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Rice Genetic Improvement Odyssey of Past Centuries



by M. P. Dhanapala

Former Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, Batalagoda


History is important. It keeps you away from reinventing the wheel and repeating the mistakes already committed in the past. In history, there should not be hidden expressions to read between lines as “the ten giants of King Dutugamunu were fed with traditional rice,”concealing the details of what the others were eating and why they were not giants or that “we have been exporting rice during the past in such and such era” without disclosing the quantities and the recipient countries. For that matter if you go through the export details, we do export rice even now.

The green revolution was criticized as the contributing factor for the so called unidentified Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu) which was reported primarily from the North Central Province. Whatever the causal factor of CKDu is, Norman Borlaug or his green revolution has nothing to do with the kidney disease or rice in Sri Lanka. It is true that his innovative ideology in wheat breeding induced the rice breeders worldwide to develop a physiologically efficient rice plant type by changing the plant stature and canopy characteristics. The Sri Lankan rice varieties were developed within the country, by the Sri Lankan scientists. It was an extension of the breeding process initiated by the British scientists during the colonial era. The progress of rice breeding from its inception by different generations will be unfolded in this write-up to judge the calculated decisions taken by the ancestral breeders to improve rice productivity in the country.

I would like to lay the baseline from a report published by Edward Elliott, a British Civil Servant in 1913. (Tropical Agriculturist, Vol. XLI, No. 6, Dec. 1913). He states that the forced labor (Rajakariya) that existed then was abolished in 1832. Subsequently, the communal cooperation system (Atththam) also ceased to exist gradually. These two incidents were cited as the major reasons for the neglect of irrigation structures and subsequent decline of rice production in the mid 19th Century. The annual rice production estimated for the period of 10 years ending in 1856 was 5.5 million bushels, the lowest in the recorded history.

Enacting the Paddy Ordinance in 1857 allowed voluntary restoration of old irrigation structures which eventually led to the gradual increase in the cultivated extent and the annual rice production. Estimated rice production data during this era and at the turn of the century are summarized in Table 1. The original data were in acres and bushels. The data were transformed into hectares and kilograms and tonnes assuming 20 kg as the bushel weight. The transformed data in Table 1 appear within parentheses.

See table 1.

Annual rice production statistics from the latter half of the 19th and early 20th Century (Elliot, 1913)

The rice production data above are estimates based on returns from paddy, probably grain tax, in the Government Blue Books. You may realize that these estimates are sometimes too high when actual data appear towards 1940s. However, at the turn of the 19th Century, the rice varieties were exclusively traditional types maintained by farmers and the Department of Agriculture was not established.

Many critics maintain that we had innumerable different varieties of rice in the past. The earliest recorded in the history was a collection of 300 rice varieties displayed by Nugawela Dissawe for the agri-horticultural exhibition held in 1902 (Molegoda, 1924) (Trop. Agric. XLII (4): 218-224.). This probably represented almost all the cultivars in the field during this period. This was the largest collection of rice varieties in the recorded history in Ceylon, leaving out the recent collections performed in the latter half of the 20th century. Molegoda explains very comprehensively the status of rice varieties and the procedure followed in naming them.

The rice cultivation at the beginning of 20th century was entirely organic manure dependent. The farmers then were apparently more competent in traditional methods of rice cultivation. The most striking feature during this era was that the average yields were below one ton/ha (<20 bu/ac) even in the best productive year, 1903 (Table 1).

In 1914, an encouraging note on Extension of Paddy Cultivation by A. W. Beven (Trop. Agric. XLIII (6): 421-424.) appears with the suggestion of seed selection to improve rice yields. He states that in the year 1913 the yield estimate of 9,622,320 bushels was too high a target, i.e.14.2 bu/ac (0.71 t/ha), for the cultivated extent of 671,711ac (271,827ha), but suggests that with seed selection accompanied by proper land preparation, manuring and transplanting, the yields could be increased up to 25 bu/ac (1.25t/ha). This suggestion was at the inception of the Department of Agriculture which was established in 1912.

The earliest record on rice varietal improvement dates back to seed selection in 1914 by Dr. Lock at Peradeniya. This was done more or less parallel with the establishment of Johannsen’s pure line theory (1903). In the literature, Dr. Lock’s improved Hatial (a seven month variety) appears from time to time as a standard variety in yield tests.

The next most important step was the pure-line selection. Initially, three Economic Botanists, F. Summers (1921), R.O. Iliffe (1922), L. Lord (1927) and at latter stages Paddy Officer G.V. Wickremasekera were involved in the selection of pure- lines (Trop. Agric. LVIII (2): 67-70; Trop. Agric. LXVIII (5): 309-318). Pure-line selection exploited heterogeneity within the farmer maintained traditional rice cultivars. Each cultivar composed of different types within it. As a result, individual plant selection within cultivars produced progenies with better genetic potential, but resembling the mother plant selected; they bred true to type as rice is an obligate inbreeder. This was the essence of pure-line theory established by Johannsen (1903).

Pure-line selection was initiated with a representative collection of traditional varieties. The most popular varieties were included in the process. Pure-line selection was done at two major locations, Mahailluppallama and Peradeniya. Subsequently, selection was regionalized to accommodate regionally adapted varieties in the process. The best isolated progenies were tested at 19 test locations in different agro-ecological regions for adaptability, prior to recommendation. The best adapted pure-lines (21 lines – Table 2) were identified for purity maintenance at four different paddy stations – Ambalantota (nine lines), Mahailluppallama (eight lines), Madampe (two lines) and Batalagoda (two lines). Further multiplication of seeds was done in government farms under the supervision of Agricultural Officers and distributed as seed paddy for cultivation (Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.).

See table 2.

Pure-line varieties identified for cultivation (Extract from Amended Departmental Circular No. 156 – Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.)

While the pure-line selection process was on, Joachim (1927) (Trop. Agric. LXIX 137) warned that the sustenance of increased yields by cultivation of high yielding pure-lines has to be met with liberal manuring. However, despite of all these attempts during the two decades from 1920s, the paddy yields were not substantially increased (Table 3). Rice yield data presented in Table 3 shows lower values compared to yield estimates from Government Blue Books presented in Table 1. The data in Table 3 being more reliable, the Table 1 data could be overestimates.

However, the majority of the harvested rice crop in the 1940s could be from potentially better pure-line selections, but the yields were much below the anticipated levels. The total production was around 15 million bushels (0.3 m tons) and yields stagnated at around 14 bu/ac (0.7 t/ha).

The Draft Scheme for Development of the Paddy Industry in Ceylon drawn in 1945 (Trop. Agric. CI (3) 191-195) begins with the statement that only a third of the annual requirement is met by the local rice production.

The balance was imported; the population was less than seven million during that period and the paddy cultivation was done organically with the best adapted pure-lines of traditional cultivars, though it failed to deliver what was intended.

The importance of inorganic (chemical) fertilizer was felt during this period as the only option to improve paddy yields further. Use of sodium nitrate (Na NO3) as the source of nitrogen (N) was attempted in rice prior to 1905 based on American experience in soybean cultivation, but nitrite (NO2) toxicity under reduced conditions in submerged paddy soils prohibited its use. Superiority of NH4 form of N was demonstrated by Nagaoka (1905) and Daikuhara and Imaseki (1907). However, the application of N promoted vegetative growth in pure-lines derived from traditional rice varieties causing premature lodging. Furthermore, two fungal diseases, blast and brown spot, became prominent. Around this period some introduced varieties were tested without much success. Among them, Ptb 16 from Pathambi, India, popularly called Riyan wee, with long panicles and slender grains (Buriyani rice) became popular, but self sufficiency in rice appeared to be far away.

Transition to another phase in rice breeding began as the rice breeders over the world employed cross-bred populations to create genetic variability to bring together desirable characteristics of different rice cultivars to develop better varieties. Rice hybridization techniques were developed around early 1920s and a major break through in changing the plant-type was accomplished in Japan with the use of Jikkoku, a dwarf natural mutant of Japonica rice. The performance of Japonica varieties exhibited substantial improvement with this transition. Influenced by the Japanese experience, the Food and Agriculture Organization sponsored a cross breeding program of Japonica with Indica rices in Cuttak, India to change the Indica plant type too in this direction, but without success due to incompatibility between the two groups (Japonica and Indica) leading to grain sterility in subsequent generations.

In Sri Lanka, the first paper on rice hybridization techniques was published in 1951 by J.J. Niles, an assistant in Economic Botany, guided by Prof. M. F. Chandraratne, the Economic Botanist (Trop. Agric. CVII (1):25-29.). Prof. Chandraratne was instrumental in initiation of rice hybridization. Simultaneously rice hybridization work began at the Dry Zone Agricultural Research Station at Mahailluppallama under the guidance of Dr. Ernest Abeyratne. The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda was established in 1952 and Dr. H. Weeraratne was transferred from Mahailluppallama to Batalagoda as the rice breeder with the hybrid populations already developed at Mahailluppallama.

Dr. Weeraratne, influenced by his superiors, Prof. Chandraratne and Dr. Abeyratne, continued rice hybridization to create genetic variability for selection. The hybridization techniques adopted by him were published in 1954 (Trop. Agric. CX (2) 93-97). Apparently, the labor intensive pedigree method was employed by Dr. Weeraratne to identify and fix desirable genotypes from segregating populations. And this was the beginning of the “H” series of varieties that revolutionized the rice sector in Sri Lanka. The letter “H” was used to imply that the varieties were of hybrid origin and were different from traditional varieties or pure-lines, but not to imply that they are hybrids.

Fig. 1,

The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Department of Agriculture

The first of the series, H4 (4.5 month, red bold), released in 1957, reached its peak popularity after a five year lapse of time and covered over 60% of the cultivated extent in Maha season, 62/63. The others in the series were H7 (3.5 month, white bold), H8 (4.5 month, white samba), H9 (5-6 month, white bold), H10 (3 month, red bold). Release of H varieties (1) minimized crop losses due to blast disease, (2) changed rice cropping pattern from single to double cropping, (3) use of N fertilizer increased by 350% due to their moderate response to fertilizer, (4) increased national yield level up to 3.5 t/ha (Senadhira et. al., Rice Symposium, Department of Agriculture, 1980). This effort, though appreciated widely, fell short of self sufficiency again.

The most controversial phase for the critics in rice breeding was initiated in mid 1960s, while “H” varieties were replacing the pure-lines and the traditional varieties from paddy fields. The International Rice Research Institute was established in 1960 and the plant physiologists conceptualized the plant type structure of rice to make it physiologically efficient. The development of “H” varieties (Old Improved Varieties) abruptly ended with these new innovations.

The breeders responsible for developing this new plant type in Sri Lanka, specifically the Bg varieties, were Dr. H. Weeraratne, Dr. N. Vignarajah, Dr. D. Senadhira and Mr. C.A. Sandanayake. None of them are among us any more. I joined the team in the late 1960s, at the tail end of H varieties and continued the process till the country reached the brim of self reliance in rice.

The Bg and other modern varieties are physiologically efficient. They are devoid of unproductive plant tissues and ineffective tillers. The plant structure is designed to reduce mutual shading of leaves and trap solar radiation effectively by every leaf in the canopy thus reducing the respiratory losses and promoting the net assimilation rate. They out yield traditional and H varieties at any level of soil fertility and show positive grain yield response to added fertilizer. They are lodging resistant and incorporated with resistance/tolerance to major pests and diseases prevalent in the country. More preciously, we have reversed the source-sink relationship of the rice plant to translocate photosynthates to produce more grains and less straw. The potential yield of improved varieties exceeds 6t/ha. All these traits listed above have been tested in controlled experiments in the field to confirm the superiority of new improved varieties. We reap around 4.5 tons/ha as our national average yield at present; the country is self sufficient in rice, the dream every political leader had since independence.

This in a nut shell is what the rice breeders have accomplished and for which they were given the title “Kumbandayas” in an article written apparently by a medical professional. The local rice scientists embark only on innovations backed by scientific facts. They do not have to exaggerate or lie. They know little more than those who seek cheap popularity by being critical about the accomplishments of rice scientists. This country needs people dedicated and confined to their respective professions allowing other professionals to play their own role. At any time rice breeders can take the country back to the traditional rice era if you want to begin all over again from the beginning. The traditional accessions are in long-term storage at the Plant Genetic Resource Center (PGRC), Gannoruwa, Department of Agriculture, and can be taken out for multiplication at any time as the seed samples are viable.

Now I repent why we produced rice with more grains and less straw. There appears to be unsatisfied demand for straw. I like to conclude this disclosure with a statement made by Dr. N. M. Perera at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in the mid 1960s. “Comrade, I can give you facts and figures, but I am sorry; I am unable to implant a brain in you”.

(The writer holds a Ph D, Genetics and Plant Breeding, North Dakota University, USA, 1990, M Sc., Plant Breeding, Saga University, Japan, 1978 and B sc. Agric. University of Ceylon, Sri-Lanka, 1968. He has served as Research Officer, Rice Breeding (1969 – 1995) Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, (1996 – 2000), Batalagoda, Affiliate Scientist, International Rice Research Institute (2000 – 2003), Philippines and Technical Advisor, JICA,, Tsukuba International Center, (2004 – 2012), Japan)

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Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?



By Maduranga Kalugampitiya

The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!

While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.

What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.

Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.

Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.

Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.

In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.

If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.

In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.

(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Selective targeting not law’s purpose



By Jehan Perera

The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.

Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.

But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.


The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.

Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.

In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.


The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”

Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.

The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.

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Girl power… to light up our scene



Manthra: Pop, rock and Sinhala songs

We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!

The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.

Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.

It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.

Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).

Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).

Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.

They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).

Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.

The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.

Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.

Hiruni Fernando: Founder and leader of Manthra

She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.

“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”

With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.

“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.

Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!

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