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Mudliyars: Intricacies of interpretation



During the time of English Judges the Interpreter Mudliyars were a privileged lot, who exacted tribute from some of those who came to court, in cash and in kind. He was fed by the butcher, the fisherman, the vegetable vendor, the tavern-keeper, the village mudalalis and by many others.

The complainant in an abduction and rape case was a well-known prostitute in town. At the end of her testimony, the English Judge who heard the case, gave a polite bow and said, “Thank you madam.” The Interpreter Mudliyar then told her “Behepiya” (get the hell out of here). When the Crown Counsel pointed out to the Mudliyar that that was not what the judge said, the Mudliyar replied that he had a dignity and self-respect to maintain.


Once a villager was charged with killing a stag in a wildlife sanctuary. “Mudliyar! What is the animal the accused is supposed to have shot?” asked the English Judge.

“Mokada yako satha”

(These Mudliyars thought it infra dig to show any politeness to the ordinary folk). Trembling the villager said. “Gona hamuduruwane”. The Mudliyar was in a fix as he did not know the English word for gona (stag).

Turning towards the judge, the Mudliyar said “Your Honour, it is a wild animal.”

“Yes! Yes! Mudliyar but what is the name of the animal?”

“Yako! Kiyapiya sathage nama”

“Ai hamuduruwane? E gonek.”

“Your honour, it is an animal commonly found in our jungles.”

“Mudliyar, ask this foolish man the name of the animal without wasting the valuable time of this court?”

The Mudliyar then dropped his voice and hissed.

“Eluva kiyapiya yako! Eluva kiyapiya.”


A small-time firewood merchant was charged in court for an offence. Before giving evidence he was administered the oath in Sinhala. (It was not the usual, “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…” Here is the gist of it in English.

“Now repeat after me,” the Mudliyar told the accused.

“I swear”

“I swear”

“That I shall”

“That I shall”

“Send to the Walauwwa of the Interpreter Mudliyar”

“Send to the Walawwa of the Interpreter Mudliyar”

“A cartload of firewood every month.”

The hapless man swore it. The Mudliyar then turned to the English Judge and announced. “Affirmed Your Honour”.


The body of an old woman was found by a villager on his way to his chena in the morning. Her throat had been slashed. A murder case was filed and her son-in-law stood in the dock, accused of the crime. After the case was called, the villager who had found the body began to give evidence.

“Describe what you saw,” the English Judge told him.

The Mudliyar then translated it for the villager.

“Kiyapiya tho dekka dey.”

“May genige bella kapala para aine vatila hitiya,”

said the villager.

The Mudliyar then translated it for the judge.

“Your Honour! This woman was lying by the road with a cut-throat.”


An IRC was produced before court, charged with committing a crime. The magistrate asked, “You must be a notorious character in the village?”

The Mudliyar then interpreted it in Sinhala thus: “Umba gamey notharisge karaththa karayada?”


A particular incident took place many years ago in the Hambantota Courts. After this incident the poor Interpreter Mudliyar was known, to his dying day, as ‘Major’.

A young man was giving evidence and the Judge commented that he looked almost a teenager.

“Tell me, young man,” said the Judge, addressing the lad in English. “Are you a minor or a major?”

“Kiyanna balanna,”

translated the Interpreter Mudliyar, “Thama pathal karuwekda nathnam yudha hamuda major kenekda?” (Are you a minor or a Major in the army?)


An entire family was in the dock charged with assaulting a neighbour with clubs over a land dispute. The complainant was giving evidence in Sinhala and the Interpreter Mudliyar was translating it into English for the Judge.

“Mulinma megollo mata banna,”

said the man, pointing to the five accused. “E para egollange gey athulata duwala, poluth arang awa.” (“First they gave me an earful. Then they rushed into their house and came out carrying clubs”.)

But the Mudliyar translated it as, “You honour, they ran into their house and came out carrying coconuts!”


Once a woman in an advanced state of pregnancy made an application to court claiming maintenance from her paramour for her unborn child. Speaking very kindly, the Judge told her (in English) that her claim was premature and could be entertained only after her child was born. The Mudliyar, translating what the Judge said into Sinhala, put it (literally) as, “the nadukarathuma says that he can’t do anything to you now. He wants you to come after you have the baby.”

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UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process



Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.


In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.


Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan



I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Multi-talented, indeed…



Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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