Problems in Geneva: Facts that brought us here
Dr. SARATH GAMINI De SILVA
The annual patriotic taunts and the laments of the majority are heard as the day of reckoning approaches in Geneva. We are shouting ourselves hoarse, complaining that the whole world is ganging up against the brave Sri Lankans, to punish them for eliminating the most brutal terrorist outfit the world has ever seen. It is true that what was achieved in 2009 is something that no other country could do in eliminating terrorism. But does that guarantee peace when the basic grievances that led to civil unrest over the years have not been addressed?
This article is not an attempt to justify violence, untruth or deplorable and unprincipled activities of other countries. Nor is it to devalue the achievements up to 2009. The intention is to open the eyes of my own countrymen to the reality of the hopeless situation facing the nation.
As was mentioned in earlier articles, seeds for racial disharmony were laid during the British colonial period. With their divide-and-rule method, they pitted the majority community against the minorities. This was done by establishing proportionately more schools in the North to ensure a better education, and thereby giving them superior positions in government service. Thus, with the country gaining Independence in 1948, and the Sinhalese gaining the upper hand, the minorities, mainly Northern Tamils, felt disadvantaged. They tried negotiations with the Southern politicians. Naturally, their demands like Ponnambalam’s 50-50 were unjust, but we could have negotiated that. With the watershed political upheaval in 1956, the situation became very volatile. With the Sinhala chauvinists becoming very influential and vociferous, taking politicians virtual hostage to achieve their aims, the minorities were getting increasingly marginalised. The Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam Pact and later the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact were not honoured, without working on them to solve the ongoing disputes. There were several episodes of violence against unarmed members of the minorities during that period.
With the overwhelming electoral victory of the UNP in 1977 (followed immediately by another bout of violence), the majority assumed that whatever grievances of the minorities could be stepped over. Eventually, the Tamils were expelled from Parliament blaming their non-allegiance to the Constitution, leaving them with no forum to air their grievances. The terrorist outfits were taking shape in the North, claiming to be the sole representatives of the oppressed. The Southern leaders ignored the political sensitivities of India, which strengthened the terrorists calling them “Freedom Fighters”.
The pogrom of 1983 is the darkest patch in the recent history of our paradise. The unarmed Tamils in Colombo were killed, even burnt alive and their property looted. With the government not making any efforts to curtail the violence for several days, there was a worrying suspicion of state patronage. Many Tamils, who worried about their lives, escaped to Western countries. Naturally, they were warmly welcomed as refugees in those countries as their embassies here were witnesses to what happened in Colombo and elsewhere. From then on, the Eelam war escalated, and it is not necessary to detail here the damage done in both human and material terms over thirty years. Many subsequent peace overtures of the government were rejected by the terrorists, who were determined to establish their own Elam.
After eliminating terrorism in 2009, what actions have we taken to restore lasting peace? Have we had at least belatedly, an ongoing dialogue sans political rhetoric with the Tamil leaders to see what their grievances are and taken steps to address them? Instead, our politicians kept on boasting of their “victory”, further arousing separatist tendencies with communal rhetoric, purely to ensure that their success in winning the battles will keep them in power for generations. They were fighting with each other claiming credit for what was achieved.
The Tamil refugees who settled down in Western countries were establishing themselves. Well educated and employed, they are working according to a plan. With their natural energy, determination and ambition, characteristics we used to admire in our Northern countrymen for ages, they are flourishing making the best use of the opportunities provided there. The diaspora is making use of their increasing numbers to influence the local politicians, who are interested in winning their votes, to speak up for them at influential fora. They themselves have taken to politics and entered legislatures.
One can imagine the grudge they must be harbouring against us. They will tell the generations to come about barbaric violence they suffered. That generation, about everyone under 40 years of age at present, will not be informed of terrorism, suicide bombers, child soldiers, killing of innocent villagers, massacre of Samanera monks or bombing of Buddhist holy sites. They will be taught only about the 1983 pogrom and unsubstantiated allegations of civilian killings and the elimination of their “freedom fighters” in 2009. In fact, there is a campaign in Toronto schools to have a week declared every year to commemorate the so called “Tamil Genocide”. This and subsequent generations in the diaspora will be increasingly hostile to us. Though the LTTE remains proscribed in many countries, they have managed to operate freely with political patronage.
There is no use in shouting ourselves hoarse about the unforgivable crimes committed by the rebels during the war years if future security and peace is the concern of Sri Lankans. We will be facing this formidable force of the diaspora at every international forum in the future. Our diplomats, who are mostly the kinsmen or other acolytes of those in power and grossly unqualified to represent the country, have failed miserably to give the correct picture to those that matter. The whole world is well aware of the atrocities committed by the Tigers. Yet, successive governments have failed to exploit that knowledge to turn the world opinion favourable to us.
Despite all this, many educated members of the diaspora still love this country. Many of my colleagues there are still dreaming of the day they might be able to return after retirement. They keep visiting us regularly, having bought property here. Some have put up hospitals, churches and indulge in other public service ventures to help especially those in the North. So many doctors having achieved high positions in the health services overseas, help the country train our postgraduate doctors.
Sri Lankan politicians are still fighting among themselves without any concrete plans to counteract the allegations being made. Enough ammunition is being provided to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNHCR, to work against the country. After agreeing to various conditions imposed over the years, but dishonouring them immediately afterwards, the country has become one of the most untrustworthy to deal with. Those in power keep blaming the previous governments for the international agreements reached, without working for a common stance to face the imminent threat. Guarantees are being given repeatedly to the international community about an impartial judiciary to deal with various allegations emanating from the ethnic war. At the same time, new legislation is enacted to ensure that the opponents of the government are punished by a judiciary handpicked by the rulers. While saying that minority rights are being respected, the Muslims are denied their fundamental right to bury their dead.
It is meaningless to claim that other countries should not interfere with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, which is a sovereign state. Having signed many international conventions and agreements, we cannot seek self-isolation when the situation suits us. We have allowed our internal matters to be discussed at international fora by failing miserably to solve them ourselves, often due to political expediency. This has forced our own citizens to seek relief from international organisations. If not for the influence and intervention of external sources, by now many countries in the world would have become ruthless dictatorships torturing their own citizens.
If the gravity of the issue was realised, a permanent secretariat should have been established in the foreign ministry long ago, with experienced diplomats purely to conduct an international campaign against the misinformation, and give the correct picture to foreign countries and various organisations that matter.
Our politicians know that they can fool most Sri Lankan voters all the time. But if they believe they can continue to fool the international community in the same way, they are sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, the whole nation will suffer paying for their folly.
Quest for leadership
Excerpts of Suren Abeyagoonasekera’s recent Keynote address on Thurstan College on the Founder’s Day.
This is the second occasion, when I am invited to perform this traditional duty. First was during 2006~2008 period. Now, I am here again 17 Years later, before a new and a younger audience. I see and feel, several changes, developments and progress all around.
I carry memories, sweet memories, in this sacred place. There are thousands of times, that I was immersed, in my memories, of Thurstan, the remarkable people I met here, and all about THURSTAN. Stern & Soft Principals, Learned & practical Teachers, Rough and Refined friends …. so many. Although my Heart is steaming to share those remarkable events, how can I do that in 10 minutes?
Founder is a ‘a person who establishes an institution or settlement’, he is also identified as, originator, creator, initiator, and or institutor….
In that sense, we must remember,Rev A. J. Thurstan, an Anglican Missionary and priest, who founded a private technical-school that taught ‘Agricultural & Craft skills,’ in these premises , in 1859, i.e.163 years ago.
E. A. Nugawela, (then Minister of Education) who opened the Government Senior School, on 11th January 1950, a new school called the Government Senior School.T. D. Jayasuriya, Deputy Minister of education, attended the ceremony of renaming, the ‘Government Senior School’ as ‘Thurstan College’ after the founder of the first school – Rev A. J. Thurstan on 26th March 1953.
The first principal of the new school was, D. E. A. Schokman, who had previously taught, at Kingswood and Trinity Colleges. Kandy.I joined school during the tenure of Mr M D Gunawerdena as Pricipal, a strict Disciplinarian. When he leaves his office room, on his rounds, there was pindrop silence in the entire school. A very pleasant and a soft spoken person. But an Iron Fist in a velvet Glove.
He was followed by P M Jayatillake, a Gentle Giant, 6-footer, Sportsman, who held a record of 111 not out in the annual Ananda ~ Nalanda Big Match, representing Nalanda. When his record was broken by Bandula Warnapura many years later, he walked straight up to the Batsman and Congratulated. Highly knowledgeable in Dhamma, friendly with Students but firm. He engaged Grade 11,12 & 13 students often on lenthy discussions of important subjects, and invites us to write on matters of interest and submit to him, if he finds substance interesting, he will discuss it with the students. We loved this interaction. He was the founder of the Big Match, First College Magazine,and more. I was a Prefect and later his Head Prefect.
I am very happy to learn, the present Principal Pramuditha Wickramasinghe, is endowed with strong Leadership Qualities. We are very happy that the school is in safe hands. We will fully support you Sir.My subject today and always, is ‘Leadership’.
The Founders list continues, with many Principals, Teachers, Old Boys, Parents and well-wishers, who supported Thurstan to, what it is today. They committed themselves to find Teachers, funds, materials and even systems to the betterment of the Institution. They are ‘fountains of inspiration & towers of Strength’, who added value, nurtured, stood by, and enriched our Institution Thurstan.
Respected Sirs, Ladies & Gentlemen every true Thurstanite will remember, appreciate and value, your Contribution & Commitment whole heartedly.I remember Old Boys deep attachments, on two incidents, where the Old Boys rallied round Thurstan in a flash.
First was to revoke or reverse a subtle move…, which was to make Thurstan a part of another school, in which powerful people were old Boys. Thousands of Old Boys gathered in support, to negate or nullify any such move and vowed to sacrifice their lives. We had a Meeting on this Stage, Hall was. I was a speaker.Second was when Newspapers carried banner Headlines that, ‘Thurstan was under attack’. Old boys gathered quickly, to protect the Students, like a father standing before the enemy to save the next generation. Fortunately, Police intervened and restored Law & Order.
I need not tell you about the current situation of the Country. It’s a known fact, People continue to suffer without Basics…, fragile Economy, weak Education, Essentials, Medicine, Food, Global problems, etc., I will avoid touching the cause. But overall, we are forced to admit the absence of Visionary True Leaders. We all know about it. It’s not the best.., all of you will have various ways of analysing. I wouldn’t enter a debate.
When I was newly elected to the 30 Member Executive Committee, of the Colombo YMBA – Young Mens Buddhist Association, I asked the Seniors ‘what do you think…, is the problem of this country..’ there were several responses, Terrorism, weak Leaders, dirty politics, Bribery, Corruption, indiscipline, etc.,’
My answer was, all of them are due to, none, but ‘Lack of Quality Leaders’. We have lost many potential Leaders who aspired for a Change.They were misled, we lost them first in 1971, then in 1988, finally young and valiant men who joined the army to save the country.
Sadly, successive leaderships, failed to groom the next line of Leaderships, which is the Prime Responsibility of any Leader. We have to build future Leaders, to take this Country forward. Future Leaders must possess true Leadership Qualities. We are 30 Years behind the rest of the world, we have lost a great deal of valuable time, and we have to catch lost time.
I swear, IQ level of our Youth, is greater than, many of our neighbours. But we have failed to give them correct inputs, and best practices & guidance. If children are given bad inputs, the results are weak.
I proposed to YMBA and launched ‘Young Buddhist Leadership Training Programme’. Course content, will begin with Exercise and Meditation. Then to Managala Sutta, Parabhava Sutta, Singalovada Sutta, finally to ‘Leadership Qualities of Gauthama Buddha. The proposal was enriched by famous Civil Servant, Olcott Gunasekera,(now Ven Vajiraramaye Gnanaseeha) and Luxman Hettiaarachchi (former Chairman of Walkers). It was Launched, we trained the first batch of 20 at Maharagama Dharmayathanaya, and went upto 200. It was a week long course. Now we take the module Islanwide, on a One Day Course.
Dear Students, trust me, believe me, the soil of Thurstan is magical. I still can’t fathom. Either the earth you trample at Thurstan is sacred, or our Historic Nuga Tree gives you the vibes of ‘fearless Leadership. Look back the Leaderships we have gained, in 74 Years, and as a ratio, in comparison to older schools with 6000, or 8000 student population. We are small. Never make the mistake of going into big numbers. I believe Education is not for mass production that ignores quality.
I spoke to some of your teachers, believe me they are a class. They are very resourceful, they are confident, and have faith in Principals Leadership.
Let me remind our Moto ‘Thamasoma Jya thigramaya, meaning …From Darkness to Light…thus, it’s in our DNA.
To move from ‘Darkness to Light’ we need Visionary Leadership, valour and couragesness. We do have them, isn’t it?
I wish younger generations will understand the vacuum in Leadership.
An Indian, became the Prime Minister of England, another Indian may become Head of USA. But their grooming may have begun 20 years ago.
I am telling you seriously, many people left the country in a hopeless mind. Will you believe that we can not produce strong Leaderships ?
This is a blessed Country, with many rare resources, a highly fertile Land with five Rivers, staring from the Central Hills in five Directions enriching soil we were born and fed. You have blessed Teachers, and your feet firmly on the ground of Thurstan.
Dear Students, you are gifted with a Leader, with far reaching Vision & Wisdom, A good Panel Teachers, and dedicated Old Boys and well-wishers.
Dear Principal, I respectfully propose, Thurstan to produce, unwavering lines of ‘Excellent Leaders’
I will conclude with a line, my respected Principal P M Jayatillake taught us…..,
The heights by great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Regime changes in Sri Lanka and ‘Subha saha Yasa’
Recently a perfect analogy brought forth by a well known actor at a political rally, comparing regime changes in Sri Lanka, to the story behind the famous play of yesteryear, ‘Subha saha Yasa’, was reported in social media. In Simon Navagaththegama’s reputed novel, the regime changes that were prearranged by mutual consent between two look-alikes, King Yasalalakathissa of ancient Sri Lanka and his gate keeper, Yasa, who temporarily exchanged their roles, are depicted.
Reportedly, each party on the throne at a particular time was protected by the other and vice versa, while the then public were duped by their jocular expressions (bordering on ‘koloppan’) and promises of ‘ yaha palanaya’ and prosperity. In the process, the people at large were being taken for a ride by the two look-alikes. It was lucidly pointed out that the identical happenings have been and are taking place in Sri Lanka over the years, and the country has thus been brought down to the pathetic current situation by two major political forces.
Based on the foregoing comparison, Sri Lanka has to necessarily move away from this pattern of regime change , whereby the governing parties take turns protecting each other and also deceive the electorate by making false promises. So much so that in essence the country is now bankrupt. It is earnestly hoped that at the next democratically available opportunity for a regime change, the Sri Lankan electorate will act wisely to break the aforesaid trend that has taken root over the years. They must do the needful to bring in uncontaminated material sans undesirable ‘baggage’ to freshly take over the leadership role for this gem of a country which was once called the ‘ Pearl ‘ of the Indian ocean. (‘The country floating in the Indian ocean’ as referred to by an astronaut viewing it from outer space many years ago, as per a documentary film shown at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.in 1992)).
A. BEDGAR PERERA
The Cardinal’s damning indictment of Sri Lankans
I was shocked and rather ashamed to listen to the outburst of His Eminence the Cardinal on Ada Derana where he comments on all of Sri Lankans saying that we belong to a corrupt society from top to bottom! Lest I am misunderstood I am myself a Catholic and come from a family which has done our bit for the religion and its institutions.
I must acknowledge that His Eminence had a point in criticising the extravagance associated with the anniversary celebrations to mark Independence. He is right in saying that we have become beggars but some of those people who brought us to this state were once smiled upon by him if I remember right?
However, we have not had as abysmal a performance since independence as he makes it out to be. Let us not forget that as a small country we have a lot to be proud of. We have produced some outstanding people who have been acclaimed internationally. I am not going into a roll call of those who achieved greatness but there have been persons such as Lakshman Kadirgamar, Jayantha Dhanapala, Shirley Amerasinghe, Raju and Indrajit Coomarasamy, Ray Wijewardene, Justice Weeramantry, Desmond de Silva QC, ANS Kulasinghe, Mohan Moonesinghe, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Muttiah Muralitheran, Susanthika Jayasinghe, Kumar Sangakkara, and Professor Paranavitharane, to name a few from a cross section of outstanding international figures who captured the attention of the world.
We have had Bishops too who were held in the highest esteem such as Cardinal Thomas Cooray, Bishop Edmund Peiris and Bishop Leo Nanayakkara. I am told that the university accorded a lying in state at its Arts Faculty, to the late Emeritus Archbishop Gomis, a former Chancellor. He was a scholar who had national recognition.
Yes we have had a vacuum in leadership of quality as His Eminence proclaims which has led to our current economic malaise, but have our religious leaders also contributed to our economic plight, and loss of spiritual values which he bemoans? Let’s not look for the mote in our neighbour’s eye, but look at the Catholic Church.
School ethics have been under the microscope for many years now. There has been much discussion about the unconscionable sums of money changing hands for school admissions to access Catholic education! In relation to sports, Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese are guilty of enticing good players from lesser known schools to cross over for a ‘consideration’ (he calls it a something!). It was justifiably suspected that there was more than the offer to play for a good school which prevailed on parents to move their children to these schools.
Recently there was a message going round that parents had been given several hundred thousand rupees to move their ‘ruggerite’ son to a school which prides itself on its premier position in the sport. What is the Church doing about such corrupt or at least unethical conduct? Spiritual conscience that his Eminence speaks of is present in these institutions managed by him?
In another sermon recently His Eminence also blamed the State for neglecting the poor. He categorically blamed the Open Economy and seemed to be pining for the era prior to 1977, forgetting that the best years for the economy were as a result of our ability to access markets abroad. We need to look at the opportunities created for the female community in factories which are monitored by developed countries in terms of international standards. He also ignores the huge losses which are being revealed in the State run institutions and the horrendous corruption there. Some of this corruption in fact can be blamed on Catholic officials.
The Catholic Church and of course the Buddhist Temples have vast extents of land and other assets. I think the Catholic Church can do much more for the poor by using its own wealth rather than making statements which places the onus on others. It can perhaps be asked how much interest the parishes take in their flock and what they can do to alleviate poverty. I think one obstacle to individual priests being proactive is the stifling hierarchical management which has always existed in the Church.
The Cardinal said that we have lost our ‘spiritual conscience’. I would say that it is not a mere issue of ‘conscience’ but a lack of adherence to social responsibility by all leaders be they religious, policy makers or officials. Further, I feel that it is an admission that the leadership of the religious sects has failed to carry out its primary mission if spirituality is lacking! Why do we have a clergy at all if the flock is spiritually bankrupt?
There was no message of hope that his Eminence was doing something to rectify the position or that he had answers. In fact in Belgium I read that there is a debate that clerics are now being seen as an unnecessary impediment in what should be an individual search for spirituality? Reading history, we see that Luther had his rivalry with the Catholic Church on issues which also included the right of Christians to read and formulate their own thoughts from the Bible, which they were not allowed to read!
The Church should look inwards and give proper leadership to change the spiritual direction as Jesus did when confronted with Priests and Pharisees who were more concerned about safeguarding their own well-being. The attitude of Pope Francis must be commended as he is always conscious of the need to embrace all those in need of spiritual help rather than passing judgment on them.
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