Archive for August, 2007
By Dushy Ranetunge in London
On Wednesday, Al Jazeera TV aired its second in a series of short documentaries about the Sri Lankan conflict. The focus was on the JHU.
Champika Ranawaka, the JHU member of Parliament and several Buddhist monks were interviewed. Although the program itself was balanced with JHU and anti-war monks and campaigners being interviewed, those representing the JHU and those sympathetic to their point of view did not do any favours for Sri Lanka.
Instead they came across championing a point of view articulated by the likes of the racist National Front (NF), the British National Party (BNP) or even the Protestant militant terrorists of Northern Ireland.
The National Front and the British National Party represents the face of British fascism, who offers nothing to the Jews, blacks and other minorities other than hostility and racism. In the United States one finds a similar movement known as the KKK, or the Klu Klux Klan, a white supremacist group. The Protestant militants and their sympathisers do the same in Northern Ireland and they are mobilised against the minority in Northern Ireland, the Catholics, who are considered by them as terrorists sympathetic to the IRA. Foremost among these Protestant firebrands is the Rev. Ian Paisley, now tamed by the British government into power sharing with his one time terrorist opponents the IRA.
What is common among all these groups and the JHU is that they are fringe political formations of majority communities feeding on majority insecurities and warped perceptions about minorities to secure political power.
Within the last 2 years, the British National Party made significant gains in local authority elections capitalising on the insecurities of English voters in certain deprived constituencies in the United Kingdom where some minority communities are concentrated.
In the British and American political landscape, these fascist fringe political formations are abhorred and marginalised by the major political parties as they bring back memories of Nazism and contributes to political destabilisation. In Britain the major political parties work together to undermine and squeeze out these fascist political groups from the political arena.
In October 1999, Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party’s rise to power as a partner in the Austrian government made headlines and raised alarm in the West, because of Haiders fascist links. This led to calls for the political isolation of Austria.
The interviews on Al Jazeera of Champika Ranawaka and pro-JHU Buddhist monks retraced the classic lines of this brand of fascism. It plays on the perceived great threat to the majority from the minority and then tries to justify oppression of minorities on the basis of this perceived great Satan.
Champika Ranawaka and the Buddhist monks all spoke of the great Satan, the LTTE, and a monk harped back even to the Chola invasions of the past, 70 million or was it 50 million Tamils in South India etc., but none of them had a kind word for the minorities of Sri Lanka.
The Tamils of Sri Lanka today cannot be held responsible for the atrocities of the Cholas. Listening to the Monk, it was like listening to the Serbian nationalists trying to justify their claim to Kosovo based on past history. There is a global pattern to this brand of fascism.
We were informed of a great conspiracy for Tamils to link up from the North with those in the East, with the Indian Tamils on the estates and then with the Tamils in Colombo and trap the Sinhalese on the island. Add to this the 50 or is it the 70 million Tamils of South India all waiting to swim over.
All these characters seem consumed by the great Satan, the LTTE, the main thrust of their argument.
But like the KKK, the National Front, the British National Party, the sympathisers of the Protestant paramilitaries, there was never a kind word for the weakest and the most vulnerable in society, the minorities. There was nothing in it for them. It was all about the majority and their perceived insecurities and rights. The fact that the JHU wore the uniform of Buddhist monks made no difference. The ideology was the same. On Al Jazeera, they were too busy pointing at great maps of Sri Lanka or was it “Hela” and to the great Satan, to realise that the Satan had consumed them and left them devoid of humanity towards fellow man.
Perhaps it is too much to expect the Nazis to spare a kind word for the Jews.
Like these other radical political formations around the world, the JHU has every right to express its views and participate in democratic politics. As long as it champions these political views, the JHU will remain a fringe group and runs the risk of political oblivion in future elections.
Meanwhile, Joerg Haider this week called for a ban on the construction of Mosques in Austria. “Muslims have of course the right to practise their religion, but I oppose erecting mosques and minarets as centres to advertise the power of Islam,” he said. We can be thankful that at least Joerg Haider is not wearing the uniform of a Buddhist monk.
This week the Daily News stated that Buddhism was rising in Europe. Joerg Haider may have something to say about that. One wonders if he will bring something similar to the 50 million or was it the 70 million Tamils from South India threat argument to convince the Europeans about Buddhism rising in Europe.
Related YouTube Video:
- People & Power – Monks of War – Part 1
- People & Power – Monks of War – Part 2
August 30th, 2007
By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Late Kethesh Loganathan was a man of action. He showed his humanity. Kethesh was a committed human rights activist. He campaigned for the rights of the Tamils within the framework of an united Sri Lanka. He cared; and was killed.
Kethesh Loganathan was assassinated on August 12th 2006 in his house at night.
A modest event paying tribute to Kethesh Loganathan was organized by Point Pedro Development Institute in association of Bhawani Loganathan on August 12 th 2007 at Ramakrishna Mission Hall at dusk.
An anthology of articles written and published by Kethesh Loganathan entitled “Truthfully Speaking: War, Peace and Human Rights was launched at the end of the event. The event was attended by the peace activists, human rights activists and civil society members.
Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuthu the Executive Director of Center for Policy Alternatives delivered the commemoration oration. Bhawani Loganathan garlanded his photo and lit the traditional oil lamp. Deshabandu Jezima Ismail, Vice Chancellor of the South Eastern University and Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Consultant of the Centre for Policy Alternatives shared their personal thoughts.
A minute of silence was observed at the beginning to pay tribute to Late Kethesh Loganathan.
Mirak Raheem, Senior Researcher of Center for Policy Alternatives welcomed the gathering
Speakers paid tribute to the Life of the slain human rights activist.
Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuthu the Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives:
“Kethesh was showed love and salutation for Tamils. He showed his stubbornness on humanity and commitment to human rights. He had an unwavering love for people. He was a nationalist. He loved his people, from which he came.
He had the space to pursue of the plight and distress of people. He was an excellent colleague, not because he was an easy one, but because a tough one. He had the moral hope. Kethesh was very determined to human rights, which should be safeguarded.
The Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed between Ranil Wickremasinghe and the LTTE in 2001. We formed a Peace Support Group. Human rights were too dangerous for peace process. Kethesh was a key mover. We produced the first public document. An open letter to the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Norwegians, and Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). A return of sanity was insisted, where everyone would be a stakeholder. There is a ground for it. There will be a consensus in a peace process. All Party Representative Committee is in progress.
The Centre for Policy Alternative (CPA) took the case of eviction of Tamils to the courts, and there was an interim order issued by the courts. The eviction of the Tamils was a slap on the face. Kethesh would have been with us on eviction case. In the context of Sri Lankan politics, long hard struggle gets punctured. Kethesh worked tirelessly to change the orthodox. They killed him, above all he cared. How many do care? How many are willing to care to make a little bit of difference?
Kethesh believed in caring. He was killed because; he cared about the Tamil people, within the unity of the country. He worked hard to provide space for its entire people. He despaired; terribly depressed; very angry to do something for the people. Do we care as he did?”
Deshabandu Jezima Ismail, Vice Chancellor of the South Eastern University shared her thoughts:
“Kethesh was so accessible for the inner-seekers. I met him at a symposium for the nuns and widows on conflict transformation, which was held at St. Bridget’s Convent. There, I saw the humanitarian side of Kethesh. We spent about five hours as resource persons of the symposium. He had an expression of enough is enough. Kethesh was independent and passionately committed. It bothered me, when he was appointed as the Deputy Secretary General of SCOPP (Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process). Because he was a man who cared for the people.
I was in complete despair, after Tsunami. I was disappointed to see how the Muslim community was treated in post-Tsunami. I was becoming communal, which I did not want. Kethesh, who stretched his hands out, and told me this is natural to feel likewise after a disaster in which a community suffers the most. He was sympathetic at the same time understood the problem of the Muslim community. This was an instant incident. It’s an integral part to talk to the people.
Kethesh was loud, when the Muslim community was excluded from the peace process. He mentioned that the Muslim community is an integral part pf the process. Compassion and feelings for the other community has to come form the heart.
The dove seems tired and fatigue. The landscape of violence is on the increase. How does one rebuild the nation even after negotiations? The need is at the moment is security and certainty. The people in the Eastern province are suffering, and their absolute sufferings are unheard. The civil societies have to mobilize its activities. Imply the death; some light on the path we may have to take. Peace means dignity, self- confidence of every being.”
She recited a poem, which was written by Dr. Jinna Sheriffdeen. The poem was dedicated to Late Kethesh Loganathan in Tamil.
Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Consultant of the Centre for Policy Alternatives:
“Kethesh and I first met in the home of his cousin who had been one of my closest friends since our days together at the Colombo Campus. At that time I had completed my Masters in Development Economics at Sussex, and he was contemplating enrolling in that course. I had gained much from Sussex, and it transpired from our conversation that Kethesh too would find that course most rewarding. For those interested in Development Studies there was no institution more exciting to be in at that time tan the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex. Kethesh enrolled there and completed his course work, undoubtedly with distinction, but opted to defer formulating and submitting his dissertation till he had relevant work experience in Sri Lanka.
On his return, Kethesh joined the Marga Institute, the at its prime, and was soon deeply immersed in research and analysis of public policies. He got married to Bhawani in 1978. But that did not stop his gradual drift into left wing political activism.- a long standing family tradition. In due course he joined the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front). Given his inclination towards total commitment to whatever task he undertook or cause he espoused, it is not surprising that his attention progressively diverted from completing his Sussex Masters dissertation. With his intellectual and writing skills, had he taken a month off from his other commitments, that could have been done, but securing a prestigious personal academic milestone was not his priority. He seems to have lost his enthusiasm for the Sussex course but another academic challenge superseded. He did take a year off to enter the Institute of social Studies in Hague, and completed a Masters in Development Studies in 1985 with distinction.
The romantic idealism that took Kethesh into political activism eventually led him to breaking out of the shackles of political institutional affiliation. In due curse he joined the Centre for Policy Alternatives, and contributed much to the growth and prestige of that young institution. Three years ago, when I was looking for an NGO base that would be compatible with my interests and priorities, Kethesh, then Head of the Peace and Conflict Unit of CPA, invited me to join as Consultant. I readily accepted, and was assigned a special responsibility to contribute to a project on Ethnic Violence in Cities as well as other ad hoc assignments. I have very much enjoyed working with Kethesh, who took over as the Deputy Secretary General of the Government Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) with effect from April 1 st 2006.
Kethesh was frequently in the midst of controversy. Among the most controversial of his acts was to join SCOPP. No one better qualified to serve on it, but from the vantage perspective of hindsight, he joined it at the wrong time, If it was some years earlier, he could have made a critical contribution to the peace process. In the event, he joined SCOPP when the peace process had all but died. His hopes of rescuing it did not materialize. The net impact appears to be that his voice was stilled, his civil society activities stopped, the flow of his political journalism dried up, and he became even more vulnerable to assassination. If he lived, the peace process restarted and he was suitably empowered, he undoubtedly had the capacity to make a major contribution, but sadly that is not to be.
This is not the forum to assess the varied achievements of Kethesh in public life as an academic, a civil society leader, a journalist and writer and a political activist. I will not seek to make such an assessment. However, like many others, I would identify the Thimpu Principles, which emerged under his leadership as a Tamil political consensus and which he presented on August 17 th 1985 in Thimpu, as one of his enduring legacies.
Hurriedly drafted in the inhospitable environment of an acrimonious conference, the formulation of those principles contains test of time, and two decades on, retain their political legitimacy and potency. To the best of my knowledge none of the organizations listed by Kethesh ever disclaimed those principles; neither did Kethesh. The fill statement was reproduced in his book of December 1996 tilted ” Sri Lanka: Lost Opportunities”.
Some refinements in his wordings of the Thimpu Principles are clearly warranted, example to underline the reference to self-determination as referring to internal self-determination and not secession, and to explicitly recognize the multi-ethnic composition of the Tamil speaking people. In fact the Oslo Statement did just that-presented the essence of the Thimpu Principles subject to such refinement. Perhaps it is a tragedy that Kethesh was not in a vantage position in SCOPP at that time-December 2002 to help to build on the foundation laid by the Oslo Statement. In the event it became yet another lost opportunity”.
Audience at the commemoration oration
Mrs. Dhanapala with Bhawani Loganathan
Bhawani Loganathan with Dr. Devanesan Nesiah
August 13th, 2007
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The Country is going mad with venomous hatred! Highly educated professionals and intellectuals are at each others throats over the internet. The racist gobbledygook put out against each other by those on either side of the ethnic fence makes one want to puke. One is appalled and aghast at the depths of depravity to which members of two cultured races could descend to
Even as vocal warriors battle it out on their computers the real Mccoys are fighting it out on the battlefields of Muhamaalai, Mandaitheevu and Maavilaaru. Death, destruction and displacement is at its highest. The propaganda war is on at full scale with T. Ruth being killed again and again and again
Death has become a mere word. The number of deaths is a simple statistic.Life is “nasty, short and brutish”. Humanity is at its lowest ebb…”Oh to be far from the madding crowd and away from this ignoble strife”.
Even in such vile atmospheres where life and death are fast becoming meaningless a single man’s or woman’s death too cannot have any meaning. Yet there are people whose deaths diminish all of us. Their departure leaves us sad and shattered. The loss is not to the nearest and dearest alone but to all of humanity.
The death of Ketheeswaran Loganathan called generally as “Ketheesh” was one such instance. One more person capable of rising above hatred and insanity in present day Sri Lanka is no more. With his departure one more Tamil who wanted his people to live with equal rights in a united Lanka and champion that cause in the face of danger has been done away with. Only a few of us are left now.
Ketheeswaran or Ketheesh was of Jaffna origin (Thunnalai South) but born and bred in Colombo. He studied at St. Thomas’s College Mt. Lavinia and Loyola College, Madras before proceeding to the USA for higher studies. He was the scion of an elitist Tamil family.
His father was the legendary banker and economist Chelliah Loganathan. There was a time when Loganathan , General Manager of Bank of Ceylon was regarded as a powerful financier wielding much influence in Sri Lanka.The bank’s lending policies caused much controversy.Buddhika Kurukularatne in his eminently readable Sunday column refers to a description of Loganathan by the journalist par excellence Denzil Peiris. “Like a Sea Street chettiar, Mr. C. Loganathan sits in his York Street office with his greasy fingers on the national economy.”
Ketheesh born in 1952 was two years older than I. He was the youngest in the family. Chelliah and Thilakavathy Loganathan had six children. Ketheesh had three elder sisters Gowri Tharmaratnam, Vasuki Maheswaran and Lalitha Yogasundaram and two elder brothers Sathananthan and Sritharan..
His sister Gowri passed way recently. She was married to Tharmaratnam a top economist at the World Bank. Another sister Vasuki is married to Maheswaran a medical doctor in the US who I think is the brother of former Jaffna MP Yogeswaran. Ketheesh himself was married to Bhavani Kumarasamy who worked in the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) until recently and is presently attached to Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
Ketheesh had pronounced left leanings. One of his father’s brothers Tharmakulasingham was a well – known Samasajist leaders of an earlier vintage. Tharmakulasingham who contested the Point Pedro Constituency in 1947 on the LSSP ticket was a very popular leftist who died at a very early age amid tragic circumstances. Many people feel that had Tharmakulasingham lived he would certainly have become a prominent leader of the left movement. In a way Ketheesh inherited this leftist legacy.
Ketheesh Loganathan, received a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Georgetown University in Washington , USA and a Masters in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies at Hague, Netherlands. He also worked on a masters degree at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, UK.
Ketheesh belonged to a segment of Jaffna Tamil society that lived and studied outside Jaffna but retained a positive love and interest in the land of their ancestors. Life for this category would have been entirely different if there was no ethnic oppression in Sri Lanka. Even then it was possible to have gone abroad and lived a life of luxury and seclusion from Sri Lankan politics.
But some of these people did not do so. Instead they chose to engage in political struggle and worked for the emancipation of the Tamil people in a united Sri Lanka. They were able to see both sides of the question and bring a sense of balance and moderation to the prevailing discourse that was often rabid. The ability to see both sides and understand the other mans point of view is often a great blessing. But in contemporary Sri Lanka it was a curse. It often made you an outsider in both camps. Ketheesh belonged to this rare breed of persons.
At the time of his death Ketheesh was Deputy Secretary – General of the Secretariat for coordinating the peace process (SCOPP) and Secretary of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). This makes him appear as a pro – government “establishment” man. The eulogies heaped on him by the “Govt guys” reinforce this impression. This is perhaps the unkindest cut of all.
The life and times of Ketheeswaran Loganathan would demonstrate that he was at no time a toady of anyone least of all a Govt in power. He was a fiercely independent man of thought and action. Let there be no mistake Ketheesh was a Tamil Nationalist. Not of the variety that has descended into violence and barbarity but of the kind which believes in a negotiated settlement ensuring Tamil rights through federalism in a united Sri Lanka. This is a vanishing species but some of us are around still.
The CPA’s executive director Dr. Packiyasothy Saravanamuthu summed up Ketheesh aptly and succintly in a statement.-
“Kethesh Loganathan was a valued colleague, a former Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the first head of its Peace and Conflict Analysis Unit. He was a passionate advocate of human rights, an unflinching champion of the rights of the Tamil people and of an end to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka with democracy, justice and dignity for all.”
” Whilst Kethesh was an ardent and proud nationalist, he brought the same fervour, passion and commitment to the cause of unity in diversity, multi culturalism and a settlement of the ethnic conflict based on meaningful power sharing. He uncompromisingly believed that the liberation of a people could not be founded on fear, the celebration of death, the negation or even suspension of basic democratic values. This made him a stringent and fearless critic of the LTTE for their insistence on being the sole representatives of the Tamil people and for their reliance on terror, repression and violence.”
It would be a great injustice to Ketheesh’s memory if one were to view his life only through the present prism. His was a life that dedicated itself to service and sacrifice for the betterment of humanity. After returning from abroad he worked as a researcher at the Marga Institute (77 – 79) and Social Scientists Association (79 – 81). He worked on issues of development and under development.
It was then that his father now retired launched an enterprise aiming to generate funds and economically develop the badly neglected and deprived North – East. Possessing a romantic streak and a wistful nostalgia for an “imagined” Jaffna Ketheesh went to Jaffna and took charge of his father’s project. At the same time he co – founded another institution for North – Eastern development called DEREC ( Centre for Development Research, Education and Communication) in Jaffna in 1981.
It was during this stay in Jaffna that Ketheesh’s life was taken over by revolutionary politics.. October 1981 was the time of the First Congress of the newly formed Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). A close and trusted friend joined the EPRLF and convinced Ketheesh that he too must do so. So Ketheesh joined what was then a revolutionary political organization.
The 1983 July anti – Tamil pogrom changed life drastically for Tamils. Different people responded differently. Ketheesh went to Chennai and became a full time activist of the EPRLF. Having independent means he did not lead a commune or camp life like many of his other comrades. He stayed in a flat within walking distance of the EPRLF’s Eelam Peoples Information Centre (EPIC) at Choolaimedu and attended office dutifully.
It was during this period that Ketheesh forged a firm friendship with the lovable Pathmanabha alias Ranjan who was EPRLF Secretary – General at the time.Ketheesh and Varatharajapperumal were the EPRLF representatives at the famous Thimphu talks in 1985. He also represented the EPRLF in many negotiations with and without publicity.
Then came the Indo – Lanka accord of 1987. Ketheesh returned home but took no part in the pro – Indian EPRLF North – Eastern Administration. He went to Hague and continued his higher studies.Kertheesh also got affiliated to the “Conflict Resolution Programme” of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway and was awarded a two year research fellowship at the Agriculture University of Norway to complete a study on the “Plantation system in Sri Lanka and the search for sustainable development”.
After Padmanabha was killed by the LTTE in 1990 June Ketheesh’s role in the EPRLF began decreasing. Though he remained in the movement it was a case of being ” in but not of”. His relationship with the new leader Suresh Premachandran also deteriorated. Ketheesh continued to represent the EPRLF in public fora including the Mangala Moonesinghe select committee. Finally in 1994 Ketheesh formally quit the EPRLF but remained on friendly terms with many activists.
Re-entering Academia Ketheesh served as a research consultant at the Centre for Policy research and Analysis (CEPRA). He authored the book “Sri Lanka: Lost Opportunities” in 1996.
Ketheesh also took to journalism. He functioned as Consultant to the short – lived “Week- end Express” where he wrote a popular column “Truthfully speaking” under the pseudonym Sathya. He later wrote articles as “Sathya” for the Daily Mirror too. In 1998 he was awarded the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship and was enrolled for a year at the College of Journalism in Maryland University.
Thereafter Ketheesh joined the Centre for Policy Alternatives and was in charge of the peace and conflict analysis unit. He played an important role in forging the “roadmap to peace” blueprint with the objective of taking the Oslo – facilitated peace process forward.
Soon Ketheesh became critical of the direction the peace process was taking. He felt that the strategy of dealing with the LTTE alone was not a positive one. Instead Ketheesh felt that there should be an emphasis on human rights, pluralism and democracy for the Tamil people. Child conscription and exterminating of those with alternate political views by the tigers was particularly upsetting. Ketheesh became openly critical of the process and the conduct of the LTTE. This was not a popular position to take and soon Ketheesh was becoming increasingly isolated.
This also placed him under LTTE threat. Increasingly pressured, Ketheesh once consulted Lakshman Kadirgamar and obtained some security measures for his protection. Ketheesh quit the CPA early this year with the objective of taking up duties as research director at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS). But he changed his plan when Mahinda Rajapakse offered him the Deputy Secretary-General position at SCOPP. He took up duties on March 29th this year. In July he became Secretary of the APRC.
This was a difficult decision for Ketheesh and he did consult some friends before taking it. Personally I think it was a grave misjudgement on his part as I feel that Mahinda Rajapakse has a not so well hidden agenda for war rather than peace. The Peace Secretariat under PTB Kohona has become a propaganda tool for Sinhala supremacist ideology.
Yet Ketheesh took the plunge with two objectives. One he was naively optimistic of gradually influencing the regime positively. Two he felt someone like him should be embedded in the power structure that was virtually without any Tamil of significance in order to contain the anti-Tamil impulses.
Despite his background and good intentions Ketheesh received flak from the Sinhala hawks. Sinhala expatriates objected to his appointment overtly and branded him an “Eelamist” and “Kotiya”. The JVP and JHU worked against him covertly. The JVP paper “Lanka” had a nasty article about him on Aug 6th.
Meanwhile Ketheesh himself was becoming uncomfortable and frustrated in his new assignment. For one thing an undeclared war was being waged with the SCOPP cheering from the sidelines. The All Party Conference was becoming a time-buying charade without any meaningful direction.
More importantly the impunity with which human rights violations were being committed by the armed forces troubled him greatly. He began trying to collect as much information about these as possible. According to informed sources Ketheesh was greatly agitated about the massacre of 17 aid workers by the security forces in Muthur
Those who know Ketheesh well were of the opinion that it was only a matter of time before he quit the SCOPP and APRC. Being a man of principle and conscience Ketheesh could not have compromised with “evil” for long. Also he was not the kind of person to subordinate his personality to the whims and fancies of the powers that be.
Sadly “Yaman “the God of death visited Ketheesh first. It was on August 12th the first anniversary of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s death. A Police team in plain clothes regularly checked up on Ketheesh due to security reasons. This was a security measure arranged for by SCOPP I believe. On that fateful day some “new” faces appeared at his residence 1B Windsor Avenue off Vanderwert place, Dehiwela.
Instead of asking for “Mr. Loganathan”, as was usual, they asked for “Mr. Ketheeswaran”. Somewhat suspicious Kethees hesitated between front door and gate insisting on some identification. Instead the assassin fired a 9 mm. Five rounds were fired with three hitting him. He was taken to hospital but died upon admittance.
Given the murky conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka his killing was not an open and shut case. Both Mahinda Rajapakse and Palitha Kohona were quick to accuse the LTTE .None can rule the tigers out. The LTTE website “Nitharsanam” described Ketheeswaran as a traitor and “junior Kadirgamar” and threatened to expose Ketheesh’s “nefarious” activities. Nothing followed. Another website referred to him as an “ex-EPRLF” member forgetting that the EPRLF Suresh faction is now within tiger folds
Though Ketheesh had for long remained an LTTE critic and often stated his views openly the tigers had not targetted him. If the LTTE was now responsible why did the tigers do so? was the question on the Tamil grapevine. Though the killers spoke fluent Sinhala they could have been an underworld gang given a killing contract by the LTTE. If the LTTE was indeed responsible the only plausible reason seemed to be Ketheesh joining the SCOPP and possibly his role in tha APRC.
The CPA statement observes thus-
” Whilst the identity of his killers has not been established and no single organisation or actor has the monopoly of political killing in the current climate of division and violence in our country, the LTTE’s record of assassinations of political opponents and Kethesh’s public profile as one of their most trenchant critics, invariably marks them out as prime suspects. We call on the LTTE to refute this by unequivocally condemning his murder. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct a speedy and impartial investigation into Kethesh’s murder and to ensure that the perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice.”
So far the LTTE has “officially” ignored Ketheesh’s killing. There has been no statement denying responsibility. The Government is said to be investigating the murder but given past history there is little chance of a breakthrough. Of course many innocent Tamils will be detained and interrogated. Some Sinhala officials will become richer and release some of them. As time goes on Ketheesh Loganathan will become one more statistic but will often be cited as proof of LTTE wickedness.
C. Loganathan was a devotee of the Thirukketheeswaram temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Mannar district. That is why he named his youngest son Ketheeswaran. May the soul of Ketheesh break the cycle of rebirth and attain heavenly bliss at the feet of Lord Shiva.
[August 12th is the first death anniversary of Ketheswaran Loganathan. This article was written last year shortly after his death]
August 12th, 2007
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Independence dawned for Sri Lanka then Ceylon on February 4th 1948. The union jack was lowered and the national flag raised at the stroke of midnight. Even as the flag fluttered proudly four young athletes carrying flaming torches entered the square and ran up the steps of Independence hall. Together they lit the lamp of freedom. The quartet comprised members of the four major communities of the Island . The sixteen year old youth representing the Tamils was Lakshman Kadirgamar.
[Lakshman Kadirgamar and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on June 3, 2005, at the State Department in Washington.]
That instance may not have been the proudest moment in Lakshmans life as he was destined to achieve glory in many spheres of life. But on that day as a new nation made its tryst with destiny Kadirgamar played a role that he never ever played again. The Tamils perceived themselves jubilantly then as an integral part of the Country. Lakshman Kadirgamar personified the Tamil people in that ceremony. He Was Tamil and he was Ceylonese (Sri Lankan). There was no conflict here. In later years this harmony was ruined as the serpent of racism entered the garden of Eden. Kadirgamar himself was to be caught up later in this dilemma of ethnicity and nationality and pay
the supreme price.
The man who carried the torch of independence as a representative of the Tamils is a man whom the self – imposed sole representatives of the Tamil people and their minions love to hate. So intense is their hatred that the name Kadirgamar itself is featured in tiger and pro – tiger discourse as a word for traitor. Ettappan who betrayed Kattabhomman to the British, Kakkai Vanniyan who betrayed Sankiliyan to the Portugese were words used to depict traitors earlier. In recent times the assassinated Jaffna mayor Duraiappa’s name was used. Nowadays they use Kadirgamar. Now that they have killed him another “thurogi” has to be discovered and vilified.
The name Kadirgamar is unique to Sri Lankan Tamils. Lord Muruga or Skanda in Kathirgamam or Kataragama is the most sacred place of Hindu worship in Sri Lanka . Names such as Kadirgamar, Kathirgamanathan, Kathirgamathamby, Kathirgamasegaram etc are derived from the deity of Kathirgamam. Names like these are seldom found in Tamil Nadu. It is indeed interesting that a name like Kadirgamar should be borne by some members of the Christian faith in Sri Lanka . This is because some Tamils continued to retain their Tamil “Hinduistic” names even after conversion. Others took on English and American names as surnames.
Lakshman Kadirgamar belonged to a Protestant Christian family of Jaffna Tamil Vellala origin. The founder of this christianised Kadirgamar family was a native of Puloly West called Karthigeyan Kadirgamar. His staunch Hindu family renovated and was involved in managing the Point Pedro Sivan temple at one time. Karthigeyans first cousin Eliyathamby during colonial times was an Adhigar in Batticaloa. It is said that Adhigar road in Batticaloa was named after him.
Karthigeyan took on the name Christian after baptism but retained the Kadirgamar name. He served as the first Ceylonese Registrar – General of the Supreme Court. His wife was the daughter of Rev. Francis Ashbury of Vaddukkoddai. The Ashbury family was one of the earliest converts to Protestant Christianity in Jaffna . The Kadirgamar family through the Ashbury Connection, as once asserted by Bishop Kulendran of the CSI Church can claim unbroken continuity from the first protestant converts with the founding of the American mission in the early decades of the 19th century.
Karthigeyan’s eldest son Samuel Jebaratnam Christian (SJC) Kadirgamar was the man who established the Kadirgamar family in Colombo . He studied at St. Thomas ’s College travelling to Mutwal from Jaffna by boat. One of his dormitory mates was a laad called Wilson . Both found themselves quarrelling eternally. The STC Warden at the time resolved it in typical English public school fashion. Both were asked to don boxing gloves and slog it out in the ring with the warden as referee. At the end of it both
became firm friends for life. Both became proctors and set up the law firm Kadirgamar and Wilson in Colombo .
SJC Kadirgamar married Edith Rosemand Parimalam Mather the daughter of Edward Mather of Manipay. The Mathers apparently were engaged in commerce and traded in imported products. Two of Lakshmans uncles were christian ministers. The Rev. JWA Kadirgamar on his paternal side and Rev. BCD Mather on his maternal side were pastors. This Christian heritage is something which cannot be obliterated despite Lakshmans latter day Theosophy of the Olcott variety.
Incidently the assassin or assassins using the Thalayasingham residence to snipe at Kadirgamar had carried a cricket bag with the name of Sri Lankan cricketer Russel Arnold written on it. Russel Arnold himself is a nephew of Lakshman being the grandson of BCD Mather. While talking of cricketers it may be recalled that the Thalayasinghams too were excellent cricketers at Royal. Lakshman called “Thalaya” captained the team in 1966 when the unbeaten Thomian team was led by Anura Tennekoon nicknamed “Ataya”. Lakshmans brothers Sahadevan opened batting for Royal in 1968 and Jayantha opened bowling in 1969 – 70.
Lakshman Kadirgamar born on April 12th 1932 the youngest of six children. The eldest SJC (jnr) or Sam Kadirgamar was the well known Queens Counsel. Selvanathan or Bhai Kadirgamar a major in the army later emigrated to the USA . Rajan was the former Sri Lankan Navy commander. Thirumalan or Mana Kadirgamar was a planter who died early meeting with a motor accident in Dickoya. With Lakshmans death none of the
brothers are now among the living. The only sibling alive is his eldest sister Eeswari who married Dr. AMD Richards.
While all his brothers were educated at Royal only Lakshman went to Trinity presumably due to the war where he studied from 1942 to 1950. He won many awards while at Trinity including the Dr Andreas Nell Memorial Prize for Ceylon History- Napier Clavering Prize for English and the Ryde Gold Medal for the best all round student in 1950. In sports he got cricket colours, was Cricket Captain -1950. Rugby Colours-1949. Athletics Colours-1949 and Trinity Lion 1950. He came first at Public Schools, and broke the record in the 110m hurdles (15.7 seconds) in 1949. He won the Duncan White Challenge Cup-1949 De Soysa Challenge Cup-1949. was Senior Prefect in 1949.
He entered the Peradeniya University and read for an LLB degree there. While an undergrad he won the All Ceylon 110m hurdles title in 1951 and 1952. All India inter University 110m hurdles title and set records at Ahamedabad in 1951 and Allahabad in
1952. He was also Member of the cricket teams of the University of Ceylon and later Balliol College , University of Oxford becoming an Oxford Blue in Cricket
After getting his Bachelors degree in law Kadirgamar passed the Advocates final first in order of merit. He then served as secretary to Justice ENA Gratiaen. He later went to England becoming a Barrister of the Inner Temple and entering Balliol College Oxford.
He made history in Oxford getting elected as President of the Oxford Union. Four Sri Lankans have been Presidents. They are Kadirgamar (Trinity) Athulathmudali (Royal) Noordeen (STC) and Jeyasundharie Wilson (Methodist). Jeya Wilson the only woman
President from Sri Lanka is a niece of the late Prof. AJ Wilson.
In 1958 during the communal violence Lakshman Kadirgamar when interviewed by the media said that SWRD Bandaranaike was only a “politician” and not a ” statesman” because of the violence. The next year Lakshman was instrumental in getting a portrait of SWRD hung up. The tradition is that any Union President who becomes head of state gets a bust. Since SWRD was only treasurer of the union he got a portrait. SWRD
however was assassinated a few weeks before he was to visit Oxford for the ceremony. In his absence it was left to Lakshman to do the honours.
Many years later Lakshman Kadirgamar’s portrait was unveiled at the Oxford Union on March 18, 2005 by Rt. Hon Lord Chris Patten of Barnes CH, Chancellor of the University of Oxford . In the 183-year history of the Oxford Union he is the fifteenth office
bearer whose bust or portrait is displayed in the Union building. Kadirgamar was also made Hon. Master of the Inner Temple-1995 -the second Asian to be made so after former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.
While at Balliol Kadirgamar married an artist Angela Malik of French – Pakistani descent. He has two children. The daughter is Ajitha Perera now resident in Boston . She was a well – known media personality in Sri Lanka during the eighties and nineties.
Her son Keira Perera is Kadirgamars only grandson. His son an architecht is in Sri Lanka. He was named Sriraghavan JebaratnamChristian but is generally known as
In later years Kadirgamar divorced his first wife. He married again in 1996. He married Suganthi Wijeysuriya a lawyer and senior partner at the law firm FJ and G de Saram. Their wedding was a private one with Chandrika Kumaratunga and Gamani Corea
being the attesting witnesses.
After returning to Sri Lanka in the sixties from Oxford Lakshman Kadirgamar went about building a lucrative law practice. At the same time he began exploring prospects of a political career too. It is interesting to note that Kadirgamar at that time was
contemplating a political future as an elected MP from the North. He was ardently wooed by both the Federal Party and Tamil Congress. Though he never joined those parties or participated in actively in politics Kadirgamar interacted closely with Tamil
politicians like SJV Chelvanayagam, GG Ponnambalam, M. Tiruchelvam, EMV Naganathan. M. Balasundaram etc.
He also made several visits to Jaffna during this time. One objective was to rediscover his roots. Another was to scout around for a prospective electorate. Though his own family was now Colombo based there were several others of the extended Kadirgamar family in Jaffna . He was also a keen student of history and very much interested in that of the Jafna kingdom. Though his pro – tiger critics chide him as an ignoramus in the history and traditions of Jaffna people who have heard him speak on the subject are amazed at his knowledge and insight. There are few with Kadirgamars knowledge of Jaffna history in the tiger camp.
During one of his Jaffna trips in the sixties Kadirgamar addressed the Jaffna YMCA on an interessting theme. His lecture was titled “From PLato to Sirimavo”. When excerpts of that lecture were carried in newspapers Mrs. Bandaranaike was reportedly annoyed. Years later she herself telephoned Lakshman inviting him to join her daughter President Chandrika Kumaratunga cabinet of which the grand old lady was Prime Minister. She added her voice then to numerous others urging Kadirgamar to enter active politics. What led Kadirgamar to give up ideas of entering politics in the sixties and then do so thirty years later in the nineties?
Arunachalam Arunachalam Mahadeva son of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam once lamented that when universal franchise was introduced he had to go “far” to Jaffna in search of a constituency though he had lived for the greater part of his life in Colombo . This was Lakshman Kadirgamars dilemma too when he began toying with the idea of entering Parliament. Though the multi – member constituencies of Colombo Central (3) and Colombo South (2) were carved out that way to provide for Tamil representation things never turned out that way. The upper and upper middle class voters of Colombo South preferred JR Jayewardene of the UNP and to a lesser extent Bernard Soysa of the LSSP over and above any Tamil candidate.
The lower middle class and working class Tamils of Colombo Central cast their votes for Pieter Keuneman and later Ranasinghe Premadasa. Bala Tampoe in 1960 and MSS Sellasamy in 1977 failed to win. Yet Sellasamy won later in 1989 under proportionate representation for the entire City. P Devarajan, R Yogarajan, Mano Ganesan and even “Kerosene” Maheswaran have demonstrated that elected Tamil representation is possible in Colombo .
This was not the situation in the sixties. With GG Ponnambalam and SJV Chelvanayagam evincing an interest in enticing the oxonian prodigy to their ranks young Lakshman like A Mahadeva before him had to look Northwards. He had accompanied Justice EFN Gratiaen as secretary on several trips to Jaffna in the fifties. Being secretary to the Judge was a reward for his academic brilliance in law. Apparently an arrangement had been worked out by Prof. Nadarajah in this respect with Gratiaen. Shinya was the predecessor to Kadirgamar in this post.It was as Gratiaens secretary that Kadirgamar played a small role in getting HL de Silva join the Attorney – Generals department.
These trips to Jaffna kindled his enthusiasm for discovering his roots. He also read up vividly on Jaffna history and familiarised himself of the evolution and growth of Jaffna . This grasp of history may have played a part in Kadirgamars attitude towards separatism. No true intellectual could accept the half – baked versions of history propagated by both the pro and anti – eelam forces. Later in the sixties he began visiting Jaffna again prospecting for a constituency.
The prospective candidates enthusiasm however was short lived for two reasons. One was that his discovery of the state of politics in the North. Tamil nationalism had risen to the fore and demanded pandering to that concept by prospective candidates. This narrow nationalism was not to his liking. Besides he was unable to even speak Tamil to the extent of making political speeches.Also despite his ancestry there were no firm roots in Jaffna . It was doubtful that Lakshman could face the hustle and bustle of Jaffna politics let alone win .
His Jaffna based Cousins gave him their candid views on his political prospects in Jaffna . Lakshman realised that his political chances in the peninsula were slimmer than the Isthmus of Aanai Iravu ( Elephant Pass ). He was further discouraged in his political ambition by his elder brothers in Colombo , Sam JC Kadirgamar the lawyer and Rajanathan (Rajan) Kadirgamar the Naval Commander. Both advised him to drop his political ambition and concentrate on his law.. Their father SJC (snr) had established a lucrative practice in Colombo and was also the founder president of the Ceylon Legal Society. Lakshman heeded the advice of his brothers and cousins and began focusing on the law. There are some of Lakshmans relatives who believe that he would have never entered politics had his two elder brothers been alive. Both Rajan and Sam had passed away before Lakshman entered politics in 1994.
Kadirgamar then settled down firmly in Colombo and began building up a solid practice.he specialised in commercial, industrial, labour and administrative law. Then came the JVP insurgency of 1971. this had a profound impact on Lakshman. Though not affected directly the JVP revolt made Lakshman feel that he should go abroad. He felt that life in Lanka was going to turn worse with the advent of the JVP. How very prophetic! But ironically enough the very same Lakshman who left Sri Lanka due to the JVP found himself on the best of terms with the “rathu sahodarayas” 33 years later. The JVP found in Lakshman a sincere friend and guide while Lakshman recognized a “like – mindedness” on some issues.
Lakshman relocated to Britain . He pursued a legal career from 1971 to 74 during which he showed keen interest in human rights. In 1973 he was the special representative of Amnesty International investigating the Buddhist – Catholic violence in Vietnam . In 1976 he became consultant to the International Labour Organization (ILO)in Geneva . In 1978 he joined the World Intellectual property organization (WIPO) and served as its director till 1988.He was the virtual adviser on intellectual property to developing nations of Asia – pacific. He also travelled widely. In the early eighties he was in an airplane that crashed in Greece . He survived miraculously by jumping through the emergency exit. He broke several bones and was bed – ridden for three months.
While Lakshman was abroad he received a powerful invitation in 1977 from Lalith Athulathmudali and HW Jayewardene to return and take up politics as a “green elephant”. HW was I believe Lakshmans senior during his apprenticeship. Lakshman turned it down.One reason was that he was looking forward to brighter prospects in the UNO. In this however he was to be disappointed badly.
This disappointment and the fact that his daughter Ajitha had returned to Sri Lanka to become a well – known media personality impelled Lakshman to go back home. This he did in 1988. He returned to Colombo and reestablished his legal practice again. He concentrated as earlier on industrial. labour and commercial law and of course intellectual property law. Another less known fact was that Kadirgamar also was a discreet consultant avoiding limelight in a number of cases affecting Tamil
detainees. He also proffered legal advice to some Tamils affected in the violence in procuring compensation. This was in association with a human rights organization. There are some Tamil human rights lawyers who are aware of this but will not dare articulate it for fear of offending the tigers intent on vilifying Lakshman
The “second coming” of Chandrika Kumaratunga to Sri Lanka in the early nineties heralded a new dawn for ethno – politics in the Country. There were high hopes that a negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis was in sight. It was a period of idealistic fervour. It was in such a climate that Kadirgamar decided to enter politics in support of Kumaratunga. Earlier Athulathmudali had renewed his invitation in 88 – 89 too but Kadirgamar declined gracefully not wishing to join the tarnished UNP.
Lakshman deciding to join the SLFP in 1994 was a significant development as his family on account of its class character had been staunch UNP loyalists. Elder brother Sam Kadirgamar was the chief counting agent of Dudley Senanayake in 1965. Sam was offered an ambassadorship to Moscow which he declined.It was said that had Dudley returned to power in 1970 Sam may have been Justice Minister. Retired Naval chief Rajan Kadirgamar too was a corporation chairman in the JR regime.
Initially the person who persuaded Kadirgamar to join politics was the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam of the TULF. He was ably supported by the lawyer Manouri Muttetuwegama – wife of Sarath(CP) and daughter of Colvin(LSSP) – in this mission.
One of Lakshmans relatives former Bank of Ceylon chairman Rajan Asirwatham also influenced him in this regard. Lakshman was placed on the SLFP national list. The other big name coming into politics from academia was Gamini Lakshman Peiris. Both Peiris and Kadirgamar played a big part in winning over voters to the SLFP from what is considered the traditional UNP constituency.
The only Tamil candidate on the SLFP with a chance of winning the hustings was lawyer Ketheeswaran in the Wanni. Kethees was the former TULF Urban council chairman in Vavuniya. But he did not win. So Kumaratunga had to appoint one Tamil as national list MP. This naturally was Lakshman. Thus one from the Kadirgamar family became a Member of Parliament. The dominant professional strands in the family were law, christian clergyhood, teaching and service in the armed forces.Now for the first time an active full – time politician emerged.
The new government had a majority of one through Up Country Tamil MP Chandrasekharan. He and Kadirgamar were the two Tamil representatives initially. Kumaratunga offered them both deputy – minister posts as she wanted to restrict her cabinet to twenty. Chandrasekharan accepted but not Kadir. Lakshman who rarely projected himself as a Tamil did so then. He pointed out that his community would consider it an insult if he was only to be given a deputy – ministership. Chandrika agreed. It was a choice of Justice or Foreign Affairs. Lakshman wanted the latter. He was immensely equipped for it.
Kadirgamar proved subsequently that he was the best man for the job.In the post – independence years Defence and External affairs portfolios were the preserve of the Prime Minister. It was under JRJ in 1977 that a departure was made and ACS Hameed became foreign minister. It is broadly acknowledged that Kadirgamar was the best foreign minister the Country ever had. To Sinhala hawks Kadirgamar was the best foreign minister because he spearheaded an anti – tiger drive. But the mans greatness was in clearing up the augean stables in the ministry due mainly to the cronyism of Hameed and Tyronne Fernando.
It was another Tamil Sir Kandiah Vaithiyanathan as permanent secretary who set up a modern foreign service after Independence . It was Lakshman Kadirgamar who restructured and professionalised the service. Those who worked with him from Permanent secretary to peon would vouch for this. It was unfortunate indeed that in later years he was unable to check the interference of his spouse Suganthi in affairs of the ministry. Thanks to her there are blemishes in what was a career of ability and integrity.
Another of his achievements as foreign minister was restoring good relations with India eroded greatly under Jayewardene and Premadasa. Of course Indo – Lanka relations were always good under the Bandaranaike dynasty but the role of Kadirgamar cannot be discounted in this. Many including this columnist have mocked Kadirgamars undue haste in paying pooja to any new dispensation in New Delhi like some vassal state. But it cannot be denied that the New Delhi – Colombo relationship changed in favour of the latter in recent years. A brief comparison would suffice as illustration.
In 1987 when JR’s troops took Vadamaratchi and were ready to take Jaffna India engaged in the famous airdrop to deter that. In 2000 when VP’s boys took Elephant Pass and were ready to take Jaffna the same India exerted its influence and stopped that. Kadirgamar then convalescing in New Delhi played a very important yet unpublicised role in that. But the powers that be wanting to show that it was the “might” of the armed forces who prevented Jaffna falling did not highlight the India factor. The tigers too kept mum for obvious reasons.
It must be pointed out that Kadirgamars affinity towards India and recognition of its pivotal importance in the region was based on enlightened self – interest with emotional underpinnings. Lakshmans father was an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi .
He was chairman of a reception committee and presided over a meeting attended by the Mahatma in 1927 when Lakshman was yet unborn.. Lakshmans mother Parimalam requested Gandhi for his autograph. The Mahatma looking mischievously at the bright silk saree worn by her refused and told her that he would do so only if she wore “ghaddar” (homespun cloth). She did not get her autograph then.
Incidently she died early when Lakshman was only eight. It was his elder sister Eeswary who looked after him in the early years in maternal fashion. Years after her death Parimalams expensive “Koorai” or bridal saree underwent an exalted
transformation. When the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India was formed in 1947 and Sabapathy Kulendiran was consecrated as its first bishop SJC Kadirgamar donated the Bishops throne now at the Vaddukkoddai Cathedral. This throne which this columnist has seen personally was made out of good old Jaffna palmyrah though it looks like polished ebony. The Koorai saree was used to cover seating and the footstool. Years later Sam Kadirgamar got a velvet cover made for it.
Apart from this link with the Mahatma I am also told that two of Lakshmans close relatives had been a disciple of the Mahatma at Sabarmathy Ashram and student at Tagores Shanti Nikhetan. In that sense Lakshman too continued this historic limk with India . Apart from the political aspects there was the spiritual aspect bordering on the personal. In Lakshmans intellectual and spiritual journey Indian philosophical thought became heavily influential. Lakshman had evolved into an inter – faith person. He was greatly enamoured of Indias greatest son Gauthama Buddha and this was no pretension caused by contemporary political compulsions.
This point was touched on by the historian and Lakshmans first cousin Seelan Kadirgamar at his memorial service.This is what he reportedly observed “His (Lakshman) religious convictions perceiving common values in the four great religions, has struck a responsive chord in me as among others, and I wish to affirm in the strongest terms have nothing to do with his assumption of office. As a student of Indian history I place him in the great tradition in Indian history from Asoka to Akbar, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Tagore and Gandhi – inclusive and not exclusive”.
The memorial service also saw an intercession by Lakshmans daughter Ajitha. She stated that her step mother Suganthi had refused to give them at least a part of Lakshmans ashes to be used for Christian rites and then buried at the family plot in Kanatte. All of Lakshmans brothers and fathers remains are buried here. Furthermore the entire ashes had been scattered in the waters of Kalutara in the early hours of the morning without the Kadirgamar family members knowledge.Though Christians usually bury their dead in Sri Lanka cremation is not taboo either. In fact Christian burial services refer to “dust to dust and ashes to ashes”.
Apart from this the Colombo grapevine is also humming with stories of how the Kadirgamar family was sidelined in the funeral program by Lakshmans widow and how even accommodation in the family enclosure at the State funeral was made due to President Kumaratunga intervention. The family was excluded among the pallbearers too and it was Suganthis relatives who participated as Lakshmans relatives. Kadirgamars divorced wife and the mother of his only two children too was treated shabbily at the funeral. This was in stark contrast to how Srimani Athulathmudali conducted herself vis avis Laliths first wife at his funeral. Though the funeral was conducted according to Buddhist rites Lakshmans son Ragee and grandson Keira lit the pyre on one side with a “Jayewardena” nephew doing so on the other.
Usually personal issues like these would find no place in a political commentary based on a mans public life. In this case however the personal dimension cannot be ignored or glossed over if one is to understand the political role played by Kadirgamar in recent years. This is particularly necessary in the context of continuous vilification of the man by the tiger lobby.The comment made by Ajitha Kadirgamar Perera that her father was practically a “prisoner” during the past eight years assumes a lot of importance in gauging his political role as Foreign Affairs Minister at a time of intense war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
[August 12th is the 2nd death anniversary of Lakshman Kadirgamar. This is a reproduction of articles written in 2005]
August 12th, 2007
by Tissa Abeysekara
The creative act, if it is to be genuine, could never be part of a cultural agenda. A work of art is never born out of a desire to enrich culture. This may happen in time to come after the product comes into existence, but not by any conscious design at the moment of its origin.
Culture is an evolutionary process, and in that evolution, which is a ceaseless progression, there is integration and rejection. Those that are integrated become part of that culture. It is only then that they qualify to be artifacts. But that takes time. Art, or the products of creative enterprise therefore, can never be weighed and considered, nor evaluated or interpreted in terms of culture.
There are those, and they are of every country and every age, who attempt to codify culture. They presuppose that culture is an unchanging matrix to be officially determined, and then perpetuated, promoted, and protected as something inviolate. Culture as defined by these mandarins is an entrenched clause in the constitution of public life.
In such sad circumstances, art becomes the first victim. The total and unconditional freedom required for the meaningful exercise of the creative act is withdrawn. Such mandarins are referred to in Sinhala colloquial parlance as ‘Pothe Guras’.
This has to be explained even briefly, because that term encodes an important attitude in our public life towards art and social morality. The term ‘Pothe Gura’ refers to the Narrator in the folk theatre form called ‘Nadagam’ which comes from the Tamil word Nattakoothu’. He reads from a prescribed text, which never changes from performance to performance. It is a fixed libretto.
Performance, in the popular tradition of Eastern art, or perhaps even in the West before certain recording mechanisms came into existence, was always live, improvisatory, and never to be repeated in a fixed and prescribed form. A vocalist singing a raag always improvises like a jazz musician and his recitation can never be recollected and repeated note by note.
Therein lies the magic of performance; non-duplicative and one of its kind; hence the note of sarcasm when someone is referred to as ‘Pothe Gura’. He is a pedant, a man with no originality, one who lives off texts, and therefore with no imagination; a fossil, out of step with living reality.
Of all the expressions which sensor the shifts in public and collective taste, dress codes or fashions and music come first. In the drift towards a global order transcending barriers of culture and language what better symptoms are there than the denim and the guitar. Originating in the rock culture of the late fifties, when Bill Haley and his Comets and then the Elvis Presley phenomenon burst upon the music scene, the guitar became the sound of youth all over the world.
George Harrison of the Beatles was yet to try plucking the sitar, and Ravi Shanker had still not completely won over the west, but it was a time when the introverted musical systems of the world were opening out towards each other.
A synthesis between eastern and western musical forms had already been achieved at a very basic level by the film musicians of Bombay and Madras. Listen to the songs of Naushad Ali in the Bombay films of the forties, like “Babul”, “Deedar” and “Dastan” and the hybrid orchestrations of the composer Papanesan Sivam for the phenomenally popular Tamil movie, “Chandralekha” and you could hear a veneer of western musical flavour in the orchestration, and in the melody lines, the vertical forms of western melodic structures.
Latin-American and Caribbean rhythms popularised during the war years by musicians like Xavier Cugat and Perez Prado were seeping in too. This drift in the popular music of India had begun much earlier in the kitsch of the Parsee theatre of Bombay (Mumbai) and perhaps in a subtler and more tasteful manner in the innumerable compositions of Rabindranath Tagore collectively referred to as Rabindra Sangeeth.
There were two immensely popular melody makers, Rai Chand Boral and Khemchand Prakash who continued this hybrid genre in Indian films of the mid thirties. However, it was after the war and especially in the fifties that the drift gathered momentum.
Curiously, this was precisely the time that the musical practice in Sri Lanka – Ceylon then – was being locked through official policy into a closed circuit.
The story which I am trying to recount today, begins with the infamous Ratanjankar Audition, whereby a reputed scholar of Indian classical music was brought down by the authorities to audition and grade Sinhala vocalists. This was in 1952, and the move was strongly contested by a powerful segment of the Sinhala music community, headed by the most popular and leading composer/singer at the time, the now legendary Sunil Shantha.
The background to this episode could be reconstructed from references in the Administrative Reports of the Director General of Broadcasting at the time, M.J. Perera. In his report dated May 1953 for the year of review 1952, under the chapter on Broadcasting, the Director General makes the following statement:
“During the year under review the most important event that took place in the Sinhalese Section was the re-auditioning of artistes by Professor S.N. Ratanjankar from Bhatkande University. His visit aroused a good deal of controversy among musicians”.
The Sinhala newspapers of this period are full of this controversy.
Reading them it is quite clear the majority of Sinhala musicians of the time did not approve of this audition. Why was it held in the teeth of such opposition? Who decided to get down Professor Ratanjankar? Who took the decision to go head with it amidst such controversy? If the majority in the Sinhala music establishment were campaigning vehemently against the audition, as the newspapers so clearly indicate, whose interests did it serve? There is no Sessional Paper tabled in Parliament on the matter.
This means getting down the Indian specialist was not part of any specific governmental policy, nor did it seek any such sanction. It is then safe to conclude the decision was purely a matter of internal administration of the Department of Information, and more specifically of Radio Ceylon.
There is a clue however, in a letter M.J. Perera wrote to the CDN of Tuesday, June 18, 1991, reacting to certain observations I had made on this issue in a series of articles I wrote to the same paper on the career of Sunil Shantha , and how it was terminated tragically by the reactionary policies of the Sri Lankan musical establishment.
“The recommendation could,” says Perera in his article, “quite possibly have come from the Sinhala Programmes Advisory Committee”.
Going by his own circulars and administrative reports I have had the opportunity to peruse in the seventies, Perera shows much official enthusiasm for implementing the recommendations of this Advisory Committee.
In a book published by Dr. Nandana Karunanayake in the late nineties, “Broadcasting in Sri Lanka – Potential and Performance” there occurs this observation: Professor Ratanjankar re-graded the artistes on the basis of auditions conducted by him.
M.J. Perera was instrumental in inviting Professor Ratanjankar and took unusual interest in and commitment to improving the quality of Sinhala music”. (Chapter 11/P. 291)
It is important to note that among the members of this Advisory Committee for Sinhala programmes, were Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra and Lionel Edirisinghe, two of the most ardent champions of North Indian classical music.
The latter became the first Head of the Government School of Music, newly constituted as a section of the Government College of Fine Arts, in 1952. Professor Sarachchandra’s great passion for the Raaghadari tradition of music is too well known to be elaborated here.
In 1952, the same year of the Ratanjankar Audition, Radio Ceylon announced the formation of a station orchestra, and it was conditional that henceforth all recordings both vocal and instrumental, for broadcast use this orchestra. What is of special relevance to the point I wish to make, is the instrumental composition of this orchestra.
In the 1952 November issue of the Radio Times, the official magazine of Radio Ceylon, there is the following item boxed and displayed prominently in its front page.
“The members of the Sinhalese orchestra and their instruments are:
Edwin Samaradiwakara (Leader), sitar, esraj, sarode, tarshenai, and allied instruments; Sadananda Pattiarachchi, esraj, dilruba and tabla; A.J. Careem, Clarinet; Edward de Silva, Tampura, tabla and kole; D.D. Danny, flute; J.A.E Perera, tabla; M.A. Piyadasa, Violin; Ibrahim Sally, drums (dholak, tabla taang, kole)”
In his article in the Ceylon Daily News, referred to, before, M.J. Perera, makes the following comment: “The orchestra was not very large at the outset and only the essential instruments could be accommodated.
” It is clear then that, those considered “essential instruments” were, with the exceptions of the violin and the clarinet, exclusively those of the Indian musical tradition.
It is a clear reflection of the thinking behind the steps taken by the authorities, for, what they claimed to be, ‘the development of Sinhala music.’ This was to confine Sinhala music to an exclusively Indian base.
This policy was once again very specifically stated by M.J. Perera in an Administrative Report on Broadcasting for the year 1954, submitted by him in his capacity as Director General of Radio Ceylon.
“It was generally agreed that Sinhalese music is in need of greater development and that more students should be encouraged to go to North India for serious study. For this purpose it was suggested that the Ministry of Education should offer scholarships annually for the study of music in recognised institutions in North India.
It was also agreed that while North Indian Classical Music should be the foundation on which Sinhalese music should be built. The folk music of Ceylon should also be used in its development”.
Please note the emphasis on ‘North Indian Classical music’ and the secondary importance given to Sinhala folk music.
In the same Report, certain statistics are given and these are important not because they reflect the scant respect given to our folk tradition, but for the premium status accorded to Indian music.
In chapter ii, section (b) under the sub-head ‘Sinhalese Service’, of this administrative report a breakdown of the time allocations for music, spoken word and religious programmes are given. Of a total of 29 hours and 50 minutes per week allocated to music, only 01 hour and 20 minutes or 2.5% was allocated to Sinhala folk music.
There is also another piece of anecdotal though convincing evidence of this restrictive music policy and the compulsive manner in which it was applied at the Radio Station, in a progress report submitted by the then Controller of Music of the Sinhala Service, Dunstan de Silva.
In this Report dated May 28, 1956, the Controller of Music, a graduate of the Bhatkande University, and an extremely gifted musician, exclusively in the North Indian classical mode, states with an obvious sense of accomplishment, that: “Since my appointment in June 1954 as Music Assistant and Head of Music Unit, I started a campaign against artistes singing westernised music and completely annihilated it.”
Now, ‘annihilated’ is a strong word, an emotion-laden expression one rarely comes across in official or administrative documents.
But Dunstan de Silva, couldn’t have been more correct. It was indeed a campaign of annihilation, and in the process what was annihilated was not only ‘westernised music’ whatever that odd phrase means, but the freedom of musical expression itself. What is meant here as ‘westernised music’ I could only guess.
Here I must shift to another narrative. The contemporary phase in Sinhala music begins with the songs of Ananda Samarakoon.
One of the first Sri Lankans to make the pilgrimage to Shanthiniketan after Tagore’s visit here in 1934 created a wave of enthusiasm for his music, theatre and poetry, Samarakoon was not a great singer. But his voice had an honesty and an open throated vitality which charmed the local listener.
Its appeal lay in a kind of plaintive folky-ness like in the American Country singers. But above all, his melodies grew out of the language in which they were rendered, and here too Samarakoon’s lyrics were couched in the picturesque idiom of Sinhala folk poetry.
For the first time, Sinhala language found a songwriter who could harmonize the syllable and the note.
But what was more important here was that Samarakoon, not perhaps by conscious design, liberated the Sinhala song from the rigid melodic mode of the Hindustani light song rooted in the inflective phonetics of the Urdu language.
Then came Sunil Shantha, an absolute genius as a melody maker, and whose voice in its range and vocal sophistication is yet to be bettered in this country.
Tutored though in the North Indian classical tradition at Bhatkande, where he had a uniformly brilliant career coming first in both vocal and instrumental in the Masters final, Sunil Shantha, in his singing, deliberately avoided the decorative elements of the Hindustani raag, because he claimed they belonged to the Urdu language, and would cause syllabic distortions when applied to Sinhala.
The clean melodic contours of his songs were meant to harmonize with the Elu, an idiom in Sinhala writing which avoids Sanskritised poetic diction.
Sunil Shantha’s mission was to create a music essentially Sinhala in its total sound, and in this he would have drawn inspiration from the Tagorean experiment; Rabindra Sangeeth was built on the rhythms and cadences of the Bengali language.
If the Tagorean exercise was part of the Bengali Renaissance, Sunil Shantha himself was working in the high noon of the post war cultural reawakening in Sri Lanka. His songs, and to a lesser extent, those of his predecessor Samarakoon, swept the country.
The musical structures of these songs, free of the complex and aleatory movements of Oriental melody, allowed them to be played on western musical instruments, especially the piano; western hotel bands picked them up on brass, and in such versions they were generously embellished with chordwork, harmony and counterpoint, staples of the western musical system.
Sunil Shantha never went for such orchestrations, though he made liberal use of the piano mostly for rhythm, and in a few rare instances embellished his songs with vocal harmonies purely as choral back up.
However, a new generation came up on the Sinhala music scene. They had grown up during the war years and in the immediate aftermath, when western bands composed mainly of emigres from Central Europe were playing at dances and frequently in the open air for WW II veterans on transit home from the Eastern Command.
PLA Somapala and BS Perera, were two Sinhala musicians, brought up on the Samarakoon-Sunil Shantha wave, and they used the open melodic structures of this style, to indulge in heavy western-style orchestrations for their recordings.
On contract to HMV and Columbia, the two most popular labels of gramophone music at the time, these two musicians began a new trend. Sinhala songs of the late forties thro’ to the late fifties were dressed in lush orchestral arrangements with plenty brass.
In this, BS Perera was the more competent one; he had studied western music, and he was also heavily influenced by the Latin-American sound.
Whilst Somapala kept his melodies to the simple structures he had inherited from Samarakoon and Sunil Shantha, whilst lashing them with rich brass, BS, borrowed freely from the Latin rhythms for his infectious tunes.
Through their songs emerged a new generation of singers; Chitra, CT Fernando, Kanthi Wakwella, Vincent de Paul Peries, to name the most popular of them, and they, like the pioneer Sunil Shantha sang without the murkhis, gamaks and meends of the Indian tradition.
This was because the melodies and the arrangements prevented any improvisatory flourishes in the rendering. These songs became hugely popular and cut across all social, cultural and ethnic levels.
They had the simplicity of folk songs, and the lyrics were sentimental and romantic and they facilitated community singing. Remember, “Isurumuniya”, “Lalitha Kala”, “Barabage”, “Selalihini Kovul”, “Dura Pena Thani Thala”, and “Siripade Samanala Kanda?
It was a golden twilight, and we sang these songs with gusto, in school, whenever or wherever we gathered on happy occasions, played them on reedy mouth organs, and they have lingered through the years to be picked up by each one of three generations since then. Anyone who hasn’t sung any one of these songs at some moment in his or her life, please stand up!
It was then that ‘Ratanjankar’ struck. I am using the learned Professor’s name more as a metaphor, for his name is associated in my mind forever with the sad story of contemporary popular music in this country, though subsequent investigations have revealed that he was merely an instrument in the hands of a band of powerful Pothe Guras. And here let me dip into a memory.
The year was 1954 and I was in the Senior Prep. Class. One morning we were herded into the music room to listen to a distinguished visitor.
He was Maestro Lionel Edirisinghe, Head of the Government School of Music and the first Sri Lankan to qualify as a Sangeeth Visharada from the Bhatkande University of Music in Lucknow.
He was an imposing figure, tall and fair of complexion, his flowing white Indian costume making him look like some mystic sadhu, or so he seemed on that day to a bunch of nervous school kids in their middle teens.
“Could you sing something” the maestro said, and it seemed more like a command. Ms. Abeygunasekara, our much harassed music teacher looked quite tense as she began playing the simple introduction to Sunil Shantha’s “Olu Pipeela”. Immediately the maestro raised his hands.
“No. Not that one please”. The note of displeasure was clear in his voice. *”Sing something else.” And down went the music teacher’s trembling hands on the keyboard; she struck the first chords of “Siripade Samanala
“Stop, stop.” The maestro raised his voice and he seemed angry. “You are singing rubbish.” And for the next ten minutes we listened, frightened and confused, to the Head of the Government School of Music, that these songs we have learnt to sing were cheap songs; bad music; they should not be allowed in schools.
I cannot speak for the entire Class of ‘54, but in my case the confusion stayed with me. I wanted to find why these beautiful songs of my childhood were bad. That was until I came across, Dunstan de Silva’s progress report about his campaign against “westernised singing”.
I remembered vaguely, Maestro Lionel Edirisinghe trying to explain to us that those songs we attempted to sing on that day were “westernised songs which are preventing the development of a decent music in this country”.
So this is what was considered “westernised music” and why Dunstan de Silva decided it was his sacred duty as the Controller Music, of Radio Ceylon, to ‘annihilate’ it. Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra, was brainwashing a whole generation of undergrads in the Hantane hills on the same lines.
This was also what M.J. Perera, on the instructions of the Advisory Committee on Sinhala Programmes, was doing with meticulous administrative skill. To establish a Station Orchestra, limited to only Indian instruments, the restrictions placed on the use of harmony and counterpoint in the arrangements, were all part of the “campaign to annihilate westernised music”. The exercise of auditioning artistes by Professor Ratanjankar, was to legitimise the entire process.
This strange policy of musical spring cleaning continued for well over two decades. All the significant experiments in Sinhala music during this period were done outside the official space of the Government School of Music, Radio Ceylon/SLBC, and the Government Secondary Schools where music was made part of the curriculum.
A strong establishment developed round this policy, inhibiting the growth of a modern music culture in the vernacular. Only two adjustments to the syllabi in music at an official level could be noted.
In 1955 after prolonged agitation by W.B. Makuloluwa, the teaching of Sinhala Folk Music was allowed in the Government School of Music. This resulted in a refreshing change in the flavour and style of popular Sinhala music.
Here it was Amaradeva, who set the standard with his inspired compositions for Madhuwanthie, the memorable Radio programme he produced in creative collaboration with Mahagama Sekara.
(However, I do not wish to bring Amaradeva into this narrative. He is unique and has to be judged by the high musical values he works by and he exists beyond this narrative) This trend continued in the songs of Piyasiri Wijeratne, W.F. Wimalasiri, H.M. Abeypala and then in the immensely popular singing of Ivor Dennis and Sunil Edirisinghe, where one could detect the strains of Sinhala folk elements for the first time since Samarakoon and Sunil Shantha. Later came the stars, T.M. Jayaratne, Rohana Beddege, and Neela Wickremasinghe.
In 1975 or thereabouts, the students at the School of Music began to be taught the theory and techniques of Western Music. Even though this was limited to lectures and to a very basic introductory exercise, a whole generation of young composers emerged who began using western musical elements in their work for films and commercial recordings.
Rohana Weerasinghe, Mervyn Perera, Sarath Dassanayake, Victor Ratnayake, and Gunadasa Kapuge were the first of these. However, their work is inconsistent and occasionally there are serious lapses in technique, due to their lack of proper training in modern music.
Their primary source for learning modern orchestration seems to be the music of Bollywood which is at best, second hand. It is here that despite certain reservations I have personally, I wish to pay my tribute to Premasiri Khemadasa for his pioneering work. His exercises in western musical forms both where orchestration and vocal expressions are concerned, despite serious flaws, have been seminal.
His daring forays into uncharted regions in fusion, would never have been possible within the confines of our official musical establishment which remains unchanged basically since the days of the ‘Ratanjankar’ edict.
The freedom to create, without restriction is available only outside the narrow confines of the Sri Lankan musical establishment, which continue to exist in ’splendid’ isolation.
Fortunately, the space for such free activity has widened enormously with the coming of new technologies and market mechanisms that have changed the ecology of the music industry.
But it is here exactly that the pitfalls are, and the Sinhala music scene has been made vulnerable to such hazards, entirely due to the narrow orthodoxy that had prevailed here.
The indiscriminate use of electronically generated sounds, and the incompetent orchestrations which assault our ears today, are a direct result of the younger generation of musical aspirants not having the necessary professional and institutional training and guidance, vital to survive in the field today, Those who graduate from the School of Music have to spend years before they could adjust themselves to the professional demands of modern music.
They learn on their own, and they get sucked into the vortex of the mushrooming music industry, in a ’semi literate’ condition.
Music education in this country has to be reviewed all over again. Teaching music cannot be done by confining the student to a particular tradition.
The two most exciting musicians in the local scene today, Harsha Makalanda and Pradeep Ratnayake are those who broke free of the tradtions they were brought up in, to become the wonderfully innovative artistes they are.
Makalanda was Sri Lanka’s finest jazz pianist before he began drawing from the Sinhala folk tradition to begin composing. Pradeep, grew up in the straitjacket of the Raag, where he mastered the Sitar, and then broke free to play jazz with Ravi Shankar’s sacred instrument.
The creative act in any medium demands a condition beyond all tradition. First we learn the basic principles of any art form, and there is no issue of tradition there. That comes later.
The Sinhala music establishment is yet to accept this. It looks down upon the immensely gifted musicians, Bhathiya and Santush. It is yet to appreciate what Khemadasa has done, and are uneasy with the likes of Pradeep Ratnayake.
It had already destroyed such pioneering talents as Sunil Shantha, BS Perera, and CT Fernando. These are performers and composers thrown up by the uprush of public preference, and that comes from a complex interplay of social conditions. No one has the right to discriminate against them from up above.
Here it touches upon a basic principle which is beyond the issue of musical preference. It is related to human rights. Now that the field of music in this country has come under the purview of an institution with university status, let us begin all over again.
If we are to develop music in this country, let the institution teach the basics and provide the aspirants with facilities and the freedom to experiment with all forms; let them choose and let them create. Tradition will grow out of that. It cannot be carpentered.
This is an English version of the Convocation Address delivered by Dr. Tissa Abeysekara in the afternoon session of the First Convocation of the University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo, held at the BMICH, on August 04, 2007.
August 11th, 2007
by Revata S. Silva
‘The old’ most of the time create displeasure among the new and ‘the new’ bring uneasiness among the old.
W. D. Amaradeva would have been a stranger to the pre-independence Ceylonese musicians and decades later the rise of someone like Rukantha Gunathilleka with his bambarapahasa eclipsed the Amaradeva-led tradition in stutters.
The period from late 1980s to mid ’90s saw drastic economic changes taking place in Sri Lanka setting the stage for a wide rift between the old and the new generations. The exposure of Sri Lanka to the Western socio-economic forces could have been the catalyst for that change. Rapid expansion of (the private) media, development of mass communication including the advent of the internet, e-mail and mobile phones, deterioration of the traditional cultural values were predominant features of the changing Sri Lanka.
Well-known older generation lyricist Lucian Bulathsinhala once said in a radio interview that the new people asked how the moon sets radiating purple colours. He was referring to his popular ’70s duet Dampaating la sanda besa yanava sung by the late Gunadasa Kapuge and the late Malani Bulathsinhala.
“We spent those late night hours on the beaches with our musician friends and we’ve seen the moon setting smoothly emitting a purple light.” Will Kelum Srimal or Vasantha Kumara Dukgannanrala or any other present day lyricist or musician ‘waste’ their time in serene beaches in the dark? Mad? Neither these new guys nor their fans would do that.
Arts in the ’60s or the ’70s appeared rather traditional. Those men were not technologically advanced and their simple lifestyles allowed them to be at peace with their environment. They had time for observing dew drops falling caressingly on soft petals of beautiful flowers tickling as they did as the hearts of lovers.
But things began to change with the economic liberalisation and the advent of new technology. Computerised music put every musical trend before it to a lesser complete one, at least from the listeners’ standpoint. The digital, synchronised music laid the technological base for the Bathiya & Santhush age.
The younger generation has neither originality nor novelty in their songs or music. They’re artificial. They’re insensitive. This is an oft-heard complaint by the old timers. They’re only capable of copying all the previous (old) music trends and they know only to “wrap” the age old “Sirisangabodhi” or “Adahagannabe” in a digitally recreated tempo adding some ‘blah, blah’, we are told.
As a counter to this kind of criticism, the young ones point out that H.R. Jothipala, an outcast during his time, proved his critics wrong by becoming a legend posthumously. And, how could one follow old methods in a world dominated by computers, they ask.
The new artistes, in fairness to them, are not solely responsible for the so-called ’sexualisation’ of culture. Admiring Jothi, CT or Clarence is OK, but music has to be allowed to evolve, they argue. Sensible and tenable!
Times change, So does music. That is the way with the world. The entire universe is in a state of flux. Rukantha is now regarded a trend-setter but he was considered more a musical oddity when his cassette Bambarapahasa was released in the early ‘90.
What’s the broader picture we could see in this, so to speak, clash of generations? The economic system and technology always change taking their toll on arts and media and even human relations. See what television has done to our families. But there is one important thing. However, notwithstanding these changes, human feelings remain intact.
But there is a problem specific to our times. Artistes succumb to commercial pressure more than in the past. We see Bathiya or Santhush more in advertisements, promoting various retail goods and services in sharp contrast to the way they relate to use emotionally in a song like Chandanie Payala. They are beginning to look more like salesmen than musicians to their fans. Artistes have to settle their bills like all others and for this purpose they need dosh but the present trend is suggestive of the fact that they are overstepping their limits.
The problem today is that there is hardly any artiste who is trying to ‘fight’ against this covert, unhealthy, yet complicated socio-economic system that has turned against the existence of their own spiritual and unique medium. In this scenario, there is no great difference between the old and the new generations here in Sri Lanka. All of them, save one or two, have become conformist and are swimming with the tide, .
“Won’t you help to sing…,
These songs of freedom…?
’cause all I ever have,
- Bob Marley
August 11th, 2007
Ajith Samaranayake: The conscience of the younger generation, a voice for lost causes
by Lester James Peries
With much spluttering of engine and tooting of horn the three wheelers would sweep into No. 24 (formerly Dickman’s Road) like the famed ‘Chariots of Fire’. Over the years this heralded the arrival of our brilliant young friend to our home in Colombo 5.
Unlike many Sri Lankans who would drop in with no agenda to darken the early morning sunlit hours with idle prattle, Ajith would phone and say, “I’ll be there in half an hour-Ok?”
Of course it was always ok for me for I always knew our young friend would light up the darkening skies of our troubled days. – No one has left us quite so suddenly.
Who in the public life in this country be it politician, artist, dramatist, musician, dancer, film maker evoked such over-whelming grief, a genuine outpouring of sadness, such laurels in flower and words and poems for a life so young, snuffed out by the hands of fate that awaits us all.
An year has passed since he left us. Has it really been a year?
It has taken me that long to write a few words that can scarcely do justice to a master-craftsman of the English language. Would he really like us to mourn for him? Are there watering holes in Eternity?
Wherever he is, he will be what he has always been, a younger generation’s conscience, a spokesman on behalf of our embattled island home.
At his passing away, members of his tribe, his peers had no inhibitions to link his name to the greatest in the world of Sri Lankan journalism. H.A.J. Hulugalle, Tori de Sousa, Regi Siriwardena, Jayantha Padmanabha, Tarzie Vittachi, Mervyn de Silva et al…
Had he been alive I doubt whether these encomiums, eulogies, panegyrics…call it what you will, would really have meant much to him.
I have no academic qualifications to write a critical analysis of his style. But however inadequate my analytical skills may be some observations must be made.
In all his best writings Ajith combined lucidity, elegance and grace-grace as Hemingway said under pressure…as a combination this is a difficult style, difficult to cultivate or imitate but a gift possibly bestowed on the chosen few by the deities who look after the fortunes of the fourth estate-should there be any.
In the hurly burly of daily journalism, to keep to deadlines, journalists even the best ones are forced to resort, by the compulsion of time to use the cliche, the hackneyed-phrase.
Ajith was no exception. Read any of his critical essays on Arts, Politics or his Profiles on our very important people and one would find him using the language of daily journalism. But by some mysterious process, even a cliche reads as though it was re-invented, newly minted in a style that depended on the dignity and eloquence of simple prose.
To digress for a moment. Long long ago when I was young, a fanatical English teacher told me…”Take this sentence from the Bible-God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Improve on it, of course I couldn’t. Now I often think of Ajith; he may have performed the miracle; he may have improved on that peremptory divine pronouncement. After all the Bible did have some of the most inspired reporters in literary history.
Over the years Ajith was one of the most regular visitors to what used to be No. 24, Dickman’s Road.
He would insist (not that there was any objection on our part) on bringing his three-wheel drivers and offering them seats either in the verandah or in the drawing room. I suspect at the beginning this was a challenge to our social conventions. Neither Sumitra nor I bothered very much about it….but we did feel sorry for some of the poor guys who looked thoroughly discomfited surrounded by paintings by my brother, the great……artist in our family, Ivan Peries, seated on antique chairs which they suspected might collapse at any moment. For his part Ajith would say, “I dropped in to borrow some books and have a good katha.” Though I can’t boast of an extensive library, I had some of his favourite authors-Edmund Wilson, Cyril Connolly, the Letters and Diaries of George Orwell (I’m sure a kindred spirit) Walter Benjamin, Steiner, etc.
His favourites were critical essays rarely novels, no magic realism, no post modernist, structuralist stuff of which I had just a few from our four years in Paris. Strange he never picked a book on the Cinema. Ajith knew I never kept a little black book to record the ones he borrowed, nor did I badger him to return them.
I’d like to think he visited us not merely to borrow books but for our companionship-Sumitra’s and mine. It was not intellectual stimulus he was after. It was, as I suspect a relief from it. He always appeared to be completely relaxed, perfectly at ease. He knew he was always welcome, the bar was open and though he often dropped in on his way home (after visiting his favourite “watering holes”) to his wife who always waited for him; it was always one for the road or….
Though there was a considerable generation gap between him and me I rather think that what strengthened our friendship was his involvement in a number of lost causes on our behalf. The first I remember was his urging the Government at that time to take over our ancestral home in Dehiwela and convert it to a museum for Ivan’s paintings and a room reserved for my films. It wasn’t surprising that in 48 hours the building was demolished. Another was a series of very powerful editorials that the State should construct a special archive to preserve our local films. Had he been alive I can just imagine his fury and horror at the news that the original master-negatives of “Nidhanaya” – the film voted by local critics as the best in the fifty years of Sri Lankan Cinema had been burnt.
In Sri Lanka gossip is the fourth major language after Sinhala, Tamil and English. In all the years I’ve known him I’ve never heard him gossip, never about his colleagues, never about his workplace, never about his bosses.
Occasionally he might hint about the many vicissitudes he suffered in the newspaper offices he worked, from the ‘Upstairs-Downstairs’ Syndrome, but that too with a self-deprecating smile. He knew he had his enemies, those who exploited his weaknesses but that didn’t seem to bother him unduly.
This was inevitable as his journalistic gifts, not merely the elegance of his style but the mature insight with which he analysed and probed in editorial and feature article our present discontent as a nation and a people where our multi-religious and multi-ethnicity should be our strength and not our weakness.
One has to admit though it is sad but true, that the real magnitude of his achievement came to be realised only after his death. It was not a surprise to me that the great Regi Siriwardena said he was his true heir and his last wish was that he write his obituary.
I still remember the last time he was here. We were in the office-the shades of night were fallinghe had sipped his last “one for the road” – collected his books – one a bulky volume of Scott – Fitzgerald, the American author’s incredibly moving letters to his daughter. The books under his arm he walked out got into his three-wheeler which with much stuttering and tooting of horn disappeared into the night. Will we see him again?
[Where are you Ajith - where are you?]
[August 10th is the 53rd Birth Anniversary of Ajith Samaranayake]
August 9th, 2007
Press statement condemning military interference on Jaffna NGOs meetings with UN Under Secretary General on humanitarian affairs:
As civil society organizations concerned about the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, we welcome the visit of UN Under Secretary General on Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. John Holmes to Sri Lanka. An objective ground assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, carried out by a person of his standing, would have been a critical component of any future discussions on a return to peace in Sri Lanka.
Sadly, however, we have learned that Mr. Holme’s attempt to meet with civil society representatives during his visit to Jaffna on August 7 was marred by the heavy presence of the military at the Public Library, Jaffna, where the meeting was held.
Our colleagues in Jaffna have also conveyed to us that on the day before Mr. Holme’s visit to Jaffna, the military commander called for a meeting at Palaly military headquarters, at which NGOs and civil society representatives were instructed not to refer to human rights issues and to restrict themselves to issues of humanitarian assistance during their meeting with Mr. Holmes. The military told the NGO and civil society representatives present that they, the military, would brief Mr. Holmes about the human rights and security situation, while the Government Agent would brief Mr. Holmes about the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Humanitarian and human rights groups in Jaffna have expressed their serious reservations about this interference by the military and regret their inability to meet Mr. Holmes in a more private manner, which would have enabled them to freely share their views, perspectives and experiences with him.
We condemn this type of military interference in matters relating to civil society and NGO activity. This completely undermines existing practice in which visiting UN officials meet with civil society groups during country visits, insisting on privacy for such meetings, even going as far as declining invitations when these conditions are not met. Given the high levels of insecurity, that include killings and abductions, faced by humanitarian agenices, human rights organizations and other civil society organisations we are also deeply concerned of the security implications for the actors who were invited to the meetings.
The steps taken by the military in Jaffna to restrict Mr. Holmes’ access to information can only reaffirm concerns in the international community that there is no transparency and accountability of the government and of the military when it comes to both human rights and humanitarian issues in the conflict-affected areas of Sri Lanka.
We trust that Mr. Holmes will reflect these concerns in his reports, on the basis that his ability to obtain an objective assessment of the ground situation in the country based on perspectives of various stakeholders including humanitarian agencies on the ground was negatively affected by this situation.
Centre for Policy Alternatives
Free Media Movement
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
International Movement Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Law & Society Trust
August 9th, 2007
Vakarai resembles a war zone today. The hospital, schools, places of worship and newly built houses after the Tsunami have all suffered the ravages of bombing that does not distinguish between the enemy and the innocent man caught in between.
The Vakarai District Hospital needs nurses, doctors and drugs. Its buildings and functions have suffered both under the siege of the LTTE and the military exercises of the government troops. All 25 beds are full of innocent patients awaiting care. But with one doctor, another relief doctor and nine nurses much is left undone.
For a liberated land, travel is very difficult and much restricted in the East. There are certainly more check points than when un cleared. Despite receiving assurances of free travel and ‘access to anywhere’ from Colombo, we had to languish for two hours at the Kayankerni check point. It was not clear why they needed to clear the visit by a group of journalists from Colombo. We were assured it was for our ‘own safety’. But in land completely cleared of the LTTE who would threaten our movements? That was not made clear.
Soldiers manning the check point confirmed that Karuna cadres moved freely through. I asked if they carried weapons, and was told they did.
“Do they also sign here and get permission to pass through” I asked.
“No, they are with us.” I wondered who we; a group of journalist were suspected to be with.
Karuna cadres are a dreaded element of life in the East, especially Batticaloa. In the minds of the people nothing really has changed for them. They can’t subscribe to the fact that they have been removed from the clutches of the LTTE because there is still another militant group that they argue have filled the vacuum.
The fear towards the LTTE has simply been shifted towards the Karuna faction in Batticaloa today. No one will speak on record. One man whose son was forcibly removed from him three weeks back stressed he would not go to the law enforcement authorities.
“They are running the district now. They demand our children, money and everything. We have just fallen from the frying pan to the fire. Who can we complain to? Who will take action against them”, he asks.
Many won’t linger enough to speak much. It’s easy to note the fear on eyes that never stop scrutinizing the area for informants. And there are many of them here. Found speaking to a journalist about the cadres is not a ‘crime’ they will be forgiven for. Any shop owner will simply smile and look away if you ask them if the cadres extort money from them. A mother will fearfully walk away if you ask if they take their children. This is not the mindset of a people ready for peace.
According to Mutthu (Possibly not his real name) who runs a gift shop in the town, every shop pays money to the Karuna cadres. There is no choice in the matter. But no one will even discuss it for fear of being reported to the organization. Asked if they are not members of some trader organization that can protect their rights, he says no.
“No one can organize themselves against them. Committees of existing organizations won’t even meet any more,” he claims.
The situation has left the entire business community paralyzed. Many of these organizations no longer operate because no one will come up for election to the Committees. Many Ex-Co members have resigned or refuse to come for meetings. They don’t want to be responsible for representing organizations before the cadres. It is clear that the political aspirations and moves to come in to the democratic process by the TMVP are a mockery in Batticaloa.
It was not difficult to understand their fear, when stopped by a group of four armed cadres in the middle of the night on our way to Batticaloa. We had been warned to arrive before 6 pm in Batticaloa, but work had put pressure on the estimated time of arrival.
Demanding where we were going and where we had been, the cadres barely in their twenties wanted us to take two of their cadres to the town. There is no room for refusal before these gun toting youth. It was only at the mention of the media that they backed out. It was not difficult to see the plight of an innocent civilian in such an encounter.
The manner in which the government operates with the Karuna group leaves much to be desired. There is a serious allegation that the government has handed over the fate of the people in to the hands of the militant group. What ever the political strategy behind allowing for a greater presence of the cadres, the allegations against the group are far too serious to go unheeded.
Government plans to hold elections have also failed to increase faith in the people. They don’t believe Karuna cadres will allow any one else to contest, leave alone win. People fear a bloodbath once campaigning starts. No one believes a free and fair election can take place with the militant presence of Karuna cadres.
It is not difficult to see what this militarized environment is doing to the people. It is this fear and nothing else that possibly keeps the people from revolting against the government. The growing frustrations are not the elements of development. There is little support that can be drawn towards the government under these very volatile conditions.
One could always argue that the accusations as being made in this article were coming too early after the capture. Or, that such accusations could be setting the stage for further curtailing the government’s military exercise in the North. But the fact remains that in the midst of all this it is still innocent human beings suffering the worst of living standards as a result. Nothing can and should justify what these people are forced to go through on a daily basis. Political games cannot take precedence over what is essentially a human tragedy.
No government can believe that all was fair in fighting terrorism. A government’s need to retain a moral high ground would not leave room for it to behave as such. No government can afford to resort to terrorist methods to fight terrorism. There is a line that divides between terrorism and democracy.
There is a reason why governments like the Rajapaksa administration are elected by a people through a democratic process of election and why they have acceptance in international forums. There is accountability attached to governments that require greater respect for human rights. It would be unfortunate if the government failed to understand what moves an international community to ban terror organizations. Or why more is expected of legitimate governments.
One can’t ignore that there is no plan launched to win over the people. In such a situation it is difficult to avoid the people feeling alienated. Many people feel they are very much ignored in the government’s ‘military exercise’. They also feel rejected by international aid agencies who have denied aid on political grounds. The people feel that ‘politics have taken precedence over real issues’ for ‘both the government and the international community’.
All this, the government must be mindful are the perfect breeding ground for the very elements of terrorism they promise to wipe out. Increased displacement and neglect have and would once again push the people back towards the LTTE. Recruitment which is at a low under the LTTE now, could pick up under these trying conditions.
The government must come to terms with the necessity to differentiate between the Tamils and the LTTE. They are and must at all planning remain different entities. It is the responsibility of the government to not push the people towards the LTTE in their inability to grasp this simple yet absolute truth about a two decade old war that no one wants. The government must know that the East can’t be forced to rise. It has to be given the respect and choice it deserves to do so.
Rule of the Gun-Karuna cadres in Batticaloa
Karuna is a much dreaded element of the East, especially in Batticaloa. Extortion, recruitment of children and rule of the gun are all rampant in the district. No one would dare open their mouths against the cadres that continue to carry arms very freely in the district. The assurances by the Governor of the East Vice Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema of preventing weapons usage by Karuna cadres, monitoring the situation and action against have all remained on paper.
They move freely with weapons in the town and control it by the gun. Their headquarters does not resemble a political office in any way. Many of their faces belie the age they claim they are. A large majority are unmistakably children. Stranger still is that no one would go to the police against such lawlessness. They don’t believe any police station would take down a complaint.
More importantly they fear being tipped off to the cadres. They claim their plight is much worse with Karuna than the LTTE. They could go to the government security forces against the LTTE. If a child is abducted they had the relief of lodging a complaint with the police. But it is a different story with Karuna cadres they claim.
Head of the Education Unit of the Headquarters of the TMVP, P. Karunaharan denies the charges. According to him all these are untruths spread by people ‘jealous’ of their ‘popularity’ with the people.
He claims they are ‘not with the government’ but function merely as a political party of the country. He believes they are in fact ‘winning the hearts and minds of the people.
“It’s the only way to make sure that the people don’t turn towards the LTTE. The LTTE concentrated on war, extortion, child recruitment and harming the Tamil children. We are different. But because we broke away we have to carry on the war.”
Denying charges of child recruitment, he claims the TMVP will not do anything to hurt the future of their people. He maintains they have no intention of breaking an agreement signed with the UN against recruitment in January this year.
“We have never abducted children,” he adds.
He however doesn’t deny the presence of children in the Party. ‘Find out why they come and join us. They have been neglected by society. If we didn’t take them on it’s the LTTE. We rehabilitate children and find them jobs”.
He doesn’t agree that it was better to ‘rehabilitate’ these children in their home environments.
“The children are kept in NGO assisted centres. We have self employment projects and we teach them other skills to help them find means of employment later.” He doesn’t specify what these skills are.
He maintains their right to carry arms to defend themselves against the enemy; LTTE. “As long as they are armed we have to be armed.
“We will disarm when the enemy is vanquished. We don’t carry arms to kill the people,” he says.
Karunaharan claims they will not prevent the EPDP or any other Party carry out their politics in the district. “There can be misunderstandings but we can and we do resolve them.”
He however admits that they have banned mainstream newspapers that are critical of their policies. He doesn’t think that hampers a democratic process that the TMVP has vowed to have joined now.
Asked if the Party is concerned about the dissatisfaction among the Muslim people towards the TMVP he says; ‘it is irrelevant to us if they accept us or not.’
There is also denial of extortion. ‘There’s nothing of the sort. People can see we are with them so we will not harass them.
“It is because we allowed the LTTE and TNA to handle our issues the way they did that our problems have remained unresolved all this time. The only ones who profited from this situation were the LTTE and not the people. We have to help save the people from this predicament.”
The plight of the IDPs -Camps in Kiliveddy
Nothing in the run down shack provides evidence of a room of joy. If not for the rolled up mat and a few cups and plates scattered on the floor it would be safe to assume there was no life in this shack. But there is. A movement in the sari hanging low fom a wooden pole in the center of the hut shows a three month old baby just waking up. But there are not the little rattles nor the happy toys to provide him any comfort. The baby is suffering from chicken pox but there is not a drop of medicine in sight.
It’s easy to mistake 21- year-old Umma Salma for being an older cousin. But she is in fact the young mother of the little boy. She is older than most mothers in these camps- a new phenomenon now. The girls marry as young as 16 years in the IDP camps. With no schooling and the fear of other insecurities of looking after a young girl parents prefer to marry them off. This works well for parents of young boys as well; there is lesser chance of forcible recruitment to the rebel groups. It’s not necessarily a deterrent – but it lessens the chances.
Salma’s situation couldn’t possibly get any worse. Married off at 19 to a disabled man in the same camp, marriage still failed to provide the security intended. Months before she was to give birth the man’s family found a girl with better means for him. Today she is left to care for a child all by herself.
The fact that many of these marriages are not legal means that Salma has no legal claim even if she cared to contest.
In another camp in Kiliveddy there is a rush at a distribution point right as you enter the camp. Men women and children are fighting each other to get a place in a long queue. Unable to sign their names a majority just stamp their finger at the distribution desk to receive the goods.
Then they happily run to an inner room where the goods are distributed. A local NGO has gifted rubber slippers and they can’t wait to grab a pair. For many the sizes are not right but brand new they have the potential to be sold to buy something more worthwhile.
“Our houses are coming off now. The roofs are leaking. The children are sick always. During the day, it’s too hot to stay inside and too hot to stay out. We have no work. The children can’t go to school, and we can’t send them out in case they are abducted.
“At least tell us what they plan to do with us. We had just started to settle down after the Tsunami and get back to life, when the war started again. When does this end?,” laments Haniffa.
He like many others is angry at journalists as well. “You will write another story but nothing will change for us,” he accuses, refusing to be photographed.
But the little children who follow us around are happy to smile for the camera. There is little joy in their dreary lives that seeing themselves in the digital cameras is a fun thing for them. They stare at the photos and laugh at each other’s faces reflected on the screen. It is tragic to see what little really it takes to make life happier for them.
Restricted to life within the perimeter of these camps, they are prisoners behind the barbed wires. The children can’t run outside the camps for fear of forced recruitment or mines. Held prisoner by the politics of war, liberation is a long walk still, for hundreds of thousands of people who can’t even begin to understand why and who is responsible for the inequalities of life they lead.
Loss of livelihoods-Fishing Communities of Mutur
The strength of the LTTE at sea is posing a considerable restriction on the fishing communities of the East.
For an area that is dependent entirely on fisheries, it is shocking to note that there isn’t a single boat at sea.
The 2750 fishing families in Mutur, own an impressive 250 boats between them. Donated by various NGOs after the Tsunami none of the 15cc boats have yet gone to sea. The boats were given over two years back.
But only catamarans are allowed and are restricted between 4 am and 5 pm. With a ban on deep sea fishing and a mere 2 km out, they are denied the best catch.
Despite the government relaxing the ban the Navy which handles the defence in the area continues the ban.
Secretary of the Thakkawangar Fishing Society in Mutur, Asgar maintains that they are no longer able to send children to school because their present income doesn’t provide for it. He alleges that for a community that brought in Rs. 500,000 a day with 150 boats even under the control of the LTTE, their revenue has dropped drastically today. Even on a ‘good day’ they make only Rs. 50,000 or less.
The fishermen allege that as a community who refused to give in to demands of the LTTE for money, they are worse affected under the government rule.
“The children can’t eat enough with us earning Rs. 150 a day now. It is only in Mutur that even a dingy is not allowed at sea. Even in Vakarai they are allowed dinghies,” he alleges.
They blame the local politicians for failing to take up the issue with the government. He complains that the politicians have continued to use them as pawns in their political game of numbers.
‘When the LTTE came and we fled to Kantale we were promised Rs. 25,000 and homes to return. So we came back but nothing was given by the government. What ever we have is what the NGOs have provided us. They just wanted us back to keep the numbers intact,” he charges.
“We don’t want any handouts. We were making good money from fishing. Just give us our livelihoods back”.
The politics of land -Resettlement and HSZs
With the commencement of aerial bombings people in their thousands vacated to Vakarai from Mutur east including Sampur. Many of them are in transit camps in Killiveddi. They don’t know when they will be resettled in their own lands, because that has been declared a high Security Zone now. Resettlement in Echchampatthu also continues. The original plan was for the people to return as close to home as possible and start clearing and rebuilding homes destroyed and start on livelihoods. But mine clearing in part and the mere lack of plan for resettlement in place has stopped everything on track.
Members of a Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies in Trincomalee, who refuse to be identified, allege that the government just hurried the people back without any real plan in place. In many places mine clearing hadn’t even been completed when people were forcibly put on buses and rushed back.
‘They just wanted to say that they had the situation under control. But there is no water near these transit camps and what ever is there was contaminated,” he says.
Declaration of HSZ in Mutur and Sampur leaving 4,000 people desolate is ‘very ill timed’ they allege. The issue is only contributing to the growing suspicions in the area. They charge that moves are on to segregate the people with the floating populations. The TNA announced a Hartal in Trincomalee last week in protest.
Moves by certain political organizations to settle Sinhala families within Muslim villages is also a very sensitive issue in the area. The people see through a ‘political agenda’ of colonization that they don’t approve of and vow to fight back against. They maintain that the authorities were threatening the lives of these innocent families by dumping them in the middle of a very angry community.
They allege moves were on to change the ethnic composition. In Mutur there is a 52% Muslim population, a 47% Tamil and 1% Sinhalese.
Member of the Mutur Pradeshiya Sabha M. Regis claims that the government has settled 25 Sinhala families already.
He alleges some ‘interested political entity’ of threatening the peace of the area by claiming a mountain at Munahattamallai a Buddhist site of archeological interest of late.
“The Muslims venerated this mountain for a long time. Then in 2003 a Christian group came and placed a cross on top and there was a conflict that left 10 people dead, Rs. 5 million of damages in the town and two weeks of tension in the area.
“A few weeks back some Buddhist priests have come and visited the top of the mountain and after that there is a police point so we can’t go and see what they have done. They are trying to create unrest again,” he charged.
According to him since the visit people are banned from visiting the quarry at the bottom as well.
“Facilities are curtailed to the maximum. It is very difficult to get a bank guarantee,” he insists.
He has difficulty in convincing investors that the time is right to invest now that Thoppigala is captured, because nothing had changed three months after Mutur was liberated.
“If a lorry can’t pass without an hour long check in just one check point alone, a farmer has to think twice about the fate of perishable goods. Increased checking at Kantale is affecting business in a big way. The community is being tightened more and more.
“We don’t see any change for a more conducive environment for business,” he complaints.
The fact that the authorities have failed to provide livelihoods mean that no resettlement program can be successful. The people insist that till a means of living is in place, just dumping them in lands to satisfy larger political goals will not suffice.
[This is a compilation of articles that appeared in the Colombo English newspaper "Daily Mirror". The tragic situation in the east is vividly portrayed in these articles written from a Colombo perspective.]
August 9th, 2007
By Minelle Fernandez
The rapid expansion of the media industry in recent years has created a major demand for media practitioners; a demand that is currently proving very difficult to meet, according to owners.
Authorities say approximately 40 applications for radio and TV licenses are pending approval. The Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, Vajira Narampanawa says, “Daily two to three people come to me to get media licenses. I don’t know who is going to listen to all these channels.”
There are currently 37 radio channels and 18 TV stations in operation according to the Media Ministry. There are also those who have obtained licenses but have not commenced broadcast operations.
The expansion in the media field is not limited to the electronic media, at least five new daily and weekly papers have hit the stands in recent times – and more are set to join the fray. This phenomenon is at odds with current global trends of shrinking newspaper readership. Ranjit Wijewardena, Chairman of Wijeya Group says the emergence of new titles and circulation figures point toward the expansion of the readership.
Commenting on the human resources challenge posed by the expanding industry, Kumar Nadesan, the Managing Director of Express Newspapers said, “Auditors are constantly complaining that there is a high turnover of staff.” He pointed out that in addition to staff moving within the media sector, high commissions, NGO’s and other non media bodies attract many media practitioners.
Finding trained people is one of the most serious human resource issues, according to Mano Wickramanayake, Group Director Capital Maharaja which owns MTV/MBC. He says there is a lack of capacity with not enough media schools and quality training programmes for electronic media practitioners. But he admits that releasing existing staff for training is very difficult.
The English language media face an added difficulty in finding staff with the required language skills.Remuneration and perks add further complications, with one media proprietor admitting that good English language staff get paid almost 70% more than their Sinhala and Tamil counterparts.
Some industry insiders feel the airwaves are getting far too crowded given the limited broadcast spectrum which is available in Sri Lanka. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission appears to back this sentiment – for good reason. Its Director-General Kanchana Ratwatte says “Right now, I’m running out of frequencies (to allocate), it’s saturated; if I issue a new one it will go and distort an existing frequency.”
Commenting on the rapid growth in the media industry in recent years, Sunanda Deshapriya the Convenor of the Free Media Movement said “Businessman want to get legitimacy, it’s not for the love of journalism.” He observed that despite expansion of the media industry, there’s been no real development of professional standards.
Existing training programmes tend to be theoretical and seldom impart the necessary practical skills needed on the field. The Sri Lanka Press Institute has attempted to fill the void with mid career training programmes for journalists, while the Sri Lanka College of Journalism has seen expanding numbers of youngsters enrol for the diploma course in journalism. But ultimately it is not the job of one individual but the collective effort of the whole industry to lift itself to a new and more professional level. [SLPI]
August 8th, 2007