Muslim girls’ uniform causes school calamity
For Video Click
A three-decade-old circular allowing Muslim schoolgirls to wear the Punjabi suit to school is fuelling a controversy that may spread throughout Sri Lanka. The circular is dated 12 December 1980 and has been signed by Education and Higher Education Secretary M D D Peiris.
It says his ministry had received complaints that some principals were not allowing Muslim girls to wear the traditional Punjabi suit to school. “The honourable minister has decreed that Muslim students should be permitted to wear the traditional Punjabi suit to school at their own discretion,” it states. After a member of their community traced the circular, Muslim girls at the Sir Baron Jayatilaka Vidyalaya mixed school in Panchikawatte started sporting long white trousers under their school uniform.
Their parents claim the girls had worn these trousers up to the school gate even before the circular was unearthed. However, they had folded the legs till they were hidden from view, in deference to school rules. On 8 October 2008, a section of Muslim parents met Parliamentary Affairs Minister M H Mohamed, showed him the circular and asked him whether their children could wear the Punjabi to school.
According to Mohamed Roshan, a parents’ representative, Mohamed had telephoned the principal of Baron Jayatilaka Vidyalaya and asked him to honour the circular. On October 13, a large number of Muslim schoolgirls had entered the school without hiding away the legs of their trousers. It was then that the trouble began. Eleven-year-old Fathima Hafsa and 15-year-old Fathima Ajara were among the students who wore the Punjabi. “My friend, Nuska, was called into the library by some students and teachers,” Ajara said. “They told her that she looked like an animal, a monkey. They had also scolded me, although I was not there at the time.
They wanted her to stop wearing the trouser.” “Later, the vice principal asked me, ‘Thamusey monawada mey endagana evith thiyena enduma?’ (what is this dress you are wearing?),” Ajara continued. “They said I shouldn’t wear these clothes. One past pupil, a girl, even tried to hit me. Another boy from a junior class also tried to assault me. These people said the principal was on their side. Some students were told to leave the class because they were wearing the trouser.”According to the two girls, the Muslim students who wore the Punjabi were repeatedly victimised by the vice principal, some teachers, Sinhala students and past pupils. They were verbally abused and ridiculed. Tensions were heightened to the point that a meeting was called by E A D L Hemachandra, Western province director of education. In attendance were parents and the principal of Baron Jayatilaka Vidyalaya, Nihal Jayaratne. Hemachandra issued written instructions on the old circular, specifying: “Observe the instructions in this circular pertaining to Muslim students and report to me.” But students say these orders were not followed-and that the principal was being overwhelmed by the vice principal and ‘JHU elements’. “Now, only a few of us wear the trouser,” said Ajara. “The others are scared. But we are mostly ignored.
Teachers don’t talk to us and we are not treated as before. It is unpleasant for us.”JHU elements Asked for a comment, Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana also maintained that there was a JHU hand behind the problem at Baron Jayatilaka Vidyalaya. “There was racial harmony in this school,” he said. “Now, some students and pro-JHU parents have got some Buddhist monks from the adjoining temple and are making a hue and cry about nothing.” JHU spokesman Nishantha Warnasinghe said concerned Sinhala parents, teachers and Buddhist monks had met their party and informed them about the controversy in the school.
“The school has a uniform and students must go there in uniform,” he maintained. “The school has been named after Sir Baron Jayatilaka, a Buddhist leader. This is a Buddhist mixed school with a Buddhist background attended also by Muslim and Tamil students.” “They studied peacefully in this school till a few parents with fundamentalist backgrounds influenced their children, seven or eight of them, to wear the Punjabi and other Muslim clothes to school,” he said. “The students didn’t like it either. They said their parents were forcing them to wear those clothes. This is an unnecessary problem.”He also said that Sinhala students had worn traditional daham pasal clothes to school when the principal did not intervene on their behalf. “The principal must not give into fundamentalist gangs,” Warnasinghe emphasised. “Tell the students to come in uniform. If they don’t listen, let’s see what will happen. In any case, the education secretary has promised to change the circular within two weeks.”But Principal Nihal Jayaratne said the storm had blown over. “We let these girls wear trousers from the day we learnt about the circular,” he stressed. “We can’t violate the circular. These (Muslim) people are making up stories because they wanted to protest about something. Nothing happened.” “Nobody had worn the Punjabi in this school, not for the past 28 years,” he pointed out. “When a group of 17 to 12 girls suddenly started wearing trousers, it disturbed the other students and they rose against it. Some past pupils and parents were also opposed to it. There is no political influence here.” “Things are back to normal now,” he said. “We will hold exams next week and there won’t be any problems. Everything was sorted out about a month ago.”
PSM-Courtesy – Lakbima)