Connect with us

Sat Mag

A Tribute to Sir Ivor Jennings



by Prof. K.N.O. Dharmadasa

Today, 19th of December 2020, marks the 55th anniversary of the passing away of Sir Ivor Jennings, the founder Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon and thereby the University system in Sri Lanka and this article is written to commemorate his memory.

“The man who put Peradeniya on the map of the academic world” is how the distinguished Sri Lankan Bibliographer, H.A.I. (Ian) Goonetilleke described Sir Ivor Jennings in the concluding lines of the Introduction he wrote to Sir Ivor’s autobiography The Road to Peradeniya, when it was published posthumously in 2005.Formerly Peradeniya was known to students of history as the home of one Konappu Bandara who, as the 18th cen. Chronicle Rajavaliya records, by his superb military skills and adroit political maneouvers, overcame the formidable hostilities of both Sitawaka Rajasinghe and the Portuguese and ascended the throne of Senkadagaka Pura as Wimala Dhararmasuriya, to found the dynasty which was to rule till 1815. Our story which gives Peradeniya its present recognition as the site of the largest and most prestigious university in the island, may not be as dramatic as that of the founding of the last Sinhala dynasty. But the energy, steadfastness of resolve and the vision of one single individual stands out in this narration of the founding of the first national university in the island.

University College

Patriots in colonial Sri Lanka had been agitating for some time for the establishment of a university. Starting with Calcutta and Madras (as they were known then) in 1857, India obtained, by the year 1900, several universities in various parts of the British Raj. In Sri Lanka the agitation was finally mobilized in 1906 into The Ceylon University Association which held public meetings and published a journal. Their representations were met in positive terms by some British authorities such as the Governor Sir Robert Chalmers (1913-16).There was a general consensus that the island should first get a “university college” affiliated to a British university. After the delays caused by the First World War, the Ceylon University College was opened on 1st January 1921 as an affiliate of the University of London. There were “Arts” and “Science” subjects taught there in this College with their curricula being obtained from London. Most of the teachers were expatriates (except those in the “Oriental” subjects). The subjects taught were English, Latin and Greek, European History with Economics, Western Philosophy, Mathematics, Sanskrit, Pali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Chemistry, Botany and Physics. The students sat for the London examinations which culminated in obtaining a London B.A. or B.Sc.. As could be expected the medium of teaching was English, even Sanskrit, Pali, Sinhala and Tamil being taught in that medium. Furthermore, Sanskrit, Pali and Sinhala were grouped in one department of study, which was eventually called Indo-Aryan. That department and Tamil did not get Professorships and were placed under ‘lecturers in charge’. It is noteworthy that the aspirations of those who agitated for a Ceylon University were far from being fulfilled by this arrangement. Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam had expressed the hope that in the university they expected to establish “our youth will learn to use their mother tongue with accuracy and ease ( and also learn ) to appreciate the beauties of their classical languages and literatures and to realize that they are inheritors of a great past stretching back to 24 centuries (“A Plea for a Ceylon University”, Journal of the Ceylon University Association, vol. I No.1, 1906).As placed on record by one of the students of the College in the 1930’s,it had “a colonialist culture and imperialistic atmosphere” (Ediriweera Sarchcnandra , Pin Ethi Sarasavi Waramak Denne, 1985,p. 52).Perhaps one reason for that kind of atmosphere to prevail was the attitude of the Principal, Robert Marrs, “rabid imperialist” (ugra adhirajyavadiyek) according to Sarachcnadra ( op. cit. p. 73), who held that post for twenty years of its twenty one year existence. William Ivor Jennings, was appointed the second Principal of the University College in 1941 and his assignment was to establish “The University of Ceylon”. Originally when his appointment came, Jennings was not aware that in fact he had two jobs to do. One was the creation of a university in Colombo and the second was moving it to a new campus which was still to be built in Peradeniya ( Peradeniya : The Founding of a University ed. (A.T.Alwis vol.I, p.237).

William Ivor Jennings (1903-65), former lecturer in the prestigious London School of Economics, Reader in the University of London, who had taught at the University of Leeds and University of Cambridge, in the University of British Columbia (Canada) and in several universities in the US,who had earned the B.A.; Ll.B. ; M.A. and the Ll.D. He held the high academic reputation of being the author of The Law and the Constitution(1933), Cabinet Government (1936) and The Parliament (1939) which according to Goonetilleke had become “classics in the field.”When he arrived in Colombo in March 1941 he was just 38, an age in which it was possible to engage in hard work. He says about his job:

” It had not been a ‘nine to four job’. Quite often it had been not only nine to four p.m. but also four to nine p.m. and even four to nine a.m.” ( The Road to Peradeniya p. 191)

Such was the work load of the founder Vice Chancellor.

The “founding of a University” proved to be a massive job. As Ian Goonetilleke observes in his Introduction to Sir Ivor’s other posthumous publication The Kandy Road , it was a matter of “building from scratch by the banks of… the river (Mahaveli) an academic grove in the true sense of the term” This unenviable task began in Thurstan Road, where he assumed duties on March 24th, 1941.When he stepped into the “CUC, he found that it did not have “a university atmosphere.” The College was a “government department controlled by a Principal, who was responsible to the Executive Committee of Education…a body of seven politicians”(The Road to Peradeniya, p.111).. In creating the university, Jennings had two tasks to accomplish. One, which he believed in fervently was university autonomy and academic freedom. The other, which also he believed in with equal intensity was establishing good university standards, specifically in the award of Degrees.

University Autono


The University Commission of 1927, chaired by Sir Walter Buchanan-Riddell (the Chairman of the UGC of Great Britain) had proposed that the university to be established should be “unitary, autonomous and residential”. This as the normal British practice. But before coming to Sri Lanka, Jennings had been warned that no politician would like being deprived of the powers of control they had been enjoying. “The Ceylonese politicians were unusually difficult,” he was told (op. cit. p112) There is one such incident on record. A member of the Executive Committee had proposed that there should be “more control over the university by the government,” to which Jennings responded with “The proposal to place the university under political control is abhorrent to anyone who has taught in a university” (Quoted in Amal Jayawardene.”Jennings on University Education,” in R. A. L. H.Gunawardena, ed. More Open than Usual). Jennings seems to have been fully aware of the possibilities when the Ceylon University Ordinance no. 20 of 1942 was placed before the State Council In March 1942.The danger of tampering with it was in the Committee stage after the Second Reading. Jennings records in his autobiography how he sat in the seat assigned to officers watching the proceedings. “I had fought serious limitations,” he wrote “with the knowledge – which I did not share …- that if any serious limitations on autonomy were inserted, I should send in my resignation” ( RP, p118).

What Jennings meant by “University autonomy” needs explanation. It was not a simple arrangement where the powers so far wielded by “seven politicians” being vested in one University officer, i.e. the Vice Chancellor. Specifically those powers were divided into two areas, administrative and academic. Academic activities would be under the control of the Senate which would basically consist of senior academics and administrative activities will be under the purview of the Council, which will consist of the Deans of Faculties and members drawn from the public. The Vice Chancellor will preside at meetings of the Senate and Council and therefore will have considerable power and influence on all activities of the University but he is constrained from using absolute powers. Thus the principles governing University activities are liberal and democratic. During his office as Vice Chancellor Jennings had to face occasions when autonomy and academic freedom were put on test. For example, in the aftermath of the Hartal of 1953 Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala writing to Jennings, expressed his concern about the growth of “Communism” and asked for advice on how to control its spread in the University. Kotelawala was suggesting a kind of political control over student and staff activities in the university. Jennings wrote back: “political control of a university is most undesirable…There are inherent dangers in a political control….The first step of any dictatorship is to ‘purge the universities’ because they are the bastions of freedom. Ought not a Democratic Government uphold and strengthen those bastions?”( Q. in Amal Jayawardene, op. cit.).Furthermore, with his wide experience in the study of politics he warned the Prime Minister that “If political control was introduced by this Government it would in due course be exercised by this Government’s successors.”(op cit.)

National Culture

A lot of people refer to Sir Ivor as “the man who called this country a cultural desert.”There is controversy as to whether he said so at all. He has denied it.( RP, p. 190) Jennings as we all know was no coward and he had no need to please anybody.


He has stated that “The story that I described Ceylon as a ‘cultural desert’ is historically as accurate as the story of Alfred and the burnt cakes or a good many of the stories in the Mahavamsa.” (Q. by Ian Goonetilleke in the Introduction to The Kandy Road).In my view what should concerns us at present is not what Jennings is supposed to have said but what he has done in the University concerning the national cultural heritage. Firstly, I refer to a letter Jennings wrote on 12 August 1941 addressed to the Minister of Education and the Executive Committee on Education who at the time could decide on the structure of the new university that was to be established.. The topic was “Chair of Sanskrit”. Proposing that ” a Professor of Sanskrit at this stage would necessarily be a non-Ceylonese…a scholar of great repute and ripe experience who could not only develop Sanskrit studies in the island but also train a Ceylonese to succeed him” ( Peradeniya: The Founding of a University,vol.5,pp. 303 -4)These sentiments indicate his genuine concern for the development of Sanskrit studies in the new university. In the same letter he speaks of how such a scholar would “add a great impetus to the study of Oriental subjects … and bring kudos …not only in Ceylon but outside”. This letter indicates Jennings’ policy in recruitments to Professorships in the university he was building. We should have the best possible because , as we know from experience, the academic reputation of a Professor would affect the Department’s standing and , future recruitments will depend on his/her good judgment. As an aside, I am tempted to mention an anecdote concerning Lord Milner, the Viceroy of India who is alleged to have made a statement about some “shoddy universities ” in that country, becoming so, due in a large measure, to “wrong recruitments.” This was a finding of The Curzon Committee which examined the low standards of those universities and Jennings would not have been unaware of it.

Oriental Studies

A more important and far reaching proposal of Jennings in the letter of 12 August was about “the need for a Faculty of Oriental Studies.”This was a magnificent move as far as the “Oriental subjects” Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil, were concerned. Thereby these subjects got a developmental boost that we should not fail to appreciate. This is particularly true with regard to the two national languages Sinhala and Tamil as will be described below. They had been rather neglected or relegated to “second class status” in the University College. With his wide experience in university affairs Jennings pointed to “the lack of sufficient powers for the effective teaching of Oriental subjects” and hence proposed the creation of a separate Faculty where they would have independence to develop on their own. No doubt he saw that with the privileged position enjoyed by English and Social Science subjects such as History and Economics the “Oriental” subjects would again receive “step-motherly” treatment in a common Faculty of Arts. When the faculty of Oriental Studies was established in 1942, it was accorded primacy of status in the faculty hierarchy.

A little known fact about the creation of separate Departments of Sinhala, Pali Sanskrit and Tamil needs mention here. The seniormost academic in the field of Oriental Studies, Dr. G.P.Malalasekera while expressing his happiness that “Orientalia” would be receiving its due place in the proposed university added that “if someone with courage and vision had done this when the University College was inaugurated, the position of ‘Oriental’ Studies in the country would be very much different from what it now is”. As for the composition of the new Faculty Dr. Malalasekera proposed that it should “start with two Departments , viz. the Department of Indo-Aryan Studies and the Department of Dravidian Studies.” Next , in this letter dated 24 September 1941, he deals at length with three main topics: suggesting Dr. Kanapathipillai’s name as the most suitable to head the Department of Dravidian Studies, the possibility of getting a Sanskritist of high reputation from one of the good Indian universities and, suggesting that he (Malalasekera) be sent to India on a study tour to get a close look at how the Indian universities are coping with problems of development so that such examples could be adopted in our university ( PFU, vol 5, pp309 -311) It needs mention that none of these proposals were adopted.

Sinhalese, Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit were instituted as separate Departments of Study within the Faculty of Oriental Studies in the new University. To this was added a Department of Arabic. For the Chair of Sanskrit Dr. Betty Heimann (Ph.D. Halle) who had been teaching at the School of Oriental and African Studies was selected. She had a great international reputation not only as a Sanskritist but also as an authority on Indian Philosophy. Being advanced in age she worked as Professor of Sanskrit only for five years, but when she retired in 1949, by her energy, skill and diligence she had increased the number of students in the Sanskrit Special Degree class from 5 to 27 (Ratna Handurukande, “Orientalia in the University,” Sri Lanka Journal of Humanities,, 1994).For the Chair of Tamil, Swami Vipulananda (B.Sc. Lond; Pundit of Madurai Tamil Sangam) who had been the Professor of Tamil at Annamalai University in South India and as a scholar highly recognized for his creative and critical writings and for his translations, was selected. For the Chair of Sinhala, again a scholar, teaching at SOAS, London at the time, M.D.Ratnasuriya (B.A.; Ph.D. Lond) was invited. The Chair of Pali of course was assigned to G.P.Malalasekera (B.A.; M.A.; Ph.D.; D.Litt. Lond). Furthermore, according to a decision taken by Jennings the Sinhalese Etymological Dictionary Project was also placed under the Dept. of Sinhalese, the Dictionary staff becoming part of the Faculty.

We referred to the steps taken by Sir Ivor to appoint the best possible academics to head the Departments of Study in the Faculty of Oriental Studies. Similar care was taken with regard to professorial appointments in other Faculties as well. Thus we find the American Bryce Ryan in Sociology, the Indian D.B.Das Gupta in Economics and so on. All these steps were part and parcel of the grand design to establish a good university which could stand on par with the best universities in the world. “You may rest assured,” Jennings said in his farewell address to the country broadcast over Radio Ceylon on 20 Jan . 1955, “that as far as examination standards are concerned a graduate of the University of Ceylon is as good as a graduate of any western university” (PFU,pvol. I,p.236)How was this achieved? Writes Emeritus Professor G.H. Pieris, ” In the Arts disciplines…while not adopting a rigorous schedule of formal classroom work, laid stress on student initiative , especially in he use of the library. It was stringent in the award of ‘class’ degrees. It also followed several other quality safeguards such as the continuing employment of expatriate teaching staff, caution in the recruitment of new staff and obtaining the services of reputed foreign academicians – generally British – for moderation of examination question papers and the second marking of answer scripts. English remained the only medium of instruction” (G.H. Pieris, “The Faculties of Arts and Oriental Studies at Peradeniya,” in K.M de Silva and G.H.Pieris ed. The University System of Sri Lanka, pp.110-29)


Going back to the “cultural desert” remark, Goonetilleke records that Jennings thought of “Thurstan Road as an oasis” He was eagerly awaiting the transfer to Peradeniya where ” the desert would blossom like the rose” ( KR, Intro. Xxiii).As we all know it did indeed. (Let us leave aside the “cultural desert” part.) . Being empowered to “develop” in a separate Faculty, Sinhalese, Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit studies expanded their academic vistas. I think the most momentous development was in the Department of Sinhalese. In Peradeniya, it had come under a new Professor and Head of Department, D.E.Hettiarachchi (B.A.;Ph.D. Lond; M.A.; Ph.D. Calcutta) The study of modern Sinhala literature was added to the curriculum of the Department enlisting the services of Ediriweera Sarachcnadra, a scholar who had been making pioneering studies on modern Sinhala literature, getting him transferred from the Department of Pali. This proved to be the most appropriate choice. For, Sarachcandra by his critical writings, not only guided the course of new developments in the art of the novel, short story and poetry, but also became “the father of modern Sinhala drama” in the years to come, producing the monumental ‘Maname’ in 1956. His research interests were wide and varied. In 1952 he brought out the book The Sinhalese Folk Play , described by the Times of London , Literary Supplement as ” the most interesting, indeed unique, account of the many phases of drama in Ceylon… is so wide in scope that it must surely interest all who wish to trace the development of dramatic forms” (Q. in J.B.Disanayaka, “Sarachchandra the trail-blazer”, The Birth Centenary of Sarachcandra, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 2014)Apart from literature the Department expanded its academic concerns to various branches of Socio-cultural Studies as for example in the research done by M.B.Ariyapala and P.E.Fernando. In the ‘fifties young scholars were trained in various foreign universities in new areas of research : M.W. Sugathapala De Silva (structural linguistics) Hemapala Wijayawardhana (Sanskrit aesthetics) Ariya Rajakaruna (Theatre and Cinema).

Similar expansion of vistas was noted in the Department of Tamil as well. The first Professor of Tamil Swami Vipulananda had a very progressive outlook which set the tone for Tamil scholarship in Sri Lanka taking an independent course of development which was in marked contrast to the traditionalism which characterized Tamil studies in Tamilnadu. Vipulananda is on record as being the “first Tamil Professor to recognize the spoken Tamil dialects”( M.A.Nuhuman, “The University of Peradeniya and the Development of Tamil Literary Criticism” in R.A.L.H.Gunawardene ed,pp.185-98)Among the other academics, it is noted that venturing into newer fields of research had been inaugurated by K.Kanapathipillai who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Tamil Inscriptions of Sri Lanka. In the late ‘forties and the fifties’ several others took his lead in pursuing linguistic studies. For example, A Velupillai who worked on Tamil Inscriptions, S.Thanajayarajasinham who studied the Tamil documents during the Dutch period and A.Shanmugadas who made a linguistic study of the Jaffna Tamil dialect. The more striking departure from the South Indian tradition was noted in the field of literary criticism. In South India, traditionalism was so strong in the academia that in the early days “modern literature and literary criticism were excluded from the curriculum in …the universities and Colleges.” (Nuhuman) In Sri Lanka, on the other hand, the study of modern literature was undertaken because of the progressive attitudes of the first Professor and his juniors, notably Dr. K.Kanapathipilla, who took the revolutionary step of writing plays in the colloquial dialect. The progressive Tamil academics in Sri Lanka forged ahead and it was later recognized that as far as in the field of literary criticism, Sri Lanka was ahead of Tamilnadu (Nuhuman, op. cit.).The outstanding scholar in the field of literary history and literary criticism in Tamil was V.Chelvanayagam who approached literature in a social, political and historical perspective. His pioneering studies had not been superseded. (Nuhuman, op.cit.)

In illustrating the great impetus received by the academic departments in the Oriental Studies during the early years of the Peradeniya period I have described only the case of the two modern languages, Sinhala and Tamil. Similar expansion in academic vistas could be seen in the case of the two classical language departments Pali and Sanskrit. The point that has to be made is that these two national languages were able to expand their academic vistas because of the recognition they received in the University of Ceylon. The pre-eminent position enjoyed by the Humanities studies in the University of the 1950’ and “60’s is best summed up by the Geographer Prof. G.H.Pieris, “in the Faculties of Arts and Oriental Studies…academic disciplines concerned with historical,linguistic and aesthetic occupied centre stage while the so-called social sciences Economics, Sociology geography etc……maintaining a relatively low profile”( Pieris, op.cit.)

Historical Heritage

Talking of the country’s cultural heritage, Jennings in 1950, pays a tribute to the work done by Bell, Codrington John Still and Paranavitana ( RP , p168). He mentions that the University had taken the necessary steps to make that knowledge available to the undergraduates and graduates. But he saw that a lot more had to be done. With his vision for a University Museum where our history could be studied more intimately, he was hoping that the facility would eventually be provided in Peradeniya. He was engaged in a “battle” to get that established and the Archives (then in Nuwara Eliya) shifted there so that the whole complex would be a “convenient centre for research scholars” Ibid).We know that these things did not happen. But his vision for the study of our national heritage should be appreciated. Much more significant, as far as vision becoming reality is concerned, was Jenning’s proposal in the Senate that the University should undertake the job of writing “a comprehensive History of Ceylon”. (The Preface to pt. 1, vol.I by Sir Nicholas Attygalle, Chairman Editorial Board). People who have watched the progress of this massive project are aware of the trials and tribulations through which it went until it was completed in 1995. But what needs mention is that it was again Sir Ivor Jennings who took the initiative in launching the project.

We mentioned earlier about the Museum. It was in fact a museum cum art gallery he had in mind. Sir Ivor established The Arts Council of the university to sponsor artistic activities which he thought was an essential part of education, “the training of the emotions” as he saw it. One of the first acts of the Arts Council was an Exhibition of paintings by George Keyt, a denizen of Kandy who had achieved international fame. From the proceeds of the exhibition Sir Ivor bought the painting titled “The Offering” by Keyt which was to be the first item in a collection which would form the exhibits of the envisaged Art Gallery. Jennings is said to have established the “Peradeniya Fund” vested in the Vice Chancellor “intended to enhance the beauty of the University Park and its environs”.( H.A.I.G. , Intro. KR p.xiv) and he had hoped that contributions “would flow in like the Great Sandy River”. In 1953 its balance was Rs. 50 .”perhaps the author’s own initial contribution”. And in 1956 it stood at Rs. 146.49 and the university authorities decided to close down the Fund and remit the balance to the General Fund (Ibid.)In the last pages of his autobiography Jennings wrote about the various Endowments the University had received during the first eight years . He added in the end “the endowment nearest my heart , however, is the Peradeniya Fund which caused this book to be written”. The proceeds from the sale of the book, The Road to Peradeniya was to go to that fund. It was his hope that the proceeds of the Fund would enable the University not only to enhance the physical beauty of the University Park but also to purchase works of art to be exhibited in the Museum cum art gallery that was to come up. The following are the last words in the autobiography: “By writing this book I have made a small contribution. History will say that it was small indeed. But at least my name will appear among the thousands of benefactors listed in the Calendar of the year 2950” (RP, pp201 -2). There is no need to comment on the above facts.


The education of the two daughters of the Jennings family, Claire and Shirley was disrupted due to the war and their father’s departure to Ceylon in 1941. When the family got together finally in Ceylon, Shirley was educated in South India and later in Melbourne in Australia where she married a lecturer in the university. Claire’s education was haphazard . She worked as a journalist in Colombo and in 1952, asked her father whether she could join the university of Ceylon. His immediate retort was” you are not intelligent enough.” When they went back to England, years later, Claire passed the necessary exams and entered the university of Cambridge, graduating six before her father passed away. This story communicated to Ian Goonatilleke by Claire appears in his introduction to RP (p.xiii).

In coming to the end of this tribute, I would like to quote Ian Goonatilleke again.

” The very title of his autobiography, the cast of its content and the fact that he made no attempt to extend its coverage into his later illustrious years may well be regarded as further pointers to his single-minded resolve to place Peradeniya on the academic map of the world- the shining peak he had set himself to scale” ( intro too KR, p.xxii)

To conclude,I would like to place on record the salutary steps taken by the present Vice Chancellor, Prof. Upul B. Dissanayake to erect a bronze statue of Sir Ivor Jennings in a prominent place on the campus. Future generations of university students who have never heard of this great academic will at least get a fleeting impression of him and hopefully be inspired to discover more about the founder Vice Chancellor of the university.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sat Mag

Notes on a not-so radical class



By Uditha Devapriya

A little over a year ago, Devani Jayathilaka, the Gampaha Division Wildlife Officer now on a crusade against the government, stood up to a State Minister and got away with it. Objecting to Sanath Nishantha’s proposal to build a children’s playground on forest land, she stood her ground even as the Minister and his acolytes attempted to intimidate her.

Videos of Devani retorting to Nishantha and those acolytes gained supporters across social media. Public opinion being very much with her, the government quickly began feting her: Bandula Gunawardena said that the Cabinet took her side, and S. M. Chandrasena regretted the incident while half-heartedly exonerating the Minister.

Devani Jayathilaka’s courage was seen at the time as a symptom of the President’s resolve to make the bureaucracy more independent and efficient, free of bias and politicisation. As such, supporters of the government jumped on the bandwagon. The Daily News dedicated an entire editorial to her, calling her “the toast of all environmentalists, nature lovers and generally all those who cherish our country’s legal and constitutional integrity.” Hopefully, the laudatory piece concluded, “this signal act… will be a beacon to others in the public service to do their bit in fulfilling their public duty while resisting the pressures of politicians.” The subtext was unmistakably clear: the President’s reformism had empowered the officer’s activism.

A year later, and here we are: the premature love affair aborted, the feeling of celebration dampened. Yet could one have expected otherwise? At no point here in living memory have environmental concerns permeated every layer of society, from Colombo’s civil society to Sinhala nationalist outfits, as they are now. A broad conjuncture of oppositional forces, some drawn from organisations that fuelled the ideology which brought the government to power (such as the Sinhale movement), has pitted itself against that government’s apathy over the environment, while social media continues to enthrone activists: environmentalists and state officials. The President’s men, meanwhile, seem to be resorting to a policy of either ignoring or retorting to these voices. In both cases, it’s the government that has lost out.

It is hard not to side with the activists. They have a point: no regime has engaged properly with the environment. Between 2017 and 2019, forest cover reduced from 29.7% to 16.5%. It was the yahapalana government, remnants of which are tweeting against the present regime’s environmental record now, that held

the reins of power then. Yet the administration before it was no different: in 2012, to give just one example, roughly 1,585 hectares of primary forest land were lost, the biggest annual loss in a decade. The numbers for 2020 and 2021 have not been released yet, but there’s no doubting they are as big as, if not bigger than, these figures; according to the Rain Forest Protectors of Sri Lanka, forest cover stands at 17%, above what it was in 2019, but well below the 30% promised by the president.

The politics of the campaigns against the government, however, goes well beyond a simple dichotomy between political representatives and wildlife activists. Frustratingly enough, it’s not easy to put a finger on the dynamics of these protests, to draw a line between protagonists and antagonists within them, not least of all because a simple twofold division – government versus us – has been replaced by a threefold one in them: the government (high level officials included) on one side, activists and officials on another, and us on yet another.

Led by a mostly Sinhala and Buddhist lower middle-class, including the clergy (no less than the Sinhala Ravaya), these campaigns, which have mobilised activists and officials, appear to have unearthed a rather interesting contradiction from within that middle-class: a distrust of political representatives, and an ambivalent attitude towards lower level officials. To identify this contradiction for what it is, and explore it, is not easy: that requires research, the mettle of an anthropologist or ethnographer, and I am neither. Yet from what little I have been able to gather, it appears that this recent spurt of activism has facilitated a shift in the character of anti-state activism, particularly in its class composition. How so?

Devani’s message resonates profoundly with a section of the country’s upward aspiring middle-class, educated mostly in Sinhala but idealising a better life: one to which they feel both government representatives and private interests are obstacles.

They hold contrasting views regarding the state. As far as the government proper – Ministers plus high level officials – is concerned, they are against it. It’s a different story with officials, not least because of the latter a great many hail from the milieu they do: Sinhala educated and upward aspiring. This is the demographic Patali Champika Ranawaka is targeting through his “43 Senankaya”, a demographic parties have not tried to court until fairly recently.

What explains their relationship with the state? Regarding government representatives, their opposition is easy to rationalise: most of these representatives are seen to have risen to where they are now by foul means, not fair. That irks an educated middle-class bereft of political or economic power; simply put, they feel hard done by, left out, unrepresented.

Such feelings of distrust cut through parties; indeed, a defining characteristic of the middle-class is the absence of a unifying political ideology. Any Opposition which believes that by coming to power on the strength of their convictions it can expect support from them forever is therefore walking on water, for this lower middle-class happens to be adamantly protean. It is their protean character, incidentally, that explains their response to state officials.

Their view of the latter is borne out by two main considerations: that they hail from the same class background, and that, since of late, these officials have taken up arms against political authorities, a group whose actions are seen as burdening the lower middle-class.

Indeed, far from berating officials like they berate political authorities, the lower middle-class rebelling against the regime share a desire to enter the bureaucracy as either professionals or administrators, though through education attainment, and not political backing. This desire is essentially a retread of the demand made by unemployed graduates: they want to fill a post in a state institution as soon as they leave university. Under Gotabaya Rajapaka their integration into the bureaucracy has been remarkably rapid: by September last year, for instance, around 60,000 graduates had been absorbed into the Public Service, as part of his “Rata Wenuwen Weda” programme. Yet even this rather modest realisation of lower middle-class aspirations has failed to dampen, or stunt, lower middle-class opposition to his government.

To sum up, what we are seeing here is a division between state officials, assumed to have entered the government through merit, and political representatives, assumed to have entered it through influence. That Devani Jayathilaka continues to be idealised by this class therefore points at the consolidation of a uniquely petty bourgeois consciousness, which at once aspires upward in the bureaucracy, and pits itself against the government overseeing the bureaucracy. Gravitating to meritocratic ideals, they have become a huge floating electorate.

This raises another point: their disavowal of party politics. Let’s not mistake karawala for mallum here, however; the line this milieu touts, that they lack party ideology, should not mislead one into thinking that they can’t be co-opted into any party ideology. For those who believe that a non-political middle-class rebelling against an elected government, even one infringing every other norm in the book, is incapable of political manoeuvring, the case of Anna Hazare offers a counterargument: opposed to political groups, what Hazare achieved in the end was an electoral landslide for just such a group, Narendra Modi’s BJP.

By no means am I saying that Anna Hazare was/is to India what officials crusading against political representatives are/will be to Sri Lanka. Yet not unlike Hazare, these officials have given what little of an Opposition that’s there in the country some much needed ammunition (with which to topple the government). Far from welcoming such a state of affairs, I see two problems with this: the lack of a proper policy on the environment from the Opposition (apart from a few perfunctory protests), and the risk of letting what environmentalists are combating continue under a future administration led by that Opposition. As environmentalists and Left activists have pointed out only too clearly, much of what is being protested against, including the Sinharaja debacle, can be traced back to the yahapalana period. How wise would it be to trust the party that held the cards then so much as to return them to power now?

To these two problems one can add a third: the contradiction between the social conditioning and the activism of the middle-class. That contradiction translates itself into another: between political ideals that pit this middle-class against political authority, and social aspirations that orient them towards personal achievement in education and employment.

One can ask why this is a problem, why it’s so problematic. In matters of political concern, so the idealists say, personal matters are of no relevance.

But that’s precisely the issue. How pertinent are one’s personal aspirations to one’s political inclinations? Not pertinent, some would say; pretty pertinent, in my book.

That leads us to a crucial issue, the most important to crop up from what we’re seeing today: the extent to which those leading the protests are willing to own up to how class aspirations, and not just state complicity, have contributed to environmental degradation.

Let me reduce this to a simple query: how much do you attribute everything wrong with the environment to the government’s doing and non-doing, and how much do you attribute it to, say, our propensity to import, a major factor in environmental degradation?

To be fair, of course, it’s not only imports. The truth is that degradation of the environment is linked inextricably to an economic model rooted in consumerism and urbanisation.

But that merely reinforces my point: consumerism is promoted by the private sector, and urbanisation by the public, because both have an audience: the same middle-class blaming the government for what’s happening to our forests, our rivers, our way of life.

To restate this as simply as I can, then, the problems of environmental degradation today are the result of a decades-long experiment with capitalism and neoliberalism that has failed. The crisis is thus a crisis of a consumerist and exploitative model based on a capitalist framework. Now no critique of what is happening to our forests can evolve without taking this model into consideration. As perhaps its biggest beneficiaries, the middle-class must hence recognise the need to formulate an alternative model to it, in line with their activist inclinations.

However, in continuing to ignore if not marginalise this need, those taking the government to task over the environment are offering an inadequate response, radical enough to question the regime for its failings, yet not radical enough to question our embracement of an acquisitive, consumption-led economic model that has contributed to the quagmire we are in. Now I hate gazing into crystal balls, but if this is what will continue in the future, then these protests, no matter how laudable, will someday, somehow, fizzle out. That would be a pity.

The writer can be reached at

Continue Reading

Sat Mag




Our world needs transformational change, and it is time for us, those of the present generation to hold ourselves accountable for our role in the environmental crisis while also calling for bold, creative, and innovative solutions. This year marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day and this Webinar is designed to commemorate the occasion and to support the worldwide efforts to conserve and revitalize the environment of the blue planet that is our home. If we are to succeed, we must listen to the children who will link hands from around the world during this webinar and voice their concerns and ideas to preserve a pristine environment for their generation.

This is the 17th of a series of virtual zoom panel discussions hosted by the America-Sri Lanka Photographic Art Society in Los Angeles California, USA (ASPAS); Member of Photographic Society of America (PSA) and The International Federation of Photography of Art in France (FIAP). The objective of the series is to showcase the beauty of world fauna and flora and promote environmental conservation in the context of nature photography and tourism, with a special focus on the grandeur of Sri Lanka’s natural habitat. The upcoming programme will commemorate World Earth Day 2021.

At a previous ASPAS Webinar, Dr. Peter H. Sand, former Secretary-General of ICUN, stated, “Pandemics, such as coronavirus, are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature, the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade, as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places, are the driving force behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans.” The ASPAS Webinars are intended to offer a platform to discuss a more balanced relationship with these ecosystems and the tools that can help us reach this objective, so that future generations can continue to enjoy and benefit from them sustainably and responsibly.

Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970 which gave voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. Our planet is an amazing place, but it needs our help to thrive! That is why each year on April 22, more than a billion people celebrate Earth Day to protect the planet from pollution and deforestation and environment related issues. By taking part in activities like picking up litter and planting trees, we are making our world a happier, healthier place to live.

In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, the world was consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of the consequences from either the law or the press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, the world remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health. Since, the great challenge for the environmental community is to combat the cynicism of climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent policy makers, and a disinterested public. In the face of these challenges, Earth Day prevailed and established itself as a major movement for global action for the environment.

Over the decades, it has brought hundreds of millions of people into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteers in 193 countries. Earth Day engages more than 1 billion people every year and has become a major steppingstone along the pathway of engagement around the protection of the planet.

Now, the fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more and more apparent every day. As the awareness of our climate crisis grows, so does civil society mobilization, which is reaching a fever pitch across the globe today. Digital and social media are bringing these conversations, protests, strikes and mobilizations to a global audience, uniting a concerned citizenry as never before and mobilizing generations to join together to take on the greatest challenge that humankind has faced.

It is quite apparent that the youth of our world should also be engaged in this vital conversation as an absolutely indispensable partner.

Governments have recognized this for decades and many have introduced some level of climate and environmental education into their education systems. But the truth is that impact of climate and environmental education is in some cases week, cursory, and still in many countries non-existent. In the decades since the launch of the global environmental movement, it is estimated that more than 3 billion young people have graduated from high school having learned little or nothing about one of the greatest issues that will shape their lives and their livelihoods for decades to come.

The time is now, indeed it is long overdue, for a massive environmental literacy campaign that can create a generation of citizens, workers and leaders who really understand why and how to stop climate change and environmental degradation, ensuring that every student around the world completes their formal education as an environmental and climate literate citizen. A citizen who is ready to take action and speak up for change and build knowledge and skills for the growing green sector of clean energy, efficient transportation, sustainable business and making themselves competitive for new jobs.

The youth must also equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to build a better future and be stewards of this planet. They must learn that to sustain a functional society and economy, natural resources must be used wisely and efficiently while protecting the ecological systems to ensure clean air, clean water, and food security for all.

But just as vitally, we need to equip future generations with the knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm to survive and indeed thrive in the decades to come. And that begins in school. Even world leaders recognized that pivotal role as far back as 30 years, when the countries that forged the original United Nations climate change treaty in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit enshrined climate education as an essential part of a national response to a global emergency.

Educationists believe every school in the world must have compulsory, assessed climate and environmental education with a strong civic engagement component. They have also pointed out that the onus for developing environmental consciousness in youth could not be the sole responsibility of schools as the young people need the help of adult allies. There is a role for everyone, parents, relatives, and society to support youth voices and stand alongside them.

It is in that spirit that the America-Sri Lanka Photohtaphic Art Society Los Angeles, led by its President, Suriya Jayalath Perera, has organized this Webinar to bring together 10 young people from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Sri Lanka to voice their concerns and present their ideas on the occasion of Earth Day 2021. Youth from ages six to 18, will address the entire gamut of environmental issues from climate change to plastic pollution. It would be a truly ground-breaking event, and you can be a part of it by virtually joining them on Sunday April 18th, 2021. The webinar will be moderated by Medini Ratnayake.

More Information:

Join us live on Sunday April 18th, at 8.30 P.M. 2021 Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana, Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations



Continue Reading

Sat Mag

How to flush cholesterol out of your body



Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The cholesterol in your body that you do not need comes from animal bodies.

If you have more cholesterol in your body than you need, then you are heading for heart disease and heart attacks. A build-up of cholesterol narrows arteries, causing a restriction of blood flow to the heart. Very often a person with high cholesterol levels has no symptoms until he has his first heart attack.

This is even more problematic if you are overweight – which you will be, because the food that causes an increase in cholesterol also increases your weight. Though some cholesterol components are stored in the liver and gallbladder, the main storage area is in fat cells called adipocytes. When you have too much cholesterol, these cells swell up and you gain weight. Too much cholesterol can be caused by eating too much fat or carbohydrates.


There are two types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL

High density lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol which protects you from hearts attacks, and strokes, by mopping up excess bad cholesterol. It takes the cholesterol that you don’t need back to the liver. The liver breaks it down so it can be passed out of your body. LDL is bad cholesterol. This blocks the blood supply and causes strokes and heart attacks. Non-HDL take cholesterol from the liver to the cells around your body. Too much bad cholesterol (non-HDL) can be harmful because it sticks to the inside walls of your arteries. This can lead to fatty material (atheroma) building up – this process is known as atherosclerosis.

Cholesterol is found in animal foods, meat, milk, butter and cheese.

There are only two things that raise cholesterol in the blood: saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods like biscuits and popcorn, margarine, deep-fried, and processed foods, basically junk food.

Trans fats occur in some fried and processed foods, also in junk food.

In adults, total cholesterol levels less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered healthy. 200 – 239 mg/dL is borderline high. 240 mg/dL and above is high. LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.

How do you know that your cholesterol levels are high? You usually don’t. There are no typical signs if you have high cholesterol, which is why it is so important to get it checked. It is a hidden risk factor, which means it happens without us knowing until it is too late. Some people get soft, yellowish, growths or lesions on the skin, especially round the eyes, called xanthomas. If you are lucky you develop left-sided chest pain, pressure, or fullness; dizziness; unsteady gait; slurred speech; or pain in the lower legs. Any of these conditions may be associated with high cholesterol.

How do you flush cholesterol out of your body?

Stop eating meat or drinking milk. Avoid ghee, butter and paneer, and seafood like crabs, shrimps and lobsters. Don’t smoke. Exercise. Eat fewer refined grains such as maida. Foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol levels include white bread, white potatoes, and white rice, highly processed sugars. Fried foods should be avoided, as well as foods high in saturated fats.

Eat fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, every day.

A report from Harvard Health has identified foods that actively decrease cholesterol levels: Oats, barley and whole grains, beans, eggplant and okra, nuts, vegetable oil (canola, sunflower), fruits (mainly apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus), soy and soy-based foods. Eating just one and one-half cups of cooked oatmeal a day can lower your cholesterol by 5 to 8%. Oatmeal contains soluble and insoluble fibre – two types that your body needs.

In June 2020 a report, led by Imperial College London Majid Ezzati, et al.​ and involving dozens of universities, “Repositioning of the global epicentre of non-optimal cholesterol” ​was published in Nature. It said that while cholesterol levels have declined in high income countries, particularly Europe, since 1980 , they have increased vastly in lower and middle income countries, with Asia, specially Southeast Asia, now being the centre.

The reason for this is the consumption of animal-based foods, refined carbohydrates (maida) and palm oil. In short, the heart attack and stroke risks have been globally repositioned with the shifting of a high cholesterol diet.

A group of nearly 1,000 researchers, from around the world, analysed data from 1,127 studies comprising 102.6 million adults, to assess global trends in cholesterol levels from 1980 to 2018. This is the largest ever study of global cholesterol levels.

Previously cholesterol was considered a problem in high income Western countries.

The report said that Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland (the centre of the milk/meat diet) and Iceland (meat) had shown the steepest declines in cholesterol, going from the highest to the lowest. There has been a sharp drop in LDL cholesterol in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation.

China, which had the lowest levels of cholesterol in 1980, was among the highest in 2018. India, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand have not covered themselves in glory either.

In 1980 Australian women ranked 32nd highest in the world in cholesterol levels. Today they are 146th . Australian men have fallen from 31st highest to 116th. 

Dr Avula Laxmaiah, National Institute of Nutrition, one of the authors of the research paper, said LDL cholesterol among Indian men ranked 128th in 1980 and remained the same in 2018.  Women are 139th in the global line-up.

Other conditions, that can lead to high cholesterol levels, include diabetes drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, such as progestins, anabolic steroids, and corticosteroids. India is one of the highest users of steroids – not directly, but through these being fed to chicken.

The authors have suggested that each country in Asia set into place prices, and regulatory policies, that shift diets to non-saturated fats. But, at the end of the day it is not prices that will decide – meat/chicken and milk are already expensive but it doesn’t stop you from eating them. You will have to take a personal decision, depending on how much you value your life or the lives of your family.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact,

Continue Reading