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A science-based strategy to control the current covid-19 situation



by Malik Peiris

Chair/Professor of Virology, School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Medicine, Hong Kong and

Kamini Mendis

Professor Emeritus, University of Colombo, Public Health and Malaria Expert formerly at the World Health Organisation.

I. The current covid-19 situation in the country

There is a high intensity of transmission of covid-19 in the country just now. Although it became apparent with cases increasing in the last week of April, the increase in transmission began about 4 weeks before that. The incubation period of the virus (3-14 days) together with testing / reporting delays mean that the cases detected and reported now were the result of transmission that took place 1-2 weeks ago. Since deaths follow with a lag period of a further two weeks, the deaths occurring now were the result or transmission that took place around one month ago. The mortality impact of the increase in cases is only just starting to be felt now.

The B.1.1.7 variant of the virus spreading now is more transmissible, and possibly more virulent, than in previous “waves”. An even more concerning variant B.1.617 (first detected in India) has also been detected in Sri Lanka and it remains to be seen how widespread it will become. WHO has designated it a “variant of concern,” it is now spreading in the UK and is the cause of some of the recent case clusters in Singapore.

There was an exponential increase of cases from mid-April to date. Although case numbers appear to plateau in recent days, it is likely that this is a result of limitation in testing capacity. Testing numbers have remained flat, in spite of high positive rates (exceeding 10% in most laboratories), raising concerns of whether the epi-curve we now see reflects reality. ICU admissions and deaths continue to increase, as will be inevitable, from infections that have already occurred.

As a result, the capacity of the health system to manage covid-19 patients has already been exceeded, the inevitable consequences being more avoidable deaths. With increasing cases, even the implementation of the public health measures that were being implemented– i.e. testing, isolating, contact tracing and quarantining, have exceeded the capacity of the health sector. In addition, health staff in the curative and preventive sectors is becoming victims of covid-19 themselves, which makes the situation grave.

The vaccination programme, currently getting under way within the constraints of limited vaccine supply, even if targeted to those at highest risk of death, i.e. the elderly and those with co-morbidities (a policy that has NOT been consistently followed in Sri Lanka so far), will take many months to translate into an impact on mortality. Vaccines, which require two doses at least a month apart, take optimal effect >2 weeks after the second vaccine dose. As of now, only 1% of the population have received both doses of vaccine and 6% received at least one dose, that too, mainly in one province of the country. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, it will be over 6 months before most of the high-risk population receives protection from vaccine across the country.

The only available option in the short-medium term to arrest this impending catastrophe is to significantly curtail transmission through social and public health interventions.

Although a few public health interventions have been implemented in the past week, we explain below why these recent measures of small-area isolations, prohibiting inter-provincial travel, intermittent and short period lockdowns, as the one during 14 – 17 May, together with mild restrictions on human movement such as those based on identity card numbers, will not arrest this wave of the epidemic.

We explain why a nation-wide lockdown of at least 14 days (defined below) is absolutely necessary, if increasing ICU admissions and deaths from this wave are to be contained. We also comment on the likely economic impact of these different approaches.

II. Why small-area isolation, preventing inter-provincial travel, short and intermittent lockdowns and mild restraints on human movement will not work


1. The testing is not sufficient to make small area isolation have an impact.

Small area lockdowns are based on obtaining information of a cluster(s) of cases from a particular location. The detection of these clusters are based on testing a population in an area in response to detecting a few cases from that location – i.e. reactive case detection rather than proactive surveillance. Thus, by the time the cluster has been detected, multiple weeks have lapsed since the initiation of each cluster and therefore the people in that cluster would have already spread the virus through their movement, to many other areas, adjacent and distant. In other words, isolating that small area will not have much effect on the spread of the virus to other areas, because it has already happened. If small-area isolation is to work, then an extensive amount of active surveillance and testing in the population (as opposed to being based on contact tracing) is necessary, but this is currently not feasible given the laboratory system being already overloaded. Initiating these small-area lockdowns are sucking up a huge lab testing capacity at the moment, which will be more productively deployed elsewhere.

2. Since all provinces have ongoing high transmission already, stopping travel between provinces will have little effect.

By the end of April, all provinces had ongoing high transmission of the virus and therefore stopping inter-Provincial travel will be of no avail at this stage. It may have had a role in early or mid-April, soon after the B.1.1.7 variant was detected in the Western Province. But not any more, with the virus entrenched in every province.

3. Countrywide lockdowns of 3 days will not block even a single cycle of virus transmission or cover the period of infectiousness of an individual.

Intermittent countrywide lockdowns (such as the one from 14 – 17 may or the proposed one from 21 – 25 May) will only have effect during those three days. Three days is far shorter than the incubation period of the virus, i.e. from infection to manifestation of illness and transmission, which is around 5 days (range 3- 14 days). It is even shorter that the infectious period of one infected individual, which is around 8 days. For example, if an infected individual begins to be infectious on day one of a 3-day lock down, he/she will remain infectious at the end of the lockdown, at which time the person will be again moving in the community. In order to even partially interrupt transmission, one needs to cover at least two cycles of transmission, i.e. 10-14 days of intervention. That will allow an exponentially higher probability of chains of transmission being interrupted. Therefore, the minimum period of lockdown should be countrywide and at least 2 weeks in duration. The impact of 5 successive intermittent lockdowns of 3 days each (i. e. 15 days in aggregate) will therefore, be much less than that of one continuous 14 day period of lockdown. Furthermore, the former strategy will be spread out over a much longer period, when we do not have the luxury of time any more.

4. Partial restriction of human movement using ID card digits will not have much impact on virus transmission.

Limiting the movement of people and crowd-gathering through means such as restricting them to alternate days based on identity card numbers is not sufficient to prevent the congregation of people because up to half the population could be out of home at any given time. This is not sufficient for transmission is to be halted.

5. Standard preventive measures are not having optimal impact because of overcrowded living conditions

Even the strict enforcement of social distancing and mask wearing will not have its optimal impact because they are not ideally implementable under overcrowded living conditions in urban areas.

6. People working in enclosed environments e.g., office spaces will enhance virus transmission

Offices such as banks, and industrial working places such as garment factories require people to be in enclosed and confined spaces with insufficient ventilation for the entire working day. These are extremely and highly conducive to the spread of the virus.

Thus, these recent measures have impeded economic activity and sucked up huge resources and effort from the security forces for a marginal public health gain, at best. Moreover, repeated, intermittent short-duration restrictions also carry significant economic costs. The uncertainty associated with the introduction of these measures/future measures create an unstable environment for most economic activities. Most daily wage earners are not given work by employers because they travel daily from unknown risk situations at home. Most industries and offices are working within a context of uncertainty and are unable to plan even for the medium-term. This is not conducive to economic growth.

A rational, determined and convincing strategy is needed, both to get control of an impending public health disaster and also to restore economic confidence.


III. A countrywide lockdown for at least 14 continuous days is immediately necessary for the following reasons:


1. Only a degree of restriction of human movement enabled by a total countrywide lockdown of 14 days will lead to interrupting at least one (preferably two) cycles of virus transmission in the community. Such an intervention would give an opportunity for the health sector, currently at or beyond breaking point, to catch its collective breath, to face the future. Otherwise, exponential increase in the number of cases (and deaths) will lead to health staff succumbing and the consequent collapse of the health system.

2. Such an intervention can be signaled >5 days in advance so that the community, traders and businesses can make adequate preparations. It will give some level of certainty for planning and instill confidence in the population, the business community and the health sector.

3. The daily wage earners will need to be given an allowance to tide over this period. But this investment will be amply repaid by the opportunity to get faster control of an epidemic that is rapidly spiraling out of control.

4. Access to essential commodities – food, fuel, medicines, health care will not be compromised because the necessary logistical arrangements can be made. The experience of the March-April 2020 lockdown will be an asset in planning and implementing the distribution of essential goods to the people.

We recommend the following:

All persons to remain in their homes at all times for a period of at least 14 days continuously, and all schools, industries, commercial enterprises and places of worship to remain closed, with the exceptions listed below. These exempted places will be subject to social distancing, capacity restriction, wearing of face-masks, hand sanitizing and operating under conditions of optimal ventilation.

1. All essential services to be functional.

2. A minimum number of grocery stores, pharmacies, and fuel stations to remain open in every district. A limited number of vegetable, fruit and fish/meat, bakery and other food delivery vehicles permitted to operate on the basis of permits.

3. Restaurants able to prepare food for delivery on order, but not allow in-house dining.

4. Government departments deemed essential, to keep an office open for a few hours a day and function with a skeleton staff on a roster basis.

5. Any organization or enterprise may allow its employees to work from home.

6. A person can leave home only for a health need (including vaccination), any other emergency, or to purchase food supplies, but only one person can leave home at any one time for these purposes.

7. Gatherings of more than 4 people to be prohibited.

8. Outdoors agricultural work permitted to continue.

We request, in addition, that all ongoing preventive measures be enforced rigorously, including increasing vaccination coverage, and that case management and treatment interventions are greatly strengthened in the country.


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Standoff between Church and State



The 1962 coup – Part II

A group of senior Police and Military officers attempted to overthrow the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government. They were driven by three critical events in the years leading up to January 1962. The coup participants belonged to the Westernised urban middle class who were alarmed at the undermining of the secular plural state and government.

By Jayantha Somasundaram

(Part I of this article appeared yesterday)

The first trigger was the anti-Tamil violence of 1958. The second trigger was the growing confrontation between the regime and the Christian community, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.

As soon as he took office S. W. R. D Bandaranaike had 21 CID and Special Branch gazetted officers resign or retire. Half of them were non-Sinhalese and the majority were reported to be Christian. Despite that, in 1957, 29 percent of the gazetted police officers were Burghers and about 65 percent were Christian. The situation in the military was no different during British times while the officers in the Army were mainly British, Burghers accounted for half the troops.

This anomaly goes back to 1902, when a Cadet Battalion was set up as part of the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers with companies initially in Royal College and then in the Christian public schools S. Thomas’ and Wesley in Colombo, Trinity and Kingswood in Kandy and Richmond in Galle. Buddhist and Hindu schools were late in introducing cadetting because of their adherence to ahimsa. When the Ceylon Army was established in 1949 the initial Officer Cadets sent to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for training were also largely from the ethnic and religious minorities. “Buddhist parents did not like their sons in the army … Perhaps there is something of the Buddhist aversion to killing in this prejudice …. There is an ancient tradition among the Sinhalese of employing mercenaries: Malays, Moors, Malabars, Tamils,” speculates Horowitz.

Despite their huge influence, the Protestant Christians in Sri Lanka were numerically small, a metropolitan minority making up one percent of the national population. By contrast, the Portuguese religious impact had resulted in a Roman Catholic community in the country that comprised seven percent. And unlike the Protestants who were split among numerous denominations, the Roman Catholics were united in a single church and fiercely loyal to their faith.

Neil Quintus Dias

The majority community as well as the regime feared what was termed ‘Catholic Action’, the attempt by lay Catholics to spread Catholic influence in a host society. “‘Bauddha Balavegaya (Buddhist Force) formed by L. H. Mettananda former principal of Ananda College, Neil Quintus (NQ) Dias, PM Sirimavo’s Defence Secretary and several other prominent Sinhala Buddhist nationalist leaders’ stand against ‘Catholic Action’ was well known. However, the existence of such a secretive campaign remained a mystery,” writes K. K. S. Perera (The Nation 4/11/12)

“N.Q. Dias was well known for his strong stand against ‘Catholic Action’ as it was then called,” wrote Bradman Weerakoon in Rendering Unto Caesar. “His actions in regard to the defence establishment and police were also being watched by the upper echelons of the three forces which were then largely manned by non-Buddhist officers.”

First the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Regime removed both local and foreign Catholic nursing nuns from state hospitals. This was followed by a decision to nationalise the assisted schools.

The school system was three-tiered. First, a small number of fee-levying public schools run mainly by the Anglican Church; they received no state financial support. Second, fee-levying denominational schools, mainly Roman Catholic, called assisted schools; they received government funding. Third, state owned schools which levied no fees.

The Catholic population is concentrated along the coastal belt stretching from Chilaw to Kalutara. In November 1960, the Army was brought in for internal security duties relating to the schools takeover; the 1st Battalion the Ceylon Light Infantry (1 CLI) covered Aluthgama, Ja-ela, Katunayake, Panadura and Kalutara. “There were demands in the Cabinet to … move forcefully against Christians protesting the takeover of the denominational schools,” explains Horowitz.

On the motive for the Coup, Sidney de Zoysa former Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) said, “The great issue then was the schools take-over. N. Q. Dias was a Buddhist chauvinist, and determined to take everything over into a Buddhist state. And Felix Dias was talking about a dictatorship and arguing that it would be a good thing,” wrote K. M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins in J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka Vol II.

A Christian education for their children is vital and critical to Roman Catholics and the takeover of denominational schools was bitterly opposed by the Church. Parents occupied the schools and a siege mentality developed. Finally, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to request Cardinal Garcia of Bombay to go to Sri Lanka and mediate between the Church and the government to defuse the standoff. The final outcome however was that many denominational schools were taken into the state system with a minority in the cities being allowed to remain the property of the churches, but the latter could neither levy fees nor receive government assistance.

Tamil Satyagraha

When she became Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike proceeded to implement the Official Language Act. And in January 1961 Sinhala became the country’s operative official language. “Army officers who were Sinhala Christians retired under the language Act because they thought their careers had no future,” writes Patrick Peebles in The History of Sri Lanka. “The police had been about three-fourths Christian. In 1962 police and military officers staged a coup attempt led not by Tamils but by Sinhala Christians.”

K. M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins in J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka Vol II conclude, “N. Q. Dias was suspect to them as the leader of a powerful religio-political force in the government – the Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya – intent on establishing control over the machinery of government for themselves by championing the cause of the Sinhala Buddhist majority. He was seen as the evil genius behind the government’s policies since Mrs. Bandaranaike came to power, directed against the minorities – Christians and Tamils.

“A former Cabinet Minister in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s Government reported tremendous pressure from Sinhalese Civil Servants to enforce strict language requirements on their Tamil colleagues in the hope of forcing them out,” says Horowitz, “N.Q. Dias is said to have made life difficult for Tamil Civil Servants, helping to push some out because of disqualification in Sinhalese.”

These events led to the Federal Party launching a Satyagraha, a civil disobedience campaign across the northern and eastern provinces, bringing government administration to a standstill. The third trigger for the coup participants was the use of the Army against the Tamil Satyagraha.

One of the coup participants who had been assigned to Jaffna found the
Satyagraha peaceful and advised against the use of force. But when he sat in on a Cabinet discussion he found that the Government wanted to use the Army in the North to “teach the Tamils a lesson.”

The government therefore ordered the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment to Jaffna.
But when it was time to entrain, the commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Willie Abrahams MBE, and his second in command Major Ignatius Loyola, who were Tamil Catholics, were barred from accompanying the regiment. Instead, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Udugama MBE, an infantry officer who was a kinsman of Mrs. Bandaranaike was placed in command. The troops protested at the station, refusing to entrain without their commanders until Colonel Abrahams prevailed upon them to proceed without him.

Army occupation of

North and East

Leaders of the Federal Party were arrested and detained at the Army Cantonment, Panagoda. Lt Col Richard Udugama was appointed Coordinating Officer Jaffna District, with Lt Col Lyn Wickremasuriya (Trincomalee), Lt Col P. D. Ramanayake (Batticaloa), Major S.T.B. Sally (Mannar) and Major C.F. Fernando (Vavuniya). And a state of emergency was declared.

“The Army brutalized the peaceful protesters … (and) began a two year long occupation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces,” writes Brian Blodgett in Sri Lanka’s Military: The Search for a Mission 1949-2004. The government also began to establish “several permanent camps in the northern and eastern sectors of the country.” N. Q. Dias wanted to increase the armed forces deployed to the north and east and the creation of new military bases in Arippu, Maricchikatti, Pallai, Thalvapadu, Pooneryn, Karainagar, Palaly, Point Pedro, Elephant Pass, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee.

The deployment of the Army to deal with what was essentially a civil political issue was viewed by many Ceylonese with a liberal secular outlook, as deliberately provocative. And this sentiment, though more latent, was also shared by both the cosmopolitan Tamils living in Colombo who considered themselves essentially Ceylonese as well as the more conservative Tamil-speaking people of the North and East. In Sri Lanka: Political-Military Relations Prof K. M de Silva wrote, “The attitude of the Tamils to the police and the security forces stationed there began to change in the 1960s and with it their view of the role the forces played. In the Jaffna peninsula, the principal centre of Tamil residence in the island, the police began to be seen as part of the state security network devised to keep the Tamils down.”

These developments were compounded by what Blodgett believed was Mrs. Bandaranaike’s desire for more Sinhalese Buddhist officers in order to “give them greater influence in running of the armed services”, when Mrs. Bandaranaike took over as Prime Minister in July 1960. He quotes K.M. de Silva who says that with the new government there was a major shift in “the ethnic and religious composition of the officer corp.

“Interpreters frequently note that ‘all but a few of the accused were Christians, mostly Roman Catholics.’ And they generally view the coup as a Christian reaction to the Buddhist resurgence and ascendency of the several years preceding 1962,” writes Donald Horowitz. “The heavily Westernised English-speaking, urban elite felt itself under stress. So did the ethnic and religious minorities: Tamils, Burghers, and Sinhalese Christians. The urban elite and the minorities were well represented in the officer corps of all the armed services and among the conspirators as well.”

Horowitz goes on: “‘The politicians were treating the country as if it belonged only to the Sinhalese who were Buddhists and no one else,’ argued a Sinhalese Christian Police Officer. Other Sinhalese officers, Christian and Buddhist, agreed.”

Felix Dias

“Although dispirited, those adversely affected by the post-1956 changes had not given up. Among Tamils there was some tendency to espouse the federalist solution…excluded from all the opportunities Colombo afforded at least they could return to administer their own areas in Jaffna … For non-Tamils, this course was not open. They dreamed not of an Asian Switzerland, where ethnic groups might coexist in an amicable territorial separatism; their model was rather of a tolerant, cheek-by-jowl cosmopolitanism in which a person’s origins might affect what he ate or where he worshipped but would have no public importance. The potency of these ideals … were held … because it was known that they were the ideals of the wider world beyond Sri Lanka’s shores,” concludes Donald Horowitz.

The Coup participants realised that Udugama was being groomed to take over command of the Army by promoting him over his seniors. He had organised a Buddhist Association within the Army, and officers including Buddhists who refused to be drawn into his Association regarded him with disdain.

For those who launched the coup the personification of the growing authoritarian-theocratic trend was Felix Dias, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and nephew of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. At their trial they asserted that the coup was a pre-emptive move to thwart a dictatorship by Felix Dias. According to one of the Coup participants “If Felix Dias had established himself in power … his regime would have rested on Sinhala Buddhist sentiment.”

By now military commanders were convinced that their authority was eroding and being replaced by an insidious dictatorship. “Felix Dias had at a meeting … in reference to conditions in Russia, stated that a little bit of totalitarianism might be of benefit to Ceylon.” (Trial-at-Bar)

“Felix Dias had antagonised many of the senior police and military officers by his interference in details of administration and by a hauteur which they found insufferable in one so young and inexperienced.” (K. M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka Vol II)

“The majority of the conspirators reserved their most extreme animosity for Felix Dias … Because of his political position and personal style, the conspirators distrusted and disliked him …” explains Donald Horowitz. “Their characterisations of him were unflattering in the extreme: ‘the most arrogant bastard you ever met … pompous … revengeful … untruthful … a bit mad.”

To be continued

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Region-wide war seen as looming over Europe



The fear among sections of Western opinion is that a region-wide war is looming over Europe, basically on the lines of the two world wars of the 20th century. Two of the most immediate triggers to this belief are the seemingly non-interventionist military exercises being carried out by some 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukraine-Russia border and the reaction by the US to place 8,500 of its troops on high alert in the face of the development, besides getting together its Western allies in case Ukraine is invaded by Russia.

US President Joe Biden has been quoted as saying that ‘Russia would pay a heavy price’ in the event it invades Ukraine, in addition to warning of a ‘severe coordinated economic response’ on the part of the West in case of such a development. The results would be ‘disastrous’ for Russia and the Ukraine, the US President reportedly stated.

In a development of considerable significance, meanwhile, the US and Britain have bolstered Ukraine’s defense capabilities through the provision of some crucial military hardware. Britain, it is said, has already gone to the aid of Ukraine by sending to the country some of its military advisors and other key personnel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, has dismissed the above Western reactions as ‘hysterical’. But he is on record as saying that Russians and Ukrainians comprise ‘one people, a single whole’. Thus, is he trying to acquire some legitimacy for the Russian military exercises on the Ukrainian border. That is, Ukraine is being seeing as part of Russia and taking back Ukraine should be perceived by the world as perfectly in order.

However, the stark reality is that Cold War type divisions are re-emerging in Europe. Russia made its intention clear to carve out Eastern Europe once again as its exclusive sphere of influence through its joint operations with Belarus a couple of months back against the backdrop of thousands of migrants from around the world flooding Belarus. It was believed at the time that Russia’s gameplan was to flood Western Europe in general and Germany in particular with migrants with a view to creating a refugee crisis in the traditionally Western sphere of influence.

As to whether there would be war or peace in Europe over Ukraine is seen to depend by some, entirely on Russian President Putin’s strategic thinking. What is he planning to do? This has emerged as the question of first importance in this connection. Whatever course of action the Russian leader may opt for, it is abundantly clear that he cannot afford to be seen as withdrawing tamely and faint-heartedly from the Ukraine border, now that he has sanctioned a heavy Russian military involvement in the region.

For Putin, ‘chickening out’ of Ukraine at this juncture is unthinkable. He will need to look over his shoulder constantly at those sections of the Russian public who see Ukraine as an inseparable part of Russia and are solidly behind the re-taking of Ukraine project. However, Putin is also obliged to consider the daunting consequences for particularly Russia from a military incursion into Ukraine.

At present except for Eastern Ukraine, which is within the Russian sphere of influence, the rest of Ukraine seems to be quite determined to fight a Russian invasion to the finish. This much is made clear by international media coverages of the Ukrainian crisis. In this effort, Ukrainians in general are bound to have considerable Western backing, militarily and otherwise, although it is difficult to say currently whether this would mean that Western military ‘boots’ would be on Ukrainian soil in the event of a Russian military incursion.

Considering that there will be no extensive Ukrainian backing for Russia in the event of an invasion, the latter would need to take their minds back to the 1979 USSR invasion of Afghanistan, which cost Russia very dearly. Is Russia opting for a military quagmire of like proportions? This question would need to figure prominently in Russian strategic calculations at this juncture.

However, the West has its share of problems as well. At present, it is not at all clear whether the US and Britain will be having West-wide, unanimous and ready backing for any military involvement in the Ukraine. Over the past few days, the US has been in consultation with the principal political and military formations of the West, such as NATO and the EU, but the US cannot rest assured that it would have their solid backing for a military riposte to a Russian invasion.

Germany, for one, has made no such unambiguous commitment and German backing is crucial to the success of a Western military response to Russia. Western countries would need to carefully factor in their economic links with Russia in particular prior to making any substantive military responses. For example, there is Germany’s high stakes gas pipeline project with Russia, ‘Nord Stream 2’, which needs to be taken into consideration. Would it compromise its energy needs for the sake of Ukraine’s sovereignty? This too is a poser to ponder on.

Moreover, President Biden has not been absolutely unambiguous on what he has meant by Russia being called on to pay ‘a heavy price’. Does he have in mind military repercussions by the West or collective economic sanctions? Besides, some of the President’s recent statements have led observers to believe that the US would not mind some minor military incursions into Ukraine by Russia. This has the West guessing but it could lead Russia into believing that it could get away with some violations of International Law in the Ukraine.

Accordingly, although war clouds may seem to be gathering over the Ukraine, there is no certainty as to whether we would be having a full-blown war on the lines of the First World War, for example. However, the existence of two antagonistic alliances, though loosely formed, tempts the observer into inferring that a region-wide war in Europe is within the realms of the possible. Nevertheless, the sides are in the process of talking somewhat and the hope of the sane is that Jaw-jaw-jaw will prove more potent than war-war-war.

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Remembering Pathi



The Department of Fine Arts of the University of Peradeniya honours the memory of Dr. Dharmasena Pathiraja with a Memorial Lecture by Dr. Laleen Jayamanne on The Relevance of an Alternative Film Culture Today at 5.30 pm on the 28th of January, 2022 at the Arts Faculty Seminar Room and via Zoom

Dr. Pathiraja graduated with an honours degree from the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya in Sinhala, with Western Classical Culture in 1967. He obtained his MA in Sinhala, working in the field of drama at the University of Peradeniya in 1992 and obtained a Phd. in Cinema Studies, from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, in 1999, with a dissertation on early post-independence Bengali cinema of Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen.

In honouring him with a doctorate posthumously in 2018, the University in its citation hailed him as a “renaissance man.” The citation continues with “in the fifties and sixties when Sri Lankan cinema was coming into its own with Lester James Pieris making a signal contribution to its stylistics, Pathiraja enters the scene with a distinctive style of his own that shares little with Pieris either in style and subject matter. More concerned with the lower middle class than with the decadent aristocracy, whom Pieris focused on, Pathiraja’s early films also capture an emerging ethos in cultural production: a language of the ‘masses’. This language‑ idiom‑ is expressly at the cross roads of a consciousness about the texture and complexities of the postcolonial state of Sri Lanka and of reaching out to an international audience. This consciousness has been his strength, what the audience has instinctively realiSed as new, as part of a new wave. Critics and the public have hailed him as the enfant terrible of the ‘70s, comparing him to the European Avant Garde of the 70s, especially trends emerging in Poland, Czechosolvakia and others.”

The memorial lecture at the event will be delivered by another illustrious alumna of the University, Dr. Laleen Jayamanne, who read classics at the University Peradeniya, and went onto become a major theorist in cinema studies. She taught at the Department of Cinema Studies at the Univ. of Sydney for several years and her publications include The Epic Cinema of Kumar Shahani and the more recent, Poetic Cinema and the Spirit of the Gift in the Films of Pabst, Parajanov, Kubrick and Ruiz. Her film, A Song of Ceylon (1985) is a dramatic and daring reworking of Basil Wright’s The Song of Ceylon. Jayamanne has written of Pathiraja’s films as visionary and ahead of their time.

The event will be in the hybrid mode and will be available to those interested via zoom on the link:

Meeting ID: 725 390 8656

Passcode: Pathi@123

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