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Midweek Review

Japanese literature and Prof. Ariya Rajakaruna’s translations



by Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Department of Sinhala, University of Peradeniya

During these COVID-19 days, stories pop up everywhere describing how each country and its people are coping with the pandemic. It is said that the Japanese people are behaving in the most responsible manner; they have changed their behaviour in conformity with the health regulations related to the pandemic. The Japanese are known to turn laws into culture. In others words, they absorb laws into culture; and thereafter, laws do not look laws. When laws are made with the participation of the people, they easily blend with the public culture. This is in stark contrast to Singapore, where laws remain laws, strict, punitive and statist: obey the law or pay the penalty! In Japan even state power takes beautiful cultural shapes.

Such idealisation of Japan is part of our middle-class culture. For many of us, Japan is the ideal land: elegantly cultured; adequately Buddhist; appropriately non-Western; seemingly anti-Western; not too religious; obviously modern yet visibly Asian; moderate yet powerful; culturally traditional yet developed and so on. For us, Japan is perhaps the easiest country to love – love openly. We love the West secretly and Japan openly.

Our love of Japan may have many origins. One key source of that love is Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s two novels: Malagiya Attho and Malavunge Avurudu Da. After those two novels we have been a bit too romantic about anything Japanese. In the making of our first modern indigenous play, Saracchandra, ‘the father of modern’ Sinhala drama, was significantly influenced by Japan, and loved to overemphasise that Japanese connection. In my latest novel, Rathu Iri Andina Atha, I created a character who shrewdly manipulates our love of Japan. In order to enter the conscious of educated Sinhala middleclass, he acts as a professor returning from a long stay in Japan. To make the story believable, he carves out a story of his Japanese wife – a fiction within a fiction! Sri Lankan middle class is ready to be deceived even by an underworld imposter as long as he presents himself as a person refined in Japan. Irony, to be sure, allows us to see the extent to which Japan has become one of our national fantasies.

This essay, however, is about a real scholar who has enriched modern Sinhala literature almost singlehandedly by translating Japanese literature into Sinhala. He is Professor Ariya Rajakaruna. Several translators such as Jayantha Wimalasena, Tadashi Noguchi, and Wimaladasa Samarasinghe introduced Japanese literature to the Sinhala readers. But they translated them from English. Professor Rajakaruna translated directly from Japanese. Now in his eighties, the professor continues to translate Japanese literature into Sinhala.

Translated Literature and Sinhala Fiction

The story of modern Sinhala literature is one of the many influences. Modern Sinhala fiction in particular was primarily influenced by Russian and French fiction. From the 1940s onwards the key classics of those languages were translated into Sinhala. Edirivira Saracchandra, A. P. Gunarathne, David Karunarathne, Cyril C. Perera, K.G. Karunathilaka, Boby G. Botheju and numerous others translated those books. Among the present-day literary translators, Gamini Viyangoda, Chulananda Samaranayake, Ananda Amarasiri and many others have continued to translate contemporary world classics into Sinhala. And the Pragathi Publishers, a literary wing of the Soviet Union, made Russian classics, along with some Soviet ones, available in Sinhala at affordable prices. It must be stressed that they did not translate just Stalinist propaganda. So, we could read Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy, who were not Bolsheviks. Those books were nicely printed as well. Some of those books came out in adorable pocket editions that we could carry around showing off our ‘refined taste’ to Sri Lankan Sonyas, Annas, Laras or Altynais – those unforgettable heroines of Russian classics. Dedigama V. Rodrigo, Padma Harsha Kuranage and Piyasena Manilgama are still in our minds as the translators of those classics. Some works of fiction from other national literature such as American, British, German, and Indian were translated here and there, but not in any systematic way. The United States did everything it could to rival the USSR during the cold war but never spent any money on translating its literature into other languages. In other words, it did not have an organ equivalent to The Progressive Publishers of the USSR. Thus, we are still to have any translation of the masterpieces of Henry James, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald, or Saul Bellow. At the moment, our regional superpower, China, is also not interested in cultural stuff. They are into giving us colossal loans, cutting deals, and behind-the scene political games, getting ministers in the loop, and so on – very much like the US in that sense.

Japanese Influence on Sinhala literature

In addition to Russian and French literature, Japanese literature is perhaps the single most influential literary tradition to shape contemporary Sinhala literature. To account for literary influences is a difficult task. Yet, the influence of Japanese Haiku is quite visible and ubiquitous in Sinhala literature. After Ariyawansa Ranavira, one of the most senior poets, translated a collection Haiku by Japanese masters in 1980s, many Sinhala poets began writing Haiku like poems. Today, younger poets such as Lakshantha Athukorla, Palitha Senarathne, Piyankarage Bandula Jayaweera, Ven. Aparekke Sirisudhamma and others regularly write shorter poems that reflect a heavy influence of Haiku. Professor Rajakaruna himself translated a collection of Haiku directly from Japanese. His book figures prominently in the ‘Haiku dialogue’ taking place in Sinhala.

Avant Garde Films and Drama

Professor Rajakaruna translated Japanese classics into English as well. Two film scripts included in A Crazy Page and Crossroads were translated into English for the first time. Our Professor has helped some Japanese authors to reach international readership! On reading these two film scripts, I was amazed at the kind of modernism and experimentalism in those texts written in 1920s. A Crazy Page is about a man who returns to his abandoned wife and daughter some thirty years to find wife insane and hospitalized. He tries to make up for all those lost years by finding a job as an attendant at the hospital where the wife awaits her death. The film script has been written breaking the linearity in time and space. Avant Garde nature of the film is so much that I couldn’t believe that it was written nearly a century ago.

Some of the plays Professor Rajakaruna translated from Japanese to Sinhala also belong to what we conventionally call “absurd theatre.” Unfortunately, his translations were never produced as plays. But one can safely assume that at least of the younger playwrights in Sinhala have read these translated plays.


And some universities regularly use them as their required texts.

As a literary critic, Professor Rajakaruna is not known to defend experimentalism in Sinhala literature. His recent critical essays on Sinhala fiction fail to appreciate post realist fiction written by new writers, who have made some significant achievements by writing short stories and novels that transcend naturalist realism. But as a translator, the professor has been particularly keen on translating Japanese texts that are experimental in nature.

Although he looks rather conventional as a critic in his recent writing, Prof. Rajakaruna, I must say, was one of the fearless defenders of the literary modernism of Peradeniya School (1950s to 60s). As a young lecturer at the University of Peradeniya, Rajakaruna was one of the most vocal supporters of ‘free verses’ of Siri Gunasinghe, the greatest modernist of the so-called ‘Peradeniya School.’ Interestingly, Professor Rajakaruna continued to side himself with modernist experimentalism in his translations from Japanese to Sinhala.

Professor Rajakaurna translated so many short stories by celebrated Japanese writers. He also supervised two projects of translations that introduced nearly all key writers of Japanese literature into Sinhala. Two volumes of short stories, Ishtartha Siddiya and Asaliya Mal, have gone into several prints already and they include Japanese short stories representing a wide variety of styles and themes. And those stories have been translated from English by leading scholars in the field. It must be mentioned with a sense of gratitude that Japanese agencies such as Toyota Foundation have provided him with financial support to carry out those projects. But in recent times, even those funding agencies have not paid any attention to helping us make such cultural products with lasting effects. And there has not been another Ariya Rajakaruna, passionate about Japanese arts and enthusiastic about what we can learn from Japan. Now, China is all over the place. From kitchen to the cabinet – yes, I mean the Cabinet of ministers. We are likely to be indebted to China for several generations to come. But China has no Toyota Foundations that will help you translate literature. Perhaps, China knows that its best writers are not with the Chinese oligarchy, and to translate them will make no contribution to China’s geopolitical project.

Heir to his Work

Professor Rajakaruna, like many others of his generation, failed to produce inspired students who can continue his work on Japanese literature. After him, no one learned Japanese and entered into ever vibrant Japanese literary scene. Therefore, we do not have anyone translating renowned writers such as Haruki Murakami, Yoko Ogava, Hiromi Kawakami, Junji Ito, Hiroko Oyamada and so on directly from Japanese. Murakami comes to us through English. His work has been translated from English into Sinhala. Professor Rajakaruna learned his Japanese in three years (1962-5) at the Tokyo School of Japanese Language. I wonder why no one after him followed his path. Many after him went to Japan for higher studies but nearly all of them ended up being wealthy car importers instead of translators. Perhaps, new Japan itself needs someone selling its cars rather than someone translating literature!

During the last 40 some years, anyone educated in Japan failed to make a lasting impact on the field of the humanities in Sri Lanka. Perhaps, there is something fundamentally wrong with those who go there or in those who teach them there. Or perhaps, after all, this is a different age. Well, the age of Rajakaruna, too, only produced just a single Rajakaruna. Literary and scholarly achievements have a lot to do with individual passion and commitment. The art of making scholarly passions contagious is still to be discovered.

Technical Japan and Literary Japan

While Japan was being reduced to electronic gadgets and auto mobiles in the economic atmosphere of post 1977 neo-liberal era, people like Ariya Rajakaruna helped us see that Japan was more than those cute technical and mechanical devices. They showed us the richness of Japanese literature. A fairly well-read person in my generation, by reading even only in Sinhala, can recite a long list of Japanese authors. And the stories of those authors might have already entered the deep crevices of our collective consciousness, and the memories of such literary work might one day influence our literature in ways that we cannot really predict or explain. Literary influences are such that one cannot really see where they come from. But our literary achievements will have the fragrance of the wonderful things their creators were exposed to during their formative years. Any serious writer writing in Sinhala today must have been introduced to some Japanese classics through the work of translators such as Professor Ariya Rajakaruna. As the most prolific translator from Japanese to Sinhala, he has been a wonderful cultural ambassador for us. It is said that his ‘embassy’ will be closed forever after him unless we, Sri Lankan literati, and our counterparts in Japan give some serious thoughts to continuing this enriching intercultural engagement. To continue that cross-fertilisation would be the best tribute to the pioneers such as Professor Rajakaruna.

(This essay is a part of longer research paper the writer is working on. He can be contacted at

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Midweek Review

15th anniversary of Lanka’s triumph over terrorism



May 19, 2009: The body LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran being carried as frontline troops celebrate the eradication of separatist terrorism

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka brought the war against separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009 – fifteen years ago.

The New Delhi-sponsored group, that turned its guns on the Indian Army during the latter’s deployment in the Northern and Eastern regions here (July 1987 to March 1990) was once considered invincible by its covert and overt backers, until then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army brought back Kilinochchi under government control in the first week of January 2009.

The recapture and military consolidation of the Elephant Pass-Kilinochchi stretch of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, in a matter of days, effectively restricted the LTTE to the Mullaithivu district. Once highly mobile conventional LTTE units were trapped as several Army fighting formations closed in on them from all directions.

Within months what had been once considered to be impossible for the Sri Lankan military to defeat the conventional military power of the LTTE, was reduced to tatters. That wouldn’t have been possible if not for the unprecedented parallel success achieved by Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s Navy in the high seas, destroying much of the LTTE floating arsenal, while Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke’s Air Force, too, proved its superiority by speedily supplying urgent military needs, while evacuating casualties from whatever battlefront, as well as engaging LTTE targets from the air based on specific intelligence deep inside enemy run territory.

When a bullet was put through megalomaniac Velupillai Prabhakaran’s head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the morning of May 19, 2009, the terrorist movement’s fate was sealed.

Unfortunately, as we are about to celebrate Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism 15 years ago, various interested parties continue to cause turmoil here. The issues at hand cannot be discussed without taking into consideration the presidential polls scheduled for later this year.

Never again

One-time Norwegian International Development Minister Erik Solheim, who previously spearheaded the catastrophic and sham Norwegian peace effort here, is back. The 69-year-old former politician is President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s advisor on climate change. Although we will not go to the extent of finding fault with the President for appointing Solheim as his climate advisor, but the latter shouldn’t be allowed to get involved in local politics ever again for the simple reason Norwegians were never the honest broker of peace here. Haven’t we learnt enough from their duplicitous behaviour in the recent past just as our naive forefathers learnt the hard way the vile ways of colonial powers after inviting one after another from Portuguese to Dutch and then the British?

And this country is certainly not the inheritance of President Wickremesinghe to do any more dangerous experiments with crafty pale faces the way he blindly signed a one sided peace agreement with the LTTE, prepared by the Norwegians.

Solheim himself couldn’t have forgotten, under any circumstances, what far right extremist Anders Breivik, who had been influenced by the LTTE, did in July 2011. The Norwegian diplomat’s son murdered 77 persons, mostly children in two attacks carried out within hours.

The writer dealt with Solheim’s recent declarations regarding post-war Sri Lanka ahead of Norwegian Ambassador May-Elin Stener’s visit to the North where she met Northern Province Governor P.S.M. Charles. Stener met Charles on May 6 whereas Solheim held talks with her on April 30 in Jaffna. It was Soheim’s second meet with Charles since he received appointment as President Wickremesinghe’s climate advisor renewing old friendship. In the fresh avatar they first met in Colombo on Nov 20, 2023.

Against the backdrop of Norwegian Ambassador Stener meeting JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa in Colombo, it would be pertinent to also discuss the possibility of Norway eyeing a larger role here once again. Those who represent the interests of Western powers sometimes operate in not so mysterious ways knowing how gullible some of our leaders are on seeing white skins. Perhaps, Solheim is an exception. The international news agencies reported how Solheim, in his capacity as the UN environmental chief, promoted the China-led Belt and Road initiative as well as Chinese investments in Africa. Solheim should be able to explain the circumstances he threw his weight behind China, when the West in general is so hostile to Beijing.

Amidst that controversy, the Norwegian was compelled to resign several years ago following serious allegations of him squandering funds on overseas travel. The UN found itself in an untenable situation when some countries withheld funds for the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) in a bid to pressure the global organization. So, Solheim’s latest project here seems somewhat surprising and questionable. What Solheim really wants or whom he is now working for are two issues that needed to be addressed by the powers that be.

An expert opinion

Solheim’s latest foray should be analysed meticulously taking into consideration the crucial presidential polls, the first national election after the change of government through unconstitutional means in 2022. Does Solheim still believe that he could play a role in consensus building among Tamil political parties?

Eyebrows were raised when Solheim recently met EPDP leader Douglas Devananda who is also the Fisheries Minister.

But let me repeat author of ‘To End a Civil War’ Mark Salter’s response to my last week’s piece ‘Solheim is back’ published on May 8, 2024, edition of The Island. Salter, who began as a radio journalist for the BBC, subsequently specialised in Central European, West African and most recently South Asian affairs. Salter launched ‘To End a Civil War’ – a detailed description of the Norwegian peace role here in Colombo in early March 2016. Salter’s narrative should be examined, taking into consideration ‘Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka (1997 -2009)’ produced by a team consisting of Gunnar M. Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik.

Salter found fault with the writer for not paying sufficient attention to what he called factual details. Pointing out the failure on the part of the writer to properly deal with the process leading up to the CFA, its aims and objective, etc., Salter countered the following assertions:

(a) “There is no doubt Solheim was one of those ill-advised diplomats or a deliberate hatchet man, who repeated their mantra that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.”

Simply not true – and in fact tendentious in its description of Solheim, whose views on the military balance at this point were derived chiefly from discussions with Delhi at this early point. Multiple evidence from the time indicates that the view that ‘the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated’ was essentially the view of, for example, both the Sri Lankan and Indian governments (Later is a different matter). This conclusion being chiefly based on readings of the prevailing military situation in the Vanni.

Adherence to this reading of the situation was a key factor in bringing the GoSL – in particular CBK and Kadirgamar – around to the idea of seeking facilitated talks with the LTTE.

(b) “The CFA was meant to create a separate region under LTTE control in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.”

There’s a straight confusion here. The CFA was not intended to create anything in a territorial sense. It simply sought to provide an agreed territorial basis for the ceasefire. LTTE control over the N&E was achieved via earlier LTTE military gains – not the CFA.

(c) The LTTE always had its way until President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to put an end to the separatist terrorism.

Evidence to back this claim? The Lankan military retaking Jaffna 1995, for example: is that an example of the LTTE ‘always having its way’? Overall – and as often – these are the kinds of loose generalizations that I feel skew your whole approach.

Let me explain my stand on the above matters towards the end of this piece.

On May 2, the media received an email from the EPDP Office. Titled an urgent meet, the two-page statement in Sinhala, sent by EPDP leader Douglas Devananda’s longstanding Media Secretary, Nelson Edirisinghe, disclosed the Fisheries Minister meeting Solheim at the Colombo Hilton.

Edirisinghe, who had been with Devananda in the days he carried weapons, without hesitation revealed that the meeting was meant to discuss the current political situation. Why on earth the leader of a political party discuss current political situation with the President’s climate advisor?

The EPDP contested the last parliamentary polls, conducted in August 2020, on its own. It won two seats – one in Jaffna and another in Vanni. However, the EPDP accepted Cabinet portfolio from ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The EPDP continues to retain the Fisheries portfolio and recently declared its support to President Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the next presidential poll.

Devananda-Solheim meet

The EPDP statement declared its decision to go with President Wickremesinghe at the presidential poll.

This was the day after Devananda appeared with war-winning President and SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa on their May Day stage at the Campbell Park. Interesting. Isn’t it?

Let me stress in point form what Devananda told President Wickremesinhe’s advisor Solheim:

(1) President Wickremesinghe is the only leader capable of successfully overcoming political and economic challenges experienced by Sri Lanka (2) Wickremesinghe has received international recognition (3) The incumbent President is committed to properly addressing problems faced by the Tamil speaking people (4) reminded Solheim how he (DD) warned the then Norwegian International Development Minister, 28 years ago, that peace couldn’t be achieved through violence (5) Wickremesinghe’s continuation as President would be beneficial to the Tamil speaking community as well as all other communities (6) Under Wickremesinghe’s leadership, the country could achieve rapid development.

Finally, Minister Devananda asked Solheim’s intervention with the Norwegian government on behalf of the fishing community here. MP Himanshu Gulati (Progress Party), son of Indian migrants, accompanied Solheim.

It would be pertinent to ask Solheim whether he in anyway represented the government of Norway.

During the Norwegian-spearheaded peace talks, the LTTE never accepted the right of other Tamil political parties to engage in politics. By then, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been compelled to recognize the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. In addition to Norway, peace co-chairs consisting of the US, Japan, EU, as well as Norway, accepted the LTTE’s status. Otherwise, the LTTE wouldn’t have accepted none of them as co-chairs. That was the reality.

The LTTE hold on the TNA was such, its candidates for the 2004 General Election and its National List had to be cleared by the LTTE. By then, the LTTE had been divided with its Eastern cadre (Batticaloa-Ampara sector), led by Vinayagamoorty Muralitharan alias Karuna, switching allegiance to the government.

The post-2004 General Election report, issued by the European Union Election Observation Mission, in no uncertain terms disclosed the sordid relationship between the LTTE and the TNA. The EU asserted that the TNA secured 22 seats in the Northern and Easter Provinces, with the direct backing of the LTTE that resorted to violence and stuffing of ballot boxes in support of R. Sampanthan’s grouping.

One shouldn’t forget that by the time the LTTE declared Eelam War IV in August 2006, the Northern Province has been exclusively inhabited by Tamils as Muslims were driven away in Oct/Nov 1990 during Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure as the President and the Sinhalese much earlier. That had been one of the key factors that influenced the young Norwegian to go on the rampage in Norway in 2011.

A war that can’t be won…

Having held talks with the LTTE in February (Oslo) June (Oslo) and October (Geneva) under Norwegian facilitation without any success, the Rajapaksa government decided to go ahead with an all-out combined security forces campaign. The LTTE adopted an extremely hard and uncompromising stand as it quite confidently believed the military could be overwhelmed. (The Directorate of Military Intelligence gave the writer access to Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP’ a few months after the conclusion of the war in May 2009.

During the long interview, ‘KP’ asserted that the LTTE, at the time the war began, believed the military could be overwhelmed in the North within two years).

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa hadn’t been hesitant when he told a top Norwegian delegation that the conflict could be settled through military means. Gotabaya Rajapaksa made that declaration during quite an early stage of the war. Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts-in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 acknowledged that statement.

Retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne in his ‘Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal’ (Road to Nanthikadal) revealed that Army Commander Lionel Balagalle during Norway arranged CFA said that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratne, too, during quite an early stage declared that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. The writer had highlighted Dr. Gunaratne’s assertion on several occasions. On March 22, 2007, the Bloomberg news agency quoted Gunaratne as having said that Sri Lanka’s war couldn’t be won by either side. A story headlined ‘Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger Rebels Fight a War That Can’t be Won,’ by Colombo-based Anusha Ondaatjie, quoted head of terrorism research at Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Gunaratna as having asserted: “Continuing the current spate of violence is not going to bring about a different outcome, or change the status quo. Both parties have developed significant support to be able to recover from losses, but this type of warfare is protracted.” Gunaratna declared: “What is needed is a negotiated settlement to the conflict.”

Just three months after Dr. Gunaratne stressed the need for a negotiated settlement, the military liberated the entire Eastern Province.

The then Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, who had been involved in the Sri Lankan initiative, in May, 2007, asserted that all observers believed that the conflict couldn’t be won by military means, and the majority was of the opinion that the government wouldn’t be able to defeat the LTTE militarily.

Veteran Canada-based political and defence analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, in late Dec. 2008, declared that the LTTE had the wherewithal to roll back the Army on the Vanni east front. In an article titled WAR IN WANNI: WHY THE TIGERS ARE DOWN BUT NOT OUT, Jeyaraj maintained the circumstances under which the LTTE could inflict massive defeat on the Army on the Vanni east front.

Less than two weeks later, the Army captured Kilinochchi. The liberation of Kilinochchi, on January 1, 2009, effectively ended the possibility of an LTTE fight back. The capture of Kilinochchi and the A9 road, northwards up to Elephant Pass, sealed the fate of the LTTE, with several fighting formations rapidly surrounding the remaining LTTE units operating in the Vanni east.

In fact, the UNP, as well as the JVP, too, believed the LTTE would ultimately strike back and roll-back the Army. The media, too, propagated that the LTTE tactics were far superior to that of the military

Gen. Sarath Fonseka declared during drinks and dinner at his Baudhaloka Mawatha official residence of the Army Commander in January 2008 that he wouldn’t leave the war unfinished. A smiling Army Chief with a drink in his hand declared:

“My term of office is coming to an end this year and I will not leave this war to the succeeding Army commander”.

So unlike all the self-proclaimed experts who generally toed the Western lies by wooing for Tigers, while pretending to be independent analysts, only to be proved wrong soon before the whole world, Fonseka’s words were far more prophetic. Have we not seen a similar repeat in Ukraine where all the Western military experts on mainstream media were predicting a Russian defeat there and even a dismemberment of Russia while the opposite is happening.

The writer was present on this occasion when the Sri Lankan Army Commander made that almost prophetic pronouncement and no doubt when it came to prosecuting a war he certainly had a sixth sense, whether it be during fighting the ruthless Tigers or even JVP terrorists. Though Fonseka’s Army couldn’t finish off the LTTE before the end of 2008 it achieved the most unexpected just five months later. The rest is history.

At the time Eelam War IV erupted in 2006, the entire Northern and Eastern Provinces hadn’t been under its control. The Jaffna peninsula and neighbouring islands had been under military control whereas a large section of Vanni remained under LTTE. In the Eastern Province, the military controlled major towns though there were frequent attacks. The LTTE never managed to secure total control of the two provinces through military means.

The LTTE pursued Eelam dream regardless of consequences. In a way, it always had its way regardless of the consequences though from time to time it suffered setbacks. The LTTE adopted a similar style when it dealt with India. When the LTTE realized that Indian strategy didn’t facilitate its own, it declared war on the Indian Army, then secured financial and military support from the then Premadasa government to wage war against the Indian Army and then ultimately assassinated former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. Gandhi’s crime was deploying his Army in Sri Lanka.

When the relentless Sri Lankan military drive forced the LTTE to retreat in all fronts, it dragged the civilian population to the Vanni east as a human shield where it made its last stand. Let me finish this by reproducing a letter written by wartime Norwegian Ambassador here. It explains the mindset of the LTTE.

Ambassador Hattrem’s note, dated Feb 16, 2009, to Basil Rajapaksa, revealed Norway’s serious concern over the LTTE’s refusal to release the civilians. The Norwegian note, headlined ‘Offer/Proposal to the LTTE’, personally signed by Ambassador Hattrem, underscored the developing crisis on the Vanni east front. The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa:

“I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future.”

There wasn’t been any positive LTTE response and the military went ahead with the final phase of the operation which was completed 15 years ago this month.

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Midweek Review

Sri Lanka’s digital ID project: Implications, risks, and safeguards



by Prof. Amarasiri de Silva

The government of Sri Lanka is waiting for clearance from the Public Security Ministry to go ahead with an India-funded Unique ID card project, according to a report published in The Island, quoting State Technology Minister Kanaka Herath. It is akin to seeking approval from the father to hand over control of the family’s personal details to the next-door neighbour! The state of affairs concerning the issuance and upkeep of ID cards in Sri Lanka, coupled with the prospect of outsourcing their management and execution to an Indian company, is undeniably a matter of serious concern. It is disheartening that there is a lack of capability within Sri Lanka to handle this crucial task, leading to the consideration of outsourcing the responsibility to an agency in another country. However, entrusting such a sensitive task to an external agency, particularly one based in India, comes with a myriad of challenges, foremost among them being data security issues.

India’s offer to provide advanced aid of 450 million Indian rupees to President Wickremesinghe’s government for funding the digital ID project undoubtedly presents an opportunity for financial support. However, this offer raises questions about the underlying motivations and implications for the countries involved, particularly for Sri Lanka. From a political perspective, the decision to introduce a project involving the outsourcing of national data to an Indian company, particularly under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, is likely to face scrutiny and questions regarding its legitimacy and mandate. This scrutiny can stem from several factors, including concerns about transparency, accountability, and national sovereignty.

Critics may question whether Ranil Wickremasinghe, as the leader of the government or a relevant authority, has the proper mandate to initiate such a project without sufficient consultation or approval from people, the Opposition, and other branches of government, such as parliament or relevant oversight committees. They may argue that such a significant decision, involving the collection and management of sensitive national data, should be subject to broader scrutiny and debate to ensure democratic accountability.

There may be concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the decision-making process and the extent of public consultation undertaken before committing to the project. Citizens and civil society organisations may demand clarity on the rationale behind outsourcing sensitive data to an Indian company and seek assurances regarding data privacy, security, and potential risks associated with foreign involvement.

Outsourcing the management of national data, including biometric and personal information, to a foreign company raises questions about national sovereignty and security. Critics may argue that such a move compromises Sri Lanka’s ability to control and protect its citizens’ data, potentially exposing it to risks such as unauthorised access, misuse, or exploitation by foreign entities. There may be concerns about the implications for national security, particularly if the outsourced data falls into the wrong hands or is subject to foreign influence or interference.

Beyond political considerations, there may also be concerns about the economic implications of outsourcing such a project to an Indian company. Critics may question whether sufficient efforts were made to explore domestic alternatives or support local expertise and industries in developing and implementing the project. They may raise concerns about the potential loss of revenue, jobs, or technological capabilities that could result from relying on foreign assistance for critical infrastructure projects.

In response to these concerns, proponents of the project, including the government and supporters of Ranil Wickremesinghe, may argue that it is necessary to leverage external expertise and resources to address capacity constraints and accelerate the implementation of essential projects, such as digital identity systems. They may emphasise the potential benefits of collaboration with India, such as access to advanced technology, financial assistance, and opportunities for bilateral cooperation and knowledge exchange, but the advantages may outweigh the benefits.

However, the government must address legitimate concerns about transparency, accountability, data privacy, and national sovereignty through open dialogue, robust oversight mechanisms, and clear communication with the public and relevant stakeholders. Building trust and confidence in the project’s integrity and objectives will be essential to mitigate political opposition and ensure its successful implementation in the long run.

The digital ID project, as described, aims to collect biographic and biometric information, including facial, iris, and fingerprint data. While this endeavor may offer certain advantages to the Indian government, such as potentially enhancing bilateral relations or fostering technological cooperation, it also raises concerns regarding data privacy and sovereignty for Sri Lanka. India could utilise the biodata from Sri Lanka’s ID cards to influence the Sri Lankan economy, potentially crafting programs to facilitate Indian trade and expand technology initiatives.

First and foremost, the issue of data security looms large. Entrusting the collection and management of sensitive biometric and personal information to an external agency, particularly one based in another country, introduces significant risks. The use of national ID data of the Sri Lankan population by a foreign country like India raises significant concerns about data privacy, security, and national sovereignty. While it’s essential to acknowledge that any speculation about specific intentions should be approached cautiously, it’s crucial to understand the potential risks and implications associated with such scenarios:

Data Access and Control: If India has access to the national ID data of the Sri Lankan population, there is a risk that it could be used for various purposes, including surveillance, intelligence gathering, or profiling. This could infringe upon the privacy and civil liberties of Sri Lankan citizens, as their personal information may be subject to monitoring or exploitation without their consent.

Political Influence: Access to sensitive data about the Sri Lankan population could provide India with leverage or influence over Sri Lanka’s political decisions or policies. By leveraging this information, India could potentially exert pressure or manipulate decision-making processes to align with its interests, compromising Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and autonomy.

Cybersecurity Risks: Storing or transmitting national ID data across international borders introduces cybersecurity risks, as it increases the potential attack surface for malicious actors, including hackers, cybercriminals, or hostile state actors. Any breach or compromise of the data could have severe consequences, including identity theft, fraud, or espionage.

Geopolitical Considerations: The collection and control of national ID data by a foreign country like India could have broader geopolitical implications, particularly in the context of regional power dynamics and strategic competition. It may exacerbate tensions or mistrust between countries and undermine efforts to foster cooperation and trust.

Economic Exploitation: Access to national ID data could also enable economic exploitation, such as targeted marketing or commercial profiling, by Indian companies or entities with vested interests. This could disadvantage Sri Lankan businesses and consumers, as their personal information may be used for commercial gain without adequate safeguards or consent.

Diplomatic Fallout: Revelations of foreign interference or exploitation of national ID data could strain diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and India, leading to diplomatic tensions, public outcry, or calls for accountability. It could undermine trust and cooperation between the two countries on other bilateral or regional issues.

Sri Lanka must carefully consider the implications of sharing its citizens’ data with a foreign entity and ensure that robust safeguards are in place to protect against data breaches, unauthorised access, or misuse.

Furthermore, the reliance on foreign aid for such a critical project raises questions about national sovereignty and self-reliance. While external support can be beneficial, Sri Lanka needs to maintain control over its identity management infrastructure and ensure that decisions regarding data collection, storage, and usage align with its national interests and values.

Additionally, there may be concerns about the long-term implications of dependence on foreign assistance for essential infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka must weigh the short-term benefits of financial aid against the potential risks and dependencies created by outsourcing critical functions to external entities.

“ID card projects” typically refer to initiatives or programmes aimed at issuing identification cards to individuals within a certain population. These cards serve as official documents that verify a person’s identity and may contain information such as their name, photograph, date of birth, and sometimes biometric data like fingerprints or iris scans. Usually, National ID Cards are issued by Governments that may implement national ID card projects to provide citizens with a standardised form of identification for various purposes, such as voting, accessing government services, and proving eligibility for employment or benefits.

Outsourcing an ID card project to an outside agency can raise several security concerns, including:

Data Privacy and Protection: Providing personal information to an external organisation raises the risk of data breaches or unauthorised access. The outside agency must adhere to strict data protection regulations and implement robust security measures to safeguard sensitive information.

Identity Theft: If the external agency does not adequately secure the data collected for the ID card project, it could be vulnerable to identity theft or fraud. Criminals could exploit weaknesses in the system to obtain and misuse individuals’ personal information.

Counterfeiting and Fraud: Outsourcing the production of ID cards increases the risk of counterfeit cards entering circulation. Without stringent controls and security features, criminals may replicate or alter the cards for fraudulent purposes, such as gaining unauthorised access or committing identity theft.

Vendor Reliability: Depending on an external agency for the implementation of the project introduces dependencies and risks associated with the reliability and integrity of the vendor. Issues such as delays, miscommunication, or vendor misconduct could compromise the project’s security and effectiveness.

Lack of Oversight and Control: Entrusting the entire ID card project to an outside agency may result in reduced visibility and control over the process. Government agencies or organisations must maintain sufficient oversight to ensure compliance with security standards and regulatory requirements.

Supply Chain Risks: The supply chain involved in producing ID cards, including materials, equipment, and personnel, may introduce vulnerabilities if not properly managed. External vendors and subcontractors should be vetted thoroughly to mitigate supply chain risks.

To address these security issues, organisations should conduct thorough risk assessments, establish clear contractual agreements with the external agency, implement robust security controls, regularly monitor compliance, and ensure transparency and accountability throughout the project lifecycle. Additionally, ongoing communication and collaboration between the outsourcing organisation and the external agency are essential to address security concerns effectively.

In light of the risks associated with accepting external assistance for Sri Lanka’s digital ID project, the protection of citizens’ data sovereignty, privacy, and security must be paramount. This necessitates the implementation of robust safeguards, regulatory frameworks, and oversight mechanisms to mitigate the potential for unauthorised access or misuse of national ID data by foreign entities.

Furthermore, fostering greater transparency, accountability, and public awareness regarding the collection, storage, and use of personal information is imperative. By engaging in open dialogue and providing clear information to the public, trust can be built, and responsible governance in the digital age can be ensured.

In summary, while India’s offer of financial support presents opportunities for expediting the project’s implementation, careful consideration of concerns surrounding data security, national sovereignty, and long-term sustainability is essential. Sri Lanka must conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to weigh the potential benefits against the risks associated with external assistance. Proactive measures should be taken to safeguard citizens’ privacy and uphold the integrity of identity management systems through transparent decision-making and robust oversight. Ultimately, prioritising the interests of the Sri Lankan population is paramount in navigating the complexities of such partnerships.

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Midweek Review

Climbing to a High



By Lynn Ockersz

There it gawkily stands,

First among skyscrapers,

Rising over teeming slums,

Inspiring not a sense of awe,

But speaking volumes,

Of the Arrogance of Power,

And giving thwarted humans,

An opening to an opiate,

That injects a fleeting sense,

Of rising above mortal wants.

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