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Boralugoda Lion, an epitome of truthfulness and integrity

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By KKS PERERA

Today, a grateful public irrespective political differences would join in commemorating the 49th death anniversary of a true patriotic son of Sri Lanka, who had gone down in the annals of the island nation’s history as a man with an analytical mind and innovative vision and loved by the people.

Don Jacolis Rupasinghe Gunawardena, [Boralugoda Ralahamy] and Dona Liyanora Gunasekara, the well-known family in Boralugoda in Seetawaka were blessed with ten children. Don Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena, was born on January 11, 1901, as the third in the family. Little Philip had his primary education at a village school and later attended Prince of Wales College, Ananda College and University College Colombo. He was only 20 years when father sent him to University of Illinois in the USA where he read Economics and subsequently for his second degree he joined University of Wisconsin. Finally, a doctorate in agricultural economics from the Colombia University in New York with.

Philip’s agility in glowing oratory and writing skills outclassed contemporary politicians. As a trade unionist in the UK, he engaged in journalism before he met Drs. NM Perera, Colvin R de Silva, S.A. Wickramasinghe and Leslie Gunawardena and sowed the seeds that became the Sri Lankan Marxism movement in 1930s. Philip acquired radical ideas during his stay in US and UK where he joined the Anti-Imperialist League and made a considerable input by involving in struggles in 1920s along with rebellious students like Jayaprakash Narayan, Jawaharlal Nehru, Krishna Menon, Jomo Kenyatta all future world leaders to mention a few.

Several national leaders were arrested under the guise of restraining Sinhala-Muslim riots in 1915. The motive was to suppress a possible anti-British movement out of the disturbances and also use the opportunity to eliminate regional leaders. Under ruthless Governor Robert Chalmers.
a few selected heroes were executed by firing squads following a court marshal under martial law. Philip was a fourteen year old schoolboy when his father became one such brave men earmarked for execution. The young Lion of Boralugoda, accompanied his mother in a horse carriage straight into Queen’s House and presented a petition to the Governor, and got his father released. Philip repeated his heroism during his struggles in Europe by undertaking an extremely risky task.

The Spanish revolutionary movement became very active during this time. Spanish rebels needed someone’s help in delivering some secret documents that needed to be delivered to, for which none of the rebellion youth came forward. This herculean assignment was undertaken by the lion-hearted Philip who was in early twenties. The youth who acquired Boralugoda ancestry’s Panthera leo genes, equipped with fluency in Spanish and French volunteered to meet the challenge and cross the Pyrenees range of mountains, the natural border between Spain and France that separates the two countries, risking the security checks. Our hero crossed the hill on foot, which stood 3,400 meters at the peak, carrying the bundle of secret documents for the Spanish comrades.

Philip who returned in 1932, played a significant role in forming the Lanka Samasamaja Party [LSSP] along with his Marxist friends NM, Colvin and the rest whom he met in England. The new party, [the oldest surviving], contested the State Council election in 1936. Philip and NM were elected to the Avissawella and Ruwanwella seats, where Philip defeated the Speaker, Forester Obeysekera, one of the most powerful men in the island at the time. Convinced by Philip, the LSSP accepted in principle that the Administration of the country should be in swabasha, Sinhalese and Tamil; he followed this in 1936 by introducing a motion in the State Council advocating that the work in police courts and Municipal courts should be conducted in the vernacular.

Being a staunch supporter of Marxist/Trotskyite ideology though, who professed that social development basically should stand on scientific lines of Marx, he was not a blind follower of ideology unlike his contemporaries. Known as “Father of Socialism”, for his introduction of earliest Marxist/Trotskyite ideals to Sri Lanka, he always maintained strong relations with local cultural roots, which often led to clashes with the rest of his colleagues in the Party. In fact he disagreed with LSSP front liners in categorizing all bourgeoisies as capitalist with whom they should not have any connection. Philip carefully separated the Nationalistic segments of the rich from Comprador Bourgeois; which ultimately led to his joining Bandaranaike in 1956. Those who opposed his move, NM, Colvin and others followed his footsteps eight years later by entering a coalition with Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of SWRD. The social and cultural facts and the importance of realistic approach in local politics, perhaps, they learned from Philip Gunawardena.

Philip, unlike his colleagues appealed to nationalistic emotions: The Fiery Marxist who Valued Local Culture turned his characteristic style, bordering on demagogy, said, “We swear by our national conquerors, our heritage and our literature. We are proud of King Raja Sinha, who kept the Portugese at bay for a quarter of a century, and of Puran Appu who attempted to free the Ceylonese from the repression of the British Imperialism. Yes we are proud of our national heroes.”

Philip who hated injustice and fought back to establish justice and fairness at all times was elected to the first Parliament to represent Avissawella with a huge majority of over 22,000 votes, but soon he was overthrown mainly due to his involvement in a worker strike in 1947 held at South Western omnibus Company, Ratmalana. The government filed action in courts, and he was deprived of civic rights for seven years where he lost his Parliamentary seat as a consequence. Kusumasiri Gunawardene his beloved wife and party activist handed over nominations to contest the vacant seat, but no one dared contest even from the newly formed UNP. Kusuma, as she was affectionately known holds an unbreakable record in the history of legislations, that she became the first woman MP to addressed the House in Sinhalese; she set it on July 24, 1948. Philip and Kusuma were happy parents of Indika, Dinesh, Prasanna, Githanjana and Lakmali.

Philip rejected political dogma and believed that social development should be based on scientific lines: care and concern towards the depressed, the oppressed and under privileged majority. He had one vision over four decades of his political life which he successfully executed ignoring race, religion or caste divisions, for him everyone was a human being.

 

Paddy Lands Act

One of the main accomplishments of Philip, as Minister of Food, Agriculture and Cooperatives in the Bandaranaike government was the Paddy Lands Act., or more famously known ‘Kumburu Panatha’ in 1958. The tenant farmer [Anda Goviya] who was required to part with half the crop to the landowner after toiling on the fields was given security of possession, plus three fourth of the harvest, which obviously the land-owner class hated. There was cruel hatred from an influential section in the Cabinet as well. However, a diluted Bill got through the legislator making an enormous social change. The reactionary forces, however, ensured Philips exit from the government before he could introduce further proposals in favour of the downtrodden masses.

Guaranteed Price Scheme for Paddy

Speaking in the house amidst interruptions and heckling from both sides on his introduction of a Guaranteed Price for Paddy he said,
“…Farmer lose the money before they go home. I like to help him save at least a portion of what he has realized from his crop for the next cultivation season. …Somehow or other we must stop this annual drain of Rs. 260 million that is sent out of the country for the purchase of rice. …
If there is a government contract going, one finds Buddharakkita and his agents hovering about like hungry jackals. …the political life of this country should be cleansed of these people. We were elected to serve the poor people of this country and we are not going to be intimidated or bullied by anybody however great he may be. So far I am concerned, I serve this government because I feel that I can translate into action some of the things for which I have been working for 20 or 30 years and as long as I am permitted to do that I will continue
” —Hansard – May 6, 1958.

In the years to come, when lesser Mortals like us have played their evanescent part and vanished into limbo of forgotten, a grateful socialist of Ceylon will remember Philip Gunawardena with pride and place him on the worthy pedestal due to him. History will no doubt accord him his rightful place in the political life in the country.” — Dr. N. M. Perera

Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena, a political colossus, a great statesman, the fieriest leftist that ever lived in Sri Lanka, ending an illustrious political career, passed away at the age of 71 years on 26th March 1972, leaving to his sons the continuation of the progressive tasks that he undertook; especially, Minister Dinesh who has made his father very proud by carrying forward his legacy, he is committed to the task clearly with a true Lion’s roar as proved in Geneva sessions for the motherland.



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Opinion

Minister Gamini Lokuge’s damage to people’s health

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Two consecutive editorials, published in The Island on the 7 and 8 May, lambasted the despicable intervention of the Minister of Transport, Gamini Lokuge, for being instrumental in lifting the lockdown, in Piliyandala, against the advice of the health authorities.

A team of health officials, led by the MOH Piliyandala, backed by PHIs, and the DGHS, based on the recommendations of his officers, decided to lock down the Piliyandala town, as it had taken a turn for the worse, due to the rapid spread of the epidemic.

Minister Lokuge is reported to have admitted, at an interview with Hiru News, that he influenced the lifting of the lockdown in Piliyandala, and The Island, of May 10, highlighted the circumstances that led him to influence the lifting of the lockdown. The Minister accepted that he influenced the lifting of the lockdown for the sake of the daily wage earners, a claim which has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Close on the heels of the Minister’s arrogant countermand, a cluster of 138 patients was detected from the Piliyandala market.

A vendor collapsed in the market itself and his post-mortem proved that he was afflicted with the coronavirus.

The female MOH, who deserves to be praised for the adroit manner in which she has been performing duties in Piliyandala, said over the television that the cluster could have been averted, if the lockdown had not been lifted.

Hence, the Minister’s overzealous attempt to look after the livelihood of the daily wage earner, is certainly humbug, which cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

Readers would remember that the High Courts of Madras and Calcutta lambasted the Election Commission of India for their failure to ensure the recommended protocol meant for Covid-19, and openly said the ECI should be put on murder charges.

Could we reasonably expect that the authorities institute murder charges against the Minister, in the resplendent island, so that legislators, with bloated egos, could be reined in this hour of calamity.

Undoubtedly, idiotic action on the part of the Minister has endangered the precious lives of the people living in the Piliyandala area.

The childish manner in which the Minister responded to the questions, as reported by The Island correspondent, raises a number of issues. The foremost issue is whether he, as a senior Minister of the government, is capable of running an important Ministry, as he has messed up a vital epidemic issue, involving his own constituents.

Secondly, he has caused much embarrassment to the Commander of the Army and Head of the Presidential Task Force who has undertaking an arduous operation.

His argument that if the lifting of the lockdown was wrong then it should have been imposed again, is ridiculous.

All in all, what I could say is that the Minister’s high-handed intervention has left a bad taste in many a mouth, and it has caused an irrparable damage to the government at a time when its popularity is plummeting at a rapid pace.

 

RANASINGHE

Septuagenarian, Piliyandala

 

 

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Opinion

Glyphosate Reality:

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Non-science used as science

I have read with interest the article on “Science, Non-science and Nonsense” written by Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva in “The Island” of 11.3.2021. In this article “Dr. Sarath Gamini”, as he is popularly known in the medical circles, refers to me (without mentioning my name) and my research and a lecture given by me to the Sri Lanka Medical Association. This is my response to him, particularly, on the issue of glyphosate pesticide.

I take strong issue with Dr. Sarath Gamini’s erroneous characterisation of my research, related to glyphosates, and the categorization of the government decisions and policies related to the glyphosate pesticide. For clarity, let me reproduce the paragraph on glyphosate in toto from Dr. Sarath Gamini’s article, highlighting the area where he refers to me and my research:

“The campaign conducted blaming the weed killer glyphosate as a cause of the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin in the farming areas, mainly in the North Central province, was one burning issue then. There was no scientific evidence to prove this, despite the efforts of some professors in the medical field to find some. However, the importation of the chemical was banned mostly due to political expediency. One is not aware of any other country in the world doing so. When a visiting Sri Lankan expatriate doctor claiming to be a researcher in the field was asked, he could name only a small country, still contemplating doing so. He was lost for words to answer probing questions on the matter. His research has since been discredited in the USA. How the ban adversely affected the productivity in the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka has never been assessed or discussed.”

I am an American Board-Certified Occupational Medicine physician, and I have worked as a tenured full professor for over 34 years in the California State University, Long Beach, which is one of the largest and most respected university systems in the United States. Second, I have published more than a dozen peer reviewed scientific articles, and have given over 50 public lectures in relation to the toxic effects of glyphosate pesticide. Except for an unsigned petition sent by some disgruntled supporters of pesticides (the contents of which were found to be completely false) my research has never been discredited in the United States, or anywhere else. In fact, I won several awards for my research, including the Research Accomplishment of the Year award from my university, the prestigious “International Award” from the Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association, and the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility (SFR) Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (an award that I shared with Prof. Channa Jayasumana). By the same token. As far as I know, Dr. Sarath Gamini does not have a single publication related to the toxicity of glyphosate pesticide. I raise this issue because one of the conditions that Dr. Sarath Gamini has stipulated, throughout his article, is that one has to be knowledgeable and competent in order to be able to make comments on any issue, within medicine or any other scientific field. Does that apply to Dr. Sarath Gamini, on the issue of Glyphosate as well?

Now, to get on to the content, throughout the paragraph on glyphosate, Dr. Sarath Gamini makes an assertion that the ban on glyphosate pesticide was made without any scientific evidence and “mostly due to political expediency” and he says, “One is not aware of any other country in the world doing so (the ban)”. These statements clearly demonstrate Dr. Sarath Gamin’s ignorance on the subject. Let me state the following facts for his knowledge, as well as that of the general public.

Hundreds of scientific research studies have linked glyphosate not only to Chronic Kidney Disease but also to many other health conditions, including autism, birth defects, inflammatory bowel syndrome and liver diseases. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed the scientific evidence in a 2015 report and classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate – brand name Roundup – is primarily associated with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a cancer in the immune system. Following this determination, in October 2015, the first Roundup (Glyphosate) product liability lawsuit was filed against Monsanto in San Francisco District courts. In August 2018, a jury awarded $289 million in damages to the plaintiff – Dewayne Johnson – who is a former school groundskeeper for a California county school system when he developed NHL after spraying glyphosate regularly for several years. This amount was later reduced, during the appeals process. During this trial, evidence released by lawyers for the plaintiff tells an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation, collusion with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and previously undisclosed information about how the human body absorbs glyphosate. These documents provide a deeper understanding of the serious public health consequences of glyphosate, and the false advertising related to Monsanto’s conduct in marketing glyphosate.

In a second case, the jury awarded a staggering $2 billion in damages to a couple – Alva and Alberta Pilliod. In court proceedings, the Pilliods testified to using Roundup regularly, starting in 1982. The couple used the consumer version of the weedkiller, whose label lacked any warnings about covering skin or wearing protective masks. Following these successes in courts, more than 18000 cases have been filed by people who developed cancer after regularly spraying glyphosate. According to some legal reports, Bayer – the German company that bought Monsanto in 2016 – has formally submitted a $8 billion for a global settlement. In March 2020, Monsanto also agreed to pay $39.5 million as a settlement for falsely advertising Roundup is “safe” for people and pets. The settlement, which was filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, resolves allegations brought by several plaintiffs who claimed Monsanto failed to warn consumers about the health risks of glyphosate.

Following the lawsuits and the expert epidemiological evidence that was presented in courts, more than 20 countries have now banned, or restricted, the use of glyphosate. Although Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer, is fighting hard to limit these restrictions, the list is growing day by day. Some of these countries include Belgium, Denmark, France, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Mexico. There are many cities and institutions in the U.S., including, New York, Key West, Los Angeles, the Universities of California and Miami who have now regulations to restrict the use of Glyphosate-based pesticides. (For a complete list of these restrictions please see Where is Glyphosate Banned? | Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman (baumhedlundlaw.com)

In his article, Dr. Sarath Gamini describes the revocation of the ban on glyphosate for the use in tea and coconut cultivation as a “fortunate” one. In my mind, this was one of the most “unfortunate” Cabinet decisions for several reasons: First, this policy decision was taken without much scientific advice. There was an Expert Committee that was appointed to provide advice on this matter. I was invited as an expert to testify. However, two weeks before the hearings were scheduled, the Cabinet paper was approved hastily. The main argument put forward was that there was not enough of a labour force for the removal of weeds, manually. However, many weeds have now developed resistance to glyphosate, so that one has to use manual labour to complete the process of weed removal. Second, there is no tracking and post-marketing monitoring process available in Sri Lanka to ensure that this toxic pesticide does not end up in the hands of fruit and vegetable growers and in our food. Third, the regulatory costs of protective equipment, biomonitoring and the certification of the tea and coconut products to ensure that their glyphosate levels are within acceptable limits is costly – a cost that outweighs the benefits. By now it should be clear to the reader that I have a completely opposing view on glyphosate to that of Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva.

Furthermore, in this article Dr. Sarath Gamini describes how, over the past few years, we have seen many untruths, hypocrisy and myths being propagated by professionals misleading the ignorant public and creating social unrest and even violence. As examples, the author describes, among others, several recent incidents, including the alleged sterilization of women without consent in Kurunegala, the propagation of a questionable local medicine that was touted as a cure for Covid-19, and the issue of compulsory cremation of deaths due to Covid. I will not comment on any of these issues for two reasons: First, I was not present in the country when most of these incidents took place; Second, I have not studied the social and political dynamics, surrounding these incidents, and the policies.

Therefore, in conclusion, I would like to say this to Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva: Now that you have talked about glyphosate, please “walk the walk” and demonstrate that you have the expertise on the subject and that you know what the “established knowledge” is. Dr. Sarath Gemini’s view of the established knowledge on glyphosate is completely antithetical to that of mine. Therefore, I would like to invite Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva to a public debate about the toxicity of glyphosate and the appropriateness of using the pesticide in Sri Lanka agriculture.

Dr. SARATH GUNATILAKE

Professor, California State University, Long Beach, California

Diplomate, American Board of Occupational Medicine

Email – sarath.gunatilake@csulb.edu )

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Opinion

Mindset of Arts Graduates

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Hasini Lecamwasam’s article Why are Arts Graduates Unemployable (The Island of 11 May) is an excellent analysis of the topic.

For decades, our universities have turned out Arts Graduates, very well knowing that with most of the basic subjects offered by them, they become unemployable; but what have the authorities done to rectify this waste of government funds which could have been diverted to other educational areas?

In one way, it boils down to falling values, the objective of just obtaining a degree and being a “Upadhi Dharee” being the main purpose. I have come across this myself and have hands on exposure to this.

About a decade ago, the then Government approached some of the large business organisations (Just before a general election) and made an appeal for them to employ at least two graduates, under a special scheme, at a salary of Rs 6,000/= per month. The company I work for, also agreed to consider this, and informed the Ministry concerned accordingly. The Ministry had short listed 12 graduates for us and they were called for interviews. The company wanted me to interview them to see whether we could select two.

All the applicants were Arts Graduates, and seven were over the age of 35 years. Although all our company work is done in English, I made it a point to interview them in Sinhala, just to make them comfortable. All 12 applicants had some avenue of income and some of them were married. There was one who was looking after their own paddy lands (Govithan), another looking after their plots of tea and rubber, selling green leaf and latex, there were two who ran their family grocery shops and businesses, and one other female who had started a small shop (Kade) initially selling eight loaves of bread a day along with other items, and soon ending up selling over 40 loaves of bread and turning the business into a village grocery shop. The others also were engaged in some vocation.

I had one common question for them, that is; why do they want to give up what they were doing at their villages without improving them, and to come to Colombo and get boarded and work for a salary of Rs 6,000.00 per month? You will be surprised that they all had one common answer, ie “Mama Upaadhi Dhaariyek Ne” (Cos I am a degree holder.) My attempt to tell them that the salary would hardly be sufficient to pay for their boarding and food, and that it would be very much more sensible for them to improve what they were already doing, was like pouring water on a duck’s back. This was their mindset.

SARIPUTHRA

Colombo 05

Chief Financial Officer of a

Leading Group of Companies

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