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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Spam mail

Seems my account is hacked. I didn't send a mail with any link.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rathnamali Palamakumbura

qhj http://bootcampfranchise.com/fa/zez/acna/cbaa.htm

Rathnamali Palamakumbura

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If the Rajapaksas are not restrained there will be other Duminda Silvas and therefore other Bharatha Lakshman Premachandras

Transcurrents, 15 October 2011, 11:13 pm

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“A foul, dishonourable crew” Giaccomo Leopardi (To Angelo Mai III)

In the Rajapaksa Security State, insecurity is the common condition of the rest of us

Impunity makes jungles out of civilised societies, where the big and the powerful prey on those smaller and weaker, at will. In such lawless-states, violent death can befall any citizen who incurs the ire of someone stronger. When governance is criminalised, all are unsafe, from beggars to Presidential advisors

Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra was a veteran SLFPer. During Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency, Premachandra was that rare thing – a Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalist. In those long, lean years, while Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were pursuing the American Dream, Premachandra backed Rajapaksa openly, incurring presidential-wrath in consequence.

Then Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidency, and his family took over. Basil Rajapaksa claimed Gampaha as his fiefdom; Gotabhaya Rajapaksa appropriated Colombo as his dominion; and Namal Rajapaksa began his own creeping-invasion of the SLFP through Tharunyata Hetak and Nil Balakaya.

The Rajapaksa dynastic project requires a remoulded SLFP. Creating a new breed of politician whose primary loyalty is not to the party but to the Ruling Family is central to this task. Newcomers, who lack a politico-electoral base within the SLFP and thus are abjectly-dependent on the Siblings for their political-lives, are ideally suited to this purpose. UNP defectors such as Milinda Moragoda and Duminda Silva and political-neophytes such as Sachin Vas Gunawardane all belong in this category.

Duminda Silva epitomises this ‘New Rajapaksa-man’, who can act with impunity, so long as he abides by the iron-rule of unquestioning subservience to the Ruling Family. During his tenure as a UNP provincial councillor he rapidly made a name for unruly and criminal conduct.

Apart from being indicted for sexually-abusing a minor, he was arrested for other criminal deeds. In 2004 he was indicted for abduction and on four other counts; the main witness, Roger Allen Francis told the court that, “he was abducted by the accused, Silva, and his armed gang, demanding that his daughter be sent to him” (Sri Lanka News First – 5.9.2008).

In 2006 he was remanded for assaulting Provincial Minister Hector Bethmage, and remanded again for causing “injuries to an American woman sailor and assaulting two other American security officers of the US Embassy at a night club” (Daily News – 6.6.2006).

Despite this unblemished record of criminal-conduct, Silva was tolerated by the UNP and welcomed by the SLFP. Post-defection, he became a favoured-acolyte of the Rajapaksa Siblings. The charges against him were withdrawn by the AG and he was named the ‘monitoring MP’ of the Defence Ministry. Obviously the Siblings were aware of the ilk of the man they appointed to such a sensitive position. Equally obviously for the Siblings, Silva’s criminal conduct was a matter of negligible import; so long as he was servile to them, he could act as he wished towards others.

The feud between Premachandra and Silva was thus more than a political-turf war over Kollonnawa. It was a manifestation of the silent-contestation between the pre-Rajapaksa SLFP and the Rajapaksa SLFP.

As the Rajapaksas consolidated their stranglehold over the state and the government, the power of the likes of Duminda Silva within the SLFP began to grow, at the expense of old-timers such as Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. The Rajapaksas in power desire servile-acolytes, not loyal allies.

According to his family, Premachandra believed his life was in danger and complained to the authorities about it. His sister also wrote to the Speaker, asking protection for her brother. But the power-wielders were indifferent and the police, consequently, apathetic.

Perhaps this lackadaisical response emboldened his rival. Because a belief in impunity lies at the heart of the Kolonnawa killings; those who shot Premachandra repeatedly, at point-blank range, in full public view believed they were above the law. Why else would they be unfettered by the presence of so many eye-witnesses, who can testify against them in a court of law?

According to the testimony of Premachandra’s driver, “MP Duminda Silva fired at Mr. Premachandra after he fell down to the ground” (BBC – 12.10.2011). Rationally, Silva cannot be faulted for thinking that so long as he kowtowed to the Siblings, he could get away with blue-murder.

After all, the AG did withdraw two very serious charges against him and he was anointed as the ‘monitoring MP’ to the Defence Ministry. And the police are yet to move against him, despite the eye-witness testimony, though a less-favoured citizen would have been placed under arrest, even if he/she was dying. Perhaps Silva’s implicit faith in his political-masters is well-founded?

In one of his final speeches, Premachandra speaks of the threats to him and his supporters. Quoting Pastor Niemöller passionately, albeit inaccurately, he sounds a warning to fellow-SLFPers: “This shadow of death will someday come to their doorstep. I am telling you. Beware!” (www.colombotelegrpah.com).

It is an oddly prescient remark, a warning any SLFPer unwilling to become a Rajapaksa-cipher should heed. Because if the Rajapaksas are not restrained, there will be other Duminda Silvas, and therefore other Bhraratha Lakshman Premachandras

Recently, TULF leader V. Anandasangaree (whose anti-Tiger credentials are impeccable) protested to President Rajapaksa about the regime’s plans to launch a land-registration drive in the North.

Itemising the inappositeness of such a move in a province still reeling from war-ravages, he warned that “the people who had lost almost all their possessions are now scared that they will lose more under this scheme”. Obviously the Northern Tamils fear that this registration drive is an attempt by the state to use the post-war confusion to grab their traditional lands.

It is a reasonable fear, given the regime’s land-grabbing activities in the South. The latest such case is from Anuradhapura: “Residents of Palmadullagama say that they have been severely inconvenienced after their traditional farming lands were taken over by the state

They question the justice of these lands being taken over by the government and being used for development initiatives… Meanwhile, huts that had been built in Chenas in the Udaththawa (Hasalaka), have been burnt to the ground” (News First – 12.10.2011).

Impunity respects no boundaries, geographic, ethno-religious or political. So Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra met the same fate as the beggars murdered in Kelaniya and innumerable victims of custodial-killings.

The Sinhala peasants of Anuradhapura and the Tamil peasants of the North are to be dispossessed of their lands. The rest of us too will experience the ravages of this cancer; no citizen is safe when the Rule of Law is replaced by the law-of-the-rulers.

So the UPFA lost Colombo, despite the no-holds-barred campaign by all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, plus the King’s family and the King himself.

Colombo’s poor know of the Rajapaksas’ plan to evict them from their homes and Colombo’s citizens are arguably better informed than their counterparts elsewhere and thus more aware of Rajapaksa crimes and misdeeds. This confluence of economic and governance issues prevented a Rajapaksa-victory in Colombo, despite a weakened and fractured opposition.

But if the opposition fails to unite to prevent mass-evictions and defeat the anti-democratic Colombo Corporation plan, this victory may be its swan-song.

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Academicians in making and unmaking of a nation: relevance to Sri Lanka

Transcurrents, 1/07/2011, by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Naro Udeshi Commemoration Lecture,
Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Colombo, June 30, 2011

Chairman Sir, Members of the Naro Udeshi family, Nirupama my old friend from her days as the Hindu’s Colombo correspondent, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

Good evening. I am pleased to be here and honored by the invitation to speak today. When the Gandhi foundation asked me if I would speak today on academics in the making and unmaking of a nation, I readily agreed; not least because as an academic I found the subject fascinating and this an occasion, even an excuse, for me to think more deeply and formally on the subject.

I soon came readily to recognize that I had stepped into a quagmire without quite realizing it. For as I thought more and more I came to the conclusion that it is a dangerous topic in Sri Lanka given the times and, further, academics have played a more negative than positive role. Indeed this is a lecture that the army would not permit in Jaffna.

But I had given my word. So here goes. Academics have failed at nation building rather than contributed to it. When there is so much that binds us as Sri Lankans, we academics have written foul histories that distort our heritage.

I am no specialist in history, but as a fairly well read layman who has lived through very violent times, I share with many others a deep sense of anxiety about how bad history writing by academics furthers ethnic distrust and conflict. Fortunately in India a scholar like Abdul Kalam could be recognized with pride as among the greatest living Indians.

And yet the enormous Muslim contribution to the making of modern India and the plural character of India are not adequately acknowledged by historians. Muslim rule of many parts of India is treated as a violent intrusion. Hinduism is somehow treated as the ancient religion of Indians.

And yet a careful reading of the same history books would tell us that South India was largely Jain and Buddhist before the 7th Century AD and thereafter there was considerable persecution of Jains and Buddhists with strong indications of severe violence in some instances.

Is it a mere coincidence that conversion to Islam from about the thirteenth Century AD coincided with Hindu pressure on Buddhists and Jains, and the growth of a more intolerant form of Buddhism in Lanka?

We would also see that wars fought by Muslim conquerors were no more cruel than wars regularly fought by Indian rulers among themselves. In all these wars the winning faction captured loot and carried off women. Indeed the wars of Lankan Kings such as Parakrama Bahu I in South India were no exception. Yet Lankan historians have reserved the term invasions for the conquests of Indian kings in Lanka (when indeed the Indian kings were often the blood relations of their Lankan counterparts).

For a country supposedly fighting separatism, few scholars in this country have understood the middle ages. Local historians speak of the greatness of the reign of Parakramabahu who is credited with uniting the country. Likewise thirty years after his death in 1215 AD, the invasion of Kalinga Magha (identified by many Sinhalese as an incarnation of evil) is associated with the division of the country, eventually to be made a cetralised administration by the British. Did Parakramabahu really unite the kingdom if it fell apart 30 years after him? The events cannot be understood without the militaristic excesses of Parakramabahu giving rise to widespread insecurity and resentment, and after him, frequent changes of monarchs and instability. Very likely the country was already fragmented well before his death. The kingdoms of Southern India including Lanka were already in a state of decay, owing to corrupt administration, extortionate taxation and wasteful wars. Rebellion was incipient. Modern Lanka has learnt little from the middle ages. It is easier to blame Muslim and other invaders like European colonizers than ourselves.

There has been a general failure among scholars to come to a rational understanding about relations with India which appear inseparable from the ethnic conflict. We still do not understand the consequences of the grossly iniquitous citizenship acts of 1948/49. Dissatisfaction among the minorities was parallelled by official anti-Indian rhetoric and the use of history as propaganda.

Almost no scholarly reflection emerged from our universities after the 1977 and 1983 communal violence, except a mob attack on Tamil students by fellow students at Peradeniya in May 1983. There were also two papers also from Peradeniya by leading professors of geography and history, supporting Sinhalese ideological claims to the North-East and indirectly justifying colonization by state-sponsored Sinhalese paramilitaries of land in the North-East from 1984, where many original Tamil inhabitants were massacred by the armed forces.

This resulted in mainly LTTE massacres of Sinhalese. In the resulting embitterment the latter were actively or mainly passively justified by Tamil scholars, several of whom became experts at showing different faces to different actors.

The recent UN Report and Channel 4 revelations should not have evoked so much disbelief and resentment and the events described there should not have happened had our scholars been leaders of the public conscience rather than providing fuel to extremist ideologies.

The respected scholar M.D. Raghavan, who was for many years an anthropologist working for this institution, the Colombo Museum, has in his book India in Ceylonese, History, Society and Culture, painstakingly shown that Kerala influence forms the bedrock of Lankan culture, both Sinhalese and Tamil. There has been hardly any response from local scholars.

Instead, leading history books speak of Indo-Aryan migration as being the origin of the Sinhalese. This falsification by scholars is taken to new heights by state propaganda as in forced training for university entrants in a military environment where they are trained to become virtual cadres of the JHU or the SLFP Rightwing.

The Friday Forum comprising prominent intellectuals comments thus on the training:

“The curriculum reveals extremely problematic aspects. A prominent photograph of the Defence Secretary on the cover of the study guide suggests authorship by the Defence establishment.

The predominant focus is on military regimentation including a five-kilometre walk to be completed in 45 minutes irrespective of individual physical fitness … What is more problematic is the content of the module on history and national heritage. The topics are, in order, the arrival of the Aryans, foreign invasions, and the development of Sinhalese kingdoms. ‘National heritage’ focuses exclusively on prominent cultural symbols of the majority Sinhala community … with none from other communities. Subjecting new university entrants … to a course which focuses exclusively on the majority community, undermines all the official statements on national reconciliation after three decades of civil strife. If this is an officially sanctioned method of national reconciliation what hopes do we have for a peaceful, conflict-free future in this country? On the whole the curriculum seems to discourage tolerance for viewpoint difference, and sensitivities for the pluralism and diversity of our country. “

In many ways the contraction of our worldview into those of two narrow nationalisms lies at the root of the ethnic conflict. Only two generations ago India was part of our natural environment, where we went, studied and imbibed of its culture with no artificial barriers. Around when I was born my mother was the Maths teacher at Christ Church College, Tangalle. The principal then was Mr. Samuel from Kerala. The Attapatus were our friends and neighbours. When I began schooling in Jaffna the principal of St. John’s was Mr. P.T. Mattai and the principal of its sister school Chundikuli Girls’ College was a Miss. Mattai. The children of Sindi textile merchants were my friends and playmates. The contraction of my world is also reflected in the contraction of our collective mind. I believe more open relations with India are essential to our healing.

When children have to read nonsense as history, they are trained to ignore contradictions and are being uneducated and readied to believe anything that is fed to them! We are in a trap. We Tamils deny we were once Buddhists and Sinhalese see anything Buddhist as Sinhalese. So a friend of mine now living in Canada tilling his fields in Mullaitivu in the 1970s quickly broke up and reburied a statue of the Buddha he came across thinking that it proved that his fields were once Sinhalese fields. Tamils take no interest in the Buddhist ruins of Kantharodai in Jaffna, which date back to the early centuries AD when dialects resembling Tamil were common currency in this region and Sinhalese had, like Bengali, yet to emerge as a Creole of Prakrit used by the post-Asokan elite. The dual influences are reflected in early inscriptions. On the other hand the government has taken over the land calling it Kathurugoda and is in the process of settling Sinhalese there. This is what we academics have done to Lanka.

While a few academics have taken a broad, liberal inclusive view of national life, most take a sectarian parochial view, even a self-centered view, and little can be expected of us. For instance we all know that our university system is beset with severe problems. The chief of these is the absence of the rule of law. Even the UGC violates the very rules it is supposed to uphold. Millions are siphoned off. Council members unlawfully do business with the university to the tune of hundreds of millions of rupees and the UGC is too scared to ask how. Promotions are undeserved and against the rules. The administration is rude to the academics and the academics in turn are rude to students. In violation of the Act elected student leaders in Jaffna are asked to come to terms with Minister Devananda before they are recognized. In general there is total impunity for those in high office. In my years on the UGC I saw lots of corruption and only one Vice Chancellor was punished and that was by mere removal. We can cheat with almost guaranteed immunity. I think it has something to do with Sri Lanka’s culture which guarantees respect for those in high position. So when they steal, how can we show disrespect for them by filing charges? When on the UGC I saw the UGC employing its regulatory powers only on three occasions to forestall corruption and order those universities to set things right – once with Peradeniya and twice with Colombo – and they simply ignored the orders and nothing happened.

With all these things that need to be raised to address the quality of education we deliver, in the ongoing FUTA trade union action, the only thing the academics saw fit to raise is the issue of their salaries. I sympathise with my colleagues and do not blame them. Sometimes the students we teach come out and get jobs that pay more than our own. The nature of recruitment ensures that we work under our own teachers so we dare not question the judgement of our superiors whom we improperly called Sir as students and now continue to call Sir working as their juniors. So the patronage continues. Reform evades us. Speaking up is alien to our very being.

At the highest level the Vice Chancellors are beholden to ministry officials and I have seen VCs addressing ministry officials as Sir although I believe a VC is higher up on the protocol hierarchy and at least the equivalent of a ministry secretary. So we saw the recent spectacle in May this year when at the meeting of Vice Chancellors and Directors – the CVCD – a resolution was approved condemning the UN Secretary General over the Report and the VCs rabble rousing by raising alarm over regime change, meekly and dutifully passed it. There was inquiry as to whether the findings of the report are right or flawed. I doubt that they even read the report, showing how much our VCs understand scholarship.

We in Jaffna know the report is essentially correct. Several of our students suffered personal losses and we regularly see people without legs or hands or both legs and hands.

To us the claims of zero casualties by soldiers with the human rights charter in one hand and the gun in the other are hardly credible. We know of no soldier who goes about with the gun and the charter! Do you in the South?

Generally speaking therefore do not expect much by way of leadership from academics. I do not know if it is fair to expect so much from us when the rest of society is just like us. As an academic let me try to make up for my colleagues. When it comes to academics, I see a strong correlation between those educated in the national languages and those educated in English. Of those academics who write on national integration matters, the most respected academics across the ethnic chasm – here I include those who are engaged in the NGO sector as also academics – nearly all are foreign educated in English, often even for their undergraduate degrees. The top echelons operate in English in the NGO sector and even when they are employed in universities, their most important works are through seminars organized by the NGO sector. It is a sorry indictment on the university sector. It is my opinion that the most useful seminars in Sri Lanka are organized by the NGO sector and not by universities. For example when I lived in Colombo I was a regular attendee at the almost weekly seminars at ICES where I could pick up a broad cross section of views which I could not hear at our universities. Not at Colombo and not at Peradeniya. NGO-sector institutions were doing exactly what we in the universities are called upon to do and are paid for – generate ideas and question unproven assumptions.

Indeed there may be many independent persons writing in Sinhalese. But their writings are not subject to criticism and correction as would happen with English for lack of wide access.

I assert, strongly assert, my opinion that the fault lies in the idea of mother-tongue education. Let us be honest. However much we may love our own languages, Tamils numbering some 80 million people throughout the world and a fortiori the Singhalese who number a mere 16 million, do not – cannot – produce in our own languages the literature required for a broad intellectual discussion with a cross-section of views within the communities. Even where we produce good material there is no one outside of our closed societies to read and criticize us and thereby engage us as intellectuals in the process of fine-tuning and even rejecting or disseminating our ideas. That is the intellectual process – to test our ideas through dissemination and discussion. We do not have the numbers to sustain that process within the narrow confines of our own communities. The market will neither allow it nor bear it. Intellectual discourses need to be in an international language and this language today often is English. That is our dilemma. To reach the masses we need to write in Tamil or Sinhalese but for our writing to be respected through the test of widespread reading and critiquing, we must write in English or some other international language.

Consider that arts – or the humanities and social sciences – in which area education was switched for us to the mother tongue in the early sixties and the last English medium arts graduate came out of our universities early in the second half of the sixties. Now consider who our writers are who can write in sufficient depth and volume to sustain a vigorous intellectual engagement which naturally must include the test of debate and argument. Hardly one or two! Our best arts graduates are now in retirement – Thambaiya, Obeysekera, Pathmanathan, C.R. de Silva, Arasaratnam, Indrapala et al. Professor Carlo Fonseka is a rare non-Arts person from that generation who, though a medic, had had his works on human rights published by the UN.

Jayadeva Uyangoda and Sumanasiri Liyanage are two mother-tongue educated people from Sri Lanka contributing usefully to the literature and intellectual life on national issues. Since it is arts graduates who can think on and contribute to national issues as part of their active fulltime work, we have this hiatus in our midst.

Some of these above named so-called liberal writers too, have taken contradictory positions perhaps driven by their funding. It is argued that there are many more extremists among the English educated and those who wear the liberal label get to be intolerant when challenged. The point is well-taken. During the ceasefire, they bent over backwards to gloss over the violations of the LTTE, especially with child soldiers. But the fact is that what they wrote, being in English, was in the international domain and therefore subject to criticism and they continue to be a matter they need to explain as a result and cannot run away from.

This peace work therefore was unusually done by science graduates who perhaps were meant to study in the arts stream but because of pressures from home and society ended up as scientists. Science was taught at least from grade 9 onwards in English and from 1969 was in English only from the university. This pre-1969 period produced some prolific scientist writers in the English language working on political issues – Rajan Hoole, Rajasingam Narendran and Rajan Philippupillai are some of the few in this category. Rajan Hoole and K. Sritharan went on to earn that prestigious prize, the Martin Ennals Prize for Human Rights Defenders. I am unable to find the reference but an English academic has singled out with some admiration this unique phenomenon of Sri Lankan scientists taking to political writing. These are the more liberal writers on the Tamil side. For some strange reason there do not seem to be many Sinhalese writers from this period who were trained as scientists. Perhaps it is because politics was not a life and death issue for them as it had become for Tamils.

English newspapers have also cultivated a group of writers who, though educated in the mother tongue, built up on their English picked up at home, Church or big cities like Colombo and Kandy and through years of practice have become good writers. They however will not come under the category of academics with the intellectual training that comes through university education.

There are a few scientists, Sinhalese as well as Tamil, who though educated as scientists write rabid stuff and I do not need to mention them because in my judgement their writings have little intellectual content.

In the subsequent period – the post NCGE period when the essay and the précis disappeared from the school syllabus – English fluency in Sri Lanka collapsed because students were rarely called upon to form a sentence in English and English lessons consisted of filling in the blanks or circling the right answer. Even English language graduates could often not write properly. In these circumstances the few who could write soon became the even fewer from that age group who could contribute material of substance and were capable of thoughts beyond their narrow specialties. Writers I can think of in this category are Suresh Canagarajah, Neloufer de Mel, and Neluka Silva whom I have occasionally heard on issues of peace and justice when they are not working on their subject of work, English.

The 1980s and 90s onwards saw the phenomenon of bright school leavers paying from family funds or getting scholarships to study in the West, rejecting admission from the UGC. Although many of these studied in English full-time for 3-4 years in western universities, it was often too late to pick up the language with sufficient fluency to wield the pen effectively for essay-type writing. But especially those going to the US on scholarships were already fluent in English. For without sufficiently high scores in the SAT Verbal section they just would not have qualified for scholarships. These persons with the vigorous writing training that is part of American undergraduate education, have done well. Some contribute to Sri Lankan intellectual life from the NGO sector and with their higher degrees are certainly academics even though they do not work for universities.

We are now in the period where English school education has returned and good writers, Tamil as well as Sinhalese, are emerging again. Initially this group consisted of those who picked up their English from Church or home or big cities and then studied in English in India or the West. The Diaspora also has children who studied from grade 1 in English, were not biased towards science in their education and are good writers except when they are stricken by rank communalism of one sort or another and are engaged in activism of a divisive kind where their intellectual training has failed them. From this group, however, are emerging organizations with much potential such as Lanka Solidarity whose writings have been excellent so far. They consist of young intellectuals, Sinhalese and Tamils as well as persons of mixed parentage. Their weakness may be in their not being here in Sri Lanka and not reaching the Tamil and Sinhalese speaking segments to whom good content is scarce. Time will tell whether they can sustain their usefulness or become a mere forum for graduate school credential generation and for career building in their lives in America.

Let me now turn to nation building per se. In Mahatma Gandhi’s version of nation building we see truth, love, non-stealing, fearlessness, removal of untouchability, and tolerance as requirements for nation building. Gandhi’s list of ingredients also included some typically Gandhian ones, namely, chastity, control of food craving, nonpossession and bread labour. Some of these like chastity and not craving for food, as Jawaharlal Nehru would say, have no place in the modern world. On the other hand, the good things he had to say were in the context of winning independence from Britain. So we will seek our answers elsewhere for today’s context in Sri Lanka.

For me to speak about nation building, we must first define nation and that in itself is problematic. A dictionary defines nation as “a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own.”

On this basis of a definition, let me raise a hypothetical question as Europeans go into the European Union and America pushes NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Association. Why don’t we in South Asia all subsume our national identities and go into a new nation with a single united identity to be called South Asia with our own currency, one language Hindi, our own Parliament, one government etc.? Anyone could go and live anywhere in South Asia. In time Muslims and Bangladeshis and Pakistanis would be subsumed into the common South Asian identity and we would all be one happy people.

But it is an absurd proposition! We in Sri Lanka would all say no – a resounding no. Relying on that definition above we would feel we are not sufficiently conscious of our unity to seek or possess a South Asian government of our own, a common South Asian identity of our own. We would argue rightly that we the different and differing peoples of South Asia have our own history, our own geographic areas of inhabitation, our own language and culture and our own way of life. We rightly wish to preserve these and do not wish to be subsumed within a larger whole, to parts of which we feel little affinity.

Why then are our arguments for Sri Lanka the same? So different from the arguments for South Asia? When we see South Asia as our home such a bad idea, why do we hear politicians arguing for a unitary Sri Lanka?

One Sri Lanka will never work unless the different cultural groups have ways of expressing, practising and celebrating their culture. As Carolyn Stephenson notes quoting Immanuel Kant of the 17th Century:

“[P]eace can be achieved by developing a federation or league of free republican nations. Representative democracies, organized in an international organization, would bring peace.”

Kant’s argument is for a federational model for peace.

President Rajapakse in his recent sixty-third independence day message called out thus: “We must set right the error of both past and present in this march towards greater freedom. … Building a united Sri Lanka is the best means by which freedom can be secured and given more meaning.”

That word united. It is a profound word that no one could, ex facie, quarrel with. The President militaristically emphasized “a heritage of glory.” Be it noted, however, that the words culture and language used on that day are in the singular and not plural.

An inherent part of defining citizenship and national identity this way will in the same breath also define who is not a citizen and who lacks that united national identity. The title of the book by Sara Dorman, et al., captures this idea well: Making Nations, Creating Strangers. That is, in defining a nation, we also define strangers. The book explores how conflicts over the resources of the post-colonial state are legitimated through recourse to claims of nationhood and citizenship. Are we in Sri Lanka into the same game?

Under the authoritarian Francisco Franco who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1947 recognition for the Basque, Galician, and Catalan languages was rescinded for the first time and Spanish was declared the only official language for education and the transactions of the state. We see the ill-effects of this policy of enforcing one overarching culture in the separatist fissiparous tendencies in Spain to this day.

We may discern a similar tendency in Sri Lanka which is much like, as Rogers Brubaker notes, German definitions of citizenship based on blood lines as distinct from territory. As the BBC reported just a week ago, this leads to comical situations like at a dueling club. Some Bavarians felt that members with “non-European facial and bodily characteristics” did not qualify as Germans and so could not join their dueling contest, and that people who are not from the German family tree should not be admitted to student societies.”

We as observers of the German scene find it easy to laugh and even look down on this idea of citizenship by bloodline when we know how each of us has coursing in our veins quite many bloodlines. When it does not concern us, it is easy to be objective. But when the same thing plays out in our very midst, we are rendered blind. How often are we really chauvinists while thinking of ourselves as patriots?

Closer to home, we have Gnana Moonesinghe who in editing a book states in his Editor’s note that nation building is about upholding ethnical values, high standards in morality, about sharing and about redressing people’s grievances.”

Here we have it. The key to nation building – ethical values, high morality and redress of grievances. Let me repeat a couple of things I said in my LLRC testimony, arguing for a united but federal Sri Lanka:

“I have three daughters and a son. They are all equally my children and equally loved. But the girls have different bedrooms in our house because their needs are different. Under one roof we are one family but with different living quarters. The arrangement does not make my son unequal to my daughters.

Indeed the arrangement gives them greater freedom to lead fuller lives, one room with boy toys and comics and the others with dolls and wall posters and a library with books like Pride and Prejudice. Giving us Tamil people different space where we can give expression and life to our peculiar needs is not separation but true happy integration.

“Let me also paraphrase another family based argument that my daughter who worked for Dr. Jehan Perera heard from him. If I were to have a voting system among my children every time we go out as a family, the three girls would outvote my son and we would always end up shopping or eating at a classy restaurant. My son who would prefer Casuarina Beach would get outvoted. In time he would want to break off from the family and go to the beach with his friends. Majority vote would lead to separation but taking turns to integration.”

That is, the wishes of the majority cannot be forced on Tamils in the name of democracy and must be mediated through a federal arrangement. Yes, a good society must allow those who wish to be different to be different.

We make a serious mistake in thinking of differences as being confined to ethnicity alone. This takes me to Gandhi’s words on the removal of caste as integral to nation building. The very foundation of caste and its legitimacy is in our religions. Because most of us practice caste in some form, there is a hesitation to condemn it. It is comforting to say “Oh those days of caste are gone.” But let me tell you that I have even recently seen anonymous letters – letters in the plural – full of the repeated epithet “Nalapillai,” name calling Christians. True integration requires the equality of all castes. Only a person who suffers from caste will know how iniquitous it is. Caste in Jaffna is a big problem, I assure you. Recently in the municipal elections it was agreed within the EPDP of the ruling coalition that the Council member with the highest vote would be the Mayor. In the event, the person with the highest was illiterate and the second happened to be a Christian of the lower castes. The Minister in Jaffna bypassed him flouting the agreement and when this Councillor, Mangalanesan, protested, the Minister went to his home, physically beat him up and had Mangalensan locked up at his office complex at Sridhar Theatre till his choice from the higher castes was firmly ensconced in office. Many of Mangalanesan’s family members at Church have bitterly complained to me.

True nation building is about celebrating our differences without suppressing them and addressing grievances. I am afraid that the government is missing the point in its ever effervescent and exuberant pronouncements about unity.

In Sri Lanka we just do not seem to understand nation building. For example, according to an Editorial relating to the recent UN Report titled “A Welcome Stress on United Sri Lanka” it is said, open quotation, “Sri Lanka must forge ahead as one, united nation and country” … “President Mahinda Rajapaksa emphasized the necessity of Sri Lanka advancing into the future as one, united country, while engaging in events related to the Sambuddhathva Jayanthi celebrations,” … “one of the most disturbing results to flow from the Report – that is the UN Report – could be a re-opening of ‘old wounds’. This risk will be present to the degree to which the Report is discussed and debated hotly in the public domain.” Close quotation.

Now, as alleged in the UN Report, the LTTE used Tamil civilians as hostages in Mullivaikal and the government basically eliminated several LTTE cadres, some of them surrendering cadres, through executions and murdered tens of thousands of civilians through bombings including of hospitals. All the alleged war crimes, whether by the LTTE or government forces, relate to the killing of Tamils.

For a Sinhalese, what are the old wounds that will be reopened by an inquiry as claimed by the editorial? Indeed what are the wounds caused to the Sinhalese in the killing of Tamils?

The allegation is that the Tigers killed Tamil civilians, and government troops killed Tigers and Tamil civilians. That is, all those killed were Tamil. So what wounds for the Sinhalese? On the other hand, for a Tamil? Tens of thousands of us have been allegedly killed by government troops. The Channel 4 movie shows naked girls, some dead some seemingly dead but still groaning, being abused. It shows people being executed. If true, imagine the wounds arising from the incidents. Imagine further the wounds to those related to the dead or who narrowly escaped death from their own government saying no inquiries are necessary. Further, when I am told that we must engage in events related to the Sambuddhathva Jayanthi celebrations – I can hardly pronounce it – I do not even know what is being talked about. There seems to be no place for Tamils in this united Sri Lanka.

Just look at what is happening in Jaffna today. There is military rule. I was personally present when the army came and broke up an academic meeting on preserving ancient books. Our group is now scared of meeting again. PA/EPDP candidates can freely distribute posters for the upcoming local government elections. On the other hand, a private meeting of Federal Party candidates was broken up recently by the army beating up candidates.

As the Federal Party went to the police station to complain, Major General Hathurusinghe sent two high officers there to apologize and plead that no complaint be filed. After the Federal Party pressed ahead with its complaint, the Major General says he is unaware of the incident and no soldiers were present.

A cousin of mine, Ambi, was there as a candidate. He begged in Sinhalese and was spared an assault but in his presence another was beaten up and his glasses squashed under a boot. Several Federal Party friends have come out with the same consistent story to me. The government is untruthful about the incident and promises of inquiries are a part of the usual white washing.

There can be no nation building when we live under the military boot. Yes we just had an insurgency so the army has a legitimate role. But not displacing the civilian leadership to scare off opposition voters and candidates to ensure victory for Douglas Devananda. Not taking the front row at school cricket matches while we take the back seats. Not ordering about Hindu priests to do poojas at will while civilians need to stand out of the temple to give security to the soldiers. Indeed would Thomians and Royalists stand for the military on the front row at their big match?

The irony is that Provincial Councils were set up for us Tamils. But the North is the one place where there is no Council. Why? Because Douglas Devananda will lose. This is what the government is trying to forestall by beating up Federal Party candidates and scaring off supporters from the polls. Is this democracy?

This is not integration but disintegration all over again. My advice to the military: Be unobtrusive and just stick to law and order. Entering the civilian domain breeds resentment. My advice to the government:

Hold elections and deal with us through whom we elect, not thugs you impose on us. That is democracy.

We thus see that in defining a united Sri Lanka, Tamils of Sri Lanka and our feelings have been ignored. We are not building a Sri Lankan mansion of many rooms where Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Muslims and Malays and all cross-sections of these live together in amity. We are speaking of a Sri Lanka with a boring mono-cultural visage of imagined common bloodlines living in one large sultry Hall with no privacy. The enforced oneness appears so far to be entirely Sinhalese and Buddhist.

As Sanjana Hattotuwa, a young Sinhalese researcher and journalist educated for his first degree in India, correctly puts it,

“Post war Sri Lanka’s nation building efforts smack of denial, decrying violently any counter-narrative to what is projected by government as the whole and only Truth. … If we don’t have the confidence to embrace difference and its expression as the foundation of nation building, we risk seeing the mere absence of war as the best glue that binds our peoples. A timbre of debate that celebrates participation over domination, difference over conformity, creative conflict over supine compliance, critical questioning over mindless submission, still eludes us. … It is a grave mistake to think that any meaningful nation building will occur in an ahistorical vacuum removed from the emotions and violence they generate today.”

Continues Hattotuwa,

“The most progressive processes on nation building will be despite governments and politicians. They will begin with dignity and respect, include diversity and tolerance, debate identity and difference, and denounce hate and harm.”

I thank God that there are Sinhalese who think like this. I join The Rev. W.S. Senior in crying out to Almighty God for our land in the words of his Hymn for Ceylon:

Then bless her mighty Father,
With blessings needed most,
Give peace within her borders
Twixt man and man goodwill,


Thank you

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මෙන්න • ලංකාවේ උසස් අධ්‍යාපන අමාත්‍යාංශයේ නියැමුවන්

• ලංකාව ආශ්චර්යට ( අපායට) ගෙන යන්නට මූලික වන උසස් අධ්‍යාපන අමාත්‍යාංශයේ නියැමුවන් හඳුනා ගැනීම අප කාටත් වැදගත්ය.

පළමුවෙන් ඇමති නැතහොත් නායකයා හඳුනා ගනිමු ඔහු විදුදය සරසවියෙන් කාලකන්නි උපාධියක් ලබා ඇති අත්තෙන් අත්තට පැන අවසානයේ ජනාධිපතිගේ මරණීය ලනුව ගිල සියලු තටු සිඳගත් සිය දේශපාලන දිවියේ තොණ්ඩුව ගෙල පළඳාගෙන සිටින එස් බී දිසානායකය.

දෙවැන්නා නැතහොත් අමාත්‍යාංශ ලේකම් හැත්තෑව දශකයේ වසර දෙකක් පමන සහකාර කථිකාචාර්ය තනතුරක් පමනක් දරා ඉන් පසුව විදෙස්ගතව වාහන අමතර කොටස් ගෙන්වීම යනාදී නා නා ප්‍රකාර ව්‍යාපාර කොට ආපසු රටට පැමිණ එම ව්‍යාපාර කරමින් මේ ඇමතිවරයා කලින් සිටි අමාත්‍යාංශවල ඉහල තනතුරු දරා ඒවා හා එස් බී ද කාබාසීනියා කොට අවසානයේ සුපර් මාර්කට් එකක සේවය කරමින් සිට එස් බී ගේ දේශපාලන තොණ්ඩුව තව දුරටත් තද කිරීමේ අරමුනෙන් ලේකම් පදවිය බලහත්කාරයෙන් ගත් ආචාර්ය උපාධියක් ඇතැයි කියන නමුත් කිසිදු පර්යේෂණයක් ලිපියක් හෝ මළ පොතක්වත් ලියා නැති මොලයක් නැති නමුත් මස් වැද්දෙකු වැනි විශාල ශරීර කූඩුවක් ඇති නව රත්නයකි.

ඊට අමතරව එස් බී පාර්ලිමේන්තුවට ආදා සිටම කූඩැල්ලන් මෙන් එල්ලී ඔහුගේ ලේ උරා බොමින් සිටින උසස් අධ්‍යාපනය ගැන ගඳ සුවඳවත් නොදන්නා බඩ ගැත්තන් හා ගැත්තියන් අමාත්‍යාංශයේ විවිධ තනතුරු හොබවමින් එස් බී ගේ විනාශයට සෑහෙන දායකත්වයක් දෙමින් සිටී. ඒ අතරින් එක් අයකු වනුයේ නිදා ගන්න විටත් ටයි කෝට් නැතිවම බැරි එහෙත් අපොස සාමාන්‍ය පෙළවත් සමත් නැති දිවීමේ ක්‍රීඩාවට වාර්තා පිහිටුවා ඇති මහාචාර්යයන් හා එකට උස් ආසනවල වැජඛෙමින් අමාත්‍යාංශයට මහඟ= දායකත්වයක් දක්වන ක්‍රීඩකයෙකි.

ඊට වඩා වෙනස් ආකාරයකින් ඇමතිට සේවය කරන උසස් අධයාපනය ලෙවකාවත් නැති පඹයන් වැනි පුරුෂයින් දෙදෙනෙකුට අයත් කාන්තාවන් දෙදෙනෙකුද ඇත. අමාත්‍යාංශ තනතුරු දී ඇතත් ඔවුන්ගේ රාජකාරි ඛෙහෙවින් වෙනස්ය. ඔවුන්ගේ කාර්යයන් අතර කුස්සියේ කක්කුස්සියේ සිට නිඳි යහන දක්වා එකී නොකී සියලූ කාර්යයන් වේ. ඔවුන්ගේ පුරුෂයින්ට පෞරුෂය නැතත් තම බිරියන් හමු වීමට ලොක්කාගේ අවසරය ගත යුතුය. එම එක කාන්තාවක් ආචාර්ය උපාධියක් ඇතත් කලකට ඉහත රජයේ රැකියාවක සිට මුදල් වංචාවකට වැරදිකරු වී රටින් පැන ගොස් සැඟව සිටි තැනැත්තියකි. ඉහතින් දැක්වූ කාර්යයන්ට අමතරව ලොක්කාට ඉංගිරිසි ඉගැන්වීමේ කාර්යයේද නියැලී සිටී. ඒ හැරෙන්නට එස් බී සමඟ පක්ෂෙන් පක්සෙට පැන අඪු බඪු කඩා ගත් දකුණේ පරාජිත දේශපාලකයෙක්ද සරසවි සිසු සුභසාසනය භාර තනතුරක් දරමින් ඇත.

ලොව කිසිදු රටක දක්නට නැති මෙවන් උගත් මානව සම්පත් විසින් පාලනය කරන අපගේ සරසවිවල සිසුන්ට හා ඇදුරන්ට සිව් මහ දෙවිවරුන්ගේම පිහිටයි.

පී අන්දරවැව

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Arsenic upheaval and the hipocracy of the Academia

The Island, 30/06/2011,

Had someone studied thoughtfully the development of the "Arsenic Issue" in the media. It would be very obvious that sonic groups with vested interests were trying to cover up the core issue of importing banned agro-chemicals into the country. At the very initial stage of uproar when Kelaniya-Rajarata Research Team (KART) raised the Arsenic issue by attributing it with chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Eitiology (CKDUE), the bureaucracy responded negatively with a prejudice. They, while totally rejecting the research hypothesis of KRRT, overdid the counter propaganda to disprove the claims of containing Arsenic in rice. It was appallingly so obvious that the clamour was the toot of cover-up.

One academic at Peradeniya went onto an extent of ridiculing other scientists by saying that there are no proper facilities in Sri Lanka to test for Arsenic. But in a very short time he was proved misinformed or misinterpreting. Another academic from the same university who was also involved in the World. Health Organization (WHO) sponsored CKDUE research project, expressed his dismay in a newspaper article over the "unscientific nature" of Kelaniya-Rajarata research work.

A professor from the Jayawardanapura University also expressed the same sentiments in a different way in a response to a newspaper article of Prof. Nalin De Silva who is heading the KRRT. There he rightly stressed that further research is needed to directly attribute CKDUE with presence of Arsenic in water. There is no argument at all about it as Prof. Nalin himself has accepted the fact that further research is needed, although he did not hide his sentiments towards western research methodologies.

This academic at Jayawardenapura, in his response to Prof. Nalin De Silva, implied that the main issue being discussed in the public domain was CKDUE and its possible causative factors. But on the contrary, the politically sensitive issued was the Presence of Arsenic and Mercury in Agro-chemicals imported to the country. It should be also noted that he was very careful not to mention a word about the presence of Mercury in pesticides although it was also an issue. He, being a member of the WHO sponsored research team, may have been more sensitive towards the CKDUE and the set of hypothesis presumably suggested by the international funding agencies. As such, we could understand as to why chronic Arsenic poisoning was not included in this so called set of hypothesis.

Also the academic who is said to have taken over the responsibility of allocating a massive research fund of 4000 million, has sanctioned without any reservation that there is no relationship between Arsenic and CKDUE. We are wondering as to who on earth have given her the authority to disprove a hypothesis of another research team without significant research evidence to prove another "hypothesis of her choice". Anyway it is up. to the layman citizens of this country to test a hypothesis of their own as to why the academics and bureaucrats in this country are behaving in such a biased manner on a very serious public health hazard.

Now very specific allegations are leveled against a large number of brands of widely used pesticides for containing banned highly toxic elements like Arsenic and Mercury. The customs department has sent a list of 58 such brands of pesticides to the pesticide, registrar and the KRRT claims to have identified 28 brands with Arsenic and 13 brands with Mercury in significant levels. Isn't this situation alarming for any social minded or matured citizen to respond positively? Even a school child could understand that Arsenic and Mercury are banned because release of these elements to the environment is a serious health hazard. For someone who is more concerned, there are enough research evidence in the world about the toxicological effects of these elements in humans which are available in the internet. It is up to our researchers and academics to do further research in Sri Lanka to find out whether Arsenic and Mercury found in pesticides, appear in significant levels in water and soil and ultimately in our food chain. And then not only KRRT or WHO research team but also many other research teams will have to do long term research on health effects of chronic Arsenic and Mercury poisoning, which may well go beyond CKDUE.

Also, there is need to do social research as to why Sri Lanka has banned only 25 out of about 80 chemicals banned world wide and also as to how sonic of the banned chemicals in Sri Lankan appear in the market and used by the innocent farmers. One may have to do a retrospective study to ascertain the pros and cons of abolishing extension service in Agriculture Department and letting farmers get advice on pesticide from "MUDALALIS".

The other most dangerous thing to happen to our farmers is the import of deadly Endofin from India. Recently Supreme Court in India banned Endofin in a. public interest litigation and ordered production, distribution and sale to be stopped completely. But unfortunately court did not give a ruling regarding the stocks in. hand which is estimated to be 30,000 metric. tones. Sri Lanka is the best destination for them to dump part of that stock presumably without any repercussion. There is no way to keep cheek on this because we do not test for so called active ingredients routinely in pesticides.

So far no country in the world has set so called minimum levels of Arsenic and Mercury in pesticides, because agro-chemicals containing them are totally banned. If anyone of our academics suggest for so called minimum levels that will be a violation of Rotterdam convention which Sri Lanka has ratified. Also how can a research minded academic accept the claims of the, pesticide registrar. that there are only three brands of pesticides containing Arsenic and none containing Mercury out of more than one thousand brands he has registered; especially, when the results are not re-confirmed in another acceptable laboratory? This argument is very justifiable because of the complicated and variable nature of the testing methodologies. But so far none of the vociferous academics have called for such verification in the presence of different schools of researchers as well as the media.

Unfortunately responsible bureaucrats holding responsible positions in our country failed to understand this reality. They keep on ‘giving dead ropes’ to the government ministers that pesticides contain very low levels of, toxic elements and as such present crisis will be over if the government introduce minimum levels of toxic elements in pesticides. It is appalling that those academics, who are said to be the most learned people in the country, do not condemn such moves.

All these bureaucrats and academics know very well that countries like ours are dumping grounds for those banned chemicals, produced over a long period of time in so called developed countries. Are they compromising scientific accuracies to the political correctness of those profit motives of multinational co operations? How these learned academics can put forward hairsplitting arguments on effects of a particular course ignoring the very existence of the same.

As concluding remarks I would like to quote honorable Martin Luther King, "The history will record that the tragedy of our time is not the strident clamor of bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people".

K. M. Wasantha Bandara
General Secretary
Patriotic National Movement

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

The diary of an extraordinary human being: A Review of Ben Bavinck’s "Of Tamils and Tigers"

The Island, 24/06/2011, NOTEBOOK OF A NOBODY

by Shanie

"This is a time of reflection for the Tamil community; a time for refashioning its politics. Even though the Tamil nationalist vision for a separate state met with a decisive military defeat in 2009, the politico-military decline of the LTTE had begun far earlier, with the convergence of multifarious set of political developments, both local and international, that began the downward spiral at a time when seemingly the LTTE was at its strongest.....

This time of reckoning is not just for the Tamils but also for the majority Sinhala community....Today, after the end of the war, the minorities fear that history is being rewritten. They fear that injustices meted out to the minorities are being written off that there is an unwillingness on the part of the majority community, even after years of destruction and polarisation in the country, to ...understand and acknowledge the history that pushed the Tamils to the edge, into the arms of the Tigers, (to understand) the uneasy relationship that ordinary Tamils had with the LTTE …...(and) that the demands for democracy and accountability are being brushed aside by an arrogant authoritarian state."

Rajani Thiranagama, an academic attached to the Medical Faculty of the University of Jaffna, was brutally shot and killed allegedly by an LTTE cadre in 1989. It was she, along with a few of her colleagues in the University of Jaffna who formed the University Teachers for Human Rights which became well known for the courageous stand they took against violations of human rights by the different actors in the Thirty Years War. Because of the principled stand the UTHR took, Thiranagama was gunned down and the other leaders like Rajan Hoole and Sritharan were driven underground. But despite these setbacks, the UTHR continued to publish their bulletins at regular intervals. These bulletins came to acquire a reputation for reliability in investigative reporting. They were able to do this because they obviously had a network of trusted informants which they cross-checked for accuracy before publication. It was this independence and integrity that made the UTHR bulletins become so very reliable, leading to the UTHR receiving the Martin Ennals Award as brave defenders of human rights.

A group of people who shared the vision and thinking of Thiranagama and the UTHR formed the Rajani Thiranagama Memorial Committee to remember the twentieth anniversary of Thiranagama’s assassination. The Committee continues to function and has taken the initiative in publishing, in collaboration with Vijitha Yapa Publications, the diaries of Ben Bavinck, a Dutch church worker, who was both a teacher of Thiranagama and a close friend of the founders and leaders of the UTHR. The diaries are published under the title ‘Of Tamils and Tigers - a journey through Sri Lanka’s war years’. The book was launched in London recently and the quotation at the head of this column is from the Introduction to the Diaries written by the Rajani Thiranagama Memorial Committee. Whereas the UTHR bulletins were based on investigative reporting by the authors, Bavinck’s dairies are personal reflections by the author during the period covered which is from 1988-1994. (A second volume covering the years 1994-2004 is under preparation.) The bulletins and the diaries therefore complement each other in providing the only accurate and independent recording of the events of that period in our country’s troubled past.

Bavinck’s diaries were originally maintained in Dutch (for understandable reasons) and have been translated into English for publication. They are frank and written in a style that makes for easy reading. It will be an indispensable tool for anyone researching the political and social history of Sri Lanka during the war years. Although it is essentially about the North and East, there are many references to the happenings in Colombo and elsewhere in the South as Bavinck operated from Colombo during this period as the relief co-ordinator for the National Christian Council. Like the UTHR bulletins, Bavinck’s diaries are balanced and the sensitive concern of the diarist for peace and justice comes through very clearly. As Professor Valentine Daniel says in his Foreword, in the hands of the lesser man, the years covered in the diary could have been given to a selective recording of the vilest and the most hateful aspects of the period, a journal dedicated solely to the pornography of violence. "It is not so with Ben Bavinck, who sees moments in the midst of war of acts of humanity and shared human concerns on both sides, and even when he witnessed the worst, he was capable of envisioning the possibility and promise of it being otherwise."

The Diary

A sample of the entries will show the depth and the fairness of the diarist’s recordings:

!3th September 1988 (following a JVP declared Hartal the previous day): "I found that the success of yesterday’s Hartal has really shocked people. A few men with guns can apparently start a rule of fear. Would it be possible to break this by refusing and resisting on a mass scale? Does a whole society give in too easily? It looks as if the Jaffna story has started here too. How will it ever end?"

20th September 1988: "I feel tired and lethargic. But I decided nevertheless to walk around the Beira Lake. While walking, I was thinking about the situation in the North, where one finds an atmosphere of cynicism about the Indian proposed ceasefire. "It will not lead to anything!" and "How can our ‘boys’ trust the Indians?" It is important to break through this cynicism and not to forget that this is one of the few chances we have got to bring an end to the violence and misery. And we should not forget that neither the Indians nor the Sinhalese have much reason to trust the Tigers. It is necessary to have a positive attitude which is willing to take risks. But actually one so often comes across a cynical mindset, which can only lead to the disintegration of this island."

8th July 1989 (following President Premadasa’s wooing of the LTTE to oppose the IPKF): "One of the most amazing and incomprehensible developments is the total reversal in Sinhalese opinion about the Tigers. Of course, one can notice this in Premadasa’s appeal to the IPKF not to attack the Tigers. But the most amazing example of this changed attitude was at a meeting of our own Rehabilitation Committee where a Sinhalese pastor said, ‘The Indians must stop killing our boys.’ Our boys! Who are these boys? They are the Tigers! Really unbelievable!

1st August 1989: "The murders by the JVP continue. Now a popular Sinhalese TV personality, Mr Guruge, has been killed. I heard that when Mrs Guruge had found her badly wounded husband and wanted to take him to hospital, all cars simply drove on....Fear demoralises people and the community as a whole. One has to pray that one will not, like the priest and the Lebvite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, just pass by when suddenly a fellow human being in desperate need lies at one’s feet."

1st October1989: "On Sunday morning I cycled from Vaddukoddai to Jaffna to visit the Rajasingham family, the parents and sisters of Rajani. My old colleague Rajasingham was very downcast, and he wondered whether Rajani had not been too audacious. But he felt that the urge to stand up for justice and human rights came from deep within her being. He asked me to speak at the meeting in the university in her memory the next day. He mentioned that I had been her teacher, and that my stories about the Second World War and about resistance to the Nazis had influenced her. I also talked to Rajan Hoole. He was practically sure the ‘the striped animals’ had done this, but didn’t want to speak about this at this time, so as not to disturb the ceremonies in commemoration of Rajani. He told me that Rajani had been shot from behind as she was cycling home from the university, by someone on a bicycle."

2nd October 1989: "In the morning, I finished preparing my speech and proceeded to the university. There we heard that the procession through the town, in the morning, had been attended by 3000 people, including the Vice-Chancellor if the University, Prof Thurairajah. The Kailasapathy Auditorium was also filled completely when the meeting started under the chairmanship of the vice-chancellor. There were twelve speakers. I spoke about that sentence from the Gospel, which says that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit. Self-sacrifice as a vocation, which only the best among us dare to accept."

21st February 1990: "Back in Colombo, I attended the funeral of Richard de Zoysa, a well-known TV journalist, age 35, who in the night had been taken out of his house and killed. His body had been founded the next day by a fisherman as it was floating in the sea. There are suspicions against the Police, but a top minister, without offering any proof, coolly blamed RAW, the Indian Secret Service."

20th August 1990: "This morning I heard that the unfortunate Methodist pastor who was trapped with his lorry at Iyakachchi had still not been relieved. Another Methodist convoy had been attacked by a helicopter resulting in Rev Govindaraj being wounded in the back of his head. Going to Vaddukoddai, I met Principal Jebanesan also on his bicycle. He told me that Vaddukoddai had been bombed just then. We cycled there quickly and found that two dive-bombers had indeed been busy dropping four bombs. One destroyed the Primary school of Jaffna College by the side of the church, another fell behind the church near the boys’ home, which was badly damaged. The boys had all been in a bunker and were not hurt, but some teachers had sought refuge under a water tank. One of them was killed by a piece of shrapnel which had penetrated his abdomen. One bomb fell on a Co-op Store and another fell on a private house, where four people were killed, two of them children of 11 and 8 years. Totally incomprehensible why this bombardment took place. Were they under the impression that small arms factories were operated here by the Tigers?"

15th April 1994: "Sri was here. He told me about a Tamil friend Manoranjan, who writes very good Sinhala and regularly contributes a column to the organ of MIRJE, called Yukthiya, in which he describes the situation in Jaffna and the feelings and perplexities of people there. Apparently this column provokes many reactions from Sinhalese people, often even from persons in the armed forces. Many of these reactions show much understanding and compassion. It confirms the idea that the ordinary Sinhalese person is very friendly and capable of tolerance and understanding for others. The intolerance is found among the more educated Sinhalese. Sri also told me ...a Tamil university professor had reproached the UTHR (J) that it was all the time criticising the Tigers. He seemed to feel that we should not speak about the failings and misdeeds of the Tigers while the fight was still on."

Need for critical assessment

Bavinck, who lived and worked in Sri Lanka for a total of thirty three years, in two almost equal spells, had a sensitive mind that enabled him to reflect with understanding on the conflict in Sri Lanka. He lived in his native Netherlands during the Nazi occupation in the Second World War and says that that experience had a profound impact on him, creating a deep abhorrence of authoritarian fascist rule. He was publishing his diaries in the hope that it would ‘help the Tamils as well as the Sinhalese to strengthen a critical assessment of the policies and actions of their own government/movements/armed forces during the period covered. This may be of value in the ongoing search for a lasting peace in Sri Lanka.’ Even after the war has ended now, that critical assessment is still needed, Even more, a critical self-assessment is needed by everyone in Sri Lanka to reflect if we have shown any real understanding of the pain and suffering of ‘the other’ and instead become mere apologists for the failings and misdeeds of the government/armed militants/armed forces in our country’s tragic past and present.

As Professor Valentile Daniel states in his Foreword, Bavinck’s Diary entries are ‘a record of what he had seen and has now witnessed; an emotionally charged landscape that was at once subtle and plain, complex and transparent, objective yet interpreted. This diary is a gift, not only to the historian and research scholar, but to every (Sri Lankan) citizen, whatever be the state with which he or she chooses to identify himself/herself with.’ In addition to Ben Bavinck, we have to be grateful to the Rajani Thiranagama Memorial Committee and Vijitha Yapa Publications for making this Diary available to a wider readership.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Checkmate, Rajapakse! The UN Report, Militarism and Public Religion in Sri Lanka

Groundviews, 9 Jun, 2011 Darini Rajasingham Senanayake Colombo, Features, International,International Relations, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, UN Panel Report,War Crimes

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayvam

Many things in the international arena came together to cast a shadow on the second anniversary celebrations of the Sri Lanka Government’s victory over the LTTE, after three decades of war on May 19, 2011. The United Nations had recently released a semi-official report on alleged war crimes which implicated both parties to the war and laid the groundwork for future action against the Government of Sri Lanka and what remains of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In neighhouring Tamil Nadu, India, the newly elected Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram urged Delhi for a war crimes trial of Mahinda Rajapakse, president of Sri Lanka, and subsequently passed a special resolution calling for economic sanctions against the regime.

In the Hague, the International Criminal Court had issued arrest warrants on Libyan leader Gaddafi and his son for crimes against humanity. Both, whom the emergent Rajapakse dynasty in Lanka had been cultivating, had their assets frozen. Meanwhile, protests were escalating in-country due to the spiraling cost of living and a sense that the peace dividend has been denied the working-classes who most deserved it, signaling the waning of the southern polity’s extended honeymoon with the Rajapakse regime for ending the war with the LTTE. The shooting to death of a protesting worker in the Katunayaka Free Trade Zone by the police, drawing legitimacy from the Emergency Regulation still in force, solidified public disaffection. The killing and the subsequent army take-over of the FRZ underlined the erosion of democratic space through ongoing militiarization.

Checkmate in chess and other Chaturanga board game occurs when one player’s king is threatened with capture (check ) , or under direct attack: The player who is checkmated loses the game. If a king is under attack but the threat can be met, then the king is said to be in ‘check’, but is not in checkmate. If a player is not in check but has no legal move (that is, every possible move would put him in check), the result of the game is stalemate and the game ends in a draw but is effectively a loss for the stalemated player. In practice, most players resign an inevitably lost game before being checkmated since it is considered bad etiquette to continue playing in a completely hopeless position.

The semi official UN report had put the President of Sri Lanka comprehensively in ‘check’. To survive he will need to transform his game. Although a stalemate exists at this time the writing is on the wall and the direction of the game clear. The UN report has also put some members of the ruling Rajapakse family, US citizens subject to US jurisdiction, in ‘checkmate’. The groundwork for further action including for command responsibility against the regime is in place and this fact has not been lost on the professor of law who is the Foreign Minister.

Command Responsibility, established in the Hague and the Geneva Conventions, pertains to accountability in war crimes. It establishes that though soldiers of the armed forces and paramilitary units are directly responsible for the war crimes committed first-hand, the military officials who ordered and supervised these acts are also guilty, along with the head of state who controlled the military units. The Government of Sri Lanka has strenuously avoided the UN Secretary General’s repeated requests for a response to the semi-official UN report. Perjury may become an issue later.

In the aftermath of the semi-official UN report, Foreign Minister G.L Peries rushed off to New Delhi for support. While there, he was read the Riot Act and required to sign a statement that called for the repeal of Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Meanwhile the United States and European Union assured the government that ‘regime change’ was not on the agenda at this time (but perhaps later, depending on how the Rajapakse regime’s game evolves). Right now the Western powers have their hands full with the Arab Spring, but the Tamil diaspora and international civil society seem focused and determined that justice be done at war’s end in Sri Lanka. GoSL has also asked or time and space for reconciliation – but it will need to be genuine. Official ‘truths’ generated by State propaganda machines are now being challenged by non-official truths, presented by ordinary people and easily disseminated through the new media technologies, as amply demonstrated by the Arab Spring.

In short, the wheel of international justice, like the wheel of samsara, turns slowly but surely. The protests by university dons and students against government policies, low wages and the militarization of higher education, as well as protests by women workers in the Free Trade Zones against a private sector pension scheme, herald the gathering storm. While the government claims it cannot afford to pay university dons a decent wage, it has spent billions on vainglorious military celebrations and kitsch Vesak festivities that constitute a distortion of the doctrine, spirit and practice of Buddhism, with its core values of non violence, tolerance and simplicity. It is now evident to the citizenry that the long awaited peace dividend of post-war economic growth has been gobbled up by the ruling political elite, and the jambo Cabinet of Ministers while the laboring masses are still footing the bill for the excesses of Rajapakse’s egoism, manifest in funds spent on foreign public relations companies and extravaganzas like the Commonwealth Games bid, SAARC beach games in Hambantoa, 3 new international cricket stadiums, Bollywood awards nights, state subsidized military businesses and a swollen and costly military that provides illusory comfort in the face of the semi-official UN report hanging like the Sword of Democlese over the Rajapakse Triumvirate.

To avoid ‘checkmate’ the regime will need to resolve the root causes of the ethnic conflict and learn to share power with the minorities at the center and in the regions. Enabling or disabling genuine reconciliation, democracy and power-sharing in Lanka will be the litmus test of the international community’s resolve. The statement signed in New Delhi called for “genuine reconciliation”, signaling that Delhi was not sold on the “Senate” idea in lieu of genuine devolution of power to the north and east. Minimally, the already existing articles for devolution of power to the provinces need to be implemented in the north and east within the next six months. Currently military rule and occupation continues unabated and local governance is effectively in the hands of the military

Singapore, Sri Lanka and Minority Question

Mr. Tharman Shanmugratnam, of Ceylon Tamil immigrant descent was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore in May 2011 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, although 78% of the population is ethnic Chinese and the South Asian, largely Tamil, population is less than 9%. Independent Singapore’s first Foreign Minister was also a Ceylon Tamil. Singapore’s first PM, Lee Kuan Yew, who had great respect for Rajaratnam (after whom the Rajaratnam School of International Studies is named) recently dismissed the Rajapakse government in Sri Lanka as racist.

Sri Lanka has never had a President or Prime Minister from a minority community. Presently, the United States has a president from the African American community, and India a prime minister from the Sikh minority, which had also waged armed struggle against the Indian state.

If President Rajapakse and Professor G.L Peries are serious about sharing power at the center they should request current Prime Minister D.M Jayaratne to resign and replace him with a citizen from a minority community, preferably a Tamil because it is this community that has suffered the most due to state discrimination, the root cause of the war. The new PM would need to be a person of integrity, intellect and moral stature. Needless to say this would rule out the Tamil warlords morphed into stooges who currently support the regime. The current Prime Minister, D.M Jayaratne, has demonstrated that he is not of the requisite caliber for this office in a country recovering from political and cultural conflict and deeply in need of reconciliation. For instance, school children in Jaffna were forced to sing the national anthem in Sinhala in his presence on December 26, 2010, despite protests, displaying a singular insensitivity to the need for reconciliation and respect for cultural diversity. He also claimed, in Parliament a few months ago, that there were LTTE camps in India in an attempt to justify extending the Emergency Regulations, but was corrected by the Indian Government: while at an International Women’s Day event in March this year he claimed that there was no discrimination against women in any sphere in Sri Lanka – even though women have less than 5 percent representation in government. It is indeed time that women and minority communities in the country were enabled to share power at the center as well as govern themselves in the provinces where they are the majority linguistic community.

Of Guns and Robes: Securing and Salving a Conscience?

On the second anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE, in May 2011, rather than declaring a national reconciliation month, a War Heroes or Ranaviru month was declared by the regime. The second anniversary was also channelized into the celebration of Vesak and the Sambuddhathva Jayanthi, with billions spent on construction of a Buddhist Information Center. The President engaged himself in a merry-go-round of public religious activity. He inaugurated various religious projects such as the Buddhist Museum in Kandy, visiting the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters, and gave alms to 500 monks at Gangaramaya temple in Colombo. The Vesak celebrations and decorations organized by the army, navy and air force is a sign of the militarization of public religion in Lanka. Buddhism seems increasingly in need of rescue from its self-appointed guardians - the Rajapakse regime.

Professor Gananth Obeysekere, one of Sri Lanka’s foremost scholars of Buddhism and Comparative Religion, has written about the Conscience of Duttugamunu who (like Emperor Asoka), being troubled after the killing of the Tamil king Elara, felt compelled to make amends and atone for the violence and suffering. But the public religious rituals that President Rajapakse indulged in seemed to reflect a still troubled conscious, more akin to that of Macbeth. For while LTTE terrorism has been wiped out, state terrorism continues in many forms, given immunity by the ER and the PTA. The extravagant, grandiose and kitsch celebrations this May lacked a sense of perspective and the true spirit and practice of Buddhism – ahimsa or non-violence,annicha (impermanence – including of power) and simplicity. The official Vesak celebrations, with the stamp of the armed forces seem to characterize a “political religion”, mobilized for the personal political gain of a ruler who wishes to project himself as a God King for having “defeated terrorism in the country”.

Religion has always been used and abused by nationalists and self-declared liberators of the ‘wretched of the earth’, in ways often contrary to the spirit and practice of their doctrines. Nowhere is this fact more evident than in Sri Lanka where the Buddhist principles of Ahimsa,Metta and Karuna has been twisted, commercialized, vulgarized and marketed beyond recognition by official public and politico-religious authorities and nationalists – also manifest in the building of ever more grandiose stupas and statues, extravagant Bodhi and pahan pujas to celebrate war victory, rather than considering the victims of violence and meditating on Samsara. As Osama bin Laden used Islam to promote violence, Mahinda Rajapakse uses Buddhism to legitimize continued militarization, occupation and oppression of minorities and the poor. Osama Bin Laden wanted to create a religious state, but the uprisings in the region have challenged both his and the western Orientalist version of Islam. Buddhists in Lanka will need to challenge the current construction, use and abuse of Buddhism by politicians.

Beyond the public religious nationalism of the Rajapakse regime and its celebration of the Sambuddhathva Jayanthi, there is another kinder, gentler and truer history of religion in Lanka where Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians; Sinhalese and Tamils have co-existed and shared gods, and one might add, goddesses for centuries before the birth of the modern state and the invention of ‘religion’ as a form of nationalism in South Asia. Ironically, Sinhala nationalists who have become self-appointed ‘protectors’ and ‘guardians’ with guns to defend the Sri Lanka regime’s version of public religion have actually internalized colonial constructions of “Protestant Buddhism”.

‘The past is another county’

The scholar Dr. Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne, has suggested that “the legacy of Sinhala Buddhism can be rescued from the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism”. In current national public religious discourse in Sri Lanka there is the suggestion that (Theravada) Buddhism belongs primarily and almost exclusively to the Sinhala people, appointed as guardians of the faith (since Hindusim is today the dominant religion in India and Nepal, the birthplaces of Buddhism). The Mahawamsa, an ancient chronicle subject to various readings and misreading by Sinhala patriots was to be the vehicle of the parochial projection of Rajpakse’s greatness as the protector and promoter of religion. The three new chapters to be added to the Mahawamsa would now have to include the UN report’s statement on “credible allegations of War Crimes’, against which Rajapkse Bros. Inc. has sought to protect itself with hyper-militarization of the country and invented traditions of public religion.

Buddhism, a ‘great world religion’, ’however, cannot be that easily parochialized to serve the interests of political ambitions. Buddhism is transnational and pan-ethnic in character, spirit and practice. It does not belong to Sinhala nationalists or the Rajapakse regime. Indeed it is time that true Buddhists rescue and reclaim the spirit and practice of Buddhism from the nationalist political discourse.

Until the release of the UN report, the Rajapakse ruling family had aspired to be Lanka’s rulers in perpetuity, having awarded themselves carte blanch as a reward for the defeat of the LTTE and buoyed by subsequent victories in presidential, national and local government elections. Hence the speedy and surreptitious removal of Presidential term limits via the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 2010. But these victories were delivered by a public relieved that the war was over and aided by the fact that the opposition United National Party is in tatters due to the lack of internal democracy under Ranil Wickramasinghe who has lost too many elections but refuses to retire. The JVP has emerged as the only opposition party able to challenge the Rajapakse war machine, now increasingly directed at the southern polity.

In the absence of genuine power-sharing and reconciliation with minorities and civil society uneasy lies the head that wears an increasingly hollow crown in Sri Lanka – hence the current excess of militarism and public religion. For,

Within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and mocking at his pomp,

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