Casteism, the canker!
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
The malign influence of casteism was well explained in the editorial, “Canker of clientelism” (The Island, 14 March) wherein it was stated: “Caste-based politics has stood many crooks in good stead, and led to the presence of so many semi-literate politicians in Parliament, which has control over public finance. Some of these characters such as former chain snatchers, pickpockets, hooch dealers and cattle rustlers also claw their way to the Cabinet, and control vital sectors. The caste-factor is so dominant in Sri Lankan politics that it is well-nigh impossible to get rid of these unsavoury elements at elections owing huge block votes at their disposal; political parties are dependent on them to win elections. Religion and ethnicity also blind electors to reality and tribal instincts drive them to vote for some misfits.”
For the title, the editor has used the most appropriate word, though not in common usage nowadays, canker; derived from Latin ‘cancer’ and old French ‘chancre’ which is defined in dictionaries as ‘a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate.’ How better can the role of casteism be described, not only in politics but also in many other vital spheres? Though such a division based on trades practiced may have had some significance in the past, it is a totally outmoded concept in the modern era. Though I have had a fair share of experience in my youth and was hoping that casteism would soon disappear, it has not happened, unfortunately, being perpetuated by politicians and, rather paradoxically, by Buddhist priests.
In fact, I became aware of the caste system due to the involvement of my father, C Justin Wijayawardhana in politics. Though the Matara branch of the UNP chose him as the candidate for 1952 and 1956 parliamentary elections, the high-command turned it down and parachuted a businessman of dubious repute from Weligama for the 1952 election and a retired district judge from Colombo for the 1956 election. Apparently, it was done because Matara was considered an electorate dominated by the caste they belonged to! Surprisingly, this kind of the baptism of Matara electorate had been done by the comrades of the Communist Party itself!
Looking back, I wonder whether my eligibility for the Commonwealth Scholarship for postgraduate studies in medicine, in 1969, was overlooked because of caste discrimination rather than political pressure. A few days before the interview, my father dropped in our flat, on his way to meet PM Dudley Senanayake over some issues in Matara, and inquired whether he should mention my scholarship to Dudley. I told him not to as I wanted to get selected on merit. I was the only applicant under the age, it was stated preference would be given. I had a Distinction in Medicine in the final examination in addition to a distinction in Pharmacology in the 3rd MBBS examination. A candidate older than I, above the age for preferential choice, and had only one distinction (Pathology & Bacteriology in 3rd MBBS) was awarded the scholarship! The chairman of the selection panel and he were from the same caste, which may be a coincidence.
The next setback is my career was also due to caste discrimination. Having missed the Commonwealth scholarship, I was in the UK on a Health Department scholarship to obtain MRCP, which I did in 1971. Prof. Varagunam informed me that a vacancy for a senior lecturer had arisen in the Department of Medicine in Peradeniya when I applied. However, as I could not afford to return for the interview, I sent an appeal to the selection panel to consider my application in absentia and was surprised to get a registered letter informing me that I had been selected.
I returned in January 1972, ready to settle down in Kandy, but my hopes were dashed on reporting for duty to Dr D A Jayasinghe, Assistant Director of Hospitals, when he told me that the DHS, Prof R (real name withheld) had refused to release me. He could not explain why, though he agreed that up-to-then it was routine for specialists to be released for permanent teaching positions in the university. I am indebted to Prof Varagunam for keeping the position open for almost two years but I neither went pleading to Prof R nor sought help from politicians to secure my release. Instead, I opted to go to Badulla as Consultant Physician and took a step down in June 1973 to join Dr Wallooppillai as his Registrar in Cardiology Unit.
Prof R was well known to be pro-Sinhala Buddhist and I had done nothing to antagonise him. Therefore, I was baffled by his decision till the subject clerks at the Health Ministry informed me of his antipathy towards one particular caste. They pointed several instances where he had given top positions to doctors of his caste over more senior and better qualified from other casts. Worse still, he had granted overseas study leave before confirmation in post, breaching the Establishment Code, to a young doctor of his caste! It was sad and so disappointing to see such puny behaviour from an academic.
The worst form of caste discrimination is the caste-based Nikaya system, which is the biggest affront to the Buddha, who preached equality twenty-six centuries ago, but our Mahanayakas indulge in discriminatory practices even today! What is the justification for Siyam Nikaya to offer higher-ordination only to Govigama caste and exclude others? The Amarapura Nikaya to have about 21 sub-divisions based on caste and creed?
Casteism is a canker, a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate, which muddles politics but has it got a place in religion? Is it not the time for all the Mahanayakas, of which there are many, to come together and declare that casteism has no place in Buddhism and higher-ordination is open to all in all Nikayas? The ideal would be the abolition of all Nikayas with one Sanghanayaka, but unfortunately that is not likely to happen!
The gold and phone smuggling MP
A rogue caught with the goods, literally in the act of walking through the VIP lounge at Katunayake. He walks home Scot- free after paying a fine of some millions; and to cap it all, he walks in to Parliament next day, as though nothing had happened! I wouldn’t have been surprised if the govt. ranks clapped in unison to welcome him! At least the opposition could have booed. Maybe it is not parliamentary practice, but they have done worse time and again.
I think Parliament should rethink the moral code for MPs. It is pretty obvious that there is neither moral rectitude nor ethical conduct among parliamentarians. Or else would the culprit have the brass to walk in to parliament the very next day?
It is a sad state of affairs when people don’t understand, that perks and privileges go with responsibilities and a high moral code. Walking into a VIP lounge with contraband gold is the lowest depths an elected official can descend to.
His explanation after the event is almost vulgar. He says he does not know ,who put what in his bags although he has mentioned a golaya who accompanied him and packed his bags. I doubt even his strongest supporter would believe him. Instead he must be cringing in shame. That statement alone should cost him his seat. He is not worthy of the appellation Hon. MP.
The Unforgettable Nihal Jayamanne
Time and tide waits for no man. It has been one year since Nihal Jayamanne PC, eminent and senior counsel, a past president of the Bar, a well-loved personality, and a wonderful man, passed away. He is deeply missed, by friends, colleagues and juniors at the Bar, but none so much as by family for whom he was the light that shone brightly. Though the lamp is out, its warmth remains with love and fond memories of times gone by.
Nihal Michael Jayamanne, uncle Nihal to me, came into my life when I was but a toddler. At the time, he was an apprentice of Mr. Samuel J. Kadiragamar QC, and he would bunk his apprentice time with Mr. Kadiragamar at Queens road and walk over to my grandfather’s house to court my aunt Rohini who then was a science undergraduate at the Colombo University and had been introduced to him by his brother who was at the same Faculty at that time. They married and enjoyed 49 plus years of life together, till death parted them. She was the wind beneath his wings.
Uncle Nihal was a man of many parts; witty, intelligent, sporty, kind and compassionate, interested in the arts, and above all, a man who could relate to all persons in society, young and old. In this respect he was indeed a man who could walk with kings and not lose the common touch.
In the early days I remember him as a really fun character who would relate entertaining stories. I also enjoyed going about with him as he had a spanking new Peugeot which he drove very fast. Among my many childhood memories of him is that he bought me my first TinTin book. I was so hooked on to it that I persuaded my father to walk with me to the book shop at the Dasa building at Bagatalle road to buy the rest of the series.
As I grew older he would chastise me saying that I belonged to a generation that watched television and did not read enough. On his many visits to our house where he would wait after court to pick up my aunt from work, he would challenge me to take a broader view of life, embracing all faiths and points of view. He introduced me to the Desiderata and would stress one of its phrases; “…listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story”.
I was also encouraged by him to read Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics” about the dance of sub atomic particles, and to see how that compared to the Hindu view of the Universe. As a teenager I was fascinated by this man, my uncle, who was a lawyer by profession but knew all these other things about science, nature, the arts and humanities – he would ask me to look up things like the Chandrasekhar Mass which is the critical mass of black holes and how this Nobel prize winning theory had been developed by Chandrasekhar an Indian while on his way by ship to England to accept a scholarship at Cambridge University.
Uncle Nihal did this for two reasons; not only to get me thinking but also to emphasize that it is we in the east who were responsible for some of the most interesting ideas that have come about. His varied interests were reflected in the art and artefacts he collected. Starting out as a cabinet of curiosities, in later years his whole house began to resemble a museum and art gallery with all manner of things and works of art. Mr. K. Kanag- Isvaran PC, his good friend of many years paying tribute to him at the unveiling of his bust at the Colombo Law Library recently, mentioned that it was rare to have a man with all these varied talents and drew attention to the fact that uncle Nihal had donated a valuable statue of Nataraja from his collection of artifacts to a Hindu temple at which the statue is presently venerated.
Nowadays one often hears of appeals to help small vendors on the basis that it is “an act of charity wrapped in dignity”. I learned this from uncle Nihal many years ago before it became fashionable to call it that. During my school holidays he would invite me to join him to go to outstation courts. He had no juniors then, and I read his briefs aloud for him in the car as he drove to refresh his memory.
On the way back he would often stop on a by-road to buy something that a little boy or girl was selling, not because he needed it but to help them. He would say; “do you know how hard they work to make that thing. You have it easy, they use that money to buy books”. Not only that, he would stop and chat with them, and per chance if they were playing a game, join in it too. As part of my scout activities when I was learning to identify trees by their leaves uncle Nihal would point out that any of these village boys or girls that we met on our travels could do that effortlessly.
He himself was very fond of nature and took a special interest in trees, planting various large trees on his family’s property. He was very happy to see them grow and bloom. In this respect he was creating carbon credits and was ahead of his time. Another fashionable phrase in the modern world is “be here now”; this too I learned observing uncle Nihal, not by reading books. He lived life in the present, was focused and enjoyed the moment. Positive thinking came naturally to him, so much so that whenever I was in a difficult situation I would ask myself; what would uncle Nihal do if he was in my place. I told this to him when he himself was very ill later in life. His positive thinking and that of his supportive wife and son Tilanka who left no stone unturned to find the medical attention required, enabled him to successfully survive a double lung transplant.
All who knew him as an adult knew him to be extroverted; he joked and laughed and enjoyed engaging with other people. A vivid memory I have, is of him dancing the tango with a rose between his teeth on December 31 to usher in the Millennium. Charles Spencer Chaplin said that a day in which one does not laugh is a day wasted. Uncle Nihal did not waste a single day, he laughed, joked and smiled every day that I knew him. His mother however, used to recall and tell us that he was not always like that and that as a child he was a shy boy; something we found very hard to believe!
Born to Bernadette (Bernie) and Senator J.M. Jayamanne, he was the second in the family and their first son. His siblings are Joan an elder sister who is an Attorney at Law and Bandula (Bandu) his younger brother who is a Chemistry Honours graduate. Uncle Nihal, schooled at St. Joseph’s College, was a Senior Prefect and captained the Tennis team. Recalling his school days, he would tell me what a great man Fr. Peter Pillai, the Rector of St. Josephs was and how he had a plethora of multi-disciplinary qualifications. Perhaps Uncle Nihal got his inspiration for his wide spectrum of interests from Fr. Pillai.
He took to law, and his leadership skills were recognized even at the Law College where he was elected President of the Law Student’s Union. Despite his father being a very successful lawyer in his time, a Senator and Minister of Justice, uncle Nihal chose to walk the path of his legal career on his own with no senior; starting at the very bottom. His success was all his own having built up a civil practice in the outstation courts at Homagama and Gampaha and thereafter in Colombo, both in the original and appellate courts. He appeared in many high profile cases and was held in very high esteem by the Bench and the Bar.
From a young age he was a member of the Law Commission which is charged with looking into amendments of the law. He went on to be its Chairman and was responsible for proposing many useful amendments to both substantive and procedural laws.
He was successively elected as President of the Bar Association. During his tenure as President of the Bar, on the suggestion of Judge C.G. Weeramantry who was the then Vice President of the International Court of Justice, he initiated the “Law Week”; a program for the Bar to interact with the pubic and solve their issues. This event has thereafter been successfully held annually.
Uncle Nihal’s reputation was not restricted to the Bar of Sri Lanka, he was elected deputy President of SAARC Law, President SAARC Law – Sri Lanka Chapter, and I was pleasantly surprised to find him on the Board of Trustees of the SAARC Law Centre of a leading Indian University which I visited. The Commercial world not only sought his counsel but wanted him to be on several Boards, most notably he was the Chairman of Seylan Bank.
At the peak of his career, he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in his lungs. Being the positive thinker that he was, he continued working though given two years to live post diagnosis. We did not see any difference in him, attributing his tiredness to overwork. When this condition came to its peak he was very fortunate to have come across a compatible donor thereby enabling him to have a double lung transplant – the first time such a surgery was performed in Sri Lanka. The average life span of a person with such a transplant is five years post-surgery, Uncle Nihal’s positive thinking and supportive family enabled him to double that and live a decade thereafter.
He used that time well, to be with family, pursue his interests and watch his son Tilanka who graduated in law get married to Lydia, an Attorney at Law. In that time, he also returned to practice and completed 50 years at the Bar – a feat most practicing lawyers look forward to celebrating, because it is not an easy milestone to reach not only due to its professional rigour, but also because one has to live that long to celebrate it. We were all glad he made it to that point; I have on the mantelpiece a photograph of the two of us in celebration of that event, which I will continue to treasure.
The next milestone he looked forward to was his golden wedding anniversary in October 2022. Coincidentally, my uncle and aunt got married on my birthday and it was indeed something that we all would have liked to celebrate. Alas it was not to be, he passed away on June 14, 2022 after a brief illness, four months short of that anniversary. He was a good man, who lived a good life and was fortunate to have a loving family that enjoyed life with him.
Little known to the wider world was that in addition to his painting skills, he had an excellent voice and enjoyed singing Dean Martin, Sinatra and Nat King Cole songs and even recorded some of them. A senior member of the Bar having learned of this stopped me recently in the Supreme Court and asked me, “when are you going to give me a CD of your uncle’s songs” to which I replied that it is on You Tube and could be down loaded.
‘Unforgettable’ by Nat King Cole was one of his favorite renditions. The words of that song express the emotion and thoughts of all of us who knew him well. Nihal Jayamanne will remain;
“Unforgettable in every way,
And forever more, that’s how [he] will stay”.
Deputy Solicitor General
Sports in Kandy from the last century to recent times
When one thinks of sports in Kandy in the last century the most important thing that comes to mind is the achievement of Duncan White. He was the first Ceylonese to win a silver medal at the Olympics which he achieved in the 1948 Olympic Games held in London. Up to now no other male Sri Lankan athlete has been able to emulate Duncan White. The only other Olympics silver medalist from Sri Lanka was Susanthika Jayasinghe which she achieved as a result of the gold medalist being disqualified.
Later there were the long distance runners who participated in the 10,000 metres event at the Olympics. They were Linus Dias, SLB Rosa and Ranatunga Karunananda. Linus Dias captained the Sri Lanka team at the 1960 Olympics held in Rome. All these athletes were from the Kandy District, and all three had been products of Berreawaerts College in Ampitiya.
Though they were not able to emulate Duncan White in winning any Olympic medals, Karunananda became a hero at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics by completing the last four laps of the race alone after all the other competitors had finished. He was cheered right to the end by the spectators, and he became a hero in Japan as well as in Sri Lanka.
In athletics another product from Kandy was MA Akbar who won a Silver Medal in pole vault at the first Asian Games held in 1951.Both Akbar and his elder brother met with their deaths under tragic circumstances. Whilst Akbar died of a motorcycle accident his elder brother, MA Hakeem died in a freak accident when he was officiating at an athletic meet. This was when a discus accidentally flew off an athlete’s hand and struck him on his head. He succumbed to this injury.
Cricket had two outstanding products of Kandy who brought fame to themselves as well as to the country. They were Muttiah Muralidaran and Kumar Sangakkara. They were from the two rival schools in Kandy, Murali from St. Anthony’s College and Kumar from Trinity College. Both of them hold records in world cricket with Murali holding a bowling record in Test cricket which might remain for a very long time. In addition to these two famous cricketers, there were ACM Lafir and Ruwan Kalpage, both from St. Anthony’s College and TB Kehelgamuwa from Dharmarajah College were in the national team at different eras. Niroshan Dickwella and Lahiru Kumara from Trinity College are presently in the national pool.
Whilst on cricket, I must mention that the first schoolboy cricketer of year was W. Premaratne of St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota when he won he award in 1957 and the second such cricketer was Maurice Fernando of Kingswood College, Kandy who secured the title in 1958.
Hockey was a sport that flourished in Kandy in the mid twentieth century with Kingswood being the leading school whilst Trinity and St. Sylvester’s College also produced good players. The most outstanding hockey player from Kandy was Freddie White (younger brother of Duncan White), an old Kingswoodian who was considered Asia’s best goalie at one time. The other national player from Kandy was Derrick Harvie who was selected as a national player while still a schoolboy at Kingswood. Iqbal Jumar was the third national team player from Kandy (also from Kingswood). The other two who were on the verge of national selection were Mohamed Jumar and WB Adikaram.
On a personal note, the hockey I learnt at Kingswood College helped me to play for the University of Ceylon Peradeniya team and captain the team in my final year. We for the first time won the inter-club tournament conducted by the Kandy District Hockey Association that year. It took the University over a decade to repeat this achievement. I was able to participate in the All-India Inter University Tournament held in Ahmedabad in 1961 as a member along with WB Adikaram another product of Kandy. I also got an opportunity to play as fullback with three illustrious hockey players from Kingswood College – TS Adahan for the Nationalised Services team and Dilsiri “Bullet” Peiris for the Government Services in the Hockey Nationals and with Freddie White for Bloomfield Club in the Andriesz Shield Tournament.
Women’s hockey too became a prominent sport in Kandy with almost all the leading girls’ schools taking to the sport. The game became popular in Kandy after the Kandy Whites women’s team dominated the hockey arena in the 1960s. Zohara Jumar was an outstanding player for Kandy Whites and she secured a place in the national team. Of the other players Nayani Madushani Jayaneththi (product of St. Anthoy’s Convent) takes pride of place as she captained the national hockey team in 2014/2015.
Rugby football was the sport where many players from Kandy excelled. The credit for starting rugby football has to go to Mr. LE Baze’, Founder Principal of Kingswood College who introduced the game at Kingswood in 1893, and the first match was played against Trinity College on August 11, 1906 with the match ending in a draw. Kandy produced most of the national players in rugby football with many of them being from Trinity College. The names of all who have donned the national jersey is too long a list to remember. There have been outstanding players such as Nimal Maralande, Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Mahinda Ratwatte, Eric Roles, Ken De Joodt, Mohan Sahayam, Glen Van Langenberg, etc from Trinity College.
The other players who represented Sri Lanka have come from Kingswood such as Nalaka Weerakkody, Fazil Marija, Eranda Weerakkody , Owen Mattau, Iqbal Jumar, etc, and from Vidyartha which produced players such as TB Wijesinghe, George Jayasena, Edwin Gunaratne, etc, St.Sylester’s had players such as Nimal Leuke, Tony Direckze, Lucky Peiris, etc and Dharmarajah which produced players such as CS Fernando, SU Mendis, Daya Jayasundera, etc. At present the captain of the national rugby football team is the Kandy skipper, Sooriyabandara.
In respect of football, Kandy used to have a very popular and very vigorously played inter-club tournament which attracted a large number of spectators with most of the matches being played at Bogambara grounds. But I cannot recollect any other players of yesteryear who represented Sri Lanka, except for Tom Ossen.
There were some outstanding boxers from Kandy such as Raymond, Bobby Jayaweera and Malcolm Bulner who were products of St. Sylvester’s College. Manju Dinesh Kumara Wanniarachchi (from Vidyartha College) won a Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in the bantamweight category (but unfortunately he was stripped off his medal after failing a drug test).
Kandy also produced outstanding weight lifters in the SA Wijewickrama brothers and a son Athula, all of whom represented the country. It was Ransilu Jayathilaka who brought fame to Sri Lanka and especially to Kandy by winning medals at the Commonwealth Games and winning the title five times in succession at the Asian Games.
The schools in Kandy are involved in big matches in various sports. The oldest big match in cricket in Kandy is the Battle of the Maroons, that is the big match between Kingswood and Dharmarajah. Then there is the Trinity vs St. Anthony’s College big match. In Rugby the famous school rival matches are the Bradby Shield matches between Trinity and Royal College. There is also the match between Kingswood and Wesley College for the LE Blaze’ trophy. In hockey Kingswood plays Royal for the Lennie de Silva Trophy.
HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE
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