Connect with us

Opinion

Casteism, the canker!

Published

on

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!



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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

Opinion

In favour of ‘thoughtfulness’

Published

on

As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment.

by Susantha Hewa

Prof. Kirthi Tennakone’s (KT) article, “Thoughtfulness or mindfulness?”, which appeared in The Island of June 5, 2024, would surely appeal to those who are more “thoughtful” than “mindful”, the former indicating a mind functioning naturally with all cognitive faculties fully awake and the latter indicating a mind being turned inwards and focusing on one’s thoughts, sensations and feelings in a nonjudgmental mode. As KT claims, “Almost all human accomplishments are consequences of thoughtfulness”, thoughtfulness indicating the quality of a sharp mind registering all relevant facts and assessing them for their worth and relevance.

His article itself is a fine demonstration of thoughtfulness rather than of mindfulness, as all discerning minds may agree. Even the gurus of mindfulness have to deal with many thoughts simultaneously as they write or speak, if they wish to make sense, and that is more of an exercise of “thoughtfulness” requiring several skills including organising, reason, elaboration, clarity, critical thinking, analysis, judgment, etc., than one of “mindfulness”, which is said to be focusing on one’s feelings and thoughts without judgment, from moment to moment.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, thoughtfulness is 1) the state of thinking carefully about something, 2) the quality of being kind and thinking about other people’s needs, and 3) the quality of thinking carefully about how to do something so that it is effective. All these three meanings are to do with using one’s mind to its fullest capacity. And, as the second one indicates, it also includes being considerate towards others, which is directing your mind outwards- which is not involved in mindfulness in the sense in which it is popularly used to describe “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm” (Cambridge Dictionary).

The products of thoughtfulness are there for everybody to see, as KT has clearly explained and enumerated in his essay. On the other hand, mindfulness seems to thrive on a state of mind that is turned inwards, which is often explained as paying attention to your present thoughts, feelings and sensations nonjudgmentally.

It looks as if we have to wait for centuries to see the wonders of this rather solitary and obscure exercise. The one thing that is clear is that even those who have practiced mindfulness for years on end have to be thoughtful rather than mindful, when they choose to communicate with others with any clarity, either in speech or writing, for the simple reason that the audiences are thoughtful, critical and judgmental, rather than uncritical, meditative and nonjudgmental.

Surely, you have to open your mind to what others are saying – rather than shut it, for any human communication to be meaningful, effective and useful. If mindfulness happened to be the natural mode of the mind, we would be living in a dull and dreary world where everybody would “be ‘mindful’ of their own business”.

A community of people may practice ‘mindfulness’ for a while everyday but it can only be an intermission and not the basic mode of a productive life, which is anchored on what you may call “thoughtfulness”. It would be redundant to illustrate this because KT has done it adequately in his article, which is a product of – no prizes for guessing- thoughtfulness. Just take any activity in our day-to-day life and you will see that thoughtfulness is the indispensable operative mechanism behind each of them. As KT asserts, “Thought could have sinister motives and the only way to eliminate them is through thought itself”. We are yet to know whether mindfulness has played any role in this.

In almost any important or urgent situation, a ‘thoughtful mind’ will score higher than a ‘mindful mind’, if you know what I mean. In the classroom, you are sure to immediately pay the price if you suddenly shift from ‘thoughtfulness’ to ‘mindfulness’. As many of us would remember, our teachers wanted us to have all our faculties functioning when they told us “Sihikalpanawen hitiyoth hondai” (you had better be alert), alertness to be understood as being attentive to what is being discussed- not focusing on your own feelings and thoughts in a nonjudgmental mode.

Sometimes people talk excitedly about ‘practicing mindful driving’ but what they unwittingly mean is exactly ‘thoughtful driving’, if you understand safe driving as heeding the following instructions: “avoid your own distractions, stay vigilant, scan the road for surprises, check the body language of other vehicles, try to anticipate how a situation might evolve, and be ready to react”. This can only remind us of those good teachers’ admonition to be sharp-eyed when in the classroom.

If mindfulness is to be alert to what is going on around you, taking in ‘things’, assessing, judging, etc. exactly as in ‘thoughtfulness’, we wouldn’t need experts telling us that ‘mindfulness’ is a different or a superior game. And, as is obvious, whenever people study, work, play, read, write, research, or do anything requiring cognition and judgement, they would surely be in the ‘thoughtful mode’ rather than in the ‘mindful mode’.

As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment. Indulging in nonjudgmental observation may at best bring temporary calmness to individuals; so would art and music, with even more demonstrable benefits. And, for thought and reason to be functional, minds should be directed outwards rather than inwards.

Continue Reading

Opinion

Change is good: Provided it is for better and not for worse

Published

on

Aragalaya

by Jayasri Priyalal

Many Sri Lankans may have joined in commemorating the 2568 years of Buddha Parinirvana with much discourse about the fundamental truth, the core teaching of Buddhism about impermanence, last week. As we all realise the fact, that there is nothing permanent in this world; everything is subject to change. Change is the only permanent constant in the universe. This essay focuses on change from socio, political and economic angle.

Sri Lanka is undergoing its worst ever economic crisis without any hope of getting it into a recovery track soon. There is a clarion call from the masses aspiring for a system change as a springboard towards chalking out a recovery path to overcome the crisis. Yet, no one knows or discusses what that system should be to put in place.

One fact remains as an acceptable analogy. Those who cannot cope with change will never be able to initiate change in any circumstances. This applies to all stakeholders including those who caused and contributed to the current crisis. Fair share of responsibilities falls on the electorate who got carried away with populism engineered by a few; with an ultimate aim of state and regulatory capture for their advantage leaving the country into a dire state grappling with debt. Therefore, capacity and capability to initiate that essential change is absent in the DNA of politicians who deceived their constituents.

This year 2024, is remarkable for those countries where representative democracy functions. Over 2 billion voters are expected to cast their votes at polls. As per predictions in 70% of the elections a change in government is anticipated. Some elections are already over and results are known. In Sri Lanka there are two main elections in the pipeline namely the Presidential and parliamentary polls.  The UK gets ready for polls on 4th July 2024. Change is the campaign theme of the Labour Party led by Sir. Keir Starmer. Chase or change dilemma will be an option for the electorate in the USA to test in upcoming presidential elections in November 2024.

Change and the Chase Countercyclical in Sri Lanka

In the last presidential election in 2019 Sri Lankan electorate rallied with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa giving him an absolute mandate with 6.9 million votes, anticipating a change for the better. It was too late for Sri Lankans to realise that their bet was on the wrong horse.  That change triggered the public to rally towards a chase. People’s power proved greater than those who come and hold political power.

The so-called people’s movement Aragalaya forced the Prime Minister to resign with the ipso facto resignation of the cabinet of ministers. Amongst many wrong doings President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nominated an unelected PM to lead the cabinet without dissolving the parliament with the reluctance to test the pulse of the people to secure the right mandate to govern. Rest is history, and finally the people’s power chased out President Gotabya Rajapaksa culminating the grand achievement of the GoHomeGota campaign. Thereafter, people’s aspiration and hope for a change short lived and shortchanged, widening the mistrust between policy makers and electorate further.

Have we learnt from similar power struggles from the past?

Our present has direct links in many ways to the past. The island nation has been deceived by many egocentric figureheads -as they cannot be named as true patriotic leaders- misjudged the public sentiments and aspirations and surrendered the sovereignty of the country to Colonial Masters. Does history repeat itself? Have we forgotten the bitter lessons learnt from history is what is discussed in the next few paragraphs?

This writer is enthusiastically influenced by the historical knowledge shared by Prof. Raj Somadeva via Neth FM radio and the YouTube programme. Due credit should be given to the Professor for all his extensive historical studies and the efforts to share them with the rest of the Sri Lankans in and outside the country. Prof. Somadeva narrates the stories very well with an appeal to draw parallels to the contemporary political power struggles with a warning not to repeat the past mistakes.

Coronation of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, last King of Kandyan Kingdom   1798

Having defeated the British Army battalion sent by the Governor Frederick North badly in 1803, the powerful Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British by 1815. Internal power struggles between the Kandyan elites to capture the throne from the Nayakkar clan paved the way for colonials to step in effortlessly to end the 2300 of historical royal lineage, to govern. Finally, Ceylon became a colony of the British Empire under King Gorge III.

Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawe engineered the coronation of Kannasamy Naidu a nephew of Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe over the legitimate claimant to the throne Muttusamy. Pilimatalawwe was ambitious of becoming the Kandyan King, worked closely with the British and installed Kannasamy in the throne assuming he can control the King to meet his egoistic goals.

The change he anticipated never happened. Then he conspired to kill the King. Pilimatalawwe and the conspiring gang were beheaded by the King. Pilimatalawwe engineered the change and had to work on a chase and he got eliminated by the person whom he elevated to power.

Power crazy Maha Adikaram installed a weaker character in the throne so that he could overthrow him with the help of the British. The whole strategy backfired ultimately sacrificing the nation on a platter to the British ending a royal lineage of over two millennia.  The miscalculations of those close to political power to serve their selfish needs have ruined many countries bringing in misery, hardship and colossal loss of lives and property to its citizens. The island nation has many such cases throughout its history.

Putting a Wrong Guy in a Critical Position – Are we repeating the same mistake?

Throughout history we Sri Lankans have repeated the same mistake and disrupted the nation’s progress leaving the plight in the hands of outsiders.  Although there aren’t any competing empires in the current context, there are clear indications that the local political expectations are gravitating towards the emerging geo-economic-political centres.

The current political leadership or the conventional thought processes are not spurred with an organic strategic growth trajectory with originality backed thought process. None of the political parties have identified the right causes that led to the current crisis.

Moreover, they are getting ready to deceive the electorate to secure the mandate to govern to continue to repeat ill-conceived policy tools without coming up with viable policy options to break the vicious debt trap. Adage goes on to remind that – right diagnosis is half of the solution. Instead, many are getting ready to prescribe the failed remedies with a strong dosage as prescribed by the defunct cold war institutions. It appears that the healer itself is the disease leaving the patient bewildered and leaving the disease into an uncontrolled debt pandemic. We Sri Lankans need to think locally and act globally and not the other way around. In the absence of original ideas and remedies, local politicians are happy to swallow the bitter medicines prescribed on the basis of diagnoses.

Since Independence the ideology of various political parties were developed based on systems and discourses practiced in other countries introducing a welfarist socio economic system. Now, it has turned towards the aspirations of the emerging geo-economic centres. Sri Lankans need to forge a unique turnaround strategy to serve the best interest of its people, and not to become subjects of other countries.  Therefore, the Sri Lankan electorate needs to collate its political mandate in the hands of a leadership who will change the destiny of the country for the better and not for the worst.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Colonial masters connived with the power crazy Kandyan elites and captured the last King of Ceylon, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, dethroned, imprisoned and deported to India. Once you fast track the historical events, we can extrapolate the current situation drawing many parallels. Unlike in the past, the leaders who mislead and mismanage the future of the nation without any original thinking and being subservient to foreign advice will never be deported. They will be facing a prisoner’s dilemma remaining on the island, having given away ports, harbours, airports and other critical infrastructure to foreigners to manage and own.

Continue Reading

Opinion

A poser to Sajith and Anura

Published

on

Sajith and Anura

Just one question to both of you. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the country if both of you set aside your political ambitions and personal differences and make a bold decision to join hands to face the forthcoming presidential elections as an alliance?

You are aware that the present government will leave no stone unturned to introduce controversial legislation, irrespective of the fact whether they are constitutional or not. It engages in controversial projects, on the pretext of privatisation, detrimental to the interests of the country. It suppresses protests through high-handed undemocratic actions. It abuses democratic practices to further its interests.

Politically your views may differ but your goals are the same. As things stand, both of you enjoy popular support. You have talented intellectuals in your parties. Most of the current corrupt politicians are in the process of forming either with or in support of the incumbent government with a view to hoodwinking the masses.

Your unity will certainly be advantageous to the country but divided you both could fail in achieving your ultimate goal.

Let’s hope that wisdom will prevail over their political ambitions.

WILLIAM PHILLIPSZ 

Continue Reading

Trending