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No vaccine for rifts among communities; so, be careful



I firmly believe in the opinion expressed by MP Harin Fernando, that religions are being used by politicians to gain cheap votes and, no doubt, we say this is the cause for the ever worsening rifts among communities in Sri Lanka. An Indian national leader recently said ‘In search of cheap votes, politicians divide communities by race, religion and caste and create unrest among them which leads to clashes among them. You may succeed in finding vaccines to prevent, or cure, the current pandemic, but no Astra, Pfizer or Sputnik will help to cure the politicians created rifts among the communities, please avoid creating one!.

Peace activist Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools’. No country will ever prosper without peace among the communities. It is repeatedly pointed out the secret for Singapore’s success is the peaceful coexistence of all the communities living there.

With the Sinhala-Tamil New Year around the corner, I am reminded of my past pleasant memories. I would like to recall the peace and harmony every person enjoyed, prior to the unfortunate bloodshed, due to the civil war. My family was the sole Muslim family that lived down Nagahawatta Road, in Maharagama, in the mid-sixties, before I came to the Gulf on an assignment. The ten years of highly pleasant and enjoyable life I spent there still remains the best part of my life. Although our original plan was to return to our homeland on completion of the contract, one thing led to another, and finally I got involved in establishing a business organization with a local here. I cannot believe that I have now spent 46 years in the Gulf.

The recent turn of events, after the heartless massacre of the innocents by a few brutes, carrying Muslim names, but condemned by the entire Muslim community really saddened us living in the Gulf. The damage done to the country, through this ugly attack, and the clashes that followed to attack the Muslims who were truly opposed to this church massacre, gave bad publicity in most of the foreign media. All these really made me think hard and wonder ‘Where are the Sinhala and Muslim communities, I grew up with?’ However, the comforting factor is that the majority of the entire population is opposed to what took place in the past.

During the days prior to our departure, to the Gulf, we lived at Maharagama. Being the only Muslim family, among the solely Sinhala residents on Nagahawatta Road, it made us to receive much more attention, and care, from the neighbours, which I am sure, we wouldn’t have got such care even in an environment with our own community. The local Buddhist temple was just a hundred metres away from our house and the chief monk was a frequent visitor to my residence, equalling my visits to the temple in return. Once we were involved in a project to install a water-pump to the temple. I am proud to say I got enormous support from my Buddhist friends in my workplace, where I worked then, to accomplish this job. I cannot imagine how grateful the chief monk was about the little thing I could do, in the successful installation of that pump. He chose the project I handled as a main topic to speak in every ‘pinkama’ that followed thereafter in the temple.

Although there were three other houses, with refrigerators, on the same road, most of the poor neighbours chose our house to store their homemade fruit salads for any ‘Dana’ for the monks. It was something extraordinary to see how our house gets filled with sweets on the Sinhala New Year day, in addition to lunch and dinner delivered by the immediate neighbours. We would reciprocate this good friendly gesture on both our Eid days, namely Ramadan and Hajj. The extraordinarily friendly atmosphere prevailed then really touched our heart. They, I repeat, were the best years of our life.

On one instance, my mother-in-law noticed that someone had plucked two young coconuts from our ‘Gundera’ tree. As everyone knows, these trees are dwarf and even a child could have easily reached the bunch of coconuts. The good old lady confided this to the nextdoor neighbour, Yaswathie, who straight away passed the message to the chief monk. Incidentally, the monk is from Kumbalgamuwa –Weligama, which is my birthplace, too. He could not bear this and had told the nextdoor neighbour that it was an insult to all of us and we had to find the culprits. He sent people around and caught the two boys who were in their early teens. He ordered their parents to take the children to me and apologise to me. The following day, the parents visited me with the boys. After serving them refreshment I told the parents to take them home because it was really an embarrassment for me to have them apologizing to me for two young coconuts. The parents said, ‘Loku Hamuduruwo’ will not spare us, if we don’t give him a satisfactory answer.’ I assured them that I would tell the chief monk that they had visited my home and I had pardoned them.

I am simply bewildered now with what I read frequently in local newspapers about the prevailing situation in some areas back home. I also vividly remember my school days, in a Sinhala school, at Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, in Weligama, where I was the only Muslim student and where I was not treated differently for being a boy from the minority community. On the other hand, I got the best of attention from my fellow students and as well as the teachers. My best friends still are those who grew up with me in school. Then, I remember my working life in Colombo, where the communal identity was never an issue at any time and we enjoyed being together to the maximum.

I urge the leaders of both communities to study in depth what really has gone wrong. I also urge the government to help the two communities restore their good relations. I learn through the media only a few political parties have taken this matter seriously and the JVP is one of them and it has taken up this noble task to bring all communities to coexist in peace and harmony. I hope other political parties too will join hands to achieve this goal.

I am yearning to see the Sinhala and Muslim communities, I knew, during my school days, during my working life, and most importantly the years I spent at Nagahawatta Road in Maharagama. Long live Sri Lanka! May coexistence among all communities prevail in our beloved motherland!




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What went wrong?



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

I am stuck in the UK, badly missing trips back home, but I have been closely following the developments in Sri Lanka, especially with regard to the Covid-19 epidemic and the engulfing political drama. It was no great effort either, as plenty of time was available, being almost totally housebound, dreading to go out as the virus was killing thousands and thousands in the UK. What was remarkable, initially, was how badly the UK controlled the pandemic and how well Sri Lanka did. Total number of deaths in Sri Lanka remained very low for months whilst the Brits were dying in large numbers. It is the other way around, now; deaths due to Covid-19 in Sri Lanka are exceeding that of the UK now. What went wrong?

Whilst Sri Lanka is grappling with a resurgence, caused by the excesses indulged during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festivities, the British government recently announced significant relaxation of pandemic preventive measure. It expects the country to be ‘near-normal’ by mid-June, if the present trends continue. One may argue that normalcy cannot be guaranteed until the virus is controlled, globally, as well stated in the editorial “All hat and no cattle” (The Island, 10th May). The editor argued that “the only way out is to follow the motto—unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (‘one for all, all for one’).”

Although both are island nations, admittedly, the UK and Sri Lanka are poles apart, on many counts, most significant being the availability of resources. The UK is rich enough to buffer the resultant economic downturn, whereas Sri Lanka was struggling, economically, even before the epidemic. Therefore, attempts by the Sri Lankan government, to keep the economy afloat, are mandated by sheer necessity, although the Opposition accuses it of endangering lives. The big question is how to strike the right balance. At the time of Independence, our economy was in better shape than that of the Brits, but where are we, now? That, however, is another story.

At the start of the pandemic, the UK was slow to close its borders. Again, it was a tough call because Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. The UK paid heavily, in terms of lives lost, because of this. UK politicians took the advice of expert committees, and whether the initial failures were due to wrong advice by scientists or not, we will not know until the findings of the committee, to be appointed by the British government, is available. However, the UK government took serious notice of the advice by scientists, regarding the need for mass vaccination, and placed orders for vaccines, even before trials for their effectiveness were concluded. That strategy paid off. Already, two-thirds of the adult population in the UK has received one dose and one-third of has received the second dose, as well. It was interesting to follow the progress: as the vaccination drive proceeded, the number of cases, the numbers in intensive care, and the number of deaths, progressively plummeted.

If there are any vaccine doubters, they need to look at what happened in the UK. I am personally aware of many ‘so-called educated’ vaccine-doubters. The responses in a WhatsApp group, started by a friend of mine, are very illuminating. There is a nutritionist who argues against vaccination, suggesting that boosting immunity, by nutrition, is the way forward. Professor Emeritus Saman Gunatilake has addressed this issue, academically, in his illuminating piece “Boosting immune system to fight Covid-19: Is it possible?” (The Island, 7 May). There is a media lawyer who supports the nutritionist and sends contrasting messages. Three hours, after forwarding a message which states that CDC data shows the survival rate, for under 69, is over 99%, he forwards another message stating that a site by the University of Washington predicts Sri Lanka will soon have 200 deaths daily. Both ‘experts’ take part in TV discussions and are very likely to be passing on wrong messages, as they are continually forwarding anti-vaccine messages, the latest being that vaccination has made the epidemic worse. Wonder why they callously disregard the success of the UK. Covid-19 has given rise to a plethora of experts who give widely differing opinions about many things, including the UK variant, but the UK is successfully controlling the epidemic, with vaccination, which is estimated to have saved at least 10,000 lives so far.

It is a pity these vaccine-doubters overlook the fact that some diseases are eradicated, thanks to vaccines. The most successful vaccine ever is the smallpox vaccine, which enabled the eradication of the dreaded disease that existed for millennia, killing more than 300 million, in the 20th century, and around 500 million, during the last 100 years of its existence, including six monarchs. Initially, before Edward Jenner introduced vaccination, with the cowpox virus, in 1796, direct inoculations, with smallpox virus, were used, which had a mortality rate of 3% but this was acceptable as the mortality rate of smallpox was around 30%-40%.

Some exaggerate the risks of vaccination. There is no drug, without side-effects, and vaccines are no exception. Concern about the Oxford AZ vaccine causing Superficial Cerebral Vein Thrombosis was made use of by the German Chancellor to promote the Pfizer vaccine, which was developed by a German bio-tech company. Medicine and Healthcare Regulatory Agency of the UK made a detailed study and recommended, when possible, those under 40 should be offered an alternative vaccine but emphasized the safety of AZ vaccine. To put in perspective, the birth control pill poses a greater risk of causing venous thrombosis; so does Covid-19 itself.

What went wrong, in Sri Lanka, is putting sentiment over science. The government failed to establish an expert committee, which could have been done easily as we are not short of real experts in the relevant fields. The decisions made by that committee could have been translated to practice by the committee, headed by the Army Commander. Another failing was the lack of proper communication. In the UK, the Prime Minister, or one of the senior ministers, together with senior scientists, hold regular press conferences.

Instead, what did we do? Our Health Minister polluted rivers with pots, devised by a faith-healer, and then drank a syrup, made by a charlatan. She wasted the valuable time of Professors of Medicine, as well as resources, to investigate a piece of garbage that was found to be useless, whilst the kapuwa minded money, at the expense of the gullible. Now, a member of my profession also has joined the band-wagon of deception. A non-specialist doctor has joined hands with his brother to sell a concoction of herbs etc.! Why hasn’t the Minister taken action against this errant medic?

We have a State Minister, a Professor of Pharmacology, who sees the benefits of Ayurveda for political reasons! The mother country of Ayurveda, meanwhile, is reeling with Covid-19. If Ayurveda is effective, surely that cannot happen!

All this happens while we have a State Minister, a specialist in communicable diseases, who speaks sense but is largely ignored!

The Minister of Transport reverses the decisions of Medical officers of Health and then blames the poor government servants, stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, for carrying out his orders. The virus is having a hearty laugh and now infecting his voters!

We thought the President would act decisively once he regained full executive powers from the 20th Amendment, but he seems less powerful than before! The need of the hour is not to protect errant politicians, or unproven systems of treatment, but directing all efforts at getting adequate stocks of vaccines to overcome the epidemic.

It is high time the President considered sacking the incompetent and idiotic ministers. Otherwise, he might as well forget about a second term!

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The Organic Ideal – Killing Two Birds with One Stone!




The government has very boldly embarked on a long-delayed project of transforming our agricultural habits of heavy dependence on harmful chemical fertiliser to the old method of organic fertilisation. The chemical fertiliser lobby is as strong, if not stronger than the pharmaceutical one. The life story of Dr Senake Bibile speaks for itself! As for the fertiliser lobby, some decades ago, a high-up in a media institution confided in me how he was compelled to jettison his media campaign against chemical fertiliser, about which he was very forcefully using his pen through immense pressure brought about by the strong lobby.

Quite apart from the international connections, please permit the writer to relate a personal experience he had with a media institution, where a certain article he wrote, very much irked a then local high-profile businessman, almost ruling the roost at the time, where this powerful personality had come down hard on the Head of the media institution, threatening to withdraw his advertising budget of sizeable proportion! To the eternal credit of the Editor, he did not join his Boss who had decided to call on the irate customer (Head of a mighty Group then, mind you) who thought he had a right to intervene and control its media policy.

Being privy to the immense power, these lobbies wield, and how they will use it to sabotage any effort which would undermine their business interests, notwithstanding public and human interests, it would be utterly puerile, and even foolish, to confront them in any meaningful way, if political interests are to take precedence. Their money power and influence are capable of winning over, not only sections of the population, but also politicians. Governments can be toppled in the process.

The defeated forces have now received some oxygen, and we see even the high and mighty, who were sent reeling home at the polls, attempting to make their presence felt. There is everything which points to financing by the fertiliser lobby, against the organic fertiliser issue. It is left for the government to be wise about such and other possibilities, when steering on the drive towards its laudable goal. The government failed to rope in the hoarders of rice, despite its rhetoric, and now they are faced with a similar situation in the fertiliser shortage. The remedies the government suggests seem to be worse than the disease. People are sick and tired of seeing any government playing politics, and attempting to find solutions which would please the electorate or business interests, rather than what is needed, and good for the country. To hell with the next election and commission agents; people will rally round results eventually. It has the battle against the LTTE as a feather in the cap. 

Two birds with one stone 

While on the subject of organic fertiliser, the writer wishes to draw the attention of the authorities to the vast acreage of waterways, rivers and canals, covered and infested with water-based plants, like “Japan Jabara’ (water hyacinth) and other odd plants., causing, inter alia, a huge health hazard. This clogging has almost diminished, or made extinct, the fish concentrations, and adversely affected a popular inland fisheries network and breeding of new varieties. This can be a source of nutrition to a vast number of people in villages, and contribute towards employment, too. The water plants thus removed could be tested for their various properties, which could contribute in no small measure to the preparation of organic fertiliser, using it as a cost-effective input to the preparation of organic fertiliser. If I remember right, some research is already available in this regard. It is reported that some outfits have already been lined up to prepare organic fertilizer. These companies, or outfits, can do the clearing and preparation at their own cost, which could be far cheaper than importing organic fertiliser, or importing certain ingredients to manufacture the final product. Some of it could possibly be diverted to the Energy sector. Side by side, farmers can be mobilised to prepare their own needs, or part of them.

How about it, Mr President and Mr Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Services?

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More on ‘Hi Machan’



I wish to add my two cents to the above-mentioned article, well versed by MA Kaleel of Kalmunai in The Island of 10/5/21. I really don’t know whether he was in a university, either here or abroad, since some of the descriptions are mainly confined to the University vocabulary.

I wish to deal with some events from my University (Peradeniya) days where the word Machan had some relationship. The first episode was when a fellow student’s late father came to visit him at the Wijewardena Hall. The bathrooms, in the hall, at that time, were similar to a barber’s shop, where the door was used to hang the towel, until the bathing was finished. One day, a student was bathing in one of the cubicles, having hung the towel on the door. Someone shouted ‘Machan, your father has come to see you’. In his haste to meet him, he has forgotten the towel which was anyway not there, probably hidden by some of his Machans. This was a regular feature in the boys’ halls of residence. When he entered the room, in his birthday suit, his father was seated chatting with his roommate (who I think was a co-conspirator) . His father could only say Putha and he never repeated that act.

Dealing with the use of the word is confined only to males. I beg to disagree, since I have heard such conversations with my own ears, particularly if one lives close to a Hall of residence. (As to what a male student was doing in a female hall of residence is another story!)

When one studies in a University, with several disciplines, the word machan is very handy. When I returned to Sri Lanka, having completed my postgraduate studies, I had to obtain special permission to clear our baggage (including that of my wife). The clerk indicated that I would have to pay a hefty demurrage. Then I saw a gentleman, peeping through a glass door, and, lo and behold, he was the Commissioner of Customs, another machan Peradeniya. Everything was cleared in a few minutes. There are several such incidents where our sojourn at Peradeniya helped us in various ways. All these gentlemen were machans in the campus and I hear that the tradition is still maintained, but at a lower scale.



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