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In Sri Lanka’s own interests

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by Neville Ladduwahetty

India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar during his recently concluded visit to Sri Lanka is reported to have stated at a Joint Press Conference that ‘It was in Sri Lanka’s own interest that expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka should be fulfilled and Delhi insists on the importance of the 13th Amendment in fulfilling those expectations’ (The Island, January 7, 2021).

Assuming the accuracy of the reported statement, its content has significant implications on the State and Nation of Sri Lanka.   For instance, why are expectations for “equality, justice, peace and dignity” limited only to the Tamil people?   If that is the case, by implication it must mean that all other citizens of Sri Lanka other than the Tamil community do not have similar expectations because they already enjoy equality, justice, peace and dignity in Sri Lanka.   This is a factually skewed assessment on the part of Dr. Jaishankar, because he must surely know that citizens in all countries throughout the world, including Sri Lanka, regardless of which community they belong to, and/or whether they are majorities or minorities, experience inequality, injustice and lack of peace and dignity in one form or another and that India is no exception.   Therefore, what is so exceptional about the Tamil community?   

By insisting on the importance of the 13th Amendment in fulfilling expectations of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, Dr. Jaishankar has underscored the link between the 13th Amendment and the expectations.   However, since the 13th Amendments impacts only on the smaller portion of the Tamil community living in the Northern and Eastern provinces, the fulfilment of expectations would be limited only to them.   What about the expectations of the larger portion of the Tamil community living outside the Northern and Eastern provinces along with the rest of the communities in Sri Lanka?   For India to be concerned only with this smaller proportion of the Tamil community and not with the decidedly larger portion of the Sri Lankan citizenry has the potential to endanger India’s interests in Sri Lanka from a geostrategic perspective.           

Furthermore, when Dr. Jaishankar states that it is in Sri Lanka’s own interest to ensure that the expectations for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a “UNITED Sri Lanka”, he as India’s Minister for Foreign Affairs has added a new amendment to the 13th Amendment that impacts on the hallowed unitary structure of the Sri Lankan State.   When the 13th Amendment was introduced in 1987, Sri Lanka was unitary and remains so today.   To state that the precondition for the fulfilment of expectations of the Tamil people requires the structure of the Sri Lankan State to be changed from being unitary to one that is “united” amounts to naked interference in the internal affairs of the Sri Lankan State in violation of the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement in which India was a founding member.   If this is how India’s policy of “neighborhood first” manifests, the neighborhood, and in particular Sri Lanka, should be more circumspect in its dealings with India than it had been in the past. 
 

THE “NEIGHBOURHOOD FIRST” POLICY
 

When Dr. Jaishankar says that it is Sri Lanka’s own interest to fulfill the expectations of the Tamil community, he, as the foremost spokesperson for India, is washing India’s hands off of any responsibility for orchestrating a forced intervention and imposing a system of governance under the 13th Amendment, that is totally unsuitable for Sri Lanka.   The net effect of the legacy left behind is a frustrated Sri Lankan nation, struggling to make the best of an inappropriate system of governance. 

Is Sri Lanka in a position to introduce a system of governance that serves all communities better?  According to comments made by former president Sirisena, the answer is NO.   During the course of a recent interview, he stated: “The 13th Amendment is a product of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.   The Provincial Council Act is a product of the 13th Amendment.   So I know that it is not so easy to abolish provincial councils…. Abolishing provincial councils is like playing with fire” (The Island, January 2, 2021).

This is the trap Sri Lanka finds itself in.   This trap and the manner in which it was set by India, did not deter India from engaging in acts that violated the very principles it subscribed to and expected others to live by, despite being an influential founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement with the principles:
 

  • Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
  • Mutual non-aggression
  • Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs
  • Equality and mutual benefit
  • Peaceful co-existence. 

Today India is not encumbered by inconvenient principles.   India is now a key member of the QUAD with the U.S., Japan and Australia.    Until the recent visit all leaders of India including Prime Minister Modi who visited Sri Lanka advised Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment.   For the first time, what is being “insisted” upon is not only the implementation of the 13th Amendment, but also that it should be within a “UNITED” Sri Lanka.  
 

These expressions reflect the new India backed up by the new relationships of the QUAD.   Blinded by the backing of the new relationship, India would not want to be seen by its partners in the QUAD as being weak by admitting that its experiment in Sri Lanka has failed.   Therefore, they are bound to keep on pressuring Sri Lanka with proposals how to make devolution more meaningful.  In such a background attempting to transform current arrangements would be met with such resistance that it may amount to “playing with fire”. 
 

Continued attempts to make provincial councils under the 13th Amendment work is not in keeping with India’s policy of “Neighbourhood First” because the 13th Amendment is strictly meant to fulfill the expectations of only the Tamil community in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  It does not constitute the neighbourhood of India.   Since it is in India’s own geostrategic interests to cultivate the neighbourhood, India has to cater to the interests of the larger segment of the Sri Lankan nation which for all intents and purposes constitutes the real neighbourhood as recognized by other sovereign States.  
 

What India is yet to realize and admit is that the 13th Amendment has not served the people of any community whether they be Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim or any other, because of the fundamental unsuitability of the structural arrangement imposed on Sri Lanka by India.   This fact was confirmed by former President Sirisena in the interview referred to above.   He stated: “the 30-year experience of running provincial councils has not yielded desired results in terms of developing all parts of the country”.   According to him: “From a development perspective, I think a set up at the district level like a District Development board would work better than provincial councils given the fact that we are a small country”.
 

Realistic pragmatism requires that India rethinks its priorities because its current emphasis does not amount to its stated policy of “neighbourhood first”.   Instead, the current policy as far as the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka is concerned amounts to “India First”, in the neighbourhood. 

DENIAL of RIGHTS to DEVELOPMENT
 

There is a consensus in Sri Lanka that the provincial council system is an unsuitable mechanism to address the needs of the people.   Despite this realization successive Sri Lankan governments have failed to present a formal statement to the leadership of India that because of the unsuitability of the existing provincial council system, Sri Lanka needs to develop an alternative.   If India is opposed to an alternative that suits Sri Lanka, India should be informed that Sri Lanka would be engaging in an exercise to find an alternative, because what is at stake is the denial of a right to human development of millions in Sri Lanka brought about by India’s intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign State that introduced a system of governance that does not serve the interests of people in Sri Lanka.  
 

Having so stated, Sri Lanka should set up a mechanism to develop an alternative to provincial councils with a mandate to develop a proposal to ensure the delivery of goods and services to all communities in the periphery independent of all parochial political and other considerations.   Such an alternative should be based on inputs from the people in the periphery, and definitely not on inputs from the political leaders of all hues as has been in the past.   Furthermore, such a proposal should have the flexibility to function whether the arrangement at the center is Parliamentary, or Presidential.   
         

Hoping that the framers of the new constitution would give the needed attention to develop an alternative to the existing provincial council system together with other weighty and controversial issues, is not only to complicate the daunting task of constitution making but also to rob the attention the alternative should deserve.   Therefore, since the exercise of developing a system to ensure that those at the periphery are served requires the engagement of persons with skills and experience of a sort that is different to those conversant with constitutions and how governments function, the task of developing an alternative to provincial councils should be carried out independently.
 

India must surely be aware that the provincial council system introduced under the 13th Amendment has failed to fulfill intended expectations.   Despite this for India to continue to insist that the 13th Amendment is implemented by every visiting dignitary is being disingenuous to a neighbor, under a policy of “neighbourhood first”.  Since the insistence on the 13th Amendment denies the fundamental right to human development of millions in Sri Lanka, India must he held accountable and responsible for their fate.       
    

IN INDIA’S OWN INTEREST       
     

India’s stated policy is “Neighbourhood First”.   Explaining the concept, Amb. (Retd) V.P. Haran at the Central University of Tamil Nadu stated: “Policy of Govt. of India towards neighbors is encapsulated in the phrase, ‘Neighbors First’. This policy priority holds true for almost every country in the world. For, anything that happens in one country will affect the other countries in the neighborhood.   Former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh once said, ‘the real test of foreign policy is in the handling of neighbors’. We often hear political leaders say that India wants a peaceful, prosperous and stable neighborhood.  Reason is simple.  This means less trouble for us and will enable us to focus on development, without distraction. Neighborhood diplomacy is challenging and difficult but one that is satisfying at the end” (July 14, 2017).
 

If as stated above, India’s peace prosperity and stability depends on the stability of its neighbors, it is in India’s own interest that there is peace, prosperity and stability in Sri Lanka.   The question then becomes, could there be prosperity in Sri Lanka under a system spawned by the 13th Amendment that denies the right to human development to the entire population of Sri Lanka because of the systemic unsuitability of the system imposed by India?   Furthermore, how could there be stability in Sri Lanka when the overwhelming majority is disadvantaged by the system of provincial governance introduced by India?   
 

India’s interest in the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is driven by India’s own internal imperatives because of the perception that a Tamil community in Sri Lanka with fulfilled expectations would not give cause for instability in Tamil Nadu on account of Tamils in Sri Lanka.   However, the context in which such notions thrived has changed.  Therefore, India has to think beyond internal parochial interests.   Having joined the QUAD India has to act as a global player.   To do so India has to reset its sights and see nation-states as whole entities and not as made up of ethnic communities which means India has to address the concerns of the rump of sovereign States   As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, this is to accept that the model imposed by India has failed, and that India should not to stand in the way of Sri Lanka developing an alternative to the provincial council system, because it is in India’s own interest to do so.   
 

CONCLUSION
 

The comment by India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar Joint Press Conference was that ‘It was in Sri Lanka’s own interest that expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka should be fulfilled and Delhi insists on the importance of the 13th Amendment in fulfilling those expectations’.  
 

For a seasoned diplomat to use words such as fulfilling expectations within a UNITED Sri Lanka and to INSIST on the importance of the 13th Amendment means that the gloves have come off.   As it is with the U.S. using human rights issues in Sri Lanka to contain China’s influence in Sri Lanka, India is using the 13th Amendment coupled with Japanese funds to get involved in Sri Lanka to dilute Chinese influence in Sri Lanka.  
 

This is the background in which Sri Lanka has to act.  After thirty plus years of denial of the right to human development of the citizens of Sri Lanka as a result of the provincial councils set up under the 13th Amendment that was imposed in violation of principles of the Non-Aligned Movement of which India was a founding member, the people of Sri Lanka cannot afford to wait any longer.    Therefore, the people who elected this President and this Parliament should prevail on the government to submit a formal statement to India that Sri Lanka would engage in an exercise to develop an alternative to the existing system.      
   

The repeated references to the 13th Amendment demonstrate that India’s take on Sri Lanka has not changed.  Even after a lapse of nearly thirty plus years and the passing away of most of the major actors associated with Tamil politics in India and Sri Lanka, India continues to see Sri Lanka from the perspective of Tamil politics.   In the meantime, the global landscape has changed dramatically with the ascendance of formidable global players that view Sri Lanka’s strategic location as being vital to their geostrategic interests.   They view Sri Lanka as a nation-state and not as one made up of communities as demonstrated by India.   This difference in perspective is not in India’s own interest.   Therefore, in keeping with India’s own policy of “Neighbourhood First”, it is in India’s own interest to change its take on Sri Lanka, and to recognize it as being a sovereign nation-state and not one made up of disparate communities, if India is not to be seen as “India First in the Neighbourhood”.



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Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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