Sisters-at-Law, the free legal service supporting survivors of domestic and gender-based violence marks three years of yeoman silent service this month. Its founder Marini de Livera recaps its journey while urging more women lawyers to become change-makers.
by Randima Attygalle
“I have realized more and more that the right to access justice is a privilege enjoyed by the rich and the affluent of our society. Law is something that is discussed by the elite in air-conditioned offices and never reaches out to the communities. The poor and the down-trodden have no one to advise them when facing oppression and injustice. The Law is beyond their reach,” observes human rights lawyer Marini de Livera, the founder and the Chairperson of Sisters-at-Law, a free legal service supporting survivors of domestic and gender-based violence. De Livera’s efforts have been honoured with Commonwealth Points of Light Award in 2020 and Women of Courage (2019) from the US Department of State.
This former Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) remarks that to bring about change, social justice and make the country and the world a happier place, there is no need to hold a top Government position or be highly connected. All that’s needed is “imagination, a vast amount of energy and unlimited passion.” As a legal academic De Livera saw the futility of Human Rights education within the confines of a classroom. “Without actually experiencing and listening to the stories of survivors, it is impossible to be an instrument of change and find solutions to problems that plague society, especially Human Rights violations. Thus, Sisters-at-Law (SAL) was born in August, 2018 to create awareness about the laws and policies relating to Human Rights and to promote activism through forms of art,” says the human rights trainer (for the army, police, public officials, and grassroots level leaders) who has also been a member of the Steering Committee on the Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers, the Prisons Reform Committee, and the National Committee on Women. De Livera also chaired the committee that drafted the amendments to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
During the three years since its inception, SAL had represented survivors of violence in a number of pro bono cases from the Magistrate’s Court to the Supreme Court says its founder. Referrals are made by the courts and the Police to SAL which not only provides free legal representation but also empowers survivors. Located in Battaramulla within her legal chambers, D
e Livera has provided SAL with an inviting atmosphere where victims of violence can unwind, have a hot drink or a warm meal and decide on how they should proceed.
Filling the need for long term support for survivors, SAL has expanded to offer educational programmes, skills training and income generating activities beyond lodging facilities. Guided by people-centric and strength-focused principles, once a girl or a woman is admitted to a SAL’s shelter, she is asked what her dream is and a ‘Care Plan’ is prepared for each to realize her dream aligned with SAL’s belief that all girls and women deserve an opportunity to find their voice and potential while being able to live a dignified, peaceful and a happy life. “Based on the Care Plan we allocate funding by raising our own funds and also appoint a ‘Care Manager’ who ensures that all steps in the Care Plan are adhered to and the Senior Management reviews the Care Plan,” explains De Livera.
Largely self-funded, SAL finds it challenging to sustain its activities. “Initially we had two shelters, one in Colombo and the other in Galle. Due to lack of funds, we were forced to close down the Galle shelter,” says De Livera. A woman whose road has never been easy, she calls herself ‘unstoppable’ and is in the process of setting up SAL’s own dress making business to help more women and girls in need. A gifted artist and a Licentiate teacher in Speech and Drama from Trinity College London, De Livera uses art as a therapeutic means of healing and empowering survivors. She has her own street theatre group, with her own bird mascot Bindoo that travels around the country performing plays related to human rights issues.
Although the Prevention of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 speaks of the need for shelters for victims of violence, there is still a dearth of them in the country, notes De Livera. Such shelters should not however be ‘prison-like’ unhappy places but ‘peaceful and safe heavens’ where survivors could take informed decisions relating to their future and train and empower themselves to function on their own, contribute to society and become productive citizen, she adds. Networking with members from the medical profession, religious leaders, psychologists and clinicians, educators, business sector etc. is imperative to build a support system for the survivors, observes SAL’s founder.
Urging young women lawyers to be change-makers, De Livera also says that they need more role models. “They also need to be sensitized and at SAL we make it happen in our own little way. We hope to train a pool of legal experts in all fields who can also represent the marginalized in court.” She reiterates that women lawyers need to be proactive to ensure that the concept ‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights’ become a reality. “Sri Lanka signed the CEDAW Convention in 1981. Yet to date no domestic law has been passed by our Parliament incorporating Women’s Human Rights enshrined in CEDAW into Sri Lankan Law. Women lawyers should advocate and lobby for law reform.” The Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act which was passed in 2015 provides for compensation to victims of a crime. However, the Victims’ Authority does not have a Fund to be used for this purpose, charges De Livera who goes on to remark that women lawyers should be trained to identify these issues and agitate for their realization.
Making a case for girls and women whose abuse is rampant and whose only option should not be to become a domestic worker, the activist lawyer calls fellow women to rally around to empower them at grassroot level. “There are graduates employed at every Divisional Secretariat. They function as representatives of all Cabinet Ministers in the capacity of Child Protection Officers, Women Development Officers and Probation Officers. In certain parts of the country these officers have prepare a document known as a ‘child vulnerability card’ that assesses the danger every child is exposed to.”
She also maintains that schools should work with the NCPA and the Probation Department and detect and track if school drop-outs are trafficked to Colombo and other cities by unscrupulous agents to earn money out of them. “Systems are already in place – it is only a matter of implementing them. Women lawyers in this country can be the driving force to advocate for the implementation of policies and laws,” concludes De Livera.
If you wish to support or rally around
Sisters-at-Law, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Pop crackle, gulp and gasp
Pani Puri: India’s favourite street food now available in Sri Lanka
Pani puri occupies a special place in Indian hearts and stomachs, so it’s no wonder that the treat has been one of the country’s most poplar street snacks
On any normal evening in India, in the bustling markets and noisy main streets of big cities and small towns alike, there is a familiar sight: the corner pani puri wala (seller), surrounded by a gaggle of eager customers.
His hands seem to fly as they dip the puris (fried discs of dough) into various bowls of fillings and chutneys and passes them out to people waiting impatiently. The vendor’s customer base stretches across age groups and social strata, with people stepping out of plush cars or families walking over from their homes. For the love of pani puri, and indeed of all chaat (fried snacks), unites Indians in a way few other things do.
Chaat is a catchall word – from chaatna, meaning “to lick” – that covers a wide range of street snacks, where different ingredients are usually tossed together to create a sucker punch of tastes and textures. India loves these small, satisfying snacks because they fill the perfect hunger moment, that is to say early evening, when lunch is a distant memory and dinner has yet to be cooked. And of all chaat, pani puri occupies a special place in Indian hearts and stomachs.
At first glance, pani puri seems like nothing special. The word itself is a combination of pani (water, which in this case, refers to the diluted chutneys) and puri (the fried discs of dough). The crisp, thin puri, which is about the size of a circle made by your forefinger touching your thumb, puffs up upon frying to create a hollow core.
However, eating a pani puri requires much attention and no small amount of skill: poke a hole on the surface of the puri with your forefinger, load it up with your chosen filling – such as mashed potato, healthy sprouts, finely chopped onions or mushy peas – and then dunk the whole thing into sweet-and-sour tamarind and spicy green chutney waters (both often kept iced) in quick succession. Finally, pop the whole package into your mouth and wait for the explosion of flavours, as the puri – ever so slightly soggy by then – crumbles inside your mouth with the sauces flowing out, all while filling the soul and clearing the sinuses at the same time.
Indeed, to eat pani puri is to be prepared for liquid dribbling down the sides of your mouth and tears streaming out of your eyes – an experience that is far more pleasurable than it might sound.
For those few moments, everything feels alright
It is no wonder that the pani puri is one of the street snacks that many indians love. Many home cooks have taken to recreating some of the magic at home, partly to satisfy chaat pangs and partly to feel the freedom of being able to walk the streets again
As education advisor Meeta Sengupta from Delhi exclaimed over email, “Pani puri is pure fun! Pop, crackle, gulp and gasp.”
Mumbai journalist Karishma Upadhya explained, “I think my craving came from a place of wanting something that made us feel happy and ‘normal’. When everything around is in such flux, it’s reassuring when you taste something that your mouth and mind instinctively know. When you put that pani puri in your mouth, you know you’ll get the perfect mix of cold, spicy, tart, sweet and crunchy. And, for those few moments, everything feels alright.”
While some brave cooks such as food blogger Amrita Kaur are making puri from scratch by kneading the dough to a perfect tight consistency, rolling out dozens of small discs, frying them in batches and preparing the fillings – most have used store-bought puris, purchasing them during careful grocery runs or utilising their pantry stocks.
There are many stories about the origins of pani puri. Culinary anthropologist Dr Kurush Dalal says that chaat (likely a predecessor of the modern pani puri) was first created in what is now the northern Indian region of Uttar Pradesh around the time of Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule in the late 17th Century. According to Dalal, royal doctors advised the general population to consume more fried and spicy snacks (and yoghurt) to balance the alkaline quality of the water from the Yamuna River, on the banks of which his new capital, Old Delhi, was built. The puri, which was to serve as “bite-sized containers of the chaat masala” (with fillings such as potato mash), spread to the rest of the country through migrant workers who moved to large cities like Mumbai and Delhi in the last century.
Like the most sublime chaats, pani puri is best enjoyed on the streets. And while upscale restaurants have started serving it in the last few years – with modern twists such as replacing the chutneys with spiced vodka shots and, shudder, guacamole fillings – their offerings rarely hit the spot. This is partly because street vendors know the palate of their customers and tailor each pani puri order accordingly – “Only the sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney”, “No sprouts please”, “Pile on the spice” – and each claims to have their own secret mixes of fillings and flavourings.
Food writer Anubhuti Krishna, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, loves pani puri but has not attempted to make it at home because, as she says, “I know I cannot replicate my favourite flavours at home, and they are sacrosanct for us UPwalas [people from Uttar Pradesh].”
Another reason could be that pani puri is best (or perhaps only) eaten by hand; there is no room for forks or finesse here. Kalyan Karmakar, culinary consultant and author of The Travelling Belly, a book on Indian street foods, describes eating pani puri as a “foodie adventure sport”, adding that “restaurants cannot recreate the thrill of standing on the pavement, unperturbed by people jostling past. Your eyes are focused on the pani puri wala. You have to be ready to pop it in [your mouth] when your turn comes.”
And even though pani puri is a perennial favourite across the country, it is by no means standardised or even similar everywhere. In fact, the name itself differs by place: pani puri is a Mumbai term, whereas in Delhi it is known as golgappa. In Kolkata, it goes by the name of puchka, and in Uttar Pradesh, it’s pani ke patashe (or batashe). The difference comes from the puri base ingredient – semolina, whole wheat or refined flour – as well as the fillings. And like with politics and cricket leagues, Indians like to argue about which kind is the best, and in each town, which pani puri wala makes it the most chatpata (lip-smacking).
Sengupta, who uses a ready-to-fry puri (a recent innovation found in stores), told me about her own Bengali-Punjabi household where the pani is “gingery sweet, with loads of hing (asafoetida) and pudina (mint)” and with “layered textures”. And Krishna, while noting that such food fights are silly, also adds that the Lucknow variety is her preferred version “because of how the softness and blandness of the matar (mashed peas) contrasts with the spicy water and the crisp and khasta (flaky) batasha.”
“It is [an] explosion in the mouth, yet it is soul food,” Sengupta said wistfully, perhaps summing up what millions of us Indians think of pani puri. – BBC
Sri Lanka”s most sophisticated wellness facieity for medical and holistic healig
Rejuvenation of mind, body, and soul
Christell Luxury Wellness -Sri Lanka’s most-trusted aesthetics centre- celebrated over the weekend the grand opening of its pioneering new venture: the Christell Wellness Villa.
Last Saturday the 28th of January, the luxury health and wellness hub for preventative health solutions was unveiled at a private event at the centre’ state of the art central location at Lauries Lane, Colombo, introducing invitees to the wealth of cutting-edge medically approved treatments in store.
Christell Wellness Villa’s portfolio of non-invasive immersive treatments features skin rejuvenation, anti-aging, nutrition, fitness and ayurvedic programmes therapies which seamlessly fuse ancient holistic disciplines and integrative medical therapies with the keystones of modern and traditional Western medicine.
Guided by the belief that good health is the ultimate luxury, Christell Wellness Villa is also the first in Sri Lanka to offer a Sensory Deprivation Pod (floatation therapy) experience, reputed to provide four hours of deep restful sleep with just one hour of floatation. Providing an unmatchable deep state of relaxation, in addition to helping improve sleep patterns, this effortless therapy also contributes towards pain relief, improving daily performance and concentration, alleviating symptoms of depression, while also strengthening the immune system.
Diagnostic assessments and consultations at the Christell Wellness Villa allows the centre’s specialists to curate a bespoke portfolio of medical treatments and holistic therapies designed exclusively for each client’s unique health profile; providing customised result-driven pathways for optimum wellness, backed by both state-of the-art technology and also the very best of what nature has to offer.
At the launch event, Dr. Shanika Arsecularatne Medical Director of Christell Luxury Wellness, spoke of the vision behind the Christell Wellness Villa, stressing also on the importance of not taking one’s health and wellness for granted. “I assure you, Christell Wellness Villa is not ‘just another spa.’ We have on board doctors, scientists, specialists, and trained therapists who are able to curate time-tested, medical treatments and holistic therapies specific to each individual need -man or woman – that promote greater well-being, health, fitness, and longevity.”
A safe haven in the middle of the city to heal, recharge, detoxify and recalibrate your bodies in a healthy sustainable way; enabling you to live a longer life, better lived. is our focus said Dr Shanika
Blossoms of Hope 2023
Over the last fifteen years, the Ikebana International Srilanka Chapter, has brought about greater awareness and appreciation of Ikebana art of flower arrangement to a wider audience, through their numerous exhibitions.
The exhibition “Blossoms of Hope 2023” will be held at Cinnamon Grand hotel, Ivy room on the 19th and 20th of February. The chief guest will be the patron of Ikebana International Sri Lanka Chapter, the Ambassador for Japan to Sri Lanka Mizukoshi Hideaki.
There will be more than fifty exhibits by the members who have tirelessly pursued their interests and love for ikebana. The arrangements are categorized into different themes this time – straight lines and curves, repetitive forms, intertwining plant material, colours in contrast, using unconventional materials, complimenting an artwork, miniature arrangements and free style.
Visitors could also witness demonstrations by teachers of Sogetsu School on both days at 4 p.m. free of charge.
Each year, the society supported children with cancer through the medium of flowers. This year too, part proceeds from the show will be channelled to the paediatric ward of Apeksha Cancer hospital.
Date: – 19th Feb; 11 a.m. to 7pm
20th Feb; 10 a.m. to 6 pm
Venue: – Cinnamon Grand – Ivy Room
Demonstrations: – 4 pm (both days)
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