By Chandre Dharmawardana,
The rationale for banning agro-chemicals in May 2021 and “going all organic” was mostly the claimed (but false) “poisoning of the food chain” by “chemicals”. It was well known that organic farming even at its best can only supply a tiny fraction of any nation’s food requirements, unless drastic steps are taken (like halving the population and forcing all to be vegetarians; see https://www.dh-web.org/green/CD-Mueller-OrganicL.pdf). Today, having realized the impossibility of providing the vast amount of “organic fertilizer” needed even to get minimal harvests and avert famine, the government has done a knee-jerk purchase of nano-fertilizer from India.
A government working in the crisis mode has NOT asked if nano-urea can be a health hazard to farming communities, and instead accepted what the Indians say. The product was launched only on 31st May 2021 and sells in India at about $3-4 for a 500ml bottle. It is claimed that 11,000 farm trials were conducted by the Indian National Agriculture Research System in the preceding years. Looking at the published materiel I suspect that these only looked at yields and did NOT monitor the health of the farming communities. The preceding years even overlapped with the pandemic when health chaos prevailed.
Whether with DDT, thalidomide, glyphosate or nuclear waste, the impact on human health requires studies over several generations. With conventional materials, tests on micro-organisms and smaller animals with short life spans provide useful information. But this is not true for nanoparticles as their toxico-kinetic pathways are still quite unknown. Although the Indians say that the nano-urea has been tested for bio-safety and toxicity following Indian government guidelines as well as OECD “international guidelines”, no details have been published. It is an open secret that there are no accepted OECD guidelines for the toxicity of various nanomaterials. The earliest nanourea declared nearly two decades ago in the CN1269774C Chinese patent, other products like the hydroxy-apatite nanourea from SJP university which is a few years old, or the Indian product which is only a few months old, have not been adequately investigated for their environmental and health impact.
The claim by the Indians that their product is “eco-friendly” and safe to humans is an unsubstantiated statement, very likely to be false.
Nanoparticles are ultra-small. Their size is that of Covid-19 Corona virus particles. Being ultra-small, nanoparticles penetrate into foliage, roots or soil extremely efficiently. These materials, especially when sprayed, can get into human skin, eyes, ears, lungs, intestines etc., and instantly penetrate through epithelial layers into every organ and cell, womb and fetus, brain and neuron, chromosome and gene. They will act with high efficiency becoming hundreds of times more toxic than the parent substance from which the nanomaterial was manufactured. While the nanoparticle penetrates the foliage like a “magic bullet”, their action on soil and leaf organisms, and pollinating insects can be akin to a “cluster bomb” that destroys indiscriminately.
Lung inflammation, granuloma, and focal emphysema are found in studies on SiO2 nanoparticles. Gold nanoparticles are used in food technology and found to cause chromatin changes in the nucleus of human lung fibroblasts, making changes in gene expression in mouse fetus leading to lung cancers. Silver nanoparticles enter the intestinal mucus barrier and increase oxidative stress, damaging cell membranes, DNA, and chromosomes as well. Even at low concentrations, the toxicological effects of silver nanoparticles become evident, while abnormal cell damage, shrinkage, apoptosis, and skin cancers occur at higher concentrations.
Use of nanofertilizers creates a sophisticated agricultural industry that is the future. Nanofertilizers will increase yields, but they should be deployed with highly sophisticated safety clothing and usage protocols. Full-face masks and overalls should be unpenetrable to nanoparticles. The nanomaterials must be applied by trained farm technicians with the discipline of semi-conductor “clean-room” technicians who engage in the fabrication of nanomaterials.
My research on nanomaterials at the National Research Council of Canada since the 1980s have been for optical and electronic technologies where sealed fabrication plants are used in manufacturing. Similarly, in the context of agriculture, I have long advocated that the steps beyond the green revolution are these sophisticated technologies, but deployed within “sky-scraper” grow towers sealed from the environment, thereby freeing up farmland for reforestation. The alternative of using these technologies in the unprotected environment is like releasing synthetic viruses (nanoparticles) into ecosystems whose evolutionary tools have no defense against them.
Let us forget about the environment for the short term and ask about human safety. Where is the necessary nano-impregnable clothes and masks for the 1.2 million farmers who spray the nanourea? Furthermore, Nanourea should be sprayed so that the flora and fauna other than the targeted plants are spared. The long-term effects of such exposure are UNKNOWN at present.
In contrast to nanomaterials, conventional agrochemicals have been used for many decades. Substances like glyphosate or DDT have faced large-scale studies and periodic reviews sinCe the 1970s. The large-scale health study of the US government on Glyphosate with its adjuvents involved monitoring some 54,000 farming families over nearly a quarter century, ended in 2018 and established its safety. There had been many in-depth studies on most agrochemcials, and in many countries. In contrast, nanofertilizers have been available for a very short time, and we do not have reliable health-safety guidelines for these new materials.
The agricultural policies of the present government, or the previous government had been increasingly set by pseudoscience activists mesmerized by elite-class propaganda about creating toxin-free environments for themselves. They get their cues from wealthy environmental NGOs in California and Europe that list genetically engineered food as “Franken-food”. The local movement was strengthened by nationalists who equated traditional agriculture to “organic farming”, and by leftists who “heroically” target multinationals like Bayer-Monsanto.
So an unlikely combination of Colombo-7 tree-saving (“Ruk-Raekaganno”) types, Buddhist monks like Ven. Ratana, Marxist-inspired MONLAR activists, “Nath Deviyo” inspired shamans like the late Ms. Senanayaka of “Helasuvaya”, misguided academics like Dr. Nalin de Silva and their acolytes, lined up with medical doctors like Anurddha Padeniya of the GMOA, and Sanath Gunatilleke of California inspired by figures like Stephanie Seneff and “Dr”. Mercola.
Their band wagon blamed every non-communicable disease on agrochemicals. The rise of an unusual form of Kidney disease, now believed by many researchers to be caused by geologically polluted water containing fluorides and other salts was a trump card for them. A staunch supporter of traditional agriculture (and traditional medicine) could write (quite incorrectly) that “Paddy and other cultivations have been done in this country for thousands of years without chemical fertilizer. During these times there were no serious CKD problems. Started using Chemical Fertilizer from 1950s and after about 20 – 30 years serious CKD problems arose”.
Meanwhile scientists themselves had rightly begun to express serious concern over the excessive use of agrochemicals and the degradation of the soil and environment. This had begun to occur after the arrival of an uncontrolled “free” market, further primed by subsidized fertilizers.
So, the stage was set for tighter restrictions on agrochemicals. Instead, the Toxin-Free bandwagon set the pace. First came a ban on the popular herbicide “RoundUp” by the Sirisena government. Ven. Ratana was Sirisena’s prime mover in agriculture. This debilitated all agricultural sectors, causing a loss of at least three times the bond scam, and created the prospect of a collapse of tea exports. However, ideologically driven movements do not learn from evidence, and the present government decided to outsmart not only the Srisena government, but all other nations, by becoming the first to “go 100% organic” by banning all agrochemicals.
That ban was imposed like a bolt from the blue in May 2021. Even the military was diverted to making compost, while shipments of “chemical” fertilizers and pesticides were turned away. That it was impossible to generate enough organic fertilizer, containing at most a mere 2% of nitrogen to replace urea fertilizer with 46% N dawned on the government planners only when their yeoman efforts failed. This had been predicted in our earlier articles, already during the Sirisena era when the threat of the so-called “toxin-free” agriculture had loomed over the country.
So, in trying to create a “toxin-Free nation” based on 100% organic, a desperate government has come to its very antithesis, i.e., very high technology that deals only with artificial materials that are beyond anything organic or inorganic. It plans to explode a cluster bomb of nanoparticles on a fragile ecosystem and an unsuspecting citizenry.
Rising farce of Family Power
Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.
He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.
He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.
“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,
“If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again. If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.
“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”
Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength. In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.
It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.
While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.
Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law? Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?
What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,
The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.
The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance. There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser – from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?
The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to
use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.
A tribute to vajira
By Uditha Devapriya
The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.
A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.
In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.
One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.
Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.
In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.
In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.
Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.
Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.
Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.
At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”
If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.
Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.
These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.
Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.
As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.
As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.
Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.
That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s all about France in Kandy !
This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.
A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.
All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.
Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.
Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.
To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.
Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar
comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives
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