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April 30, 2010

Through the Eastern Eyes IX: Kaluwankerny

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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Kaluwankerny which is situated in Batticaloa district between Vanthaarumoolai and Thalavaai. It has a total population of 2,123 people (568 families). [click to see & read more]

Will Rajapaksa brothers interprete dual mandates as approval by electorate to do as they want and please ?

by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

With a 1.8 million majority in the Presidential Election and a near two–thirds majority in the general, Mahinda Rajapaksa is at the zenith of his powers, even if the former is contested and the latter based on a historically low turn out. With the cabinet too more or less sorted out, sundry whining not withstanding, the country is set for the take off outlined in the Mahinda Chinthanaya and its later edition the Idiri Dekma. Big mandate, big majorities and big opportunities. Also big responsibilities.

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We are told that such a landmark is registered but only a few times in our history – independence in 1948, the Age of the Common Man in 56, liberalization and the executive presidency in 1977. There are even those who will skip all the in between and jump straight from 48 to 2010 – formal independence to the real independence we now enjoy and if not, as sure as night follows day, will enjoy. The Rajapaksa regime has no real opposition and no excuses and really no inhibitions in re-moulding this country nearer to its heart’s desire. Quo Vadis?

The structure of power remains unchanged from what we were treated to in the 2005-10 period. In fact it has been tightened. Brother Basil has a jumbo ministry, which will pilot the take off. He is rumoured to be in line to be Prime Minister once the second term is officially inaugurated. Brother Gotabhaya continues as Defence Secretary and guardian of the brotherhood and country. He is also said to now hold sway over the UDA, thereby vested with powers, which could effectively turn most of the country into a HSZ depending on his current assessment of threat and national priority. And Brother Chamal is the Speaker, the keeper and guardian of the powers and privileges of the legislature. In the official pecking order this makes him third in line of succession and most importantly, all things being equal and if the Premadasa past was to be repeated in the Rajapaksa present, the first in line of defence, were there to be a impeachment motion against the chief executive.

The rest will do as they are told at the pleasure of the president and with the consent of the minister for economic development and the defence secretary. It is difficult to envisage anyone with the guts, luck or chutzpah to try anything that breaches these bounds. But there of course is Mervyn Silva, epitomizing impunity, frequently reported to take the law into his own hands – most recently the excise laws - and now ensconced as the Deputy Minister for Media.

What does his appointment tell us about the orientation, trajectory, and culture of the regime at the height of its powers? References to a certain Roman emperor and his horse aside, is this monumental cynicism on the part of the President or a most well meaning exercise in introducing Silva to forbearance and abstinence along the lines of Gandhiji’s practice of testing his vow of brahmacharya? Given Mervyn Silva’s relationship with the media, the message surely intended for the media is the chilling one made in the context of the general one, of forgive and forget and fall in line for take off? Badly battered, depleted and cowed as the media is, it is perhaps too much to ask of any media institution to even issue a statement on the appointment, leave aside any other demonstration of protest. Alas and Amen it is and will be for sometime to come, perhaps.

Other indicators of orientation and ideology that can be gleaned from the ministerial appointments are the omission of Prof Tissa Vitharana from the cabinet named so far, Professor Peiris at External Affairs and Mahinda Samarasinghe’s portfolio of Plantations.

It is difficult to believe that the President forgot the dear Professor who after all valiantly piloted the APRC – that forum the regime touted as its commitment to a political settlement of the conflict. The Professor’s omission reinforces the contention that the APRC was set up for the sole purpose of placating the international community and India in particular. It was never meant by the regime to be anything else. This contention, in turn, is reinforced by a recent, apparatchik, column in the state press. It is laced with viciousness and most unkind to the professor and his defenders. It deems the professor to be passé on account of him being partial to power -sharing and federalism.

Professor Peris’s elevation to the ministry of external affairs, previously known as the foreign ministry, is significant in so far as this professor was reported to have said that the regime would sue the EU over GSP+ and clearly indicated that the UN Secretary General needed instruction in the true meaning of the Charter when Mr Moon announced that he was considering the appointment of a Panel of Experts to look into allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka. Perhaps this was populist politicking, being more Catholic than the Pope to make assurance doubly sure in the ministerial stakes. Hopefully this is what this was, will be and will be understood to be. Or else it would not be prudent.

Mr Samarasinghe who did yeoman service for the regime internationally as its humane face at the height of the war and who won plaudits both at home and abroad for his efforts, must surely be disappointed. His affable talent for international relations in trying circumstances tempered the rest of the regime’s bellicosity. He served the regime well but goes unrewarded, it now seems. Like Professor Vitharana, is he too passé, or just too popular internationally? Interestingly, his former secretary Prof Wijesinha, apparatchik extraordinaire, is now a backbencher, yet casualty of the decision not to appoint first timers to ministerial positions. No doubt, he will continue to serve the regime well from the back -benches. Will the brothers interpret the dual mandates as carte blanche approval from the electorate to do as they want and please? Asia’s latest development success story and economic hub notwithstanding what kind of country will we be under and after the Rajapaksa regime?

One gets the feeling, be it based on hope and expectation or fear and foreboding that we ain’t seen nothing yet!

Leadership battle in UNP becomes media spectacle

by C.A.Chandraprema

The leadership battle in the UNP is taking a more serious form than anyone expected. One factor that could add fuel to the fire is increased media interest in the goings on within the UNP. The war is now over and all the important elections have been held. The country is now settling into a humdrum existence and as newsworthy issues dry up, the ongoing battle within the UNP will get more coverage than it otherwise would.

One notices that at least one TV channel has made the internal crisis within the UNP a special feature in their nightly news bulletins. We did not see something like that even in 2006, when the UNP was plunged into a crisis which led to the biggest ever parliamentary crossover in post-independence history. When a special feature is introduced into a nightly TV news bulletin, usually the issue is followed up until it’s resolved, the way the war got regular coverage in the media in the last year of so of the hostilities when media men were ‘embedded’ with the advancing troops and reported daily on the progress of the battles.

The internal battle within the UNP is now becoming something like that, where people will get their popcorn and peanuts ready every evening to watch the unfolding events within the UNP. This kind of media coverage may do what so many internal rebellions were unable to do over the past one and a half decades. The longer such media scrutiny continues, the more the image of the party will deteriorate and the more damage it will do to the image of the party leader. This will vitiate any hopes the UNP leader may be entertaining of making a comeback six years from now. That is of course assuming that Ranil Wickremesinghe is staying on with a view to leading the country some day, If however he is merely staying on to enjoy the perks of the office of opposition leader as his detractors claim, then this adverse publicity will not matter.

Be that as it may, Wickremesinghe is now a gladiator fighting in the public arena for his career with a ratakaju munching public watching his footwork dodging darts that are being hurled at him. The difference in the internal UNP war this time is that there is no challenger as such, nor are there any visible reformists except for a few individuals like lawyer Upul Jayasuriya. This time the resentment seems to be spreading like a canker throughout the whole party. That Vajira Abeywardene is no longer around to organize a vocal defence of Wickremesighe and to engage in backroom manoeuvers to outwit Wickremesinghe’s detractors is probably what makes Wickremesinghe look defenceless this time. Wickremesinghe may perhaps by now realized that D.M.Swaminathan, Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremeratne can’t do for him what Vajira used to do so competently.

Sajith Premadasa had been summoned by Wickremesinghe for talks on the direction that party reforms should take, last Thursday morning. Premadasa had turned up for the meeting with two ‘witnesses’ Kegalle district parliamentarian Kabir Hashim and John Amaratunga. Why witnesses, one may ask. Young Sajith has apparently resolved that he is not going to have one to one talks with the party leader lest the others in the party think he is trying to come to a private understanding with Wickremesinghe. He wants the talks to be as transparent as possible.

Above all he wants the party to know that he is not negotiating for any positions from Wickremesinghe. At this meeting with Wickremesinghe, Sajith had suggested only one reform – that all office bearers of the party including the party leader be elected by the decision making bodies instead of being appointed. The suggestion that emanated from Sajith was honey laced with potassium cyanide. Everybody knows that if Wickremesinghe presents himself for an election especially against Sajith, he stands no chance.

Realising that trying to get Wickremesinghe to hold an election for his own job, was not a practical proposition, Sajith had later softened his position and told Wickremesinghe that if he is uncomfortable with the idea of opening up his own position for election, he should make all other positions in the party from deputy leader downwards, open for election. Such a suggestion would have made any other leader want to resign on the spot, but not Ranil Wickremesinghe who has as I have pointed out earlier in these pages, has a skin that would make a rhinocerous envious. Sarcasm affects him not a whit – such comments roll off his back like water off a duck’s back. He happily and promptly entrusted John Amaratunga and Kabir Hashim with the task of preparing a paper on the suggested reforms to be presented to the working committee when it meets. The UNP working committee has not yet met after the defeat at the parliamentary elections, and as at the time of writing a meeting has not yet been summoned. However, the UNP parliamentary group will be meeting on the 3rd of May and it’s expected that the MPs will ask for a working committee meeting to be called for the 7th. So what we now have to do is to get the pop corn and ratakaju ready to watch the fun. ~ courtesy: The Island ~

The Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan State

by Ashik Bonofer & David Morgan

“Mahendra Percy Rajapakse now known as Mahinda Rajapakse has been a doughty defender of human rights in the past. Mahinda played a very important role in giving leadership to those who resisted the flagrant violations of human rights by the United National Party (UNP) regimes of Junius Richard Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Many of us recall the harsh experience he underwent while going to Geneva with dossiers to expose the UNP record in Human Rights (HR) at the UN. Mahinda being a solid Southerner from “Bentara Gangata Egodaha” focussed mainly on the state of human rights in the Southern Province. There was nothing wrong in this as it was the South which suffered the most during the second insurgency years of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Mahinda and Mangala Samaraweera were instrumental in organizing and backing many mass movements and mass fronts against prevailing tyranny of the state then. Rajapakse established himself firmly in the South as an ardent champion of human rights.”

The man who vehemently advocated for human rights during the 70’s and 80’s has become one of the main offenders and a conspirator against human rights in the present day Sri Lanka. While one expected the island nation to be free after the end of war, the present day situation appears to be the other way around. The common man in Colombo, who walks without any fear of suicide attack from the LTTE, sees a new threat emerging in the form of police and other government agents who involve themselves in intimidation, ‘white van’ culture and unwarranted arrests.

The above quote on President Rajapakse shows the journey of the incumbent man to the nation’s highest position. While the voters look up to the President to provide a safe and secure nation, in reality, the President uses all his powers to lead an autocratic rule and deny basic human rights. During the days of war, LTTE’s terrorism was used as a reason to suppress most of the democratic values, but since the elimination of LTTE, what can be the rationale behind the increasing crime rates and violation of the democratic norms in Sri Lanka? Colombo which was comparatively a safer place to dwell has seen sporadic violence against journalists, humanitarian workers and human rights activists. What is more, if residents of Colombo were to face such dangerous situations, miseries pertaining to people living in northern, eastern and central highlands go unspoken.

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up." - Pastor Martin Niemöller

Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem is a typical example of events that followed post-independence period in Sri Lanka. Initially when the Indian Tamils were denied citizenship, except for the left parties, Colombo did not react. During the JVP riots, the Colombo elite showed a blind eye to the massacre of the Sinhala youth. The three-decade-old ethnic conflict and the defeat of the LTTE were issues pertaining only to the Tamils and not of the nation as a whole, still the majority and the Colombo elite showed little concern on the suffering of the Tamils. Now the nation is living in fear, not even the Buddhist monks are being spared of the brutality of tyrannical rule, but unfortunately there is no credible left behind to raise and talk for justice. Who next is a common question raised in Sri Lanka.

The concept of welfare state has become an illusion for most democratic nations. Despotism, corruption and police brutality have become the norm of all democratic states. Sri Lanka is no exception to these cruelties. The government of Sri Lanka has become a family affair of President Rajapakse. Over 300 top posts and strategic positions are held by his kith and kin. The recently held Presidential and General elections of 2010, are typical examples of how the incumbent president has abused the state machinery and media to gain support for himself as presidential candidate and his two brothers, son and niece as parliamentary electoral candidates. They all won with unprecedented majority. His son is the youngest elected MP in the new parliament. If this is the situation how different is this from any autocratic rule.

For most Sri Lankan’s the end of Eelam War IV was a welcome sign. More so, the elimination of the LTTE has neutralised the fear of suicide terrorism. However, for the Sri Lankan Tamils, this is a start of a new ambiguous, leaderless journey towards an indeterminable future. All that they hoped to achieve during the three-decade old struggle is all lost and all that remains for most Tamils in the north and east are damaged homes, a shattered economy, unemployment, lack of basic facilities, broken families, destitute children, destroyed traditions and culture and hundreds of wounded victims. In the words of DBS Jeyaraj, “the tigers may have gone but the ill-effects of tigerism linger. Velupillai Prabhakaran along with his followers, minions, sycophants and fellow travelers has wrought great and possibly irreparable harm on the long–suffering Tamil people. The Tamils are a battered and shattered people without even a glimpse of a glimmer at the end of a deep, dark tunnel.”

The community has suffered more from this long drawn armed ethnic conflict with nothing to show for achievements. Now that the war is over, the living conditions of the Tamils in North and East have changed very little, except that there is no forceful conscription by the LTTE. Instead the state sponsored machinery has taken a lead in administrating many inhuman activities. This paper is an attempt to sketch the sufferings of the innocent people at the hands of both Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. It analyses the problems faced by the Tamils since the beginning of Eelam War IV, and their current situation in camps and war torn villages in the northern and eastern provinces. This paper is based on the experience of both the authors during their visit and work in Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Problems faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka

“It’s a sin to be a born as a Tamil in Sri Lanka”

These words said by mutual friend whose family was in the IDP camps, soon after the end of war, outlines the suffering of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The government looked at the Tamils, with suspicion, as ardent supporters of the LTTE. The only exceptions were the overt supporters of President Rajapakse. This was the case not only with Tamils; even Sinhalese who are critical of the current regime have become potential targets for white-van abductions and intimidation by the Police.

The Tamils in north and east of Sri Lanka have been living in oppression and appalling conditions for over three decades and this continued even after the end of Eelam War IV. However, this situation started changing during the run up to the January 2010 presidential elections. The incumbent president issued orders for lifting all restrictions at checkpoints at the entrance to the Northern Province. While it was expected that people would be allowed to move around without much restrictions reports say that permanent presence of army in North would soon add to roadblocks, checkpoints, patrols, systematic surveillance, harassment and intimidation of the locals[1].

Comparatively, the Tamils in Colombo were in better position than those in the north and east, but even that did not last long. Fears of abduction in Colombo are intense these days. Earlier LTTE’s terrorism was the only visible threat, but now government’s tyrannical rule has become a major threat. Registration at the nearest police station in Colombo has become a way of life for the Tamils; hence, there is nothing much for Tamils living outside of Colombo to grudge about. While the Tamils were looked upon with suspicion and subjected to cruel treatment in the south, in the north the LTTE did not spare any Tamil youth from conscription. Ranjani Thiranagama in one of her UTHR special reports lamented that ‘the young Tamil girls had to become pregnant in order to save themselves from forceful conscription of the LTTE.’ However, during the last days of war the LTTE did not spare even the pregnant, the suicide bomber who attempted to kill General Fonseka was a pregnant woman.

Although such pitiable conditions have changed over the years, victimisations of the people continue on a larger scale. There would not be any LTTE sponsored terrorism in Sri Lanka and under the present international setting (where nations gang against liberation movements), it would take decades for the Tamils to regroup as an armed organisation, were they to resort to armed rebellion. However, the government of Sri Lanka using fear of LTTE resurgence as an excuse for all their stringent methods of governance and policies would only lead to further alienation of the Tamils.

In a recent visit to Batticaloa and Ampara, after the end of Eelam War IV, the one of the authors was fortunate enough to travel by a private van; hence was not subjected to cruel treatment of the armed forces. However, while on road to Batticaloa one did find army disembarking all the Tamils traveling by bus for full security screening. While private vans are also subjected to complete security check in some cases, they are spared. Another strange visual one finds is that, near every check points the roads are dug in order to slow the traffic. This can be seen in most places in north and east. Since the time the Eelam War IV ended the government has been involved in a major infrastructure development mainly laying roads. However, these road projects -mostly funded by Indian government- end well ahead of Batticaloa. The internal road network in most of the Eastern Province is still in bad shape.

Although the eastern province was cleared by December 2007, one witnesses very little growth in this region. More than the growth, it is the fear of abduction and the rivalry between Karuna and Pillyan groups that haunts the common man. While the hostility between Karuna and Pillyan groups were temporarily stalled due to elections, it could remerge anytime endangering the lives of Tamils and Muslims in this region.

Nearly nine months after the defeat of the LTTE, it was thought to be safe for Tamils from North to travel to Colombo. But in most cases it simply proves to be an illusion. Recently a young Tamil woman from Vavuniya, who is working for an NGO involved in relief operations travelled to Dehiwela, Colombo for training. The reluctant and naïve women on reaching Colombo was questioned by police officers at her lodge. While, none of the policemen spoke Tamil, she couldn’t speak Sinhala. Her requests to call her Colombo office were also denied. On wanting to search her room, her request for a female officer was also turned down. She was remanded; the crime - not speaking Sinhala. This person has already had the childhood experience of seeing her mother’s brains blown off by IPKF soldiers in Jaffna. It was several days before her office was able to secure her release and send her back to Vavuniya, only to never visit Colombo, ever.

In another case, a Tamil youth working in the Middle East had come home in Vavuniya and needed a police report to renew his passport. Knowing that the police officers were not proficient in Tamil he ensured that the reference letters were typed in English. However on arrival at the Vavuniya police station he was asked to produce the document in Sinhala. He had to hunt for someone capable of rewriting letter in Sinhala. The youth and his guardian were also compelled to sign a document which’s content they were not aware of. All that concerned the youth was a passport to leave the country. If he were to raise this issue, his pathway to freedom would have been obstructed with the risk of being arrested as a LTTE suspect. The job done, he left the country with a sigh of relief knowing that he had ten more years before having to encounter a repeat performance.

Nearly ten months have gone by since the government gained control of the whole country, but little has been done to accommodate Tamil-speaking officers at least in police stations in majority Tamil-speaking areas. This plight is further exemplified in the Open University, Northern branch in Vavuniya where certain courses are available only in Sinhala, surprisingly without takers, and the same course in Tamil is only available at the Colombo centre. The lethargy and indifference shown here is a reflection of the scant disregard and insensitivity of those concerned. Policy without the political will and a sensitized bureaucracy will achieve very little towards building racial and ethnic harmony.

It seems, by increasing Chinese presence in the South, Rajapakshe has succeeded in luring India into making a permanent presence initially in the East and now gradually moving into the North. Amidst widespread allegations of large scale vote rigging at the Presidential elections the Indian Government was quick to congratulate President Rajapakshe on his victory. This was also done after the general elections. There is speculation that India is setting up an Industrial Zone close to the Trincomalee harbour at the expense of displacing already displaced refugees. India has already provided the Rajapakse government handsome grants for the development of the North with pledges for more. INGOs have been asked to reduce activities and NGOs have been told that India will be providing all agricultural requirements of the returnees.

Some also pointed out that prior to the closure of ICRC offices in Eastern Province the families of the victims sought ICRC’s intervention to find out the whereabouts of the missing persons, whom eventually were traced to Menik farm and other camps. It is also believed that this was the major reason for the government to force ICRC to vacate from the Eastern Province. Resettlement in Killinochchi and Mulahtivu has slowly begun and ICRC has been asked to windup operations in the North as well.

What a coincidence?

IDP situation

With just over 80,000 IDPs still languishing in Menik farm, others have moved out to their villages, new resettlement areas, and camps closer to home and some live with relatives. Those who chose to leave on their own are provided with 12 Indian roofing sheets, a promise of an allowance and a halt to relief or subsidies. INGOs and NGOs are advised against providing relief to returnees moving into Mullaitivu and Killinochchi as that would inculcate a dependency syndrome. In any case, as the resettlement period took much longer than the normal UN recommended 3-month period, meanwhile donor funds have dried up.

All development and resettlement efforts are being decided and closely monitored by the newly established Presidential Task Force. The PTF powers exceed that of even the Government Agent. It is the discretion of the PTFs to either grant or deny permission for the INGOs or NGO to work amongst the IDPs. Whilst some NGOs have been given limited access, those currying favour with the government are granted blanket access to all regions and still others denied any access. This arrogant attitude has forced many INGOs to windup operations thereby indirectly paving the way for increased Indian influence in the region.

Another issue of contention is the rehabilitation of the Ex-combatants. Nearly 10,000 former LTTE cadres are held in state buildings including schools. For normalcy to return these buildings will have to be released for their assigned purposes. A long-term plan to rehabilitate and integrate these cadres into mainstream society is still to take root. The person entrusted with this task, Major General Daya Rathnayake, a man with vision and commitment has been promoted to Chief of Staff of Sri Lankan Army.

While the Government is busy blaming the UN de-mining team for delay in certifying de-mined areas, reports say that the Government has not permitted international agencies to de-mine in Killinochchi and Mullathivu. Instead the government has requested the international agencies to supply equipments to the Sri Lankan armed forces for de-mining. Informed sources opine that mass graves in these areas could be one of the reasons. In addition, speculations of an army monument or barracks being built in these areas have become a reality. Hence it is natural that most IDPs would not be allowed to settle in their place of origin.

Assessing the problem of IDPs since the end of Eelam War IV, one never fails to notice some of the international and local media being jubilant about the good work done by the government in the IDP camps. However, it is important to know that these camps were completely under the control of the army commanders and out of bound for media and outsiders. The government during the initial days took these media only to particular camps and not all camps; hence, a clear view was never available. Having been under the army’s control, humanitarian work in any camp purely depended on the commander in charge’s discretion. Sources point that in most camps the army general did allow the humanitarian workers to help the victims and the cadres.

Although the personal traits of the army commanders did bring enormous good will amongst camp inmates, stringent policies of the Government were always a hurdle. It is an irony that the Government also levied taxes on the import of aid materials and medicines that are being imported. However, informed sources report that aid material imported in the name of President Rajapakse’s son are exempted from tax. Unfortunately these items could only be distributed by President’s son during his visit to the camps, hence timely distribution of the aid materials always remained a concern.

It is nearly a year since the war ended in Sri Lanka, and the nation has been jubilant in eradicating terrorism. Nonetheless, the government has not been able to bring all the people under the umbrella of good governance. Rehabilitation and resettlement of the IDP’s has become a factor of politics and political mileage rather than a humanitarian issue. Two issue needed to be looked into at this juncture, first the number of IDPs being resettled and their concerns about livelihood and second; the problems faced by the IDPs languishing in the camps in Northern Province. As regards the IDPs who were resettled, there has been conflicting news of their whereabouts. As mentioned earlier, many IDPs continue to stay in the areas adjacent to the A9 highway. According to the government statistics in March 2010, nearly 1.9 lakhs of IDPs have been resettled.

The Hindustan Times reported on March 28, 2010 that despite government claims, most of the resettled IDPs face enormous issues relating to basic infrastructure and necessities. The government having gone public by stating that the presence of land mines as the reasons for delay, sources also point out the government is also not providing enough alternatives for rehabilitation. While, rehabilitation is a major concerns for the resettled, for the 100,000 IDPs hailing from Killinochchi and Mullathivu their future is nothing more than a big question mark.

The role of the UN and other INGO’s in providing humanitarian assistance has been a crucial factor. It is understood that these agencies have started winding up their work. While news reports say that the UN stopped the supply of essentials to the IDPs due to lack of funds, reliable sources from north indicate government’s stringent control over the INGOs role in rehabilitation as the reasons behind most of them winding up their humanitarian work. With situation turning out to be far murkier, would the government of Sri Lanka be able to fill in the gap that would be created by the exit of the INGO’s.

The recent estimate by the UN show a figure of over 160,000 houses[2] requires either repairing or complete rebuilding. The report further draws attention to funding availability with INGOs as follows: Current available funding allows for the repair and reconstruction of just 22,120 units. These include the World Bank-sponsored North-East Housing Reconstruction Programme of 14,000 homes, as well as 4,500 by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), 3,220 by the Arbeiter Samariter Bund (ASB) and Solidar, and 400 by the Sri Lankan Red Cross with German Red Cross funding. Having said so, it is important for Sri Lanka government to utilise the humanitarian assistance rendered by the INGO’s instead of alienating them and augmenting to the sufferings of the people.

While on one side, there are IDPs in north in camps as victims of Eelam War IV, in the east Tamils belonging to Sampur are being held in IDP camp as fallout of economic displacement. After the LTTE was cleared from Eastern Province in 2006, most Tamils have been allowed to go back to their original homes, but for the Sampur Tamils. They have been denied permission to go back to their original homes, because of the declaration of High Security Zones, which subsequently has become Special Economic Zones. Media reports expose that an imported coal based thermal power plant has been planned in Sampur as a joint venture between Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC). During an interview with these IDPs, we were informed that an alternate location offered by the government was not at a feasible site; hence, they were left with no options but to stay in camps.

Political Contours

The LTTE having declared itself as the sole representatives of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, has over the years eliminated all the Tamil leadership. The LTTE’s political establishment was only an instrument to justify its military structure and to get better mileage out of the peace process. The LTTE’s top leadership including the political representatives having been completely wiped out, the Tamils in Sri Lanka are left to choose between the TNA, EPDP and the TMVP and a whole lot of sundry parties to act as their political representatives. The division and infighting amongst the remaining Tamil leadership is also becoming a major factor that is working against the interests of the Tamils.

The Presidential Elections of January 2010 clearly exposed the polarisation in the Sri Lankan polity. While most of the Sinhala Buddhists in the South had supported President Mahinda Rajapakse, the North and East were rallying behind General Fonseka. Analysts point out that the defeat of the LTTE and the TNA’s support for Fonseka were the main reason for the over whelming victory for the President. Although this presumption is largely valid, it is also important to note that there was very little voter turnout in the North. The parliamentary election of April 2010 also indicated a similar pattern. This could be partly because of vacuum in Tamil leadership, which could represent the Tamil cause.

Many fragmented splinter groups including a section of the TNA joined forces with the ruling party. The TNA is the only remaining opposition party in this region with EROS joining them. However, with over 80,000 in Manik Farm and a similar number in other smaller camps voting turn out is likely to make a big difference in the number game.

It is still anybody’s guess whether all these number games would make much difference in Sri Lanka. Having lost on all alternatives like autonomy, separate eelam and the thirteenth amendment, there is very little political mileage the Tamils can expect from the Sri Lankan Government. It might not be incorrect even to say that this would be the last election where the Tamils would be a majority in north and east. With the plans for more army settlements in Killinochchi, Mullathivu, and other areas not long before that these places would be colonised by the peasant Sinhalese. Will the politicians who represent the Tamils be able to safeguard the concerns of their electorate would always remain a question.

Conclusions

The days, when the Sri Lankan government depended on the LTTE’s ruthless terrorist agenda for its survival and LTTE habitually opposing Sri Lankan government’s anti-devolution and anti-political solutions for its own survival are over. Sri Lanka has moved into the next phase of her political journey, whereby the government’s sincerity is again put to test. Will the government prove itself as a responsible democratic institution for all the people?

Three contradictory and important reports are worth mentioning at this point. First, in a letter to the IDPs, President Rajapakse says, “You will find new and welcome challenges of the future. My Government has done much to make your new life most acceptable to you, providing the needs for a quality of life to enhance your dignity as a person.[3]”

Second, the Inter Press Services (IPS) report of April 26 shows a contradictory picture of the life in Jaffna. The report quotes “two cyclists from the minority Tamil community are shooed away by government soldiers as they approach this northern Sri Lankan city’s only Buddhist temple while President Mahinda Rajapaksa is paying a visit. But when a family from the majority Sinhalese family ambles toward the guards, they are treated more amiably.”[4]

Third, the New Indian Express report of April 26, reported that a luxury hotel that is being planned near Nallur temple would be put on hold following protests from local Tamil dignitaries and opposition political parties.[5]

These three reports show the gap in the government’s announcements and actual reality in the Northern Province in Sri Lanka. There has been a systematic government sponsored Sinhalese colonisation of the Northern and Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.

Although the government rejects these claims, sprouting of new businesses managed by the Sinhalese and the Buddhist Temples in North are typical examples of colonisation. In the east, government used development projects as a reason for colonisation; similarly, development of north is also likely to face the same fate. Having won the war and with victories in both forms of elections under his belt would the president show some concern towards healing the ethnic wounds or do the same way as his predecessors did?

The President pleaded for a two-thirds majority at parliament elections to allow him bring in the necessary reforms. He also pledged to drastically scale down his cabinet; however, numbers may increase in due course. The overwhelming victory at the general election sans the expected majority leaves room for much speculation. It seems the government will fall short of its desired two-thirds majority by 7-10 seats. The TNA reduced to 14 from 20 seats, has already made overtures to negotiate with the government.

While, it is expected that a so-called scaled-down cabinet, nepotism, rising cost of living, removal of GDP+ privilege, and reduced international support can soon lead to intra-party unrest within the government forces, issues like rehabilitation, resettlement and political solution would take a back seat..

India being the closest neighbour only shows interests and apprehensiveness in Chinese building ports and airport. Lives and livelihood of hundreds and thousands of people living under vulnerable conditions in north and east, figure only in statements and very little is done towards rehabilitating these hapless people. While, more and more Indian companies show keen interests in investing in north and east, it is important that these companies should show fairness in employing the localities. The corporate sector, which is subsumed to the philosophy of maximum profits, in this current given situation, should give more importance to Corporate Social Responsibility than only looking at profit making.

(Ashik Bonofer is currently working as a research fellow with Centre for Asia Studies, Chennai. He could be contacted at bonofer@gmail.com)

[1] http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/mar2010/sril-m23.shtml

[2] http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=88614 (As on 31-2-2010)

[3] http://www.indiandefencereview.com/2009/12/the-rajapaksa-model-of-defeating-terror-securing-peace-and-national-reconciliation.html (As on April, 27, 2010)

[4] http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51188 (As on April, 27, 2010)

[5] P K Balachandran, Hotel plan near Nallur temple put on hold, The New Indian Express, Chennai, April 27, 2010, COURTESY:South ASia Analysis Group

April 29, 2010

President Rajapaksa scores public relations coup with Buddhist Mahanayakes

By C.A.Chandraprema

By appointing D. M. Jayaratne as prime minister, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been able to kill two birds with one stone. On the face of it, this is a case of giving the premiership to a prominent Kandyan, under the low-country Sinhalese president.

This certainly is one of the main benefits of the appointment made. But what may not be immediately apparent to the public would be the impact this has on repairing the rift that had emerged between the Mahanayake theras and this government. Many people were surprised at the rift that emerged in the recent past between the Mahanayakes and the Rajapaksa government.

The beginning of this rift goes back to the appointment of the first Cabinet under President Rajapaksa, when the Buddha Sasana ministry and all other religious ministries such as Hindu cultural affairs and Christian affairs were all amalgamated into one Religious Affairs Ministry.

The Mahanayakes wanted the Buddha Sasana ministry as a separate entity. However, the president did not accede to that request. This is what initially soured the relationship between the Malwatte Mahanayake and the president and in the run-up to the presidential election, the former was heard to tell visitors with the TV cameras rolling, that this was not a government that listened to the Maha Sangha. The absolute rock bottom in the relationship between the government and the Mahanayakes was reached when the latter tried to organise a mass protest of bhikkus against the arrest of General Fonseka after the presidential election. The letters sent by the Mahanayakes of the three Nikayas to the president protesting against this move, had JVP sounding arguments such as that Karuna Amman was enjoying the perks of power while Gen. Fonseka was languishing behind bars.

This marked the lowest point in relationship between the president and the Mahanayakes. President Rajapaksa was too consummate a politician to allow the situation to last. Now in one stroke the president has removed the main cause for complaint that was bugging the Mahanayakes by re-establishing the Buddha Sasana ministry. At the height of the crisis concerning the Mahanayake’s protest against the arrest of General Fonseka, one of the presidential emissaries sent to meet the Malwatte Mahanayake was D. M. Jayaratne. Now Jayaratne himself has been entrusted with the Buddha Sasana Ministry. Thus, the president has kept the Mahanayakes happy while at the same time giving the Kandyans a prominent stake in the government. This can be deemed to be a typical Mahinda Rajapaksa style public relations coup.

The paddy farmer

When Chamal Rajapakse was made the speaker of parliament, the images shown of him on state owned TV were not those of a distinguished looking individual smoking a pipe and sitting in a private library with a glass of scotch on the side. Nor were there any grand images of stately homes or old photographs of a scion of a political family from the south. The images shown of the new speaker were that of him standing by a paddy field with his sarong tucked up and wearing a scarf wrapped around his head. One frame showed him fondling a young calf.

There was noting in those images to distinguish the new speaker, from the thousands of Sinhala peasants who would have elected him to parliament. A visitor to Sri Lanka, seeing those images would find it hard to believe that this is a man who has held office in government for the past fifteen years, the last four of which was as one of the most powerful ministers in this government. What we all got there was a demonstration of why the Rajapaksa have become one of the most powerful political families in this country – their ability to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, and identify with the people they lead.

Another thing about Chamal Rajapaksa is that he was elected speaker without a contest. The Opposition made a mighty fuss in the past about the domination by one family of the UPFA government. By allowing Chamal Rajapaksa to come in uncontested, the Opposition has now ended up handing over on a platter the third most important position in the country to yet another Rajapakse. The speaker ranks only below the president and the prime minister. It is of course also the fact that Chamal is not a bad choice for the position of speaker and the opposition has no compelling reason to object to him other than that he is a member of the Rajapaksa family. Even when the opposition objected to the Rajapakse domination of government, that was mainly in relation to Basil and Gotabhaya and never with regard to Chamal. Be that as it may, given the fact that the Opposition has been objecting to the appointment of Rajapaksas to positions in the government irrespective of whether they were suited for the job or not, the end result of what the Opposition did was to aid and abet in the elevation of yet another Rajapaksa to high office.

President makes it

Then we come to the appointment of the cabinet of ministers. There was a widespread belief that there would be a great deal of unrest after the new ministerial team was appointed because of the decision taken to reduce the number of ministries. In fact, the Opposition was waiting in the wings to capitalise on the situation. One of the main reasons for the fall of the Chandrika Kumaratunga government in 2001 was the reduction of the ministerial team that year as a condition for the JVP’s support. Those who got left out defected to the then Opposition and the government fell. What was anticipated was a replay of that scenario. But after the ministerial team was appointed, one finds that the government has not done too badly. When a team of ministers is appointed by the president, what matters is not the subjective state of satisfaction of the appointees. There will always be complaints from those who think they should have been given portfolios. Others who think they should have been in the cabinet, would be upset at being appointed deputy ministers. Yet others would be upset at not being appointed to the same ministry they had earlier. There are many politicians who think they deserve not just a cabinet portfolio but the premiership itself!

Thus, what is important is not the subjective state of satisfaction of the appointee, but the shortcomings that outsiders may observe in the manner the ministerial team has been appointed. If the broad mass of the public feels that those who should have been in cabinet have been given only deputy ministerships and those who should have at least a deputy ministership have not been given anything at all, then there is a problem. It was UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who established the bench mark in this regard. The ministerial team he appointed in 2001, was a case study in how not to appoint ministerial teams. When Wickremesinghe appointed his ministerial team after winning power in 2001, about six people who should have been in cabinet, were made non-cabinet ministers.

Ravi Karunanayake was a man who had done a great deal to topple the Kumaratunga government, shoulder to shoulder with Gamini Atukorale, and he was initially a non cabinet minister. It was the same with Rajitha Senaratne, who was one of the most dynamic personalities in the opposition. Milinda Moragoda co-ordinated the foreign relations of the UNP when it was in the opposition, but he, too, was only a non-cabinet minister. Hemakumara Nanayakkara was an important leader in the south and he, too, was not given a cabinet portfolio. Karunansena Kodituwakku was an old senior of the UNP and he should have been in the cabinet in the first round, but was a non cabinet minister. The most glaring injustice was done to Keheliya Rambukwelle, the Kandy District leader of the UNP, who was not given even a deputy ministership even though it was he who had held Kandy against the Ratwattes. Besides, the Kandyan Sinhalese were an important power block of the UNP and in such a context not to give the Kandyan UNP leader anything was sheer insanity.

All the people mentioned above had to agitate to get into the UNF Cabinet. Any outsider looking at the 2001 UNF’s team of ministers would have been aghast. In fact, within about an year, Wickremesinghe reshuffled his cabinet on two occasions and still could not get it right. I was one outsider who wrote later that the UNP government had lost not in April 2004, but in December 2001 when the first cabinet was appointed. Tilak Marapone, who did not have five votes, was a super minister overseeing about four major ministries including those held by the late Gamini Atukorale, but Keheliya the undisputed leader of the Kandyan UNPers, was not even a deputy minister! What was most hilarious was that there was no education minister in the Cabinet at first. There were three different ministers handling various aspects of education but none held cabinet rank.

This despite the fact that Wickremesinghe, who appointed the cabinet, was himself a former minister of education! Kodituwakku was made a cabinet minister only as an afterthought, and because he was breathing fire and brimstone about the non-cabinet rank accorded to him. Nobody in his right mind tries to drive a car that’s missing a wheel, and not having an education minister in the cabinet cannot be dismissed as an oversight. In comparison to the sheer incompetence displayed by Wickremesinghe, the cabinets that were appointed later by CBK in 2004 and by Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 were quite OK. By the same token the cabinet appointed by Mahinda last week was not too bad.

Of course, taking up for comparison an example as extreme as the Wickremesinghe ministerial team of 2001, would make anything look good. However, if we apply more objective criteria and ask ourselves whether anyone who should have been in the Rajapaksa Cabinet has been made a deputy minister or whether anyone who should have been given at least a deputy ministertship has not got anything, no really glaring examples come to mind.

Navin Dissanayake’s non inclusion in the ministerial team is because he did not want to be a deputy minister and not because he was not offered anything. In this sense, the president has succeeded in doing a good balancing act in a very difficult situation. The Opposition may not be able to capitalise on dissent within the government quite in the manner they anticipated. COURTESY:THE ISLAND

Transformative Entrepreneurship For Economic Revival in North and East

By Dr Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

1. Introduction

Entrepreneurship is about putting ideas into action. It is the function of scientists to invent and the entrepreneurs to innovate. Whereas scientists invent (or dream of) ideas, it is the entrepreneurs who materialise those ideas into consumable products (innovation): i.e. tangible goods and intangible services. Today I am going to spur your minds with the power of ideas as opposed to power of numbers

In the past six months, Sri Lanka went through the ritual of elections. As usual our politicians have outperformed each other with facts and figures about what a marvellous country we live in (or lack thereof) and how they are going to make Sri Lanka even better place to live in. For both, the governing party and the main opposition party, economic development would be the heart of government. I have no disagreement with putting development at the heart of government. My disagreement is with the ways and means of spurring economic development that were propounded by both the main political parties in the country.

It is not only the government (politicians as well as the bureaucrats) that lacks innovative ideas to unleash the full potential of the Sri Lankan people; our development partners (bilateral and multilateral donors) and non-governmental organisations as well lack innovative ideas to rebuild a war-torn economy by learning from the experiences of other countries that have undergone such experiences.

In spite of recording the second lowest growth rate (3.5%) in the past decade (2000-2009) (the lowest being in 2001: (-1.5) and third lowest growth rate in South Asia (after Maldives: (-) 3% and Pakistan: 2%) and other macroeconomic vulnerabilities in 2009, the prospects for the Sri Lankan economy are pretty good. The end of the protracted civil war and a stable government with an invincible majority in parliament has removed two structural impediments (i.e. political and security) to economic take-off in Sri Lanka. However, what are lacking are a robust growth strategy and an optimal policy framework to implement the envisioned growth strategy.
Despite a high intensity civil war, Sri Lanka’s growth in quantitative terms is remarkable in comparison to countries under similar circumstances. However, the quality (or the source) of such growth is the cause for concern. In 2009, Afghanistan’s growth rate of 15.1% was the highest in South Asia and one of the highest in the world. (In fact, in the past several years Afghanistan has recorded double-digit growth rate annually). However, foreign aid accounted for 40% and poppy plants and opium trade accounted for another 40% of the Afghan economy1. Is this the kind of economy that would secure Afghanistan from war and poverty? Therefore, it is imperative, especially in war-times and post-war times, to look beyond the numerical rate of economic growth and identify the source/s (or quality) of growth to determine the success or otherwise of the economic model/strategy pursued.

Sri Lanka’s growth during the times of war has been largely fuelled by the growth of the public sector; both the civilian public administration and the security forces. That is, the increase in the number of personnel in public services and frequent pay rises to public sector employees were the main sources of economic growth in the past five years (2005-2009). Productivity in the public sector is too low and the cost of the public sector is too expensive. The total public debt has almost doubled between the end of 2004 (Rs2,140 billion) and end of 2009 (Rs4,161 billion or 86% of the GDP) and the budget deficit was almost 10% of the GDP in the fiscal year 2009. Politicians who brag about doubling of per capita income between 2004 (US$1,100 per year) and 2009 (US$2,100 per year) have never highlighted the doubling of public debt during the same time period. Moreover, bulk of the rise in public expenditure was for public consumption rather than public investment. Public expenditure fuelled growth is wealth diversion rather than wealth creation.

In the same way as the economic growth strategy at the national level, the government’s post-war economic revival strategy both in the East and North has been overwhelmingly based on government-funded projects with majority financial contributions from the bilateral and multilateral donors. For the four-year period (2007-2010), the budget provision for the Eastern Reawakening Programme (Nagenahira Navodaya) was a total of Rs197 billion (US$1.75 billion); 52% of this amount was to be financed by foreign aid, nearly 30% by the GoSL, and the rest 18% by the private sector. Similarly, the development programme for the North (Uthuru Vasanthaya and other projects) has been earmarked a total sum of Rs7 billion thus far (foreign funding accounting for 40.5% and the rest by the government of Sri Lanka.)

Both at the national and regional levels there is a heavy emphasis on government-funded and government-driven development strategy, which is a cause for concern because of the limited fiscal space available to the government, low (or less than optimal) productivity of the public sector, and the perpetuation of dependency on foreign donors and the non-governmental sector for delivery of goods and services to the people. Now let us look at some of the economic activities undertaken by the government in the North which could be more productively and profitably done by individual entrepreneurs in those regions.

2. Businesses of the government road transport

The end of the war in May 2009 and the subsequent opening-up of the A9 highway have created opportunities for individual entrepreneurs and private transport companies to operate passenger and cargo transport services to and from Jaffna and other towns in the North. At the earlier stage, the government monopolised the passenger transport services through the use of Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), which is a perpetually loss-making state-owned enterprise. Though, since the beginning of this year, private bus operators have been allowed to operate bus services, the government buses continue to operate along with the private buses.

The inter-city bus services operated by the SLTB have curtailed the local services within the Jaffna peninsula and other major towns in the North because hardly any new buses were made available for the new routes. Curtailment of local bus services has restricted the mobility of people and goods to the local markets; thereby stifling economic growth.

Leaving the passenger transport sector entirely in the hands of the private sector could have created new entrepreneurs in the formerly war-torn areas and provided new employment opportunities to local youth; the most vulnerable group in the population. Furthermore, it would have reduced the losses made by the SLTB and thereby contributed to reduction in public expenditure.

Food and beverages

Another folly of the government is to let the army establish and operate tea boutiques and snack bars along the A9 (from Omanthai to Mirusuvil) to cater to the passenger traffic. As you are aware, thousands of passengers travel daily along the A9 highway on both directions. It provides a good business opportunity to people living along or near the A9 highway to set-up refreshment boutiques to serve the passing traffic.

Instead, bulk of those refreshment stalls is run by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) and a few in places like the Murukandy temple are run by local multi-purpose cooperative societies (MPCS), which are perpetually loss-making local government welfare shops. The income earned by these army and co-operative society boutiques hardly contribute to economic growth in those remote areas. Instead, it unnecessarily diverts the valuable time of the armed forces personnel and co-operative society personnel to this mundane function. These public service personnel are paid by the government not to prepare and serve tea, coffee, snacks, or meals to passing travellers. Their salary is much higher than what would be required for such a job. Therefore, it is an economic loss to the government and the country.

Alternatively, if the local people, who have recently returned from welfare camps, were allowed and facilitated (with appropriate loan facility) to undertake these businesses it would have created new jobs, boosted the incomes of their households, and increased the money circulation within the local impoverished communities. Individual entrepreneurs from outside those areas could also be encouraged to set-up roadside boutiques to serve the passing traffic, which would have boosted the local economies. Of course, few returnees have put up makeshift boutiques to sell soft drinks, biscuits, chocolates, and other refreshments along the A9 highway. However, they should be encouraged and facilitated to put up bigger stalls.

Domestic air transport

With the 24-hour opening of the A9 highway since the first week of January 2010, the market for air travel to and fro Jaffna has dropped dramatically. This has paved the way for the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) to monopolise domestic air services through its commercial wing, viz. Helitours; thereby driving the private sector out of the domestic air travel and freight markets. These developments are not conducive for curtailing public expenditure or promoting private enterprises.

I doubt that domestic air transport to and fro North and East is commercially viable given the current policy framework. If this is so, why should the SLAF made to incur losses? Instead, I would suggest that larger private budget airlines should be facilitated to operate the domestic air passenger market. With the upgrading of the Pallaly airport in Jaffna, not only the domestic air travel, but air passenger services to India could also be promoted.

Hospitality trade

The proposed three-star hotel construction in Nallur (a suburb of Jaffna town) by a state-owned financial institution (Mercantile Bank of Sri Lanka; a subsidiary of state-owned Bank of Ceylon) is another blow to spurring private enterprises in the formerly war-torn areas. It is doubtful that MBSL is competent to manage a commercial venture in the hospitality market.

Instead of undertaking to build the hotel itself, MBSL should have called for expressions of interest from private entrepreneurs in the country and the diaspora to build and operate the hotel. State-owned enterprises are not only a burden to the economy and the tax payers, but are stifling private entrepreneurship by diverting public financial resources to uncalled for purposes.

There are many more such examples of unwarranted government involvement in commercial and economic activities within the formerly war-torn areas and elsewhere that could be profitably avoided.

3. Governmental impediments

Not only is the government forestalling private entrepreneurship in the North, East, and elsewhere by monopolising certain commercial activities, it is also impeding economic revival in the formerly war-torn areas by the continuation of the following restrictions in spite of the lifting of many other restrictions in the past several months:

Firstly, vehicles carrying commercial cargo to and fro Jaffna and the Vanni (beyond Omanthai) need to obtain a pass from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Although officially there is no payment required to obtain this pass, payment is made informally to obtain the same. This increases the transaction cost of businesses and restricts market access on both directions to the producers.

Secondly, foreign nationals need MoD permission to travel by air or road to Jaffna even one year after the end of the civil war. For instance, Indian nationals travelling to participate in the Jaffna International Trade Fair during the third week of April had to obtain prior permission from the MoD. The Sri Lankan diaspora visiting their kith and kin in the North are required to obtain MoD clearance. This puts-off people visiting, let alone investing in those areas.

Thirdly, maintenance of the High Security Zone (HSZ) in the commercial hub of the Jaffna city continues to hamper business development due to the dearth of commercial property and office space. I do not think there is any security imperative to hold on to this HSZ in the commercial hub of the city.

The foregoing restrictions and impediments are hardly conducive to promote foreign investment and private entrepreneurship and thereby spur growth in the formerly war-torn areas. Not only is the government getting involved in commercial activities and thereby forestalling individual entrepreneurship and private enterprises, it continues to stifle growth incubation by unnecessary and irrational impediments. The government should restrict its activities to those there is absolutely no other viable alternative (like restoring economic and social infrastructure) and leave the rest to individual entrepreneurs and private enterprises.

4. Negative Effects of Dependence

Like other war-time and post-war countries, Sri Lanka has been substantially dependent on foreign aid, non-governmental assistance, and private foreign remittances for the sustenance of livelihoods of its people, especially in the North and East. However, there is a threshold beyond which these concessionary and philanthropic benefits could be counterproductive and even disruptive for economic revival.

International experiences reveal that foreign aid may not necessarily buy quality economic development or promote enduring economic growth during the time of war or in the aftermath of war. War-time experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan and the post-war experiences in the Balkans have ample evidence to prove this. In Bosnia, for example, in spite of nearly US$10 billion of foreign aid disbursed since the end of the war in the mid-1990s and current per capita income of circa US$.3,500 per year, both the rate of unemployment and poverty is about 25% today. Similarly, current unemployment rate among the age group of 15-29 years in Iraq is about 28% in spite of a higher per capita income than that of Sri Lanka4. Hence, the real economic development should be measured in terms of rate of net increase in new private businesses, real increase in disposable income of the population, and creation of new employment, in lieu of economic growth, per capita income, etc.

Anecdotal evidences suggest that ‘food-for-work’ and ‘cash-for-work’ programmes of the foreign multilateral donors, various relief and welfare programmes of the non-governmental organisations, and private remittances from abroad are perpetuating the culture of dependence and stifling the culture of entrepreneurship, in spite of their good intentions. Yet, there is a call for a ‘Marshal Plan’ for the North and East by one of our experts

Similarly, Improving the Relevance and Quality of Undergraduate Education (IRQUE) project funded by the World Bank and the Secondary School Education Modernisation Project funded by the Asian Development Bank at the national level appear to be hitting the wrong targets. On and off, I read newspaper advertisements by these projects calling for tenders for the supply of furniture and equipments (computers, etc) to the universities and schools, and construction of new buildings. Although the objective of these projects are to improve the "quality" of secondary and tertiary education in the country, significant proportion of the funds is expended on buildings, furniture, and electronic equipments. How could these material goods improve the quality of education?

Although private foreign remittance is the second largest foreign exchange earner and thereby indispensable to the balance-of-payments of the country, it has negative consequences for economic revival in the formerly war-torn areas. Free flow of foreign remittances has dis-incentivised productive work and had made the youths laid-back. Ironically, amidst complains from many in the North and East about the high unemployment and underemployment rates, there are labour shortages during agricultural harvest season. Thus, the threshold for incentive to work is high.

5. Conclusion

Money or wealth cannot buy quality economic development or economic dynamism; oil-rich Arab countries are prime examples of this fact. What Sri Lanka requires is not a ‘Marshal Plan’ of any sort; instead what we require is entrepreneurial capitalism. Modest scale enterprises, as opposed to donor and/or government-funded grandiose projects, could contribute to substantive and enduring growth. Wipro (vegetable oil trading turned technology company), Infosys (one of the largest IT companies), and the likes are the ones spearheading and transforming the Indian economy, and the role models for budding young entrepreneurs.

Suppose the government gave one million rupees per household to about 50,000 households in the East and North based on their innovative ideas and viable business plans (total cost of Rs50 billion or less than Rs500 million; just 25% of what the government would have spent in those areas in the four-year period 2007-2010), and if only 5,000 or 10% of them succeeded in establishing growth invigorating dynamic enterprises, the economic and social landscape of the former war-torn areas could have been vastly different.

Last year (2009) and this year (2010) have been watersheds in our political history. I hope and wish this year would also become a watershed in our economic history by way of overhauling our traditional economic thinking or paradigm, and embracing transformative entrepreneurial capitalism.

Concerns Naturally Exist In India About Growing Chinese Involvement in Sri Lanka

by G.Parthasarathy

May 2009 saw the end of the three-decade long and bloody ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, in which an estimated 80,000 people perished. The conflict ended when a relentless offensive by Sri Lankan armed forces led to the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the decimation of his cadres.

While questions remain about the alleged violations of human rights of the Tamil civilian population caught in the crossfire, President Mahinda Rajapakse has emerged as the most popular leader of his country, defeating his rival, former Army chief Sarath Fonseka, in Presidential elections on January 26. This has been followed by a decisive victory of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance, which secured just over 60 per cent of the votes cast in the Parliamentary elections this month.

President Rajapakse combined a determined war strategy with astute diplomacy, after he concluded that dialogue with the LTTE had failed and that he had to eliminate the Tigers. Faced with pressure brought about by erstwhile mediator Norway, together with the US and the European Union, Rajapakse secured support from India, while simultaneously obtaining arms and economic assistance from China and Pakistan, and economic assistance from Japan.

With the Bush administration deciding to work together with India on regional issues, things turned around for the embattled President after the US started to adopt a more understanding approach. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Government effectively resisted European pressures to halt military operations.

The successful conclusion of the ethnic conflict laid to rest all doubts in Sri Lanka about India's commitment to its unity and territorial integrity. The once-powerful Sinhala chauvinist, pseudo-Marxist and anti-Indian Janatha Vimuktha Perumana (JVP) was mauled in this month's Parliamentary elections.

REHABILITATION OF TAMILS

The end of the ethnic conflict was accompanied by the displacement of 300,000 Tamil civilians. New Delhi's primary concern in recent months has naturally been on rehabilitation of internally displaced Tamils. With an investment of $110 million, India has provided emergency supplies of medicines, temporary housing and cement for constructing houses.

It has undertaken de-mining of Tamil habitats located in the battle zone. But, this is necessarily only a beginning, in a larger package of assistance that New Delhi has to provide to the Tamil population in the war-affected parts of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

With plans under way to have an Indian cultural centre and renovate the famous Duraiappan Stadium in Jaffna, India would have to invest substantially in building higher educational and technical training institutions in Tamil areas to enable the Tamil population to integrate into an emerging pluralistic and economically dynamic Sri Lanka. Politically, President Rajapakse should be persuaded to implement the provisions of the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lanka Constitution enacted in 1988, pursuant to the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene Agreement of 1987.

Moreover, if a return to a situation of Tamil discontent fuelling insurgency is to be avoided, it would only be wise for Sri Lanka to also enact legislation to implement the provisions of the “Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka Amendment Bill” of August 3, 2000, and effectively end the human rights violations of innocent Tamils.

This Bill was presented after extensive consultations by President Kumaratunga's advisers, G.L. Peiris and Neelan Tiruchelvan, and was withdrawn because of domestic opposition. The implementation of this Bill, together with the 1988 Constitutional Amendment, will largely address Tamil concerns and aspirations.

But, at the same time, the Tamils of Sri Lanka would have to recognise that with the East becoming different from the North in terms of its ethnic composition, demands for a united north-eastern province may not longer be tenable.

CONCERNS OVER CHINA

Concerns naturally exist in India about growing Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka and especially its partnership in the development of the Hambantota Port. This port, being built with a concessionary Chinese loan of $300 million, will eventually have a LNG facility, fuel storage facilities, three separate docks, together with facilities for ship repair and construction. It can serve as a base for bunkering and refuelling.

Moreover, China has been the largest supplier of military equipment to Sri Lanka in recent years and is involved in projects for the construction of highways, railways and a coal-based power plant. China's trade with Sri Lanka has doubled in the last five years to $1.13 billion in 2009.

Given the Chinese desire to increase its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, including in South Asia, while working through Pakistan, New Delhi will have to make it clear to Sri Lanka that any facilities provided to China, in the context of its overall policies of encircling and containing India, would not be welcome.

COMMERCIAL TIES

However, it does appear that Sri Lanka has no intention of causing undue concern to India. In fact, before approaching China for the development of the Hambantota Port, Sri Lanka had asked India to undertake the project and approached China only after it did not receive a positive response from India. When blocks for oil exploration were parcelled out in the Gulf of Mannar, the Sri Lankan Government gave equal opportunities and benefits to both India and China, allocating one block each, to both countries.

Moreover, with bilateral trade reaching $2.02 billion in 2009, Sri Lanka is today India's largest trading partner in SAARC. India, in turn, should be more forthcoming in opening its markets to exports of tea, spices, rubber and textiles by Sri Lanka.

India has extended Lines of Credit amounting to $592 million to Sri Lanka for upgrading the Colombo-Matara rail link, the supply of railway equipment and construction of rail lines in northern Sri Lanka. Proposals are under consideration for interconnection of the grids in Sri Lanka and India. But New Delhi would do well to ensure that negotiations are finalised for constructing a 500 MW power plant in Trincomalee. With an over 90 per cent rate of literacy and life expectancy of females reaching 76 years, Sri Lanka has a far better record in human development than India.

Moreover, despite a raging civil war, the island has shown a remarkable growth rate, averaging 6.3 per cent since 2003. Unlike some of India's other neighbours, the Sri Lankans have shown a readiness to integrate their economy with the economies of neighbouring southern Indian States.

Major Indian companies such as IOC, Tatas, Bharti Airtel, Ashok Leyland, Larsen and Toubro and Taj Hotels already have a presence in the island. Projects involving Indian private investment of around $500 million have been approved for implementation in Sri Lanka. Cricketing ties and religious and cultural affinities have promoted what is a natural and mutually beneficial partnership.

With the ethnic conflict over, there should now be fewer inhibitions on expanding bilateral military ties. In this otherwise optimistic scenario, one hopes that with a massive mandate, President Rajapakse will show statesmanship and magnanimity in addressing the legitimate aspirations of the island's alienated Tamil population.

April 28, 2010

Through the Eastern Eyes VIII: Saainthamaruthu

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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Saainthamaruthu is situated in Ampara district between Kalmunai and Karaitheevu. It has a total population of 26,708 people. [click to see & read more]

Through the Eastern Eyes VII: Poonochchimunai

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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Poonochchimunai is situated in Batticaloa district between Navatkuda and Kaathaankudy. It has a total population of 450 people (130 families). [click to see & read more]

India and Japan must openly support "Accountability Initiative" by Ban-Ki-moon in Sri Lanka

by Meenakshi Ganguly

Sri Lanka’s authorities have failed seriously to investigate the allegations of abuses committed during the first months of 2009 - the endgame of the twenty-six-year internal armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). An approach based on semi-private polite persuasion, often referred to as the “Asian way of diplomacy”, has been unable to convince President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Colombo government to respond to widespread international concern. What now needs to be done?

The Sri Lankan military’s final defeat of the Tamil Tigers in early 2009 was messy and bloody. The insurgents who had long fought for a separate Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka had already been condemned both by the international community and human-rights organisations for widespread abuses. Now, in this last period of the war, Human Rights Watch research found that both the military and the LTTE had violated international humanitarian law, including abuses amounting to war crimes (see “Sri Lanka’s hollow victory”, 20 August 2009).

The history of efforts to ensure accountability for such violations is not promising. For example, a Sri Lankan presidential commission of inquiry was established in 2006 to investigate sixteen important human-rights cases that implicated both sides); this was supplemented by an oversight body - an “International Independent Group of Eminent Persons”, headed by India’s former chief justice PN Bhagwati and including the leading Japanese professor Yozo Yokota. But the eminent-persons group quit in disappointment in March 2008, after the presidential commission was subjected to government interference; the commission failed to finish its job, and President Rajapaksa has never made public even its limited findings.

The pattern has continued in 2009-10. Soon after the war ended, Mahinda Rajapaksa signed a joint communiqué with United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. This expressed Sri Lanka’s “strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations”, and promised that “the government will take measures” to address allegations related to violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law.” Between the lines, it was clear that the Sri Lankan government wants the international community to trust it to address accountability issues without external intervention.

The bonds of law

The Sri Lankan president declared victory in the long war on 19 May 2009. Almost a year on, Colombo has done nothing to fulfil its promises, and there has still been no accountability for the actions undertaken in the war’s prolonged and destructive climax (see Luther Uthayakumaran, “Sri Lanka: after war, justice”, 21 May 2009). As a result, Ban Ki-moon announced on 5 March 2010 that the secretary-general had decided to establish a panel of experts to advise President Rajapaksa on accountability in Sri Lanka.

The Rajapaksa administration reacted with characteristic venom. Since the end of the long war, it had repeatedly insisted that - against overwhelming evidence to the contrary - there had been no violations by the armed forces. In the same spirit, it described the proposed panel as “intrusive” and “unwarranted”. Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama even warned that it “has the potential to dent or sour the excellent partnership” with the United Nations.

Sri Lanka also convinced a few of its allies to intervene on its behalf. The non-aligned movement’s ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in New York, Maged A Abdelaziz, sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon in March 2010 warning that he “strongly condemns selective targeting of individual countries, which it deems contrary to the founding principles of the movement and the United Nations charter.”

Such criticism is wholly unjustified. Ban’s initiative can in no way be considered interference in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs. The panel’s mandate will be limited to advising Ban on next steps to facilitate accountability in Sri Lanka. As the secretary-general has said, it is well within his power to “ask such a body to furnish me with their advice.”

Furthermore, Sri Lanka is bound by international humanitarian law, according to which states are obligated to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by their citizens or on their territory and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted. The Geneva conventions make clear that justice for war crimes is not solely a matter of a country’s “internal affairs”.

Asian way, western way, human way

In this situation, India and Japan - two Asian countries that can in principle influence Colombo - should support a United Nations initiative to examine options for accountability in Sri Lanka.

India has considerable influence with the Sri Lankan government. It has provided humanitarian relief and assistance for those displaced by the war, including the hundreds of thousands of people interned in military camps for months before their recent release. An Indian field-hospital provided emergency care to over 50,000 people harmed during the fighting or otherwise in need of medical assistance. India is also providing de-mining assistance, and has provided equipment to repair and rebuild homes.

Japan’s voice too carries influence. Its foreign minister Katsuya Okada said on 29 January 2010 that he “strongly expects [that] Sri Lanka will steadily and swiftly carry forward political processes for national reconciliation” and pledged to “support efforts by the government of Sri Lanka.” Japan has since provided Y36,664 million (around $390m) to Sri Lanka under its official development assistance (ODA) loan scheme to finance infrastructure projects, including building roads and water-supply facilities.

However, these large-scale building projects can contribute to long-term national reconciliation only if accompanied by a process of ensuring accountability for abuses that have inflicted deaths on thousands of civilians. For a long time, India and Japan have tried to engage with Sri Lanka, rightly pushing for reconciliation between its ethnic communities, government reform and the return home of those displaced by the armed conflict (see "Sri Lanka's displaced: the political vice", 8 April 2009). That process will be severely hampered if there is no accountability and the minority Tamils believe they are being treated as second-class citizens and a defeated population.

Both New Delhi and Tokyo often contend that their efforts at polite persuasion are more effective than the public condemnation they describe as the “western way”. There is a time and place for private diplomacy, but for years now the Sri Lankan government has ignored such behind-the-scenes advice. In any case, private diplomacy should never become an excuse for inaction in the face of grave human-rights violations. Ban Ki-moon’s panel of experts, although modest, could yet prove to be an important step toward accountability for wartime abuses in Sri Lanka. India and Japan should publicly and wholeheartedly support his initiative.

Meenakshi Ganguly is the South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Specific brand of Sinhalese Nationalistic Buddhism endorsed by Govt. of Sri Lanka

by Madeleine Wightman

A couple of months ago I arrived in Sri Lanka and visited a Buddhist temple for the first time. I had discarded my fascination with Eastern philosophies and religions when I became a Christian in my early 20s.

Yet over the years I continued to encounter friends and relatives who practised Buddhism. It seemed mysterious and dangerous for a Christian to take an interest in Buddhist belief systems. However I absorbed enough to understand that for most Western adherents, Buddhism is a rather hip philosophy rather than a religion.

It is easy to see how a belief system which has no absolute moral arbiter to defer to and no threat of everlasting torment could be seen as a pleasant alternative. Following trips to Asian countries, western converts seeking peace often found it (and themselves) through Buddhism. It seem that it could provide guidelines whilst avoiding tough moral demands and threats of eternal punishment. On the downside, it failed to deliver anything like the astounding promise of eternity in heaven for Christians.

Fast forward a decade to this year. As I walked around Gangaramaya, the largest temple in Colombo, I noticed to my astonishment a number of large, illustrated plaques warning of hellfire and damnation. At first I thought it was my imagination, yet as I continued to read it was unmistakable: "Those who rate sensual pleasures as the highest bliss will find them a path to Hell".

I wondered briefly whether "Hell" simply meant enslavement to addictions leading to sorrow in this current life; losing your job, money, house and friends. Yet the next plaque was just as clear "A sinner who coveted the wife of another is still suffering in Hell for that crime" and "Once an aesthetic scolded the Sangha with harsh words. He suffered in Hell and was reborn there as an evil spirit".

Horrific descriptions, like something from Dante's Hell. Yet it got worse - pictures of people in gorgeous clothes, drinking and carousing, juxtaposed by images of the same characters writhing naked in flames, tormented by devils with pitchforks and snakes with multiple heads. The tolerant hippy "Buddhism's a philosophy man" began to sound hollow.

I arranged an appointment with the temple to satisfy my curiosity and grilled the English speaker who had been assigned the inquisitive foreigner. He explained that in Buddhism there is no creator but that the following five precepts are the tenets which lead to a good life; no killing, stealing, coveting, bearing false witness or ingesting intoxicating substances.

I asked how, since there is no creator, we can what is "good" in absolute terms. He explained that this is determined by society in order that it can function smoothly and that people can lead prosperous and happy lives. The hellfire references were not in fact, literal warnings about eternal consequences of sin. Rather they symbolise the mental anguish in this life that can result from unwise choices and actions.

This did nothing to convince me; I came to the conclusion that the fear of hellfire may well have been borrowed from Christian neighbours as a means of effective social control. That would be consistent with the fact that a specific brand of Sinhalese, nationalistic Buddhism has been endorsed by the government. It is a is a political ideology which combines a focus upon Sinhalese culture and ethnicity with an emphasis upon Theravada Buddhism. It originated in part as a reaction to the colonisation of Sri Lanka by the British Empire and became increasingly assertive in the years following the independence of the country. A far cry from the brand of Buddhism espoused by many Western converts.

My host presented me with a comprehensive book outlining rites and rituals for Sri Lankan Buddhists. This was written by a monk with a PhD in Theravada Buddhist practise and contains very specific instructions. The book clearly urges Buddhist adherents to worship the Buddha, to remember to make food offerings at the temple and chant in order to keep evil spirits at bay. On closer inspection, I realised that there is a concept of a real hell yet is is temporary hence the reference to rebirth as an evil spirit there. Once the evil spirit has suffered sufficiently, it can get out, making hell a temporary condition, closer to the idea of purgatory. What is certain though is that mainstream (Theravada) Buddhism is clearly a religion and not simply a philosophy as commonly assumed in western countries. It is unlikely that western converts will pass up their gentle philosophical version of Buddhism for the more frightening Theravada variety any time soon.

Madeleine Wightman is a French/Spanish legal and financial translator with interests in philosophy, ethics, anthropology and linguists. She became a Christian at University and is currently conducting studies in the political and philosophical aspects of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. She is also a qualified ski instructor and comments on Cif Belief as AmelieVincenzo ~ courtesy: Guardian.UK ~

A way forward for Sri Lankan Canadians

Amiththan Sebarajah, Jacinta Kanakaratnam, Nadeesh Jayasinghe, Kumaran Nadesan, Suthamie Poologasingham, Vijay Sappani, Viranjith Tilakaratne and Yolanie Hettiarachchi.

Sri Lanka: To many, it is a small island off the Indian coast, torn asunder by decades of civil war. Yet few understand the complexity of its conflicts or its people. Sri Lanka's demography is both Tamil and Sinhalese (along with a number of other significant subcultures). The ethnic profile of the Sri Lankan diaspora in Canada is representative of this diversity, but there has been very little interaction or dialogue amongst them, even here.

On April 11, a mixed group of Sri Lankan Canadian young professionals and business leaders met at the Holiday Inn in Markham, Ont., to change precisely that.

Responding to growing frustration amongst younger Canadian-Sri Lankans over the perennial state of emergency, deteriorating human rights situation, and increasing threat to free media and civil society within Sri Lanka, we felt that without frank and honest conversation, there would be no reconciliation; generations of Sinhalese-and Tamil-Canadians will continue to be caught up in cycles of learned prejudice and senseless violence.

We felt that a fresh platform is needed to rethink Tamil-Sinhala relations in Canada.

Conceived organically on social networking sites and nourished by coffee-shop conversations, eight of us decided to launch a pioneering, grassroots initiative firmly grounded in our shared Canadian identity.

Our concerns about the Sri Lankan diaspora community will be guided, we agreed, by a quintessentially Canada-first approach.

Our mandate was to invite 50 Sri Lankan Canadian young professionals to a networking luncheon where they could build their professional networks while creating a safe space for dialogue on the value of inter-communal solidarity in Canada.

We also invited mentors from the Jewish-and Indo-Canadian communities so that mentees could learn from the successes of those communities in Canada.

We asked mentors and mentees to examine the questions of identity politics, and discuss policy alternatives for improving access to higher education, employment, and social services for the community, as well as strategies for effectively engaging different levels of the Canadian government on these issues.

The participants responded enthusiastically. We were both heartened and humbled to witness the energy with which they embraced the concept and debated tangible solutions.

One young professional observed: "While in Sri Lanka, linguistic and cultural barriers might have prevented us from reaching out but there is no reason to continue like that here in Canada where we all speak a common language."

To those participants born and raised in Canada, and for whom Sri Lanka's myriad exclusionary politics were a persistent impediment for negotiating the Tamil-Sinhala divide, the event provided a meaningful interpersonal experience. It gave them an opportunity to meet fellow Canadians of different Sri Lankan origins, and to reflect upon creating a civil, democratic space to discuss common aspirations and redress past grievances; to move forward as a united community.

Our aim was not to oversimplify intricate and seemingly irreconcilable socio-political realities of Sri Lanka, nor was it to absolve the injustice and violence committed upon all communities in that country. We focused, instead, on the prospects for open dialogue and inter-communal solidarity here at home in Canada, since we earnestly believe that this is the promise and promise of our greater Canadian identity.

Will the rest of you join us?

-For more information or to join the network, please contact

vijaysappani@gmail.com.

- courtesy: The national Post -

Through the Eastern Eyes VI: Paalaiyadiththoona

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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Paalaiyadiththoona which is situated in Batticaloa district between Thevapuram and Korakallimadu. It has a total population of 2,576 people (534 families). [click to see & read more]

Chimpanzee tries to punch Basil Rajapaksa

The latest and hottest news buzz in Sri Lanka is about how a Chimpanzee at the Dehiwela zoo tried to punch Economic Development minister and presidential sibling Basil Rajapakse.

Basil apparently managed to avoid the blow and has had a hearty laugh about it.

The news of this Incident however has spread like wildfire and is being widely discussed humorously.

We reproduce here two news items about this from “The Island” and “Daily Mirror” on line respectively.

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Basil ducks chimp’s hook

The Rajapaksa brothers may have hunted down the ferocious Tigers on the war front and beaten the mighty Elephants in politics, but yesterday, one of them was almost floored by an ordinary chimp.

The newly appointed Minister Basis Rajapaksa had a close shave when a chimpanzee he was shaking hands with at the Dehiwala Zoo all of a sudden aimed a blow at him. Basil demonstrated that besides political acumen he had reflexes in spite of his graying hair. He ducked and then laughed aloud. The animal wearing a puzzled look was rushed back into its cage.

An unafazed Basil resumed his tour of the zoo exchanging pleasantries with the Zoo officials. (The Island)

Chimp takes a shot at Basil

Economic Development Minister and brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, Basil Rajapakse was in for a shock today when a chimpanzee took a swipe at his face while he tried to shake it’s hand while touring the Dehiwala Zoo.

Rajapakse, who shook the chimpanzee’s hand as soon as the animal was brought to him by the zoo employees had to duck when the seemingly quiet chimpanzee all of a sudden took a swipe at the Minister’s face.

However, in all good humour, Rajapakse had a good laugh while the animal was immediately taken away. (Daily Mirror online)

It is time for a dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance

By Kath Noble

There are, I suspect, a lot of people in Sri Lanka who would rather cut out their own tongue than talk to the TNA.

It boils down to quite rudimentary logic. The TNA supported terrorists. And they want Eelam, even if they claim to be ready to settle for less. We simply can't trust them.

The party hasn't done a great deal to assuage these fears, it must be said. There has been no stocktaking of their role during the war in Parliament and with the international community. They said nothing when the LTTE killed their fellow politicians and started conscripting the youth of the North and East. They did nothing to persuade its leaders to turn away from violence.

Worst of all, when Prabhakaran got trapped in Mullaitivu and it became clear that there would be no escape, they failed to call on him to release the hundreds of thousands of civilians being kept as a human shield. The TNA did a good job of exposing the suffering the Tamil people endured at the hands of the Government over the years, but it wasn't enough. They let their own side get away with too much.

But, these are issues for Tamils to take up. The rest of the country, I propose, had better just get over it.

Members of the TNA would have been under serious threat, if they had adopted a different position, we know very well. How many of us could say with anything like equal certainty that we would not have behaved in the same way?

The LTTE is gone, and that provides an opportunity for a fresh start in the relationship.

The party's success in the election demands a change in attitude, anyway. They retained two thirds of the seats they won under the LTTE and confirmed their status as the third largest group in Parliament. The TNA took three districts, which is rather more than the Opposition managed to achieve.

They represent more people in the North and East than any other party does. Given the obstacles the Government placed in their way during the campaign, it was a major victory. They are a force to be reckoned with, now they have established their democratic credentials.

This means putting a stop to the use of the TNA as a bogeyman.

The Government and its hangers-on are experts at frightening the Sinhalese community into ever greater subservience by claiming that its opponents are in league with the TNA, amongst other demons. It was done with gusto during the tussle between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka, and the practice continued up to April 8th.

Having anything to do with the TNA is now a kind of taboo in the minds of a most unfortunate number of Sri Lankans.

And that is unhealthy.

Perhaps the TNA really is secretly hoping for Eelam, as the propagandists claim. I just don't think it matters.

Separatism is no more than an idea. We shouldn't start a 'war' on it, as some people have been arguing of late, to replace the 'war' on terrorism. Nor should it be criminalised.

It is bad enough that there is a clause outlawing its advocacy in the Constitution. That was inserted in the immediate aftermath of the Black July massacres in a vain effort to save the Government from having to face the inevitable consequences of its own actions.

I would like to see a rather more thoughtful approach to the subject.

Readers should know from what I have written in these pages over the years that I wouldn't like to see Sri Lanka divided. I don't consider it to be a good solution to the problems - real or perceived - of the Tamil people. Not even close. However, I don't think it is morally wrong for other people to want Eelam, so long as they don't use guns to make it happen. This doesn't mean that I accept the claims they make in support of their position, only that I believe in their right to try to persuade the State and its constituent parts to grant their wish.

Where is the harm in letting people debate?

I haven’t a clue. Suppressing opinions doesn't usually result in them going away, we should have learnt by now. I would have thought that open discussion, without the use of insults and slurs, would be far more productive for all concerned.

But, this will undoubtedly be dismissed as a Western idea, as has become fashionable.

It is true that most Asian countries adopt a very different position on separatism. India and China are only too clear about their opposition to any mention of it. But this isn't necessarily about what is good for their people. Their size is what gives their leaders the power they are in the process of acquiring on the world stage, and they wouldn't risk anything getting in the way of their rise to the top. It might not be just Tibet and Kashmir that tried to get away if they were given a little more encouragement.

This should give Sri Lankans even more confidence that the TNA's views on Eelam - now or later - are not a threat, if they hadn't concluded that already with the death of Prabhakaran in the muddy waters of Nanthi Kadal.

There is simply no need to worry about it.

What disturbs me even more than this persistent desire to crack down on an idea is the habit the Government and its fellow travellers have got into of claiming that two very different positions are in fact the same. We are told that people who support an improved Thirteenth Amendment really want federalism, and that federalists are determined to have Eelam, amongst other nonsense.

The country has got into a pretty mess when to say a good word about devolution of any sort is to risk being called a backer of terrorists.

It is, I suggest, just a means of dismissing people without having to deal with their arguments.

So let's cut the rhetoric.

The TNA's manifesto called for a federal state with powers over land, the police, socioeconomic development including health and education, natural resources and tax, and that is what about one third of the voters in the North and East supported on April 8th, despite the many incentives for them to do otherwise. It is significant. If the Government is genuinely interested in reconciliation, it has to engage with this platform.

And that means negotiating.

In doing so, it would be prudent for the Government to look afresh at the issues under consideration. Opinions arrived at during the war may not be valid any longer. There is no Prabhakaran trying to hoodwink them into a deal that he will not honour and instead use to his advantage. The fascist dictator is no more. It is no longer a matter of holding out against the LTTE and its terrorism.

We can't trust politicians, I know, but we should remember that they will be thrown out by the people if they don't follow the mood of their constituency. That is democracy, and that is what is going to make all the difference for Sri Lanka going forward.

It is time for a dialogue with the TNA.

April 27, 2010

Reporters without borders wants Mervyn Silva removed as Media Deputy Minister

“In what country do you appoint an arsonist to put out fires?” Reporters Without Borders asked today after learning that Mervyn Silva, a politician notorious for insulting and physically attacking journalists, has been appointed deputy minister of media and information. Labour minister in the last government, Silva was confirmed in his new post by parliament on 23 April.

“The Sri Lankan government has against distinguished itself by assigning key posts to very controversial figures implicated in attacks on press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The ruling party’s victory in the parliamentary elections is being marred by this kind of appointment, which is casting serious doubt on its ability to carry out reconciliation and reconstruction."

The press freedom organisation added: “We call on Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne to relieve Mervyn Silva of his ministerial post.”

Silva’s appointment comes at a time of considerable hostility towards press freedom. The defence secretary (who is the president’s brother) put a great deal of pressure on TV stations and websites not to provide live coverage of opposition leader Sarath Fonseka’s speech at the opening of the new parliament on 22 April.

In the event, no TV station broadcasted live the speech delivered by Fonseka, who was let out of prison to attend the inauguration because he won a seat in the parliamentary election. A former army commander, Fonseka has been detained after last January’s presidential election, in which he was the leading opposition candidate.

Several newspapers reported his speech on their websites, but did not publish any photos of him in their print editions. “When such pressure comes from the defence ministry, we have no choice but to not publish, or else we will be risking closure,” a Colombo-based journalist told Reporters Without Borders on condition of anonymity.

Threats forced several Sri Lankan journalists to flee the country during the campaign for the 8 April parliamentary elections. Later, a team working for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror newspaper was followed and threatened on 21 April in the central city of Kandy by a local journalist apparently acting on the orders of the police. Journalists had gone there to cover a re-poll.

A ruling party candidate threatened Wasantha Chadrapala, a correspondent for various media in the eastern district of Ampara, on 4 April because of his coverage of the election campaign. His house was attacked by unidentified assailants that evening.

There is still no news of Prageeth Eknaligoda, a reporter and cartoonist who has been missing since 24 January.

Opposition journalist Ruwan Weerakoon is meanwhile still being held although he is in very poor health.

Finally, the government has ordered all journalists, newspaper editors and media owners to submit a declaration of possessions by 30 March.

Information about Mervyn Silva

A staunch supporter of President Mahinda Rajapksa, Mervyn Silva is above all known for organising various physical attacks on news media while labour minister, and for his verbal attacks on independent journalists.

In December 2007, he led an assault on the headquarters of the state TV station SLRC and was forcibly expelled from the building. At least five of the station’s employees were physically attacked in the weeks that followed – some of them sustaining serious stab wounds – presumably to punish them for humiliating Silva.

Silva and his men assaulted several journalists, including a BBC correspondent, during a peaceful meeting near Colombo in 2007.

In March 2008, Silva supporters threatened a Sirasa TV crew that went to do a report about a bridge being in Kelaniya, near Colombo. “This time I lift a finger but the next time I will lift a hand if you come back,” Silva told the journalists. The following month, Silva’s thugs threatened photographers from the Daily Mirror and Daily Lankadeepa newspapers who were covering an inauguration.

Whither the Left movement in Sri Lanka?

by Upali Cooray

Introduction

The decline of the socialist movement in Sri Lanka, which began in the 1960’s with the decision of the LSSP to join the coalition government of Mrs. Bandaranaike has continued unabated. It is no exaggeration to say that the parties of the left have little no influence in country. The traditional left parties and their splinter groups have largely become political non-entities. Although the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna ( JVP) managed to win 30 odd seats in parliament by entering into a electoral alliance with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) it difficult to consider the JVP as a socialist organisation. It is a populist political formation largely based on the support of the rural middle class.

There is little doubt that the eclipse of the traditional left has been one of the main causes of the rise of nationalism amongst all sections of the population. In its heyday the LSSP championed the rights of minorities and was therefore able to combat nationalist and chauvinist tendencies in the country. The JVP’s populism and its reliance on the votes of the rural constituency prevents it from adopting a robust policy of defending minority rights.

While the remnants of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party have hitched their ramshackled wagons to the SLFP, some miniscule splinter groups such as the NSSP have ended up glorifying the fascist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although such unholy alliances have permitted them an opportunity to partake in occasional television chat shows, none of them command more than a handful of adherents.

The decline of the Sri Lankan left has not been caused by any great advances made by the capitalist parties in the economic or political terrain. In fact over the last 40 years, the economy has stagnated and the quality of life has actually declined.

Apart from the apparel industry, the industrial sector has been sluggish. Sri Lanka has continued to depend on grants and loans from the major capitalist countries in the West and Japan. The only other major source of income for the state has been the remittances made by Sri Lankans working abroad.

Since the 60’s Sri Lanka has witnessed the emergence of a two tier system in health care, education and transport. While a minority has been able to rely on ‘international schools’ and private clinics and hospitals, majority of people have witnessed a substantial deterioration in the quality of health care and education facilities provided by government hospitals and schools.

The rich, includingPresidents and Ministers have sent their children abroad, whilst the ordinary people are compelled compete for limited places in our colleges and universities. The privatisation of the bus service has resulted in the deterioration in transport services whilst the cost of transport has continued to rise.

In the same period the relations between different ethnic groups in Sri Lanka has worsened. Series of legislative and constitutional measures such as the Sinhala only Act and the removal of the constitutional safeguards in the Soulbury Constitution began a process of alienation that could have been resolved by an enlightened political leadership. However, the J.R.Jayawardene government by organising large scale pogroms against the Tamils, effectively expelling Tamil political representatives from Parliament and sending goons to Jaffna to rig the elections and set fire to the Jaffna Library exacerbated the situation still further. It was his policies that led to the emergence of armed Tamil groups and the subsequent war that has now continued for 28 years.

Although an attempt was made to resolve this problem through the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and the adoption of the provincial council system, this endeavour was sabotaged by the JVP and the Premadasa regime. Premadasa assisted the LTTE to suppress all other Tamil organisations which in turn led to the transformation of the LTTE into a ruthless fascist organisation, that has not only physically eliminated the leaders of other Tamil organisations but has also liquidated the Tamil intelligentsia and imposed a reign of terror in the areas they control.

Successive governments in Sri Lanka has failed to eliminate this fascist formation because the ruling elite in Sri Lanka has been either (a) corrupt and incompetence or (b) unable to implement a programmed of measures designed to resolve the legitimate grievances of he Tamils, or both.

One of the reasons for their incompetence is the nature of the Constitution that was imposed by J.R Jayawardene in 1978. It has instability built into the very system of governance. It effectively prevents the creation of a stable government compels every political leader to make unprincipled alliances in order to remain in power compelling them to offer ministerial posts to every member of parliament who joins the government.

Instead of mobilising the people to fight fascism and resolve legitimate grievances of minorities, successive governments have resorted to repressive laws and measures to deal with not only the LTTE but also other unarmed political dissidents.

Arbitrary arrests, abductions, incommunicado detentions, disappearances and the failure of the police to enforce the law has seriously undermined the rule of law in Sri Lanka. In short, the capitalist parties have repeatedly demonstrated their impotence in building a stable democracy or a vibrant economy.

It is therefore surprising that the left has not been able to profit from the political impotence of the capitalist parties that has governed the country for the last 60 years. In order to understand their failure to make any meaningful headway we must analyse the underlying causes of the paralysis that has gripped these organisations. There are a number of factors that have contributed the political paralysis of the left.

Collapse of the Soviet Union

Undoubtedly certain international developments have contributed to the declined of the left in Sri Lanka. One of these is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent dissolution of the soviet bloc. The impact of this collapse should not be underestimated. It is not merely the loss of Soviet subsidies to local communist parties that weakened the left. The triumph of the West and the emergence of a unipolar world, has politically demoralised and disarmed the left. Not even the protagonists of the theory of the ‘degenerated workers state’ could take comfort from this collapse because the reactionary ‘bureaucratic caste’ in the Soviet Union was not replaced by a triumphant proletarian democracy but by a ruthless oligarchy. In this context the decline of the left in Sri Lanka is part of the decline of the left internationally following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Degeneration of the CCP

Some of the leftists in Sri Lanka had hitched their wagons to the Maoist movement. However, the bizarre transformation of the Chinese Communist Party into the principal instrument of capitalist development and suppression of worker’s rights in China and the immiserisation of peasants, who were idealised by the Maoists has also contributed to the decimation of the Sri Lankan left.

Aspects of an incomplete democratic revolution

Although the LSSP, in its hey day, was in the forefront of the struggle for democratic change, its achievements were partial and incomplete. Even the early successes against caste oppression was later diluted at the altar of parliamentary politics. But the most backward characteristic of our society is the glorification and deification of leaders. Every political disagreement tends to be organised around individual ‘leader’ and every such dispute leads to political split. Every political split in turn leads to a split in the trade unions. Moreover every leader remains the ‘leader for life’. Any new cadre who appears to develop signs of leadership is purged by one means or another. Fortunately most of these organisations did not have an armed wing. Otherwise, like Mahttaya, a lot of the leftist cadres would have been physically eliminated. Their undemocratic practices leads to atomisation of organisations and demoralisation of new cadres.

Equally, disturbing is the suppression of democratic discussion and debate both inside and outside the left organisation. Within the left parties a variety of procedural rules are imposed in order to suppress democratic debate. Without the suppression of political debate range from defaming political opponents to physical attacks. The JVP is particularly adept at physical attacks on political opponents. Such policies indicates the weakness and vulnerability of their ideological position. Often the leadership is unable to defend their woolly and confused political positions and they have no alternative but to suppress dissent. Again such practices have alienated and demoralised many a honest political activist.

Quite apart from procedural roadblocks that prevents democratic discussion, some political groups often resort to libel and slander of their political opponents in order to discourage their members from interacting with other activists. Political opponents are dubbed ‘capitalist stooges’, ‘CIA agents’ ‘Chauvinists’ etc. These labels are appended to their opponents solely in order to prevent democratic discussion. The ‘leaders’ want to maintain a tight control over their foot soldiers and prevent them from undertaking a critical assessment of their policies or developing ideas that may, even remotely, challenge their hegemony. These practices prevents young activists developing a critical mind essential for understanding the social reality that they have to confront.

Such organisational measures and practices are essentially vestiges of feudalism. They reflect the law of uneven and combined development in our social formation. Leaders are treated as demi-gods and they can never be dislodged from their positions of “power.1 which ultimately led to their degeneration. Democratic accountability and transparency is essential for the development of new ideas, training new cadres, minimising bureaucratic control and preventing the ruling elite “buying off” able leaders.

A new left movement must break with such feudal practices and adopt widest possible debate and discussion within it, regular rotation of administrative posts, transparency in the election and removal of leaders and democratic accountability.

Living in a time warp

Almost all Sri Lankan leftist parties to a greater or lesser extent subscribed to the idea that revolutionary change in Sri Lanka would more or less mirror the ‘Russian experience’. Although the pro-Chinese wing of the Communist Party, supported the CCP against the ‘Russian revisionists’, they did not actually advocate that they should adopt the tactic of long guerrilla war in Sri Lanka. Even the JVP did not radically break with the ‘Russian model” of revolutionary change They differentiated themselves from the others only on the basis that the traditional left parties have become revisionists and therefore they were either disinterested in the existence of a revolutionary situation or have failed to recognise the existence of a revolutionary situation.

Hence the decision of the JVP in 1971 and again 1988, to make a bid for power by ‘revolutionary means’. Like the other leftists, they too believed that the capitalist state could and should be overthrown by one major revolutionary action. Admittedly there some differences between them and other leftists about the social forces that would play a leading role in revolutionary process.

While the traditional leftists spoke about the vanguard role of the workers, the JVP spoke of the ‘proletarian class’ because they relied mainly on rural youth and certain lumpen elements in urban areas.

However, all the leftist groups and parties, including the JVP subscribed to the view that the revolution would be accomplished by a single assault on the capitalist state, much like the armies of the yore trounced their enemies in one major combat, even if it was fought on many fronts and even if the process was prolonged one.

CertainTrotskyst groups provided even a more simplistic formula.

They believed that the party could use a single trade union struggle to develop a generalised struggle of workers and other oppressed people leading to a general strike; the mass mobilisation of the workers and the oppressed people would inevitably lead to a social revolution, provided the workers were led by the right people (i.e. by their leader or leaders) Thus the revolution is a relatively simple process. A strike in some place could result in a general politicisation of the workers who in turn will be ready to join a general strike. Revolutionary leadership of the workers would then develop that struggle further and transform it from an economic struggle to a social struggle for the overthrow of the ruling class.

Even before the second world war, the Italian Communist thinker, Antonio Gramsci had criticised this thesis and pointed out since the first world war, even the nature of military conflict had changed. After the first world war it was no longer possible for battle ready armies to trounce their foe in one fell swoop. Now the armies had to fight trench by trench, inch by inch, terrain by terrain, region by region. That changed the nature of warfare altogether. It was long and an arduous process, where he general staff had to manage many battlefields at once and fought in different terrains, using a variety of means.

Gramsci used this analogy to argue that the struggle for socialism would no longer be achieved by one great revolution. In other words the struggle for socialism would be a very protracted one. Moreover, it would be fought on many fronts and terrains. Furthermore, the struggle cannot be confined to politics alone. The struggle for socialism has to be fought in every terrain – ideology, art, education, trade unions, co-operatives etc.

Gramsci seems to have, instinctively, understood the huge problems that Soviet Union was facing where the Bolsheviks had taken power but where the people, including workers and even their own party members were still steeped in backward and even reactionary ideas on many social and political issues.

This is true of many leftists in Sri Lanka. Many members, and even certain leaders, have either little knowledge of many important historical or social issues or they hold quite traditional or reactionary views. Often they do not understand the nature of oppression of women and the right of women to organise as an autonomous force2.

Some are influenced by caste, social status and ethnic background of others.

Most are woefully ignorant of movements outside their own country. The struggle for socialism is limited to the political pulpit or the ‘General Council’ of the Trade union.

Yet others, who claim to be ‘Marxists’ would continue to pretend that they are devout Catholics or Buddhists and not flinch from genuflecting before the most reactionary priests or monks. Some even employ servants to do their chores at home. There is a yawning gap between the theories they espouse and their day to any practice.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the total degeneration of the CCP, the analysis of Gramsci has become even more relevant and important. In other words the need to take a long view of history has become even more obvious. The struggle for socialism is now even a more protracted one that it was before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The victories we achieve has to be fought for trench by trench. That means the struggle cannot be led and masterminded by a few select leaders at the top.

Nor can it be accomplished by a single formula or a single manifesto. Marx himself explained that the struggle for socialism would be a protracted one and that it would involve revisiting issues that we thought we had resolved again and again. This requires a constant examination and re-examination of our political standpoints, analysis and conclusions.

It also means the nature of political organisations must change. Instead of the administratively centralised party apparatus who could do no wrong and must be defended at any cost, the emphasis should be on the creation of a vibrant, pluralist, critical and a lively movement, that seek to challenge capitalist and pre-capitalist ideology in every terrain of our society. Criticism and self-criticism must be the very essence of our outlook. Such a movement will draw in the energies of thousands and will create the conditions for new and progressive ideas to proliferate.

1 I recall an instance where a well known leftist and a trade union leader castigating the government because it had proposed a new law that would compel trade unions to elect their leaders regularly. When I pointed out that Lenin too had prescribed such a course of action in “State and Revolution”, he responded by saying that was what Lenin prescribed for a post-revolutionary society! I explained that unless workers are trained to be leaders before the revolution, they will not be able to do so after the revolution. The same people who have had the experience will continue to wield power resulting the emergence in a bureaucracy, as it did in Soviet Union and China,

2 I recall a conversation I once had with my old friend Newton Gunasinghe. He told me that once he was travelling to Kandy and he found himself in the company of a leftist leader. In the course of their conversation the leftist leader asked Newton why he has not thought of getting married. He replied by saying that marriage is not a simple issue and that one must find someone with whom you could generally agree and interact politically. Newton was quite shocked when the Leftist leader responded by saying that ‘no, no, you should not bother to discuss politics with women’.

(EDITORS NOTE:This article written by Comrade Upali Cooray , was never published before, because of his unexpected and sudden demise. This article was found when his political documents were collected from his computer by his daughter)

April 26, 2010

Through the Eastern Eyes V: Puthukkudiyiruppu

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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The photos taken by the youth in Puthukkudiyiruppu were displayed at today’s exhibition. The have highlighted the need to upgrade the basic facilities for Puthukkudiyiruppu. [click to see and read more]

Through the Eastern Eyes IV: Kalkuda

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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Photo Exhibition by the youth from Kalkuda was held on April 26th 2010 at the Children’s Centre, which was organized by Terre des homes. [click to see & read more]

MIA to release new album "Born Free" on June 29th in London

Mathangi "MIA" Arulpragasam is to release her new album"Born Free" on June 29th.

MIA’s new album has been subject to a leak (anyone think these leaks are so frequents that they must be deliberate?).

However it happened, we’re pretty excited. It sounds like she is singing over Suicide’s Ghost Rider.

The song constantly repeats the line “I was Born Free” – pretty apt given her recent troubles. MIA has been bravely outspoken about the government of Sri Lanka whose actions she described as systematic genocide toward Tamils. In return, she believes the Sri Lankan government has been pulling strings to make it difficult to return for her to the UK. She told NME:

People used to come and park outside my house in L.A. I felt so powerless… I’m living f**king proof that politics doesn’t work. Every time I breathe it’s documented on my computer, and yet I’m still on some stupid list somewhere that says I’m a terrorist.

She’s finally made it back to the UK though and ready to release her new album on 29th June. Diplo, her producer, reckons:

It’s turning into an Animal Collective kind of record, which represents a total departure from what you would expect from her, but that’s where her head was at.

The leaked track more than bears this out. It’s a whole new sound for her, and even borders a bit on punk rock.

Courtesy: The Music Magazine

M.I.A. ~ Photo: Jeff Kravitz/ FilmMagic via MTV

Amithabh Bachchan strives for compromise on Tamil protests against hosting IIFA award ceremony in Sri Lanka

Hindi film mega star and icon Amithabh Bachchan has initiated steps to bring about a discussion between organizers of the IIFA award ceremony in Sri Lanka and leaders of the Tamil group that picketed outside his house in Mumbai protesting against the function being held in Sri Lanka.

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(L-R) Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya Bachchan, daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and son Abhishek Bachchan pose for a picture during the premiere of movie "Paa" in Mumbai December 3, 2009.-Reuters pic

Bachchan’s intention is to get both parties to arrive at an amicable compromise over the issue while respecting the sentiments of all concerned

After protests by a Tamil group outside his house against hosting this year's IIFA awards in Sri Lanka, megastar Amitabh Bachchan says that he has no intention to hurt the feelings of anyone.

“A Tamil Group picketed my houses this morning, asking me to not conduct IIFA in Sri Lanka !! I beckoned personnel from Wiz who own and conduct IIFA to come and meet me to discuss this matter and give it due importance” Bachchan wrote on his blog.

“ I believe Wiz craft personnel met representatives of this protest presentation along with the Police personnel that came over from the Juhu Police station, heard what they had to say, accepted a petition given by them, explained to them their side of the story and told them that the Governing body of the event would meet immediately to conference on this matter and reach some kind of final path and solution. Sentiments of all must be respected and I hope that we can plan and execute that with understanding peace and grace”he further wrote on his Blog.

The 67-year-old actor known as “Big –B” is the brand ambassador of the India International Films Awards (IIFA) and visited the island nation recently to announce the date of awards.

The group held a protest outside Bachchan's house 'Pratiksha' asking him not to hold IIFA awards in Sri Lanka.

Hundreds of Tamils on Sunday protested outside the bungalow of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, shouting slogans against his decision to visit Sri Lanka as chief guest for the India International Films Awards (IIFA) function in July.

"We urge him not to attend the function in Colombo as a symbol of solidarity for the Tamilian cause in Sri Lanka. Tamils have been subject to atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in that country," C. Rajendran, spokesperson for the protesters said.

The protesters marched from Bachchan's Pratiksha bungalow to his Jalsa residence, where a delegation met him and two IIFA office bearers, who assured the representatives that they would convey the sentiments of Tamils to the IIFA governing board and take a suitable decision.

Later, Rajendran told mediapersons that the Sri Lankan government had allegedly killed over 1.5 lakh Tamils during its war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the last couple of years. He claimed that over 3.5 lakh Tamils continue to face a "hostile administration" in that country.

The full text of Amithabh Bachchan’s Blog entry is reproduced below:

Gloom and depression !! Mumbai Indians lost. I think Sachin was very brave in coming out to play, but they lost due to a more superior performance by Chennai Super Kings. Also I felt that Mumbai left it for too long to recover the run rate and by then it was climbing so high it became an impossibility to catch up. Dhoni, is a very calm and calculating Captain. Shrewd in his planning and execution.

He played it perfect tonight. I also felt that Mumbai left it to Pollard too late. They should have brought him on much earlier to bring on the pressure to the CSK. Anyway the better team won and Dhoni and his mates must be extremely happy to have recovered ground in this tournament, to finally come out victorious.

I have also not realized the impact of my little story about my MRI trip. It has flooded the electronic waves since morning after the Times of India brought out the entire blog detail on the front page. Anxious responses from FmXt have also filled up the blog as have my mobile lines and those of my family.

It was not meant to cause such panic. I mentioned my day in a somewhat detailed and humorous manner. The media made it out to be quite dramatic and the entire day has been spent in explaining that ‘all iz well’.

May I first thank all those that have expressed concern on my condition and say how deeply obliged I am for this endearing affection. There is nothing to be alarmed about. I still function normally and am under constant observation.

For this most worried reaction, I must take blame. But there is an entire history of my problems and which I would like to expand on as soon as possible. Filling you up with just one such incident yesterday has sparked some very collective concerned reactions. I would rather not subject you all further with another burst of issues that plague me. Maybe we shall sit a while and get all the details to be shared with the entire FmXt.
There were other issues that took away attention for me today.

A Tamil Group picketed my houses this morning, asking me to not conduct IIFA in Sri Lanka !! I beckoned personnel from Wiz who own and conduct IIFA to come and meet me to discus this matter and give it due importance. I believe Wiz craft personnel met representatives of this protest presentation along with the Police personnel that came over from the Juhu Police station, heard what they had to say, accepted a petition given by them, explained to them their side of the story and told them that the Governing body of the event would meet immediately to conference on this matter and reach some kind of final path and solution. Sentiments of all must be respected and I hope that we can plan and execute that with understanding peace and grace.
It is gaining upon a time past 2 am and I do wish to get some rest before the gym at 6, so I shall beg forgiveness. But I will and must come back to all, on my other medical issues.

” Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds ”
May we all be swayed in the beauty of our deeds in love and in affection -

Amitabh Bachchan

Saving Murali's Doosra: Five unsung heroes

By Michael Roberts

Gunasekara, Wijesinghe, Dhillon, Wijesuriya, Foster. These are five names that should be etched into the commemorative epitaph marking the third stage of the saga around Muttiah Muralitharan.

Muralitharan, best known as “Murali,” has been a cricketing-weapon extraordinary for some time and, as such, is a national icon in Sri Lanka. His survival in the frontlines of cricket has faced three major challenges. In effect, he has been subject to “triple jeopardy” in the ‘courts of cricket’, something unprecedented in international law.

The first massive effort to get rid of him on charges of being an illegal “chucker’ was in 1995-96; while the second was in early 1998 Oval (see especially Whimpress 2006: 305-13 for detailed accounts). Both were Australian-led. On both occasions the Sri Lankan authorities (led by Dharmadasa and Sumathipala respectively) stood firm; while Arjuna Ranatunga stood out on the second occasion because the resistance was played out in front of a huge crowd at Adelaide (among them this author).

However, there were many others in the frontline trenches on the and in the backrooms who assisted the Sri Lankan authorities in meeting these assaults from cricketing fundamentalists: to cite just a few names -- Duleep Mendis, Anura Tennekoon, Ranjit Fernando and, in 1998, Tony Greig. Critically, too the scientific reports of the bio-mechanic teams at the University of Western Australia and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology exonerated Murali and demonstrated that the purists were being misled by an optical illusion. These reports converted the ICC on the first occasion in 1996.

The ICC is not as conservative as made out. In the early 2000s they initiated a secret investigation into bowling actions in match as well as staged conditions. By then the technology had advanced and they could deploy high-speed cameras that could freeze 250 frames per second (Sambit Bal 2006: 314). As an improvement of the six-camera shootings in 1996, as many as twelve cameras shooting from different angles were now used -- secretly on occasions. I do not have the precise details relating to when and where these investigations took place between 2001 and 2003, though the names of Dr. Hurrion, Marc Portus and the UWA team under Dr. Bruce Elliot were definitely involved (Roebuck 2006: 321-22, Bal 2006: 314-16).

The Australian Marc Portus’s report on the study of 34 deliveries from 21 pace bowlers from five countries was in ICC hands as early as March 2002. It found that every single delivery was illegal, involving bending of elbows from 3 degrees to 22 degrees. In effect, it placed one cat and several foxes among the pigeons (Roebuck 2006). But it was not till September 2003 that David Richardson recommended to the ICC that 15 degrees should be the tolerance level for bowling, those exceeding that limit being deemed illegal. However, the ICC, having tweaked the no-ball law a little earlier, deferred a decision on this issue for a while.

My account requires a more precise time-line with specific dates and summaries. But the point I wish to get across is that, by 2002-03, cricketing circles – other than those willfully blind – were alive to the limitations of evaluations by ordinary-eye and the complexities attached to bowling actions.

It was at this stage that, after months of practice, Murali unveiled his deadly doosra. Saqlain Mustaq may have invented it, but Murali perfected it as Kesavan notes. As he bamboozled more and more batsman and began to approach Shane Warne’s pedestal as the highest wicket-taker in Test history, the third media-assault on the legality of his arm-action was launched from several quarters. Several cricketers, old and not-so-old, insisted that it was impossible to bowl the doosra without throwing. That Bedi was among them is not surprising. That Vettori was another is disquieting (Boock 2005).

At this point in March 2004 one match referee, Chris Broad, reported to the ICC that Murali’s doosra was suspect after the Third Test against the Australians at the SSC ground. Whether Broad considered it a throw himself, or pragmatically decided to put the issue raised by the murmurs to the test, I do not know. So, this was to become Murali’s third appearance before the ICC tribunal.

It was here that the unsung heroes swung into action. The first venue was Colombo and involved an unholy combination between Murali’s Manager, Kushil Gunasekera, Dr. Mandeep Dhillon of the Apollo Hospital and Mahinda Wijesekera, cricket historian and former SSC cricketer. Dhillon had approached Kushil and told him he wished to help Murali. Kushil phoned Mahinda. Let Mahinda take up the tale.

[At preliminary discussions at the SLC headquarters which took us nowhere] it was my view that the ICC was drawing red herrings across the track by camouflaging and confusing the issue with 'flexion' and 'degrees' and a whole host of technical terms.

I suggested to Dr.D that many moons ago, the redoubtable CB Fry when accused of 'chucking' bowled with a splint on his elbow in the nets and proved the point that he was not bending the elbow at the point of delivery.

Dr.D was elated with this idea. He immediately asked for a brace to be brought from their stores. They were able to unearth only an ankle brace. However Dr.D put it on Murali's elbow and asked him to go through the motions. Murali tried it and said that it is no problem!

Next we booked the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation indoor cricket nets at the NCC grounds and ensured that nobody would be there. (By the way, it was I who designed the SLCF indoor nets when I was the first Executive Secy) That day, in the presence of Mohan de Silva (the then Interim committee Chairman), Dr.D., Murali and myself the experiment began. It was also being videoed. And Murali bowled at me!!! He bowled without any problem wearing the brace.

It was later that Dr. D. manufactured a brace made of plaster with steel splints and Murali gave a demonstration at Lord's (nursery grounds for Channel 4?) with Mark Nicholas as compere and with cameras focused from all angles. And Murali bowled his whole range.I still remember having seen the video of how Nicholas, after the demo held the brace in his hands and said: "Cross my heart, you cannot bend this". In other words, there was no problem about 'chucking'.

This, then, is a story of inventiveness and serendipitous interaction that depended in part on historical knowledge, which just goes to show the bibliographical old fogies – sorry Mahinda, but I am part of the club too – have their uses!

Colombo being low in the pecking order of world-cricketing power, it was in England, as Mahinda’s summary indicates, that the critical second stage occurred. This public demonstration of Murali’s unique arm, and the legality of the doosra through the high-profile eye of Channel Four, was rendered possible by the initiative of Glucka Wijesuriya, a Sri Lankan migrant and lawyer who happens to be a friend of Sri Lankan cricket and a friend of Murali. This was a major breakthrough.

It was consolidated later at Premadasa Stadium though the good offices of ESPN and Ravi Shastri during a series of international matches in Sri Lanka when Murali bowled to Michael Slater, one of the commentators, under the eye of several cameras. Slater is an open book and his acceptance of the evidence, with Shastri already on board in the background, must surely have reverberated through the airwaves, especially among Indian cricket fans who had not taken the jaundiced position of some Australians and who now had one of their own, Dr. Dhillon, as a backroom-boffin to add to their list of unsung heroes.

But Daryl Foster? Where does he come in? Foster was an experienced cricket coach from Perth who also had coached Kent in the late 1990s. He was approached by the Rienzie Wijetilleke Committee around the year 2000 to set up the fast-bowling academy in Sri Lanka with Rumesh Ratnayake as understudy. His financial terms were extremely moderate and perhaps for this reason, but also because he gelled with the Lankans he was employed as a bowling consultant during subsequent tours in 2002-03.

Unassuming and quiet Foster was part of the team for several series though rarely in the public eye. He was subject to shoddy treatment during Sri Lanka’s tour of England in 2003 when the new Hema Amarasuriya Committee refused to fund the extra costs involved in rushing back to Perth because one of his grandchildren was near death. This horrendous act did not deter Foster from a clinical assessment of Murali’s action as one member of the UWA scientific team given the task of forensic review of Murali’s doosra (Cricinfo team, 30 April 2004).

At this stage the ICC was working under a rule of thumb which delimited 5 degrees of flexion for spin-bowlers and 10 degrees for pace bowlers. That is, it had not yet moved to the sensible position of having one rule for all, that of 15 degrees tolerance limit because no advantage was gained by any bowler till that point was passed. So, Murali’s tribunal was evaluating his doosra at a point where ambiguity clouded the investigative process and the rule-making.

Much of this testing work was kept secret but the Hindu newspaper managed to penetrate the screen and its revelations entered a cricinfo report. The UWA report with Foster as key hand ran thus:

"Murali, who has been tested more than any other bowler in the history of the game -- 1995, 1999 and now -- possesses different physical characteristics which make him a unique bowler. A straightening of ten degrees when he [Murali] bowls his 'doosra' is not excessive and that should not therefore be deemed advantageous.

We contend that because the speed of his upper-arm rotation is as fast, and in some cases quicker than fast bowlers, his level of acceptability for elbow extension should also be set at the ten-degree mark.

A case can certainly be made for some spin bowlers such as Muralitharan to have the same range of acceptability in elbow angle to that of fast bowlers. With no spin-bowling database to make a comparison, this would seem both a wise and prudent recommendation.”

Remarkably, as the last sentence makes clear, ICC had not yet evaluated the doosra being bowled by Harbhajan Singh Saqlain Mustaq and Shoaib Malik.

The UWA report, then, seconded by the elbow-brace tests initiated by Dhillon and company, paved the way for Murali to continue bowling the doosra. I do not have the full details of the chronological time-line in this story, but we do know that this process reached sensible determination when the ICC abandoned its tiered scheme for bowlers and settled on a 15 degree tolerance limit for all bowlers.

Problems do not end with such decision-making. Dogmas remain and dogmatic people remain adamantine. Gilchrist continues to believe that the no-ball rule and 15 degree tolerance limit for bowlers was invented by the ICC in order to protect Murali. That intelligent people can be so obdurate and bury their head in the sand like the proverbial emu should be no surprise to political science, yet it does continue to amaze me.

That is why I present Mahinda Wijesinghe, Dhillon, Gunasekera and Wijesuriya as heroes. Publicizing Murali’s special arm and its unique feature, not least a plasticine wrist with 180 degrees flexion, was a vital political act of defense. But not every cricket buff witnessed the Channel Four and ESPN broadcasts. One would presume that few Australians did. Such Australians as Barry Jarman, Terry Jenner and Darrell Hair have been among the most obdurate and incorrigible critics of Muralitharan. It is within this setting that I mark the significance of another little broadcasting episode, this time on radio on ABC Grandstand, a premier sports channel in Australia.

I listen to radio only when driving and caught a discussion between Glenn Mitchell and Daryl Foster by accident. Mitchell was interviewing Foster about the bent-arm issue and pressed the argument that a bent arm assisted spin-bowlers more than it did pacemen, with the further suggestion that Asian spinners were the principal culprits. Quietly and in measured tones Foster simply decimated Mitchell’s positional prejudices.

It is not only forensic testing by bio-mechanic scientists that one requires. Lucid expressions in oral as well as written documentation are critical weapons in such knotty issues. I point readers towards Glucka Wijesuriya’s account of the Channel Four broadcast and the issues under investigation as an instance of masterly forensic presentation. Cap this reading with that of Mukul Kesavan’s presentation on web in cricinfo and then one derives lessons in English prose and critical analysis.

[This article has several images embellishing it in my home site: http://cricketique.wordpress.com/].

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boock, Richard 2005 “Cricket: Updated bowling rules almost beg to be exploited,” http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/s...ectID=10347894, 30 Sept. 2005.

Bal, Sambit, 2006 “The Throwing Controversy: Save the Doosra,” in Michael Roberts, Essaying Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp.314-16. Kesavan, Mukul 2006 “Is Murali the greatest spinner ever?” Cricinfo Magazine, July 2006, and
http://www.cricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/255809.html

Roebuck Peter 2006 “Secret Filming Reveals Extent of Bowlers who Chuck,” in Michael Roberts, Essaying Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 321-23.

Whimpress, Bernard 2006 “Murali’s Chucking Episodes in Australia,” in Michael Roberts, Essaying Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 305-13.

Wijesuriya, Glucka 2006 “Murali and the Bowling Issue,” in Michael Roberts, Essaying Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 317-20.

Wisden Cricinfo Staff 2004 “Murali’s doosra should be allowed says report,” 30 April 2004.

Fourth Anniversary of Suicide Bomber Attack on Sarath Fonseka

by Apsara Fonseka

Today, we will be celebrating 4 years of survival.

On April 25 of 2006, our father was attacked by a suicide bomber at the army headquarters.

This was one of the most terrifying days of our lives, for several days we were not sure he would make it through. No one should awake with the news that their father has been attacked in this manner, but that was how me and my sister awoke that night. We knew everyone around him had died, and we were terrified he would not make it through.

Who ever he was, soldier, commander, he was first and foremost our father.

However, as always our family was strong and blessed enough to survive this horrifying experience. My mother strong as ever, and a nation, praying for his recovery. We still believe it was that support and prayers that helped us get through that ordeal.

That week, the temple bells rang for him, flowers were offered for his recovery and candles were lit to bless his health.

Just the same, we still believe.

We still believe that like then even now, your support will help us get through this. The support you all have given us have brought us this far.

Your encouragement to go on through these hard times have given my father and our family the strength to keep on fighting for what is right, what is fair and what is just. We are grateful that we are not alone in this, and stronger because you are there with us.

So, today, as we celebrate my fathers 4 years of survival from a bloody suicide attack, we want you to remember that it is you and your prayers that brought him to life then to fight against terrorism.

Therefore, now, when he fights for democracy against this corrupted regime, we ask you once again to be with him and to pray and bless him with the strength to carry on.

Thanking you,

Sincerely,

Apsara Fonseka

April 25, 2010

Why West and India have a different perception of the ethnic divide than Sinhalese

by Dushy Ranetunge in London

Dr. Sudharshan Seneviratne’s article expressing his outrage of Jeremy Pages’s piece in the Times is an important contribution towards building a new Sri Lanka. Many with a similar mind set to Seneviratne have been silent for too long, because of the belligerence of fascists on both sides of Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide.

Many have left the country in disgust, as nationalists on both sides have taken over the interpretation of history to enhance their particular tribe and their "ownership" of the island or parts of it.

Since independence, intellectual historical argument and evolution of the interpretation of history itself has been increasingly subverted by tribal politics.

Seneviratne states, "In his most valued book (The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity. 2005) Professor K. Indrapala inscribed the following moving dedication "To the innocents who lost their lives as a direct consequence of misinterpretation of history" which is a must read line by all blood-thirsty social fascists in any community."

When Indrapala’s valued book was published it was the tribalists from the South who attacked it in newspapers, as it did not fit in with their agenda.

Perception is the key in the case of Jeremy Page vs. Sudharshan Seneviratne and it exposes Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide, which the Sinhalese in particular are insensitive to, because of their conditioning.

The Tamil voice in Sri Lanka is muted. If their fears, suspicions and perceptions were to be expressed in Sri Lanka, they would be shouted down as being "traitors" or LTTE supporters. Many Sinhalese liberals and intellectuals also face similar hostility.

Jeremy Page articulates the suspicions and the perceptions of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and the Tamil Diaspora in particular.

Tamils view what Jeremy Page has published as being their point of view and an article supporting their side of the ethnic divide. Sinhalese perceive it as being hostile to them and misleading.

The Sinhalese perceive what Sudharshan Seneviratne has published as supporting their side of the ethnic divide, defending their position. Tamils will reject it as being Sinhalese bias.

In reality, Seneviratne’s piece is fair and attacks fascists on both sides of the ethnic divide, but only a very few will recognize it as such as he is very subtle in his delivery.

If the Sinhalese radicals fully understand the gravitas in it, they would not hesitate to brand him also a "traitor". But what matters is not fact or reality, but perception and Seneviratne is perceived as being a supporter of the southern tribe.

What made me write this article is a paragraph in Seneviratne’s piece in which he states "I personally experienced the warm reception accorded to us by the teaching staff and students of University of Jaffna recently, which was an emotional experience to all of us. There was the warmth of human beings reaching out to each other devoid of any inhibitions or reservations and above all an expression of mutual respect and cordiality."

I do not doubt the sincerity of what Seneviratne has experienced, but wish to illustrate the politics of this emotional meeting.

The Sinhalese team of Sudharshan Seneviratne would have perceived the meeting as described by him. But, I would suggest that the Tamils would have perceived it as a "power" relationship, and the emotions and views expressed by the Tamils to the Sinhalese would be in line with that perception.

I too met the teaching staff and students of Jaffna University, during the height of the conflict.

I accompanied a delegation of South African MP’s who were of South Indian/Tamil origin. It was an initiative by Foreign Minister Kadirgamar after his visit to South Africa to neutralize growing LTTE influence in South Africa.

I had flown in from London, and the South Africans were of the opinion that I was an Indian. The teaching staff and students of Jaffna University thought that I was a South African, as the MP’s I accompanied were of Asian ethnicity.

During a closed door meeting with the senior academic staff, the South Africans inquired from the senior Tamil academics if they were happier under Sri Lankan Government administered Jaffna or a LTTE administered Jaffna.

The Tamil academics were silent and did not respond. The question was repeated and there was a deafening silence.

At this point, the Foreign Ministry officials realized that the Tamil academics were feeling uncomfortable and voluntarily withdrew from the room, together with the military officials. I raised my hand and inquired from the South Africans if they wished, that I should leave the room as well. They stated that since I was an Indian, I could stay.

After the Room was empty of the all the "Sinhalese" the question was repeated and the Tamil Academics responded by stating that they were happier in the LTTE administered Jaffna.

The views expressed by Tamils to the Sinhalese are somewhat different to the views they express to foreigners, as Tamils are naturally wary of the Sinhalese. This is why Westerners and India have a different perception of the ethnic divide than the Sinhalese.

Until this ethnic divide is bridged, Jeremy Page and those like him will be writing many more articles voicing Tamil fears and perceptions, and Sudharshan Seneviratne and the Sinhalese will be trying to educate Jeremy Page and others like him, some even denying visa’s, recording telephone calls and deporting them.

When will the Tamil refugees return to Sri Lanka?

by Prof V. Suryanarayan

I have lost the village home where
the sparrow will build its nest
the cadjan leaves will sing with the wind
the sun will enter the shoe flower
We crossed the seas dreaming of wealth
and a house
with a beach in front
and a garden along the red soil pathway
alas, we have lost our identities
the wilderness of the refugee land - Selvam, Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate poet

“How long may we stay in another man’s land?” sang Kasi Ananthan, the Poet Laureate of Tamil Eelam, few years ago, in a Tamil poem that begins with the worlds, “The parrot and the woodpecker may return to their nests without hindrance, but we the Tamil refugees may not”.

Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu March 2010-riosouthasia

Kasi Ananthan was a devoted follower of Velupillai Prabhakaran and was passionately committed to the carving out of a separate State of Tamil Eelam as the only viable solution to the manifold problems faced by the Sri Lankan Tamils. To the dismay and disappointment of the LTTE supporters, the Sri Lankan government got the upper hand during the fourth Eelam War, the tide began to turn against the Tigers and the Sri Lankan armed forces were able to inflict a crushing defeat on the LTTE and its leaders, including Prabhakaran, were killed. The rehabilitation process has commenced, with the support of the international community, including India, demining operations are in full swing. The question naturally arises, when will the Tamil refugees, living in camps as well as outside, in the State of Tamil Nadu, return to their homeland?

It will be in India’s interest if the return of normalcy in the island is accompanied simultaneously by the repatriation of the refugees. Such a stance is in conformity with India’s well known policy on the refugees; Refugees will be given asylum in India, but they will have to return to their homeland once normalcy returns. But the question of repatriation of refugees is riddled with several imponderables. My discussion with the Sri Lankan diplomats gives me the impression that Colombo today is keener on the rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced People within the island and only after that task is completed will they consider the question of the rehabilitation of the Sri Lankan refugees in India. The two tasks should be carried out simultaneously. For after all, the IDPs and the refugees come from the same villages in the north and the east. When a village becomes “clear” for rehabilitation, it is clear for both the IDPs and the refugees. The Government of India must immediately open a dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government and impress upon Colombo the necessity to attend to the task of repatriation immediately. India cannot and should not bear the burden of the refugees for an indefinite period. The two countries should enter into an agreement and ships should be arranged at regular intervals for rehabilitating the refugees either through Tuticorin-Colombo route or Rameshwaram-Talaimannar route.

Refugees, as Sadako Ogata, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees put it, “tend to evoke images of sprawling camps housing large numbers of distressed and impoverished people who have had to escape from their own country at short notice and with nothing but the clothes on their back”. This picture reflects the reality of majority of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who live in 112 camps spread across the State of Tamil Nadu. Geographical contiguity, easy availability of boats, and ethnic affinities made Tamil Nadu a natural choice when large sections of Sri Lankan Tamils were forced to leave their country. New Delhi and Chennai alike recognized the need to provide asylum and admitted them with understanding and sympathy. Unlike many European countries, there was no time consuming bureaucratic procedures nor were there any restrictions on the movement of the refugees.

Four Waves of Refugees

Before analyzing the present situation, it is necessary to keep in mind certain basic realities. The Sri Lankan refugees came to Tamil Nadu in four waves. The first exodus of refugees began on 24 July 1983, soon after the communal holocaust in the island. It continued till July 29, 1987, when the India-Sri Lanka Accord was signed. During this period, 1, 34, 053 Sri Lankan Tamils arrived in India. Following the signing of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, the refugees began to return to the island. Between 24 December 1987 and 31 August 1989, 25, 585 refugees and non-camp Sri Lankan nationals returned to Sri Lanka by chartered ships. The remaining Tamils either returned to Sri Lanka without government assistance or continued to stay in Tamil Nadu either with their relatives or by their own means. According to Sri Lanka watchers, the period witnessed large scale movement of Sri Lankan Tamils, on their own, to different parts of Europe and Canada.

The Second Eelam War between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers commenced in June 1990 and resulted in the second wave of the refugees. After 25 August 1989, 1,22,000 Sri Lankan Tamils came to Tamil Nadu. Of these, 1,15,680 were destitute and were accommodated in refugee camps. Following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the repatriation of the refugees commenced on 20 January 1992. According to UNHCR sources, 54,188 refugees were voluntarily repatriated to Sri Lanka by chartered ships and flights from 20 January 1992 to March 1995. The Third Eelam War commenced in April 1995 and once again the refugees started coming to Tamil Nadu. By 12 April 2002, 23,356 refugees came to Tamil Nadu. Gradually the flow of refugees became a trickle and after the cease fire agreement in 2002 completely stopped.

The flow of refugees was a consequence of the Sri Lankan army’s operations in the LTTE-controlled areas. Most refugees took the Talaimannar- Rameshwaram route, while a few came via the Nacheguda-Rameshwaram route. The refugees trekked long distances, assembled in Talaimannar, paid huge amounts to boat operators and reached Rameshwaram. The sufferings of the Tamil refugees became evident when a boat capsized in the Palk Strait and 165 Sri Lankan refugees were drowned in February 1997. This was the second such incident; in October 1996, another tragedy took place near the Mannar island, in which 14 lives were lost. By 2001, the flow of refugees had become a trickle. Most of the Sri Lankan Tamils who wanted to leave the island and had the financial means had left for greener pastures in Canada and Europe. Moreover, the Sri Lankan Navy exercised control over the outer islands in the Jaffna peninsula and the boat operators found it difficult to carry on human smuggling.

During the cease fire period, 2002-2006, 9793 refugees, living in the camps and outside, returned to the island with UNHCR assistance. The UNHCR provided air tickets for the refugees to travel from Chennai to Colombo or Tiruchi to Colombo. Many also returned through illegal means. The returned refugees, whom I interviewed in Mannar in 2004, informed me that there was undue delay in the issue of exit permits. They also found it cumbersome to come to Chennai to get the legal documents from the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission and the air tickets and other documents from the UNHCR. For them availing of the illegal boat service from Rameshwaram to Mannar was far more convenient and less expensive. They told me by the time the train from Mandapam reached Chennai Egmore station, they can go to Mannar from Rameshwaram. The Government of India has delegated the power to issue exit permits to the Collector of the concerned district. And if a refugee wants to go back to Sri Lanka, why stand in his way? In the normal course, the exit permit should be issued across the table. But the refugees complain, with considerable justification, that it takes months before they get the exit permit. The Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission gives the refugees temporary travel documents within 24 hours, they also assist the refugees in getting the names of the children born in India included in the travel documents, they also register the marriages in the Deputy High Commission. According to the statistics made available by the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission, Chennai, the High Commission from 2002 to April 2010 has issued travel documents to 22, 719 persons. In 2009, 2119 travel documents were issued and from January to April 2010, 1198 documents were issued. However, in spite of all these welcome measures, more refugees have returned to Sri Lanka through illegal means than the legal air route. This reality should be a matter of serious concern to New Delhi, Colombo, Chennai and UNHCR alike.

The Fourth Eelam War, which commenced in early 2006, was fought to the bitter end by both sides. For a variety of reasons, by 2006, the tactical advantage had shifted in a big way in favour of the Sri Lankan Government. Colombo was keen to reduce the refugee inflow into Tamil Nadu. And, therefore, they were determined to control the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay. From Mannar the armed forces captured Madhu Church, which used to be a sanctuary for the Sri Lankan Tamils on their way to India; the army then proceeded to consolidate their hold on the way to Jaffna. Simultaneously, the supply lines of the LTTE were destroyed and the floating warehouses of the Sea Tigers were bombed out of existence. Without adequate supply of arms and equipments the Tigers had to retreat deep into the Wanni jungles. The distinguishing feature of the Fourth Eelam War was the savage bombing of the Tamil areas by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Temples, churches, schools, hospitals and heavily populated areas became easy targets for the Sri Lankan Air Force. International community, especially India, should have taken the initiative to rescue the Tamil civilians who were trapped between the Sinhalese Lions and the Tamil Tigers. Within India, there were sane voices, which were demanding that the Government of Tamil Nadu should pressurize the Central Government to evolve a mechanism acceptable to both the Tigers and Colombo so that under international supervision the Tamil civilians could be moved to safe sanctuaries manned by the ICRC and the UNHCR. The last stages of the Fourth Eelam War synchronized with the general election in India and the DMK leadership in Tamil Nadu was more keen to placate the Congress party and the Central Government. According to UN sources, nearly 20,000 Tamil civilians were massacred in Nandi Kadal; some civilians were even holding aloft and waving the white flag of surrender. According to reliable non-governmental sources the casualties numbered 30,000. The end result was no concrete steps were taken to rescue the innocent Tamil civilians. It is tragic that during the worst crisis that the Sri Lankan Tamils had faced during recent times, the self proclaimed champions of overseas Tamils in the ruling establishment in Tamil Nadu developed feet of clay. Like Baquo[s ghost, this tragic reality will haunt the sensitive Tamil minds for a long, long time.

At the height of the Fourth Eelam War, I had an opportunity to visit Rameshwaram and Mandapam. Those dark days were accompanied by death, destruction and displacement in Sri Lanka. There was hardly any Tamil family that did not undergo traumatic experience. A Tamil refugee, victim of repeated cycles of violence, confessed: “To be a Tamil in Sri Lanka is to live in fear”. I met few Sri Lankan refugees, who escaped from the War Zone and after undergoing several trials and tribulations reached the Indian shores. Some of their compatriots lost their lives on the way; few died because there was no drinking water. Every refugee that I spoke to mentioned that, given an opportunity, all the Sri Lankan Tamils trapped in the conflict zones would have liked to come to Tamil Nadu. But they had no means to come to India. And as mentioned earlier, the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay had come under the control of the Sri Lankan navy; the Madhu Church, which was a sanctuary for Sri Lankan Tamils, had come under government control and, what is more, the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Navy had stepped up their vigil in the waters separating Sri Lanka from India.

Four Categories of Sri Lankans

The Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu can be broadly divided into four categories. 1) Refugees in the camps 2) Recognised refugees living outside the camps; 3) Sri Lankan nationals and 4) Tamil militants detained in Special Camps. According to the Policy Note on refugees issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu for 2009-2010, there are 73,451 refugees, belonging to 19,705 families, in 115 refugee camps. 2) Refugees outside the camps. These are category of people who inform the Rehabilitation Department that they do not want government assistance and they have the means to look after themselves. The Government officials advise them to register themselves with the nearest police station where they live and also get a refugee certificate from the nearest collector’s office. There are 31,802 refugees who live outside the camps; 3) Sri Lankan nationals. They come to Tamil Nadu with valid travel documents and live in the State with their own means. They are required to register themselves with the nearest police station. Many of them continue to stay in Tamil Nadu even after the expiry of their visas. Some of them use Tamil Nadu as a transit point. Some through improper means have acquired ration cards and also own property. According to informed sources, there are nearly 80,000 people under this category, though the figures published by the government are an under estimate. 4) Militants in Special camps. Those Sri Lankans, who have alleged links with the Tamil militants, are kept in two special camps in Chingelpet district. Currently there are nearly 30 inmates in these camps. Living conditions in these special camps are abominable and the National Human Rights Commission has drawn the attention of the State Government to improve the living conditions in the Special camps.

There is one category of Sri Lankans, who have arrived in Tamil Nadu recently, whose whereabouts remain unreported in the media. According to informed sources nearly 20,000 inmates, who were among the IDPs living in the Mainik farm, after paying huge bribes to the Sri Lankan armed forces, have escaped from Vavuniya. Number of them has come to India after getting visa from the Indian High Commission through travel agents operating in Colombo. According to informed sources, hundreds of them have come to Tamil Nadu, in fact flights from Colombo to Chennai were overbooked those days. After reaching India few of them have approached the rehabilitation officials for claiming refugee status. Few others have just disappeared. It is very likely that many of them are hard core members of the LTTE. Their presence in Tamil Nadu has serious security implications. New Delhi and Chennai should investigate this phenomenon and take immediate corrective measures.

Life in Refugee Camps

Sri Lankan Tamils arrived in Tamil Nadu in various stages, sometimes as a mass exodus, sometimes as a trickle. When the massive inflow started in July 1983, make shift camps sprang up in different parts of the State. As. Asia Watch highlighted, “abandoned schools, poultry farms, ware houses, cremation grounds, even open air toilets, have been used to house the refugees. Many refugees, living along the coast, were housed in emergency storm shelters”.

The refugees are conscious of the fact that they have come from a poor country to a poorer country. What makes Tamil Nadu attractive for them is the fact that their lives will not be in danger. There are no midnight knocks on the door, and, what is more, their wives and daughters can move around freely without fear of physical molestation. Equally important, the parents bring their children to India to ensure that they were not forcibly recruited into the baby brigade of the LTTE.

The Government of Tamil Nadu has taken number of steps to assist the Sri Lankan refugees. The Government provides them financial doles, rice, kerosene and sugar at subsidized rates, free housing, free electricity, free medical aid, free education and has also included them among the poor for free distribution of sarees and dhotis during Pongal festival. When they move into the refugee camps, they are also provided with free utensils, mats and other essentials of life. What is more, the refugees are permitted to work outside the camps and thus supplement their incomes. Some refugees also receive financial help from their relatives living abroad. Those who have visited the camps report, that many refugee families have television sets and they also partake non-vegetarian food, which has become a luxury for the poor local people. The expenditure in connection with the refugees is initially incurred by the State Government, later it is reimbursed by the Government of India. According to the recent Policy Note published by the Government of Tamil Nadu an amount of Rs. 26.00 crores have been provided in the Budget towards financial doles. The Government has also earmarked a sum of 16 crores for infra-structure development in the camps. The Finance Minister announced recently that the State Government has doubled the quantum of financial assistance provided to the refugees. He also announced that a sum of Rs. 100 crores will be spent for improving infra-structure facilities in these camps and provision of houses and other repair work are under way.

In terms of living conditions, it has to be pointed out that during normal times, the Sri Lankan Tamils used to lead a better life in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. They used to live in their own houses, with a compound, in which they used to grow coconut and vegetables. The refugee camps in Tamil Nadu are sprawling settlements, with very little privacy, the roofs covered with tarpaulin or asbestos. The refugees complain with certain amount of justification, that there is scarcity of water, poor sanitation facilities and absolutely no privacy in the camps. They also complain about the delay in the distribution of rice and sugar, the hospitals and the schools are located far away from the refugee camps. But what the refugees and the NGOs working among them do not realize is the fact that the villagers among whom the refugee camps are located do not get the financial and other benefits which the refugees are entitled to. According to the Human Development Report, 21.12 per cent of the State’s population lives below the poverty line. In other words, one out five lead a miserable existence. These facts are stated not to place obstacles in the way of improvement of living conditions of the refugees, but to make the Government of Tamil Nadu and the ruling party realize that the poor in the State also require preferential treatment.

It should also mentioned that the tranquil atmosphere in the refugee camps have been vitiated during recent weeks by incidents of violence and highhandedness of the Government officials. The media has reported about the factional fights in the camps, instances of suicide and alleged molestation of women by the police and also involvement of the refugees in anti-social activities. Even after the defeat of the LTTE and the end of the Fourth Eelam War, few Sri Lankan Tamils continue to come to Tamil Nadu after paying huge sums to the boat operators. At a time when the refugees should go back to Sri Lanka, why are Sri Lankan Tamils coming to Tamil Nadu? Do these people have links with Tamil militants, especially the LTTE? No satisfactory explanation has so far come from the Government of Tamil Nadu.

Educational Attainments

The most important achievement of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees is in the field of education. There is, perhaps, no other refugee community in the world which has availed of the educational facilities available in the host country. The educational concessions given by the Government of Tamil Nadu is open to all Sri Lankans, not to the refugees alone. Every boy and girl of the school going age attends school. Few boys and girls drop out due to economic reasons, but the drop out rate is far less than the local Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamil children do not stop with school education, they go the colleges for higher education. According to the statistics made available by Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation (OfERR), the break up of students studying in various courses for 2009-2010 is as follows: Nursery 2784, Primary 8655, Middle 4334, High School 2570, Higher Secondary 1384, Diploma 190, BE 50 and Arts and Science 843, Total 20810. A perusal of statistics clearly reveals that the girls outnumber the boys in all classes and in all streams. Thus in the school level, there are 9510 boys and 9756 girls; in the plus 2 level, there are 711 boys and 762 girls and in the college level, there are 562 boys and 608 girls. The Government of Tamil Nadu used to reserve seats for refugee students in the medical colleges, but this policy was unfortunately discontinued in 2003. The Government should immediately reintroduce reservation for refugee students in medical colleges. One of the admirable achievements of OfERR is that it counsels, encourages and motivates Sri Lankan Tamil families to give the highest priority to their children’s education. Thanks to the efforts made by the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission in Chennai, the Government of Sri Lanka, during 2006 and 2007, held O level examinations in Chennai for the refugee children from the eastern province who had to seek refuge in India. Here again, the OfERR had arranged special tution to the students. The University of Madras has recently decided to offer free education to refugee students who will be studying in the affiliated colleges of Madras University. Another interesting point deserves mention. One reason for the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka was the introduction of Swabasha,Tamil as the medium in the Tamil schools and Sinhalese as the medium in Sinhalese schools. After coming to Tamil Nadu, the refugees have realized that English language is the passport to the outside world. Therefore, many refugee children have opted for English medium schools.

Need for National Refugee Law

South Asian countries are signatories to major international and human rights conventions. Three countries – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – are also members of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR. Important political leaders of these countries like MA Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Zia Ul Haq, Pervex Musharaff, IK Gujral, LK Advani and Ram Jethmalani were all immigrants to the countries that became their own. Despite this fact, none of the South Asian countries is signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951, nor have they ratified the 1967 protocol. South Asian countries have also not enacted any national refugee legislation. India has an excellent record in terms of respecting the core principle of international refugee law, namely the principle of non-refoulement, The Indian courts have also stayed the deportation of individuals when an application for the determination of the refugee status is pending with the UNHCR. In some instances, leave has been sought and granted by courts to detenus to travel to New Delhi, where the office of the UNHCR is located, to seek determination of refugee status.

In the absence of a national refugee law, the treatment of the refugees is done on an ad hoc basis. Do the refugees have the right to work? Do the refugees have the right for higher education? Do the refugees have the right for minimum wages? Do the refugees have the right to form associations? In the absence of a national refugee law, various states in India have adopted their own policies. A National Refugee Law is essential to codify the human rights of the refugees. Besides the humanitarian needs, security concerns also justify the enactment of a national refugee law. The Tamil Nadu experience clearly shows that a section of the refugees were involved in serious crimes. The assassination of Padmanabha and his comrades in the EPRLF in June 1990, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 (among the accused six were registered as refugees), the escape of Kiruban, a top LTTE leader, while being taken to Pudukkottai in April 1993, the escape of Charles Nawaz, a key witness in the Rajiv Gandhi case in May 1993 from the Saidapet special camp, and the daring escape of the LTTE cadres from the Tipu Mahal special camp in Vellore in August 1995 – the list is very long. And as mentioned earlier, number of LTTE supporters has come to Tamil Nadu after the decimation of the LTTE. It is in this background there is a strongly felt need for a national refugee law to cope with the humanitarian concerns as well as the security interests of the State.

Role of the UNHCR

The UNHCR began its work in Chennai following the concern expressed by the NGOs in Tamil Nadu and international human rights organizations that the repatriation of refugees which commenced after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was not voluntary. Thanks to the initiative taken by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao negotiations started between New Delhi and UNHCR and in July 1992 an agreement was reached which allowed the latter a token presence in Chennai, with access to refugees at the point of departure in the transit centres, but not in the camps themselves. The decision to permit the UNHCR to operate in Chennai and monitor the repatriation facilities have definitely contributed to an overall improvement of the situation. Those refugees from the camps who want to get repatriated to Sri Lanka, after getting necessary documentation from the Sri Lankan High Commission, approach the UNHCR for assistance. The UNHCR, through their office in Colombo, finds out whether the villages from which the refugees originally hailed or the place to which they want to go back are safe for repatriation. According to the UNHCR officials, they generally encourage the refugees from the eastern province and from the Mannar district in the northern province to get repatriated, because they have been declared as cleared areas. The UNHCR provides air tickets to the refugees to fly between Chennai and Colombo or Trichy and Colombo. The UNHCR office in Colombo makes arrangements for their reception in the Colombo airport. The UNHCR in Sri Lanka, which works in close co-operation with other international organizations and non-governmental organizations, provide assistance to the repatriates to start their lives anew in Sri Lanka. According to the statistics made available by the UNHCR office in Chennai, the UNHCR assistance commenced in 2003. In 2003, 1092 persons returned to Sri Lanka; in 2004, 3081; in 2005 1173 persons; in 2006, 27 persons; in 2007, nil; in 2008, 106 persons, in 2009, 818 persons and from January to March 2010, 390 persons, making a total of 6687 persons. In addition to free air tickets, the UNHCR provides also a departure grant of Rs. 500 per adult and Rs.300 per child.

Prospects of Refugee Repatriation

I had the opportunity to interact with few refugees and the leaders of the NGOs working among them. Questioned about the prospects of return of refugees to Sri Lanka, they feel that the refugees should return, but they are not sure what the future holds for them. There is a certain amount of understandable uncertainty among the refugees. This was amply demonstrated when the first batch of refugees returned by MV Akbar from Chennai to Trincomalee on January 20, 1992.The LTTE condemned the repatriation as an “inhuman act” and hours before the ship reached Trincomalee, an LTTE ambush killed 20 Sri Lankan soldiers at Kuchchavali. The LTTE also blasted a part of the Air Force base in China Bay in Trincomalee harbour killing eight soldiers. According to senior government officials, who accompanied the repatriates, the panic stricken Tamils immediately demanded that they should be taken back to Chennai. They refused to take food and declared that they would not disembark in Trincomalee. The officials did not want to abort the maiden voyage; they assured the repatriates that no one would be compelled to get down in Trincomalee, those who wanted to return to Chennai would be taken back. When the ship finally reached Trincomalee, the repatriates found their friends and relatives waiting for them; all of them disembarked without any protest.

Mention should also be made of the peculiar problems faced by the Indian Tamils, who number around 29.000. Most of them had not acquired Sri Lankan citizenship even though they had lived in Sri Lanka for two or three generations. The UNP Government led by Ranil Wikramasinghe, few years ago, enacted a legislation by which all those who were born in Sri Lanka after October 1964 and all Indian passport holders and their natural increase living in Sri Lanka were conferred Sri Lankan citizenship. The legislation was passed unanimously. But since the Indian Tamil refugees were living in India, they would not be qualified because of the provision for continuous residence in Sri Lanka. The matter was brought to the attention of then Indian High Commissioner, Ambassador Nirupama Rao, who in turn, brought it to the notice of Sri Lankan Government. The Sri Lankan parliament passed an enactment by which these people when they return to the island would be qualified for Sri Lankan citizenship. But there is another dimension to their lives. Many Indian Tamils, who came to Tamil Nadu as refugees, have severed their links with Sri Lanka, they have sold their properties in the island, and what is more, their children educated in Tamil Nadu and working in the State do not want to return to Sri Lanka. Unlike the Sri Lankan Tamils these people are of Indian origin. They can apply for Indian citizenship under the provisions of naturalization, most of them fulfil the qualifications required and it is hoped their application for citizenship will be considered sympathetically by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. Those who return to Sri Lanka and acquire Sri Lankan citizenship, if they so desire, can also apply for Overseas Indian citizenship. The majority of the Indian Tamils living in India would like to acquire Indian citizenship.

The officials of OfERR brought to my notice certain peculiar problems faced by the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. Few of them have married Indian citizens and when they return to Sri Lanka what will happen to their wives/husbands/children who are Indian citizens. Number of marriages among the refugees has taken place in India, but these marriages have not been registered in the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission. Children are born in India, but their birth has not been registered in the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission. It is essential that the refugees have proper documentation before they return to Sri Lanka, otherwise they will have to face problems on their return. These peculiar problems should be viewed with sympathy and understanding by the officials of the Rehabilitation Department in Chennai as well as various government agencies in Colombo.

How can the Tamil Refugees contribute to the Economic Development of Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is presently engaged in massive rehabilitation of the war ravaged economy in the north and the east. And rehabilitation requires considerable amount of skilled labour. The problem is acute in the Tamil areas because many Tamils, who belong to the productive age group, 18 to 40, have left the island for greener pastures abroad. At the present moment what is required is to identify priority areas for rehabilitation and also calculate the nature of skilled labour required for this massive endeavour. What is more, the Government of Sri Lanka, in co-operation with the Government of India and various international organizations, should embark upon training programmes in the refugee camps. Carpenters, masons, welders, para medical personnel – the list is long, the refugees could be trained in these professions, so that when they return to Sri Lanka they could become valuable assets. Sri Lanka can draw lessons from India’s past failures.. When the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact was signed in October 1964, it was apparent that thousands of Indian Tamils working in the tea plantations would return to India as Indian citizens. The rehabilitation process started only in 1968 and it continued in a slow pace until July 1983. New Delhi should have provided training to these workers in various skills, so that when they returned o India, they could have been successfully integrated in the Indian society. However, what happened was except for the limited number who were absorbed in the tea plantations, nearly 80 per cent of the repatriates were provided with business loan of Rs. 5000/-, These repatriates had no business acumen, their business ventures failed and they moved over to Nilgiris and Kodaikanal as bonded labourers. For the repatriates it was a bitter home coming. Let us learn from the mistakes of the past, let the Sri Lankan refugees be given training if various professions so that, as mentioned earlier, when they return they could get successfully integrated into the Sri Lankan society. Let not history turn an accusing finger and remind us, as TS Eliot had done in the Four Quartets, “We had the experience, but missed the meaning”.

Extra-Ordinary concern for the Welfare of Sri Lankan Refugees

Discerning observers of the Tamil Nadu scene would be struck by the extra-ordinary concern displayed by the Government of Tamil Nadu and the ruling circles in the welfare of the refugees during recent months. Explanation for this phenomenon has to be sought in the domestic competitive politics. During the last phase of the Fourth Eelam War, there was understandable criticism directed against the Chief Minister and the DMK that they did precious little to safeguard the lives of innocent Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka. The political gimmicks resorted to by the ruling party at that time could not save the lives of thousands of innocent Tamils. The ruling party wants to redeem its image by showing extra-ordinary concern for the welfare of the Sri Lankan refugees. The first indication of the winds of change taking lace in Tamil Nadu came out into the open when Karunanidhi, participating in the concluding session of the centenary celebrations of CN Annadurai. demanded that the Sri Lankan Tamils living in and outside the camps should be given Indian citizenship. It was pointed out by those who had specialized in refugee issues that Karunanidhi’s demand had several policy implications. If the demand is conceded, it would act as a precedent for other refugee groups who have sought asylum in India - from Tibet, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The demand also contravened the well established policy of the Government of India which viewed the refugee presence as a bilateral issue. Once normalcy was restored, the refugees should return to their homeland. What made Karunanidhi’s demand so strange was the fact that at no point of time has the Sri Lankan refugees made such a request to the Government of Tamil Nadu or to the Government of India. The general expectation of the refuges was reflected by K. Satchidanandan, the well known Sri Lankan Tamil writer, in an interview to the Tamil edition of India Today: “We do not want Indian citizenship nor do we want dual citizenship. What we expect is the same status accorded to the Nepalese in India, so that we can move freely in the country, we can pursue higher education and we can engage in any vocation that we like”. What Satchidanandan failed to mention is the fact that thousands of Nepalese living in India have become Indian citizens over the years.

Realizing that his demand was impractical Karunanidhi changed his stance. In subsequent statements, Karunanidhi and Finance Minister Anbazhagan demanded that the refugees should be given the status of Permanent Residents in India. The Constitution of India does not provide for a category of Permanent Residents. The present policy of the Government of India is not to pressurize the Sri Lankan refugees to return to the island against their wishes. Moreover, there is a UNHCR office in Chennai to monitor the “voluntariness” of repatriation. Equally interesting, the Chief Minister asked his colleagues in the Cabinet to visit refugee camps and report to him on the living conditions of the refugees. He also met leaders of the Sri Lankan Tamils like SC Chandrahasan and K. Satchidanandan. The Chief Minister announced that Rs 12 crores will be spent immediately to improve the living conditions in the refugee camps. In his role as the “champion” and “saviour” of the overseas Tamils, Karunanidhi declared that they are “Tamils, not refugees”. Writing in the party organ Murasoli, Karunanidhi mentioned that the State Government would be able to initiate steps to improve the living conditions if the refugees were accorded permanent resident status. In his article Karnanidhi drew a distinction between the attitudes of the elderly refugees who wanted to return to Sri Lanka and the local born refugees, many of whom had married local Tamils, who wanted to be given permanent resident status. In a subsequent statement, the Finance Minister Anbazhagan stated that besides doubling the financial doles to the refugees, a sum of Rs 100 crores will be allotted for improving infra-structure facilities in the camps. He also added that the Government of Tamil Nadu had requested the Central Government to take necessary measures to grant the status of permanent residents to the refugees. With the International Conference on Tamil as a classical language, which is scheduled to be held in Coimbatore at the end of June 2010, we can expect more such statements from the ruling circles in Tamil Nadu.

Conclusion

The experiences of refugees are traumatic illustrations of social change. They are uprooted from one social setting and thrown into another. In that process they undergo enormous sufferings and irreparable tragedies. Torn between fear and hope, the refugee experience creates a void in their lives. Let us remember that all of us can be refugees if man’s inhumanity to man can spread in our country also. As Benjamin Zephaniah, the refugee poet, has written:

We can all be refugees
Nobody is safe
All it takes is a mad leader
Or no rain to bring forth food,
We can all be refugees
We can all be told to go
We can be hated by some one
For being some one

(Dr. V. Suryanarayan was former Senior Professor and Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras. He is currently Senior Research Fellow, Center for Asia Studies, Chennai. He is also a member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. The author is grateful to the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission, Chennai, the UNHCR office, Chennai and friends in the OfERR for their valuable inputs in the preparation of this essay. )

Why so much of "fuss" about Pirabhakaran’s mother’s deportation?

By Chackravarthy

When the North Indian media and politicians were awash with IPL scandals and Deputy Minister Sashi Tharoor and his girl friend Sunanda Pushkar, in contrast Tamilnadu was after Prabhakaran's ailing mother Parvathi Ammal‘s deportation from Chennai airport.

Mrs. Parvathi Ammal was said to have collected her visa on Friday16th from the Indian High Commission in Malaysia and traveled on the same night to Chennai from Kuala Lumpur. When questioned, Tamilnadu CM said he was unaware of her visit.

But the media reported as; “Elaborate security arrangements were made and suburban police commissioner, Jahangir, was himself present to oversee matters as there was a crowd of over 150 persons including MDMK general secretary Vaiko and Tamil nationalist movement leader P Neduraman, both vocal supporters of the proscribed LTTE, at the airport“. Who informed the politicians? Who ordered the security arrangements?

When the news of refused entry to Parvathy Ammal was known to Vaiko, he sobbed with sorrow, covering his face with his towel. Politicians rarely express grief on personal tragedies. I do not know whether his mother is living or not. If living, pardon me, will he express the same emotion when she breaths her last or if she is no more, I would like to ask whether he expressed the same grief?

Did he ever shed tears for his beloved “Thamby’s”- younger brother’s demise on May 17 last year? No he did not but continued to say that he was still alive and would appear at the right time. Was he hoping against hope or merely hoodwinking the masses?

Vaiko’s crying reminded me of what a Singapore based prominent journalist of Kerala origin who recently interviewed the Sri Lankan President and the Defense Secretary too, wrote in the Straits Times some time ago, how he, during the funeral of MGR [died on 24th December 1987] in Chennai, asked another equally famous late Tamil actor, who visited the funeral house, for a condolence TV message and the thespian treated it exactly like a film shoot, touching up his face saying, ready - take, and started sobbing before the camera “my beloved ‘Annan’ - elder brother put all us in sorrow and went off”, and more, in his usual flowery Tamil, and stopped when the camera also stopped. It was a real cinema like. The same way I believe Vaiko’s sobbing was also a drama.

Besides, Mr and Mrs Tiruvenkadam Velupilli were living in Trichy from 1980 to 2003, almost 23 years in peace without causing any anxiety to the authorities or neighbours. They rarely came on the media. They said to even those who knew them, that they had no contact with their son and did not approve his terrorism too. Even after Rajiv Gandhi’s killing no harm ever done to them by any, though they might had been under vigilance for some time.

During their tenure in Trichy, there were chances for the couple to have been admitted to hospital for some ailment. Did Vaiko and Nedumaran visit them with oranges and apples on each occasion? In fact Veluppillais preferred to be away from their son’s catchers, knowing well that their contact would bring them problem in India.

If Parvathy Ammal was coming for medical care, [University Hospital in KL also gives a reasonable treatment with Tamil speaking doctors and staffs] why did these politicians and over 150 of their carders mob the airport? How many ambulances did they bring? Where were they to take the woman straight, to a hospital or a residence? If so whose residence?

When the CM said he knew nothing about her coming, true or not, how did Vaiko and others know? Was it through the former Sri Lankan MP who was trounced in the presidential and parliament elections? He was a kin of the Veluppillai family, and the one who undertook to perform the last rights of Mr.Veluppillai when he died in January 2010.

This pro LTTE Ex MP too was refused entry to Chennai on the 13th April and he created a big fuss over the incident with the SL media after returning home. His electoral campaign in SL was anti India, painting New Delhi as the ‘Villain’ who caused the suffering of Vanni Tamils and the decimation of the LTTE and its leader.

Has he forgotten the famous ‘Parippu drop’ by the Indian Air Force on Vadamarachi on June 5th 1987? Was not JRJ’s government on the verge of defeating the LTTE at that time? Even today the Sinhalese despise India for this act. What prize India got in return and what a price India paid? How could the Ex MP expect such a favour again after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination? Can the one who killed your father be still your friend?

If so on what purposes he visited the country he said hostile to his clan’s ambition? Was it just because he had a multiple entry and a diplomatic passport–which is to be withdrawn? It is believed now that he went to Chennai to facilitate the woman’s visit.

Further, his affection to the LTTE was well known. In January 2007 when two tons [one ton = two thousand pounds] of iron ball bearings, kept in gunny bags were seized at the Naval Hospital Road junction at Periamet, Chennai, and another three tons, after a search of a residence in Tuticorin, the police suspected that the consignments were meant for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

This former MP who was in Chennai at that time issued a press note that the LTTE never smuggled anything from Tamilnadu. Do you believe? In the late 1980s under Karunanithi, Tigers had heydays in Tamilnadu and virtually about to smuggle the whole state to Jaffna.

When Pathmnaba and his associates were killed in Chennai by the LTTE ‘boys” on 19th June 1990, Karunanithi, the CM instructed his secretary to issue a statement within half an hour, the LTTE was not involved in the killing. Who gave him such a quick report to exonerate the LTTE? It was his heart that had a wish. After MGR’s death he became close to the Tigers and only Rajiv’s murder put him back in self defense.

First of all Tamilnadu is to be reminded that Pirabhakaran’s mother was not permitted to go to India by the Sri Lankan government. After the natural death of Pirabha’s father, his mother and his wife’s mother were left behind. So the same MP requested for their exit from Lanka to India and the president’s sibling refused and said, not to India but to Europe or North America can be permitted.

So the women left Lanka for Canada presumably with a stopover in Malaysia. If the Lankan government had endorsed in her passport that it was not valid for visit to India, this problem would have never arisen and Vaiko’s precious tears could have been saved for another day.

In the mean time, a lawyer has filed a case against the Central Government asking them to send a special plane to bring back Mrs. Parvathi. A fire brand and a Tiger sympathizing film director who was imprisoned last year for excessive pro LTTE speech, said, ‘Annai’ [mother] was in unconscious state and otherwise she would have never come to this country‘. Oh God, if so, isn’t it a violation on the part of Malaysian Airlines to allow an unconscious passenger to travel without a doctor or a nurse on standby?

Tamilnadu CM said in the Legislature that his government was prepared to recommend to Delhi if Parvathy Ammal was still interested to come to Chennai for medical purpose. Also he pointed out that it was Jayalalitha’s letter to Foreign Ministry in 2003 which still stands, prevented the woman from visiting India. DMK’s Balu raised this issue in the parliament too.

Vaiko on the other hand wanted the Center to seek an apology for disallowing a 80 year old visa holder from landing, and also questioned the Center that if Rajapaksa’s sons could be allowed to India to see cricket matches, why not his late “Thamby”s Mom for medical aid? Did any of the Indian courts want Rajapaksas for any crime?

It is a pity Vaiko, a lawyer turned politician failed to realise that it was the prerogative of any country to allow or disallow a visitor. He obtaining a visit visa from the office of the Consulate General of the United States in Chennai alone would not guarantee him landing rights in the USA but it will depend on the officer’s discretion.

When film director Seeman said it was Interior Minister Chidambaram’s mischief, Nedumaran asked it was Chidambaram who gave the visa, how could he stop, but Vaiko’s comment was Chidambaram would have granted permission to land if had contacted. Though all opposition parties and the Tamil media were digging the mountain, utilizing Mrs. Parvathy Ammal’s deportation to slander the state and central governments, there was no consistency in their attack and the public response was mute.

Finally, Ex General Sarath Fonseka, who pro LTTE politicians of Tamilnadu detest more than poison, once called them as jokers. I do not understand why they fell head over heels to prove Fonseka was right?

Sajith Premadasa can do it but the question is will he do it?

by Dayan Jayatilleka

President Rajapakse’s choice of Prof GL Pieris as Foreign Minister is by far the best that anyone could have made, while the Deputy Minister has been excellently chosen too

This gives the lie to the punditry of those professional pessimists who think that improvement is impossible under this administration (as if it weren’t responsible for the biggest, most qualitative improvement of all, the defeat and destruction of the Tigers). However in the interests of restoring some modicum of balance and enhancing the country’s prospects in the future, we the citizens need a viable Track 2. This requires the rapid recovery of the Opposition, mainly the United National Party.

Today’s UNP has been rendered politically insignificant to the point of irrelevance, but it can get worse. What prevents the ruling coalition from unveiling a new ‘first past the post’ electoral system and going for a mid–term parliamentary election? Judging by current trends and data of a decade, the UNP, if it remains under Ranil Wickremesinghe, would be overrun and crushed to a pulp, not even reaching double digits in terms of seats.

How can a UNP which is unable to ditch an ineffectual and effete Ranil Wickremesinghe, convince the majority of voters that it can dislodge an infinitely more popular and stronger leader, Mahinda Rajapakse or what it decries as ‘Rajapakse rule’ and the ‘Rajapakse dynasty’?

How can a UNP which cannot dislodge Ranil from Sirikotha, convince the citizenry that it can dislodge an administration which dislodged Prabhakaran and his army from the Wanni?

For the present the country is in the best available hands. Mahinda Rajapakse won a thirty years long war and has been justly rewarded by the electorate, which had earlier awarded second terms to those who had not achieved half as much. An electorate which rightly chose Mahinda over Gen Fonseka, was nonetheless disheartened, again rightly, by the treatment of the man who was most responsible, next to Mahinda and Gotabhaya, for the historic military win. This disenchantment manifested itself in the comparatively low poll at the parliamentary election. At that election too, the voters made the right choice of the coalition and party which had won the war over one which, under its present leadership, had sat on the fence, if not worse. Within the UPFA, the voters chose well: mainly for the SLFP and strictly marginally for the sectarian-fundamentalist element of the coalition. Rohitha Bogollagama was thrown out. Doubtless the UPFA’s margin of victory at both elections and certainly the second one, would have been far less conspicuous had the UNP been led by a personality not quite so remote from the popular mood, i.e. an electoral asset rather than a liability. Given that Sri Lanka is still under pressure from actively secessionist Tamil formations based overseas, and a new, overtly pro-Tiger political manifestation in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, it is best to have President Rajapakse and his party at the helm of affairs. As Mao is reported to have said to Hu Yao Bang, “with you in charge I am at ease”. With Mahinda in charge, we the people can be far more at ease than if Ranil were.

What, however, of the future? The struggle against the siege that offshore Tamil secessionism hopes to put us under cannot be won either by caving in or turning Sri Lanka into a ‘garrison state’. We can continue to rightly accuse the West of hypocrisy on human rights when its own Special Forces engage in massacring civilians in Afghanistan and had done so in Iraq, but we fail to recognise our own hypocrisy, because these revelations are made precisely in the Western media and are possible only because of media freedom in the West. In politics and foreign policy as in economics, neither free market and neoliberal globalisation nor closed economy protectionism work. To beat the secessionist Tamil Diaspora, Sri Lanka has to return to what it used to be at various times in the past: a model. We were once a model of social welfare, two-party democracy and non alignment; at another time a model of the early opening up of the economy in the South Asian region; and in the early ‘90s a model of poverty alleviation, housing programmes, high HDI rating and growth with equity. Today in some quarters of the world we are a model of counterinsurgency warfare. That’s good but not good enough. We must once again be a model in soft power terms, which, simply put, means we must be a model which not only deters (the enemy) but also attracts (friends, former foes and fence sitters).

One of the ways in which this can be done is by distinguishing between a ‘trade unionist’ Tamil nationalism, which is what the ITAK/TNA is, and Tamil ultra-nationalism. The ITAK is the equivalent of the SLFP. It must be negotiated with and accommodated, just as Douglas Devananda and the EPDP which is even more moderate, progressive and constructive, must be politically rewarded and strengthened. The ITAK without the LTTE is not, or is no longer, the enemy or a component of it.

The Global Tamil Forum and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam are our enemies. Sri Lanka has no enemies within our shores; no enemies among our citizens. If we do not understand and believe that, we will become paranoid and our country will become a garrison state.

The bald fact is that in order to beat back the threat of globalised Tamil separatism, as well as to capitalise on peace and plug into the Asian economic miracle, Sri Lanka will have to reverse some of the policies of discrimination and levelling down, that successive SLFP administrations adopted, especially in the fields of public administration and education/higher education.

This means that while Sri Lanka’s present is best served by a Rajapakse administration, Sri Lanka’s future prospects are best served by a certain sort of UNP leadership. I emphasise ‘a certain sort’ for two reasons. Firstly and most plainly, Ranil Wickremesinghe or a Ranil clone cannot get a UNP government elected. Barring one parliamentary election he has lost every single election, held at every level, since 1997 and ensured a second term for the second successive SLFP leader (Mahinda, after CBK). With the margin of this last defeat, he has now opened the road for an open ended Constitutional change which can remove the two term limit and open-endedly entrench the incumbent.

Secondly the UNP needs a leader who would balance off the necessary modernising reforms with those that immediately ensure greater equity in the distribution of the fruits of that growth (what President Premadasa called, “not trickle-down but cascading down”). As Ranil Wickremesinghe demonstrated during his two years as Prime Minister, he is manifestly not such a leader. True, he was evicted by President Kumaratunga, but she followed it up with an election and Ranil was soundly defeated by a SLFP-JVP coalition created by the social backlash to his security policies in the Northeast and socioeconomic policies in the South. (Respected researchers Sunil Bastian and Mutukrishna Sarvananthan wrote devastating critiques of the economics of the CFA phase; critiques confirmed by the study headed up by Jonathan Goodhand of SOAS).

The view that the UNP in opposition cannot afford an inner party struggle and that such debate would debilitate it further appears true at first glance, but flies in the face of the UNP’s own history as well as the record of the recovery of mainstream democratic parties the world over, from prolonged stints in opposition. The titanic victory of the UNP in 1977 and the near miracle (1988/9) of its retention of power after a traumatic decade, through reinventing and rebranding with the Premadasa presidential candidacy, were only possible and were the result of bitter yet clarificatory inner-party struggles which convulsed the party in 1970-5. The UNP that was so wracked by inner party struggle was not, on the face of it, a party that could have afforded it. It was a party that was down to a mere handful of seats, for the second time since 1956. This didn’t prevent an earlier generation of UNP personalities from engaging in a sharp struggle within the party. However in comparison with today’s UNP politicians, those men were giants.

The struggle within the UNP featured three, not just two groupings: a pro JR Jayewardene tendency which turned out to be dominant, a Senanayaka-ist tendency headed by Rukman and supported by J.R.P. Suriyapperuma, Jinadasa Niyathapala and Ossie Abeygoonesekara and Mr Premadasa heading the Puravesi Peramuna, supported by Sirisena Cooray, Gamini Fonseka and Rev Meetiyagoda Gunarathana thero. It is the open clash of ideas between these factions that resulted in the winning policy synthesis that went into the manifesto of 1977 and the second victorious manifesto, that of candidate Premadasa in 1988. As important, it resulted in the change in party leadership from the Senanayake to JR Jayewardene and more correctly the superb JR-Premadasa combination, and the radical transformation of the UNP into a truly national mass party, almost a mass opposition movement, without which the overturning of the powerful United Front coalition government would have been impossible.

Does the UNP have a personality who can fit the bill? Someone who is educated enough to lead the country into an Asia that is led by an educated elite; has sufficient experience of the West to understand it and mend fences but trusted by Sri Lankans never to sell out the nation? Is there someone who is solidly Sinhala Buddhist but not narrowly chauvinist or communal minded and can therefore win the minorities without repelling the majority as Ranil does? Is there someone who is so knowledgeable in economics that he can plan and pilot our sustainable take-off, while simultaneously alleviating poverty and thereby pre-empting a social backlash?

The answer is obvious and it is yes, there is. Sajith Premadasa, educated at a British public school and the LSE, (specialising in economics) is certainly far better educated that Ranil Wickremesinghe or any of his supporters. He is almost certainly far more popular, both among the party members and voters and in the country. He has at least two drawbacks though. He lacks his father’s self-propelled drive and autonomy. As a teenager, Ranasinghe Premadasa organised the Sucharitha movement and as a junior politician he took on Dr NM Perera in Ruanwella at the 1956 elections (with the UNP on the way out) and lost by only a few thousand votes. As a politician in defeat he formed the Puravesi Peramuna and publicly demanded change in the party. He never awaited conferment of responsibility from the leadership but created space for himself, ‘seizing the time’. He liked the title of Jerry Rubin’s autobiography because it matched his innermost slogan: “DO IT!”

So, Sajith Premadasa can do it but will Sajith Premadasa DO IT? Does he have the drive to save his party and his country, which can match Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenacity to stay on as leader of his party? Does his motivation match and overcome that of Ranil? Sajith must also know that he cannot do it alone. At all stages, Ranasinghe Premadasa had a core of loyalists and lieutenants with him, and that was because he had given them enough reason to believe in him, and his drive to get to the top. “Every hurdle turned into a stepping stone as I reached it” he once mused to me.

In 1988, when Mr Premadasa was unsure that he would get UNP nomination, he was fully prepared to leave the party and contest at the head of a new formation, between the discredited elitist UNP and the Bandaranaikes’ SLFP. Is Sajith prepared to do the same? In the event, out of sheer need for survival, the UNP in 1988 reluctantly handed over the leadership to Ranasinghe Premadasa. Will it be ready today, and for the same reason, to hand over the reins to his son?

Through the Eastern Eyes III: Ninthavur

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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The photos taken by the youth in Ninthavur were displayed at today’s exhibition. The have highlighted the need to upgrade the facilities for the special need people in order to look after them well in Ninthavur. The photo voice team of Ninthavur has members from Muslim community. [click to see & read more]

April 24, 2010

Through the Eastern Eyes II: Kaaraitheevu

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

The youth of Karaitheevu have taken a new turn in their lives today.

They have had their maiden photo exhibition in their village. The 12 member Photo Voice team has undergone a professional training in Photo Journalism for one year, which was provided by Terre des hommes. The youth were trained professionally to handle still cameras, light, angles, composition, capture various moments, write caption and make a photo journal.

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[click to see and read more]

Through the Eastern eyes: Periyaneelaavanai

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

pn1tc.JPG

The youth of Periyaneelaavanai have taken a new turn in their lives today. They have had their maiden photo exhibition in their village. The 12 member Photo Voice team has undergone a professional training in Photo Journalism for one year, which was provided by Terre des hommes. [click to see and read more]

Pancha-Kalli (Gang of Five) led by Ranil is distancing the UNP away from Tamil people

President phones Mano says Praba Ganesan MP

UNP leader has distanced himself from Tamil people by not accommodating our party leader and the internationally recognized democratic Tamil voice Mano Ganesan in the national list of the UNF. This is the dirty work of the GANG-of-5 (Pancha Kalliya) of the UNP. Ranil Wickramasinghe, Karu Jayasooriya, Tissa Attanayake, Ravi Karunayake and Malik Samarawickrama are the members of this hopeless Gang-of-5.

This Pancha-Kalliya is ruining this grand old party by throwing away it’s own loyal members and steadfast minority allies. Even Rosy Senanayake MP who carries lot of respect from the Catholics and among the women and Mr. Muzambil, western provincial councilor and prime Muslim leader in UNP’s Colombo balamandalaya are affected by this Gang-of-5 said Democratic Peoples Front (DPF) National Organiser and Colombo district parliamentarian Praba Ganesan. Mr. Ganesan further said that,

President Rajapakse phoned our leader Mano Ganesan Friday morning and expressed his concern. There is no politics in this. Similarly DNA leaders Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Vijitha Herath, CWC leader Arumugan Thondaman and SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera have called him to express dismay on his omission from the national list. All the opposition leaders are shocked because they know our leader had been the vocal Tamil voice in the parliament for the last ten years. In addition he had been in the forefront of all the opposition campaigns.

Our leader contesting in Kandy district and this national list issue are two separate subjects. As one of the four founder parties of the UNF, we had one minimum slot in the national list. Now they talk about some rule preventing defeated candidates not given nomination. This is a rule for the UNP and not for UNF. Such a rule was never discussed at the UNF leaders council. That is why SLMC has nominated it’s defeated candidate in the Kalutara district Hon. Aslam in the national list. Minority parties cannot stick to such rules. And again UNP has nominated Hon (Mrs) Anoma Gamage as a national list MP. She is the wife of UNP’s defeated candidate in Amparai Mr. Daya Gamage. She will be giving way for Mr. Gamage soon. So who is fooling whom?

Our party fielded nine candidates in eight districts under the elephant symbol at the general elections. Altogether we have collected 100,741 votes in this low polled elections for UNP. This is more than what CWC has gained for the UPFA. CWC has gained about 85,000 votes in five districts and has obtained four seats in the parliament. This is the outcome of the present electoral system. Besides the votes and technicalities, Mr. Mano Ganesan is our party leader and a vice president of the UNF, the facts which UNP leader failed take note. We hold him responsible for this blunder.

This Gang-of 5 of the UNP can never dump us. But they are dumping UNP. The grand old party will be history if not checked by the true UNPers. Ranil Wickramasinghe has given into bad advice of his gang members. But he cannot escape. As the leader history will hold him responsible for all the blunders under him. He has by his own act due to bad advice, distanced himself from the Tamil people by blocking the internationally recognized Tamil voice of our leader Mano Ganesan in the 7th parliament. He will pay the political price for this. We will never allow any more Tamil vote going to UNP as long as this Gang commands the UNP. We have already going to Colombo streets. We are democratic fighters. This gang will soon realize that they have touched the wrong end of the live wire. They will learn soon in Colombo’s North, Central, East, West and Borella and Dehiwela electorates. Then all parts of the country where Tamils live. It is only the beginning of end of the Gang. Ranil during the presidential elections, used the words ‘PODAA MAHINDA! PODAA BASIL!’ (PALAYANDO MAHINDA! PALAYANDO BASIL!) at all the north eastern campaign stages. Even he said this at Hatton and Nuwara Eliya. Well, that is all parts of the political campaign. But now it is time for the Tamil people to tell Ranil ‘PODAA RANIL! PODAA RANIL! PODAA POO!’. (PALAYANDO RANIL! PALAYANDO RANIL! PALANYANDO, PALAYAN!)

We are not in anyway jumping to join the government. There is lot of speculations in the media. It is not all correct. The government is prettily sitting with a very safe majority. Even within the government, the SLFP alone has the single majority. So today what president Mahinda Rajapakse needs is not Quantity but Quality. We will live to witness the future course of action.

(Text of Press release issued by the Democratic Peoples Front)

Mano Ganesan speaks out on the national list MP dispute in the UNF

Q. Can we say that you brought all this upon yourself by contesting from the Kandy district? You tried to capture more territory in Kandy and now your brother who contested from the Colombo district is in but you are out. You are responsible for your own plight.

Mano Ganesan. Kandy has not had a Tamil MP since the year 2000. At the 2004 parliamentary election, of the 12 MPs in the Kandy district, three were Muslim and nine were Sinhalese.

There are about 85 to 90,000 Tamil voters in the Kandy district. At every election Tamil voters and Tamil candidates had to face violence. Tamil voters are prevented from going to the polling booth, thugs come to their homes before election day and threaten them. Tamil candidates too are threatened and they are not allowed to conduct their election campaigns freely. I wanted to change this and bring these injustices to the notice of the nation. I too made a contribution to getting a re-poll for the Nawalapitiya electorate. I think getting a Tamil MP elected from the Kandy district is also a reasonable expectation for a Tamil political party to have.

Q. Because you wanted to contest from Kandy, Tissa Attanayake got pushed out and had to go on the national list. Because the number of seats the UNP would get was going to be limited, Attanayake was crowded out. In that scenario, is it reasonable for you to expect a national list slot from the UNP?

A. It was not because of me that Tissa Attanayake had to go to the national list, it’s because Mr Rauff Hakeem came to Kandy. Just because alliance partners like us want to contest from the Kandy district, that doesn’t mean that Tissa Attanayake needs to go away. That is his decision and his party’s decision. I can’t take responsibility for that. On the other hand, this is the UNF, not the UNP - even though we contested under the UNP’s elephant symbol. At every meeting and press conference, the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe spoke only of the UNF, not the UNP. So the UNP can’t claim exclusive rights to candidacy from the districts, nor can they claim all the national list seats.

Q. You have decided to split from the UNP over the national list problem. A national list seat is an administrative matter, whereas the UNF was formed on a matter of principle. What happens to those principles now?

A. It is the UNP that has breached the trust and destroyed the principles on which we got together. The UNP got nine slots on the national list. The general agreement was five for the UNP, four for other alliance partners divided as two for the SLMC, one for our party the DPF and one for the SLFP(M). That was the understanding. Now they have given only two to the SLMC and dropped the DPF and SLFP(M). We have to look at this politically. Look at the contribution that I have made over the past so many years. I have been a loyal ally of the UNP for the past ten years. Rauff Hakeem went to the government and came back, even the UNP deputy leader Mr Karu Jayasuriya went to the government and came back. But I have not done that. Then if you take the activities of the combined opposition, has there been any protest march or demonstration or media conference without Mano Ganesan? I went to Kandy with a mission. A leader should bring the plight of his people to the notice of the nation. The Tamil people of the Kandy district did not come out in their numbers to vote at this election. But this is the first time. The next time they will come out and vote. Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe should have taken the big picture into account and accommodated me on the national list.

Q. The UNP is the more minority-friendly of the two major parties. So how practical is it for you to split from the UNP? Can you see eye to eye with the government?

A. Seeing eye to eye with the government is one thing and splitting from the UNP is another thing. I don’t want to mix the two together. The UNP is slowly but steadily breaking up under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Ranil Wickremesinghe is being influenced by people like Ravi Karunanayake. The Colombo city has five electorates and also the Dehiwala electorate where Tamil people live in sizable numbers. Ravi Karunanayake was chased away from Kotte and he has become the Colombo-North organizer. He wants to consolidate himself in the Colombo city and the district and through that, claim a leadership level role in the UNP. I know his plan. Anybody can have ambitions but not at the cost of others. Ranil Wickremesinghe has listened to Ravi Karunanayake and he has forgotten everybody else. As a leader Ranil should have taken into account loyalty and the contribution made by people. What has been done to me is a betrayal of trust not just against an individual but the entire Tamil community.

Q. There was a common decision made that no defeated candidate will be appointed. So how can the rule be bent in your case?

A. Firstly, no such decision was made at the UNF party leader’s meeting. It may be a UNP decision, but such rules are not applicable to us. As a minority party, we have a very specific role to play, and who we appoint on the national list should be left to us. The SLMC has nominated a defeated candidate as a UNP national list MP. As for the UNP itself, who is Anoma Gamage? She is the wife of Daya Gamage the defeated candidate of the Digamadulla district. In a couple of weeks time, she will resign and Daya Gamage will be appointed in her place.

Q. Daya Gamage’s appointment will be in accordance with an agreement arrived at before the election. You had no such agreement with the UNP.

A. If Daya Gamage, a member of a party can have such an agreement with the leader of his own party, that becomes a joke. Gamage is a member of the UNP. In any case, my contribution to the UNP has been much more significant than that of Daya Gamage.

Q. Let’s look at the practicalities of this. You have always been elected on the UNP list. Can you survive on your own? You are elected on the UNP Tamil vote. So without the UNP, where would you stand?

A. I can always survive without the UNP. As a party I have been surviving all these years. At times I have contested separately. People are talking about the injustice done to me. I’m getting thousands of calls. People are coming to meet me in my office. Some come in tears. I have been the genuine honest Tamil voice in parliament for the past so many years. Now that voice has been blocked by a single act of Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe. When Tamil people were being picked up in white vans and arrested en masse, it was I who took to the streets. I took these events to the international arena also. When my security was threatened, the UN took up the matter with the government on two occasions. I am an internationally recognized person. Ranil Wickremesinghe of all people should be aware of the contribution I have made. But see what he has done to me – it’s a disgrace. ~ courtesy: The Island ~

April 23, 2010

Decline of Tamil representation outside the North and East

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Whenever demands or proposals are put forward to devolve more powers so that the Tamil and Muslim people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces could have a greater role in administering their areas of historic habitation one of the standard responses is to point out that more Tamils and Muslims live outside those two provinces.

It is also an incontrovertible fact that the greater part of Tamils of recent Indian origin described generally as Up Country Tamils or Plantation Tamils or Hill Country Tamils reside in the seven Sinhala majority provinces. [click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

April 22, 2010

Don’t forget healthcare services in east

by IRIN News

Healthcare services in Sri Lanka's conflict-affected east should not be forgotten as humanitarian agencies focus their efforts on rebuilding the country's north, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Outside Nilaveli divisional hospital in eastern Sri Lanka-pic: Udara Soysa/IRIN

Since the end of the civil war in May 2009, agencies have concentrated on assisting hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Vanni, an area comprising a number of northern districts.

“With the international community focused on the rehabilitation of the Vanni area in the north, support needed for the rehabilitation work in the east will remain difficult,” Edwin Salvador, WHO’s technical officer for emergency humanitarian action, told IRIN.

“As programmes to rebuild public infrastructure, food security and livelihoods have been prioritized ahead of health in the east, delivery of essential services to the people will remain a big challenge,” he added.

Sri Lanka’s war was based on demands by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the country’s north and east.

The Eastern Province was retaken by government troops from the LTTE in July 2007, with more than 200,000 displaced people returning after the conflict, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Recovery and development measures were announced for the area, which suffered heavy damage during the conflict.

But Salvador said shifting funding priorities and a lack of human resources were undermining efforts to provide health care for scattered communities of resettled people.

“International NGO partners, including health partners that had played an important part during the emergency phase during the eastern conflict, have been forced to abandon the east and concentrate on the north due to funding constraints or due to lack of development work experience,” said Salvador.

According to WHO, of the numerous health-related international NGOs initially operating in the east, only the Comité d’Aide Médicale (CAM) remains. It provides mobile medical clinics for resettled communities and support for government mental health programmes.

More rehabilitation needed

Provincial and central health authorities are trying to repair damaged health facilities but only have limited funds to do so, WHO says.

Health facilities, especially those outside major towns, suffered collateral damage during decades of fighting in the east.

“Rehabilitation of damaged health facilities in the east has taken place at a slow pace. This has resulted in [the] resettlement population needing to travel long distances in order to access health services,” said Salvador.

“Mobile clinics and outreach services are in place to provide primary health care services but due to the many [small resettlement areas], it has been difficult to reach all of them through mobile clinics,” he said.

Finding enough health workers to service communities is also a challenge.

“There are also many health posts that remained vacant in the health systems. As a result, doctors and nurses are required to rotate amongst the different health facilities,” he said.

Ranil Wickremasinghe makes a mess of national list MP appointments

by C.A.Chandraprema

The National List appointments of the UPFA and the UNP are known, and as we pointed out on an earlier occasion, what really was worth observing was not how the government appointed its National List MPs but how the UNP did it.

The former UNP Galle District Leader Vajira Abeywardene was not appointed to Parliament. The party leader had invoked a two decades old Working Committee decision taken during the time of president Premadasa to the effect that defeated candidates at the 1989 parliamentary election were not eligible for appointment on the National List.

Now Vajira was until his unexpected defeat, one of Wickremesinghe's close supporters. If one of president Premadasa's close supporters had been left out unexpectedly at the hustings, one can be sure that Premadasa would have bent the rule to accommodate his man. Premadasa was known for looking after his personal coterie of supporters. And if there was someone who had defended Premadasa within the party in quite the same way that Vajira protected Ranil, then Premadasa would definitely have helped him and given him a second chance. What we saw less than 48 hours ago, was probably the worst act of ingratitude since political parties made their first appearance in Sri Lanka.

In late 2006 or early 2007, when one of the successive leadership crises in the UNP was at its height, with Karu Jayasuriya and a powerful section of the UNP calling for a change in leadership, a rumour went around to the effect that Vajira Abeywardene had threatened to pull down Karu Jayasuriya's trousers, if he came to Wickremesinghe's Cambridge Place office. After that Jayasuriya declined to attend negotiations at Cambridge Place. There is no confirmation that Vajra actually said anything of the sort but it was a story doing the rounds at that time. Vajira was the individual the UNP reformists disliked most next to Wickremesinghe himself, and had the reformists won, that would have ended Vajira's political career. Vajira is not a type inclined to violence, so one has some doubts whether he actually said anything of the sort. But one thing that is clear is that in his individual capacity Vajira is not an abrasive type and he would not have threatened to pull down anyone's trousers for any personal reason of his. Even this rumour was because of his fervent loyalty to his leader - which made his opponents willing to believe the worst about him.

After what has happened with regard to the UNP National List, there's no doubt that he who has finally been left on the road without his trousers is not Karu Jayasuriya but Vajira!

Vajira is in a bind. Because of the all out manner in which he defended Ranil Wickremesinghe in the past, he can't go against the latter now because of a personal let down. In the future, Vajira can't continue to defend Ranil either because of what has been done to him. When politicians defend their leaders, they do so while declaring publicly, that they are not doing this in expectation of any privileges and that this is a matter of principle only. It's up to the leader to look after those who look after his interests despite the protestations of disinterestedness made in public by the latter. However, in Wickremesinghe's case the traffic goes only one way - you can be as loyal to him as you like, but he will not look after you when you are down.

One option left for Vajira is perhaps to start his own political party. In any case, as I pointed out on an earlier occasion, Vajira's goose was cooked even before the election. If you cross Malik Samarawickrema's path, you are done for, and Vajira made that cardinal mistake. At one Political Affairs committee meeting, in an argument about party policy in relation to addressing the rural constituency, Vajira pitched into Samarawickrema telling him, "Thamuse thamai danne, tamuse oi, karala karala, me pakse iwara karala thiyenne, ithuru tikath iwara karanne nethuwa yanawa yanna." ( which can loosely be translated as - "You think you know. You have brought the party to the brink of destruction, just get out without ruining what's left of it.") And this was in front of the entire Political Affairs Committee.

Could Vajira really not have been accommodated on the UNP National List? Two of the nine seats had to be given to the SLMC, and Tissa Attanayake the Party General Secretary and its Chief Whip Joseph Michael Perera had to be accommodated. Anoma Gamage, the wife of Digamadulla UNP District leader Daya Gamage had to be accommodated because of a pre-election agreement. That accounts for five seats. The other four appointments are of questionable utility. The appointment of D. M. Swaminathan is the most useful of the four appointments of questionable utility. It's important to have the Jaffna Tamil population resident in Colombo represented within the UNP. However the problem is that Swaminathan is not a T. Maheswaran and while he may be useful as a decoration for the Jaffna Tamils to see, whether he will be politically useful to the UNP is seriously in doubt. If it is to mark your presence within the UNP as a Jaffna Tamil, the post of Party Treasurer was prominent enough. If you are present, but nobody notices your presence you might as well be not there. Then if you take R.Yogarajan, who has been appointed to represent the Indian Tamils, he has never won a parliamentary election in the Colombo District and he has made it to parliament only through appointment. In 1994, both Yogarajan and P. Dewaraj made it to parliament because Ossie Abeygunasekera and Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi were killed in the Thotalanga bomb blast.

Contrast that with Mano Ganesan, who is also an Indian Tamil and has consistently won in the Colombo District. He came into parliament in 2001 and won again in 2004 and at this month's parliamentary election his nominee has won in the Colombo District even though Mano himself lost in the Kandy District. If not for that ill-advised move, he would have been in parliament this time as well. The question is: Does Yogarajan have any Indian Tamil votes in Colombo that Mano Ganesan's party has not already brought into the UNP? I do not think so. By appointing Yogarajan, what the UNP is doing is to unnecessarily create competition for Ganesan's party which is the side that can deliver. They can't be very pleased about Yogarajan's entry through the back door. Then there is the appointment of Eran Wickremeratna, the former Chairman of the NDB. As was said by this columnist, Wikremeratne had to resign from his job at the NDB because his name was on the UNP National List. Had he not been appointed, he would have fallen between two stools and no private sector person would ever put their name on the UNP National List after that. While that is true, the point is why was Eran on the National List at all? Given the state the UNP is in, they need people who can make a political contribution.

The political contribution that people like Wickremaratne can make is minimal. Organising businesspeople for the UNP is not a useful exercise because this is a natural constituency of the UNP and there is no need to clog the National List with business sector figures, especially at a time like this when the party is literally gasping for breath. Dr. Harsha de Silva was playing a much more important role than Wickremaratne in that he is carrying out the propaganda that the UPFA is failing on the economic front, but the question is whether it is necessary for him to sit in parliament to carry out this role. Why was he on the National List at all? Once you put a propagandist on the National List, he has to be appointed or he loses face and will not be able to carry out his propagandist role effectively. In fact, the very act of making him a UNP parliamentarian vitiates his usefulness for the party because now he will speak on the economy as an obviously partisan UNP parliamentarian. Such individuals would have been able to play their role better as advisors to the party and not parliamentarians.

The point is that any one of the four appointments mentioned last could have been dispensed with, with little or no political fallout, in order to make room for Vajira to come into parliament. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who appointed a reporter called Dinesh Dodangoda as a UNP National List MP, against all opposition, has failed to appoint his most loyal supporter to parliament! Even Tilak Marapone has been left out this time probably due to the fear that Marapone who is very close to Vajira, would offer to resign his parliamentary seat in favour of the latter.

So the creed of the UNP leader seems to be this: If your most loyal colleague is down, kick him in the teeth!

April elections marked a new beginning for ordinary people of post-conflict zones in North and East

By Darini Rajasingham Senanayake

On April 12, 2010 the majority of citizens of Sri Lanka’s main linguistic communities celebrated the “Sinhala and Tamil New Year”, and the categorical end of war and terrorism with considerable optimism despite lack of a clear political solution to the ‘ethnic conflict’.

The New Year, the first since the end of the State’s 30 year war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), happened a week after parliamentary elections that returned the ruling coalition to power. President Rajapaksa, who in January had already won the Presidential elections for another six year term, noted that the New Year brought into focus shared culture and kinship ties between the Sinhala and Tamil speaking communities in the island.

There was little talk of ‘human rights violations’ or ‘war crimes’ or the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s plan to set up an Advisory Council on Sri Lanka. Members of the international community congratulated the regime and seemed circumspect with regard to questions of reconciliation, reconstruction and the detritus of 30 years of war in Lanka.

The outcome of the April general election makes clear that Sri Lanka would be evolving its own model of post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation to address the causes of conflict -- with the help mainly of Asian neighbours and donors, principally, India and China, which tend to be less demanding than western donors on the human rights front.

The ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was returned to power with a comfortable majority in the face of a divided and lacklustre opposition, whose leader Ranil Wickramasinghe would now be required to consider exit strategies if the United National Party (UNP), historically the country’s oldest and most inclusive political party which has been dealt a stunning defeat, is to pose a challenge to the hegemony of the emergent Rajapaksa dynasty. Rajapaka has consolidated power with a hat trick of three victories if one counts the defeat of the LTTE, the victory at the Presidential elections and the parliamentary elections, and is in a position to work out an equitable solution to the ethnic conflict unencumbered by ultra-nationalist coalition partners that he had to rely on in his first term.

The April elections marked a new beginning for the people in the post-conflict zones of the north and east, who had been prevented from participating in previous elections by the LTTE. They were able to exercise their vote freely and they voted for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA/ITAK), formally the political face of the LTTE. However, Douglas Devanandan, an ally of the ruling UPFA alliance, and former militant of PLOTE (Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam), was able to secure almost a third of the votes in the north.

Also noteworthy at the recently concluded elections was the defeat of the ultra-nationalist and Sinhala majoritarian Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led Democratic National Front (DNF) coalition headed by the jailed former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka (who nevertheless won a seat), signalling that the majority of the southern population are not impressed by extremism. With a clear majority Rajapaksa will be able to bring down the number of cabinet members and work with the TNA which has promised to cooperate with him in finding an equitable solution for the minority question within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.

It is fairly well established that once an insurgent or terrorist group is destroyed, if the underlying or “root causes” of identity or resource conflicts are not properly addressed, insurgents may regroup and return years or decades later to challenge the State. The Colombo regime’s preferred solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka clearly privileges an economic model – rapid development and reconstruction of the conflict affected region – over a political solution, along the lines of the authoritarian democracy visible in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, where the state’s emphasis on economic development has trumped and muted ethno-religious identity conflicts.

This approach just may work in the medium term, until a comprehensive plan for devolution of power to the north-east regions is worked out. This is especially so since often conflicts that have their roots in poverty or economic marginalization by the modern nation-state tend to be articulated in terms of ethno-religious identity conflicts. In other words, ethnic conflicts tend to have a resource base, and there is a need to de-ethnicize conflict analysis in order to identify and address the root causes of identity conflict.

Ordinary people in the former conflict zones are tired of conflict and simply want to get back to their homes and rebuild their lives and livelihoods at this time. In the medium term the following conflict transformation challenges are apparent:

1. Demilitarizing democracy and governance and actual implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution in the post-conflict northeast region. This requires restoration of development and reconstruction decision making, planning and policy making to civilian administrative structures in the north and east, and enabling de-centralization of decision making at the provincial and district levels.

2. Divesture of the High security zones to enable internally displaced people (IDPs) to return and settle in their villages as well as the disarming of Tamil paramilitary groups in the north east now that the LTTE threat no longer exists is necessary.

3. Dealing with the Tamil Diaspora since Diasporas often tend to be far more intransigent and unwilling to compromise than those who remain in the country and remain conscious of co-existence and of the fact that their histories are intertwined with the island’s other ethno-religious communities.

4. Doing development right and balancing a political solution for the minorities with economic development for all will require demonstrating that a win-win solution is possible, and that the progress and development of the Tamil and Muslim minorities need not be a loss for the majority community.

5. International aid donors will need to co-ordinate and target their assistance to maximize assistance to the people while maximizing accountability of the State. In this context the EU may wish to revisit its decision to revoke GSP Plus concessions that would hurt the business community and poor women in the garment sector, while IMF would need to get right its aid conditionality for loan disbursement, if at all, to the government.

COURTESY: Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses

April 21, 2010

Tweeting the torrid weather in Sri Lanka

A tweets trove experiencing the prevailing hotter than normal temperatures in Sri Lanka:

Breezy night thunderstorm in #SriLanka Sky tinged with city light 's orange Agitated coconut trees backlit by lightning Air is cool for once @Brysonhull

Sun is shining directly above Sri Lanka. The heat is on! @Sulo_Peiris

Sri Lanka heat: Literally drenched in sweat even at 10:30 pm outside. When will this heat end? @AnuradhaKHerath

There is something very romantic about Tea estates and rain :) @dinidu

Rain, Thunder, Lightning, Heat, Humidity : experiencing all at once in #Colombo - who says Icelandic volcano is the worst? @mhmhisham

Extremely hot weather during the first show and heavy downpour during the second show.

Devotees throng the temples in large numbers despite the continuous rain & wet weather.They are dressed up in their new clothes & jeweleries. @Dushiyanthini

Why Ranil must stay as UNP leader until Rajapaksa regime runs its course

By C. A. Chandraprema

The UNP is now a party known more for leadership struggles than for anything else. There have been leadership struggles after the 1999 presidential elections, the 2000 parliamentary election, the 2004 parliamentary election, and the 2005 presidential election.

After the presidential elections, in January this year, what most people felt was that there would not be a leadership struggle within the UNP this time, because the UNP leader was not a candidate, and therefore neither he nor the party was defeated. Besides, the most important fact was that Ranil Wickremesinghe showed the world that despite what anybody might say, he still holds the record for getting a higher number of votes as a UNP presidential candidate.

Even though everybody thought Sarath Fonseka, the swashbuckling war hero was a far more formidable candidate than Wickremesinghe, he never got anywhere near the number of votes both in absolute terms and proportion-wise that Wickremesinghe got in 2005. (It may be appropriate to point out that from the beginning of the presidential campaign, the present writer consistently held that Fonseka would not get the number of votes that RW got.)

Fielding Fonseka as the common opposition candidate was also not an arbitrary, decision that Wickremesinghe made. The UNP working committee also wanted Fonseka to contest because they thought Fonseka had a better chance of winning. Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, the UNP chairman came before the working committee and famously declared that 99% of his constituents wanted Fonseka as the presidential candidate (and not by implication Ranil Wickremesinghe). Thus fielding Fonseka was one of the few collective decisions taken by the UNP in recent times. Those who were against Fonseka’s candidacy could easily have declared their opposition to Fonseka at the working committee and in fact a few, like S.B.Dissanayake, Johnston Fernando, Indika Bandaranayake and Asath Sally did.

There were also others like Vajira Abeywardene who were not in favour of fielding Fonseka as the common opposition candidate, but went along with the majority decision. Since this was not a case of opposing the party leader, nobody need have feared repercussions, and they could have spoken freely against fielding Fonseka, but many genuinely believed that this was the correct political decision.

Therefore, the fallout of that decision has to be shared collectively by the party and it can’t really be foisted on Wickremesinghe alone. The fallout of that decision extends to the recently concluded parliamentary election as well, and given the poor showing of the joint opposition at the presidential election, the debacle at the parliamentary election was a foregone conclusion. I didn’t think that anybody would try to foist the blame for the presidential and parliamentary defeats on Wickremesinghe, because both stem from a wrong decision taken collectively by the party.

However, quite unexpectedly there are rumblings within the UNP again. One would have thought that after it was proved that Wickremesinghe is still by far the most popular politician in the opposition, that he would have a smooth and uneventful six years as opposition leader without any challenges to his leadership. But that’s not what seems to be happening. It would appear that rather than pinning specific blame on Wickremesinghe for the recent defeats, what is now being assessed is his overall performance as leader of the party.

In that of course, Wickremesinghe does have much to answer for. He, and he, alone is responsible for driving the UNP to the ground. If Wickremesinghe decides to give up the leadership of the UNP of his own accord and go, nobody should ask him to stay. If the UNP is to get out of the rut it’s in, there will have to be a leadership change. The question however is whether Wickremesinghe should be pushed out at this stage. There are suggestions from the JVP that Sarath Fonseka should be made the opposition leader instead of Wickremesinghe. For the anti-government types, that would indeed seem a very attractive proposition because by any yardstick, Fonseka is more anti-government than Wickremesinghe. However, Fonseka is a military man not schooled in the ways of democracy and the hate and spite he brought into politics should never be allowed to flourish.

It should be noted that Wickremesinghe, despite all his shortcomings and failures, is not a raving madman. He has held power in this country in his own right only for less than 30 months. One of the things that he demonstrated during this relatively brief period is that he could not govern or run a country – it’s beyond his capacity. The other thing that he proved is that he is a democrat (outside the party at least). Despite all the very personal harassment that Wickremesinghe had to face during the first seven years of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s rule, to his eternal credit, he did not resort to reprisals when power finally fell into his own hands. Any other person would have been tempted to settle scores. In that he behaved like a true democrat. There is of course the issue that he uses to clings on to the UNP leadership, buttressing his position through constitutional tinkering.

This may make many people wonder whether he would not be a danger to democracy if presidential power ever fell into his hands. Some even say that he will be worse than the most authoritarian presidents we have had. However I personally feel that as a president, he would be manipulative and would not hesitate to work the constitution and the legal system to his maximum benefit, but he would not endanger the lives and liberty of his opponents. I might also add that even though the JVP wants UNP parliamentarians to appoint Fonseka as the opposition leader, that will not happen because UNP parliamentarians especially are well aware of what Fonseka would have done had he managed to capture power. Most UNPers that I know were actually relieved that Fonseka lost. So it’s very unlikely that these same people will make Fonseka the leader of the opposition. Even among ordinary UNP voters, only a fraction of them appear to have switched sides and voted for Fonseka. By and large the UNP voters stuck to the party rather than any particular individual. The MPs can be expected to do the same in parliament.

One important reason why Ranil Wickremesinghe should be allowed to stay on is of course for him to taste the fruits of his own handiwork. During the past fifteen years or more, Wickremesinghe has been responsible for weakening the UNP to the extent where the grand old party is now but a shadow of its former self. It’s hard to imagine that this was a party which once had the likes of J.R.Jayawardene, Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and Athulathmudali within its ranks. Since Wickremesinghe took over, people have been falling away from the party in their thousands with nobody joining it. This is all Wickremesinghe’s handiwork and he should be made to face the consequences of his action or inaction. There is also the external situation to take into account.

The Rajapakse government is arguably the most genuinely popular and powerful government that we have ever had since independence. Their popularity has only just peaked. If they play their cards well, the UPFA may remain at this peak for some time. In any case, the benefits of the development projects started by them will begin to come in only within the next two to three years and we may be looking at a government which will remain popular and entrenched in power for a considerable period of time.
It may well be the case that even if there is a change in the UNP leadership, the new leader of the UNP may not be able to reverse the trend in the short term.

The experience of the Australian Labour Party and the British Conservative Party would indicate that when a party in the opposition is confronted with a very powerful government, there may have to be more than one leadership change before the party is able to stage a come back. What happens is that when the defeated leader steps down and is replaced by another, the replacement will have to face the full force of the government’s popularity, and when he too fails to produce results, there’ll be calls for a change.

What experience shows is that he who takes over a party that has just been defeated while the other side is still popular, stands little chance of victory in the short term. However, he who becomes opposition leader when the government is on a downward trend stands to gain. We have our own example where Chandrika Kumaratunga came in when the UNP was disunited and weak and she was swept into power.

In Australia too, Kevin Rudd became leader of the opposition when the John Howard government was waning in popularity. The UNP can’t afford to run through leaders one after the other until the lucky last comes in when the government is unpopular – the party can’t afford to sacrifice the few people with talent left in a game of political musical chairs. All that the UNP can reasonably afford is just one change of leadership and the party should be able to capture power under that new leader.

What this means is that it would be better for Wickremesinghe to remain until the Rajapakse government runs its course and the time is right for change. It may be unwise to artificially speed up the process of change, because it will be better for the new leader to be a fresh, undefeated, non-discredited, face when government’s popularity is on the wane and the time comes for regime change.

Was KP Planning to Rescue Prabhakaran via Submarine and Helicopter?

By Upul Joseph Fernando

The Indian Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) which is investigating the possible conspiracy behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi has recently informed that it has need to investigate KP, the former leader of the Tamil Tiger International chain presently under detention in Sri Lanka.

Prior to this, India’s RAW (Reasearch and Analysis Wing- intelligence service) came to Sri Lanka and questioned KP. The latter however during the investigation denied having any involvement in the Gandhi assassination while citing evidence. But, the RAW had not accepted KP’s denial in full, and registered strong protests against some of his statements, sources say.

Now, India’s MDMA has informed Sri Lankan authorities that it has to interrogate KP in the midst of the emergence of two divergent views within the Sri Lankan Terrorist Investigation UNit regarding the action to be instituted against KP: One view favours filing of legal action against KP and producing him before the Court.

The other view is, KP shall be released.

The protagonists of the latter view argue, as KP formed the Tamil Tiger Diaspora for the war, so he should be given the opportunity to induce the Diaspora to come to the path to peace, and their mentality can be changed only by KP.

It is reported that KP has advanced many proposals in regard to roping in the Tamil Tiger Diaspora to the path to peace.

He has advanced these proposals after having discussions with certain representatives of the Tamil political parties in the North- East and those of the Tamil Diaspora.

Moreover, representatives of some Tamil political parties had met KP on several occasions, and the latter is in communication with the Tamil Diaspora too over the phone.

It is learnt that he has put forward proposals for the development of the North –East provinces via the investments of the Tamil Diaspora.

The Government. however has still not decided on the course of action in respect of KP. The Government. entertains apprehensions that KP is not entirely trustworthy and is possibly trying to exploit this opportunity to join hands with the Tamil Tiger Diaspora again.

Incidentally , the popular story that the Tamil Tiger Diaspora which opposed the appointment of KP as the Tamil Tiger leader, gave the tip-off for the arrest of KP is a myth and not the truth. That was a story invented to sow disaffection among the Diaspora.

The Government planned to arrest KP even while Prabhakaran was living. The reason for this is the Government’s perception that KP was seeking to rescue Prabhakaran, and therefore the former should be destroyed before that.

The Government became aware only after the arrest of KP that the latter had planned to dig a tunnel under the sea in order to dispatch Prabhakaran via a Submarine. Prabhakaran was to be fetched to a ship where a helicopter was to land and take off whisking away Prabhakaran.

During the final phase of the war , although the Government tried to arrest KP, that proved futile.

Later, the Govt. succeeded because of KP’s indiscretions and his conduct in neglect of personal security, and it was not because of the Tamil Tiger Diaspora conflicts.

Although there was a proposition during the period of the last Presidential election to release KP and allow him to participate in politics in the North and East , the Govt. was in two minds based on its fear for KP on the one hand and its inclination to release him on the other.

The Indian Intelligence service sees the release of KP in a different light. It is apparent that they are in disfavour of the release of K.P. It is on this account the MDMA has intimated that it requires to question KP while India’s RAW secret service has already once earlier, interrogated him in connection with the Rajiv Gandhi murder.

There are also reports that they are desirous of delving into KP’s Bank accounts. India’s CBI in 2002 had gone to New Zealand and Germany to investigate the Bank account details of KP in those countries, reports say.

Indeed,the CBI has had correspondence and exchanged documents with 23 countries in an effort to get details in connection with KP’s Bank accounts.

The RAW secret service while interrogating KP was only investigating his involvement in the Gandhi murder. Yet , the MDMA is of the view that there could have been a conspiracy behind the Gandhi murder , and KP has to be questioned in that angle.

This conspiracy claim can imply an International conspiracy. Their objective is to investigate deeper as to whether KP was implicated, because at that time he was in charge of the Tamil Tiger Diaspora International chain. COURTESY:DAILY MIRROR

Mervyn Silva more popular among a certain demographic than a lot of other politicians

by Kath Noble

The mood in Colombo since the election has been quiet verging on apathetic. We knew who was going to win, and we had a good idea of by how much. Whether or not we were happy about it, there was nothing very surprising in what happened on April 8th.Except for Mervyn Silva.

Many of us had been salivating at the prospect of this man - best known for his foul mouth and thuggish behaviour - getting ejected from Parliament. And for good reason. He isn’t the kind of person I would like to represent me or my country, and plenty of Sri Lankans agree. Legislatures need honest, intelligent and compassionate people to function. This man will never qualify, however many doctorates he picks up.

But it didn’t happen. In fact, Mervyn Silva did more than win. He came third out of 12 elected from the UPFA list in his district.

How could the voters of Gampaha have given him more than 150,000 preferences? He was beaten only by the Rajapaksa family’s record-breaking campaigner Basil and Sudarshini, widow of the popular martyr Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. Even a high-profile monk like Athuraliye Rathana Thero couldn’t beat Mervyn Silva, while former minister Felix Perera fared still worse with only 70,000 preferences. Why?

His fellow politicians were almost as disturbed as the chattering classes.

From complaining that the presence of such a man in Parliament demonstrated the problems of allowing parties to appoint members via a National List, as some were until April, people have now switched to being upset about the idea of Preferential Voting. Voters can’t be trusted to select MPs either, it seems. I’m not sure who that leaves. And if Sri Lanka goes back to a kind of First Past the Post system with Single Member Constituencies, they will be moaning again, because he can get elected that way too.

Mervyn Silva is simply more popular than a lot of other politicians, at least among a certain demographic.

I am talking about people who drive buses and three-wheelers, work in the local kade, sweat in the hot sun on building sites and run around cleaning up the mess the rest of us leave behind. The poor. Those who have come to expect very little from democracy. They back him, and apparently in large numbers. Maybe only because his version of campaigning involves nothing more sophisticated than bellowing ‘I am with you!’ and handing out some of his mysteriously-acquired fortune, but why not? At least he bothers to address these people. Even if he didn’t lift a finger to help them after getting elected, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

Politicians - prone as they are to leap to wrong conclusions - are bound to think of refocusing their efforts on things like increasing the supply of arrack in their areas during an election, seeing his success. They may even decide that what people really appreciate is having goons unleashed on them.

But they would be missing the point.

There are roughly three million people in Sri Lanka who live below the Official Poverty Line, according to the Department of Census and Statistics. This means that their annual expenditure doesn’t exceed Rs. 27,000.Think about it.

Many others scrape by on not a lot more. These people might spend Rs. 3,000 monthly. Hundreds of thousands of them in every district. But what do politicians care about their problems? It would be difficult to tell from their campaigns, as a rule.Especially in the Western Province.

The Government often trumpets its success in more than doubling the per capita income and says it will turn Sri Lanka into a Middle Income Country before the end of its term. People are told to dream of living in the ‘Wonder of Asia’. It is beautiful rhetoric, harking back to the glory days of kings like Parakramabahu and promising to build a modern version of his empire. Growth will be maintained at over 8%, it is claimed. Meanwhile, much is made of statements like that of The Economist magazine predicting that Sri Lanka will be one of the top successes of the decade in this region, financially speaking.

Even if it happens, many of the people I am talking about won’t notice the difference. They will only see that some others are benefiting.

Politicians are actually far more interested in making the poor disappear than they are in improving their standard of living. Take the recent call for beggars to be prohibited from entering buses and trains, for example, and efforts to remove hawkers from key locations in Kandy and Colombo. Who are these decisions going to help? The disturbance they cause to most of us is pretty insignificant.

Those whose incomes are increasing will feel less guilty, but that’s it.

Only a few officials admit that there is more to life than we are led to believe in the Mahinda Chintana, and only on rare occasions. I was happy, therefore, to read the remarks of P. B. Jayasundera at the launch of the Central Bank’s Annual Report for 2009. He admitted that striving to increase the Gross Domestic Product was essentially meaningless if inequality continued to rise. Of course. But I can’t remember the last time I heard anything so sensible from either the Opposition or those in power.

During the election, talk about poverty was no better informed than usual.

I didn’t go to any campaign events or listen to many speeches or debates on the television, or read their advertisements. Like a lot of people, I decided that it would be a waste of time. Most politicians are too busy shouting about who is the most patriotic - according to their terribly warped idea of what that means - to find time to discuss something important.

Ministers appeared to think that their main activity should be fear-mongering about implausible conspiracies dreamt up in the West.

Their priorities were further exposed when it came to pretending to be interested in things for the sake of winning votes. And the demographic referred to above hardly figured.

Champika Ranawaka was one of the politicians whose campaign attracted a lot of media interest in Colombo. But what for? He appeared to spend most of his time claiming to promote eco-friendly transport by - of all things - riding bicycles and launching a hot-air balloon. When his sycophants weren’t filling the newspaper pages and airwaves with reminders about his not having put up any posters, as if that were the most important consideration. His supporters will probably be used to such nonsense, of course, as that party’s hot-air balloons regularly transport people to other worlds. But they surely wouldn’t be seen dead on a bicycle, even for sport. It is only those they ignore who have to use them for want of a more comfortable option.

This is what gets drug dealers into Parliament, I suggest. Although I must say their views on some of the more pressing issues facing the country in the current context may prove to be less offensive.

And don’t let anybody argue that it’s all about money without giving a full accounting of the election. The soundly-defeated former minister Rohitha Bogollagama isn’t known for being a spendthrift, now is he? And he ended up with a pathetic 45,000 preferences. It won’t have been his money this time either.

Coming back to Mervyn Silva, this should certainly not be taken as an attempt at rehabilitation. He is beyond that. And he doesn’t deserve any credit for his campaign, which was as flawed as they come. It is the other politicians who have failed to inspire this particular section of the population - and often behave as though they don’t remember that it exists - who should be blamed for their attitude. There is only a handful among them in the whole of Sri Lanka who even come close to living up to the democratic ideals so many of us hold dear.

As the new MPs meet for the first time tomorrow, April 22nd, this would seem to be a good subject on which to reflect for a while.

The tragic trajectory of Chanaka's Liberal Project

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Some of us are born at the wrong time or in the wrong place or in both the wrong time and place. Nietzsche said he was born posthumously.

He meant that the world was yet to catch up with his thinking but would do so, in a time of great cataclysm and wars fought for ideas. With his values, ideas and style Chanaka should have come to adulthood in colonial Ceylon and joined the struggles for reform in the late 19th or early 20th century, perhaps been a member of the Ceylon League or the Ceylon National Congress.

At any time Chanaka would have done well in Britain, as a Liberal or perhaps a Tory ‘wet’.

One aspect of his tragedy was that in Sri Lanka, and in the Third world, a liberal could not survive in the form that Chanaka had embraced it and until his last years he was not the sort of liberal who would accommodate himself to the kind of liberalism that could and would survive.

The other aspect of his tragedy was that meaningful liberalism had long shifted its centre of gravity from the UK to the US, and the specifically the US Democrats, and that was not Chanaka’s cup of tea. All serious thinking by or on liberalism was by philosophers, literary critics, international relations theorists and highbrow journalists either on the other side of the Atlantic or the other side of the English channel, and most often by those who crossed (intellectually at least) from the European continent to the United States and back: Reinhold Niebuhr, Lionel Trilling, Raymond Aron, Hannah Arendt, Hans Morgenthau, Walter Lippmann, Stanley Hoffman. Chanaka, an intellectual Anglophile in a time of Britain’s terminal decline, did not find a comfort zone in this more muscular, state centric (even if critically so) liberal Realism; nor did he impart it to his students.

Chanaka attempted something noble, necessary and worthwhile. The bitterest part of his tragedy was that when he finally found a viable and realistic path for Lankan liberalism, in alliance firstly with President Premadasa and then with Presidential candidate Gamini Dissanaike, these leaders were to be murdered within the year ’93-’94, by the LTTE, a fascist force that Chanaka’s liberal comrades, those ‘happy few’, (Rajiva Wijesinha apart) would preach conciliation with and the appeasement of.

We understand the function of founding myths, but some myths are more fragile than others. Chanaka founded his project in part on the myth of Dudley Senanayake’s liberalism. The record reveals a different reality. The ghastliest levelling downwards and injection of Sinhala Buddhist ideology into the school curriculum began with IMRA Iriyagolla, Dudley’s choice as Minister of Education. The incorporation of the Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya pirivenas as universities, the replacement of Saturday and Sundays as weekends with Poya and pre-Poya ( the reversal of which absurdity , we can thank Mrs Bandaranaike for), the denial of and stepping away from the understanding over district councils with Chelvanayagam ( resulting in the resignation of Neelan’s father, M Tiruchelvam, from government), the banning of the transport of the Communist party leaning popular newspaper Aththa in public transport system, and worst of all, the thousand day emergency in peacetime (Mervyn de Silva recognised it at the time as “the exception, which an emergency is by definition, becoming the norm”) – all these studded the Senanayake term, rendering it far more a stage in the erosion of liberal values and practices than a golden age of liberalism worthy of restoration.

Chanaka lost his way seriously in the late 1980s when he missed the opportunity to unite with a progressive leader who would have been the closest vehicle for the values he upheld, namely Vijaya Kumaratunga. What is worse, when all progressives and modernists found themselves on one side in a bitter civil war against the Pol Pot like JVP uprising, Chanaka strayed into an eight party alliance led by Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike, the high priestess of state capitalism and Sinhala Buddhist constitutional hegemonism. Even more grotesquely, that bloc, which was against the Indo-Lanka accord and the 13th amendment which made for provincial councils, contained the JVP’s student front, the inter-university student federation represented at the time by Champika Ranawaka.

The awkward anomalies of Chanaka’s liberalism were discernible in his membership of the Monarchist society as a young man, and his sympathetic treatment in his thesis, not of the closest that Iran produced to liberals, albeit nationalist ones (Mohammed Mossadegh) but to the ruthless, pro US Shah and the Pahlavi pseudo dynasty. How this could sit with any consistent liberalism was a riddle. At one level Chanaka’s liberalism seemed more allergic to any form of nationalism than to a dictatorship installed and backed by the Empire. This blind-spot prevented Chanaka from comprehending until too late, that as in Latin America and the Philippines, liberalism throughout the global South had of necessity to be nationalistic or patriotic, though in the broadest, most inclusionary sense. By abdicating the struggle for a liberal nationalism Chanaka’s liberal project permitted tribalism to monopolise nationalism while liberalism was relegated to the Dramsoc and the drawing room. Had his liberalism drawn on that of the Italians Benedetto Croce and (the more recent) Norberto Bobbio, both his project and Lankan political culture would have been better served.

His impeccable civility apart, Chanaka’s best quality was his intellectual generosity and, yes, liberalism or liberality. In turn this was manifested best, not in his party as much as in another initiative, the Council for Liberal Democracy. In this forum, intellectuals of diverse party and ideological persuasions met to discuss and debate ideas and public policy. Though it followed in the footsteps of Fr Tissa Balasuriya’s Centre for Society and Religion and lacked the verve of those sessions (1975-85), it was the only space of its kind in the bitter post Southern civil war atmosphere of Sri Lanka as the ’80s turned into the last decade of the 20th century. (It is Chanaka’s CLD that facilitated Prof GL Pieris’ entry into political life).

Sometimes the superficial is symptomatic: from three piece suit to Nilame regalia with three corned hat (and participation in the Gangarama perahera), Chanaka’s manner resulted in and resulted from his marginality. The more serious failure however, is most starkly visible not when measured against what might have been, which is after all, purely speculative, but as against what once was. In intellectual, literary and social terms, the liberal experiment of Chanaka Amaratunga and his friends, suffers by contrast with an early explosion of liberal values; that of the first generation of post-independence Ceylonese intelligentsia. A mere read through of say, the College magazines of the leading Colombo schools and the University of Ceylon magazines (e.g. Krisis of 1950-51), as well as a plethora of periodicals of the 1950s will reveal a generation of youngsters far more gifted, self confident and intellectually mature.

This was the generation that contained – to name but a handful-- Godfrey Gunatilleka, Lakshman Wickremesinghe, Neville Jayaweera, Christie Weeramantry, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Mervyn de Silva et al. Their literary output shows that in their teens and twenties they were already debating Hegel and Hemingway, Marx and Malraux, Freud and Forster, Lenin and Lawrence, Brecht and Bogart, James Joyce and John Huston; far more stimulating fare than the prissy precious English liberal tradition already undermined by two world wars and revolutions and national liberation struggles. They were able to have a more dramatic and lasting impact on their society and even as individuals made a far bigger contribution nationally and internationally, than the later generation of liberals, but they too failed to generate a sustained and spreading influence. Their relatively greater degree of success however points not only to a different society but to a basic difference between Chanaka’s liberalism and theirs. The post-war, post independence generation of liberal arts and humanities educated youth were, paradoxically, far more socially sensitive and modern – a difficult combination-- in relation to their time. They were a genuine avant garde, as Chanaka’s crew was not. The latter were far more a throwback, with a nostalgic world outlook. The earlier generation of liberal intellects were sensitive to the social issues, international currents and intellectual debates of their times. While they had a solid core of liberal values, they were more than mere liberals; they were progressives, humanists and modernists: ‘left-liberals’ if you will.

Temperament determines trajectory. I must confess that mine is a particular perspective, with its commonalities, congruencies and contradictions with Chanaka’s own. Born and bred a ‘Colombian’ (in the epithet of today’s Sinhala chauvinists), a year and a few months older than Chanaka, with the earlier generation of liberals I have described being that of my father and godfather (Neville Weeraratne), the historical, intellectual and existential experience of my ‘type’ within my generation was the one shared by Kethesh Loganathan and DP ‘Taraki’ Sivaram (and of course, many–ex comrades, educated and courageous men and women, who have made their mark in academia and journalism). By their heroes ye shall know them. Nietzsche tended to judge an age or civilisation by the highest human type produced by it. Each intellectual cluster within each generation has its heroes. Though socialism and the Left have fallen (to be reincarnated and rejuvenated in Latin America) our archetypal hero has stood the test of time and Homeric-Nietzschean standards, and if it were a choice, I still wouldn’t trade him in for any other: Ernesto Che Guevara. (I would also pit the neo-Leninist Slavoj Zizek against any heavyweight liberal thinker of today).

It may be the malfunctioning of middle aged memory circuits or the obscured viewpoint of the underground (as Daniel Ortega once captioned a poem, “I Missed Managua When Miniskirts Were in Fashion”) but I simply cannot recall Chanaka, his learned friends or the Liberal party, during the hellish half a decade from July 1983 onwards. They were not prominent in the pages of the Lanka Guardian (the indispensable left-liberal intellectual forum and incubator) or the membership of MIRJE -- the Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality (the main anti-racist formation at the time) -- or the Social Scientists Association (the vanguard of anti-racist scholarly research). The next I heard, the Liberal party opposed the Indo-Lanka Accord and provincial councils, while progressives and modernists were allied in a duel to the death with the forces of neo-barbarism led by Wijeweera (but containing those who would form today’s JHU, NFF and rump JVP).

Chanaka’s ‘bright shining moments’ politically were his opposition to the Jayewardene referendum of 1982, his stance against the impeachment motion of 1991 and his support for President Premadasa (based on the correct identification of Lalith Athulathmudali as the most harshly authoritarian personality of the Jayewardene ancien regime), his formation of a front of smaller parties which included the SLMC, the TULF and the SLMP ( which brought Ashraff, Neelan, Ossie , Chanaka and myself into regular contact), his active participation in Premadasa’s All parties roundtable and his drafting of much of Gamini Dissanaike’s reform manifesto of 1994.

The sad last days of Chanaka commenced with the double cross not only by his boyhood friend and epitome of Sade’s (the songstress not the Marquis) Smooth Operator, but by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, pin up of the pacifist progressives and liberals, who made it clear to Mr Ashraff that she would not countenance a Chanaka in the House. From then to his death by road accident, it was one long sickening skid downhill.

This then is the challenge for liberalism in Sri Lanka today. It can only survive or rather, revive and be relevant as a social liberalism or communitarian liberalism, on the TH Greene –Charles Taylor-Roberto Mangabeira Unger axis, if one can be drawn. Neelan Tiruchelvam was one of those who demonstrated an implicit understanding of this, though one cannot say the same of his epigone, who have joined Chanaka’s in the embrace not of classical liberalism but of the neoliberal UNP leadership.

Liberal values in Sri Lanka can be defended, not by the embrace of neo-liberalism or neoconservative authoritarianism, but by a broad bloc for the shared values of liberal democracy, secularism, rationality and modernity (setting aside the debate between universalism and pluralism). This drawing together despite dispersion is made possible by the information revolution, but it must not remain a purely cyber-phenomenon. It must be part of the long march for the victory of enlightenment values under siege by pre-modern primitivism, free market fundamentalism and posturing post-modernism. If this struggle of ideas and ideology, culture and ethics, is lost, Sri Lanka shuts itself off and transforms into Shutter Island.

"This article was sent to Transcurrents by the author Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke

April 20, 2010

The Internet and Mobility in the Reconstruction of the Past: A Study through a Reassessment of Navalar and Caste Claims

by S.Ratnajeevan H. Hoole and Mariyahl Mahilmany Hoole

S.Ratnajeevan H. Hoole and Mariyahl Mahilmany Hoole, “The Internet and Mobility in the Reconstruction of the Past: A Study through a Reassessment of Navalar and Caste Claims,” Fifth Annual Tamil Studies Conference, University of Toronto, May 13-15, 2010. – PDF~Text with slides. Presented by S.R.H. Hoole on May 14, 3:30 to 5:30 PM:

The theme of the conference is how the movement of people across time and space has established and destabilized notions of culture and identity. We wish to address here today how the Internet and information technology have radically altered social science research. Our society creates defining myths, myths that define who we are, using the progress of space and time which prevents exposure of the subterfuge through a dissection of the past. But IT now exposes how our histories have been renarrated; recreated; rewritten.

We will show using as examples myths about Navalar, Caste, Ramanathan and, indeed, our Tamil society, that such myths can no longer be sustained under the glare of the new technologies. You will see that little of our histories is credible.

IT has given us ready access to information – through the Internet, scanned documents and old photographs that were not available before. Interlibrary loans make books readily available to us. For this presentation, whole teams of librarians across continents went to work as we worked from our offices. Google books made several ancient books available to us.

Keep in mind how this talk would have been impossible just 10 years ago, without this access.

We begin with Navalar. His false histories are floated by nationalist websites like TamilNet, Sangam.org and Tamil Nation as well as by respectable school texts, the Hindu newspaper and biographies. These hold that Navalar translated the Tamil Bible at the request of his friend Percival. The biographer Suddhanatha Bharati gives a comical account of Percival accompanying Navalar – not Navalar accompanying Percival, if at all it happened – to Madras to defend the translation before the Bible society. Percival is nervous. But Navalar assures Percival and tells him not to worry; he would take care of all objections. And Percival is relieved. How can Tamils believe this nonsense?

It is also claimed that Navalar is the father of Tamil prose. As we will soon see, modern prose was available in several forms well before Navalar was born. The Bible, prayer books, missionary translations, are all examples. Indeed, Nalavar was trained under Percival at the Wesleyan Mission school in prose writing using the text by Beschi which Percival considered one of the best examples of prose.


[click on pic for larger image]

Here you see an example of prose in the Tamil Bible of 1723 translated by Ziegebalg. Note the character reform introduced by the missions as given by the Tamil Virtual University in Madras. Observe that there are no spaces between words, or dots over letters; u and w are both there (but H and w;; are both H but without a foot-tail; similarly n and N are both n). Clearly there was no Navalar in 1723 but prose and the Bible were both there.

Here we see the Rhenius translation of the Bible, as revised by the Madras Auxiliary of the Bible Society in 1840. You see prose in active develop-ment. The Madras Auxiliary resolved to print words, for the first time, with a space in between Note that the dots over letters have now been introduced by the missions.

According to U.V. Swaminatha Aiyar– can you believe it? – Navalar wrote the Bible. And this superhuman feat must have been in the brief 2 years from the end of 1845 when the translation began full-time and 1847 when he quit Central College! It has been pointed out that Navalar knew no Hebrew or Greek to translate the Bible. Navalar was incapable of this translation. C. Rudra and TamilNet have maintained that he translated from English.

But here we have the frontispiece of the Jaffna Bible dated 1850 from our family copy. It states in Tamil that it was, one, translated from the original tongues and, two, done so comparing with previous translations.

This was because the mandate from the Bible society was to translate from the original tongues while being faithful to the Rhenius version in use in churches then. That is why you see the same titles and wordings from the 2 versions of the Bible at the beginning of the Old Testament. We may note the Tamilization of the partly Tamilised Sanskrit word sish-tith-aar in the Rhenius version to si-rish-tith-aar and, going the other way, the Sankrit word sa-lam – water – being substituted for the Tamil word than-neer. This may explain why we no longer use this Jaffna translation of the Bible and instead use Bower’s 1872 version from India. That rejection of the Jaffna revision in Jaffna itself again is something unknown to a people who believe that the Tamil Christian Church exists because of Navalar writing the Bible.

Just think for a minute – What is the Bible? It defines Christian faith. There were at the time in Jaffna several Tamil Christians trained following school for over 8 years to degree level at Batticotta Seminary. Ask yourselves: Would the Church have entrusted Navalar, a relatively uneducated Hindu hostile to the missions, with such an important task? Remember, Navalar was just a chattambiyaar, albeit driven, teaching Tamil at the Central Wesleyan School. What an ego if we thought even for a moment that the Church would entrust such a monumental task to him.

Who then translated? As a whole cupboard of documents at Jaffna College show, it was by a committee of six learned missionaries with knowledge of Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Tamil. Myron Winslow of Dictionary fame joined at the end when Percival and Hoole moved to Madras for the last 2 years, 1849 to 50. The Tamil pandits simply refined the Tamil to a mellifluous form. Navalar was incapable of anything more than that. His duties were as Tamil teacher in the upper forms and English monitor (not English teacher as claimed) in the lower school.

And were Navalar and Percival truly friends? Would a native employee have been so close to a European missionary boss? The only reference to Navalar by Percival in the Methodist archives is to “that native pundit who used to help me.” Indeed Navalar got so angry with Percival that he quit when Percival admitted a lower caste boy – we say lower caste rather than low caste because as Sudras all of us in Jaffna are low-caste. It seems clear that Percival and Navalar stopped any work together from that point onwards.

This is from the CMS archives in the UK about our ancestor Elijah Hoole, showing the timeline of the project. It was part of his ordination process when the CMS made a file with questionnaires and references from St. John’s principal Robert Pargiter and others. It reads “In 1847 Mr. Percival removed me to Jaffna, where he expected to make me useful in several ways. In 1849 I accompanied him to Madras, where I assisted him in the Revision [note the word revision] of the Tamil Version of the Holy Scriptures and returned back to Jaffna in 1850.”

We want you to note the grammatical lapse in the phrase “returned back” by a man who had received an English education and published a bilingual book in London by Longman’s. We all know how good or bad our own English is after working in English for many years, even after writing a doctoral dissertation in it.

And yet we have praises of Navalar’s command of English after a few years at the Wesleyan school and his broad thinking and tolerance. Anonymous well-written letters in the Morning Star, are attributed to him by his biographers. But we have seen no provable sample of his English writing. It is even claimed that books by Thamotharam-pillai were written by Navalar and given to Thamotharampillai to publish as his own to help Thamotharampillai. The Madras Hindu claims that Navalar worked with Winslow on the latter’s dictionary – but when Winslow left Jaffna in 1833, Navalar was a mere 11 years old.

If Navalar was so broad-minded why did he teach in his Paalar Paadam during the famine caused by floods that charity should be only for the Vellalas and above? Why did he beat up Vaishnavites who argued with him as Dagmar Hellman Rajanayagam points out?

A very anti-intellectual climate pervades us. Anyone who challenges these myths is labeled a communalist and a pack of wolves and monsters are let lose. Mr. Eelaventhan calls us sell-outs and collaborators. Sachi Sri Kantha wants free licence for this propaganda and labels our protests as “anti-Hindu religious zealotry.” As Tamils, our commitment is to the truth; our obligation is to set our histories right and not to back up their ego edifying histories. Tell us: what is the difference between these people and Sinhalese communalists trading in Mahavamsa myths – who label as traitors those Tamils protesting their histories?

Enough on Navalar. Now to caste and labels and how we use them. Are caste, religious and race labels real? Well… here is some statistics on how we have changed labels. When the Dutch were with us, Vellalas were a mere 30% in Jaffna and in the 1970s 50% and today, if we were all Vellala that would be good news for a casteless society. When the British came nearly all of us in Jaffna claimed to be Christian.

How about race? In Jaffna we have pink Tamils and Black Tamils marrying and mixing races. When the Portuguese had only 64 men to rule the Jaffna Kingdom and Lisbon ordered them to marry th daughters of the Modliars, we rushed to give them our daughters. Being pink was stylish. We deny any Portuguese blood because what was status conferring in yesteryear’s order is embarrassing today. These labels were fluid till recently.

Some say rubbish, there is no caste amongst us. We are one people, they insist. Navalar happily worked for an evangelical enterprise. He split only when a low caste boy was admitted. Why? Jesus Christ can be part of Hinduism as one more god in the pantheon, but not caste-rejection. Caste was society’s foundation. Caste was most important to Navalar.
Vellalas without saying they are an elite caste, instead say that Navalar belonged to the elite caste of Vellalas. However, there is nothing elite about Vellalas except in Jaffna. Most scholars say that Vellalas are all Sudra based on the Purusa story where anyone who works with his muscles – that includes farmers – is a Sudra. Indeed, ancient Hindu scriptures prohibit anyone twice born from crossing the oceans and only we Sudras ended up in Sri Lanka.

What was Navalar’s real caste according to the Hindu Dharma he advocated so fervently? His father, Aradchy Kanthar, was a Pariyaari according to Martyn’s Notes from Jaffna. And because physicians deal with wounds and bodily excretions, Lord Manu says in his Dharma Sashtra that “The food of a physician is as vile as pus.” They say that recent Sinhalese need to prove their Sinhaleseness. Is that why Navalar was so fastidious about caste?

Who really are the Vellalas? Fernao de Queyroz, described the Vellalas as poor, weak and never bearing arms. It would seem they were not the kings. Who then were the kings? The Rajavali refers to Jaffna Kings in 1521 as Karayaar. Were the Vellalas promoted during the colonial era while the defeated Karayaar were marginalised? The Karawas of Moratuwa and Taraki, a.k.a. Sivaram, who sought to promote the late LTTE leader’s caste, seem to take this line. Caste certainly seems important to them.

Still insisting there is no caste amongst us? When I was appointed VC, a strange nexus of Tiger supporting Tamils classified as terrorist suspects by the US government, and their organizations like the Ilankai Tamil Sangam purportedly standing for a pan Tamil culture, cheered the death threats, using caste aspersions about Christians. They editorialized “… Christians …had deserted the religion of their forefathers. …Ratnajeevan Hoole as Vice-Chancellor of Jaffna University, … should not be allowed to roam free in Jaffna’s Tamil Hindu society, particularly in the university campus where there is even a Saiva temple.” The implication is that if I walked around Jaffna campus, the Hindu temple would get polluted. As Swamy Dayanand said, our Christian and Mohammedan bodies let off bad-smelling, polluting particles. I bathed today but my apologies if my natural stink is floating about here polluting you.

Caste is a game of looking down on others and it will be with us so long as people with no accomplishments have only caste to claim superiority over others. This one-upmanship game is simple. Go back say 4 generations. You will have 8 great grand parents. Pick the most accomplished of these and keep saying you are descended from him. Simply ignore the ordinary others. Your caste status will grow.

Let us give a simple example. A family from Nallur claims to be descended from King Changili, but an honest member of that family admits that they are descended through one of Changili’s concubines. In my own family we speak of Elijah Hoole who was a Maaniakaaran in Point Perdro as a CMS book boasts. But we speak little of his wife “from the Nellore Female Boarding School.”

Another example now, though a rare one, to show how this game can take us into uncharted waters. A sixteenth century immigrant from India married a Roman Catholic descendant of the King of Jaffna and settled in Analaitivu. Under Portugal, Roman Catholicism had a high status after king Changili and his descendants converted. In time however, the Catholic-Theevaan label became uncomplimentary. The family moved to Pandateruppu-Maathagal and added Pillai to their name, like Navalar, to assert a Vellala identity. His descendants, the brothers Josephpillai, Louispillai and Thomaspillai, went to Malaya for work. Joseph, a tall light-skinned man (I think, because of Portuguese admixture) fell in love with a Malay girl of royal blood whom he tutored. Josephpillai was sent to Saudi Arabia where he learnt Arabic and Islam and returned, some 4 years later, to Malaya. He was now Thunga Abdullah. When his brother approached him, Joseph signalled to him to go away. He cut off all links to his family. In the early 1960s, Louispillai, now back in Ceylon, received a letter on royal letterhead that his brother is dead – the first and last communication after his marriage. And his grandson? When other descendants made enquiry as he rose in Malaysia, they were sternly told not to speak of it again. Who is he?

He is said to be former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, by some sources.

Kumari Jayawardena says of the Sinhalese that the men advance in the modern world while the women keep up caste and other feudal practices at home. Is the Tamil world any different? We think not. Consider a common Tamil marriage. Here we see a symbolic obeisance to tradition with the couple dressed in Indian if not Tamil costume. Thereafter, even though the wedding meal is vegetarian, obeisance to the new order is seen in the nonvegetarian wedding cake. The groom quickly switches to a western suit to distance himself from the old order while the woman wears the coorai as the guardian of culture. She will now look into caste and all that while he will pretend to be lovingly tolerant of his wife’s eccentric feudal wishes. But he gets what he wants through her, while claiming to have clean hands. It is a perfect partnership.

Switching gears a little, Kumari Jayawardena in her book “Nobodies to Somebodies,” says that the Sinhalese nobodies advanced into somebodies through the arrack, mining and plantation trades and that Tamils advanced through English education; and that the Sinhalese were cut off from their culture through English suits and English names but not Tamils. We Tamils are usually proud to read things like that about us, aren’t we?

But this is just more of the same stuff. Have we not heard of Markandu becoming Mark in North America? Janani now Jan? The Pilipuppillais and the Polelpillais becoming the Phillipses and the Pauls with time and space?

Look around. Look at me. At yourselves. Have we not all adapted so as to move up in the new order? I see some kurtas and trousers, but these with Barefoot sarongs are postmodern, rejecting the East-West dichotomy. Let us go back to old photographs and news clippings showing the real Tamil society through space and time.

Here is my great grandmother Theivanaipillai, the widow of Kodimara Sangarar, the chief trustee of the Maviddapuram Kandaswamy Temple and the mother of the Chief Trustee Mudalyaarpillai. She was a somebody. She was rich and sent her son to Jaffna College and Calcutta paying full fees. Yet she is a nobody in the emerging new order as her clothes show. Her son The Rev. Canon Sangarapillai Somasundaram, BA, Dean at St. John’s College, had joined the new order like us in his three-piece suit. Here are the Hooles, the Nileses and the Champions hobnobbing with the colonial elite at St. James’ Nellore. We were no different from the Sinhalese.
Elijah Hoole’s son, Modliar R.A. Hoole and family are no less westernized. You see the society columns announcing that the Governor had conferred on him the right to retain the Modeliyar title after retirement. At his Silver Wedding Anniversary in 1906, the newspapers reported that dancing was into the early hours. You will readily recognize that such dancing in the Tamil homelands is now a part of our suppressed histories. My great grandmother Sophia Ondaachi (Ondaatje) was a Chetty and the only part of my ancestry that was Vaisya. Regrettably, in Hindu law, I cannot claim even to be one-eighth Vaisya – the offspring of mixed castes is untouchable! She is part of our narrative suppressed over space and time. Indeed, the Rogers family, once in three-piece suits and imported convertibles, is today unrecognizable in kathar and pre-Sanskrit Tamil names.

In contrast to the Silver wedding anniversary of Richard Aiyathurai Hoole in 1906, observe the 25th wedding anniversary of his grandson Richard Herbert Ratnathurai Hoole in 1972, observed with a high mass in sobre clothes, followed by breakfast for relations only. In my father’s house no liquor was served and there was no dancing. We were never told that our great grandparents danced and had grand parties announced in the newspapers. We simply put it to you that our history has been renarrated with space and time.

Let us now move on to our other high caste Vellala hero, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who was successfully endorsed for the Legislative Council by Navalar. Ramanathan insisted that the lower castes be denied the franchise and forced to sit outside the classroom on the ground, as Prof. Sivathamby informs us. Yet we are all asked to accept him as a national hero.

This family’ story centers around two key figures. One is Arumugampillai whose family is believed to have come from India to Point Pedro and then moved to Colombo and lived in the Chetty part of Colombo – Chekku Street – thereby raising speculation as to whether they are Vellalas as they sometimes claimed or Chetties. The other figure is Nannythamby of Manipay who is said to have been the richest Tamil of the time through his plantations. He had wealth but lacked social status. These nobodies badly wanted to be somebodies.

Arumugampillai’s second son, Modliar Coomaraswamy was the one to rise into a somebody. Educated, he had status but no money – that is, till he married Visalakshi, Nannythamby’s sister, and became rich. He did political favors to the British during King Rajasinghe’s fall. He cultivated British officials including the Governor and the Colonial Secretary by lending them money. For this lapse of compromising their positions by so borrowing money from an inferior official, the latter were sent back to England in punishment. But Modliar Coomaraswamy had already ensconced himself and his family through the influence he had bought – he himself had been appointed to the Legislative Council by the governor; then his son-in-law Edirmanasingham; and then his son Muttucoomaraswamy; and finally Ramanathan himself. It is noteworthy that Ramanathan was appointed and not elected (although his biographer V. Muttucumaraswamy says he “was returned” to the legislature). Indeed, Navalar conned the Jaffna public in recommending Ramanathan as “educated at Presidency College” when in fact he never ever graduated from anywhere as we will see. The Observer of May 29, 1879 reported that Navalar’s resolution passed unanimously (although one Hensman and others walked off hooting when their counter-resolution was not taken up). There is much circumstantial evidence that Ramanathan bought his seat from the governor.

Ramanthan became an advocate only when his uncle Sir Muttu used his influence upon Ramanathan’s ignominious return from Madras to have him apprenticed as a law-student under Sir Richard Morgan, Attorney General.

We wish to focus on the yellow text in the slide which raises serious questions of the Vellala pedigree claimed by this family.

Modeliar Coomaraswamy studied at the Seminary under Rev. Schroter which means he could have been going as a Christian. He was appointed “Head of Heathen Chetties of Colombo” in 1830. But five years later he claimed to be a Vellala when he sought appointment to the Legislative Council and there was a formal inquiry into his caste. Again, we see that Ramanathan’s wife’s sister was married to Christopher Brito (or Britopulle), a Christian Chetty. We may conclude that both caste and religion were very fluid in this so-called Vellala family.

Interestingly the biographer Vythilingam after berating Christians as those who gave up their dignity for the high offices reserved only for converts, in wanting to praise Ramanathan’s high status through his ancestors, accidentally lets on that Ramanathan’s mother’s mother’s father, Vairavanatha Mudlaiyar, was the Governor of the Vanni District under the Dutch! He surely was a Christian who, going by Vythilingam, had given up his dignity for high office. The so-called Rice Christians, we thus see, are those who became Christians for privileges and then, naturally, switched back as state and social power shifted.

We lost all respect for Vythilingam’s biography after reading in the preface that Mr. Eelaventhan was one of his sources. The influence of Eelavanthan comes through when Ramanathan is referred to as handsome, an aristocrat, “of exceptional nobility,” “pure Vellala”, “descendent of an ancient and illustrious house” and such superlatives. Worse, he is said to have “commiserated for the poor, the oppressed and the down-trodden,” when we know how he opposed the vote for castes lower than his among us low-caste Sudras, and seating at schools.

Most importantly when Coomaraswamy’s daughter Sellachi lost her husband Arunachalam, the widow married Ariyaputhira, Nannythambi’s brother. We may simply note that in a so-called respectable Hindu family, widows do not remarry. It is a brazen violation of Hindu law, especially as understood at that time.

Given this culture of the family, Ramanathan was publicly about with his mistress, Miss. Harrison, whom he presented as his secretary. When hosting Sir Emerson Tennent the Colonial Secretary or the Governor, the Ponnambalams would serve dinner but not eat because of caste pollution. And this despite his uncle Sir Muthu being married to an English woman and despite the fact that his cousin Ananda not to one but four Euro-Caucasian women. The family really cared little for Hindu orthodoxy.

Strange is it not that white people pollute when eating with them, but are fine for sex? But this Navalar-Ramanathan set was promoting orthodoxy and were intelligent men. They would have rationalized it. You see, the Manu Dharma that they promoted, in Section III.12-13 allows a twice born man, whom Vellalas were claiming to be, to have low caste mistresses so long as he had an equal caste wife. Further, Manu Dharma in V.130 says the mouth of a woman is always pure (Although by Manu Dharma III.19 which says that “For him who drinks the moisture of a Sudra’s lips … no expiation is prescribed,” Ramanthan and all of us Sudras with our Sudra wives are doomed with no expiation, whatever mantras we may invoke, it is interesting to ask what Navalar and Ramanathan made of it. Perhaps that is why Navalar, more knowledgeable is the sashtras, never married). So by V.130 at least they were safe in whatever they did with lower caste women. Let us end with some of our family memories about this illustrious family which we Tamils adulate.

We take up a relevant family anecdote. At the time Jaffna’s leaders were a small group and knew each other and married each other. So when Coomaraswamy and Ramanathan went to Madras to study at Presidency College as boys, Thamotharampillai looked after them as their Guardian and, according to narratives within our family, was greatly embarrassed when the brothers were caught at examination offences. Like Narcissus of Greek mythology, Ramanathan was also fascinated with his physique and not studying. As his biographer Vythilingam delicately puts it, they were suddenly recalled to Colombo by their father before graduation because of removal from the rolls for “youthful excesses.” They really had no choice, but to return.

Later their younger brother Arunachalam would repay this obligation when Thamotharampillai’s niece, Eliza, get into a spot. She was a smart educated girl from Uduvil, married to Crown Proctor Thampoe Hemphil who got indisposed. So she went into legal practice, drawing up deeds and documents which she got Hemphil to sign although he was not aware of what is going on. Several petitions went from Jaffna to Arunachalam, the Attorney General. He suppressed the petitions but on his next trip to Jaffna went straight to Eliza and sternly told her to stop or face action. That was the end of my great grandmother Eliza Hemphil’s brief legal career.

In conclusion, everything about us is bluff – our histories, and our caste claims. Every boast is really that, a boast. Our great men are Pappadap Periyaar – great men easily crumpled like Pappadam. Our real culture is in our movies and teledramas.

We humbly ask, is this why we Tamils have made rather poor political choices, going by cooked up histories and poor information?

Thank you.

Click here to download PDF Version of the presentation along with slides

Sri Lanka’s New Parliament Must Drop Emergency Laws, Says Amnesty International

(Washington) -- Sri Lanka's first post-war parliament must get rid of draconian emergency laws that have allowed for decades of widespread human rights abuses, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International Mp3 Audio release-Apr 20, 2010

Ahead of the first sitting of Sri Lanka’s first post-war parliament on April 22, Amnesty International is calling on Sri Lanka to lift the State of Emergency that has been in force almost continuously since 1971, and to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other associated emergency security laws and regulations, replacing them with human rights-friendly laws.

The emergency laws grant state authorities sweeping powers of detention and permit the use of secret prisons, a practice that encourages human rights abuses like enforced disappearances, torture and death in custody, which could constitute crimes under international law. In the last thirty years, thousands of Sri Lankans have spent years in detention without trial.

Over the past year, the government has increasingly used these laws to crack down on journalists, political opponents, and trade unionists.

"Sri Lanka must repeal these laws and end impunity for human rights violations if it wants to move forward," said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director. "The Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Public Security Ordinance and other emergency provisions in Sri Lanka enable security forces to systematically violate human rights."

Since the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended almost a year ago, Sri Lankan legislators have continued to extend the State of Emergency on a monthly basis. Successive governments have ignored calls for repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

"The war is over. Perpetuation of the emergency is now just being used as a weapon against political opposition, and as a quick fix for poor law enforcement practices and a dysfunctional justice system," said Malhotra.

Amnesty International is calling on the new parliament to press for the release of people detained under Sri Lanka’s emergency laws unless they are charged with an internationally recognized criminal offence, and are tried in regular civilian courts to international standards for fair trial.

Background

The emergency laws reverse the burden of proof when it is alleged that police obtained confessions under torture. The Public Security Ordinance, Prevention of Terrorism Act and emergency regulations also shield officials from prosecution for actions taken under these laws, provided they acted "in good faith."

In July 2006 President Rajapaksa issued directives to the security forces aimed at protecting the human rights of persons who had been arrested or detained. Although the emergency regulations do not require the government to publish places of detention, the president ordered that a person under arrest be "afforded reasonable means of communicating with a relative or friend to enable his whereabouts being known to his family"; for the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission to be informed of the arrest and the place of detention in each case within 48 hours, and for Commission members to visit those arrested. These safeguards were never effectively implemented.

Beyond concerns about the nature of legislation and the government's failure to rectify shortcomings, Amnesty International is concerned that the security forces have used the general threat of their wide ranging powers under the emergency laws to intimidate people. Because they provide for vaguely and broadly defined offenses such as "terrorism," the emergency laws have also been used to restrict freedom of expression and association, increase pressure on human rights activists, journalists, trade unionists and others holding dissenting views.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Slow process of reconciliation is on track in Sri Lanka

A Response to Jeremy Page

By Sudharshan Seneviratne

Professor of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya
Director-General, Central Cultural Fund

(This article is placed before public knowledge in an effort to rectify erroneous and callous reporting and not for purposes of engaging in a public debate. As much as the reader is free to express his or her views on this subject, the author will not respond to supporting or opposing views any further).

Time and again the ‘Empire Strikes Back’, both, literally and metaphorically! Throughout the Modern Period, the long arm of Colonialism visited and continues to revisit lands distantly located from its metropolis in various forms – as a conquering power, crusading hero, paternal benefactor and even magnanimous peace maker with a bleeding-heart!! Its modus operandi is multi faceted. They range from direct coaxing through their own agencies to the use of multi nationals and the articulation of ideas and ideology through a section of its print and electronic media - which literally functions as the Fifth Column (apologies to General Franco) of the Post Colonial Metropolitan states.

I do not wish to concern myself with innumerable instances of negative reporting carried out by a section of the western media in the past few decades on South Asia in general and Sri Lanka in particular - a body of world literature that is well known and extensively discussed. My concern is about a recent article by Mr. Jeremy Page (JP) titled Archaeology sparks new conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese, published in (London) The Times on April 6 2010.

My response, done in the capacity of an archaeologist-historian, is to place before public knowledge the actual information provided by the present writer to JP, who in turn ‘forgot’ to record it in his article and the ideological justification that subverts information, which negates good reporting.

‘Ideology of misery’

Section of the First World media makes it its business, quite literally, to seek out ‘Information of disaster and misery’. If the said information is not in existence it then becomes their sanctified professional endeavor to create such information or blow a situation out of proportion, especially in the developing countries. It is then peppered it with inherent biases and prejudices compromising all decent standards of reporting and of human values. Such sentiments and activism never respects the long term consequences of sowing disharmony and divisions in society leading to further disasters and misery. This, in fact, is the classic art of creating misery, thriving in that misery and then posing themselves as the redeemer of misery. While one recognizes the service done by a section of the International media disseminating value-added information on humane concerns to the world at large, the track record of a section of the Western media is punctuated with dismal situations perpetuating conflict and dissension. Bad reporting, factual misinterpretation, subversion of information, doctoring of data and the application of double standards tends to negate whatever credibility any media house had crowned itself for good practice over the centuries. One expects a journalist to seek out facts and present them for the public to decide. This is expected to be done without framing such information within the mental rubric of pre conceived notions, biases, prejudices and even ignorance of the reporter.

There is a compulsive effort on the part of JP to psychologically condition the reader, especially his western audience, the Tamil-speaking community in Sri Lanka and the diapora before the media ambush. It essentially perpetuates the notion of communal identities as water-tight compartments and that there is a sustained competing interest between these two. (JP seems to have a memory loss about the vertical division between the North and East and the lost community in the tea plantations.) His argument then follows the logic of presenting a section of the population in Sri Lanka as the oppressed and the other as the oppressor, not based on class but on ethnicity. JP then moves on to tools of oppression and presents archaeological heritage as one such medium. His selection of words and construction of sentences is reminiscent of the Colonial mind-set with a mission to racialise, divide and rule, mythologize and hegemonise. Hegemony here is the authority to ‘order information’ - information that sets the benchmark by a section of the Western media to the world. Finally, he unfolds the underlying message of the ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘persecution psyche’. Implicit in this message is, after the recently concluded war against terrorism in Sri Lanka, the emergence of a new wave of cultural colonialism using archaeology and heritage as a facade.

The ease with which JP quotes the words of individuals in the construction of his story (contextually disjointed though) and his pre conceived biases and prejudices are most evident in the following lines (emphasis mine): "….the army – recruited from the Sinhalese Buddhist majority; …..the area had been populated for centuries by the ethnic Tamil minority, which is mostly Hindu; …. part of plan to "rediscover" Buddhist sites;…others want more Tamil archaeologists involved as well as foreign experts or the UN to ensure that the work is objective; President Rajapaksa, the country’s ethnic Sinhalese leader; …to colonize the area, to show it belongs to the Sinhalese; …Environment Minister and his approval is required to excavate and protect sites;…Sinhala chauvinism that ultimately drove the Tigers to launch their armed struggle;… many Tamil archaeologists fled into exile overseas; …declined to be identified for fear of reprisals;…said one Tamil historian overseas, who did not want to be identified for fear of endangering relatives in Sri Lanka. Foreign archaeologists …say that the country …needs to move past the ethnic issue! In addition, JP must also rectify factual errors in his article. For instance; license to excavate or explore archaeological sites is given by the Director General of Archaeology and not by the Minister for Environment; it is Sigiriya and not Polonnaruwa that is famous for its frescoes; the last few kings of Kandy were of South Indian origin. He even identifies the LTTE as ‘rebels’!

For JP his interviews with Tamil speaking scholars and some local overseas individuals (probably from the diaspora) become a definitive bench-mark substantiating his philosophy. He even finds one British archaeologist credible enough to drive home his point. Information provided by the ‘other’, whom JP identifies as ‘Government Archaeologists’ – meaning myself and Dr. Senarath Dissanayake (Director General, Archaeology Department) is of little consequence to his central theory. The information provided by us is wilted down to about 11 sentences in the whole article! Perhaps, it did not fit in to the larger canvass of his persecution psyche and conspiracy cum misery theory! My discussion with JP on two occasions, which lasted for nearly forty five minutes, is reduced to six lines in all, and that too giving the words a different slant on the President of Sri Lanka. Most of the details I outlined about the on going work by the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) using Heritage for Conflict Resolution and Peace Education are not featured even in a single line! It is therefore necessary to place before public knowledge some facts that were not printed by JP and in turn question his own parochialisms and the credibility of his reporting as well.

Contextualizing parochialism

If Mr. Page expects a miracle that makes people forget overnight the terrible incidents of the war and factors leading to that war, he is quite obviously on the wrong planet. As much as Sri Lanka will not have a ‘Truth Commission’ in the lines of South Africa (even there, has black or white apartheid ended?) a slow process of reconciliation is on track in Sri Lanka and this must be supported and nurtured in order to counter and dilute parochialisms that were always prevalent and yet prevail within sections of the Tamil speaking as well as Sinhala speaking communities. Please cite any country and community that does not have parochialisms and inherent racisms or sectional ideologies. Try the United Kingdom! One must understand that in contemporary times the archaeologist or historian has to resolve his or her professional status with ‘competing interest’ of parochial individuals and organizations anywhere in the world.

Post war scenario has placed Sri Lanka at cross roads. Whether we venture along the old destructive, parochial and confrontational path or alternatively along a path of trust, understanding and accommodation that are critical to the long term sustenance of the social fabric of this island society. This is precisely why when activities are underway – even in a limited way – to change the inward looking parochial mind set, working together on shared heritage, brining back the next generation to appreciate the wonderful diversity and plurality of this country, one must not undermine this process by appealing again and again to the primordial tribal sentiments to ignite another round of confrontations that will foster untold misery on all communities. I personally experienced the warm reception accorded to us by the teaching staff and students of University of Jaffna recently, which was an emotional experience to all of us. There was the warmth of human beings reaching out to each other devoid of any inhibitions or reservations and above all an expression of mutual respect and cordiality.

JP has not grasped the history of Sri Lanka and the essentials of the past that were read in relation to identities through Colonial and Nationalist historiography. It is easy to pick up the Colonial mind set of the Orientalist in such writings. The ideological justification for the existence of the Colonial regime was inscribed in Colonial historiography nurtured in the traditions of antiquarianism and Orientalism. They romanticized the Mediterranean Classical civilization and juxtaposed it with the barbaric cultures located to the east of its domain. This tunnel view was extended to the colonial empire in categorizing the Orient as static, despotic and backward. The White Mans’ Burden to civilize the uncivilized was carried out with great zeal and conviction. They invented the ‘Martial Races’ and the myth of the Aryan and Dravidian races including a North – South dichotomy equating physical zones with the imagined ‘racial’ habitat and provided archaeological, anthropological and historical ‘evidence’ justifying the existence of their ‘imagined communities’. Some were superior and others inferior races. The proximity to the Colonial Master (having so called ‘Aryan’ physical features) provided a particular ‘race’ and region with superior status vis a vis the other. This Colonial historiographic baggage completed with imagined races, ‘homeland’ theories and the equation of ancient material culture with racial identities was imposed on the Brown Mans’ shoulders in the late Colonial and post Colonial periods in South Asia. This was to be the ideology of radical nationalism and racism particularly in South Asia. It is common sense knowledge that this historical mindset and the baggage of identities bestowed upon us by Colonialism cannot disappear overnight and haunts us yet as the events in India and Sri Lanka unfold even in contemporary times.

Following a near four hundred years of Colonial occupation and a thirty year war, problems of globalization including aggressive evangelical movements’ one must understand issues of identity formation, fears of cultural dilution and even social and class dislocation that is common to any community that has undergone such a traumatic experience and their response to it. The uses and misuses of history by almost every nation and every country in the world, including Sri Lanka, have been discussed in our previous writings and published locally and internationally. We have been working for over two decades towards understanding diversity, shared culture and plurality under very volatile and difficult circumstances facing a barrage of threats and criticisms from racist elements on both sides of the fence. Even under such trying circumstances, young school children and undergraduates of various ethnic and religious origins (a majority of them as Mr. Page would call ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’) participated with absolute conviction and resolution in programs on cultural plurality and shared culture. It is through their discussions, debates, exhibitions, publications and even poetry writing that we were able to evolve the concept known as Heritage for Conflict Resolution. This concept in its definitive form was presented by us in 2007 at Kathmandu under the title People to People Connectivity and Peace Interaction: Redefining Heritage for Conflict Resolution (Published by the Embassy of Sri Lanka. Kathmandu).

In my own writings in the past I have been strongly critical of state sponsored organizations for its parochialism. Two wrongs do not make a right. As much as there are individuals and organizations that subscribe to parochial views in the south Mr. Page seems to forget the subversion of history carried out in the north and east where the LTTE fine tuned that process consolidating parochial identities on the one hand and simultaneously carrying out ethnic cleansing consolidating its ideology of a mono culture or the Dravidian race on the other. JP claims that "many Tamil archaeologists fled into exile overseas". He may wish to be educated that some brilliant historians and archaeologists of Jaffna University fled this country when the LTTE forced them to rewrite the history of the Tamil speaking people from their point of view.

In his most valued book (The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity. 2005) Professor K. Indrapala inscribed the following moving dedication "To the innocents who lost their lives as a direct consequence of misinterpretation of history" which is a must read line by all blood-thirsty social fascists in any community. These scholars did not accept parochialism and the falsification of history. One cannot sweep under the carpet the lives of Rajini Tiranagama, Neelan Thiruchelvam and Laksman Kadirgamar (to mention a few) that were permanently lost to the Tamil-speaking community when they were physically eliminated by the LTTE.

In this sense JP’s statement that it is "Sinhala chauvinism that ultimately drove the Tigers to launch their armed struggle" is a simple reduction of a complex historical problem into one line and simultaneously missing out several chapters in the history of Colonialism and post Colonial racist nationalism leading to such an unfortunate mind set in this island.

In our recent studies, we have emphasized the need to de-mythologize such parochial identities (in the south or north Sri Lanka) and the need to have an objective view of historical processes. The ground realities of the sub continental situation also demand that scholarly studies in reading the past must be devoid of parochialism, especially for the purpose educating the next generation of identities and its underlying social ideology. Humane and socially aware intellectuals must proceed beyond the narrow confines of the mere exercise of the academic. It calls for a critical examination of the untold misery caused by ethnic conflict in the former colonies of Britain and post Communist countries of Europe. It is also their social responsibility to provide the society at large with an alternative strategy for social change against a self-destructive path taken by social fascism dislocating historically evolved social systems in South Asia, or for that matter those found elsewhere in the world.

In this connection, there are two fundamental issues that need to be answered. First, at what point of time do individuals, groups or organizations stand up and begin to think of remedial strategies to rectify the wrongs and injustices in reading the past? Second, as much as one respects ones own heritage inherited from birth, it is an imperative and social responsibility to respect the heritage of one’s neighbour and in the context of Sri Lanka (as well as most countries) appreciate diversity and the shared culture that is historically endowed to us - which is indeed a living reality.

Given below is a long list of remedial strategies that have been applied in our individual capacity and through government agencies leading to inclusiveness. Most activities of the Central Cultural Fund in the past two years were carried out with the knowledge and directives of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

CCF and inclusiveness

Well before the war ended professional archaeologists were looking at remedial strategies in the application of non-parochial and professional archaeology in Sri Lanka. A team led by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala (former Director General of Archaeology) formulated the National Archaeology Policy under the aegis of the Archaeology Department of Sri Lanka, which was officially enacted in 2006 by an Act of Parliament. Its policy implementation statement notes the following in Section 3.iv (my emphasis):

The programs and related projects for achieving the above-mentioned objectives require to be formulated as a master plan on short-, medium- and long-term bases. It shall be reviewed, and revised if necessary, once every three years, or as the need arises. In order to eliminate parochial bias, the review panel will consist of Sri Lankan and international professional archaeologists of proven competence. Codes of practice for implementing the master plan shall be formulated.These will be reviewed, and revised if necessary, once every five years or as the need arises.

Following this, the CCF unfolded its year 20/20 work program at an official ceremony known as Heritage Excellence 2007. The mission statement to the next generation of archaeologist announced at that program read:

"The science of archaeology is problem-oriented and issue-related. It is essentially a multi disciplinary study investigating, documenting, interpreting and presenting human expressions, experiences and behavior patterns of the past to its rightful inheritors, the next generation. The archaeologist investigating the past is a scientist who is objective, unbiased and unprejudiced. Above all, an archaeologist is a humanist and social activist who does not fear the past or compromises the future".

At the same program the CCF also redefined heritage and its parameters for related futuristic activities. Heritage was situated beyond culture per se. In this redefinition heritage came to be based on four integral components - Environment, Culture, and Knowledge from the past and the Next Generation. The CCF since then has undertaken a series of activities and has left behind a permanent bench-mark for pockets good practice on heritage management especially disseminating professional standards and information to the next generation devoid of parochialisms.

Enumerated blow is a list of such activities, also mentioned in my conversation with Mr. Page, that were disregarded in his article.

* The CCF was involved in the Galle heritage city conservation program since 2005 with Netherlands funding. It preserved relics of the Colonial culture devoid of parochialism. The CCF was presented with the Asia-Pacific Award for excellence by UNESCO for its high quality conservation of the Dutch Reformed Church in Galle.

* In 2007 the CCF completed the multi religious museum at Kataragama. At the inaugural ceremony the President emphasized the significance of Kataragama as a place of convergence for different cultures and religions. The significance of and the Pilgrims Route or Pada yatra originating from the north reaching Kataragama was remembered as a medium of connectivity and shared culture. (The Pada Yatra is now reviewed to be listed as a World Heritage under Intangible Heritage).

* In 2008 the Cabinet of Ministers passed the mandatory rule of adhering to all three languages in all government notices. Based on that directive, all display panels at Museums managed by the CCF since 2007 are presented in the Sinhala, Tamil and English languages. (Until then most of the panels were only in the Sinhala language).

* In 2008 the Cabinet of Ministers gave a directive to list all heritage sites important to all religious groups and prioritize their development for the pilgrims and tourists. The CCF initiated cultural mapping and commenced data gathering from the Provincial Councils.

* In 2009 a secular museum was established (with Japanese funding) at the Sigiriya World Heritage site, which was inaugurated by the President.

* In 2010 the Galle Marine Archaeology Museum was inaugurated by the President. This museum is a show piece of the diversity expressed in the culture of this island. Its presentations celebrate all diverse religions, cultures, languages and ethnicities that peopled this island. The introduction to the souvenir presented to the President at that occasion carried the following lines: "Sri Lanka was peopled by periodic community intrusions and interactions since the Stone Age resulting in the introduction of a variety of ideas, technological traditions, dialects, and belief systems into this island. The central location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean Rim on the one hand and its centrality between two World systems to the West and the East of the Indian Ocean on the other, provides a unique representation of the world culture blended in the ethos of this island society. As a consequence, the cultural landscape of Sri Lanka also represents a habitat of multicultural and varied biological identities. The Sri Lankan mosaic, coloured by a vivid multi-cultural, multi-ethnic island society and nurtured by a rich cultural legacy inherited from the past, is best represented in an encapsulated version in the Maritime Archaeology Museum at Galle. This museum is the first of its kind in the SAARC region showcasing the oceanic heritage of an island society. The unique display in this museum presents three thousand years of trans-oceanic connectivity and the cultural plurality of Sri Lanka. Archaeological objects, dioramas, beautifully designed tri-lingual panels, electronic and visual presentations unfold the rich multi-cultural inheritance of this island. The narration unfolds itself into different facets of human experiences and expressions associated with religio-cultural aspects and socio-economic interactions highlighting a multitude of impacting factors shaping the personality of this island society from the Pre Historic to the Colonial Period. It is indeed the privilege of the Central Cultural Fund, the Custodian organization of UNESCO declared World Heritage Sites, to present the Maritime Archaeology Museum as another value-added facet of the World Heritage Site of Galle and as a gift to humanity!"

* President’s directive to list Hindu and other religious sites as UNESCO declared World Heritage sites. The UNESCO – Sri Lanka Commission has already chartered a plan to incorporate Munneshwaram (Chilaw), Tiruketishvaram (Mannar), Koneshwaram (Trincomalee) and Nakuleshwaram(Point Pedro) as Ports & Kovil complex to be listed as World Heritage sites. Discussions initiated by the Sri Lanka – UNESCO Commission are already underway, with the participation of several Tamil speaking scholars and academics.

* Board of Management of the CCF (Chaired by the Prime Minister) ratified the proposal naming Polonnaruwa as an Icon site for multi-cultural Presentation. This is the first time a UNESCO World Heritage Site has been named in definite terms for its character representing diversity. (Polonnaruwa has the greatest concentration of Hindu and Buddhist sites in one single complex in the whole of South Asia). The project proposal prepared by the CCF to conserve the Shiva Devale is now ready to be submitted for overseas funding.

* Directive given to incorporate staff and students of the Universities of North and East in archaeological/heritage work. Under this program a. Archaeological Department has already invited the Professor of Archaeology at Jaffna University to be consultant to the Conservation Project at the Jaffna Fort and the participation of students of that Department in the said conservation. b. The Central Cultural Fund (CCF) undertook a capacity building program in Training the Trainers at Jaffna University in March 2010 with UNESCO assistance in order to train heritage managers who will manage the heritage sites in the North and East. c. Heritage books gifted to the Department of Archaeology, University of Jaffna by the CCF.

* Diaspora tourism initiative taken up by the CCF to receive all Sri Lankan origin visitors at the World Heritage Sites and the plan to publish additional books in Sinhala, Tamil and English with children arriving from overseas as the primary target group.

* Completion of the report on North East Coastal Development Project in 2009 which recorded all heritage sitesand multi cultural communities and their cultural practices (both tangible and intangible heritage) for tourism development.

* Nurturing UNESCO School Clubs in Kandy by the CCF for programs on cultural diversity and shared cultures. These school clubs are made up of different denomination and government schools and they join together for programs understanding diversity, heritage conservation and peace education.

* An illustrated catalogue of all Hindu monuments, art and sculpture found at the World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka is under preparation by the CCF.

Mr. Page was informed of most of these aspects carried out by or through the CCF, a government agency, not to mention such work the writer has initiated for over two decades in his personal capacity (as a University academic) towards fostering greater understanding among communities. In this connection, among other such activities, I wish to make a special note of my personal involvement with the Institute of Social Development in Kandy in setting up a Museum depicting the history of Plantation Workers (located near Gampola) and also reviving the Koothu dance tradition that was fast disappearing. Here is a Tamil-speaking community forgotten by the Western media and the diaspora alike. In 2005, the present writer with the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, coordinated by Ambassador Sumith Nakandala, carried out a study tour for 12 research officers of the CCF in South India as an exposure to the Shared Culture between Sri Lanka and South India, which is considered as the ‘other’ and the ‘enemy region’ in our history books. May I now question where parochial Buddhist archaeology comes into the agenda of all what the CCF has done in the period immediately before the war ended and in the post war period and how and why Mr. Page considered the above information irrelevant to his article?

The TamilNet in its addendum to JP’s article (on April 10) notes that the present writer "…is now put to implement Colombo’s agenda in subtle ways, was the comment heard in the sidewalks". Conversely, a section of the diaspora and its media, who enjoy the comforts of the First World must come to terms with the fact that there are individuals and organizations in the North and South of Sri Lanka who oppose a totalitarian social fascist system of governance and genuinely believe in inclusiveness, shared culture and co existence. If the above activities I have enumerated represent a ‘hidden agenda’, I then rest my case!

President Rajapaksa must complete what SWRD Banadaranaike and JR Jayewardena failed to do

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

One hasn’t the slightest inkling at the time of writing but one does hope that President Rajapaksa’s choice of a Cabinet will be heavily laden with the most popular and qualified among the true-blue ‘middle path’ SLFP moderates, which would not only reflect the balance of forces in the government and the country at large, but be a vehicle for the tasks that face the post war, second term Rajapaksa administration. The three most important posts are those of PM, Foreign affairs and education.

If popular, well-positioned SLFP personalities feel that there is no point in aspiring to the top post someday, it could make for internal dissonance over time. If the Foreign Minister is not drawn from most sophisticated and educated SLFPers, it would be counterproductive and burdensome.

If education is not in the hands of a tough minded meritocratic, modernising reformer, Sri Lanka will never catch up with the rest of Asia and fulfil its potential. It is these latter posts, of foreign affairs and education, that will enable the country to compete with and prevail over the bitterly anti-Sri Lankan project of the secessionists in the Tamil Diaspora, especially in the First world.

What are the tasks and challenges facing President Rajapaksa? Simply put, it is to complete what SWRD Bandaranaike and JR Jayewardene respectively started but failed to do. Mr Bandaranaike rode the wave of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and populism (what the late Regi Siriwardena called ‘ethno-populism’ and what others might term ‘majoritarian populism’) to power and then, just the next year, attempted to balance this off, supplementing without neutralising the ’56 social achievement.

This he attempted by signing the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact which made for modest devolution of power to ‘regional councils’, which he hoped to twin with a bill for the ‘reasonable use of Tamil’. When SWRD was forced by agitation successively by the defeated UNP and the Buddhist clergy affiliated with his own coalition, to tear up the agreement, he predicted that rivers of blood would flow and that we would regret that day.

In the 1970s when the separatist movement made its appearance, the ubiquitous sentiment that was heard from the post-independence parental generation of the liberal-progressive intelligentsia was "if only Banda had been allowed to implement the BC pact!" (followed by invective about the two extremes, the UNP and the hard-line Buddhist lobbies).

President Rajapaksa, having done the political and military equivalent and more of what Bandaranaike achieved in ’56, now has to complete what the latter wished to but failed to in 1957: restore the balance by an equation with the Tamil leader in parliament, on the basis of moderate power sharing at the periphery.

SWRD was not allergic to Mr. Chelvanayakam’s federal stand, though he obviously did not concur with it and signed a pact for far less, namely a measure of provincial self rule. Originally and briefly a federalist as a young politician, SWRD was far too literate to confuse and conflate federalism with secessionism or consider it extremist and communal, warranting exhibitions of hysteria.

He had himself mentioned Switzerland as a possible model for Ceylon. However as a mature politician he rightly considered it inappropriate for his country. Given the recent experience of Bolivia (not to mention former Yugoslavia and the USSR) I believe it still is. Autonomy within a unitary state is altogether another matter.

Some opine that President Rajapaksa’s main task is economic development, pure and simple. This is what JR Jayewardene attempted, postponing his manifesto’s pledge to summon an all parties’ conference to discuss Tamil grievances (which it listed). When he got around to it, the drag effect of internal division and conflict had rendered his impressive initial economic take-off unsustainable. Had President Jayewardene built in his District Development Councils of 1980 into his new Constitution of 1978, or implemented the BC pact in 1982 just as he won the presidential election, Sri Lanka, which opened up its economy one and half decades before India, would not be languishing as it is today, on the periphery of the Asian economic miracle.

This is why President Rajapaksa must move to put the Tamil question (or the Northern Question as I have called it, a la Gramsci’s Southern Question) behind us and restore domestic ‘harmony’ ( to borrow China’s vocabulary), so that Sri Lanka can move on and be internationally competitive. This is why he must do what SWRD should have but couldn’t do and JR Jayewardene should have but didn’t do (until far too late). This is also why he needs a moderate, SLFP dominated cabinet of ministers.

Now is the time. I recall Martin Woollacott, the great foreign correspondent who covered Vietnam, predicted the Vietnamese final offensive and went on to become the editor of The Guardian (London), telling my father and myself after a visit to Jaffna in the mid 1970s, that a peaceful deal would be possible only while SJV Chelvanayagam was still alive. He was right. The Sinhala establishment didn’t give a damn and we had thirty years of war, death, dismemberment and destruction. Now the cycle has come around: we must settle while R Sambandan is still at the helm and able to deliver. The balance of forces is just right on both Tamil and Sinhala sides.

Knowledgeable and respected political commentator DBS Jeyaraj has set out the ITAK’s solid electoral achievement. The fact that all three seats in Jaffna went to the EPDP (not the SLFP) and Devananda is the top preference-vote taker, outstripping the ITAK’s candidates, gives President Rajapaksa a moderate card to play in Tamil politics.

As for the South, the most extremist party secured merely two seats – to say, the TNA’s twelve — and failed to head the preference votes anywhere. All this means that there is the possibility of a final status agreement for moderate power-sharing, which can be built into a new Constitution, and can compensate for any customised tailoring in other matters.

The ITAK for its part has more than a bit of work to do.The balance of forces, including the tight parliamentary field placing being what it is, a further moderation in Tamil discourse is necessary. The ITAK must lose any reference to self-determination and anything that smacks of a two nation theory.

It must unilaterally and unconditionally pledge itself to a solution within a united Sri Lanka. The role model of parliamentary conduct for every ITAK MP should be the non-rhetorical, sober, studious speeches and dignified, non-confrontational deportment even under provocation, of the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam (victim of a separatist suicide bomber).

What are the consequences for the Sinhalese and Tamils if this path of mutual moderation and convergence is not taken or deferred? The parliament will become the site of sharply confrontational discourses. The theatre in the legislature will run parallel with the ‘creation of facts on the ground’ (along West Bank lines). With the Southern ‘Sangh Parivar’ trying to compensate for the erosion of its democratic representation, Tamil civil disobedience could be met, as in the past, with violent countermeasures.

Both communities will pay heavily. The Sinhalese will find that any use of coercion against unarmed federalists meets globally and regionally with a reception entirely unlike cracking down on armed secessionists (who murdered a neighbouring former Prime Minister). A restive Tamil Nadu will cause Delhi concern once again.

If we begin to lose the ‘legitimacy war’ (Emeritus Prof Richard Falk’s phrase) we will find ourselves becoming an easier target for a combination of international players (far and near) who see us as a pawn in the ‘grand strategic’ power struggle (especially maritime) in and for an emerging Asia. Our best friend China is too far away to project power and in any case does not allow itself to be provoked into conflicts which will disturb the great harmony it requires in its external relations, for its overarching economic purpose.

President Jayewardene and his UNP assumed that Ronald Reagan’s US would come to our assistance in the mid 1980s. Washington sent instead, General Vernon Walters with a two- point message, one tactical, one strategic. The tactical message was that Sri Lanka could receive some limited security assistance by proxy ("let the Israelis handle it"). The more important strategic message from the US administration to the pro-US administration of JR, which thought it had cannily positioned itself in the New Cold war against a pro-Soviet neighbour, was a terse one: "settle with the Indians". It was a cold shower for Colombo, and it got colder two years later in 1987.

We must not waste this moment to settle with the elected Tamils, only to receive some day, a visit from a Vernon Walters from Beijing.

Contrary to ill-read Marxists, Marx and Engels did not only project a victorious proletarian outcome in the Communist manifesto, but also an exceptional scenario, "the mutual ruin of the contending classes". If post-war Sri Lanka misses this chance at political and ethnic reconciliation through prudent reform and modernisation, the outcome will not be a victory for the Sinhalese or Tamils as hawks on both sides hope for, but the mutual ruin of the contending communities on the island.

April 19, 2010

mp3 audio: Baila beat of Nithi Kanagaratnam

by Prince Frederick

Remember ‘Chinna Maamiye' — that hugely popular song among generations of college students in Tamil Nadu? But, not many Tamil music listeners have heard of Nithi Kanagaratnam, who composed and sang it. Tamil Baila music is his forte, however, Nithi has not received recognition in proportion to his talent. Not surprising, since his contributions to Tamil music came mostly while he was living in Sri Lanka and Australia, and at a time when he was balancing music and academics.

Chinna Mamiye by Nithi Kanagaratnam,

Resounding success

Nithi composed ‘Chinna Maamiye' in the mid-1960s, and put it to the test during a cricket match in Jaffna. As this Tamil song set to racy Baila music was greeted with enthusiasm, Nithi felt encouraged to concentrate on the genre. Nithi started off with English bands in Colombo as a singer who could also play the drums and the guitar. He specialised in singing cover versions of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. Following ‘Chinna Maamiye's resounding success in Tamil Nadu as well as in Sri Lanka, Nithi began to focus on Tamil pop.

While studying agriculture at Allahabad University in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he composed music prodigiously. “I put together six solo albums,” says Nithi. Colleges in Tamil Nadu were a testing field for his songs, but he did not totally ignore the North. He displayed his music skillsat singing competitions up North, and won several trophies.

Music took a backseat after Nithi finished his Masters in Plant Pathology, and immersed himself in research work. Responsible and prestigious positions such as the Head of the Department of Agriculture at the Eastern University of Sri Lanka meant Nithi had to constantly squeeze out time for music. As he believed social reformation could be effected through music, Nithi wrote, composed, arranged and sang songs despite a hectic academic career.

Nithi discovered that the peppy Baila was a reliable vehicle to reach social messages to people. Nithi's song ‘Kallukada Pakkam Pogatha' is a Baila classic against alcoholism. “M.G. Ramachandran, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, used this song in the campaign against alcohol consumption,” recalls Nithi.

In the 1980s, Nithi migrated to Australia, and at present, teaches pharmaceutics at Victoria University. He continues to compose songs in English and Tamil, and translate from Sinhalese to Tamil. He is credited with writing the Tamil version of the Australian national anthem. His Tamil Baila songs have been broadcast on Music Deli, a programme on Australian national radio, on Songs In Language (BBC) and Songs Of The World (Voice of America).

Sixty-five-year old, Nithi now devotes much of his leisure to an etymological and philological research of the Tamil language and to visit Chennai. During a recent visit, he spent most of his time expounding Tamil Baila at various forums.

BAILA BASICS

* Baila music is Sri Lanka’s signature sound. In truth, it was born of an international music collaboration that took place in an atmosphere of informality many centuries ago.

* It is traced down to ‘kaffir’, a mixed community influenced by the Portuguese, African and Sinhalese ethos; the buoyant dance music of this community was known as ‘kaffirhina’.

* While it existed in the island for many centuries, kaffirhina gained prominence only in the mid-Twentieth century. After a large number of Sinhalese songs was set to racy kaffirhina, a new name was coined for the genre — Baila, which drawn from the Portuguese verb for dancing. ~ courtesy: The Hindu ~

April 18, 2010

In Pictures: "Oor Aadal Kathai"-An Evening of Dance Drama

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Oor Aadal Kathai”- Dance Drama was a New Year treat to the dance lovers of Colombo. The performance was beautifully choreographed by the reputed dancer Vel Ananthan. Beautifully drawn different sets were used for different scenes to depict the situation. The dance drama was based on “Thiruvilaiyaadalpuraanam ”

TVOAK418.JPG

“Oor Aadal Kathai”- Dance Drama was performed by the students of Ramanathan Hindu Ladies’ College in Bambalapitty. The performance took place at Kathiresan Hall in Bambalapitty on April 18th 2010 at dusk. Two shows have taken place on the same day amidst hot weather during the first show and heavy downpour during the second show. The event was organized by the School Development Society. [Click to see & Read more]

Four "New" Sinhala Doctors Conduct a Medical Camp in Mandaitheevu

by Fr.Lasantha de Abrew s.j.

The North- South Dialogue Desk of The Lanka Centre for Social Concern organized a Medical Camp conducted by the recently passed out doctors of Colombo Medical College from 5th April to 7th April 2010.

All the four doctors were Sinhalese and Sewwandi was a Catholic doctor from All Saints’ Parish, Borella. Rev. Fr. Sudam Perera, Assistant Parish Priest of Ragama church, Lasheen the Secretary at NSDD, and Sajith a volunteer of NSSD joined the exposure program.

In Vavuniya, we had a visit to VAROD (Vanni Rehabilitation Organization for the Disabled- Differently Able). The Sinhalese doctors were thunder struck to see the young wounded inmates and listen to their stories of agony during the war. Sewwandi was so immersed in their stories of pain; we had to extend our stay at VAROD by a half an hour.

“They are like us. Their wounds although healed or is healing but their hearts need to be healed. Today I realized the cruelty of war especially the gravity of cluster bomb attacks and haphazard shelling. I could not bear the pain of the youngster who is paralyzed forever and more than that his loosing all of his loved ones. Still some of them carry the pieces of shells in their bodies and that shows they carry the pieces of hatred towards us in their bodies. We need to remove these pieces of venom from their hearts”.

These were the on the spot comments of the doctors on their first exposure to the realities of war. Anuradha, who works in the rehabilitation Centre for the War- Victim Sri Lanka Soldiers said, “I too treat the soldiers who are going though wounds of war. But these Tamil war victims look really hopeless, depressed as many have lost all they possessed including their loved ones and surely their suffering is more acute”.

The A-9 journey was a special attraction for these medical doctors on their first visit to Jaffna. “I felt that A9 is neither a pathway to Jaffna nor a link between North and South of Sri Lanka. I could see only army sentry points and extended army camps throughout the journey to Jaffna. Why are there so many Buddha statues along the A9 route? Are they in memory of the Army personnel engaged in war?

Were there Buddhists along this path other than the Sri Lankan forces?

We could see Army sentry points every two hundred meters, some are newly done. Kilinochchi town seems to be an Army village, so many personnel, army run shops, army vehicles, and army men playing cricket leisurely. Rarely did we see Tamil people.” These were the comments of these Sinhalese – Buddhist doctors as we drove on the A9.

On the way we had a break at the Holy Cross Convent in Paranthan. It was a heartwarming scene for the young professionals to see the religious sisters mending their fences with the people around. They welcomed us so warmly; these southerners were touched by the hospitality of the nuns, they themselves had gone through immense suffering in displacement and were putting their religious house in order after the abandonment.

There we were able to meet Clinton Anandeshan and Vishnunathan, aged sixty and sixty two respectively. Both of them are related through marriage, had come to Paranthan after the 1983 July riots from Kandy. They were estate Tamils and had to find a safer place for their children and their cultivation.

They related their story of displacement with laughter, fear, anger and some moments in tears, “We lost everything we had bit by bit in this displacement and at last we became beggars. Now we are beggars.”

Clinton has three girls and a boy. Vishnunathan had lost two sons, aged nineteen and twenty two in the final battle, those who were conscripted four months before. His son in law lost his hand and the old aunt’s stomach was ripped open in a shell attack.

“From Paranthan, as other people were leaving, we too joined. It was terrible as the air attacks were fierce and the ground attacks were merciless. Some of our relations were killed with their little ones. Attacks were random and haphazard. We collected all our belongings including the asbestos sheets, door frames, furniture and the sacks of paddy, loaded them in a tractor and moved towards Murasumottai. We just settled there for a few months, midst heavy shelling. We put up a small hut for us only to sleep and built a bunker for safety. When it was unbearable we collected all we could take and moved towards Dharmapuram. On this journey we did not have a vehicle, so we had to take all we could on foot. The journey to Udayarakattu was very hard.

Some of our own people, three of them died due to the tiresome, hard journey and bombardment. A few weeks there and we moved to Suvandirapuram. Every displacement reduced our traveling baggage.

Then to Vaikkal, Vattuwal and Rettai Vaikkal (Double Canal) were the last places of our displacement till we crossed over to the Army controlled areas. In all these places we suffered.”

They narrated the Prices of the commodities during those days in Vanni.

A bottle of Coconut oil – Rs. 500.00
A kilogram of Rice – Rs. 3500.00
A kilogram of Sugar - Rs. 3000.00
A kilogram of Chilies - Rs. 15,000.00

“The LTTE was reluctant and angry as we were planning to leave their territory. They shot at us. We had to hide for more than three days in the jungles to escape from the LTTE.”

They answered two of our questions posed to them, “Do you enjoy peace now? What do you expect from the Sri Lankan government?”

“There is some kind of normalcy, no more arms and fierce war but there is no peace. Still we are struggling to live. There are so many of our children in detention camps, some more in the IDP camps. There are armed groups and the Chavekachcheri incident (A seventeen year old boy was murdered by unknown persons) proves the point. There is continuous checking in our resettled areas in Paranthan. We are suspected. Then do you think we enjoy peace in freedom?"

“We want the government to compensate our loss. We lost everything. At least the government must help us in self employment by income generating projects. We were not beggars but today we have been made beggars. Recently we had to come to the convent to beg for some cash to buy some food to survive. We need employment”

Just before arriving at Paranthan, we stopped at the Killinochchi Catholic Church and met the Assistant Parish Priest. He explained to us the present situation in Killinochchi, two hundred of his parishoners had come back from the Welfare camps and are getting resettled. Those persons who are resettled in and around the church have the basic needs attended to in a minimum way and their number is very small.

Those who are in adjoining villages are facing a lot of difficulties attending to their basic needs and their number is big. He said the Church organizations provide as much as they could as relief.

In Jaffna, we enjoyed the warm welcome of the Claretian Fathers and pitched our tent over there for a few days. Their hospitality was excellent and the Southern doctors were surprised.

Next day was our Medical Camp at Mandaitivu. Rev. Fr. Paul Rohan, the Parish Priest cum Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy in St. Xavier’s Major Seminary Jaffna organized the program with the assistance of Rev. Sr. Priscilla of the Holy Cross Convent Hospital. Just before the camp the doctors visited the Mandaitivu village and the people in their own displaced huts. For the past twenty years, the Sri Lankan Navy has captured the Mandaitivu village with these peoples’ houses and made it a High Security Zone.

The people were displaced several times in different places and have last come back but they are staying outside of the naval camp in huts just gazing at their own homes occupied by the Navy. The doctors spoke to the people and observed their utter poverty.

There were about sixty patients, infants, children, young and old. These young doctors attended to the patients with care and concern. Rev Fr. Paul and Sr. Priscilla acted as translators. These were the comments of some of the patients as they were leaving the camp.

“We were treated very gently. They were very attentive to us. For the first time we met some kind Sinhalese people. They were very kind to us. We are really grateful to them for coming all the way from Colombo to see us.

We will always remember them” During the visit to the Mandaitivu village, the southerners met some excombatants.

They listened to their stories of struggle and the life in the detention camps. In one house, we discovered a photograph of a young man garlanded. The young doctors inquired about it from the lady who was at home. She said, “This is my eldest son. He was in the Sea Tiger unit. He was killed in battle. He is my beloved son”.

When we were returning after the visit to the village, some of them were arguing, “Why did they join the movement? Why does this mother venerate her son who was in the LTTE?”

Within the group we could hear the whisperings, “Surely there must be a reason for the Tamils to take up arms. They saw it as a Struggle for liberation. That is the reason for these youngsters to volunteer and commit for the cause. As we see in our villages, the war heroes are honored, roads named after them and statues are made, these people honor their young leaders who sacrificed their lives for a cause”.

The Mandaitivu Community hosted a delicious sea food lunch for us. It was grand. After the camp, as Darshana, Anuradha and Pasindu are Buddhists we accompanied them to Nagadipa (Nainativu) by boat.

On the same day late at night the youngsters met a first year student from the Faculty of Arts in the Jaffna University. He explained his life story of running away under the orders of the LTTE, the forced recruitment and how the priests rescued him from the LTTE, in Iranaipalai, Mullivaikal, the last hours in Vanni with shelling and LTTE counter attacks, a few months in the IDP camp in Zone 5 of Cheddikulam and his release to be in the university to pursue his studies.

He recalled with deep pain that his parents are still in the IDP camp and he had visited them recently. There were a lot of questions from the southern youth. All of them agreed that they need to be educated and transcend ethnic barriers to be more human and civilized.

The Tamil young one praised the southerners for their enduring spirit to visit Jaffna and expose themselves to the hard realities. In return the Sinhalese Doctors welcomed them to visit Colombo and experience thehospitality of the South.

On our way back to Colombo, we visited The Holy Family Sisters at Kilinochchi. It was a revealing episode. We could see their convent just takinh shape after their displacement. One sister shared with us, “Seventy one of my students from Kilinochchi Maha Vidiyalayam were killed in this recent war. Many are missing. When I go to school, I feel the loss and the immense pain.

Recently I asked the children, who had survived, displaced, lived in the IDP camps and just returned to Kilinochchi, to write about their memories of the final stages of war. I meant it to be a therapeutic exercise. They wrote so many pages in tears, sobbing and some moments with anger and fear.”

We had an opportunity to glance through these letters of pain and anguish. Almost all of these were ended with “Nandri” (Thank You Sister). That means the writing of the letters initiated by the Teachersister of these little ones had brought some kind of relief to relieve their pain.

As we coming out of the Holy Family Convent we were introduced to the lady cook of their house. She had lost two of her children in the recent displacement. She lost her son as he was a victim of a kfir attack. She had to bury her son hurriedly as they were running away in fear and in the dark. She does not know where he is buried and how he was buried.

The loss of the daughter she was unable to recall. She was lost in the rush in the final hours as they were walking back into the Army controlled area through the waters. Although her relations pacify her saying that the eighteen year daughter is still living, she believes that she is no more on earth. She says that she experiences sense of a deep loss.

This mother, a widow was gazing at Fr. Sudam for awhile and began to weep and wail. She cried, “He looks like my son, my own son who is no longer on earth. My son was killed”

The way they experienced………

Dear Father Lasantha,

We must also thank you for giving us an opportunity to witness the fate of some of our brothers and
sisters living in Jaffna and Mandaitivu Island. We would have never seen their lives so closely without you and Fr.Rohan Paul.

Also I must thank you for your kindness and hospitality to us considering the fact that we are Buddhists. We always felt as we all were in a single team all determined to do the best service to the needy.

Looking forward to working with you in the future as well. All the best in all your future endeavors and keep up the good work...!

May the blessings of the Triple Gem be with you..!

Regards,

Dr.Darshana Chandrakumara.

Physical Healing Vs Healing of Attitudes

On 6 April 2010, people of Mandaitivu (all the people without any difference of religions) had the opportunity of being benefiting from a team of young doctors from the South who conducted a free medical camp. The medical camp was organized and the team of doctors was led by Fr. Lasantha, SJ who had already been to Mandaitivu several times to visit the IDP returnees.

For the people of Mandaitivu this was a new experience. In the recent past, there were several medical services organized by different NGOs for these people. But this particular medical service was with the young volunteer doctors from the South. The civilian habitable places of Mandaitivu are under the control of the security forces for the last 20 years and in particular Mandaitivu is called a Navy Village for last 15 years. (Whenever there is an emergency the Navy dispensary gives the first aid facilities for these people.) But in this medical camp with the volunteer young doctors from the South, the people of Mandaitivu came to know the other side of the Sinhala community.

For these people up to now, Sinhalese means soldiers who came to occupy their land and inhabit their houses. However, these people realize that there is another side to the Sinhala community. This dimension was manifested in this medical camp.

The team was very much dedicated. The doctors found time to spend with the people and were very attentive to their feelings in spite of the weltering heat of Mandaitivu on that day. They also brought a lot of valuable medicines with them and the other medicines were bought and distributed later.

I would say more than the physical healing, the healing of attitude was achieved through this medical camp. It was an exposure for the people with the kind hearted volunteer doctors from the South.

May God bless these Doctors!

Rev. Fr. Paul Rohan from Mandaitivu

Caste in modern Sri Lankan politics II

Caste in modern Sri Lankan politics II: in response to Prof.Michael Roberts

by Mudiyanse

Prof. Roberts, I wish to write some comments below with reference to usage of some words in Lankan vocabulary, explained by you. Kindly clarify:

Thuppahi: It is well-known that the ge name of the Obeyesekera family according to old documents is THUPPAHIGE as their origin could not be traced.

Here, thuppahi meant- nondescript or "...unknown mixed origin." Isn't this the same as themparadu or kalavam culture that we hear from political platforms even today. Could we say that ordinary people of the country ever used those terms to ridicule fellow islanders who were not Buddhists, just because Piyadasa Sirisena wrote in that manner.

Can you remember certain writers(Zaleski,SGP) of the Protestant and Catholic side also writing about pagans and barbarians of Sri Lanka. Could it be that though it sounds racist or nationalistic today, Dharmapala and Piyadasa Sirisena (who wore cloth and collarless jacket)wrote to counter the attitudes,treatment and the said writings of the English educated elite class.

Isn't that how Buddhists who were not bilingual and had not read the BIBLE were given names like "SATAN." I mean the sitz im leiben in this moment, as in textual historical analysis.

At this time, in the same way you helped us understand the psyche of the Sinhala Buddhists of the time , for the benefit of students of History like us who have not done meticulous detailed research like you, please give some references to writings(speeches, pamphlets etc) of Protestant, Catholic and other writers from about the times of the Portuguese ,Fathers Vaz and Gonzalvez, where special terms had been used to vilify or ridicule the Sinhalese/Buddhists/Tamils/Hindus. With great respect Sir, this sincere request is made to learn more and not
to put you in to any embarrassing situation.

Today,I consider Dharmapala and P.Sirisena as just some peculiar personalities in Lankan History. I remember reading 2 documents that belonged to the Evelyn Rutnam Institute. One was a copy of a letter read by a LSSPer- probably Prof. Warnapala at Navarangahala on the occasion of the Dr Colvin R. de Silva (50th Year in Politics)felicitation meeting written by Dharmapala to the British Govt that he was not against the regime, but was trying to improve the cultural traits of the people with his loud slogans.

The second was a pamphlet of Sinhala Stanzas printed by Sir Gerard Wijekone's supporters, praising him, when he contested the Kandy seat in the Legislative Council against George E. de Silva("Our George" associated with modern'Uduravana Jokes' or malaprops,) if my memory is right. Piyadasa Sirisena had written and worked vehemently against Sir Gerard it seems, and to attack him, the person who composed the verses had the first letter of each of the lines of the first 3 verses to read, when read downwards,PI-YA-DA-SA/ SI-RI-SE-NA/ JA-DA-YE-KI.The author was well-versed in about 7 languages and had been close to Sir Gerard and Sir DBJ's circle it seems.According to my informant, Caste had been the only issue that made Sirisena support George E. de Silva, as both contestants were not Buddhists.

So called denunciatory terms and others such as sankara,tuppahi, para desakkarayo, rata thota,prefix para,kochchi, hamba, yona, marakkala, para demala, hettiya, bhayi, in my opinion when analyzed must be taken in terms of the denotation,meaning, connotation,nuance and in what context in that period of the country the words were used.The life situation and the etymology of the word are very important. Only an etymologist would know that the word Iran and Eyre (Ireland) are identical in their origin-meaning Aryan. Likewise, a Sanskrit scholar would say that SUKIEHU (Often Buddhist priests greet people saying that word or say, sapawewa)and the dirtiest word for intercourse in Sinhala have the same meaning even though the action is different.

Similarly,from family to family, house to house, home to home,village to village and province to province, country to country it is obvious that all the above and many, many other words carried different denotations, meanings, connotations and nuances in the past, carry another now and will carry different forms in the future.

We know from history that some learned Sinhalese and Buddhists did not agree with the writings and sayings of Sirisena as well as Dharmapala.

Owing to their activities how many Sinhalese changed their western names and started wearing the so called the national dress? There were thousands of Sinhala Buddhist families who called the parents MAMMA and PAPPA.How many natives stopped wearing the somana, the crescent shaped comb and the straight comb after wearing the knot(which we had probably borrowed from the Malays of Batavia after the Dutch period)?

Can you remember the photographs of James de Alwis - scholar grandfather of Mr SWRDB and some Mudaliyars ?I learnt from my own paternal grandmother (b. 1877) many things about our Lankan culture which I mention below, and she was my first University.She was one of the few Govt teachers of the 19th Century who lived in the hill country as well as in Colombo and its suburbs and tasted much of different cultures of the island as a scholar.She remembered Dharmapala using the word ISTHRIYANI for the religion of a Buddhist man who married a Christiyani woman(istriya.)She also told me that when men wearing ornamental combs made out of bull horns went to him, he would embarrass them by saying that only bulls have horns etc.

The Hela group which wanted to effect a reformation to Sinhala were not a popular group among the Sinhalese; the group that believed in the evolution of the language according to people's needs used to call them "KAHINA PADARUWO" it seems."Let us conjugate (in Sinhala)after I return" in Hela was, "...ma gos akala Heluwenwanamuya("Drama-RANKANDA".) Therefore, don't you believe that not every Sinhala home experienced the diatribes used by the group which glorified the Dharmapala-Sirisena culture.

When I consider my family's culture, part of which came from my grandmother and my grandfather, sankara meant not Lankan (Tamil ,Sinhalese and Muslim together)but something negative from the West.Tuppahi Lansi were uneducated Burghers and Honda Lansi were pure Burghers.That reminds me that Dr Lucien De Zilva could not join the DBU as they thought that he was not a good enough Lansi.It is not a secret that he did not accept DBU membership when it was offered to him later.At home, 'para' prefix was not used for pitadesakkarayo. Among adults we would say pal wedak or para wedak to say that it is a low thing that had been done.Paradesakkarayo means strictly outsiders and it is not anything bad in a normal vocabulary.

If uttered with intones when emotionally charged in a so called patriotic speech, it is to demean the foreign invader and to show Lankan superiority. But, PARA DEMALA is BAD- period! Rata thota used together by my elders then and by me now, means country,like vaga thuga. Sirisena's usage is not at all a common one among the Sinhalese.Kochchi hailed from Kochin of India and that is why they got that name,as my grandma used to say. I do not think they were Tamil Kochins though they could be Dravidian Kochins, a sub group of Dravidians like Tamils.I hope Dharmapala is wrong there and many Lankans do not know much about the Indian races.

My grandmother told me that when it came to Dharmapala, people were scared of him- "katata bayayi." So , he had a following. Vidyodaya Pirivena went with him, but not Vidyalankara Pirivena, who did not take grants from the British Govt. thanks to Sir DBJ- the president of Pirivena Sabha for life, it seems. As a result of that Vidyalankara had been independent. There had been a lot of peer pressure via Dharmapala: that is why many Sinhala Buddhists dropped their Western names and took Arya Singhala names.

Hambanthota in the South originally came from the word SAMPAN THOTA, as specially during the Ming (?) Dynasty Chinese catamaran which was called a SAMPAN used to frequent that harbour or thota. Now I want to draw your kind attention, dear Prof. Michael Roberts, to the Tri Lingual Inscription (see RAS ref. please). It was in Chinese,Persian and Malayali (not Tamil as RAS doct says.)

My grand parents had taught me that like Haal and Saal for rice grain in Sinhalese are the same ( as a book-seller Iranologist son of theirs had explained as a characteristic of so called Aryan or Indo-European Languages in Persian, Bardoshtan and Vardoshtan where b and v are inter changeable and Bahar and Vahar for a Buddhist Vihara in Persian and Uighur are the same) s and h in sinhala are inter changeable and are the same like Hingala and Sinhala or Singala in Sinhala.Coming back to Hamba, Sampanthota became Hambanthota.

There was a time when, due to trade, SUFI seafareing Muslims had families in Lanka's Hambanthota which was another trade emporium in Lanka. I have to say that according to historical evidence the term Hambayo for all Muslims was used later and it was more an endearing term or a nickname than what you think of Professor. Please correct me if I am wrong.I do not think that there is any reference to Muslims in a derogatory sense there.

The word Marakkala ,as I learnt is a corrupted form of a misnomer which came into the Lankan vocabulary after the Moroccon traders started frequenting the ports of the island . As they professed Islam and mixed with the local Muslims the term used for identifying Moroccons became the common term for all of them, except the Malays(Ja). However, the common man would use the term to identify all Muslims or qualified the Malays as Marakkala Ja.Like Vahala(slave),Vahallu, hakura and hakuro, karavo, goigamayo, haliya, not in a perjorative or disparaging manner, but in normal conversations, marakkallu, javo and hambayo have been used.

Another interesting term, you will recall, that had been used for Muslims is YONA. The Yavanas were originally Greeks and then yavanas were people of the West as Lankans identified them in the literature. Yon is considered a corrupted form of Yavana as the ancestors of some Muslims of Ceylon had come from the West of Lanka (in the Middle East.) If you ask our former Head of Archaeology Prof Roland Silva who as we read takes tourists to Botale-Galapitamada area of the Senanayake clan, there is a large pit/area called "YONA MARAPU WALA" where a Muslim man had been killed in the 19th C. That the killers were never punished is a legend uttered by the villagers even now.

Another word used by the Dharmapala-Sirisena group is the word bhai (Bora) as quoted by Prof. Roberts. There also, probably due to lack of research on their part about the small Borah community they made a mistake. They probably did not know that it was a misnomer for the whole small Borah community or the male (Afghan) money lenders of my childhood who were seen outside Govt offices on pay days.Gonibilla and bhaiyya was the counterpart of a boogeyman(hobgoblin) of the West.

My grandparents had associated very closely with 2 Gujarati Borah families and all female names in their families had ended with the Gujarati honorific suffix 'bhai'or 'behen' and the males had the honorific suffix 'bai' .One of their friends was Zubaidabhai ( like the way Sikh Punjabi ladies have "Kaur" at the end of the name and men have "Singh.")To the Sinhalese , it became just one suffix and a group of "bhai" for Borah.

Thanks to the JRAS(CB) and the Hanzards, I have been a keen student of the lives and works of the late Patriot, Scholar and Statesman, E.W.Perera and those of Sir DBJ. The former's cousin the late Mr Will Perera also gave me many papers that enabled me to understand the political philosophy of his revered cousin. My understanding is that they held different views when it came to Constitutional Reforms, but saw eye to eye in scholarship and history.

To me their approach to problems were different to those of Hon. DSS- who at one stage was only following the two older Statesmen, though they started working together later. Prof. Roberts wrote, inter alia, that all the westernized Ceylonese who knocked at the ....such men like D.B.Jayatilake and D.S.Senanayake were not wholly removed from nationalist ideals and their associated prejudices. Here, I wish to request Prof. Roberts to consider the following and expand on his opinion of only Sir DBJ and his "...nationalist ideals and his prejudices" only because my knowledge is limited and I want to learn more of the man.

i. As a scholar Sir DB wrote articles such as "Christian methods of conversion." Some of those methods are now being adopted by Christian Evangelists and are being attacked by other Catholic and Anglican groups as well as established religious groups and some governments all over the world. I am far, far from JHU politics , but Sir DB's facts were facts. He spoke and wrote on Buddhism as a world religion, and that was his private conviction and was not done with any proselytizing ardor.

ii. When I went to SOAS many years ago I had the opportunity to read some papers of Leonard Woolf(LW) due to the good offices of Prof Charles B'ham (JRAS( E&I) Editor etc), and Messrs CR(Sinhala Dept)- and KDS(Library).

I remember how another Lankan tried to extract money from me to find me a rare book in a foreign language when he already had it in his possession; he died a few yrs ago.

Those papers referred to EWP & DBJ & wife MRS J in extravagant terms. Based on their discussions he endorsed, very strongly that Jayatilaka was an exceptionally nice gentleman.The 2 gentlemen worked with LW on the matters of the 1915 Riots for more than a year , and became great friends.LW had been convinced that the Sinhalese case as presented by the lawyers of Ceylon was right, that the rulers had been misdirected by some influential persons, and that an inquiry and a revision of cases against the convicted /those who were in jail, was necessary.

There wasn't any reference to Sir DB as a Nationalist or a racist at that stage.

iii. According to the State Council Hansard June 1,1944 this is what the following say:

a.Hon. G.G.Ponnambalam- ..."As a public man, he(Sir D.B.) was known to be the most outspoken critic of officials and bureaucrats....in the remarkable combination of qualities of scholarship ,of statesmanship and erudition, I think Baron Jayatilaka is difficult to be surpassed in the near future.

b.Hon. Diwan Bahadur I.X. Pereira- a nominated Member of the Baratha Community said that, ...Sir D.B'was a scholarly mind imbued imbued with moral idealism.

c. Hon T.B. Jaya, a nominated member of the Malay (Ja) Community -...endowed that he was,with the highest intellectual gifts, full of religious and moral fervor.

d. Hon. S. Natesan of Kankesanturai,... He brought to bear upon the problems of politics that sense of scholarship,poise and equability which distinguished his life throughout as a public man.

Prof Roberts or any other, please comment, and in the name of good scholarship please give the references as Professor R. always does.

Thank you

April 17, 2010

Red Cross Red Crescent launches appeal to support displaced people

IFRC Press Release

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have launched an emergency appeal for 3.6 million Swiss francs (3.4 million US dollars or 2.5 million euros) to support as many as 25,000 internally displaced people following decades of conflict in the north of Sri Lanka.

Many of the communities and displaced people were also affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. The appeal is part of a broader 5.8 million Swiss francs (5.4 million US dollars or 4 million euros) effort to assist the reconstruction of communities and to help the displaced rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

The IFRC appeal will focus on families returning to north-eastern Sri Lanka. The money will be used to help them construct 200 houses and repair 950 damaged houses. In addition, health and care services will be supported. The funds will also help to restart livelihoods and to build community resilience over the next two years.

It has been observed that most of the houses where IDPs are to be resettled are damaged, with about 75 per cent of houses needing repair works and 25 per cent of permanent houses needing reconstruction. “We at the Red Cross highly value an owner driven housing construction concept which gives people the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the places they lived before,” said Jagath Abeysighe, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, recognizing the need to provide urgent support for the returning people.

During the conflict in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Red Cross was at the forefront of humanitarian action, providing services to survivors and assisting vulnerable people in a coordinated operation led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The activities were supported by the IFRC and Red Cross Red Crescent partners around the world.

“There is a long way to go. This is the time for all of us to get together and support people who have been battered by several decades of war and conflict,” says Dr. Mahesh Gunasekara, health coordinator for the IFRC in South Asia.

“Schools have started functioning, but it is sad to see kids sitting on the floor of classrooms without roofs; no chairs to sit on or tables to keep their books on and write. Most of the local houses are damaged or destroyed. People who have returned home have started to repair their houses, but in the meantime most people are living in sheds.”

Many of the communities and displaced people were also affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. The appeal is part of a broader 5.8 million Swiss francs (5.4 million US dollars or 4 million euros) effort to assist the reconstruction of communities and to help the displaced rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

The IFRC appeal will focus on families returning to north-eastern Sri Lanka. The money will be used to help them construct 200 houses and repair 950 damaged houses. In addition, health and care services will be supported. The funds will also help to restart livelihoods and to build community resilience over the next two years.

It has been observed that most of the houses where IDPs are to be resettled are damaged, with about 75 per cent of houses needing repair works and 25 per cent of permanent houses needing reconstruction. “We at the Red Cross highly value an owner driven housing construction concept which gives people the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the places they lived before,” said Jagath Abeysighe, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, recognizing the need to provide urgent support for the returning people.

During the conflict in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Red Cross was at the forefront of humanitarian action, providing services to survivors and assisting vulnerable people in a coordinated operation led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The activities were supported by the IFRC and Red Cross Red Crescent partners around the world.

“There is a long way to go. This is the time for all of us to get together and support people who have been battered by several decades of war and conflict,” says Dr. Mahesh Gunasekara, health coordinator for the IFRC in South Asia.

“Schools have started functioning, but it is sad to see kids sitting on the floor of classrooms without roofs; no chairs to sit on or tables to keep their books on and write. Most of the local houses are damaged or destroyed. People who have returned home have started to repair their houses, but in the meantime most people are living in sheds.”

As of March 2010, nearly 93,000 people remain in temporary camps in several parts of the North. It is estimated that another 185,000 people have made their way home. A combination of destroyed public infrastructure, the lack of adequate medical services, and limited livelihoods, shelter and access to basic services is making this situation very difficult.

[Full Text of Press Release by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies]

Sri Lanka’s low voter turnout: A sign of coming class battles

by K. Ratnayake

The record low turnout in last week’s general election in Sri Lanka provoked consternation in Colombo ruling circles because it highlights the extent of popular hostility to the entire political establishment. Barely half of registered voters—just 52 percent—filled out a ballot; 12 percentage points less than the previous low in 1989. In the war-torn northern district of Jaffna, voter turnout was just 23 percent.

Every effort is being made in Colombo to explain away the widespread political alienation that the result reflects. After initially blaming the opposition parties for not campaigning vigorously enough, Transport Minister Dulles Alahapperuma declared last Saturday that the low turnout was proof that there was a “normal situation in a country with political and social stability” and referred to similar figures in British and US elections.

Quite apart from the fact that political relations and social tensions in the UK and Britain are not as stable as Alahapperuma suggests, the Sri Lankan result was far from normal—76 percent voted in the previous general election in 2004. For all the government’s victory celebrations, only about a third of registered voters cast their ballots for it. The results for the opposition parties—the United National Party (UNP), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)—were even more abysmal.

Last weekend’s Sunday Times, which postures as an independent voice, devoted its editorial to the issue. It bewailed the fact that “the voice of the people… has hardly been heard” and that “the mandate of the people that the government claims … remains an arguable point.” It took note of the excuses offered by opposition parties—thuggery and the government’s control of the state machinery—then pointed out, correctly, that such “abuses were not new”. Its own explanation was simple: “Voter fatigue—and apathy finally took its toll.” In other words voters, worn down by the succession of provincial, presidential and parliamentary elections in recent months, were to blame.

The Sunday Leader, which has been somewhat critical of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s autocratic rule, was unremittingly bleak. Its editorial last weekend, entitled “Democracy is dead,” declared that rule by “just one party, or more accurately, one family” had triumphed. “And the country’s citizens have just one choice, either demonstrate their loyalty, obedience and gratitude to the ruling family or risk detention, death or worse the utter irrelevance of powerlessness”. In a backhanded way, it also blamed voters, saying democracy would only revive if it “takes hold again in the hearts and minds of the people”. In other words, ordinary people were to blame for the “death of democracy” for allowing their democratic ideals to be snuffed out.

All these contorted rationalisations—both the self-serving explanations of government and opposition parties and the dark pessimism of the anaemic representatives of Sri Lankan liberalism—are designed to cover up a basic point. It was not that voters are “fatigued” or lack democratic sensibilities; they simply have no faith that their needs will be addressed by any of the capitalist parties or through the limited mechanism of parliamentary elections. Many registered their alienation, disgust and anger by not voting.

The depth of this hostility to the political establishment is the outcome of decades of civil war and attacks on living standards waged by successive governments. Support for the two established parties of Sri Lankan capitalism—the UNP and Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)—eroded as fighting with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued and their pro-market programs produced greater social inequality and hardship. In the 1990s, many people voted for the Sinhala chauvinist JVP as a protest, but its standing as an alternative plummetted after it joined the SLFP in government in 2004.

While many people opposed Rajapakse’s renewed war, there were widespread hopes that the LTTE’s defeat last May would lead to improved living standards and a relaxation of police-state measures. Rajapakse’s promises of “peace and prosperity” quickly proved false, however. Social inequality has only deepened, with 15 percent of the population living below the austere official poverty line. With the economy deep in debt, Rajapakse announced a new “economic war,” retained the state of emergency and cracked down on sections of workers fighting for better pay. The opposition parties, which backed the war, have no fundamental disagreements with Rajapakse’s pro-business agenda.

For the island’s Tamil minority, the end of the war has proven a devastating blow. More than quarter of a million civilians were rounded up and placed in military-run detention camps, where 80,000 still remain. A permanent military occupation is being established over the North and East of the island. The TNA, which functioned as the LTTE’s mouthpiece, is now reintegrating itself into the Colombo establishment. The extremely low turnout in Jaffna is a measure of the disgust felt toward the TNA, particularly after its support in the January presidential election for opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka, the general responsible for waging the brutal war that cost the lives of thousands of Tamil civilians.

The elemental hostility expressed by voters in last week’s record low turnout is a sign of coming class battles. Like their counterparts in Greece, Europe and internationally, workers in Sri Lanka confront a savage new assault on living standards as finance capital demands working people pay for the worsening global economic crisis. The first item on the government’s agenda will be to implement the IMF’s demand for austerity measures to slash the budget deficit in half by next year.

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) campaigned in the election confident that workers will not accept the new economic burdens and will fight to defend their class interests. Far from being apolitical, apathetic or fatigued, the Sri Lankan working class has a long history of political struggle—going back to the mass general strikes of the 1940s and the 1953 hartal that rocked capitalist rule on the island to its foundations. Workers are not lacking in their determination to defend their basic rights but confront definite political obstacles stemming from the treachery of their old leaderships.

Insofar as the high voter abstention reflects a rudimentary recognition that none of the existing parties represent the interests of working people, the result is to be entirely welcomed. But alienation, resentment and anger by themselves are not enough. The government is organising a savage new economic offensive and will not hesitate to use all the repressive measures at its disposal against any opposition. The working class must prepare accordingly—above all, politically. Workers can only fight for their class interests if a complete break is made with all the parties, trade unions and ex-radicals who keep them tied to the capitalist system that is responsible for the economic and social crisis.

The danger facing working people is that their contempt for the political elite has not yet been translated into the building of a political party that represents their interests. Just a relative handful of voters, the most class conscious representatives of the working class, cast a ballot for the SEP—the only party fighting for a socialist and internationalist alternative. The building of the SEP as the necessary leadership for the class struggles ahead is now the urgent task. We urge workers and youth looking for a means of fighting the depredations of capitalism to study our program and to join our party. [courtesy: wsws.org]

What place for the Tamils in the Rajapakse Yugaya?

by Rajan Philips

A new political yugaya is haunting Sri Lanka, and it is the Rajapakse yugaya. It is being compared to the Bandaranaike yugaya that lasted from 1956 to 1977 with a five year (1965-1970) UNP interregnum. Before that and for nine years after independence was the Senanayake yugaya.

MRNK123TW.jpg

President Rajapakse at Nallur Temple, Jan 2010

Following the Bandaranaike yugaya was the Jayewardene yugaya that went on for 18 years. Since 1994, the second generation Bandaranaikes only succeeded in squandering their political and other patrimonies. The shift of power from Horogolla to Hambantota and the emergence of the Rajapakse yugaya, aided and abetted by the Supreme Court, the JVP and the LTTE, began in 2005.

There is obvious oddity about discussing politics in yugaya terms in this day and age, especially after a century that saw the rise and fall of some mighty yugayas in the world – of Churchill (British), Stalin and Mao. So what needs to be asserted up front is not so much the impermanence of the yugayas (the term itself, originating from cosmic periodization in Hindu culture, suggests that) but the manner in which each Sri Lankan political yugaya was brought to an end. The end in each case was administered by the people, and in each instance an alternative was at hand.

The difference with the Rajapakse yugaya is that there is no apparent alternative. Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe has seen to that. He might have thought that he was being profound in interpreting the April election results as an indication of people’s disenchantment with the political system, but obviously he could not realize that almost all of that disenchantment is his doing. It is unfortunate that there is no electoral mechanism to ‘defeat’ an ineffective opposition. Even Mr. Wickremasinghe’s own Party cannot get rid of him for non-performance, whereas in Britain almost all Prime Ministers after World War II were forced out of office by their respective, Labour or Conservative, parliamentary caucuses before they became electoral liabilities.

The purpose of political opposition in a democracy is to make the government functional and accountable. Without such a countervailing force it would become almost impossible for a government to be functional, accountable and democratic. There is fervent hope among the more enlightened ones who uncritically support President Rajapakse that he will do the right thing on every matter now that he has been re-elected and reaffirmed. The evidence, however, is not as convincing.

With Mr. Wickremasinghe insisting on perpetuating his ineffectuality in Sri Lankan politics, it is up to everyone else to deal with the government in different ways. A formal opposition party opposes the government as preparation for its turn at the government. In the circumstances of an opposition vacuum, it is a formidable challenge for those who are not part of the government to find ways to work with the government where they could, and oppose and criticize the government when they have to.

There are two principal areas in which the dynamic of a government without opposition should be of concern. One is the general area of governance and democracy, and the other is the National Problem – the political relationship between the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims. The focus of this article is on the latter concern – the National Problem, the term that President Rajapakse’s Experts Panel on constitutional changes chose to describe Lanka’s ethnic problem, or what in Leftist jargon is called the national question.

Sinhala Yugayas and Tamil Yugams

For every Sri Lankan political yugaya named after a Sinhalese leader, there was a corresponding Tamil political yugam; To wit, the Ponnambalam yugam that was conterminous with the Senanayake yugaya, and the Chelvanyakam yugam that lasted throughout the Bandaranaike yugaya. The Jayawardene yugaya and the decades following were marked on the Tamil side for the most part by the Tiger yugam. The second uniqueness of the Rajapakse yugaya, apart from its not having an effective opposition in the South, is that it has no corresponding Tamil counterweight in the North and East. That is at least for now.

Democracy and the National Problem have had a strange relationship in Sri Lanka. Democracy aims at equality of citizens and is worked through electoral representation. Both requirements have been commendably met among the Sinhalese but the Tamils were shortchanged in regard to both. On the other hand, the Tamils while fighting for democratic equality vis-à-vis the Sinhalese have been quite inconsiderate about political plurality and intolerant of political dissent among themselves. The worst manifestation of inconsideration and intolerance among the Tamils occurred in the Tiger yugam.

But the foundation for this had begun earlier and the process was a mirror image of the government-opposition standoffs that marked Sinhalese politics in regard to the Tamil question. Let me explain. There were repeated instances when an SLFP government attempted to reach an agreement with its Tamil counterpart, the UNP from the opposition would strenuously campaign against the agreement; similarly, when a UNP government attempted a resolution of the Tamil question the SLFP would return the favour with vengeance.

On the Tamil side, a culture was created to condemn working with the government as treason while those who did work were condemned as traitors. This was part of the dynamic in the political succession from Ramanathan-Arunachalam to G.G. Ponnambalam, from Ponnambalam to Chelvanayakam, and it was the entire premise of the LTTE’s usurpation of Tamil politics from the TULF. The LTTE took it further to the most abominable step of sentencing to death those whom it peremptorily condemned as traitors.

These patterns of government-opposition standoffs and Tamil infighting that plagued the earlier yugayas are now remarkable only for their absence in the Rajapakse yugaya. It could be tempting to see their absence as an opportunity for the government to positively rewrite the script for improving the Sinhala-Tamil political relationship. But as I noted earlier, the evidence is far from encouraging.

The support in the South, for resolving the Tamil question, is much stronger outside the government circles than within the government. And those within the government who take a progressive position on the Tamil question are not in the loop when it comes to decision making. Equally, the absence of Tamil infighting is not the result of a positive cultural change but part of the dreadful aftermath of a devastating war. The war has taken the air out of Tamil politics; there is no vigour or vitality, only stunned emptiness. The aftermath of the war among the Sinhalese, certainly among those who support the government, has been one of euphoria and triumphalism and ungenerous niggardliness in regard to politically accommodating the Tamils.

The biggest difficulty and unprecedented challenge that haunt the new yugaya are the physical, social and psychological devastations left behind the war. No previous government has had to deal with rebuilding and restoration on such a scale, and the present government is not certainly among the better ones that Sri Lanka has had in preparing and implementing development programs. What is involved here is not just the building or rebuilding of physical infrastructure, as an extension to existing infrastructure amidst well established political, social and industrial institutions. These institutions have virtually collapsed in the war affected areas, and there is no purpose in building physical infrastructure without addressing the institutional vacuum at the same time.

Complicating the challenges of the new yugaya is the international dimension of the Sri Lankan National Problem. Sri Lanka’s National Problem is not an international problem like the Palestinian problem, the Iranian problem or the Korean problem, but a problem that has attracted considerable global scrutiny that the government cannot easily escape from. Correlating with the global scrutiny is the emergence of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora as a factor in Sri Lankan Tamil politics. The Diaspora is the result of large numbers Tamils leaving the country, primarily to escape communal violence, police and military harassment and Tiger conscription, but the spatial displacement has not severed their emotional, familial and material ties to their natal lands. While these ties explain their stake in Sri Lankan Tamil politics, they are not helpful in defining the role that the Diaspora could or should play in Sri Lankan Tamil politics.

President Rajapakse has been raised to the plenitude of Sri Lanka’s political power, but he might not be willing to do everything he could in regard to the National Problem. In fact, some would argue that there is no apparent need for him to do anything other than what is already assigned to the Tamils especially after they let the LTTE fight a war against the government. Keeping the LTTE bogey alive and continuing preoccupation with security and sovereignty may be seen as survival strategies for the government from inevitable public outcry against economic hardships and politicians disrespectful of law and order.

On the other hand, international pressure including pressure from India could force President Rajapakse into some action. Should he decide to act, there is no shortage of ideas and proposals in the government’s file on the Constitution to help him along those lines. He will have less than little official Opposition in the South to contend with, with the main opposition potentially coming from within his own government.

There will also be pressures on the elected Tamil and Muslim MPs to work with the government on initiatives focused on the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Tamil MPs will face conflicting pressures emanating from within the Tamil society in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora. The MPs should have no cause for concern if they restrict their involvement to addressing the immediate requirements of the people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Beyond that, their cooperation with or opposition to the government should be on a case by case basis. They may have to exercise what Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam jointly proposed in 1947 as “Responsive Co-operation”, but never jointly practiced.

The Rajapakse government is expected to fall short of a two-thirds majority by only a few votes in parliament, and there will be pressure on Tamil MPs to add their votes to the government tally to bring about constitutional changes to address the National Problem. The Tamil MPs should join hands with the government for such a purpose. But they would be well advised to refuse support for any constitutional amendment that might be attempted to remove the 2-term limit on the Presidency. The intention of this amendment would be to enable Mahinda Rajapakse to contest a third term. For Tamil MPs to support such an amendment would not be responsive cooperation but irresponsible cooption.

April 16, 2010

Tamil Group urges urgent action by President Rajapaksa to address mounting Tamil concerns

Full Text of Press Release:

Tamil American Peace Initiative Responds to Sri Lankas Parliamentary Elections

Noting the disappointing results of the April 8th Parliamentary Elections in Sri Lanka, the Tamil American Peace Initiative (TAPI) called on the winning party, the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), to immediately start working towards reconciliation between all religious and ethnic groups on the Island.

TAPI admonished the UPFA and President Mahinda Rajapaksa for missing so many opportunities in recent months to heal the countrys wounds. The group called on the president, his party and the government to take urgent action to address mounting Tamil concerns, and it urged the international community to become more engaged.

Above all, TAPI stated, the newly elected Parliament should act to demilitarize and rebuild war-torn regions in the North and East; release detainees from internment camps; resettle displaced Tamils and help them rebuild their homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses; restore rights to fishing and land ownership; invest in infrastructure and industry in Tamil areas; approve a general amnesty for suspected former rebels; compensate war victims and survivors; bring the perpetrators of war crimes to justice; and end programs that seek to change the demographics of Tamil regions in the North and East.

Commenting on the unusually low voter-turnout just 50 percent in the central provinces and less than 20 percent in many Tamil areas -- Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham, a TAPI spokesman, said: Low voter turnout across the country shows that the Sri Lankan people have lost faith in the government and the political system. Many Tamils were blocked from voting, and others refused to give their consent to the government by casting ballots. The UPFA must work towards reconciliation if it hopes to win-back the peoples confidence.

About TAPI

The Tamil American Peace Initiative was formed by a group of Tamil Americans to help
bring lasting peace, justice, democracy, good governance and economic development to Sri Lanka; to focus attention on the destruction of Tamil communities and culture caused by 30 years of war; and to demand an end to the continuing oppression of Tamils on the island.

T.N.A. Performs creditably in parliamentary elections

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) contesting under the House symbol of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK)has performed creditably in the recently concluded Parliamentary elections. By the dint of this performance the TNA has strengthened its claim to don the political leadership mantle of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Though results of Trincomalee district are yet to be officially released due to the re-poll scheduled for Kumburupitty polling station according to unofficial estimates the TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan has won his seat there. [click here to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

Is the TNA Sinhala/Tamil MP Piyasena under siege in the East?

By Chackravarthy

It took me few seconds to realise whether what I was reading, that a candidate named Podiappuhamy Piyasena was elected from the predominant Tamil Party TNA as a member of Parliament for the Digamadulla/Ampara district, was right or not. I knew nothing about him, black or white, but his news beamed my heart with pride.

What a wonderful reconciliation to douse the ethnic strife this country had been marred with for the last three decades, and, that is also from the very party that was labeled to be the proxy of the marauders known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, who killed not only the Sinhalese but also members of all communities.

How did the TNA find such a prize candidate? It was my curiosity.

Like the CNN says, ‘beyond the border’, my imagination flew like a rocket in the sky, thinking how nice it would be for Lanka when this MP speaks in the parliament in two national languages for the development and welfare of the dual communities he represents and also the party of which he is a member.

Probably he would be the first with a Sinhala name to speak better Tamil in the august Assembly that witnessed many unsavory talks and deeds in the recent past. It is a good omen I told myself. Do not think I am criticizing any body’s Tamil. Trial and errors are always welcome signs in any effort.

Previously, the government conducted the Eastern Provincial Council election in order to install a favorable Tamil CM [who is not so cozy at the moment] and to show the world that the Tamils also were with the regime. Here the TNA seems to have scored more brownie points.

But my hope was short lived. Someone pissed in the pot. Within less than a week, what I listened to the BBC and what I read in the transcurrents “The Tamil speaking Sinhala MP from TNA is confined to "house arrest" due to threats and unable to move about freely. Tamil goons of the ruling UPFA conduct terror campaign against newly elected Tamil National Alliance MP from Amparai [Digamadulla]”, shocked me much more than his initial election victory that surprised me earlier. I wondered what problem, what crime this man did in such a short time?

Generally the word “Tamil goons” used to refer to a group in the Northern province only and now it has branched to the East too. Oh God, what kind of Democracy is this? It is crazy and mockery? Just because one person won and another lost, does it mean the one blessed with political power can do any harm on him?

The power he has today, he did not have yesterday. So tomorrow or one day it is sure to go. What will happen then? This world has seen so many such terror emperors who ultimately perished. If we do not learn from history that we will also become a part of the history, the end will be pathetic for any one.

Besides, it is said that Podiappuhamy Piyasena is elected by the Tamils and Sinhalese of Ampara electorate. His plight now is, he has been caged into his house by security advice as a sect of the government supporters who are also Tamils threatened him and his Tamil voters also with violence and he has been unable to help those who seek his protection as a MP. It is true when the mother is sick who will care for the child?

The MP says his supporters were attacked in the presence of Police. Therefore none is prepared to complain to the Police since the complain will directly go to the complained who have access to the highest authority of the land. A kind of ‘Mervinism’ seems to be spreading like cancer to all parts of Lanka including the Eastern province.

Violence prone Nawalapitiya too does not show good image of the government. Democratic People’s Front Leader Mano Ganeshan claimed that two of his campaign teams had come under attack on the 15th injuring two people and damaging two vehicles. “My supporters are being attacked continuously. I now fear that I too will be attacked very soon“.

If this trend is unchecked timely, a gap of an ocean will be created wider, instead of bridging, between the rulers and the ruled Tamil population. That is not what we want in 2010. Further it looks the fate of two minority candidates Ganesan and Rauff Hakeem depends on how Nawalapitiya conducts the re-poll on the 20th.

In this electronic era a news takes only few minutes to go around the world. When Lanka is trying to have new lease of life with new image, authorities should understand that such unruly electoral acts will give negative picture only. Better take care of the dam before it bursts.

What ever that may be, the question whether this government enjoys the confidence of the minorities, especially the Tamils and Muslims, does not get a favorable reply. No doubt terrorism and war are despicable in any nation.

At the same time, after the war against terrorism is officially declared to be ended victoriously, harboring endlessly on the war and the war victory for political gain will create a fear psycho among the minorities despite of the dividends from the majority.

Look at the General Election result of Colombo district. The former UPFA minister P. Radhakrishnan had done yeomen service to the Tamil community when detention and arrests of Tamil youths were concerned. He was seen in the police stations as well as in camps. His election campaign too was not vociferous but quite decent and gentle.

Alas, he got only 8,000 votes where as Mano Ganesen’s brother Praba who is not that popular like Mano and apparently did little to the community compared to the Ex Minister, has become an UNF MP with 42,851 votes. His colleague, though lost, polled four times more than the Ex Minister.

Mano used to shout and fight for the Tamil cause. What did his sibling do? But the Tamils of Colombo district, more of the city of Colombo had preferred him than the Ex Minister whose help they sought even in the middle of the night. Were the Tamils ungrateful to Radhakrishnan? No. Their deity was Lord Ganesha [elephant] than Krishna.

Another UPFA candidate from the upcountry’s king maker image party was also got trounced pathetically. Tamils of the capital city are independent and well versed with the country’s politics. Further they only were destined to bear the brunt of the Buffalos. Therefore their choice was different regardless to one’s past service.

Next is the Muslims. For the first time in Sri Lanka’s political history, Colombo elected none of the Muslims who constitute to half of Metropolitan’s population. What was the reason?

In plain, Colombo Muslims are for UNP as that party does not disturb their trading activities from the payment to large factories. On the 8th a substantial number of them did not turn up to the booths. Why? It was a known fact that the minorities in bulk supported the opposition’s presidential candidate in January election. Still many believe the result was tinkered.

A sort of apathy for election too prevailed among them in addition to the un satisfaction over the sitting Muslim MPs for their failures in attending to their needs. Further the government kept on saying that they looked for two third majority since their winning was already confirmed. This government is well known “to do what it says“. Will any sensible gambler have a kick to bet on a losing horse? Any way such low polling does not auger good on the government.

Finally, electoral violence in Sri Lanka must be eradicated or curbed as it is against Dhamma where Lord Buddha wanted not even an ant to be killed while walking. Persons like Podiappuhamy Piyasena must be adored not attacked while the likes of Mahindananda Aluthgamage reprimanded, for the future generation to enjoy good democracy. It is the rulers who should take the initiative. Will they?

April 15, 2010

"There’ll be no New Year until I find my daughter"

KILINOCHCHI, 15 April 2010 (IRIN) - Uthayakumari, 39, lost her husband and a son in fighting between Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces in 2009, and is still searching for her daughter who went missing earlier the same year.

Uthayakumari, 39, of Kilinochi lost her husband and son in the war. Today she continues the search for her daughter-pic by: Udara Soysa/IRIN

The girl was aged 16 when she was forcibly recruited by the Tigers in 2007. Uthayakumari and her family made an ill-fated decision to stay in LTTE-controlled areas to remain in contact with her.

“People in the country are celebrating the New Year this week. For me, every hour that goes by is an hour of suffering and weeping for the death of my loved ones, and trying to locate my lost daughter.

“They [Tamil Tigers] were on a child-abducting spree - they wanted to expand their ranks. My daughter never wanted to join the LTTE. They abducted her in December 2007 from Kilinochchi town and kept her in their camps on the war front. She was a beautiful child who never liked violence, but the LTTE took her away.

“We were helpless. In those days, the LTTE controlled all these areas [in Kilinochchi], so we couldn’t do anything about the abductions.

"We didn’t want to leave the war zone because our daughter was held by the LTTE. I didn’t feel it was right for our family to run away, leaving her. As the war and LTTE moved from Kilinochchi to Mullaitivu areas, we also moved with the LTTE.

"Later on, in April 2009, we decided we had to leave as the war became unbearable. A lot of shelling was going on.

“While we were fleeing Mullaitivu to government-controlled areas, a shell fell between my husband and my son. They both died on the spot; I saw my husband's body being torn into pieces. I was very near to them. My spirit died that day, and I’m now living like a dead person.

“Soon after the last New Year, I lost the people I loved the most. How can I celebrate another New Year? Nothing feels new or fresh to me.

“I have contacted the authorities to find my daughter. I cannot locate her at all. Please help me to find my daughter. Many LTTE-abducted children were rehabilitated and released by the government, but my child was not on any of those lists .

“For me, there will no New Year until I find my daughter. But I just don’t know where to look for her.”

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Conflicting history of Sri Lanka and the ensuing discords

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The comments on my previous article ‘Create the conditions that will banish the idea of separatism’ show the misconceptions and mistrusts that exist in the minds of some Sri Lankans. It is not only the different versions of the island’s history but also the supremacy given to the ethnic majority, contrary to democratic and Buddhist principles by some parochial persons that have prejudiced the minds of the people.

The perception that a powerful ethnic Tamil minority is a threat to the future of the ethnic Sinhalese whose language is unique to Sri Lanka is also due to the undue importance given to matters irrelevant to the future of the island nation. On the contrary these have obstructed the building of a unified multi-ethnic nation. This will be the case as long as the emotional attachment to majoritarianism prevails.

Past, present and future

The battles for capturing adjoining land by avaricious kings and feudal chieftains have vanished centuries ago. The developed and the markedly developing countries, where peace and unity are omnipresent have shunned their past history a long time ago and their development process is based on present regional demographic realities and a futuristic outlook. These are considered to be vital for the future of their nations. But in Sri Lanka the same approach irritates the supremacists, whose notion of nation is outdated and divisive now.

As long as the majority cling on to the version of the history of Sri Lanka they have read or heard that suits their perception, which is completely different from the reliably known past and importantly the present demographic and regional features, there is little chance of building one robust multi-ethnic nation. In this regard, it needs to be emphasized that the mix up of legend with history is unhelpful. It is just imagination that makes them think the Sinhalese are the sole heir to the entire island separated from south India by a narrow strait. Instead of accepting the traditional settlement pattern of the population and directing the efforts on national development, most governments since independence have been aiming towards changing the demography of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the Sinhalese are not the major ethnic group.

Tamils have been living in the island long before the arrival of Portuguese in 1505. The Tamil farmers in south India following long period of severe droughts moved to better or promising places far outside their villages. There had been some migration centuries ago because of this need to seek a suitable area for cultivation. There were no border controls then and later on Indians were also brought in by the colonial rulers to work as menial labourers.

Even before the tea and rubber plantations emerged during British rule, they were brought to help in the growing/peeling cinnamon, fishing/pearl diving and coconut cultivation. The upcountry Tamils are the descendants of the labourers who arrived during the British rule. Unlike the earlier immigrants who assimilated into the indigenous communities, they have maintained their distinct identity.

Kusal Perera in his recent article posted by groundviews April 12 titled, “Aiding and abetting to kill plurality in ‘patriotic’ Sri Lanka has said: “Both the 1948 Indo-Ceylon Citizenship Act which turned plantation sector Tamil people into nonentities and the changing of demographic pattern in the East through large scale agri schemes in favour of large Sinhala settlements, provided for more Sinhala MPs in parliament. e.g. 07 Tamil MPs elected to the first parliament in 1947 from N’eliya, Maskeliya, Kotagala, Nawalapitiya, Badulla, Bandarawela and Aluthnuwara electorates were replaced by 07 Sinhala MPs at the next general election in 1952”. His analysis of the April 8 general election results sans two electoral districts Kandy and Trincomalee shows the increasing shift in the same direction. The contributions of the upcountry Tamils to the island’s economy have been quite significant. They have every right to be an integral part of the island nation.

It is an undisputable fact that it was the British who after capturing the kingdom of Kandy in 1815 had administrative control over the entire island. For few years the British Governor governed the Kandyan areas according to Kandyan law, with modifications as necessary. It was only in 1831 the island was brought under a single legislature by the British government. But certain customary practices observed by Kandyans and Tamils continued to have the force of law. The centralised administrative system did not exist before the British colonial rule. Different parts of the island were then ruled separately by monarchs or chieftains.

There were many separate kingdoms in medieval Sri Lanka. These were in Ruhuna, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Jaffna, Gampola, Kotte, Sitawake and Kandy, The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was the second major kingdom. It lasted from 1055 under Vijabahu I to 1212 under the rule of Lilavati. The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa came after the Anuradhapura Kingdom was invaded by Chola forces. However, some territories were ruled by Sinhalese kings during Chola occupation.

There seems to be confusion between the concepts of unitary state as against unitary government. Unitary state can mean a federation and not a centralised government which is the case when reference is made to unitary government/ administration. This is evident from the resolution adopted at the March 1996 conference of the Maha Sangha held at the BMICH, Colombo under the patronage of the Mahanayakes of the three Nikayas, presided over by Venerable Palipane Sri Chandananda Mahanayaka Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter of the Siam Maha Nikaya. The declaration adopted at this Conference attended by over 2000 Bhikkhus stated that “the Island of Sri Lanka has been a unitary state for two thousand five hundred years. The coastline has been the border of this state”.

It emphasized the victory of Duttha Gamini in the fight against the south Indian invader Elara (2nd century BE, i.e. 5-6 century BC). It was stated that the victor "ruled over Lanka in single sovereignty". The missing part is the mutual understanding the subsequent rulers in Kotte, Kandy and Jaffna had for co-existence. Perhaps the intent was to stop the past pattern of conflicts for dominance and to ‘live and let others live’ peacefully. The object here is not to claim one version of the island’s history is more authentic than others but to emphasize the fact that there are fundamental contradictions which should not influence the way forward towards the island’s unity, peace and progress. However, there are some facts that are obvious and should not be ignored.
Clarifications

For example, one ‘patriot’ has commented (my previous article – ‘Create the conditions -------‘) that “there are not very much Sinhala like words in Tamil. It is more close to the Tamil in Tamil Nadu than to Sinhala”. This perceiver has asked: “WHY IS IT THAT TAMIL AREAS OF HIGH POPULATION EXIST NEXT TO TAMIL NADU where there are 70 million Tamils? Isn't it conceivable that Tamils at various times migrated to Sri Lanka from the neighbouring Indian area?” There were Tamil settlers in the Kandyan kingdom too. In fact the Kandyan rulers had close ties with Tamils than with low country Sinhalese. The Sinhalese opted to live in the wet zone where they do not have to toil as hard as those living in the dry zone.

A research project carried out in 1995 by Human Genetics unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo in collaboration with the Department of Human Genetics, University of New Castle Upon Tyne confirmed that the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka are the descendants of a single genetic group. Moreover the DNA of Tamil Nadu Tamils also matched with Sri Lankan Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims. (Report of Researcher E. Logeswaran) There are no indications to believe the Sri Lankan Muslims are the direct descendants of Arabs. Some speak pure Tamil better than the traditional Tamil Hindus.

There are many proofs to establish that Tamil was the main language even during the time the Portuguese landed. For example, the king of Kotte, Bhuvanehabahu VII signed the treaty with the Portuguese in Tamil. One of the Kandyan Chieftains, Ratwatta Disawa signed the treaty with the British in Tamil. There are also many original and modified Tamil words in the Sinhala language, which evolved as a distinct language of the settlers outside North-East Sri Lanka The spoken language of Sri Lankan Tamils, particularly Jaffna Tamils is still relatively pure. Those familiar with the Tamil used now in Indian TV channels would have noticed the increasing use of English words, particularly in teledramas.

Sinhala words borrowed from Tamil

Wiktionary says, the Sinhala language has borrowed a great many ‘loanwords’ from Tamil during the more than 2000 years of coexistence of the Sinhala and Tamil communities on the island of Ceylon The words pertaining to the fields of commerce, administration, botany, food, and military are numerous. This is because, (i) new innovations and goods usually reached the Sinhalese via the Tamils whose area of settlement separates them from the rest of South Asia and (ii) Tamil-speaking Muslims conducted most of the island's foreign trade since the 10th century CE. Moreover, since the two neighbouring settlers have been exchanging material goods, there are many Tamil loanwords pertaining to everyday and social life (kinship terms, body parts, ordinary activities etc.).
The main ways Tamil words are incorporated into the Sinhala lexicon with different endings indicated in Wiktionary are as follows:

* With an /a/ added to Tamil words ending in /m/ (e.g. pālam > pālama).
* With a /ya/ or /va/ added to words ending in vowels (e.g. araḷi > araliya).
* With the Tamil ending /ai/ represented as /ē/, commonly spelt /aya/.
* With the animate ending /yā/ added to Tamil words signifying living beings or /yā/ replacing the Tamil endings /aṉ/, /ar/, etc. (e.g. caṇṭiyar > caṇḍiyā).

Sinhala names of places and persons have also been derived likewise. For example, Tamil names ending with the letter m appear without this letter in the Sinhala version. E.g. Wijesingham, Wijeyaratnam or Rajaratnam in Tamil are Wijesingha(e), Wijeyaratna (e) or Rajaratna (e) in Sinhala. Mahendiran in Tamil is Mahendra in Sinhalese. The first name of many Sinhalese women are the names of Hindu goddesses e.g. Lakshmi, Janani. Saraswathi. Lalitha, Abhi or Abhirami

A list of the Tamil and equivalent Sinhala words together with the relevant field the usage emerged as given in Wiktionary is in the Appendix.

After independence many Tamil historical names of locations in the North and East have been given the Sinhala equivalents. For example, Manal Aru is now Weli Oya. This should not be confused with the contemporary non-Tamil names of places e.g. Jaffna because of occupation by the European countries beginning with the Portuguese in 1505 and later the Dutch and the British. Thus, contemporary Sri Lanka has place names which contain roots derived from Elu, Pali, Sanskrit, Sinhala, Tamil, Malayalam, Portuguese, Dutch and English names. Some twisted names are due to the inability of the invader to accurately sound a local name. Thus a name may have a variety of different spellings in English (Ref. Gam Vaesiya in Sri Lanka Guardian 5 April 2010).

The linguists have confirmed the fact that the Sinhala language is based mainly on Pali, Sanskrit, Tamil and other Indian and Portuguese languages. Portuguese names are common among low-country Sinhalese than Kandyans. The latter maintained their distinct identity like the Jaffna Tamils. It was easier for the Kandyans to embrace both their regional and national identities because they unlike the Tamils did not experience racial discrimination. The dual identity, with the regional being subordinate to national is common in multi-ethnic countries like India where the regions have some self-governing powers.

According to Wikipedia, the legend and early recorded history of the Buddhist Sinhalese is chronicled in two documents, the Mahavamsa written in Pali (not Sinhala) around the 4th century BC, and the much later Chulavamsa (probably penned in the 13 century CE by the Buddhist monk Dhammakitti). These are ancient sources which cover the histories of the powerful ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The Mahavamsa describes the existence of rice fields and reservoirs, indicating a well developed agrarian society. This also gives the reason for the Sinhalese to have preferred to settle in the wet zone.

Wikipedia also states: “The historical accuracy of the Mahavamsa prior to the death of Asoka is not considered to be trustworthy and so whether the story of Vijaya and Mahinda is true, is debated. According to Mahavamsa, the Sinhalese are descendants of the exiled Prince Vijaya and his party of seven hundred followers who arrived on the island at 543 BCE. Vijaya and his followers were said to have arrived in Sri Lanka after being exiled from the city of Sinhapura in Bengal, North East India.

The forgotten Tamil Buddhists

Buddhism is said to have been introduced from India by Mahinda, son of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka the Great during the 3rd century BC. An interview with the Thai Buddhist Social Thinker and Activist Sulak Sivaraksa by N. Shanmugaratnam on 20 July 1993 in Kyoto, Japan for Tamil Times (August 1993 and reproduced in 3 April 2010 Sri Lanka Guardian) also gives the links between the rulers in India and neighbouring Ceylon. As stated earlier some had their roots in south India and they helped to introduce Buddhism among the settlers in the island. There were Tamil Buddhists in south India and this helped the spread of Buddhism throughout Ceylon.

Scholar, Sulak Sivaraksa is the author of the book titled ‘Seeds of Peace – A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society’. He believed strongly in the ‘Middle Path’ advocated by Lord Buddha. According to the interviewer, he has been engaged, along with several others, in a dialogue with Buddhist monks and lay Buddhists from Sri Lanka on the ethnic conflict with the aim of promoting justice and peace there.

The following answers to the questions posed during the interview are relevant here

(i) The beauty of the Buddhist view is that you do not have to believe in a god. First of all, you have to be a peaceful, humble and simple person who is in harmony with other beings including non-human beings such as animals and plants and the natural world in general.

(ii) Believers in God “spend a lot of time and effort to prove the existence of a god. The basic question is one of finding ways to help those who suffer. In a sense everyone in this world suffers in one way or the other. Helping others is a good way to build friendship. I believe that friendship is possible even between persons who hold different views and spiritual values”.

(iii) On the present dominant approaches to capitalism and socialism he explained that “both have used social engineering strategies in their own ways. Social engineering has failed to create the conditions for human development. Capitalism does not merely make use of human greed but glorifies this human weakness as a great virtue. It celebrates self-interested behaviour. Capitalism encourages accumulation of wealth but does not easily allow even a basically fair distribution of it. It subordinates human development to the accumulation motive by putting the economic objective above all else. The equalitarian ideology of socialism is wonderful but in reality it has led to state capitalism and authoritarianism. Capitalism permits some individual freedom while denying a fair distribution of wealth. Under socialism we are ensured of a fairer distribution but denied basic freedoms”.

(iv) The most crucial difference Buddhism has with capitalism is that it does not seek to make a virtue of self-interest, greed and self-aggrandisement. In fact, Buddhism condemns greed, which can easily lead to aggression and hatred, and shows how to be content by changing yourself and striving with your fellow human beings to improve everyone’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, Buddhists have failed to deal with problems in that spirit.

(v) On socio-cultural realities and their tensions that exist in societies, he said that “we have to understand these and “evolve appropriate approaches so that no section feels discriminated against. As a Buddhist, I am an advocate of what has come to be known as the ‘middle path’ when it comes to development. We cannot turn the clock backwards. We must adopt from the modern systems whatever is good for the people’s human development and build a righteous society. This is no easy task and I know it involves compromises for the sake of peace and harmony”.

It is also very relevant here to cite his exposition of the role of Tamils in south India, presently Tamil Nadu in propagating Buddhism in Thailand. To quote: “Before the establishment of close links between Lankan and Thai Buddhists, we had a long period of interaction with South Indian culture. Tamil Nadu already had a rich culture many centuries ago and there was constant intercourse between Thai and Tamil culture. The version of Ramayana we have in Thailand came from Tamil Nadu. The Brahmanic mantras chanted at ceremonies in the Thai court are Tamil in origin although many people still think that they are Sanskritic (in origin). In fact, some scholars have deciphered the words and shown them to be Tamil. And Buddhism came not only from North India but from the South as well. Tamil Nadu had one of the most active centres of Buddhism in Kanchi”. It is unrealistic to assume that Buddhism came to neighbouring Sri Lanka bypassing Tamils in India and Sri Lanka.

Buddhists in Sri Lanka still go to Hindu temples for praying. Even statuettes and portraits of Hindu deities are in Buddhist temples. Strikingly, Sinhala Buddhists too like the Tamil Hindus believe in rebirth and astrological predictions. They also observe auspices times to perform certain important functions. It is common knowledge that many Sinhalese after observing piously the shared Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April wait for the auspices day to resume their jobs. Some Tamil Christians too observe these discreetly. These too indicate the common root of the diverse ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka. The other contributions of Sri Lankan Tamils to the entire nation such as independence from British colonial rule, education, health and economy have also been ignored.

Co-existence of Buddhism and Hinduism

According to researcher E. Logeswaran, there were 7 Sivan Temples and a Murugan temple as far back as 600 BC in Sivapumi (Ceylon). The Hindu God Eeswaran was believed to be the guardian protecting the island on all four sides

The 7 Sivan Temples were (i) Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu (ii) Naguleswaram in Keerimalai (iii) Koneswaram in Trincomalee (iv) Thiruketheswaram in Mannar (v) Sivanoli Pada Malai in Ratnapura district (vi) Muneswaram (oldest) in Chilaw and (vii) Thondeswaram in Galle.

The Murugan temple in Kathirgamam (Kathiragama in Sinhalese) is in the Monoragala district, Sri Lanka and is a popular holy place for both Sinhalese and Tamils. The protracted war that ended last May prevented many Tamils in the North-East visiting this shrine. Rameswaram and Mannar were not separated about 6000 years ago. The rising sea levels submerged about 2500 sq. km of land under the sea.

The study also shows there were different kingdoms in the island ruled mostly by Sinhala Buddhists of Tamil origin and in some cases by Tamil Hindus. The existence of Tamil Buddhists in the island during the time when Buddhism was widespread in south India is evident from the unearthed ancient statues and coins. Kantharodai was a monastery for Tamil monks. Stupas discovered there are different from those found in other regions in Sri Lanka. Statues of Buddha were found in Kantharodai, Vallipuram, Ponnalai, Makiyapitti, Nilavarai, Uduvil, Nainathivu, Chunnakam, Punguduthivu and Nedunthivu. Coins unearthed in Kantharodai had the figure of Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Let no one hastily conclude as before that the Sinhalese resided in the North and the Tamils moved in later from south India (Tamil Nadu)!

[Click on pic for larger image]

Statue of Lord Buddha ~ atop the Kurunegala Elephant Rock ~ pic: indi.ca

Follow the true Buddhist precepts for peace and harmony

Thus, there is no conclusive proof that the Sinhala Buddhists are the original settlers in Sri Lanka. It is high time that the distorted versions of the history of Sri Lanka are left behind and a pragmatic approach to reconciliation and all-encompassing development is taken soon for uniting voluntarily the divided communities; a division that arose from the failure to follow the Buddhist precepts. In fact, this failure is visible not only in poor governance but also the damning political culture and the rise in violence with impunity. This is directly connected with the political aims of the powerful politicians and their close associates.

Observance of human rights, humanitarianism and equality and justice for all, regardless of ethnic, religious and other differences is concomitant with the Buddhist way of life. As suggested by the Thai Buddhist scholar, Sulak Sivaraksa, the diverse socio-cultural realities in the plural society must be recognized and the ‘middle path’ approach of Lord Buddha that avoids discrimination against any group taken with determination. This will definitely ensure lasting peace and harmony. Majoritarianism and Buddhism are certainly incompatible. And so is majoritarianism and democracy.

Appendix: Sinhala words of Tamil origin [PDF File]

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

April 14, 2010

HRW: Discriminatory Policy Against Afghans and Sri Lankans by Australia Violates International Law

Promptly Process All Refugee Claims

(New York, April 15, 2010) – The Australian government should reverse its decision to suspend the processing of new asylum applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Immigration Minister Chris Evans today.

Human Rights Watch said that the new policy, announced on April 8, 2010, fails to recognize the serious threats to security for certain groups in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and violates Australia’s obligations under international law not to discriminate in the treatment of refugees.

“The Australian government shouldn’t cherry-pick among nationalities when deciding whose refugee claims get heard,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Australia should be setting a positive example for refugee protection in the region, not undermining international standards.”

The Australian government said it would suspend new asylum applications from Afghans for a period of six months and from Sri Lankans for a period of three months, in an apparent effort to deter unauthorized arrivals by boat.

Human Rights Watch said that the blanket suspension of all applications from nationals of specific countries is discriminatory under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, to which Australia is a party. Even if human rights conditions have improved in a country of origin, Australia is still obligated to provide individuals with an opportunity to claim asylum and to examine their refugee claims.

In the cases of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, however, Human Rights Watch’s research shows that human rights conditions are far from stable or adequate, and that individuals and certain groups continue to face significant threats and to lack effective protection. For instance, women and girls, ethnic and religious minorities, media workers, civil society activists, opposition party members and supporters, and alleged militants may be at risk of persecution in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch said the April 8 announcement about suspending asylum procedures alongside an announcement of enhanced measures to stop the crime of “people smuggling” implied criminality on the part of asylum seekers.

“Individuals under threat in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan sometimes have no choice but to turn to smugglers to escape persecution,” Pearson said. “While smuggling is a crime, the Australian government seems to confuse smuggling with asylum, tarring the victims with the stigma of crimes committed against them.”

Human Rights Watch noted that in 2008 the then-new Labor government initially made good on its election promises to protect the rights of refugees. But over the past two years, the government has changed course. Today, asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat remain subjected to mandatory detention, Christmas Island’s detention centers are again filled with asylum seekers, and now newly arriving Afghan and Sri Lankan boat people, including children, will be made to endure the hardship of additional months of detention, regardless of the merits of their refugee claims.

“In the heat of an election year, the Rudd administration is choosing politically expedient refugee bashing over the principles of refugee protection,” Pearson said. “It is a sorry reflection on Australian public opinion that the government thinks it must discriminate against Afghan and Sri Lankan refugees in the hope of winning votes.”

To read the Human Rights Watch letter to Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/node/89691

To read the January 2010 commentary, “Refugees are Not Bargaining Chips,” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/06/refugees-are-not-bargaining-chips

To read the November 2009 commentary, “For Refugees, Australia Should Rethink the ‘Indonesia Solution,’” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/11/06/refugees-australia-should-rethink-indonesia-solution

"Vikirththy Varudam": New Year dawns with renewed hopes for a better future with sustainable peace

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Sri Lankans celebrate the first post-war Tamil and Sinhala new year.“Puththaandu” or “Puthu Varusham” literally translates New Year. The New Year is the harbinger of spring.

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[Click to see and read more]

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Tamil goons of UPFA conduct terror campaign against TNA MP Piyasena

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Tamil goons of ruling UPFA conduct terror campaign against newly elected Tamil National Alliance MP from Amparai (Digamadulla.

Podiappuhamy Piyasena the Tamil speaking Sinhala MP from TNA is confined to "house arrest" due to threats and unable to move about freely.

In a pathetic interview to BBC Tamil service a terrified Piyasena said gangs had chopped at the doors of his house with axes to instill fear.

The two police constables assigned to protect the MP had not stopped it & had advised Piyasena not to venture out due to safety reasons.

Piyasena said his supporters had been attacked in the presence of Police who had done nothing. He himself was unable to go out and help them.

Piyasena whose father was Sinhala & mother Tamil said that despite becoming an MP for the first time in his life he was under "house arrest".

Goonda supporters of Kumaraswamy Pushpakumar alias "Iniyabharathy" who contested & lost on the UPFA ticket are responsible for the intimidation.

Iniabharathi is President Rajapakses co-ordinator for Amparai district& a senior deputy of Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias "Col" Karuna.

TNA leader R. Sambandan has contacted top Police officials&urged immediate action to protect the MP & prevent further intimidatory violence.

Unconfirmed reports say 15 goondas allegedly involved in the terror campaign including the "right-hand" of Iniyabharathi have been arrested. [Click for uodates: http://twitter.com/dbsjeyaraj]

Lanka born Sumi Kailasapathy runs for City Council in Michigan

Sumangala Kailasapathy, currently a resident in the city of Ann Arbor, has announced in a press release that she officially filed her nominating petitions recently to appear on the Aug. 3 primary ballot for City Councilperson in Ward 1. She will challenge incumbent Democrat Sandi Smith, media in the City of Ann Arbor reported.

The City of “Ann Arbor,” said to be bearing the names of spouses of the city's founders and its stands of trees gained a reputation in the 1960’s as a hub of the Civil Rights Movement and a forerunner against the Vietnam War.

City of Ann Arbor, home of the prestigious University of Michigan is still a bastion of liberal democratic activism and traditions.

Ms. Sumangala Kailasapathy, a former student of University of Jaffna, writes as follows on her campaign website soliciting the support of the voters in the ward:

SKTC414.jpg I am Sumangala (“Sumi”) Kailasapathy and have been an Ann Arbor resident for 13 years. I am originally from Sri Lanka, but have been living in this country for the past 19 years. I received my undergraduate degree (magna cum laude) from Wellesley College in economics and political science. I also have an MA and an MPhil in political science from the New School for Social Research.

I taught courses in Gender Studies, International Political Economy and Globalization at Eastern Michigan University for 10 years. Currently I am a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) at a downtown Ann Arbor firm.

I moved from Sri Lanka to the USA in 1991. While an undergraduate at Wellesley College, I worked with the local Chapter of Amnesty International to create awareness about the illegal incarceration of my fellow students back home. We also demanded AI change its mandate to agitate for the release of persons incarcerated by non-government actors.

I lived in Jaffna, Sri Lanka during 1980s when a civil war was raging there. After finishing high school, I went to the University of Jaffna to pursue my undergraduate degree in business. I was the treasurer of the University Students’ Union and was an active student leader defending not only the democratic, civil and human rights of the student community, but also that of the larger society under the dual threat of the military as well as the rebel group Tamil Tigers. The Students Union played a courageous role in defending the space of the civilians in an authoritarian environment. Many of my brave colleagues and teachers lost their lives in the process of defending human rights and dignity. Their courage and selflessness continues to inspire me to stand up for issues of greater good.

While I was an undergraduate in Sri Lanka, I also co-founded a women’s orgainzation called the Poorani Womens’ Oraganization. I was the treasurer of this organization after it was formed. In the initial stages, Poorani ran a safe house for the women who were victims of military rape. Then it metamorphed into promoting and undertaking micro financing in order to empower war-widows and destitute women who wanted to set up their own small businesses and projects that would provide them and their families with a livelihood.

Until Poorani inserted itself into the development arena, most NGOs were satisfied with donating sewing machines to war-widows and destitute women. Needless to say, this was informed by their limited imagination of gender stereotypes of womanhood. But a village that faced a massacre and ended up with 20 widows could not sustain 20 seamstresses. In the end most widows sold their sewing machines in the second-hand or used equipment market and ended up where they began: dependent and poor.

We at Poorani believed womens’ capacity and interests were limitless. We asked the women themselves as to what they wanted, and their answers were varied: one wanted seed money to set up a bicycle repair shop that had been run by her father and brothers before they were killed, one wanted to continue farming the fields that she and her husband had been doing and so on. Not one of them asked for a sewing machine!

How does all this link-up with the Ann Arbor City Council? It has many connections. First and foremost we need to listen to the constituents and find out what their priorities are and what they want. When everyone wants better roads and bridges why do we spend millions on a giant underground parking structure? When neighborhood committees want to preserve their single home character why do we force all these PUDs on them?

Jaffna, the civil war, and all my experiences seem a life time away from Ann Arbor in certain instances. But in certain other ways it seems like deja vu all over again. Accountability, transparency and a commitment to self determination are some of the core values that I bring to my political practice from my past experiences from back home. I give you my pledge that I will up hold these values as a City Councilperson if I am elected to office in November.

I have two sons, Ashwin and Keshav who attend Clague middle school and Logan elementary school. My husband Giri Jogaratnam is a professor at Eastern Michigan University and has taught there for the past 17 years.

Ann Arbor has provided us with a stimulating and nurturing environment for us to thrive. Running for City Council is a small way of saying thank you to all of you.

I hope you decide to vote for me in the August 3rd primaries so that I can work for you.

Related report on Ann Arbor.com:

1st Ward challenger Sumi Kailasapathy announces candidacy for Ann Arbor City Council

ByRyan.J.Stanton

Democrat Sumi Kailasapathy declared her candidacy today in the 1st Ward race for the Ann Arbor City Council.

Kailasapathy announced in a press release that she officially filed her nominating petitions to appear on the Aug. 3 primary ballot. She will challenge incumbent Democrat Sandi Smith.

A native of Sri Lanka, Kailasapathy has lived in Ann Arbor for the past 13 years and works as a certified public accountant for a downtown firm.

She moved to Michigan in 1997 after completing her graduate studies in New York. She has an undergraduate degree in economics and political science from Wellesley College (Massachusetts) and master's degrees in political science from the New School for Social Research (New York).

Kailasapathy taught courses in gender studies, international political economy and globalization at Eastern Michigan University from 1997 to 2007. She says the city's current fiscal crisis, wasteful projects, neglect of basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and threats of further cuts to basic services prompted her to challenge Smith.

She said her platform focuses on getting the city's budgeting priorities right and refocusing on providing basic services. She says her educational and professional background give her the skills necessary to help address the fiscal challenges facing the city.

Kailasapthy has two sons, Ashwin and Keshav, who attend Clague and Logan elementary schools, respectively. Her husband, Giri Jogaratnam, is a professor at EMU, where he has taught for the past 17 years.

Kailasapathy moved from to the United States in the early 1990s. She lived in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, during the 1980s when a civil war was raging. After finishing high school, she went to the University of Jaffna to pursue her undergraduate degree in business.

She was the treasurer of the University Students' Union and was an active union leader defending "not only the democratic, civil and human rights of the student community, but also that of the larger society," she said. "The Students Union played a courageous role in defending the space for civilians from the guns of the government forces and the rebel group Tamil Tigers."

Kailasapathy said many of her colleagues lost their lives "in the process of defending human rights and dignity."

While she was an undergraduate in Sri Lanka, she co-founded a women's organization called Poorani Womens' Organization. In the initial stages, Kailasapathy said, Poorani ran a safe house for women who were victims of military rape. Then it morphed into promoting and undertaking micro-financing to empower war widows and destitute women who wanted to set up their own small businesses and make a living.

While an undergraduate at Wellesley College, Kailasapathy worked through Amnesty International for the release of her fellow students back home. She says she has a wide array of experiences in organizing grassroots-level and community organizations.

Her priorities if elected to the Ann Arbor City Council, she said, include negotiating with the city's unionized employees in good faith to ensure fairness to the taxpayers as well as the city employees, reconsidering the "building rage" that has taken hold of the current council, and listening to neighborhood organizations and supporting them to determine the character of their neighborhoods.

Kailasapathy said she also would work to "stop the amassing of debt to build unnecessary parking structures," and halt the sale or lease of any city park lands. She also vows to work to amend the city's charter so that citizens have a voice in not only the sale of parkland, but the long-term lease of parkland as well.

Kailasapathy is political allies with local activists Jack Eaton, Patricia Lesko, and Lou Glorie, who are seeking to oust the current council majority in this year's elections. To find out more about Kailasapathy's campaign, visit her website or e-mail her at sumi4aa@gmail.com. COURTESY:ANN ARBOR.COM

April 13, 2010

Sinhala-Tamil New Year emphasises underlying "oneness" of our scociety

by ‘Kalabbhooshanam’ Chelvatambi Maniccavasagar

Amidst the divisive stains that have emerged in the political life of our people recently, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year reminds us a forgotten message. In fact, this New Year occasion emphasises the underlying oneness of our society. It reflects the homogeneity of thought and tradition that binds those born in our soil whether they live in North or in South. A common mood of festivity of goodwill and of generosity, the nearness of their astrological timings, the parallels in ritualistic observances, all confirms deeply rooted historical associations.

These bonds shows themselves large enough to establish a common allegiance, a common identity with the land of their birth.

This New Year, which is universally observed, generally includes rites and ceremonies that are the expression of mortification, purgation, invigoration and jubilation over life’s renewal. Furthermore, renewals mark the course of life is nature and in human existence.

The survival of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year through long periods of colonialism and Westernization testifies to the strength of natural characters in this country. It establishes the depth and durability of an indigenous culture. If bears witness to the long traditions that grew out of Lanka’s own ancient civilization.

‘Pudhu Varudam’ or ‘New Year’ which marks the Hindu solar New Year beginning on the first of the Tamil month of Chittirai. The New Year is indeed an auspicious occasion for the Hindus. In Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos too this day is celebrated as the New Year.

Further, from time immemorial, the Hindus have considered the transition of the Sun as an auspicious event, for the Sun is the presiding deity of the planetary system and the entry from Pisces, the last house in the Zodiac to Aries, the first house is significant marking the beginning of the New Year. The Hindu Almanac known as the ‘Panchaangam’ substantiated by astronomical calculations gives us the exact time of the dawn of the New Year.

In fact, the month of April also marks the birth of spring. Even in the Sangam classics there are references to the joyous activities of spring. The great epics "SILAPPADIKARAM" gives a vivid description of INDIRA VIZHA. The Lord Indra referred to in Silappadikasam and associated with festival of this nature. Lord Indira is considered to be a God of protection and in view of these favourable factors, the Hindus have counted upon "SITHTHIRAI" (April) as the first month of the year.

On the New Year day, the Hindus, particularly the women get up early in the morning and anoint themselves, apply a paste obtained by grinding some medicinal herbs and have a pre-dawn bath. They wear new clothes and go to temples for worship. In temples, the bells ring loudly heralding the birth of the New Year. The cuckoo peals the dawn of the melodious birth of spring with many tunes. The gentle dawn breeze embraces everyone and instills a sense of new hope and confidence.

In the homes, milk rice is cooked with jaggery and offered to the Sun or the Gods. The poor are treated with lavish meals. The workers, relatives and neighbours join in marry-making. The first handling of money is done at the auspicious time. This is called ‘Kaivishesham’ and is always received from good-hearted people. It is considered to be a lucky transaction and they look forward to an year of plenty and prosperity.

To the young, particularly the children, it is a day of sport and fun. They enjoy themselves wearing new clothes and lighting of crackers. The youth enjoy themselves with ‘Porthenkai’ (Crushing of coconuts). This sport is said to have come to Tamil Nadu from Greece when there was brisk Greece-Roman trade.

The young girls engage themselves in indoor games like swinging etc. In the evening, dance and music recitals are organized in the principal villages and towns.

Indeed, this New Year festival is significant since everyone is endeavouring to bring about peace, ethnic harmony and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Of the many festivals observed in different parts of the Hindu world, the New Year has been one in which all the people in every village or town to whatever class of society they belong await with great eagerness. The arrival of New Year fills us with great happiness. Goodwill, happiness and a sense of expectancy fills the air and the hearts of the Hindus and Buddhists.

In fact, New Year is observed with great reverence, devotion, a sense of duty and loving kindness towards all, stimulating society, enlivening the nation and fostering national consciousness.

Indeed, New Year is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystallised in the last hymn on unity in the Indian spiritual text the RIG VEDA:

"Let your aim be one and single, let your heart be joined in one, the mind at rest in unison at peace with all, so you may be". Hence on this great and glorious occasion of NEW YEAR, our paramount duty is to resist disintegration by strengthening the forces of integration. Let us not forget that Sri Lanka has a vision and mission. It should set an example to men everywhere to eschew violence and hatred and to tread the path of peace, love and compassion.

Sri Lanka which was described by great men as "pearl of the Indian Ocean", "the paradise isle of the East, "the island in the Sun" is passing through a critical and crucial period in history. As such, the need of the hour is profound and abiding love for the country and greater sacrifice for the sake of our children, the future generation.

As we commit ourselves to the ceremonies of cleaning and renewal, caring and sharing and usher in New Year, may our ethnic problem be sorted out so that we may work towards building a society where everlasting peace, eternal prosperity and communal harmony prevail in our lovely island ‘Sri Lanka’.

On this New year day, let me conclude with the soul: Stirring words of the great Poet Rabindranath Tagore:

"Where the mind is without fear and the
head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreamy desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-winding thought and action;
Into that Heaven of Freedom, my Father, Let my Country awake."

Very low voter turn-out among IDPs

MULLAITIVU, 12 April 2010 (IRIN) - Voters in conflict-affected northern Sri Lanka failed to turn out in great numbers for parliamentary elections last week, with many citing dissatisfaction with their own plight since returning to their homes after months of displacement.

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Many returnees were indifferent to the polls: Nalini Vijayarani, 36, resettled in Kilinochchi on December says " Ourconditions are extremely hard. Its been four months till we resettledbut we are still struggling with housing"

"Why should we vote?” asked Koneshwaran Bala, a recent Tamil returnee to the town Oddusudan in Mullaitivu District.

“As a community, we do not have leaders. There is no leader at the national level that talks about our sad state. I am not bothered at all to vote,” the 57-year-old said.

"I do not have a house with a proper roof to sleep under. There were promises given by various parties for months. I do not believe in them. I have no trust in what others can do for me - especially the government. I will survive on my own,” added 48-year-old Arul Elangovan, also from Oddusudan.

About 55 percent of Sri Lanka’s 14 million registered voters cast their ballots on 8 April in the first parliamentary elections since the government declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had fought for a Tamil homeland for over two decades.

Voter turnout in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts - comprised largely of resettled internally displaced persons (IDPs) - fell below 17 percent, the Sri Lankan Election Commission reported.

Of 68,729 registered voters in Mullaitivu, just 11,362 (16.53 percent) cast their votes, while in Kilinochchi, 11,019 of 90,811 registered voters, (12.13 percent) went to the polls.

But dissatisfaction was just part of the problem. In addition to outdated voter registration lists, many were denied their right to vote altogether, election observers said.

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A road outside Oddusudan. Lack of transport prevented many from voting

“There was more than one reason,” Keerthi Thenakoon, executive director of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), a national election monitoring body, told IRIN.

Many IDPs still in camps in the north were told they did not have the right documentation for voting. Moreover, election officials were unable to give the IDPs clear directions about what to do when their camp identification was not accepted, said Thenakoon.

As a result, there was mass confusion among IDP voters about where they could vote - the IDP camp, newly-resettled areas or their district of residence, the Colombo-based group said.

Compounding matters, after 2.30pm on the day, there was no transport provided to voters, making it impossible for many to reach polling stations.

According to preliminary figures released by election officials, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won 117 of the parliament’s 225 seats; the final result is still pending.

On 10 April, the US embassy in Colombo congratulated Rajapaksa - who was re-elected in a poll in January - and the UPFA for “their historic victory” in the first nationwide parliamentary election in decades.

“This victory, coupled with the President's win in January’s contest, provides a mandate to move forward on the important issues the President discussed during the campaign, such as national and ethnic reconciliation, decentralizing power, economic development, and securing human rights," said a statement from the embassy.

On 10 April, the Election Commission announced that re-polling in some booths for the Trincomalee and Kandy parliamentary constituencies will be held on 20 April, following complaints of election malpractices.

Results for the seats will be announced only after a re-polling is held.

According to the UN, of the more than 280,000 IDPs displaced by the conflict, over 104,000 have since returned to their places of origin, while another 82,000 are staying with host families.

The rest continue to live in IDP camps, the vast majority at Menik Farm in the northern Sri Lankan district of Vavuniya. ~ Pics by: Udara Soysa / IRIN ~

April 12, 2010

Reviving The Common Cultural Legacy of Sinhala and Tamil New Year

By Randima Attygalle

Erabodu mal blossomed and withered, the Koha larked and flew back, crackers mingled with the volition of cannons, mothers and wives sighed at the avurudu nekatha. Kevum and Laddu tasted bitter, the air of kovils and temples enveloped with pleas of devotees invoking the powers of gods above to unite the brethren hailing from common roots

The avuduru or sithra pernal of war-smitten three decades confined to mere words, devoid of its true spirit swathes the nation in a pall of bitter memories. The end of horrendous civil war symbolised the dawn of a new era to be embraced by the two communities sharing a common cultural legacy. The time has dawned for us to join hands and light a common hearth, partake a meal in kinship with the Sun God invoking His blessings on ‘children of one land’.

The generations which thrived in a ‘war culture’ in the last few decades should germinate seeds of national identity, beyond ethnic or regional boundaries for the future generations to reap the harvests, enabling us to call ourselves only ‘Sri Lankan.’ As the first Sinhala and Tamil New Year in the post-war context will see its light in a few days, bringing hopes for a new chapter in our history, The Nation spoke to some of the eminent Sri Lankans engaged in labours of cross-cultural diversity to share their perspectives of this special New Year and how the true meaning of Sinhala and Tamil New Year should be ‘lived’ and shared in brotherhood.

Veteran writer Somaweera Senanayake identifies this New Year as a renewal of history’s momentous occasions where the state patronage was extended to both Sinhala and Tamil avurudu rituals. “Our history holds testimony to the fact that these two ethnic groups shared a common cultural legacy starting from their relationship with the natural environment, reverence extended to the sun, moon and even agricultural pursuits. Even state patronage was extended to the Tamil customs, especially when Tamil princesses from South India were sought as brides by some of the local kings,” elaborated Senanayake.

Perceiving the 30-year civil war in the country as a division of two communities, which can relate to each other more comfortably than any other two ethnic groups, he strongly advocates a common forum for Sinhalese and Tamils to celebrate the real meaning of new year. “ The Sinhala and Tamil New Year, for the past three decades was merely confined to words and the time has come to manifest the real spirit of this unique national event of importance even beyond the shores,” cited Senanayake adding that technological know-how of modern times should be exploited to give the event international exposure.

Citing his recent experience in Kethumathi Buddhist Temple in Manchester, UK, where a Sinhala and Tamil New Year festival is being organised for the sole benefit of foreigners, Senanayake opined that a unique festival which demonstrates Sri Lankan identity should reach an international dais.

He added that celebrations in isolation should be replaced by common festivity, which should receive state patronage. “Especially in the North and East, more celebrations which would entice both communities to come to a common platform should be encouraged, if we are to embrace this special New Year with a special meaning after a nightmare of a civil war,” he emphasised.

Celebrated artiste Kalasuri Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan who has been engaged in tireless artistic efforts to create a dialogue of understanding in bridging cultures, believes that art is a potent tool of surfacing ‘unity in diversity.’ Via Aru Sri Art Theatre productions, launched in 2004, reputed for their innovation and creative flair, Ms. Ranganathan has been demonstrating to the world the ‘common rhythm’ shared by Sinhalese and Tamils. “We hail from the same root, sharing so much in common. The ultimate dialogue and building of cultural bridges consist of creating something together, the feeling of oneness. It should start with a mutual artistic, creative process in a mutual artistic language, the message I always attempt to give through my work. Sinhala and Tamil New Year is one classic illustration of our ability to do something together, to experience the feeling of oneness,” explained Ms. Ranganathan adding that from auspicious times to onchili waaram, the two communities are mutually bound together.

Sharing her thoughts about the first avurudu celebrations regenerated from the ashes of civil war, Ms. Ranganathan added, “This is the time to create mutual recognition, respect and understanding among the two ethnic groups. It will also provide new inspirations, promote new friendships. In this context I think artistes have a special role to play in promoting integration of culture in a diverse society free of discrimination and racial conflict, thereby upholding the true meaning of avurudu.”

Enthralling generations of youngsters through her ‘talking pictures’ and inspiring them to be proud of the local heritage through her unique authentically Sri Lankan idiom of writing and illustrating, is Sybil Wettasinghe whose work such as Kevum Yodhaya, Kiri Ithirinnai and many more which have captured the avurudu flavour. Ms. Wettasinghe who has been rendering a silent yet yeoman service of disseminating her books free of charge in predominantly Tamil-speaking areas in the island, derives immense pleasure receiving positive response to her work.

“Since 1971, my books have been translated into Tamil and as of late the demand for translations has been notably high, which is a positive sign,” says Ms. Wettasinghe adding, “There is hardly any difference between the two ethnic groups and this notion should be cultivated in our young generation, especially in the aftermath of war where a united nation is being built.

I think this coming Sinhala and Tamil New Year is a poignant moment in our history to start a fresh journey as a united Sri Lanka.”

Bringing Sinhabahu and Maname close to the hearts of Tamil theatre students of Eastern University of Batticaloa, creating a cultural bridge between Sinhala and Tamil artistic Diaspora with his masterpieces such as Ravanesan and fusing Koothu dance traditions of the Eastern Sri Lanka with Soakari and Kolam is Prof. Sinniah Maunaguru whose efforts of strengthening cultural harmony are praiseworthy.

“This year more people are interested in organising common celebrations for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, a significant change I observe. This process has been drawn into the political changes taking place now. The common rituals that Tamils and Sinhalese share at the New Year time, from the beating of drums, preparation of sweetmeats and games should go beyond the TV screen to the grassroot level, if we are to recognise diversity and plurality of our cultures,” Prof. Maunaguru shared his thoughts adding that despite our similarities, in the recent history, specially during the war, the practical experiences have been very different. “Historically, there have been figures who have attempted to create a spirit of togetherness, where all communities, especially the minorities feel that they too are Sri Lankans, a notion which should inspire the present generation,” he added.

“Many may trumpet a peaceful New Year with no war, but the reality is there are thousands of questions before the war-tarnished Tamil community which demand solutions. If these questions are unanswered or unsolved, the entire nation will face even more bitter consequences than a war,” cited eminent dramatist and film-maker Dharmasiri Bandaranayake. Breaking so called ‘regional’ and ‘language’ barriers, Bandaranayake succeeded in building cultural bridges between communities, exploiting his creative faculties. Pulling massive crowds to witness his productions such as Trojan Women in the Eastern parts of the island, rubbing shoulders at ease with Tamil speaking students of Fine Arts at theatre festivals, Bandaranayake broke the walls of language barriers.

“I think it’s high time that we came out of the triumphant war-mentality and face the reality. If we are to call ourselves one nation and prevent future conflicts, we must give the Tamil community with whom we share so much in common, equal dignity. It should be fostered in their minds that they too can claim a culture second to none. Both Sinhala and Tamil artistes have an agenda in this regard rather than becoming political pawns,” said Bandaranayake further.

An artist and women’s rights activist Kamala Vasuki whose expressions are predominantly the experiences of women scarred by war, views this coming Sinhala and Tamil New Year as a ‘return to early 70s’ in this island haven, memories of which are filled with ‘laughter and sweetmeats.’ “Then came the dark times where we all awaited the New Year with the expectation of silenced arms and comparatively peaceful days. Today, once more with the silencing of arms, there is a hope for such times as early 70s, the time of my childhood,” reminisced Vasuki who had witnessed the pain of women in this country as mothers whose children have been robbed away by a war which has never been their agenda.

“I have witnessed this pain beyond the regional, religious, class or caste identities and there are many who are struggling to survive the physical and psychological loss of war. At any auspicious moment such as the New Year will bring back the memories of their loved ones, the fathers, husbands, sons and daughters who may never return,” said Vasuki whose final words embodied a sincere belief in taking a united pledge to make Sri Lanka a conflict-free nation.

Tamil rituals performed during Sinhala and Tamil New Year

By Sarasi Paranamanna

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is a platform for national unity as people of both nationalities welcome the New Year with joyful celebrations.

The Tamil people celebrate the New Year on April 14 to mark the transition of the Sun into nirayana Aries, which is called Nirayana Mesha Sankranti. Greetings are made as “puththandu nalvalththukal,” which is to say “Happy New Year.” The rituals performed by the Tamils are similar to the rituals followed by the Sinhalese, but the auspicious colour to be worn during the New Year is different. This year, according to the Sinhala almanac the auspicious colour is green, but the auspicious colours for the Tamils this year, is red and white.

Before the day of the New Year, Maruthu Neer is applied on the heads of the family members with the blessings of a priest. Maruthu Neer is an oil made, using nine herbal leaves. After applying this special oil, clean water is boiled putting herbal leaves, selected flowers, milk and saffron to bathe. The household is prepared and decorated before the New Year. Saffron water is sprinkled after dusting and cleaning for further cleansing.

The front area of the house is especially cleaned to draw ‘kolam,’ which is a decorative design, done using scraped coconut or white rice flour. The drawing of kolam is not only for decorative purposes, but is drawn to make maximum use out of articles of waste. The Tamil community gives a special place for their religion as they go to the kovil before the auspicious time arrives for other rituals in order to receive the blessing from the priest for the coming New Year.

On the day of the New Year, the hearth is made facing a little away from the East at the auspicious time. A new pot is used to prepare the milk-rice and the fire is lit by the housewife. The housewife plays a major role just like in the Sinhala ritual system and even the lamps in the house are lit by the housewife in the New Year. The head of the household prepares the “mangala kumbam,” which is a pot with five mango leaves and a coconut.

Together with the mangala kumbam lit joss sticks, a tray of flowers, betel leaves milk rice and a comb of bananas is offered to their gods to get blessings for a prosperous future. The mangala kumbam and the other ingredients which are offered with it signify fullness and prosperity. In addition the younger generation offer betel leaves and worship the elders and the elders in return wish good luck for their future endeavours while presenting them money. This tradition is known as “kai vishesham.”

The head of the family starts work at the auspicious time signifying his occupation. If a farmer is starting work in the New Year he will cut a portion of paddy or if he is a teacher he will start by teaching a lesson and the children following the head of the house will study at the auspicious time, this ritual is called “er mangalam.”

Then the whole family sits down to eat at the auspicious time and afterwards the poor are gifted with new clothes and food. The culture and the rituals performed by the Tamil community bear many similarities to the traditions adopted by the Sinhalese community which reminds us that all of us are one community in one nation.

Tamil Spokesman: Australian Asylum freeze makes little difference to those fleeing Sri Lanka as last option

Australia Faces Backlash Over Freeze on Accepting Refugees from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan

by Phil Mercer, Voice of America

Australia could face legal action over its decision to suspend processing asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The government says that security in both countries is improving and asylum seekers are increasingly being sent home.

Australia's Labor government says Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have become more secure in recent months. As a result, asylum applications from those countries will now be frozen for up to six months.

The move will not affect asylum seekers currently in Australia but will apply to new arrivals. And it will not affect those coming from other countries.

Refugee advocates are considering taking the government to court, arguing the decision violates Australia's international obligations.

Human Rights Commissioner Cathy Branson is among them.

"We think there's a real risk that it is discriminating against groups of people based on their country of origin," Branson said. "The Australian Human Rights Commission is fearful that it will lead to breaches of Australia's international human rights obligations. In particular our obligation under the Refuges Convention not to treat groups of people differently based on their country of origin and our general obligation not to discriminate."

Since Kevin Rudd's government took office in 2007, more than 100 boats carrying illegal migrants have arrived in Australian waters. Afghans and Sri Lankans make up more than half of them.

The freeze on new asylum applications from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan accompanies new measures to combat the criminal gangs that traffic illegal immigrants to Australia.

Prominent refugee lawyer David Mann thinks the freeze will not cut the number of boatpeople heading to Australia.

"It's not an effective mechanism in relation to people who, at the end of the day, are fleeing from brutality to save their lives," Mann said. "This strategy in so far as it is designed to avoid obligations currently owed, flies in the face of our obligations, our international obligations, to properly assess refugee claims at the time they're made."


Sam Pari from the National Tamil Congress, an organization of Tamil immigrants in Australia, says freezing asylum applications will not deter those desperate to escape mistreatment in Sri Lanka.

"They obviously would rather live in their own land, live in their country of birth and live with their family in a place that they call home," said Pari. "So for them, these changes, these announcements, make very little difference because when they do choose to flee Sri Lanka on a boat to a foreign land it's because they have resorted to the last option that they have. And I don't think such announcements will make a difference when someone is trying to save their own life."

The Australian government says it is putting a hold the processing of refugee claims by Afghan and Sri Lankan migrants until the United Nations completes new asylum protection guidelines for both countries.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans says improving security in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka is likely to result in more asylum seekers being repatriated in the future.

"Evolving country information from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan is likely to have a significant effect on the outcome of assessments as to whether asylum seekers have a well founded fear of persecution within the meaning of the refugees' convention," Evans said. "The likelihood of people being refused visas and being returned safely to their homelands will increase. The government will review the situation in Sri Lanka after a period of three months and in Afghanistan after a period of six months."

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says recent elections in Sri Lanka are signs that the nation is stabilizing following the end of a long civil war.

Smith thinks that Afghanistan too is becoming less hostile for minority groups that had previously suffered discrimination.

"There was a time, indeed until quite recently there was a time when if you were an Afghan Hazara then you almost automatically fell within the provisions of the refugee convention," said Smith. "With the fall of the Taliban, with better security in parts of Afghanistan, with constitutional and legal change and reform, it is not now automatically the case that just because you are an Hazara Afghan that you automatically fall within the provisions of the convention."

Australia's conservative opposition accuses the government of losing control of the country's borders through more relaxed immigration rules, a charge the government denies. Some political analysts say it is possible the Labor government decided on the freeze to remove the sensitive issue of illegal immigration ahead of a federal election due later this year.

Australia annually takes in more than 10,000 refugees a year through international humanitarian programs. [VOA News]

Will The President move forward through a "Grand Bargain" with the TNA (ITAK) on constitutional reform?

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The results of the election to Sri Lanka’s parliament came in almost on the eve of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Will the election usher in an auspicious new beginning for these constituent communities in post-war Sri Lanka?

The back-to-back elections, Presidential and parliamentary, took place in a historical context and their results reflect that combination or cross cutting of factors: on the one hand, a ‘history-making man’ and an administration which won the war against separatist-terrorism, which four former Presidents had failed to, and on the other, an Opposition leader indelibly associated in the mass mind with a policy of appeasement and defeatism in the face of the existential enemy, heading a party which has failed to take its distance from him, that policy and that past.

The result in the North is clear: a victory for the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK). However, even in the Jaffna peninsula the President’s coalition has obtained a foothold thanks to its Tamil ally Douglas Devananda, whose tireless ‘mass work’ has paid off. The UPFA has scored around a third of the votes cast in the North and East. For the first time in decades, the State has a political presence spanning South and North, however thinly at the further end.

Still, when one takes into account the very high percentage of those in the North and East who abstained, as well as the votes for the moderate Tamil nationalist ITAK and the more militant splinter groups, the picture emerges of a Tamil citizenry, particularly in the North but also in the East, that is seriously – though not totally—alienated from the larger political community.

Do the results of the twin elections render the Sri Lankan polity uni-polar or bipolar?

Certainly with the UNP in free-fall, President Rajapakse and his coalition do not have any system-wide or island-wide competition, and in that sense the picture is uni-polar. From another vantage point, the map shows an asymmetry in domestic geopolitics, between the Rajapakse ruled Southern two thirds on the one hand, and the North and parts of the East, on the other.

Whichever the interpretation, President Rajapakse now has the chance that no leader since JR Jayewardene did and a better chance than any since Independence – the power and capacity to effect Sinhala-Tamil reconciliation on the basis of a prudent, fair and final political resolution of the conflict. By winning so convincingly, by the concentration and centralisation of political power to the point of quasi-monopoly, he has also removed every last vestige of an excuse for not doing so or to delay in so doing.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has proved himself a superb politician and a successful wartime leader. Can he now make the ascent to the next level, from being a great Sinhala leader, a great leader of the Sinhalese, to being a Sri Lankan statesman?

Will he use the moment and the momentum to press the re-set button on Sri Lanka’s Northern Question within the first hundred days of the new cabinet and parliament?

Will he press the re-set button to move forward to psychological unification and reconciliation through a ‘grand bargain’ with the ITAK (TNA) on constitutional reform, or to move backwards to non-consensual centralisation and the abolition or dilution of existing provincial autonomy through its substitution by sub–unit devolution?

Will we move backward (not least constitutionally and legislatively) to 1977-83, 1972 and 1956, or forward to the 21st century?

President Rajapakse and his ruling coalition now control all levels of the island’s polity: the executive, the legislature, the provincial assemblies and the municipal authorities. This makes Sri Lanka, once an overly fractious multiparty democracy with an entrenched and highly competitive two party system, currently closer to that which existed in India until 1977 and Mexico until a few years ago: not so much a ‘one party dictatorship’ as what political scientists term a ‘one-party –dominant’ system.

While this should guarantee unprecedented political stability, will it help resolve the country’s longest running problem, that of the psycho-political integration of the Tamil majority areas and the transcendence of parochial Sinhala-Tamil identities by an overarching Sri Lankan consciousness?

Will it enable Sri Lanka to accomplish its deferred task of integrating into Asia’s economic success by replicating the rest of Asia’s great leap forward into modernity?

That depends on how President Rajapakse chooses to invest the political capital of his cumulative victories. He has pulled off a hat-trick: won a war and two nationwide elections. Except for the Tamil majority North and East, his party dominates most of the country (possibly plus the strategic salient of Trincomalee district). Reverting to its old federalist platform, the TNA ran as the ITAK, and has won in the North and part of the East. It is the pre-eminent player on the Tamil side.

Remember the "Bandaranaike yugaya" (the "Bandaranaike Era")? Well it is now the Rajapakses’ round. The Rajapakse family now dominates the SLFP and Sri Lankan politics in much the same manner as did the Bandaranaikes (Sirima, Felix, Sunethra, Anura, Chandrika, and son in law Kumar, not to mention Mackie and Seewali Ratwatte and irate Ira). In the Gramscian sense, there has been a re-composition of the ‘power bloc’, and a shift to the Deep South which has provided the new ‘hegemonic fraction’ in what appears a stable, durable hegemony — or is potentially one, provided Sri Lanka’s Northern Question (Gramsci spoke of the Italy’s ‘Southern Question’) can be amicably resolved.

Now that President Rajapakse and his coalition are firmly in the saddle for at least the next six years, will the TNA unilaterally drop the slogan of self determination and unconditionally declare its loyalty to an undivided Sri Lankan state?

Will President Rajapakse avoid the short and easy route of securing a two thirds majority for constitutional change by attracting defectors from the UNP and opt instead for the moral high ground: a ‘historic compromise’ with the ITAK/TNA as the better means of a broader consensus for a new, post-war Constitution?

Will his serial and cumulative victories amount to politico-ideological closure, system stagnation and toxicity of the political subculture or, with the ‘extreme situation’ of war over, will it result in opening up, broad-basing and ethnic accommodation, making all ethno regional, ethno-linguistic and religio-cultural communities stakeholders in the Sri Lankan state?

Will these victories unblock the reforms imperative for modernization?

The answer will determine whether or not Sri Lanka catches up with the rest of its fast-moving Asian family.

The historical precedents are ominous: on the last two occasions any leader (and government) had a greater or similar plenitude of power, Mrs Bandaranaike in 1970 and JR Jayewardene in 1977, the fissure in the North-South tectonic plates widened drastically rather than narrowed. Furthermore, just as it has Douglas Devananda today, when Colombo governments had strong Tamil partners – GG Ponnambalam Snr, M. Tiruchelvam, V. Ponnambalam – they were diminished and devalued by Colombo’s handling of the Tamil question.

A striking feature of the results is that the UNP, hovering below 30%, has been unable to approximate the score that the newly widowed Ms Srima Dissanaike, who was not even a UNP member at the time, garnered for her party as presidential candidate in 1994 when the UNP was on its way out after 17 traumatic years in office and decapitation by Tiger suicide assassins. If one deducts the votes that have returned to the ITAK this time around, Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP obtained roughly 10% fewer votes than it did when the Opposition was episodically headed by General Sarath Fonseka. Even making for the Sinhala votes that have gone DNA-wards, the UNP fared worse at the parliamentary election under Ranil than in January.

The UNP meltdown is attributable to the dysfunctional leadership of Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe who was Prime Minister for a brief two years, but apart from that interlude has kept his party securely in the opposition benches from 1994 to date. Having lost elections at the hands of not only (war-winning) President Rajapakse but also his predecessor, (war-fighting) President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mr. Wickremesinghe has the reputation of being a serial loser. This time on a visit to Jaffna he ‘suicide bombed’ his own party’s election campaign by promising to remove all military camps except one airbase.

However he has two factors in his favour: the loyalty of civil society and ethnic minorities of the city of Colombo, which dominates the UNP although the road to electoral power lies through the paddy fields, the provinces and the Sinhala majority suburbs; and membership of the Jayewardene-Wijewardene family clan that continues to enjoy pre-eminent influence over the party. Thus the UNP under Mr Wickremesinghe ‘retained’ –has shrunk to — the country’s two main cities, Colombo and Kandy, while it has been swept away as if by a tsunami in the rest of the island.

The preference votes for Wimal Weerawansa, Douglas Devananda, Sajith Premadasa and Dayasiri Jayasekara (the top vote takers, the Rajapakses apart) show where the people of South and North are at: with a progressive or centrist nationalism, and personalities that are youthful, politically literate, articulate, nationalist-populist or populist-democrats. Neither the rightwing free-market pacifists nor the nativist ethno religious fanatics are their first choice.

Gramsci identified as an aspect of what he termed an ‘organic crisis’, the detachment from a political formation of those social forces that had traditionally supported it. While the UNP was always a more broadly inclusionary and representative party than the SLFP in its ethno-religious composition and support base, it was also able to retain the support of nationalist Sinhala Buddhists, thereby making it the largest single political party in the country.

Due to Mr Wickremesinghe’s deracinated minoritarian profile (yuppie old boys, city-folk, ethnic lobbies, INGOs) and abandonment of the UNP’s fusion of tough conservative patriotism with robust mass appeal, there has been a haemorrhage of Sinhala (not just Buddhist but increasingly, Catholic) nationalist voters from the UNP.

They will never return until there is a ‘game changer’ of a new leadership. Nothing else or less can repair the rupture, stem the outflow. Having marginalised itself under a ‘disorganic’ leader, the UNP is in a hopelessly self-destructive mode, driving itself to electoral extinction and its supporters to deepest despair and political destitution.

Australia suspending Sri Lankans claim of political asylum at odds with plight of media workers there

by Matt Wade

THE treatment of journalists is one bellwether of the human rights climate in Sri Lanka. But the Australian Government doesn't seem to be paying attention. It's decision to decision to suspend the claims of Sri Lankans seeking political asylum is at odds with the plight of media workers there.

Despite the end to the country's civil war 10 months ago, voicing a critical opinion in Sri Lanka remains very dangerous. In recent weeks, several journalists have fled the country fearing for their lives. They have joined scores of others living in exile because they feel it is too dangerous to report independently in their country. These include several Sri Lankan journalists I have encountered while reporting there over the past 18 months.

One media activist who worked for me as an interpreter in January has since fled Sri Lanka with his wife, also a journalist, and their small child. He found himself in a ''life-threat situation'' after the presidential elections and decided it was time to leave. The family is now in a European country that still accepts Sri Lankan asylum seekers. ''I have no idea when will I be able to come back home,'' he says.

Last year, a professional photographer who had taken pictures for The Age escaped to India after being accused of sympathising with the Tamil Tigers. Poddala Jayantha, editor of the Sinhalese newspaper Silumina, which has published stories critical of the government, was abducted and severely beaten last June. He was left permanently disabled by the attack. Despite his injuries, Jayantha remained in Sri Lanka for more than six months hoping to continue his journalistic career, but gave up recently and left the country. Last week, another long-time journalist activist left the country in fear for his life.

Meanwhile, there is grave concern for the wellbeing of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been missing since the evening of January 24.

According to some, the situation has become worse since recent elections.

The editor of the Sinhalese-language Lanka Irida Sangrahaya newspaper, Chandana Sirimalwatte, was arrested soon after Sri Lanka's presidential poll in January and held for several weeks. His newspaper, which is affiliated with an opposition party, has since reopened but with restrictions.

Sirimalwatte fears media freedoms will deteriorate further following this month's parliamentary elections, which were won convincingly by the coalition led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

''We are hoping for things to get better but we are ready for the worst,'' he told The Age on Sunday.

Last month, the International Federation of Journalists wrote to the President raising concerns about a list of journalists, human rights campaigners and other prominent individuals in Sri Lanka that was reportedly compiled and possibly circulated by state intelligence agencies.

The federation's Deborah Muir says the climate of intimidation in Sri Lanka now is as bad as it has ever been for journalists, and self-censorship rules the media across the island. ''For the Australian or other governments to say that there is no problem in Sri Lanka, and to accept the claims of a regime notorious for its efforts to undermine independent media voices and to stamp out free expression, appears to completely overlook the reality for people in Sri Lanka,'' she said.

''How can anyone claim the situation is acceptable when just last week a long-time journalist activist finally had to flee the country in fear for his life?

''We fear more may be forced out in the next weeks or months as the regime cements its grip and seeks revenge on those it deems to be its enemies.''

Matt Wade is South Asia correspondent of The Age [courtesy: Sydney Morning Herald]

Sinhala and Tamil New Year's Greeting from Secretary Clinton

Source: US State Dept.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC

April 12, 2010

On behalf of President Barack Obama and the American people, I congratulate Sri Lankans around the world as you celebrate Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

USHRC412.jpg

U.S. Secretary of State Hilllar Rodham Clinton speaks at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada during the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Ottawa, Canada March 29, 2010. [State Department photo by was Abigail Veronneau / Public Domain]

Every year this celebration brings the hope of new beginnings and fresh promise, but this year it carries added resonance. For the first time in decades, Sri Lankans from all parts of the island can celebrate together in a peaceful and united country. This is an opportunity for Sri Lankans of all backgrounds, living inside and outside the country, to renew their bonds and work together to build a prosperous, democratic nation defined by tolerance and respect for human rights. The United States is eager to support you in this journey and to build even stronger ties of friendship between our people.

I offer my warmest wishes for a safe and happy holiday and a prosperous New Year.

Information technology sector makes rapid progress in Tamil Nadu

by S. Sivathasan

Information Technology has made its impact on several economies, in terms of both investment and return. In the last quarter century, the services sector has been on an ever expanding mode. By 2009, it increased its share to 64% of world GDP. Within the services sector, IT has shown appreciable growth. IT encompasses both hardware and software. They serve the domestic and export markets. It is software exports that give a major thrust to a nation’s economy.

Throughout the history of software development and exports, the world leader had been US. Among smaller nations, Ireland and Israel were in the forefront. In the last two decades, India has made giant strides in the IT industry as well as in software exports. During this decade, Tamil Nadu has successfully placed the IT industry on a secure foundation for growth and development.

The value of software exports may be taken as a fair measure of the success of software as well as of the health of the IT industry. For the growth of export volume and value, the existence of several conditions may be presupposed. High levels of educational excellence, a culture of science, priority investment in research and development, state patronage manifesting in incentives are among them. All countries with a record of success will confirm the correctness of this assertion.

Software exports

The software product markets worldwide was to the value of $2.7 billion in 1980. It grew to $30 billion in1990. From that year, global software exports started showing phenomenal growth. In 2008, it grew to $304 billion.

Recession had its impact in the last two years, but signs of recovery are visible and a resurgence is expected in 2010. Forecast for 2013 is $457 billion. NASSCOM – National Association for Software and Service Companies - is the global trade body with 1200 members including 250 global companies from US, UK, EU, Japan and China. This body estimates India’s software exports to exceed $60 billion by 2013. It is foreseen that Tamil Nadu’s share of exports by the same year will be over $12 billion. It is likely that Karnataka with Bangalore as the Silicon Valley of India, will record $20 billion or more.`

Tamil Nadu

In recent years, Tamil Nadu’s rank in India has been second. Why not first or third? There is a history behind. She forfeited the first rank by failing to seize an opportunity that came her way. Texas Instruments ventured to take Information Technology to India in 1985. Two cities were selected, Madras and Bombay. The culture of education in the two cities and the levels attained were perhaps a factor.

These two cities along with Calcutta had established universities in1857. Tamil Nadu also had the distinction of having produced by that time, the only two Nobel Laureates in Science. However the two cities displayed lukewarm interest. Thereafter, Texas Instruments prospected Bangalore, where the response was very positive.

Bangalore

There may a lie an explanation for this stance of Bangalore and the high performance that followed. Among many factors favourable in Bangalore, was the existence of a large scientific community. At the turn of the 20th Century, the city had the benefit of a futuristic development through the benevolence of Sir Jamshedji Tata. He took a decision to establish the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, which became functional in 1908.

The culture of science that had developed around the Institute had radiated its benefits and influence in the city. Decision making capability in Bangalore had been exposed and sensitised to the world of knowledge. IT had come across very fertile terrain. In IT development and software exports, Karnataka stands pre-eminently first. Exports exceeded $16 billion in fiscal year 2008-09, while Tamil Nadu recorded $8 billion in the same period.

Acceleration

Tamil Nadu, though relegated for spurning the first opportunity, was swift in getting back to the main stream. The year 1997 marked a watershed in the development of IT in Tamil Nadu. To place the industry on a sound footing, the government formulated its IT policy. Tamil Nadu was the first state in India to do so and a multiplicity of actions followed. The industry, academia, trade chambers and banking institutions were swift in working out clear priorities and practical strategies.

Delivery of world class office space has been a crucial spur to the growth of the IT industry, particularly in the last 10 years. As strong challenges emerged with inter state competition, responsive support by the state government was quickly extended. One of the modes adopted was PPP-Public Private Partnership - under which TIDCO - Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation - a state institution was established to promote industrial development. ELCOT - Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu - was set up to encourage the growth of electronics.

Both the institutions acting in concert and supported by bank finance set up the TIDEL Park in Chennai. It has been operational from July 2000, providing 1.2 million sq. ft of office space to accommodate 12,000 professionals under one roof. The second TIDEL Park of 1.8 million sq. ft at Coiambatore is scheduled for opening by mid 2010. IT Parks are also coming up in Madurai and Trichy. In addition, heavy investment is also planned at Salem and Hosur.

For spatial dispersal of IT industry, Tamil Nadu is among the foremost states.

In the growth and expansion of the IT industry, the production and delivery of human resources is of critical importance. In the last 12 years, a significant contribution has been made in Tamil Nadu by the educational system. Enhancement of quality to reach levels of excellence continues to be an objective of the industry and the academicians. Some of the states of India and principal cities are moving ahead in a spirit of competition. Tamil Nadu stands foremost in the proliferation of engineering colleges and the production of engineers.

In 2005-06, there were 237 engineering colleges which enrolled 67,800 students. In 2008-09, there were 355 colleges which enrolled 122,900 students. The growth has been phenomenal and state patronage has been an impelling factor. The graduates from Tamil Nadu spread out to cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Cochin.

Infrastructure

Development of infrastructure is basic to the growth of IT. Attention to a few segments is inadequate. Development of the system is needed in its totality. Worldwide communication facilities are fundamental and these are being delivered. Statewide and inter-state connectivity are primary in a large country like India. Good tele density is another favourable factor.

International air connectivity with the state together with intra-state air travel facility are a must. Seamless travel by road and rail is as essential. Besides all the components of physical infrastructure, facilities for human resources development had to be built. Heavy investments have already gone into all these areas.

Scholarly studies by Indian Harvard scholars were made in the late nineties to place IT in TN on a futuristic course. With the advice of intellectuals, high end industry leaders and chambers of commerce, facilitation has been undertaken in a well integrated fashion. Results are now manifest. For fiscal 2008-09, despite the recession TN registered 29% growth in software exports while Bangalore’s increase was 23%.

In the last 10 years, TN had delivered over 40million sq. ft. of office space dedicated to IT. Investors and the construction industry have responded consistently to expanding demand. It is foreseen that the current decade will see a construction boom to meet exponential demand. Both the central and state governments have adopted policies to create a new investment climate to meet the challenge.

The central government permitted 100% foreign investment for IT space and Chennai was the first location to utilize that opportunity. In a campus of 10acres at Ambathur, three blocks with a floor space of 2.5 million sq. ft. are being constructed with investment from Americorp-a foreign firm. The first block will be ready for occupation in the course of 2010. The campus will accommodate around 20,000 professionals at one location.

In a 1,400-acre industrial complex at Mahindra World City, 45 km from Chennai, Infosys has a massive campus dedicated to IT. More than half the campus is already operational and at full development will employ 15,000 professionals at a single location. Siruseri a village in the IT Corridor, 20 km from Chennai is now an IT hub. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the largest IT firm in India, with several facilities in Chennai is completing its biggest project in Siruseri. When fully operational by 2011, it will employ a workforce of around 20,000 at a single location.

The project designed by Uruguayan architects and spread across 70 acres is being executed at a cost of Ind. Rs. 7.5 billion. At Tharamani, adjacent to Tidel Park, a prestigious IT complex called Ramanujam City is coming up. It encompasses an IT park, convention centre, residences, hotel, super markets etc., all on 4 million sq. ft. of floor space. It is being built by Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd. (TRIL ) along with partners, at Rs. 35 billion on 26 acres. The IT Corridor of 20 km, between Tidel Park and TCS complex, is home to 10 of the topmost IT firms in the country both local and foreign.

This corridor dedicated to IT presents planning on a holistic basis, where issues pertaining to residence, workplace transport, world-class office space, educational opportunities, health facilities, marketing, recreation and entertainment are all being addressed. An eco system conducive to a flourishing IT industry is being developed.

Future

Prudence derived from the experience of other countries would suggest the choice of fields having optimum leverage without undue effort. IT has demonstrated its earth-shaking capability for wealth creation. India, though late in coming into the field, has created history.

Similarly, Tamil Nadu too has displayed its capacity and is venturing for be top notch among the states of India. These would show that those higher in learning seek to make wealth the softer way through a more rewarding course. It is for a state to provide the facilitation to make the river flow speedily forward.

State Sovereignty or War Crimes?Which Issue Did Nihal Jayawickrama Really Want to Address?

By Kalana Senaratne

Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama (NJ), a known scholar in the field of international law, has reminded all of us of some very important issues concerning the protection of human rights, the nature and development of international law, and the notion of ‘sovereignty’. First, this reminder came in the form of an article titled ‘The Myth of State Sovereignty’ (The Sunday Island, 23.03.10), and then as ‘The Erosion of State Sovereignty: a Response to Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’ (The Sunday Island, 04.04.10).

The question I want to raise, as a student of international law, is very simply this: was it really about the ‘myth of sovereignty’ that Dr. NJ wanted to talk about, or was there a more sensitive issue that he wanted to address? I believe it is a case of the latter; hence, this short (albeit belated) response in the form of a few simple and direct questions (at the end), which Dr. NJ could answer in a direct manner and thereby end all speculation about what he truly meant when he wrote about the ‘myth of sovereignty’.

Human rights protection

It needs to be mentioned here, that I very much agree with some of the arguments raised by Dr. NJ in his two articles; especially those points relating to human rights protection. I do think (and here I strongly agree with Dr. NJ) that the Government should seriously turn its searchlight inwards when it comes to the issue of the protection of human rights. Since this point has been raised in many of the articles before, I do not wish to explain why this should be, any further. Dr. NJ points out that ‘the challenge that faces the new Sri Lankan Government is to recognize, acknowledge and address the fact that in recent decades compliance with human rights obligations has remained on the backburner.’ True. I also entirely agree with his critique of former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva’s bizarre judgment (of the Singarasa case), which caused many of the problems that Sri Lanka currently faces when it comes to this issue of legislative recognition of the rights contained in the ICCPR (an issue raised by the EU, for instance). Dr. NJ points out also, very correctly, that there is an ‘alarmingly long’ list of human rights abuses and states that if ‘we begin to address these issues now, seriously and with commitment, the international searchlight will surely cease to be focused on us.’ These points were raised in Dr. NJ’s second article.

State sovereignty

Now, these points were not raised so clearly in the first article that was published by Dr. NJ. And I have wondered that if this was the true message that he wanted to convey, why did he resort to such an erroneous argument, viz. that ‘Sri Lanka appears to be the only country in which it [sovereignty] is still, quite vocally but erroneously, being invoked’ in his first article, and thereby bring this entire argument of sovereignty so strongly and in a one-sided manner, so as to give the impression to the reader that it is only Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka alone?

I do not think that anyone wholly disagrees with the argument that the notion of sovereignty has eroded over the years, due to the numerous developments that have taken place, especially in the realm of public international law. The concept of binding international agreements, the development of modern human rights and humanitarian law (along with the establishment of various tribunals and courts, such as the ICTY/ICTR and the ICC) and the international regulation of many other subjects, the regulation of which would have traditionally been the concern of the particular ‘sovereign state’ alone - are far too obvious in this modern world, for any one to claim that there is anything called ‘absolute state sovereignty.’ In fact, the point that I am raising here is in support of Dr. NJ’s overarching submission (which he seems to have clarified in his second article), which is that: ‘the emergence of international human rights law has resulted in a government’s treatment of its own nationals becoming the legitimate concern of the international community. It has also resulted in the individual becoming a subject of international law.’

As a student, I consider this to be one of the most obvious lessons that any undergraduate would learn in international law. Open any major monograph on the topic of public international law and you would generally find this - ranging from the work of Michael Akehurst to that of Ian Brownlie, from Antonio Cassesse to Malcolm Evans, from J.G. Starke to Malcolm Shaw, from Robert Jennings/Arthur Watts to Vaughan Lowe, and the list could go on. Without relying on H. Lauterpacht for knowledge on international law and even a lesson on sovereignty (as Dr. NJ claims that he relies more on H. Lauterpacht), I would even make things easier for the lay man who may be baffled as to who this Lauterpacht is and refer to our very own version of ‘Lauterpacht’ – who is none other than the eminent international jurist Judge CG Weeramantry (with whom Dr. NJ may have worked on a number of pioneering projects, including one relating to judicial ethics).

Judge Weeramantry gives one of the most striking images of what this ‘sovereignty’ truly means to a newly independent State in Universalising International Law (see Chapter 4, titled ‘Emerging Dimensions of Sovereignty in International Law). Judge Weeramantry refers to a people in what is called ‘Afrasia’ and points out as follows: ‘Text books on international law would tell them [the people of Afrasia] that they have received their sovereignty as complete and entire as that enjoyed by Imperial Germany at the height of Bismarck’s stewardship. The reality, which becomes apparent to Afrasia’s rulers the next morning, is that their sovereignty is not the shining orb of power they thought they had received but a corroded and attenuated version which the textbooks had not described’ (p. 103). This is, in short, what every state is made to understand today, especially a state such as Sri Lanka – and I do not think, for a moment, that those who countered Dr. NJ’s arguments (such as Dr. Jayatilleka, Rajpal Abeynayaka, or even the columnist ‘Underpala’ in the LakbimaNews of 11.04.10) believe that this is not the case.

But, in pointing out that the notion of sovereignty has eroded, Dr. NJ does not explain fully well as to why, for example, the Asian region (and its major powers) rejects notions such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This rejection of notions that are perceived as threats to their sovereignty is very much obvious, if one goes through the analysis provided by persons such as Dr. Ramesh Thakur, in The United Nations, Peace and Security – who was one of the drafters of the R2P concept. It is not only small States, such as Sri Lanka, which guard ‘sovereignty’, but the major powers do it as well, in much stronger terms when necessary. Where is the evidence to claim that it is only Sri Lanka that jealously guards its sovereignty, however much the concept may have eroded over the years?

So, my question would be, if the evidence was such, why did Dr. NJ go so far as to claim that it was only Sri Lanka that appears to be resorting to the ‘sovereignty’ argument? Surely, Dr. NJ could not have missed such an obvious fact? Was it an exaggeration, on the part of Dr. NJ, to simply stress a point? Did it not appear to him that almost every State resorts to this concept of ‘sovereignty’, and hide behind it, whenever that particular state’s interests are at stake, or when its interests are threatened from an external element?

War crimes

This is why I get the feeling (and Dr. NJ could correct me if I am wrong), that Dr. NJ wanted to initially touch on an extremely sensitive issue and avoid giving a definitive answer concerning the issue – i.e. the issue of the possible ‘war crimes’ investigation. Having taken the government to task for raising its concerns about Ban Ki Moon’s decision – at a time when the UNSG does not seem to know very much about what he should do with regard to the numerous allegations leveled against other states, such as the USA, on similar issues – Dr. NJ did not proceed to point out how else the Government could have addressed the UNSG’s decision, or what he thought about the initial NAM endorsement of Sri Lanka’s position, etc. It seems that to stress this point, Dr. NJ resorted to an extreme claim that it was only Sri Lanka, and no other State, which would act the way it did; hence his argument that ‘when the UN Secretary-General announces his intention of appointing an expert committee to advise him on matters relating to compliance with international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, it is condemned as an infringement of our sovereignty.’ And having stated so, Dr. NJ proceeded, unfortunately in my view, to end the article (of course, on an important note) by stating, in somewhat vague and general terms, that the Government should address human rights violations immediately.

The problem Dr. NJ has raised – i.e. the issue of a panel of experts – is a serious issue, and it is not one for which a learned and respected scholar like Dr. NJ should provide a generalized and vague answer. It is of utmost importance that those who trust the scholarship and judgment of Dr. NJ receive an answer as to what exactly he thinks about UNSG Ban Ki Moon’s move – now that he has accused the Government of condemning it. If the Government should not have condemned, one needs to know from Dr. NJ, what the Government should have done.

We can go on and on about debating and discussing the necessity of protecting human rights in Sri Lanka, but when it comes to another critical issue as this – ‘war crimes’ – it is important that we come out more clearly on what we actually want the Government to do. Would Dr. NJ suggest that there ought to be a fully fledged investigation into alleged ‘war crimes’? if so, it needs to be stated so, clearly. Or that the Government should focus more on the general protection of human rights (through the strengthening of independent institutions etc.), and simply forget about investigating alleged war crimes? Or would Dr. NJ believe that some mechanism, akin to the Iraqi Panel established in the UK, would do?

Or else, would it be admitted (as many would do, including this writer), that while an investigation would have been necessary, that such an ‘investigation’ will never take place in Sri Lanka under any circumstances whatsoever – given not only the fact that Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has clearly stated that there will not be any investigation, but also due to the fact that any attempt to initiate such an inquiry, now that the electorate has overwhelmingly endorsed those who are against such a move (such as Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka et al.) would be struck down immediately?

This, to my mind, is the real question that Dr. NJ needs to answer; and not really those questions about the developments that have taken place in the realm of international law, or the names and number of international agreements that currently exist on the topic of human rights. I raise this question, not because I disagree with Dr. NJ entirely – but on the contrary, very simply because I tend to agree with many of the issues raised by Dr. NJ, especially on human rights protection and his critique of former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, who still has not answered my humble query (posed a few weeks ago in the Sunday Leader) as to what he thinks of the Optional Protocol which he so unashamedly dumped in the dustbin in 2006! Unlike Sarath N. Silva, I trust Dr. NJ would provide a clear answer (whatever that answer may be) to a question of such vital importance – ‘war crimes’.

(The Writer is a Postgraduate Research Student at the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong)

President Rajapaksa must suspend his party organizers for Nawalapitiya and Trincomalee

by S.L. Gunasekara

Election malpractices are regrettably nothing new in Sri Lanka: nor is the wholly hypocritical ritual condemnation of them in tones of simulated righteous indignation by all major parties. What would be new if it did happen is a political party taking disciplinary action against any of its Members of Parliament or other members for having indulged in such manifestly unlawful conduct.

Thus, the UNP has taken no action against any of its members for election malpractices committed at the infamous referendum of 1983 or the General Election of 1989; nor the SLFP/PA against any of its members who committed the most bestial of election malpractices at the infamous Dedigama By Election of 1973 or the even more infamous Wayamba Provincial Council Election of around 1996; while the UNP/UNF which was most vociferous in their condemnation of those whom they identified as being the principal villains in those murderous attacks on democracy at Wayamba, welcomed those very villains into their fold with open arms.

The `born again democrats’ of the JVP [now in disguise as the DNA] which is more vociferous in its verbal championing of democracy than any other [Abraham Lincoln included] has neither condemned nor sought the forgiveness of the nation for the wave of election malpractices committed by them at the Provincial Council Elections of 1988, the Presidential Election of 1988 and the Parliamentary Elections of 1989, when they committed countless murders and acts of intimidation to prevent voters from exercising their democratic rights. (It must here be remembered that the JVP’s current leader Amarasinghe was a member of its Politbureau at the time it committed such acts of rampant terrorism.)

Perhaps taking a ‘leaf’ out of the JVP’s ‘book’, the LTTE, through like acts of rampant terrorism engineered the victory of candidates of its lackeys of the TNA in the Northern Province at the General Election of 2004, but the TNA neither condemned such acts nor took nor caused to be taken nor sought to be caused to be taken, any action against those who indulged in such acts of terror. The conduct of the TNA after the LTTE (providentially for the Country, as it turned out) refused to permit the Tamils living under their thrall to exercise their franchise at the Presidential Election of 2005 was identical.

Many of the complaints of election malpractices that we hear today relate to the thaappa paappa brigade of candidates of the UPFA who defaced the walls and environs of our cities with posters ‘cut outs’ and ‘bill boards’ featuring their repellent faces. However, while the thaappa paappa brigade of the UPFA with ‘stalwarts’ such as Duminda Silva, Thilanga Sumathipala, Rohitha Bogollagama, Wimal Weerawansa, AHM Fowzie, Susil Premjayanth and Gamini Lokuge in the lead, the thaappa paappa brigade of the parties of the Opposition were not far behind, with ‘stalwarts’ like Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sarath Fonseka, Sunil Handunetti, Maharoof, Muzammil, Jayantha De Silva, Mohan Lal Grero, Rosy Senanayake, Wijayadasa Rajapakse and ASM Perera in the lead. Likewise, the Presidential Election saw the Country littered with posters, cut-outs etc of Mahinda Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka in flagrant breach of the Election Laws.

The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that all parties are addicted to committing election malpractices and that the quantum of such malpractices committed by candidates of any party will depend on its ability to do so, which in turn makes the candidates of each incumbent Government the chief culprits with many candidates of other parties writhing in jealousy because such candidates of the Government have done what they would have loved to have done but could not do because of the lack of opportunity!

It is, to my mind, the same with corruption which is roundly condemned by all and engaged in by virtually all who have the opportunity of doing so – so much so that it seems to me that when most members of the Opposition accuse the incumbent government or any of its members of corruption, they do so not through any kind of dislike or opposition to ‘corruption’ itself, but through overwhelming jealousy that it is the members of the government and not they who have the opportunity of being corrupt! This fact is borne out, among other things, by the wholly inadequate legislative provisions for eradicating or even curtailing corruption; the cosmetic and utterly ineffective provisions of the Declaration Of Assets And Liabilities Law; the ridiculous provisions of the cosmetic Commission To Investigate Allegations Of Bribery Or Corruption Act which, among other things, ensures that two thirds of its members shall be ‘geriatrics’, and gives the Commission hardly any room for acting independently; and the failure to prosecute the several Ministers and Members of Parliament who have failed to submit declarations of assets and liabilities.

Mahinda Rajapakse has achieved what no other Head of State has done before, by liberating this Country from the LTTE. If only he would set two more ‘firsts’, by eradicating, or at least curbing election malpractices and corruption, he would surely go down in history as the greatest Head of State/Government in Independent Sri Lanka.

A golden opportunity to commence such a ‘crusade’ has been handed to him on a platter by the annulment of the polls at seventeen (17) Polling Stations at Nawalapitiya and one (1) at Trincomalee.

Those annulments have arisen, according to news reports, as a result of complaints of acts of rampant thuggery committed by supporters of candidates of the government: the fact that the Commissioner of Elections has annulled those Polls makes evident the fact that there was substance in such complaints.

The result of the outrageous acts which caused such annulments are horrifying, millions of rupees of public funds will now have to be expended on a fresh poll, and the work in several Government Departments including the Police will be further disrupted by their staff being deployed once more for ‘election duty’; and, it will be the long suffering public who will pay the penalty for the misdeeds of such thugs.

While a comprehensive inquiry to bring the culprits to book must necessarily be held as a matter of urgency, there is much that can be done immediately.

Each electorate has, to the best of my knowledge, one or more ‘Organizers’ appointed by the ruling party. Such Organizers are appointed to give leadership to the members of the party in such electorates and to galvanise both them and others to follow the policies of that Party. Clearly, discipline and not thuggery must necessarily be the policy of the UPFA/SLFP. A leader must take responsibility for the conduct of those whom he leads.

Accordingly, it behoves President Mahinda Rajapakse to forthwith suspend the Party’s Organizers of the Nawalapitiya and Trincomalee electorates for at least the ‘crime’ of failing to prevent the commission of such outrageous acts of thuggery and thereby bringing the Party into disrepute, pending a full scale inquiry; and to ensure that such Organizers, if they are elected Members of Parliament will not be given any ministerial office at any level, at least until the conclusion of such inquiry.

How Mahinda Rajapakse acts in respect of this matter will surely be an acid test of his probity. He must not fail – for such failure would not only mar his magnificent election victory but also cause irreparable damage to the people’s confidence in the government and hence to the Country.

April 11, 2010

Popular Sovereignty is a Propellant of Sri Lankan Govt Stand on National/State Sovereignty

by Dayan Jayatilleka

A decent enough interval has not lapsed between Dr Nihal Jayawickrama’s first expression of views on sovereignty a fortnight ago, and his more reasoned and most recent expression, for the reader to have forgotten his original stand. In his April 4th reply to me Dr Jayawickrama states I have “rushed to challenge” his assertion that : “ the doctrine of state sovereignty, in so far as it relates to the treatment by a state of its own nationals, had been significantly eroded in the past fifty years”.

He goes on to write that “what I submitted, in my article published last Sunday, was what I believe to be a universally accepted legal proposition, namely, that the emergence of international human rights law has resulted in a government’s treatment of its own nationals becoming the legitimate concern of the international community. It has also resulted in the individual becoming a subject of international law.”

Now, is this what I have “rushed to challenge”? More to the point, is this what Dr Jayawickrama originally asserted a mere two Sundays back? I’m afraid not. The record shows that his article entitled “The Myth of Sovereignty” featured as its opening sentence the strongly categorical assertion: “A constitutional myth that has been developed in Sri Lanka in recent years is that of Sovereignty”.

Dr Jayawickrama is not talking merely of the erosion of the Westphalian concept or its misuse in its un-evolved form by the Sri Lankan state. His position is that “sovereignty” – with no qualifiers-- is but “a constitutional myth” and that too, one “that has been developed in Sri Lanka in recent years”. The penultimate paragraph of his original piece contains a line which re-states his position: “To invoke an obsolete doctrine of state sovereignty to defend oneself is to deride the contemporary world order."

Thus for Dr Jayawickrama the problem is not the invocation of an obsolete version or interpretation of the doctrine of state sovereignty; it is the doctrine of State sovereignty itself – not its abuse or over extension. For him, this doctrine is at drastic variance with the contemporary world order. It is this throwing of the baby with the bathwater that Dr Jayawickrama urged us to accede to and now attempts to finesse, if not obfuscate.

While Dr Jayawickrama alleges that my response “has demonstrated the futility of seeking to demolish a legal proposition by the application of political theory”, I would argue to the contrary that his shifting positions demonstrate the futility of seeking to deny or override political reality, including international political reality, by the application of a legal proposition or more correctly, by a legalistic interpretation.

The great Stanley Hoffmann, student of Hannah Arendt and Raymond Aron, and renowned theorist of international relations, in his Foreword to the Macarthur Foundation and Social Sciences Research Council volume ‘State Sovereignty: Change and Persistence in International Relations’(1997) notes, not without a tincture of ruefulness, that “State sovereignty remains the organizing principle of world order. In the public sphere, the institutions that have acquired some fragments of legitimate supreme authority at the expense of the states are interstate institutions, manifestations of pooled sovereignty ... Power still resides primarily in the states, however great may be the losses that they have experienced”. Similarly, Stephen Krasner, a critic of state sovereignty admits that “in international relations, the most important diffuse principle is sovereignty...” and goes onto refer to “the constitutive principle of sovereignty...” (‘International Regimes’)

So much for “sovereignty...deriding the contemporary world order” and “myths” recently minted in and circulated only by Sri Lanka.

The second and third sentences of Dr. Jayawickrema’s original submission incontrovertibly reveal what his criticism is; what his preferences and recommendations are. He strenuously objects that “Whenever the United Nations or a foreign government focuses on an act or omission of the Sri Lanka Government, the immediate response is that our sovereignty is under threat or attack. When the UN Secretary-General announces his intention of appointing an expert committee to advise him on matters relating to compliance with international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, it is condemned as an infringement of our sovereignty.” (Sunday Island March 28). The UN Sec-Gen is an international civil servant, heading and serving what remains an intergovernmental body, the United Nations. When the United Nations is more democratic, when the Security Council is more representative of the world, when the General Assembly is empowered, when the dice is not laden in the international courts and tribunals, when the rich and the powerful submit their wars and their armed forces to international courts and probes, so too should Sri Lanka be advised to – but not a day sooner. Any effective pressure must stem from a source with legitimacy in the eyes of the Sri Lankan people.

In his reply to me, Dr Jayawickrama produces the reference in the UN HRC resolution on Sri Lanka to international law, and Lakshman Kadirgamar’s stout defence of human rights in his HL de Silva lecture. What’s the relevance? And where’s the contradiction? The UN HRC Sri Lanka resolution and the Kadirgamar foreign policy reflect a careful balance between sovereignty/non-intervention in domestic affairs on the one hand, and human rights and international law on the other, with state sovereignty accorded primacy and priority. For my part I have not derided international law, be it human rights law or humanitarian law, as a ‘myth’ as Dr Jayawickrama did ‘sovereignty’.

As for those ‘foreign governments’ which ‘focus on acts of omission and commission by the government of Sri Lanka’, Dr Jayawickrama spurns Sri Lanka’s objection to the hypocrisy of these critics and condemnation of their violation of our sovereignty. His position is that of liberal cosmopolitan interventionism, known earlier as liberal humanitarian interventionism, in which a particular interpretation of international law is upheld ‘uber alles’ while national/state sovereignty is regarded almost as nothing; a residue, afterthought or ‘myth’.

People’s sovereignty is invoked in opposition to national/state sovereignty and is sought to be defended (selectively, to be sure) by international law, the international courts, the UN and ‘foreign countries’. The outstanding historian EJ Hobsbawm refers to this perspective as ‘human rights imperialism’ while the world’s leading public intellectual Noam Chomsky has critically detailed its function in the Kosovo war and the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia by NATO.

If I am to understand Dr Jayawickrama’s point, since the state is usurping people’s sovereignty with the specious doctrine of state sovereignty, the said sovereignty of the people is to be served by the surrender of national sovereignty to certain international entities! I would argue to the contrary, that popular sovereignty is not served but harmed by any trade-off with national sovereignty and that popular sovereignty is in fact a propellant of the Sri Lankan Government’s stand on national/state sovereignty.

While the GOSL stand is self-serving and self-protective to a great degree, it is propelled to an even greater degree by the awareness that any administration that succumbs to such wide ranging external intrusion and opens the Armed Forces to invasive foreign scrutiny with regard to a victorious and popular war, runs the risk of rebellion by the sovereign people.

People’s sovereignty is far better served by struggling (with support and solidarity from global civil society or what is now called the ‘global justice movement’) for strong, independent national institutions and processes of accountability.

What is sovereignty? Who is sovereign? Whatever the degree of erosion of the Westphalian notion of sovereignty, the core remains. The Schmittian definition that ‘sovereign is he [she] who decides on the exception', with ‘the exception’ being whether or not to make war or peace, remains valid. That decision does not reside with international law, precisely because it has no identifiable agency capable of the decision. The decision ‘war or peace’ is quintessentially political, not legal, and therefore always made by one or more states.

If he thinks that any state has signed away that power, i.e. its sovereignty, or to use a phrase anathematic to him, ‘state sovereignty’, Dr Jayawickrama has confused the neoliberal cosmopolitan project with the ‘contemporary world order’.

No solution possible for Tamils through confrontational politics says D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Between the pro government Tamil parties on one side and those advocating nationalism and self determination on the other, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) competing on a "moderate approach" in the middle won most of the seats this time, says D.B.S. Jeyaraj.

In Tamil ~ BBC Thamilosai, Apr 10, 2010

Sivaramakrishnan of BBC Tamil Service interviewed Journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj on Saturday April 10, 2010 on the results of the April 8th General Elections pertaining to TNA and North and East of Sri Lanka.

Speaking to Sivaramakrishnan, D.B.S Jeyaraj further said, that the Tamils voted for the TNA for its moderate approach. In the meantime the prevailing widespread feeling of the need for a unified and strong voice for Tamils also contributed towards TNA's victories.

In responding to a question about President Mahinda Rajapaksa's position of political solution to Tamils only within the framework of a unitary constitution while the TNA advocates Federalism, D.B.S. Jeyaraj cautioned that "confrontational politics" with the government will not yield anything and only "conciliatory politics" will lead to solutions; and added that there is political space for amity between these positions.

Nevertheless he anticipates all Tamil parties steadfastly clinging to their positions through the next electoral arena in the North – for the Northern Provincial Council.

Commenting on whether a Tamil-Muslim alliance could have gained more seats for these communities in the election D.B.S. Jeyaraj said such a single entity to contest by TNA and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress would have been tough in the sense due to the present setup and the district wise electoral methods.

But nevertheless there is increased empathy between these organizations on the matters they confront. Furthermore even the fundamentals of relationship between them have a taken a turn for the betterment in the East, D.B.S. Jeyaraj said.

Particularly, Pillayan upon taking office as the Chief Minister worked closely with Hizbullah towards achieving this amity. Seeing the problems that are common to them and the quandary they are in about their very presence also moved them in this direction.

However, D.B.S. Jeyaraj sees a dilemma arising amidst this affiliation and that depends on how much emphasis TNA places on a 'merged' North and East Province!

U.S. Government Statement on the Parliamentary Election in Sri Lanka

Source: US Embassy, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo, April 10, 2010: The United States congratulates President Rajapaksa and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) for their historic victory in the first nationwide parliamentary election in decades.

This victory, coupled with the President's win in January’s contest, provides a mandate to move forward on the important issues the President discussed during the campaign, such as national and ethnic reconciliation, decentralizing power, economic development, and securing human rights. We look forward to working with the newly elected Sri Lankan government and hope to strengthen the historical ties of friendship and cooperation between our nations.

Violence within UPFA before and after elections comparably very high

Statement by Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV):

On Election Day CMEV recorded 84 Major Incidents, including 53 incidents of Intimidation within the vicinity of polling centers. This figure includes 07 incidents of involving election officials, 07 incidents of Threat and Intimidation and 06 Assaults. CMEV has recorded 189 incidents of election law violations as well. When compared to the last Presidential election, there were a higher number of incidents of election related violence on the day of the poll.

We wish to record our deep concern about incidents in which polling agents were evicted from polling stations, sometimes forcefully. Furthermore, there were cases of voter obstruction and alleged attempts to rig the results reported from Nawalapitiya and Trincomalee. We have received numerous reports regarding voter impersonation in Puttalam, Kathankudy, Akkraipattu and Pottuvil.

According to CMEV field reports, the failure of polling agents to report objections relating to malpractice and irregularities, the absence of opposition polling agents and the deliberate failure of many SPOs to implement the law with regards to verifying the identity of voters, greatly facilitated voter impersonation.

CMEV also wishes to express its concern about the confusion and disarray relating to the application of indelible ink on the ring finger of voters. There has been a clear disregard of the Election Commissioner’s directive relating to this practice. During the first few hours of polling, ink was applied to both the ring and the little fingers of many voters. CMEV received such reports from all over the country, particularly Vavuniya, Deraniyagala, Colombo, Wattala, Puttalam, Kalawewa and Minneriya. When CMEV questioned this malpractice, many SPOs stated that they were unaware of the Commissioner’s directive on this matter.

CMEV notes that the Election Commissioner has suspended the counting of ballots from 34 polling stations in Nawalapitiya, and one polling station in the Trincomalee District. CMEV requested the Election Commissioner to annul polling in the Nawalapitiya electorate due to complaints received from the field about violence and irregularities. However, as of yet the Election Commissioner has not issued a gazette notification on his decision to annul the ballots in these polling stations and hold a second poll in them.

CMEV has received a number of complaints regarding the transparency of procedures followed by election officials at polling centers. According to the complaints received, officers who issued ballot papers to voters had marked the voters’ registration number on the counter foil of the ballot paper. Complainants’ claimed that this practice directly affected the secrecy of their vote. When CMEV contacted the Election Commissioner’s department regarding this issue, CMEV was informed that this is a normal procedure followed in polling centers and that at the closure of the polling centre all counter foils should be sealed, to be reopened only upon the receipt of a direct court order. The department further added that this procedure serves to safeguard the secrecy of voter identity.

CMEV learnt that people were suspicious and even fearful of this procedure, believing that their ballot papers could be traced. We urge the Election Commissioner to keep people well informed about election procedures, allay their doubts and fears, thereby ensuring increased and unfettered participation of voters in any election.

On the basis of the reports received from its monitors throughout the campaign and on Polling Day, CMEV concludes that as in the Presidential Election, the integrity of the electoral process has been undermined by violence and malpractice and strongly urges all actors to treat this seriously and take effective action to protect and strengthen the integrity of the process. We also conclude that despite this, the overall result does reflect the will of the electorate. CMEV also wishes to underscore the point that election monitors are not allowed to observe the counting of votes.

Post-Election Violence

CMEV is concerned about post-election violence. CMEV highlights the importance of the immediate post-election period, and calls upon party leaders to demonstrate their commitment and respect for the rule of law by deterring post-election lawlessness among their party supporters, and political vengeance against opponents.

CMEV continues to receive reports relating to incidents of post-election violence. A CMEV stationary monitor was assaulted by an unknown group and his observation forms snatched in Nawalapitiya, yesterday (April 8th), at around 1930 hours.

Today (April 9th) CMEV received reports detailing a clash between supporters of UPFA candidate C.B.Ratnayake (candidate no. 02) and Saliya Bandara Dissanayke, Chairman of the Central Provincial Council, in Ragala, Brookside, at around 1715 hours.

CMEV learnt that Saliya campaigned in support of UPFA candidate Naveen Dissanayake (candidate no. 04), and that H.M.Dharmapala, a supporter of Ratnayake, received a gunshot wound to the hip. This injury was allegedly inflicted by Saliya. Dharmapala has since been admitted to the District Hospital. Ralgala Police Station confirmed this incident.

Today CMEV also received reports regarding another shooting in Millawana, Matale at around 1700 hours, allegedly committed by Naradha Millawana, a UPFA member of Pallepola Pradeshiya Sabha. L.D.Nandasiri, a former member of Galewala Pradeshiya Sabha, was grievously wounded in his right eye and was admitted to the Matale General Hospital. He has subsequently been transported to the Kandy General Hospital.

CMEV also received reports regarding a clash between supporters of UPFA candidates Pavithra Wanniarachchi (candidate no. 02) and John Senaviratne (candidate no. 09) near the residence of Pavithra, located in Rilhena, Pelmadulla at around 1800 hours today. When contacted, Kahawatha Police informed CMEV that a tense situation had arisen when the two groups confronted each other, but that both groups had dispersed before the situation worsened. CMEV learnt that the alleged perpetrator was a supporter of UPFA candidate Lakshman Wasantha Perera (candidate no. 01).

CMEV is concerned about the increased intra party violence during the campaign and in the post-election period, and reiterates its call to political parties, in particular the ruling party alliance, to refrain from violence.

Parliamentary Election April 2010: Summary of post-election violence

Total number of Incidents: 13

Major incidents: 8
Minor incidents: 5
Firearms involved: 4

Intra party disputes
UPFA against UPFA – 6
UNP against UNP – 1

April 10, 2010

Plane Crash May Strain Poland’s Ties With Russia

WARSAW — A plane carrying the Polish president and dozens of the country’s top political and military leaders to the site of a Soviet massacre of Polish officers in World War II crashed in western Russia on Saturday, killing everyone on board.

President Lech Kaczynski’s plane tried to land in a thick fog, missing the runway and snagging treetops about half a mile from the airport in Smolensk, scattering chunks of fuselage across a bare forest.

The crash came as a stunning blow to Poland, wiping out a large portion of the country’s leadership in one fiery explosion. And in a chilling twist, it happened at the moment that Russia and Poland were beginning to come to terms with the killing of more than 20,000 members of Poland’s elite officer corps in the same place 70 years ago.

“It is a damned place,” former President Aleksander Kwasniewski told TVN24. “It sends shivers down my spine.”

“This is a wound which will be very difficult to heal,” he said.

A top Russian military official said air traffic controllers at the Smolensk airport had several times ordered the crew of the plane not to land, warned that it was descending below the glide path and recommended it reroute to another airport.

“Nevertheless, the crew continued the descent,” said Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Alyoshin, the first deputy chief of the Russian Air Force Staff. “Unfortunately, the result was tragic.”

Russian emergency officials said 97 people were killed. They included Poland’s deputy foreign minister and a dozen members of Parliament, the chiefs of the army and the navy, and the president of the national bank. They included Anna Walentynowicz, 80, the former dock worker whose firing in 1980 set off the Solidarity strike that ultimately overthrew Polish Communism, as well as relatives of victims of the massacre that they were on their way to commemorate.

Poles united in their grief in a way that recalled the death of the Polish pope, John Paul II, five years ago. Thousands massed outside the Presidential Palace, laying flowers and lighting candles.

Magda Niemczyk, a 24-year-old student, held a single tulip. “I wanted to be together with the other Polish people,” she said.

“It’s a national tragedy,” said Ryszard Figurski, 70, a retired telecommunications worker. “Apart from their official positions, it is also simply the loss of so many lives.”

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, one of the highest-ranking Polish leaders not on board the plane, told Radio Zet in Poland that he was the one to inform Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who “was in tears when he heard about the catastrophe.”

The crash happened days after Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin became the first Russian leader to join Polish officials in commemorating the 1940 massacre at Katyn Woods, a wound that has festered between the two countries for decades and to Poles was a symbol of Russian domination.

Former President Lech Walesa, who presided over Poland’s transition from Communism, called the crash “the second disaster after Katyn.”

“They wanted to cut off our head there, and here the flower of our nation has also perished,” he said.

The repercussions on Poland’s coming presidential elections were far from clear. The Law and Justice Party lost numerous important leaders in addition to the president, including its parliamentary leader. Mr. Kaczynski had been trailing far behind his opponent in the polls, but the outpouring of sympathy from the mourning public might benefit his party in the moved-up presidential election.

Under Poland’s Constitution, the leader of the lower house of Parliament, now acting president, has 14 days to announce new elections, which must then take place within 60 days.

While the crash is not likely to substantially change Poland’s relationships with other countries, including its plans to host part of an American missile defense system, it could agitate Poland’s relationship with Russia.

Mr. Kaczynski, 60, a pugnacious nationalist who often clashed with Russia, was on his way to Katyn, where members of the Soviet secret police executed Polish officers captured after the Red Army invaded Poland in 1939.

Relations between Warsaw and Moscow have been strained ever since. For half a century, Moscow denied involvement in the killings, blaming the Nazis. But last Wednesday, Mr. Putin took a major step to improve relations by becoming the first Russian or Soviet leader to join Polish officials in commemorating the massacre’s anniversary. He was joined there by Mr. Tusk.

Mr. Kaczynski, seen by the Kremlin as less friendly to Russia, was not invited. Instead, he decided to attend a separate, Polish-organized event on Saturday.

Russia’s leaders, acutely aware of the potential political fallout of the crash, immediately reached out to Poland with condolences. Mr. Putin left Moscow to meet Mr. Tusk at the site of the crash, and President Dmitri A. Medvedev recorded an address to the Polish people, saying, “All Russians share your sorrow and mourning.”

The plane that crashed was a 20-year-old Tupolev Tu-154, designed by the Soviets in the mid-1960s and operated by the Polish Air Force. Russia halted mass production of the jet about 20 years ago, and about 200 of them are still in service around the world, said Paul Hayes, director of accidents and insurance at Ascend, an aviation consultancy in London. He said the Polish presidential jet was one of the youngest of them.

Officials in Poland have repeatedly requested that the government’s aging air fleet be replaced. Former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who survived a helicopter crash in 2003, told Polish news media he had long predicted such a disaster.

“I once said that we will one day meet in a funeral procession, and that is when we will take the decision to replace the aircraft fleet,” he said.

It was unclear whether the plane’s age was a factor in the crash. The crash site was cordoned off, but Russian news media reported that the airplane’s crew made several attempts to land before a wing hit the treetops and the plane crashed about half a mile from the runway. Correspondents at the scene said the plane’s explosion was so powerful that fragments of it were scattered as far as the outskirts of Smolensk, more than a mile from the crash site.

A spokesman for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said 88 passengers were on the plane.

Among them, the Polish government said, were Mr. Kaczynski; his wife, Maria; Ryszard Kaczorowski, who led a government in exile during the Communist era; the deputy speaker of Poland’s Parliament, Jerzy Szmajdzinski; the head of the president’s chancellery, Wladyslaw Stasiak; the head of the National Security Bureau, Aleksander Szczyglo; the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Andrzej Kremer; the chief of the general staff of the Polish Army, Franciszek Gagor; the president of Poland’s national bank, Slawomir Skrzypek; and the commissioner for civil rights protection, Janusz Kochanowski.

Mr. Kaczynski was elected president in 2005 just as his identical twin brother, Jaroslaw, became head of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice government. He forged close relationships with Ukraine and Georgia and pushed for their accession into NATO, arguing passionately that a stronger NATO would keep Russia from reasserting its influence over Eastern Europe.

He was a major supporter of plans for part of an American antiballistic missile defense system to be based in Poland, infuriating Russia. Although that proposal by President George W. Bush was scaled back by President Obama, Polish officials have said they still plan to host American surface-to-air missiles in northern Poland.

That plan is unlikely to be affected by the crash. ~ courtesy: NY Times.com ~

This article was reported by Nicholas Kulish, Ellen Barry and Michal Piotrowski, and written by Ms. Barry

AlJazeera:

Video: Exhibit on Musical Group ABBA Opens in London

by Catherine Drew, Voice of America

The world's first official exhibit dedicated to the pop music group ABBA opened in London in January. ABBAWORLD has attracted tens of thousands of visitors of all ages. The display promises extraordinary insight into the group. Spectators can even try their hand at performing alongside members of the band.

For an ABBA fan, it's a dream come true, the chance to join the 70s pop group on stage thanks to hologram technology.

Displays in 25 rooms take visitors on the group's journey, from their victory in the 1974 Eurovision song contest to an annual competition that launched the group's first major hit across Europe, Waterloo.

"It is the biggest collection of its kind," Wladimir Sardinha, spokesman for the official European ABBA fan club, explained. "They donated to this exhibition, Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida. They gave some personal items to this exhibition."

The exhibit follows the success of the group -- two married couples -- as record sales reached nearly 400 million worldwide.

Across Europe, Australia and eventually the United States, their catchy tunes, experiments with recording technology and daring costumes made them, for several years, Sweden's second biggest export, after automaker Volvo.

"We have met our first girlfriends and boyfriends listening to their music, so we have a lot of memories together with ABBA," Swedish journalist Torsten Blomquist says his countrymen are proud of ABBA.

After scores of hits, including Mamma Mia and Dancing Queen, as well as nine albums, the group disbanded. Industry analysts note that both couples divorced but there were musical differences too.

Recently, with the film Mamma Mia and earlier the stage musical, a new generation has discovered the group -- and the exhibit.

"I liked it a lot," one fan said. "It was very interesting to find out about their past." "It was like going back, 20, 30 years, going back in my life," said another fan. "I felt young again." "I am more of a fan, having come here today and spent like six hours listening to the music than I was before I came," another fan stated.

The exhibit moves to Australia in a few months. Organizers are making plans for other cities, before it goes on permanent display in the Swedish capital Stockholm.

More than 35 years after the pop group became famous, for fans, the magic of ABBA lives on.

Chiquitita

Music for UNICEF - A Gift Of Song Concert, 9 January 1979, NYC, NY

Chiquitita, tell me what's wrong
You're enchained by your own sorrow
In your eyes there is no hope for tomorrow
How I hate to see you like this
There is no way you can deny it
I can see that you're oh so sad, so quiet

Chiquitita, tell me the truth
I'm a shoulder you can cry on
Your best friend, I'm the one you must rely on
You were always sure of yourself
Now I see you've broken a feather
I hope we can patch it up together

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars
they're leaving
You'll be dancing once again and the pain will
end
You will have no time for grieving
Chiquitita, you and I cry
But the sun is still in the sky and shining above
you
Let me hear you sing once more like you did
before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita
Try once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita

So the walls came tumbling down
And your love's a blown out candle
All is gone and it seems too hard to handle
Chiquitita, tell me the truth
There is no way you can deny it
I see that you're oh so sad, so quiet

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars
they're leaving
You'll be dancing once again and the pain will
end
You will have no time for grieving
Chiquitita, you and I cry
But the sun is still in the sky and shining above
you
Let me hear you sing once more like you did
before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita
Try once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita
Try once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita

President Rajapaksa's highly personalised politics and Sri Lanka's future

By Col. R. Hariharan

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has scored a double whammy with his thumping success in the parliamentary elections April 2010 after his triumph in the presidential poll in January 2010. With this Rajapaksa has emerged as the most powerful man in Sri Lanka. Already he enjoys wide powers of executive presidency. This is further boosted now by the majority his ten-party United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) enjoys in the new parliament.

Nine months after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, President Rajapaksa has emerged as unchallenged national leader with the massive public support demonstrated in the two elections. The opposition is now more muted than ever before although United National Party (UNP) despite its internal wrangling has not performed as badly as the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the parliamentary poll. The JVP rout has shown the limited political appeal of General Sarath Fonseka, projected by the JVP alliance’s Prime Ministerial candidate.

His strength is further increased as he has at his disposal an oversized armed force that could help his power projection in the region. Considering this, the successive electoral victories have also created a first rate ‘power problem’ for the President – how to wield the enormous power?

President Rajapaksa’s journey to the top had been mired in controversies on many counts. Although this is not uncommon in politics, a few ‘unhealthy’ trends have been seen in his style of wielding power. These could set a dangerous precedence.

Systematic image building

There had been a systematic effort to build Rajapaksa as the SOLE national leader responsible for the victorious war against the Tami Tiger insurgents. Well planned national campaign to build up his image as a modern day Dutugemunu came to fruition with the deaths of Prabhakaran and the LTTE leadership. There is nothing wrong in projecting a national leader in the image of such historical heroes. But such projection, in an ethnically split and sensitive society, can provoke divisive tendencies.

The nearest modern day contender for this haloed status was General Sarath Fonseka, who led the army to victory. As army commander he successfully overcame the problems that had been dogging the army all these years and systematically planned and executed the military operations. His public image as a national hero had been growing ever since the war. However, his military success would not have been possible without President Rajapaksa’s total support of the government to the military effort.

After the war, President Rajapaksa saw the enormous popularity of Fonseka as an inconvenient obstacle to his own elevation as the sole national leader. So the process of dethroning of the General from the pedestal of a national hero started taking a firm shape with the non extension of his term as the Chief of Defence Staff .The President’s fear was strengthened when Fonseka rallied the support of the UNP and the JVP to emerge as the common opposition candidate against Rajapaksa in the January 2010 presidential poll. After winning the election, Rajapaksa continued with the process of cutting Fonseka to size with arrest and prosecution. As many as 37 associates of Fonseka including retired army officers have been rounded up. Serving officers considered close to the retired General have come under scrutiny.

In the bargain, Rajapaksa has courted a lot of criticism from not only civil society organisations, but also from international community for practising vindictive politics. And these accusations have been piled up on the President’s long list of aberrations of governance that include human rights violations, lack of humanitarian policies, war crimes etc. It has also led to avoidable embarrassment for the country in some of the UN forums. And these are likely to increase.

Flawed policy prescriptions

The President has fulfilled his electoral promises, made in 2005, as far as ending the peace process and the ceasefire, and elimination of the LTTE are concerned. However, he has chosen to ignore his own promises in acting upon some others like enforcing some of the amendments to the Constitution. For instance, he has not fulfilled his repeated promises to implement the13th Amendment (devolving powers to provincial councils) and the 17th Amendment (for providing the Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions). Similarly he had put into cold storage the recommendations of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) he had formed with a lot of fanfare to work out a frame work for devolution of powers to minorities.

As a result of such acts of political expediency, the President’s credibility has suffered. His policy prescriptions on a number of contentious issues including rule of law, freedom of the press, violation of human rights and acts of political violence have become skewed suspect. Without bothering about the niceties of credibility, the President appears to have adopted political opportunism as the only criterion to achieve his ends.

Downsizing international opinion

President Rajapaksa had been consistently ignoring international opinion on many key issues of governance and public conduct of his government discussed earlier. This started with the dismantling of the peace process which was enjoyed the support of 48 nations and international bodies. Such issues of international sensitivity include alleged war crimes, human rights violations, threat and intimidation of free media, short circuiting rule of law, and lack of transparency in commissions of inquiry. As a result, Sri Lanka which had once enjoyed a fairly high international reputation has repeatedly come under criticism in international bodies like the UN High Commission for Human Rights and even the UN Security Council.

In spite of this, Sri Lanka’s attitude had been aggressive rather than conciliatory towards international community. On more than one occasion diplomats, foreign dignitaries and have been brusquely handled by bureaucrats without even conventional diplomatic norms.

The developments leading to the European Union’s non renewal of the GSP+ tariff conditions extended to Sri Lanka in the wake of the 2005 tsunami strike is a case in point. The European Union did not take kindly to Sri Lanka continuously ignoring its pleas for greater sensitivity and accountability in handling human rights issues. Although the withdrawal of the GSP+ concessions had struck at Sri Lanka’s exports to the European Union, the President had been defiant on this issue. He had said the Government would never bow down to conditions detrimental to the wishes of people in order to get financial or other support from outside.

Even after the turbulence of war, Sri Lanka has continued to orchestrate a strong propaganda campaign seeing an international conspiracy to downgrade its achievement in the ‘war against terror.’ Evidently these are targeted against some of the Western nations which demanded greater Sri Lankan accountability to international concerns on war crimes and human rights issues. Repeatedly Sri Lanka ministers have spoken on this. In particular the U.S. and Norway have been singled out for such criticism.

There had been other irritants as well. During the course of war, President Rajapaksa took initiative in meeting countries known for their strong anti -American stance like Iran, Myanmar and Venezuela. This was probably his way of sending a "hands off Sri Lanka" message to the U.S. which he perceived as meddling in the war to bale out the LTTE leaders. While this might have helped projecting the President as a leader of international status at home, the move was ill timed. The only fall out was negative: it probably soured the first contacts with the President Barak Obama and his U.S. administration that had just taken over.

Even after the war, Sri Lanka has continued to be vocally belligerent towards the U.S. The latest in the series is the comment of the Sri Lanka Defence Spokesman made on Aril 6, 2010 following a U.S. air force video splashed in international media showing the U.S. planes strafing a group of persons alleged to be innocent civilians, including Reuter’s photo journalists. While diplomacy had never been Sri Lanka’s strong suite, such a provocative comment from a government official to an embarrassing news story about another nation was neither warranted nor helps international relations.

President Rajapaksa, riding the crest of popularity with success after success, does not appear to be fully conscious of the importance in maintaining a cordial, rather than confrontational, relationship with the U.S. In the emerging strategic setting in this region, U.S. and India are the two important players, with China breathing down their necks to get into this league. Big power play is likely to increase in the Indian Ocean region after the U.S. lessens its commitments in Afghanistan. Once the U.S. sheds the shackles of its skewed Af-Pak policy as unworkable, there could be increased strategic security convergence between the U.S. and India increasing further. If Rajapaksa does not give a course correction to his foreign policy prejudices, it could affect Sri Lanka’s strategic security.

Uncertain future

President wields enormous powers under Sri Lanka’s executive presidency system. With his re-election for a second term (to commence in November 2010), Rajapaksa will rule the country for a total duration of 11 years. Added to this the UPFA coalition led by the President has a majority in parliament now. On the positive side this provides him an unprecedented opportunity to take positive action including constitutional amendments, if necessary, to resolve the vexing issue of devolution of powers to Tamils. Thus he is at the helm at an important stage in Sri Lanka’s political with the muscle to extinguish the simmering ethnic confrontation and unite the nation as a whole.

The future of Sri Lanka now depends upon how President Rajapaksa exercises power authority during these years. The armed forces give him added muscle. The problem in wielding this kind of enormous power is the tendency to ride rough shod over contrarian opinions from the conscience keepers of nation. As a result the temptation to misuse armed forces to further political power increases. However, the President has become so powerful that he has no need to do so. But as the cliché says ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Rajapaksa thrives on divisive politics that has created a lot of distrust both at home and abroad about his intentions. So there is a feeling of uncertainty about how he is going to perform in his second term particularly when he has no military agenda to pursue. The leadership style and highly personalised politics he had been practising does not encourage positive expectations for the future. His first tenure as president has been marked by gross violations of norms of governance and human rights and lack of accountability. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake puts it, "it is important for the administration of President Rajapaksa to reach out to the Tamils… It is important that they feel that they are going to be able to live a future of hope and of opportunity." But will he do it, amidst other pressing political priorities?

Unless he builds bridges with all sections of people and take deliberate action improve his governance, economic recovery is going to be difficult as assistance from the West could dry up. If that happens Sri Lanka is likely to face a difficult passage. This could make him move closer to the Chinese. Though India is an equally important and economically powerful entity for Sri Lanka and has excellent relations with the country increased Chinese role in Sri Lanka could change all that. And such a development coupled with the unfulfilled promises in resolving the ethnic issue has the potential of affecting India-Sri Lanka relations during 2011, when Tamil Nadu goes to polls.

So we come back to the question how will the President handle his "power problem"? Only the President can answer this; but will he?

(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group.)

April 09, 2010

Rajapaksa should reach out to Tamils after election: Robert O. Blake, Jr.

US State Dept. Transcript

Current Situation in Kyrgyzstan and Parlimentary Elections in Sri Lanka

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Telephone Interview
Washington, DC
April 8, 2010
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
BBC: Your colleagues there have met the--

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all let me say that we’re in touch with both sides here. We’ve met with what I would describe as the career bureaucrats who remain in control of the ministries so we’ve been in touch with them. For example with the deputy foreign ministry officials.

As you say our Chargé d’Affaires Larry Memmott also met with met with Ms. Otunbayeva today. And he really used the meeting first to urge nonviolence and a quick restoration of peace and order and democracy. I think it is our impression that the current government does seem to be moving in that direction. They seem to be asserting and garnering control of the situation. They appear to have the support of the security services and most of the ministries. So, I think this is moving a positive direction. They’ve asserted that they plan to be in power for six months during which time they will draft a new constitution, draft a new electoral code in preparation for democratic elections.

BBC: (STATIC)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly, yes.

BBC: (STATIC)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we really don’t -- we’re not in the business of recognizing governments; we recognize states. So, we don’t really make a judgment about whether this government has really taken control or not. It is a provisional administration -- I think that is the word that people are using. I think it is important to note that President Bakiyev still has not recognized that provisional administration.

BBC: What’s your relationship with him?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, again, we’ve been working with President Bakiyev for a long time, since he was elected in 2005. It’s under him that we’ve had some very successful relations on the, for example, the negotiation of the Manas Transit Center. But it is very important that the current, whatever governmental mechanism emerges, reflects the will of the people. Thus far it does appear that the new provisional administration does have the support of the people, at least early indications are of that.

BBC: You mentioned the Manas Transit Center, the air base* [*please note it is a Transit Center, not an air base] which is instrumental in getting military operations in Afghanistan supplied and so on. Any risk to that? Any risk to the U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan from these political upheavals?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think that remains to be determined. What we’ve heard so far from officials is that the provisional administration will probably want to review the existing arrangements, but that those will remain in place pending the results of that review. So of course we very much hope that whoever emerges out of this transitional process will in fact continue to support this transit center because, as you say, it is an important part of allowing many of our troops to transit through there into Afghanistan.

BBC: You mentioned, Ambassador, a series of pledges that you’ve been given by this new interim administration, as you call it. If they don’t deliver, if they don’t deliver the constitution, the elections and so on, what will the U.S. do next?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well I don’t want to start looking into hypotheticals. Let’s give them a chance. They’ve only been in office for one day. They’ve got a lot on their plates. But as I say, they appear to be moving in the right direction. My understanding is they have been in touch with the OSCE as well, to try to ensure that the management of this transition period over the next six months will be in accordance with OSCE principles, so I think that’s a good sign. So let’s wait and see.

BBC: Okay, Ambassador, that’s great. Can I ask you a couple of quick questions about Sri Lanka?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Certainly.

BBC: You were back what, the middle of last year, was it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I left Sri Lanka in May of last year.

BBC: Obviously the first parliamentary elections since the end of the war are critical to the country’s future direction. Do you see real hope for Sri Lanka, that peace can be --

STATIC

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I do see real hope. I think this is a real important opportunity right now. The President has always said that he would like to get a two-thirds majority in the parliament that would then allow him to amend the Sri Lankan constitution. He has said that he is committed to implementing what is known as the thirteenth amendment which would provide for devolution of power to the provinces, including to the Northern Province. He has also I think committed to reconciliation. So I think it is very important now that that proceed. So, we’ll have to see how these elections turn out. It appears that he will indeed - his party will - enjoy a majority. I think it is too early to say whether he is going to get that two-thirds majority. But it is likely that he is going to benefit from some crossovers as well. So it is possible that he could get to the two-thirds level.

BBC: You mentioned devolution and of course to the north that’s where many eyes would turn. Is it essential that magnanimity and victory be shown? Because up until now the ruling factions in Colombo have been pretty aggressive in victory.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes, I think it is important. I think it’s important for the administration of President Rajapaksa to reach out to the Tamils. He did in fact make a visit up to Jaffna recently. But it’s important that they feel that they’re going to be able to live a future of hope and of opportunity, that the internally displaced people that are now in camps -- there are still approximately 100,000 of them -- that they be allowed to go back to their homes. And if all of those things are achieved and there’s greater respect for human rights, and I think also some accountability for some of the past violations, I think all of those would contribute a great deal to this reconciliation that I was speaking of.

BBC: Do you worry about nepotism? Because in this election right now they’re looking at Rajapaksa’s sons, cousins, brothers, all looking for seats in parliament. It’s looking like a family business.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think there’s a long tradition of that kind of “family business” as you call it. The Bandaranaikes, before the Rajapaksas, and several other families, have had that kind of thing. So I don’t think that’s unusual in the Sri Lankan context. I think what is important, again, is that there just be free and fair elections and that the Sri Lankan people perceive that there’s a fair process.

BBC: Another race that everybody’s been watching, of course, is the failed presidential contender who is now in prison for his cheek in mounting a bid for the presidency, the general who won the war, General Fonseka.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Yes. Again, I think we’ve just made our views known that we hope that General Fonseka will be tried in accordance with Sri Lankan law, and I think I’ll just leave it there.

BBC: Ambassador, thank you very much indeed.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you.

Report on The Hindu:

Rajapaksa should reach out to Tamils after election: Blake

by Narayan Lakshman

Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Sri Lanka, on Thursday said, “I think it is important for the administration of President Rajapaksa to reach out to the Tamils… It is important that they feel that they are going to be able to live a future of hope and of opportunity, that the internally displaced people that are now in camps… be allowed to go back to their homes.” Mr. Blake added that there were approximately 100,000 IDPs.

In an interview that touched upon the context of post-war reconciliation Mr. Blake said that what was needed besides the resettlement of IDPs was a “greater respect for human rights and… some accountability for some of the past violations.”

On the election outcome per se Mr. Blake noted that “the President has always said that he would like to get a two-thirds majority in the parliament that would then allow him to amend the Sri Lankan constitution.” In this context Mr. Blake noted President Rajapaksa’s commitment to implementing the thirteenth amendment, which would provide for devolution of power to the provinces, including to the Northern Province.

Regarding election results Mr. Blake said, “It appears that he will indeed… enjoy a majority. I think it is too early to say whether he is going to get that two-thirds majority. But it is likely that he is going to benefit from some crossovers as well. So it is possible that he could get to the two-thirds level.”

Responding to a question on nepotism, particularly on President Rajapaksa’s family members considering seats in Parliament, Mr. Blake said, “I think there is a long tradition of that kind of ‘family business’… The Bandaranaikes, before the Rajapaksas, and several other families, have had that kind of thing. So I don’t think that’s unusual in the Sri Lankan context.” He added that what was important was that there were free and fair elections and that the Sri Lankan people perceive that there was a fair process.

In relation to the imprisonment of General Sarath Fonseka, who had mounted an earlier bid for the Presidency, Mr. Blake commented that the United States had made its views known and “we hope that General Fonseka will be tried in accordance with Sri Lankan law.” ~ courtesy: The Hindu ~

Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections concluded yesterday could define its future

Sri Lanka's Defining Moment?

by Sandeep Gopalan

Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections concluded yesterday could define its future. If President Rajapaksa's party wins two-thirds majority as expected, he can make far-reaching constitutional amendments. Sri Lanka's future depends upon his ability to use these powers to repair relations with the Tamils.

The island is at a crossroads. Having completed a disputed presidential election and returned Mahinda Rajapaksa, the much maligned incumbent, to power it must now undertake the difficult task of reconciling with the alienated Tamil population. The Tamils largely abstained from the election and are mute bystanders. While the army's take-no-prisoners approach has annihilated the LTTE, it has been universally condemned for gross human rights abuses against innocent Tamils.

The 2.5 million strong Tamil population cannot be wished away. Unless the Sinhalese find a way to bring them back into the mainstream quickly, chances are that another cycle of separatist violence is only a few years away. The children of those killed will want justice. If legal accountability is not forthcoming, they will turn to guns and condemn another generation to terrorism.

Thousands of Tamils continue to languish in temporary camps - homeless in a country where they once thrived. They are the real victims of the LTTE's 26 year war with the state - supposedly fought on their behalf. Camp conditions are horrific both in physical and human rights terms: many allegedly are being held incommunicado for suspected links with the LTTE. They must be resettled as a first step.

There are allegations that the media has been intimidated through killings, torture, disappearances and detentions. Accurate reporting is the casualty. Rajapaksa must realize that this is against his own self-interest and lift restrictions on the media. If the government truly has nothing to hide it can only benefit from sunshine.

Sri Lanka cannot go forward without erasing the taint of illegal killings and disappearances. The government's vociferous denials of wrongdoing have been dented by video and other evidence of troops executing bound captives; a UN expert confirmed that a mobile phone video showing one such killing was genuine after three forensic experts viewed the footage. There is evidence that some of these gross abuses were authorised at the very top: General Fonseka who was Rajapaksa's rival in the presidential elections claimed that execution orders had been issued by the defence secretary, who is the president's brother.

A US State Department report in 2009 documented that government forces shelled civilian areas and caused deaths before the expiry of a publicly announced ceasefire. Captives and combatants who sought to surrender were also allegedly slaughtered. The report also documents cases of disappearances and killings in custody. Similar reports have been issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The international community has repeatedly called upon Rajapaksa to remedy human rights violations. After its pleas were ignored, the European Union even suspended the Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) for Sri Lanka. These concessions are extremely important: goods from countries accorded GSP+ are offered reduced tariffs when entering the EU market. Sri Lanka's suspension is temporary - it has six months to comply with human rights standards - and the special treatment could be revived upon meeting benchmarks.

The suspension was based on a European Commission investigation concluding that Sri Lanka is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - a largely toothless UN instrument, - the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For once, the EU's actions carry some punch: imports from Sri Lanka under GSP+ amounted to Eur. 1.24 billion in 2008, and the Lankans depend heavily on the EU because it is their largest export market. This is not the only tool in the EU's box: it could suspend Sri Lanka from GSP treatment altogether despite there being no human rights requirements under that scheme.

Sri Lanka must ratify these and other related human rights treaties. This alone won't be enough: it must implement these treaties though domestic law and train the army and police to act within the confines of human rights guarantees. Creating a culture of respect for human rights will not only burnish the country's reputation but will also allow it to attract the foreign investment it desperately needs. Sri Lanka's economy is predicted to grow at over 6% and it can ill afford economic sanctions for poor human rights practices.

Repairing relations with the Tamils also depends on legal accountability for past wrongs. One option would be an international truth and reconciliation commission under the mandate of the European Union. Tamils are unlikely to trust a TRC comprised of domestic actors because Sri Lanka has a poor record when inquiry commissions into human rights abuses have previously been set up. Two domestic commissions - the first from 1994-97, and the second from 2001-02 are widely accepted to be failures.

The international TRC (ITRC) could be part of a legalized agreement between the Sinhalese government, the EU, and the Tamil community. Such a contract is essential to the success of the process because it will specify precise commitments, and facilitate the monitoring of those commitments by external observers. Since this legal agreement would have to be debated in parliament, the positions of the various parties would be transparent. Once adopted, the parties would have bought into the process giving it a high chance of success. This will minimize adversarial finger pointing and resultant reactionary denials.

The ITRC must have the mandate to investigate the killings of over 7000 civilians in the last throes of the conflict. Establishing the truth must be the first step in ensuring accountability. Coevally, draconian legislation giving the government emergency powers must be repealed and basic human rights protections must be guaranteed to ensure that people can testify without fear.

Illegally held Tamils must be produced before magistrates and charged with crimes or released. They must be given access to legal counsel.

Open public hearings by the ITRC will facilitate an accounting of the price paid by all Lankans. In appropriate cases, amnesties or plea bargains for lower sentences could incentivize Sri Lankan Army personnel to accept responsibility for their actions, leading to healing and forgiveness.

Rajapaksa must also use his mandate to increase democratic participation for the Tamils. Whatever the solution - the creation of a separate chamber in parliament or a separate state - the Tamils must be a part of the process if it is to succeed.

The Tamils must also come half way if Rajapaksa does his part. They cannot languish under the burden of past misgivings permanently. Full participation in the political process is the first step in integrating the community with the majority.

Sri Lanka must not miss this historic opportunity to establish a lasting peace after winning a just war against the LTTE. ~ courtesy: The Huffington Post ~

Sandeep GopalanHead of the law department at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Australian leader Abbott ignorant on boat arrivals

by Julian Burnside

Tabloid readers might not realise the numbers are tiny, but the Liberal leader should

On Monday night's Q&A, Tony Abbott got his chance to market test some recycled refugee policies, but in the process showed himself to be profoundly ignorant about the subject. Sadly, his ignorance is reflected in some sections of the media, and provides a perfect excuse for bigotry to masquerade as logic.

Stripped to its essentials, Abbott's position comes to this: floods of asylum seekers are coming here by boat; they pass through other countries to get here; they can and should stay in those other countries but they come here because, after all, Australia is such a great country who wouldn't want to come here?

When he was asked how Jesus Christ would respond to boat arrivals, he sidestepped the sting in the question, saying that Australia cannot be a ''lifeboat to the world''.

The rate of people arriving here by boat has always been tiny. The largest number to arrive in any 12-month period over the past three decades is 4100. Compare that with about 200,000 new permanent migrants every year. Boat arrivals so far this year amount to less than three days' worth of ordinary migration.

To suggest that Australia is anywhere near being a lifeboat to the world is ludicrous.

Perhaps Abbott was simply experimenting with novel ideas, as we have seen with his various attitudes to climate change and paid maternity leave. But more likely he spoke out of ignorance when he said that refugees who pass through other countries on the way to Australia should stop in those countries rather than continuing on. The problem with that solution is simple: Pakistan, India and Indonesia are not signatories to the United Nations refugee convention. Stopping in those countries affords refugees no protection at all. Abbott mentioned the Hazaras from Afghanistan and suggested they would be safe in Pakistan. He is wrong. Hazaras have long been targeted by the Pashtun majority in Afghanistan. The Taliban are mostly Pashtun and have targeted the Hazaras mercilessly. The Taliban now control parts of Pakistan, especially around Quetta, where many Afghan Hazaras have fled for safety. Hazaras in Quetta fear to go into the street. Many of them have been shot on sight by Taliban.

To suggest that Hazaras are safe in Pakistan is either profoundly ignorant or profoundly cynical. It is equivalent to saying that German Jews could have found safety in Austria.

Indonesia does not harbour the Taliban, but it is not a party to the refugee convention. Any refugee who reaches Indonesia must live in the shadows, with no right to education or employment, and constantly at risk of arrest. Those assessed as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have to wait decades before they can hope to be resettled in a country that offers them protection. If Abbott's daughters were refugees in Indonesia, would he advise them to wait to see what would come of it? Or would he encourage them to do what enterprising people have always done: flee for safety using whatever means are available.

Hazaras from Afghanistan are fleeing because the Taliban are increasing their control in Afghanistan. Tamils from Sri Lanka are fleeing because they face genocide in Sri Lanka, after the collapse of their long-running attempt to establish a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka's north.

During the final push against the Tamils, the Sri Lankan government bombed hospitals, killing thousands of civilian men, women and children. Since the hostilities ended, more than 100,000 Tamils have been held in crowded camps with hopelessly inadequate facilities. One camp had a single bore to provide water for 2000 people; it had no flushing toilets. Girls who went to wash themselves in the stream in the camp disappeared without a trace. Men who were thought to have been involved in the separatist movement were ''disappeared''; a number of them were executed. Some Australian commentators have suggested that the Tamils could simply go to India, but India is not a signatory to the refugee convention.

On the facts, Abbott's position looks heartless and cynical. Even at the current arrival rate, it would take 30 years of boat arrivals to fill the MCG. Almost all of them are fleeing real and terrible persecution.

Abbott's arguments assume that Australians want a reason to fear and reject asylum seekers, an excuse to behave like racists. I do not share his bleak view. Australians are capable of much greater generosity and compassion than he gives us credit for. We can see that the tiny group of people who manage to get here are people with courage and initiative, fleeing in fear and asking for our protection.

Abbott grossly misrepresents the facts. If he is trying to recreate the hysteria of the Tampa episode, he should never be allowed to lead the country.

Julian Burnside is a barrister and a human rights advocate. ~ courtesy: The Age ~

Amnesrty International: Don’t use asylum seekers as political footballs

Full text of Amnesty International 'Act Now' Alert:

The Australian Government has announced a blanket suspension on the processing of new asylum claims by Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals.

This as an appalling act of political point scoring and fundamentally inconsistent with our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

The situation for many groups in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan continues to be tenuous if not downright dangerous. Activists, journalists, women and unaccompanied minors among others still face significant risks.

The Australian Government is singling out these vulnerable people simply to score political points - we need your help to end this outrageous discrimination and reverse this decision.

Take action now

Tell our government that it’s time to rise above political point-scoring and uphold fundamental human rights.

Call on the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Immigration and Citizenship to:

Reverse their decision to suspend the processing of new asylum applications by Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals.
Respect the rights of all refugees and asylum seekers regardless of where they come from.
Stop over-riding the rights of the world’s most vulnerable people for political purposes.
Send your message by using the form on right-hand side of this page.

Personalised emails are always more effective, so rewrite the text and subject line in your own words.

If you receive a response please let AI-Australia know via supporter@amnesty.org.au.

What we want Australia to do

The Australian Government has a rigorous process of assessing asylum claims according to the internationally agreed criteria set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under that process, individuals who are found to be at risk of torture, persecution or death, are offered our protection. Those people who are not found to have genuine claims are returned to their country of origin. As Australia is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, that process should stand.

General Fonseka's "Loku Aiya" Sisira writes open letter to President Rajapaksa from Australia

Former Army commander and retired chief of defence staff General Sarath Fonseka's elder brother Sisira Fonseka has written an open letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse about the prolonged detention of his younger brother.

Mr. Sisira Fonseka a chartered engineer based in Queensland,Australia has stated in the letter that it is a "disgrace to deny the human rights of his brother"

The full text of the letter is given below:

I am Sisira Fonseka, the elder brother of General Sarath Fonseka. I am writing this letter to express my concerns about the current situation regarding my brother and regarding the country as a whole.

I am a chartered electrical engineer by profession having graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in 1967 and later becoming a Corporate Member of The Institution of Electrical Engineers, London. I have since worked as an Electrical Engineer in the power and energy sector in Sri Lanka and in many countries. At present I live with my family in Australia, working as a Senior Consultant Electrical Engineer.

Whilst I have always followed the news about Sri Lanka, I have particularly followed the news about the war because of my brother’s involvement as an army officer. It was with great pleasure and pride that I watched his bright military career, towards which I also have contributed by helping him as his brother whenever he needed me. In fact I was one of the two guarantors to his bond when he joined the army as an officer cadet, who thereby paved the way for him to commence his illustrious career.

It is with pride that I watched his appointment as the 18th Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and then the unbelievable great victory ending the 30 year war against the LTTE. I felt proud not only about Sarath but about all those who contributed to the great victory, including the other war-heroes and Sri Lankan people in general.

The end of the war gave immense hope to all Sri Lankans who expected the government to reap the benefits of finishing the war to take the country forward. Many who have left the country like me were now keen to refresh our links to Sri Lanka and were looking forward to return or at least to get involved closely in the development and social activities of our beloved motherland.

Unfortunately our expectations were short lived due to the rivalry which developed amongst the members of the team that won the war, culminating with a split in the team. Such a situation would not have arisen if those relevant were following the teachings of the Buddha, for example without giving in to craving, hatred and ignorance.

However, I like to believe it is never too late to establish righteousness and inspire the Sri Lankan people with sterling leadership qualities thereby steering the country away from the path to destruction. It is time now to stop selfish pursuits and put the country in front of us and work hard in the terror free environment that has been achieved with great sacrifice and that needs to be safe guarded wisely. Otherwise the world will see us as a foolish, selfish and inhumane lot who are wasting the peace achieved.

All Sri Lankans and their friends know and would never forget the unique and yeoman service that my brother, General Sarath Fonseka, has provided to the nation by being the main architect of the war victory that liberated all Sri Lankans from terror. Bringing in bogus allegations and harassing him in the inhumane and shameful manner in which he is being treated now can only bring bad ‘kamma’ and also shame to our country.

Furthermore, it is most disgraceful to deny him, a hero who saved the country from terrorism, his basic human rights. It is disgraceful to keep him in filthy accommodation, while denying him of the specialist medical attention and also proper ventilation which is essential because of his respiratory problems which are due to injuries sustained whilst serving his motherland.

Your Excellency, please think of those days of glory where you as the president were credited for giving the necessary authority and support to General Fonseka and the team of other dedicated people to achieve the war victory for our motherland. Please take steps to put a stop to violence and injustices and to re-establish the law and order, whereby all citizens and residents would enjoy real freedom.

In a truly democratic environment, there is no need at all for hunting and harassing those with opposing ideas. Sri Lankans should also resort to decent methods of discussion and negotiation as in other civilized countries. Harassing political opponents in the way General Fonseka is being harassed now only contributes to the idea that someone is trying to hide something.

My brother, General Sarath Fonseka, is a great citizen of Sri Lanka who contributed immensely in a leading role to eradicate the decades-long terror that prevailed in the country, and thereby enabled the ushering in of a peaceful, safe environment for all Sri Lankans. Is it so easy to forget that he nearly laid down his life for his motherland on more than one occasion? Any mistreatment and harassment delivered to him will only make Sri Lanka an ungrateful nation and its leaders a selfish, ill mannered lot in the eyes of decent Sri Lankans as well as the world community. If there are any true allegations against him, those must be investigated and acted upon strictly according to the law of the country and not in a haphazard and revengeful manner. All peace loving people would like to see the present situation corrected and the decency and humane nature of our people exhibited to the world.

As a reputed world leader said recently about addressing issues, “we must learn to speak with each other – not at each other!”

In January, I was in Sri Lanka to help in whatever way possible in my brother’s election campaign. Though politics is not a subject that I liked, being Sarath’s brother I had to support him and be near him at a crucial time of his life, telling some people about whatever good qualities of my brother that I am aware of.

It is unfortunate that during and after the presidential elections so many unwarranted incidents have occurred. In addition to my brother being unfairly and illegally harassed, we hear of many instances of opposition supporters being harassed and intimidated. It is my sincere wish that this kind of activity would come to an end soon.

My total commitment to the Dhamma in recent years has conditioned me to believe that only our good deeds will forge and condition our lives for the better, while any unwholesome acts will only bring misery. I am blessed with the great good fortune of being exposed to true spiritual teachers – and I, with deep sincerity, wish the same to each and every one of you living in that Dhamma-dīpa!

I am aware that the following message was sent from this country to Sri Lanka on the very day the country succeeded in bringing that bloody war to an end: “It is time now for Sri Lankans to sit to meditate … and meditate deeply on those 25 to 30 years – before bursting into action to prove their true mettle/colours – and teach the world as to how it is done (For they are blessed with all the equipment they need).”

Indeed, what a sad show it’s been up to now!

There is a little book titled “The Buddha Speaks – to the positive man in the world” which went into circulation in the Sri Lankan Army in the early `90s. This was type of motivation given to our armed forces during the war years. Fittingly we may draw from the very first introductory verse from that book to mould Sri Lanka’s future:

“Akkōdhēna Jinē kōdhan

Asādhun sādhunā jinē

Jinē kadariyań dānēna

Saccēna alikavādinań

Let non-anger conquer anger,

And righteousness deal with evil;

Let liberality vanquish the miser,

And truth defeat the liar”.

A very high standard indeed … but let us try!

As the person who guaranteed Sarath’s would be dedication as an Officer in the army, I had confidence in him and I still am very confident about his skills, honesty and law abiding nature. If the country requires whatever services within my capacity at this time I express here my availability again.

I hope to give this letter wide media coverage so that it could serve to remind many to be grateful towards those who deserve gratitude and to unite our nation. I also emphasize that the contents are my personal views and not those of Sarath, any other individual or any organisation.

Parliamentary Elections 2010: Election day media communiqué: No 3

8th April Colombo Sri Lanka, 7pm: At the close of polls at 4pm, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) recorded 84 Major and 202 Minor incidents of election related violence. The majority of incidents recorded during polling hours related to campaigning and other election offences (189). Of the Major incidents there were 6 Assaults and 7 cases of Threat and Intimidation of which 4 involved the use of firearms. The majority of Major incidents related to the intimidatory presence in and around polling stations.

CMEV estimates voter turn out to be between 50-55%. This could be the lowest turn out figures in recent history, as most Presidential and General Elections have seen averages of 65-75%. The lowest turn out for a General or Presidential Election in the last twenty years was the Presidential Election of 1988, which was 55.31%, while the General Election of 1989 registered a 63.6% turn out.

CMEV had warned that the loss of public trust and confidence in the electoral process following the Presidential Election could be reflected in a low voter turnout in the General Election. CMEV reiterates its concern that this low turnout could signal a shift in the political culture of the Sri Lankan electorate, which has enjoyed the franchise for almost seven decades and registered high voter turn out in most elections. The measure of our concern is the contrast in the conditions that obtained in the country in 1988 and the conditions, which obtain today, and the turn out in the two elections. In 1988 there was a JVP insurgency in the south of the country and the LTTE insurgency in the north and east. That Sri Lanka’s first post –war General Election should elicit such a low level of interest and participation from the electorate is a cause for concern at this crucial juncture in our history.

CMEV urges all political actors to engage in serious reflection on this and take urgent action to restore public trust and confidence in the electoral process that this may well be attributable to. Were the argument to be made that the low turn out is attributable to voters concluding that the result was a foregone conclusion, CMEV draws attention to this election as the one, which recorded the highest number of candidates in any General Election in the country. Clearly they were unable to inspire or enthuse voters.

In this context, CMEV wishes to register its concern about the Ada Derana text message to the effect that the Commissioner will only announce the turn out figure along with the final results. This fuels unnecessary speculation and could further erode public trust and confidence in the electoral process.

CMEV is particularly concerned by the incidents in Nawalapitiya prior to the commencement of polling and in the early hours of polling where polling agents were threatened and intimidated. CMEV has urged the Commissioner to annul the poll in the centres affected.

CMEV is also concerned with reports of possible malpractices with post election arrangements including counting. CMEV has been informed of a ballot box allegedly being switched in Nikawaratiya by supporters of UPFA candidate Johnston Fernando in the presence of the Special Task Force and police. CMEV urges the Commissioner of Election to take all steps to ensure the safety of the ballot boxes and to investigate all allegations of malpractice. CMEV urges all political parties, candidates and their supporters to respect the electoral process including the counting that is to commence shortly. Election monitors including CMEV have been permitted to be present at the announcement of results at the District Secretariat but not at the count

April 08, 2010

Fears of Rajapaksa dynasty as Sri Lanka votes

by Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent, Times, UK

Almost a year after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka votes today in parliamentary elections that could expand President Rajapaksa’s already vast powers, extend his rule beyond 2017, and lay the ground for a dynastic succession.

The Sri Lankan opposition is in disarray after Mr Rajapaksa's victory in the presidential poll-pic: (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Mr Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition is sure to win the poll, with the opposition in disarray after the arrest in February of General Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief who was runner-up in a presidential election in January.

The only question is whether the United People’s Freedom Alliance can attain its goal of winning a two-thirds majority, allowing it to make changes to the constitution that could include prolonging Mr Rajapaksa’s rule beyond the end of his second term in 2017.

The coalition holds 128 seats in the outgoing 225-member parliament, but is expected to increase that number either by winning more seats in the election or persuading elected MPs to cross over after the poll.

“We must remember that terrorism is over, and only a strong parliament can carry development forward and unite the communities,” Mr Rajapaksa told state television today after casting his vote in his home village.

Mr Rajapaksa promises to use a fresh parliamentary mandate to kickstart the island’s economy – especially the tourism sector – and address the ethnic Tamil minority’s demands for greater autonomy, which sparked the 26-year civil war.

But opposition leaders, human rights groups and many Western officials fear the election will push South Asia’s oldest democracy one step closer to authoritarian rule following the controversial presidential poll.

The Government has deployed 60,000 constables and kept another 20,000 military personnel on alert to deal with any major outbreak of violence during the nine-hour voting period.

Yet independent election monitors still reported dozens of incidents of violence and intimidation – mostly blamed on Mr Rajapksa’s supporters – and said that some Tamils displaced by the war could not vote because of a lack of public transport.

“Pro-government supporters are reported to have intimidated voters,” D.M. Dissanayake, a spokesman for the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, said..

Critics say that Mr Rajapaksa appears to be planning to extend his own rule, and then to hand power to his son, Namal, who is standing in today’s election after graduating from London’s City University last year.

They point out that dozens of other Rajapaksa clan members are already in parliament or government, with one brother serving as a minister, another as a presidential adviser, and a third as the powerful Defence Secretary.

They also accuse Mr Rajapaksa of silencing domestic political opponents and the independent media and extending emergency powers unnecessarily.

General Fonseka, who led the victorious campaign against the Tigers only to fall out with the President and resign from the Army last year, has been permitted to run for a parliamentary seat in the capital, Colombo.

But he is still in custody in Colombo in the midst of a court martial trial on charges of engaging in politics while still army chief, and breaching regulations in purchasing military hardware.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the former prime minister who heads the largest opposition party, the United National Party, is facing aleadership challenge and party disunity after a series of election losses.

The Tamil National Alliance, a former rebel proxy party that had 22 sats in the outgoing parliament, is also expected to lose ground in the election after splitting following the defeat of the Tigers.

One faction has sided with the Government, another has abandoned its demand for an independent Tamil state, and the third is seeking a Sri Lankan confederation with Sinhalese and Tamil states. ~ courtesy: Times.co.uk ~

Lord Buddhas advice to his son Rahula and current Buddhist practices

Reply to readers’ comments on ; Converting To and From Islam: Rifqa Barry of Sri Lanka/USA and Malini Perera of Sri Lanka/Bahrain

by Chakravarthy

"Rahula, develop a mind similar to earth. When you develop a mind similar to earth, arisen contacts of like and dislike do not take hold of your mind and stay. Rahula on the earth is dumped, the pure and the impure, excreta, urine, saliva, pus, blood, the earth does not loathe those, in the same manner develop a mind similar to earth.

Rahula, develop a mind similar to water. When you develop a mind similar to water arisen contacts of like and dislike do not take hold of your mind and stay. Rahula with water the pure and the impure, are washed excreta, urine, saliva, pus, and blood, are washed. Water does not loathe that, in the same manner develop a mind similar to water.

Rahula, develop a mind similar to fire. When you develop a mind similar to fire arisen contacts of like and dislike do not take hold of your mind and stay. Rahula, fire burns the pure and the impure, burns excreta, urine, saliva, pus, and blood. Fire does not loathe that, in the same manner develop a mind similar to fire."

- Buddha's Advice to his Son -- Passage from the Majhima Nikaya

Most of the readers including people of Buddhist faith mentioned that Buddhism is not a religion but philosophy – way of life. It is true. Lord Buddha was a human like you and me. He never wanted him to be worshipped like a God. He was born Hindu and practiced Hinduism to a certain age. He knew how many Gods Hindus worshipped.

Who is a Buddhist? Is the one who practices Buddha’s teaching, philosophy, way life or one who visits temples offering flowers and bowing before Buddha’s statue? The reason why I quoted Steve Jobs was, he is a world celebrity but in my opinion some of his personal activities were contrary to Buddhism the faith he said he charised.

His biological parents were Joanne Simpson and Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian Muslim graduate student who became a political science professor who later married Joanne. Jobs was given for adoption. If so was Jobs a Muslim like Barak Obama?

He visited India in search of spiritual enlightenment and returned as a Buddhist with his head shaven and wearing traditional Indian clothing. No grudge he is welcome to do so.

On his personal life Steve Jobs denied paternity to Lisa Brennan –Jobs born in 1978 from his relationship with Chrisann Brennan, saying he was sterile. There are two sins he committed here. By denying paternity he told a lie against his concious. By arguing he was sterile he unjustly disgraced the woman too that the baby’s father can be somebody else.

Steve, as a child who had not seen the faces of his biological parents, put his own daughter into the same situation. Was it reasonable? Where were the love, truthfulness and compassion Lord Buddha preached and he said to have learnt in India?

His wedding in 1991 was presided over by the Zen Buddhist monk Kobun Chino Otogowa of Japan. Showing oneself to the world alone make a person a true Buddhist? Such people can be defined as “near to temple and far to God”.

Tiger Woods must have been taught Buddhism by his mother. Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country. The capital Bangkok is the ‘Sex Bazaar” of the East. Prostitution gives birth to many other criminal activities too. One can see the Buddha statue in front of every house and in the road sides too.

Majority of the ASEAN countries are Buddhist countries. They are notorious for immoral activities too for which people from other continents also regularly flock. Is not it against the faith they follow? Should not they correct themselves? If poverty is shown as a cause, is not it the duty of the government to eradicate such poverty?

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra when visited Colombo in 2004 said in a reception hosted by the BOI at The Hilton Hotel that he was keen to change the image of Thailand. Some in the audience laughed. They knew what he meant. Thaksin took some hard steps to eliminate criminals. Few were arrested and few were killed.

Besides, what was Thaksin’s integrity? When he contested the 2001 election, he transferred a sizable of his wealth to his relatives, staffs and manual workers like drivers, cooks etc in order to show less income to the public and to the Inland Revenue. The government in power suspected his accounts and formed a committee that brought out the fraud in the wealth transfers.

In the mean time his party won the election and he became the Prime Minister. For submitting a fraud account he was liable to be punished. But the judiciary felt, sending the Prime Minister to jail would create a political instability and asked the Thaksin to plea pardon which he did in the court admitting that he had submitted false accounts. If the Prime Minister cheats the government then who will honour law? Is not cheating against the teaching of the Buddha?

Siddhartha abdicated his thrown and threw away the wealth, power and pleasure to seek solution to the human suffering. But these so called Buddhist politicians greedy for power and wealth by any means.

Look at Burma when the Junta’s daughter was married two years ago she was seen wearing jewellery worth millions of dollars. How did a military leader amass so much wealth when the country is rated to be one of the poorest of the poor?

Frequently General Than Shwe appears on TV and newspapers visiting temples and offering poojas to the Buddha statue. He uses religion to hood wink people but he brutally attacked the innocent Monks who went on a peace march on September 24, 2007.

Where was the respect for the monks? Can one assault the monks be a true Buddhist? The greed of power is the one that pushes one to involve mercilessly in violence. Is there any record where Lord Buddha involved in violence? No.

Look at Sri Lanka. During every election political supporters of parties chiefly opposition parties are attacked, house damaged or killed. The present cynosure is Nawalapitiya in the Central Province.

From the beginning ruling party candidate did not allow others including his own party co candidates to do canvassing in this electorate. Violence was unleashed on any who dared. It has been a kingdom within kingdom. Wasn’t it the job of the class teacher to correct the rebel student? He failed.

As per online news;

“Some voters were threatened to cast their vote for a certain government candidate in Nawalapitiya and the people were not allowed to cast their vote freely,” the PAFFREL spokesman said. There were incidents of vote rigging, opposition polling agents being threatened, voters being chased away, illegal propaganda and some clashes.

The police have arrested 15 people in connection with the Nawalapitiya election incidents IGP Mahinda Balasuriya said a short while ago adding that impartial investigations would be carried out on the suspects.

How can one accept such unruly acts of a law maker? Where is the tolerance Lord Buddha preached to his son Rahula? Are not these people near to temple and far to God?

Parliamentary Elections 2010: Election day media communiqué No: 2

8 April 2010, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 3pm: The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) reported that as of 2pm on polling day, there was a turn -out of 35-40% across Sri Lanka with a low turn- out in Jaffna of around 10%. There were several reports of threat and intimidation against voters and polling agents. At present 75 Major incidents have been reported to CMEV and 196 Minor incidents.

As reported in the Election Day communiqué 1, CMEV has continuously received reports of discrepancies in the marking of fingers with indelible ink. This is an issue of concern as it can lead to possible malpractices and impact the integrity of the poll.

CMEV has also received several cases where posters and cutouts of candidates from various parties have been seen near polling stations- a violation of Election laws and guidelines which is disregarded by many candidates and political parties across districts.

Prevention of Voting

Trincomalee district, Trincomalee electorate, Kuchchaveli, Vivekananda Maha Vidyalayam, hall nos 1 and 2, polling stations (no. 80 and 81). 12:00pm

A complaint was made by U. Ravikumara, ACTC candidate (no. 4), to CMEV that Susantha Punchinilame, UPFA candidate (no. 7) together with other UPFA supporters were moving around with arms in a vehicle bearing the license plate (62-6091) around these two polling stations, at noon. They threatened and intimidated Tamil voters and demanded that they did not vote.

CMEV reports that a busload of Tamil voters from Trincomalee Town whose polling station is in Kutchaveli, were stopped in Irakandy by the Police. The Police claimed that the bus did not have a route permit and could not be permitted to transport voters. The voters got down and had to find alternate modes of transport. CMEV spoke to the TNA who confirmed the incident and further alleged that polling cards were snatched from the voters. .

INTIMIDATION AND THREATS TO VOTERS

Galle District, Hiniduma Electorate at 2.30am:

CMEV Field Monitor reported three incidents relating to the alleged intimidation of supporters of UPFA candidate Nishantha Muthuhettigama (no. 6). An unidentified group of individuals had come to the residence of Amarasiri Abeysinghe a supporter living in Weerapana at 2.30 am and threatened to kill him if he voted. They also inflicted minor damages to the house. An unidentified group of individuals had fired into the residence of PK Dharasana, a supporter of Muthuhettigama, in Damwala at 2.40 am and threatened to kill him if he voted. CMEV monitor reported that the house of Chaminda Karunaratne in Talatgalla, another supporter of Muthuhettigama had been attacked and some damage was done to the windows of the house. Two shots were reportedly fired into the house at around 3.10 am.

Kandy District, Nawalapitiya Electorate, Angolla Kanishta Vidyalaya Polling Station, Polling Station no. 02.
CMEV Mobile Monitor reported that supporters of UPFA candidate Mahindananda Aluthgamage (no. 4) had assaulted several Tamil voters, forcibly taken their polling and Identity cards near the polling centre and chased them out of the centre at around 10.30 am.

Vanni District, Mannar Electorate, Arippu Roman Catholic Tamil Maha Vidyalayam, polling station no 47, 09.40 am:
CMEV field monitor reported that supporters of Rishard Badurdeen, UPFA candidate (no. 1), were seen in white vans bearing registration numbers JE 1020 and SR 1029 openly canvassing for Rishard Badurdeen . They asked people to vote for him and distributed leaflets bearing his name, symbol and number.
Hambantota District , Tissamaharam Electorate 9.00 am

CMEV Field Monitor reported that a double cab No JS-8969 with supporters of UPFA candidate Chamal Rajapakse (no 7) was seen in the area engaged in campaigning.
Digamadulla District, Samanthurai Polling Division

CMEV Field Monitor reports that announcement are being made via the mosque loudspeakers urging potential voters ‘to go and vote, as the names of those who have not voted can be identified.’ The announcements were made between 1.30 pm and 2.00 pm.

THREAT TO POLLING AGENT

Digamadulla District, Pottuvil Electorate, Akkaraipattu Cultural Centre, polling station no 84. 12:00pm:
CMEV Monitor reported that M.S. Rivas, a Polling Agent of the UNP, was threatened and forcefully thrown out from the above center by supporters of UPFA candidate A.L.M Attaullah (no. 02). M.S. Rivas subsequently filed a complaint at the police station, bearing CIB 326/1020/2010/48.

CAMPAIGNING ON ELECTION DAY

Ratnapura District, Pelmadulla Electorate, MorathotaVidyalaya, Polling Station No 29: 9:00am
CMEV Mobile Team reported that leaflets containing the numbers of UPFA candidate Deepal Gunasekera (no. 4) and UNP candidate Dunesh Gankanda (no. 11) were being distributed near the polling station.

Anuradhapura District, Horowpathana Electorate, Muttarawewa Vidyalaya Polling Station(No.06), 9:15 am
CMEV Mobile correspondent reported that a group of 50 supporters of UPFA Pradeshiya Sabha member M. Hussain held a meeting near the polling station and canvassed voters going to the polling station to vote for the UPFA.

Anuradhapura District, Horowpathana Electorate, Ruwanwali Maha Vidyalaya Polling Station (No. 09), 9:30am
CMEV Mobile Monitor in Horowpathana reported that cards displaying the candidate number of UPFA candidate Duminda Dissanayake (no. 6) were being distributed near the Polling Station by his supporters.

Anuradhapura District, Horowpathana Electorate, Sinhala Walahawiddawewa Vidyalaya/Rathmalgahawewa Polling Station (No. 01), 9:45 am

CMEV Mobile Monitor, Horowpathana reported that some leaflets of UPFA candidate Duminda Dissanayake (no.06) were being distributed near the Polling Station by his supporters.

Vanni District, Mannar electorate, Roman Catholic Tamil Mahavidyalayam, polling station no 51, hall no 03, at 10.25 am:

At the entrance of the polling station supporters of RizardBadurdeen (no. 1) were seen distributing leaflets bearing his symbol and image.

Hambantota District, Lunugamwehera Electorate , OyagawaRanawarnawa Junior School, Polling Station No 115, 8.40am

CMEV Monitor reported that an enlarged laminated photograph of UPFA Candidate Mahinda Amaraweera (no. 1) was visible close to the Polling Station

Matara District ,Deniyaya Electorate , Pattigala Junior School, Polling Station No 57, 8.30am

CMEV Field Monitor reported that there were small cutouts within 500 meters of the Polling Station, of UPFA Candidate Chandrasiri Gajadeera (no. 8), UPFA Candidate Sanath Jayasuriya (no. 10) and UPFA Candidate Lakshman Yapa Abewardena (no. 1)

Hambantota District , Tissamaharam Electorate , Angunukolawada Junior School , Polling Station No 111, 9.05am
CMEV Field Monitor reported that supporters of UPFA candidate Mahinda Amaraweera (no.1) were seen pasting posters in the area.

TRANSPORTING VOTERS

Digamadulla District, Ampara Electorate, Ampara Gamini MahaVidyalaya, polling station 127, 10.45 am
CMEV monitor reported that UPFA supporters were seen transporting voters in vehicle bearing registration number 59-6860 to the above polling station.

Jaffna district, Kankesanthurai Electorate, Seenipanthal junction: polling stations Elavalai Holy Family Convent Maha Vidyalayam 06 and MareesanKoodal Roman Catholic Tamil School no 07 and Elavalai St Henry’s College no 08, at 10.55 am:

CMEV Monitor reported that supporters of Douglas Devananda, UPFA candidate (no. 08), were seen transporting voters in a blue van bearing registration number NP – HS 7294 to the above polling stations.

Parliamentary Elections 2010: Election day media communiqué No 1

8 April 2010, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1.30pm: Polls for the Parliamentary Elections opened at 7 am this morning. A few major incidents of pre-poll violence against party supporters and polling agents were reported to the Centre for Monitoring Elections (CMEV). Following the commencement of polls a significant number of incidents mainly related to the continuing campaigning by political parties and their supporters were reported.

Problems with Procedures Relating to Voting

Discrepancies relating to Marking of Finger for Voting Purposes

CMEV was also informed of discrepancies in the use of indelible ink at polling centres across the country. This pertains to the finger that is to be marked signifying that an individual has cast their vote. Reports of discrepancies were from Colombo, Jaffna and Vavuniya districts where voters informed that either the little finger or the ring finger was used. There were also reports of the ink being easily removed by voters. In a notice issued on 7th April, the Commissioner of Elections reported that the ring finger was to be marked with indelible ink. Several voters informed CMEV that polling agents who were questioned on the use of the little finger instead of the ring finger as informed by the Commissioner, stated that they were unaware of such a notice. CMEV is concerned with the discrepancies in the practice of marking the finger which can lead to malpractices and to people voting more than once. CMEV urges the Commissioner and his department to immediately inform all relevant election officials of the recommended practice and to ensure that the uniform practice is followed.

Problems with Transport Arrangements for IDPs:

CMEV was informed that more than 100 voters who were residents in Manik Farm in Vavuniya were transported to Vavuniya Tamil Maha Vidyalaya instead of polling centres located in Oddusudan, Arivithotam and Nedunkeni at 10am. CMEV was informed by the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) for transportation in Vavuniya that the IDPs had mistakenly got into the wrong bus. CMEV also spoke to several IDPs who informed that no information was given when buses had arrived at Manik Farm and that they were unaware of the exact measures for transportation. CMEV was informed by the ARO that this problem was being addressed. CMEV urges the Commissioner of Elections and his staff to take all measures necessary to ensure that all IDP voters are provided correct information in all languages and the transportation to polling centres without delay and hindrance..

Threatening of Polling Agents

Kandy District, Nawalapitiya Polling Division, Dolosbage Polling Centers (no. 10-15)

UNP Secretary for Nawalapitiya Polling Division reported to CMEV that an unidentified group of individuals wearing masks have threatened the party agents of the United National Party(UNP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) at their homes. It is alleged that the group had forcibly taken the appointment letters, electoral lists and identity cards belonging to the party agents. They were also threatened not to make police complaints.

Threatening of Monitors

Puttalam District, Puttalam Polling Division, Palliwasalturei Muslim College Polling Station(no. 60):

CMEV monitors were threatened and warned not to monitor the polling process by the supporters of UPFA candidates Rishad Badudeen (No.01 of Wanni District) and K.A. Bais (No.01 of Puttalam District) when they attempted to enter Palliwasalturei Muslim College Polling Station at about 6.00 a.m.

Major Incident: Refusing Access to Monitors

Matara District , Deniyaya Electorate , Varalla MV, Polling Station (no 08)

CMEV Monitor reports that they were not allowed into the Polling Station at 8.00 am, by the Police official in charge, even after examination of his documents.

Continuous Campaigning on Election Day

CMEV received multiple reports from a number of districts relating to campaigning by political parties and their supporters after polls had opened. The main violation is the distribution of campaign material in close proximity to polling stations.

NORTH CENTRAL PROVINCE

PolonnaruwaDistrict,Polonnaruwa Polling Division, Polonnaruwa Royal Central College (No. 85) 7:40 am:

CMEV Monitor to Polonnaruwa reported that some leaflets displaying the preferential number of UNP candidates Earl Gunasekare (no 4) and Sachini Jayaratne (no 3) were seen scattered on the road to the polling station.

Polonnaruwa District, Polonnaruwa Polling Division, Polonnaruwa Royal Central Primary College (no. 85). 7:30 am

CMEV Monitor reported that some leaflets displaying the preferential numbers of UPFA candidates Maithripala Sirisena (no. 7) and Roshan Ranasinghe (no. 1) were distributed in the vicinity of the polling station.

Anuradhapura District,Kalawewa Polling Division, Mahasen Maha Vidyalaya Polling Station (no. 06), 7:55 am

CMEV mobile correspondent reported that approximately six supporters of UPFA candidate Duminda Dissanayake (n 6) were seen standing near the polling station wearing tea-shirts displaying the preferential number 06 of DumindaDissanayake

Anuradhapura District, Horowpatana Polling Division ,Mahakumbukwewa Vidyalaya (no. 32)

CMEV Mobile corresepondent reported at 7.40 am that some leaflets belonging to UPFA candidate S.M. Chandrasena (number 11), UNP candidate Sirisena Herath (number 12), and DNA candidate K.D.Lalkantha (number 7) were being distributed around the polling station.

Anuradhapura District, Anuradhapura Polling Division,Funeral community Hall Polling station (no. 37)

CMEV Mobile correspondent reported that some leaflets of UPFA candidate Duminda Disanayake (no 6) were being distributed at around 7.45 am near the polling station by his supporters who arrived there in an ash color cab without number plates

Anuradhapura District, Horowpathana Polling Division, Kahatagasdigiliya Central College -Hall No 02 Polling Station (no 37):

CMEV Mobile representative reported that some leaflets displaying the preferential numbers of UPFA candidate Weerakumara Dissanayake(n 37) were being distributed at around 7.10 am between Upuldeniya Cross Road and Kahatagasdigiliya Central College Polling station.

SABARAGAMUWA PROVINCE

Kegalle District, Kegalle Polling Division, Pussella Gamini Junior School (no. 18):

CMEV monitor reported at 8.35 am that two members of the UPFA were seen distributing cards bearing the party symbol of the UPFA betel leaf and the candidate numbers of Jagath Balasooriya, (no. 2) and Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, (no. 8), in front of the polling station.

Kegalle District, Rambukkana Polling Division, Muwapitiya Maha Vidyalaya (no.24) :

CMEV mobile monitor reported at 8.45 am that a large number of posters belonging to UPFA candidates no. 8 Ranjith Siyambalapitiya (no. 8), Kanaka Hertat (no. 4) and Susanthika Jayasinghe (no. 12) were prominently displayed in close proximity to the polling station.

Kegalle District, Rambukkana Polling Division, Sujatha Kanishta Vidyalaya, Polling Station (no 21):

CMEV Mobile Monitor reported at 7.10 am that a three wheeler (Vehicle number 201-3853), bearing campaign stickers of candidate UPFA Kanaka Herath (no. 4) was parked near the polling station.

Kegalle District, Rambukkana Polling Division, RambukkanaPinnawalaMahaVidyalaya, Polling Station (no 27):

CMEV mobile monitor reported that at 7.00am, a Pajero (Vehicle number 32-7383), completely covered in campaign stickers of candidate Kanaka Herath (no. 4) was parked in front of the polling station for around ten minutes.

CENTRAL PROVINCE

Matale District, Dambulla Polling Division, Namatagahawatta Muslim Maha Vidyalaya polling station, (no. 41)

CMEV mobile monitor reported supporters of UPFA candidate Janaka Bandara Tennakoon (no. 5) had been seen canvassing near the above mentioned polling center requesting the voters to cast their preference for candidate no. 5 at around 8.15 am.

Matale District, Dambulla Polling Division, MalingamuwaRajaye Maha Vidyalaya, (no. 11)

CMEV mobile monitor reported that model ballot papers indicating the preference number of UPFA candidate Janaka Bandara Tennakoon (no. 5) had been distributed around the Malingamuwa Rajaye Maha Vidyalaya polling center at 7.20 am.

Nuwara-Eliya District, Kotmale Polling Division, Kumbaloluwa Polling Center, (no. 45-46), 7.45am

CMEV field monitor reported handbills containing the preferential number of UPFA candidate J.M.C Jayasekara (no 6) had been distributed near the above mentioned polling center.

Kandy District, Nawalapitiya Polling Division, Saint Andrews Boys School Polling Center, (no. 57), 9.00 am: CMEV Field Monitor

CMEV Field Monitor reported that 6 Auto Rickshaws pasted with a poster of the preferential number of UPFA candidate Mahindananda Aluthgamage (no 4) were parked in front of the polling station for around ten minutes. At the same polling centre a group of 20 people had gathered around the auto rickshaws displaying campaign material.

Matale District, Matale Polling Division, Matale Smaliya Muslim Rajaye Maha Vidyalaya Polling Center, (no. 36)

CMEV Monitor reported that a 7 feet cut out of UPFA candidate, Hilmy Careem (no 2) had been prominently displayed near a shop located near the above mentioned polling center and had not been removed.

NORTH WESTERN PROVINCE

Kurunagala District, Galgamuwa Electorae, Janasetha Samurdhi Madura Polling Station (no. 31): The gatekeeper has influenced the voters so as to cast their votes to preferential number 15 of UPFA candidate about 7.45 a.m.

Kurunagala District, Mawathagama Polling Division, Pillassa Maha Vidyalaya Polling Station (no. 26): Some cards displaying the candidate number and the name of the UPFA candidate Johnston Fernando were distributed in the vicinity of the polling station at about 7.50 a.m.

Puttalam District, Puttalam Polling Division, St. Mary’s Junior School Polling Station (no. 36): Some leaflets displaying the candidate numbers of the UPFA candidates Indrani Dassanayake, K.A. Bais and the UNP candidate Kinsleylal Fernando were seen distributed around the polling station about 7.15 a.m.

Puttalam District, Puttalam Polling Division, St. Andrews Central College, Polling Station (no. 28): Some leaflets displaying the preferential numbers of the UPFA candidates Indrani Dassanayake, K.A. Bais and the UNP candidate Kinsleylal Fernando were seen distributed around the polling station about 7.19 a.m.

EASTERN PROVINCE:

Trincomalee district, Muttur Polling Division, al-HambraMahaVidyalaya, polling station (no, 30):

CMEV monitor reported that UPFA supporters of S.M. Tawfik (no. 6), have been observed at around 9.30 am openly canvassing for him after polls opened. In some cases, the voters have been offered food and beverages from a boutique located 50 meters away from the polling station.

Transportation of Voters

Ratnapura District, Kolonna Polling Division, Maduwanwela Sri SaranandaVidyalaya, Polling station (no. 76):

CMEV Monitor Reported that a small bus bearing the candidate number of United People’s Freedom Alliance UPFA) candidate (no. 7) transported a group of garment factory workers and other voters to the polling station at around 7.30 am.

End of polling day video update: Parliamentary Elections 2010

M.H.M Ajmeer, coordinator at the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), speaks on the nature of the Parliamentary election after polls closed.

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, co-convenor of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), speaks on the ground situation on polling day:

April 07, 2010

UNHCR: Q&A - Northern Sri Lanka emerges from conflict but challenges remain

GENEVA, April 7 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation have just released a report that examines the impact of a cash grant provided by UNHCR to help displaced people in northern Sri Lanka return home and restart their lives.

As the last phase of the long conflict between government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) unfolded early last year, more than 280,000 civilians were forced to flee. With the end of the war, the majority were relocated to camps run by the government with the help of humanitarian agencies, and towards the end of 2009 they started to return home. UNHCR Senior Policy Officer Vicky Tennant, one of the authors of the report, talked to Public Information Officer Hélène Caux about her visit to northern Sri Lanka earlier this year and discussed the implications of a recent decision to suspend the grant owing to a lack of funding. Excerpts from the interview:

What was the purpose of the joint mission to Sri Lanka?

We were there to do an evaluation of the support that UNHCR has been giving through the shelter grant programme. We were looking at the impact this was having and whether it was helping people to re-establish their lives back in their home areas. Essentially these were people who were displaced in the last phase of the fighting in northern Sri Lanka – more than quarter-of-a-million people. They went through some extremely traumatic experiences during the conflict and most of them spent several months in closed camps before they were allowed to return.

Tell us a bit more about the cash grants

The cash grant consists of a payment which is made to each returning family – 25,000 Sri Lankan rupees (about US$220) per family. The first 5,000 rupees is paid by the government when they arrive and is later reimbursed by UNHCR. After a few days, UNHCR and the government register the returnees and give them a form that they then can take to the Bank of Ceylon to open an account and withdraw the other 20,000 rupees whenever it is convenient.

The banking system in Sri Lanka is pretty effective and the banks continued to function throughout most of the conflict, even in the north of the country. There are three Bank of Ceylon branches in the main return area, the Vanni, and the bank has mobile teams that it has been sending to the villages where the returnees are coming back. It seemed to have been working pretty well.

The aim of the grant was to help people rebuild their homes, carry out essential repairs or, if necessary, to build some kind of temporary shelter. But, really, the positive thing about cash grants is that they are very flexible and they allow people to decide what their own priorities are. It's also a good way for UNHCR to be present during the return process and monitor how things are going for the people who are returning. The organization has been using cash grants for many years now, especially in these large-scale return situations, and we've found that it's a really effective way of providing people with the support they need.

We were really disappointed to hear after our return that the cash grant had to be suspended because of lack of funding. From what we saw, people were using the money very constructively and it was making a big difference to those first weeks after they had returned.

What were people using the money for?

What we found is that they were using the cash grants for a whole range of things, including shelter. We spoke to one man who had bought tools to clear his land so he could replant his fields. We spoke to people who told us they spent part of it to buy fresh vegetables. Others used some to buy clothes for their children.

A lot of people told us they used the grant to buy bicycles. For example, young men looking for work can use bicycles to go to the nearest town, or maybe to go to the market and buy food. Some take their kids to school by bike. In fact that was probably the number one thing that people mentioned – buying a bicycle – because the public transport services are still very limited.

Which areas did you visit in Sri Lanka?

After meeting people in Colombo, we went to Vavuniya. We visited some of the return areas in the Vanni, which is the area in the north where the last conflict took place. The Vanni was completely depopulated during the final phase of displacement last year. As the frontline moved, people moved with it. So it is a very dramatic situation because it was completely empty. People going back have to start from scratch. We spent a few days in that area with returnees. Then we went west to Mannar and then up to Jaffna, where more than 50 per cent of the returnees have gone to.

Did you see a lot of destruction?

Most of the houses have been either completely destroyed or severely damaged. In the Vanni, the pace of return has been very fast. More than half of the people who were displaced have come back. But there are still areas which have not been cleared of mines.

What do the returnees need most?

The big thing is livelihoods. People really need to earn a living to start to support their families again. That means being able to replant their fields; that means being able to find labouring work in the nearest town. For women heads of household, having access to some kind of income, some kind of livelihood, is very important. Fishermen needed new boats, new nets. People talked a lot also about education – the children are really focused on education. That said, many schools are up and running again in the return areas ... that was very impressive.

What was the general mood like?

Essentially, people are glad to be home ... especially after the experience they have gone through in the last 18 months or so, going from being in the middle of a conflict to being in a closed camp. But I suspect the optimism and happiness at being home will give way pretty quickly to anxiety and real concerns.

There are a lot of positive things happening: you can really see the economy coming alive again and there has been a lot of investment by the government in terms of trying to get services up and running, education, health and so on. But these people lost absolutely everything. As the frontline moved, they had to leave all their possessions behind ... and they are returning with absolutely nothing, apart from the assistance that they are given [including non-food items from UNHCR]. US$220 is the equivalent of three months salary for a casual labourer. It seems like a relatively solid amount of money. But when you look at what they have to do to get their lives going again, it is really a drop in the ocean.

Also many people have lost family members during the war, or still have relatives missing. You do get a sense that people have been quite traumatized. There are also a lot of concerns because some have family members who are still being held in rehabilitation camps because they are suspected of involvement in the conflict – we're talking about some 11,000 people. So there is a sense that until the family is complete again, then the return process won't really be successful.

What has the government been doing to help?

I think the government has really been working very hard with the humanitarian agencies to try to put together a good package of support, but there is still a lot that needs to be done, especially to deal with the shelter destruction, and help people to rebuild their livelihoods.... In the areas we visited, we saw that UNHCR is working really well with the local government officials.

Tell us about the women heads of household. How do they survive?

A lot of women lost their husbands during the war. Others have husbands who are still in rehabilitation camps. I think they face a lot of challenges. For example, it's difficult for a woman to rebuild her shelter on her own. She is going to probably spend some of her money on hiring casual labour to help her. I think that is one area that humanitarian agencies should be focusing on.

There is also anxiety as a result of the heavy military presence.

What about the people still living in camps?

There are almost 100,000 people still in the new camps and they certainly have greater freedom of movement than in the past. There's a pass system in place which means they can leave the camp for up to 10 days at a time, which is a big improvement. Hopefully, as more and more areas are cleared for return, the majority of them will also be able to go back home soon.

The cash grant programme was suspended in early March. What effect has this had?

I think it will mean that those going back from now on will have to struggle to a much greater extent to meet their immediate needs. They won't have access anymore to this flexible means of support.... So, unlike those who have already gone back, they won't be immediately able to do things like buy timber to rebuild their homes or pay someone to clear their land. They also won't be able to make the sort of small investments that we have seen others do. So I think it is a really disappointing development.

Could it affect future returns?

It is really hard to say. Probably the majority of people will go back anyway, because people want to go home. But sometimes what happens in these situations is that the people who are the most vulnerable are the ones who wait a little bit before returning. So for them, the fact that they will no longer have the cash grant could make a big difference.

April 06, 2010

H.L. The "Hulftsdorp Lion": An Anniversary Tribute to H.L.de Silva

by Kandiah Neelakandan

I had known Deshamanya H. L. De Silva, President’s Counsel as one of my respected Seniors of the Bar for almost four decades. He had served his country in different capacities beginning as a State Counsel when he commenced his practice and later as his Country’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Although he was a multi-faceted personality, I wish to remember him on his first death anniversary (7th April 2010) and pay him tribute as a "Hulftsdorp Lion". He was known to all his friends by his initials "H.L" but we looked upon him as a ‘Hulftsdorp Lion’.

I had the pleasure of associating with the late Mr. H. L. de Silva, instructing him in our Firm’s court cases since the time he reverted to the unofficial Bar in 1970, in which year I was admitted to practice as a Proctor S.C. In fact, when he reverted back to the unofficial Bar in 1970, his first brief was from our Firm as Mr. V. Murugesu my Senior, had encouraged his good friend Mr. H. L. de Silva to join the private bar and I vividly remember the pleasure of instructing him to obtain an interim injunction in a case involving the National Lotteries Board. That was his first appearance at the unofficial Bar after leaving the AG’s department that too in the District Court of Colombo. The last time I met him one year ago - I think it was in March 2009 - he recollected a number of cases including the Collettes -v- Bank of Ceylon case, in which he worked hard and he shared with me his pleasant as well as his bitter experiences of Hulftsdorp in his forthright manner.

Made history in F.R. Jurisdiction

When the fundamental jurisdiction was given to the Supreme Court, it was Mr. H.L.de Silva who created history by arguing and extending the scope of jurisdiction. I sat by his side (instructing him) and watched how he fought for a student who was denied admission to Medical College. That was the case of Perera and another –v- University Grants Commission reported in (1978, 1979, 1980)1 Sri Lanka Reports page 128. That was perhaps the first fundamental rights application successfully argued on the right to equality of opportunity under Article 12 (1) of the 1978 constitution. The petitioner was his own niece but there is no doubt he would have argued the case with the same viguor even if it was for a stranger.

Team Player

Two leading cases in which I had the pleasure of closely working with this Hulftsdorp Lion were Collettes -v- Bank of Ceylon and ‘Rabea’ Trade Mark case. Having asked his senior Mr. P. Navaratnarajah Q.C. who was always a ‘Master of facts’ to present the facts in Collettes case he argued the questions of Law. Like all the others who appeared for Collettes Limited he regretted that we lost the appeals for mysterious reasons. He was talking of his disappointment with the judgments of Superior Courts even when I met him in March 2009 – a few days before his unfortunate demise. The other case which was also fought hardly was infringement of trade mark "Rabea". When arguing the appeals in the Superior Courts he got Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, P.C. who was his junior in those appeals also to argue some of the points of appeal. Thus he was really an excellent team player. At conferences he would discuss the issues with us. I always remember him as one of the Seniors from whom I had learnt a lot during the period of four decades.

He was persevering and hardworking. He was fortunate to have his wife who stood by him not only in his personal life but also in his professional career. I remember he used to tell us how his wife was helping him in typing and re-typing drafts which he would keep on changing during the times when there was no computer. He used to get up at 4.00 a.m. and study the briefs and prepare for the Court work of the day. Of course his wife had been preparing coffee and keeping in a flask for him to wet his powerful throat.

Stood for Professional ideals and traditions

He always maintained the highest traditions of the Profession. When he was the President of the BASL, Mr. H.L. de Silva, P.C., addressed the newly admitted Attorneys-at-Law on 30th October 1988 and urged them to "safeguard professional ideals and maintain professional traditions". He pointed out :-

"…. unlike other organisations of persons who are engaged in an occupation, the Bar Association is not essentially a trade union or a body of persons who are engaged in wielding power or authority through collective action. It is principally and above everything else an association of professional men.

"What binds them together is their commitment to upholding certain principles, standards and values in the conduct of their professional business. It engenders in them or at any rate ought to create in them a certain pride in the observance of rules of conduct and etiquette, even when compliance with the rules may not always be to their personal advantage, if considered from a narrow and selfish viewpoint. This commitment must stand firm because in the long run the observance of these rules is necessary in the interests of the general welfare of the members of the profession and the public. So that the essential significance of the Bar Association is that it is a body which is concerned with the maintenance of professional standards and the upholding of certain principles and values which are considered to be necessary for the proper administration of justice…. "

In a country where people seek offices for their personal glory, Mr. H. L. de Silva, brought honour to the office of the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), when he was elected to that office. I vividly remember how Mr. H.W. Jayewardena, Q.C., promoted the candidature of Mr. H. L. de Silva, P.C. for the presidency of the BASL despite the latter’s political alignment was to the opposite camp. The present day colleagues at the Bar should be reminded how both those great Leaders of the Bar – ‘H.W.’ and ‘H.L.’ – rose above the political party differences to protect the interests of the BASL.

Mr. H. L. de Silva, once said:-

"…….. So please remember that the Bar Association exists primarily for the protection and safe guarding of professional ideals and the maintenance of professional traditions. So if we allow these standards to deteriorate, if we permit our professional honour to be tarnished then slowly but surely the legal profession will atrophy and die."

Not afraid to speak on behalf of the Bar

Mr. H. L. de Silva was not afraid to speak on behalf of the Bar as pointed out by one of my gurus, and a close friend and University colleague of his, Mr. R.K.W. Goonesekera. Mr. Goonesekera has portrayed his friend in the following words:-

"…….. HL’s approach to any controversial matter was always clinical and legal, devoid of emotion, a trait he carried to the end. I met HL after many years when I came to practice. Even so, there was a feeling of togetherness as with old friends. He was the same reserved person whose only interest appeared to be the law. This of course did change as we all know..."

Mr. Goonsekera has also echoed the views of the members of the Bar:-

"He was not just one of the greatest lawyers of the country. He was a good and honourable man. It is difficult to lose such a friend and colleague."

Eminent Personality

As Dr. A. R. B. Amerasinghe has said in his book on the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. "In 1981, in recognition of his attainment of eminence in the profession, and of his exemplary maintenance of the highest standards of conduct and professional rectitude, HL. was appointed a Senior Attorney by the President. (In terms of Article 169A of the Constitution, which was introduced in 1984 by the Eighth Amendment, ‘Senior Attorneys’ appointed after the coming into operation of the 1978 Constitution, like HL., were designated as ‘President’s Counsel’). In 1984 he was admitted to the Roll of Honour of St. Peter’s College in recognition of his achievements in the legal profession. In 1997, the State dignified him with the title of rank ‘Vishva Prasadini (Nithiya)’: It was a mark of the ‘universal appreciation’ of his contribution to the advancement of the law and the administration of justice that is what it implies. In 2000, the students of the Law Faculty his alma mater presented him with a plaque "as a mark of appreciation of the esteemed and excellent service he had rendered in the legal field." His profession recognized his services by electing him in 1987, with an unprecedented majority of over a thousand votes, as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka." Dr. Amerasinghe adds :-

"His devotion and uncompromising loyalty to his profession-has-never-been in doubt. It has been demonstrated on more than one occasion; but one event is worth recalling. In 1989, several lawyers were harassed and some of them were even killed. The Bar protested vehemently. H.L. has always laid stress on the importance of the legal profession in the protection of human rights."

Always conscious of moral integrity

Despite the various honours bestowed on him he was always conscious of moral integrity. Although he was appointed to the Constitutional Council, which had a role to play in the appointment of Superior Court Judges, he resigned from that Council because he was a lawyer practising in the Superior Courts. Addressing the Organization of Professional Associations on 27th October 2007 he told the professionals of the importance of maintaining the moral integrity :-

"Moral integrity in public life transcends and extends beyond the prescriptions of the statute law which seek to precisely delimit the kinds of conduct which are either prohibited or positively enjoined. In a sense the standards of conduct considered as being appropriate to a life of moral integrity may be broadly and comprehensively subsumed under the concept of good faith which like a golden thread runs through the warp and woof of all human activity. Deviations from this norm are manifold. They are all acts or omissions which are characterised by diverse forms of bad faith (mala fides) and the lack of fairness. The commonest forms in which they are manifest are abuse of power, misuse of power, fraud and corruption, including bribery, biased decisions, favoured treatment of some and victimisation of others."

He was invited as a Guest Speaker to various functions because of his talent in convincing any audience of what he said. Needless to say that was why he was chosen to represent Sri Lanka at United Nations and at various other global fora. He can speak in lighter vein also. On 16.12.1994 he had this to say at the Voetlights dinner :-

"I see that I have been described as the Guest Speaker tonight. I don’t think this is a proper description of myself because I am not here as a stranger or invitee but as one of the regular players or shall I say as one of the regular actors of Hulftsdorp Hill. Personally, I would like to be remembered in that way having been in this ball game for over four decades and having now decided to fade away into another world, namely the diplomatic world. A former Minister who had also once been a diplomat is said to have wittily remarked that diplomacy is a lot of protocol, lots of alcohol and that is all ! Judging by his appearance on T. V during the Election campaign he had a lot of talent as a comedian ....

Gentleman respected by everyone

He lived as a gentleman and won the respect and admiration of everyone. I had personally witnessed how the Judges and even his opponents at the Bar table respected him. He had strong will power, clear mind and determination. If he was disappointed that the Judges had not understood his point he would not raise his voice but instead articulate his argument in his own style in making the judges and the opponents to be stunned. He was always careful in the choice of his words. I had seen how he used to himself formulate his arguments in writing and present them in a convincing manner.

Justice Dr. A.R.B. Amarasinghe (one of the respected retired Judges of the Supreme Court) before whom Mr. H.L. de Silva, P.C. had appeared in several cases had this observation to make of Mr. H. L. de Silva :-

"He is always given a good hearing because he is well prepared, marshals the facts of his case in the most orderly way, cites authorities that are pertinent, and presents his case with clarity and without tedious repetition, with gentlemanly ease and polished courtesy and urbanity to the bench and his opponents, and always with fairness. Judges, and I was one of them, trusted him to be a partner in seeking after truth and justice. I have no reason to doubt that any change has taken place since my retirement. We had ample reason, derived from the way in which he set about his work, to believe that H.L. scrupulously follows Lord Scrutton’s advice: "Do not make the mistake of thinking that you are to go into the profession to win for your client by whatever means you can you must win by justice. You fight with the sword of a warrior, not with the dagger of an assassin. You are taking part in the administration of justice."

Devoted Christian

Mr. H. L. de Silva was born as a son of a planter of Minuwangoda on 28th January 1928. Dr. Amarasinghe portrayed. Mr. H. L de Silva who was a devoted christian husband and father as follows :-

"Undoubtedly, H.L.’s central and pivotal driving force, his power-house, has been his family. Manel, his wife, has been his most steadfast and constant friend and loyal helpmate through the vicissitudes of the changing fortunes of life through almost fifty years. H.L. and Manel have two daughters – Nilmini, a Civil Engineer, and Lakmali, an Attorney-at-Law of Sri Lanka and a Solicitor of the New South Wales Bar. H.L. and Manel have three grandsons -Sanjeev, Rajeev and Krishan. Every year, H.L. and Manel spend some months in Australia with their children and grandchildren."

When he passed away one of his nieces paid this tribute in this verse :-

"To a dear Uncle

Strange .... That one so mild-mannered, unassuming

Could a Colossus be, in the Court room.

Strange .... That the Constitution, to persuasive argument,

To interpretation, be so open, under his onslaught.

Strange .... That under his impassive expression

A passion for a Lanka undivided so consumed him.

But ... around the heart, not so strange ....

This genial host, this raconteur of anecdotes,

Political crumbs, holding forth,

Arguing, persuading, and we the jury,

Laughed then, and laugh not ......

Now, so strange .... To miss one so mild-mannered, unassuming."

I conclude with satisfaction that I was able to honour him in a fitting manner by dedicating the 2009 Bar Association Law Journal edited by me and my colleagues of the Editorial Board of the BASL. We also organized a legal essay competition among the Juniors and the late Deshamanya H. L. De Silva Memorial award was given to a young State Counsel whose article was adjudged to be the best.

Hulftsdorp Lion will be always remembered as a great leader of the Bar.

(Kandiah Neelakandanis a Partner at Murugesu & Neelakandan, Attorneys-at-Law)

Travails of an "ordinary" Tamil detained as a terrorist suspect

by Kath Noble

This month marks a year since the arrest of a man I am going to call Jeyaratnam. It isn't his real name, but that hardly matters. He is a small person. Nobody has organised a demonstration outside Fort Station for him. There is no petition.

All readers need to know is that he is accused of having been involved in a terrorist plot.

According to the Police, he handed over money and weapons he had received from the LTTE to a third party, who was supposed to use them. As it happens, he didn't. Either it is all lies, or they changed their minds or were stopped before they could execute their plan.

I don't know. Maybe he is guilty.

The point is that Jeyaratnam is still waiting for a chance to prove otherwise.

It's not that he hasn't been to court. He goes every 14 days. I saw for myself a while back, as I accompanied a mutual friend to Hulftsdorp. He is brought to the holding cells first thing in the morning and hangs about there until a judge calls his case. It can be hours.

But the action is over in minutes. My contact says Jeyaratnam sometimes doesn't make it into the room before the judge hands down another 14 days. He doesn't seem to mind. It makes a change from staring through the bars at Welikada prison, I suppose.

On each occasion, the Police say they need more time. And they get it.

This sounds quite reasonable. We are talking about terrorism, after all. Jeyaratnam is said to have conspired to kill. It isn't a speeding fine. If he is released, he may act. He could be a fanatic. Who knows how many people would die.

However, there has to be a limit. The State can't detain people indefinitely without presenting the evidence against them and giving a jury the opportunity to decide their fate. That is common sense as well as law in pretty much every country I know. Precautions have to be taken to protect the citizenry, but they can't involve violation of rights on a massive scale, especially outside wartime. It is about finding a balance.

Under the Emergency Regulations, the limit is a year. After that, detainees can file a Fundamental Rights case and they must be heard.

Jeyaratnam has instructed a lawyer to draw up a petition on his behalf. He is lucky. He has our mutual friend to help, to raise money, make calls and do whatever else she can think of to try to ensure that Jeyaratnam isn't forgotten. It is a comfort. He claims during his detention to have come across many people who have been on remand for up to a decade.

The legal system is full of holes through which it is only too easy to slip, often never to be recovered. They are reserved, of course, for the poorest and least well connected in society.

Things could be much worse for Jeyaratnam.

Our mutual friend got involved quite by accident. If I relate a little of the story, readers will understand.

This case involves a Tamil who was living and conducting his business in Colombo, but my contact, who I am going to call Anoma for the purpose of this article, stumbled into it from a very different direction. She had made a video about organic farming in a village somewhere in the Kurunegala district, which she had uploaded to the internet. Months later, she received an email from a foreign couple looking for the birth parents of a daughter they had adopted some 20 years ago from the same place.

After locating the birth mother, Anoma arranged for the foreign couple to visit. The daughter was eager to get to know her relatives and learn more about their home area.

During the stay, it emerged that they had also adopted a son from Sri Lanka around 25 years ago. He wasn't interested in tracing his roots, but the foreign couple thought it worthwhile making contact, seeing as they had come all the way.

The son had been taken from a convent in the Mullaitivu district. His birth parents had given him up because of opposition to their marriage from one of their families, on the basis of caste.

Anoma went to the house of the birth father, to be told by neighbours that he had been gone for a number of months. When she returned with the foreign couple, they found out that he was being held by the Police.

It was Jeyaratnam.

This came as rather a shock. The foreign couple hadn't known what to expect from their search, but they certainly hadn't anticipated getting caught up in terrorism. They were cautious. When the time came for them to return home, they asked Anoma to keep an eye on the case and let them know if there was anything they could do in support.

What she found out exposes another of the well known and yet so persistent flaws in the legal system.

The Police had located the third party and recovered the weapons and money Jeyaratnam is supposed to have passed on within 30 days of his arrest. They had even identified the cadre who they claim instructed him. They completed their interrogations and wrote up their report. After that, there was little chance of uncovering any more information. They had given up trying, in fact. Before 60 days had passed, they had finished the investigation.

They didn't need a year. Of course not, because the Emergency Regulations were designed with other circumstances in mind. The country is at peace now.

Readers will be curious to find out what has been going on in the intervening period. A combination of overwork and bureaucratic inertia probably explains the delay in sending the case for prosecution. It is impossible to be sure. Even if there were no more sinister reason, this would still be a cause for concern. The authorities don't consider what the time they spend in shuffling papers means for people who are not granted bail or who cannot afford to pay.

Jeyaratnam may serve what many people would consider an appropriate sentence for the crimes of which he is accused before he even gets to trial, whether he deserves it or not.

Meanwhile, this situation is exploited by the unscrupulous.

Our mutual friend tells me that money has changed hands several times. Jeyaratnam was taken into custody along with a whole lot of people associated with him, from family members to employees. He told her that they had bribed the Police to be released. He claims officers then offered not to oppose his bail in exchange for cash. Later, they offered to expedite his paperwork. When he could, he paid up. If what Jeyaratnam says is true, he has parted with over Rs. 300,000 already, and he is still behind bars.

Readers may not be inclined to believe a person accused of having been involved in a terrorist plot, especially when he will not speak about it on the record. That is fair enough.

But there is definitely some kind of cheating going on. The day I went to the court, the lawyer told my contact that a particular official had requested Rs. 200,000 to complete the next step in the process. She doesn't know whether to believe him. Maybe he wants it for himself. Somebody is certainly being dishonest. She doesn't know what to do. There is no guarantee that the work will be done if she manages to pull together the funds.

It is a sorry tale.

What is most disturbing is that there is probably very little of the unusual about it. Things like this happen all the time to people like Jeyaratnam. Nobody cares. A year of their lives can be lost, just like that.

Minister Keheliya Rambukwella calls for US investigation on Iraq deaths

Government Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told Daily Mirror online that while the US has been accusing Sri Lanka of human rights allegations and have repeatedly called for a war crime probe, they seem to have ‘conveniently forgotten’ its own issues in Iraq.

Minister Rambukwella also called on the US to conduct an investigation on it’s own troops before pointing fingers at developing countries, Daily Mirror reported.

The video was released by WikiLeaks.org, and several news analysts reported that the leaked video signifies growing power of independent Web journalism.

According to Yahoo! News, "WikiLeaks appears to be far from done. The group is openly soliciting donations to defray the expenses involved in the upcoming release of another video that allegedly documents other civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. military, this time in Afghanistan."

Wikileaks.org

"Seven noncombatants were killed in the Baghdad attack — among them a driver (Saeed Chmagh) and photographer (Namir Noor-Eldeen) employed by the Reuters news service."

Report channel 4

Report on Daily Mirror online:

Lanka slams US war crimes

By Jamila Najmuddin

Sri Lanka has slammed the US saying it has blood on its hands after a shocking video showed a US aircraft firing indiscriminately towards civilians in Iraq killing atleast 25 of them including two journalists.

Government Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told Daily Mirror online that while the US has been accusing Sri Lanka of human rights allegations and have repeatedly called for a war crime probe, they seem to have ‘conveniently forgotten’ its own issues in Iraq.

Minister Rambukwella also called on the US to conduct an investigation on it’s own troops before pointing fingers at developing countries.

“These are the world’s so called super powers. They have always tried to bully developing countries but have ignored the blood on their own hands. This is nothing new, it has been happening for years. They say we are guilty but we all know what happened in Iraq,” Minister Rambukwella said.

Further reacting strongly to the video Minister Rambukwella also questioned the UN on its silence and queried why the UN Secretary General was failing to appoint an expert panel to advise him on the US involvement in Iraq.

He also said that it was due to this reason, that the Sri Lankan government had always questioned the credibility of the ‘strong statements’ which were released by the west and the UN against Sri Lanka.

The investigative organization WikiLeaks, this week released military video of what it describes as three incidents of an “indiscriminate slaying” by U.S. forces near Baghdad on July 12, 2007.

WikiLeaks said the encounters killed as many as 25 civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The U.S. military said in a statement at the time that a total of 11 people died in the strikes conducted by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The video is shot from two Apache helicopters on patrol in Iraq. The choppers were responding to reports of AK-47 gunfire in the suburb of New Baghdad when military personnel on board spotted a group of nine to 12 people walking through a courtyard.

The military contends that the U.S. followed the appropriate "Rules of Engagement" during the incidents.

The video shows military personnel aboard the Apaches indicating they spot the suspects toting several AK-47s and several RPG's. But WikiLeaks contends that the Reuters photographers were only carrying cameras, which the military mistook for weapons. The helicopters circle multiple times before opening fire.

In the second incident captured by the video, U.S. forces open fire again after a van arrives to pick up casualties from the first attack.

Later, American ground troops pull into the courtyard in an armored Humvee and appear to drive over one of the casualties.

Soon after, the same helicopters spot several individuals entering a nearby building. U.S. troops receive permission to strike again, this time with Hellfire missiles.

Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks, released the video at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He said the behaviour of the pilots is like they're playing a video game. He also did not say how WikiLeaks obtained the video.

A senior military official at the Department of Defense told Fox News on the condition of anonymity that "an investigation of the incidents confirmed our belief that these attacks were justified."

"The individuals who were killed, apart from the Reuters journalists, were involved in hostile activity," the official said. ~ courtesy: Daily Mirror online ~

Related on NY Times Lens : Remembering Namir Noor-Eldeen (Lens is the photography blog of The New York Times, presenting the finest and most interesting visual and multimedia reporting — photographs, videos and slide shows.)

India, China and NAM displeased with Sri Lanka about UN panel on experts issue

By Upul Joseph Fernando

When charges were mounted against Sri Lanka before the UN Council of Human Rights (UNCHR) , after the conclusion of the war in 2009 May, the countries of the Non-Aligned movement (NAM) joined hands with Sri Lanka to defeat the resolution. Sri Lanka identified these countries then as its ‘true friends’. “Sri Lanka forces West to retreat over “war crime’’ with victory at the UN”.

This was how The Times Newspaper of London described Sri Lanka’s victory. Sri Lanka called it “the Battle of Geneva”. Some Asian political analysts stated, Sri Lanka has created a new Force within the UN. Some even went on to say , this victory has given NAM a new life and strength because NAM countries united with Sri Lanka to successfully defeat the West.

Recently, when the UN Organization Gen. Secretary Ban Ki-moon decided to appoint a panel of experts to seek advice in regard to Sri Lanka, the latter sought the assistance of NAM again. Egypt, which currently chairs the NAM wrote a letter opposing Ban Ki- moon’s panel, while adding that he is exceeding his official powers and authority. Sri Lanka told the International media that this was a second victory against the West. The spokesman for Sri Lanka proudly claimed that 118 countries under NAM are aligned with SL against the UN and the West.

But, before long , India let the West know that it is not a party to the NAM’s intimation. Later, it was reported that,when the members were leaving after the NAM session, Sri Lanka’s representative Palitha Kohona has proposed that the NAM must oppose the panel of experts appointed by the UN Gen. Secretary to secure advice in respect of Sri Lanka. At that moment when representatives of many countries have walked out and while others too were about to follow suit an urgent decision was taken to dispatch a letter against the UN Gen. Secretary.

Subsequently, Egypt which chairs the NAM had withdrawn its opposition to Ban Ki-moon’s proposal to appoint a panel of experts with regard to Sri Lanka. A letter was addressed to the Gen. Secretary mentioning that Ban Ki- moon was acting within his powers and prerogatives. Following this letter, Sri Lanka desisted from talking about Ban Ki- moon’s panel of experts; the reason for this was Sri Lanka beginning to discern that the ‘true friends’ who stood by it at the UNCHR in 2009 May, were now slipping away.

In fact when comparing with the Sri Lanka’s comfortable victory in May 2009 before the UNCHR, this withdrawal of the opposition by NAM to the appointment of panel of experts constitutes a humiliating defeat to Sri Lanka.. But , it still seems that , in the letter sent against the panel of experts, the consent has been secured deceitfully . This is what prompted the NAM countries to charge that Sri Lanka brought the proposal when the NAM delegates were leaving after the meeting.

The Sri Lanka Government entertains the notion that it can carry on its politicking within the UN in the same way as is being done in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Government is of course extremely adept at giving out messages which are unilaterally favourable to itself through religious dignitaries , Civil Organization leaders, artistes and even using those who are in the sporting field. Some of these parties who are so used in these dastardly activities see these messages purportedly made by them only after they are published in the media. Likewise , it is exceedingly clever at conveying messages favourable to the Government through Foreign Envoys when they are met. Perhaps , the Government tried this experiment with NAM too.

Unfortunately that had a very devastating effect on Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka Government by staging demonstrations and protests in front of Foreign Diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka thinks that by these actions it can silence them. At the UN by experimenting this way, it met with disappointment and dismay. It has come to light now that it was Kohona, Sri Lanka’s representative to the UN who was behind the protests and demonstrations before the UN organization against Ban Ki- moon and the appointment of the panel of experts . These actions too do not augur well for Sri Lanka.

The depth of despair and disappointment Sri Lanka has plunged itself into by trying to demonstrate its opposition to the panel of experts was clearly manifested by the answers furnished by Li Badaong , China’s representative to the UN when answering questions posed by the media. Li Badaong is the new Ambassador to the UN.

The media questioned him on pertaining to Sri Lanka’s opposition to the panel of experts , the NAM letter sent in that connection and the Myanmar issue. Answering the question on Myanmar, he said, 'a matter of a Sovereign State that should be respected’, but he pointedly declined to answer questions on Sri Lanka and walked away from the microphone. It is clear from this, because the Sri Lanka Government has muddled up the issues, China its bosom friend and erstwhile saviour is also reluctant to intervene at this juncture.

In 2009, NAM countries extended support to Sri Lanka soon after the war was over. Perhaps, they helped with a view to give Sri Lanka an opportunity to arrive at a national reconciliation. Now, nearly a year has passed by, yet Sri Lanka has not made any preparations or headway in the direction of national reconciliation. It is likely that they withdrew their opposition to Ban Ki-moon’s panel of advisors, because of their need to accomplish the national reconciliation.

Some are of the view that NAM withdrew the Opposition in the face of the belief that the potent force in the proposal of Ban Ki- moon ‘s panel of experts has diminished. At all events, Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to halt the appointment of panel of the experts via the NAM letter was a failure. By now the Government ought to have realized that colliding with the UN or the West is akin to colliding with a rock.

During the days when India was nourishing the Tamil militants and causing them to flourish, and exacerbating Sri Lanka’s war , in order to compel the Sri Lankan Government of J.R. Jayewardene to yield to a solution , J. R. Jayewardene began making preparations to oppose it.

When Sri Lanka took a domineering stand intensifying its war operations and carrying on uninterruptedly against the Tamil Tigers, India air dropped food parcels in the North of Sri Lanka. JR Jayewardene then invariably turned towards his Western friends to seek assistance to counter India’s impudent action.

The Western countries advised him to resolve the issue by discussing with India on a peaceful footing , while also pointing out that India being the most powerful neighbour in the region, India cannot be offended. It was only then that it dawned on J. R. Jayewardene that he had collided with a rock. He then gave in to India. In the end, Jayewardene who sought assistance of the West to teach a lesson to India was given a lesson by the West.

Today, the Government which sought NAM to teach a lesson to the West may well learn a bitter lesson from NAM, Lanka’s ‘true friends. ~ Courtesy: Daily Mirror ~

“To Jayasuriya…or not Jayasuriya”: Sanath and the “Hamlet” dilemma

By Prof. Michael Roberts

When Sanath Jayasuriya burst unto the international cricketing scene in 1996 as an explosive opening batsman, he presented major problems for opposing opening bowlers. More recently he has been presenting problems to the Sri Lankan cricket selectors and Lankan cricket buffs. Jayasuriya is now everyone’s dilemma.

To coin a pun out of the drama in Hamlet, “to Jayasuriya ….. or not Jayasuriya” is one of the plays of the day.

This dilemma has been around for a while. Jayasuriya, after all, was born on 30 June 2 1969 and his indifferent form in the Test arena led to his omission and subsequent re-inclusion in the touring squad to England in the summer of 2006. That issue was resolved more recently when Jayasuriya decided to concentrate on limited-overs cricket.

However, his batting form in both versions of the limited-overs game has been erratic of late. To cap it all he has recently entered the arena of parliamentary politics by joining the ruling coalition UPFA’s ticket for his home district of Matara. Jayasuriya has had amicable links with the Rajapakse clan for some time. They are men of Ruhuna, an affiliation that carries weight in the politics of Sri Lanka.

But such links and Jayasuriya’s decision to become a professional politician has its downside. It alienates him from those hostile to the Rajapakses. It has also generated disapproval from those who believe that the politicians should have no say in cricket business and certainly not in selections.

Among those who have joined this chorus is Arjuna Ranatunga – quite oblivious to the irony of a pot calling a kettle black.

This quandary and a potential hornet’s nest surrounded the recent selection of fifteen players for the prestigious Twenty20 World Cup scheduled for the West Indies in April. The dilemmas facing the Selectors were neatly highlighted by both S. R. Pathiravithana and Sa’adi Thawfeeq in their Sunday news articles on the 28th March. A complicated conference call involving the selectors in Colombo, Sangakkara somewhere in India and Bayliss on holiday back in Sydney was required before the final composition was settled upon. That Jayasuriya was one knot in the wrangle becomes clear from the headline reporting the final choice: “Selectors keep Sanath for T/20 World Cup” ran Chris Dhambarage’s column in the Daily News.

Summary Complaints

In summary, then, one can mark three reasons why good men and true, as well as others suspect, have voiced opposition to the inclusion of Jayasuriya in the preliminary pool of 31 players placed on the list of potentials in early March.

A] Jayasuriya’s batting form in limited-overs cricket in general and in T20 in particular has been erratic and his recent failures in the IPL have seen him omitted from the Mumbai XI in their latest matches.

B] He is now over 40 and he should make way for younger players who can add to their experience and serve the country in the years ahead – when he cannot do so.

C] It is disastrous for working politicians to be directly involved in cricket administration and in selection decisions. It is potentially disruptive for one to be a player because one’s political clout, or political badge, may skew the selection process.

Comments: Qualifying Argument C

I do not accept the totality of argument three, C above, in its sweeping form. My definition of “politics” extends beyond formal arenas of government to all areas of human relations from husband-wife exchanges to the running of any business. In any event, political oversight of Sri Lanka Cricket is institutionalised by its placement under the Ministry of Sports. More vitally, the powerful unseen hand of the President of the land played a role in the re-assertion of SLC control over Rangiri Stadium – a critical operation which removed it from the pocket-borough of a political kingpin.

[1] Likewise, the President’s hand has ensured vital continuity in the Selection Panel with Asantha de Mel, who has business interests in the President’s electorate in Hambantota, serving as its Chairman for some time. The musical chairs in the composition of Selection Committees was the bane of Sri Lankan cricket in the era 1996-2004, as I have argued earlier.

[2] In contrast Australia’s boards have sustained continuity in a considered manner through the figure of Andrew Hilditch amidst periodic re-compositions. I add here that de Mel not only has international cricketing experience, but also has represented Sri Lanka in bridge and possesses entrepreneurial experience in business. So he has the qualities required for a difficult and burdensome job. This does not mean to say that errors have not occurred.

Nor must it be forgotten that the Sri Lankan board under Gamini Dissanayake in the 1980s was essentially a politicized outfit. Likewise, in the era of so-called “democratic elections” from 1996 to circa 2005 the oligarchic campaigns involved figures who were businessmen-politicoes by anybody’s reckoning.

The Cricketing Reasons

It is the overlapping cricketing grounds of complaint for the selection of Jayasuriya that I take more seriously and address here. Calls for the shunting aside of aging cricketers arise continuously in the cricketing arena. It did not prevent the English Selectors from re-introducing Cyril Washbrook (b. 1914) into the English team for the Third Test in the Ashes series of 1956 at the ripe old age of forty-one,[3] or the Lankan selectors from bringing Aravinda de Silva (b. 17 Oct. 1965) back into the fold for the World Cup in ODI in 2003.

Aravinda’s selection, as far as I recall, did not arouse disapproval — even though he was, at the age of 37, painfully slow in moving across the turf with all the implications for runs leaked when fielding and runs lost between the wickets. In comparison Jayasuriya is still cricket quick and would surpass such players as, say, Dilruwan Perera, as inner ring fielders even though his hands are not quite as safe as they were in his earlier years.

My counterpoint is simple: when is “old” really useless old? There is no set of universal criteria and thus no conventional line. Decisions have to be made on a case by case basis. Where a player is still reasonably competent as boundary rider, inner-ring fielder and quick between the wickets, he need not be put out to graze as long as he is fulfilling his principal job or jobs.

One must of course sustain balance. It is not advisable to have a touring squad made up of fifteen players aged 32-39. That issue does not arise, however, in the present instance: the pool of players available [and selected] for the Twenty20 Cup include many youngsters.

For this reason I did not let the age-factor dominate my consideration of Jayasuriya for the XV after the pool of 31 was named by the selectors. Indeed, Jayasuriya was inserted within my XV because of his allround capacities and the balance he brought into the side. But my choice was tentative and had question-marks around it. Let me elaborate.

It is my conviction that a good T20 Eleven – repeat XI and not the 15-member squad — must have at least SIX regular bowlers and 2 occasional bowlers; or better still, SEVEN regular bowlers. By “regular bowler” I refer to someone who can be relied on to bowl 3-4 overs under most conditions. It does not mean that he would not be taken to the cleaners occasionally, but that he is consistent enough to be used more often than not. In these terms I consider Jayasuriya to be a regular bowler, whereas, say, Dilshan falls into my category of “occasional bowler” [for T20 but not 50-over where he could be deemed “regular”].

Standing then in 2010, one can assert quite positively that Jayasuriya’s recent performances as opening batsman do not warrant his place in the side even though he may produce an explosive innings every now and then. Most cricket-followers know that Dilshan now provides Sri Lanka with a punishing opening batsman in both forms of the limited-overs game, while Upul Tharanga is no mean slouch in the 50-over version.

Moreover, Mahela Jayawardene has also opened batting in ODIs with striking success on some occasions. His six innings for Wayamba during the local Inter-Provincial Tournament produced figures of 293 runs at a s/r of 168.39 for an average of 48.83. Then there is the new shining prospect as batsman, Dinesh Chandimal, who accumulated 320 runs in 7 innings at a s/r of 158.41 and an average of 53.33.

And yet more: there is the rejuvenated Jeevantha Kulatunga (born 2 Nov 1973). Lean, mean and fit, he played several outstanding hands at the local tournament as opening batsman gathering 277 runs in six innings at a s/r of 159.19 for a remarkable average of 69.25.

In sum, we have at least four batsmen who could provide punishing starts for Sri Lanka. It follows that any one of them could be slotted in at Nos 3, 4 or 5 in the mix with Sangakkara. But therein lies the problem. Assume they are all in the squad and form a starting five with Sangakkara in a final XI. Then we end up with an XI that has only six bowlers if Angelo Mathews is slotted in as No. 6.

Kulatunga is a medium pace bowler, but hardly bowls much now even when he captains Colts. Dilshan is only useful occasionally. This is why Jayasuriya comes into consideration as a spinning allrounder who provides SL with the services of a third spinner in addition to Murali and Randiv/Mendis in dusty or turning conditions or a second spinner if the tour selectors opted for an extra paceman (including allrounder pacemen such as Chintaka Jayasinghe) to displace Randiv/Mendis.

When I inserted Jayasuriya in the squad of XV that I would select – see the Dilmah Forum, entry dated late March — I was constrained by the pool of 31 already selected. If I had been all-powerful, however, I would have had other figures in the pool who would have challenged Jayasuriya for the role of spinning allrounder: namely, M. Pushpakumara (26-4-1981) Satchithra Serasinghe (13-4-1987) and Janaka Gunaratne (4-3-1981), all right-arm offpsinners.

Pushpakumara has been in the selectors’ spotlight in recent years, but was unfortunately bedevilled by injuries and had few outings on the tours.

Injury seems to have constrained his outings in the Inter-Provincial tourney as well. So his omission is understandable. Serasinghe’s career records are in fact better than Puspakumara’s: his overall “First Class” batting average of 42.65 and an ODI strike-rate of 72.87 with average of 31.14 are not figures to be laughed at. He seems to be recent bloomer though and one could argue that he needs more A Team outings before being pitch-forked into the highest level.

Jeevan Mendis (in the pool) and Janaka Gunaratne are two others who fall into the category of spinning allrounders. But Mendis, a right-arm leg-spinner, was playing for Kanduarata and had few opportunities to bowl in the T20 competition because Murali and Suraj Randiv were also in the XI. Thus, his spinning capacities and experience are untested at the higher levesl.

Likewise Gunaratne is not experienced in the cauldron of international competitions; though one must attend to his excellent performance in the recent Provincial tourney: bowling right arm offspin for Basnahira South he was top of the list for strike rate at 9.5, with an excellent economy rate at 6.84 to support this edge. In batting he scored only 85 runs [with two not outs] for an average of 28.33, but this was at the acceptable strike rate of 132.81.

Note that, in comparison Jayasuriya had a bowling s/r of 21.1 with economy at 8.92 in the same tournament, thus falling below 19 others in strike-rate if one takes 10 overs as one’s cut-off point. On the batting side, however, he was up there with the best, securing a strike rate of 141.48 in six innings that yielded 133 runs for an average of 22.6. Of the players who scored over 100 runs in sum during that tournament he was only below Mahela Jayawardene, Chandimal and Kulatunga.

On the downside, however, in three matches recently for Mumbai Jaysuriya’s bowling figures are 1-19-0; then 4-17-2 and 2-16-0 …. patchy, but with one significant contribution as a bowler; while his returns as batsman have been 23, 07 and 02 runs in three innings (with the 23 scored at a super rate of 164.28). In the result he has been dropped and replaced by no less than Ryan Who (aka Maclaren).

In summary overview, then, a case can be made for Jayasuriya’s inclusion on cricketing grounds, but it is a borderline case not a conclusive one. There are other options as spinner-allrounders, but all have limited international experience so they too stand as borderline arguments.

Contretemps

The hot news on 2 April was that a “Cloud hangs over Jayasuriya’s selection”[4] This item indicated that the Selection Committee had been overruled by ministerial fiat that resulted in Jayasuriya and Chintaka Jayasinghe displacing the original selections of Jeevan Mendis and Upul Tharanga. If this is true, it is wholly unwelcome. Political czars cannot and should not interfere in choice of players whatever other interventions they may effect

My review has taken a discursive, meandering path because the cricketing issues are complex. The evaluation indicates that there are cricketing reasons that can sustain the argument for Jayasuriya’s inclusion. But these grounds do not amount to an open and shut case because there are other contenders – among them Jeevan Mendis, Sachithra Serasinghe and Janaka Gunaratne.

In another article that I have in my head I will be reflecting on the whole XV and will place question marks around the selection of Kapugedera, Tissara Perera, Welagedera and Ajantha Mendis. I am not saying that their selections are bad choices. On the contrary there are reasonable grounds for their selection, but they are still marginal choices in the sense that other options can be presented in order to mount the best balance in the fifteen member squad.

In these terms these other player-options are like Jayasuriya: a case could be made for or against each of their names; But Sanath Jaysuriya is unlike others in the aura he carries and in the political clout he wields. If these factors have led to direct political intervention in the Selection Committee’s decisions, one is faced with an outrageous incursion. It is bad for cricket and taints Jayasuriya’s record of service to Sri Lankan cricket.

Whether Sanath was party to the act or not matters not one iota. It is the precedent set and the ramifying implications that damn the act.
________________________________________
[1] M. Roberts, “Pallekele, Asgiriya and Rangiri,” www.cricket.dilmahtea.com, January 2007.

[2] See Roberts, “Musical chairs in cricket selections,” in Essaying Cricket, Colombo, VijithaYapa Publications, 2006.

[3] Born 6 Dec. 1914 Washbrook was aged 41 and a Selector when he was asked to leave the meeting by the others and then re-injected into the English XI for the Third Test in 1956. He promptly scored 96 runs in that Test at Headingly and helped England win-(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_Washbrook).

[4] The News, 2 April 2010, http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=232114 - COURTESY:WWW.CRICKETIQUE.WORDPRESS.COM

South Indian nuclear plants could pose danger to Western Sri Lanka

By Namini Wijedasa

Across the Palk Strait, that narrow strip of water separating our two countries, neighboring India today possesses one of the fastest growing nuclear reactor populations in the world. What is Colombo doing to protect national interest should an accident happen in such close proximity to Sri Lanka? Precious little, it would seem.

Danger areas

Two sites of concern to Sri Lanka should be Kalpakkam and Koodankulam, both in South India. While Kalpakkam at 300 kilometers north is less of a danger, the Koodankulam atomic power plant in Tirunelveli is only 232 kilometers west of Kalpitiya as the crow flies. In January, Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission Srikumar Banerjee announced that Koodankulam, which is still under construction, will likely go on stream by the middle of 2010.

Information in the public domain about India’s nuclear programme shows that scientists are taking every measure possible to ensure safety--particularly because it is in New Delhi’s best interests to protect its own citizens before it worries about the populations of neighboring nations. “The nuclear reactors are safe,” agrees M V Ramana, a physicist who is an expert on India’s nuclear programme and safety issues. “But there is no guarantee that an accident will not occur.”

Ramana is currently an associate research scholar at the Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Responding to questions via email, he pointed out that Kalpakkam is quite far from Sri Lanka so it would only be in the event of a massive accident that any fallout could reach here. However, he said, Koodankulam is closer.

In an article published as far back as 2007 in Himan Southasian, Ramana and Manju Menon of the environmental group, Kalpvriksh, write: "A good measure of radiation risk is the concentration of the radioactive element known as Cesium-137. Following the Chernobyl accident, for instance, dangerous levels of Cesium-137 forced the imposition of strict radiation-control measures over about 10,000 square kilometers near the site. In the event of a catastrophic accident at Koodankulam, depending on the prevailing atmospheric conditions, such concentrations of Cesium-137 could occur up to 400 km away. Should the wind be blowing eastward, this could cover a large swath of western Sri Lanka, including Colombo."

The N-Liability Bill

Asked when Sri Lanka should start getting concerned, Ramana responded last week: “It should have been concerned long ago, when the construction of the reactor at Koodankulam commenced.”

India is now in the throes of a national debate on nuclear safety arising from the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill which has been cleared by cabinet for introduction in parliament. Three weeks ago, the government was forced to defer the bill after 35 Congress members, including ministers, were absent from the Lok Sabha on the day it was to be tabled.

The N-Liability Bill (as it is called for short) stems from the nuclear deal signed between India and the US and aims to indemnify American entrepreneurs or suppliers in the event of a mishap taking place at a nuclear plant using their machinery that has been installed by them.

The controversy is not over whether or not nuclear plants are safe. It is over a section of the N-Liability Bill that proposes to cap compensation payable by US firms in the event of a nuclear accident at a “ridiculously low” US$ 45 million -- leaving the Indian government to bear the remaining cost, whatever that may be. It is taken as a given that accidents may occur.

Fast breeder reactor

In a separate paper for the July 2009 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Ramana and Ashwin Kumar, another expert of India’s nuclear programme, write about the safety inadequacies of India’s fast breeder reactor. Only one fast breeder reactor operates in India and that is in Kalpakkam.

“While all nuclear reactors are susceptible to catastrophic accidents, fast reactors pose a unique risk,” they warn. “An accident that rearranges the fuel in the core could lead to an increase in reaction rate and an increase in energy production. If this were to occur quickly, it could lead to a large, explosive energy release that might rupture the reactor vessel and disperse radioactive material into the environment.”

The experts point out that the Indian fast breeder test reactor doesn’t have what is called a “positive coolant void coefficient”. This means that the Indian Department of Atomic Energy “doesn't have real-world experience in handling the safety challenges that a large prototype reactor will pose”. “More largely,” they say, “international experience shows that fast breeder reactors aren't ready for commercial use.”

Superphénix, the flagship of the French breeder program, remained inoperative for the majority of its 11-year lifetime until it was finally shuttered in 1996. Concerns about the adequacy of the design of the German fast breeder reactor led to it being contested by environmental groups and the local state government in the 1980s and ultimately to its cancellation in 1991. And the Japanese fast reactor Monju shut down in 1995 after a sodium coolant leak caused a fire and has yet to restart. Only China and Russia are still developing fast breeders. China, however, has yet to operate one, and the Russian BN-600 fast reactor has suffered repeated sodium leaks and fires.

“When it comes to India's prototype fast breeder reactor, two distinct questions must be asked: Is there confidence about how an accident would propagate inside the core and how much energy it might release?; and have PFBR (prototype fast breeder reactor) design efforts been as strict as necessary, given the possibility that an accident would be difficult to contain and potentially harmful to the surrounding population?” the paper states. “The simple answer to both is no.”

What to do in the event of an accident

There is no doubt that the expansion of the nuclear energy industry in India could be beneficial to Sri Lanka. If India produces excess, it could meet part of our energy needs. But accidents do happen. So, what are some of the immediate steps the Sri Lankan could take in the event of a nuclear mishap across the Palk Strait?

A Sri Lankan technical expert who worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency—and participated in inspections of nuclear plants worldwide—spoke to Lakbimanews on condition of anonymity.

“When you get a reactor accident like in Chernobyl,” he said, “if the wind blows away from Sri Lanka, we need not be worried. If it blows towards Sri Lanka, a nuclear cloud would come with it and if it rains while the cloud is passing by, we could be affected.”

Radioactive pollution, he explained, has “half lives”. That is, half the material takes many years to decay while the other decays very fast. “We have to be careful about the isotopes that take hundreds of years to decay and which are fairly active,” the expert said. “The most crucial of these is iodine 131.”

The simple solution, he said, is to issue iodine tablets to Sri Lankans after the accident. “When you saturate the population with iodine, you don’t absorb radioactive iodine,” he said. “You could get the Indians to supply Sri Lanka with iodine tablets. It’s a cheap but effective operation but the iodine has to be taken immediately, even before the cloud comes over Sri Lanka.”

“Anyway, if a serious accident like Chernobyl happens, they are also in big trouble,” he noted. “You can’t stop the world and get off. You have to adjust.”

Sri Lanka’s position

Authoritative diplomatic sources said that Sri Lanka has bilaterally raised “some concerns from time to time” about safety issues related to India’s nuclear programme. Nothing was made public, however, to avoid any embarrassment.

In the past, Sri Lanka was predominantly worried about non state actors getting access to nuclear material. “Not nuclear bombs,” said a retired diplomat, who did not wish to be named. “But fissile material to make, say, a dirty bomb. This was an issue especially after the LTTE acquired aircraft.” Regarding trans-frontier pollution, there seems to have been less said.

Asked for a comment, a senior serving diplomat told Lakbimanews that the development of the Kalpakkam and Koodankulam reactors must be seen in the context of Sri Lanka’s relationship with India. “Our bilateral relationship over the past three decades has had its ups and downs but a salutary feature is that there is steady growth in confidence between the two sides,” he said. “This is a two-way process that relates not only to developments in Sri Lanka but to developments in India."

Earlier, there was a tendency to be suspicious of events such as the building of a nuclear plant in close proximity to Sri Lanka. “But now, over the years, we have a more trust in the Indian scientific community.” We also have to accept, he said, that, globally, nuclear power is becoming increasingly respectable. There is no valid substitute for clean power than nuclear energy. Even Sri Lanka is now discussion the possibility of producing nuclear energy.

India is increasingly demonstrating its prowess in nuclear energy. When the Kalpakkam reactor was envisaged in the late 1980s, Indian technology did not have the degree of engagement it has now with Western nations that are greatly advanced in this sphere. “We have more confidence in the capacity of the India system to minimize the sphere for mishaps and to evolve a structure that best serves the interests of its country and of its neighbours,” the diplomat stressed.

Finally, there have been fears of terrorism impacting on Indian nuclear plants that are relatively proximate to Sri Lanka. “This is only hypothetical, but that could have been one of the many factors, including growth of confidence, that helped India come to the conclusion that the continuation of LTTE terrorism is not a healthy or helpful factor,” the diplomat assessed. “Nations don’t take decisions for one or two reasons. It is a combination of reasons and this could have been among them.”

Elections and Minorities: Present Problems and Alternatives for the Future

6 April 2010, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is pleased to release its latest policy brief, Elections and Minorities: Present Problems and Alternatives for the Future.

Please download the full report as a PDF from - http://bit.ly/electionsandminorities

May 2010 marks the first anniversary of the end of the war. Since the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lanka had a Presidential Election in January 2010 and will have Parliamentary Elections on 8th April 2010.

These two national elections held in a post war context are significant since all citizens will be able to vote without hindrance. Both these national elections, held less than three months apart from each other, set several precedents. As with the Presidential Election in January, in the forthcoming Parliamentary Elections in April there will be polling centres in former LTTE controlled areas such as Killinochchi. Candidates from different political parties, including the presidential candidates have been able to campaign in former LTTE-controlled areas. Furthermore, the Presidential Elections also witnessed a major effort by all candidates to canvass minority votes, with many politicians and supporters traveling to and campaigning in minority dominant areas particularly in the North and East.

Although the Presidential Elections were held in January 2010 and another national election is to be held in April, the quality of life for those in the North and East continues to be a key post war challenge. The significant improvement is that thousands have been able to return to their homes and communities and rebuild their lives, and the prospect of large-scale violence and displacement appears to be a thing of the past. However, although over 190,000 individuals have returned to their areas of original residence, many are unable to return to their own land due to restrictions in access, the presence of high security zones (HSZs), mines and secondary occupation.

1 There still remain over 80,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in emergency sites in the North.

2 Freedom of movement in many parts of the former LTTE controlled areas including areas in Mullaitivu and Killinochchi has been severely restricted as a result of the high military presence.

Despite the opportunity presented for people who were unable to vote in previous elections, the Presidential Elections in January also witnessed several problems -IDPs and those recently returned to the North and East were unable to freely use their franchise. These obstacles and barriers in voting were not limited to the IDP population but to minorities in the North and East. Furthermore, minority communities elsewhere in the country including the Muslim IDPs in Puttalam and the Up-Country Tamil Community faced various other issues. This brief maps issues faced by minorities during election. It focuses on the obstacles they face and presents recommendations in respect of the removal of these obstacles.

Conflicts and disasters have multiple impacts on a civilian population including their political and socio-economic life. In addition to fatalities, injuries, trauma and displacement faced by civilians, there is a major disruption of community life. Livelihoods are affected which result in many having to depend on external assistance. Social networks change with continuous migration, displacement and the change of environment. Furthermore, IDPs and others affected by conflict and disasters face difficulties in participating in the electoral process and are marginalised from political life. In most cases, displacement also results in the infringement of fundamental rights and guarantees including the right to freedom of expression, movement and franchise. As outlined in this brief, minorities across the country have been deprived of their franchise due to various reasons including administrative barriers, the inability of relevant actors to be effective in disaster response and the absence of a legal and policy framework that protect the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized.

The issues raised in this brief are not new and have been evident in past elections. However, what is notable is that the present elections are held in a different, post war context, where hostilities have ended and one in which polling was and will be held in former LTTE controlled areas. Furthermore, the LTTE is no longer a force to be reckoned with. Though the issues listed in this brief have been raised previously

3.There has been limited progress in the improvement of available facilities and in developing a framework to address the problems faced by minorities in Sri Lanka. The right to vote and the existing problems related to this issue are an apt example of the obstacles faced by minorities who need to be treated as equal citizens and provided equal protection before the law. Although this report focuses on minorities, some of the issues highlighted in the report are not unique to minorities.

With the prospect of a Northern Provincial Council election later this year, there is a certain level of urgency in addressing these issues. The inaugural elections to the Northern Provincial Council could be a landmark event which positively impacts the lives of those living in the area, only if all its residents are allowed to exercise their fundamental right to the franchise. Depriving them of their fundamental rights more than a year after the war ended and at a time of development in the area, would be a travesty of justice.

The Buddhist shrine of Kilinochchi and the Buddhist archaeological offensive

by Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent, Times UK

Recent visitors to Kilinochchi, the former capital of the Tamil Tigers, had noticed something unusual — there was a single, new building standing among the bombed-out ruins of the abandoned city in northern Sri Lanka.

It was a whitewashed Buddhist shrine, strewn with flowers. “We thought it strange because there was no one there except soldiers — the civilians had all fled,” one of the visitors said.

Officers told them that the shrine had been damaged by the Tigers and renovated by the army — recruited largely from the Sinhalese Buddhist majority — after the rebels’ defeat a year ago next month. “It’s an ancient site,” Major-General Prasad Samarasinghe, the chief military spokesman, told The Times.

Many Tamil archaeologists, historians and politicians disagree. They say that the area had been populated for centuries by the ethnic Tamil minority, which is mostly Hindu. “There was nothing there at all,” Karthigesu Sivathamby, a retired professor of Tamil history and literature at the University of Jaffna, said.

The true origins of the site may never be known without independent analysis — which is impossible while the army restricts access to the area. Many Tamil community leaders fear that the shrine is part of a plan to “rediscover” Buddhist sites and settle thousands of Sinhalese across the north to undermine the Tamils’ claim to an ethnic homeland.

They also worry that such efforts will accelerate if the ruling coalition, led by President Rajapaksa, the country’s ethnic Sinhalese leader, wins a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections due on Thursday.

“The Government is putting up new Buddhist shrines and building permanent housing for soldiers,” Suresh Premachandran, an MP from the Tamil National Alliance, said. “They are trying to colonise the area, to show it belongs to the Sinhalese.”

He said that the army was building housing for 40,000 soldiers and their families in the north, even before it has finished resettling 300,000 Tamils who were held in internment camps after the war.

The army says that it does have that many troops there but denies settling their families and says it is simply renovating old military camps — and occasionally renovating Buddhist and Hindu shrines.

“We’re just trying to protect the people and make sure the [Tigers] don’t come back,” General Samarasinghe said.

So begins a new chapter in a dispute that began with the birth of archaeology in Sri Lanka, under the British in the 19th century, and that grew into a civil war that lasted 26 years and killed 100,000 people.

When the British took control of the country in 1815, they were unsure of its ancient history but soon embraced the legend of the Mahavamsa — a text written by Buddhist monks in about AD500.

It suggests that the Sinhalese are descended from Prince Vijaya, an Aryan prince exiled from northern India in about 500BC, and that Tamils did not migrate from southern India until 200 years later.

That theory — still taught in schools — underpins the Sinhalese chauvinism that ultimately drove the Tigers to launch their armed struggle for an independent homeland in 1983.

In fact, archaeologists had discredited that after independence by excavating settlements in the north that dated from long before 500BC and showed similarities to sites in southern India — suggesting a much earlier migration.

When the conflict began, they were forced to suspend excavations and many Tamil archaeologists fled into exile overseas.

Since the end of the war, archaeology in the north has resumed — and with it the debate over the country’s ancient history.

“For three decades we haven’t been able to do anything in the north,” Senarath Dissanayake, the head of the Government’s Archaeology Department, said.

“Now we can find out about how ancient people lived here — their culture, economy, social background, living conditions and religion.”

He said that his department had identified 60 old sites in the north in the last year — and six completely new ones, dated between 300BC and AD1000.

Some Tamil academics question why the new sites are all from a period when Sinhalese Buddhist culture is thought to have flourished. Others want more Tamil archaeologists involved, as well as foreign experts or the UN, to ensure that the work is objective.

“The archaeological department is the handmaiden of the Government,” said one prominent Tamil scholar, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals.

“The concern is that they’re going to identify these sites as Sinhalese, build lots of Buddhist shrines and tell Sinhalese people this is their lost land.”

The Government announced last month that 300,000 local and foreign tourists had visited the northern province since the war ended – and officials say that the vast majority were Sinhalese from the south.

Government archaeologists deny identifying sites on ethnic or religious grounds.

“The emphasis from the President is that there should be a balancing of Buddhist and non-Buddhist sites,” said Sudarshan Seneviratne, the head of the Central Cultural Fund, which finances archaeology. “He’s a smart politician. He knows how to cater to all communities.”

Mr Seneviratne accepted, nonetheless, that there were “parochial” forces who wanted to use archaeology for political purposes.

Principal among them on the Sinhalese side is the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a Buddhist monks’ party that is part of the ruling coalition, and has a powerful influence on Mr Rajapaksa.

Its clout was illustrated last month when the Government refused a visa to Akon, a Senegalese-American R&B singer who had been due to perform in Colombo this month.

Activists had protested over the video for Sexy Bitch, a song that showed bikini-clad women dancing around a pool, with a Buddha statue in the background. The protesters said that the Sri Lankan Constitution obliges the state to “give Buddhism the foremost place” and “protect and foster” the religion.

The JHU invoked the same argument in December when it presented 29 demands to Mr Rajapaksa, including one for him to rebuild dozens of Buddhist sites in the north. His response has never been made public but the JHU — which is led by a passionate amateur archaeologist — claims that the President concurred.

“He agreed to take immediate steps to restore Buddhist sites in the north,” Udaya Gammanpila, a senior JHU member, said. “He said the army and the archaeological department were already working on it.”

Even if that is untrue, the JHU can directly influence archaeology because Champika Ranawaka, its chief ideologue, is Environment Minister and his approval is required to excavate and protect sites.

Foreign archaeologists familiar with Sri Lanka say that the country — which is approximately 70 per cent Sinhalese and 20 per cent Tamil — needs to move past the ethnic issue.

“That debate will never be answered by archaeology,” Robin Coningham, a professor of archaeology at Durham University, said.

Tamil scholars say that that may not be possible with the JHU in government and the army empowered to rebuild Buddhist shrines on contentious sites.

“Archaeology has always been political in Sri Lanka,” said one Tamil historian overseas, who also did not want to be identified for fear of endangering relatives in Sri Lanka. “It’s no different today.”

Major monuments

Sigiriya Remains of the 5th-century palace of Sinhalese King Kasyapa, built on a 370m (1,200ft) high outcrop

Polonnaruwa Ruined city, famed for its Buddhist frescoes, it was the country’s capital in the 12th century

Anuradhapura Ancient city with monasteries, man-made lakes and the Jetavana Dagoba — said to be the world’s largest brick stupa. It was the capital from 4th century BC to the 11th century

Kandy The last seat of the Sinhalese kings, defeated by the British in 1815. Also site of temple said to have a tooth of the Buddha

Galle Home to a fort, built by the Portuguese after their invasion in 1505 and developed by Dutch invaders after 1656. They added ramparts and built churches

Dambulla A complex of cave temples with ancient wall paintings

Sinharaja National park and ancient forest reserve, said to be the last primary rainforest ~ courtesy: Times, UK ~

Aanandasangaree Complains to President about the Armed Forces Constructing Buddha Statues in the North - East

Veerasingham .Aanandasangaree President -Tamil United Liberation Front. has written a letter on April 4th to President Mahinda Rajapaksa about the propagation of Buddhism by the Armed forces in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The full text of the letter is given below:

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa 2010-04-04
President of Sri Lanka
Temple Trees
Colombo - 03

Your Excellency,

There are a lot of matters I wish to bring to your notice. I am so sorry to say that Mahinda cinthanaya had been polluted with the cinthanaya of many others to the extent of mahinda cinthanaya losing its originality, with the end of the war, people expected many changes to take place.

But unfortunately for them, nothing happened to their expectation. Their way of life has not changed. They did not see the promised land of hope. But contrary to this they faced only disappointment.

They claim that you promised to get them all what they lost. But they hardly got anything. They lost all their possessions and many of their dear ones. But so far the Government did not bother to take an inventory of all what they possessed and lost.

The Government has not yet prepared a list of persons killed during the war the cause of death and what they had left behind. Announcements were made at the I.D.P centers asking everyone who had undergone training even for a day to surrender with a promise that they all will be released, after inquiry. All of them are detained for a long periods.

The parents who were promised immediate release of their children are thoroughly disappointed that the Government had failed to keep its promise. Some of those detained as L.T.T.E cadre are the sole bread winner of the family.

Some had followed various courses in the university and some other Educational Institutions. Some of them are only one child to the parents. They are compelled to live in pigeon hole type to tents for months.

Some for more than a year. Many live like nomads and baggers but they are shocked to see some persons in authority inviting heads of many voluntary organizations and trustees of temples and giving away large some of money. Under what budgetary provision is done is what the people want to know. Can this happen under your Government?.

What is the Development going on in the North although ministers and officials come and go frequently?.

I hardly see anything worthy of boasting. More than one hundred and fifty thousand houses are destroyed in vanni of which how many had been renovated?

Long ago I requested the Government to pay a pittance to enable the I.D.P.s to make small purchases like salt onions etc.

Since no such allowance was paid, they had to sell some of the dry provisions and as a result forego many meals. It is unfortunate that this was not brought to your notice although some officials and volunteers had been making a lot of money in various ways.

There is one more serious and very sensitive issue which I am sure you are not aware of. The days in which religious beliefs were forced on the people with the power of weapons, are no more.

Let such things not be repeated after a lapse of 200 years, in this country. permit me to bring to your notice the adverse comments I hear from various people at various places and at various levels. The whole country is aware how devoted I am to Buddhism. You are not unaware of this fact. I have lost count of the number of visits; I paid Mahiangana, Nagadeepa and Kelaniya.

Although I am Hindu I had paid homage of Lord Buddha’s sacred Tooth Relics several times. I got the blessings of the Mahanayakes off and on.

Therefore I have a moral duty to point out to you what the people here think and talk about. They are not anti Buddhist. They take pride in saying that Sangamitte Thera landed with the sacred Bo-sapling in K.K.S in Jaffna.

What they are now talking about is the manner in which Buddhism is forced them in an area under military control, where people will not dare to talk. I had said more than once that on the humanitarian side, their contribution is wonderful. I have seen it myself during my rounds in Jaffna.

People are very appreciative of the conduct of the army but seen to be objecting seriously, the manner which Buddhism is propagated in the North. Let the Government leave it to the clergy to propagate Buddhism and not to the forces.

The way it’s done will boomerang on government and will certainly not have the desired effect. On the contrary if the Government had decided to propagate Buddhism compulsorily, I do not think that such step advisable.

Placing Lord Buddha’s statues at places where hardly one Buddhist lives one will consider it as an insult to Lord Buddha and his preaching’s furthermore this will give opportunities for chauvinist elements to create unnecessary problems. The people are not in a mood now to say for or against it openly, But the General feeling is that the hard won freedom will soon end up in another form of dictatorship.

This may be the work of some innocent persons or person without any malicious intentions. if your Excellency do not step in at this stage and advise the concerned parties to stop forthwith any action taken to disgrace Lord Buddha at a time there is no peace in this part if the country, and that anything unusual should wait till normalcy is restored I the country, the country’s further will be bleak.

Thanking You

Yours Sincerely

V.Aanandasangaree

President
Tamil United Liberation Front

April 05, 2010

Converting To and From Islam: Rifqa Barry of Sri Lanka/USA and Malini Perera of Sri Lanka/Bahrain

By Chakravarthy

Fathima Rifqa Bary who is 17 years was born on 10th of August 1993 to Ayesha Rizana and Mohamed Barry of Galle, Sri Lanka. The family is traditionally gem and jewelry merchants with respect in the Southern Province and Colombo.

As a kid she injured her right eye with the toy she was playing with. Since a major surgery was required, the couple opted to do it in the United States. So they came to the US in 2000.

Rifqa was under good medical care in the States and gained vision to some extend wearing spectacle which she no more wears now but apparently there is a significant difference between the left and the right eyes which she tactfully covers with her long hair. That way she is not innocent, but good at to cover that should be covered.

A thin, timid, shy girl she was, and always seen with a book in her hand as a book worm. Even now at 17 years she looks like a 12 year old Asian girl, leaving alone the American size. Ten years study in the US has made her fluent in English with perfect American accent like a local kid.

Initially the family lived in Queens, New York. Their life in the US was not on a bed of roses. Her father’s jewelery business, Bary Gems, that remained under license in the State of New York and imported gems from Sri Lanka, had ups and downs.

Further 9/11 attack also restricted his movement within the States. He uses a second hand hacked car where as his suppliers in Sri Lanka run in vehicles costing six or seven figures in US money.

Bary made an unsubstantiated claim that he was once stopped and searched while boarding a flight and the result was a loss of US$ 400,000 worth of gems and jewellery. From Queens they moved to New Albany in Ohio where all these complications took place.

Rifqa was seen spending lot of time on internet especially in the night. As usual the Asian mother was not happy and advised her daughter not to be awake in the night but she continued in sly.

It was said she was converted to Christianity in secret when she was 12 years old. Her posting of her new faith on her Facebook page, might have been seen by her friends from her family's mosque and reported to her father Mohamed Bary.

Ayesha started monitoring Rifqa’s movements and one day she found a Christian book in the house while her husband was out of town. She threatened to tell her father. The family was aghast and the trouble started at home.

As a result, Rifqa disappeared from home on July 19, 2009. Her cell phone was turned off and her Facebook account too was deactivated. Parents complained to the police. The girl's friends told detectives that it was possible she ran away because of conflicting religious beliefs in her home.

Investigators said Rifqa was affiliated with two central Ohio churches: one on Cleveland Avenue and the other near the Ohio State University campus. They also said she might have been seen near campus the night she disappeared.

A petition filed by Rifqa’s father in Franklin County Juvenile Court alleged that Brian Williams, a minister drove the girl to the Columbus Greyhound station where she received a bus ticket under a false name, bought by certain "Christian Associates" whom she had met on Facebook, to a "Planned Sanctuary" in Orlando, traveling 1100 miles.

Police used phone and computer records to track her to the Rev. Blake Lorenz, a Pastor of Global Revolution Church, a non-denominational Evangelical church based in Orlando, Florida.

"I am a Christian, and my parents are Muslims. They are extremely devout." . "They threatened to kill me. … You guys wouldn't understand. Islam is very different than you guys think. They have to kill me. My blood is now halal, which means that because I am now a Christian, I'm from a Muslim background, it's an honor. If they love God more than me, they have to do this. I'm fighting for my life. ..."

Rifqa said that in the 150 generations of her family, no one has ever known Jesus. "I am the first one," "Imagine the honor in killing me. "It is the reality” she screamed “it is the reality” to a TV in perfect American English with a sweet voice, and a silver cross tangling from her neck.

Bary denied the girl's claim. “Honestly,” said he, “we didn’t know why she left. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I want her to come back home. I love my daughter whether she’s a Christian or anything else. I want my daughter back.”

Aysha Bary who runs a business of sewing bridal veils in her home, filed papers with the Florida court declaring herself and her husband to be indigent. She made a statement to the court, crying "I have my two sons, but I need my daughter back!" Although her daughter professed her love for her parents in court, she refused to go with them.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found no credible threats to the girl. Her use of Facebook was one issue that led to this situation.

Mohamed Bary is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident but he said he is fighting for his residency. For Rifqa to continue her stay in the US she needs paper from her parents or else she should opt for nuptial with a national and regularize her stay. Her closeness in photo with Tayee Adrian of Xenos Cult is also puzzling.

Now Rifqa is under the custody of county children‘s service in Ohio. The family is saddled with never ending court cases from state to state that hit the news as a national story with both political undertones fanned by religious interest.

While the Muslim community supported Bary, his daughter got very favorable response from the Christian community throughout the USA and many associations came forward to help her. Rifqa Bary Support Group - on face book with 9,000 members is a notable power. Protests before the courts became common, saying it is one‘s civil right to chose her/his own religion.

It is true but there are lots of gray areas in Rifqa’s conversion. First of all, can a 12 year old understand the merits and demerits of a new religion or old religion without any inducement?

As Rifqa pronounces the word God God every minute like a Christian preacher, and enjoys the ‘celebrity status’ by giving interviews to media laughing and crying, I am sure the Bary’s who came to the US for eye care to their daughter who is now callous and not caring about the parents, will one day return to Sri Lanka sobbing and leaving their apple of the eye behind in America.

No doubt the notoriety Rifqa’s case jolted the first generation immigrant Muslims in the North America and Europe.

An American in a web wrote, ‘if Rifqa’s case happened to be a Mary becoming Mariyam, the Mosque she got associated would have been raided and the people who gave shelter got arrested as extremists or terrorists‘. Is not that too a reality Rifqa?

In the mean time in Sri Lanka, a convert from Buddhism to Islam, Panadura born Sarah Malani Perera’s “anti state” activity has surfaced in the media with mute response from Muslim community, unlike Rifqa’s from the Christians.

It was said the manager of the courier services was the cause for her arrest. Is not it a breach of ethic by the commercial organization to intercept any articles that are not declared as contraband by the state? Yes it is.

How could the courier man deem it as a blasphemy without reading it? Under what authority he acted? If I receive a love letter from my girl friend, does the postman have any right to report it to my father?

38 year old Sarah Malani went to Manama, Bahrain in 1985 to assist her elder sister Mariam, who owned a gifts and flowers shop called Madhuri in The Palace hotel, Adliya. Later she worked as a teacher at the Child Development Centre, Juffair.

Out of interest, like foreigners do in a host country, especially in Arab countries, she spent time on reading about Islam and the Arab culture before joining ’Discover Islam’.

Subsequently she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 27, unlike Rifqa to Christianity at 12. Her father Norbet Perera, mother Soma and sisters Padma, Rasa, and Padmani were also converted to Islam at different times.

Mariam said that police forcibly removed Malani’s headscarf and made a video, which was played on all Sri Lankan television channels. "They were so cruel to her“.

After 11 days of custody, police allowed Sarah to speak to her mother for five minutes.

“My mother has stopped eating since she spoke to Sarah and we are worried about her health as she is 82."

"My mother is very close to Sarah and is crying for her and praying for her immediate release," said Mariam. She revealed that the family had already paid Sri Lankan rupees 90,000 to lawyers.

On the other hand, family members do also fear that Sarah may face some obstacles in Sri Lanka to return to Bahrain since her residence permit expired on March 24.

"From Darkness to Light” is a common title every religious cross over uses to defend his/her choice. Rifqa also tells the same.

As the initial charges against Malani looked insignificant, now the jaundiced eyed state says she is being investigated for possible links to Islamic extremists. When will Lanka stop telling unbelievable lies?

Which Islamic extremist organization is against Sri Lanka? None. Not even the Taliban that destroyed the Budhha statues of the Bamyan valley in 2001.

But under the emergency law, this is an escape route for a dictatorial state to justify its atrocity against anyone who irks its interest. Arrest first and charge later, is the Mantra here. That has been the position in Sarath Fonseka’s matter too. He is not tried for the charges made out to him.

In a country that is trying to ban religious conversion especially from the Buddhism, arresting Sarah Malani Perera, a Sinhalese with a head scarf in Islamic attire, must have been a God sent opportunity to affirm the government’s affinity as the guardian of Buddhist superiority in the island during the general election.

Well, from the biggest religion of the world - Christianity, today few turn to Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Under the colonial rule in Asia, Hindus and Buddhists, large number Sri Lankans, adopted to follow Jesus due to circumstance or to appease the masters. Even today many ardent Lankan Buddhists cherish to maintain their Christian names.

Apple Computer boss Steve Job [have you bought the iPad ?] says he is a vegetarian and Buddhist. But he denied paternity to a girl child for many years, saying he was sterile before accepting it finally. He forgot the fact that he was a child of two unwed University students.Is this Buddhism?

Golf champion Tiger Woods said his failure to follow Buddhist principles was the cause for his sex scandals. His mother was a Bangkok bar girl who his father befriended as a soldier in Vietnam War. Was her life based on Buddha’s teaching?

In the US, a documentary film, The Buddha by award winning David Grubin is to be released on April 7th. The intention is good but we do not know how the fanatics of Sri Lanka will react when it is released there. Interestingly the narration is done by a poet named W.S. Merwin and Holiness the Dalai Lama who the guardian of Buddhism Sri Lankan government, do not permit to visit in fear of China. Here politics overshadows religion.

When Malani’s case is concerned, Shaikh Essam Ishaq, Discover Islam’s Sharia adviser and director, said some of Bahrain's MPs were in talks with the Sri Lankan government trying to negotiate Sarah’s release. "They are optimistic something positive would happen and they would release her soon," he said.

A belief is she may be freed after 8th April with “no evidence”. But what is the cost for the agony she underwent? On the contrary, if it takes a different turn then the response from the Arab world will become hostile and the Friend of the Palestinian image alone would not pacify.

Finally, why did not any Muslim lawyer came forward to help Sarah while in the US there are so many for Rifqa?

The duty of a judge is to protect individuals from abusive state action

by Ajit Prakash Shah

My Lord, the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Mr. Asoka De Silva and his companion Judges from Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Hon’ble Mr. Sathya Hettige, President Court of Appeal and other Hon’ble Judges from Court of Appeal and High Courts, Hon’ble Mr. Milinda Moragoda, Minister for Justice & Legal Reforms, Attorney General Mr. Mohan Peiris, Solicitor General Mr. W.P.C. Dep, Mr.Shibly Aziz, President and other office bearers of Bar Association of Sri Lanka, learned Members of Srilankan Bar, ladies and gentlemen.

This is my first visit to this beautiful island country which is fondly called “the pearl of the Indian Ocean”. The judges and the lawyers of the two countries have been meeting each others in the international legal conferences and have been visiting the countries quite often. In the recent past, Justice Shiranee Tilakvardhana and Justice Imam visited India. Former Chief Justice Sarath Silva addressed a Human Rights Conference organised by Bombay High Court. However, there has not been effective judicial interactions between the two countries.

Indeed being part of this important function gives me an opportunity to interact with the Judges and lawyers in Sri Lanka and I consider addressing this distinguished gathering a great privilege for me.

The subject of my address is “Judicial Independence: Contemporary Development on Indian Subcontinent”. I shall present my address in three parts. I would first discuss the universal norms of judicial independence particularly in the context of ICCPR, the Beijing Principles and the Bangalore Principles. Then, I would try to present before you an overview of some of the important developments in my native country and also in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Particularly, I would like to place before you some glimpses of lawyers’ struggle in Pakistan, and Nepal for the protection of the rule of law. Lastly, I will deal with the judicial accountability, which is inseparable part of the judicial independence.

ROLE OF THE JUDGE IN DEMOCRACY

Let me first make some preliminary observations. In a democratic society it is the duty of a Judge is to protect individual from abusive State action and to contribute to the meaning of the citizenship and civic entitlements. In performing this duty, the court must, inevitably, be in conflict with other branches, especially so in modern times where more and more political questions are brought before the court as legal questions and when the scope of judicial review over other branches is much wider than before. A wider judicial review carries with it much wider interest in the courts and widening tension between the court and the other branches of government. This conflict and tension will be unavoidable fallout when courts fulfil their constitutional role. Independent judges making unpopular rulings will often be an easy target for demagoguery, and both public and private actors will often be tempted to ignore their rulings. Judges should not abandon their role of protectors of human rights in free and democratic society. They should not defer to other branches when it comes to the question of proper balance of competing constitutional values. The real test comes when judges led by their understanding of the law and conscience arrive at a decision which is contrary to what other branches of government or other interests in society want. Something different from what “home crowd” wants.

There are other obstacles in exercise of judicial independence - internal ones. Judges are human beings, not disembodied spirits living in a celestial mansion. As the great US Judge Benjamin Cardozo reminds us “the great tides and currents which engulf the rest of men, do not turn aside in their course, and pass the judges by”. Exercise of judicial independence lies in conscious effort to neutralise the effect of personal philosophy and values in decision making. However, neutrality does not mean apathy to the plight of the parties. Neutrality does not mean indifference with respect to democracy, judicial independence or human rights. Neutrality means fairness and impartiality. It means the confidence of the parties and the people in the judges’ moral integrity and their conviction that the judge’s sole motive is protection of law and not his own power or position. Neutrality means giving weight to the arguments presented before the Judge regardless of the maker of those arguments. Everyone is equal before him.

A judge in modern plural society must consistently strive to educate himself about the way laws fall unequally upon different groups in the society. He must be alert, sensitive to the inequality of legal protection. With the best of his ability, within the governing laws, he should attempt to protect minorities from any unfair treatment and unjust discrimination. In the words of Justice Michael Kirby in a pluralistic society a judge’s role is essentially seen as an equaliser. He serves neither majority, nor any minority either. His duty is to the law and to do justice. He must ensure that diversity is respected and rights be protected.

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCPR") contains the fundamental rights that belong to human beings everywhere. Article 14.1 states:

"All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law"

This cardinal provision is derived from earlier statements of universal principles. It draws upon the historical experience of many lands. In the countries of the common law, judicial independence received important constitutional reinforcement when King James II of England was driven from the Kingdom in the revolution of 1688. His successors, William and Mary, were only accepted by the people on condition, amongst other things, that they promised to respect the tenure of the judges essential to their true independence of mind and of action. The principle, and the way it was achieved by revolution, ensured that for England, brutal intimidation of the judiciary would not again occur.

John Rudlege in his address in Parliament in 1802 said: “The Government may be administered with indiscretion and violence, offices may be bestowed exclusively upon those which have no merits than that of carrying votes at the elections, the commerce of our country may be depressed by nonsensical theories and public character may suffer from bad intentions, but so long as we may have an independent judiciary, the great interest of the people will be safe. Leave to the people an independent judiciary, and they will prove that man is capable of governing himself”.

It was this experience that led James Madison, in drafting the amendments to the United States Constitution, which became the Bill of Rights of that country, to assert:

"[I]ndependent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of these rights; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislature or executive; they will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the Constitution by the Declaration of Rights".

Judicial independence can be viewed at two levels. At the primary level, judicial independence is related to the notion of conflict resolution by a “neutral third”; in other words, by someone who can be trusted to settle controversies after considering only the facts and their relation to relevant laws. It is this type of independence that Owen Fiss has described “party detachment”.

Judicial independence, however, takes on critical significance when the government is one of the parties to a dispute, as the case then involves general issues of the rule of law. If the enforcement of this principle is to be entrusted to the courts, then it is absolutely essential that judges not be biased in favour of the government. Likewise, it is important that judges not be subject to control by the regime, and that they be shielded from any threats, interference, or manipulation which may either force them to unjustly favour the state or subject themselves to punishment for not doing so. This second trait of independence is what Fiss has called “Political Insularity”.

Three important perspectives arise from this discussion. First, a high degree of judicial independence is a necessary condition for the maintenance of the rule of law—ensuring that everyone is subject to the same legal rules. This is necessary to make sure that powerful people—particularly elected officials—cannot manipulate legal proceedings to their advantage. Secondly, in a constitutional government, only those laws that are constitutionally legitimate ought to be enforced, and courts must be able to do much of the work in deciding which laws survive this test. Thus, there is a need to ensure that courts are sufficiently independent to overturn legislations that subvert these values. Finally, in a democracy, it is important that constitutionally legitimate laws be given full effect. The worry here is that officials in the executive branch, or the current legislature itself, may interfere in the enforcement of statutes enacted by previous legislatures without bothering to go through procedural formalities. In the interest of democracy, courts must have sufficient autonomy to resist the temptations to give too much deference to current holders of economic or political power.

The guarantee of judicial independence is for the benefit of the people and not the judges. It is the protective right of all human rights. It is neither a right nor a privilege of the judges. Judges are accountable, like in the other branches of government, to political and civil society. An accountable Judiciary without any independence is weak and feeble. An independent Judiciary without any accountability is dangerous.

The twin concepts of judicial independence and judicial accountability now stand crystallised in The Beijing Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, 1997 adopted at Manila by the Chief Justices of the Asia Pacific Region and The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, 2002. The essential values stated in the Bangalore Principles are: judicial independence, both individual and institutional, as a prerequisite to the rule of law; impartiality, not only to the decision itself but also to the process; integrity; propriety, and the appearance of propriety; equality of treatment to all; competence and diligence. It concludes with the need for effective measures to be adopted to provide mechanisms to implement these principles.

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY: INDIAN EXPERIENCE

Today, the Indian judiciary with the Supreme Court at its head and 18 High Courts in the States is arguably the most powerful judiciary in the world. The superior courts, by which meant the Supreme Court and the High Courts, have jurisdiction not only over executive actions but also over legislation, and extend this even to review the validity of constitutional amendments. The Constitution of India contains a chapter on fundamental rights which bears a fairly close resemblance to the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution. They are enforceable in a court of law, and to use the words of Justice P.N. Bhagwati, the court is always on the qui vive for their protection and enforcement.

The Indian Supreme Court has been the protector of citizens’ liberty and has shown active concern about the rights of detainees and under-trials; police excesses including arbitrary arrests, custodial violence and other extra-judicial killings, conditions in prisons and other custodial institutions such as children’s homes, women’s homes and mental asylums and the rights of victims of crimes. The Indian Supreme Court has not subscribed to the theory of avoidance of political questions and has never declined to exercise its powers merely because a legal question has political overtones. In fact, on few occasions the Supreme Court’s interventions have helped in defusing volatile situations. (e.g. Ayodhya episode and reservation issue).

In the words of former President Mr.K.R. Narayanan: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the degree of respect and public confidence enjoyed by the Supreme Court is not matched by many other institutions in the country.” Whilst the Indian higher judiciary undoubtedly is most powerful judiciary in the world today and the societal perception of it is very high serious issues of judicial accountability have come to the fore. Experience demonstrates that the struggle for judicial independence is not separable from judicial responsibility and accountability.

Granville Austin, in his book, - “Working a Democratic Constitution: the Indian Experience” (1999), has dealt with the issue of judicial independence. Some portions therein summarise the experience of the first fifty years. He says: “The CJI during the Nehru period had virtually a veto over appointment decisions, a result of the conventions and practices of the time and the Chief Justice’s strength of character”. He quotes Mahajan, C.J. saying “Nehru has always acted in accordance with the advice of the CJI”, except in rare circumstances, despite efforts by state politicians with ‘considerable pull’ to influence him.

Despite this mutual respect, there were repeated confrontations between 1950 and 1973 during which the court invalidated several legislations on agrarian reforms. In 1967, in a property case, the Supreme Court by a majority of 6:5 Judges held that Parliament had no power to amend any fundamental right. While in 1970, the Supreme Court invalidated laws pertaining to bank nationalisation, abolition of privy purses etc. In 1971, amendments were introduced to the Constitution to re-assert Parliament’s right to amend every part of the Constitution and to make immune any challenge in courts to legislations made in pursuance of the directives of the state policy in Articles 39(b) and (c) of the Constitution. These constitutional amendments came to be challenged before 13 Judges of the bench of the Supreme Court in famous Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala’s case [(1973) 4 SCC 225]. The Supreme Court by a majority of 7:6 held that the Parliament had the full power to amend the Constitution; but because it had the power only to amend, it must leave the basic structure or framework of the Constitution intact. In other words, Parliament in exercise of its constituent powers could not damage or destroy the “basic structure of the Constitution”. Kesavananda’s case had also held unanimously that the fundamental right to property was not the basic feature of the Constitution, and in that sense the judiciary conceded that it was for Parliament to decide what was the extent of the property rights in the Constitution and to determine the nation’s economic policies without the judiciary sitting in judgment over them.

The government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was not happy with the court verdict. Immediately after the Kesavananda decision, the government superseded three senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court in the appointment of the next Chief Justice of India. In the Kesavananda’s case, the outgoing Chief Justice and three senior-most Judges with four others had voted for restricting Parliament’s power of amending the Constitution. In 1975, an emergency was imposed in the country following upon Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s disqualification in her election case. Many politicians, journalists and social activists were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). The detentions were challenged but they were met with the government’s plea that the Article 21 was the sole repository of liberty, and that as the right to move for enforcement of that right had been superseded by the presidential order of June 25, 1975, petitions were liable to be dismissed at the threshold. This objection had been overruled by nine High Courts, who displayed remarkable and robust independence in upholding the fundamental freedoms of detainees who were arrested illegally or arbitrarily. The appeals against the High Court orders were heard by a five-Judge Bench in the Supreme Court. In ADM Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla [(1976) 2 SCC 521], the majority held that the effect of presidential orders suspending Article 21 is that the detainee will have no right to challenge the detention in the court. Justice H.R.Khanna showed great courage in negating this totalitarian claim of the government. He held that Article 21 could not be considered to be the sole repository of the right to life and personal liberty, and such a right could not be taken away under any circumstances without the authority of law in a society governed by law. Justice Khanna paid penalty for his dissent. He was passed over for the post of Chief Justice although he was then the senior-most serving Judge. It took another 21 months and people’s simmering anger for the state of emergency to abate.

After the lifting of emergency in 1977, on the ground of interference in judicial appointment by the executive, the Supreme Court was called upon to safeguard the independence of the judiciary from undesirable appointments and arbitrary transfers by the executive. Under the scheme of the Constitution, issues concerning appointment and transfer of Judges, their terms and conditions of service and their removal were initially thought to be predominantly within the domain of the Parliament and the executive. In a series of PILs the Supreme Court has, however, articulated a dominant role for the judiciary in this area. In S.P. Gupta v. UOI [(1981) Supp. SCC 87], the Supreme Court declared that the executive had the final say in a matter of appointment of Judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court. More than a decade later, pursuant to a PIL, the correctness of this declaration was referred to a larger Bench. The resultant decision in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India [(1993) 4 SCC 441] saw a larger Bench of the Supreme Court reversing the view in S.P. Gupta and declaring that the word “consultation” appearing in 124(2) of the Constitution should be read to mean “concurrence” thereby vesting the Chief Justice of India with the final say in the matter of appointments. The Supreme Court held that the power so vested in the judiciary would be exercised through a collegium consisting of the CJI and two most senior colleagues. In the third Judges case [(1998) 7 SCC 739] the Court answered a reference made by the UOI opining that the CJI must make a recommendation to appoint the Judge of the Supreme Court in consultation with four senior-most puisne Judges of the Supreme Court, and insofar as the appointment to the High Court was concerned, the recommendation must be in consultation with two senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court.

There is a considerable controversy about whether the court has not amended the language of the Article by purporting to interpret it. This new dispensation of appointment and transfer of judges laid down by the Supreme Court has not been well received in India. The Bar and other sections of the society have been often critical of this. Mr.T.R. Andhyarujina, a distinguished Supreme Court advocate, has said: “A collegium which decides the matter in secrecy lacks transparency and is likely to be considered a cabal. Prejudice and favour of one or other member of the collegium for an incumbent cannot be ruled out.” Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer has used harsher words in his criticism of the judgment: “An innovative instrumentality for nomination of appointees to the higher judiciary by a pro tem collegiums composed of the senior-most Supreme Court judges – an egregious fabrication, a functioning anarchy. A frank, sad, but respectful reflection is that a high-powered appointing authority has been hijacked from the Prime Minister by a Constitution Bench.”

Vesting the power of appointment only in the executive or the self-selection by the judges are both fraught with difficulties. Hence, the trend now in modern constitutions is to entrust the power of recommendations for judicial appointments to an independent council or commission. Such a council or commission is composed of representatives of institutions closely connected with administration of justice. Such commissions are now functioning in England and Wales and South Africa.

In this context, the 1998 European Charter on the Statute of Judges is worth noticing and it, inter alia, provides:

In respect of every decision affecting the selection, recruitment, appointment, career progress or termination of office of a judge, the Statute envisages the intervention of an authority independent of the Executive and Legislative powers within which at least one half of those who sit are judges elected by their peers following methods guaranteeing the widest representative of the judiciary (emphasis added).

LAWYERS’ MOVEMENT IN PAKISTAN: AN EFFORT TO RESTORE RULE OF LAW

The Objectives Resolution, adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, provided that Pakistan was to be a state ‘wherein the independence of the judiciary should be fully observed.’ All of Pakistan’s constitutions have included the Objectives Resolution as a preamble, and the current (1973) Constitution incorporates it into its main body. (Constitution, Article 2A) The 1973 Constitution, like all its predecessors, contains explicit and unambiguous provisions guaranteeing judicial independence, including detailed provisions on the appointment, tenure, remuneration and removal of judges of the superior judiciary. (Constitution, Chapters 2,3 and 4)

In spite of this comprehensive constitutional framework, judicial independence has been a contentious issue throughout Pakistan’s history. Frequent coups and proclamation of emergencies and need and expectation of military dictators to have their actions sanctioned and approved by the apex court have progressively weakened the independence of the judiciary.

Ayub Khan had started appointing judges on the basis of political patronage, nepotism, and favouritism and this situation was compounded by Chief Justices promoting their own sons or sons-in-law, or those of their colleagues, on the bench. Hamid Khan in his book “Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan” observed:

‘Whenever a son returned from abroad, with or without a foreign law degree, or started law practice, he was widely introduced by his judge father to his uncle judges with the understanding that he should be looked after. Naturally, law practice of the sons and sons-in-law of the judges flourished overnight to the chagrin and frustration of the less privileged members of the Bar. They were engaged on fabulous fees with the expectation that they would obtain relief due to personal connections, which they actually did in many cases. Besides, they carried the awe for the members of the subordinate judiciary whom they easily frightened with their overbearing attitudes and arrogance. Those who did not make it in the law practice despite all the advantages and benefits, got themselves appointed as law officers and were eventually elevated to the bench.'

More seriously, the 1970s also saw the increased use of contempt of court proceedings against lawyers, including presidents of bar associations, who had publicly complained about judicial corruption and nepotism. The law was being used by the judges to silence criticism. These cases served as prelude to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution in 1976 by General Zia ul Haq. This amendment changed the constitutional provisions concerning the length, tenure of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, which led to the immediate retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice and the elevation into the post of a judge more sympathetic to Zia.

Zia deployed a number of other measures to control the judiciary. The most radical one was purging the higher judiciary through the administration of a new oath. (This method for eliminating potential opposition from the judiciary was copied by Musharraf in 2000 and again in 2007). This required all sitting judges of superior courts to take a new oath which omitted any reference to the 1973 Constitution and insulated all actions of the martial law authorities from judicial review. The majority of the High Court and Supreme Court Judges took the new oath. In 1981, Zia promulgated the Provisional Constitution Order, which went one step further. This time it was not upto the judges to decide whether or not to take the new oath; only the judges expressly invited to do so were permitted to take the new oath and remain in their posts. Former Chief Justice Cornelius described this episode as “the rape of the judiciary”.

In the 1990s the Pakistan Supreme Court emerged as an increasingly powerful institution, deciding the fate of democratically elected governments and as a result becoming embroiled in the conflict between President and Prime Minister. During this period, public interest litigation also propelled the courts into becoming protectors of human rights. In the course of 1990s, the Supreme Court delivered several landmark judgments asserting independence of the judiciary. [Government of Sindh v Sharaf Faridi (PLD 1994 SC 105); Al-Jehad Trust v. Federation of Pakistan (PLD 1996 SC 324); Al-Jehad Trust v. Federation of Pakistan (PLD 1997 SC 84)]

In Al-Jehad cases, the Supreme Court held that the President has the right to appoint judges to the Supreme Court ‘after consultation with the Chief Justice’, had to be read in a manner that made this consultation ‘effective, meaningful, purposive, consensus oriented, leaving no room for complaint or arbitrariness or unfair play.

The court restricted the ability of the President to appoint ad hoc judges, confirmed the principle of seniority in the elevation of a judge to the position of Chief Justice of a High Court.

The Pakistan Supreme Court decided, for the first time, an important case against the Chief of Army Staff and President Musharraf, by declaring that his Government’s attempt to privatize a major state industry, Pakistan Steel Mills, was unconstitutional. [Watan Party v Federation of Pakistan PLD 2006 SC 697]. Chief Justice Chaudhry was accused of judicial misconduct. The proceedings against him before the Supreme Judicial Council were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in July 2007. Restored as Chief Justice, Chaudhry was again removed following the declaration of an emergency on 3rd November 2007. Chaudhry was only able to resume his office almost 18 months later, on 21st March 2009, following street protests and unrest. Fourteen judges of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Chaudhry, declared that the Proclamation of Emergency of 3rd November 2007, as well as the PCO, the Judges Oath Order, the first and second Amendment Orders, and the Islamabad High Court (Establishment) Order were ‘unconstitutional, ultra vires of the Constitution and consequently… illegal and of no legal effect.’

Role played by the Pakistan’s Bar in restoration of the rule of law is unparalleled in the judicial history. One writer observed that this is the first time in Pakistan’s history that lawyers have dropped their conflicting political affiliations and forged an unprecedented professional unity to restore the rule of law. More than 80,000 lawyers acted in solidarity to challenge arbitrary powers that the President exercised on a regular basis with no constitutional authority. Another writer observed that Pakistan’s lawyers were not, in fact, courting martyrdom, but their willingness to stand up for their convictions, and to suffer for them, has transformed their country’s legal and political landscape.

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: STATUS IN BANGLADESH AND NEPAL

The Constitution of Bangladesh framed after its liberation also emphasised the separation of judiciary from executive. This important provision was not implemented for more than two decades. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh issued 12-point directives in famous Mazdar Hossain case to ensure separation of judiciary from the executive. The successive governments had taken time again and again to delay the process. Finally, the judiciary of Bangladesh has been officially separated since 1st November, 2007. The problems of executive interference still persist. In July, 2009, the country’s President had forced the retirement of two District Judges for violating service rules. The two Judges as the President and General Secretary of the Bangladesh Judicial Service Association respectively led a demonstration on July 27 at the Bangladesh Secretariat. The order of removal had been passed without consulting the Chief Justice and thus clearly violated Article 116 of the Bangladesh Constitution. Eventually, the order was withdrawn by the government after a public outcry.

Nepal has also witnessed a courageous fight against the attacks on the judiciary by the then King. The interim Constitution of Nepal though promises an independent judiciary contains several provisions that contradict with the universal standard i.e. the provision that the Chief Justice can be assigned with other work than his regular job. The provision for appointment of ad hoc and additional judges, compulsion to take a fresh oath under the new Constitution and so on and so forth etc. In order to discourage the independent and progressive stance of the Supreme Court, the King appointed four additional judges beyond the sanctioned capacity of the Supreme Court. Nepal Bar Association successfully fought against these unconstitutional measures. A constituent assembly is now formed to create a new constitution and only time will tell whether the judiciary under the new constitution would be independent in true sense.

JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY

No discussion on the subject of judicial independence will be complete without understanding of judicial accountability as judicial independence and judicial accountability are different sides of the same coin. When one talks of accountability, it is not accountability towards executive or the legislature. Judicial accountability is better understood as referring, as it does in the case of the rest of government, to institutional accounting, to political and civil society. Whereas insufficient independence may pull the judiciary away from acting in accord with law, accountability requires that it justify its actions in terms of legal compliance. The need to account for its actions may reduce the judiciary’s vulnerability to external pressures and will in fact strengthen the independence of the judiciary.

Accountability is commonly seen as a means of combating judicial corruption, but here again the relationship is more complex. Were corruption the only concern, certainly the British judiciary, widely acknowledged to be among the world’s most honest, would not be facing the current demand for more publicly transparent operations. Constitutional machinery for removal of a judge who is proved guilty of serious misconduct or incapacity will often be inappropriate, and for that reason ineffective, in the case of the judge, who is simply rude, repeatedly guilty of unjustifiable discrimination, keeping inappropriate company, sleeping on the bench, given to indulgence in alcohol, lateness, chronic delay in pronouncement of judgments. Thus, accountability aims at controlling a wider variety of performance problems – the broader issue of whether the judiciary’s actions correspond to societal norms some of them set forth in law and others of a less formal nature.

The usual recommendations for increasing accountability in general are not very different for the judiciary than they are for any other public institution. Broadly the concerns relating to accountability can be addressed on the following recommendations.

· Transparent systems for selection of judges’ publicized criteria and discussion of their application.

· Transparency of internal operations and their subjugation to pre-established rules; budgets, use of resources, salaries, assets declarations, standards of behavior and evaluation should be formally set and available for public review.

· Transparency of judicial decisions – public records of proceedings and publication of sentences

· Functioning systems for registering complaints on institutional operations or behavior of individual members.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I may conclude by citing an excellent and pithy statement of Dato’ Dr.Cyrus Dass, the President of the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association:

“Justice is a consumer product and must therefore meet the test of confidence, reliability and dependability like any other product if it is to survive market scrutiny. It exists for the citizenry ‘at whose service only the system of justice must work.’ Judicial responsibility, accountability and independence are in every sense inseparable. They are, and must be, embodied in the institution of the judiciary.”

(KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY HON’BLE MR.JUSTICE AJIT PRAKASH SHAH, FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE, HIGH COURT OF DELHI (INDIA) IN THE CONVENTION FOR THE INAUGURATION OF THE PRESIDENT ON 27TH MARCH, 2010 AT COLOMBO, SRI LANKA)

Liberalism, Sinhala nationalism and the Presidential Election 2010: a belated rejoinder

by “kathika” study circle

On the eve of the Presidential election 2010 the ‘‘Kathika’ study circle issued a statement on the election and there were some responses to it to which we could not attend at that time. In this article we address some key issues arising from some of the pertinent responses to our statement.

The statement of the ‘Kathika’ study circle on the Presidential Election 2010, titled 2010 Presidential Election: Nationalism Or Liberalism? “Yes, Please!” sought to present an analysis of the political processes operative in the lead to the election. It appeared in transcurrents.com under the title “Liberalism Poses Severe Challenge to Sinhala Nationalism at 2010 Presidential Election.”

The central idea of our statement was that if Sinhala nationalism had come to believe that it had established itself as the dominant ideology in Sri Lanka over liberalism following the victory in the war against the terrorism of the LTTE, the run up to the presidential election showed that liberalism had established itself in Sri Lanka as a force that is capable of levelling a serious challenge to nationalism. We argued that the events leading to the Presidential election showed that the Sri Lankan public had sharply divided itself into two contending camps representing the discourses of nationalism and liberalism, and the belief systems and the ways of life built on them which are taken (by them, the public) to be antithetical to each other.

We also maintained that whichever side of the two camps in the election, the victorious side may seek to impose its ideological hegemony on the opposing camp, thus aggravating the clash between nationalism and liberalism and giving rise to a long drawn out antagonism in our society which will in turn further strengthen its autocratic tendencies and thereby expose us to the danger of massive social instability in the long run. Our analysis intended to throw light on this scenario urging reflection on the future prospects this will hold for our country.

Until the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) joined the opposition camp, even many who were within the government camp believed that their margin of victory would be minimal. That this was a widespread sense was evident in that all the pro-government forces, political, intellectual, and otherwise were working hard to convince the public that they should vote for the government candidate. Even though how the people voted in the election once the TNA played into the hands of the government was unbelievable for the most optimistic of government ranks, the opposition camp polled over 4 million votes winning the urban centres of Colombo , Galle and Kandy.

In the post Presidential election landscape the oppositional discourses between Sinhala Nationalism and liberalism have continued even though, sans the former army commander being their candidate, the main opposition coalition is raising the issues of cost of living, lack of employment, destitution etc. as its main slogans. Whether the conflict between the nationalist and liberal camps will give rise to social instability in the long run is something that is left to be seen.

Criticisms

One criticism levelled at our analysis of the political situation in the country in the above statement was that we had ignored the complexity of the state as we urged our readers to imagine the state as a union of citizens and therefore define the role of the state as creating the conditions that would facilitate political dialogue among the citizens. When we suggested the imagining referred to above we were drawing inspiration from the practices of the ancient city state or the polis, the epitome of which was the ancient Athens of Socrates.

We were not thinking so much of the modern ‘state’ or the ‘nation state’ but a futuristic state which would have sufficiently addressed the implications of the all pervasive character of modernity and capitalism. In our efforts to imagine beyond the dictates of the contemporary political scene we believe we are in good company with Hannah Arendt the central theme of whose writings can be taken as an argument for the revival of the public realm, the ideal type of which she found in the Ancient Athens. It may be relevant for our discussion here that in discussing American politics in her On Revolution, Arendt in fact went on to suggest that the Ward system proposed by Thomas Jefferson would come close to what she imagined to be a genuine public realm of citizens in place of the bourgeois parliamentary democracy, even though she would not have agreed to trade in bourgeois democracy for any form of authoritarian government that would have denied the limited democracy the former offered.

We have no qualms about the necessity to attend to the strategies and tactics of governance and state craft, especially when the sovereignty of the state is threatened from both within and outside. Our goal in following Arendt here is to use this moment to arouse our collective imagination to think beyond the present to imagine an alternative future to that of modernity and capitalism, an orientation which no doubt those who are geared to think only in terms of reality here and now may consider naive or unrealistic.

Another comment on our article was related to our ‘methodology.’ We not deny that in our analysis we are guided by theoretical premises which we both apply to and examine in the context of the social processes we are examining. This is generally the method of the social sciences, unlike the natural sciences which used to claim that they begin with observations and then go onto form hypotheses. However, even in the natural sciences, this premise has been seriously challenged since Popper’s work in the latter half of the last century.

The most engaging and detailed response (published in transcurrents.com) to ‘Kathika’ statement came from Buddika Bandara and Prabha Manuratne (B&P) of who raised several key issues to discuss which we devote the rest of the article.

Sinhala nationalism and liberalism: oppositional discourses

B&P argued that the Presidential election campaigns of both the main camps were based on the rhetoric of victory in the war and that both the camps had a mix of nationalists and liberals among their leading politicians, thus making the “opposition drawn [by ‘Kathika’ ] between nationalism and liberalism, less clear.”

Our position was that the two main contending camps at the Presidential election represented for the public who rallied among them, the discourses of nationalism and liberalism which the hard core followers of each camp would take to be oppositional. The election campaigns of these two camps began by focusing, one, on development, and the other, on liberal democratic values, good governance etc. Even the election manifestoes of the two camps did not refer to the victory in the war as the main plank of the campaign. The war rhetoric surfaced only in the last stages of the campaign when the Tamil National Alliance joined the opposition camp.

We would agree with B&P’s assertion that in selecting the former army commander as their candidate by the opposition, the role he played in the military victory against the LTTE would have been crucial as it is only a person with such ‘nationalist credentials’ who could have mounted a serious challenge to the then incumbent President who was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the war against the LTTE. However, this in itself did not push the election campaign to become riveted on nationalism from its onset but only later as we discussed above. In fact, by selecting the army commander, the opposition believed that they had displaced the nationalist rhetoric from the campaign, which in fact was the case, until the TNA joined them.

In our view, that both the main camps of the election may have had politicians of liberal and nationalist orientations did not affect the main thrusts of the two campaigns due to the reasons stated above.

We do not believe that nationalism and liberalism are always mutually exclusive and that they do not and cannot coexist in reality. Our analysis was not focussed on individuals but discourses around which the public were rallying. We only posited nationalism and liberalism as discourses, in so far as they are perceived by their respective strong followers as antithetical to each other. Strong Liberals abhor nationalism as suppressing democracy and freedom of the individual and thereby plurality in society, while strong nationalists consider democracy, freedom of the individual and plurality as secondary in importance to the sovereignty and integrity of the unitary state. That those who have been in power would combine elements of both nationalism and liberalism in their governments, regimes and ranks do not negate the polarised perceptions of those who believe in the two discourses.

Freedom: liberal and political

B&P correctly observe that the liberal notion of the freedom of the individual in the market place does not guarantee freedom for all citizens to actively participate in politics. This in fact is the weakness of the liberal notion of individual freedom.

When we refer to liberals as valuing the freedom of the individual in the market it does not mean that the regimes oriented to promoting free market capitalism in Sri Lanka have assured freedom to all individuals under them either.

A liberalised economy does not necessarily offer democratic political and social freedom to all individuals. While the notion of the rights of the individual has its roots in the liberal idea of freedom, a political regime can, as J.R. Jayawardena (JRJ)’s regime did, violate the rights of individuals while assuring freedom in the market place. We have already commented on how the JRJ regime attacked the foundations of all the democratic institutions while promoting the free market. In our view he was no liberal, but an authoritarian ruler.

Whether the rise of terrorism in the Sri Lankan Tamil community is due to the state depriving ‘avenues to the democratic participation of the Tamil people,’ is an issue that has been discussed extensively and we have no intention of revisiting the debate here.

Moreover, the freedom of the individual we refer to as valued by liberals is the liberal notion of the individual as separate from community and tradition, the de-ontological individual, the notion of which Michael Sandel famously criticised in his book Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. The Liberal notion of freedom does not necessarily believe in freeing the individual from all forms of oppression and exploitation including economic, political and social variants, as Marxists would have it.

The Liberal notion of the freedom of the individual has only a weak sense of citizenship where a citizen is treated at best as a voter or consumer. Under a bourgeois liberal democracy, one cannot expect the state to entrust its citizens with a robust citizenship.

The idea that ‘citizenship must be conceived as a way of holding the state accountable’ seems to come close to the liberal notion of the citizen, as if the citizen is outside or external to the state.

B&P are correct in that the Liberal notion of individual freedom does not address the issues of the commoditization of social spaces. In fact, this notion is not at all incompatible with democratic social spaces being subjected to commoditization.

It is liberalism that presents the individual as the opposite of society and the freedom of the individual as freedom from society. It has been the position of ‘‘Kathika’ that freedom of the individual becomes meaningful not in imagining the individual as free of society but as a part of a society.

We choose to not take the individual and society as opposites but instead view them as a totality. We would argue that it is not the individual that is a necessary precondition of a society but rather it is a society that creates the individual and the conditions for his freedom by setting the limits for individuals to become who they are.

While we can agree with B&P that the JRJ regime cannot be held responsible for the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF, we cannot forget his enthusiasm in embracing them. It has been pointed out that under the JRJ regime Sri Lanka was the first South Asian economy to embrace the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF while both India and China among others responded cautiously by opening up their economies at their own pace and under conditions favourable to their own economies.

When JRJ triumphantly declared “Let the robber barons come!” it showed clearly his enthusiasm in embracing these structural adjustment policies. (See, S.B.D. de Silva’s The Political Economy of Underdevelopment for a thoroughgoing analysis of the JRJ regime’s economic policies.) JRJ’s liberalised economy favoured the growth of a mercantile capitalist class in Sri Lanka , as opposed to an industrial capitalist class. Furthermore, it facilitated the growth of a middle class based on trade and private sector employment.

A critique of proletarianisation in the sense of an increase in the incidence of wage labour, that may have taken place globally consequent to structural adjustment policies, needs to be located in the context of discussions on the implications of the persistence of peasant ways of life and pauperisation.

It was during the JRJ regime that Japan gifted the Television to Sri Lanka . The cassette tape industry that developed under the liberalised economy together with the television and the video player paved the way for the growth of the entertainment industry in exponential terms. The freedom of consumption offered by a burgeoning entertainment industry and mass media based on it offered a false sense of political freedom to a generation of youth coming of age under the liberalised economy. The difference between the so-called “popular culture” and commoditization of social and cultural spaces under consumerism turns out to be one of degree rather than one of substance.

Urbanisation and modernisation

It is not clear whether as B&P argue that the rise of Sinhala nationalism associated with urban Buddhism is directly connected to the desire for an authoritarian leadership.
Can we assume , that the resurgence of Sinhala nationalism is due to the social anxieties created by the social and institutional crises brought about by capitalism which in turn lead to the desire for the re-establishment of stability through a “strong” authoritarian, militaristic leader?

Is the resurgence of Sinhala nationalism propelled by a desire to find an authoritarian leader who can bring about “law and order” in the face of modernisation and urbanisation which undermines the stability of traditionally established institutes such as the rural family and trade union movements? Is there a feeling that liberalism is undermining the public health and education sectors, and also leading to the spread of political violence in our society?

What is the nature of the relationship between urban Buddhism and the restructuring of the rural family under the present modern-urban conditions? Examining the possible impact of the restructuring of the earlier forms of the rural family under modernisation and urbanisation necessitates a close investigation of such changes in the rural family.

While the decline of the trade-union movement may have more to do with the changing conditions of the working class, women migrating to the Middle East for work undoubtedly affected the stability of the rural family of certain social strata. Even though the government has imposed certain restrictions on such migrations, one wonders whether there has been any significant public outcry to ban women from migrating. While the migration of labour is voluntary, urban life brings its own benefits and pleasures even to the poor. Further, whether the post 1977 changes in economy and society have brought about a significant migration of labour to urban centres is something that needs to be empirically verified.

The matter with education in Sri Lanka , is not so much the concept of private tuition and the spread of private or international educational institutions. since they could be seen as the manifestations of us not being able to come up with a national educational policy that has in mind the good of the collective, as opposed to the benefit of individuals in the market place.

We agree with the observations of B&P that the spread of violence in politics in the country has affected the democratic political space.

It is with the 1971 insurrection that for the first time the post-Independence Sri Lankan state was threatened with violent take over. Even the traditional left parties supported the then government in suppressing the insurrection. When not only the state but even civilian life was threatened with terrorism in the South in the 87-90 period and then by the LTTE’s terrorist campaign, protecting democracy became a priority in the minds of the public and many therefore chose to support the state in silence. It may not be an irony that a society which condemns violence in its basic beliefs had come to tolerate such violence in order to protect democracy.

However the young who experienced the naked brutality of political violence in the 87-90 period for the first time in their lives would have no doubt begun to question the values upheld by their society. The breeding of political violence on a wide scale has undoubtedly dulled our sensibilities, but can we say that as a society we have lost the capacity to determine what is ‘right’ from what is ‘wrong’ due to such violence?

Urbanisation and the modernisation of Sri Lankan society occurred throughout the colonial and postcolonial periods. Modernisation can be absorbed by any society as long as it takes place at its own pace, without being a violent imposition. The phenomenon of Urban Buddhism has been recognised in modern Sri Lanka in different forms, a key variant of which has been named Olcott Buddhism.

The resurgence of Sinhala nationalism

A desire for an authoritarian leader in post independence Sri Lanka is not necessarily related to the rise of Sinhala nationalism. In Sri Lanka , the emergence of nationalism has occurred in several waves, first emerging in the anti-colonial period, to resurface in the post independence Bandaranaike era and now rear its head again in the aftermath of the newly liberalised economy of the 80s.

Due to anti-colonial sentiments during the latter part of British rule, there was a strong Sinhala as well as Tamil nationalist movement and none of the two did represented a desire for an authoritarian leader.

In the early post-colonial period Sinhala nationalism was both anti-imperialist and anti-elitist. In the earlier phase of Sinhala nationalism which brought Bandaranaike to power in 1956, there were no signs of a desire for an authoritarian leader, something which Bandaranaike was not. The next resurgence of Sinhala nationalism comes in the wake of liberalised economy under the JRJ regime. In 1987, the Indo-Lanka peace accord aroused anti-Indian nationalist sentiments. The JVP took a nationalist stand against the Indian intervention in the war against the LTTE and the imposition of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord and the Provincial Councils Act.

Thus, JRJ became the first manifestation of our desire for an authoritarian leader. However, authoritarian JRJ did not ride to power on Sinhala nationalism. Next, people identified Premadasa as the benevolent authoritarian leader we have been waiting for.

It was Sarachchandra who was a liberal in his thinking who fired the first salvo against the consumerism spawned by the liberalised economy by writing Dharmishta Samajaya. JRJ, having campaigned for a "Dharmishta Society," revealed his true intentions at the ACBC Hall when Sarachchandra launched his "Dharmista Samajaya" by getting party henchmen led by the JSS leader Piyasena S. Jayaweera of the UNP, to mercilessly assault Prof. Sarathchandra and the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero and others who attended the launching ceremony. (see, “JRJ: Farsighted statesman?”Savimon Urugodawatta, The Island , Sat, May 9, 2009)

In our view, in this present era of globalisation there is a resurgence of nationalism in Sri Lanka mainly due to the response of the Sinhala intelligentsia to the call of the Jathika Chinthanaya. The JVP’s turn to nationalism and the creation of the PNM and the JHU are some of the outcomes of this process.

The resurgence of Sinhala nationalism in the ‘post-liberalised-economy period’ in Sri Lanka has to be traced to Gunadasa Amarasekera and Nalin de Silva. If Amarsekera’s Jathika Chinthanaya, together with Nalin de Silva’s activities in the Chinthana Parshdaya is what prompted the resurgence of Sinhala nationalism in the post 1977 era, the shift of JVP politics towards the Jathika Chinthanaya and the setting up of the National Patriotic Front initially with JVP involvement is what rallied the masses around Jathika Chinthanaya.

Amarasekera’s and de Silva’s Jathika Chinthanaya was initially developed as a critique of the traditional Left of Sri Lanka’s inability to be sensitive to local cultural traditions in formulating their political programmes. The suggestion was that in order to make the Left political agenda successful, its ideology, nationalist thinking, must be incorporated into the mix. The Jathika Chinthanaya was meant to be a critique of capitalism and modernity.

While Amarasekera was busy winning over the JVPers to the Jathika Chinthanaya, it is the war against the LTTE that propelled Mahinda Rajapakse to national political leadership with the intervention of Buddhist Sangha who cleverly maneuvered MR’s rise to political leadership in the country by blessing him with their official recognition. By this process the Jathika Chinthanya itself became the spearhead of the anti-LTTE movement.

What brought Mahinda Rajapakse to power as President in 2005 was the desire on the part of the people of Sri Lanka to defeat the LTTE. It is highly questionable whether the sense of gratitude which members of the public across the spectrum of various strata seem to have towards the Rajapakse regime for ending the war can be put down mere chauvinism.

Why nationalism?

Our argument was that those who rallied around Sinhala nationalism represented a desire on the part of the public to preserve a sense of collectivity that would uphold values which had been eroding due to the impact of globalisation.

It is our view that what globalisation, with the increasing commoditisation of all social spaces and relations including culture and art, threatened to do away with was the traditional values in society which gave a sense of collectivity to people. Hence, we propose that it brings out resistance from those who value a form of collective life that gives identity to them through creating a culture and a civilization.

We wish to argue that this sense of collectivity in the past was based mainly on an understanding of being members of a community centered on being Buddhist. Gananath Obeysekera in an article titled “Buddhism, Ethnicity and Identity: A Problem of Buddhist History” has described this sense of the Buddhist collective as being built in the past on the notion of the Sasana and not the Jathiya or nation as such. Obeyesekera writes that “Buddhists had a conception of a trans-local cultural consciousness that was conceptualized in the notion of sasana. Our conception of sasana is a "form of nationhood" constructed by the ethnographer on the basis of a phenomenological reality existing in [the] Sri Lankan culture and consciousness.”

Thus if in pre modern times the Sinhalese had the perception of being members of a collective identified as the sasana, a community of Buddhsits, we would argue that with globalization when the values of Buddhism have come increasingly under threat due to consumerism and commoditization it is the desire for Buddhists to preserve their values that nationalism utilises to its advantage. The impact of capitalism and modernity in the sense not of modernization of infrastructure and the technology but the commoditization of all spheres of life and the spread of liberal individualism threatens to uproot people from their traditions that gave them a sense of belonging and collectivity.

While the old forms of collectivity and belonging are being undermined in an increasingly atomising society there are no new forms of solidarity emerging. We could understand with Anthony Smith how when the cultural existence of a people is threatened their last refuge becomes the ethnie, even as the notion of a Sinhala nation is an anachronism as much as that of a Tamil nation is one.

Therefore, looking at it through this lens, we see that capitalism and modernity threatens the