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Sat Mag

Compassion needs to be toughed and developed

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My mother, who is remembered by friends and family alike as the world’s most buoyant and caring person, spent the last few months of her life ill in bed with cancer. But no matter how sick she was, the first thing she did every morning was to spread bajra on her balcony for the birds. She said the happiest part of her day was to lie back in bed and watch the daily drama. First would come the fat feisty pigeons who would jostle each other off the ledge and spend more time fighting than feeding. Then the rose-ringed parakeets (some of whom from a batch that had been rescued and released nearby) who ate quickly and quietly. And then came the timid little sparrows pecking at the seeds furtively and vanishing as magically as they appeared.

My own mornings begin with a shower. My bathroom adjoins the garden and invariably there will be ants that have made their way in to seek refuge from the sun or rain, so bathing is always preceded by scouring the walls and floor, rescuing and relocating ants before I turn on the shower. Similarly, my five-year old granddaughter Anasuyaa always carefully picks up and moves slugs, snails and earthworms to the grassy kerb, when they make the occasional foray into the driveway, so that they don’t get stepped on or run over.

Then I make Prasad for my Guru – suji ka halva – and this is distributed to people and animals. The utensil that it is cooked in is washed with water and the water put on a secluded pavement so that the ants can pick up the crumbs.

When I made a house in Maharani Bagh, I put a tap outside attached to the wall. Anyone passing by could drink clean water and there was always a bowlful for animals. Some years ago, I was going out for dinner when I saw a man with all his possessions draped on his wheelchair. I stopped to offer him some money. He took it and then said – I don’t really need much money but is it possible for you to give me water every day? He comes every morning to pick up the water and I am grateful to him for allowing me to do this small thing.

During this lockdown, thousands of people have risked COVID, going hungry themselves, being herded by the police at night, to feed street animals who are bewildered because their sources of food – the dhabas, the marriage halls, the garbage, the hotels, the people on the street have all vanished. Many of these feeders have lost their jobs. Many of them were abused and mistreated by their society organisations who, bored with nothing to do, took out their frustrations on these brave carers. I salute them a million times. They are the backbone of India – an India known for its compassion. Do you think this would have happened in any other country? Never! We should celebrate this quality in ourselves.

What is compassion? Compassion is that extraordinary competency that can sense and experience another’s pain– as miraculous as the ability to see light. But it’s more than just noticing and feeling sad for someone else’s pain. That’s empathy. Compassion means taking that sadness and turning it into an action that eases the hurt. The reason that animals have it so hard is because we don’t even notice them or their plight-like puppies that are routinely separated from their mums, thirsty birds that fall from the scorching summer sky, or the millions and billions of insects, birds, monkeys, and squirrels, and god knows what other native animals that lose their homes when we decide on yet another “scenic” resort.

Why animals get overlooked is that it’s hardest to have compassion for those you may not love or those who are most dissimilar to you. So, you may not love ants so you would hardly notice stepping on them. It explains why our hearts break when we hear of dogs tied up and sold in meat markets, yet we pass by scores of stalls with gutted fish without shedding a tear.

Just as we learn maths, history or French, compassion is something that has to be taught and developed. Buddhist monk and author Matthieu Ricard says our minds are like gardens. Left uncultivated, they are influenced by the weather and whatever seeds are in the wind. Some things will grow, and others will perish—and in the end we may not like the results. We have to deliberately cultivate compassion by learning compassionate attention, compassionate thinking, compassionate feeling, and compassionate behaviour. We need to learn to be open to suffering in others—and then we can act to alleviate that suffering. In this way, we become the people we want to be—in other words, to have the garden-mind we want.

Compassion is often confused with weakness. It is the most extreme form of courage. It is only courage that allows us to move into areas of deep suffering and pain. It is so easy to turn away from “graphic” or “disturbing” images and situations. For example, people don’t like to volunteer at old age homes, hospitals, animal shelters or orphanages because it’s upsetting to see distress at close quarters.

Compassion is just about seeing things. The way to develop compassion is to train to notice, notice, notice. Here are some simple everyday ways to practice compassion:

* If you feel hot and thirsty during the summer, notice that others might not have access to water as easily as you do. Put out clean cool water in your balcony, garden or terrace for the birds and a bowl of water near your gate for dogs and cats.

*Biscuits are an easy pick-me-up. Keep them in your car for the hungry and homeless, and anyone in need of a treat.

*Clothes and bedding you no longer need, or use could mean warmth in the winter for the homeless, both humans and animals.

*Avoid buying anything that causes cruelty- shampoos that test on animals, leather which kills cows, brushes made from animal hair, pillows stuffed with bird feathers, and of course the obvious no-nos like meat, dairy and fur.

*You enjoy fruit, but monkeys and birds need it to survive. Plant fruit trees in your garden specially for them.

*Pest control is a tidy term but simply means poisoning millions of tiny creatures. It’s much easier to keep your kitchen clean than to use cockroach killers.

*Instead of emptying leftovers into the trash, put out that food for hungry street animals.

*Celebrating occasions is such fun. Extend the party to an animal shelter or old age home that seldom experiences such joy.

*Bring home a pet from the street or an animal shelter. Buying dogs and cats perpetuates awful cruelty.

*If you hate heavy loads, think about horses, donkeys, bullocks, camels and elephants. Don’t ride them yourself and should you see an overloaded animal, be sure to get him unloaded, fed and watered.

*Don’t be afraid to check or confront cruelty. Stand up to bullies who pick on the weak and vulnerable like women, children and animals. Compassion doesn’t mean being meek. No one in India will say that I am gentle in my approach to cruelty. It angers me and the energy I get from anger brings justice.

Compassion has a radiating effect that has the potential to heal a tired and troubled world. One of my favourite lines sums it up nicely: Be kind, everybody has such desperate lives.

To join the animal welfare movement contact, gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

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Sat Mag

George Floyd, African-Americans, and Sri Lanka’s Estate Tamils (Part I)

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By Uditha Devapriya

Over two weeks, the George Floyd protests spread practically everywhere. From Kansas to Kenya, from Baltimore to Berlin, they turned into symbols of dissent against not just the racism, but also the xenophobia, of White America.

One of the most haunting images to emerge from the demonstrations was that of a young Sri Lankan girl, draped in the flag of her country, posing defiantly on the streets of an American city. The image and the girl in it attracted both support and opposition, the latter coming from militant Sinhala nationalists who felt she dishonoured a national symbol by using it as a sign of civil disobedience involving a domestic issue of another country.

The response of the nationalists to the George Floyd uprisings was, if at all, amusing. One section of this crowd took to social media to condemn White America for exhibiting its racist, chauvinist face yet again. Another section – no less big or significant – took the opposite stance, censuring those protesting against the murder of a black civilian because, to them at least, Floyd’s murder did not warrant the rampaging and the pillaging of public property. To the latter group, these protests seemed disproportionate to what they regarded as an instance of police authority enforcing the law over a minority community.

The few within the nationalist crowd who did support the raging protests were, even more amusingly, taken to task on social media by another group, this one ideologically opposed to nationalism. The latter crowd seemed to think, not without justification, that the nationalists sharing posts and posting comments against White America were myopic: they seemed to sympathise with George Floyd, but not with the Tamils and Muslims of Sri Lanka, whom the anti-nationalists alleged are as discriminated against over here as George Floyd’s community is over there. Thus both nationalists opposed to the protests AND anti-nationalists critiquing the selectivity of those supporting the protests persisted in comparing African-Americans to the Tamils and Muslims of Sri Lanka.

In that sense the protests taught us two important lessons. Though they don’t form the subject of this essay, they are relevant to it, and hence need to be examined.

Firstly, the inability of many Sinhala nationalists to take their struggle against neo-colonialism and Western hegemony forward. Resistance to colonialism has historically formed the bedrock of the Sinhala nationalist lobby, yet their denunciations of this uprising betrayed a failure to think beyond geographic borders. This came out quite despairingly in their reaction to the only local political party that saw it fit to organise a protest in front of the US Embassy. The government’s crackdown on the demonstration didn’t seem to ruffle their feathers, nor did the point that the demonstrators were making.

Secondly, and just as importantly, the inability of local left-liberal outfits to come up with a proper front, in Sri Lanka, against the George Floyd murder. The Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) organised the protest against the US Embassy, while the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) organised a discussion on it online. But neither of these belongs to what is traditionally labelled as “civil society.” The point can be made that the issue at the centre of these protests was not Sri Lankan and that is why civil society ignored it, but that excuse pales away when one considers that the moment sections of the nationalist crowd let out their anger at the US’s handling of the protests, certain social media civil society activists focused their energies more on pointing out the hypocrisy of the nationalists.

Despite the hostile exchanges between the two factions, one particular point brought them together: their comparison of African-Americans to Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims. They underscored this comparison from two different vantage points.

Thus the nationalists who critiqued the protests seemed to believe that, like extremist Tamils and Muslims, African-Americans and other minorities in the US were unfairly questioning the legitimacy of rule by an ethnic majority. Those opposed to the nationalists, on the other hand, inadvertently, by their critique of the nationalists’ sidelining of Tamils and Muslims, equated the latter two with the community which Floyd hailed from. The question to be asked here is whether such an analogy is, if not plausible, then at least tenable.

In 2011, a year before Barack Obama won election for a second term, Vinod Moonesinghe wrote a cogent reply to someone who in an article had wished for a Tamil or Muslim to be elected as this country’s leader. Vinod made two points there: considering Obama’s win as a win for all African-Americans failed to distinguish between his class origins and those of most African-Americans; and equating African-Americans with Tamils and Muslims was anachronistic, given the economically privileged status of the latter two groups.

Taking class and caste into consideration, then, Ranasinghe Premadasa’s election win seemed closer to such a comparison than the potential coming to power of a member of a “minority.” Taking class, caste, AND ethnicity into consideration, the analogy would have to extend, not to Jaffna and Colombo Tamils, Moors, and Malays, or Borahs and Sindhis, but instead to a community that, like the blacks of the US, was imported as dirt cheap labour, cut off from the rest of the population, and supervised under a setup no different to the plantations of the southern US. In other words, the migrant Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Before making an analogy between these two groups, though, it would do well to reflect, very briefly, on the historical trajectory of slavery in the West.

Following the Arab invasions of the seventh and eighth centuries, Europe turned inward. The eminent historian Fernand Braudel has written of a “second serfdom” that sprang up in parts of the continent where feudalism failed to give way to capitalism. The result was the growth of a kind of slavery, white slavery, across the East, in what is now Russia; it’s a testament to the legacy of the trade which emerged there that the word “slave” derived from the ethnicity of those marshalled into it from that region, Slav.

With the influence of the Arabs and the Ottoman Turks after them waning after the fall of Granada in 1492 (the same year Columbus “discovered” the New World), a liberated Europe, discovering hitherto unchartered colonies in the Americas on one side and Australia on the other, gradually instituted a system of indentured white bondage.

It has been estimated that around 67% of all white immigrants to the new colonies arrived there as servants. These immigrants were bound to a contract that compelled them to work for an overseer, without pay, over a specified period of time. Most often such contracts were drawn for those who had a prior obligation to these overseers which they couldn’t meet, such as a debt. Since the government usually didn’t interfere with these contracts, extortion and kidnappings became common, as they would among Africans later on. The situation was such that even in as late as 1910 the US government was trying to put an end to white slavery: the White Slave Traffic Act (or the Mann Act) that year made it a felony to transport women across state borders for the purposes of “prostitution or debauchery.”

Debt bondage, however, applied in the early period only to white immigrants to the white colonies, and the Irish; the difference between their situation and that of African slaves was that the latter were never recruited to pay off an obligation; most of them ended up as lifelong labourers, unpaid and treated as chattel or property. As Liam Stack once observed, “[u]nlike slaves, servants were considered legally human.”

To put this in its proper perspective, the position of those shipped to the sugar plantations of the West Indies and the cotton mills of the southern United States fitted that of neither indentured servants nor wage labourers. The process of recruiting and transporting these Africans, in the long term, thus became, as Gordon K. Lewis put it, “quasi-militarised”, while once quartered in the plantations their owners did everything to isolate the unfortunate immigrants, prisoners really, from the world outside.

Revisionist historians, white and black, have tried to understate the full weight of black slavery, either by pointing at the involvement of African intermediaries in it or by showing that European Christians became as entangled in it as Africans.

Thus Robert Davis (Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters) argues that while the Atlantic slave trade was 12 times as large, more Christians than Africans were captured between 1500 and 1650, while Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (“How Many Slaves Landed in the US?”) contends that of the 10.7 million Africans who survived the passage to the West, “only about 388,000” were shipped to the United States. What these “findings” fail to show is that black slavery was not geographically limited to the US, or for that matter to Western Europe, and that from 1530 to 1780, when more than five million Africans found themselves dispatched to Portugal and Brazil, only about a million Christians were forced into servitude in North Africa, along the Barbary Coast and into the Ottoman Empire.

The Abolitionist movement, no doubt representative of a progressive, enlightened wing in the Evangelical Revival, agitated for African slavery’s end. It did this as much for moral reasons as for pragmatic ones; the rise in Britain of an industrial Whig bourgeoisie over a landed Tory gentry and the expansion of British interests in Asia and Africa had by then necessitated the rise of plantation colonialism. It is hence not a coincidence that African slaves in the British West Indies were emancipated by official proclamation in the same year (1833) that the most ambitious set of administrative proposals were tabled in Sri Lanka (Colebrooke-Cameron) to lay the foundation for the new colonial plantation economy.

Against this backdrop, black slavery soon receded to countries where a white settler class predominated, including Rhodesia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. S. B. D. de Silva in The Political Economy of Underdevelopment refers to these as “settler states”, a distinction I will return to later. In any case, what we have here is the first of many differences between the plight of African-Americans and that of Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims.

Plantation colonialism demolished and also made use of existing traditional political, cultural, social, and economic patterns in much of Asia and Africa. The most immediate result of that, of course, was the impoverishment of the peasantry; in Sri Lanka, as we know, the peasantry most directly affected by these policies remained the Kandyan Sinhalese.

Marx was largely correct in his comparison of British domination of India to that of Ireland. He was more prescient in the implication that the British brought with them to the colonies their experience in subjugating the Irish peasantry. Two policies make it clear to what extent they were following the Irish example in India and Sri Lanka: the expropriation of peasant land, and the pursuit of divide and rule. I shall turn to these next week, and with them, the growth and evolution of Indian migrant labour.

To be continued next week…

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Sat Mag

Imagine yourself being fried and eaten bit by bit

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I cannot make up my mind: Is the meat eater, who eats dead animals killed in slaughterhouses, worse than the meat eater who kills the animal himself while eating it?

There is a certain type of person who goes to a restaurant, chooses a live fish, octopus shrimp or snake in a transparent aquarium tank, has it taken out of the glass and killed and cooked in front of him. His only reason for this to himself is that the meat should be “fresh”. In actual fact some people truly enjoy suffering. That, for them, is as important as the taste.

What can I say about people who enjoy eating these foods?

The Chinese Ying Yang fish is fried but kept alive. You can see videos of diners prodding at the face and eyes with their chopsticks while the fish struggles to breathe with its mouth and gills. It is prepared extremely quickly, with care not to damage the internal organs, so that the fish can remain alive for 30 minutes. Fish are the most sensitive of all to pain. Imagine yourself being fried and then eaten bit by bit.

In Japan, Sashimi, which means pierced body, is a common Japanese dish consisting of fresh raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces and eaten with soy sauce. One kind of Sashimi is Ikizukuri (“prepared alive”) made with live sea beings. Fish and octopus are common ingredients that move on the plate as you eat them. Sashimi could also include live frogs. The frog is stripped of its skin while alive and stabbed delicately with a fork and eaten. One restaurant in Shinjuku serves the frog’s fresh, still beating heart, as starters. Lobsters are not always boiled alive and dead by the time they reach your plate. Restaurants in New York serve lobsters while they’re still alive. They are upturned and diners pick out “belly sashimi” from the lobster which flails in pain for all the time you take to slash and take out his stomach meat. Another common dish in Japan is swallowing live baby eels dipped in vinegar and saké.

In South Korea, Sannakji is a dish that involves hacking the tentacles off a baby octopus and serving them still wriggling. Sannakji connoisseurs enjoy the sensation of the still-active suction cups on the octopus’ arms as they stick to the mouth.

The Chinese cannot be bested for their addiction to cruelty. Live shrimp are put into a liquor called Baijiu and diners bite their heads off while drinking it. This can give you lung fluke disease, but what is more important than proving your manhood by killing a shrimp. In China there is a dish called “Three squeaks” in which live baby mice are dunked in sauce and eaten alive. The reason why it is called “Three Squeaks” is due to the sounds the mice make when grabbed with chopsticks, dunked in the sauce and bitten through.

Raw live baby monkey brain is a very expensive dish eaten by rich people in China and Hong Kong. The chef puts a live monkey beneath a table with its head poking up through a hole. The chef slices the top of the head off and the customers eat its brains while it screams. Fresh baby donkey, or Huo Jiao Lu. The animal has its legs tied and its body held down, while the chef cuts its body and serves the meat immediately to customers.

Live baby duck embryos, just a day from being hatched, are a famous Chinese specialty which is now common in the Philippines as well. In the latter country it is called Balut. The Filipinos eat the egg boiled. The Chinese eat it raw to get the full taste of the egg white, the little yolk left, and the live squirming chick. No wonder the Chinese make such dangerous enemies. They love violence and gore.

Odori ebi or “dancing shrimp” is a Japanese sashimi in which the baby pink shrimp is still moving its legs and antennae while being eaten. The shrimp only dies when chewed. Odori Don is a live cuttlefish whose tentacles twitch as you pour the soy and chew it.

Consuming the beating heart and blood of live snakes is common in Vietnam. You choose the live snake at roadside stalls and they cut it and serve it within a minute. I have seen this in Hong Kong. In China people eat live baby snakes.

Sea urchins are the porcupines of the sea; globular animals with long spines to defend themselves. They live on the seabed. But their spines cannot protect them from human greed. They are caught and served live. Their testicles are a delicacy across the world, specially Europe. The live animal is cut on the plate with scissors and its salty gonads are taken out and eaten raw.

The most common animal to be eaten alive is the oyster which is served alive. Its spine is broken, and its insides are slurped up raw. This was originally a French dish but is now eaten all over.

A famous chain of restaurants in Copenhagen serves salads crawling with live ants supposedly to add a zesty taste. These move slowly because they have been kept in the fridge previously. Wichetty grubs are chewed live in parts of Australia. They are said to taste like nutty fried eggs.

Casu Marzu is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese eaten in Italy.  Its specialty is that it contains the live maggots of the cheese fly, which jump about in panic as you scrunch them. Casu Marzu has so much ammonia in it from its faeces that it scorches the tongue. Milk cheeses containing living insect larvae are produced in several Italian regions.

Television game shows that I have repeatedly complained about to the Ministry over the years is Fear Factor and Survivor where contestants eat live insects, spiders, cockroaches and worms. But by the time they take action, the series is already over. Then we start the cycle again with the next series. Man vs Wild is another show in which Bear Gryllis shows his manhood by eating live insects.

What is the word for people who demand food that is so full of pain? Monsters? Ugly terrifying evil beings that are probably a menace to human society as well. 

(To join the animal

welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.

peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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Sat Mag

The elephant and alli mankada

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By Ashley de Vos

In 1999, a proposal was made by the undersigned as President of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, to document from the existing information in the Department of Wildlife Conservation, held in the archives of Mr. Wilson, an erudite Officer, and draw a map showing the original Alli Mankada, as they existed prior to 1977. Many ‘Experts’ objected, that they had all changed. They had all changed, yes, but we were after the Ayurveda solution to the problem, instead of the ampicillin solution of the western educated experts.

As a quick fix an ampicillin solution in the form of an electric fence was promoted and installed at enormous cost. This we all know has failed. These elephants for centuries have travelled from A to B along the Alli Mankada. Today this highway or the Mankada they travelled along has been blocked, and a detour has been introduced. Let’s apply the very same scenario to us humans. We are merrily travelling along the highway with our family trying to get to B. Half way we are confronted with a road block, we are not told why, but forced to take a detour. We have now to travel along narrow roads, not properly sign posted, across unfamiliar territory, meet new people, some friendly, some not, they are agitated, because of the sudden increase in traffic encroaching into their privacy and disrupting their life styles as well. Some put up boards requesting that the traffic should move slowly and hope the detour would be closed down and the highway opened up as soon as possible.

The poor elephant faces the very same scenario. They have travelled the highway, the Alli Mankada for centuries. Suddenly without any warning, due to a politically influenced decision and without a bird brain of thought the elephant highway, the Alli Mankada is closed. The disruption could be a badly located chicken farm belonging to a friend of the politician, an ill designed housing scheme, or the indiscriminate distribution of land usually for political expediency. Remember the people have a vote, the elephants don’t. The elephant journey from A to B, now for no real researched reason has been diverted through new areas. Through villagers have never seen the movement of the elephant herds in their village before. Some of the coconut trees destroyed are close to 10 years of more. They had been safe till the indiscriminate blocking of the Alli Mankada that diverted the herds, via electric fences in a new direction.

It is certainly not the fault of the elephant, but they are forced to suffer, they are shot, they are electrocuted, fed the insane Hakka Pattas. Those who indulge in this method, should lose any good karma that they may have accrued in the past, and be relegated to spend the rest of their million lives in the darkest hell hole. One cannot induce arbitory changes to the Alli Mankada, the fact is that these highways are engraved in the genes, is why we still see elephants climbing Koslanda on their way up to the highest landscapes like Poonagala.

Any good research has to commence from the base not from a contorted half way, leaving elephants on both sides of the electric fence. The cause has to be understood first, to arrive at the real solution. If people have been wrongly settled, if industries have been wrongly placed, if national parks have been compromised, now is the time to change, to get back. To look for permanent solutions, even if it means alternate lands. This would then constitute a permanent solution. To open up the Alli Mankada. We will not need the electric fences or the Hakka Pattas anymore, much to the disappointment of the suppliers. The politicians responsible for creating the illegal encroachments should be taken to task. If the map of the original Alli Mankada could be produced and forwarded to all authorities at least the Officers will understand the possible repercussions of their folly. No one can fane ignorance and say, THEY DID NOT KNOW.

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