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Myth of unemployable arts graduates



(This is a response by a group of Sri Lankan university teachers to the audit report Propensity to tend education under the Arts stream and the unemployment of Arts Graduates. 


Recently, the Committee on Public Accounts discussed a report prepared by the audit office, entitled “Propensity to tend education under the Arts stream and the unemployment of Arts Graduates.” The somewhat awkwardly titled report attempts to connect graduate unemployment to Arts Education at secondary and tertiary levels. The report is useful in that it locates some of the problems of tertiary education in a failing secondary educational system. The recommendations made in the report are also, for the most part, salutary. However, the assumptions that inform the body of the report, the material that it uses to come to conclusion regarding arts education, and the manner in which it is committed to undervaluing Arts Education, merits comment, especially in a policy environment where Arts Education is under attack. Arguably the manner in which it conceptualizes the role of education in society is limited and reflects all current policy making on the subject. We provide this analysis, therefore, to broaden the conversation driving the policy discourse regarding higher education in the country and to move it away from its current unhelpful preoccupation with employability. We argue in this response that to formulate policy on a narrowly defined understanding of “employability” is insufficient and does not adequately encompass areas in Humanities and Social Science higher education that require strengthening through reform and support. Currently, policies driven by “employability” are, in fact, negatively impacting Humanities and Social Science programmes within the university system.

The report usefully highlights a fundamental problem in our education system – the failing secondary schools – as impacting Arts Education in general. Using a range of data, the report is able to demonstrate how the system is fundamentally unequal and makes clear that the policy of free education is failing the most marginalized members and communities in our society. The report highlights the fact that many schools do not have resources to provide Advanced Level science education. And states also that many parents are not able to support Advanced Level science education due to their inability to provide funds for extra classes. Therefore, many who are economically marginalized are unable to pursue education in STEM subjects. The report also demonstrates that the provinces, where poverty is greatest, have the largest percentages of Arts students entering university.

In terms of the numbers taking up subjects for the Advanced Level examination, the largest percentage opt for the Arts stream. The report claims that students choose Arts subjects because they are “easy” and students can enter university quickly (through their first shy). The numbers of students that choose the Arts stream for the A-Levels have ranged between 40-50 percent in 2017/2018. Other than in the Western Province, where the numbers are slightly lower, (20-35%), all other provinces had close to 50% of all A-Level students follow Arts subjects (Audit report, pp14-21). Documenting how students who are compelled to attend under-resourced secondary schools have few choices with regards to their education, the report recommends that the education system address the inequality of access and provide all secondary school students the choice of pursing either a STEM focused education or one in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. We support this recommendation of the report. The report, however, fails to connect how the inequality that prevails in the school system and the inability to guarantee a good basic education for all, in turn limits the impact that higher education can make when no intervention specifically addresses this problem. The report then suggests that the graduates that the current system of Arts Education produces are unemployable and emphasizes the need to reduce the numbers that opt for the Arts stream. Such a reduction of numbers was planned through the introduction of the technology stream. However, the technology stream itself has its own problems, is insufficiently resourced and has not been a success in reducing the numbers choosing the Arts stream. Unfortunately, there is no recognition in the report that most students are being taught within a severely under-funded and under-resourced Arts stream and that strengthening Arts education itself would be an option that would result in Arts graduates with a higher quality Arts education.

The report is inadequately informed of what Arts education encompasses and the current state of tertiary Arts education in the country.


What is Arts Education?

While acknowledging the need for the Arts to enrich society, the report suggests that as a “developing country”, we have to emphasize economic growth and suggests that we cannot afford to spend resources (that could be spent on Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education) on Arts education. Making reference to “literary men, actors, musicians and cinematographers and artists” as necessary for a society, the report states that we, as a developing country, must have a greater emphasis on growing the economy. It is unfortunate that the report’s authors consider the country to be undeserving of investment in the Arts and culture until economic development is achieved and also dissociates the Arts from engagement with economic activity. The lack of greater government support for the Arts is probably a reflection of this sensibility. Unfortunately, such shortsighted positions inform the report and much of education policy today. A vibrant society where the Arts and culture can thrive should be an aspiration that we should cultivate and share.

Arts Faculties also provide degrees in the social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, economics and geography, and in applied or “professional” fields such as education, archeology, and library sciences, as well as humanities subjects such as history, philosophy and literature, and modern and classical languages. Nowhere does the report name the wide variety of subjects that are categorized under Arts education or recognize the importance of such subjects. Other than pointing out in one instance that developed countries use their system of education to create “skilled persons”, while we in Sri Lanka create “academic persons,” the report only recognizes Arts subjects insofar as they are not Science Mathematics or Technology subjects. The skills and perspectives provided by the Humanities and Social Sciences (Arts subjects) are essential to a holistic understanding of any social problem, such as poverty or education, or even any “technical” problem, such as water scarcity. The ability to understand the philosophical and ideological bases of such problems, and identify the social, cultural, and human consequences of proposed solutions, is provided by the skillset cultivated by an Arts education. In fact, this is the very reason that multidisciplinary perspectives are frequently called upon for policy research. It is important then that we recognize the contribution that a good quality Arts education can offer to society. We as a country are suffering today from a lack of attention to the perspectives that social science and humanities education can provide. This is also why those with little or no exposure to the above fields feel qualified to drive policy in various sectors that have substantial social consequences. This situation does not bode well for our future.

As indicated in the quotation above where the Sri Lankan system is accused of producing “academic persons” as opposed to skilled individuals, the report assumes that academically-oriented programmes are somehow antithetical to programmes that provide employment-oriented “skills.” Such a perspective mischaracterizes both the nature of academic engagement and the essence of job-oriented training. A strong academic programme that focuses on critical thought, substantive engagement with course material, independent learning, good writing, presentation and debate skills, will enable graduates to think independently, express themselves and work towards creating meaningful change in whatever surrounding they find themselves in, including their jobs. An effective programme of this nature would simultaneously result in the development of English skills, “soft skills”, and IT skills as part of the curriculum. The World Bank loan funded AHEAD programme, currently being implemented across the university system, has integrated elements of such a perspective and Bank loan supported initiatives are no longer insisting—as they did in earlier cycles– that we carry out stand-alone programmes to cultivate English, IT and “soft skills.”

The contention of the report as stated earlier is that Arts education is the subject area into which the largest numbers of the country’s students flock, and is also the repository of the country’s poorest students. The report then sweepingly suggests that arts programmes draw “weak” students and are themselves “weak” and are of little societal value. This seems to be the preferred policy position with regards to Arts Education. The report notes that the Technology Stream was introduced with the goal of reducing the number of Arts students to less than 25 percent and increasing the number of students pursuing Maths, Science and Technology. The report establishes, however, that the demand for Arts subjects among the student population has increased despite government efforts to decrease the number. The report’s lack of interest in understanding what positive elements of Arts education might be attracting the large student numbers (other than perhaps the ability to become a lawyer) and what elements of Arts education are worth supporting and developing, is quite telling of its general devaluing of Arts education.

The report provides little insight into the content of Arts programmes that are offered by the Sri Lankan university system and its assessment of the efficacy of the programmes is limited to employment numbers provided by the UGC Tracer Study of 2016/17. The report also states that no statistical information is available on unemployed graduates although insights from the Unemployed Graduates Union were obtained. Its critique of the programmes is based on two criteria – the number of programme revisions that have been reported and the introduction of new programmes of study. Outside of the above criteria, the study does not recognize the many differences among Arts degree programmes. For one, not all Arts programmes are the same across the country’s university system. There are internal and external degree programs, three-year general arts degree programmes following different subject combinations and Study Stream degree programmes that offer specialization within a three-year period, and four-year honours degree programmes involving a research component. While the subject areas covered by Arts programmes are also diverse, the content of programmes across the many universities differ as well. Thus, Arts students demonstrate a wide and disparate range of abilities and skills. Addressing Arts Education as a non-disaggregated whole is unhelpful when analyzing the skills and capabilities of Arts graduates and numbers that refer only to programme review and the introduction of new programmes does not adequately capture the status of those programmes. Disaggregating between Arts programmes is essential in order to recognize and develop the new and evolving programmes and provide support for the areas that require reforms.

Arts Faculties currently cater to a large number of students and relative to other faculties, their student body is more diverse and are likely to have differing and greater challenges and require greater support in transitioning to university education. Their student to staff ratios are larger, they tend to offer a large number of degree programmes that are delivered in different language media, and their per student funding is lesser than for other degree programmes. This creates a number of unique difficulties for arts faculties. These problems require systematic investigation in order for universities to provide the type of enriching education that an arts graduate requires.

These concerns that plague arts education cause difficulties in giving the arts graduate the type of education that they require and deserve. In the Commission’s report, these complex problems are not adequately presented or discussed.

Arts Education and Employment.

We recognize that some students who follow an arts education may have difficulties in finding work. As the report points out these difficulties stem partly from the immense social and economic disparities that influence student educational pathways and subsequent employment paths. The report suggests a number of solutions through which employment related problems that Arts students face may be addressed. These solutions proposed in the report require aligning educational paths with employment paths, through coordination among educational and employment providing institutions and greater funding for secondary and tertiary education. We pose, however three issues that the report has failed to address in making this case:

1. Framing recommendations with a rigorous analysis of the labour/job markets and their forecasts. The report neglects to include analyses of the job market or forecasts of the labour force. It does not address national policy to attract and create jobs, which are consistent with national trends in human capital. In short, the report does not link jobs and employment to broader policies to create good quality jobs that are secure and safe to all employees (see for instance, ILO, 2004). As a result, how the report construes where graduates will be placed once they graduate is unclear. Such an analysis should now be sensitive to changes caused by the Covid 19 pandemic, which likely hit youth and women particularly hard (ILO, 2020). Problems of the employment of arts graduates are especially salient to youth and women.

2. Justifying the linkages between employment and university education. The report rests on the assumption that students who follow a university education will become an “economic good”, meaning that their education will be transformed into some tangible, national, and tradable good. Yet the nature of this good is unclear, particularly considering that the labour market is in flux (see Blenkinsopp, 2011). For instance, with the rise in automation, jobs themselves are transforming in all sectors (see Oliver, 2015, Rothwell & Rothwell, 2016). These trends are likely to drastically reduce the number of jobs available and change how work is carried out. Skillsets, particularly those that are narrowly defined and context-specific, which are relevant and desired today, may have no importance in years to come. Thus, an analysis of jobs specific skills training, required of young people for employment in the future, should begin with an analysis of job markets of the future. Whether providing these skills should be the primary role of universities and whether the country has the jobs required for such trained individuals are also questions that will need to be addressed.

3. The report also rests on the assumption that learning activities that specifically target narrowly defined soft skills and skills in ICT and English language will result in the economic good mentioned in #2. This assumption has no basis. For instance, a strong humanities or social science education can provide invaluable skills in thinking critically (see Fahim & Masouleh, 2012) that are very much relevant to jobs. Within the study of job-related competencies, conceptual and thinking skills that are adaptable across job contexts and Reinforce a desire and ability to learn for oneself are particularly important (Snow & Snell, 1993). Cultivating these types of foundational skills require a curriculum that is built on a gradual and sustained process of developing them (see Fahim & Masouleh, 2012) rather than one-off courses that teach students a narrow skill set.


Education, Work and Economic Development

For most university graduates, employment means to be employed in the government sector. When graduates report unemployment, they do not necessarily mean they are not engaged in other income-generating activities or a private sector job. (One of the reasons for unemployment noted in the report is to be waiting for a government job.) Defining a “job” as a government job alone may be understood as part of a cultivated culture of patronage and entitlement. Such a position also draws from a realization that the working conditions, job security, and benefits of a government position far outweigh those in the private sector, regardless of claims to creativity, job satisfaction, higher pay, etc. Additionally, most private sector jobs are only available in and around urban areas. The report recognizes many of these issues and recommends raising awareness on the benefits of private sector jobs among undergraduates and urges the government to address the working conditions in the private sector.

The report points out that the majority of unemployed Arts graduates are women, but does not explore the gendered reasons as to why university educated women may be unemployed or opt out of employment. The Labour Demand Survey of 2017 provides insights on this matter. According to the Survey results, employers expressed negative attitudes towards hiring women owing to their “family commitments,” “security concerns”, and “maternity leave.” Employers’ reluctance to accommodate women’s unpaid care responsibilities and fear of sexual harassment and violence point to yet another societal malaise that is not reducible to a factor of university education alone. Not only are women overburdened with care work and at risk of violence in society, employers neither recognize nor provide support to women to work despite these challenges. Recent discussions on the unpaid care economy and women’s unaccounted labour at home are relevant here.

Many women opt out of formal employment or engage in informal work to accommodate the demands of care work in the home. Additionally, workplace sexual harassment and risk of the same when traveling home late after work are factors that contribute to women’s low labour force participation. These issues must be taken into account to arrive at a complete picture of graduate unemployment.

The audit report highlights the fact that we, as a “developing country”, must concentrate on economic advancement. However, there is no acknowledgement that one of the factors that have directly impacted the Sri Lankan economy and continues to do so has been ethno religious conflict. Over 30 years of war, and after the end of the war increasing numbers of organized violent attacks against Muslims, and the Easter Sunday bombings carried out by Muslims channelling the rhetoric of global Islamic terrorism to respond to local problems have destroyed lives and livelihoods and decimated the Sri Lankan economy. There is no analysis of how universities could provide a space to imagine alternatives to conflict and hostility and how such alternatives can be nurtured.

Unfortunately, education institutions have so far served to produce, reproduce and sustain Sinhala-Buddhist hegemonic narratives and to glorify ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ culture at the expense of the stories and the culture of the country’s minority communities. These political efforts to divide and pit communities against each other encounter little or no ideological resistance. It is ironic that policy makers choose to see no connection between the country’s long history of ethnoreligious conflict and the system of education. Instead of playing a vital role in building trust in the post-war context among our communities, the education system has served to perpetuate structural violence along class, gender, ethnic and other lines. It is time that policy makers and political leaders discuss the manner in which education will help nurture a polity that can imagine collective engagement that is not overdetermined by conflict.

No doubt education has to cater to the economic needs of society, but the world has come a long way since ‘development’ was reduced to the ‘economy’. Contemporary approaches to development are much broader with far-reaching goals and meanings beyond the economy. Education should be a vehicle for achieving larger social goals through the development of creative capabilities and peaceful co-existence, which could, in turn, facilitate realizing economic goals within a society that is not plagued by violence.


Addressing the problems that plague Arts education in Universities, will strengthen not only Arts education in the University system but education in general. By framing the problem more widely, we propose the following:

The Education System:

1. The salutary goals that were envisioned when a free education system was introduced to the country still remain relevant. The social transformation that education continues to promise to countless Sri Lankan citizens is currently under severe strain. Therefore it is important that the challenges to the free education system be recognized and addressed in a manner that strengthens its foundational principles of universality and equality of access.

2. Broaden the understanding of the problems of the education system. Employability—narrowly defined– should not be the only framework from which reform of education should be approached. Education as a democratic endeavor must be recognized and questions must be raised as to whether the education system succeeds in strengthening democracy.

3. Ensure that education at both the secondary and tertiary levels is designed to overturn ethno-religious tensions and prejudices related to class, caste gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.

4. Provide solutions to address the inequalities in access to secondary education options, and minimize disparities in resources, facilities, and teachers.


Arts Education:

5. Provide arts faculties with the option of having foundation courses that will better equip students to perform well in degree programmes.

6. Have a better understanding of the different Arts degree programmes in the country, conduct a holistic analysis of the problems facing arts education and provide support when needed and reform where needed.

7. Increase spending on Arts Education. Recognize the contribution that Humanities and Social Sciences can make to society and provide support for such programmes.

8. Recognize and support the unique environments of the Arts Faculties as arguably consisting of the most diverse student bodies and serving the largest number of under privileged students.

9. Resist the formulation of one- size-fits-all policies for the improvement of Humanities and Social Science Education.


Technology Stream:


10. Ensure that students are guided into such streams through provision of services at both secondary and tertiary levels.

11. Provide trained teachers for technology education, revisit curricula, and improve infrastructure facilities.

Employment and employment markets:


12. Look into the job requirement of the country and the policies in place for job creation.

13. Ensure laws are in place to provide the necessary support services for women to enter the labour force.

14. Provide greater state support for the Creative Arts (as a job creation strategy that will strengthen the economy).

15. Ensure that the benefits and work conditions in the private sector match those of the public sector and remain attractive to university graduates

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S L – a cauldron of casualties and trouble



Cassandra has stopped watching news at night for the sake of her wellbeing and peace of mind. Watching English news at 9.00 p m on a local channel caused her to toss and turn or wake up at the ungodly hour of 2.00 am to again toss and turn, but this time mentally with suppressed anger, frustration, and fear for the future surfacing and consequently inundating the mind with unease. Why all this? Because Sri Lankan news is always of protests, ministerial pontificating with next to nothing done to lift the country from rock bottom it has been thrust to; and violence, murders and drug hauls. All worrying issues. The present worry is spending 200 m on a celebration that most Ordinaries, the public Cass means, DO NOT Want.

What are the issues of the week just past? Hamlet’s disturbed and disturbing ‘To be or not to be’ twisted to ‘Will happen or will not.’ That specifically relates to the LG elections scheduled for March 9. The government has tried every trick of delay just because they face sure defeat – the combined Elephant and Bud that rules us as of now. Everyone else shouts for elections and follows up with the threat to come out on the streets. That seems to be Sri Lankans most resorted to pastime. And we dread the melees; the water cannon, police brutality and the disgrace of saffron robed, bearded and hair grown men in the vanguard of slogan lofting shouters. All a useless and worthless expense of energy achieving nothing but tear gas and water shooting, and remand jail for some. Some of these protests call for the release of one such IUSF protester deemed to be a terrorist by a draconian law and confined in solitary imprisonment for far too long.

A shot or more of arrack or kasippu was resorted to by men and excused by other men as necessary mental trouble relievers. A woman would imbibe a bit of brandy if not a sleeping pill to ease her troubled mind and thus queasy gut. Not any longer if one takes advice that comes pouring in via social media.

Canada’s new move on Alcohol Guidance

As questioned by Holly Honderich in Washington BBC January 18: “What’s behind Canada’s drastic new Alcohol Guidance?” She says a report funded by Health Canada warns that “any amount of alcohol is not good for your health and if you drink, less is better.” This is contained in a 90 page report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. Health issues result from the intake of more than standard drinks and these include breast and colon cancer. Honderich says it may be a rude awakening for the roughly 80% of Canadian adults who drink. The ratio is higher, Cass presumes, in this resplendent isle with its arrack, illicit brews and toddy both kitul and palmyrah. So the comforting statement that was earlier in vogue, that a daily tot of alcoholic drink is good for health, is sent overboard by the Canadian advice. Of course now with money so short except in the hands of the corrupt, the latter advice will have to be taken, voluntarily or otherwise, by most Lankans.

Prez Gotabaya and his advisors’ ruling

We have all seen at least on TV, farmers mourning their yellowing crops of paddy and heard their heart-rending cries of hopelessness at the loss of a third harvest due to the utter crime of overnight stoppage of chemical fertilisers and pest control. Cass wonders how the ex-Prez who decreed this and his advisors sleep at night having blighted long term the entire agriculture of this predominantly agricultural country. Farmers cry out they are in debt, have no money to feed nor school their children; added to which hospitals are bare of medicines.

A highly-educated and experienced agriculturist sent Cass an email the gist of which is that rice farmers all over the island report a ‘yellowing’ of paddy, stunted growth and dead plants in patches. They had all used ‘compost’ issued by the govt. There is a hint this could be due to a nematode infestation. If correct, this has grave implications. It has occurred in tea with no easy cure. Only costly fumigation was effective, eventually. Once rice paddies are infected it would be very difficult to control – almost impossible; already impoverished farmers can bear no further expense.

A three wheeler driver told Cass that river bed soil had been mixed with thrown away household garbage (both obtained free, obviously) and sold as organic fertiliser. I hasten to add this is hearsay, but the obvious truth staring all Sri Lankans in the face and sending shivers of apprehension down all spines is that this Maha season crop is kaput; gone down the drain with farmers cheated and someone or some persons having made money from the deal.

Pointless it is to curse those who were in the racket; useless to commiserate farmers and their families; impossible to compensate them. Will those responsible for giving out dangerous fertiliser for distribution be traced and brought to justice? Never! However, that word ‘never’ is now pronounced with a mite of doubt after M Sirisena and others were dealt justly by judges of the Supreme Court. There are glimmers of hope that wrong doers, actually criminals who bankrupted the country and damaged its agriculture, will be dealt with suitably.

There will be no Aluth Avuruddha for the backbone of the country in April since celebrations centre around a good harvest and R&R after a Maha season of toil and filling bins and storehouses with bountiful paddy. This was pre-Gota days. Now it is all round misery since urban dwellers sorrow, and also suffer, with the farmers who supplied them with food.

Clear stats given to prove inefficiency of the state sector

A video clip came to Cassandra with Advocata CEO Dananath Fernando speaking on the inefficiency of the public service due to being too many in number. Dananath is much admired and spoke clearly and convincingly. He said more conversing with Faraz Shauketaly on Newsline presented by TVI channel on Tuesday 24 January at 8.30 p m.

Dananath said our bureaucracy is inefficient and ineffectual. Main reason being there are too many to do the work. His fact check went like this. In India for every 177 members of the general public there is one (01) government officer or as named earlier ‘government servant’. In Pakistan the figures are 117 to one. Bangladesh is almost the same. In Sri Lanka (hold your breath!) to every sixteen (16) citizens there sits one government officer, mainly twiddling his/her thumbs. It would be interesting to know the ratios in developed countries. But the very relevant to us countries have been named by the Advocata finding. Cass does not need to spell what the result is; she has already indicated it with the image of the thumb twiddler.

We knew the bureaucracy was over staffed, bloated and bulging big like the leaders we have: 225 in parliament, then local councils and pradeshiya sabhas. And in each of them, law makers, decision takers and those who carry them out are far too excessive in number and cost the government excessively in salaries, infrastructure, travel modes; etc. etc. So Advocata asks how development, or even mere running of the country can be achieved efficiently and effectively. A further shock, at least to Cass, was dealt by Dananath in proving the point by revealing statistics for the police service. 50% of the entire police force is deployed on security duty to 225 MPs, Ministers and state VIPs while the balance half is expected to provide safety and security to 22 million people! Lop sided and thus the country slants to sink or disintegrate. It has already slanted to bankruptcy and begging as never before and selling the meager money making ventures we possess.

How did the public service get so bloated? Again the guilty are, or were, those in power. They kept sending persons with chits and they had to be employed. Reason? Sympathy for the jobless? Not at all. Pure unadulterated self-interest so votes are assured them.

Rise up and show thy face, thou olde pensioner

That’s a government order to be observed by the old; most finding walking difficult and many finding the necessity to gather some money for three wheeler hire denting their January budget. But present yourself to the Grama Sevaka of your area is a must if you want to continue receiving your pension, now totally inadequate; but still very grateful for. Hence the procession of the old and weak leaning on walking sticks, even crutches or on willing supporting arms offered them.

Some years ago, questioned by Cassandra, an obliging woman Grama Sevaka said that those unable to present themselves are visited in their homes by officers. We do hope this is done since there must be plenty thumb twiddlers in this government department too.

Bravo Hirunika!

Cass most definitely is an admirer of beautiful Hirunika. She’s garnered another kudos by her latest action, OK, gimmick if you like that word to express the way she has shown displeasure, censure, disagreement of the general public on holding an elaborate National Day event to celebrate 75 years of’ democratic self-rule’ at the exorbitant cost of Rs 200m.. That expression itself calls for comment. Termed National Day it is far from being thus with so many protesting various issues. Celebration is a blatant falsehood. Feb 4 should really be a day of mourning, since the Nation is in the dregs of corruption, misrule and bankruptcy. Self-rule here equates to selfish rule by the leaders for themselves and misrule for us the public. Democracy is dead, actually it was totally dead during previous regimes but has revived somewhat lately,

And how did Hirunika express censure? By having black bows knotted on the posts erected to prop covered spaces for the march past, etc. Black connotes death, mourning, displeasure, bad times. Of course at expense, the bows will be removed before the posse of horses and motor riders and security cars conducts the Prez to the s venue. Cass entertains a jaundiced wish that the entire DPL Corps will, non-diplomatically, ignore invitation and not be present at the celebratory event. Rows and rows of empty chairs might convey the message of non grata, rather disdain for the powers that be. Ranil may be respected still, but those backing him and even guiding his hands are NOT.

Cheers till we meet next Friday!

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Gandhian Ethics




The word ethics is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’, which means ‘way of living’. The judgement of right and wrong, what to do and what not to do, and how one ought to act, form ethics. It is a branch of philosophy that involves systematising, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour.

Morality is the body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, or culture. It can also derive from a standard that a person believes in. The word morals is derived from the Latin word ‘mos’, which means custom.

Many people use the words Ethics and Morality interchangeably. However, there is a difference between Ethics and Morals. To put it in simple terms, Ethics = Moral + reasoning.For example, one might feel that it is morally wrong to steal, but if he/ she has an ethical viewpoint on it, it should be based on some sets of arguments and analysis about why it would be wrong to steal. Mahatma Gandhi is considered as one of the greatest moral philosophers of India. The highest form of morality in Gandhi’s ethical system is the practice of altruism/self-sacrifice.

For Gandhi, it was never enough that an individual merely avoided causing evil; they had to actively promote good and actively prevent evils. The ideas and ideals of Gandhi emanated mainly from: (1) his inner religious convictions including ethical principles embedded in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity; (2) the exigencies of his struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the mass political movements during India’s freedom struggle; and (3) the influence of Tolstoy, Carlyle and Thoreau etc. He was a moralist through and through and yet it is difficult to write philosophically about his ethics.

This is because Gandhi is fundamentally concerned with practice rather than with theory or abstract thought, and such philosophy as he used was meant to reveal its ‘truth’ in the crucible of experience. Hence, the subtitle of his Autobiography ~ ‘the story of my experiments in truth.’ The experiments refer to the fact that the truth of concept, values, and ideals is fulfilled only in practice.

Gandhi’s ethics are inextricably tied up with religion, which itself is unconventional. Though an avowed Hindu, he was a Hindu in philosophical rather than a sectarian sense; there was much Hindu ritual and practice that he subjected to critique.

In his Ethical Religion, published in 1912 based on lectures delivered by him, Gandhi had stated simply that he alone cannot be called truly religious or moral whose mind is not tainted with hatred and selfishness, and who leads a life of absolute purity and of disinterested services. Without mental purity or purification of motive, external action cannot be performed in selfless spirit. Goodness does not consist in abstention from wrong but from the wish to do wrong; evil is to be avoided not from fear but from the sense of obligation. Consistency was less important to Gandhi than moral earnestness, and rules were less useful than specific norms of human excellence and the appreciation of values. Politics is a comprehensive term which is associated with composition and operation of state structure as well as its interrelationship with other states. It is activity centred around power and very often deprived of morals. With its power-mongering, amoral Machiavellianism, and its valorisation of expediency over principle, and of successful outcomes over scrupulous means, politics is an uncompromising avenue for saintliness. Inclusion of ethics in politics seemed to be a contradiction to many contemporary political philosophers.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others warned Gandhi before he embarked on a political career in India, “Politics is a game of worldly people and not of sadhus.” Introducing spirituality into the political arena would seem to betoken ineffectiveness in an area driven by worldly passions and cunning. It is perhaps for these reasons that Christ himself appeared to be in favour of a dualism: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” In this interpretation, the standards and norms that apply to religion are different from those relevant to politics.

Gandhi by contrast, without denying the distinction between the domain of Caesar and that of God, repudiates any rigid separation between the two. As early as 1915, Gandhi declared his aim “to spiritualise” political life and political institutions.

Politics is as essential as religion, but if it is divorced from religion, it is like a corpse, fit only for burning. In the preface to his autobiography, Gandhi declared that his devotion of truth had drawn him into politics, that his power in the political field was derived from his spiritual experiments with himself, and those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means. Human life being an undivided whole, no line could be drawn between ethics and politics. It was impossible to separate the everyday life of man, he emphasised, from his spiritual being. He said, “I feel that political work must be looked upon in terms of social and moral progress.” Gandhi is often called a saint among politicians. In an epoch of ‘globalisation of selfcentredness’ there is a pressing necessity to comprehend and emulate the moralistic dimension of Gandhian thought and re-evaluate the concept of politics. The correlation between ends and means is the essence of Gandhi’s interpretation of society in terms of ethical value rather than empirical relations. For Gandhi, means and ends are intricately connected.

His contention was, “For me it is enough to know the means. Means and ends are convertible terms in my philosophy.” Gandhi countered the assertion that ends vindicate means. If the means engaged are unjust there is no possibility of achieving satisfactory outcomes. He compared the means to a seed and the end to a tree. Gandhi stuck to this golden ideal through thick and thin, without worrying about the immediate results. He was convinced that our ultimate progress towards the goal would be in exact proportion to the purity of our means.

Gandhi believed that “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” His seven social sins refer to behaviours that go against ethical code and thereby weaken society. When values are not strongly held, people respond weakly to crisis and difficulty. The seven sins are: (1) Wealth without work; (2) Pleasure without conscience; (3) Knowledge without character; (4) Commerce without morality; (5) Science without humanity; (6) Religion without sacrifice; and (7) politics without principle. Gandhi’s Seven Sins are an integral part of Gandhian ethics.

The Satyagraha (Sanskrit and Hindi: ‘Holding into truth’) as enunciated by Gandhi seeks to integrate spiritual values, community organisation and selfreliance with a view to empower individuals, families, groups, villages, towns and cities. It became a major tool in the Indian struggle against British Imperialism and has since been adopted by protest groups in other countries.

According to the philosophy of Satyagraha, Satyagrahis (Practitioners of Satyagraha) achieve correct insight into the real nature of an evil situation by observing a non-violence of the mind, by seeking truth in a spirit of peace and love, and by undergoing a rigorous process of self-scrutiny. In so doing, the satyagrahi encounters truth in the absolute. By refusing to submit to the wrong or to cooperate with it, the satyagrahi must adhere to non-violence. They always warn their opponents of their intentions and forbid any tactic suggesting the use of secrecy to one’s advantage. Satyagraha seeks to conquer through conversion: in the end, there is neither defeat nor victory but rather a new harmony. Gandhi’s Satyagraha always highlighted moral principles. By giving the concept of Satyagraha, Gandhi showed mankind how to win over greed and fear by love.

There was no pretension or hypocrisy about Gandhi. His ethics do not stem from the intellectual deductive formula. ‘Do unto others as you would have them unto you.’ He never asked others to do anything which he did not do. It is history how he conducted his affairs. He never treated even his own children in any special manner from other children, sharing the same kind of food and other facilities and attending the same school. When a scholarship was offered for one of his sons to be sent to England for higher education, Gandhi gave it to some other boy. Of course, he invited strong resentment from two of his sons and there are many critics who believe that Gandhi neglected his own children, and he was not the ideal father. His profound conviction of equality of all men and women shows the essential Gandhi who grew into a Mahatma.

The question of why one should act in a moral way has occupied much time in the history of philosophical inquiry. Gandhi’s answer to this is that happiness, religion and wealth depend upon sincerity to the self, an absence of malice towards others, exploitation of others, and always acting ‘with a pure mind.’ The ethical and moral standard Gandhi set for himself reveals his commitment and devotion to eternal principles and only someone like him who regulated his life and action in conformity with the universal vision of human brotherhood could say “My Life is My Message.” (The Statesman/ANN)

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Vibrant ties with M-E, a foreign policy priority for SL



Head table dignitaries with copies of ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’.

Economics primarily drive politics and this principle applies to Sri Lanka’s relations with almost the entirety of the world’s regions. The fact that economic interdependence is compelling this country to break new ground in its ties with the Middle East bears this out fully.

Over the decades, Sri Lanka has prioritized the need to sustain vibrant ties with the Arab countries of the Middle East and this is quite in order when Sri Lanka’s overwhelming dependence on the region for its oil supplies and for increasing employment opportunities for its labour force are taken into consideration. However, the need is great, owing primarily to growing local economic compulsions, for Sri Lanka to adopt a more studied approach to strengthening its relations with the Middle East.

The latter exercise needs to be research-based if it is to bear ample fruit and it is for this reason that the re-launch of a study titled, ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’ by a Sri Lankan diplomat with considerable work experience in the Middle East in general and Oman in particular, O.L. Ameer Ajwad, should be welcomed. The book was re-launched on January 12 under the aegis of the The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, at the latter’s auditorium in the presence of an audience that consisted of, among others, ambassadors from a number of West Asian countries, including those of Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The book was initially published on February 17, 2021, to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Sri Lanka-Oman diplomatic relations and its re-launch served to emphasize the importance that Sri Lanka should attach to its wide-ranging ties with Oman. The author, a one-time ambassador of Sri Lanka to Oman, is currently the Director General of the Performance Review and Implementation Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The re-launch of the book was a collaboration among the LKI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka and the embassy of the Sultanate of Oman in Sri Lanka.

The book was formally launched by Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya, Foreign Secretary Aruni Wijewardena, Ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman to Sri Lanka Ahmed Ali Saeed Al Rashdi and the author.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry who addressed the audience as Chief Guest at the re-launch, following a welcome address by the LKI’s Actg. Executive Director Ms. E.A.S.W. Edirisinghe, said, among other things, that the book needed to be welcomed as a literary endeavor on the part of the author ‘to preserve the institutional memory of the Sri Lankan mission in Oman.’ It also needed to be valued in view of the fact that it ‘proposed a road map through an envoy’s personal experience, for future cooperation between Sri Lanka and the Sultanate of Oman.’ Minister Ali Sabry mentioned the elevating of relations with the countries of the Middle East as a policy priority for Sri Lanka.

State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya, while focusing on Sri Lanka’s centuries-long ties with the Arab world, highlighted the importance of connecting the ports of Colombo and Sohar of Oman by a direct feeder service. The aim should be to create a trans-shipment hub for the respective regions, as proposed by the author.

It was left to Ambassador Ameer Ajwad to present to the audience a comprehensive overview of the contents of the publication. He said chapter five was especially important because it outlined in considerable detail the future course economic relations in particular between the countries could take.

The author does right by focusing on economic diplomacy in his publication. This holds the key to cementing cordial bonds among countries in contemporary times, given that antagonistic relations among states have the effect of perpetuating economic stagnation within countries. The latter condition is a sure recipe for intra-country social discontent and violence, besides acting as a stimulant for continued inter-state friction.

One of the chief strengths of ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’, is the stress it lays on the need for the countries concerned to exploit economic complementarities that exist between them in a number of areas, for the furtherance of shared development. There is tremendous potential here that is going untapped, the author points out. If utilized judiciously these complementarities could prove a vital factor in the economic betterment of the countries.

Some of these areas offering ‘synergies of growth’ or the potential for mutual cooperation are: trade and investment, agriculture and fisheries, tourism, education and maritime cooperation, to name a few. In this connection the author stresses that: ‘It is the lack of awareness of each other’s potentials and opportunities available in many areas of mutual interest’, that is getting in the way of the countries dynamically cooperating further for shared material improvement.

It is hoped that in the days ahead the Sri Lankan authorities would not only act on the insights thrown-up by Ambassador Ameer Ajwad but take into consideration the need to cooperate with the countries of the Middle East over existing divides, one of which is described as the ‘Arab-Israeli’ conflict.

Fortunately, economic compulsions have been compelling Lankan governments to recognize Israel as an important state actor in the Middle East. Likewise, some Arab states have today ‘broken the ice’, so to speak, with Israel, and are interacting with it in the economic field. In the case of Sri Lanka, it is quite some time since Israel has been opening up employment opportunities for Sri Lankans in multiple areas, such as agriculture and care-giving.

Accordingly, economics dictate politics. Old, adversarial mindsets needs to change for the ushering of the common good. There is a need for the international community to enlist the support of the Arab world and all other sections that have been having strained ties with Israel, to work towards the realization of the ‘two state solution’ in the Middle East. This presents itself as an equitable mechanism.

Looking for economic complementarities among countries presents itself as a wise course to take in inter-state relations, considering these complementarities’ peace-building potential, and it is hoped that the international community would put this item high on its list of priorities in the days to come. From this viewpoint, ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’ needs to be seen as a model study in the field of international relations.

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