By Kasun Kamaladasa –
Being a junior school prefect, during my O/L’s, was one of the most satisfying and dissatisfying periods of my life. Satisfying, because it gave me a chance to lead differently, live by example, demonstrate that even children could be motivated to follow anyone’s lead without fear and violence. Most dissatisfying, because I had to stay quiet about injustices carried out by my fellow prefects and even face injustices myself by senior prefects and teachers.
One might think, that these dissatisfying things happen, due to the lack of oversight, but teachers, I guess, were always aware. They just did not want to move from their comfort zones and initiate change. Some of them believed that the fear prefects exerted over students could keep everyone quite in the school assembly (The assembly itself was a joke, but that is a story for another day). The cultural influence of sticking to what is wrong, provided it is the “tradition of things” must have played a role as well. I can’t say for sure what motivated most teachers to look the other way, maybe a teacher reading this could share their motivation for inaction in the comments.
I wanted to share one incident in particular that struck me the most. My inactions that day still haunts me and perhaps sharing this might relieve me of it and also inspire change that is direly needed in many sectors of society.
I was skipping a class in the junior prefects’ room relaxing and daydreaming probably. Suddenly the door opened and few prefects dragged a younger classmate into our room. Suddenly everyone was excited and quickly formed a circle around the kid. I normally don’t partake in unexpected gatherings so I kept my lazy posture but turned my head around to see what is going on. I got a glimpse of the kid’s face and it belonged to one of the innocent kids who has a resting smirk on his face. I was thinking, damn! what would he have possibly done to get into this situation, was my judgment of innocence wrong?
One of my colleagues asked the first question, “who, do you think you are?” to which the kid looked puzzled. The next natural question came from another prefect in the circle. “Do you know who this person is?”, pointing at another prefect who seems to be the victim of this major crime. So, it went on. Let me put the story into the present form as I want you to feel as if you are observing it right now.
The kid on trial is surprisingly good at avoiding angering people or simply terrified, he keeps his head down and murmurs something softly. Then comes the most surprising line, It’s the first time I hear such stupid phrase coming from a fellow student’s mouth. “It doesn’t matter who the person behind the badge is!”, “Do you recognize what is on his chest, that symbol?” These words make another fellow prefect that was not paying attention to stand from his chair. He is furious and starts verbally abusing the kid, after a few minutes he takes off his badge and keeps it in a chair in front of the kid. Then comes the natural command, “Kneel and worship this badge, you will learn today not to disrespect this badge under any circumstance”
I wasn’t the one to go against our brotherhood, especially while all of them were riled up, so I kept my confusion to myself. I later on confronted several of them and let them know what happened was wrong. How many of them agreed with me? From the present actions of some of them, I guess only a handful of them. Then again maybe, they, like many of us are just failing to see mistakes in real-time and are regretting their actions retrospectively. Anyways, it didn’t occur to me at that time but what happened didn’t emanate out of no-where. This was the example given by every teacher when a fellow teacher or adult was at fault. “It doesn’t matter what he/she did, know your place, as an inferior, you have no right to speak up”.
When the dust settled, I found out that the kid had made a simple joke. The joke was aimed at a colleague who made some silly mistake. Knowing him in person, I know that he would have normally shrugged the joke off or even laughed at it with the kid. Unfortunately for this kid, another prefect overheard this and took offence, convinced such insolence was not to be tolerated and dragged the kid to our room to be put on trial and taught a lesson to. The prefect who took offence was a youngster who used to hate prefects and prank them all the time. It’s funny how we forget our own past crimes when we are to pass judgment on others for similar crimes.
Reading this and realizing that we were kids too, maybe 14 or 15 years old may sound terrifying to some, the natural teenage mentality to others. What terrifies me though is that such actions remain in all parts of our society. Even in the healthcare sector, where I work, it is not uncommon to be taught hard lessons for acting in a way that ticks people off, without warning, even when the initial fault is in the healthcare workers side.
The same scenario is repeated in Sri Lankan politics, where people are humiliated publicly for simply not accepting bullshit from politicians of higher social standing (social standing received only thanks to outdated colonial systems). It happens in temples, churches and mosques where preachers openly preach hate, intolerance and racism but demand respect for the robes. It happens in police stations when victims are of poor social standing and get frustrated for the inactions of police or are caught for petty crimes but punished more severely than some death row inmates.
In school, when this incident was reported, the teacher in charge swept it under the rug, protecting his minions. Students didn’t revolt for the injustice because they were taught not to go against teachers or prefects. The principal thought it was an incident that was better left alone since it would have meant dealing with old boys’ groups, senior teachers and prefects who helped him run the school. I, myself stood by thinking I am in a helpless state to voice my objection to such abuse of power.
For our misfortune, the same thing keeps happening in all sectors of society…. I guess bowling for soup song was correct; High school never ends.