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Manouri Muttetuwegama: a woman unapologetically herself

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Her privileged family background did not deter Manouri from working in overcrowded prisons, making a case for thousands of women and appearing for rural farmers who were arrested for not paying their water tax. She would often represent these victims pro bono. Credited to have published one of the earliest reports on missing persons following the ‘Muttetuwegama Commission’, Manouri would once recollect in an interview that forcible disappearance of loved ones is the ‘most inhuman and heinous crime’ where even the right to pay last respects was taken away from relatives. She charged that it could not be dismissed as a mere ethnic issue.

by Randima Attygalle

“War is very much a man’s thing… widows were marginalized by their communities, orphaned girls were deprived of basic education and thousands of female-headed families struggling to survive are still waiting to be counted in official statistics…” Manouri Muttetuwegama, the Chairperson of the Disappearance Commission (1994) would recollect. A woman who had to brave many battles of life, Manouri Kokila Muttetuwegama, the human rights activist and one of the earliest Lankan women to take up criminal law, could relate easily to the heartbreaks of fellow women. She would not hesitate to remind the world that ‘women’s rights are human rights’ too.

One time President of the Women Lawyers’ Association, her privileged family background did not deter Manouri from working in overcrowded prisons, making a case for thousands of women and appearing for rural farmers who were arrested for not paying their water tax. She would often represent these victims pro bono. Credited to have published one of the earliest reports on missing persons following the ‘Muttetuwegama Commission’, Manouri would once recollect in an interview that forcible disappearance of loved ones is the ‘most inhuman and heinous crime’ where even the right to pay last respects was taken away from relatives. She charged that it could not be dismissed as a mere ethnic issue.

My first newspaper interview with Mrs. Muttetuwegama was for the now defunct The Nation paper nearly 15 years ago. I can still recollect stepping into her Sulaiman Terrace (off Jawatta Rd.) residence on a late afternoon, a little nervous having to do justice to a phenomenal woman larger than life. Greeting me with her characteristic warm smile, Mrs. Muttetuwegama instantly made me feel at home. Discovering that the journalist before her was a lawyer too, she was delighted. Later, when I moved to the Sunday Island, edited by her first cousin, Mr. Manik de Silva, she was simply thrilled. Whenever she found a feature of mine particularly interesting, she would call me to congratulate and even take trouble to drop an email.

Manouri was only two-years old when her father, Dr. Colvin R de Silva was taken to custody by the British and put behind the bars at Bogambara. Her mother, a devout Buddhist would sing softly to herself, siduhath kumaruge hitha nam boho dediya.. matawath nokiya thaniyama thapasata wediya

Born to a mother whose family had an uncle or a brother taking robes in every generation, it was only natural for Manouri to be admitted to her mother’s school, Visakha Vidyalaya. “She came from a family of temple builders and found the temple to be an outlet of solace, especially at time when things were tough at home with daddy’s political involvement. And daddy far from the temple-goer his wife was, stood by my mother, encouraging her to pursue her spiritual pursuits. He was very liberal-minded,” she once recollected.

When the young Barrister-daughter returned from England, her father as Manouri would say, was convinced that she had made the best of both worlds. “While London exposed me to more than law books, my Buddhist upbringing enabled me to sit on the ground with my legs to one side and my skirts covering my knees,” she would reminisce.

Very much her father’s daughter, Manouri took to student activism like duck to water at the University of London, where her father had also studied. The first woman to have held the chair of the of the Ceylon Students’ Union, Manouri earned the title ‘street lady’ for her vociferous activism. At a time when the natives were still aping the imperialists and growing up in local public schools which were “copies of British education”, young lawyer Manouri did not feel “planted and alienated” in her own country, after a 10-year sojourn in England from 1953 to 1963.

The “liberating experience” of London, only shaped her to experience the socio-political fabric prevailing at home with “no trappings” as she called it. “My father further fuelled my spirit by exposing me to the top brass and the most remote folk of his electorates,” she once said. Be it metropolitan hubs as Wellawatte-Galkissa (her father’s first parliamentary seat) or at Agalawatta (where he was later MP) and Balapitiya, Manouri would feel at home in her father’s election campaigns. Several years later, she would re-write history in the rural Kalawana where her late lawyer-husband Sarath Muttetuwegama, a man who lived in the hearts of people, reigned.

To our generation of lawyers who could not be privy to the life and times of her legendary father who could ‘swing a jury,’ Mrs. Muttetuwegama became a priceless window. More than the drama of her father’s legal feats, what moved her most was his ability to go straight to the ‘essentials of the Law’ and his treatment of the Law as a social instrument. “He was never tied down to precedent, instead he had a sharp appreciation of the legal concepts. He treated the courts with reverence and drilled into us that one is never to treat the courtroom as a political platform. For him, it was not just a matter of mastering the technical aspects of the Law; integrity and decorum mattered most to him. He set the example of never humiliating or bullying a witness, never misleading the judges neither on the law nor on evidence and most importantly to be relevant in courts.” She herself lived up to this.

An inspiration to a young lawyer, Mrs. Muttetuwegama was always one of the most coveted subject of interview for a journalist. I was once intrigued to know what her unforgettable memories of her father’s sensational trials were. Sathasivam murder case, Kularatne arsenic poisoning case and the attempted coup of 1971 were among the most unforgettable. It was 12-year-old Manouri who received the famous forensic expert Sir Sydney Smith who heeded her father’s call and arrived here to give expert evidence in the Sathasivam case. Dr. Smith, a family friend by then, whom she had the privilege of visiting in Edinburgh with her father was a ‘Scotsman with a heavy accent’ as Mrs. Muttetuwegama would recall. “I remember how he used to pick carnations for me from his garden and I pinning them on the button hole of my overcoat,” she once shared a fond memory with me.

Inheriting her father’s universality of thinking, Mrs. Muttetuwegama would encourage young professionals- lawyers or otherwise, applaud anyone for a job well done. Women empowerment being close to her heart, the avant-garde activist would admire those who would challenge the status quo. On one occasion when I was accompanied by my colleague photographer Sujatha Jayaratna, Mrs. Muttetuwegama remarked that she was both delighted and proud to be posing for one of the few professional women photojournalists in the country. A woman who had the highest regard for women breadwinners, I remember Mrs. Muttetuwegama applauding Sujatha who looks after her sick and ageing mother while juggling a full time career.

Despite her commanding and charismatic personality, Mrs. Muttetuwegama remained truly feminine, a trait I often admired in her. Her simple yet sophisticated dress sense made a statement wherever she went. A few years ago when I launched a publication at the Colombo International Book Fair, she was among my earliest guests, adding stature to the occasion. Despite her challenging health, she was kind and humble enough to remain until the end of the event, taking time to speak to several who had been mentored by her, occupying some of the top legal ranks today.

A qualified lawyer at the time her father drafted the first Republican Constitution, Mrs. Muttetuwegama used to recap walking as a ‘proud daughter’ beside him into the Constituent Assembly. “The exercise of the 1972 Constitution is a matter of regret to me today. My father’s objective was to champion individual rights of liberty and equality and make a chance for everybody to make a place for himself,”. It was she who headed the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) appointed in 2016. Reflecting on her father’s foresight: ‘One language two nations; two languages one nation’, she would often lament that the country was not only divided on ethnic grounds but also on lines of education. She was disheartened that the educational disparity was getting worse.

Calling the LSSP her ‘elder sister’, only a few years older than she was, Mrs. Muttetuwegama was often critical of the present day so-called leftists. The activist lawyer would say that they were on an “impossible see-saw.” While trying to hold onto old leftist concepts of egalitarianism, non-racism and at the same time labouring to stay in the public eye, they were making the “inevitable compromise,” she often said.

A woman of great attainment, she remained unassuming until the end. Apart from being her father’s daughter, she would say, “I’m also my husband’s wife and my daughter Ramani’s (an accomplished lawyer in her own right) mother, but I’m only humbled.” Above all of it, she was Manouri Muttetuwegama, a role model who was an embodiment of my favourite poet Maya Angelou’s words: ‘a woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.’



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Features

Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS

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From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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Hair care mask

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

* Aloe Vera and Olive Oil:

Aloe vera can beautify your hair when used regularly. Aloe vera is a three-in-one plant and is the best medicine for health, skincare, and hair care, too. Using products, containing aloe vera as the hair strengthening agent, is quite expensive. So,treat your hair, naturally, by trying out these natural hair care masks.

Ingredients…

Aloe Vera Gel: 4-5 tablespoons

Olive Oil: 3-4 tablespoons

Egg Yolk: 2-3 tablespoons

Method…

In a bowl, mix well the olive oil (after heating the oil for eight to 10 seconds), the aloe vera gel and the egg yolk.

Apply the mixture on your brittle and dry hair with a hair brush and leave it for four to five hours. Apply it overnight for better results.

Wash off wish a mild shampoo later on.

When applied continuously, for eight to 10 days, your hair will definitely turn healthy and shiny, within no time

* Almond Milk and Coconut Oil:

Almonds are one of the amazing products when it comes to hair care. Try this mask to experience that salon affect you probably missed out.

Ingredients…

Almond Milk: 4-5 tablespoons

Egg White: 3-4 tablespoons

Coconut Oil:1-2 tablespoons

Method…

Mix all the ingredients well, in a bowl, and gently apply it on your hair with a brush.

If applied overnight, it is the best remedy for those with dry hair.

Wash off with cold water and a mild shampoo.

Use it thrice a week and if your hair is badly damaged a daily use for eight to 10 days improves your hair condition.

You can continue using it twice or thrice a week until you get the required results.

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Features

Amazing Thailand… opening up, but slowly

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I know of several holidaymakers who are desperately seeking a vacation in Amazing Thailand, and quite a few of them keep calling me up to find out when they could zoom their way to the ‘Land of Smiles!’

Last year, they were contemplating doing their festive shopping in that part of the world and were constantly checking with me about a possible shopping vacation, in early December, 2020.

Unfortunately, the pandemic proved a disaster to most tourist destinations, and Thailand, too, felt the heat.

However, the scene is opening up, gradually, and fully vaccinated travellers are now being given the green light to visit quite a few countries.

The Maldives is one such destination…and now Thailand is gradually coming into that scene, as well.

Several provinces, in Thailand, have reopened, through the Phuket Sandbox programme, and there are plans to reopen five more areas, including Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, and Pattaya.

Now, hold on! Before you rush and make plans to head for Thailand, here’s what you need to know:

The plan is to reopen to fully vaccinated tourists, and, in all probability, they would be able to visit without having to quarantine. But, that has to be officially confirmed.

Currently, travellers to the provinces that have already reopened, such as Phuket, must quarantine before travelling elsewhere in Thailand. The new reopening plans are the most significant travel policy changes the country has enacted since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Thai government relaxed some restrictions on gatherings in certain areas, including Bangkok, and that’s certainly good news for Sri Lankans who love to be a part of the Bangkok scene.

Bangkok is still in the ‘dark red zone,’ however — the strictest designation — that has restricted movement in the city for months.

The government has said that activities, such as shopping malls and dine-in services, in the dark-red zone, will be allowed to reopen – but no official dates have been mentioned, as yet.

Gatherings are now capped at no more than 25 people, an increase from just five people. A curfew still remains in place, however.

This October reopening (hopefully) will be launched alongside with the country’s newly adjusted ‘universal prevention’ guidelines against COVID-19 … including accelerating vaccination for the local population and formalising tourism campaigns.

Thailand will reopen in phases, I’m told: Phuket reopened in Phase One in July, while Bangkok is scheduled to reopen in Phase Two. Phase Three will reopen 21 destinations – hopefully at some point in time, in October – while Phase Four will begin in January 2022.

The measure comes not a minute too soon for local tourism operators as tourism is one of the nation’s largest gross domestic product drivers (GDP), and preventative measures against COVID-19 resulted in a massive blow to the industry.

Yes, we are all eager for the world to open up so that we can check out some of our favourite holiday destinations.

And, after staying indoors for such a long period, the urge to break free is in all of us.

I’ve been to Thailand 24 times (on most occasions, courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand) and I’m now eagerly looking forward to my 25th trip.

But…I wonder if Amazing Thailand will ever be the same – the awesome scene we all experienced, and enjoyed, before the pandemic!

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