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Building a future and forgetting the past

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by Professor Savitri Goonesekere

At the ceremonial opening of out first Parliament on February 4, 1948 the late Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike addressed the nation with theses words. “It is true that no people can live on memories alone. It is equally true that history often provides a source of strength and inspiration to guide them in the future. It is only against the background of the past that the present and the future can be viewed in their correct perspective”

The new political ideology of “thinking out of the box” in governance seems impatient with the idea that history and experience has any value. This may be the “new normal” in a country where history was not taught in our schools for decades. The 20th Amendment that has just been gazetted and will go before Parliament for adoption demonstrates that the newly elected government is embarking on the important task of constitutional reform without reflecting on our experiences of governance under the 1978 Constitution.

Most nations in South Asia have not had to carry out frequent changes to the basic law of their country, the Constitution. It is true that our country has not in general experienced illegal power grabs. Yet electoral politics has also encouraged ad hoc amendments to the Constitution. In debating the cost of recent exercises in constitutional reform, the 20th Amendment, we should reactivate our collective memories on governance over the years. In doing so we should reflect on SWRD Bandaranaike’s statement of 1948 giving due consideration to the kind of governance we deserve and want for our country in the future.

The SLPP campaign for repealing the 19th amendment and adopting a new constitution.

The opposition and the media did not ask them to clarify their rationale for doing so or their vision. Within a month of taking office the 20th Amendment is being brought to Parliament to give supreme powers to the President without the system of checks and balances on distribution of powers between the three agencies of government in a Parliamentary democracy – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary (courts). It is true that strong leadership in governance is essential for national development. However Parliamentary democracies create institutions and systems to help great leaders govern without forgetting the responsibilities of office and accountability, heeding not just electoral majorities, but all the people.

The 1978 Constitution provided the framework of governance for our country for 42 years. A Constitutional amendment that gives supreme power to an elected popular leader without institutional checks and balances can determine governance in a country long after he has left office.

 

The 19th amendment 2015

The 19th Amendment continues to be demonized by politicians in the government and others as a conspiracy of the previous regime to cunningly increase the powers of the then Prime Minister and undermine the President’s powers in governance. Yet the consensus within and outside Parliament in 2015 was that the dismantling of the Executive Presidency of the 1978 Constitution done in stages pending a new Constitution was a worthwhile objective and in the public interest. It was agreed at that time and up to mid 2019 that the Executive Presidency was a demon that had to be destroyed.

That agenda itself had a long history that we have all forgotten. President Chandrika Kumaratunga, when she took office pledged to dismantle the “bahubootha” 1978 constitution which she said was responsible for decades of bishanaya and dooshanaya (violence and corruption). Prof. GL Pieris and the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam were tasked with giving leadership and drafting a new Constitution that would transfer executive power to an elected Prime Minister and a Cabinet responsible to Parliament and the people. When taking Cabinet office in that government Prof. Pieris said “a Parliamentary executive model must be re-introduced. The Peoples Alliance has received an overwhelming mandate … for the abolition of the Executive Presidency.” (Sunday Times September 13, 2020, page 14).

The 2000 Constitution that Prof. Pieris brought to Parliament had strong provisions on the appointment and removal of judges to prevent political interference. It had a stronger bill of fundamental rights and a carefully thought out system of power sharing between the central and Provincial governments. This 2000 Constitution was rejected because there was no consensus on its adoption within Parliament.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office in 2005 on a mandate to dissolve the Executive Presidency. His Mahinda Chinthanaya policy for national development called for strengthening the Bill of Rights in a new Constitution. The National Action Plan on Human Rights was drafted and adopted. The President also appointed an Expert Committee to assist the All Party Conference (APRC) on constitutional reform and asked them to work towards maximum devolution to resolve the “national question” with power sharing. Yet in 2010 after giving leadership in ending the armed conflict in 2009 President Rajapaksa seized the moment to bring an 18th Amendment to the Constitution that would enable him to become a President for life. He acquired full powers on appointment and removal of holders of high office and Public Commissions without the scrutiny of a Constitutional Council and procedures introduced by the 17th amendment.

When President Sirisena was elected in 2015 he assumed office with a pledge to the nation to dismantle the Executive Presidency. He repeated this pledge on the passing of Rev. Maduluwave Sobitha who had led an election campaign to eliminate the executive presidency reinstating the checks and balances on abuse of executive power through institutions such as Parliament and the courts and independent commissions. It was in this environment that the 19th amendment was adopted by consensus and the two-thirds majority without challenge within the Parliament or in the Supreme Court.

A comparison of the 19th and 20th amendments.

A comparison of these two amendments clearly demonstrates that the cores principles of government in the 19th Amendment has been removed by the 20th Amendments in areas of great significance for the governance of the country.

 

The term  of the Office of President and

Eligibility for office

The 19th Amendment repealed provisions in the 18th Amendment, and set a term of office of five years, and a two term limit on the period in which he could serve in this office. These provisions have been retained in the 20th Amendment .However, the President  holding office under  the 20th Amendment will have all the powers of the Executive President  in the 1978 Constitution,   and some more powers. 

When the 19th Amendment introduced limitations on the President’s terms of office, it also REDUCED Presidential powers to accommodate the concept of a transfer of powers from the President to an elected  Prime Minister in Parliament. The changes  in  the Presidential term of office were combined with what Parliament agreed was a first step in LIMITING the executive  powers of the President, to  ensure accountable exercise of these powers.

The 19th amendment prohibited a dual citizen from being elected to office as a Member of Parliament, or as the President. These prohibitions have been repealed by the 20 Amendment and such persons can be Members of Parliament or President. 

There is a perception that this prohibition will prevent dual citizens from holding ANY public office. This is incorrect. The prohibition in the 19th Amendment only applied to the public offices of President and Members of Parliament, recognizing the potential for a serious conflict of interest should such a person be called upon to “carry arms” for another country, or support controversial policies of that country. An ordinary holder of public office may have choice and can resign. However resignation for conflict of interest has  Constitutional implications, if a person is   the President of the country, or a member of its legislative body, Parliament.

Presidential Powers and Accountability to other organs of Government and the People, in the Exercise of these Powers.

Significant changes to the 1978 Constitution were made  by the 19th Amendment in keeping with the overall objective of reducing the powers of the Executive Presidency, in the interests of accountable governance .

 

a) Duties of the President.

 

The 19th Amendment defined powers and also introduced a principle of “duties” that had to be fulfilled by the President. Some of the significant duties were, to:

i) ensure that the Constitution is respected and upheld

ii) promote national integration and reconciliation

iii) create a proper environment for the conduct of free and fair elections, on the advice of the Election Commission

 

The 20th Amendment retains provisions on Presidential powers and REPEALS  the provisions in the 19th Amendment on Presidential duties under the Constitution, and to the People, and the other organs of government.   

 

b) Accountability for Violation of the Fundamental Rights of the People by Presidential Acts and Omissions in Governance

 

 The 19th Amendment removed the blanket immunity of the President that was incorporated in the 1978 Constitution. The  19th Amendment recognized that the President was immune from liability in criminal or civil proceedings for anything done or omitted to be done in his official or private capacity. However, it placed a limitation, by permitting actions for violation of fundamental rights in the Supreme Court. This was to ensure that the exercise of Presidential powers, in his official capacity, could not involve a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed to all by the Constitution, or by the provisions on the use of Official Languages in the Constitution.

The declaration of war and peace was excluded from this limitation. 

The 20th Amendment repeals these limitations on Presidential immunity. It goes back to the principle of complete Presidential immunity from liability for his acts and omissions.  

There is a provision in the 20th Amendment on the right to bring actions against the Attorney General in respect of the President’s acts as a Minister, his /her impeachment, elections and a referendum, but the  scope of this liability is not clearly stated.

 

The Presidents Relationship to Parliament

a)  Responsibility to Parliament in the exercise of Presidential Powers

 

The 19th Amendment gave prominence to the President’s responsibility to Parliament in the exercise of his powers and functions, as a core principle of governance, in the Chapter of the Constitution on the President’s powers and duties. This principle was originally stated in the 1978 Constitution in the Chapter on the President and the Cabinet – the branch of the executive also represented in Parliament. The 20th Amendment brings this principle back to the part of the Constitution that deals with  the Cabinet, denying it the importance given in the 19th Amendment.

The change can be interpreted as limiting the President’s responsibility to Parliament. It is significant in a context where the 20th Amendment gives total presidential powers in regard to appointments to “High Posts,” defined by the Constitution, and the Public Commissions defined in the 20th Amendment. The Constitutional Council that was given oversight responsibility by the 19th Amendment had a significant majority of Parliamentarians on the Council. The Constitutional Council has been abolished by the 20th Amendment, and the Parliamentary Council that replaces it has the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and two Parliamentarians nominated by the latter, who are appointed by the President, and who can also  be removed  by the President at his discretion!

The Parliamentary Council under the 20th Amendment is under the control of the President, and  there is only a token  role for Parliamentarians, including the Speaker the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. They have no contribution to make in their official capacity as members of the Parliamentary Council.

 

                  b) Dissolution of Parliament

 Presidential powers on the Dissolution of Parliament, and the provisions on presentation of urgent Bills, also erode the role and responsibility of Parliament, and the capacity for oversight and scrutiny of legislation.

The 20th Amendment empowers the President to dissolve Parliament  one year after a General Election. This places the country in a situation where a costly General Election can be held in a very short time , and with no assurance that this decision will be made in the public rather than the rulers’  interests.

c) Other changes of concern relate to the Presidents capacity to refer legislation that has been rejected by Parliament for a referendum.

This provision in the 1978 Constitution was repealed by the 19th Amendment and has been brought back by  the 20th Amendment. A new provision on legislation states that “any amendment to a proposed Bill in Parliament must not deviate from the merits and principles of such Bill.” This sweeping provision can restrict debate and modifications of legislation in Parliament, and will encourage greater passivity and disinterest in serious discussions.

 

The President, Prime Minister and Cabinet,

as the Executive in Governance

The agreed  objective of the  19th Amendment was  to reduce the executive power of the President and transfer some of these powers to a Prime Minister and Cabinet from Parliament. Consequently, the provisions in the 1978 Constitution were changed significantly. The 20th Amendment has repealed all these provisions and gone back to the concept of supreme executive powers given to the President.

The President has complete discretion in determining the number of Ministries and the topics allocated to Ministries and State Ministries. “Jumbo Cabinets” can hold office without regard to national resources, at the discretion of the President. More importantly, the office of Prime Minister,   Cabinet Minister and State Minister, will be held at the “will and pleasure” of the President, with the full power of appointment, removal, and selection of Ministries left entirely to the discretion of the President. He can also assign any subject to himself, and take away Ministries allocated to any Minister, without even consulting the Prime Minister, exercising these powers in any manner that pleases him. 

There are no checks and balances at all on the exercise of Presidential powers in relation to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, under the 20th Amendment. Can this not encourage complete servility to the President, within Cabinet?    

The changes ignore the fact that the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament have been elected by vote to Parliament with separate responsibilities to voters. Having permitted voters to exercise choice, the 20th Amendment disempowers them completely, and makes them accountable to a single individual – the President. The Prime Minister has been reduced to an ” peon (office orderly),” as one holder of the office described himself, when he held the position under the 1978 Constitution. Yet ironically the provision that the ‘Cabinet has the direction and control of government and that they are answerable and responsible  to Parliament” has been  retained in the 20th Amendment.

 

(to be continued in The Island tomorrow)

(The writer, a highly accomplished academic in law, is a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo)



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India at 75

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By Gwynne Dyer

Last Tuesday, on the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to turn India into a developed country, within the next 25 years. If all goes well, that could actually come to pass, but it would have to go very well indeed.The demographic and economic signs are positive. The country’s population has grown fourfold, since independence in 1947, but population growth has now dropped to ‘replacement level’: 2.1 children per completed family.

The current youngest generation is so large that the population will keep growing, until 2060, when it will have reached 1.7 billion. The upside of this is that India will continue to have a rapidly growing young workforce for another generation, while its only rival, China, will have a rapidly ageing and dwindling population (1.2 billion and still falling in 2060)

India’s GDP per capita has been growing at about 5% for years, and if that continues for the next 25 years, it will have grown to $7,500 per person. That’s certainly within the lower ranks of developed countries (like Mexico, South Africa or China today). Given the size of India’s population, the economy would certainly rank in the world’s top five.

So, Modi’s prediction was certainly within the realm of possibility, but there are two big wild cards. One is climate: although only half of India, technically, falls within the tropics, all of it, except the very far north, suffers long, very hot summers.This summer has been the hottest ever, with many of the largest cities experiencing temperatures, above 45°C, for days at a time. Whatever we do about climate in the future, it can only go on getting worse for India, for the next 25 years.

That will bring the country into the zone where it literally becomes unsafe for people to do manual work outside, at the height of summer; death rates will go up, and food production will go down. Nobody knows exactly how bad it will get, but it will certainly get much worse that it is now.

The other wild card is war. Since the Indian and Pakistani tests of nuclear weapons, in 1999, the subcontinent has lived under the threat of a ‘local’ nuclear war that would devastate both countries (and also cause global food shortages lasting for at least four or five years).An Indo-Pak nuclear war is not inevitable, but, unlike the major nuclear powers, these two countries have fought real wars against each other – three in the past 75 years. The likelihood of such a catastrophe actually happening is certainly a lot higher than zero.

Each country now has about 160 nukes, and although both are now working to move beyond the dangerously unstable ‘use them or lose them’ phase where a a surprise attack might disarm the other side, there is no real stability to be found when the adversaries are so close and the hostility is so intense.So there is no harm in considering whether it might have been better to keep the entire Indian subcontinent, first united by the British empire, in one piece, at independence, rather than splitting it into two countries (and eventually three, counting Bangladesh).

The split was by no means inevitable. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two main Hindu leaders of the independence movement, wanted an inclusive, non-sectarian republic, including all of British India, although they failed to offer Muslims sufficient guarantees to ensure their support.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the main Muslim leader in 1947, did want to carve a Muslim-majority Pakistan out of the country, but there was no obligation for the British government to satisfy his demand. He got his way because the United Kingdom was virtually broke after the Second World War and in a great hurry to dump its responsibilities in India.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been east of Paris, had five weeks to draw the dividing line between the two new countries. Around 15 million people, who found themselves on the wrong side of that line, became refugees, mutual massacres followed, and within weeks India and Pakistan had their first war. But it could have been different.

The undivided ‘big India’ would have 1.8 billion people today, about one-third Muslim and two-thirds Hindu. That would virtually guarantee that both groups would be represented in every government and in most political parties.

Lots of countries, elsewhere in the world, manage to be both democratic and prosperous with comparable religious and/or ethnic differences. The ‘big India’ would not have wasted 75 years’ worth of high defence spending, and there would be no risk of nuclear war.All those energies would have been devoted instead to civilian priorities, and that united India might already rank as a developed country. Might-have-beens.

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Ukraine War: Mother May I?

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By Gwynne Dyer

“This obviously does not happen because of a thrown butt,” said British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. But the Russian Ministry of Defence insisted that the explosions that destroyed at least eight warplanes at Saki Air Base in Russian-occupied Crimea on 9 August were due to “a violation of fire safety requirements.”

The implication is that some careless Russian smoker tossed away his cigarette butt and caused a fire that set off explosions. That’s hardly a testimonial to the discipline of the Russian air force’s ground crews, but it’s better than admitting that Ukrainian missiles have reached 225 km behind Russian lines to destroy a whole squadron of Russian fighters.Moscow also claimed that no Russian aircraft had been damaged by the explosions in Crimea, although the wreckage of the destroyed fighters was clearly visible on the ‘overheads’ from satellite observations.

The Russian Defence Ministry played the same silly game in April when Ukrainian cruise missiles sank the ‘Moskva.’, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It claimed that a fire had caused munitions to explode, and that the ship then sank while under tow due to “stormy seas” (although the sea was actually flat calm at the time).And what caused that fire? Careless smokers again, presumably, because even the most damning statements about the indiscipline and incompetence of Russian sailors and airmen are preferable to an admission that the Ukrainians are really hurting Russia.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry is having fun with this, reporting that it “cannot establish the cause of the fire [at the Russian airfield], but once again reminds of fire safety rules and a ban on smoking in unauthorized places.”

Taking responsibility for these strikes deep in Russian-controlled territory is not in Ukraine’s interest, so it’s happy for Russia to take the blame. Various anonymous defence officials in Kyiv further muddied the waters by suggesting that Ukrainian partisans were responsible, or Ukrainian special forces already operating far behind Russian front lines.

But why is it not in Ukraine’s interest to take ownership of these small but symbolically important victories?

It’s because the really decisive front in this war is how fast American and other NATO weapons systems are sent to Ukraine, and that is determined by a process that seems to be derived largely from the old children’s game of ‘Mother May I’ (also known as ‘Giant Steps’).The opening move is quite straightforward: Kyiv asks Washington for a hundred HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems so that it can counter Russia’s huge superiority in older artillery and rocket systems and drive Moscow’s forces from Ukrainian soil.

Washington replies that it can take two giant steps and a frog hop. No, wait a minute, it replies that Ukraine can have four HIMARS systems now. Once the crews have been trained and have demonstrated their proficiency in using the weapons, Kyiv can start the next round of the game by asking for more. This takes four weeks.

Getting into the spirit of the game, Ukraine then asks for only twenty more HIMARs, leaving the rest for later. Washington replies that it can take four baby steps and a pirouette – or rather, four more HIMARs now, but with the range still restricted to 70 km. and no thermobaric ammunition (fuel-air explosives). And so on.We are now in the fourth round of this game, with sixteen HIMARs promised of which Ukraine has already deployed between eight and twelve on the battlefield. At this rate, Ukraine will have the hundred HIMARs it needs to expel the Russians around April of 2024.

Similar games are being played with other badly needed weapons from NATO stockpiles like Western-made combat aircraft, modern anti-air defence systems, and longer-range missiles for attacks like the one on Saki Air Base. This is all driven by an excess of caution about such ‘escalation’ at the White House and in the National Security Council.

Washington is right to be concerned about Russia’s reactions, but it is prone to see the Russians as dangerously excitable children. They are not. They are poker players (NOT chess-players) who bet over-confidently, and are now trying to bluff their way out of trouble. The Russian ruling elite, or at least most of it, remains rational.

The Ukrainians, however, have to take American anxieties into account even when they use their own weapons, some of which have been modified for extended range, on distant Russian targets. The simplest way is just to pretend it wasn’t their weapons that did the damage.The same policy applies to the numerous acts of sabotage carried out in Russia by Ukrainian agents – and by a happy accident the Russians are willing to collaborate in this fiction. They’d rather blame the clumsiness, ignorance and incompetence of their own troops than give the credit to the Ukrainians.

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Book Review : An incisive exploration of Sri Lanka’s religiosity

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Title: ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka’ – Innovation, shared spaces, contestation

Editors – Mark P. Whitaker, Darini Rajasingham- Senanayake and Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran

A Routledge South Asian Religion Series publication

Exclusively distributed in Sri Lanka by Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 5. (e-mail: vijiyapa@gmail.com)

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This timely publication could be described as a revelation of the fascinating nature of Sri Lanka’s religiosity. It is almost customary to refer to Sri Lanka as a ‘religious country’ but it is not often that one comes across scholarly discussions on the subject locally. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, a collection of research papers put together in book form, fills this void most adequately.

Although not necessarily synonymous with spiritual development, religiosity in Sri Lanka essentially refers to the widespread prevalence of organized or institutionalized religion in the lives of the majority of Sri Lankans. What qualifies the country to be seen as religiously plural is the presence in it of numerous religions, though mainly in their institutionalized forms.

What ought to pique the interest of the specialist and that of the inquiring layman alike is the fact that though falling short of the highest standards of spirituality most of the time, religion is used innovatively and creatively by its adherents to meet some of their worldly and otherworldly needs. That is, religion is a dynamic and adaptable force in the lives of Sri Lanka’s people. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’ explores these characteristics of religion in depth and underscores the vitality of religion in the consciousness of its diverse practitioners. A chief strength of the publication is the featuring of almost all the main religions of Sri Lanka, from the viewpoint of their innovative and adaptable use by devotees.

The research papers in question, numbering 16, were presented at an Open University of Sri Lanka forum held in mid-July in 2017. The editors of the volume have done well to bring these papers together and present them in book form to enable the wider public in Sri Lanka and abroad to drink deep of the vital insights contained in them, considering that religiosity has gained increasingly in importance in post-war Sri Lanka. Fittingly, ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, is dedicated to the memory of well-known Sri Lankan social scientist Malathi de Alwis who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but had contributed a paper at the relevant forum prior to her passing away. Her paper too is contained in the collection.

The thematic substance of the volume could be said to have been set out in some detail by co- editor Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake in her introductory essay titled, ‘Spaces of Protection, healing and liberation…’ She writes: ‘Religiosity appears as a means of coping with life’s transitions, celebrations, disappointments, diseases, conflicts and violence; and events such as birth and death, illness, exams, marriage, divorce, the sense of the sacred, the auspicious, and inauspicious (Sumangali-Amangali). Fundamentally, beyond the political, (multi-)religiosity provides an individual’s coping strategy and/or a social performance for negotiating with the perceived power, energies and structures that are greater than oneself, particularly the supernatural and transnational.’

When seen from the above perspective, the ability of many Sri Lankans to comfortably worship at multiple religious institutions and shrines, for example, while claiming adherence in the main to this or that religious belief makes considerable sense, because the average Lankan devotee is of a pragmatic bent and not a religious purist. Depending on her needs she would worship at a major Buddhist or Hindu temple, for example, and also supplicate her cause at a prominent Catholic church. Such practices speak volumes for the flexibility and innovativeness of the devotee. They also testify to her broad religious sympathies and her ability to share her religious spaces with others of different religious persuasions. A few places of religious significance in Sri Lanka that thus draw adherents of multiple religions are Adam’s Peak, Kataragama, Madhu Church and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo.

At these places of reverence the usually restricted adherence to a single religious belief or faith is easily transcended by worshippers as apparently part of a personal or collective coping strategy to deal with multiple personal and societal pressures. ‘Kataragama Pada Yatra – Pilgrimaging with ethnic “others” ‘ by Anton Piyaratne and ‘Religious innovation in the pilgrimage industry – Hindu bodhisattva worship and Tamil Buddhistness’ by Alexander McKinley are just two papers in the collection that deal insightfully with this aspect of worshippers’ abilities to comfortably manage multiple religious identities and spaces. These habits of the average Sri Lankan devotee highlight the potentiality of religiosity, among other things, to be a bridge-builder among communities.

For instance, Mckinley sets out in his exposition: ‘Religious innovation at shared sacred sites can thus blur or sharpen the dominant ethno-religious divisions of ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ and ‘Tamil Hindu’ in Sri Lanka. Saman devotion can simultaneously be interpreted as a sincere form of highland Hindu religiosity, a strategic innovation by Tamil workers to appease Sinhala pilgrims, as well as an opening for Sinhalas to either convert Tamils into Buddhists, or to cooperate with them towards common goals, such as environmental conservation’.

A conspicuous and continuing theme of the collection is the wide-ranging and often damaging impact of the Sri Lankan government’s 30-year anti-LTTE war. Quite a number of the researchers, thus, deal with its adverse impact on women, and quite rightly, because the war revealed as perhaps never before the marked vulnerabilities of Sri Lankan women in conflict situations. ‘Of Meditation, Militarization and Grease Yakas’ by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake and ‘Vijaya and Kuweni retold’ by Neena Mahadev deal quite elaborately on this subject and throw valuable light on the multi-dimensional impact the Northern war has had on women, besides focusing on the resourceful ways in which religion is used by women to cope with social and political issues.

‘Emerging innovative religiosities and what they signify’ by Selvy Thiruchandran continues with the focus on women and religiosity but introduces a wider societal dimension by bringing into the discourse the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRM). The researcher points to the immense popularity among mainly middle class women of two of these movements, the Satya Sai Baba cult and the growing interest in Brahma Kumaris Yoga centres, and elaborates on the roles they play in enabling women to deal with personal and societal pressures.

However, Thruchandran arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion at the end of her wide-ranging research that, ‘The old religion and the new so-called innovation that is sought in the new religions can be summarized in a well-known cliché – old wine in new bottles.’ That is, these New Religions are mainly forms of escapism. We have here a fresh perspective on issues relating to the liberation of women that calls for deep consideration. Moreover, these New Religious Movements do not help in any substantive way to change the fundamental and perennial reality of male domination over women; for, we are given to understand that some men actively discourage their wives from joining the Brahma Kumaris movement.

The role of Sri Lanka’s Christian Left in giving religion a progressive and socially emancipatory orientation in recent decades is the subject of Harini Amarasuriya’s paper titled, ‘Beards, cloth bags, and sandals – Reflections on the Christian left in Sri Lanka’. The researcher’s prime focus is on an institution of mainly Left political activism established by a Christian clergyman, Sevaka Yohan, in Ibbagamuwa, Kurunegala in the seventies decade by the name Devasaranaramaya. Besides committing itself to robust Left political activism, the latter centre possessed an indigenous cultural ethos and sought to unite the country’s cultures and religions. In other words, the institution aimed at being a shared space where religions comingled on the basis of shared values.

Accordingly, the publication of ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka…’, is a welcome development. The book sheds invaluable light on the subject of local religiosity, which is a relatively unexplored but vital area of knowledge that has important implications for nation-building in Sri Lanka. Besides the papers discussed above, there are numerous other learned and insightful research papers on religiosity in this collection that call for urgent reading. Collectively the papers constitute a treasury of knowledge that those pursuing Sri Lankan Studies could ill-afford to by-pass.

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