Whatever some may say, the church has a proud record of service. The people have been educated and refugees looked after, and human rights spoken up for – it is a proud witness to the immutable message that God loves each of us.
St. Luke’s Church Tharmapuram, 3 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 with Eelam War II when the Church precincts and the school in front were bombed. Over 1000 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. The priest says there were blood stains on the dilapidated vicarage walls.
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. Today, 18 October is St. Luke’s Day. The Bishop of Colombo, The 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 had donated the new altar.
I accompanied The Rev. Fr. SS 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, the Jackboot continues even in peacetime. The 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. 1000 fine and return to the area to get his licence back, or spend days in court and thousands on lawyers.
The Paranthan area got much-needed missionary service. A CMS Missionary with an Oxford degree was Miss. Muriel Hutchins who was my mother’s teacher at Chundikuli Girls’ College. 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 the Rev. AC Thambyrajah built Navajeevanam in 1959 as a farm for retarded children on 10 acres of land. She taught the boys, cycling everywhere. I too spent some time there teaching her adopted son Rev. Mahendran for his GCE OLs.
Gurukularajah Thambyrajah is perhaps from one of the last line of missionary families serving there. His father, the Rev. Thambyrajah, literally left all 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 between the educated and the refugee 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 baptized. On his return she persuaded him to accept her new faith. Their son is employed in government 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.
The State of State Schools in Jaffna
Paranthan is rising, but Jaffna? Going by figures obtained by a Jaffna Municipal Councilor, there are 99 education zones in the country of which NP has 12 with 983 schools. 878 schools have a primary section. These presented students for the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam from NP this year. Not one student from 458 schools passed the cutoff mark. 18,363 students appeared for the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam. Of these only 2,240 passed the cutoff.
From the richest Jaffna Zone, of 2789 students presenting from 92 schools, 537 had passed the cutoff. They represented 45 schools. That is, from the remaining 47 schools not one passed the cutoff. From Valihaamam 124 schools presented 2,606 students. Fifty-nine of these schools had only 309 students passing.
From the Islands’ Zone, 54 schools presented 612 students. Only 21 schools had students passing and these numbered 35. From the famous Vadamaratchi Zone, 73 schools presented 1505 students. Only 47 schools had anyone passing. These numbered 206. In Thenmaratchi, 54 schools presented 876 students. Only 101 students from 54 schools passed the cutoff. 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 student. Sixty-eight schools together had 306 students passing. Mullaitivu District has two Education Zones. From the Mullaitivu Zone, 55 schools presented 1589 students. Thirty-three schools had 218 passing the cutoff. 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 1809 students. 103 students from 26 schools passed the cutoff.
In Vavuniya District, from Vanuniya South Zone, 79 of the 96 schools presented 2,296 candidates. Forty-five schools had 327 students passing. 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 NP, 458 schools failed to produce even one student passing the cutoff.
Destruction of the Educational Enterprise
The take-over of mission schools, I think, is a disaster – the educated uneducated.
In NP, 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 NP Provincial Council is playing political intrigue, seeming to show that nothing can be done with PCs. The Education Ministry’s allocation to the NPC for school expenditures was reassigned because estimates were not put forward. Some details in rupees are Vaddukoddai Hindu College 1 million, Ilavalai St. Henry’s 25 million, Urumpirai RC School 12 million, Kilinochchi Ramanathapuram Vithyaasaalai 14.5 million and Vallipunam School 10 million. The Kilinochchi GA, Suntharam Ariyanayagam was furious at a development meeting in Jaffna. He promised to spend the money even if there is no approval. The GA for Mullaitivu, Rupavathy Ketheeswran responded that if Ariyanayagam can do it, so can 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. Do NPC politicians care
The neglected status of the North is best summed up by what Mano Ganeshan, Minister for National Languages and Social Integration, stated 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 NPC without submitting any estimates: “I am one of many who fought for the NPC. Now I am eagerly awaiting the day its term ends.”
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’s 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 Dhilo, he raised it as a concern with the Minister who has agreed that if any veted school is not used for teaching, it must be divested. Can a Tamil Chief Minister not understand what a Sinhalese Minister can?