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Compulsory training to instil discipline, not jeopardise freedom of choice

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By Rear Admiral (Rtd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera

Rohana R. Wasala, whom I respect as an erudite academic, in his article ‘Candour without caution dangerous naivety’, published in The Island of July 29, 2021, does not think that a vast majority of our youth lack discipline, disobey rules and are without good behavioural values.

He was responding to one of my statements that all young persons, above the age of 18, should be subjected to military training to inculcate disciplinary values in them. Wasala at the outset says “not so arbitrarily, not so hastily” and continues to ask “isn’t it more urgent to look after the discipline of minority Police officers who act in ways unbecoming of their profession?”

Yes, of course, it is very relevant. As the Minister of Public Security, before I call for the training of the youth in the country on discipline, I must put my house in order. I have already taken steps to ensure professionalism of each police officer and man. This exercise is not confined to the freshly recruited young officers. Irrespective of rank or seniority, a serious effort is underway to weed out those officers and men in the police force who tarnish the good name of it through their corrupt practices.

Returning to the core question as to whether our youth are disciplined, we must ask ourselves as to what gave rise to the consensus that our youth are undisciplined, for that matter not only youth but a majority of our society. For example, during the past 10 years, the total number of deaths resulting from road accidents was 27,000. (During the three decades of war, only 29,000 have died). This year, from January to mid-August, approximately 1,700 have died on the road. The accidents were due to speeding, drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs, violation of basic traffic rules, scant respect to other drivers or riders and lack of tolerance and restraint.

A few months ago, on Marine Drive, Bambalapitiya, an 18-year-old youth, riding his motorbike at high speed, killed, on the spot, a pregnant woman and her two children on the crossing. The future of the youth is also ruined as he has been charged with murder.

Discipline is the process of training oneself in obedience to the laws and self-control. This controlled, ordered behaviour of an individual resulting from such training is a basic requirement of a civilised society. Wasala should know whether schools in the country train the students in this regard. Aristotle rightly said discipline is obedience to rules formed by the society for the good of all. Talents and genius alone are not enough to achieve success. Discipline has an equally vital role to play. Talents blossom in a disciplined person.

A few years ago, I watched the World Cup football final in a famous city. The day before the opening ceremony, there was a musical show featuring world-famous musical groups. The ground was packed with more than a hundred thousand people, mostly youth, enjoying themselves thoroughly, singing and dancing, with cups of beer and wine in hand. Not a single incident occurred and after the show ended and people left, there was not a single paper cup or any other litter on the ground.

Regrettably, this is not the case with our musical shows in the suburbs. Almost every one of these invariably ends in stabbing or fisticuffs. Women are not safe without male escorts. Are these not indicators of an undisciplined society?

In Singapore, a young woman can safely travel in a taxi, even in the middle of the night. Ours is a Buddhist country where ‘Pirith’ is chanted morning and night with sermons of ‘Bana’ heard throughout the day. Yet, even an old lady or a child is not safe alone. That is the reality. This should put us all to shame.

Last year, there were 34,000 inmates in prisons of which 11,000 were drug addicts, mostly young. Clearly, our education system has failed to raise awareness, among children, on the devastating health effects of abusing substances, such as narcotics, or the dangers of associating with drug cartels. Where do we teach the youth that having in possession even five grams of heroin carries the death penalty or about the ruin that awaits the drug abuser and their families?

Once I visited Taiwan, with a Buddhist delegation, and had the opportunity to visit a College of Medicine in a national university. I was stunned to observe the discipline of both male and female students moving about and attending classes, their behaviour in the dining hall, the cleanliness of the premises and the beauty of the environment. That university is not only a training institution for medical personnel but also a centre of excellence to promote the advancement of society. Their objective is to cultivate cultural and humanistic students with morality, self-respect, responsibility, honesty and integrity. They attend humanities courses and participate in community services. They stress the importance of ethics. It is very strict with regard to syllabusses and examinations and each student knows exactly when he or she will graduate, provided they get through the exams. No strikes, no ragging.

What about our universities? Gaining university entrance is not an easy task. Although nearly 300,000 students qualify for tertiary education only about 30,000 gain university admission. One would think that after sacrificing the better part of their childhood to achieve this difficult goal, an undergraduate would appreciate every moment of this opportunity and make full use of it.

Instead, most of our young undergraduates do not even groom themselves properly. Such is the disrespect with which they treat this opportunity that is denied to many others. Sri Lankan medical students lost an entire year of studies by engaging in protests against SAITM. The loss of one year, from a person’s life, and the resulting colossal waste of state resources cannot be considered liberty or freedom of any sort. One’s liberty cannot violate another’s freedom. As such, discipline involves a measure of restraint on liberty, necessary in the interest of society.

Coming back to the subject of “compulsory military training” for the youth, one may remember the programme of “compulsory training” conducted by the army during the Mahinda Rajapaksa government for fresh university entrants, before the commencement of their degree courses. How many people, political parties and parents objected to it and criticised this initiation programme?

It was amidst such criticism that these courses were conducted. Yet, at the successful conclusion of these training sessions, students prostrated themselves before their instructors. The programme was very well received by the students, parents and also the general public. These undergraduates were taught how to dress properly and even trained on table etiqutte, allowing them to conduct themselves with dignity. They were also trained in unarmed combat! A sense of patriotism was also inculcated in them.

Malaysia, which secured its independence just one year before us has become a developed country mainly because of patriotism and discipline. When we compare our country to nations such as Japan, Singapore or China, it is obvious that we are very badly in need of discipline.

To develop the country, first and foremost, the people, including the rulers, must be patriotic. As such, there must be empathy for fellow citizens struggling with poverty. There must be a determination to promote material and spiritual wellbeing for all. Japanese schools have included ‘patriotism’ as a subject in their curriculum.

How many of our youth know our history? They must appreciate their heritage and nurture a sense of pride. Only through this sense of belonging can the country’s younger generation be moulded into responsible citizens.

Our society is diverse. Training courses for the youth will also help overcome racial, religious and other differences, and make them realise that all citizens are equal.

Military training does not mean training one to be a soldier. The assistance of the army should be enlisted because it has all the necessary facilities, human and physical resources to conduct such training.

In a democracy, anything ‘compulsory’ is seen as going against the democratic principle of ‘freedom of choice’. The absence of discipline means decay.

Nothing is lost by receiving this type of training. The worst that could happen is that some of the incorrigible may not change even after the training. However, this course will definitely not turn anyone into a terrorist or a criminal. The syllabus can be prepared with the sole objective of instilling discipline and patriotism and giving every individual a purpose in life. (Patriotic academics like Wasala may assist.) A training course such as this, that prepares one to face life with courage, will place neither the individual nor society in any danger. It is done with caution and not arbitrarily.

(Dr. Sarath Weerasekera RWP, VSV, USP, ndc, psc is the Minister of Public Security)



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Opinion

Another mother and son to be admired

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It was with a sense of awe, admiration and joy that I read the piece by Capt. Elmo Jayawardene in The Island of 25 Oct. 2021, on the achievements of Dr Pahalagedera Jayathilaka, a handicapped youth from almost the wilderness in a village called Dandu Bendi Ruppa in Nuwara Kalaviya who had achieved almost the impossible, gaining a super First Class from the University of Moratuwa and a PhD in Fluid Dynamics from the National University of Singapore. Thereafter he has been attached to the University of Oxford as a Research Scientist. All credit for his achievements has to go to his mother, Pahalagedera Dingiriamma who did everything within her means to enable her son to achieve the almost impossible, by cultivating vegetables to feed, educate and raise eight offspring.

Dr. Jayathilaka is a person we Sri Lankans have to be proud of and also get children to emulate his achievements. The most important thing about this patriotic son of the soil is that he wants to return to Sri Lanka and give something back to his motherland in return for the free education he has had. This is when most of the youth are clamouring to go abroad.

There is another mother and a handicapped son who have to be admired. The boy is Brian Eaton who had just received his Ordinary Level examination results and he has got A grades for all nine subjects. He was featured in the Sirasa TV programme Lakshapathi, which is the local equivalent of Who wants to be a millionaire. He lives with his mother, who is a seamstress, in Mattakkuliya. He is blind. He has read over 200 books in braille. The mother had to take him by bus to the Blind School in Ratmalana. It used to take about two hours to get to the school and another two hours to return home. As the mother had to wait till school is over, she used to take the material and cut same while waiting for her son. She does the sewing after returning home.

Though they are Christians, Brian had wanted to study Buddhism and seemed to know more about Buddhism than most Buddhist youth.

Brian was accommodated as a special case on the Lakshapathi programme without his having to face the “fastest finger first” selection process. His knowledge of all subjects was such that he was able to answer many questions without any assistance. He came up to the Rs. 2.0 million penultimate question without much difficulty and answered it correctly. Then it was the final question for the jackpot prize of Rs. 3.0 million. Brian decided to withdraw from the programme without attempting to answer the final question as he was not very sure. He withdrew securing Rs.2.0 million. Before he stepped down from the hot seat, the quiz master asked him what would have been his answer. And to everybody’s dismay the answer he gave was correct and he missed out on another Rs. one million.

Brian is an exceptional child who has successfully overcome all disabilities, with the untiring efforts of his mother, to reach the top of the programme which had evaded many of the normal children who had participated in this programme. We wish him success in all his future endeavours.

MH Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Warnapura: A colourful cricketing giant

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Bandula Warnapura secured his name in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket as the country’s first Test Cricket Captain. As Sri Lanka’s opening batter, he faced the first delivery bowled by Bob Willis during the inaugural test match played between Sri Lanka and England on the historic day of 17 Feb. 1982, at the P Sara Stadium (previously known as Colombo Oval), in Borella. Further, he scored the first test run for his country. Records are usually meant to be broken as it happens regularly in the sports arena world over. But Warnapura’s feats will never be disintegrated. What a privileged position to be in! It is an exceedingly rare combination of persistent commitment, endurance, and of course, luck, over a long period of time.

My happy memories of Bandula Warnapura were linked with our school days about 12 years prior to the country’s first test match.

I vividly remember his exceptional achievements during his school career at Nalanda College between 1968 and 1972. Towards the latter part of this period he rose to fame of an exceptional degree. His name became a common household one; in fact, no other school cricketer at the time received such media attention. Two other contemporary school cricketers who came close to him were Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias; a wonderful triumvirate who dominated school cricket in the early 1970’s.

In 1971, Warnapura everyone expected the batting machine to break the existing batting record of the Ananda – Nalanda annual cricket encounter (popularly known as “Battle of Maroons”) when he captained the Nalanda cricket team. However, he only managed to score half a century (53), which brought much disappointment to many cricket fans.

As a grade 9 student of Ananda College at the time, I still treasure fond memories of his record-breaking epic innings of 118 not out in 1972 at the big match. He broke the 44-year-old batting record (111) held by another Nalandian P M Jayatilaka in 1928. I was in the Ananda (rival) pavilion; the overwhelming expectation of the other boys of the Ananda pavilion was against him reaching a glorious century. However, I was quietly feeling happy for him and honestly wanted him to achieve the century and surpass the existing record. After breaking the then batting record, the Nalanda pavilion was ecstatic and Bandula Warnapura became a school cricketing legend. I remember well, the legendary cricket commentator Premasara Epasinghe staunchly supporting Warnapura throughout his career.

W arnapura’s subsequent cricketing career was remarkable and by accident in 1979 he captained SriLanka and won a World Cup match against the star-studded Indian team (Gavaskar, Kapil Dev et al.). Most believe that as an ICC associate member, beating an ICC full member was the precursor state for the elevation of the Island nation to the test status in 1981. It was a dream come true for all cricket fans in Sri Lanka. However, at this time around, Warnapura’s cricketing career was on the decline and ended abruptly after the ill-advised rebel South Africa tour in 1984.

Bandula Warnapura’s sad demise at a relatively young age is indeed extremely sorrowful news.

Thank you Bandula for giving us fond memories with great nostalgia during our school days. May you have a fruitful journey of sansara and finally attain the supreme bliss of nibbana!

Prof Ananda Jayasinghe

University of Peradeniya

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Opinion

Ali Sabry’s equation

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by Rohana R. Wasala

Justice Minister Ali Sabry is reported to have said the traditional brand of Islamism which has been practised by Muslims in Sri Lanka for centuries has to be preserved while the religion should not be practised according to the likes of one group. He reportedly made this remark after taking part in a religious ceremony at the Dewatagaha Mosque, Colombo. (This architecturally impressive place of Islamic worship is a proud national monument situated at the heart of the commercial capital; it is a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with Sri Lankans of other faiths.) The Minister is reported to have added that unity among Muslims in Sri Lanka should also be preserved just like preserving unity among various religious and ethnic groups.

Sri Lankans of all beliefs interested in the early restoration of the externally disturbed customary religious and communal harmony subscribe to that laudable view with the necessary alterations. But will his equation of Islam with Islamism work in the current context.

(CAVEAT: There is no way to check the authenticity of the news report in question unless Minister Ali Sabry confirms or denies what is claimed in it about him. It has not been indicated in which language he expressed these ideas. Did he actually use the words Islam and Islamism speaking in English or their equivalents speaking in another language, or has the media arbitrarily translated into English, using those two terms, what the speaker said in another language?)

But for the purpose of this essay, I assume that the Minister’s words have been reported accurately. I don’t know whether Muslims in Sri Lanka have started using the words Islam and Islamism interchangeably, which, of course, I’d have thought, is a near impossibility, given the universally recognised difference in meaning between the two terms. Google.com defines Islam as ‘the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah’. Islamism on the other hand, is generally taken to mean Islamist fundamentalism associated with violent militancy, which is purely a religiopolitical movement. The Wikipedia defines Islamism thus: “Islamism (also often called political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism) is a political ideology which posits that modern states and regions should be reconstituted in constitutional, economic and judicial terms, in accordance with what is conceived as a revival or a return to authentic Islamic practice in its totality”.

(By the way, the Wikipedia is no longer regarded as an easily available smart tool for the amateur researcher for the reason that the entries are made by voluntary editors at various levels of scholarship and academic authority and authenticity. The Wikipedia user must be sufficiently educated and well informed to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this case, the definition given is sound enough.) Explaining the relation between Islam and Islamism, the Wikipedia says:

“The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement. Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes, to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics. A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that “the conception of ‘political Islam’” is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and (that) apolitical Islam was a historical fluke of the “short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970”, and it is quietist-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.

“Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic “by the fact that the latter refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium, whereas the first is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century”. Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as “Islamiyyoun/Islamists” to differentiate themselves from Muslimun/Muslims. Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian ideologies and “isms” than to traditional Islamic religion.”

When Ali Sabry reportedly made the particular remark, he probably had in mind what the Wiki quote refers to as ‘quietist or political Islam’ (which, in common parlance, is called ‘moderate Islam’). Moderate Islam is not regarded as a problem, but Islamism definitely is. It need not be reiterated that the problem of Islamism affects the whole world. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Islamic/Islamist fundamentalism came to prominence relatively recently, although it has been smoldering since the mid-20th century as some commentators have pointed out. Given this background, responsible speakers do not use the two words (Islam and Islamism) as alternatives. I believe that minister Ali Sabry speaks as a responsible person. That is why I am sceptical about what has been reported of his speech. But these are strange times. Anything is possible.

However, it is somewhat inconceivable that Ali Sabry, who has been entrusted by the President with such a great responsibility or an array of responsibilities as he bears in a government that sought election on the main platform of “One Law, One Country” and that is poised to bring in a new constitution, made this thoughtless identification of Islam with Islamism.

The President wanted to assure the Muslim community that they were safe and would not be subjected to discrimination under his rule, particularly in the face of incursions into Sri Lanka of rampant Islamist extremism, although most Muslims did not vote for him at the presidential election in November 2019. It is conceivable that the President’s more important aim in appointing Ali Sabry to that key post was to enlist the participation of the Muslim community in governance despite their implicit initial refusal of his goodwill. It is unlikely that Ali Sabry has forgotten this.

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