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Sincerely dedicated to my dear Ananda ‘81 Members

By Sharwar Hafeez Yoonoos

I would like to begin my personal life experience starting from 1st November 1983, when I set foot on the “Land of the Singing Fish” (Batticaloa).

 I was posted to Batticaloa after my initial training in Nuwara-Eliya Territory under Ranjan Palpola. Upon conclusion of the monthly conference at “Wattles Inn” in Nuwara-Eliya which I attended, I took off in my company-maintained car – 11 Sri 9004 – with great pride and happiness.

 After the July ’83 riots, which resulted in the national and poltical scenario taking different shapes, it was the time I arrived at my first duty station. My predecessor, Channa Jagoda, was residing in the Batticaloa Buddhist temple. With my proficiency in the Tamil language, it was like “a duck taking to water”. I was able to interact and make friends with my trade colleagues from other companies, as well with the local community. 

The territory boundaries were from Oddamawadi to Pothuvil. Within this boundary were the strongholds of the LTTE and other groups, such as Unicchi/Kiren/Chenkalladi/ Wandaramunai/Karathivu/ Kallar/Kaluwanchikudi and Thirukovil, to mention a few.

 I never knew the undercurrent taking place within the region when I arrived. We used to go to Pasikuda during the weekends with friends and enjoy the beautiful beach; spending quality time till late evenings and even going for late Tamil movies.  


My First Unforgettable Incident

 This happened when I was swimming at Pasikuda with one of my “Batti” friends. Grecian (who was a Tamil Christian) was a good swimmer and he wanted to swim towards the reef. I too agreed and he was cruising ahead of me, while for some reason or another, I was feeling tired and fatigued. He reached the reef well before me and was waving at me to join him, while I was in discomfort and looked back to realize that I was far away from the beach. I was stuck without much energy “between the devil and deep blue sea” to reach the reef. I just thought “that’s it… I am going to drown”.

While trying to have a calm head at that difficult time, when like a “heaven-sent gift”, I saw a guy on a tube relaxing and floating about 200 metres away. I swam across with much effort and managed to reach the tube. We later became good friends. He was from “Mannar” and working for the Youth Council. Only then I knew the value of meeting “Bosco” at that crucial moment!

 Meanwhile, the first signs of disruption started during the latter part of 1984 with “Hartal” of closing of shops in the region. While the government forced them to open, shop owners, as well as poor sales representatives like me who had the heart to work, were in a dilemma.

During this period, we experienced roadblocks from the Police and the STF, which made free movement difficult and night travelling became unthinkable. Then we started to hear occasional gunshots and footsteps running around in the middle of the nights.

 The next serious occurrence was that people were being abducted from their sleep during the nights, by terrorist groups suspecting them as informants and they were innocent civilians. Some returned home, while some remain missing even to this date.

I experienced the change of people’s movements with gloomy looks, trapped between the forces and terrorist groups. The next shock was when some of the abducted civilians were shot dead and hung or tied onto a lamp post with a placard saying “Traitor”.

It was becoming terribly alarming and fearful.

 2nd Unforgeable Incident (Blast of landminds between two towns)

 Lever Brother’s Distributor was referred to as the Nominated Lever Wholesaler (NLW) and Siva Stores was located in Chenkalladi Junction. When I arrived at 8.00 am on that particular day, the staff were somewhat disturbed. I was to work in Eravur town which was 2 km from the NLW point.

I inquired what was the delay to get the lorry loaded. The shop manager told me that, between Chenkalladi and Eravur, a landmine was set under a culvert by LTTE who wanted the shops to be open as usual, so the armed forces/police would not suspect any abnormality. I was dumbfounded and told them to load the vehicle but not to leave the premises. I drove my car from Chenkalladi over the culvert by-passing the landmine and parked in front of Eravur MPCS. I crossed the road and went into the first store for the day.

The shop owner was disturbed as well with the situation and was not in a frame of mind to purchase and neither was I, to negotiate. It was around 9.30 am when we heard the blast and all shops started closing up and “poor Yunna” (short name for me) was left on the street with a few others. I ran towards my car and then realized that there could be an outbreak of gunfire at any moment and started tapping the warehouse door of the MPCS Union to let me in. I managed to get into safety and all what happened after that is history.


3rd Unforgettable Incident (Captured by the Terrorists)


A few months after the above incident, I was returning from Oddamawadi and stopped at NLW (Siva Stores) to hand over the dealer card. Meanwhile, two guys approached me with guns hidden inside a newspaper and wanted me to take them along and got into the car forcefully.

I was terrified but kept a calm mind. They told me to “Drive” before any forces could come and our lives could be threatened. A shop assistant at NLW saw the incident while I drove away to their command post towards Unicchi.

After driving for about 2-3 km, they got to a safe area with many other LTTE members joining us. I was told to hand over the car to them. I said the car belongs to me and cannot leave and I will lose my job. I was talking to them very politely to reach some settlement.

Meanwhile, my NLW managed to find the spot and reach the place where I was held captive. He had some connections with Jaffna and tried to influence them to release me with the vehicle. While they were waiting for some higher-up to give them direction, “my heart was in my mouth” thinking what was going to happen next.

My NLW kept on pleading with them and finally they agreed to accept Rs.30,000 to release me with the car. I was released around 10.00 pm after all the harassment and it was a “lucky escape” and I could be the only person to come out with the vehicle as well.

I simply cannot forget Siva who was my “guardian angel” on that day, saving me from the claws of terrorists, which could have gone either way.

 The next morning, I drove to Kalmunai and parked the car at NLW and started using public transport for my work, after that terrifying ordeal.


4th Unforgettable Incident (Batticaloa NLW getting killed)

 Day by day, the situation was going from bad to worse. Heavy sandbags were placed in front of the Batticaloa Police Station, which practice was adopted around all police stations in the Eastern Province. STF camp at Kaluwanchikudi was further strengthened and also in Akkaraipattu, under the command of Daya Jayasundara (if I am not mistaken).

 I used to meet Anura Kithsiri and Kithsiri Aponso who were in the STF and our seniors at College but refrained talking to them, as I could be assumed to be an informant if the locals saw me talking to them. The future was heading towards a tensed situation whether I liked it or not and I was somewhat trapped.

 On this particular day, I was working along Bazar Street in Batticaloa, which had a Police Post overlooking the lagoon. I finished my sales call at Murugan Stores (a wholesaler) and was walking towards Siva Nataraja Stores, another wholesaler, when a terrorist hurled a grenade towards the Police Post. As a defensive measure, they opened fired and my NLW (Abdul Qader) who was in the delivery vehicle got shot and succumbed to the injuries he sustained.

I was devastated, with people running all over the place and my dear NLW fallen across the seat, bleeding profusely. We took him to hospital but it was too late…. It was another sad and unforgettable moment in my life.


5th Unforgettable Incident (Kalmunai NLW’s son getting killed)

 Life was getting tougher day by day for the citizens, with restrictions of movement from both sides. This was the period when the forces used to have a “Goni Billa” seated in the jeep and getting him to shake his head by looking at passers by. Suspects were later captured and interrogated.

During this period, I was staying at St Sebastian Street in Battcaloa. Towards the end of 1985, due to the tense situation triggered by the communal riots, my Tamil friends in Batticaloa requested me to shift to Kattankudy until such time the situation became normal.

Because of the prevailing crisis, terrorists also took this opportunity to evict Muslims from the pro-Tamil areas, taking over their lands and belongings. So “Yunna” had to change residence to Kattankudy.

My Kalmunai NLW’s son (Zakariya) had come to Batticaloa to meet his sister who was undergoing an operation. He was a good friend, being of the same age as me. He stayed with me in Kattankudy that night for safety purposes and left to Kalmunai the next morning.

The day he returned to Kalmunai, a fight broke out between terrorists and Muslims and Zakariya was shot at point-blank range and died on the spot. The friend who was with me the previous night having dinner with me was no more. I was shell-shocked. I didn’t have anyone to express my inner feelings and sadness of losing people around me while dark clouds were looming around all the time and I was filled with so much of uncertainty.

 Further, I was feeling dejected and broken with no manager or associate from HO who could come. The hard work put in by me at this difficult time was fruitless, as no one was there to assess the tough situation I was going through. I requested for a transfer from HO, as things were getting out of control and beyond manageable proportions.

 Finally, I was transferred to Mahiyangana Territory, which ironically was a transfer from “the frying pan to the fire”.


6th Unforgettable Meeting of Athula Perera (Sudu Athula) my senior Rugger mate at College

 In mid-1985, I was driving from Kalmunai to Colombo via Amparai for a launch conference. I noticed a water bowser been escorted by a police convoy. The dashing Athula was seated on the bonnet of the jeep which was heading the fleet of vehicles and he was carrying a machine gun in his hand.


It was a real coincidence and he was heading the Central Camp Police Post which covered up to Vellaveli. He was operating in a high-risk zone which was connected to Kaluwanchikudi as well. He was giving protection for (Drinking Water) for the officials in the area.

I was so delighted to see him after 1981, when he broke his shin bone in the match against Trinity. We hugged each other and talked for a few minutes. The area we had stopped was vulnerable as well. We promised each other to be in touch but sadly that was the last time I met him.

 A few months later, on that fateful day of 28th October, whilst he was escorting the water bowser, a cruel landmine was set and blasted by the LTTE. The valuable lives of our dear brother Athula and others were snatched in the flash of a moment. We lost this young Anandian Rugby player and a patriotic son of Mother Lanka.

I would like to place on record the following points which I have observed & experienced over the years with my association with people from all walks of life.

 I have observed & experienced from my College days onwards, most of our sportsmen as well as students from other activities and fora joining the forces. Having sports related background and leadership awareness only is not good enough. One’s character also requires analytical skills, a calm mind, forward planning and strategic management, which are essential ingredients for officers in the forces and the Police.

I hope the top brass in the group will agree with me, but would also like you to add any other ingredients that I may have omitted.


7th Unforgettable Incident on 2nd June 1987 – Arantalawa Incident

Taking over Mahiyangana territory, which extended from Amparai to Hasalaka to Passara and a few outskirt towns such as Madolsime/Kandegedara/Katawela/Hettipola/ Meegahakivula/Bakinigahawela (some call it Bikingahawela – LOL) gave me mixed dimensions of normalcy and a treacherous area to work.

On this particular day, 2nd June 1987 to be precise, after finishing my (4-day) work at Amparai MPCS, I was to leave Amparai in the early hours, to reach Binnthenne –Pattu.

Of all days, I was feeling very restless to drive from Amparai to Maha Oya. Even though there were many Army Camps in-between, the stretch was very vulnerable and life-threatening, with many fatalities taking place around the villages and on the highway as well. More than once bitten twice shy experiences of horror incidents of two of my NLW’s losing their precious lives (Batticaloa & Kalmunai) and escaping many crossfires made me very uncomfortable on this particular day.

But with self-commitment and loyalty, I left Amparai around 6.45 am. When I was somewhere around Bakkiyalla, one of the Good Samaritans on the road stopped my car, Nissan Mach 13 Shri 6293. He told me that they heard many gunshots a little while ago. I was in a total panic whteher to proceed or not, with no mobile at that time and unable to speak to anyone to seek advice as to what I should do.

While I was waiting, to my horror I saw the CTB bus carrying the bodies of all the innocent Buddhist monks who were massacred by the ruthless terrorists at Arantalawa, with blood stains flowing over the window railings and driven back by army soldiers. I followed the bus up to the Amparai Hospital and then returned to Amparai MPCS (NLW) and no one knew until I told them.

This is one of the saddest incidents of my life and for which we all know the whole country weeps even to this very day.

These seven unforgettable incidents will linger in my memory forever and haunt me until my last breath.

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Sat Mag

More than a doctrinal problem:The Buddha and his stepmother



Ambapalika offering a meal to the Buddha and his disciples, and donating a mango grove (British Library)

By Uditha Devapriya

The Buddha’s response to Mahaprajapati Gotami’s request for permission to enter the Buddha Sasana forms one of the more controversial episodes in the Buddhist pantheon. The story, as told in countless narratives and chronicles, essentially makes his acceptance of a female Buddhist or Bhikkuni order contingent on two things: his stepmother making the request twice, then traversing a distance of 150 miles with her followers in defiance of his response, and Ananda Thera’s pleas, which eventually convince the Buddha to change his mind.Viewed from a certain perspective, the episode stands out prominently in the Buddha’s life, for two reasons. Firstly, it marks the first time he makes an explicit pronouncement on the role of women within the Buddhist clergy. Secondly, it takes his Chief Attendant to resolve a paradox in that pronouncement: the Buddha doesn’t accept his stepmother’s request, yet he isn’t necessarily opposed to the ordination of Buddhist nuns.

Ananda Thera’s question is very clear on this point: he doesn’t mention specific names, but rather asks whether, in general, women are “capable of realising the state of a stream-winner, never-returner, and an arahant, when they have gone forth from home to the homeless state.” Only after receiving a positive response to his question does Ananda bring up the issue of the Buddha’s stepmother: “If then, Lord, [women] are capable of attaining Saintship, since Maha Pajapati Gotami has been of great service to the Exalted One… it were well, Lord, that women should be given permission …”

In other words, the appeal to personal ties follows from a philosophical question: if women are allowed in, then why not accept Gotami’s request? I find this highly fascinating, for two reasons. Firstly, Buddhist stories usually have the Buddha turn an encounter with a specific individual into a homily or a sermon: thus it is only upon engaging with Sunita that he makes a pronouncement on caste. Similarly, it is his encounter with Sigala that makes him expound his most significant sermon for the laity (the bourgeoisie?). The Dhammacakkana Pavattana Sutra, his first discourse, can in that sense be viewed as a response to the need to convince his first five disciples, residing at Sarnath, of his attainment of Enlightenment. The encounter with his stepmother turns this on its head: it is his philosophical position on a doctrinal issue – in this case, the ordination of women – that resolves the personal encounter.

Secondly, unlike the bulk of the Buddha stories in the Pali and Sinhalese Chronicles, here he changes his mind over a dilemma concerning the Sasana. However, he doesn’t really confess or admit that he was wrong over the issue. Instead, Ananda’s questioning compels him to remark that what holds true in general (women entering the Buddhist order) must hold true in the particular (Mahaprajapati Gotami and her followers entering the Buddhist order). Most crucially, the Buddha doesn’t reach this conclusion on his own: it takes Ananda Thera, his Chief Attendant no less, to help him take the proverbial leap.

To be sure, his encounter with Mahaprajapati Gotami episode is hardly the only one where the Buddha revises his positions and opinions. There is at least one other occasion where he does so: when his father, Suddhodhana, requests him to seek parental permission before ordaining children, and he agrees. This too is a response to a personal encounter: he converts his son, Rahula, without notifying his mother. What is unique about his encounter with his stepmother, however, is that it concerns a doctrinal issue: the question of allowing females into an order seen, until then, as an exclusively male preserve.

Having asked a number of ordinary Buddhists what they thought of this episode, I can only conclude that no one has any real answers to the issue as to why the Buddha had to be led into an ideological impasse for him to agree to admit Buddhist nuns, or Bhikkunis. The Buddha is generally acknowledged as farsighted and pragmatic. He is not one to revise his opinions, even on the request of a person so close as his Chief Attendant. Indeed, even after accommodating his stepmother’s request, he frankly tells Ananda that the admission of nuns would reduce the lifetime of the Dhamma from a thousand to five hundred years. This does not, however, belittle the fact that he accommodates them.

How do these ordinary Buddhists I talked with perceive and resolve this problem? One of them admitted that he had been grappling with it all his life, and that since his Daham Pasal days, he had been trying to find a satisfactory answer, to no avail. On the other hand, my mother, hardly the Daham Pasal going type, suggested that it shows that the Buddha, far from embodying an all-knowing ideal, had to rely on another person – his Chief Attendant – to reach a compromise over a difficult doctrinal issue. This is not an opinion shared by too many Buddhists, since it contradicts their view of the Buddha as infallible and beyond question, but it is shared by several ordinary laypeople I talked with.

In response to what many may see as the Buddha’s inborn prejudice against women – sexism, plain and simple – a leading Buddhist monk-writer has this to say.

“In making these comments, which may not generally be very palatable to womankind, the Buddha was not in any way making a wholesale condemnation of women but was only reckoning with the weaknesses of their sex.” (Venerable Narada Thera, “The Buddha and His Teachings”, Fourth Edition, 1988, Chapter 9, Page 156)

Narada Thera, however, is touching on only one aspect to this controversy. This aspect has been covered by a number of scholars, most prominently by Uma Chakravarti, who in an insightful essay (“Buddhism as a Discourse of Dissent: Class and Gender”) remarks that while the Buddha, in his volte-face over the question of female ordination, reveals his recognition, even acceptance, of women’s potential for salvation, by laying down eight rules, and making a rather pessimistic prediction regarding the Dhamma, he reflects the prejudices of his time, where women were expected to serve a subservient role to men.

Although Chakravarti doesn’t discuss it, the Buddha’s encounter with his former consort, Yashodhara Devi, tells us much about the times he hailed from. Bhikkhu Narada’s account tells us that Yashodhara, upon hearing that he had returned to Kapilavaththu, does not visit him herself, hoping that “the noble Lord Himself will come to my presence.”

When this eventually does happen – he enters her chamber and takes a seat – she goes to great lengths to reverence him, ordering her courtiers to wear yellow garments. When Siddhartha Gautama’s father Suddhodana informs his son of the extraordinary lengths to which she has gone to greet him, the Buddha merely replies, “not only in this last birth, O King, but in a previous birth, too, she protected me and was devoted and faithful to me.” He then goes on to relate the Candakinnara Jatakaya, in effect reiterating and re-emphasising values like loyalty and faithfulness that are seen as ‘becoming’ of women.Chakravarti’s argument is frankly disconcerting, but it is the most accurate from those that tackle this issue which I have read so far. While other scholars, like Kumari Jayawardena, trace Buddhism’s hostility to women, and to female activism, to the Buddhist Revival of the 19th century, in which a socially and culturally conservative (petty) bourgeoise took the lead, Chakravarti traces it to the Buddhist Chronicles that relate the Buddha’s life, as it was lived or is supposed to have been lived, themselves. My only critique of Chakravarti’s approach is that she makes no real attempt to relate those Chronicles – many of which, after all, were written after the Tatagatha’s passing away – to the context of their times.

Of course, one can hardly blame or single out the Buddha for these problems. In any case, the India of the Buddha’s time accepted gender and class oppositions. Moreover, it wasn’t just on issues concerning women where he was, to put it mildly, ambivalent. Even on the thorny issue of caste, he didn’t adopt a straightforward position: while he did condemn Brahmin caste structures, he also added that “by deed is one born a Brahmin”, thereby distancing himself from the kind of political critique of caste pioneered by, inter alia, Ambedkar. I suppose one can make the same case for liberation theologists: Christ, after all, did implore to render unto Caesar’s the things that were Caesar’s, a position liberation theologists would hardly adopt today.This aspect, as I mentioned earlier, has been covered. I am more interested in its doctrinal and philosophical dimensions. For the first and probably only time in his life, the Buddha is admitting to a theoretical lapse without really admitting to it. Perhaps to make up for his shortfall, the Buddha justifies his earlier position by attributing the decline of Buddhism – from a millennium to half a millennium – to the very gender he admits to the order. Even if that is not, according Narada Thera, a “wholesale condemnation of women”, we must admit that between the Buddha’s rejection of Gotami’s request, his acceptance after Ananda’s intervention, and his sober prognosis following his acceptance, there was an intellectual leap. I believe this issue needs to be investigated, more deeply.

(Uditha Devapriya is an international relations analyst, independent researcher, and columnist who can be reached at

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Sat Mag

The Man P. Rajanayagam was – Remembered by Nirmala Rajasingam



With the passing of Periyathamby Rajanayagam, another stalwart of the vintage days of left activism in Sri Lanka, is now gone. Rajanayagam was a trade unionist, human rights lawyer, journalist, writer and most importantly a life-long left political activist, to whom social justice, democracy and, with increasing authoritarianism, the right to dissent were consuming passions that he lived out daily until his health failed him in his 86th year. Born in Chunnakam, as the second child in a family of five, Raja’s political activism began at a young age, while he was studying at Skandavarodaya College, in Jaffna. In his teens, Raja joined the Youth League of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), often distributing LSSP publications, with his older brother, to their supporters. His teachers, N.S. Kandiah, and ‘Orator’ Subramaniam of the Jaffna Youth Congress fame were great mentors, who inculcated the spirit of egalitarianism in the young Rajanayagam. Raja entered the Ceylon clerical service when he finished school to support the family, financially. He threw himself into union activism, as a member of the GCSU, the most powerful union backed by the LSSP at that time. Raja soon became the editor of the union magazine The Red Tape, and its Tamil magazine Nava Uthayam.

From this time onwards Raja’s personal life was marked by the twists and turns of the history of the left movement. Raja graduated with a BSc degree from the University of London, as an external candidate, while still an active union representative. Soon after, he became a central committee member of the LSSP and published The Federal Party and the Tamil Speaking Peoples, an important document of the LSSP, for its campaign for the 1960 general election.Raja’s political career experienced a dramatic shift when the LSSP joined the SLFP, in a coalition government in 1964. In his 20s, Raja joined Bala Tampoe, Edmund Samarakody and many others, and helped found the LSSP- Revolutionary Party. The LSSP–R was now in control of the formidable Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU) and Raja became a central committee member of the LSSP–R. At this time, he passed his law exams with a first class, qualified as an attorney-at-law, and brought out the textbook titled Criminal Procedure in Sri Lanka, encouraged by his law lecturer, as there was a dearth of such textbooks.

Shunning lucrative practice in other areas, Raja naturally became a trade union lawyer. He was to be found in the Sri Lankan labour tribunals almost daily, defending workers, and published The Labour Tribunal Digest, summarising leading tribunal precedent cases that established important labour law principles.
When the 1971 JVP uprising was crushed by the coalition government, Raja also became a human rights advocate, representing newly incarcerated JVP leaders. He visited prisons in Jaffna, Bogambara and Welikade to meet Rohana Wijeweera, Gamanayake, Lionel Bopage, and others. He represented 13 of the top JVP leaders in the courts that were specially set up with no due process to deal with these ‘terrorist’ cases. His representation of JVP leaders came under scrutiny. His erstwhile left comrades were now in power with the coalition government and were prosecuting the JVP youth vigorously. In 1972, the Republican constitution was enacted, giving Buddhism a foremost place, and the members of the LSSP, and CP fully participated in this exercise. Raja, disillusioned by the developments within the mainstream left, and the corresponding rise in majoritarianism and the shrinking democratic space for alternative left forces, decided to take a break from politics and left for London in 1973.

Raja began work as a solicitor for the Bexley Heath local authority in Britain. Soon, Raja and other kindred souls set up the Ceylon Solidarity Movement. Raja wrote and published a pamphlet, The Island of Terror, based on his experiences of representing JVP detainees. From that time onwards Raja’s home became a welcoming place for many left activists who visited London from Sri Lanka, stayed with him, spoke at meetings, met parliamentarians and always paid the obligatory visit to Marx’s grave, all of which Raja organised. Rohana Wijeweera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and even Mahinda Rajapakse has stayed in the home of Raja. When Mahinda Rajapakse went to Geneva to complain to the UNHRC about Sri Lanka’s human rights violations he was assisted by Raja.
When under the Jayewardene government the militarisation of the north and violent attacks against Tamils increased, Raja became drawn into yet another phase of his activist career, and was one of the leading figures in forming the Standing Conference of Tamils (SCOT) and its human rights arm in London. A smaller group within SCOT became the nucleus for the Tamil Times, an English language monthly magazine that was launched in 1981. The editorial responsibilities fell mainly on Raja’s shoulders. In the next 25 years or so, the Tamil Times emerged as the foremost voice of Sri Lankan Tamils living in the diaspora in the English language with N.S. Kandiah as its managing director. Its initial aims were to make a stand in support of the beleaguered Tamil community in Sri Lanka, and to keep the Sri Lankan diaspora communities around the globe abreast of developments.

In a few years, developments in Sri Lanka created a divergence of perspectives within the editorial group, where some supported militant Tamil nationalism unequivocally. Raja and others were perturbed by the intolerant nationalism, militarism, Tamil-on-Tamil violence and the crushing of dissent within the Tamil polity. Raja found the LTTE’s claim to be the sole representative of the Tamils abhorrent. By around 1987, the disagreement was settled in Raja’s favour, and he continued as the editor until January 2006. As Raja’s editorials became increasingly critical of armed violent actors, he was subjected to threats and intimidations. For a period, the Tamil Times was the only one of its kind, offering critical support to the Tamils in their quest for justice and democratic rights. It was read with interest for Raja’s editorials but not just by Tamils but also by various representatives of governments, members of the human rights fraternity, journalists and academics. The magazine was supported by subscriptions entirely and from across the globe.

Raja was also a pioneer and consistent advocate for Sri Lankan human rights in the UNHRC, spanning over two decades. He began this work as the representative of the human rights arm of SCOT to highlight the plight of the Tamils. He produced two publications, Law and Practice of Arbitrary Detention in Sri Lanka and Arbitrary Killings in Sri Lanka, which were based on various submissions he had made to the Human Rights Council. As his perspective gradually changed, he began to openly express his misgivings over the direction of the Tamil struggle, and raised questions about Tamil-on-Tamil violence at the UNHRC sessions. Between the prevarications of the Sri Lankan state on its human rights record and the deeply partisan and selective human rights accounts from Tamil nationalists, Raja often cut a lone figure in his commitment to truth-telling. Raja viewed the LTTE’s ascendancy, and its implications for the Tamil people with great trepidation. He was much affected by the many political killings of dissenters by the LTTE. Some were his friends.

I had the great fortune to be a fellow steering group member of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, (SLDF) with Raja from 2002 to 2009, during the peace process. It was a tightly knit group that campaigned for peace, democracy and justice. During these years Raja was a frequent visitor to my home. He would be up for robust political discussions that would begin at 6pm and end around 5am the next day. His involvement with SLDF was the last stint of activism in a long line of campaigns he had set up. Raja’s eloquence as a writer and public speaker, often trenchantly critical of armed actors, and the senseless violence of the civil war, endeared him to many within the dissenting Tamil community in London. He remained a towering figure of inspiration to many of us.
The Raja we all knew was a man of much warmth, compassion, humour, and political integrity. He loved engaging with people, especially activists, of all ages and backgrounds. This is what he found most pleasurable. When Raja’s wife of 25 years, Regina, died he had to start life again, but he sustained himself through writing, campaigning, befriending people and speaking truth.
(Nirmala Rajasingam is a Sri Lankan British national resident in London. A political activist and artiste, she was a close ally of P. Rajanayagam)

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Situating the woman in Buddhist Revival Female Buddhist education and the Buddhist Revival



By Uditha Devapriya

The Buddhist revivalists of the late 19th century placed great emphasis on female education. Colonel Olcott spoke of the need for Buddhist girls’ schools, claiming that “the mother” as “the first teacher.” This was echoed by Buddhist men who argued they wanted “companions who shall stand shoulder to shoulder with ourselves.”

The rise of a Sinhala Buddhist petty bourgeoisie, comprising of traders, merchants, teachers, and professionals, had a considerable say in the clamour for education for Buddhist women. As Kumari Jayawardena has observed, “there was much discussion on the need for educated Buddhist wives, presentable in bourgeois colonial society, as well as educated mothers who would reproduce… the next generation of Sinhala Buddhists.”

The clamour, in other words, was for the daughters of the Sinhala Buddhist bourgeoisie to stand on equal terms with their Christian and Westernised counterparts, the latter of whom had been either tutored at home or sent to missionary enclaves.Before delving into how schools for Buddhist girls came to be, though, it’s important to make a distinction between two kinds of education: monastic and secular. Female monastic education dates to the time of the Buddha, when, after much cajoling by his chief disciple Ananda, he permitted the establishment of a female Buddhist order.

As with every other philosophical-mundane dilemma, the question of women entering the sasanaya, transcending their traditionally defined roles as wives and mothers, was resolved in an ambiguous way: while the Buddha informed Ananda that there was room in the Order for nuns, he had earlier rejected his stepmother Mahaprajapati Gotami’s request for female ordination. Nevertheless, with his recognition of a female order, the Buddha foretold that his teachings would last so long as monks and nuns practised mindfulness.

Female monastic education came to Sri Lanka with the arrival of Sanghamitta in the third century BC and the ordination of Devanampiya Tissa’s queen, Anula. The Bhikkuni order lasted for 15 centuries, until the Chola invasions in the Anuradhapura period. Until that point, several strides would be made in the sisterhood, including the writing of the Theri Gatha (“Psalms of the Sisters”), a compendium of 522 gathas by 73 nuns dating to the sixth century BCE. At one level, these gathas contain strong feminist undercurrents.

Unfortunately, no attempt was made to revive the order after the fall of Anuradhapura. Not until the 19th century were such attempts made. This was largely due to the work of one woman, the first dasasil matha (“Ten Precept Nun”) of Sri Lanka, Sister Sudharmācārī (née Catherine de Alwis), and of a group of Bhikkus and dasasil mathas, who, in 1998, went on to initiate a Bhikkuni Order despite protests from the more conservative sections of the clergy. Regarding the latter, the efforts of Inamaluwe Sri Sumangala Thera of the Rangiri Dambulla Chapter of the Siyam Nikaya, who filed a case at the Human Rights Council arguing that the State should recognise Bhikkunis and their monasteries, must be noted.Secular education for Buddhist girls preceded the ordination of the dasasil mathas. As far as monastic schools went, no clear-cut distinction prevailed between religious and secular instruction, since monks were at the forefront of education. Here, however, a clear gender bias persisted: as Ananda Coomaraswamy has observed, monks oversaw education only for boys. Education for females thus remained a neglected affair.

As the very first British commentators on the country noted, “the greater part of men can read or write” (Cordimer), and education was confined chiefly to “the male part of the population” (Davy). Given that works like the Kavyasekara and the Selalihini Sandeshaya idealised women who stayed at home and played a subordinate role to their fathers and husbands, we can take the lack of interest in their education to have been culturally and religiously sanctioned, especially in the post-Kotte period. This contrasts with revisionist accounts, such as Sinhala Geheniya, which contended that in the pre-colonial phase Sinhala women had been elevated, if not honoured, by their male brethren.

The “debut of the bourgeois woman” (as Kumari Jayawardena has termed it) was a phenomenon unique to 19th century colonial society. Sri Lanka was no exception. While most elite schools cropped up after the government abandoned English education as per the recommendations of the Morgan Committee Report of 1870, female education had more or less picked up decades earlier in Jaffna, with the establishment of the American Ceylon Mission in 1816 and Uduvil Girls’ School in 1824.The latter establishment, which began with 22 students, became Asia’s first boarding school for girls. Set up as a counterpart to the Batticotta Seminary in Vadukoddai, its first principal happened to be a missionary from Connecticut, Harriet Winslow.

As with Sinhala society, however, Tamil society remained averse to the idea of female education. In that sense the success of the school (followed by establishments in Varany in 1834 and Nallur in 1841) owed much to how it reinforced traditional patterns (most girls hailed from the Vellala caste) while breaching them (the school allowed common dining between castes, upsetting not a few powerful families in the region).This paradox – of reinforcing traditionalism while breaching it – was seen in girls’ schools in other parts of the country as well. Moreover, while doing away with traditional practices, most of these schools kept intact the gender-class structures of colonial society, grooming women to be devoted mothers, daughters, and wives. Female education in the 19th century hence followed either of two paths: courses for ladylike pursuits, like music and needlework, and academic courses and professions, like medicine.

In 1881, for the first time, a girl sat for the Senior Cambridge Examination, while five girls sat for the Junior Cambridge Examination. The number would rise to 15 and 77 respectively at the turn of the new century. This was around the time when the women’s movement had begun picking up in England: the suffragette campaign officially commenced in the 1870s. This was also around the time when another movement picked up at home: the Buddhist revival. The contradiction embedded in colonial female education, between conservatism and emancipation for women, thus spilt over to Buddhist schools.Modern Sinhala Buddhist secular education, for women, began with the establishment of the Sanghamitta Girls’ School in 1891. According to Kumari Jayawardena, there were serious differences of opinion over the running of the school. When tensions between the two managers, Alfred Buultjens and Peter de Abrew, peaked, the principal, Marie Musaeus Higgins, left. Supported by de Abrew, she started her own school.

Meanwhile, Sanghamitta was relocated to Foster Lane (at a cost of more than Rs. 30 million today, according to Vinod Moonesinghe), and administered after 1898 by the Maha Bodhi Society, under Anagarika Dharmapala and the principalship of Miranda de Souza Canavarro. The school, run on Catholic lines (with a Buddhist sisterhood that conformed to Convent practices), was soon superseded by Musaeus College; the friendship between Dharmapala and Canavarro having deteriorated, it continued without the sisterhood. Notwithstanding these rifts and ruptures, its impact on Buddhist education was considerable.Gananath Obeyesekere’s and Richard Gombrich’s classification of Protestant Buddhism is not without its critics – read, in particular, Irving Johnson’s comprehensive critique, “The Buddha and the Puritan: Weberian Reflections on ‘Protestant Buddhism’” – but it explains, in part at least, the clamour for a larger role for the laity, the emphasis on hard work, and the “urbanisation” of Buddhism after the late 19th century.

This was felt in education as well, even in the domain of female education. An article in a Buddhist magazine in 1914 rejected traditional perceptions of women: “Our Sinhala men are still trying to confine us to the kitchen.” At the same time, the petty bourgeoisie, without whom the revival would not have happened, vehemently opposed the idea of a wider role for females: Piyadasa Sirisena’s diatribes against mixed marriages (“mishra vivaha”) and female activism lay bare this contradiction very clearly.Upward aspiring and conservative as they may have been, however, the revivalists couldn’t oppose the trend towards female education for long. Simply put, they wanted to educate their daughters. In that sense the founding of Visakha Vidyalaya, in 1917, marked a zenith in the history of female education, and not just Buddhist, in the country.

In her account of Selestina Dias, the founder of Visakha Vidyalaya, Manel Tampoe details the development of the school. By the time of her death, Dias had contributed Rs. 450,000 (nearly Rs. 500 million today). To celebrate its opening, “a sumptuous garden party” was held “to which those in high society flocked in gay attire.” Jayawardena has described it as “an important, though overdue, day for the Buddhist bourgeoisie.”

The first principal of Visakha Vidyalaya, Bernice T. Banning, a native of Providence, Rhode Island, and a graduate of Wisconsin University, served for a year before leaving for Madras “for the purpose of study and recreation, on behalf of the Theosophical Society.” Banning would be succeeded by several other foreign, non-Buddhist, women, including the great Clara Motwani. As Kumari Jayawardena has noted, it would take another 50 years for the school to employ its first Sinhala Buddhist principal, Hema Jayasinghe.

Uditha Devapriya is an international relations analyst, independent researcher, and columnist who can be reached at

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