Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Monday, July 16, 2018

Demonstrations at Kilinochchi OMP hearing as families of disappeared demand international investigation

Home15Jul 2018

There were scenes of further demonstrations today outside the Office on Missing Persons hearing as families of the disappeared demanded an international investigation into the whereabouts of their missing loved ones. 
The OMP hearing which took place in the Kilinochchi this morning, follows a sitting in Jaffna yesterday where families of the disappeared protested outside, rejecting the process. 
Mothers cried in front of OMP officials as they held out photographs of their missing children.  
"We have no trust in this mechanim," one mother cried. 

Ayyo',does it still have to be 'our Tamils' and 'their Tamils' ?

N Sathiya Moorthy- 

Chennai, 12 July 2018

In a way, it could not have happened at a worse time for Vijayakala Mahendran, who has since bowed out as State Minister for Child Welfare, following her controversial ‘we want LTTE back’ kind of public statement, at an official function in native Jaffna. Detractors cannot blame the Rajapaksas for triggering the controversy after Vijayakala said what she should not have said, meant whatever she did not mean to mean, but then the ‘LTTE row’ did help to an extent the New York Times story on China’s Hambantota Port firms spending on incumbent Mahinda R’s failed presidential poll campaign of 2015.

It was possibly something that the authors of the New York Times story might not have bargained for. But then, the Vijayakala controversy has shown that corruption and even sovereignty-centric issues of the China payment and Hambantota port deal(s) kind are not as much an issue as any remote talk of LTTE’s revival, again involving issues of sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security, on land and in the seas (as the ‘Sea Tigers’ showed).

It is not if Rajapaksa’s SLPP-JO parliamentarians alone behaved unruly inside the Chamber, forcing Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to tick them off. Outside of the House, a section of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP colleagues did voice similar demands. UNP back-benchers were in the front, demanding action against a fellow-party colleague, the only woman Minister from the ‘minority’ Tamil community (which in linguistic terms comprise the SLT, Upcountry and Muslim denominations).

It is easy to dismiss the anti-Vijayakala protests as a reflection of ‘southern chauvinism’, but the latter is as much a reality as the intent and content of Vijayakala’s call for LTTE’s ‘return’ was. Rather, the latter alone triggered the former, at least in this case, and the LTTE remains a grave political and electoral issue, at least down South. If nothing else, families in deep South would not want jammed telephone lines connecting to their dear ones working or living in capital Colombo, whenever a ‘terror attack’ used to be reported on TV until the end of the decisive ‘Eelam War IV’ in May 2009.

Not at all naive

Heard on the YouTube or such other medium, Vijayakala’s reference to the need for LTTE’s ‘return’ was as naive as may have sounded to her Tamil sympathisers, whose numbers may have increased, after all, since. Widow of UNP Tamil parliamentarian, T Mahendran, shot in cold blood outside of capital Colombo’s Ponnambala-vaneswarar Kovil on English New Year Day, 2008, Vijakala has since been an elected MP, and Minister since the incumbent Government came to power in 2015.

It means that from being a housewife/home-maker, Vijayakala has travelled a lot in political terms – and should have known what to say and what not so say, whether in public or even within ‘closed doors’. At the public function in Jaffna’s Veerasingham Hall, the Minister was only talking about the safety of women, and the rest of the population in Tamil areas, these past, post-LTTE years, and could well have left it at that. It was not to be.

‘Cultural policing’

Obviously, with future elections in mind, and also to garner a share of hard-line Tamil votes sympathetic to the LTTE’s cause and ways, Vijayakala said that they could walk freely on the streets when the LTTE was around. It was a fact, as the LTTE’s disciplinary procedures were so severe that no Tamil would want to violate them and pay for it with his or her life. In certain communities, and certain nations, such behaviour would have been dubbed ‘cultural policing’, but not in Jaffna, not in LTTE-controlled Tamil areas across the North and the East of Sri Lanka.

It is anybody’s guess why Vijayakala could not have taken up the increasing concern of the Jaffna population with her own Government, of which she was also a Minister, and in private. Or, taken it up with Northern Province’s Tamil Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran, who then could well have (rightly) pointed out to her, how ‘Police’ powers under 13-A had not been devolved on the Provinces, 30 long years after being incorporated in the Constitution.

By taking it up with her Government-appointed Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray, DIG or IG of Police and all the rest of the political leadership from President Maithiripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe, she could have still kept the issue alive. Why, she could have also flagged a new awakening in ‘distant South’ over the imminent need for ‘Police’ powers for the Provinces, of which the North was only one of the nine, where alone her party too was not as strong as elsewhere.

Went beyond the brief

Even for a public function, sponsored by the Government or not, Vijayakala went beyond her political brief as a people’s representative and also as a Minister, when she said that they ‘wanted the LTTE back’. It was a political message to hard-line Tamils who may have been unhappy with the TNA and not satisfied with rivals from within the Tamil polity.

If Vijayakala had hoped to cash in on such emotive appeals, particularly to the northern women populace, she has lost her job, long before the elections are here. Now, it remains to be seen if the UNP would re-nominate her in Elections-2020 to Parliament, which thankfully would come only after the presidential polls by January that year.

In between, the UNP has set up a four-member panel to study and report on the issue, for the leadership to initiate disciplinary action, if found needed. The police has also been at it, to ‘investigate’ if her statement tantamount to support for an outfit that is a ‘banned organisation’ in the country, and which is still perceived only as a highly-motivated, well-armed ‘terror group’, confining it within the public imagination, as much in the North as in the South.

Better or worse still, over a week after Vijayakala’s resignation, there are still news reports about the UNP’s internal inquiry intend on taking a serious look into the affair, to initiate further inner-party disciplinary action against the ‘sacked’ Minister. Other reports have also spoken about the Attorney-General directing the Inspector-General of Police, the top-most cop in the country, to follow up on the pre-resignation instructions to the effect.

Yet, in the Tamil areas, and wherever Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora live, they still perceive the LTTE only as a ‘protector’ of Tamil interests, people, culture and language -- independent of their ‘love’ or hate for the LTTE. Very few see the LTTE as a ‘terror group’ as the ‘Sinhala South’ or a section of the ‘Eastern Muslims’ or the rest of the world might see them, still.

Celebrating ‘Black Tigers’

Incidentally, only days after the Vijayakala row heated up, sections in northern Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts reportedly celebrated the foundation day of the dreaded ‘Black Tigers’ suicide-squad on 5 July. According to news reports, LTTE’s ‘Tiger’ logo and maps of ‘Tamil Eelam’ were on display, with the result, the police has pressed investigations into the issue.

In context, any digging up of the Vijayakala episode further could only be counter-productive in terms of mainstreaming Tamil sentiments, post-war, post-LTTE, which has already been a tardy affair at best. An impression could well be created that Vijayakala was being isolated and pushed to the corner, not only because she was a hapless woman parliamentarian in a male-dominated polity, but more because she was a Tamil.

This kind of sentiments have been ruling the streets of Sri Lanka for long, almost since the imposition the ‘Sinhala Only’ law and the consequent Tamil protests, leading to the LTTE war and violence. Nothing has been done to erase this impression about the Tamils, or such impressions of the Tamils, which is an hourly affair in daily interactions with the police or other Government officials, many of whom definitely have developed a ‘Sinhala superciliousness’.

Shock phrase, not ‘stock phrase’

In political terms, it could well have electoral consequences for the ruling combine in general and Vijayakala’s UNP in particular. The party is otherwise considered relatively ‘Tamil friendly’ compared to other southern Sinhala parties and leaders. For winning elections or even forming a new government in the place of the incumbent coalition in the current Parliament, they need the TNA, even if not their own MP, Vijayakala.

Leave aside the ‘political solution’ under a new Constitution that UNP’s Wickremesinghe had reportedly promised the TNA leadership ahead of the presidential polls of 2015, and which promise has not been kept, at least thus far, irritants of the Vijayakala kind could jeopardise the UNP-TNA relations, whatever that be. Worse still in the reverse, as any accommodation of Vijayakala could well spoil the UNP’s limited chances with the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist voters’, whose numbers are substantial and whose sympathies are still with the war-winning Rajapaksa clan.

According to media reports, TNA’s hard-line ‘rebel’ Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran has defended UNP’s Vijayakala, though there is no love lost between him and the Centre, especially with party Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Another TNA leader, the no-nonsense parliamentarian, M A Sumanthiran, is reported to have said that ‘southern Sinhala leaders’ alone ‘pressured’ Vijayakala into talking about ‘LTTE’s revival’ – though he is not known to have explained it.

In the early stages of the delayed digging up of the Vijayakala row, she was reported to have told Deputy Minister Ranjan Ratnayake, "Ayyo, they have misquoted me", or something to that effect. For the uninitiated, of whom there are many even among the urbane sections of the Sinhala elite, ‘Ayyo’ is a Tamil exclamation of sorrow, sadness and shock.

Obviously, Vijayakala used it as a ‘shock’ phrase, and not a ‘stock’ phrase. But then, the way her statement has been marketed for the Sinhala audience, and the way further action has been promised against the ex-Minister, it could well be in future, as in the LTTE past, "Ayyo, the nation is at it again."

That said, there is no denying that all the issues that Vijayakala flagged at her Jaffna speech on personal security are prevalent across the country and across the world. She however needs to ask herself, if they required the LTTE to restore what essentially is a Law & Order issue, which is what any democratic or not-so-democratic Government are expected to dispense to their people. Here dictatorships may have often succeeded more than democracies.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email:

Lasantha Wickremethunga murder: Suspects granted bail


Mount Lavinia (MTL) Chief Magistrate Mohammad Mihal has granted bail to Former Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) Prasanna Nanayakkara and Former Officer-In-Charge (OIC) of the MTL Police Crimes Division Tissa Sugathadasa who were arrested and imprisoned over the murder of Former Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickremathunga.

The MTL Chief Magistrate ordered Nanayakkara and Sugathadasa to be released on cash bail of Rs 50,000 and sureties of Rs one million each.

Addressing the Court, the MTL Chief Magistrate said that only the MTL Chief Magistrate’s Court was empowered to grant bail to the two defendants in the case. The MTL Chief Magistrate told the Court that he was granting bail to the two suspects under the proviso that they will neither intimidate witnesses in the case nor scuttle the ongoing investigations and warned that if found to be guilty of either offence he will promptly revoke their bail and incarcerate them. MTL Chief Magistrate Mihal afterwards ordered the passports of the two suspects to be impounded before ordering them to appear before the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on the last Sunday of each month.

However, as the two suspects despite being granted bail failed to fulfill the bail conditions, they were taken back to the prison by prison officers and the Chief Magistrate advised them to fulfill the bail conditions through a motion tomorrow (17).

Nanayakkara was arrested by the CID on 14 February for allegedly having concealed evidence regarding the murder of the Editor. He was the SDIG in charge of the Western Province (South) at the time of Wickremathunga’s murder while the area of MTL came under his supervision. Nanayakkara is facing charges of aiding and abetting in destroying vital evidence in the investigations into the killing of the former Journalist.

Sugathadasa, the Former OIC of the MTL Police Crimes Division was apprehended by the CID on 2 February.

Wickremathunga, the Founding Editor of the Sunday Leader, was murdered by two assailants who had followed him on a motorcycle on 8 January, 2009, in Attidiya, Ratmalana.

The case was put off to 27 September.


2017 was a decisive year for Sri Lanka, showing what progress had – and hadn’t – been made in the past few years.

Sri Lanka Brief15/07/2018

In January 2015, a new government was elected with a massive intervention on the part of the people. For 10 years, their premiere, Mahinda Rajapaksa, ran an authoritarian regime. During this regime, one of the most visible signs of its authoritarian behaviour was the use of overt forms of violence on the people. The Ministry of Defense, which was the most powerful ministry during this time, was run by Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was the president’s younger brother. The basic internal control mechanism in the country came under the control this ministry. The Defense Secretary developed ways to control all activities of the armed forces and the police. In this way, he became the most powerful man within the state apparatus.

Professionals flay SL-Singapore FTA and suicide mission trade policy

by C.A.Chandraprema- 

Last Thursday, the Professionals’ National Front (PNF) which brings together professionals from the medical, engineering, banking, IT, architectural, and many other spheres held a seminar to a packed audience at the Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya in Thunmulla on the SL-Singapore Free Trade Agreement ahead of the debate in parliament on the same matter scheduled for the afternoon of July 17. The PNF is a body that took shape through agitation against the attempt by the present government to expand the free trade agreement with India to include the trade in services. One of the main demands by the PNF from its very inception is that Sri Lanka should have a national trade policy on the lines of which any free trade agreement should be entered into.

 Since the government was dragging its feet in the matter of formulating a national trade policy, the PNF took the initiative to appoint a people’s commission to make recommendations for the formation of such a policy. In the meantime, a document styled ‘New Trade Policy’ appeared last year on the website of the Ministry of Strategic Development and International Trade purporting to be Sri Lanka’s national trade policy. It was supposed to be in accordance with this policy that the SL-Singapore FTA had been entered into. Speaker after speaker at last Thursday’s event bitterly criticized both the so called National Trade Policy formulated by Minister Malik Samarawickrema and the SL-Singapore FTA that the government entered into. One of the main criticisms made by the PNF against the purported national trade policy of the present government is that nobody had been consulted in its preparation and that it was only ‘an essay’ written by an expatriate Sri Lankan.

 When the Indian government updated its Foreign Trade Policy last year, they got all stakeholders including exporters, trade associations, state governments, and even foreign missions involved in the process. But Sri Lanka’s New Trade Policy seems to have been formulated without any such process and had appeared suddenly on Malik Samarawickrema’s ministry website. This was tantamount to a deliberate insult to the professional organizations that had been agitating for a properly formulated national trade policy. In the midst of all this, the government entered into the SL-Singapore FTA without any consultation or discussion with stakeholders. In fact very few people were even aware that such a thing was on the cards until it was suddenly sprung on all of us. Even though a parliamentary debate is to be held next Tuesday on the SL-Singapore FTA, it’s being held after the FTA has been signed and the Customs Dept. instructed to adhere to its provisions. It was this FTA that for the first time opened up virtually the entire Sri Lankan services sector to competition from Singapore. To say that the professional associations have reached boiling point is an understatement.

New Trade Policy from nowhere

Among the main criticisms made at that seminar about the SL-Singapore FTA was the fact that Sri Lanka has undertaken to provide zero duty access to Singapore for 50% of all product lines immediately, and increase this proportion to 80% within various time frames going up to 12 years, without however obtaining any comparable concession for Sri Lanka. All product lines could be exported completely duty free to Singapore even before the FTA. The other matter taken up was the mandatory opening up of the movement of natural persons in categories such as managers, executives and specialists in a context where these phrases are not defined anywhere, not even in the legal text of the SL-Singapore FTA which defines the word ‘day’ but not the words manager, executive or specialist.

 It’s no great wonder that such criticism would be made of the SL-Singapore when it was based on the so called ‘New Trade Policy’ of the present government which itself is a document lacking focus or depth. The Foreign Trade Policy of India is 150 pages long and is very focused whereas Sri Lanka’s new trade policy is just 29 pages and inconsistent in its assertions. This is why the PNF calls it an ‘essay’. The expatriate Sri Lankan who is supposed to have penned this trade policy starts off with the claim that in recent years (meaning the years before the present government came into power) Sri Lanka’s openness to international trade and investment has declined sharply and that the increased ‘protectionism and inward orientation’ have slowed economic growth.

 The NTP states that the main reason for the inward orientation was Sri Lanka’s tariffs and para-tariffs which have increased the level of protection for Sri Lankan domestic industries at the cost of production for exports. It then goes on to state that this results in consumers having to pay more and local producers not being under any pressure to match international quality standards. It states that high levels of protection divert resources from production for export and that tariffs and other measures that protect domestic industries create disincentives to exports by directly raising the price of imported inputs and raw materials and intermediate and capital goods. However, it is a well known fact that any export oriented industry can import inputs and raw materials from overseas for their industries duty free and that this was the whole purpose in establishing free trade zones.

 How then can Sri Lanka’s tariff regime be a dampener on exports? This talk of tariffs protecting local industry applies only to a few product lines such as footware where there are established local industries and the removal of those tarrifs will result in a flood of imported goods that will result in those industries being wiped out. Obviously the writer of this NTP is opposed to giving these few local industries any form of protection. While talking about reducing Sri Lankan tariffs to open the Sri Lankan economy to the outside world, the NTP at the same time talks of the protectionism that is ‘spreading globally’, particularly in the industrialized countries. But it has not said what we should learn from this wave of protectionism that is sweeping through the very countries that once advocated free trade.

 While talking about opening foreign markets for Sri Lanka’s exporters through multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements, the NTP acknowledges the sub-optimal performance of the four existing FTAs (now five with the SL-Singapore FTA) with India, Pakistan, SAFTA and APTA. The NTP acknowledges that the preferences accorded under these FTAs are ‘partial and limited’ and are vastly underutilized by Sri Lankan exporters. Non-tariff barriers and stringent rules of origin are said to be among the reasons for the failure of these FTAs. While acknowledging that the FTAs that Sri Lanka have not succeeded because of protectionism at the other end, the NTP still says that most countries have become ‘more open to trade’ whereas Sri Lanka’s economy has become inward-oriented and markedly more protected.

Tripping over one’s

own buzz words

How is it that the top professions that Sri Lanka has deployed to negotiate FTAs could not find countries that have become ‘more open to trade’ to sign FTAs with? If other countries have become more open, why is Sri Lanka having so much trouble trying to export to those countries? This NTP that Minister Malik Samarawickrema has got written, is a classic case of people tripping up over their own buzz words and platitudes. The NTP itself acknowledges that Sri Lanka will take a more strategic approach in future trade and partnership agreements, drawing on the lessons of experience, while simultaneously addressing shortcomings in existing ones. This means that negotiators will identify non-tariff barriers at the onset and address them along with tariff reductions, specify the mutually recognized or agreed standards, clarify and negotiate rules of origin that best serve its industry requirements, and aim to make market access more predictable for Sri Lankan exporters.

 What the NTP has failed to state is that if it so difficult to negotiate more openness, then there must be less openness in the world than we think there is! It is observed in ths NTP that Sri Lanka’s high tariffs and para-tariffs are also motivated by the need to raise revenue for the government through trade taxes at the border which is relatively easy to levy. This is true. The biggest single item of revenue for the Customs Dept are the taxes on vehicles which the present government too has been plumbing for all they are worth. There is nothing in the NTP which shows how the government is going to meet the shortfall in revenue caused by the reduction or elimination of tariffs. The NTP is replete with the usual jargon such as improving firms’ ability to compete with imports, but without any indication as to how this will be achieved by removing tarrifs.

One concession to commonsense made in the NTP is with regard to the agricultural sector where it is observed that because any change in import policy may have a negative impact on incomes of farmers and prices of essential consumer goods, the government needs to be cautious in reforming tariffs and other levies at the border and that given the importance of agriculture in Sri Lanka, it is imperative for the government to formulate the long-term trade policy as an integral part of a comprehensive agricultural development strategy for the country. Such a policy should accord high priority to food security, livelihood and rural development, employment, and poverty reduction on one hand, and the improvement of productivity on the other.

 The NTP observes that many of the poor can benefit greatly from trade liberalization insofar as it reduces the cost of staples, or creates new export opportunities but some can also be hurt by the lower prices of that which they produce. Trade reforms in the most sensitive sectors will be carried out cautiously with these considerations in mind and, where possible, mechanisms will be put in place to facilitate the migration of workers out of those sectors. This last point seems to indicate that whoever wrote this ‘essay’ on trade policy has the Singapore model in mind and forgets that this is a real country and not a city state. We have a semi-urban and rural hinterland unlike Singapore. The PNF is right in rejecting the NTP that the yahapalana government has put forward. What this country needs is a proper foreign trade policy modeled on that of neighbouring India which is formulated after taking the needs of the economy of the country and after extensive consultations with all stakeholders.

Power Struggle In The Indian Ocean & Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
logoFour Centuries of Western domination in the Indian Ocean has come to an end. Asian nations are re-emerging as Economic and military powers. This has brought a new focus on Asia and the long neglected Indian Ocean region. It also gives Sri Lanka’s foreign policy a new impetus to play a significant role in the region.
The foreign policy of newly independent Sri Lanka under Prime Minister DS Senanayake focussed on Asia
* Supported the independence struggle in Indonesia
* Recognized the Peoples Republic of China and
* Called for a formal peace treaty with Japan.
* Sri Lanka and Australia proposed the Colombo Plan at the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Conference held in Colombo in 1950
* Entered into the Rubber-Rice Pact with China in 1952
Thereafter Sir John Kotalawela took the initiative to summon India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Indonesia the other Asian powers to meet in Colombo, in April 1954. The phrase non-alignment was used for the first time at this meeting. The Asian powers in turn summoned the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung which was also attended by China and Japan.
The next step was a large gathering which included non-Afro Asian nations.
In 1956 Nehru, Nasser and Tito signed a declaration in Yugoslavia calling for a Non-Aligned Movement. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka one of the initial conveners of the first meeting of the Non Aligned Movement played an important role during her tenure in office including holding the 1976 Summit in Colombo. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy adjusted its focus accordingly. It was necessary during the height of cold war period.
The Colombo Summit was also during the peak of the NAM. However subsequent Soviet-American detente NAM declined in importance. Thereafter, the Movement was left to re-define its relevance after the collapse of the Soviet Union brought the cold war to an end. This collapse followed by the global financial crisis of 2012, has seen the major transformation of the global order. Following the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and related Human Rights issues that arose, Sri Lanka since January 2015, has introduced a new multi-pronged approach to re-position itself in the regional order.
New developments in the region and beyond have re-established the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean. The rapid growth of the East Asian, ASEAN and the Indian economies all dependent on international trade has resulted in the Indian Ocean becoming the lifeline of Asian Economies.   The oil and gas from the Persian Gulf have to pass through this largely enclosed water body controlled by choke points. As a result the Indian Ocean sea-lanes of communication, one of the busiest in the world, is vital for the smooth functioning of the emerging geo-energy era. The most important Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) runs past Sri Lanka making it a strategic location for the control and safety of the sea lanes and communication lines. It gives Sri Lanka the opportunity of becoming the Hub of the Indian Ocean as well.
The control of the strategic foothold of the SLOC and the choke points in the Indian Ocean enables the control of the energy. This has resulted in a number of geopolitical issues coming to the fore.
* China recognizing its strategic vulnerability in the Indian Ocean and has sought to reduce its vulnerability.
* As a result of China’s challenge to the US in the Pacific, the US is obviously concerned about a possible Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean.
* India the strongest power among the Indian Ocean littoral states as well as several other states are concerned about a possible change in the status quo.
* Japan, Australia and several other countries in the region and beyond are committed to a free maritime order in the Indian Ocean.
This political interplay in the Indian Ocean is in danger of becoming a major centre of tension. A power struggle in the Indian Ocean will no doubt also adversely affect Sri Lanka’s objective of becoming the hub of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka’s future prosperity depends on the stability of the Indian Ocean. A power struggle in the Indian Ocean also risks making the littoral states into spectators in the Indian Ocean.
The Indo-Pacific Strategy is a concept recently articulated by the USA. China appears concerned that this strategy could contain China in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and thereby increase its strategic vulnerability. Speaking at the Shangri-la Summit in Singapore, Prime Minister Modi reassured “India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members. Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. And by no means do we consider it as directed against any country.” Let this be the starting point.

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Disruptive economy and poverty of knowledge: Sri Lankans have a lot to learn

A new definition of the poor

logoMonday, 16 July 2018 

The poor are usually defined as those who are below a given level of income that would be insufficient to meet their basic needs. In my view, the poor – no matter whether it is an individual, family or a nation – are those who are unable to read the oncoming information logically, assess the risks posed or opportunities offered to them and take measures to minimise risks or augment prospects. In this sense, we all are poor.

Are we losing the grips of our culture

Pressures to replace our cultural knowledge, prescriptions and practices with those imported from elsewhere are increasing in the name of fancy labels, promoters, and incentives.

by Dr Siri Gamage-
( July 16, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Culture is what defines us. We are embodiments of our culture. Our way of life is defined by cultural prescriptions, values, norms and customs that have been internalised during our years of growing, learning, working and living. Culture is a framework of knowledge, wisdom, ritual and accumulated prescriptions for this worldly (and other worldly) issues that human kind face universally and in specific localities. Irrespective of the changes that we face due to external influences, generally fundamentals of culture remain intact. For example, among the Australian Aborigines (the indigenous people) after 200 plus years of invasion, colonisation and displacement, main elements of their culture remain to this day. They express these through art, storytelling, dance, poems, rituals etc. Cultural fundamentals are held intact primarily by the elders and passed down to the younger generations against many odds. Indigenous peoples around the world struggle with endurance to preserve their cultural heritage. Contacts with other cultures, especially those that are dominant due to the power of modern dissemination methods, can alter aspects of one’s own culture in substantial ways. In this context, cultural conversions or inversions also take place leading some people to change their whole identity over time-manifestly or latently.
Cultural knowledge and associated practices continue in some form and shape against many odds in the face of colonisation, modernisation and now globalisation in countries like ours. They correspond to indigenous modes of treatment for varied illnesses, farming and agriculture, fishing, architecture, governance, education and learning, trade, travel, interaction with and preservation of environment, universe, religion, literature, art, dance, music, and the broader region surrounding us. In some fields, the cultural knowledge and cultural practice have passed down from the older generation to the younger generation on trust, hence it was a family affair. However, due to exigencies of life – continuity of such family and kin based transfer of cultural knowledge and practice was disrupted leaving a significant gap and a loss to the society. Our libraries and archives house some of the written cultural knowledge pertaining to various fields. For example, Peradeniya University library houses an ola leaf collection. However, it is the slow rate of their use and absorption by the emerging generations for everyday living that is under a cloud.
How far can the cultural knowledge and practice continue in the face of external influences being felt in society in the name of neo colonialism, neoliberalism, modernisation and globalisation today? Is it worth preserving and using cultural knowledge and associated practices (and public rituals) when we are supposed to be governed by reason, science, logic and technology? (remember the idea of scientific cabinet?) Do our formal education systems (in schools and universities contribute to the preservation, use and transfer of cultural knowledge and practice or do they in fact contribute to the demise of such knowledge and practice? Are traditional educational methods sufficient to maintain these in current contexts? Do our government policies promote or hinder cultural knowledge transmission and adoption for everyday use? Is it necessary to look at science and technology as competing paradigms of thought and action compared to our traditional cultural knowledge and practice or as complementary sources of wisdom? It is not possible to answer all these questions in a short article. For the time being, it is sufficient to raise these questions for further discussion and reflection.
Increasingly, with the expansion of neoliberal, free market economic policies and projects, both in the developed and developing countries people are realising the adverse effects of such policies and projects on their lives and the impact they can have on children and grandchildren. Furthermore, they are beginning to realise the devastating effects these policies and projects have on our continuing cultural knowledge, practice and scripts. While a few have become billionaires and another few have materially progressed, a large mass of people is falling behind in trying to find an income to meet their daily needs. Against heavy advertising and marketing of what we need (and what we don’t need) by conglomerates of multinational business houses to our living rooms, and while our incomes are being eaten out by these consumer goods and services, the stability we experienced in life and community living in our own way is being taken away step by step making us highly vulnerable-materially and otherwise. Corporate world has opened up spaces for emerging young professionals together with its facilitator, the State but this world is about competition, consumption and production of surplus for the owners of multinational corporations more than anything else.
Pressures to replace our cultural knowledge, prescriptions and practices with those imported from elsewhere are increasing in the name of fancy labels, promoters, and incentives. Career oriented professionals are playing key roles in such promotions in their own fields in collaboration with their foreign counterparts until later in life when they realise the careers they led did not provide the satisfaction of life on an enduring basis.
Westerners and Easterners engulfed by the magic world of globalisation, mobility and competition are living this conundrum as to whether their traditional cultural prescriptions are the right path or the consumerist culture bestowed on us can lead us to a promised land in terms of ultimate happiness, serenity and fulfilment.
Intercultural contact is an important element in contemporary life. I am not suggesting that we become cultural exclusives or adopt a nativist attitude in our dealings with other cultures. We need to be open to other knowledge and knowledge practices, learn their prescriptions and even apply where they are suitable. But we need to realise that all knowledge is cultural and specific to the historical, geographical, economic and social context-not necessarily universally applicable without modification. Modern science claims to be universal but recent critics have pointed out that it is not so at least in terms certain aspects. If we take the example of Buddhism, we can see how it is adapted to suit different country and cultural contexts in various parts of the world over millennia. One danger in such adaptation is that many tend to translate foreign knowledge to one’s own language and audiences without critical analysis and interpretation. This happens in the teaching of social science disciplines in universities also.
It is important to adopt a critical and comparative approach to our cultural knowledge, practices and prescriptions because uncritical use of these can lead to myth building, blind faith and imitation. However, even to do so, such knowledge, practice and scripts have to exist in the first place – not only in the minds of academics and researchers but also in the society as a living phenomenon.
Language is the vehicle of transmitting cultural knowledge and associated practices plus prescriptions. In formerly colonised countries, there is a tendency to understand one’s own culture through the language of the coloniser rather than one’s own language because of the importance placed on the former as international languages. There are positives and negatives of such a trend. The way culture is constructed in an alien and dominant language can lead to certain biases and distortions compared to the way the same is constructed and described in indigenous language/s. Ability of those who do not speak or write in the indigenous languages to comprehend the core meanings of a given culture and its embodiments can be limited. On the other hand, over time indigenous constructions of cultures can have various biases and distortions. Debates about the complexities of translating knowledge available in one language to another is familiar to many of us especially if we look at the manner knowledge of Buddhism was translated from Pali to Sinhala. However, we don’t seem to adopt a critical attitude when translating Western disciplinary knowledge to our languages in our learning institutions. Instead, very often translations alone are acceptable as true and higher knowledge and streamed into the educational processes.
My worry is that in the face of a higher value placed on anything and everything foreign in formerly colonised, now neo-colonial and neoliberal countries such as Sri Lanka, we seem to be moving fast to denigrate and delete our cultural knowledge, practice, and prescriptions with both hands and embrace the consumerist culture, practices and prescriptions plus western disciplines without question. I wonder if this trend is being sufficiently researched by our social scientists? Are there any educational and policy making bodies taking enough interest in such matters? Opening of two growth corridors along the Colombo-Galle highway and Colombo- Kandy highway may have detrimental effects on the sources of our cultural knowledge, practice and scripts. Dismemberment of our cultural heritage and knowledge etc. and replacement of these with imported cultural knowledge, practice and scripts can make us no bodies not only in our own land but also in the wider world. It can make our identity bereft of any epistemological, philosophical or aesthetic foundations to rely on. Such a situation can lead to the emergence of fake truths and practices as well as those who promote the same –young and old for a penny.

Losing faith in redemption

by Jehan Perera- 

The government has commenced launching its Gam Peraliya, or rapid rural development programme, and is also about to commence prosecutions under the fast track anti-corruption courts it has established to fulfil its election time promises. The extent to which these two initiatives will capture the public imagination and win hearts and minds remains to be seen. The general public discourse, at the present time, is decidedly unfavourable to the government. With 16 months to go before the next presidential election, the hope that the government can be redeemed remains low. The prime complaint against the present government is that it is like a bullock cart that is being pulled along by an ox and a buffalo who are not in synchrony.

The fact that nationally significant events, such as the ones that the government has initiated, are attracting less emotion and interest in popular debate than Hitler, the LTTE, and the death penalty, is a tragedy of the present time. Those who are leading this debate include religious leaders who are expected to be the bearers of universal values that have humanized society over the ages. It is doubly tragic that they are variously putting forward the view that Hitler, the LTTE, and the death penalty, are solutions to the problems besetting the country.

Maithripala Sirisena has stated that the death penalty should be implemented for drug dealers. The issue of the death penalty being reintroduced has come to the centre stage of the public debate, not only in Sri Lanka, but also internationally. This has led the Office of the President of the Philippines to commend the government of Sri Lanka for its plan to replicate the "success" of the Philippines’ war on drugs. The Philippines government statistics show that 4,354 persons, accused of dealing in drugs, died, while 147,802 have been arrested in 102,630 anti-drug operations, since July 2016.

Under President Duarte, of the Philippines, drug dealers are not being provided with the due process of the law, prior to being executed. They are being shot in the streets or after being apprehended by the police and para military forces. The closest that Sri Lanka has come to this in recent times is with the white van abductions that were employed to eliminate suspected LTTE members, during the time of the war, and also political opponents of the government.


The Sri Lankan government has come in for criticism from human rights groups, both within Sri Lanka and internationally, for announcing its latest stance on the implementation of the death penalty. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has called on the government to abolish the death penalty entirely like over one hundred other countries in the world have done. In deference to this criticism, the President seems to have relented and has taken the position that only those who have been sentenced to death and are in prison but who continue to ply their trade, from within their prison cells, will be subjected to the death penalty.

The government is not of one mind on the issue of reintroducing the death penalty, which has not been practiced since 1976. Minister Ajith Perera reflected the government’s ambivalence on the issue when he said that carrying out the death sentence will not stop crimes and added that this is a reality he learned through his experience as a lawyer and a lecturer at the police training school. He said "I have learned though my experience that crimes cannot be stopped by imposing the death sentence but we will support President Maithripala Sirisena in his decision to impose the death sentence on those who are charged with crimes pertaining to drugs."

The basic flaw in the government’s understanding is that it seems to be thinking that by eliminating individuals it can get rid of the problem. However, it has been pointed out that those behind bars are often not the leaders or financiers of the drug cartels. There will always be replacements for those individuals who are executed. Instead of executing individuals, some of whom might be innocent or have been framed, it is necessary to reform the criminal justice system that permits those in prison cells to be in communication with their cartels outside. Religious leaders, in particular, who are the custodians of a society’s higher values, need to take the lead in this regard.


Many years ago, during the time of the war, in 1998, when the LTTE controlled large swathes of territory in the north and east, I visited the north of the country and stayed at the residence of the Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph. He was often misunderstood as an LTTE supporter on account of his strong views on Tamil rights and the legitimacy of the Tamil cause. But he was also one of two Catholic bishops who mediated between the government and LTTE during the period of President Chandrika Kumaratunga to bring peace to the country through peaceful means in accordance with the religious precept that all human life is sacred and should be safeguarded and not destroyed.

One of the books in the Bishop’s House, that I happened to come across, was a long letter to the people of the United States, written by the Catholic Bishops of that country. It was on the cold war the US had with the Soviet Union which was continuing and there was the ever present threat of nuclear war. The bishops were aware of the antipathies the Soviet Union aroused in the American people. In fact President Ronald Reagan had just described the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire." But, as religious leaders, the Bishops felt obliged to keep raising in the realm of the political debate, truths that ought to ground their involvement in political affairs.

Therefore, they pointed out that "the Soviet people and their leaders are human beings created in the image and likeness of God… we do warn against ‘hardness of heart’ which can close us or others to the changes needed to make the future different from the past." Not even five years after the US bishops wrote this letter, their predictions began to come true. Change began to occur within the Soviet Union. The call for the imposition of the death penalty reflects a hardness of heart that is not in consonance with the belief that all human beings can change, and do change, and can be redeemed, even as Karuna Amman of the LTTE was, with a war-changing result.

As in the case of the death penalty, the debates on Hitler and the LTTE focus on the effects rather than the causes. Hitler has been promoted as an appropriate model of leadership for Sri Lanka at this time when the government is compared to a bullock cart with an ox and buffalo leading it. The return of the LTTE is being proposed as a solution to the rape and murders taking place in the north. It is one thing when less educated and more emotional people offer such solutions to the problems facing the country. Cry, the beloved country, when leaders of the polity and religion offer such solutions. Those who think differently cannot be the silent majority; they need to stand up and be counted.

("Cry, the beloved country" was the title of a classic novel written about apartheid in South Africa by Alan Paton in 1948. Writings of this nature, and the thoughts underlying them, subsequently saw the emergence of leaders of the caliber of Nelson Mandela who took the helm, albeit four decades later)

Clowns or Murderers: Our Hobson’s Choice

Featured image courtesy DBS Jeyaraj
“There is no Viyath Maga; it is just a word for a programme. Clearly this is a carrying forward of Mahinda Chinthanaya…”
Mahinda Rajapaksa (4.7.2018)[i]
The news was sensational, yet it was downplayed. The chief incumbent of a temple in Ratnapura strangled a police sergeant to death. The monk has been absconding after being charged with sexual abuse. The sergeant went to the temple to hand over the summons. He went alone and unarmed; after all, he was going to a temple to meet a monk.
The sergeant’s screams alerted the neighbours who called 119. When a police team rushed to the temple, the monk greeted them with a hand grenade.
What if this incident happened in a kovil, a mosque or a church? What if a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian religious figure strangled a policeman to death with his bare hands and tried to lob a grenade at a police team? The media would have talked about nothing else for weeks. Politicians, especially those subsisting on patriotism, would have howled about resurgent Tigers, Islamic terrorists or Christian conspirators. Questions would have been asked about how the grenade was procured and what its procurement portends for national security. But a monk was the culprit, so reportage was muted, and there were no cries of alarm or condemnation. The chief prelates, who make it their business to interfere in secular matters beyond their competence, are yet to say a word about the horrendous incident and what it signals about the current state of Sinhala-Buddhist monkhood.
The suspect monk is now being questioned by the police. Hopefully, after a speedy trial, he will join the 15 other monks serving prison sentences for various crimes including murder. According to the prisons’ chief, there are also 10 monks in the remand prison.[ii]
As President, Mahinda Rajapaksa thought persecution was prosecution and replaced due process with witch hunts. Now he thinks prosecution is persecution and sees witch hunts in due process. Addressing a religious ceremony in a temple in Matara last month, the former president depicted monks serving jail sentences as victims of persecution. “These days I think it is important to learn how to turn the robe into a jumper, the way things are going. This is a time when 40-50 Buddhist monks are locked up in jails. We have a great responsibility as Buddhists to protect…” From one that falsehood he moved seamlessly into another one, this time about the reason for the dearth of new entrants to monkhood. “Those days there are nine ten children in a family. Now there’s one or two, maximum three. So our race is systematically vanishing. There are economic difficulties. There is also the programme carried out by the government, a very koota (insidious and evil) programme to reduce population.”[iii]
Rajapaksa is a master at dog whistling. In that brief statement he alluded to a conspiracy by the current government to eviscerate the monkhood and destroy the Sinhala nation. The caption (by the pro-Rajapaksa channel Derana) says it all – Our race is nearing extinction – Mahinda Rajapaksa. Never mind that the ratio of Sinhalese and Buddhists in Sri Lanka has increased consistently from 66.91% and 61.53% in 1881 to 74.9% and 70.1% in 2012. Never mind that there are only 25 monks behind bars and they are there because they have been accused or convicted of crimes. His audience wouldn’t know the facts and wouldn’t care anyway. His lies fit in with their manufactured reality. (They wouldn’t even wonder why Mahinda Rajapaksa has only three children and his even more patriotic brother Gotabhaya just one child. Surely the absence of nine or ten offspring couldn’t have been due to economic reasons or the kootadoings of the current administration? Incidentally, why has no Rajapaksa sibling or offspring entered the monkhood?)
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration is a government of and by clowns. There are a million and one truthful, factual accusations that can be made against the administration, starting with its abysmal failure to improve the living conditions of ordinary Lankans. There is no need to resort to incendiary lies, the kind which enabled Black July, 35 years ago. And, yet, incendiary lies rather than facts and figures constitute the bedrock of the Rajapaksa comeback strategy. Are they creating an anti-democratic mindset in the country so that the rapid dismantling of democratic rights and freedoms will have public support?
A Crime Wave?
Vendaruwe Upali Thero (who advised Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to become ‘even a Hitler and correct the country) is not the only one suffering from Hitler-mania. A tweet by a self-declared Christian (I will refrain from mentioning his name as he has apologised for his praise of Hitler) says “Looking at the killings in Sri Lanka, I sometimes wonder who is in charge… The situation is reaching serious levels.”
The question is where did this gentleman ‘look’ to conclude that the ‘situation is reaching serious levels?’ Not facts and figures certainly, because according to statistics there are less murders today (and less grave crime) than there were during the Rajapaksa years.
YearAll grave crimesMurder
2012Complete data unavailableComplete data unavailable
The data[iv] also shows a decline in other grave crime categories as well, including rape and child abuse.
Sri Lanka is not crime free or violence free. But it is less crime-prone and less-violent than it was four years ago. A fake news pandemic – and not facts on the ground – is responsible for the idea that we are living in an unprecedentedly lawless and bloody time. The aim is political and partisan – exacerbate the ‘feel bad factor,’ and manufacture a pre-emptive justification for dismantling democratic rights and freedoms under a future Rajapaksa government.
Sometimes memory is an eel. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has forgotten its solemn promises to the electorate – the inane plan to build a third airport in Polonnaruwa being the latest case in point. Perhaps in tandem, the electorate has forgotten what life was like under the Rajapaksas. Even such causes celebres as the serial killings of Kotakethana in Kahawatte, the slaying of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, and the brutal murder of British tourist Khuram Shaikh and the gang rape of his Russian fiancé are no longer remembered. Equally forgotten are the level of impunity enjoyed by Rajapaksa loyalists – such as Mervyn de Silva; or Julampitiye Amare, who had more than 100 arrest warrants against him, including for murder and rape, yet strutted about in Tangalle resplendent in military fatigues and toting a T56.
Forgetting is an integral component of the Rajapaksa comeback project. The past must be remembered as a time of law, order and discipline; let the present be imaged as a time of chaos and anarchy. After all, if Lankans remember what the past was really like, a majority of them would not want to return there.
Crimes today are more brutal, often sickeningly so, but this too is not a post-Rajapaksa development. That tendency began during the war years. As a police spokesman said in 2012, “….the murders committed in recent times have become more gruesome…. They cut and chop without a care. Sometime back rape was not followed by murder, however now rape is followed by murder.”[v]
The Rajapaksa paradise was a land of crime and impunity, violence and indifference, a place where strong abused, weak endured and everything insalubrious was kept under wraps. When a soldier stationed in Jaffna murdered two of his comrades and killed himself, the Rajapaksa regime responded by imposing a news-ban. When asked about the ‘rape problem’ in Sri Lanka, the then ambassador (and Rajapaksa first cousin) Jaliya Wickremesuriya smilingly told The Washington Times, “…oya rapes this and that not taking any place in Sri Lanka… We have very disciplined people in Sri Lanka… Like any other country, we have, like couple of cases.”[vi]
That statement about a couple of rapes was made in 2012. In 2010, three children were raped/abused per day. 1169 child rape cases were reported in 2011 – a rate of over three a day. In the first six months of 2012, over 700 cases of child rape/abuse were reported – a rate of four a day.[vii] The Rajapaksa government’s only solution was a rape-marriage law which, if approved, would have enabled the rapist to escape prosecution by marrying his underage victim. In a related development, the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa (who is being touted as a kinder gentler alternative to brother Gotabhaya) said, “My opinion is that nobody can make men responsible for the violence against women. Women are responsible for it…” [viii] Little wonder, rape proliferated during the Rajapaksa years, far more than before or since.
That was how the crime-fighting Rajapaksas fought crime.
‘Rajapaksas go together’ – One Family, One Path, One Goal
“Rajapaksas always go together. We don’t have divisions like others,” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa claimed after Mahinda Rajapaksa reminded his audience that Viyath Maga was Mahinda Chinthanaya by another name. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa can win only if he is anointed by brother Mahinda and assisted by brother Basil. Whatever their personal or other differences, the Rajapaksas are united in a joint enterprise to regain lost power – One Family, One Path, One Goal.
They might succeed, thanks to the infantile conduct of the current administration.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the newly elected president of Mexico had a key campaign slogan. “I will not fail you. I will not disappoint you. I will not betray the people.”[ix]
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe has done all three. They have forgotten most of their promises and are walking back on some of the implemented ones, such lifting the ban on Glyphosate. After much procrastination, the government banned female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sri Lanka, but might succumb to pressure from conservative Mullahs and re-permit this atrocious and harmful practice. The government gave up pursuing socially liberal policies fearful of antagonising traditionalists; it gave up on the environment to please multinationals. It succumbs to any bully, from the GMOA to the Chinese.
Today’s Sunday Times carries pictures of four of the cheques issued by the China Harbour Engineering Company, effective corroborating The New York Times Story. Even more worryingly, it reveals that the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) carried out an investigation about the matter in 2015, and managed to identify those who cashed the cheques. Then ‘the onetime top official of the CBSL’ i.e. Arjun Mahendran ‘halted the probe unceremoniously.’ Another chance to clean up the Augean Stable that is Lankan politics was wasted. When this government is buried under the avalanche of its own mistakes, a fitting epitaph would be, And they did nothing.
Three and half years out of power, the Rajapaksas remain unchanged. Violence, verbal or physical, is their first resort. Retired admiral Sarath Weerasekara has threatened the head of the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Deepika Udagama by calling her a Tiger. When the New York Times piece about Chinese contributions to the presidential campaign coffers of Mahinda Rajapaksa appeared, some SLPP parliamentarians responded by issuing veiled threats against the two local journalists associated with the piece – Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wanaman. That response was a reminder of what awaits the media, and Sri Lanka, if the Rajapaksas return to power, especially under a President Gotabhaya, the man who once said, “If they harm me, it is the country they harm.”[x]
Clowns or murderers, such is the choice before the country currently. Weimer Republic was a pretty broken down place, but Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich (which mercifully for everyone ended in just 12 years) was a hell beyond even the most sadistic of human imaginings.

[i] Ada Derana – 4.7.2018
[ii] Sri Lanka Mirror -19.6.2018
[iii] Ada Derana – 22.6.2018
[v] The Sunday Leader – 1.12.2012
[vi] Groundviews – 6.1.2012
[vii] The real figure may be significantly higher; over 20,000 cases of child abuse may have happened in the first half of 2012, according to the National Child Protection Authority.
[ix] New Yorker – 3.7.2018
[x] Sri Lanka Brief – 26.10.2011