Students Shut Out In Omanthai
By Abdul H. Azeez
The students of the Omanthai Central College may have to celebrate the centenary of their school in temporary structures built on the side of the A9.
The Omanthai Central College is a large facility. It has a sports ground, several buildings and even a hostel. With the conflict over and a bright new age dawning in this war torn region north of Vavuniya one would expect to see the students of the school, which is due to celebrate its centenary next year, in an upbeat, hopeful mood.
Instead they languish in makeshift aluminum sheds across the road from the school. They lie cramped in absurd conditions open to the harshest of the elements come rain or shine. There are 550 students currently in the school and all of them, from the toddlers in the primary section to the seniors, have to undergo the torture of studying in substandard conditions while looking across the road at their perfectly serviceable school building, which is denied to them.
The Omanthai Central College has been used since December 2008 as an Army facility to house surrendered cadres. The Principal of the school M. Arasaratnam says that he was told in December 2008 that he was to take his students and leave the school. ‘They said it was on the orders of the GA’. Since then the school was used to house surrendered soldiers of the LTTE.
The school principal then had no choice but to move his students out to a patch of land across the road from the school where they set up long buildings made up of aluminum half walls and thatch roofs. They had spent the most of the last two years teaching and studying in conditions such as this. A few weeks ago sudden storms all but destroyed their small makeshift school and the students and teachers were left to the mercy of the UN who constructed them the temporary sheds in which they study right now.
The school is functioning under dire circumstances with barely enough room to house its students. The new UN shelter is located in the grounds of a kovil that is being renovated and the staff says that they would have to move again when it is completed.
‘The kovil has already asked us to move out of their land, saying that they will need it,’ says Arasaratnam who has been the principal since 1999.
The children, though put through hardship, still appear eager to attend school. There is a marked decline in numbers in the higher forms but several smaller children fill the temporary school with the usual bustle and chat found in any school.
‘We have excellent facilities in the college’ says T. Ahilan a physical education teacher pointing out the large hostel building visible across the road ‘but unfortunately we are not even allowed to access the school grounds to practise sports.’
‘We are finding it extremely hard to carry on in the conditions that we are under right now, even though we gave complained to the GA several times we have received no response; we even spoke to several ministers who came to this area but none of them helped us.’ Arasaratnam, who studied in the school as a boy, told us that the school will be 100 years old next year. He looks tired and deflated. He somewhat dejectedly asked us if we can help his school in any way — one can see that he has been through all the motions and has been disappointed before.
The Sunday Leader contacted the GA for the Vavuniya area P.S.M. Charles who said that the school in question was shut down on the orders of the police and not the GA. She further said that she had been transferring all complaints with regard to the school to the Terrorism Investigation Division, more specifically to its head, DIG Nimal Wakista. The Sunday Leader’s attempts to contact the Ministry of Education or the DIG before going into print proved fruitless.
Bound by red tape
It appears that the children and hapless staff of the Omanthai Central College have not only been the victims of a brutal war, they have also been victimised by and continue to suffer under a heartless bureaucracy that continues to ignore their pleas for justice. They languish in preposterous sheds made of crumbling thatch roofs and rusting metal sheets while the terrorists who helped bring their hometown to such a miserable state enjoy the solid comfort of the school they should be studying in. And what is more, they do this under the endorsement and enforcement of the very armed forces that were supposed to protect and ‘liberate’ them.
What used to be Omanthai Central College is now only a shell of a building housing ex fighters. The real school is living on the streets. And it would not have survived the two years of homelessness if it were not for the brave efforts of the school teachers and the enthusiasm of its students. It would be a tragedy indeed if they were to celebrate their centenary in such dire circumstances.