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Concert for Bangladesh



Part II

By Jayantha Somasundaram
(Continued from December 17)

The Bangladesh Armed Forces, the Mukti Bahini, was created in April 1971 under Colonel Muhammad Ataul Goni Osmani who had served as Lieutenant Colonel with the British Indian Army during World War II. The Mukti Bahini included regular units like the East Bengal Regiment which had been established in February 1948, and it functioned under the Bangladesh government in exile. Initially their numbers and impact was not significant, but as the Pakistan Army’s Bengali soldiers defected to the rebels, and Indian arms reached the Mukti Bahini, their military capability grew. Osmani was subsequently promoted General by the Provisional Government.

By July General Osmani had evolved a comprehensive strategy. He aimed at establishing military control over Mymensingh, an area about 120km north of Dacca, enabling the Provisional Government to obtain diplomatic recognition of Bangladesh. The objective being that by establishing military and political control in a part of Bangladesh, there was the possibility it would lead to foreign military intervention which would liberate all of the country.

This strategy would be supplemented by a guerrilla campaign throughout Bangladesh with the objective of inflicting heavy Pakistani casualties, crippling their army’s mobility by destroying bridges, fuel supplies, storage facilities, railways and river transport. The expectation being that this would result in Pakistani military detachments being fragmented and isolated across Bangladesh, thus reducing their capability.

In pursuit of this objective the country was divided into eleven sectors, each under a military commander. New recruits received up to five weeks training in camps across the Indian border. In August they were blowing up ships in Chittagong and other ports and by September the Mukti Bahini numbered eight infantry battalions and three artillery batteries. They were grouped in three conventional brigades which were supplemented by an estimated 100,000 guerrillas.

The Razakars

The Pakistan Army in Bangladesh was assisted by Razakars (meaning volunteers in Urdu), pro-Pakistan Bengalis and Urdu-speakers in the East, Al Badr, Bihari Muslim migrants from India and Al Shams, drawn from anti-Bangladesh Islamist parties and communities. As the intensity of the conflict grew, five more battalions of the Pakistan Army were deployed to Bangladesh. But by then the Bahini’s military capability had grown to the point where they were able to temporarily secure airfields at Lalmonirhat in the country’s extreme north, long enough to land arms, ammunition and supplies from India.

Liberal opinion in the North Atlantic Community was sympathetic to the plight of the Bengalis. Among them were Senator Edward Kennedy, artists George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and writers Victoria Ocampo and André Malraux. In Sri Lanka a concert to raise funds as well as express solidarity was held at the Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatte which featured renowned singers Amaradeva and Nanda Malini.

“Edward Kennedy returned from a visit to the refugee camps in August, hailing India’s ‘way of compassion.’ That same month, a concert in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens, in support of Bangladesh, organised by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, directed the countercultural energies of the nineteen-sixties to a new cause. Nixon, however, put his faith in the proverbial American indifference to foreign affairs: “Biafra stirred up a few Catholics. But you know, I think Biafra stirred people up more than Pakistan, because Pakistan they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Moslems,” wrote Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker, quoting Nixon (September 16, 2013).

The events in Bangladesh resulted in the first major benefit concert in history at an international level. The project was the brainchild of Bengali maestro, sitarist Ravi Shankar, who in early 1971 brought the tragedy of Bangladesh to the attention of former Beatles guitarist George Harrison and Klaus Voormann the German artist, musician, and record producer. Called ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’, it was held on August 1, 1971, with the aim of raising funds for Bangladeshi refugees.

Bob Dylan

Two of the artistes Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan had Bengali heritage. Performing alongside them were the idols of the seventies: Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and the band Badfinger.

The Concert was attended by a record crowd of 40,000 and ticket sales raised $250,000 for relief to be carried out in Bangladesh by UNICEF. Later, with revenue received from the record album and the film, around $12 million was sent to Bangladesh.

George Harrison who introduced the concert invited Ravi Shankar on sitar, accompanied by Ali Akbar Khan on the sarod, tabla player Alla Rakha and Kamala Chakravarty on tamboura to present the initial oriental music segment. After explaining the purpose of the concert, they performed a traditional dhun titled ‘Bangla Dhun’.

To thunderous applause from the New York crowd, George Harrison began the occidental part of the concert with ‘Wah-Wah’, his Beatles hit song ‘Something’ and the gospel-rocker ‘Awaiting on You All’. On stage he was accompanied by a band, comprising Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner and eighteen others, backed by Phil Spector’s All Things Must Pass rock orchestra.

They were followed by Billy Preston, who sang his hit ‘That’s the Way God Planned It’ and Ringo Starr with ‘It Don’t Come Easy’.

Then came the icon of his generation, Bob Dylan. Accompanied only by George Harrison and Leon Russell with Ringo Starr on tambourine, he gave the audience his decade-defining songs from the 1960s: ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh – It Takes a Train to Cry’, ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ and ‘Just Like a Woman’.

And finally George Harrison led the finale of ‘Hear Me Lord’ and his hit, ‘My Sweet Lord’, and the closing ballad he wrote for The Concert, ‘Bangla Desh’. But the ripples from The Concert went further and wider when George Harrison’s ‘Bangla Desh’ hit the pop charts. This was followed by a three-record box set of the concert and the documentary motion picture released by Apple Records.

According to Phil Spector, an American record producer, musician, and songwriter, “It was magical. That’s the only way to describe it, because nobody had ever seen anything like that before, that amount of star power… all in two hours onstage at one time.”

Farida Majid, a Bangladeshi poet, translator, and academic, summed up what had happened: the “warmth, care and goodwill” of The Concert “echoed all over the world.” It also blazed the trail for subsequent rock charity benefits, like the 1985 Live Aid and Farm Aid to the Concert for New York City and Live 8 in the twenty-first century. The last word, as it were, on The Concert came from George Harrison, who in 1992 said, “The money we raised was secondary. The main thing was, we spread the word and helped get the war ended… What we did show was that musicians and people are more humane than politicians.”

(To be continued)

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Territorial mindset, a recipe for disaster!



By Chani Imbulgoda

I recall a documentary on animal life on a TV channel. Describing the behaviour of lions, a caretaker said, “These lions are from the Dehiwala zoo. They are vigilant of other lions entering their territory, if one crosses the boundary they fight to death. They won’t like other lions entering their territory.” The announcer remarked, “Just like humans!”

Exactly, just like us. In the animal kingdom the survival of the fittest is the norm and not crossing others’ territory is a rule of thumb. Since the beginning of human civilisation there have been tales of battles. The Trojan war, Alexander’s, Caesar’s, Napoleon’s wars degraded human values. Saddled with cynicism, hostility and jealousy, we humans, like beasts, are at war with ‘others’ who do not fit into our ideologies or our comfort zones. History is a storehouse of tales of human battles over territories in the guise of civilisation. So-called civilisation itself was won over battles. In the local context, the native ‘Yakkhas’ were massacred by Prince Vijaya to develop ‘Sinhale’. America, Canada, Australia inherit a dark history of looting territories of indigenous people in the name of civilisation. Portugal, Spain, Britain tasted the blood of their ‘colonial slaves’. Centuries later, we have not yet shed our primary animal instincts. We battle tooth and nail to protect our territories, our autonomy, values and interests all in the guise of civilised behaviour.

We rarely welcome outsiders into our territories. In the 40s and 50s, women were kept out of men’s territory. Late British Prime Minister aka Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, had to struggle many years to break through another of man’s territories, the Parliament. In the movie ‘Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley’, she sobs to her husband that contrary to what she previously believed, despite hard work she cannot win on merit and that dedication and passion are irrelevant. One-time Prime Minister, Edward Heath condemns Thatcher’s outspoken nature to force her out of politics. Heath says that the Parliament is akin to an orchestra made up of many musicians and Thatcher is a French horn more loud than appropriate, that threatens the orchestra’s harmony.

This is how men and also women of the same flock air their resentment towards outsiders, in their own words ‘intruders’ who are colourful and loud in action. Insult, indifference, suspicion, suppression, oppression are not uncommon experiences of pioneers in anything in history or at present. I once heard a senior Professor advising a young colleague attempting to change the system for the better, “Lady, look, do not swim upstream, people would not like it.” Yes, despite good intentions any novel act breaks the harmony…That is why the Buddha had many foes. That is why the notorious thief Barabbas was chosen by the crowd over Jesus.

I tried to uproot a tiny cinnamon sapling that grew through my interlock pavement blocks, failing which I crushed it. It made me realise that this is what happens, no matter how valuable you are. If you crop up in a place where you would not be accepted, every effort is made to root out, failing which, crush you, to ensure that you would not resurface. I suppose many of us had faced similar circumstances at work places, in politics or within social circles. Why does this happen, because of ego, envy, distrust or insecurity? Or because someone deemed a threat by another individual, a leader or a group enters their territory?

A pack of wolves has a leader; the protection of lions’ territory is the responsibility of the leader; the leader is the first to announce danger. No outsider can cross the boundary. We see certain lions, wolves and foxes as alphas. The mentality ‘I am the boss, I know everything’ blinds them. They live on ego, with a superiority complex, under the assumption that no one can challenge their power. If the newcomer is meek and sucks up to the leader, he or she survives and can slowly squirm their way into the pack.

I have heard parents complain about how difficult it is to enrol their kids into various sports clubs in schools. I have worked in private as well as public sector organisations, local and overseas. I have experienced antagonistic behaviour in these organisations. Driven by their insecurity, superior or inferior complexes, they would go to any lengths to harass the outsider and go to any extreme to protect his or her territory. They are myopic to the point of rejecting ideas foreign to them no matter how good they are, as they see ‘danger’ in ideas alien to them. Some group ideologies are thicker than blood. Certain professional groups rarely welcome females. They believe that women cannot meet challenges as men do and can be fiercely territorial. Many qualified and capable individuals are ostracised from organisations or industries or expelled from positions because of this territorial mindset.

A person with a territorial mindset is often overcome by thoughts of safeguarding or enhancing his or her power, control, influence and self-proclaimed status. These are primitive emotions. Taking ownership and defending what people believe belongs to them is a positive trait. But it is this mentality that subjects newcomers to agony when they grow too smart for their own good. They are stifled when the power of those with a territorial mindset is threatened. Many novel ideas and skills go to waste while some newcomers or ‘misfits’ are forced to leave their workplaces, others would continue the fight or be forced to conform.

We talk of harmony, reconciliation, tolerance and unity in diversity. Why cannot we synergize each other’s differences? A French horn would add glamour and at least amuse the audience. A garden consisting of a variety of flowers is more awe-inspiring than a garden of roses alone. Poet Khalil Gibran said that when a river enters the sea, the river is no more, it is diluted in salt water and one cannot trace the river in the sea, but the river grows larger and so does the sea. When we come out of our confining shells we are exposed to greater opportunities as well as benefits for both the newcomer and those already in that society.

(The writer holds a senior position in a state university and has an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management [PIM], Sri Lanka and is currently reading for her PhD in Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Sector at PIM. She can be reached at

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Faulty decisions



Farmers protesting against the prevailing fertiliser shortage. (file photo)

The importation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides was banned by a Cabinet Memorandum, dated April 27, 2021, to promote the use of organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. As a result, inorganic fertilisers such as urea, Triple superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and other agrochemicals (insecticides, fungicides etc.) became scarce. Agriculture Ministry in the meantime promoted manufacture of organic fertilisers (OF) but they were unable to get sufficient amounts of organic fertilisers manufactured. Most of what was available were of low quality with high C/N ratios. Agric. The Ministry is yet to produce natural insecticides, fungicides, etc. Thousands of farmers, all over the country, started to protest demanding that inorganic fertilisers and appropriate pesticides are made available, because they knew that these agrochemicals are necessary to get better yields from the crops they cultivate. The Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, representing mostly the Soil Scientists and Agronomists of Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association, the professional body representing the agricultural economists of Sri Lanka predicted massive economic losses due to potential yield losses, with the implementation of the import ban on fertilisers and pesticides

In spite of all these protests, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) continued to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, This caused immense economic and social problems to the people in general and to the farmers in particular. Farmers who cultivated Paddy in the current Maha complain of a reduction in the yields, and those who cultivated vegetables and other crops had to bear up a substantial decrease in quantity and quality of their produce. Production of maize decreased, resulting in a drop in poultry feed.

Reduction in local rice production made the government importing large quantities of rice from China and Burma. Food prices have increased causing thousands of people mainly the poor, going hungry resulting, health and social problems. Incomes of nearly two million farmers got reduced which affected their buying capacity resulting in numerous undesirable effects such as increasing unemployment, poverty and related issues. Tea small holders complained of reduction in quantity and quality of tea affecting their income, and also a decline on foreign exchange earnings which those in the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and other relevant institutions are frantically searching. All these are the result of the ban of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, a faulty decision.

In August, the Cabinet removed the ban probably realising the utter foolishness of the decision to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. However, it is too late as it takes time to import fertilisers and other agrochemical which were in short supply due to the ban.

The main reason given for banning importation of inorganic fertilisers was that it caused chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDU). Several research studies have been conducted since the year 2000, when it was reported to occur in some parts of the country. The findings of these studies do not indicate that there is any relationship between CKDU and fertilisers. CKDU has not been reported in many countries such as China (393 kg/ha) India (175 kg/ha) and United Kingdom (245 kg/ha) where the amount of fertilisers used per hectare is much larger than that of Sri Lanka (138 kg/ha). Note- the fertiliser consumption data given are for 2018 and are based on values given by Food and Agriculture Organization.

The growth rate of Sri Lanka has declined after 2015 . It dwindled to 4.5% in 2016 and 3.1% in 2017 and in 2020 it was -3.6 %. The Trade Deficit ( the difference between exports and imports- TD) shows a decrease but at present it stands at 6.1 US$ billion. Exchange rate continued to increase from Rs. 111 to a US $ in 2010 to Rs, 186 in 2020. Currently it is around Rs. 200. According to Central Bank, External Debt in Sri Lanka increased to 51117.43 USD Million in the third quarter of 2021. These figures indicate that Sri Lanka is heading towards an unprecedented economic crisis. Hence, the government need to implement appropriate strategies to increase exports and reduce imports.

Sri Lanka annually imports food worth Rs. 300 billion. Most of the food imported such as sugar, milk food, lentils, onion, maize, etc., involving around Rs. 200 billion can be locally produced, thereby reducing expenditure on food imports. In view of the current shortage of foreign exchange, it has become extremely important to promote the production of food locally which hitherto have been imported. The plantation sector, which includes tea, rubber, coconut, cashew, sugarcane and minor exports crops such as cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa ,plays a very important role in the economy of the country earning a substantial amount of foreign exchange, Hence, it is important to implement strategies to increase the productivity of the food crop and plantation crops sectors. Inorganic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides play a very important role in this regard.

However, the Government is emphasizing that organic fertilisers (OF) are used in the coming yala season as well . Those in the government who made this faulty decision need to realise that OF can never replace inorganic fertilisers and that it can only be supplementary. They need to give serious consideration to the bitter experience of the farmers who applied OF to their crops during the current Maha. The Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider this faulty decision if they want to increase local food and export crop production.

In the year 2022, there will be a severe shortage of food negatively affecting food security, unless the government implements a realistic and effective programme from the beginning of 2022 to solve this issue. Implementation of foolish decisions such as to replace inorganic fertilisers with organic fertilisers, as done in 2021 is not going to solve this problem. Among the 17, he Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, several are related to increase crop production. The Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka has a responsibility for coordination, facilitation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the implementation of strategies related to development of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka.

As indicated by Edgar Perera, a former Director of the Dept. of Agricultural Development (Ref. The Island of 17 Jan, 2022) the most appropriate thing to be done is to use OF as a soil re-conditioner along with chemical fertilisers, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in adequate quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

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Have pity on Afghans



A camp sheltering displaced Afghans.

Is there no end to the torment inflicted on the ordinary people of Afghanistan, by the United States?

Having being defeated militarily, and decamping ingloriously within 24 hours, like thieves in the night, the USA now inflicts starvation and destruction on Afghanistan from a “safe distance”.! Money that rightly belonging to the Afghan State is being withheld by the American dominant Financial system. Let this be a lesson to us.

A report in The Island of 17 January revealed that Afghan families were selling children and their organs in order to survive.

After all, what crime did the Afghans commit in resisting an invading foreign power? Sri Lanka should seek ways of offering direct Aid at least in small ways, to Afghanistan, whether the Americans approve or not.


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