church that her term would be extended. The Bishop had said this to Mrs. Suneetha Jebaratnam, who has now assumed duties as the new Principal. Further, Mrs. Jebaratnam herself had conveyed to the students , “if in the case Mrs. Mills’ extension is not given, I along with my daughter will also join the struggle to bring Mrs. Mills back.” Those who are linked to the church and the new leadership of the school have not only misled Mrs. Shiranee Mills, but also the students in such a deceitful manner. As parents we strongly condemn such dishonesty. The administration of a popular school behaving in such a manner, had led to producing a negative image for the school.
Members of the selection committee, consisting of Mrs. Savithri Sumanthiran, Ms. Vijula Arulanantham, Mrs. Suganthi Vairasinghe and Dr. Alexander Jesuthasan from India have knowingly or unknowingly supported such dishonest actions. The students who were engaged in a peaceful, non-violent struggle against such dishonest practices, were attacked by the teachers and a priest. We condemn all such attacks against the students.

UGC has been faced with many disciplinary problems for the last few years. Some of the male and female teachers and some hostel staff were involved in offensive behaviour. A few Male teachers have attempted to punish female students through inappropriate means. As such the students’ have faced psychological trauma.

The students and parents are all well aware that when such matters were brought to the attention of the former Principal Mrs. Shiranee Mills and when she resorted to stern action against the perpetrators, it was the newly appointed principal Mrs. Suneetha Jebaratnam (former vice principal) and the newly appointed vice principal Mrs. Jeevananthini Amalathaas who have attempted to prevent her from taking severe action against the perpetrators. By their attitude of seeing and yet pretending to not have seen, the church too has assisted those who have been committing wrongful acts. Students fear studying under the administration of two such persons who have failed to take action against the wrongful acts. As parents we understand the reasonable fear of the students. Shiranee Mills was seen as the only leader within the school whom the children could approach with their problems, and who could provide them a safe environment for learning. This is also one of the main reasons for the children to wish for Mrs. Shiranee Mills to continue as principal and wage a struggle.

We would like to point out that the interference of the Church of South India is greatly affecting the wellbeing of the school. Priests from the Church, their family members and relatives have been appointed as teachers of the school. Appointment of teachers to the school is being used as an attractive perk for priests and members who formally left and joined the newly formed Church of the American Mission, to draw them back to the Church of South India. The authority of the principal to appoint teachers was curtailed and the wimps and fancies of the church have become the deciding force of these appointments. It is due to such interference of the church a section of the teachers who now serve in the school are found to have unfit educational and professional qualifications. We fear that this situation will further deteriorate after the removal of Mrs. Shiranee Mills. Further, it may lead to a complete decline of the school’s standard.
About 90% of the students of UGC are followers of the Hindu religion. However, there is no place for them to worship. We consider the refusal of a place of worship as a problem.

Following the week-long, non-violent struggle by the students of UGC, the committee of the UGC Parents’ Association met for a discussion from morning till noon on 12.09.2016(Monday) with Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah, Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. We explained the three demands to be fulfilled in order to find a solution to the immediate crisis and other urgent matters to the Bishop during the meeting.

The demands we put forward are as follows:

1. Extend the term of Mrs. Shiranee Mills, who is accepted by the students and parents, by another 2 years
2. Conduct an independent investigation and disciplinary action on those who attacked the students who were engaged in the week-long, non-violent struggle
3. The administration must not take revenge on the students who were involved in the non-violent struggle. Such revengeful actions which have started and are continuing must be stopped immediately

While rejecting the first demand, the bishop said he would accept the other two demands. Although the Bishop requested us to trust him, the past actions of the church and the past actions of those who have been appointed to the school’s leadership do not give us any confidence. If this problem is to be solved, as an interim measure, Mrs. Shiranee Mills must be appointed again as the Principal. Further, a new management Board must be appointed, with members who can be accountable to the students, parents, alumni and society, as a way of saving the school from the clutches of the church. Such a move can enable the democratization of the school as well as ensuring the school’s standard is raised in the future.

But Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah, Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India conducted a press meeting on the same day evening. According to the media reports which quoted the version of the Bishop published on the following day (13.09.2016 Tuesday) it seemed that he tried to manipulate the manner in which UGC Parents’ Association with serious and urgent concerns and worries had had a two hour long discussion with him.

In the press meeting He did not suggest any practical approach or mechanism to fulfill the requests of parents which includes doing an independent inquiry on past and recent abusive behaviors by a few male teachers towards students and on the attack done against the students during the one week long non-violent struggle, stopping revenge on the students and reforming the school’s staff & making it professional, ethical and disciplined.

We also strongly condemn the statement made by one of the staff namely Mr.Sam in a Jaffna based Weekly named ‘’Puthu Vithi”(page 07) on 17th September 2016(Saturday). Our daughters’ one week long non- violent struggle is extremely disrespected and despised by him in the statement. Even after the promises made by the Bishop that the non-violent strugglers (students) would not meet any revenge from the newly appointed administration and staff, Mr Sam behaved in an indecent manner which severely disturbs the healing process and reconciliation efforts of UGC Parents Association and reflects the unethical and unprofessional approach of JDCSI, newly appointed administration and Mr. Sam towards the students who have already been affected by them.

We bring these concerns and demands to the attention of the His Excellency The President of the Government of Sri Lanka, Members of Parliament, Ministers, honourable Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council(NPC), Board of Ministers of NPC, Members of the NPC, Opposition leader of the NPC, leaders of the church and society, intellectuals, professionals , concerned Tamil diaspora, journalists, social groups and the Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India.

Until relevant investigations, adequate structural changes, administrative reforms and a safe environment, both physical and psychological, are ensured for the students, we are prepared to continue our discussions with His Excellency The President of the Government of Sri Lanka, l Members of Parliament, Ministers, honourable Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Board of Ministers of NPC, Members of the NPC, Opposition leader of the NPC, leaders of the church and society, intellectuals, professionals, concerned Tamil diaspora, journalists, social groups and the Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India.

We request that before our parents decide to send their daughters to the school all parents should be alert and aware of the critical situation in and around the school, until a physically and mentally safe environment is ensured. .

Christi Alexis (President) Thayaparan, Kanaganayagam Valethanchan (Secretary)

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