by a special correspondent
From time to time, organizations and individuals have attempted to examine measures taken by Sri Lanka relating to international relations and national security through the social media. The current hype about the role played by former minister Milinda Moragoda in relation to foreign relations and national security is one such example. Those who are trying to dissect what took place decades ago in the sphere of international relations and security could very well mean well. However, it is debatable whether the knowledge of events, at least some of them possess, match the interest they have on the topic of discussion.
With the advent of the Internet and social media in the 20th century, such as the ‘You Tube’, ‘Face Book’, Twitter etc., those who have access to smart phones with Subscriber Identity Modules, popularly known as SIM cards, desktops or laptops with access to the Internet, suddenly found themselves empowered, which provided them with platforms to comment on any subject, irrespective of their knowledge, expertise or experience. The end result of this phenomenon is that the general public is being subjected to relentless bombardment of news, points of view, solutions to issues of national importance, as well as mundane matters. In this process, the public is also being supplied with ‘fake news’ or manufactured news by interested parties. This is an entirely a new phenomenon that surfaced during the latter part of the last century and seems to be thriving in the 21st century.
One of the issues that has recently surfaced is the Sri Lanka – US agreement signed in November 2002 relating to the International Criminal Court (ICC). ICC is a permanent judicial body established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in1998 to prosecute and adjudicate individuals, not states, accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. On July 1, 2002, after ratification by the requisite number of countries (60), it entered in to force .
There are two avenues for prosecution by the ICC. One, a State Party may invite the Court to prosecute an offender, and the other is for the UN Security Council to initiates a case. However, it is also possible for Office of the Prosecutor to initiate an investigation. In doing so, there is a need to satisfy whether the offender/s are being prosecuted by the national government. Only if there are shortcomings on the part of such national processes that the ICC has the authority to extend its jurisdiction.
On May 6, 2002, the Bush Administration announced that the United States does not intend to become a Party to the Rome Statute of ICC and informed the UN of its decision, despite the fact Washington had signed the Rome Statute on December 31, 2000. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka too decided against becoming a Party to the Rome Statute.
ICC Statute is not a legal instrument adopted and implemented by the United Nations. Instead, it is a legal instrument that has been negotiated by individual states, who later signed and ratified it. The treaty has neither enforcement powers, nor a police force to implement its judgements. Such responsibilities are entirely in the hands of the signatories. This may be the reason why one of its judges (Italian) described the ICC as a “giant without hands and legs”. Consequently, Sri Lanka was within its rights to decide not to become Party to the Rome Statute.
Following bilateral consultation Sri Lanka had with the United States, both sides signed the Agreement by which they agreed not to transfer a person of the other Party to a third country, when each country decides to extradite, surrender or otherwise transfer a person, without the expressed consent of the government of the United States or Sri Lanka.
It may be recalled that this bilateral agreement was signed in November 2002, at a time when Sri Lanka was having robust political, security and economic relations with the US. Signing of Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) was one of the important developments that took place around that time, which gave rise to the expectation that the US would look favourably at concluding a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka. It is a well-known fact that Moragoda played a pivotal role in concluding the TIFA. That was also the time when Colombo was trying to free itself from restrictions imposed by the US Congress against sale of military hardware, including spare parts to service SLAF aircraft.
Cascading effects of the improved relations between Washington and Colombo resulted in the decision taken by the Bush administration to gift Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) ‘USS Courageous’ in early 2005, a coastguard cutter that was once part of the US 7th Fleet. It is no secret that that warship became a useful asset during the final confrontations the SLN had with LTTE several years later, thousands of nautical miles away from the Sri Lankan shores. Congressional restrictions against sale of military hardware to Sri Lanka were also lifted soon thereafter, which facilitated Sri Lanka Navy to acquire 30 mm Bushmaster cannons to be mounted on Navy platforms, which provided an advantage over the LTTE firepower at sea. Finally, intelligence provided by the US and India enabled SLN to locate and destroy LTTE vessels that were used for storage and transport of military hardware.
These developments were taking place at a time when the LTTE was taking steps to move away from the peace process alleging that the government was casting an international safety net designed by Minister Moragoda to restrict freedom of operation by that organization. It is therefore clear that the government in Colombo, realizing the machinations of LTTE, recognized the need to improve political, military and economic relations with Washington. One step in that direction was to build a like-minded group of countries that would take steps to assist each other, when cooperative action was required to safeguard their national interests. Credit of establishing that likeminded group has also been rightly assigned to Moragoda.
It may be against such a backdrop, when Sri Lanka was accused of alleged human rights violations, Minister Moragoda, who was closely associated with the peace process, saw the merits of signing an agreement with the US refusing to extradite alleged offenders to be tried by the ICC, based on biased and spurious allegations brought out by outfits such as Diaspora groups that supported LTTE. However, since the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration suffered an electoral setback at the general election held in 2004, the kind of coalition his administration was trying to build up with a group of likeminded countries failed to materialise. The idea behind the thinking could have been not to counter the policies of the Non-aligned Movement, but to build a new coalition that would give priority to national interests of the nascent group.
Is the so called…
At the time of signing the bilateral agreement, Colombo may not have expected the UN system to bring members of the armed forces etc. before international tribunals or engage services of international prosecutors etc., to try them as demanded by the Human Rights Council years later. If the policy of building a ‘like-minded group’ pursued by Colombo had succeeded, Sri Lanka would have stood a good chance in signing bilateral agreements with several other countries, such as the one it signed with the US on surrender of persons to the ICC. All that is now long forgotten, as the adage says, ‘water under the bridge’.
It may be recalled that from time to time the US administration assisted Sri Lankan armed forces in a number of ways. Way back in 1994, the Office of Anti-terrorism Assistance of the US Department of State undertook a ‘Survey and Evaluation of Dignitary Protective Security’. Years’ later, in 2002 the US Department of Defence undertook a study on SL’s military preparedness and submitted a report to the government. However, it was looked at seriously only during the tenure of Gotabaya Rajapaksa then Secretary of the Ministry of Defence. It was the time when Sri Lanka depended on the intelligence provided by the West, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US. Small wonder then, why the US intelligence personnel sat down and conferred with their local counterparts. Their support and cooperation were sought by the government and in providing such cooperation, the US intelligence officials developed a close working relationship with their local counterparts. Such close cooperation with the US intelligence services continued during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, coming as he did from a military background, would have understood the importance of military to military relationship with the US. Signing of the Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) in 2007 by Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the result of the close rapport Sri Lanka enjoyed with the security apparatus of the US.
Sri Lanka is indeed a ‘land like no other’. Velupillai Prabhakaran, Thamil Chelvam and Anton Balasingham who took Sri Lanka on a three-decade long roller coaster ride are no more. Karuna Amman, the chief Lieutenant of the LTTE leader, ended up as a Junior Minister in the Parliament. Prof. G. L. Peiris, who led the Sri Lanka delegations to the peace talks with the LTTE left the UNP, rejoined the SLFP and later helped establish SLPP, which won the 2020 general election handsomely, is a minister in the current parliament. Milinda Moragoda, once credited with creating a standoff between LTTE supremo and Balasingham and many other developments associated with the peace process will be Sri Lanka’s next envoy to New Delhi. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who fought the war to a conclusion and defeated the LTTE, has once again become the Prime Minister of the island and his brother and former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has become president of the country with wide popularity. Strangest of all is, after a lapse of 45 years since the assassination of Alfred Duraiappah, a SLFP member has been elected by the voters in Jaffna, the former bastion of the LTTE, as their member of parliament. Much has definitely changed. However, those who made a living by disseminating scurrilous and frivolous news and fake stories, continue to ply their trade with gay abandon.
Sri Lankans are no better. Myopia is something that they all seem to have been afflicted with. One decade after defeat of the LTTE, they appear to have forgotten the wretched three-decade long war the country had to face and the endless sacrifices the people of Sri Lanka and members of the armed forces had to endure. The cease-fire agreement Ranil Wickremesinghe administration signed with the LTTE may not have been the smartest move of that administration. However, Sri Lankans seems to have forgotten that that agreement was the first nail on the coffin of the LTTE, which turned the tide against that organisation. The second was Karuna Amman’s estrangement with V. Prabhakaran and his defection, which made the LTE held Eastern Province vulnerable to the extent it fell into the hands of the government forces lead by Rajapaksa brothers. The rest is history. Not surprisingly, Sri Lankans seem to have forgotten the root causes of the armed conflict as well. They suffer from short memory as well, as amply demonstrated by the forgetfulness of the critical support Sri Lankan military received from India and the US, during the closing phase of the Eelam war.
Strong on vocals
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.
Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year
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.
New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations
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…”
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
Happy New Year!
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