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Renaming Colombo Roads – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Remembered Yesterdays

by J. Godwin Perera

Renaming roads is quite a task. Historical, cultural, political, ancestral, paternal even racial issues have to be carefully considered. What one group proposes another group opposes. Tar brushes are used liberally to prove a point. Ours is a land like no other ! Thankfully !! Anyway let’s start with Duplication Road. Named, because it ‘duplicates’ a section of Galle Road by running parallel to it. It’s now R.A. de Mel Mawatha. However to the ‘Tuk Tuk’ drivers who rule the roads and ride over the rules, it’s still Duplicasen Paara. Never mind the Sinhalisation. R. A.de Mel was a Mayor of Colombo. Later, elected to Ceylon’s first Parliament and appointed Deputy Speaker, he was unseated on an election petition regarding impersonation. Shocking? But be consoled. That was Ceylon. Now we are Sri Lanka. Worse things happen. Like shooting a supporter of a rival party whilst he was decorating a stage for an election rally.

At one end of R.A. de Mel Mawatha was Dickman’s Road. Now it’s Dr Lester James Peiris Mawatha. ( Wrong spelling. Should be ‘Peries’ ). Dr Lester was undoubtedly Lanka’s most renowned film Director and he lived on this road. Dickman on the other hand was a long standing resident of the area. Many, many years ago, even before Dr Lester decided to live here, he – Dickman, not Lester, donated part of his property to build this road. So, no Dickman. No road.

Now from Dickman’s Road – Oops ! Dr Lester James Peiris Mawatha turn left and drive along that stretch of Road you may recall as being Havelock Road. Now it’s not. It’s Sri Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Mawatha, to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of Lord Buddha. However to most, even Buddhists, it’s still ‘Havelock Road.’ Easy to write. Easy to remember.

Close by was Thimbirigasyaya Road. It is now Venerable Muruththetuwe Ananda Nahimi Mawatha ( Required – Large envelope. Large letter-head ) This Venerable Thero is the Chief Incumbent of the Abeyaramaya Temple. Also, the President of the Public Services United Nurses Union. Nurses are most pleased. Politically unbiased, he loyally safeguards their rights. Let’s now drive to what was Reid Avenue. Major H.L. Reid was the principal of Royal College when it was re-located to its present site in 1923. The college song was composed by him. The Royal- Trinity rugger match was initiated by him. Phillip Gunawardena after whom this road is named once lived in a house in Reid Avenue. His three sons were educated at Royal College. Famous father. Famous sons. So be it !

But not all roads were renamed to please family and friends. Brownrigg Road was so named after Robert Brownrigg who In 1815, as Governor of Ceylon annexed the Kandyan Kingdom and brought our entire country under the British yoke. In an ironical twist of fate this road is now named Keppetipola Mawatha. He was a warrior Dissawa from Uva who led a rebellion against the British forces and was subsequently executed for high treason. From here to Kanatte. The junction. Not the cemetery. That stretch of road from Kanatte Junction to Borella Junction was part of Baseline Road because it was the ‘baseline’ or reference point for British surveyors to draw their maps of Colombo’s road network. It is now appropriately named D.S .Senanayake Mawatha, after our first Prime Minister whose Colombo residence ‘Woodlands’ was on that road. Why was this house not declared a Heritage Site?

The road from Borella Junction to Dematagoda which was also called Baseline Road is now called Dr Danister de Silva Mawatha. In a doctor versus doctor contest, Dr Danister (WD) de Silva, defeated Dr R.B.Lenora to win the Borella Electorate in the 1960 General Elections. A five minute drive along Dr Danister de Silva Mawatha takes you to a junction. On the right is the Welikade Prison. Ignore it. At least for now. Turn left to what was Campbell Place named after Sir George William Campbell who circa 1866 was appointed as the first Chief Superintendent of the Ceylon Police Force. It is now Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha. He was one of the pioneers of Sinhala poetry. Remember that Sinhala nursery rhyme – Rosa Male Natuwe Katu? It was composed by Ananda Rajakaruna.

But there are more interesting roads that will make you wonder as you wander. That stretch of road between Horton Place and the Public Library is/ was/is named after Ananda Coomaraswamy. A world renowned geologist, mineralogist, philosopher, art historian and more. We are truly proud of him. On that road you will also see quite an impressive building with an oriental design, appropriately named ‘ Nelum Pokuna Performing Arts Stadium’. Someone got a bright idea, erased ‘Ananda Coomaraswamy’ from the name board and substituted ‘Nelum Pokuna.’ There was quite a strong protest. ‘Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha’ reappeared.

We then had the puerile attempt to rename Bagatelle Road as Srimath Wijayananda Dahananayake Mawatha. That unassuming, witty, short time Prime Minister ‘Daha’, would have been the first to protest. He was a son of Galle, not Colombo. A few minutes drive from Bagatelle Road and we reach a road lined with massive trees , whose overarching branches provide a long, canopy of shade. This is Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Many years ago it was named Bullers Road after a one time Government Agent (circa 1840). On this road are the stately homes of men who matter, whose stateliness is emphasized by sentries. A landmark is the magnificent Chinese gifted, Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH).

Also visible along this road is a harmonious religious co-existence. Opposite the BMICH is a life-size replica of the much revered Aukana Buddha. By the side of BMICH is the impressive Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour. Off Bauddaloka Mawatha near the BMICH was Longden Place, named after the 15th Governor of Ceylon (1877-1883). But there comes a time when remembering our colonial past is best left to historians. Hence Longden Place was renamed Malalasekera Mawatha. Prof G.P. Malalasekera was one of the country’s most famous academics, scholars and diplomats. His ‘Magnum Opus’ was the English –Sinhala dictionary. A two minute drive off Bauddhaloka Mawatha leads you to what was once Gregory’s Road. If there is a time to let only historians remember our colonial past there is also a time for us never forget our colonial past. It was Governor William Henry Gregory who in 1877 was responsible for building that most imposing, stately, iconic, landmark – the National Museum. But on July 16th 2013, Gregory’s Road was renamed Srimath R.G. Senanayake Mawatha. He was at one time Minister of Trade and Commerce. O Tempora O Mores !

In another display of cordial inter -religious harmony, Maradana Road has been divided into three sections – Kularatne Mawatha. Named after one of our country’s foremost Buddhist educationists who was Principal of Ananda College, founded Nalanda College and several other Buddhist schools. The next section is named after the weekly Catholic Magazine, first published in 1866 and is called Gnanartha Pradeepaya Road. The third section is Orabi Pasha Mawatha. An ardent Muslim reformist, he spearheaded a Muslim revivalist movement. It was due to his inspiration that Zahira College was established in August 1892.

Well, well, there’s very much more to write about our renamed roads. But it may result in all of us being driven round the bend. Can’t allow that to happen can we?

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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