Saturday, June 23, 2012

Protect FUTA head!




It was with shock and dismay that we received the news of a cowardly attempt to intimidate President of the Federation of University Teachers' Associations (FUTA) Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri. The identities of those who visited his residence while he and his family members were away on Wednesday and sought to gather information about him and his daughter from a neighbour are not known. But, it is only natural that the government has become the main suspect. Give a dog a bad name.

Dr. Devasiri leads university teachers' trade union battles from the front. An outspoken critic of the government, he has got under the skin of the powers that be because of his frank and forthright views.

Even if the government has had no hand in the alleged attempt to intimidate the FUTA chief as it claims, it cannot absolve itself of the blame for having created the present culture of impunity where anyone can harm anyone else and get away with it. This dangerous situation has proved beneficial only to the government as it is free from threats and violence which affect others. Hence, its unwillingness to change the status quo, we reckon.

It is being argued in some quarters that there is freedom of expression in this country. Yes, that argument is tenable to some extent, but the fact remains that while people have the freedom to express themselves, others have the freedom to kill them for doing so. We saw last week what happened to a group of JVPers who met at Katuwana to exercise their freedom of expression; armed goons swooped on the meeting and fully exercised their freedom to kill and maim!

Attempts to intimidate their union president notwithstanding, frustrated university teachers have unanimously resolved to launch a continuous strike from July 4 unless their demands are met forthwith.

It is only wishful thinking that the government could quell the Academic Spring which is gathering momentum. Strong arm tactics, vilification campaigns and the like will only aggravate an already bad situation. There is no way the government could justify its refusal to pay the warring dons more while spending as much as Rs. 2 bn per annum to pay the taxes of some privileged categories of state workers in blatant violation of the law. Since it is never short of funds to splurge on political circuses and VVIPs' overseas junkets with planeloads of lackeys in tow, it cannot cite pecuniary difficulties as the reason for not honouring its promises. It ought to grant the university dons the promised salary increases and be done with it!

Cocky and arrogant, the government has dug itself into a hole––a massive one at that––and is trying to get out of it desperately. What it must do immediately is to stop digging deeper unless it wants the hole it is trapped in to become its grave. It has apparently mistaken governance for a process of making promises, reneging on them and bluffing its way out of difficulties that stem from its failure to come up with the goods.

The government must order the police to arrest those who sought to intimidate Dr. Devasiri on Wednesday and take steps to protect him and his family. Let no lame excuses be trotted out! Its selective efficiency in tracking down lawbreakers is monumental. It took only a few days to nab a burglar who had broken into the highly connected SriLankan Airlines chief's house (though the thieves of priceless artefacts from the National Museum are still at large). Its failure to do so will only confirm suspicions in the public mind that it was behind Wednesday's incident.

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