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Rise against state repression: A call to the people

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2022 has seen the most dramatic uprising of people against the government’s tyrannical rule since independence. Amidst a devastating economic crisis, the people raised their voices against corruption, misrule and economic mismanagement, demanding greater democracy. Instead of heeding the people’s call for change in the political culture and economic accountability, the government has responded with repression. The state’s crackdown on protesters is intended to prevent the expression of public dissatisfaction with the administration, as well as the austerity measures it has imposed which are causing tremendous hardship and suffering.

We, the undersigned, call on the government to acknowledge the sovereignty of the people, to cease its persecution of protestors, and ensure the civil, political and economic rights of all citizens, especially of marginalised and vulnerable communities. The multiple, interconnected political and economic crises confronting us now cannot be resolved through a move towards greater authoritarianism but by the people’s continued involvement in the democratic space that has been created and by an administration willing to engage with its citizens.

The Security State

From its inception, state security and its repressive arms were key to the functioning of the Sri Lankan postcolonial state. The insurgencies in the south and the rise of militancy in the north and east, the protracted war that lasted almost 30 years, were used to legitimise the repressive arms of the state. The all-powerful executive presidency (1978) compounded matters by densely concentrating executive powers in one office, enabling swift authorisation of questionable laws and actions.

In 1979, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was introduced, giving the government sweeping powers to arrest anyone without a warrant on the hazy grounds of their engaging in “unlawful activities” and detain them for up to 18 months without being produced before a court, and often incarcerating them for decades without a fair trial. Presented, debated and enacted in parliament within a single day, the PTA was a “temporary” measure to purportedly stem the tide of Tamil militancy. It was complemented by several other organised forms of repression. In addition to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), units like the police Special Task Force (STF), and the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), paved the way for increased securitisation and militarisation of the state. In the long years of the war and unrest, militarisation seeped into the fabric of society.

Post War and Post Easter Bombings

The template for what we see today was shaped during the post-war years as well, as the state continued to target minorities. Instead of pursuing genuine reconciliation and power-sharing, the state reinforced its military apparatus in the north and east. This has allowed the retention of High Security Zones, preventing people from returning to their homes and livelihoods, and enabled land grabbing that is rationalised in the name of security or development. In the aftermath of the Easter bombings of April 2019, in which some 270 people lost their lives, anti-terror campaigns targeted Muslim youth. Terror and fear seized the Muslim community as they came under attack by the repressive arms of state security. The PTA was to arbitrarily arrest and confine persons known and unknown, on very flimsy charges. The arrest and detention of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem are only two cases in point of how the PTA is used in a gross violation of all concerns of justice.

An earlier development in this regard has drawn insufficient public attention. In compliance with UN Security Council Resolution No. 1373 calling on member states to take measures to curb terrorist activity, the Sri Lankan state drew up a list of names in 2020, identifying 300-odd persons as terror suspects. The overwhelming majority of those named in the list are Muslim and Tamil. Some were already behind bars during the period in which they are suspected of having engaged in suspicious activity. Persons included in the list undergo untold difficulties: they no longer enjoy access to their financial assets and have no indication of when they may expect to have such access again. They cannot seek legal redress because their financial assets are barred to them. They have trouble securing or holding on to employment due to the disrepute of being included in the list. They live under constant surveillance, with the threat of potential punitive measures despite the absence of any evidence of misconduct.

Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill

The Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill is the most recent in a series of laws that seek to sanction repression by the state and must not be viewed in isolation, but in the totality of a process we understand as securitisation of the state. The broad reach of the Bill allows for sending into compulsory detention “drug dependent persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons” without necessarily citing sufficient cause for such action.

Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that “certain provisions” of the Bill are unconstitutional such as the reference to ‘ex-combatants’ and ‘any other persons’, the criminalisation of drug dependency that seems to be considered unproblematic suggests that the law itself should not be accepted without questioning. Its draconian features allow virtually any person to be sent into detention and it does not specify the procedure by which claims of drug abuse, past involvement in armed activity, and violent extremism may be reasonably established. It leaves space for the criminalisation of democratic activism that has characterised our recent past. The Bill in its entirety should be struck down.

The Current Moment of Repression

Today, person after person is being arrested and detained. The lens of surveillance has dramatically turned to those who are deemed central to the people’s movement of the Aragalaya. Those who have stood up to state violence, including students, are being picked off the streets and sent away, into the dark corners of detention.

We are staring into the gaping mouth of a police state. We have to reclaim our voice, and rise against all acts of repression and all legal manoeuvres that are designed to silence dissent, resistance and democratic action. This is the task at hand, where we citizens must reclaim the democratic space to put an end to authoritarian repression. It is through democratic participation, through dialogue, protests and the vote, that the tremendous economic and political crisis can be addressed in the interests of all the people of Sri Lanka.

Signed:

Ranil Abayasekara, formerly University of Peradeniya

Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Asha L. Abeyasekera, formerly University of Colombo

M.M. Alikhan, University of Peradeniya

Liyanage Amarakeerthi, University of Peradeniya

Fazeeha Azmi, M. I., University of Peradeniya

Crystal Baines. formerly, University of Colombo

Navaratne Bandara Formerly University of Peradeniya

Visakesa Chandrasekaram, University of Colombo

Erandika de Silva, University of Jaffna

Nadeesh De Silva, the Open University of Sri Lanka

Nirmal Dewasiri, University of Colombo

Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya

Priyan Dias, Emeritus Professor, University of Moratuwa

Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo

Priyantha Fonseka, University of Peradeniya

Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo

Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka

Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya

Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo

Shyamani Hettiarachchi, University of Kelaniya

Gayathri Hewagama, Visiting Lecturer, University of Peradeniya

Charudaththe B. Illangasinghe, University of the Visual and Performing Arts

Prabhath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo

Theshani Jayasooriya, University of Peradeniya

M. W. A. P. Jayatilaka, Retired, University of Peradeniya

Barana Jayawardana, University of Peradeniya

Pavithra Jayawardena, University of Colombo

Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna

Anushka Kahandagamage, formerly University of Colombo

Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo

Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya

A. K. Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya

Madara Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya

Chulani Kodikara, Visiting Lecturer, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Colombo

Pradeepa Korale Gedara, University of Peradeniya

Savitri Nimal Kumar, University of Peradeniya

Ramya Kumar, University of Jaffna

Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya

Vijaya Kumar, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Amal Kumarage, University of Moratuwa

Aminda Lakmal, University of Sri Jayewardenepura

Rohan Laksiri, University of Ruhuna

Abdul Haq Lareena, Sabaragamuwa University

Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya

Kamala Liyanage, Professor Emerita, University of Peradeniya

Nethmie Liyanage, University of Peradeniya

Sachini Marasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Tharinda Mallawaarachchi, University of Colombo

Sudesh Mantillake, University of Peradeniya

Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya

Mahim Mendis, Open University of Sri Lanka

Rumala Morel, University of Peradeniya

Sitralega Maunaguru, retired formerly Eastern University of Sri Lanka

Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo

Sabreena Niles, University of Kelaniya

M. A. Nuhman, formerly University of Jaffna

Gananath Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

Ranjini Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

Arjuna Parakrama, University of Peradeniya

Sasinindu Patabendige, University of Jaffna

Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo

Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo

Nicola Perera, University of Colombo

Ramindu Perera, The Open University of Sri Lanka

Ruhanie Perera, University of Colombo

Sampath Rajapaksa, University of Kelaniya

Ramesh Ramasamy, University of Peradeniya

Harshana Rambukwella, The Open University of Sri Lanka

Rajitha Ranasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Rupika Subashini Rajakaruna, University of Peradeniya

Aruni Samarakoon, University of Ruhuna

Athula Siri Samarakoon, The Open University of Sri Lanka

Dinesha Samararatne, University of Colombo

Unnathi Samaraweera, University of Colombo

T. Sanathanan, University of Jaffna

Samitha Senanayake, formerly University of Peradeniya

Kalana Senaratne, University of Peradeniya

Anusha Sivalingam, University of Colombo

H. Sriyananda, Emeritus Professor, the Open University of Sri Lanka

Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya

Hiniduma Sunil Senavi, University of Sabaragamuwa

Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

V. Thevanesam, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly University of Kelaniya

Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna

Deepika Udagama, University of Peradeniya

Ramila Usoof, University of Peradeniya

Jayadeva Uyangoda, Professor Emeritus in Political Science, University of Colombo

Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Open University of Sri Lanka

Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo

Nira Wickramasinghe, formerly, University of Colombo

Ranjit Wijekoon, formerly University of Peradeniya

Dinuka Wijetunga, University of Colombo



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Opinion

Alan Henricus- A Stalwart Sportsman Of Yesteryear Passes Away

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Alan Henricus (10-Feb 1933 – 26 Nov 2022)

by Hugh Karunanayake

Alan Henricus the youngest of five outstanding sporting brothers who represented their school Royal College, and their country then known as Ceylon, passed away a few days ago. He would have been 90 years of age if he survived up to his birthday in February next year.

The Henricus brothers grew up in Kohuwela where their father a former Feather Weight Boxing Champion of Ceylon lived. He served as an administrator of the sport first as Hony Secretary of the Amateur Boxing Association of Ceylon and later as its President. He helped build the Baptist Church in Nugegoda and was its Treasurer for 25 years. The road leading to their property was named Henricus Mawatha in honour of this outstanding family.

Alan represented Royal in Boxing, Athletics and Rugby, and won school colours in all three sports. He was also a school prefect, highly respected and regarded by both his schoolmates and staff. The family consisting of five brothers and two sisters were all nurtured in the best sporting traditions of colonial Ceylon. Eldest brother Barney represented Ceylon in boxing at the Empire Games and won a gold medal winning the feather weight title. The next, Basil, held the national record for 100 yards sprint and I believe his record still stands. He also represented the Havelocks Sports Club and All Ceylon at Rugby. The next brother George, for many years the Master Attendant in the Colombo Port was also a champion boxer, as was Derrick the fourth in line.

Remarkable sportsmen such as Alan reached their great heights from a base of raw innate talent fostered by regular training and a disciplined approach to life. When I was a 10-year old schoolboy I used to watch with awe and admiration Alan doing his training run at 6 a.m in the morning, jogging all the way from his home in Kohuwela to the Havelock Park and back on most weekends. Alan was senior to me in school by about three years and in those days that was an age gap filled with respect and admiration for a senior student. To us younger kids the high achieving Alan was a hero.

I recall in one Public Schools Athletics meet for the Tarbat Cup, either in 1950 or 1951,Royal College was able to obtain a total of 15 points only, and were never serious contenders for the trophy. However the 15 points that Royal earned was almost single handedly collected through Alan’s efforts. He won the pole vault event, was first in the 120 metres hurdles, and was a member of the 4 X 400 metre relay team which won the event. Although the Tarbat Cup was won by another school, the assembled gathering of Royalists carried Alan shoulder high around the grounds!

From school he was selected for training as a Naval officer cadet in Dartmouth in Devonshire in England. Fellow Royalists the late Norman Gunawardena, and Humphrey Wijesinghe were among the cadets who were selected for Dartmouth together with Alan. On returning to Ceylon after his naval training at Dartmouth, he served the Royal Ceylon Navy and its successor Sri Lanka Navy for several years until retirement. On retirement from the Navy he served for a short period as an Executive in a Mercantile firm in Colombo, before migrating with his family to Australia.

The stint at Dartmouth would carry many precious memories for him, as that was where he met Maureen the love of his life. On migrating to Australia in the 1970s Alan joined the Royal Australian Navy which he served with distinction as Lieut Commander. On my migrating to Australia in 1984 I met Alan and Maureen at a Sunday luncheon hosted by the late Brendon Goonratne. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Alan and Maureen remained very close friends of ours.

Over the years we used to meet every three months at lunch at the Rosehill Bowling Club organized for old Royalist Seniors through the initiative of Chandra Senaratne. Other social engagements over the years have strengthened our friendship, and it is with deep distress that I heard of his terminal illness about two months ago. I rang him immediately and he was stoic as ever, the brave naval officer that he was. He said in no uncertain terms that he was not seeking to extend his life on this earth, and that he would wait in his home until the final call.

Alan’s departure marks another severance with the old Ceylon we knew, and its traditions and honorable ways. The Last Post will be played at his funeral at the Baptist Church, Epping on Friday December 2 at 3pm. He is survived by his dear wife Maureen, sons Andrew and Richard,, daughter in law Caroline, and grandson Ryan.

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on “

Farewell dear Alan.

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Opinion

Controversy Over Female Teachers’ Dress To School

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Our country and its people always get involved with unnecessary things which is of no interest to the majority of people. The latest debate in this never -a -dull -moment country (as always for the wrong reason) is the dress the female teachers are expected to wear to school. This is something that should be decided by the Ministry of Education in respect of the teachers of government schools.

I recollect when we were students the majority of female teachers wore saree to school. Then there were several teachers who wore frocks. These were the Burgher ladies. And there was no problem at all. I am not indicating this to show support that the teachers should be left to decide on their dress.

Now the strange thing about this controversy is that Buddhist monks have got involved in the debate and they are trying to determine the dress that teachers should wear. They do not seem to realize that the teachers must pay for the sarees. And they need to possess several sarees as they cannot wear the same saree over and over again. Given the monks get their robes free from the dayakayas, they should never get involved in matters of this nature, even though the female nurses may be happy to have one as the president of their union!

This controversy, if settled in favour of the teachers being given the option to decide on the dress and if they wear various types of dresses, the students too might get a bright idea to wear anything they want rather than the uniform that they have to wear at present.

It might be a good thing if the Ministry of Education could decide on a uniform for female teachers in Government schools. Some private hospitals, private firms and Sri Lankan Airlines have uniforms of their own and one could identify them easily. If there is such a uniform in saree and blouse for teachers in government schools, everybody outside too would be able to identify them as teachers and give the respect due to them.

However, this is not the time to worry about dress for teachers when there are children who do not get a proper education and suffer from malnutrition. It seems our rulers always get their priorities wrong, and this always affects the country and the people adversely. First, the teachers must do their job properly so that the schoolchildren do not have to attend tuition classes. We hear that sometimes only one teacher is available, and as a result the children keep away from attending school.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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Opinion

Dr Shafi’s daughter

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Just read on WhatsApp about the daughter of  famous Dr. Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi. I do not like to even mention why he became famous or infamous. His daughter after several years of rejection and trauma has passed GCE (OL) examination with Eight As.

The persons who generated disaster to an innocent family used it to gain positions as President, Ministers and MPs. Teachers and student friends of Dr Shafi’s children too insulted and rejected them as dirt. Has anyone of  these people apologized to this family for their suffering?

B Perera

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