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Illustrious Dahanayake brothers



S. H. Dahanayake was the leader of the common masses of Galle in the mid-1920s. He fought against the Establishment and the British Raj, letting loose a wave of national consciousness and pride among the people of Galle. Our elders still talk of him with affection and respect.

One day he was summoned to give evidence in a certain case, and in the course of cross-examination, the counsel for the other side, bet on belittling him, asked with a sneer, “Isn’t it a fact that your father left you only 25 cents?”

As this had nothing to do with his evidence, he turned to the Judge and asked, “M’Lord, must I answer that question?”

“Yes, I’m afraid you must,” said the Judge.

The witness then turned to the lawyer, and in a voice that carried to every corner of the Court asked, “Isn’t it a fact that with twenty-five cents, your father was carrying a pingo round the streets of Galle?”

Years later, when I met Dr. W. Dahanayake at the witness box of the Galle District Court and reminiscenced about it, he chuckled and said that this lawyer is connected to the highest in the land now, by marriage and is a scion of a Walauwa (Manor).

Dr. Dahanayake rode into politics on the immaculate reputation of this illustrious brother, though he proved his own mettle later.


She was a young women who filed a divorce case. The judge said “Your husband charges that you deceived him.”

“On the contrary, your Honour, he is the one who deceived me. He one day said that he was going outstations on business and he didn’t.”


“A defence counsel attacked the evidence of a doctor, seeking to trip the witness up. But calm and collected, imperturbably giving straight answers to the lawyer’s questions.

Finally the lawyer sneered, “Alright, doctor, you may leave the witness-box. You are a very clever man.”

To which the doctor coolly replied, “I wish I could say the same about you sir, but unfortunately I have taken an oath here to speak the truth!”


One day, when our Southern Malaprop, a very distinguished lawyer gone to his eternal rest, was on his feet, addressing the Magistrate, when some of his lawyer colleagues seated at the Bar Table, began hissing: “B F! B.F!”

At this the lawyer complained that his colleagues were calling him “Bloody Fool”.

When the Magistrate looked inquiringly at the Bar Table, one of the lawyers got up and said: “Sir, our learned friend is mistaken. B.F. stands for the very flattering term “Born Fighter!”


This self-same lawyer was fabulously rich, but led a plain and simple life. One day, a senior lawyer, much older than our hero, suggested, jokingly, that the younger man leave him one lakh in his will. At this, the junior lawyer flew into a rage and yelled: “I don’t mind leaving you the damn money, but you are a hell of a vicious fellow to assume that I am going to die before you!”

(BF could also stand for “Bosom Friend).”


Felix Reginald Dias (F.R.) was the grandfather of the late Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike. He named his son (Minister Felix’s father) Reginald Felix Dias (R.F.) switching his own two names.

One day the budding Supreme Court Judge (One of the most famous we have had, had asked his father “Daddy! Why did you name me R.F. and not F.R. like you?”

The old F.R. had gazed coldly at his son and said,” Thank your lucky stars that I didn’t name you BF.”


This was a case which came up before Justice R.F. Dias, where a man had been charged for the murder of his mother-in-law.

Making his submissions, the Crown Counsel said that on the facts and on the law, the jury had no alternative than returning a verdict of murder.

“Mr. Crown Counsel! I have had two mothers-in-law and I ought to know that no man who kills his mother-in-law can be guilty of murder!”

With this expression of the judge, based on his personal experience, the Crown Counsel expected the plea of guilty to the lesser offence tendered by the accused.


There was a famous divorce case in the 1940s where the husband charged his wife with adultery with a certain doctor.

The case was heard in Justice R.F. Dias’ court, and one of the witnesses was a female employee, of the doctor. A letter this girl had written to a friend was one of the productions in the case, and the girl was asked to read the letter aloud in court. When she had finished, counsel for the aggrieved husband cross-examined her.

“One sentence in your letter says that my client’s wife “is the special preserve of Doctor X.” Tell me, what do you mean by “special preserve?”

The girl blushed and wriggled with embarassment.

“Once again, witness, I ask you, what is a special preserve?’ repeated counsel.

“Once again witness, I ask you, what is a special preserve?” repeated counsel.

As the girl once again blushed and wriggled, Justice Dias cut in an said, “A special preserve is that part of a forest reserved for one particular person to shoot!”


It was a rape case which came up before Justice R. F. Dias. The Crown Counsel said that the offence had been committed on the woman when she returned to her village for the Sinhala New Year, from Colombo where she was a domestic aide in a household.

The Counsel added that according to the medical report she was a “virgo intacta” when the offence was committed.

At that stage Justice Dias intervened and said “Working in a Colombo household and a virgo intacta”? Then this woman is a ‘RRA AVIS’ (rare bird).


This happened during the Second World War. A surveyors’ camp was located close to a rice producing area. The food problem was getting more and more acute as the unauthorised transport of rice was banned.

The labourers were inveterate rice eaters. So one Saturday morning they bought a bullock cart full of rice from the village and were happily transporting their stock to their camp when they were copped.

They were taken to the police station and released on police bail and were warned to be in the Magistrate’s Court on Monday morning.

They retained a senior lawyer of the local bar. After having the facts of the case, he advised the labourers to plead guilty, when the case came up on Monday.

On Monday they found that the permanent magistrate was on leave and that their lawyer was acting for him. He had instructed one of his juniors to appear for the labourers at the trial.

And, when the case was called the labourers pleaded guilty, as instructed. The Inspector of Police related the facts of the case and stressed the need for heavy and detterrent punishment.

The lawyer appearing for the labourers pleading in mitigation explained that the accused were government workers on urgent food production work and they were taking the rice for their own consumption and not for any trading purposes.

The acting magistrate then fined then Rs. 20.00. All those present including the inspector were completely floored. The inspector then asked “What about the rice sir? “Return the rice” the magistrate said.

The court then adjourned for lunch. Soon after, the labourers went to the production room to collect their rice, when the acting magistrate appeared on the scene and told the labourers “Hey! Keep 20 measures for me!”

It was practical justice.

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They do it differently…



Michelle and husband Chanitha

Duos are there, aplenty, especially in this pandemic scene, but what Michelle and Chanitha do together, as a husband-and-wife duo, is totally different.

This has, no doubt, paved the way for their success, as entertainers, in the entertainment scene, in the Maldives.

Michelle and Chanitha are from Sri Lanka and have been performing, in the Maldives, for the past two-and-a-half years, and, they say, it has been a very fulfilling experience, especially seeing guests enjoying their music, and complimenting them, as well, for their professionalism.

Right now, they are based in a tourist resort and have been doing that scene for the past two years, as the resort’s house band.

“We had the privilege of entertaining guests at the resort’s Christmas Dinner dance (2019/2020) and also ushered in the New Year at two grand New Year Eve dinner dances (2019/2020), at the same resort,” said Michelle who, incidentally, happens to be the daughter of Melantha Perera.

Michelle went on to say that as their music is wide and varied, they also did the Valentine’s dinner dance (2020/2021), and also functions, connected with Women’s Day, and weddings, as well.

The duo’s repertoire is made up of over 600 songs, and they do pop, jazz, RnB, rock ‘n’ roll, rock, blues, and lots more.

“We both sing, harmonise, and Chanitha plays lead guitar standard solos,” said Michelle, adding that their music has been very much endorsed by guests and the bouquets that have come our way have been very gratifying.



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Critical thinking and the ‘value’ of university education



By Harshana Rambukwella

‘Critical thinking’ is a term that has become ubiquitous in both general and higher education discourse. One sees this phrase appear frequently in educational policy statements. Many who speak of education reform see it as a key skill that education needs to foster. Those who see education primarily as a tool of producing a productive workforce or ‘human capital’ also see it as a positive attribute. However, there is little clarity about what ‘critical thinking’ means. For many involved in education policy-making it seems to mean something like problem-solving ability and the ability to make reasoned judgments – a so-called ‘higher order skill’ in Bloom’s Taxonomy (a hierarchical categorisation of skills developed by an educational psychologist in the 1950s and widely utilised worldwide). There is a significant body of scholarly literature on higher education and the need to foster critical thinking. This literature tells us that the ‘industry’ needs critical thinkers and that often our universities and undergraduate programmes are failing to produce such thinkers. Critical thinkers we are told will make better doctors, better engineers, better lawyers and a host of other ‘better’ professionals.

But to be ‘critical’ can and does have many other meanings. If we move from the adjective ‘critical’ to the noun ‘criticality’ things begin to become fuzzier. The dictionary definition suggests that criticality is something of great importance, that it is a point at which a physical material like a chemical becomes unstable, that it is an orientation to life which promotes questioning and criticising what you observe in the world and so on. It is this fuzzier meaning of the word ‘critical’ that interests me. Critical thinking, unfortunately, like many other concepts which have a long, complicated and radical intellectual history have been tamed and domesticated when they enter mainstream education discourse.I have been personally puzzled when educators talk glibly about ‘critical thinking’ when all their actions mark the very absence of such a critical spirit or orientation. For instance, within the University system I have been at many forums where we discuss the ever-increasing student load with little or no matching investment or expansion of human or physical infrastructure. On many occasions these discussions veer toward how we can use innovative teaching methods, alternative assessment strategies and other innovations to bridge the gap between increasing student numbers and the inadequacy of resources. It is very rarely that our faculty boards or senates take this question to the next level. Why are we getting increasingly larger numbers? Why is the state investing less and less in higher education? Why is an institution’s contribution to education measured in terms of student output? Clearly there is a larger fundamental set of questions about the nature and purpose of education that need to be asked. However, these questions often become marked as ‘political’ or ‘ideological’ and many educators see their role as one of avoiding such ‘politics’ or ‘ideologies’ and instead focus on the ‘practical’ aspects of education.

My submission is that a similar evacuation of the political and ideological aspects of critical thinking happens when we bring it into the curriculum and the classroom. The notion of criticality dominant in mainstream education is heavily appropriated by neoliberal thinking. In this version of criticality students are trained to practice a form of emotional self-surveillance that passes as critical thinking. It ultimately leads students to be conformist and feel guilty about their inability to be ‘productive’ members of society. Take for instance, the practice of ‘reflective thinking’ that has gained much currency in teacher education. To be a reflective practitioner in this understanding is to constantly think about how to be a ‘better teacher’. Are my methods adequate? Am I practicing learner-centered approaches? How good are my lesson plans? The casualty of such thinking is often politics and ideology. Very rarely do we compel our students or teachers/lecturers in training (student teachers), to think about how unequal and classed out education systems are. It is rarely that we speak openly or think about the sexism, classism and even racism of what passes as educational content. By reducing the notion of ‘criticality’ to a ‘skill’ (one among many other ‘productive’ skills that are supposed to be given to students to make them employable) ,a delusion is created that critical thinking is being promoted.

As opposed to this commodified and toothless notion of criticality are the meanings of ‘critical’ that lie on the fuzzier margins of the word. In western philosophical thought ‘critical’ is a term that can be traced from the thinking Socrates, for whom it meant a radical questioning of what appears normal and normative, extending through thinkers such as Erasmus, Thomas Moore, Bacon, Descartes, Russell extending into figures like John Dewey whose thinking has also played a major role in contemporary education philosophy. While the names I have invoked cover a vast range of philosophical orientations and what I am doing here is a kind of gross glossing over of different philosophical traditions, one thing in common here is a radical spirit of questioning the normative. This does not mean that all these thinkers rejected the normative or what was accepted in their societies but their understanding of norms was always tempered by a critical spirit that questioned before acceptance.

This brings me to the notion of ‘value’ in the title of this essay. In his 1997 book The University in Ruins, Bill Readings observes that ‘value’ in the new ‘corporate University is determined by accountants rather than philosophers. This pithy statement captures the dilemma of critical thinking I have been outlining above. Appropriated by a mainstream discourse of education, which in turn is heavily informed by neoliberal values, critical thinking has lost it philosophical edge – its value today lies in its ability as a skill that will provide a competitive advantage in the employment market. Reading’s book as a whole is about this neoliberal transformation of the higher education sector. What he outlined in the 1990s was a process that was gathering pace in Euro-America where modern Universities were increasingly turning both in terms of their administrative structure and in what they taught and how they defined themselves. The ‘ruins’ the title refers to is the notion of a classical university as a site of critical philosophical thought – a site from which to question the normative. In Sri Lanka what we see today is a particularly intense form of this emasculation of the notion of the classical university. Sri Lanka is fast becoming what I would call a ‘frontier market’ of higher education. State policy is guided by a highly impoverished vision about producing ‘employable graduates’ and deregulating the higher education sector so that more and more profit-making entities that offer degrees can be established. Value in this new university culture lies in the numbers of graduates that are produced and their prospective employability. Critical thinking, as I have explored in this essay as a whole, is understood in equally impoverished terms. I offer no ‘practical’ solutions to this dilemma but make these observations in a somewhat polemical style to provoke discussion and debate.

Harshana Rambukwella is Professor in English and Director of the Postgraduate Institute of English, the Open University of Sri Lanka.

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


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Teachers’ pay hikes: An unjust call



By K. L.L. Wijeratne

The current teachers’ protests and trade action jeopardising the education and future of our younger generation need an objective analysis as to whether there are genuine anomalies in relation to respective salaries of principals and reachers.

Let us examine the origin of the purported salary issue affecting the teachers, principals and the members of the Education Administrative Service. Prior to the establishment of the teachers’ service on 06 October, 1994, teachers’ salaries were based on their qualifications as trained teachers, non-trained teachers, honours graduates, general degree holders and diploma holders. As such, there were nearly 25 categories of teachers with five salary scales as follows:

This salary structure did not provide a grading system, or promotional scheme for teachers. Therefore, the need for a Teachers’ Service with a grading system and promotional scheme was deemed reasonable and justifiable.

On September 27, 1994 then Minister of Education and Higher Education, Richard Pathirana in a note to the Cabinet sought approval for issuing a statement on World Teachers’ Day (October 6, 1994) announcing the establishment of the Teachers’ Service with effect from 6/10/1994. The structure and the salary scales of the proposed Teachers’ Service were also included in this note to the Cabinet.

The observations of Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Minister of Finance, Planning, Ethnic Affairs and National Integration, dated October 4, 1994, while accepting, in principle, the establishment of a Teacher Service, noted that the proposed salary scales for the principals and teacher educators, if given, would create anomalies in the Public Service Salary Structure. She further emphasised the need for such proposed salary scales to be examined, in depth, and in comparison to other sectors of the Public Service depending on work norms and other conditions of service.

Teachers work 180 five-hour-days (around 900 hrs) a year. Whereas other public servants work 240 eight-hour-days (around 1900 hrs) a year. In view of the complexity of creating new designations and assigning of new salary scales, the task was to be referred to the Salaries and Cadres Commission for examination and report before decisions were made.

However, irrespective of these observations, the Cabinet Paper 94/14/13 was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 28 September 1994, for the establishment of the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Service with effect from 06 October 1994, and for the implementation of the salary scales proposed for the Sri Lanka teachers service with effect from 01 January, 1995.

In response to the above Cabinet Decision, in her Note to Cabinet No: BD/356/86/34(K) dated October 1994, Minister of Finance Chandrika Kumaratunga further sought Cabinet approval for amending the Cabinet decision of 28/9/94 (item 40) by including the words, “it was decided to refer the proposals to the Salaries and Cadres Committee for a comprehensive examination and report before implementing the proposals” as the last sentence after removing the words, “and implement the salary scales proposed for the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Service with effect from 01.01.1995.”

It is significant to note that despite the well considered observations submitted by Kumaratunga as Minister of Finance, on the issues of Teacher Service salaries, the situation changed due to the presidential election held on 06 November 1994. UNP Presidential Candidate Srima Dissanayake issued a full-page notice (ref. Divaina Newspaper of 31 October 1994) promising to implement the proposed salary scale for teachers and re-structure the Principals’ Service, Teacher Educators’ Service and Education Administrative Service.

The other presidential candidate, Kumaratunga, not to be out done, got the Government to issue Gazette Notification 843/4 of 31/10/94 on the same date as the Press Notice on the subject issued by her rival presidential candidate Dissanayake detailing the following:

This was the only instance where a salary scale was gazetted before establishing a Service! Significantly enough, this was the same as that which was proposed to the Cabinet and Kumaratunga had submitted her reservations and observations on previously.

It was only on 03 April, 1995 that a gazette Notice 855/3 was issued establishing the Teachers Service duly giving the above salary scales.

Hence we see that Chandrika Kumaratunga, as a presidential candidate rivalling the promises of her opponent Srima Dissanayake, reneged on her earlier well considered position on the issue of teachers’ salary structure.

Anomalies arose due to this arbitrary manner of fixing teachers’ salaries without giving due consideration to those services in the education sector and other parallel services.

The new salary scales of teachers created serious anomalies with the Principals Service salaries. For example, Principal Grade I was placed on a much lower salary scale than a teacher Cl.2 Gr.II Subsequent legal action initiated by Principals in the Supreme Court (Supreme Court Cases Nos. 453/97, 454/97, 390/99, and 362/99) resulted in the Supreme Court decision to rectify the anomaly by increasing the salaries of the Principals.

This created anomalies between the salaries of Teacher Educators Service and the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service (SLEAS) with the latter filing their plaint in the Supreme court (Supreme Court Cases No: 305-307/03)

In 2006, the government issued a new National Wage Policy with a salary structure and promotional scheme considering all the grades of the Public Service i.e. from Labour Grade to Senior Executive (Public Administration Circular 6/2006 of 25/4/2006.) This removed the anomalies between the Principals Service and the SLEAS and therefore the Supreme Court proceedings were terminated. It is evident, therefore, that there are no anomalies between the Principals Service, the SLEAS and other Services due to the overall, overarching comprehensive new salary structure and promotional scheme adopted across the entire Public Service. With the active consultation and participation of all trade union representatives, the government decided to maintain a salary ratio between the labour grades and the senior executive grades.

It is significant that the formulation of the new Public Sector Salary Structure introduced through the Public Administration 6/2006 Circular was a mammoth task and hitherto unprecedented achievement.

Prior to 2006 there were 126 salary scales for public servants in Sri Lanka. This was reduced to 37 salary scales with the policy decision of the government to establish an agreed salary ratio of 1:4.2 between the lowest grade in the public service and the highest grade of Secretary to a Cabinet Ministry. This new and revised salary structure was accompanied by various other important benefits for all public servants such as grade-to-grade promotions without any cadre restrictions and nonstagnation in reaching maximum salary point.

Therefore, it is clear that any other Salary Reports such as the B.C. Perera recommendations 1995 (quoted by the teachers), have now been nullified by the new salary structure for all public service categories established in 2006. Any attempt to tamper with the present salary structure for all public servants in favour of a particular group/category of Teachers, Principals, will inevitably open a Pandora’s Box.

In fact, it has been mentioned by the Supreme Court FR No:362 /99 that “it is not only legitimate, but sometimes essential to compare the salary scales of different services in order to determine salary scales (having regard to the required qualifications, knowledge, experience, skills, functions and responsibilities) and salary differentials.”

Moreover, the pensionable salary of all public servants has been increased by more than 100 percent between 2016 to 2020. Currently, these public servants are enjoying the benefits of such salary increases which were given in five instalments. For example, a teacher’s initial pensionable salary in Grade One, which was Rs. 21,750 in 2015 has now been increased to Rs. 44,950 as at 2020. Similarly, it is vital to realise that currently teachers, principals along with other public servants are obtaining more than 100 percent salary increases given by the government. As a result, there will be a tremendous increase in the total pension bill.

Another demand of the teacher unions is that their salaries be increased by declaring theirs as a ‘Closed Service’. It is already a closed service in that teachers cannot be transferred to any other departments or ministries. If the government declares it a closed service with salary increases for such services being granted, that will lead to similar demands from other so-called closed services like the Health Sector, Postal Services, Railway, Customs and Inland Revenue.

The hitherto balanced national salary structure across the public service will be upended with multiple demands being made in all sectors for salary increases.


(The writer, K.L.L. Wijeratne, Retd. Sri Lanka Administrative Service, was the Secretary, Salaries and Cadres Commission of Sri Lanka from 2006 to 2009 and Chairman of the Salaries and Cadres Commission from 2016 to 2019)

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