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Boys Only? No Way!



By Sumi Moonesinghe narated to Savitri Rodrigo

I was 17, one entire year younger than those allowed to get into university in Sri Lanka. But I had matured and grown up quite a lot by then and was very independent and confident. When Mrs. Wimala de Silva walked into the Thurstan College Hall triumphantly waving my university entrance letter to give me the good news, I realized that I had achieved something quite unique – broken barriers within the hallowed grounds of the Engineering Faculty.

The reason I was utterly elated with this turn of events was because I had to go through another chapter prior to this triumph, which would be daunting for any 17-year-old.

After I had applied to the Engineering Faculty at Mignonne (Lokubalasuriya’s) (maths teacher) behest, I was quite surprised to receive a letter from the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering requesting me to appear for an interview. When I walked into the room, there were about 15 professors in a semi-circle in this very large room. I was quite overwhelmed. The words of Mrs. Wimala de Silva came to mind about how male-dominated the faculty was, but I steeled myself and decided that I just had to do my best.

Even before I could take a breath, they began bombarding me with questions, all very gender-oriented. “How can you conduct surveys on main roads?”, “Are you able to visit our power stations like Laxapana and learn about turbines and generators?” The questioning was quite relentless.

The Dean of the Faculty at the time, who founded the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ceylon was Prof. E O E Pereira. He later became Vice Chancellor and was conferred the national honour of Vidya Jyothi for his services to education. He gained the title as the Father of Modern Engineering Education in Sri Lanka and I understand why.

Prof. Pereira observed the scene unfold before him and after a few minutes, stepped in. He announced to those at the table that a housewife’s work was far more difficult than being an engineer. The gentlemen’s faces creased with smiles and I was able to go through the interview answering more subject-oriented queries with the knowledge I had. I also recognized that Prof. Pereira’s progressive ideas were gradually filtering into the university system and was probably the door that opened for me to enter the faculty.

I began my university life in 1962 at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Ceylon. The campus was located at Reid Avenue, Colombo 7. The University of Ceylon was established in 1942 although its roots can be traced to 1870 when the Ceylon Medical School was mooted. The University amalgamated Ceylon University College and the Medical College, with Queen Elizabeth II officially inaugurating the buildings at Peradeniya in 1954. At the latter stage of my degree, the campuses were split in two, and were known henceforth as the University of Ceylon Peradeniya and University of Ceylon Colombo.

The University of Ceylon Peradeniya was the only residential university in the country and was quite picturesque, with beautiful buildings and sprawling gardens on the banks of the Mahaweli, Sri Lanka’s longest river. It was probably modeled on the lines of Oxford and Cambridge. In 1961, the University Act amended the residential principle and subsequently, only those students who obtained higher marks could live in the halls of residence. By the time I entered the precincts of the faculty, more halls of residence had been constructed.

My batch had 104 university entrants, of whom 103 were male. I was the only female in the batch and in fact, the whole faculty had 500 boys, with just a few women students. Our lectures were from 8 am to 12 noon at the Reid Avenue campus, but practicals were held at Maradana Technical College from 1 pm to 4 pm which was a bit of trek from the campus. My uncle Tata Samaranayake, whom we fondly called Tata Bappa, would send his car each day to pick me up from Reid Avenue and drop me off in Maradana in time for lectures as we had just one hour’s break in between. I would return to my boarding house at Asoka Gardens, Colombo 5, by tram or bus. While studies were a priority during the week as evidenced by my getting a second class and a scholarship in the Part 1 exam, dancing and movies took precedence at weekends.

When the Engineering Faculty moved to its new premises in Peradeniya in 1964, I was admitted to Hilda Obeysekara Hall, the same hall my sister resided in during her university days. I remained here until my graduation in 1966. Hilda Obeysekara Hall was the only hall of residence for women with the landmark ‘Hilda Tree’ which added an aesthetic touch to the Mahaweli River flowing behind the hall.

The hall, sitting calmly at the foot of Sanghamittha Hill (so named after Buddhist nun Sanghamittha Theri, who is known for being a pioneering erudite Buddhist nun). Between Sanghamittha Theri and Lady Hilda Obeysekara, the intention of empowering women including me with education came to pass in this revered hall.

As the Engineering Faculty was quite far away from my hall of residence, I had to walk across the bridge every day for more than a mile to get to my lecture halls. While the residence hall served lunch, the distance was far too great and time consuming for me to return for lunch. So the warden arranged for my lunch to be served at Akbar Nell Hall, the residential hall for male students and one of the new halls that had been constructed, which was next to the faculty.

Once I finished my lectures, I would start the long trek back. Sometimes, I was most fortunate that a passing lecturer would offer me a lift. Most often, it would be Prof. Everard Frederick Bartholomeusz, our brilliant maths lecturer fondly nicknamed Batho, who considered me a good student, thanks to the foundation Mignonne Lokubalasuriya had provided while I was at Devi Balika.

Practical work was part of my studies and we had lots of these. I happily worked alongside my male batchmates, never deeming it necessary to ask for any concessions because I was female. On one of these practical exercises, I was conducting a survey in the hot midday sun on the Peradeniya-Gampola Road, not even wearing a hat and I vividly remember Prof. E O E Pereira passing by. He stopped his car to find out how I was doing. I said, “Fine, Professor,” and carried on with my work. He watched us work for a little while and then drove off.

Just as Prof. Pereira stepped in and gave me the opportunity to become one of the first women at the Engineering Faculty, I have been truly blessed to have the right people coming into my life and shaping my destiny, whether in my school years, university, career and even marriage. Each person has either taught me a lesson in life or guided me or shown me a path that others have not traveled, knowing that I had it in me to take the baton and run.

I went into university not only with the aim of studying hard but also to make the most of these academic years. The first year was absolute fun. I went dancing every Friday night because College House held a dance. I loved dancing and the friends I made, most of whom were from Colombo, all enjoyed dancing. My allotted partner for these dancing parties was a boy who shared Sri Lanka’s founding father’s name, D S Senanayake, who jived very well. Mano and Shanthi Rajaratnam would join me at King George’s Hall for the Medical/Engineering dances on Friday nights. We danced well into the night but since we were never given a key to our hostel, we would sheepishly knock on the door to be let in. The conservative Sri Lankan culture Always hung like the Sword of Damocles above our heads.

I nurtured some great friendships during these years. I had a good selection of friends, both girls and boys, all of whose company I enjoyed, spending a lot of time together, but always mindful that I was never to get distracted in any way. My best I friend was Philomena Perera, who was a medical student. She and I were keen on excelling in our academics and studied very hard, which also meant we got very little sleep.

But it wasn’t all study and no play. Like I mentioned, I loved the dancing parties, but I was also on the university netball and badminton teams. Pramilla Senanayake who was in the Medical Faculty was the captain of the netball team. She would eventually obtain her PhD in England and become the Assistant Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation networking with 150 countries. She became a renowned voice in women’s reproductive health and played a key role in eradicating smallpox in India. These were the calibre of women in the university at the time.

Led by Pramilla, our netball team would travel around the country. One of my most memorable trips was traveling to Jaffna with the team. You can imagine the height of excitement; all of us girls giggling, gossiping and generally having a great time. We stayed at Dr. Amarasingham’s quarters at the Manipay Hospital on the invitation of Arundathie Amarasingham, who was with us at university. When we told her we had to travel to Jaffna to play a match, she said, “Don’t worry, you can stay at my father’s quarters.” I’ll never forget the taste of the murunga and crab curry. It was so delicious, I can almost taste it every time I think about it.

In 1966, 1 graduated from the Engineering Faculty of the University of Ceylon Peradeniya with a Bachelor of Science Second Upper Class and as the only woman engineer in that batch!

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Glimmers of hope?



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heartfelt hope of the many

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

Still utterly hopeless

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

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

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

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

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

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

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


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

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

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

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

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

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

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

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

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

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

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


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

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

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

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

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

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

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

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

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

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

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

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

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

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

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

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



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

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

Trevine Rodrigo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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