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Held opinion: Buddhist countries spared worst of Covid 19 infection

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A young woman I know, extra pious and believing in the paranormal aspects attached by believers to Buddhism, made the pronouncement that Sri Lanka was spared a blitz from the Covid 19 pandemic because it is a country with a large Buddhist population. We smirked privately but pointed out to her that we are a tropical country and direct sunlight is a destroyer of the corona virus. Also the spices we lace our curries with, and kottamalli we drink, also immune aiding kola kenda we often have for breakfast, would help to keep contagion low and death rate almost negligible. Yes, she conceded but stuck to her theory that the benevolent gods (surely Buddhist!) and the presence of the Tooth Relic and the sacred Bo Tree made for greater protection of the country and its people. Yes, true again, she said, when we pointed out the excellent public health services we have and the presidential task force that worked day and night (literally) counting no cost to themselves, to contain the infection.

But to her the gods played a larger part and I suppose the refuge 70 percent take in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (of arahants), though the majority admittedly only parrot the intro to the five precepts, had protective powers, at least psychological, which is significant in resistance to disease. She insisted our being Buddhist was why we got off easily, though of course now we are holding our combined breath with the sudden increase in cases, as I write this in late July. So I ask her, how do people who are so corrupt and up to all sorts if evil ruses to amass wealth or satiate their baser desires continue to live so well? They too are parasitic viruses, and most profess to be Buddhists!
Quoting the article And then I read Paul Pateman’s article ’ in The Economist of July 11, 2020 – ‘Why has the pandemic spared the Buddhist parts of South East Asia?’

Patemen begins his essay thus: “One of the bigger riddles of the global pandemic lies in South-East Asia. Despite being close to the source of covid-19 in China, and to one of the current hotspots of the outbreak, India, the partly or largely Buddhist countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have scarcely sneezed.
“Vietnam is the standout: with 97m people, it claims no deaths from covid-19. Thailand, with 70m, has seen just 58 fatalities. Impoverished Myanmar claims just six deaths from 317 cases, while Cambodia (141 confirmed cases) and tiny Laos (19 cases) also have no deaths apiece and no local transmission since April. Compare that with the nearby archipelagic nations of Indonesia (some 68,100 cases and 3,400 deaths) and the Philippines (50,400 cases and 1,300 deaths), where the pandemic still rages.”

He goes on to dissect situations and make assertions. “Set aside karmic grace as an explanation, especially given that Vietnam’s communist dictatorship is atheist. Vietnam’s success, indeed, is easiest to explain. The country has a suspicion of its big northern neighbour, China, rooted in millennia of historical interaction. At the start of the year it instinctively distrusted China’s reassurances about the disease and even launched cyber-attacks to get better information on the epidemic’s course. It closed its border and used authoritarian powers to lock down the population and trace and isolate cases. That, in essence, is what China’s communist authorities were also doing….. , but Thailand, a sham democracy overseen by generals, perhaps comes closest. The quality of its health care makes Thailand a popular destination for medical tourism. Moreover, the government was quick to set up a vigorous covid-fighting task-force…. But in Laos, which is too small to resist China’s blandishments” and the other countries continued close ties with China: “Myanmar, which is awash with Chinese traders and smugglers, or Cambodia, whose strongman, Hun Sen, is the region’s biggest cheerleader for China. Chinese construction is reshaping these countries, which all came under pressure not to close borders with China even as the pandemic spread. One widespread suspicion is that they did, but these were not reported.” Testing is severely limited in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. but there was no evidence of widespread transmission, such as hospital care seekers. It must be admitted that many of these countries are under near military rule.

Even the poorest countries adopted measures that must have helped check the spread of the corona virus. For instance migrant workers returning from Thailand to their villages in Myanmar often had to quarantine for 14 days in shacks outside their villages. Other beneficiary factors were more rural dwellers than urban slums; more fans or natural ventilation with little use of air conditioning; also the populations being generally younger and masks worn even at ordinary times. We all know that the greetings now advised are the namasthe (wai in Thai) borrowed from our eastern countries and knocking elbows (seen at the recent prolonged EU summit). Additionally I add: we are conservative and practice social distancing most of the time as a customary habit. We keep our distances, even among siblings. I remember a disciplinarian of a vice principal in my Kandy school derogating carefree hand holding of friends as “silly, sentimental slush!” There was never any dating allowed then, even for engaged-to-be married couples and inducements and coaxing were needed by a boy to get a girl to move closer, she modestly holding back due to conservative notions drilled into her.

The Economist article ends thus: “The question now is whether South-East Asia’s Buddhist successes can weather second or third waves. … reduced transmission from China was not the miracle some divine—the giant neighbour, after all, quickly got on top of its epidemic. Now, transmission routes are changing. Across Asia, infections are being imported from all round the world.” So true in Sri Lanka.
A national trait that helped, at least among the elders and educated I strongly feel that a personality trait or behaviour pattern we older people display and is followed by those, I dare say, with good upbringing is – being amenable to discipline. Whenever discussion of how we were spared the worse of the Covid so far, I bruit this idea. We older ones were obedient and took advice and observed rules and regulations. We respected those who advised us or even ordered us. And so we brought up our children to think and decide for themselves so they were also amenable to discipline. Thus when told by the government task force to wear masks, we donned them, adding gloves too. When ordered to stay locked down, we stayed strictly indoors. And thus we helped the efficient health services and medical personnel to contain the infection.
This in sharp contrast to what has happened, and continues to happen in the US, for example. They go crazy in summer with spring sap flowing and want to get to beaches, pubs, parks, often pasted together. The US has an additional impediment: a commandeering president who contravenes all the doctors’ warnings and says, probably believes too, that the US is doing well.

Now here comes in Buddhism. The religion lays great importance on self-isolation, discipline (sangwara bhavaya), contentment, reducing wants and greed, often seeming to advocate ascetism. Hence our compliance with lockdowns and shut-ins. We were content as long as we got our bare necessities, the government efficiently providing/allowing vendors to visit homes. It’s only the less educated and those with no true religiousness who run amok – the thugs and near thugs. They very nearly caused the pandemic to turn severe. There also can be an element of the paranormal. Pirit chanting has a positive effect and can boost fellow feeling and even immunity. Metta sent forth by the many can purify the atmosphere and probably curb the danger of Covid 19. Other religious leaders too were up front in leading their flocks to obey strictures laid down.

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Development after the elections

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By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.

 

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A blazing story!

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The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!

 

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Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’

 

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