The chair of an academic
department in a university is the academic and intellectual leader
of that particular discipline within the university, and each
department can have only one chair though there may be many
professors. Thus, appointment to the chair is not automatic and
involves a selection process, including external academic
evaluations that last over one year. It is therefore difficult to
understand why the Colombo University, headed at the time by Prof.
Savitri Goonesekere, who serves on CEDAW (UN Commission to End
Discrimination Against Women), would have seen it fit to make an
example of someone who faced charges of alleged rape and
Yet, the injustice of it all
would have been forgotten, but for the stubbornness of history
repeating itself. The second woman has decided to go public, much
to the embarrassment of the university authorities.
A post-graduate student from
the Demography Department at the Colombo University, claims she
was raped by her academic supervisor, who has also been found
guilty of plagiarising the research of another student.
Demography Department Chair,
Colombo University, Professor Indralal de Silva, apart from
undisputed evidence that he plagiarised a research paper of one of
his students, later allowed another student, Renuka (we have for
obvious reasons refrained from using her real name) to also
plagiarise a published work of his own. De Silva even certified as
original her dissertation despite one of the examiners having
pointed out that it had been copied. Renuka was later stripped of
her degree, but not before she put down in writing her trauma and
pain she suffered at the hands of de Silva, when she claims he
De Silva at the time of this
incident was not chair of the Demography Department, but the
student's supervisor and senior lecturer.
The Sunday Leader learns that
another girl who had answered a matrimonial advertisement in the
newspapers placed by Prof. Indralal de Silva had begun a
relationship with him. After promising marriage, he dumped her
when she told him she was pregnant. This girl and her mother are
now appealing to the present Vice Chancellor, Colombo University,
Prof. T. Hettiarachchy to intervene in this matter. When we
contacted the girl in question, her mother verified that indeed
Prof. Indralal de Silva has acted in a manner which is anything
Meanwhile, in a pathetic
letter to her former departmental head, Prof. K. A. P. Siddhisena,
Renuka later wrote saying, "I am Renuka who Indralal Sir
finished in the last semester.... at the time Indralal finished me
I bit his face... that wound must still not have healed... so when
you talk to him ask him why the wound on his face has not
healed..." is what Renuka has written in Sinhalese. (See box
for full letter)
Renuka's letter to Prof.
Siddhisena is dated February 5, 2001.
She also claims that Prof. Indralal de Silva threatened to
kill her, put her in his car and throw her somewhere if she ever
reported him. Writing defiantly, she states she is no longer
afraid of such threats, "this is why at the time he finished
me, I bit his face..." she writes.
She says de Silva also wrote
her numerous letters and is aware of all her personal problems.
Renuka adds that she neither made a police complaint nor
petitioned courts. She adds she has no money to take this case to
court and also believes that even if she does seek redress from
the judicial system, "Indralal will bribe his way out"
of the case.
Prof. Indralal de Silva when
contacted charged that Prof. Siddhisena due to professional
jealousy had forced Renuka to write this letter. (See box for
comments). The letter however is charged with emotional pain and
it is difficult to imagine how it could have been written with any
Stripped of diploma
Renuka's letter prompted
Prof. Siddhisena to personally write to the former Vice
Chancellor, Prof. Savitri Goonesekere on March 8, 2001. In this
letter he said that Renuka had been engaged as a research
assistant by Prof. Indralal de Silva attached to the Demography
Department. Renuka was also a post-graduate student of economic
development at the Economics Department in the year 2000. During
this time, Prof. Siddhisena states that an incident had taken
place where a female was heard screaming "mawa maranawa -
maranawa" (I am being killed - killed"). The day was a Saturday afternoon around 3 p.m.
Alarmed students had reported
the matter to the assistant registrar of the dean's office in the
Arts Faculty. The students had obtained permission from the dean
to search the rooms by means of a ladder, but had failed to trace
the person who had screamed. The scream had come from one of the
academics' rooms at the university.
The incident caused some
gossip within the university, but since the source of the scream
could not be identified the matter was laid to rest.
Later, an examiner detected
that Prof. Indralal de Silva had allowed Renuka to plagiarise one
of his own research papers for presentation of her dissertation
for the post graduate diploma in economic development. In his
letter to the vice chancellor on this issue, Prof. Siddhisena
states that it was an open secret within the university that de
Silva did this in order to get rid of any retaliation from this
victim, whom he had sexually harassed.
An investigation by the
Examinations Committee found that Renuka had indeed plagiarised
the research paper in question which resulted in her having to
face stern disciplinary action which stripped her of her diploma.
While Renuka was penalised
for her offence, her predator survived. Prof. de Silva continued
to function at the Colombo University and was even promoted as
chair of the Demography Department despite him being found guilty
of the same crime. His
promotion was awarded despite the serious allegation of rape which
for strange reasons the university council has decided to ignore.
Renuka meanwhile returned to
her hometown of Akmeemana - stripped of her post graduate diploma,
her self-respect and dignity as a woman and her dreams and
ambitions for her future destroyed. Renuka's parents are only
concerned now in hushing up the dastardly incident and help Renuka
move on in life.
While Renuka's horrific
encounter with Prof. de Silva ended with her shameful departure
from the university, de Silva's actions related to cheating by
resorting to plagiarism did not. In two separate reports to Prof.
Savitri Goonesekere, one by Dr. S. A. Meegama and another report
by Prof. Swarna Jayaweera, Prof. Chandra Gunawardena and Dr.
Wijaya Jayatilake have found Prof. de Silva guilty of plagiarism.
A research paper submitted by
Prof. de Silva titled, "Factors Associated With Non Schooling
And Dropouts In Sri Lanka" is based entirely on a
dissertation by a student called W. D. D. Gunatilaka which he had
titled, "Determinants Of Non School Going Children And
Dropouts In Rural Areas Of Sri Lanka."
Dr. Meegama notes in his
evaluation of this issue that "Prof. Indralal de Silva's
article published in 1994 is based entirely on a dissertation for
the diploma in population studies submitted in March 1992 to the
Colombo University by W. D. D. Gunatilaka."
Meegama has added that Prof.
de Silva makes use of not only the data, but also the tabulations
in Gunatilaka's study. "In addition, his conclusions are also
based on that of Gunatilaka to the extent that some sentences are
identical," Meegama asserts.
All this Prof. de Silva did
without giving Gunatilaka any credit or even including his name as
a joint author before publishing the article in 1994 in the
Even the field work done by
Gunatilaka for this study whilst he was a teacher at Middeniya
Maha Vidyalaya is not mentioned by Prof. de Silva when he copied
the dissertation word for word.
Another special committee of
inquiry consisting of Prof. Swarna Jayaweera as chairperson, Prof.
Chandra Gunawardena and Dr. Wijaya Jayatilake as members in July
2001 confirmed the statements made by Dr. S. A. Meegama in this
regard. They too stated that Prof. de Silva's publication was
based entirely on W. D. D. Gunatilaka's dissertation work without
any acknowledgement to the latter.
This committee noted that
when it questioned Prof. de Silva, the latter had admitted he had
only made a mistake by not acknowledging Gunatilaka's efforts as a
source of information. He however did not agree that he should have acknowledged
Gunatilaka's work, arguing that he as supervisor guided
Gunatilaka's research work.
Prof. Swarna Jayaweera points
out that her committee is of the view that instances when a
supervisor guides a student on research work does not justify the
supervisor claiming that the dissertation is the work of the
supervisor. Furthermore, that it does not justify the supervisor
using the material without proper acknowledgement.
With regard to Renuka's case
of plagiarism, at the oral evidence gathered by this committee,
Prof. de Silva had stated that he instructed Renuka to use the
tables in his publication "Population Projections For Sri
Lanka : 1991 - 2041" and not the text.
He had also stated that although he went through all the
chapters, as chapter two was brought to him just two days before
the deadline for submission, he could not go through it.
He tried to convince the committee that it was a genuine
mistake on the part of the student and not a case of plagiarism,
which the committee has stated it found difficult to accept or
The committee in fact
confirmed that chapter two of Renuka's dissertation was copied
almost entirely from Prof. de Silva's publication "Population
Projections For Sri Lanka" as well as having copied other
large portions of the text.
"It is surprising that
the supervisor has not noticed this and recommended the acceptance
of the dissertation for evaluation," the committee states.
Prof. Jayaweera refused to believe Prof. de Silva's claim
that he had no time to read chapter two of the dissertation in
question or that he could not recognise his own work when he read
large portions of the text in Renuka's paper, which she had copied
extensively from his own publication.
Prof. Jayaweera's three
member committee added that it considers a supervisor permitting a
candidate to plagiarise off his own publication and thereafter
recommend the acceptance of the dissertation as being a serious
violation of research norms and conferring undue advantages to the
On the other hand, Prof. de
Silva had himself gained undue advantage by using the material of
another student under his supervision for his own publication
without due acknowledgement, thus gaining advantage for himself.
Despite these two reports to
Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Prof. de Silva was recommended and
appointed as chairperson of the Demography Department.
The former Dean of the Arts Faculty, Prof. Arjuna Parakrama
objected strongly to Prof. de Silva's appointment by the selection
committee, complaining that Prof. de Silva could not be nominated
to the post on the basis that he had been found guilty of
Parakrama was not alone in
his objections. In March 2001, the University Council received a
written complaint from Prof. K. A. P. Siddhisena.
He requested the council to address the issue of plagiarism
of two articles by Prof. de Silva and improper conduct in
supervision and an allegation of sexual harassment sent to him by
a student supervised by Prof. de Silva.
The council however, decided
that the complaint of plagiarism had already been addressed, and
that this matter should not now be re-opened on the basis of a new
allegation of sexual harassment and improper supervision of a
thesis. The council determined that since the alleged incident of
harassment had taken place several months ago in the year 2000,
and no complaint had been made on this matter by the student,
there was no necessity to proceed and investigate the matter.
The council also decided that
taking action on a collateral complaint of this nature by another
applicant to the post (Prof. Siddhisena was the other applicant)
would create a dangerous precedent and that if the appointment was
delayed pending an investigation, the university would face
serious management problems. The council therefore decided that it
would request Prof. Siddhisena to provide specific information on
the allegation of sexual harassment and connected matters of
supervision for the purpose of holding an inquiry.
Another committee of inquiry
headed by Prof. Swarna Jayaweera was subsequently appointed. Even
this committee's recommendations and finding's did not serve to
bring about any form of justice. Instead, at a subsequent meeting
of the council, it was merely stated that the report of the
inquiry committee was tabled. It was noted that the student
complainant had not come for the inquiry. The committee considered
this and her letter and recorded that no further action could be
All this despite the fact
that Renuka had handed over to the council a packet of love
letters allegedly written to her by Prof. de Silva.
On this issue Prof. Arjuna
Parakrama, Dean, Arts Faculty, resigned. After 17 years of service
at the Colombo University, Prof. Parakrama stated that he could no
longer respect the values and judgement of the University Council.
Prof. Parakrama as far back
as July 1999, when he was Dean/Arts wrote to Prof. Savitri
Goonesekere about the allegations of plagiarism against Prof. de
Silva, at the time when his (Prof. de Silva's) application for
chair, Demography was under consideration.
In November 2000, Prof.
Parakrama even submitted to the Vice Chancellor in her capacity as
Chairperson of the Council, copies of the articles in question as
well as a detailed analysis of the relevant sections which were
common in each of the two instances.
Yet, seven months later, the
council saw it fit to appoint Prof. de Silva as the Demography
Department head in March 2001.
Under any circumstances an
allegation of plagiarism is extremely serious, but it is all the
more so in a university context where academic integrity and
respect for intellectual property are among the cornerstones of
Amazingly, the Council at the
Colombo University in fact decided that even though there was
evidence of unacknowledged borrowing or plagiarism, that this was
not unacceptable from a senior academic to be appointed to the
highest position of academic merit within the university system.
The council was of the view that despite Prof. de Silva
having been found guilty of using others' material without
acknowledgement, certain extenuating circumstances existed which
mitigated the wrong-doing, and hence need not affect his
appointment to the chair of the Demography Department.
Worse, was the case when
Prof. de Silva certified as original research, a dissertation of
one of his students that another examiner and professor of the
university had pointed out had been plagiarised from de Silva's
own published work. Even this was not taken into account by the
council when it decided to name Prof. de Silva as chairperson of
the Demography Department.
Rot at the top
Even more shocking are the
allegations of sexual harassment and even rape, which Renuka,
being the student whom Prof. de Silva allowed to plagiarise his
own work, has alleged, after she was stripped not only of her
dignity and self-respect as a woman, but of her university diploma
The most troubling issues
that underlie the specifics of this cover-up concerns persons in
high authority. Surely, this points to the rot that has set in
within our university system. We are fond of blaming students for
all that ails the universities, but here's evidence that the
crisis of values has deeper roots.
For instance, what can be
said in defence of the then Dean, Arts Faculty, Prof. Hettige, who
set himself up as a watchdog of democratic values and good
governance, and yet whose "investigation" of the alleged
rape which took place in his faculty did not even bother to check
with his own assistant registrar who was present on the campus
when the screams were heard, before he declared that no such
incident took place? Or the current vice chancellor, then a member
of the council as Rector, Horana Campus, who had told fellow
council members that he too had been "plagiarised" by
Prof. de Silva, and yet chose to remain silent on this issue.
Perhaps, most troubling is
Prof. Goonesekere herself who went ahead with the appointment of
Prof. de Silva despite these serious allegations and the
unprecedented dissent of two senior deans. It would appear that
global good governance, international gender sensitivity and the
end of discrimination against women are all much easier to
articulate than plain old decency and fairness at one's own
Prof. Indralal de Silva
refuted the allegations made against him as being
"totally baseless and the work of jealous contenders to
his post as head of the Demography Department."
He said the issue of
plagiarism had been taken up extensively "and in a very
professional manner by the former Vice Chancellor Prof.
Savitri Goonesekere, who appointed me as chair of the
Demography Department despite these allegations."
He explained that he had only
made a mistake in not acknowledging his student W. D. D.
Gunatilaka when he copied his work, "similarly Renuka
also forgot to acknowledge me when I allowed her to copy
some of my work for dissertation," he said.
He charged that the
allegations of sexual harassment against Renuka are
completely false, accusing Prof. K. A. P. Siddhisena of
deliberately fabricating the charges, "because he was
also vying for my post."
He said that he has letters
from Renuka stating that Prof. Siddhisena forced her to
write a letter alleging "she had been raped by
De Silva added that Prof.
Arjuna Parakrama and Prof. Siddhisena together,
"planned a mud-slinging campaign against me due to
professional jealousy, but they both failed resulting in
Prof. Parakrama having to resign."
filed in the Supreme Court
Prof. K. A. P. Siddhisena
said at the time the alleged incident of rape took place with
Renuka he had been away on sabbatical leave in Japan. "When I
returned in December 2000, I was told this story of a girl
screaming one Saturday afternoon and that the scream emanated from
Indralal de Silva's room."
Since there was no proof,
Prof. Siddhisena said he too did nothing until three weeks later
he received a shocking letter from one of his students, Renuka,
claiming she had been raped by Prof. de Silva.
"Later, when I contacted
her she confirmed what she had written to me, which is why I
brought it to the notice of the then Vice Chancellor Prof. Savitri
Prof. Siddhisena charged that
he has now filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme
Court for not having been awarded the chair of the Demography
Department on the grounds that Prof. Indralal de Silva did not
qualify due to the evidence revealed by two committees that he is
guilty on two occasions of plagiarism.