Connect with us

Sat Mag

Democracy and Sri Lanka’s middle-class

Published

on

By Uditha Devapriya

 

Speaking at the launch of the 43 Senankaya, a month or so ago, Champika Ranawaka bemoaned the way voters, particularly young voters, view politicians today. “We saw this clearly when MPs began contracting the virus,” he observed. “The first reaction on social media, and elsewhere, was: when will the virus invade Parliament? When will it help us get rid of those in Parliament?” This, Ranawaka pointed out, had a lot to do with how politicians have congealed into a distinct class of their own, insulated from the public and hardly receptive to it. He went on to observe, however, that inasmuch as family bandyism – the Rajapaksas, but also the Senanayakes, the Bandaranaikes, perhaps even the Premadasas – has contributed to the disjuncture between the voter and the voted, it is hardly fair to hold every politician to account.

Ranawaka was obviously insulating himself from the backlash generated on social media against the much condemned, much vilified 225. But his observation seems, at least to me, a tad superficial. True, family bandyism has damaged relations between people and representatives. True, corruption did not begin with the present batch of parliamentarians, and it will not end with that batch. Yet whereas Ranawaka couches the problem – the gulf between citizenry and legislature – purely in terms of political corruption, I feel it must be viewed from another vantage point.

To put it simply, the problem is not with politicians alone. I know this is not the most popular thing to say, but it’s true. The issue that Ranawaka identifies goes far beyond voters wishing a coronavirus pox on all politicians; it goes all the way back to the backlash of disenchantment generated by the yahapalana government, to what voters saw as the failures of that regime. It wasn’t a case of voters wishing politicians away only; it was a case of voters wishing the idea of politics away.

Ranawaka may not have realised it, but the pox-on-all-politicos curse happens to be a symptom of a more serious problem: the highly educated, professional, urban if not suburban middle-class – which he is targeting – envisions a polity free of politics, and wishes politicians out of the system. There are two broad reasons for this: the excesses of the populists, and the failures of the reformists.

I realise I’m engaging in stereotypes here, but that is because the people I have talked with, and the sentiments they express, tend to conform to such stereotypes. Ranawaka aims at a predominantly Sinhala middle-class that’s a lower-middle class version of the Viyathmaga and Eliya (V-E) coterie; Sajith Premadasa’s Buddhi Mandapaya aims at the same thing, only with a less preponderant Sinhala presence. In other words, as with the V-E coterie, both 43 Senankaya and Buddhi Mandapaya target the same class of professionals whose electorates have generated that backlash against politics, politicians, and more importantly, the idea of politics.

I am tempted to call this milieu Sri Lanka’s middle-class, but then I realise there is not just one middle-class. In an essay written in 1975, the Marxist historian Arno J. Mayer drew a distinction between different layers of what he identified as the lower middle-class: petty independent producers, merchants, and service operatives on the one hand, and petty dependent clerks, managers, and technicians on the other, in addition to teachers, professors, lawyers, or put simply, professionals. As far as the Sri Lankan middle-class’s run-ins with politicians are concerned, it is these groups, particularly the professionals, who count. My contention, which may be controversial to some, is that as much as they count, they are not adequate for a national political programme, democratic or otherwise.

 

Why do I say this?

The issue with these groups and milieus is not that they are right about politicians – that they tend to rob, pilfer, piddle, waste taxpayers’ money, hang on to power, and so on – but rather that they are half-right about the bulk of them. They are correct in their diagnosis: of course politicians rob, of course they hang on to power, of course they are corrupt, and of course they corrupt others.

But though correct in their diagnosis, they are wrong in their recommendation. Put simply, they want a polity free of politics. This is unrealistic, something no country in the world has tried out. Yet like a mantra, it has caught on. Disgust with politicians, which in other states has served to reform politics, has served here to turn the most educated, urbanised, and suburbanised setions to an aversion to politics. The call to get rid of the 225 is one symptom of that malaise; the call to replace them with a set of experts is another. Not surprisingly, against that backdrop, the middle-class sees itself in much the same way the one-eyed see themselves in the land of the blind: not only averse to politics, but also superior to, and above, it.

My problem with this approach to politics is that it does not sit in well with certain tenets of democracy, and more worryingly, with a pluralist conception of democracy. This belies another major problem, relevant to the issue at hand.

One of the most enduring myths about democratisation in countries like ours is that the middle-class should play a leading role. Much of the literature on the role of the middle-class in democratisation, even in these parts of the world, focuses on the link between economic aspiration and political reform. This “structural linkage” assumes that as an economy develops, authoritarianism will wither away, thanks to the rise of an educated, professional, meritocratic milieu.

Although the evidence collected thus far is not enough to establish this view as a fact, the assumption has been accepted as such for more than half a century. It traces its origins to the influential work of Seymour M. Lipset, who saw economic growth as a precondition of democratisation and argued that far from fostering liberalisation, the working class served to obstruct it. For him, the class most benefitted from growth, which would by default stand up for democracy, was the middle-class.

Lipset’s observation suffers from two limitations. The first is obvious: it’s limited, for the most, to the experience of Western liberal democracies of the mid-20th century. To put it simply, it is limited by time, space, and historical context. The second is as significant: it endorses a centre-right, anti-working class position. In other words, not only is his study contextually limited, it is also shaped by ideological convictions. But Lipset’s hypotheses about the link between middle-class aspiration and political liberalisation have been and continues to be taken at face value by scholars, activists, and NGOs the world over, from New York to New Delhi.

Even those who have pointed out Lipset’s contextual and ideological biases tend to harbour contextual and ideological biases of their own. Much of the work which provides an alternative account of middle-class involvement in democratisation focuses on the East Asian and South-East Asian experience. At first glance, the shift to this region makes sense: the transition from Third World to First in the economies of Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and even Taiwan did not mirror a transition from autocracy to democracy. Indeed, as Lee Kuan Yew once put it to Fergus Bordewich, political autocracy and one-party rule encouraged Singapore’s middle bourgeoisie to favour honest government over party politics.

But Sri Lanka is not Singapore, just as Singapore is not the US. The dynamics and the optics are different. It is imperative to account for such optics if we are to formulate a proper account of whether, and to what extent, middle-class growth in the country has widened democracy. An alternative account of their relationship with democracy, indeed their conception of it, must hence be formulated.

At the risk of simplifying a complex reality, I see Sri Lanka’s middle-class as making two demands: less taxation, and more representation. To explain more clearly: less taxation in the form of cheaper food prices, fewer import tariffs, and fewer barriers to trade; and more representation in the form of greater state accountability and greater access to public goods, i.e. the best hospitals, the best schools, institutions to which the middle-class can get access only by bribing officials. How contradictory these two goals are can be seen in how, if they are met almost exclusively in favour of a middle-class, they tend to exclude or marginalise other social groups. Resources, after all, are not unlimited, and even in a context where tax revenues are not diminishing (as they are in Sri Lanka), it will prove to be difficult for a policymaker to, say, reduce import restrictions to benefit an aspiring middle-class without cutting down on welfare payments to the poorest in order to offset resultant losses in state revenue. And yet, far from concerning the middle-class, the point that the state can cater to them only at the cost of welfare to other classes seems to have escaped them.

One example will suffice to illustrate my point. Not too long ago, the government allocated space to an agitation zone near Galle Face where trade unions and activists could gather and yell and holler to their hearts’ content without obstructing traffic. Of course, to limit dissent to a demarcated zone cannot be considered very open, for that matter very democratic. Yet for middle-class democrats, excluding a group other than their own – a group they generally detest because the protests they hold tend to obtrude on their routines – did not seem a problem; indeed, far from bemoaning it, vast sections of this milieu appeared to welcome it on social media.

For these middle-class types, then, family bandyism remains a problem; corruption too; taxes on imported cars, certainly. But stopping protests from spreading out to the roads? Not by a long shot. Therein lies the dilemma at the heart of this class: they want democracy, they want representation, they want honest government. Yet they also want, and desire for, a polity free of politics. The issue is that this polity appears less a democratic Utopia than an entrenched oligarchy: one that substitutes rule by middle-class philosopher-kings for rule by populist family cartels.

Whether that is something we should want is a question civil society must ask itself seriously. To me the solution is simple: to usher in a democracy free of private and public corruption, civil society must engage in mobilising other classes. In a word, it must be inclusive, participatory, and broad, rather than be reliant on professionals, idealists, and petty anti-regimists. The sooner civil society realises this, the easier it will be to come up with a truly national political programme: one that addresses the concerns of marginalised minorities, ethnic and economic. With a middle-class that aspires to the ranks of a compradorist bourgeoisie, such a programme will probably never materialise. For that we must look elsewhere, to other classes.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

 

 



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sat Mag

Notes on a not-so radical class

Published

on

By Uditha Devapriya

A little over a year ago, Devani Jayathilaka, the Gampaha Division Wildlife Officer now on a crusade against the government, stood up to a State Minister and got away with it. Objecting to Sanath Nishantha’s proposal to build a children’s playground on forest land, she stood her ground even as the Minister and his acolytes attempted to intimidate her.

Videos of Devani retorting to Nishantha and those acolytes gained supporters across social media. Public opinion being very much with her, the government quickly began feting her: Bandula Gunawardena said that the Cabinet took her side, and S. M. Chandrasena regretted the incident while half-heartedly exonerating the Minister.

Devani Jayathilaka’s courage was seen at the time as a symptom of the President’s resolve to make the bureaucracy more independent and efficient, free of bias and politicisation. As such, supporters of the government jumped on the bandwagon. The Daily News dedicated an entire editorial to her, calling her “the toast of all environmentalists, nature lovers and generally all those who cherish our country’s legal and constitutional integrity.” Hopefully, the laudatory piece concluded, “this signal act… will be a beacon to others in the public service to do their bit in fulfilling their public duty while resisting the pressures of politicians.” The subtext was unmistakably clear: the President’s reformism had empowered the officer’s activism.

A year later, and here we are: the premature love affair aborted, the feeling of celebration dampened. Yet could one have expected otherwise? At no point here in living memory have environmental concerns permeated every layer of society, from Colombo’s civil society to Sinhala nationalist outfits, as they are now. A broad conjuncture of oppositional forces, some drawn from organisations that fuelled the ideology which brought the government to power (such as the Sinhale movement), has pitted itself against that government’s apathy over the environment, while social media continues to enthrone activists: environmentalists and state officials. The President’s men, meanwhile, seem to be resorting to a policy of either ignoring or retorting to these voices. In both cases, it’s the government that has lost out.

It is hard not to side with the activists. They have a point: no regime has engaged properly with the environment. Between 2017 and 2019, forest cover reduced from 29.7% to 16.5%. It was the yahapalana government, remnants of which are tweeting against the present regime’s environmental record now, that held

the reins of power then. Yet the administration before it was no different: in 2012, to give just one example, roughly 1,585 hectares of primary forest land were lost, the biggest annual loss in a decade. The numbers for 2020 and 2021 have not been released yet, but there’s no doubting they are as big as, if not bigger than, these figures; according to the Rain Forest Protectors of Sri Lanka, forest cover stands at 17%, above what it was in 2019, but well below the 30% promised by the president.

The politics of the campaigns against the government, however, goes well beyond a simple dichotomy between political representatives and wildlife activists. Frustratingly enough, it’s not easy to put a finger on the dynamics of these protests, to draw a line between protagonists and antagonists within them, not least of all because a simple twofold division – government versus us – has been replaced by a threefold one in them: the government (high level officials included) on one side, activists and officials on another, and us on yet another.

Led by a mostly Sinhala and Buddhist lower middle-class, including the clergy (no less than the Sinhala Ravaya), these campaigns, which have mobilised activists and officials, appear to have unearthed a rather interesting contradiction from within that middle-class: a distrust of political representatives, and an ambivalent attitude towards lower level officials. To identify this contradiction for what it is, and explore it, is not easy: that requires research, the mettle of an anthropologist or ethnographer, and I am neither. Yet from what little I have been able to gather, it appears that this recent spurt of activism has facilitated a shift in the character of anti-state activism, particularly in its class composition. How so?

Devani’s message resonates profoundly with a section of the country’s upward aspiring middle-class, educated mostly in Sinhala but idealising a better life: one to which they feel both government representatives and private interests are obstacles.

They hold contrasting views regarding the state. As far as the government proper – Ministers plus high level officials – is concerned, they are against it. It’s a different story with officials, not least because of the latter a great many hail from the milieu they do: Sinhala educated and upward aspiring. This is the demographic Patali Champika Ranawaka is targeting through his “43 Senankaya”, a demographic parties have not tried to court until fairly recently.

What explains their relationship with the state? Regarding government representatives, their opposition is easy to rationalise: most of these representatives are seen to have risen to where they are now by foul means, not fair. That irks an educated middle-class bereft of political or economic power; simply put, they feel hard done by, left out, unrepresented.

Such feelings of distrust cut through parties; indeed, a defining characteristic of the middle-class is the absence of a unifying political ideology. Any Opposition which believes that by coming to power on the strength of their convictions it can expect support from them forever is therefore walking on water, for this lower middle-class happens to be adamantly protean. It is their protean character, incidentally, that explains their response to state officials.

Their view of the latter is borne out by two main considerations: that they hail from the same class background, and that, since of late, these officials have taken up arms against political authorities, a group whose actions are seen as burdening the lower middle-class.

Indeed, far from berating officials like they berate political authorities, the lower middle-class rebelling against the regime share a desire to enter the bureaucracy as either professionals or administrators, though through education attainment, and not political backing. This desire is essentially a retread of the demand made by unemployed graduates: they want to fill a post in a state institution as soon as they leave university. Under Gotabaya Rajapaka their integration into the bureaucracy has been remarkably rapid: by September last year, for instance, around 60,000 graduates had been absorbed into the Public Service, as part of his “Rata Wenuwen Weda” programme. Yet even this rather modest realisation of lower middle-class aspirations has failed to dampen, or stunt, lower middle-class opposition to his government.

To sum up, what we are seeing here is a division between state officials, assumed to have entered the government through merit, and political representatives, assumed to have entered it through influence. That Devani Jayathilaka continues to be idealised by this class therefore points at the consolidation of a uniquely petty bourgeois consciousness, which at once aspires upward in the bureaucracy, and pits itself against the government overseeing the bureaucracy. Gravitating to meritocratic ideals, they have become a huge floating electorate.

This raises another point: their disavowal of party politics. Let’s not mistake karawala for mallum here, however; the line this milieu touts, that they lack party ideology, should not mislead one into thinking that they can’t be co-opted into any party ideology. For those who believe that a non-political middle-class rebelling against an elected government, even one infringing every other norm in the book, is incapable of political manoeuvring, the case of Anna Hazare offers a counterargument: opposed to political groups, what Hazare achieved in the end was an electoral landslide for just such a group, Narendra Modi’s BJP.

By no means am I saying that Anna Hazare was/is to India what officials crusading against political representatives are/will be to Sri Lanka. Yet not unlike Hazare, these officials have given what little of an Opposition that’s there in the country some much needed ammunition (with which to topple the government). Far from welcoming such a state of affairs, I see two problems with this: the lack of a proper policy on the environment from the Opposition (apart from a few perfunctory protests), and the risk of letting what environmentalists are combating continue under a future administration led by that Opposition. As environmentalists and Left activists have pointed out only too clearly, much of what is being protested against, including the Sinharaja debacle, can be traced back to the yahapalana period. How wise would it be to trust the party that held the cards then so much as to return them to power now?

To these two problems one can add a third: the contradiction between the social conditioning and the activism of the middle-class. That contradiction translates itself into another: between political ideals that pit this middle-class against political authority, and social aspirations that orient them towards personal achievement in education and employment.

One can ask why this is a problem, why it’s so problematic. In matters of political concern, so the idealists say, personal matters are of no relevance.

But that’s precisely the issue. How pertinent are one’s personal aspirations to one’s political inclinations? Not pertinent, some would say; pretty pertinent, in my book.

That leads us to a crucial issue, the most important to crop up from what we’re seeing today: the extent to which those leading the protests are willing to own up to how class aspirations, and not just state complicity, have contributed to environmental degradation.

Let me reduce this to a simple query: how much do you attribute everything wrong with the environment to the government’s doing and non-doing, and how much do you attribute it to, say, our propensity to import, a major factor in environmental degradation?

To be fair, of course, it’s not only imports. The truth is that degradation of the environment is linked inextricably to an economic model rooted in consumerism and urbanisation.

But that merely reinforces my point: consumerism is promoted by the private sector, and urbanisation by the public, because both have an audience: the same middle-class blaming the government for what’s happening to our forests, our rivers, our way of life.

To restate this as simply as I can, then, the problems of environmental degradation today are the result of a decades-long experiment with capitalism and neoliberalism that has failed. The crisis is thus a crisis of a consumerist and exploitative model based on a capitalist framework. Now no critique of what is happening to our forests can evolve without taking this model into consideration. As perhaps its biggest beneficiaries, the middle-class must hence recognise the need to formulate an alternative model to it, in line with their activist inclinations.

However, in continuing to ignore if not marginalise this need, those taking the government to task over the environment are offering an inadequate response, radical enough to question the regime for its failings, yet not radical enough to question our embracement of an acquisitive, consumption-led economic model that has contributed to the quagmire we are in. Now I hate gazing into crystal balls, but if this is what will continue in the future, then these protests, no matter how laudable, will someday, somehow, fizzle out. That would be a pity.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

Continue Reading

Sat Mag

CELEBRATING EARTH DAY: THE VOICE OF THE NEXT GENERATION

Published

on

Our world needs transformational change, and it is time for us, those of the present generation to hold ourselves accountable for our role in the environmental crisis while also calling for bold, creative, and innovative solutions. This year marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day and this Webinar is designed to commemorate the occasion and to support the worldwide efforts to conserve and revitalize the environment of the blue planet that is our home. If we are to succeed, we must listen to the children who will link hands from around the world during this webinar and voice their concerns and ideas to preserve a pristine environment for their generation.

This is the 17th of a series of virtual zoom panel discussions hosted by the America-Sri Lanka Photographic Art Society in Los Angeles California, USA (ASPAS); Member of Photographic Society of America (PSA) and The International Federation of Photography of Art in France (FIAP). The objective of the series is to showcase the beauty of world fauna and flora and promote environmental conservation in the context of nature photography and tourism, with a special focus on the grandeur of Sri Lanka’s natural habitat. The upcoming programme will commemorate World Earth Day 2021.

At a previous ASPAS Webinar, Dr. Peter H. Sand, former Secretary-General of ICUN, stated, “Pandemics, such as coronavirus, are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature, the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade, as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places, are the driving force behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans.” The ASPAS Webinars are intended to offer a platform to discuss a more balanced relationship with these ecosystems and the tools that can help us reach this objective, so that future generations can continue to enjoy and benefit from them sustainably and responsibly.

Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970 which gave voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. Our planet is an amazing place, but it needs our help to thrive! That is why each year on April 22, more than a billion people celebrate Earth Day to protect the planet from pollution and deforestation and environment related issues. By taking part in activities like picking up litter and planting trees, we are making our world a happier, healthier place to live.

In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, the world was consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of the consequences from either the law or the press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, the world remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health. Since, the great challenge for the environmental community is to combat the cynicism of climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent policy makers, and a disinterested public. In the face of these challenges, Earth Day prevailed and established itself as a major movement for global action for the environment.

Over the decades, it has brought hundreds of millions of people into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteers in 193 countries. Earth Day engages more than 1 billion people every year and has become a major steppingstone along the pathway of engagement around the protection of the planet.

Now, the fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more and more apparent every day. As the awareness of our climate crisis grows, so does civil society mobilization, which is reaching a fever pitch across the globe today. Digital and social media are bringing these conversations, protests, strikes and mobilizations to a global audience, uniting a concerned citizenry as never before and mobilizing generations to join together to take on the greatest challenge that humankind has faced.

It is quite apparent that the youth of our world should also be engaged in this vital conversation as an absolutely indispensable partner.

Governments have recognized this for decades and many have introduced some level of climate and environmental education into their education systems. But the truth is that impact of climate and environmental education is in some cases week, cursory, and still in many countries non-existent. In the decades since the launch of the global environmental movement, it is estimated that more than 3 billion young people have graduated from high school having learned little or nothing about one of the greatest issues that will shape their lives and their livelihoods for decades to come.

The time is now, indeed it is long overdue, for a massive environmental literacy campaign that can create a generation of citizens, workers and leaders who really understand why and how to stop climate change and environmental degradation, ensuring that every student around the world completes their formal education as an environmental and climate literate citizen. A citizen who is ready to take action and speak up for change and build knowledge and skills for the growing green sector of clean energy, efficient transportation, sustainable business and making themselves competitive for new jobs.

The youth must also equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to build a better future and be stewards of this planet. They must learn that to sustain a functional society and economy, natural resources must be used wisely and efficiently while protecting the ecological systems to ensure clean air, clean water, and food security for all.

But just as vitally, we need to equip future generations with the knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm to survive and indeed thrive in the decades to come. And that begins in school. Even world leaders recognized that pivotal role as far back as 30 years, when the countries that forged the original United Nations climate change treaty in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit enshrined climate education as an essential part of a national response to a global emergency.

Educationists believe every school in the world must have compulsory, assessed climate and environmental education with a strong civic engagement component. They have also pointed out that the onus for developing environmental consciousness in youth could not be the sole responsibility of schools as the young people need the help of adult allies. There is a role for everyone, parents, relatives, and society to support youth voices and stand alongside them.

It is in that spirit that the America-Sri Lanka Photohtaphic Art Society Los Angeles, led by its President, Suriya Jayalath Perera, has organized this Webinar to bring together 10 young people from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Sri Lanka to voice their concerns and present their ideas on the occasion of Earth Day 2021. Youth from ages six to 18, will address the entire gamut of environmental issues from climate change to plastic pollution. It would be a truly ground-breaking event, and you can be a part of it by virtually joining them on Sunday April 18th, 2021. The webinar will be moderated by Medini Ratnayake.

More Information: www.usacaaspas.com

Join us live on Sunday April 18th, at 8.30 P.M. 2021 https://www.facebook.com/aspaslausa/live Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana, Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations

 

 

Continue Reading

Sat Mag

How to flush cholesterol out of your body

Published

on

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The cholesterol in your body that you do not need comes from animal bodies.

If you have more cholesterol in your body than you need, then you are heading for heart disease and heart attacks. A build-up of cholesterol narrows arteries, causing a restriction of blood flow to the heart. Very often a person with high cholesterol levels has no symptoms until he has his first heart attack.

This is even more problematic if you are overweight – which you will be, because the food that causes an increase in cholesterol also increases your weight. Though some cholesterol components are stored in the liver and gallbladder, the main storage area is in fat cells called adipocytes. When you have too much cholesterol, these cells swell up and you gain weight. Too much cholesterol can be caused by eating too much fat or carbohydrates.

 

There are two types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL

High density lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol which protects you from hearts attacks, and strokes, by mopping up excess bad cholesterol. It takes the cholesterol that you don’t need back to the liver. The liver breaks it down so it can be passed out of your body. LDL is bad cholesterol. This blocks the blood supply and causes strokes and heart attacks. Non-HDL take cholesterol from the liver to the cells around your body. Too much bad cholesterol (non-HDL) can be harmful because it sticks to the inside walls of your arteries. This can lead to fatty material (atheroma) building up – this process is known as atherosclerosis.

Cholesterol is found in animal foods, meat, milk, butter and cheese.

There are only two things that raise cholesterol in the blood: saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods like biscuits and popcorn, margarine, deep-fried, and processed foods, basically junk food.

Trans fats occur in some fried and processed foods, also in junk food.

In adults, total cholesterol levels less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered healthy. 200 – 239 mg/dL is borderline high. 240 mg/dL and above is high. LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.

How do you know that your cholesterol levels are high? You usually don’t. There are no typical signs if you have high cholesterol, which is why it is so important to get it checked. It is a hidden risk factor, which means it happens without us knowing until it is too late. Some people get soft, yellowish, growths or lesions on the skin, especially round the eyes, called xanthomas. If you are lucky you develop left-sided chest pain, pressure, or fullness; dizziness; unsteady gait; slurred speech; or pain in the lower legs. Any of these conditions may be associated with high cholesterol.

How do you flush cholesterol out of your body?

Stop eating meat or drinking milk. Avoid ghee, butter and paneer, and seafood like crabs, shrimps and lobsters. Don’t smoke. Exercise. Eat fewer refined grains such as maida. Foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol levels include white bread, white potatoes, and white rice, highly processed sugars. Fried foods should be avoided, as well as foods high in saturated fats.

Eat fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, every day.

A report from Harvard Health has identified foods that actively decrease cholesterol levels: Oats, barley and whole grains, beans, eggplant and okra, nuts, vegetable oil (canola, sunflower), fruits (mainly apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus), soy and soy-based foods. Eating just one and one-half cups of cooked oatmeal a day can lower your cholesterol by 5 to 8%. Oatmeal contains soluble and insoluble fibre – two types that your body needs.

In June 2020 a report, led by Imperial College London Majid Ezzati, et al.​ and involving dozens of universities, “Repositioning of the global epicentre of non-optimal cholesterol” ​was published in Nature. It said that while cholesterol levels have declined in high income countries, particularly Europe, since 1980 , they have increased vastly in lower and middle income countries, with Asia, specially Southeast Asia, now being the centre.

The reason for this is the consumption of animal-based foods, refined carbohydrates (maida) and palm oil. In short, the heart attack and stroke risks have been globally repositioned with the shifting of a high cholesterol diet.

A group of nearly 1,000 researchers, from around the world, analysed data from 1,127 studies comprising 102.6 million adults, to assess global trends in cholesterol levels from 1980 to 2018. This is the largest ever study of global cholesterol levels.

Previously cholesterol was considered a problem in high income Western countries.

The report said that Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland (the centre of the milk/meat diet) and Iceland (meat) had shown the steepest declines in cholesterol, going from the highest to the lowest. There has been a sharp drop in LDL cholesterol in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation.

China, which had the lowest levels of cholesterol in 1980, was among the highest in 2018. India, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand have not covered themselves in glory either.

In 1980 Australian women ranked 32nd highest in the world in cholesterol levels. Today they are 146th . Australian men have fallen from 31st highest to 116th. 

Dr Avula Laxmaiah, National Institute of Nutrition, one of the authors of the research paper, said LDL cholesterol among Indian men ranked 128th in 1980 and remained the same in 2018.  Women are 139th in the global line-up.

Other conditions, that can lead to high cholesterol levels, include diabetes drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, such as progestins, anabolic steroids, and corticosteroids. India is one of the highest users of steroids – not directly, but through these being fed to chicken.

The authors have suggested that each country in Asia set into place prices, and regulatory policies, that shift diets to non-saturated fats. But, at the end of the day it is not prices that will decide – meat/chicken and milk are already expensive but it doesn’t stop you from eating them. You will have to take a personal decision, depending on how much you value your life or the lives of your family.

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

Continue Reading

Trending