The Kandy Man – An Autobiography, Volume one (1939-1977),
By Sarath Amunugam. Vijitha Yapa Publications (2020).548 pages
Reviewed by Leelananda De Silva
In two years, Sri Lanka should celebrate 75 years since independence. During this period, there have been dramatic social, cultural and economic changes. The British inheritance is fading fast, whether it be in Government and administration, politics and constitution making, in education and in foreign relations. It is time for the university academics or some others to consider writing the history of Sri Lanka these last 75 years and capture the momentous changes that have occurred. Whether that history will be written in Sinhalese, Tamil or English is yet to be seen. Sarath Amunugama’s volume is an important building block in constructing that history.
Amunugama is one of the outstanding personalities of Sri Lanka in our generation. An academic, top administrator and leading politician, he has played an important role in Sri Lankan public life. He has lived in and served the country in an era of rapid change. Amunugama is one of the very few members of the Ceylon Civil Service to have moved into high level politics after 1948. The others were C. Suntheralingam, C. Sittampalam, Walwin. A. de Silva, Ronnie de Mel and Nissanka Wijeyaratne. The volume under review is only the first part of a three-volume autobiography. Broadly, the current volume addresses three broad areas – his education at Trinity College, Kandy in the 1940s and at the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya in the 1950s; as a high level district administrator in the 1960s; and at the centre of Government as Director of Information in the 1970s. He has straddled the demarcations between administration and politics with ease and he has worked with politicians of all hues comfortably.
Trinity College, Kandy
The first chapter of this volume deals with his school days at Trinity College, Kandy. He offers us a wide ranging picture of Trinity and also of Kandy of that time. He describes College academic life, sports and cadeting and student debates with other schools, especially the girls’ schools in Kandy. Regrettably, there is no reference to the subjects they debated about. Amunugama has great admiration for some of his teachers. Hillary Abeyaratne was one of his heroes, and others were R.R. Breckenridge, Willy Hensman and Gordon Burrows. He greatly admired his Principal, Norman Walter, probably one of the last school principals of British origin in Sri Lanka. Walter wrote to the Vice Chancellor of the University requesting that Amunugama be admitted to the University although he was underage, a request that could not be granted.
Our generation, whether it be from schools in Colombo or Galle, knew of Trinity largely because of a famous Principal, A.G. Fraser and a British teacher and preacher, Rev. W.S. Senior, who wrote some delightful, haunting poetry about Kandy. Amunugama’s story of Trinity could have been better if he dealt with the history of Trinity and the influence the College had on the Kandyan middle and upper classes. Trinity was a great inheritance from British days.
The University at Peradeniya
In the 1950s, the University at Peradeniya (part of the University of Ceylon) was unique in the history of universities in Sri Lanka. It had only about a thousand students, and the faculties were almost entirely of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. There was no Physical Science, Engineering or Medicine. This lasted for only a decade. The undergraduates lived in halls of residence not far from each other. All this tended to make the university a friendly and even homely place, with friendships across disciplines and residencies.
Amunugama seems to have enjoyed the university in his four years there and was fully engaged in its academic, political and cultural life. He was active in various groups, especially with E.R. Sarachchandra and Siri Gunasinghe. This was the time of Maname, a Sarachchandra play which revolutionized Sri Lankan drama and with which Amunugama was closely associated. He offers us an excellent picture of the cultural activities of the university at that time. This was also a time when undergraduates studied in the English medium and yet Sinhala culture was flourishing.
He offers us a fascinating picture of the Sociology department at the university in its early days. S.J. Thambiah and Gananath Obeysekara were students and lecturers. Later on, they were to become world class academics, teaching at Princeton and Harvard in the U.S.A. Laksiri Jayasuriya and Ralph Pieris were other leading academics. There are engaging pen portraits of these academics. Amunugama appears to be an admirer of Ralph Pieris, who was his teacher. He tells us the story of Jennings’s hesitation in setting up departments of Sinhala culture and sociology as these subjects were strange to the Oxbridge traditions from which Jennings had emerged. He also tells us of the differences that Martin Wickramasinghe had with Jennings’ approach to Sinhala cultural studies and also of the pioneering role played by Professor Ratnasuriya who died young. The volume also offers us some insight into university politics but there is no space to get into detail here. However it must be noted that Amunugama was President of the Union Society at Peradeniya during his time there. Overall, the volume offers an engaging picture of the University at Peradeniya of the 1950s.
Since Amunugama entered the Ceylon Civil Service in 1963 (the CCS was abolished soon after), the next seven years of his career was in district administration. He served as AGA and Additional GA in Galle, Ratnapura and Kandy districts. Amunugama’s academic background was ideal to deal with the range of issues that he had to face in the districts. His 200-page story of his engagement in district administration reminds me of Leonard Woolf’s volume “Growing 1904 – 1911” (the second volume of his five volume autobiography, published in the 1960s), which is about his seven years in Ceylon and when he was engaged in district administration. Unlike in imperial days, the district administrator in the 1960s had to deal with politicians and a democratic government. They were no longer the rulers like Leonard Woolf.
The young Civil Servant’s interests were so expansive that he was in a position to fruitfully interact in the area of agriculture and lands and irrigation, culture, the arts and the temples and with the politics of these districts. In the Galle district, where he served for nearly three years, he established a good relationship with the legendary W. Dahanayake, MP for Galle and his Minister of Home Affairs in later years. Amunugama was immersed in the cultural life of the Galle district and he had a friendly relationship with the DROs of the area. When in Galle, he became very familiar with the backgrounds of two of the great cultural figures of our time – Martin Wickramasinghe and Gunadasa Amarasekara, visiting many of the villages and the scenes depicted in their novels.
In the Kandy district, Amunugama was again very involved in the political and cultural life of the district. He initiated the concept of mobile kacheries which enabled the villagers, instead of coming to Kandy, to have their problems addressed near their own villages. He also initiated a more effective approach to increase the productive capacity of farmers. Local village level officials who should assist the farmers were not living in the villages they were officially attached to, but were commuting to their own homes. Amunugama started the practice of giving these field officers lands of their own, so that they will live with the farmers and work with them. He has many stories to relate about his relationships with the politicians of the day like Anuruddha Ratwatte in Kandy. In the Ratnapura district, he was deeply engaged in land development in the Udawalawe and Chandrika weva colonization schemes.
Overall, the chapters entitled “The Ceylon Civil Service” and “Government Agent”, are in effect addressing issues in district administration. It’s a matter of some curiosity why he titled these two chapters in this way instead of making them chapters on district administration. By the time he was AGA and Additional GA and serving in the districts, the CCS had been abolished. The CCS lasted only the first year of his public service career. Since that time, he and other ex-CCS officers were members of the Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS).
I understand the hesitations of some of the ex-CCS personnel to use the new CAS nomenclature. However, difficult it is for them, to call themselves CCS after its abolition in 1963, is like Grama Sevakas calling themselves village headmen and DROs calling themselves Mudliyars. These were denominations of an imperial era. Amunugama tells us that when their batch joined the CCS, on their first day, the then Secretary to the Treasury and Head of the CCS, Shirley Amarasinghe addressed them on how to behave. Interestingly, within one year of that day, Shirley Amarasinghe (who was only 50 years old at the time) himself left the CCS and joined the Ceylon Overseas Service to go as High Commissioner to India.
Director of Information
Amunugama moved into the centre of Government when he was appointed Director of Information in 1968 when Dudley Senanayake was Prime Minister. He continued his tenure under Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike when she became Prime Minister in 1970. This is an assignment which suited Amunugama’s academic, administrative and political skills. His story of these years is compulsive reading and there are entertaining stories of politics at the highest level. At a young age, he was able to interact with the top politicians of his day. During this period, he also engaged in what looks to be his pastime – international travel – which he has done extensively over the years. In fact, the volume has many paragraphs and stories of his foreign travels including a long spell in Canada reading for a postgraduate degree.
As Director of Information, he was privy to much of the politics of his time. There are fascinating stories of the tensions between the LSSP and the SLFP when they were in coalition in the 1970s. There are engaging portraits of R. Premadasa when he was Minister of Local Government. Who could have known that Premadasa, when he was Deputy Minister of Local Government, had a very high regard for his Minister M. Tiruchelvam at the time when the UNP had formed a coalition with the Federal Party.
The writer relates the story of how the State Film Corporation was shifted from his ministry to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, where I had to handle its affairs. There are many other vignettes of his time as Director of Information of top politicians like Dudley Senanayake, Mrs. Bandaranaike, N.M. Perera and many others.
To conclude my review, let me refer to the long Preface of this book which addresses questions of writing biographies and autobiographies. Many biographies in Sri Lanka of leading politicians are largely hagiographies, praising them no end. This was the pattern of autobiographical writing too. In the early 1920s, there was a dramatic change in the art of biographical writing. Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury group (a close friend of Leonard and Virginia Woolf) wrote his “Eminent Victorians” which changed the art of biography. Of his chosen few biographical topics, which included Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale, he wrote about these leading icons of that generation, warts and all, bringing them down a peg or two.
This introduced a new form of biography, which was more investigative, critical and more true to the lives of their subjects. Autobiographies can never be swallowed whole. To paraphrase Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet, no power has given us the gift “to see ourselves as others see us.” That is the inherent weakness of autobiography. Amunugama’s first volume of a three volume autobiography is an outstanding work in its field, and is a great addition to our knowledge of our contemporary times. It was a pleasure to read.
Ranjan loses the People’s Crown
Last week it was Avurudu Thel Keliya. Now we have come to Ranjan Keliya.
SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake has been removed from Parliament, in what is said to be in keeping with the decision of the Court of Appeal, to reject his application against the Supreme Court order sentencing him to four years of imprisonment for Contempt of court.
A parliament, of which Ranjan was a most active and spoken member, has shown its overall failure to deal with an issue that affects the rights of all citizens. The mockery of it all is to have a parliament where a person found guilty of murder and imprisoned by a court order is allowed to be a member of the House, but a person guilty of contempt of Court, who has not injured or killed anyone, is removed from it.
With all due respect and honour to the judiciary, one must begin to look at the entire thinking and process of charging people for and punishing them for contempt of Court.
In the present parliamentary situation, with all the power that the President and the government have with a two-thirds plus majority, the future Independence of the Judiciary is certainly in question.
If Ramanayake has committed contempt of Court, he is now the player in calling for a change of our legislation on Contempt of Court. Is it truly wrong to criticise a member/or members of the judiciary; are they above the law; what is the practice and trend on this in other democracies?
It is time our Members of Parliament, the Bar Association and organizations of Civil Society made deep study of this entire issue, and moved to prevent the right of free speech being incorrectly restricted. We must look at how Contempt of Court is considered legally in the UK, from where we got this.
How is Contempt of court handled by the Courts of India, our closest neighbour and next to us in years of democracy? How is this issue handled in other democracies too such as France and Germany, and even the US?
The Ranjan Keliya has certainly brought us to realising the Contempt for Democracy that prevails, and is being expanded in Sri Lanka. This contempt is the reality of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, and the prevailing show of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Saubhagye Dekma”. Changing our laws on Contempt of Court to make them modern and democratic will be the real crowning of Ramanayake.
Beauty Queen crowns
We have now come to the Ru Rajina Otunu Keliya too. The story of the crown being grabbed from the new Mrs Sri Lanka has spread in the international media.
There was a lovely piece of social media, where Queen Elizabeth II of the UK is showing her joy at getting rid of Sri Lanka from the royalty domain as far back as 1948, as otherwise there would have been moves to grab her crown, too.
Mrs Sri Lanka or Mr. World is certainly not of much interest to us who are facing much bigger problems than the ownership of beauty crowns. Yet, the issue of a Mrs Sri Lanka or Mrs World having to be married does raise many issues today. Are the organizers of the global event thinking of temporary or shaky marriages, or those that last through decades and more, with a commitment to each other?
Can a person, who is undergoing the process of a divorce in a court of law, one who wants to leave a marriage through the law, be one who is really married? The very concept of marriage has undergone many changes in recent decades. Should these realities not be accepted by the organisers of these events?
Why not have a rule that a contestant for Mrs (Country) or Mrs World, should be married several times – as is fast becoming a reality in the west, and countries that are following such traditions.
We will certainly have candidates seeking the crown if a few or many marriages are a condition. It will also show a genuine interest in the promotion of marriages, without confining it to just a single marriage, even with a pending divorce.
We can then have a Mrs World, with a show of strength to those with achievements of more than one, or several marriages.
The “Vivahaka Ru Rajina” will then be a “Boho Vivahaka Ru Rajina”.
The current Mrs World, Caroline Jurie, who was the key crown remover in this show of crooked farce, and a model who helped her, are now facing action in the courts.
Marriage or not is certainly an issue for Miss or Mrs Sri Lanka. A winner of the very early Mrs Sri Lanka events had earlier contested a Miss Sri Lanka, while being married. If she had not lost the contest, we would have seen loud calls for her crown to be removed. The senior ladies who played a big role in this Mrs. Sri Lanka event, certainly reminded us of such past records.
Let the crown be with the people, whether married or not. The rising call is for the Janatha Kirula, against a Pol Thel or Seeni Vancha Kirula of the Abhagye Dekma.
A Pervasive Threat to Biodiversity and Human Security
By Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa
Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
Continued from yesterday
According to Prof. Wijesundara, in 1994, a multinational company, W.R. Grace and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were granted a patent by the European Patent Office (EPO) “Covering a (special) method for controlling fungi on plants by the aid of a hydrophobic extracted neem oil” that is diluted with a certain percentage of water was withdrawn in 2000. Lot of concern after 10-year battle, some patents on neem were squashed some still prevail. There are 65 patents so far only for neem. According to Prof. Kotagama, a US company wanted to produce insecticide from neem. They came with Azadariktin as a product. They obtain the patenting required to use and own neem. There is a law that if you are contesting patenting right it has to be in the country it is registered at. So the neem battle has to be fought in the US. With lot of money and help from the NGOs and help along with the Indian government they fought against this patenting. The company contested that they did not bring neem from Asia or India, they brought it from Africa because it grows in Africa. But it was identified that the seeds that had gone to Kenya had been coming from Sri Lanka according to the Registers of the forest department records from Sri Lank. Based on that evidence the patent was revoked. The neem campaign was consisting of a group of NGOs and individuals was initiated in 1993 in India. This was done to mobilize worldwide support to protect indigenous knowledge systems and resources of the Third World from piracy by the west particularly in light of emerging threats from intellectual property rights regimes under WTO and TRIPS. Neem patent became the first case to challenge European and US patents on the grounds of biopiracy.
Basmati Rice patent case is another instance bio-piracy was reversed. Prof. Kotagama remarked that it is known as the India – US Basmati Rice Dispute (Case number 493, Case Menemonic – Basmati; Patent number – US 5663484A, publication). A US company registered a new hybrid variety of Basmati. India and Pakistan got together and they fought using media, using negative advertisement and they squashed American variety of Basmati) proving ‘Texmati’ was not Basmati.
According to Prof. Sarath Kotagama, an Indian Ecologist, Vandana Shiva has said ‘bio-piracy deprives us in three ways: It creates a false claim to novelty and invention, even though the knowledge has evolved since ancient times as part of the collective and intellectual heritage of India”. Secondly “it divests scarce biological resources to monopoly control of corporations thus depriving local communities the benefits of its use” and thirdly “it creates market monopolies and excludes the original innovators (farmers) from their rightful share to local, national and global markets”. She fought a lot for the biodiversity conservation in India and a well-respected ecologist in India who also had to do much with the fight against Neem, Basmati and Turmeric.
There are similar cases where patents were revoked: Kava Kava from Fiji and Vanuatu; Quinoa from Andes; Banaba and other medical plantys from Philippines; Bitter gourd from Sri Lanka and Thailan; Ilang-Ilang from Philippines and Periwinkle from Madagascar, highlighted Prof. Wijesundara.
In 1989 bioprospecting started with the Institute of Biology established in Costa Rica purely for this purpose. It was the idea to do research on rainforests, animals and plants in Costa Rica and give the ownership to the country if something was discovered. However, this institute was dissolved in 2015 in Costa Rica. According to Prof. Kotagama, the institute still exists with the idea surveys on the resources of rainforests and commercialization of the products will be done for the benefit of Costs Rica. Prof. Kotagama highlighted why bio-piracy needs to be also understood in legal jargon. In the research paper “Bio piracy and its impact on Biodiversity: A Special review on Sri Lankan context” (Kusal Kavinda Amarasinghe), it has mentioned that 34 plants and animals have been taken out of Sri Lanka and Indian subcontinent and patent obtained for biological constituents already. According to Prof. Kotagama, Naja naja naja (Cobra) is an endemic spices in Sri Lanka and still it has lost the control from the country and others are using the species to derive benefits. Prof. Kotagama also highlighted that while there is so much indifference, there is so much consorted efforts to prevent bio-piracy and bio-theft in the countries like the Philippine, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nepal who have strengthen the situation and have increased regulations and continue strict border control measures.
Illegal Trafficking and Bio-Piracy
According to Prof. Siril Wijesundara, illegal trafficking is also directly linked to bio-piracy and theft. One of the ways that can prevent bio-piracy is through detecting illegal trafficking of various types of endemic and endangered plants and animals. Most common plant species affected by illegal trafficking in Sri Lanka at present are Gyrinops Walla Walla patta, Salacia reticulate Kothala Himbutiand Santalum album naturalized sandhun. Sri Lanka Customs have detected many instances of illegal trafficking. Target destination varies from India, Dubai, Pakistan, Australia, and China. The most popular destination for Kothala Himbotu today is China.
Another classic example of trafficking of plants is by misleading the authorities. Prof. Wijesundara highlighted that a plant called Kekatiya (Aponogeton crispus) were exported in large quantities under the name Aponogeton ulvaceus, a plant native to Madagascar. However, Prof. Siril Wijesuriya mentioned that during his tenure at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, he managed to test this plant and discovered it is a different plant from the one in Madagascar. After this discovery, this Sri Lankan variety of the plant (Kekatiya) was prohibited from being exported and necessary action were taken to a point where the company went out of business.
Importance of Utilizing the Chemical Compounds in the Medicinal Plants
Prof. Veranja Karunarathne highlighted the popularity among the people now for medicinal plants. That is because the Medicinal properties and compounds that are useful found in the medicinal plants. Natural products are made out of these compounds. According to him, the use of medicinal plants go over for 5000 years ago. Probably we have used medicinal plants since existence.
According to Prof. Veranja Karunarathne, the medicinal plants are being used in traditional medicinal systems popular in Sri Lanka such as Ayurveda, Deishiya Chikithsa, Siddha and Unani. Siddha and Unani don’t use much of the plants necessarily and have much to do with involving plants. In different medicinal systems, over 2500 plants are being used in Sri Lanka. These are being used for disease curing and ailments in traditional medicine practices. In the Western medicine sense, it is one compound for one disease. In Ayurveda and indigenous system, it is many compounds for one disease many compounds curing one disease. Pollypahrmachology is accepted in the indigenous system. These aspects of pollypahrmachology in traditional medicine are becoming valuable. If we take asprin that cures heart disease, it is isolated from Villon plant. Quinine that is used in Malaria prevention is isolated from cinchona plant. That is the practice of the Western medicine. Prof. Veranja Karunarathne says that if we look at plant evolution, it is evident that the plants didn’t intend to cure diseases. This evolution of the plants happened by co-evolving with the insects. It never intended to cure diseases for humans. In 1915, the Western medicine avoided using plants due to various issues including intellectual property matters and since plants are very difficult thing to manage. However, they have come back discovering medicine from plants. That is why co-evolution is important. Diversity of functional group of plants is important. Diversity of use of plants cannot be matched with the evolution of the plants.
From Kothala Himbotu, an endemic plant in Sri Lanka, water soluble anti diabetic compounds were found by Japanese scientist. There are over 50 patents for Kothala Himbotu plant. Sri Lanka has only one patent which was a discovery of a Sri Lankan team. As a Chemist who worked on the kothala himbotu plant and tried to find the chemical compounds, Prof. Karunarathne felt humiliated when Japanese scientists found that water based compound in the kothala himbotu plant. He used a Sri Lankan source and worked on a zeroing from Sri Lankan lichen, patented at the US patent office the, lichen called ziorine that can be used on cancer patients. Sri Lankan government dealing legally with bio-piracy is when they intervened to stop exporting Kothala Himbotu plant in bulk that is being used for anti-diabetic drug. For anti-diabetic drug creation some sections of the plant are still being exported, but in small quantities.
In the meantime, there is also bogus bio-piracy. An undergraduate student of University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka found out that Clarins skin care product in France is using Hortinia floribanda that is endemic to Sri Lanka.
In their website it was mentioned that this plant is being used to improve the skin tone. When studied their website, closely, they found that they are using plants found in amazon and plant found in Europe during winter. After finding the endemic Sri Lankan plant do not contribute to any skin tone improvement and when the research was published in National Science Foundation journal, the skin care production company removed the name of the plant from their website. This is an instance where bogus bio-piracy is being taken place and that it too needs to fight and that even an average Chemist can make a difference, said Prof. Varanja Karunarathne.
According to Prof. Varanja Karunarathne, there are about 3000 odd plants endemic to Sri Lanka, out of the total flowering plants, 2000 are endemic. Because of this density and diversity, UNESCO named Sri Lanka as a biodiversity hotspot. 1300 of these plants are in the Red book of endangered plants of Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the value of the plant is only the timber value. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka value plants in Sri Lanka only for its timber value which is a drawback. The government needs to fund for projects that study the chemistry of these plants, government never have done such in that greater scale. The chemists would want be able to study the chemistry inside the plant, the knowledge inside the plant. It is important to lobby to find the chemicals of these plants that are endangered to Sri Lanka. This means conserving the knowledge inside the plant is much more than just evaluating its value for timber. There is a far greater use of the plant than just the timber value.
During the discussion, Mr. Lakshman Gunasekara highlighted the importance of getting media involved along with the Scientists to intervene in promoting knowledge, education and awareness about bio-piracy and possible ways of counter-fighting it. He said that unlike in the past, mass communication can bring this issue to a different level. In this regard the scientific community needs to intervene in order for the media community to get activated. However, Prof. Siril Wijesundara made a remark that media is always working with political agendas, but Scientists are not and they cannot do so. Therefore, it is important, media step aside from political agendas and look at this issue apolitically.
Dr. Nirmal Dewasiri highlighted the colonial dimension of bio-piracy. With the involvement of government in bio-piracy and the inclusion of concept of government and empire –building bio-politics came into being. In empire building, establishing the political centre outside the location of the centre was important. Same is true to colonialism which was more than traditional Empire building exercise. It was new kind of administration, where there was capturing a grip on the land and space, fauna and flora. It was rather “governmentalization” which has multiple dimension. According to him, in that sense, colonialism is a multidimensional phenomenon. It is not more colonialism now; it is a new process. This is very much part of the enlightenment project at the time. It was governed by knowledge. Accumulation of information of social and natural environment became a new kind of project. The new political challenge is also this.
Prof. Nalani Hennayake highlighted the fact that how in terms of conservation and information sharing India came out with digital library registered with patent offices in the inventories library in the United States, while Sri Lanka has our own Red Book of inventory. She further highlighted the fact that countries like Sri Lanka having enough laws that needs immediate activation. Monopolizing the ownership needs to end and commercializing our plants needs to happen according to the Fauna and Flora Act in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka said no to digital register of plants in 1994 and we need to rethink such decisions mentioned the discussants.
In his concluding remarks, Prof. Veranja Karunarathne said that at present, other people are working on synthetic biology, combination of chemistry, biology and genomics, creating biosynthetic pathway of genes. Genes are mass produced in genomic mass factories which is controlled exploitation of bio wealth. That is where the world is heading and he says Sri Lanka needs to value the conserved knowledge inside the plant and explore the immense possibilities that the plants are presenting. Concluded
Acknowledged (only?) Statesman speaks out; so do a few others
The editor of The Sunday Island (April 4), mentions in his succinctly titled editorial – Down the pallang with no end in sight – this statesman. He speaks of Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha’s successful manouevre to curtail the power of the Rajapaksas and President Mahinda R’s attempt to go in for a third term of his presidency in 2014. Thus, the editor writes: “It is in this context that the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) that Ven Sobitha founded now led by respected elder statesman Karu Jayasuariya ….” The organisation is seeking to push the rulers on to a correction course. It seeks to project an apolitical stance and denies subversive interest. “The 20th Amendment that abolished the 19th has thrown the baby with the bathwater….” Cassandra adds – and we are drowning in the waters; floundering in fear and surrounded by sharks of the sugar and oil scams; also those who are still destroying our natural resources.
Karu wise plus experienced and apolitical
The same paper published on page 3 excerpts of what the Chairman NMSJ – Karu Jayasurirya – said at a press conference at Janaki Hotel Colombo, on April 2. His considered warning was ‘Don’t fiddle like Nero as the country plunges into a precipice.’ A due warning of rather mixed metaphors. Cass would have preferred … ‘as the country burns’, but plunging into a precipice is really more catastrophic and that, says many, is what is happening to this wonderful land of ours. We should all read and reread what Karu J had to say; we should analyse and see whether he was correct and then in our own small way try to obtain a change of course. The principle consideration is that Karu Jayasuriya speaks apolitically here as an elder statesman who has been both in politics and the private sector and knows full well what he is speaking about. If you want definite credentials on his ability and sincerity, recollect how he acted as Speaker of Parliament when the then Prez, Maitripala Sirisena stole the government from its elected members of Parliament and handed it over to his dire enemy of yesteryear, now befriended buddy – Mahinda Rajapaksa and his coyotes to govern the land. PM Ranil W with loyalists holed themselves at Temple Trees and bided their time. Karu J faced a battery of assaults: vulgarly vocal, totally injurious thrown bound volumes and deadly chilli powder mixed with water. He braved it all; took his rightful seat and gave judgment that restored order from utter chaos.
He is one politician whom Cass and so many others rooted for. Now he is out of party politics but fighting for the very survival of the nation of free Sri Lanka.
Voices should be listened to
At the recent meeting of people to solve their problems and bring succour to them, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa somewhat belittled protestors attempting to save our forest cover. Cass heard him on TV news on Saturday April 3 speaking about people accusing a previous government of running white vans, threatening journalists etc and now it is environmental groups that are out against the new government and him. No, they and we are against those who cut trees, deforest the land, sand mine ruthlessly and of course make money on horrible scams and seem to get away scot free, not even paying to government coffers billions garnered illegally.
He, government Ministers and MPs, and relevant administrators should all listen to the call of even a single concerned person, and know they are calling out completely altruistically with no political biases. One such is Padmini Nanayakkara of Colombo 3 who cries out (we imagine in horror) Reservoirs in Sinharaja? in the Sunday Island of April 4. She starts her letter to the editor with this: “Have we an enemy within or has a foreign force taken over Sri Lanka? I can’t imagine any Lankan contributing to an idea as bizarre as building reservoirs in Sinharaja.”
The editor referring to the pronouncement made loud and clear by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa about building two reservoirs in Sinharaja as if it were a foregone construction plan; writes thus: “A minister from the ruling family outrageously declares that two reservoirs will be built in the Sinharaja reserve to provide water for their pocket borough, He promises to plant 150 acres elsewhere to compensate saying that rubber will be planted to give people an income”. The editor dubs it a “madcap project” (cheers!!). Plenty water could be tapped downstream of rivers flowing near Hambantota; and this for people and not to keep watered vanity projects like cricket stadiums.
Semicentennial of a terrible uprising
I speak here of the JVP uprising of 1971 which has been written about with Jayantha Somasunderam from Canberra detailing it meticulously with copious references. Cass has been typically Sri Lankan in that she had forgotten about those days of fifty years ago which she refuses to term either jubilee or never golden anniversary. The Editor/The Island introduced a new word – quinquagenary – a tongue twister but pins down the number five. Whatever its now earned name, it was a brutal and absolutely purposeless shedding of young blood: blood of youth by the government and killing of police and causing utter chaos by the newly marshaled JVP under Rohana Wijeweera. They were disciplined and dedicated to a cause then. Incidentally, his grown son was shown on TV news a few days ago. A misunderstood message to attack police stations, conveyed via radio annonced obituary notices, saved the country because the attack was so deadly, power over the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike could have been gained. The second JVP uprising was deadlier as it was minus principles and all restraint. Again the rivers flowed with young Sinhala blood. The 1971 insurrection was short lived and we who cowered, emerged to usual routines fairly soon. Not the 1ate 1980s uprising. It created widespread fear psychoses; complete mayhem from hospitals, schools and offices to thé kadés. Universities were closed for two years and thus a considerable exodus of young students to universities overseas. We lost many of our teenaged children and the country – brains and ability.
May such never happen again is our earnest prayer. The young seem to have imbibed or decided to work through principles. Consider the recent protests against environmental degradation, particularly denudation of forests. They were all peaceful and intelligently carried out, and acknowledged as such, and the message they carried should certainly have been given an ear to by the President, PM and Ministers in charge of relevant subject areas. Perhaps it was peaceful marches and speeches and placards because the aim was altruistic – benefit for the entire country and not for self.
Beauty gone batty?
The public fracas of excessively groomed and dressed up beauties at the recent Mrs Sri Lanka finals was shockingly disgraceful. It confirmed to Cass that even the slightest mix-up or argument in this land of ours very soon escalates to a debacle, often accompanied by violence. But in this incident, there wasn’t even a whimper of argument. We witnessed how last year’s Mrs S L – Her Mightiness Caroline Jurie – crowned, de-crowned and re-crowned Pushpika de Silva. The latter’s hair was pulled, since the crown was rudely pulled off her by Her Mightiness and another, but unless it had long sharp spikes it could not have injured the stunned winner’s head. And all because of a heard rumour at the moment of crowning. Cass spits out: How dare Caroline Jurie take judgment to her tearing hands when a panel had discussed, gone into details and decided on the winner; the panel including herself! Cass comments the glass slipper gifted to Cinderella Caroline a year ago seems to be a misfit now; her feet swollen to match her head.
Back to the ordinary: Cassandra wishes all her readers a family oriented Aluth Avuruddha, with safety precautions vigilantly observed against infection given first priority. Much should be sacrificed to prevent the deadly third wave of Covid 19.
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