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Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka

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By Neville Ladduwahetty

From 2012, Reconciliation and Accountability have been the twin pillars of the series of Resolutions that emerged from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Perhaps, the thinking of those who developed the formula of linking Reconciliation with Accountability was guided by the notion that an effective accountability process that holds some members of the security forces and the associated leaders accountable and punished would somehow ease the humiliation of defeat, and make the painful processes of healing and eventual reconciliation more tolerable.

In general, this notion presumes that retributive justice would promote reconciliation. The presumption of such an outcome is not an assured given because the possibility exists for the positions of the parties hoping to reconcile to harden to a point of defeating the intended objective of reconciliation if retributive processes and their outcomes are perceived as being vindictive. Thus, the contemplated accountability exercise has the potential to be counterproductive depending on the context in which it is conducted.

 

SRI LANKAN EXPERIENCE

In the case of Sri Lanka, this theory could not be put to the test because the retributive process could not even get started. The reason for this being that those who devised the process overextended themselves and wanted the accountability process to be so effective that they conceived only a judicial mechanism that involved foreign judges, prosecutor etc. would achieve the intended objectives. The fact that such an arrangement would involve amending existing Laws and provisions in the Constitution, to the extent of requiring a two-third approval by Parliament and approval by the People at a referendum, escaped their attention.

This was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Council in March 2019 by the then Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana.

“The Government of Sri Lanka at the highest political levels, has both publicly and in discussions with the present and former High Commissioner for Human Rights and other interlocutors, explained the constitutional and legal challenges that preclude it from including non-citizens in its judicial processes. It has been explained that if non-citizen judges are to be appointed in such a process, it will not be possible without an amendment to the Constitution by 2/3 of members of the Parliament voting in favour and also the approval of the people at a referendum”.

This gave the present Government legitimate grounds to withdraw from the co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 in terms of Article 46 of the Vienna Convention 1969, which in essence states that a State may invalidate its consent to a Treaty if it violates a rule of its internal law of fundamental importance such as a Constitution of a sovereign State.

 

CURRENT SITUATION

Currently, the accountability process is at a stand-still because of the failure of the approach adopted. However, what exists is a collective body of material available in Reports prepared externally by the Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary General and by the Office of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva together with internal Reports of Commissions of Inquiry appointed by the Government of Sri Lanka such as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and the Paranagama Commission that included International Experts.

This body of material has been reviewed from two distinct perspectives. Since the mandate to the LLRC was primarily to promote national unity and reconciliation among communities, its Report gives emphasis to Human Rights as reflected in paragraphs 5.2 and 5.3 cited below. On the other hand, the other Reports reflect a perspective that is based on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as the applicable Law since the conflict had reached the threshold of a non-International Armed Conflict. Consequently, the material reviewed from a Human Rights perspective is bound to be different to a review based on IHL. Of the several reasons for this difference the most significant is that the LLRC viewed the conflict as between a State (GoSL) and a non-state actor (LTTE), thereby holding the State to a higher level of accountability than the LTTE, while under the perspective of IHL, responsibilities are shared equally as parties to an Armed Conflict. This makes the conclusions drawn from the respective perspectives different.

Paragraph 5.2 states: “Being a party to the following seven core international human rights instruments, Sri Lanka has given obligations under these Conventions through legislative measures, including the Constitution as well as executive and administrative measures”

Paragraph 5.3 states: “Sri Lanka therefore has constitutional and international obligations for the effective national implementation of these core conventions both during times of peace and war, and in the latter situation, together with applicable International Humanitarian Law…”.

It is therefore evident from the foregoing that the LLRC emphasis is on Human Rights with “applicable International Humanitarian Law’ during times of war. Had the LLRC recognized that it was a non-International Armed Conflict from the day the Cease Fire Agreement was signed as two parties recognized nationally and internationally to the conflict, the accepted applicable Law should have been International Humanitarian Law coupled with seriously derogated Human Rights during an Armed Conflict. This interpretation is reflected in the Sri Lankan Constitution and in the relevant Conventions during an Emergency as in the case of an Armed Conflict. The failure of the LLRC to recognize that it was a non-International Armed Conflict is the significant reason for its perspective to be different to the other Reports cited above.

 

LLRC’s INTERPRETATION of ACCOUNTABILITY

The material presented below are extracts from Chapter 9 of the LLRC Report titled “Summary of Principal Observations and Recommendations”. Since the two primary charges against the Government and the Security Forces are the excessive use of force and the inadequacies in the delivery of humanitarian aid, the two related sub-section from the LLRC Report presented below are: (1) “Measures to safeguard civilians and avoid civilian casualties” and (2) “Supply of humanitarian relief, including food and medicine to civilians in conflict zone”.

“Measures to safeguard…and No-Fire Zones”:

Paragraph 9.4: “In evaluating the Sri Lankan experience in the context of allegations of violations of IHL, the Commission is satisfied that the military strategy that was adopted to secure the LTTE held areas was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority…”

9.7 Having reached the above conclusion, it is also incumbent on the Commission to consider the question, while there is no deliberate targeting of civilians by the Security Forces, whether the action of the Security Forces of returning fire into the NFZs was excessive in the context of the Principle of Proportionality…”

COMMENT: The two fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law are: Distinction and Proportionality. Without Distinction as to who is a combatant and who is a civilian to question whether the military response was proportionate or excessive cannot be ascertained. Since the LLRC Report admits that the LTTE shed their uniforms during the final states of the conflict, the question of distinguishing a civilian from a combatant is not possible, which means the principle of Proportionality cannot be applied. Furthermore, the comment that the Security Forces were “RETURNING fire to the NFZs” makes clear that it was the LTTE in the NFZs that initiated the firing. Despite the obvious presence of LTTE combatants, the LLRC Report makes no reference to them and refers to ALL as civilians.

Therefore, to categorize ALL in the NFZs as civilians and to question whether the return of fire was excessive in the context of the Principle of Proportionality that has no applicability in the particular circumstances, is seriously flawed.

In regard to “Hospitals/Makeshift Hospitals paragraph 9.12 (b) of the LLRC report states: “None of the persons making representations was able to state with certainty that they were in a position to definitely confirm that the shells which fell on the hospitals, originated exclusively from the side of the Sri Lankan Army or from the LTTE…Another ex-LTTE cadre…stated that the Puthumatthalan hospital was in fact accidentally shelled by the LTTE for which they had subsequently apologized”.

Supply of Humanitarian Relief

Paragraph 9.15: “The Commission notes that the supply of food to the civilians held by the LTTE up to early 2009 was at reasonably adequate levels…However, these adequacy levels appear to have declined during the months of February, March, April and the first half of May 2009…”

Paragraph 9.16: “It must be acknowledged that the maximum quantities of food supplies, that were possible…due to the collective efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka, in particular the GAs and the Security Forces as well as international agencies such as the ICRC and WFP, and other volunteers who had provided selfless service on the spot in the No Fire Zone”.

The impression conveyed in the above comments is that the Government of Sri Lanka was responsible for and obligated to supply humanitarian relief to All in the No Fire Zone. Since it was not possible to separate combatants from civilians, this meant supplying humanitarian aid including medical supplies to the LTTE and engaging with them in an Armed Conflict, simultaneously. Such a flawed expectation is a result of the confused perspective adopted by the Commission as to the role of the Government. How could the Government be a party to the conflict and be a provider of humanitarian aid both at the same time?

COMMENT: Had the LLRC accepted IHL as the applicable Law, they would not have held the Government of Sri Lanka accountable for the “decline” in the supply of relief. The reason for including the Government in the list of those responsible for the supply of humanitarian relief is because their understanding of the Government’s responsibilities was misplaced. The Commission fails to acknowledge that the Government as a party to the Armed Conflict, should not be expected to supply aid of any kind to the LTTE. Instead, what the Government was expected to do was ONLY to facilitate free passage of humanitarian aid to those affected by the Armed Conflict as per ICRC Rules 55 and 56 (Vol. 87, Number 857 March 2005).

Rule 55: “The parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need, which is impartial in character and conducted without any adverse, distinction, subject to their right of control”

Rule 56: “The parties to the conflict must ensure the freedom of movement of authorized humanitarian relief personnel essential to the exercise of their functions. Only in the case of imperative necessity may their movements be temporarily restricted”.

PROPOSED STRATEGY

There are two basic approaches that Sri Lanka could take in presenting its case before the forthcoming sessions in Geneva. One approach is to plead its case by presenting all the available evidence from sources such as that of Lord Naseby, UN Reports, opinions of experts in the Paranagama Commission Report and any other sources challenging the alleged claims in the UNHRC Resolution 30/1. The other is to challenge the alleged violations on the basis of International Humanitarian Law, backed up with support material referred to above. Of these two approaches there is a greater likelihood of the latter approach being more acceptable because it has a more credible basis than the former.

CONCLUSION

When Sri Lanka placed on record at the March 2019 UNHRC sessions that it was withdrawing from the co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution 30/1, it undertook, among other undertakings, to appoint a Commission of Inquiry “to review the reports of previous Sri Lankan COIs which investigated alleged violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, to assess the status of implementation of their recommendations and to propose deliverable measures to implement them in keeping with the new Government’s policy”.

The plea to anyone engaged in fulfilling the commitment stated above is to declare at the very outset that its review of reports of previous COIs is based on the fact that the conflict in Sri Lanka that ended in May 2009 was a non-International Armed Conflict, as recognized by international law. Consequently, the review process should bear in mind that the applicable Law is International Humanitarian Law together with derogated Human Rights Laws as reflected in International Covenants and in Sri Lanka’s Constitution during an Emergency. Therefore, the alleged violations presented in these Reports should be assessed in the context of these Laws, backed up with support material such from UN Reports, evidence presented by Lord Naseby, opinions of experts in the Paranagama Commission Report, and by the ICRC, etc.. Since the Additional Protocol II of 1977 is accepted as part of Customary Law and the fact that it embodies all recognized provisions of non-International Armed Conflict, the provisions of the Protocol should guide the review process of alleged violations committed collectively or individually.

The review process should also identify which recommendations in the Commission of Inquiry Reports relating to Reconciliation are deliverable in keeping with Government policy. In this regard one measure that would make a significant difference to Reconciliation is to demand tangible outcomes from the Office of Missing Persons, bearing in mind that their work could be constrained by the non-cooperation of Member States if they fail to disclose the identities of persons missing from Sri Lanka and who are now living in their countries under altered identities.

The forthcoming sessions in Geneva would be a defining moment for Sri Lanka in its relations with the UNHRC. Therefore, the Government should conclude its review process well in time, in order to enable it to canvas support among the members of the UN Human Rights Council on the basis of the legitimacy of the approach taken and bring closure to Accountability. At the same time the UN Human Rights Council should permit Sri Lanka the time and space to address Reconciliation through processes that each country has to fashion because its uniqueness is special to every country, and no country or International Agency has a universal formula to bring about Reconciliation among communities in a country.

 

Neville Ladduwahetty

November 15, 2020.



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Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario

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by Kumar David

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach

Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.

I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA2Zl1mVrOo); the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0WcSiJiJs0). Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.

Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.

Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.

The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.

You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.

What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.

We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.

The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?

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S. A. Welgama – A man amongst men

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On the one hundred and tenth birth anniversary of my father-in -law S.A.Welgama I pen this tribute with much affection and pride.Affection as he was a second father to me and pride as he was a man amongst men;a man who stood tall and erect,a man unbowed ,unconquered and unsullied.Of him I could truthfully echo Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome,”let men see,let them know a real man,a man who lives as he was meant to live”.

EARLY LIFE

He was born in the hamlet of Ovitigala,in the verdant county of Pasdun Korale,the county of five yojana (sixty kms in Vedic measure),created by Parakramabahu the Great,by draining the basin of Kalu Ganga.

His mother was fair and comely and taught in the village school ,and the father a farmer tilled his own land.SAW never forgot his roots and even at the height of his fame and wealth would often say,I’m the son of a poor farmer.This alone would have tagged him for greatness, for according to John Ruskin “the first test of a truly great man is his humility.”

The origins of the Welgama clan are shrouded in the mists of time.One school of thought says that they were the caretakers of the Welgama vehera in Kinniya ,Trincomalee.Grateful kings had donated land to them in distant South.The stupa was built by King Devanampiyatissa in the third century B.C.and remained unscathed till the end of the Polonnaruwa era.Even the Chola marauders,who razed all they saw ,left it alone as it was a place of worship for Hindu devotees as well,the Navatar Kovil.

Another school is of the view that they were soldiers in the service of the Sinhala kings as evidenced by their ge name Welgama Hewage.This is likely too as the Welgamas were tall and had a martial bearing.

They migrated to the villages of Ihala (upper) and Pahala (lower) Welgama villages separated by a fast flowing river.This could only be forded by a ferry ,until SAW persuaded a friendly minister of state to build a bridge.

SAW had his early schooling in the Ovitigala village.His heart was ,however not in books but in machines and motor vehicles.Many a day he played truant with his classmates,one of whom was to later become an eminent Buddhist monk and a mentor to me and my brother.When I was being screened as a prospective son -in-law ,he made enquiries, from his friend the Rev Kevitiyagala Dhammasidhi.The priest had categorically stated ,’Sir do not look any further,he is the best of the best’.My fate was sealed.

 

ENTREPRENEUR

While still a teenager he apprenticed himself to a local workshop and then came over to Colombo to gain further experience and skills.He had fifty cents in his pocket.The friend who accompanied him returned to the village after two days.But SAW soldiered on and joined the workshop of an English engineer.He worked long and hard and became a master of his trade and also earned the respect and goodwill of his employer,whose pet name for him was Pattison.

Being thrifty he regularly added his wages to a till which was well hidden.With his savings and some help he bought a car for the then princely sum of two thousand rupees ,and plied it for hire between Gampaha and Kaluthara.

As the war clouds gathered in the horizon in the late 1930s he sensed an opportunity in road haulage and this became his trademark.At one stage he owned and controlled over one hundred and fifty trucks and became a trusted agent of the colonial government;transporting goods to and from the Colombo harbour to the massive godowns built in anticipation of wartime food shortages.SAW and Sons became synonymous with road freight.With foresight he bought land at Panchikawatte,an emerging commercial hub for his headquarters.Later with the help of his son Nimal he extended this to a much larger holding.

A prized possession of his was the luxury tourist bus,which he imported when Mr J.R.Jayawardene inaugurated the push for tourism.This was used for family outings too and Kanthi and I remember vividly the visit to his estate with business associates.We also accompanied a group of visiting American cardiologists and spouses to Kandy.On the way ,the ladies started a singsong

to which we had to respond.My contribution was “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” which I had learnt at school.Our guide was a personable young man who later married a young French traveller and settled down in France.Although his fluency in English was not optimal Father saw in him the makings of a good escort.

Having reached the top of the greasy pole ,he knew the value of skills and hard work.He instilled these into the many young men he trained.They were accepted anywhere.The truck drivers employed by him needed two licences;one from the department of motor transport and one from him.He would personally conduct the driving test.In later years his son Mahinda assumed this role.

He had a fondness for new cars especially Mercedes.An exception to the run of Mercedes was the Holden Statesman which he purchased after the Non-Aligned Leaders conference in Colombo.When it was due for repainting,the original colour Salamanca red was not available in SriLanka.Kanthi and I shipped it from Brisbane where we were then living.

The first occasion we met was when he arrived at our house in his magnificent Mercedes.He was accompanied by his beautiful wife Beatrice and his eldest son Melvin.An imposing man dressed in an immaculate white sarong and shirt he was keen to meet the young lad who had been highly recommended as a prospective son in law.After the usual pleasantries ,I joined Melvin who became a close friend.SAW had been much moved that I too was dressed in sarong and shirt.

An interesting quirk of his was the insistence ,that all his vehicle registration numbers should end with the figure five.It’s likely that his birthday being on the fifth of April,this to him was an auspicious number.The denizens of Panchikawatte named him the ‘‘Agata Pahe Mudalali i.e the tycoon with number five at the end.”

Being a man of the soil ,land was at the core of his soul,and he invested in a rubber estate in Kahawatte and then a two hundred and fifty acre rubber plantation” the Deniston” in Mathugama.For the children he bought land in the most fashionable suburb in Colombo and also in Nuwara Eliya a block adjacent to the venerable Grand Hotel.Kanthi and I once spent a night at Deniston in the hilltop estate bungalow.He had arranged for us to be blessed with a ” thovil”, a devil dance ceremony to dispel any unseen hands harassing us; this went on all night.We were exhausted before the performers ,although their colourful costumes,masks,gyrations and the drumming held us spellbound.

About the same time as his rise, there was a group of Sinhala businessmen who too made their mark.They were all southerners who began their careers at the bottom of the pile.SAW and Nawaloka mudalali (H.D.Dharmadasa) were the unofficial leaders of this closely knit cluster.They too never forgot their roots and were all noted for their conviviality,philanthropy and vivacity.Two of their major projects were the Ranweta the gold fence around the Sri Maha Bodhiya and the first coronary care unit in Ceylon.The Sri Maha Bodhiya is the only living relic of the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the shade of the parent tree in BodhGaya.It is the oldest ,historically documented tree in the world.The coronary care unit was built at the instigation of Dr Ivor Obeysekare ,the first cardiologist of Ceylon and a former chief of mine.

SAW was a mover and shaker and associated with the highest in the land.J.R.Jayawardane the first executive president of SriLanka was a good friend and was an attesting witness at all the weddings of his children.He did have friends across the political spectrum including ,Maithripala Senanayake the benign deputy to Mrs Bandaranaike and Peter Kueneman,the sophisticated Cambridge educated leader of the Communist party.Though he “walked with Kings ,he did not lose the common touch” and was equally at home with the masses in villages and the busy bazaars of Colombo.

At the age of sixty five he handed over the control of the trucking company to his sons,but still supervised the estate.The weekly sojourn in the plantation became his greatest pleasure and relaxation.Meandering around ,he may have got to know every tree and shrub,hillock ,valley and stream and mingling with the Indian Tamil workers and villagers gave him a lot of satisfaction.The elder brother whom he adored,lived in a homestead and sharing the customary village fare with him at lunch gave him much gratification.The Sunday visit to the estate was a ritual he maintained till the last week of his life.The bracing air ,the soft breezes ,the solitude and the rural populace seemed to revitalize him.The work was challenging but less so because of his passion and enthusiasm for the land and the labour.

He epitomised Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words that “The heights by great men achieved and kept were not attained by sudden flight,but they while their companions slept,were toiling upward in the night.”

 

FAMILY

Unexpectedly,at the age of thirty three,he met a beautiful Kandyan teenager Beatrice Hidellarachchi.It was akin to Adam meeting Eve and was love at first sight.

 

Like John Milton,in “Paradise Lost”

“He saw grace in all her steps,

Heaven in her eyes,

In every gesture,dignity and love”

 

Beatrice being the cynosure of all eyes and adoration,delighted him ,and he encouraged her to dress herself in haut-monde finery.

It was a marriage made in heaven.and their happy partnership lasted till his passing away in 1990.

There were ten children in the family,five boys and five girls.He was a strict but adoring father.They were all brought up according to conventional Sinhala Buddhist values.Having missed out on a formal education,he made certain that they went to the highest ranking schools regardless of the denomination.For boys ,he chose S.Thomas’s College the famed school by the sea.Girls were admitted to the Holy Family Convent as he had the highest respect and admiration for the Catholic nuns and their discipline.But he also ensured that they got a Buddhist grounding through the Sunday school at the Vajiraramaya temple which was well known for its pious and erudite monks.

He would have loved for one or more of them to become doctors;instead he got two sons in law who achieved eminence in their specialties of medicine.However two sons became leading business men and chartered accountants.Another a prominent politician and one more a German trained gemologist.The youngest son Nalin was sent across to London ,while we were there, for further studies.

He did have reservations about girls attending universities ,but sent them to finishing schools where they became versed in social graces and upper class cultural rites.Later on he relented and permitted the youngest daughter Pradeepika to study at the Colombo Law school.

As he grew older he mellowed and relished having a drink with Mahinda and me.The faithful domestic Gamini brought his bottle of whiskey and he poured the pegs to all of of us himself.In our younger days we never imbibed with our elders.When he desired company ,he went to the Automobile Association or the Angler’s club.One night he spied us,the two eldest sons in law enjoying a drink in the confines of a car ,with our wives and sent us a round of drinks and a tray of devilled prawns which was a specialty of the AA.

He was a believer in rebirth and would say with conviction that Kanthi his second daughter was the reincarnation of his beloved mother,perhaps because she looked after him like a mother;and Nalin the youngest son,the reincarnation of his father.While on a trip to India ,he insisted on selecting Kanthi’s wedding saree himself ,while mother selected sarees for the other daughters.Kanthi’s saree was more expensive than all the others.

A special relationship too was with his second granddaughter Sadia.I reproduce what she wrote.

“He loved to put his dark arm against mine and tell me we were the same colour.We were.

He called me Podi Sriyani.( Loku Sriyani was his daughter).

He was a wonderfully patient and loving grandfather.He had a warm hug which made you feel loved and how I loved sitting on his lap.It felt like a very safe place to be.

He had a twinkle in his eye and always wore his hat.He had good taste and style.I had a feeling that he had some great stories to share ,but that I was too young to hear them…

He was magic.I still miss that magic.”

 

PHILANTHROPY

SAW was large hearted and munificent primarily to but not exclusively to his village ,villagers and less affluent relatives. A monk told us how ,even Beatrice was not aware of the monthly emoluments he dispensed to the needy.

The Diyapattugama junior school,now named S.A.Welgama junior school was given a large assembly hall.He built a new Stupa at the Ovitigala temple;Kanthi and I joined in this meritorious deed by gifting the “Chuda Manikya” the large crystal placed at its very top.Electricity was provided to the shrine and its environs.The Bodhi tree in the temple (the prathana ,i.e supplication,Bodhi) was brought by him from Bodhgaya.

After his passing away Beatrice built a maternity home in his memory in the village of Wettawe.This had been a cherished ambition of his.His own mother is said to have succumbed at childbirth,and he wanted the impoverished women of his village to have easy access to modern medical facilities.

SAW of course provided employment to hundreds of villagers at his establishments.

 

RETIREMENT.

In retirement he indulged in travel which he had long denied himself.He wanted to ” walk where he had never been and wonder at the beauty of this world”Kanthi and I were lucky that we were able to host him in Britain and also in USA.The long morning walks,the coach trips and the sundowners ,while the ladies cooked supper ,brought us closer in a way not conceivable before.He revelled in the sights and history of UK Germany and Switzerland and also Disneyland and Hawaii.One of the highlights was his visit to the Mercedes factory in Stuttgart.The automated production of his favourite cars enthralled him.Caravans enticed him,as did the miniature trains he rode in a fun park in Newcastle upon Tyne.He did not care much for shopping ,although Mother and Kanthi dragged him along,and grumble that he had become a ‘nattambi’,a carrier of goods.I feel however he secretly enjoyed seeing Beatrice buying apparel and wares unavailable in Ceylon at that time of austerity.For him ,all he wanted was a couple of hats.

The beauty of the Lake District,the Black Forest and Switzerland and the ancient cities of London Edinburgh and Freiburg fascinated him.

He was indeed a man for all seasons.

We rejoice in a life lived to the fullest and that we were blessed to be touched by this great man.

 

Kumar Gunawardane

Emeritus Consultant Cardiologist

The Townsville University Hospital.

I acknowledge the help of Ven Suriyagoda Siri Dhamma,Nimal and Mahinda Welgama and Sadia Samarasinghe.

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Some thoughts on Geneva

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I  was  saddened  by  the  events  in  Geneva having thought we were  a  popular  country  and  our  people  well  thought  of internationally.To  think  that  only  11  countries    supported  us in Geneva  was  indeed  a   cause  for  alarm  and  distress. Maybe the  want  us  to  take  a  step  back  and  think of how to make Sri Lanka a  better    place.

Reams have been written about  this  resolution by erudite  men  and  women. There  is  a  common  theme  running through all  of this: the  UNHCR  is  against  us; the  western  countries  have  ganged  up  against  us. I beg to disagree.

Let us look  at  this  resolution  dispassionately. The high commisioner  has     made  note  of  the  very  things    we    ourselves don’t  like about recent happenings in our country. Did we  want  all  Muslim  Covid  dead  to  be  cremated?  No. Once  the  WHO  okay was  given,   we  all agreed that religious customs may be followed.

Did  we want  our  civil  administration to  be  invaded  by  the  military? No. Our   civil  adminitrtion  is  not  the  world’s  best  but  we  have  no  great  issues over that.   A  military  presence  has  not  resulted in a  marked  improvement  either. The public service meanders lazily as  of  yore.

As  for  killing  of  prisoners, what happened in Mahara is unfortunate. Surely there must  be  other  ways  of  dealing  with  rioting  prisoners than  killing them? There are other pitfalls we could have  avoided  had  we  been  less  arrogant  and  a  little  more  submissive. After all we are  in  UNHCR  on our  own volition 

Our political leaders  are  very  visible  in  the  Buddhist  scene, frequenting  temples, prostrating themselves before Bodhi  trees and participating  in  Buddhist rituals. All that is well  and  good. At  the  same  time  I  wish  they  would  embrace the Dasa Raja Dharma edict on governance of  King  Asoka. We  will then have  fewer problems    with  the  likes  of  UNHRC.  

 

Padmini Nanayakkara,

Colombo-3.

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