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Midweek Review

Horrific complexity:

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The political economy of “Paangshu”

By Uditha Devapriya

For well over a month, Paangshu has been the talk of the town. Initially shown to a select audience during the yahapalana regime, then given a public release two months ago under the current government, it continues to win overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Meera Srinivasan of The Hindu correctly considers it as “perhaps the first mainstream Sinhala film to foreground the struggle of a missing person’s family.” Of course, the missing person happens to belong to the majority Sinhala community rather than the minority Northern Tamil community, since Paangshu isn’t about the war up there; it’s about the war down here, in the South, one that, over three years, killed as many people as, if not more people than, those killed over three decades in the conflict with the LTTE.

That reason alone makes Paangshu worthy of more than a cursory review, which is what I came up with last Saturday. I say that because of the muffled backlash it has received from those who object to its perception of the political history underlying it, which not many directors have forayed into. For Visakesa Chandrasekaram’s film delves into an experience most from my generation didn’t live through: while my contemporaries came face-to-face with the war against the LTTE, only their parents and grandparents encountered the war against the JVP, in all its horrific complexity.

And yet its relevance to the search for the missing from that other war – the 30 year one – can’t be denied. The missing then, as with the missing now, continues to be missed, and to be unaccounted for. As an elegy on reconciliation, Chandrasekam has made a great work, certainly a brave one. My problem, however, has nothing to do with what he’s made. Rather it has to do with the selectivity of some of those who praise it.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Wars don’t just arise. They may be rooted in ethnic, religious, even caste differences, but fundamentally, they reflect economic differences.

The second JVP insurrection (1987-1989) differed from the first (1971) owing to the wave of sympathy it created among the Southern youth for the JVP. The first insurrection had been carried out mostly by undergraduates, the sons of a petty bourgeoisie who later became ideological vessels for the establishment.

As Gamini Keerawella once observed in an essay on the JVP, by 1967 the party had begun to recruit vast sections of the petty bourgeoisie, distancing itself from the rural proletariat from whose ranks it had got in its membership until then. The insurrectionists thus couldn’t hold for long after their uprising. By the end of the 1970s, they had begun to transit to the establishment, reflecting if not betraying their class interests; one of these ex-JVPers now describes the insurrection, no doubt with the wisdom of hindsight, as “a stupid rebellion poorly executed.” What this means is that the class composition of the first insurrection was considerably different from the class composition of the second.

Rohan Gunaratna’s book on the 1987-1990 uprising, the most scholarly account of it written so far, relegates the economic roots of that conflict to the background. My chief complaint with an otherwise comprehensive study, its lack of a proper assessment of the economic backdrop against which the insurrection played out gives to that insurrection the character of a spontaneous uprising. Similar complaints can be made of studies of other conflicts from other regions, but in this instance, it has led to commentators to view the second insurgency in terms of the first, as a backlash against the Indo-Lanka Accord, and to draw parallels between it and the war against the LTTE.

To put it simply, what transpired from 1987 to 1990 cannot be explained without reference to the policies of the regime that crushed the insurrection. The uprising was the result of a multitude of factors: a ban on eco-friendly chena cultivation; the diversion of land to what one outfit today refers to as “Western boondoggles” (J. R Jayewardene’s “robber barons”); the devaluation of the rupee which deflated severely the value of food stamps (by as much as half from 1979 to 1981), thereby leading to the malnourishment and impoverishment of vast swathes of the working class; and the “Indianisation” of the civil war.

Added to that, the crushing of the Left, the crippling of trade unions, and the proscription of anti-government political groups all left behind a vacant space. These groups soon found themselves squeezed out of the democratic framework. It was against that backdrop that the Indo-Lanka Accord, despite the opposition of several government figures, was signed, immediately sparking off a wave of discontent across the South.

In class terms, the second insurrection thus came to differ from the first. Even in caste terms it was different: most of those arrested in the 1971 insurgency, as Gananath Obeyesekere documented at the time, hailed from higher castes (in fact 58.5% of them were Goyigama), whereas many of those who took part in the 1987-1990 uprising came from depressed communities. That is not to say caste factors always militated against those higher up in the hierarchy – indeed, there were cases of upper caste insurrectionists campaigning against lower caste officials – but all the same, it refracted class discrepancies. At any rate, class or caste, the war was protracted and fought over economic reasons.

The difference between the JVP uprising and the war against the LTTE – which many critics, in their reviews of Paangshu, seem to be comparing to each another – comes out here. While the State, as Susantha Goonetilake notes in Recolonisation, engaged in a “class war on the poor” in the South, in the North it was pitted against a separatist movement led by a community that, in economic terms, had suffered much less under successive regimes than the two most discriminated groups in 20th century Sri Lanka: estate Tamils and Sinhala peasants. By disenfranchising them and stripping them of citizenship, the UNP had robbed the former of an opportunity to take up arms. The latter, on the other hand, grabbed that opportunity the moment the political crisis reached its peak.

There were two ideological routes you could take at this juncture: you could either support the Accord or oppose it. By supporting it you took the side of the UNP, or a considerable section of the party which accepted it, and of the Old Left, which endorsed it because it saw India as a countervailing influence against the State. On the other hand, by opposing it you took the side of the Sinhala nationalists, or of the JVP.

It was simply difficult not to choose. The closest historical analogy I can think of would be the case of an ex-Jacobin living under Napoleon in France: he couldn’t have supported the Bonapartists, but then he couldn’t have supported the Holy Alliance either. And yet he had to take a side. Gambling on anti-government sentiment, the Old Left thus chose to support the Accord, severely underestimating the extent of anti-Accord sentiment.

In my essay on the Jathika Chintanaya written to the Midweek Review months ago, I pointed out that as much as their support for the Accord brought the UNP and the Old Left together against the JVP in the insurrection, no such intersection of interests brought the JVP and the Sinhala nationalist groups to a common platform. The result was that, with the proscription of anti-UNP student groups, the JVP, lacking an ally, took the fight to the streets alone.

The South soon turned into a violent battleground; it wasn’t because of the war in the North, after all, that The Economist called Sri Lanka “the bloodiest place on earth.”

Given the Old Left’s endorsement of the Accord and, later, the 13th Amendment, it was only to be expected that it would not only help form anti-JVP hit squads, but also affirm the NGO sector’s demonization of the JVP. Since Susantha Goonatilake has recorded this in his study Recolonisation, all I will say here is that much of the NGO intelligentsia, which purports to stand up for the radical youth today, branded the JVP then as not just chauvinist, but also anti-Tamil. It took Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mangala Samaraweera – both from the South, occupying diametrically opposed political positions today – to take the names, the details, of those made to disappear by paramilitary squads to Western capitals.

This remains, then as now, a blot on the conscience of NGO intellectuals; their failure to give equal coverage to the Northern war and the Southern insurgency (Witharanage 1994) led to a distorted view of what was happening on the ground. Meanwhile, right until their separation from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s coalition in 2006, even the most liberal commentators here went on labelling the JVP as Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist. Only when the JVP broke away from Rajapaksa’s coalition and began to endorse what is, for me at least, a pseudo-Marxist-lumpen ideology did these commentators abandon that stereotype.

The failure of the NGO-cracy to identify the root causes of the insurrection is symptomatic of its inability to view that uprising in class rather than ethnic terms: a failure that explains why it could, while opposing a neo-fascist regime, interpret the JVP’s opposition to Indian intervention as chauvinist, and worse, anti-Tamil. Those who write on Paangshu without recalling the callous lack of sympathy towards the insurrectionists, displayed by what the late Prins Gunasekara described as “local human rights magnates”, should thus bear in mind the political economy, the horrific complexity, of the period depicted in the film. For history, as we all ought to know, is too precious to be forgotten.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Midweek Review

Japanese literature and Prof. Ariya Rajakaruna’s translations

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by Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Department of Sinhala, University of Peradeniya

During these COVID-19 days, stories pop up everywhere describing how each country and its people are coping with the pandemic. It is said that the Japanese people are behaving in the most responsible manner; they have changed their behaviour in conformity with the health regulations related to the pandemic. The Japanese are known to turn laws into culture. In others words, they absorb laws into culture; and thereafter, laws do not look laws. When laws are made with the participation of the people, they easily blend with the public culture. This is in stark contrast to Singapore, where laws remain laws, strict, punitive and statist: obey the law or pay the penalty! In Japan even state power takes beautiful cultural shapes.

Such idealisation of Japan is part of our middle-class culture. For many of us, Japan is the ideal land: elegantly cultured; adequately Buddhist; appropriately non-Western; seemingly anti-Western; not too religious; obviously modern yet visibly Asian; moderate yet powerful; culturally traditional yet developed and so on. For us, Japan is perhaps the easiest country to love – love openly. We love the West secretly and Japan openly.

Our love of Japan may have many origins. One key source of that love is Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s two novels: Malagiya Attho and Malavunge Avurudu Da. After those two novels we have been a bit too romantic about anything Japanese. In the making of our first modern indigenous play, Saracchandra, ‘the father of modern’ Sinhala drama, was significantly influenced by Japan, and loved to overemphasise that Japanese connection. In my latest novel, Rathu Iri Andina Atha, I created a character who shrewdly manipulates our love of Japan. In order to enter the conscious of educated Sinhala middleclass, he acts as a professor returning from a long stay in Japan. To make the story believable, he carves out a story of his Japanese wife – a fiction within a fiction! Sri Lankan middle class is ready to be deceived even by an underworld imposter as long as he presents himself as a person refined in Japan. Irony, to be sure, allows us to see the extent to which Japan has become one of our national fantasies.

This essay, however, is about a real scholar who has enriched modern Sinhala literature almost singlehandedly by translating Japanese literature into Sinhala. He is Professor Ariya Rajakaruna. Several translators such as Jayantha Wimalasena, Tadashi Noguchi, and Wimaladasa Samarasinghe introduced Japanese literature to the Sinhala readers. But they translated them from English. Professor Rajakaruna translated directly from Japanese. Now in his eighties, the professor continues to translate Japanese literature into Sinhala.

Translated Literature and Sinhala Fiction

The story of modern Sinhala literature is one of the many influences. Modern Sinhala fiction in particular was primarily influenced by Russian and French fiction. From the 1940s onwards the key classics of those languages were translated into Sinhala. Edirivira Saracchandra, A. P. Gunarathne, David Karunarathne, Cyril C. Perera, K.G. Karunathilaka, Boby G. Botheju and numerous others translated those books. Among the present-day literary translators, Gamini Viyangoda, Chulananda Samaranayake, Ananda Amarasiri and many others have continued to translate contemporary world classics into Sinhala. And the Pragathi Publishers, a literary wing of the Soviet Union, made Russian classics, along with some Soviet ones, available in Sinhala at affordable prices. It must be stressed that they did not translate just Stalinist propaganda. So, we could read Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy, who were not Bolsheviks. Those books were nicely printed as well. Some of those books came out in adorable pocket editions that we could carry around showing off our ‘refined taste’ to Sri Lankan Sonyas, Annas, Laras or Altynais – those unforgettable heroines of Russian classics. Dedigama V. Rodrigo, Padma Harsha Kuranage and Piyasena Manilgama are still in our minds as the translators of those classics. Some works of fiction from other national literature such as American, British, German, and Indian were translated here and there, but not in any systematic way. The United States did everything it could to rival the USSR during the cold war but never spent any money on translating its literature into other languages. In other words, it did not have an organ equivalent to The Progressive Publishers of the USSR. Thus, we are still to have any translation of the masterpieces of Henry James, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald, or Saul Bellow. At the moment, our regional superpower, China, is also not interested in cultural stuff. They are into giving us colossal loans, cutting deals, and behind-the scene political games, getting ministers in the loop, and so on – very much like the US in that sense.

Japanese Influence on Sinhala literature

In addition to Russian and French literature, Japanese literature is perhaps the single most influential literary tradition to shape contemporary Sinhala literature. To account for literary influences is a difficult task. Yet, the influence of Japanese Haiku is quite visible and ubiquitous in Sinhala literature. After Ariyawansa Ranavira, one of the most senior poets, translated a collection Haiku by Japanese masters in 1980s, many Sinhala poets began writing Haiku like poems. Today, younger poets such as Lakshantha Athukorla, Palitha Senarathne, Piyankarage Bandula Jayaweera, Ven. Aparekke Sirisudhamma and others regularly write shorter poems that reflect a heavy influence of Haiku. Professor Rajakaruna himself translated a collection of Haiku directly from Japanese. His book figures prominently in the ‘Haiku dialogue’ taking place in Sinhala.

Avant Garde Films and Drama

Professor Rajakaruna translated Japanese classics into English as well. Two film scripts included in A Crazy Page and Crossroads were translated into English for the first time. Our Professor has helped some Japanese authors to reach international readership! On reading these two film scripts, I was amazed at the kind of modernism and experimentalism in those texts written in 1920s. A Crazy Page is about a man who returns to his abandoned wife and daughter some thirty years to find wife insane and hospitalized. He tries to make up for all those lost years by finding a job as an attendant at the hospital where the wife awaits her death. The film script has been written breaking the linearity in time and space. Avant Garde nature of the film is so much that I couldn’t believe that it was written nearly a century ago.

Some of the plays Professor Rajakaruna translated from Japanese to Sinhala also belong to what we conventionally call “absurd theatre.” Unfortunately, his translations were never produced as plays. But one can safely assume that at least of the younger playwrights in Sinhala have read these translated plays.

 

And some universities regularly use them as their required texts.

As a literary critic, Professor Rajakaruna is not known to defend experimentalism in Sinhala literature. His recent critical essays on Sinhala fiction fail to appreciate post realist fiction written by new writers, who have made some significant achievements by writing short stories and novels that transcend naturalist realism. But as a translator, the professor has been particularly keen on translating Japanese texts that are experimental in nature.

Although he looks rather conventional as a critic in his recent writing, Prof. Rajakaruna, I must say, was one of the fearless defenders of the literary modernism of Peradeniya School (1950s to 60s). As a young lecturer at the University of Peradeniya, Rajakaruna was one of the most vocal supporters of ‘free verses’ of Siri Gunasinghe, the greatest modernist of the so-called ‘Peradeniya School.’ Interestingly, Professor Rajakaruna continued to side himself with modernist experimentalism in his translations from Japanese to Sinhala.

Professor Rajakaurna translated so many short stories by celebrated Japanese writers. He also supervised two projects of translations that introduced nearly all key writers of Japanese literature into Sinhala. Two volumes of short stories, Ishtartha Siddiya and Asaliya Mal, have gone into several prints already and they include Japanese short stories representing a wide variety of styles and themes. And those stories have been translated from English by leading scholars in the field. It must be mentioned with a sense of gratitude that Japanese agencies such as Toyota Foundation have provided him with financial support to carry out those projects. But in recent times, even those funding agencies have not paid any attention to helping us make such cultural products with lasting effects. And there has not been another Ariya Rajakaruna, passionate about Japanese arts and enthusiastic about what we can learn from Japan. Now, China is all over the place. From kitchen to the cabinet – yes, I mean the Cabinet of ministers. We are likely to be indebted to China for several generations to come. But China has no Toyota Foundations that will help you translate literature. Perhaps, China knows that its best writers are not with the Chinese oligarchy, and to translate them will make no contribution to China’s geopolitical project.

Heir to his Work

Professor Rajakaruna, like many others of his generation, failed to produce inspired students who can continue his work on Japanese literature. After him, no one learned Japanese and entered into ever vibrant Japanese literary scene. Therefore, we do not have anyone translating renowned writers such as Haruki Murakami, Yoko Ogava, Hiromi Kawakami, Junji Ito, Hiroko Oyamada and so on directly from Japanese. Murakami comes to us through English. His work has been translated from English into Sinhala. Professor Rajakaruna learned his Japanese in three years (1962-5) at the Tokyo School of Japanese Language. I wonder why no one after him followed his path. Many after him went to Japan for higher studies but nearly all of them ended up being wealthy car importers instead of translators. Perhaps, new Japan itself needs someone selling its cars rather than someone translating literature!

During the last 40 some years, anyone educated in Japan failed to make a lasting impact on the field of the humanities in Sri Lanka. Perhaps, there is something fundamentally wrong with those who go there or in those who teach them there. Or perhaps, after all, this is a different age. Well, the age of Rajakaruna, too, only produced just a single Rajakaruna. Literary and scholarly achievements have a lot to do with individual passion and commitment. The art of making scholarly passions contagious is still to be discovered.

Technical Japan and Literary Japan

While Japan was being reduced to electronic gadgets and auto mobiles in the economic atmosphere of post 1977 neo-liberal era, people like Ariya Rajakaruna helped us see that Japan was more than those cute technical and mechanical devices. They showed us the richness of Japanese literature. A fairly well-read person in my generation, by reading even only in Sinhala, can recite a long list of Japanese authors. And the stories of those authors might have already entered the deep crevices of our collective consciousness, and the memories of such literary work might one day influence our literature in ways that we cannot really predict or explain. Literary influences are such that one cannot really see where they come from. But our literary achievements will have the fragrance of the wonderful things their creators were exposed to during their formative years. Any serious writer writing in Sinhala today must have been introduced to some Japanese classics through the work of translators such as Professor Ariya Rajakaruna. As the most prolific translator from Japanese to Sinhala, he has been a wonderful cultural ambassador for us. It is said that his ‘embassy’ will be closed forever after him unless we, Sri Lankan literati, and our counterparts in Japan give some serious thoughts to continuing this enriching intercultural engagement. To continue that cross-fertilisation would be the best tribute to the pioneers such as Professor Rajakaruna.

(This essay is a part of longer research paper the writer is working on. He can be contacted at Liyanage19@gmail.com)

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Midweek Review

Experts-Only Club

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By Lynn Ockersz

There’s to be a gathering,

Of the most curious kind,

In the Nodding Isle,

Renowned for its sleights-of-hand,

Made-up of high-brow types,

Whose brief it’ll be,

To spell out the prime law of the land,

But the question being asked,

By those scrambling for scraps,

Especially in the Covid’s vicious clutch,

Is whether this heads’ only club,

Knows ‘the agony of the stomach’…

So essential an ingredient,

For creating a state most fair,

Where an ample morsel,

Would at all times be on offer for all.

 

 

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Midweek Review

Women in Power

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The Revolutionary Lives and Careers of Siva, Doreen, Vivi and Sirima

By Kusum Wijetilleke (kusumw@gmail.com) and
Rienzie Wijetilleke
(rienzietwij@gmail.com)

(Continued from yesterday)

The events leading up to her removal began in 1933 when she published an article titled “The Battle of the Flowers” in the Ceylon Daily News that questioned the sale of the Poppy on Armistice Day in the British Colonies. At the time, funds from the sale of poppies went towards British ex-servicemen and not to help the Ceylonese officers. The resulting Suriya Mal Movement sold local sunflowers (suriya) instead of poppies with proceeds going to local benefactors. This movement was an early rallying cry for independence and Ms. Doreen would go on to become a symbol of Ceylonese anti-imperialism; winning the parliamentary seat for Akuressa in 1952 under the Communist Party. However in the period leading up to Independence, leftism in Ceylon was very much under threat.

Dr. Wickramasinghe would be arrested in 1939 for sedition, and many others, including Dr. N.M. Perera would follow. The response to the arrests would be one of the largest protest marches ever seen in Ceylon, organized by the LSSP and quelled by the British with a baton charge.

Leading the march was the wife of Dr. N.M. Perera; Ms. Selina Perera who was also one of Ceylon’s leading Trotskyites and a founding member of the LSSP. Ms Perera would also shelter the Anglo-Australian Marxist Mark Bracegirdle when the Governor of Ceylon ordered his arrest and deportation, for the crime of organizing plantation labourers to agitate for better living conditions. Ms. Perera herself had to flee Ceylon to India following a brief arrest in 1940 and even joined the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma along with her husband. When India took the decision to deport them, she escaped to Calcutta, where she adopted a new identity and taught English, disillusioned with the independence politics of India and Ceylon.

 

At the outbreak of World War II, Colvin R De Silva, N.M. Perera and many others of the LSSP were declared ‘persona non grata’ due to their anti-Stalinism and the insistence that the war was an imperialist venture. One of the co-founders of the LSSP, Mr. Leslie Goonewardene, was able to evade arrest and escape to India along with Selina Perera and others. Hailing from a prominent political family, Mr. Goonewardene had intended to become a Methodist Priest but was influenced by Marxist teachings while in the UK, ending up at the London School of Economics under the tutelage of the famous Marxist Professor, Harold Laski.

Mr. Goonewardene’s political affiliations would lead to a meeting with his future wife, Vivienne, at a socialist rally. Vivienne Goonatilleka also hailed from aristocracy but was blessed with a rebellious streak which would mark her as one of the most important and accomplished women in Sri Lanka’s political history. Despite being the Head Girl at Musaeus College Colombo, ‘Vivi’ was noted for her defiance of authority which became evident with her involvement in the aforementioned Suriya Mal Movement. On Remembrance Day 1934, when as per tradition there would be a ceremonial gun salute at 11 am, Vivienne organized a protest whereby students would leave their boxes of instruments on the blackboards. The blackboards were then toppled at exactly 11 am to make a sound loud enough to drown out the gun salute. Despite her work with the poor and needy, Vivienne’s father was not best pleased with her political pursuits and did not want his young daughter engaged in further education, preferring that she marry and start a family of her own. Without her father’s knowledge and with the assistance of her maternal uncles, the famous socialists Philip and Robert Gunawardena, she gained entry into University College Colombo.

Vivienne’s father was completely against her marriage to Leslie Goonewardene on the basis of caste and religion but also due to the latter’s revolutionary politics which clashed with his pro-monarchy views. ‘Vivi’ was virtually imprisoned at their residence and Mr. Goonewardene was forced to file legal action against his future father-in-law by claiming unlawful detention (habeas corpus). The lawyer that successfully argued the case was a young attorney by the name of J.R. Jayawardene. Having married Leslie, Ms. Goonewardene had to escape to India under a false name along with her husband when the LSSP was proscribed for its anti-war stance. While in India Mr. and Mrs. Goonewardene immersed themselves in the Quit India Movement. After the end of World War II the LSSP began activities once again in Ceylon but ideological differences between leading members of the party led to a split based on their socialist ideologies. Vivienne joined the Bolshevik Sama Samaja Party (BSP), successfully campaigning for the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) in 1950. As a member of the CMC, she focused on the poor residing in the ‘shanty towns’ by widening the roads, providing lighting and sanitation as well as organising sewing classes for single mothers. During this time she befriended a young politician from the Ceylon Labour Movement and regularly gave him a lift from near the shanty towns to the CMC; his name was Ranasinghe Premadasa. Her work as part of Dr. N.M. Perera’s All Ceylon Local Government Workers Union led to the granting of ‘Permanent’ Status to workers and the right to pensions as well as extending pensions to widows and orphans.

Through the decades between the 1940s and the 1970s, the LSSP, its various factions and other leftist aligned parties enjoyed great success in bringing about a political awakening amongst the youth and the working class of the country. The 1953 ‘Ceylon Hartal’ was the brainchild of the radicals that witnessed the success of similar organised protests during the Quit India Movement. Ceylon had never before witnessed such well-organised mass scale demonstrations and campaigns of civil disobedience, which brought much of Ceylon to a standstill. The Government of Dudley Senanayake had become unpopular for increasing the price of rice, reneging on a key election promise by the UNP. The hartal was so fierce that the entire cabinet of the government boarded a Royal Navy warship to secure itself against potential violence.

 

On the wave of leftist movements across the country, Ms. Goonewardene was elected to Parliament in 1956 and again in 1964, she only lost the 1960 election by some 150 votes to Mr. M.H. Mohamed; who was appointed Cabinet Minister of Labour, Housing and Employment. She joined a leftist newspaper and began reporting on parliamentary proceedings. M.H. Mohamed was unhappy at some of the articles written by Vivienne on the labour and housing policies of the UNP and during a session of parliament he made a remark directed at Vivienne referring to her election defeat; whilst she was seated in the press gallery. An enraged Vivienne reportedly waved a slipper in a threatening manner at Mohamed and despite the Speaker banning her from the press gallery for two weeks, she proceeded to the entrance of the chamber after the session with a crowd of supporters to confront the MP. The Minister of State at that time, J.R. Jayawardene, had to escort Mohamed through a separate exit and it was left to party leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike to pacify Vivienne. She was posthumously designated a ‘National Hero of Sri Lanka’, the highest civilian honour alongside the ‘Sri Lankabhimanya’.

It is true that most of the high watermarks of female representation in Sri Lankan politics featured women that ‘inherited’ political positions through ‘pedigree’, but this may be an oversimplification of sorts. Yes, many were from well-established political families but the use of the word pedigree is interesting. One of the definitions of the noun pedigree is the provenance of a person especially as conferring ‘distinction’; which in itself is a noun that defines excellence that sets someone apart from others. The closer we study the careers of some of Ceylon’s most prominent female politicians, the more simplistic the argument about inheriting power and position appears.

Perhaps our curriculum should be adjusted to shine more light on the many women that not only attained positions of power, but also possessed the knowledge and skills to thrive in these positions. The next time we rename a street or build a statue, perhaps we should honour some of the country’s famous foremothers. Far from being entitled heirs to political dynasties, these women were prodigious powerhouses in their own right and should be respected as such. A more intense spotlight on the achievements of the many women in our history may help inspire the next generation of women to make some history of their own.

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