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Ansell Lanka was a Board of Investment (BOI) approved company established around 1989 in the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Biyagama. The factory had been set up within a 25 acre site to manufacture surgical gloves. Approximately 3,000 Sri Lankans had been employed there. The managerial staff in 1994 comprised five Australians and 35 Sri Lankans.

In the second quarter of 1994, the management of the factory had been restructured to ensure greater output and better supervision of the workers. This triggered considerable worker unrest and a 30% wage increase sought. The hostage drama which began on July 30, 1994 was over this issue. The authorities refused to yield considering the demands totally unreasonable. Incensed, the workers led by about 12 ring leaders had decided to take the law into their own hands.

On July 30, 1994 the work on the second shift was scheduled to commence at 1.30 pm. This was the time for the first shift comprising of about 1,000 workers to cease work and leave the factory premises. When the second shift began, 12 ring leaders from the first shift had coerced several workers on the second shift to take members of the managerial staff including five Australians captive and confine them to the administration block within the factory premises. They had thereafter surrounded the administration block with drums of Isopropyl Alcohol, an extremely combustible and lethal spirit capable of causing instant death and destruction. Ten such drums had been placed in and around the administration block where the hostages were held captive. Large numbers from the concluded first shift had been forced to remain within the premises as well, the object being to demonstrate that the acts of the captors had overwhelming support among workers.

The hostage takers had laid down conditions for the release of the hostages; that their demand for a salary increase be met, and that police should not enter the factory premises. They had in fact informed the police through members of the private security agency hired by the company for the security of the premises that drums of lethal alcohol would be employed to kill the hostages, and that the factory would be set on fire, if any attempt was made by the police to enter the premises. The captors had mounted sentries at vantage points including the water tank, to watch vehicles advancing towards the factory. From subsequent accounts given by the hostages, the situation had been extremely tense, with most captives believing that the captors were determined to execute their threats if their demands were not met.

At about 3.00 pm. on the following day, I received a telephone call from Rohitha Bogollagama, Director General of the Board of Investment (BOI), when I was in my office in police headquarters. I was then Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (Ranges), and therefore had jurisdiction over all territorial police ranges of DIGs in the country, including the Kelaniya Police Division where Ansell Lanka was located. Bogollagama said that the President and the Prime Minister had directed me to visit Biyagama and explore whether it would be possible to take appropriate steps to overcome the impasse and secure the release of the hostages.

I immediately telephoned Edmund Karunanayake, DIG (Western Province, North) who had authority over Biyagama. I also spoke to Ananda Jayasekera, Senior Superintendent of Police Kelaniya (SSP) to ascertain facts connected with developments. Having been associated for a long time with work connected with intelligence and terrorism, I was convinced that only terrorists with political motives who had undergone training could be that fanatical. The narration of developments by the DIG and SSP Kelaniya gave me the impression that in this instance, the hostage situation had been triggered by novices masquerading as terrorists. Nonetheless the Kelaniya police officers had taken the threats of the hostage takers seriously.

Before leaving for Biyagama to take command of the situation, I informed DIG (Western Province, North) to establish a Command Post within Biyagama Free Trade Zone (FTZ) with radio and telephone facilities. I directed the DIG and the SSP to await me at the post. I thereafter telephoned the office of DIG of the Special Task Force (STF) in order to communicate with Lionel Karunasena, the commandant, to see whether it was possible for them to despatch an elite unit capable of mounting a rescue operation if necessary. Lionel Karunasena (who unfortunately died later) was not at his desk, having flown to Batticaloa – Ampara for operations against the militants. I thereupon spoke to his deputy, Upali Sahabandu, and requested his assistance.

He was most enthusiastic to participate in what would be a novel challenge, but said that he would first speak to his DIG for permission and telephone me. Within five minutes he telephoned and said that he had obtained the required approval. I directed him to arrive at Biyagama as early as possible. When I reached the Command Post at about 4.30 pm, Upali had already arrived there. He had brought with him an array of sophisticated weapons, body armour, stun grenades, the best sharp shooters and equipment to cut through physical barriers.

I sat down to a discussion with DIG Karunanayake, SSP Ananda Jayasekera, Deputy Commandant of the STF Upali Sahabandu and other senior officers of Kelaniya Police Division and the STF. After listening to them, I was surprised that the captors had been allowed to enjoy certain vital facilities without restriction.




They had been permitted the use of telephone facilities with the outside world. They had also enjoyed the luxury of obtaining crucial information through officers of the private security agency (attached to the Company) who had been allowed to move to and from the factory premises. As a result, the “hostage takers” were able to gauge the state of mind of the police and the FTZ authorities, and also to gain psychological dominance over the latter. The general view of those at the conference was that the hostage takers were serious in their threat to execute the hostages if their demands were not met. The point that the suspects had threatened death to the hostages if police were seen outside the factory was repeatedly emphasized by senior police officers of Kelaniya.

Having assessed the overall situation, I came to the conclusion that the hostage takers had gained ascendancy over the management of the FTZ in Biyagama and the police through deception and bluff. The police had been demoralized to a point where they had thought it appropriate to compromise rather than adopt decisive steps. What raced through my mind at the time was that I was encountering a dilemma of unusual proportions. On the one hand, there was no room for negotiations since the hostage takers were not only irrational, but were also some distance away from the gate of the factory, thus denying scope for discussion and negotiation. They had also assumed a state of dominance over the police. I realized that the strongest option available was to storm the factory in order to rescue the hostages. Before making such a choice fraught with the possibility of death and injury to hostages, and accompanying consequences to the government and myself, I considered it appropriate to address and drive sense into them, by speaking to them over a loud hailer from the factory gate.

Before exercising the chosen option, I ordered Upali Sahabandu to conduct a survey and indicate whether the STF could penetrate the perimeter fence, reach the administration block quickly, confront the miscreants and rescue the hostages. I felt that the captors may be confused and demoralized on seeing the STF troops doing a recce, a development they would not have expected.

At about 6.00 p.m, Upali Sahabandu, Deputy Commandant of the STF, returned after the recce and informed me that his men could successfully storm the administration block within the factory and rescue the hostages. Having received a brief report about his plan of action, I asked him how long it would take to complete the entire operation and also the possibility of casualties. He said that there were risks involved, but that casualties could be minimized, and that the entire operation including the successful rescue of the hostages would not exceed more than about 10 minutes. He further stated that the STF may have no option but to shoot at the captors at time of entry. I then took the decision that if my addressing the captors did not yield results, I would storm the premises. I still remember the surprise and consternation on the faces of Director General of the BOI, Rohitha Bogollagama and the Australian High Commissioner who had by now arrived at the Command Post and were privy to our discussions.

I decided as a first step to address the hostage takers from the entrance gate of the factory. DIG (W.P North) and SSP Kelaniya were vehemently opposed to my decision. Before speaking to them, steps were taken to disrupt telephone facilities and electricity within the factory premises. This unexpected step caused panic amongst the captors. Thereafter, officers of the private security agency who so far had unfettered movement to and from the factory, were barred further entry. The captors were thus denied a valuable source of information. At 7.30 pm, I addressed the hostage takers and told them through a loud hailer from the entrance gate that they should walk out with the hostages unharmed within half an hour or I would not be able to guarantee their safety. A misleading assurance was also communicated to them that their demand for a salary increase would be met if they obliged. This conciliatory step was adopted as bait as well as a face saving formula to enable them to comply with the ultimatum.

The captors, rather than confront the STF troops, decided to surrender. At about 8.00 pm. they walked out of the factory premises with the hostages unharmed. The 12 ring leaders were taken into custody. Rohitha Bogollagama and the Australian envoy were profuse in their thanks. After the successful conclusion of the mission, General Hamilton Wanasinghe, Secretary of Defence at the time, whilst extending congratulations, cautioned against summoning the STF without his sanction (the STF at that time was administered by the Ministry of Defence).

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Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?



By Maduranga Kalugampitiya

The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!

While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.

What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.

Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.

Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.

Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.

In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.

If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.

In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.

(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Selective targeting not law’s purpose



By Jehan Perera

The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.

Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.

But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.


The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.

Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.

In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.


The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”

Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.

The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.

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Girl power… to light up our scene



Manthra: Pop, rock and Sinhala songs

We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!

The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.

Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.

It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.

Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).

Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).

Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.

They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).

Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.

The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.

Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.

Hiruni Fernando: Founder and leader of Manthra

She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.

“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”

With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.

“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.

Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!

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