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Could Kandy conservatism of 70-years ago and before be compared to Taliban restrictions?

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With the Taliban having gained control of the whole of Afghanistan in August this year, even sooner than expected, after its thousands embroiled in warfare – this time more civil than directed by foreign forces – our thoughts focused on that mountainous region. Women the world over were perturbed that with Taliban control and rule being instituted, women in Afghanistan would have cruel rules re-imposed on them. I re-skimmed Anoja Wijeyesekera’s 2013 excellent book – Facing the Taliban: experiences of a UN Woman aid worker in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Also read her online article on the Afghan situation:‘The tragedy of Afghanistan: is there a way forward?’ and an edited version in Interpress Service News on September 24; link being: http://www.ipsnews.net/2021/08/tragedy-afghanistan-way-forward/

It is a very perceptive article which ends in a plea that “the world help Afghanistan and not turn its back on it.”

Conservative Kandy society norms juxtaposed against some Taliban rules

Considering some of what the Taliban proposes Afghans under its rule observe, of course made to do so, I reminisced of long ago Kandy and its surrounding villages and how society lived in strict conservatism. Comparison would be interesting, I surmised, so I sent my mind way back to what I remember and what I had heard of, since when I was of discerning age conservatism had loosened its grip very much and I was not so strictly brought up.

Religions followed

The principal difference in the two situations is that the Taliban follows strict Sharia Law and we Kandy folk were in the majority Buddhists knowing full well the teachings of the Buddha as to observance of religion; living lay lives and treatment of women, where the Buddha gave women an even more significant and elevated position than that of men. It is a totally pacific belief, where injury to any other living being by word, deed and thought is totally forbidden.

Wikipedia defines Sharia Law “as a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition, derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith. In Arabic the term shari’ah refers to God’s immutable divine law and is contrasted with the ‘fiqh’ which refers to its human scholarly interpretations.” What we have heard and accept is that it is extremely strict, it is not really from the Prophet’s teaching, it is a deviant form from the Koran and it was man propounded. (This have I actually heard, first in Lahore 25 years ago from a woman lawyer and read about).

Rule for men

Anoja writes on page 66 of her book: “According to the Taliban edict, all men had to grow their beards. Mullah Omar commanded that the beard belongs to Allah and that no man could touch it.” If trimmed or cut, the person faced one hundred lashes in public, a fine and imprisonment. Laughable if not so tragically true. Vice and Virtue groups implemented laws with cruel force then during the first Taliban-in-power period. The present leaders may well revert to this law. Men were also forced to wear the traditional baggy trousers and long tunic and vest.

Were there rules for men in the early half of the 19th century in Kandy? None, I would boldly say except that unwritten strictures of morality and social living were strong and observed by most. Only a few truants then, unlike now. The man was the breadwinner and dutiful to parents and wife and family. He knew his responsibilities and carried them out. I cannot remember from my childhood, misbehavior due to drunkenness or wife beating even among the villagers we holidayed among at my grandparents’ home. My uncles imbibed, but the one who did not, rose to a high position. My father and brother who took over the family when Father died at 41, were strict teetotalers. Men were free of any strictures covering appearance or dress.

Marriage

It was an encouraged practice in Afghanistan under the Taliban for a man to have four wives. Thus well-to-do men had wives as young as 12. For a woman it was absolute devotion to one man. Anoja reports on meeting a young 12-year old pre-teenager married to a man as old as her grandfather! Some Taliban leaders themselves demanded attractive young girls they saw.

Adultery meant death by stoning; it may have been the fate of the adulteress, the man getting away. Women of course were expected to be faithful slaves to their single husbands. Marriage in the old Kandyan province was strictly monogamous though according to historians polyandry was practiced where one woman had two or even more husbands. This practice, rare as it was, was solely due to concern over property and had not the slightest religiousness in it. Two brothers married one woman according to tales told. Polygyny was not tolerated but of course who knows, men may have had mistresses. Never heard of in our vastly extended paternal and maternal families. Friends would speak of grandmothers who were married at around 14 years, but never after the 1920s. However, even in my time, a girl was supposed to be married in her very early twenties. Curious questions were fielded by gossips if a girl was 25 or more and unmarried. Dowries were never asked for or bargained for, though of course the girl was endowed in proportion to the financial status of her parents. Even the ubiquitous magul kapuwa in his black coat with umbrella, did not formerly enquire about dowry.

Restriction of women

It is the utterly unfair and infamous restrictions that women had to suffer under previous Taliban regimes that causes the most fear and trepidation that women’s rights would be totally trampled and they would again be cruelly restricted in this second decade of the 21st century. The Taliban spokesman speaking over BBC in English in late August 2021, said women will be allowed education and to follow careers, but added “under Sharia Law.” There lies the crunch. The Afghan woman enjoyed 20 years of schooling, even higher education in Kabul and overseas and held jobs, many in foreign organizations. A huge question lies over the future of the women left behind in the country.

In the early 20th century in the Kandy district, education for a girl was not considered important as long as she grew up chaste and able to manage house, sew and be savvy over money saving. Mother being the eldest in her family and doted on by Grandfather, a true patriarch of the family and village, was safely escorted to the village school. But her two younger sisters were boarded at Girls’ High School, Kandy and played netball etc.

Mother was adamant her four daughters have their education to Senior Cambridge level at KHS, going against two uncles’ admonition to go to the village once my father died. I was off that restriction of school to a certain level and then a suitable marriage. Jobs for women were strictly frowned upon. Only Burgher girls went in for nursing and a few others into teaching. But Mother relented and allowed my second sister to teach (1940s) and the third to get tuition in math to enter University College, which she however did not. Marriage was the elders’ preference for her.

Women’s dress

The all enveloping cruelly injurious-to-sight burka insisted upon by the Taliban may return. TV shots of Kabul show more of these light blue tent like garbs evident. The eyes do not even have a slit to look through; the burka has a material-latticed slip for each eye. What an impediment. No part of body flesh can be shown.

Dress was modest in the old Kandy and its surrounding villages. Dresses were for young girls, but length above knees was strictly controlled. Once she grew up it was the half sari with a blouse which sported a long fringe around it. Missionary schools like Kandy High and the Convent insisted on uniform dresses; half saris in white were permitted. Soon enough the young girl was in full sari and her hair in a kondé. Senior girls in Hillwood were thus attired even in the early 1950s but played ferociously on netball field and tennis court.

Chaperonage

The Taliban forbids woman from even going marketing unaccompanied by a male who is her husband, father, brother or such like. Punishment is severe for breakers of this rule.

In Kandy of those days chaperonage was insisted upon. No girl groups could go traipsing around. My sisters, even in the 1940s, were not allowed to sit in our open verandah unless with an elderly woman chaperone. Modesty and good upbringing were targeted, and stoppage of in-law aunts gossiping.

Concluding view

No justified comparison is to be, or can be made of Taliban laws against what prevailed in the Kandy District in the first half of the 20th century. We were patriarchal but benignly so and women held their respected place; not even the faintest whiffs of mujahidin-ness would be tolerated. Some opine that our conservatism was Victorian, influenced by Brit rule. Not so. It was cultural and handed down through the generations with changes and increased laxity. Thus society and homes were settled, safe, secure and happy.



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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