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A school and scandal

A Ganesh Nadar continues his fascinating series on life in an Indian village

The Panickanadarkudieruppu school was started in July 1947. The need for a hostel was felt much later. One of the villagers, Dr D P Pandian, an advocate who has been based in Vancouver, Canada, since 1939, visits the village rarely. On one of his visits, the villagers told him that the school desperately needed a hostel. He readily sent the money.

The hostel was built and handed over to the government. The government paid the village a nominal rent and ran the show. Some years later the school management put up one more floor in the hostel. The capacity was doubled.

In 1983 a Bombay-based villager, G Athimuthu Nadar, built a fifteen room hospital in the village. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad ran the hospital for three years. Differences of opinion between the villagers and the VHP resulted in the parishad walking out. The hospital management was taken over by the villagers.

The villagers decided that they did not need such a big hospital. They converted the back portion of the hospital into a girls hostel. The front portion remained a hospital. The girls hostel was also handed over to the government.

A mile from the PNK school is the Kamaraj high school. This school belongs to and is managed by the neighbouring Nalumavadi school. The headmaster of the Kamaraj school, Rajapandi, used to work in the PNK Sri Ganesar high school a few years back. The Nalumavadi school management decided that though the PNK people built the hostels, they had every right to it as the government was running the show.

Every year selection of the hostilities is done by the district welfare officer. The DWO first forms a selection committee which includes the local school headmasters, teachers and public spirited senior citizens. The local MLA is also a member of this committee. In this case the concerned MLA happens to be Jennifer Chandran who is the state fisheries minister.

Now one cannot expect the fisheries minister to attend hostel selection meetings. She was expected to nominate some important social worker. Rajapandi is an active DMK worker. He had, in fact, applied for a ticket to contest the assembly election from this constituency. He didn't get a party ticket then but was nominated to the hostel selection committee by the minister.

Rajapandi then used his good offices to nominate three other teachers from his school onto the committee. The correspondent and headmasters are automatic members of the committee. The roster of the committee members showed Rajapandi and his three nominated teachers as members of the public with their home addresses.

The Kamaraj high school was not mentioned.

On the morning of July 22, the Sri Ganesar school headmaster, Tamarai Vinayagam, received a notice from the district collector. The notice said that selections to the hostel would be held on Wednesday, July 24, at the Tiruchendur tahsildar's office. A list of committee members was also enclosed. The headmaster got a shock. Of the five committee members for the boys hostel only two were from PNK, the other three were from Nalumavadi.

For the girls hostel it was worse. PNK had only one member on the committee; Nalumavadi had four.

The headmaster immediately informed the school correspondent, S Rajarathinam. They discussed the matter and the correspondent decided that on his behalf he would send Ganesh. The headmaster called Ganesh to the school and gave him the background. Ganesh suggested, "We'll meet the district collector and tell him that the committee is lopsided." The headmaster did not agree. "The collector will immediately stop the selection, it will take time to form a new committee, our outstation students will suffer," he said.

Ganesh met the correspondent. Rajarathinam advised, "I am sending you because you speak fluent English, at the selection speak only in English. If you speak in Tamil you will not be able to win the argument. Rajapandi is a seasoned debator." Ganesh was worried. He did not want to lose where the village pride was at stake. He hid his nervousness and put up a brave smile.

Wednesday dawned. Ganesh was dressing his daughter for school when the phone rang. It was the headmaster. "We have to leave at 9.30 am -- don't be late.". Ganesh agreed to be there on time. Ganesh prayed more fervently that day. He reached the school on time. The school van arrived with the school kids who alighted with a lot of noise.

The headmaster, one lady teacher, the school clerk and Ganesh left for Tiruchendur. The school van reached the venue at 10.15 am. There was a crowd of parents outside the tahsildar's office. The office was filled with teachers from various schools.

There are seven government hostels in Tiruchendur taluka. The DWO walked in with a flourish. He wore a safari suit. He informed the committee members that he was new to this district and would like matters to move smoothly. He promised all help to all concerned. Selection to the six others hostels went off without any hitch.

Then the PNK boys hostel selection began. The DWO asked the PNK headmaster to come and sit close to him. Rajapandi was sitting on the other side. He glared, but did not object.

The Nalumavadi school correspondent was sitting next to Ganesh. The hostel warden read out, "Apart from last year's students there are 61 vacancies this year and 121 applications. One hundred and ten applications are from Sri Ganesar high school and 11 applications are from the Kamaraj high school."

Rajapandi immediately took the initiative. "As there are only 11 applications from Kamaraj school, they should all be admitted and the rest you can give them." "No!" said Tamarai Vinayagam. "If you give them 11 seats you should give us 110, the number of seats allotted should be proportionate to the number of applications."

"As it is you have more than a hundred students in the hostel and you grudge us 11 seats," screamed Rajapandi. "It is not a fault to have more than 100 students in the hostel," said Ganesh. "I am not saying its a fault," said Rajapandi. "Your tone implies that," Ganesh replied.

"Please don't fight, let's solve this amicably," said the DWO. His plea fell on deaf ears. Everybody was screaming as loudly as possible. Ganesh nudged the neighbouring school correspondent. "Don't forget you are married to a girl from my village." "Looks like you have forgotten that," retorted the worthy opponent. The PNK headmaster asked a Nalumavadi teacher to shut up. Rajapandi pounced on him . "How dare you insult him? He is older than you.". "There is no question of age, he asked him to keep quiet because he wasn't making sense," said Ganesh.

The DWO raised his voice and finally the noise subsided. "I'll deal with the applications. Firstly let us decide on what criteria we'll make the selections." The DWO's clerk announced that there were 50 letters of recommendations from three MLAs, one district secretary, two MPs and even one central minister. Everybody agreed that there were too many recommendations and therefore the entire lot should be ignored.

The Nalumavadi team wanted distance to be the criteria for selection. Students coming from far away should be given preference. The PNK team insisted that merit should be the criteria. Finally merit was agreed upon by the committee. As they went down the list Ganesh realised that all the Nalumavadi students had been selected. The Nalumavadi team had purposely said 'distance knowing that the PNK team would automatically say 'Merit'.

Knowing that they had been outmanouvred Ganesh reminded the DWO that the hostel was meant for poor students and those with an income of Rs 15,000 or more per annum should not be admitted. The DWO agreed. On the income criteria two students from Nalumavadi and one student from PNK lost their seats. Ganesh smiled inwardly. His sole aim had been to see that they did not get everything they asked for.

Then the girls hostel selection began. Rajapandi said, "Mr Tamarai Vinayagam you may leave the hall. You are not part of this committee, ask your school teacher to occupy that seat." The PNK headmaster refused. "I'll not leave the hall, the girls committee is lopsided, we have only one member, how come you have four?" he asked. "That you ask those who selected the committee, don't ask me," Rajapandi replied.

"How come your teachers have given their home address, it's not mentioned that they are working in your school," said Ganesh. "It is our wish we'll give what address we want," said the Nalumavadi correspondent.

The DWO intervened. "Mr Tamarai Vinayagam can stay as he is a headmaster." Rajapandi become angry.. "How come he is sitting so close to you? You are discussing everything amongst yourselves, you should let the committee know what you are saying," he screamed.

"Who the hell are you to decide where our headmaster should sit," Ganesh wanted to know. The Nalumavadi correspondent calmed him down, "Relax... why are you getting excited?" "You ask your headmaster to relax," said Ganesh.

Again the DWO took charge and the selections were made. Rajapandi left with his entourage. Tamarai Vinayagam told the DWO, "We are going to make a written complaint about the lopsided committee." "If you want ten more seats I'll give it to you, I didn't realise the committee was lopsided, I am new, next year we'll make sure the committee is balanced," the DWO said.

The PNK members had lunch in Tiruchendur and returned. They met the correspondent and told him what happened. They decided not to make a complaint as they did not want to antagonise the DWO. Ganesh said, "I think we should inform the fisheries minister how her nominee behaved." "You do that," said Rajarathinam. That night Ganesh wrote to the minister. We do not know if the minister read the letter.

Ganesh Nadar

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