A PORTENT OF THINGS TO COME: waiting to die in Uda Walawe
by Rohan Wijesinha
A New Year spells new beginnings and brings with it the hope of things better. This year, it dawned very differently at the Uda Walawe National Park. The officers of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) were on a mission of mercy. A large bull elephant had been shot; the bone and muscle of the knee of his back left leg had been shattered. It had swollen to many times its normal size, and needed urgent treatment. The shooting had taken place outside of the Park, and the DWC officers had to entice this beautiful creature back into it, with food and elephant delicacies, to keep him safe from more human torture, and to try and treat his wounds. Despite the extent of his injuries, they managed to tempt him in, a considerable trek in his condition. In his prime, large and full of life, this big bull now faced the biggest challenge to his existence; to heal from human harm.
When death is a release
Six weeks later, and the DWC officers were trying to move him again, away from the edges of the Park, perhaps so that he could die in peace, away from the prying eyes of those who might otherwise exult in his sad ending. Time, even this short span of time, had taken heavy toll. Despite the every effort of the DWC officers, the swelling had now trebled in size, and was oozing with foul smelling suppurate. The once proud beast, now an emaciated hulk, blind in one eye, perhaps the result of a previous bullet, shuffled along the road in obvious pain. His left back leg crumpled every time it took his weight, and with each step, more pus oozed out of the swollen mass of rotting flesh.
We may never know why he was shot, or why he deserved to be if such a justification can ever be made, but the placement of the bullet clearly showed that it was to hurt and not to instantly kill. Yet, with a political leadership seemingly intent on the decimation of the wildlife and wilderness areas of Sri Lanka, this will be just one of the many tragedies waiting to play out on lands that were once prized by our ancient rulers and peoples for their sanctity, serenity and life-giving powers, and were the foundation of this country’s prosperity.
Murdering the future
A government that wages war on its own people is referred to as a Dictatorship but, usually, exists for just the lifespan of that particular rule as not even tyrants can live forever. History shows that power soon returns to the people, and sanity prevails once more. Those who wage war on Nature and the environment, however, are Demons that are intent on destroying the futures of all who come after them. They have no comprehension of tomorrow but believe that their today is all that matters, a final generation. Though the ‘future’ is bound to curse them for their callous destruction of it, they will no longer be there to suffer the consequences of their wickedness. Their children will be sent to live elsewhere, though as the climate heats up, due to deforestation and environmental destruction, there may be nowhere else to live. Nature does not adhere to manmade boundaries – those constructed by states or individuals. A lack of water, polluted air and inadequate supplies of food will bring as slow and as lingering a death to humanity, as it is today coming to the dying bull elephant in the Uda Walawe National Park.
The Government has now determined that any farmer with over an acre of arable land is to be given guns to protect their crops from wildlife. It is estimated that there are approximately two million who will so qualify. Sri Lanka’s famous fauna, those exotic creatures with whom we share this Island and who attract many visitors to our shores, will be the victims of this slaughter. The massacre will be apocalyptic. It will not only be elephants who will be targeted, but any creature that nears human cultivation and habitation.
There is also a matter of National security. In the last 50 years Sri Lanka has suffered the consequences of three major insurrections; two in the South and one in the North. There has been a rise in the levels of domestic violence. Will these guns be used against animals alone?
Give a child a gun, and who is responsible? It is clear as to who should be held to account for every human and animal death that results from this irresponsible political initiative. This is not being done for the benefit of farmers for if it was, the forests would be fiercely protected for they are the bringers of rain, and the precious water needed for agriculture. Wild animals are an essential component of a healthy ecosystem. This is nothing but for the benefit of the policymakers and the money they, and their henchmen, can make from selling this precious natural heritage to large corporate entities who will rape it for what it can give them, and in the shortest possible time. Nothing but barren, waterless earth will remain for those who are left to try and scrape a pittance from the residue – the true farmers.
The Final Generation?
Historians, if there are any left, will refer to this as the Final Age as biodiversity disappears, and natural systems begin to collapse. There would be no point in appealing to our Gods to sustain us as this destruction would have been orchestrated by men who delude themselves that they are divine and not just above the Laws of Men, but those of Nature too. They, long ago, abandoned their worship of the just by building graven images of themselves with the materials they had plundered, and continue to steal, from the Earth.
If only we could save it for the future, for the younger generations are far more aware of the value of Nature and the need to preserve it, intact, for the health and life of all? They are the hope of tomorrow. Are we going to stand by quietly and let them be robbed of their inheritance especially as there are so many ways for us to coexist with Nature, and benefit from its blessings? Or do we, too, believe that ours is the final generation?
“Human kind of one generation holds the guardianship and conservation of the natural resources in trust for future generations…A sacred duty to be carried out with the highest level of accountability.”
Justice Shiranee Thilakawardena (in Watte Gedara Wijebanda v Conservator General of Forests and Others 2009 1 SLR 337 at p. 338)
Hoop Earrings your everyday style
When it came to jewellery, 2023 saw a rise in Y2K-inspired designs like we saw in apparels as well. There was an influx of bold colours, playful designs and patterns that elicited a general sense of happiness in the wearer. Loops the simple, round earrings that have hung from women’s lobes since times immemorial has now necome a fashion statement, Bet this time, they are injected with a lot more character. Hoops have also evolved from being simple malleable metal shaped as rings to becoming pieces of jewellery that have a certain main character They are glamorous and stylish and add character to the wearer are Versatile and chic. it is a must have for any women’s wardrobe. Regardless of size, metal, and material, hoop earrings never fail to make one feel more put together.
Hoop earring proponent and jeweller Jennifer Fisher, says this is one jewellery piece that makes you standout among the rest
Fisher, whose name has become synonymous with hoop earrings, has everyone from Jennifer Lopez to CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins wearing her styles daily. With hoops still the dominating earring style, we caught up with her again (hot on the heels of her Beverly Hills store opening) to talk about starting and growing a hoop earring collection. “Your first pair of hoops should be something clean that you can wear morning, noon, and night,” says Fisher. “Your fifth pair of hoops should be something that has texture and maybe a larger diameter. Something that rounds out your collection.”
“I always say that hoop earrings are like the perfect pair of jeans; you need a few styles to round out your collection,” continues Fisher. “Your foundation is normally something pretty classic and then as you grow your collection, your selection should become more diverse. A great example: for your first pair of jeans, you probably aren’t going to buy a wide-leg, long version. You’re probably going to go with a classic straight-leg version, so I suggest the same idea when you’re buying hoops.”
And—to keep Fisher’s analogy going— just like denim, the hoop is versatile. It can be the most casual earring or a minimal accent for an evening outfit.
Bigger than a huggie (meaning a hoop that “hugs” the ear) and smaller than a look-at-me-hoop, the medium hoop is an essential for every collection. It’s a classic pairing for pretty much every outfit under the sun.
The story of the Ceylon spice: harvesting ‘true cinnamon’
By Zinara Rathnayake
It is 9am in the Carlton estate in Thihagoda, a small town about 160km (100 miles) south of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, and the July sun hides behind inky clouds. The air is thick and hot. Two men walk to the main estate building carrying piles of cinnamon branches. Inside, a group of women sit on the cement floor, chatting as they peel cinnamon.
Since 2000, workers here have planted, harvested and peeled cinnamon, sending batches of the fragrant sticks to a factory in Kamburupitiya, a 15-minute drive away, where they are cut, packed and loaded onto shipping containers for export.
Cinnamon harvesting usually takes place from June to December when the monsoon skies burst into downpours. But here at Rathna Producers Cinnamon Exports, it is produced throughout the year on the 42-acre (17 hectares) estate. “When we are done harvesting one acre, the next acre is ready,” says Chamara Lakshith, 28, the estate’s visiting officer, whose job involves coordinating between the estate and the main office in Kamburupitiya. “But sometimes for a few weeks, the bark is so hard that you can’t peel cinnamon. We know it by looking at the trees; young leaves turn striking red.”
The family business that began in 1985 is run by Ravindu Runage, whose late father started in the cinnamon trade with 7,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($35) to buy cinnamon from small farmers and sell it to bigger traders.
Now, Runage says the company is one of the largest cinnamon producers in Sri Lanka, exporting cinnamon and other spices like nutmeg and black pepper to 56 countries. Apart from growing organic cinnamon, the company also sources it from 8,000 individual and small-scale farmers and exports more than 30 containers of cinnamon a month.
“We grew up with cinnamon,” says 36-year-old Runage, at his office in Kamburupitiya, surrounded by several industry awards his family has won over the years. “We lived in a two-bedroom house. We slept in one room. In the other room, my thaththa [father] stored cinnamon.”
Once they were in the business, the Runage family learned that Mexico is one of the biggest cinnamon consumers. “So thaththa learned English and visited Mexico in 1998 to find a buyer,” says Runage. “But they spoke Spanish. So thaththa sent his business cards to companies he found in a telephone book.”
“Five months later, we sold our first container of cinnamon to Mexico.”
The world’s best cinnamon
There are two types of cinnamon in the Western market: Ceylon cinnamon (named after the title British colonisers gave to Sri Lanka) and cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka; it has a lush, inviting scent and a sweet taste, and its quills are soft and light brown in colour. Cassia comes from other Asian countries like China, Indonesia and Vietnam; its bark is sturdy with a rough texture, it is dark brown in colour and is stronger and hotter in taste. Cassia is considered lower quality, while Ceylon often triumphs as the pure, “true cinnamon”.
The process of producing this cinnamon includes several laborious, time-consuming steps. This is also why Ceylon cinnamon is expensive in the market while cassia is cheap, Runage says.
At the estate, seeds are planted in grow bags. After one year, saplings are cultivated. Harvesting begins four years later.
For harvesting, farmers cut down the branches of cinnamon trees at an angle, which allows cinnamon bushes to regrow, Lakshith says. Young and tender twigs are thrown away. Once branches are soaked in water and are moist enough, peelers remove the outermost layer of the cinnamon bark. To produce thin cinnamon quills, they spend hours stripping off the inner bark of the cinnamon branch in sheets.
Once produced, Ceylon cinnamon quills are graded based on their width; the thinner the quills, the higher they are in value. Alba is the highest form of cinnamon, with a diameter of 6mm. H1 is a lower grade of cinnamon, with a diameter of 22mm. In the export market, Alba costs twice as much as H1.
A generational craft
With a hearty smile, Suduhakuru Piyathilake holds a large batch of cinnamon quills. Piyathilake and his wife have been living in an old, dilapidated house next to the estate’s main building for 10 years now.
At 5am every day, Piyathilake heads off to the plantation. After collecting branches from about 15 trees, he plods back to the water tank in the main building, drops them off for soaking and returns to the plantation. He must make several trips back and forth before he begins peeling.
“When it’s moist, it’s easy to peel,” says the 55-year-old. “That’s why we cut them early in the morning and soak them.”
When the clock hits 10am, Piyathilake comes back with the last batch. After five hours, he has collected the branches of 200 trees. Sweat trickles down his forehead. A resident kitten swats at his feet, but Piyathilake ignores it and rushes in for a shower.
After a two-hour break, he sharpens his knife by scraping the outer bark of the branch and then he gets to work. “This is what my father and his father did,” he says. “Now my sons are cinnamon peelers.”
Piyathilake has been peeling cinnamon for the last 43 years. He learned the craft from his father in their village in Elpitiya, 70km north of the Runage family estate, where his children live with his mother. At home, cinnamon trees adorn their back yard, Piyathilake says. “But it’s a small garden so we can’t harvest cinnamon every day of the year. We don’t make much money there. So I work here with my wife. We only see our children once in every four months.”
Piyathilake is so adept at work that he can masterfully strip off extremely thin barks of the cinnamon branch by merely measuring them next to his index finger. After peeling the outer bark, he makes two cuts on two opposite sides before peeling off the inner bark. A half a length cut of your smallest bone is for Alba, Piyathilake says. For “rough” or H1 cinnamon quills, Piyathilake uses the length of two bones of his index finger.
However, even for experienced generational peelers like Piyathilake, making extremely thin Alba cinnamon is profitless. By 10pm – when he sets off to sleep – Piyathilake can have peeled about 5kg of lower grade cinnamon, earning about 2,500 rupees ($12.50) per kilogramme. “But I will only make just one kilo of Alba for the whole day,” he says. “Alba is smaller and lightweight so you need to make more quills to make up a kilo – that earns me only 4,300 rupees [$21.50].”
When Piyathilake removes the inner bark, it curls up within a few minutes under the shade. These barks are then stuffed with small cuttings of the bark called quillings to make one 42-inch (1 metre) quill. Quills are placed on ropes under the roof for drying. After three days, peelers pack them into bales and send them off to the factory.
For Piyathilake and his family, cinnamon is their bread and butter, but it is also much more than that. “It’s a craft you have to master for years. I started peeling cinnamon when I was 12. It took me several years to strip off thin layers of the inner bark without damaging it,” he says.
For producers like Runage, however, it is not always easy to find skilled labour. At the Carlton estate, Piyathilake is one of their last experienced peelers. Runage feels that finding generational peelers is one of the biggest challenges in the business today.
“Peeling cinnamon requires hard labour, so the younger generations don’t want to do it any more. They prefer office jobs. It doesn’t necessarily mean that these office jobs will pay you more than peeling cinnamon, but an office job has a better social image today,” says Runage. “People consider peeling cinnamon as a low-level job, so it’s difficult for us to find experienced peelers now.”
Back at the estate’s main building, grey-haired Heenipellage Chandra sits on a floor mat, her eyes focused on the cinnamon bark she peels. For 10 years, the 62-year-old has walked to the estate daily to peel at least 3kg of cinnamon. Chandra recalls Runage’s father visiting her house in the late 1980s. “He came to meet my father-in-law and buy cinnamon from him.”
Chandra has been peeling cinnamon at home since she was married. “Somewhere in the late 1970s,” she says, trying to recall her wedding day, “Husband’s father and his father, all of them peeled cinnamon.”
But Chandra’s children do not peel cinnamon any more. Both her 20-something sons do office jobs, says Chandra as her eyes twinkle with a smile. She is proud of her sons. They have climbed the social ladder.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, most resident cinnamon peelers left for their homes during the months-long lockdowns. Runage had to shuffle his staff around to find labour; women from the factory were relocated to the estate to peel cinnamon.
– AL JAZEERA
India child marriage arrests leave families without breadwinner
Crackdown leaves poor families in Assam state without main breadwinner as campaigners say arrests are the wrong way to tackle
Aged 15 and already pregnant after marrying last year, Pinku Das Sarkar has no idea what to do following her husband’s February 2 arrest in a controversial police crackdown on child marriage in northeastern India.
He is among more than 3,000 men, priests and Muslim leaders who have been jailed over the last month in the state of Assam on charges of violating the country’s widely flouted laws against early marriage.
“It was 11pm and we were about to sleep when four policemen came and whisked him away. I didn’t know what was happening. I just cried all night,” Sarkar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as she sat outside her brick and bamboo house in Radhanagar, a village in Assam’s Nagaon district.
“I really don’t know what to do,” said Sarkar, who relied on the small income her 26-year-old husband made by selling sugarcane juice from a cart.
Marriage under 18 is illegal in India, though almost a quarter of married Indian women wed before their 18th birthday, health data collected between 2019 and 2021 shows.But huge progress has been made to turn the tide on child marriage in recent years.
As recently as 2005-06, 47 percent of women got married before 18, and women’s rights campaigners say better educational access among girls and awareness campaigns in communities where the practice is culturally accepted brought down numbers.
Police action to tackle the issue is rare, however. Less than 2,000 people were arrested across India for arranging or participating in child marriage in 2021, the latest official crime data shows.
The Assam crackdown has been condemned by women’s and anti-poverty campaigners who say it unfairly punishes poor families who marry off their daughters due to financial pressures, and leaves thousands of families without their main breadwinner.
“Criminalising those who are already poor is not the best way to deal with a social problem,” said Enakshi Ganguly, co-founder of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, a nonprofit.
“These young pregnant girls are left without any help, with their main support gone,” she said.
Presenting a petition to the Gauhati High Court in the state’s main city, dozens of campaigners called instead for improving girls’ access to education and information on sexual and reproductive health to help prevent child marriages.
A few miles from Sarkar’s home, Gulsona Begum said her security guard husband was imprisoned on February 7 just two weeks after they married, saying his arrest had left the family penniless and facing an uncertain future.
“My father-in-law is physically handicapped and we have no source of income now with my husband in jail,” Begum said at her house in the village of Amlipukhuri.
She said she was 18, but police say she is still a minor and has no documents to prove her age.
“Now that he has been arrested, he will most probably lose his job,” she said. “We are managing to eat for now with the help of our neighbours and relatives … but I don’t know what will happen to us.”
Fearing arrest, several men have fled to neighbouring states, leaving their teenage wives at home, village residents said.Defending the state’s approach, Assam’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters that no cases of child marriage had been reported since the police operation began.
He said that of the 3,047 people arrested so far, about 251 have been granted bail.There have also been questions about whether the crackdown targeted Assam’s Muslim community, which accounts for about a third of its 34 million people.
Most of the arrests took place in districts with a large Muslim population, said human rights lawyer Taniya Sultana Laskar.
Sarma, a prominent figure in India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, has said action was being taken against people, irrespective of their faith.
He has cited the state’s maternal mortality rate of 32 percent among girls married before 18, which is higher than the country’s average of 23.3 percent, government health data shows.
Back in Radhanagar village, Sarkar’s father-in-law said his son’s arrest had forced him to question his decision to encourage the marriage, thinking it would be mutual support for the two families.
“Pinku’s mother is a domestic help and … lost her husband young. We had no woman in the house after my wife died. So it was a solution for both our families’ problems as I saw it,” he said.
“I understand child marriage is wrong and I feel helpless now when I see Pinku sad all day. I don’t even get work easily at my age. I worry what will happen when the child comes,” he said.
For now, a couple of neighbours have stepped in to help, taking her to hospital for a scheduled pregnancy check-up.
But she said she misses her husband. “His presence gave me support. He is my strength,” she said.
– Al Jazeera
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