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Lessons from Shukra Munawwar



The whole nation is enchanted by the mesmerizing performance of a young girl from Galle hitting the jackpot at the Sirasa Lakshapathi quiz programme. No doubt Shukra is a very gifted and intelligent girl with a superb photographic memory, who has made the best use of the very limited resources available to her. Her all-encompassing knowledge of Sri Lankan history, literature and Buddhism, as well as in international affairs, world history and matters of science, was really amazing. She has been reading books of every kind and could remember many facts in those books. What impressed me most was her determination, keeping her cool at times of much stress while answering difficult questions, characteristics rarely seen in a 17-years-old schoolgirl.

Although Shukra admitted that she faced the competition only to enable her to buy a laptop computer, with the prize money, for her online lessons, she was not lured by money alone. She could have lost much if she got the answers wrong in the later stages, but undeterred tried her best to give the correct answers. She had much confidence in her own memory and was reluctant to use the lifelines until quite late. To reach the last two questions, with two lifelines still available, exemplifies that. The way she erupted with exhilaration after every correct answer showed the unspoiled innocent behaviour of a typical schoolgirl. On the other hand, the intense deliberation of the answer to the final question with pursed lips and wide open eyes showed maturity far beyond her age. Especially so after she was disappointed by the final lifeline, she requested, and the quiz master constantly reminding her of the option to leave without answering, taking away one million rupees.

The school Shukra attends is a government mixed school in Galle. However, the facilities for sports, cadetting, etc., provided by this school, are exemplary. She is naturally very proud about the school. The teachers and children should be commended for the happy environment provided for Shukra and helping her to overcome financial difficulties. The way they did it, keeping her identity under covers, to enable her to attend the cadet camp, is admirable. The girl herself did not trouble her parents, asking for material things, which she knew they were not able to afford, and was lavish in her praise for the school.

Though her father is disabled, the parents of Shukra are very open-minded, doing their best for the daughter, despite much economic difficulty. Which parent, especially in the tradition bound Muslim community, would allow a teenage daughter to play football, cricket and attend a cadet camp? The serene composure, shown by the mother, while the daughter was anxiously contemplating answers, indicates that this family is one out of the ordinary. They deserve full credit for being so broad-minded, and should be held up as an example to all parents, especially those handicapped by various religious taboos.

The fact that she attended a government mixed school, rather than a school confined to a religious group, appears to have made a big difference. Shukra never gave the impression that she felt any difference in the way she was being treated, and has expressed herself fully in all aspects. That in itself is a lesson for all who hope to restore racial harmony in this troubled land. In her various discourses, during the competition, she came out with many relevant facts that should be heard by all decision-makers. Referring to many other poverty stricken children, like herself, she stressed the need for provision of basic facilities to continue with their education, which she quite rightly alluded to as the main avenue to escape poverty and ensure a secure future. She emphasized the need for an organization to provide facilities, like computers, for online studies. It is recognized throughout the world that the proper education of women is a vital factor in the progress of any society.

Her ideas about her future role in emancipation of women should not be dismissed as childhood fantasy. The need for involvement of men in any movement for empowerment of women shows her deep understanding of how society works. She has been careful enough not to get involved with the controversial issues troubling her community at present. Instead she stresses the need for unity, as one nation, if we are to develop and prosper. It is noteworthy that these ideas came out spontaneously and not as a prepared speech written by someone else, showing a degree of maturity rarely seen in a 17-year-old schoolgirl. This also shows the value of her knowledge of history in understanding the problems of today. Shukra is a shining example to the younger generation of today, not used to reading in general, hence ignorant of history and current affairs outside the subject matter taught in school.

This young lady should be provided with all assistance to realize the ambitions she is determined to achieve. I sincerely hope she receives a good education, in English, as well. Unscrupulous elements in our society may try to exploit her for their own needs. Thoughts of how the 15-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, was seriously harmed, in Pakistan, by religious extremists as punishment for advocating education of Muslim girls, worries me very much. Shukra needs the protection and guidance of well-meaning people if she were to blossom fully and achieve her full potential to become an exemplary citizen we all can be proud of. The whole nation appears to be united in wishing her well.

Mr. Chandana Sooriyabandara, the quiz master, should be congratulated for the way he conducts this programme. While being very knowledgeable himself, he allows the competitors enough space to show their knowledge and express themselves fully. Thus he has enabled us to see the vast array of virtues Shukra possesses. Well done.


Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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Billion-dollar carrot



The IMF successfully coerced the government into falling line with its instructions on debt restructuring and increasing of revenue, among others, and in all probability will release the first tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) during the course of this week. Regrettably, the IMF is not coercive where the violations of fundamental rights of a country, vis a vis universal franchise, is concerned. On its part, the government flaunted this invaluable tool on the public, as the only remedy for all its financial ailments. It was least worried of the consequences that would necessarily follow.

Taking the cue, professionals and trade union activists dangled the carrot of carrot of strikes to restrain the government on its implementation, the results of which are still in abeyance. Not to be outdone, the powers that be has refused to relent on the grounds that the economy has to be strengthened at whatever costs.

Now that the IMF loan has materialized, the government is already focusing its attention on securing further assistance from other lending agencies. How will the IMF monies be expended, and for what purposes? Naturally, the people would want to know since it is they who have to foot the bill at the end. The Treasury insists that it has no funds to provide for the conduct of LG polls. Just 10% of the rupee equivalent of the first tranche of US $ 300 million will suffice for the successful completion of the elections. Provided the government wants to.

The President has assured that no sooner the Agreement is signed with the IMF, he would submit a copy of it to Parliament. It would be prudent if he would also submit (without plucking figures from thin air) a comprehensive expenditure account on the disbursement of the first tranche. And continue to do so for the rest.

Being fully aware of the country’s top priority needs, attention should be focused on providing them at reasonable prices. Besides them, agriculture, fishing and domestic industries should also be given due consideration. Merely dangling of carrots before them will not suffice.

Non-essential development projects should be shelved until the dreamed of economic stability is achieved. Of special note is that upkeep and interests of politicians should not be addressed with these funds.Can the people expect some sort of genuine transparency even at this late stage?


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Death penalty – another view



In his article, (The Island, 8th March), Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne, would have us believe that the Death Penalty is not an effective deterrent and it should be abolished in Sri Lanka. Similar arguments are presented in India, home to some of the most horrendous crimes of violence against Women and children, and also in South Africa, where the death penalty was abolished despite strong opposition from the vast majority of the population.

Use of the Death Penalty purely for political purposes is always bad, but that’s not what the public are calling for. The public want the Death penalty implemented RIGOROUSLY, against those who have undeniably murdered children, and also serial killers whose victims are invariably women. Their crimes are gruesome but unfortunately need to be detailed to counter the pseudo- academic arguments of Death Penalty abolishonists. For example:

South Africa abolished the death penalty despite vigorous opposition. In South Africa one of its worst serial killers, led the police to the remains of 38 of his victims all of them women and all from the poorest class (mostly domestic servants).

On 12 March, India’s National Broadcaster NDTV reports the case of a man in Kashmir, whose marriage proposal was refused. He murdered his prospective young bride, cut up her body and disposed the remains in several places to avoid detection. A few days ago, a similar incident in India was reported by NDTV, where a 17-year-old was stabbed and dragged through s crowded street and murdered with no public intervention! In Sri Lanka a few years ago, four-year-old Seya fell victim to a murderer, rapist, a person known to her family, whom the child trusted. Likewise, a 17-year-old girl miss Sivaloganathan was raped and murdered in the North by a gang led by an individual known as “Swiss Kumar” a porn film maker of Sri Lankan origin, living in Switzerland. (One wonders whether he subsequently received the benevolent “Presidential Pardon”!

Other arguments used in Dr Wickremeratne’s article, are out of date. For example, he refers to wrongful convictions in a bygone age where DNA testing did not exist. DNA tests enable identity to be established and tie a murderer to the crime, beyond any doubt. Elsewhere he cites a Table where Murder rates are calculated as follows- “divide the number of murders by the total population, in death-penalty and non-death penalty states”. This methodology is patently flawed. It assumes that the populations of ALL 50 States in the USA are homogeneous in demography and other characteristics- it equates the violent State of New York with relatively peaceful Alaska.

Dr W advocated “long term imprisonment” in lieu of death penalty. Frankly this is the academic argument of a person removed from everyday life and steeped in Academia, “the social cost of rehabilitation” is Immense! It has been estimated that the cost of keeping a person on death row is at least Rs 50,000 per month – for the rest of the murderers’ life! It should ALSO be pointed out that in Singapore and other countries where the death penalty operates, murder rates are significantly low.


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