Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pathetic threats

Last week the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) head Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri complained about threats he has received. The last threatening call he had received had been on the 3rd July from a man claiming to be a university student. That was the second time that this individual had called him and threatened him.  Devasiri however says that this individual has to be at least 30 years old judging by his voice.  He also says that two individuals had come to his neighbourhood on foot and made inquiries from neighbours about him and his daughter claiming to be from the defence ministry. After he made this public, he had received a call from Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who had told him that such publicity was not good for the reputation of the defence ministry.  To this Devasiri had said that he was only repeating to the police and the press what those two men had told his neighbours from whom they had made inquiries about him. They had told neighbours that Devasiri had applied to go overseas and that they were checking his details.

They had been hanging around from 4.00pm and said that they would be back at 7.00pm and they had indeed come back at that time. Then they had wanted to climb over the wall into Devasiri’s garden from the neighbour’s property to see what the number of Devasiri’s car is. The story that they had then told the neighbours was that Devasiri’s daughter had applied for a job to the defence ministry and that they were checking their details on that account.   But his daughter is only 17 years old and has not yet sat for her A/Ls. One of the neighbours who had felt suspicious had in fact asked the two men for their ID cards. One of them had then opened his purse and shown them an ID which they had not been able to see clearly. The neighbours has asked them to take the ID out and give it to them so that they could examine it. But then the two men had gone away.  Devasiri says that the defence secretary had said that if two individuals had come to look for information about him, he should have handed them over to the police. To this Devasiri had replied that he is not physically strong enough to be able to take two men and hand them over to the police and neither could he ask his neighbours to hand over those who come looking for him to the police. Devasiri had also told the defence secretary that he knows that if the defence ministry wanted to find out details about him and his daughter, they don’t have to scale the wall of his house to find out such details and that the problem here was that those who had come to his house had identified themselves as being from the defence ministry. Devasiri had told the defence secretary that the fact that he had said that the two men claimed to be from the defence ministry, does not mean that he (Devasiri) was asserting that the two men were in fact from the defence ministry. 

The next day, says Devasiri, according to a friend who had come to his house and was leaving, there had been a SUV type vehicle parked near the turnoff to his house. The friend had taken down the number of the vehicle and called him and told him about it.  Devasiri had in fact checked the telephone numbers that he had received the threatening calls from, and found that they had been taken from a Tritel call box near the Belek kade junction in Ratmalana. In the good old days, threats by the government had more zing to it – bullets fired at newspaper editor’s houses, artistes having their heads shaved by goons and so on.  Now you don’t know who was more scared - the supposed stalkers or the intended victim!

Be that as it may, one of the demands put forward by FUTA is really bizarre - that the amount of money being allocated to education be increased to 6% of the GDP.  Devasiri says unrepentantly that trade unions do engage in politics. Asked whether FUTA has ever made demands like this ever in its history, he admits that this is indeed the first time and claims that this is in the public interest. To the question whether this was not the task of those elected by the people to govern the country, he admits that this can be defined as a case of University teachers going beyond their mandated task but that Lalith Weeratunga had also seen their point. Asked whether FUTA is going to stick to this demand that  6% of the GDP be allocated for education and continue with the strike even if their salary demands are granted, Devasiri agreed that if the other demands are granted, they cannot say that they will not work until 6% of the GDP is allocated for education.

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