School’s out for smart but stateless siblings

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Lorry driver M D Vengadeswaran (third from right, white shirt) protesting with his stateless children and members of the Freedom NGO outside the Penang Education Department today.

GEORGE TOWN: School is out early for three siblings, whose education has ground to a halt after they were asked to leave a Tamil primary school in Butterworth, near here, because they are not Malaysian citizens.

Two weeks ago, V Surya, 12 , V Agilandaiswary, 11, V Thurainayagi, 10, were told to stop attending school for the second time after they were asked to leave in January last year.

They were good students who had been marked out as “nambikei nachatiram” (star students) in SJK (T) Mak Mandin.

Their father M D Vengadeswaran, 44, is Malaysian. He said he underwent a paternity test to prove he was the children’s father after the children were asked to leave school last January.

Vengadeswaran, who is a lorry driver, said he was estranged from their mother, a Balinese woman of Chinese and Indian descent who had left for Indonesia seven years ago to attend her brother’s wedding and had not been seen since.

The three children born in the Seberang Jaya Hospital have non-citizen birth certificates.

Vengadeswaran said he submitted the paternity test results to the National Registration Department in Putrajaya, which later issued him a receipt for his application.

With the receipt, Vengadeswaran managed to enrol the children in school in June last year.

However, the children were told to leave school again on Jan 3.

“I am not asking for money. I just want my children to be in school,” Vengadeswaran told reporters today.

Earlier, Vengadeswaran, accompanied by members of Freedom, an NGO, handed over a memorandum to the Penang Education Department in Bukit Jambul.

They sent me off with a birthday cake

The eldest of the three children, Surya said on the day he and his siblings was told to leave, his teachers and classmates presented him with a birthday cake because Jan 3 was his birthday.

Surya hopes to join the military when he completes his education. He misses school and is afraid he will not be able to catch up on his lessons.

“I am worried that I will not be prepared for the UPSR exam in September,” he said in between sobs.

Meanwhile, Agilandaiswary and Thurainayagi said they were bored “doing nothing” at home.

“I do not know what is going on. I just want to study,” they said when reporters asked them if they knew what was happening.

Drama in the Education Department office

Vengadeswaran’s sisters Ganiswary, 49, and Vegniswary, 44, who take care of the children, broke into tears when they were told by state Education Department officers that the director was not available to meet them.

Ganiswary launched into a tirade accusing the department of being “all talk but no action”.

“We have come this far only for you to tell us that you (department director) are not available. All you can do is announce feel-good stories in newspapers,” she screamed at an education department staff.

After a 20-minute wait, a department official told the visitors the education director would meet with them next Friday at 10am.

Freedom NGO chief N Ganesan (right) speaking with an officer from the Penang Education Departmemt, with Vengadesan's family on tow.
Freedom NGO chief N Ganesan (right) speaking with an officer from the Penang Education Departmemt, with Vengadeswaran’s family on tow.

Wild goose chase

Meanwhile, Freedom chief N Ganesan said it was clear the education ministry and the state education department were “oblivious” to the plight of Vengadeswaran’s family.

“He (Vengadeswaran) is a lorry driver who is paid by the day and every day he spends running around in this mindless wild goose chase, he suffers a serious loss of income.

Freedom NGO chief N Ganesan (right) speaks with three stateless children who were kicked out from school recently. Their parent, M D Vengadeswaran (second from right) is a lorry driver.
Freedom NGO chief N Ganesan (right) speaks with three stateless children who were kicked out from school recently. Their parent, M D Vengadeswaran (second from right) is a lorry driver.

“Besides, he is a single parent and his life is in tatters on account of all this. Yet these officials do not care,” Ganesan said.

“All one can conclude from this is that there is an unstated policy of keeping lowly Indian workers down and out,” he said.

Ganesan said he had been helping Vengadesan reach out to education ministry officials in Putrajaya since last year, but his efforts had yielded no results.

“We are passed around from department to department. Either one is on leave or is in a meeting. Today, in Penang, it appears to be the same story,” Ganesan said.

Penang Education director Shaari Osman told FMT he could not discuss the case as he had been away and was unaware of the facts.

“Sorry, I cannot comment on this until I have seen all the facts,” he said.