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A personal and political entry into democratization – partial and critical

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by Sivamohan Sumathy

When I joined the University of Peradeniya as a probationary lecturer in 1990, the university was slowly reactivating itself after the period of terror in the south—of course the war remerged and continued to hold sway on our political imagination for two decades to come. In these still early days for me as a university lecturer, I became the assistant secretary to the newly formed trade union of the Arts Faculty, PAFTA, somewhere in 1991/92. The President of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) was then Prof. Nalin de Silva and he led the negotiations with A. C. S. Hameed, the then Higher Education Minister over trade union action initiated by the university teachers. Prof. de Silva was a controversial figure, and in turn was targeted by the then UNP regime for harassment and intimidation. The political climate was fractious and tense. But the teachers came together to form a common front to fight their issues. Around the same time, three of us, women, at Peradeniya, who were probationary and temporary lecturers, banded together in a loose formation, and went around from Faculty to Faculty holding lectures on gender. The group was made up of Maithree Wickramasinghe, Keshini Soysa and I; we were sometimes joined by Rani Saverimutthu, Rita Liyanage and others. As new recruits, we were not fully incorporated in university hierarchies, were full of verve, were brave and rebellious without knowing it. We were also supported by some powerful factions of the male domain, Sumanasiri Liyanage in Arts, Ranjit Wijekoon, in the English Language Training Unit (ELTU), V. Kumar at the Faculty of Science, and intermittently a few others at the various faculties.

We begged, cajoled, bullied and used loop holes to hold our sessions and gate-crashed events, to have our say. Ranjit Wijekoon in particular, as a part of the ELTU, organized sessions for us through the English language programme. A couple of times, I was pulled up by the Head of our department for not following protocol, which left me bewildered but not defeated. Prof. Bandula Karunatilleke of the Dept. of History organized an entire seminar on women’s issues as a part of the now defunct but prestigious Ceylon Studies Seminar, in which we spoke, chaired by Dr. L. Kobbekaduwa from the Dept. of Education, both senior academics. It might have been our temerity, it might have been the fact that we were curiosities, whatever the reason, it has to be said that such an enabling should also be attributed to a leftist discourse that still prevailed in the universities, and the leisurely pace of study; the lesser compartmentalization of disciplines, and the lesser bureaucratization of university spaces than we find ourselves in today.

Today, it would be an uphill task to get a senior academic to chair a seminar of probationary and temporary lecturers, unless it is in some audited programme related to “performance indicators”, a box that has to be ticked. A programme, carefully monitored, power pointed, and utterly useless. We did not think of democracy at that time, nor about activism, not even about claiming spaces. We were not familiar with that terminology, but our action was all that and more. It is what we had to do. It was a tiny, not too important, yet significant moment of democratizing the university space.

Taking a leap into the 2010s, FUTA’s historic trade union action of 2011 and 2012 is what I see as a huge step in the history of democratization of university spaces, tasking us to reevaluate our role as intellectuals, academics, teachers and others. The mass mobilization and build up of energy and activism brought on by the member unions of FUTA challenged the then government; and in the post war period, became a signpost for a mass national level struggle that could unite multiple forces. FUTA’s struggle and the aftermath of its activism, nationally, was a forging of a historic bloc in the struggle for change. One of its outcomes was the space it created for the change of government, the invincible Rajapakse regime of the post war years. It expanded the space, created a momentum, and made it national. FUTA’s trade union action was truly national in that sense, for a fleeting moment.

However, unlike in the early years, when I as a probationary lecturer, with no political backing or ambition, could attend a meeting with professors and senior members of the staff, with the Minister, ACS Hameed, over negotiations, FUTA’s action in the 2010s, drew on the massive support of the academic rank and file, but did not shake its hierarchical structure. This is not to say that the previous struggle was non-hierarchical – far from it, but that the avowedly democratizing and social justice programme of FUTA in 2012 fell way too short of its goals in practice. This is the oxymoronic nature of FUTA’s 2011-2012 historic 100-day trade union action. It promised a lot to the people and to its own community and in the end, could neither fulfill it nor keep the dream alive. The political goal of democratization was overridden by the exigencies of the moment, for one. The goals of an academic leadership, FUTA’s Leadership, became conflated with and overrode the aims of democratization, the demand to save state education, and the demand for a 6% of the GDP -llocation for education. Of course, there is no neat binary here and one has to understand that all of this happened during a period of uncertainty, intense debate, angst, and heightened activity.

The 100 day-trade union action was preceded by a flurry of activism that was variously undertaken by different smaller groups, the informal and adhoc University Teachers for Dialogue and Democracy (UT4DD) being one. UT4DD was the first to undertake a series of seminars on the Quality assurance bill that was being ushered into the system surreptiouslyin 2012; the first seminar was held at Colombo University; the President of FUTA was in the audience of roughly 20-25 persons, and Student union reps swere also present. Subsequently, members of UT4DD organized sessions with other trade union reps, including teachers’ unions. As FUTA’s struggle burgeoned into the 100-day Trade union action it created space for academics to engage in grounded research and activism. One of the historic moments of the action was the million signature campaign. Somebody at one of the FUTA broader Ex-Co meetings said “Why don’t we do a public campaign of signatures, a million signatures?” It was almost an incidental remark, but a magical one. It caught the imagination of the crowd there. The million-signature campaign, in the Gramscian sense, signifies the action of a vanguard party, not socialist, but not bourgeois either. It represents the action of a collective, underscoring the democratizing principle

These two instances outlined above, one infinitesimal, carried out in the spirit of adventure, and the other calculated, mobilizational, inter university and even national, are both historical moments. The first is just a moment of activism and the second, a historical conjuncture, a gathering of forces. However, autobiographically speaking, the second was animated by the visionary, daring spirit of the first. They both make their different impact on my own political development as a worker, teacher, scholar and activist in the university space and outside of it. The forces of the historical conjuncture are held together and animated by these small acts of individuals who think non hierarchically and collectively.

In thinking about the days to come, and our difficult future, I have pondered these issues of history, my own and others’, in order to carve out a politics of pedagogy, and political activism. FUTA’s 2012 action had a tremendous impact on my own sense of place in the university. But my own involvement in it was not linear, without struggle or contradictions. We were not always together, and the movement was fractious. But we came together to demand increased expenditure on education – the slogan of 6% GDP – in unison, and in doing so, made ourselves commit to free education in the country. But as we act big, we also need to pay heed to the margins, the small acts of challenge to hierarchy and for justice waged in the corners of the institutional and social spaces, at the university and beyond.

Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English, University of Peradeniya.

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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