By Sathya Karunarathne and Pravena Yogendra
The Cabinet of Ministers approved the Bill to amend laws to ban cattle slaughter in the third week of October. While this is a contentious policy measure, it did not come as a surprise as the Prime Minister proposed the same policy just over a year ago, in September of 2020.
From the outset, it may seem that the policy is well-intended. Alleviating animal suffering is a noble cause that many Sri Lankans would identify with. Unfortunately, even well-intended policies have unintended consequences. In the case of a cattle slaughter ban, the consequences can be dire for the livelihoods of thousands of people. As stated by the Department of Census and Statistics, 117,033 farmers raised cattle and/or buffalo locally and 56,984 farmers raised improved cattle and/or buffalo in 2020.
Further, as reported by the Livestock Statistical Bulletin there were 296,111 cattle farms and 26,284 Buffalo farms registered in 2020.
The cattle rearing industry does not exist in isolation, nor is it sustained to nurture the beef industry alone. Cattle are an integral part of the dairy industry, leather tanning industry and footwear and leather goods industry. The dairy industry sells unproductive cattle, where 50% of the animal is salvaged as beef and other parts are sold as raw material to other industries such as the leather tanning industry, etc. Therefore, a cattle slaughter ban would have consequences on all these sectors.
The government’s intention in banning cattle slaughter is to increase dairy production and local agriculture as reported by the media.
According to Central Bank data in 2020, the annual milk production from cattle was 414 Mn litres and 78 Mn litres were produced by buffalos.
In the same year, Sri Lanka imported 102,355,524 Kgs of milk and milk products, and exported 1,057,079 Kgs of the same.
To keep this dairy industry running, milk producers need to get rid of unproductive cattle. Eranga Nihal Perera, the Chief of Ceylon Cattle Farmers Association put this into perspective speaking, to the Sunday Times a few weeks ago. He stated that a bull or milch cow requires 10 percent of its body weight in food daily. For example, an adult stud bull weighs about 400 kgs. That is approximately 40 Kgs of feed per bull, every day. Therefore, a bull would require a monthly cost of around Rs, 26,000 to be maintained. It makes limited economic sense to sustain unproductive cattle ,incurring such costs as it will increase costs of maintenance with no return on investment.
162,000 cattle were legally slaughtered in 2020. Key person interviews with leading industry stakeholders revealed that the cattle population which amounted to 1,628,771 in 2020, can grow up to three times within 10 years with the implementation of a slaughter ban with 75% of them counting to be unproductive. The costs of maintenance will therefore evidently be unbearable. These cost increases, if they can be sustained at all, will be passed on to consumers as price increases in milk. A further stress to an industry already reeling with shortages and high prices.
Beef is sourced from cattle deemed as unproductive by the dairy industry. Male cattle or bull calves are used to identify female animals in heat and to serve stud purposes aiding the artificial insemination process. They are slaughtered for beef when they reach about three months of age. Milch cows are slaughtered after completing four calving cycles as they are considered aged, unproductive and unprofitable to maintain at this juncture. Unproductive animals must be culled to maintain the overall productivity of the herd as unproductive stud animals could mate with productive cows producing low yielding calves.
The latest available data shows that beef production in 2019 amounted to 29.87 metric tons.Smallholder dairy farmers contribute to this as smallholders dominate the livestock industry.12 For example, a 2019 study by the University of Peradeniya revealed that among private dairy farms in the country about 95% are small scale producers.13While cattle farming in Sri Lanka is running on narrow margins, a significant contribution of the marginal profits comes from the sale of these animals to the beef industry. Dairy farmers make an annual lifetime profit of ~30% from the sale of an animal. Therefore, small farmers who raise cattle individually for an additional income will be severely impacted by the ban. They will not be able to afford the additional maintenance costs of unproductive cattle and will have to halt their small scale business operations.
Banning cattle slaughter with the intention of increasing dairy production therefore is contradictory as it proves to be counterproductive. As illustrated above the milk industry can barely sustain itself without the beef industry.
A slaughterer purchases an animal for Rs. 300 per Kg live weight. Live weight ranges from 300-500kg. Thereafter, 50% of the animal is salvaged as beef and the remaining is sold to other industries. The leather tanning industry is one such industry that sources raw material from cattle slaughter. A slaughtered cow yields 15-16 sq ft of rawhide. Rawhide is sourced from the slaughterer by the leather tanning industry at Rs. 45 per Kg. Domestically tanned leather is sold to the footwear and leather goods industry as raw material at LKR 175 per Kg as opposed to imported tanned leather priced at LKR 250 per kg ($1- 1.20).15 Moreover, discussions with the industry revealed that about 60% of leather needed to produce affordable footwear is produced domestically and banning cattle slaughter will directly impact the accessibility of affordable footwear by the middle and lower-income earners of the country. Further, more than 60% of the footwear and leather goods industry consists of micro and small businesses.16 Therefore, this policy measure will indeed hamper their access to affordable raw material and their very sustenance.
Implications of Cattle Slaughter
As stated by the Buddhasasana, Religious, and Cultural Affairs Ministry Secretary, Prof. Kapila Gunawardana the government is discussing the possibility of exporting ageing cows that will not be slaughtered in Sri Lanka with the implementation of the ban.17 However, exporting aged live cattle is challenging as there is a high probability of international markets being reluctant to purchase cattle exposed to infections in the process of transportation.
With the increase of idling cattle, the government will have to invest to build new cattle salvage farms ensuring adequate veterinary facilities and daily feed. The NLDB has only two salvage farms in Kurunegala and Anuradhapura with a combined capacity of 1,000 animals at a time. About 400 cows are legally slaughtered per day.As aged cattle require high maintenance costs with no return on investment, this will be an added strain on government expenditure given Sri Lanka’s current limited fiscal space and precarious economic conditions. This will also clash with limited agricultural land available in the country leading to a serious threat to crops.
Moreover, with the local beef industry coming to a complete halt, the domestic production and importation of alternative sources of protein, such as chicken and fish, will have to increase, meeting domestic demand and ensuring affordability for the average consumer. It is important to note that the prices of these alternatives have experienced a steep increase. According to the Department of Census and Statistics weekly retail prices, 1kg of fresh chicken that cost Rs 558.93 in November of 2020 costs Rs 727.27 now. Further, 1kg of Salaya that cost Rs.252.67 in November of 2020 is now priced at 291.67.20
Moreover, a flat-out ban on cattle slaughter will breed an underground economy of illegal slaughter and trade. This will foster animal cruelty as the industry will not come under the purview of welfare authorities, creating the environment for low-cost slaughtering techniques defeating the very moral grounds of a cattle slaughter ban. Further, banning cattle slaughter with no ban on beef consumption allowing for beef imports will only shift the burden of slaughter elsewhere. This is hypocritical as cattle will still have to be slaughtered abroad, for the consumption of Sri Lankan people. It is worthy to note that India is the fifth largest carabeef exporter in the world earning 2.8 billion dollars in exports in 2020 despite the country’s religious veneration of cattle.
It is evident that even though a slaughter ban may sound ideal in theory, it springs a chain of unintended economic consequences, hampering the dairy, beef and other related industries paving the way for further price increases and posing a threat to business operations. Therefore, it is clear that when making economic decisions it is paramount to look at policies in terms of incentives they create rather than blindly pursuing a goal. This simply means that immediate and long-term consequences matter more than intentions. Economic policies therefore must strive to go beyond intentions crafted by hopes and inspiration. Failure to do this will certainly lead to disastrous outcomes for the whole nation.
Rising farce of Family Power
Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.
He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.
He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.
“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,
“If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again. If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.
“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”
Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength. In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.
It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.
While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.
Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law? Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?
What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,
The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.
The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance. There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser – from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?
The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to
use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.
A tribute to vajira
By Uditha Devapriya
The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.
A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.
In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.
One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.
Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.
In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.
In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.
Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.
Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.
Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.
At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”
If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.
Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.
These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.
Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.
As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.
As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.
Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.
That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
It’s all about France in Kandy !
This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.
A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.
All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.
Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.
Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.
To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.
Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar
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