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Living with forged sense of uniqueness

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Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva’s article “Early education towards racial harmony” appearing in The Island of 3rd February (Midweek Review) contains commendable ideas towards eschewing socially acquired and divisive identities of race and religion. It begins describing how a baby, who is born with no ‘identities’ attached to her, gradually gets ‘labelled’ by family members, according to the ‘identification process’ of their culture. Thus, as the child grows, up, she gradually begins to define herself on the basis of the ‘stickers’ stamped on her.

Many have worked towards promoting ethnic harmony but few have attempted to look at the issue in more fundamental ways. Decades ago, Dr. E.W. Adikram, a free thinker and promoter of nonviolence, rejected ‘ethnicity’ offhand as a social construct.

In his article, “Isn’t the Nationalist a Mental Patient?” Adikaram argues how a child acquires a sense of racial identity through an unshakable process of conditioning. He says:

As that child, who is common to the entire human race grows up, he will be given a name and will be deemed to belong to a particular race or nationality. That child who… cannot discern fact from non-fact … accepts unthinkingly and unknowingly the nationality that has been thrust upon him. Having accepted it, he gradually comes to believe that he belongs to that particular nationality.

What he underlines is the subjection of a child to a tagging process whereby she is given a sense of belonging in a community of people who have been subjected to the same process as children. This is a multifaceted conditioning programme in which the child’s first language becomes the principal apparatus through which she constructs her identity, the ‘building blocks’ of which are as varied as family environment, customs, habits, beliefs, education, value systems and many other social and cultural factors, including religion. However, since all these formative experiences are laced through her first language, it becomes the principal marker of her identity. Thus a child born to Sinhala-speaking parents and subsequently adopted by Tamil-speaking ‘parents’ would identify herself as a Tamil, her first language being Tamil. Thus her intuitive identity or, ‘gut-feeling’ identity of herself, would be Tamil. Accordingly, as a grown-up, she may vigorously fight for Tamil rights!

Now, how can society label her? Is she Tamil or Sinhalese? Does she have a ‘real’ ethnic identity and if so what is it? If she ever gets to know that her biological parents were Sinhala speaking, what factors would influence her to decide whether she should:

 

  • continue to fight for Tamil rights
  • stop fighting but remain with her Tamil speaking parents
  • go back to her biological parents (Sinhala speaking)
  • go back to her biological parents and join a group fighting for Sinhala rights
  • begin to work towards ethnic harmony while living with either of the two families

The above are some of the likely options. In fact, we can only speculate but her final decision would be made through a complex process involving a subconscious process of sifting diverse factors such as her emotions, age, her level of intelligence, education, pressure from peers, the strength of her family bonds, etc. One thing we can be sure of is that the unexpected ‘discovery’ would enable her to become much more contemplative and complex with respect to her hitherto fixed notions of ‘ethnic identity.’ No matter whatever decision she may take, the ‘finding’ would jolt her to question her entrenched perceptions of ethnicity at a deeply personal level. Her situation will demonstrate the wobbly nature of what we take to be our ethnic identity. Who can give a conclusive answer to what she should do – which family should she live with?

Those who would advise her to join the Sinhala-speaking family may argue that she has ‘Sinhala blood’ and consequently, she is Sinhala. In opposition, those who would recommend the other option would contend that she is Tamil in every imaginable way – to herself and to the whole world, except for the “four parents” who were privy to the secret. Of course a DNA test would establish her link with her biological parents. However, shorn of the social context, wouldn’t the biological proof be the least important for her to make up her mind regarding who she should live with after the unsettling event? Undeniably, her future relations with either family would significantly depend on her shifting emotional undercurrents combined with multiple sociocultural and even economic factors relevant in the context- surely, not the DNA factor taken in isolation.

It is true that various well-intentioned groups try to promote peace in multicultural societies. While it would be worthwhile to push for campaigns directed towards ‘ethnic harmony,’ we may take a moment to ask ourselves whether our ‘ethnic identity’ is something intrinsic in a physical sense. Is it situated in any part of our body, or, alternatively, is it the inevitable result of our being socially programmed? Would the child in the above example have ever felt at any point in her life that she wouldn’t belong to the family in which she grew up? By the way, how many of us have asked ourselves whether the two people who we have known in all our life as mother and father are our biological parents? How far would the establishment of this biological link through a DNA test change your relations with them, one way or the other? Consider this hypothetical situation. If two babies born around the same time were swapped without the knowledge of their mothers speaking two different languages, would the babies subsequently develop an instinctive dislike for their ‘parents,’ which could be traced to their genetic discrepancy?

Is it worth living this elusive ‘reality’ at the price of recurrent conflicts sometimes leading to mutual destruction, while trying to move heaven and earth in an attempt to ‘solve’ what are smugly labelled as ‘ethnic conflicts?’ May it not be possible for us to see that this fluid notion of ‘ethnicity,’ has constantly proved to be a needless blinker and not something that would foster our collective happiness? Isn’t the genetic factor the weakest ‘rationale’ in the entire game of perpetuating the notion of ‘ethnic difference?’ Isn’t it time we brought the concept of ‘ethnicity’ under the pressure of rational discussion, if we really wish to rid the world of at least one of its societal blights.

Diversity may be beautiful, but not all are lucky enough to appreciate it. Just think of animals. Hare and deer, being at the bottom of the food pyramid, would not obviously have the peace of mind to enjoy the diversity of nature to the degree a lion or a tiger would. When it comes to cultural diversity, you may enjoy it cosily seated in an air-conditioned theatre watching culture appearing in its more urbane forms like music and dancing- but not when it bares its fangs insidiously moulded by indoctrination. Culture may not always have a smiley face, but many of us would be shy of admitting it.

The following assertion made by the American anthropologist, Donald Symons, throws light on how ‘culture’ may give an aura of legitimacy to blatant acts of cruelty:

If only one person in the world held down a terrified, struggling, screaming little girl, cut off her genitals with a septic blade….the only question would be how severely that person should be punished… but where millions of people do this, instead of the enormity being magnified millions-fold, suddenly it becomes ‘culture’ and magically becomes less, rather than more, horrible…

The labelling process, which may pass as a completely normal and innocuous practice within the framework of culture, may entail equally appalling consequences.

 

Susantha Hewa



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Opinion

Are We Patriotic As A Nation?

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Extracts from book “G R A T I T U D E”
By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff

I served as the First Secretary/ Defence Advisor at the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi, from November 2001 to April 2004. I served under two High Commissioners, namely late Professor Senake Bandaranaike and the late Mangala Moonesinghe. The Late Lakshman Kadirgamar and the The late Tyronne Fernando were the Foreign Ministers during my tenure.

I was occupying a residence inside the High Commission complex at Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri, in the diplomatic enclave of New Delhi. Our chief gardener was Perry Ram. He was a very experienced gardener who had served in the High Commission for 30 years. He was a very dedicated person who worked tirelessly to maintain the High Commission premises with beautiful flower beds and pots.

Our High Commission garden looked very beautiful during thanks to Ram and his assistants. He had received education only up to the fifth grade. Our High Commission garden won the “Best Garden in New Delhi” award three times in the 1990s. Now he is old and the award has been awarded to the garden of the Indian Chief of Air Staff (Indian Air Force Commanders’) residence.

I had a CD which contained Indian patriotic songs presented to me by the then Indian Chief of Naval Staff (Indian Navy Commander). I used to play these songs loud at my residence. They were beautiful and could be heard even from my garden.

I noticed something unusual when the song Aye Mere Wathan Ke Logo sung by Great Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar was played. Ram, who was working in the garden would stop his work and come into attention until the song was over. It’s not the Indian National Anthem! Then why does Perry Ram come into attention? I asked an Indian Naval officer why Ram was doing that. He said “Ravi, this song was sung by Lataji in honour of the Indian Armed forces personnel who died in the Sino-Indian War in 1962. So, everyone comes to attention when it is sung in honour of those brave service personnel who paid the supreme sacrifice.” The gardener showed me what gratitude was and how to honour the War Heroes.

Aye Mere Watanke Logo (available in YouTube – please listen) song was written by Kavi Pradeep (refer Wikipedia) saddened by the large loss of Indian Army officers and men in the Sino-Indian War in 1962. Stories about the bravery of the Indian forces to stop the Chinese advance were heard throughout India.

During his morning walks at Mahim beach in Mumbai, the writer of the song, Kavi Pradeep had some ideas for a new song to be dedicated to these gallant men. He immediately borrowed a pen from a fellow walker and wrote a few verses of this new song on a cigarette packet.

Later, the song was composed by C Ramachandra. The initial plan wasn to have the song sung as a duet by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. However, the composer Kavi Pradeepopposed to the idea and it was sung only by Latha.

The song was first sung at the National Stadium of New Delhi on 27th January 1963 during the Indian Republic Day celebrations by Lata Mangeshkar in front of S. Radhakrishnan, the Indian President and Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister (PM) of India. The stadium was packed its capacity and it was only a few months after the conclusion of the Sino-Indian War. The song became an immediate hit. The story says that Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears. Later, when it was inquired by a reporter, the PM said,

“Those who aren’t inspired by the Aye Mere Wathan Ke Logo song, don’t deserve to be called Hindustani.”

Artistes/technical staff and Lataji agreed that the income from the song should be sent to Indian Army welfare fund for the benefit of the families of the Indian Army personnel killed in action.

Even today, when it is sung, everyone gets u. At the end of the song, it says “Jaya Hindi Ke Sena” (Long live Indian Army!) Please enjoy the song:

Lata Mangeshkar

Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon (Original Version | Patriotic songs)

I wish we also have a song dedicated to our war heroes

O people of my
Country Let us shout
the slogan This
auspicious day Belong
to all of us

Hoist our beloved
flag and let us not
forget Our brave
warriors
Who left their lives on the border

Give a thought to them Let us also
remember Those who did not return
home O people of my Country

Fill your eyes with tears
Remember the sacrifice
of those who became martyrs
And lets you forget
them Listen to this story

When the Himalayas were
attacked and our freedom was
threatened they fought right to
the end

Then they laid down their
bodies with their faces on their
bayonets

The immortal martyrs went to
sleep when the country
celebrated Diwali They sacrificed
themselves
in the fire of holi.

When we were sitting safe in our
homes. They confronted the deadly
bullets blessed were they those
young men blessed was their youth
those who attained

Martyrdom Remember their great sacrifice
Sikhs, Jaat and Marathas
Gurkhas and Madrasis

All those who died at the front
every dead warrior at the front everyone
Belongs to India The bloodshed on
The Himalayas
That blood was India
their bodies’ drenched
blood they picked up their
guns and each killed ten men,
then they fell
unconscious and when
the end came

They said “We are dying
now “Be happy, beloved
countrymen
“We are going our journey”
How wonderful were those
warriors How great were those
people

Long live India
long live the Indian
army long live India
Long live India

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvr8sX5-T_8

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Opinion

Ailing rubber sector?

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Rubber production in Sri Lanka commenced in 1876, with the planting of nearly 2,000 rubber seedlings at the Henarathgoda Botanical Gardens in Gampaha. The total extent under rubber in 1890 was around 50 ha and in the early 1900s it increased to around 10,000 ha. By 1982 the total extent under rubber was around 180,000 ha. However, the total extent under rubber declined subsequently and at present it is around 130,000 ha.

If the present financial situation of the country is given serious consideration, it is obvious that the income from our export needs to be increased. Rubber is one of the important export crop. It contributes about 0.6% of the total GDP.

Based on Central Bank annual reports the total rubber production in 2013 was 130.4 .1 million Kg and by 2021 it has plummeted to 76.9 million kg. The corresponding average yields are 1247 kg/ha and 679 kg/ ha respectively. These figures indicate that the Sri Lankan rubber sector is ailing in spite of several institutions/projects such as Rubber Development Dep, Rubber Research Institute and STAR project.

According to Statistical Data of the Ministry of Plantation Crops, 130,349 ha are under rubber. 89,246 ha are in the small holder (SH) rubber sector and 41,103 ha are managed by Regional Plantation Companies (RPC). The productivity (kg/ha) of the SH sector in 2013 was 1247 and has decreased to 679 by 2021 a drop of 45%. These values indicate that the productivity of the SH sector has decreased substantially during 2013-2021.

Those in the SH sector gets relevant skills and knowledge through the extension officers who work at grass root level. Thus, extension officers have an important role to play in the proper management of the rubber plantations and increasing rubber yields of the SH sector. It is because of the importance of management practices in the rubber sector, in early 1980 the Advisory Services Dept. was established with the involvement of the Smallholder Rubber Rehabilitation project (SRRP) to make the SH aware of the practices which have an important bearing on the rubber yields. At that time there were nearly 150 rubber extension officers, working for the Advisory Services Department of the Rubber Research Board to assist the SH in the eight districts, to grow, process and market rubber. However, at present there are only around 20 extension staff in the Rubber Research Board and as a result the rubber extension programme appears to be very weak which may have contributed to the decrease (45% ) in the productivity of the SH rubber sector. Extension service has a vital role to play in motivating farmers to cultivate rubber and increase its productivity. Hence, if the government is keen to increase the productivity of this sector, which plays an important role in increasing export earnings, it is essential that the Ministry of Plantation Industries provides an effective extension service and has a Rubber Advisory Department. Perhaps, the Ministry may amalgamate the Rubber Development Department and the Extension Department of RRI as was in the past. It is not necessary for the government to incur additional expenses to implement such changes.

Dr. L.M.K.Tilakaratna, former Director of RRI, writing to THE ISLAND some time ago very correctly has indicated that communication gap between the RRI scientists and those in the SH is one of the reasons for the decrease in productivity. The rubber training centre located in Matugama which played a very important role in providing knowledge and skills to the SH sectors is not functioning. It is the responsibility of the Chairman of Rubber Research Board (RRB) to see that these activities which have an important bearing on the productivity of the rubber sector are carried out without any interruption. But, the Chairmen of RRB during the last few years appears to have not taken appropriate effective action on these issues. Perhaps it may be because they did not have adequate knowledge on the rubber industry.

Around 70% of the rubber holdings belong to the smallholder sector. There are nearly 100,000 rubber small holders (SH) who need to be provided with technical know- how of the activities involved from land preparation to processing, so that the rubber production is increased qualitatively and quantitatively. In this regard the extension activities are important. It is essential that a better extension service by a trained staff is provided to the rubber smallholders if the government is keen to increase the productivity of this sector.

Dr. C.S. Weeraratna, csweera@sltnet.lk

Former Director, Advisory Services Department, Rubber Research Board.

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Opinion

‘Sethusamudram stupid project’: BJP TNA Chief Annamalai points out ‘multiple’ objections: Response

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ANI has, in a news item under the above caption in The Sunday Island has said the BJP Tamil Nadu K. Annamalai has reiterated his claim that the Sethusamudram waterway project fails on multiple fronts, one of which being the potential damage to the ‘Ram Sethu’ [bridge] which according to the epic ‘Ramayana’ was created to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana’. What a frivolous objection based on myth or legend at the expense of a development project. However, it is said that the Indian government intends to explore an alternative alignment so that no damage will be done to the Rama Sethu, which means that the Indian government is actively pursuing action on a request from Tamil Nadu to undertake the project by citing the benefits in international navigation through Palk Straits due to the shortening of distance and time.

It is recorded that this project was conceived as far back as in 1860 by Alfred Dunas Taylor during British rule and since then several feasibility studies had been done taking into consideration the objection of religious groups, fisheries, environmental and economic aspects. It is more likely, India may seriously concede to the request by Tamil Nadu and in which case, how will Sri Lanka be affected is a matter to be thought of and action taken to present our views. If this project is undertaken, ships will by-pass our main ports in the South, Colombo and Hambantota and load and unload cargo either at Kankesanthurai or Trincomalee. Our exports and imports will then have to be transported to Kankesanthurai or Trincomalee by rail, road or by ship. Thus, the importance of our main two ports on which we have invested to improve by large scale borrowing will be lost. On the other hand, if objections are raised by Sri Lanka, India may consider further improvements to Kankesanthurai and Trinco harbours as is seen India taking interest in undertaking projects to improve North in relaying the railway track destroyed by the LTTE, roads and also constructing houses including those of Tamil origin settled in estates and also the proposal to connect electricity supply, a vital utility for development of any country, from Tamil Nadu. With Jaffna having an International Airport and improved harbour facilities, Jaffna will be the main business hub, replacing Colombo. Added to all developments done to the North, now comes the news of proposals to implement the 13th Amendment, which will give wide powers for Northerners to transact business and self-rule, so to say, which would be advantages to India as our Tamil leaders look up to India. The keen interest India has taken to resolve the economic crisis by assuring IMF of its support is indicative of India’s interest in the affairs of our country, and maintaining peace in the South Asian region by thwarting attempts of China.

These are random thoughts of mine to be considered by authorities and wish to conclude posing a question – are we to be a colony of India, as we had been in the past with Portuguese, Dutch and the British?

G. A. D Sirimal

BORALESGAMUWA

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