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Stepped-up dialogue between India and Pakistan could help resolve Kashmir dispute

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a thought-provoking pronouncement with regard to the long-simmering Kashmir dispute which could be considered as outlining new parameters for ending the decades-long crisis in India-Pakistan relations. ‘The US has a big responsibility as the most powerful nation in the world. Almost 1.4 billion people live in the subcontinent. We are held hostage by one dispute in Kashmir, the Pakistani Prime Minister was reported as saying. He was referring to the US as a possible mediator in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

The reference to the subcontinent’s 1.4 billion people marks a refreshing change to the usual perceptions a political leader of Pakistan could have on the Kashmir question. If the Kashmir tangle is managed effectively between India and Pakistan the people of the region, which is one of the most highly populated regions of the world, could benefit. The focus on the material relief that could be obtained by the people through a meeting of minds between India and Pakistan is tantamount to bringing to the negotiating table a veritably forgotten dimension to the Kashmir dispute, which should remain a core concern for the countries concerned. The countries are truly “held hostage by one dispute in Kashmir.”

The Pakistan Prime Minister took stock of global political realities when he called on the US to help negotiate an end to the Kashmir dispute but, though a US ally, it is open to question whether India would favour such a move without reservations. India is on record as stating that the Kashmir region is part of India and it is this policy position, among other factors, that has prevented a swift resolution of the Kashmir question.

As is known, identity politics led to the break-up of the Indian sub-continent in 1947-’48 with India and Pakistan having disparate and seemingly irreconcilable conceptions of their national identities. Basically, bridging this gap between the different self-perceptions of India and Pakistan is central to the task of managing the Kashmir dispute. India sees itself as a secular democracy and for India it is unthinkable to have within its fold a region that considers itself as enjoying a disparate identity based on religion, in this case Islam. The latter political project was seen by India as undermining its foundational principles. Hence, the long-running dispute between India and Pakistan. But time is of the essence and as pointed out by Prime Minister Imran Khan the future of more than one billion people is being steadily blighted.

The US could certainly try out its skills as peace-maker in this situation of veritable gridlock between two South Asian countries who see themselves as wedded to disparate national identities, but how effective would a US negotiatory role be? A Joe Biden administration could be expected to deal empathetically with a situation of this kind but it has its own political interests to protect in the region, such as, neutralizing the military threat from the Taliban and keeping Afghanistan as democratically-oriented as possible and the observer is left to wonder whether the US would be seen by the parties to the Kashmiri dispute as sufficiently impartial. Moreover, the mindsets of the main parties to the dispute and their conflicting concerns are likely to elude many a Western mediator.

However, by bringing the hapless situation of the over one billion ordinary people of the South Asian region into focus Prime Minister Khan has put the onus on the political leaders of India and Pakistan to lose no more time in working out a mutually-acceptable solution to the Kashmir conflict.

The road to a solution on these lines is bound to be long and arduous but it is only India and Pakistan that could make a real difference in the Kashmir gridlock. Hopefully, the leaders concerned would measure up to the challenge.

As this being written the UNHCR sounds a warning. ‘The number of people who have been forced to flee their homes around the world has risen to a record 82 million despite the impact of the pandemic, it said in a recent statement. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grande was even more specific: “We need much greater political will to address conflicts and persecution that force people to flee in the first place.”

“Many people were forced to flee because of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations”, the UNHCR adds. These facts ought to add substance to Prime Minister Khan’s concern over the powerless of particularly the South. If the best interests of the people are to be served political leaders need the hard resolve to shelve ideological blinkers and work as one to meet the needs of powerless people everywhere. And as the UNHCR data reveal the lot of ordinary people is aggravating. Clearly, for them violence is a fact of life.

Containing Jihadist wars in the South Asian region would be pivotal in getting India and Pakistan to work with a degree of unity towards ending the Kashmir tangle. From this viewpoint India has acted pragmatically by making contact with the Afghan Taliban in Doha. It is a recognition that Jihadist militancy is a fact of life in the South Asian theatre.

Thus far, the perception that Jihadist militants are engaged in proxy wars in South Asia have got in the way of India and Pakistan working towards their common end of advancing democratic development. The realities on the ground are highly complex and the best of minds in India and Pakistan need to take the lead in putting the relations between the states on a less confrontational footing. Very rightly, the fortunes SAARC are seen to rest on India and Pakistan relating to each other more constructively and amicably. If the latter aim is achieved the fortunes of SAARC could be turned around bringing material relief to the region’s over one billion population. Now that the ordinary citizenry of South Asia has been brought into the picture as never before states need to stand up and be counted as the primary line of defense of the masses.



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Communication the key to representative government

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By H. A. J. Hulugalle

The theme is “Social Communications and Youth.” I take social communication to mean the exchange of ideas between different segments of society.

For representative government, there has to be communication between the rulers and the ruled. For rural development, there has to be communication between planners and the peasants. Domestic harmony postulates communication between the older and younger members of a family. Communication between the teacher and the taught is the essential condition of education at school and university. Different communities live in amity when good communication enables them to understand each other’s problems.

The communicators are our pastors and masters, politicians, journalists, filmmakers, broadcasters and other manipulators of mass media. The health of a society demands that they fulfill their functions with intelligence and integrity.

Youth comes into this, because the future is theirs. In their time, they will not only handle the means of communication, but also determine its content.

One of the problems of today, in all countries is youth unrest. Sometimes, but not always, this is the outcome of imperfect communication. The young are impatient with parents, and other elders who will not or cannot understand their aspirations and yearnings. There is a generation gap. To the young people, if they stop to think, life must be more baffling than it was to an older generation. So much is changing around them including media, methods and goals.

Those of us who were able to acquire a knowledge of English had our windows open to the world. In this, young people today are impeded. Ambitious programmes for mass education fail for practical reasons. The temptation to act first and think later is common in newly independent countries. What is good is often scrapped because everybody cannot have it.

Without the religious motive, dedicated teachers are becoming fewer. Schools are ill-equipped, class rooms are crowded and suitable books in the national languages are not available. Students are herded into universities even when they do not possess the basic qualifications. The majority who follow arts courses are not interested in higher education or in the life or the mind. All they want is a job. And they cannot get this because the instruction they receive and the examinations they pass are not relevant to the conditions of the country or the kind of work they may hope to get.

As an American writer has said: “My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the college and the university fail to educate their students because they have long since ceased trying to do so.”

How can these facts of life be communicated to the student before he enters the university, and even more important, to the parent who impoverishes himself to give his children “higher education?”

Communication between government and the population at the grass-roots level will always be weak and generally ineffective until, in the words of the Donoughmore Commission, there is drive at the centre and demand at the circumference. The importance of communication for sound local government and economic development need not be stressed.

Every inducement should be offered to children to acquire a working knowledge of the three languages used in SriLanka. It does not require unusual intelligence to do so. Most traders use the three languages freely. In the long run, the people will adopt what is most useful for education, culture and the market place. For the present, the important thing is to be able to communicate freely and get rid of prejudice.

As for the training of youth for the communications industry – press, radio, films, etc – some have a special knack; others acquire it by persevering effort. A good liberal education, wide reading and the ability to convey one’s thoughts easily are useful assets. A pseudo-intellectualism is a counterfeit gimmick. A good journalist is always involved: he participates and is not merely an observer of the human condition. As such, he cannot forget his responsibility to be truthful and fair.

Walter Lippman, one of the most respected journalists of our time, says: “As the Free Press develops, as the great society evolves, the paramount point is whether, like a scientist or scholar, the journalist puts truth in the first place or in the second. If he puts it in the second place, he is a worshiper of the bitch goddess success. Or he is a conceited man trying to win an argument. In so far as he puts truth in the first place, he rises towards – I will not say ‘into’ but ‘towards’ – the company of those who taste and enjoy the best things of life.”

It is possible that the Press, like the pulpit and preaching hall, is too obsessed with politics, thereby distorting values. It should, as far as it is within its power, encourage readers to think for themselves rather than make confusion worse confounded. The appetite of the captive audience for political trivia grows with what it feeds upon. The dialogue should be a quest for truth and not to stir emotions and prevaricate.

To survive, the Press, like other forms of private enterprise, must make money. It seeks to cater to the dangers in going too far in this direction.

Henry Luce, the founder of the Time magazine, one of the most successful publishers of the century, has said: “The first and principal danger of the Press that gives the people what they want is that there is no significant restraint on vulgarity, sensationalism and even incitement to criminality. The second danger, which is perhaps even more insidiously deleterious to the public taste and morals, is the fact that there is in this situation an enormous financial incentive to publish twaddle – yards and yards of mediocrity, acres of bad fiction and triviality, square miles of journalistic type.”

These are warnings which anyone entering the professions connected with mass media should never forget. While good, clear fun is necessary for the entertainment of the masses, there are enough serious problems to engage the best minds of the younger generation who can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before them and benefit by maintaining standards.

(Courtesy Catholic Messenger)

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They do it differently…

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Michelle and husband Chanitha

Duos are there, aplenty, especially in this pandemic scene, but what Michelle and Chanitha do together, as a husband-and-wife duo, is totally different.

This has, no doubt, paved the way for their success, as entertainers, in the entertainment scene, in the Maldives.

Michelle and Chanitha are from Sri Lanka and have been performing, in the Maldives, for the past two-and-a-half years, and, they say, it has been a very fulfilling experience, especially seeing guests enjoying their music, and complimenting them, as well, for their professionalism.

Right now, they are based in a tourist resort and have been doing that scene for the past two years, as the resort’s house band.

“We had the privilege of entertaining guests at the resort’s Christmas Dinner dance (2019/2020) and also ushered in the New Year at two grand New Year Eve dinner dances (2019/2020), at the same resort,” said Michelle who, incidentally, happens to be the daughter of Melantha Perera.

Michelle went on to say that as their music is wide and varied, they also did the Valentine’s dinner dance (2020/2021), and also functions, connected with Women’s Day, and weddings, as well.

The duo’s repertoire is made up of over 600 songs, and they do pop, jazz, RnB, rock ‘n’ roll, rock, blues, and lots more.

“We both sing, harmonise, and Chanitha plays lead guitar standard solos,” said Michelle, adding that their music has been very much endorsed by guests and the bouquets that have come our way have been very gratifying.

 

 

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Critical thinking and the ‘value’ of university education

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By Harshana Rambukwella

‘Critical thinking’ is a term that has become ubiquitous in both general and higher education discourse. One sees this phrase appear frequently in educational policy statements. Many who speak of education reform see it as a key skill that education needs to foster. Those who see education primarily as a tool of producing a productive workforce or ‘human capital’ also see it as a positive attribute. However, there is little clarity about what ‘critical thinking’ means. For many involved in education policy-making it seems to mean something like problem-solving ability and the ability to make reasoned judgments – a so-called ‘higher order skill’ in Bloom’s Taxonomy (a hierarchical categorisation of skills developed by an educational psychologist in the 1950s and widely utilised worldwide). There is a significant body of scholarly literature on higher education and the need to foster critical thinking. This literature tells us that the ‘industry’ needs critical thinkers and that often our universities and undergraduate programmes are failing to produce such thinkers. Critical thinkers we are told will make better doctors, better engineers, better lawyers and a host of other ‘better’ professionals.

But to be ‘critical’ can and does have many other meanings. If we move from the adjective ‘critical’ to the noun ‘criticality’ things begin to become fuzzier. The dictionary definition suggests that criticality is something of great importance, that it is a point at which a physical material like a chemical becomes unstable, that it is an orientation to life which promotes questioning and criticising what you observe in the world and so on. It is this fuzzier meaning of the word ‘critical’ that interests me. Critical thinking, unfortunately, like many other concepts which have a long, complicated and radical intellectual history have been tamed and domesticated when they enter mainstream education discourse.I have been personally puzzled when educators talk glibly about ‘critical thinking’ when all their actions mark the very absence of such a critical spirit or orientation. For instance, within the University system I have been at many forums where we discuss the ever-increasing student load with little or no matching investment or expansion of human or physical infrastructure. On many occasions these discussions veer toward how we can use innovative teaching methods, alternative assessment strategies and other innovations to bridge the gap between increasing student numbers and the inadequacy of resources. It is very rarely that our faculty boards or senates take this question to the next level. Why are we getting increasingly larger numbers? Why is the state investing less and less in higher education? Why is an institution’s contribution to education measured in terms of student output? Clearly there is a larger fundamental set of questions about the nature and purpose of education that need to be asked. However, these questions often become marked as ‘political’ or ‘ideological’ and many educators see their role as one of avoiding such ‘politics’ or ‘ideologies’ and instead focus on the ‘practical’ aspects of education.

My submission is that a similar evacuation of the political and ideological aspects of critical thinking happens when we bring it into the curriculum and the classroom. The notion of criticality dominant in mainstream education is heavily appropriated by neoliberal thinking. In this version of criticality students are trained to practice a form of emotional self-surveillance that passes as critical thinking. It ultimately leads students to be conformist and feel guilty about their inability to be ‘productive’ members of society. Take for instance, the practice of ‘reflective thinking’ that has gained much currency in teacher education. To be a reflective practitioner in this understanding is to constantly think about how to be a ‘better teacher’. Are my methods adequate? Am I practicing learner-centered approaches? How good are my lesson plans? The casualty of such thinking is often politics and ideology. Very rarely do we compel our students or teachers/lecturers in training (student teachers), to think about how unequal and classed out education systems are. It is rarely that we speak openly or think about the sexism, classism and even racism of what passes as educational content. By reducing the notion of ‘criticality’ to a ‘skill’ (one among many other ‘productive’ skills that are supposed to be given to students to make them employable) ,a delusion is created that critical thinking is being promoted.

As opposed to this commodified and toothless notion of criticality are the meanings of ‘critical’ that lie on the fuzzier margins of the word. In western philosophical thought ‘critical’ is a term that can be traced from the thinking Socrates, for whom it meant a radical questioning of what appears normal and normative, extending through thinkers such as Erasmus, Thomas Moore, Bacon, Descartes, Russell extending into figures like John Dewey whose thinking has also played a major role in contemporary education philosophy. While the names I have invoked cover a vast range of philosophical orientations and what I am doing here is a kind of gross glossing over of different philosophical traditions, one thing in common here is a radical spirit of questioning the normative. This does not mean that all these thinkers rejected the normative or what was accepted in their societies but their understanding of norms was always tempered by a critical spirit that questioned before acceptance.

This brings me to the notion of ‘value’ in the title of this essay. In his 1997 book The University in Ruins, Bill Readings observes that ‘value’ in the new ‘corporate University is determined by accountants rather than philosophers. This pithy statement captures the dilemma of critical thinking I have been outlining above. Appropriated by a mainstream discourse of education, which in turn is heavily informed by neoliberal values, critical thinking has lost it philosophical edge – its value today lies in its ability as a skill that will provide a competitive advantage in the employment market. Reading’s book as a whole is about this neoliberal transformation of the higher education sector. What he outlined in the 1990s was a process that was gathering pace in Euro-America where modern Universities were increasingly turning both in terms of their administrative structure and in what they taught and how they defined themselves. The ‘ruins’ the title refers to is the notion of a classical university as a site of critical philosophical thought – a site from which to question the normative. In Sri Lanka what we see today is a particularly intense form of this emasculation of the notion of the classical university. Sri Lanka is fast becoming what I would call a ‘frontier market’ of higher education. State policy is guided by a highly impoverished vision about producing ‘employable graduates’ and deregulating the higher education sector so that more and more profit-making entities that offer degrees can be established. Value in this new university culture lies in the numbers of graduates that are produced and their prospective employability. Critical thinking, as I have explored in this essay as a whole, is understood in equally impoverished terms. I offer no ‘practical’ solutions to this dilemma but make these observations in a somewhat polemical style to provoke discussion and debate.

Harshana Rambukwella is Professor in English and Director of the Postgraduate Institute of English, the Open University of Sri Lanka.

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

 

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