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Jaffna Revisited- Some Quick Impressions On Post-War Development



by C. Narayanasuwami

(Formerly of the Ceylon Civil Service and Retired Senior Professional of the Asian Development Bank)

My recent visit to Jaffna after several years of forbidden travel due to the pandemic provided an opportunity to revisit areas of interest and observe the changes, including positive and negative developments, in both the economic and social fronts. It was a quick visit and unexpectedly its timing coincided with the visit of the President who declared open the Jaffna Cultural Centre on February 11. The festive atmosphere that prevailed on that day was combined with a subdued celebration of the 75th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence. The atmosphere signified that Jaffna is slowly emerging from the isolation that kept its charms hidden.

Economic Activities

The war-torn city of Jaffna is coming back to life after almost three decades and three years of the pandemic while struggling to cope with day-to-day cost of living pressures and erosion of well entrenched societal values. One could witness the disappearance of bullet marked buildings which are being renovated with remittances received from overseas.

The end of the war saw significant road development initiatives sponsored by the central government. This resulted in paved roads including the major A-9 artery and other pivotal highways that connect Kankesanthurai, Palaly and Point Pedro. Unfortunately, some areas did not benefit from this uneven development. For example, the road leading to some of the main Islands like Velanai, Pungudutivu and Nainathivu is in a dire state requiring immediate attention. There could be similar situations elsewhere not traversed by this writer.

Renovation of old houses and temples, and establishment of small businesses appear to have occurred during the pandemic. The emergence of supermarkets combined with a surfeit of wedding halls give the impression that there was money circulating in the community despite lack of evidence of enhanced economic activity -remittances from abroad have been used to reconstruct damaged houses and buildings as well as invest in some less productive ventures. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the wedding halls will soon be white elephants!

While construction activities proceeded on a small scale with private funding, public places like the Jaffna market and Tinnevely market areas remained largely untouched. Except for the cleaning up and beautification of Aryakulam and its environs with a benefactor’s contribution, the Jaffna Municipal Council does not appear to have initiated any significant renovation and refurbishment work in public areas. The development of the Aryakulam area into a place of both historical and touristic attraction is a welcome move but may require further investments to enhance its potential.

In a city where the primary mode of transport was bicycles, the growth in the number of scooters signified that overseas remittances were occasionally put to good use despite contradictions in the way funds were invested. The Jaffna youth considered the possession of scooters as a status symbol in addition to its practical value as a transportation mode. This has also helped older adults to be less dependent on public transport to get to work and attend to household activities.

In anticipation of an influx of tourists, increased number of medium sized hotels and resorts and a plethora of guesthouses have sprung up in the last few years. Many of the guesthouses remain empty although hotel occupancy rates are improving with south-north traffic and a sprinkling of overseas tourists.

An interesting development is taking place consequent to the removal of border controls. The movement of Sinhalese from the south has increased considerably and their involvement in some economic activities has created an opportunity for increased social interaction with the Tamils. Substantial number of people travel from the south to visit religious places in Nagadeepa/Nainatheevu and other areas of social interest.

The number of visitors from the south outnumbered those from within Jaffna on the day the author visited Keerimalai Springs, a place noted for its religious significance and healing properties. Another event comes to mind-the author witnessed a busload of visitors from the south entering the Jaffna market after visiting Sri Naga Vihara and negotiating prices for products in Sinhala. It was interesting to observe that proficiency in the Sinhala language among Tamil traders was even better than their counterparts in Colombo. This situation raises hopes that movement of people irrespective of their race, religion or caste will now promote unity in diversity and greater interaction among the country’s diverse population.

Social Development

The social structure is reported to be crumbling. The social stratification that encompassed caste-based divisions which continued to survive the onslaught of the civil war is now co-existing with clan- based divisions resulting in sharp deterioration in the social order. The emergence of gangs engaged in criminal activities using swords as weapons combined with indiscriminate use of drugs among the youth have created a divisive population.

In contrast to this development however, a substantial number of youth pursuing higher studies have shown keenness in their studies. What was gratifying were the scenes witnessed in many roadside areas where queues of students on bicycles were waiting for their turn to attend tuition classes. The difference was that such students were always accompanied by one of their parents compared to what prevailed a decade or two ago when the same practice of attending tuition classes rested entirely with the students themselves. This sharp difference has apparently arisen due to the fear that unaccompanied students would fall a prey to drug use and other socially disruptive practices.

An Assessment

Is Jaffna booming, blooming or busting is the question that arises in the minds of those familiar with Jaffna’s heritage, historical background, culture and socioeconomic development patterns. Jaffna is going through a process of transformation which displays both positive and negative features. The author, in his book entitled, ‘Managing Development: People, Policies, and Institutions’ launched in Colombo under the auspices of the current President (then Prime Minister) in August 2019 and later in Sydney, Australia in September 2019, and in Manila, Philippines in November 2019 had this to say about development,

“Development is about people. People are both partners and beneficiaries of change. Good policies and effective institutions provide the basis for sound development management. Successful institutions derive their power from competent leaders and good management practices. The pace and process of development are determined by good governance and strengthened capacity to implement and manage projects”.

Viewed from this perspective there are shortfalls and issues relating to policies, appropriate institutional structure and oversight and sound governance, including dynamic leadership and management, providing form and content to structured development at the local level.

Positive developments

Regaining confidence in the stability of life which had been badly battered during the civil war and subsequent post-war period could be considered a significant positive feature. Although the pandemic had an adverse impact on agricultural activities there was progressive participation in pursuits that kept people engaged in productive occupations. At present farming activities are slowly building up though not to the levels of the pre-war situation.

Non-farm activities comprised opening of small-scale grocery stores, supermarkets, fisheries and general business ventures and mixed trading enterprises, including tourism related ventures. Supermarkets and agro-industrial enterprises such as mills, and packaging industries have generated some employment among the youth. Infrastructure development, one of the key features of post war development, has had both positive and negative impacts due to uneven spread and lack of adoption of a strategic planning approach.

Education has been identified as an industry in the Jaffna peninsula from the time of the British and continues to be so even now although standardisation of university admissions in the 1970s caused a substantial setback. However, the level of interest in pursuing higher studies is evident in the keenness shown by students to follow tuition classes despite obstacles.

The participation of people from the south in economic activities has brought the Sinhala-Tamil communities together and with or without their knowledge they are promoting inter-communal harmony and social integration.

Limiting Factors

The primary limiting factor is the lack of a planned investment pattern, both public and private, that has resulted in uneven and lopsided development which has contributed to unproductive ventures mushrooming in several parts of the city. This was confirmed by many, including legislators who understand the pulse of the people better. Some of the supermarkets located in distant areas were reported to be on the verge of closing due to lack of business. The practicality and sustainability of these ventures were not subjected to critical examination at the planning stage. The same applies to guesthouses many of which have had no guests for months.

Another limiting factor is the drug menace which seems to attract the marginalised youth who, having suffered from the trauma, loss of life and poverty during and after the war, found an escape route provided by unscrupulous and influential drug traffickers.


Jaffna is moving forward and is witnessing a positive transformation, albeit with limitations arising from ill-planned, adhoc and disjointed interventions spanning the entire development domain. The absence of investments in any major industrial venture suggests that long-term investment planning has been missing. A distinguishing feature of the development pattern is that investment funds came largely from overseas remittances with no significant inputs from successful local entrepreneurs or from local government institutions.

This needs to be reversed and funds should be generated within the country at central and local levels if the pattern of investment is to be directed at ventures that will have a durable impact on the society with their economic and social viability assessed and analysed critically at the planning stage. This however does not preclude external financing provided it is channelled appropriately.

There needs to be a centrally located planning entity or a technically competent approval body which could coordinate the approval, supervision and monitoring of new ventures based on their relevance and economic value. An overarching body of this nature could possibly fall under varying authority levels depending on the scope, nature, and size of the investment portfolio; under the district secretariat, the Governor or the Jaffna Municipal Council, as appropriate.

The social issues, including drug trafficking, need to be tackled with appropriate intervention, supervision and funding from both central and local government levels. The establishment of an effective, high level task force comprising representatives from civil, military, police and NGO’s to handle crime and drug use could play a pivotal role to apprehend offenders, seek appropriate punishments, and enforce rehabilitation activities endorsed by medical and social welfare institutions.

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Selective targeting not law’s purpose



By Jehan Perera

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?



By Maduranga Kalugampitiya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Girl power… to light up our scene



Mantra: Pop, rock and Sinhala songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiruni Fernando: Founder and leader of Mantra

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

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

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

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

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

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