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Revolutionising actor training through indigenous corporeal arts

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By Sajitha Prematunge

The various thuds, groans and gasps begged the question, were the participants insured? Apparently not, according to the AHEAD project team, lead by University of Visual and Performing Arts, Faculty of Dance and Drama, Professor in Theatre and Drama, Dr. Saumya Liyanage. The training takes place three days per week and make no mistake, Angampora is harder than it looks. But it is not life threatening if trained by a professional Master, assured Liyanage.

Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD) is a World Bank funded government initiative aimed at supporting the higher education sector with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education as the implementing agency and the University Grants Commission (UGC) coordinating the activities in the universities.

“The objective of AHEAD is to develop IT skills, English language proficiency as well as innovation and research in the government university sector,” informed Liyanage. The programme provides funding under three key areas, one being development-oriented research, under which Liyanage’s research project proposal titled ”Lamp in a windless place’: Developing an Actor Training Methodology through Sri Lankan Combative Art Forms’ was selected for funding. The project explores the effectiveness of actor training through Angampora.

Liyanage explained that while Europeans are more explorative and there exists an intercultural discussion on performer training traditions, the potential of indigenous martial arts in developing an actor training methodology had not been explored at length before Phillip Zarrilli’s research. Liyanage was influenced by Exeter University, UK Professor Zarrilli’s research. Having met and worked with him, during an actor training workshop in India, Zarrilli’s work inspired the conception of Liyanage’s project. “Zarrilli developed an actor training methodology using Kerala-based form of martial arts, Kalaripayattu.” “But this is the first time the potential of Angampora, as a Sri Lankan combative art form, is being explored in terms of actor training,” said Hillary.

 

Funding

Lead academic expert of AHEAD Operation, Prof Thusitha Abeytunga and World Bank lead economist, Dr. Harsha Aturupane has been of immense support to them. “It takes a lot of effort, on their side, to appreciate the significance of this project, particularly from an economic perspective,” said Hillary. “Providing financial support to actor training research is an alien concept even for them,” confessed Liyanage. He said that he is grateful that his project is one of few from Humanities funded by AHEAD.

“The funding is provided as a soft loan, meaning the government has to pay it back eventually. But in essence, it is the public who has to bear the cost,” said Liyanage, pointing out that it is imperative that the public knows that they are paying for a good cause. “Contrary to popular belief that they are stagnating, universities actually do good work. For example, we produce academic papers quite frequently, but the general public is not exposed to them, simply because they are subject specific papers.”

The 10 million grant, offered for a period of three years, is being put to good use. The academic aspect of the project requires actual research work to be undertaken. “It makes for a healthy blend of academic exploration and practice,” said Liyanage. Consequently, much of the first year was spent on research and development of two MPhil degrees. Liyanage, Team Member, Natasha Hillary and the research assistants write academic papers while training takes place simultaneously. “Because it is only with the justification through academic writing, a qualitative method of evaluation, can we prove the objective or the outcome of the project,” said Hillary. Institute of Arts Barcelona, Spain has agreed to allocate the next issue of their journal to the project. Liyanage opined that developing new theory is an integral part of the project. “Later we would focus on developing an actor training methodology in a laboratory setting.”

In the second year an actor training laboratory was established within the university. “But we have not yet been able to make full use of it, because the university is currently off limits due to the prevailing pandemic situation,” admitted Liyanage. Hillary explained that the World Bank usually funds research projects and development of university infrastructure. “Such as the actor training laboratory, which the university was much in need of.” She explained that securing funding and actually keeping the project on par with other World Bank funded projects was no cake-walk. “They have a strict monitoring mechanism and we are expected to achieve Key Performance Indicators, within the project structure, that varies from academic papers, research problems to presentations at international symposia or conferences.”

According to Hillary University Business Linkages acts as a business partner to the project. “For example if the project achieves the results we hope it would it qualifies for a patent, where in a new course can be introduced, enabling actors to apply and learn this form of martial arts during their studies at the university.” She pointed out that students have hardly any opportunity to be exposed to such martial arts, within the university curriculum. “But if the project becomes a success it can even be converted to an internship,” informed Hillary.

Liyanage explained that although the university system produces quality graduates, there is no vibrant industry to absorb them, compared to countries like India. “The issue is that we have a small television industry, theatre is almost negligible and film industry is stagnant.” Liyanage explained that they are striving to produce high quality graduates to improve the industry, by honing their language skills, soft skills and IT skills.

 

Acting and martial arts

“Perfection of any martial arts requires discipline,” said Liyanage. “It is a very corporeal teaching methodology based on a traditional master-disciple relationship.” The basic principle is imitation of the master and imitation is a form of acting, explained Liyanage. “Attentiveness is essential in both mastering a form of martial arts and in acting. The presence of an actor is another key element in performing,” explained Liyanage. “It’s not mere personality, an actor’s presence is something else entirely. Just being in front of the camera or on stage, conveys a message and can count as presence.”

Training in martial arts also prepares an actor psychophysically, explained Liyanage. Liyanage points out that martial arts such as Angampora trains both body and mind simultaneously. “In fact, in the west there is a clear demarcation between mind and matter. This is a philosophical problem. However, in major Asian corporeal arts there is no distinction between mind and body. Philosophically, Angampora also reflects this unity of the body-mind.” Liyanage believes that this can be adapted as a philosophical base for actor training, as psychophysical actor training focuses on the body-mind functionality of the actor.

In fact, how the psychophysical approaches of ancient martial arts can be incorporated into actor training is what initially attracted Research Assistant, Lyudmyla Honcharova to the project. Honcharova admitted that she had always been attracted to martial arts. Honcharova observed that her training is more mentally challenging that it is physically so. “What constraints us is really a construct of the mind. Your body can take it, but your mind holds you back. But the master coaxes the students into pushing those psychological boundaries, to overcome your fears. This in the long run, builds self confidence.” Honcharova explained that if an actor is unsure of him or herself and hesitate on stage or set, it does not make the acting plausible. “The audience will see right through it. To become the character you portray, to become someone else, first you have to know yourself.”

Honcharova opined that the well-being of actors is something often ignored in traditional actor training. “Acting as a profession is both mentally and physically very rigorous. So it’s important that you know how to transit from your daily life to your stage life. A gap in actor training is that this is not taught.” Honcharova explained that, in contrast, martial arts have a solid structure, with warmups, the main session and the cooling down. “Angampora is not just about fighting, but about healing and both physical and mental well-being. Martial arts teaches you how to take care of your body, how to treat injury. It is specially based on Ayurvedic practices, capable of treating many ailments.”

Honcharova opined that Angampora helps one connect with the surrounding environment better and facilitates smoother energy flow, while also allowing one to concentrate on the different parts of the body. “The Angampora sessions start with meditation and it really helps to focus. In martial arts focus is vital, because you need to be able to foresee your opponent’s moves and you need to be observant and attentive. All these translate well into acting, since acting also involves multitasking in the form of interacting with other actors on stage, audience and delivering dialogue.” Honcharova explained that in both martial arts and acting the body becomes the main instrument. “So, although the two seems mutually exclusive, they are in fact mutually beneficial,” argued Honcharova.

Thilakshini Ratnayake, who has been engaged in theatre for over 10 years and have acted in several teledramas and films, is no stranger to acting. Ratnayake had acted in Vishama Bhaga, Silence in the Courts, Let Her Cry and Koombiyo, with two more movies in the pipeline. Her latest project is her role as Sulo in Thanamalvila Kollek. Ratnayake graduated with a Bachelor of Information Technology – external (BIT) from the Colombo University in 2010. Later she switched to Theatre Studies at the University of Visual and Performing Arts. Is is currently reading for her level II diploma in Drama and Theatre Studies at Trinity College London.

Ratnayake has attempted to apply what she had learned through the AHEAD project to her acting. Ratnayake pointed out that Angampora demands focus and coordination. “My focus and coordination between mind and body has improved. Movement needs to be coordinated, precise, purposeful and you have to be able to imagine your opponent. That’s very much like acting. When you act you may not have props or the other actors around, so a vivid imagination helps.” Consequently, the two can be mutually beneficial, opined Ratnayake. She admits that the training has heightened her focus and bodily awareness.

An injury deters Ratnayake from taking physical risks. But with the training she received from the AHEAD project, she has learned to relax and be more receptive to reactions from other actors and input from the director. “This kind of training also trains you to respect your body. My eating habits have gotten healthier and I’m more disciplined since I started training.” Ratnayake has learned to maintain a strict regimen in terms of physical health, eating right and getting regular hours of sleep. “I feel responsible for my body.”

Angampora is his forefathers legacy to Guru Karunapala, their Angampora master. Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers were Angampora masters of the Kotte tradition. Karunapala took up Angampora at the tender age of six. By the end of his studies he had become such a formidable Angampora fighter that he could kill a man with a newspaper, in quite the literal sense. He also perfected the art of using pressure points in combat and learned indigenous medicine for various ailments.

Karunapala had a tough training regimen, climbing arecanut trees in the rain and training ‘geta poottu’, different types moves or knots using one’s own limbs, in muddy paddy fields. A fully grown person can be incapacitated by tying him or her up with his or her own limbs, informed Karunapala. In fact, he said that a mere jerk of the opponent’s arm or pressing the right pressure point can nearly incapacitate an opponent for an extended period of time. “So you wouldn’t have to resort to killing.”

According to Karunapala, Angampora employs few of the oldest forms of physical exercise, such as locking one in a dandukanda (a pillory-like device). “This particular form of exercise strengthens the back and those who practice it will never hunch even at the age of 80 or 90.” While he was training he was required to do certain stretching exercises in the confines of a well. “It was called a ‘ling gete.’ Such exercises condition and strengthen the body.” Making one able to fight while standing on one foot. For most it’s nearly impossible to lift 100 pounds. But due to Karunapala’s rigorous weight lifting exercises, he can easily lift 350 pounds despite his 80 years. “In weights training, you are expected to lift other people, and the weight is increased daily, gradually.” Karunapala informed that certain breathing techniques are also employed in weight training. “When you have trained properly you can lift a fully grown cow without breaking a sweat.”

He explained that most of the Angampora moves are based on animal behaviour and certain moves are not taught because they are simply too dangerous. In fact, after mastering several of the styles Karunapala graduated only after vowing, standing neck deep in water with seven pots of milk on his head, never to use the moves to another’s detriment. He went back on his oath only once when he incapacitated 18 LTTE cadres single-handed. But this was a transparent matter of self defence.

“In all there are 64 styles. For example, the mantis is a harmless insect, but the Angampora style based on the mantis can be deadly.” The ‘Polu Sellama’ or fighting using staffs is based on deer fights using antlers. The ‘pimburu gete’ is based on pythons’ flexibility. The leopard and bear styles are some other such examples. “All these styles are slowly dying now,” said Karunapala, because some masters failed to pass the teachings onto the next generation. “Besides, people are too caught up in their economic strife, trying to make ends meet, than to take up something such as Angampora.”

 

Pics by Thushara Athapaththu

 


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Ranjan loses the People’s Crown

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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.

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Bio-Piracy:

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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

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Acknowledged (only?) Statesman speaks out; so do a few others

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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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