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Superstition’s tryst with politics and media

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India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was an ardent promoter of rationalism and scientific thought, not to mention his penchant for secularism and distaste for dogma. Writing an article titled Remembering Nehru as a ‘Friend of Science’ Professor of orthopaedics and prolific writer Shah Alam says “Nehru’s scientific legacy today is a must, particularly for the upcoming generation of Indians so as to insulate them from the effects of bigotry and jargon of unscientific rhetoric coming from the highest offices of the government.” Unfortunately, such leaders of scientific disposition are more the exception than the rule in today’s politics.

Of course, many politicians are not averse to furthering the teaching of science and technology as subjects in the school curriculum but it is a far cry from nurturing a rational and scientific attitude in the minds of people. While promoting science at secondary and tertiary levels helps catering to the need for specialists in industry, it doesn’t seem to have contributed much towards making people develop a scientific temper. You would be in for a disappointment if you expected even those who teach science subjects- or, probably, many of them- to have a scientific frame of mind in their day to day life. Nobody should be surprised to hear of tutors of science subjects who begin their new classes at ‘auspicious’ times prescribed by astrologers although you may rest assured that they are relentlessly scientific in the classroom. Such fickle intellectuality is not a rare phenomenon. Many of those in executive positions make it a point to go to kovils or places of worship when they get a new car. Their faith in voodoo displayed unashamedly in the way they hang tokens of vows wrapped in rags of red cloth around the steering wheel does not do much credit to the aura of sophistication they show in their dress and deportment.

It seems that science has improved the conditions of our physical existence leaving our obsession with superstitions untouched. The publicity received by Kali Peniya a few moons ago exemplified in no small measure the bizarre alliance of three forces that conspire to manipulate the collective psyche of the Sri Lankans at present- namely, politics, media and superstition. The first two are unanimously considered as necessary evils while the third constitutes the residue of our inherited ignorance conveniently hyped in style as spirituality by the first two- politics and media- particularly, electronic media. If the twosome had been in the hands of enlightened people of Nehru’s fame, the third would have been banished from society many decades ago. But how can we expect the masses to look at charmed cures with the healthy scepticism they warrant when politics and visual media, wittingly or unwittingly, endorse superstition to the hilt?

Obviously, our ancestors took tens of thousands of years to shed their superstitions as the progress of science went at a snail’s pace. However, today when science is making giant strides one would expect it to light up the dark areas of our knowledge with equal pace. However, politics and mass media, which have evolved keeping pace with the development of science, seem to be acting against an unfettered alliance between science and the masses. Scientists are engrossed in their research and have no time for popularising science for the benefit of the layman. This gap has become a haven for propaganda machines. We know how visual media with their immense manipulative power bolster public faith in soothsaying and witchcraft. TV channels that shape public opinion in a big way don’t seem to consider themselves accountable for verifying the ‘truths’ they propagate despite countless instances of them having proved blatantly false.

According to anthropologists, superstitions helped the earth’s early inhabitants to lower their anxiety resulting from persistent feelings of the unknown. Therefore it is no wonder that during famines, plagues and natural disasters they used to cling to superstitions readily. Today we are streets ahead of our ancestors in understanding of the causes of pestilences but we lack proper mechanisms to raise awareness of the masses in countering retrogressive forces at the service of irrational belief. The mass hysteria whipped up by the Kali syrup a few weeks ago emphasizes the need for such people friendly communication methods.

 

Susantha Hewa

 

 



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Opinion

How many people can the Earth sustain?

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=On Nov 15 November 2022, we became a world of 8 billion people. 

It’s a milestone we can celebrate, and an occasion to reflect: How can we create a world in which all 8 billion of us can thrive? The growth of our population is a testament to humanity’s achievements, including reductions in poverty and gender inequality, advancements in health care, and expanded access to education. These have resulted in more women surviving childbirth, more children surviving their early years, and longer, healthier lifespans, decade after decade.

Looking beyond the averages, at the populations of countries and regions, the picture is much more nuanced – and quickly takes us beyond the numbers themselves. Stark disparities in life expectancy point to unequal access to health care, opportunities and resources, and unequal burdens of violence, conflict, poverty and ill health.

Birth rates vary from country to country, with some populations still growing fast, others beginning to shrink. But underlying these trends, whichever way they point, is a widespread lack of choice. Discrimination, poverty and crisis – as well as coercive policies that violate the reproductive rights of women and girls – put sexual and reproductive health care and information, including contraception and sex education, out of reach for far too many people.

We face serious challenges as a global community, including the mounting impacts of climate change, ongoing conflicts and forced displacement. To meet them, we need resilient countries and communities. And that means investing in people and making our societies inclusive, so that everyone is afforded a quality of life that allows them to thrive in our changing world.

To build demographic resilience, we need to invest in better infrastructure, education and health care, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need to systematically remove the barriers – based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or migration status – that prevent people from accessing the services and opportunities they need to thrive.

We need to rethink models of economic growth and development that have led to overconsumption and fuelled violence, exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, and we need to ensure that the poorest countries – which did not create these problems, yet bear the brunt of their impacts – have the resources to build the resilience and well-being of their growing populations.

We need to understand and anticipate demographic trends, so that governments can make informed policies and resource allocations to equip their populations with the right skills, tools and opportunities.

But while demographic trends can help guide the policy choices we make as societies, there are other choices – including if and when to have children – that policy cannot dictate, because they belong to each individual. This right to bodily autonomy underlies the full range of our human rights, forming a foundation for resilient, inclusive and thriving societies that can meet the challenges of our world. When our bodies and futures are our own, we are #8BillionStrong.

(UNFPA)

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Opinion

Sri Lanka Now Famous For Bribery And Corruption

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Bribery and corruption are two words that Sri Lanka has become “famous” for during the last few decades. This was something rare about half a century ago. We very rarely heard of Cabinet Ministers resorting to bribery, except in two cases.

If I remember right one was indicted in courts and had to serve a period in Her Majesty’s free hostel. The other was one of the members of the multi-Member Kadugannawa constituency, but it was not a very serious one as it involved the granting of appointments like sub-Post Mistress. There was also a businessman nabbed for giving bribes and held in a house in Paget Road. However, then it was rare and only a few cases such as that mentioned were known. In addition, these instances did not in any way effect the economy of the country or the people.

Gradually, the art of bribery and corruption became so well-known that most investors and contractors from abroad and locally were not willing to tender for essential supplies and construction of buildings and roads as they had to oil the palms right down the line. At one time a Cabinet Minister was nicknamed Mr. Ten Percent indicating his ‘cut’ on any tender or contract!

This country became famous for bribery and corruption in a big way after the tsunami in 2004 with the Helping Hambantota project, where funds from abroad to assist the victims went into a wrong pocket.

It was also very recently that a Cabinet Minister was reported to the President regarding a bribe he had solicited from a foreign tenderer. The then President asked him to step down till an inquiry was held. But with the change in the top position, a retired judge was appointed to inquire into this allegation. As in the bond scam the inquiry found him not guilty, and he was reinstated in the Cabinet. It is only in Sri Lanka that this type of thing could happen.

The Sri Lankan diaspora would have helped the country to recover from the economic mess the leaders plunged it into by sending money from abroad. But they did not want to do so as they knew what would happen to such funds. Even people here requested them not to send assistance till the corrupt leaders have been got rid of.This resplendent island may have been the pearl of the Indian Ocean at one time but now it has become notorious for bribery and corruption! When will we get honest leaders to run this country as was done about a century ago?

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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Opinion

The Rehabilitation Bill

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The high priests of our temple of justice has reaffirmed our faith in our legal system and the rule of law. A country without the rule of law will disintegrate into worse chaos than we are plunged in today.

It was heartening to see the determination by the Supreme Court on the Rehabilitation Bill. The legal preamble is a bit hard for an average lay person to follow. To my understanding, they have thrown some strong road blocks on the passage of this Bill. Well and good. I don’t think it will be that easy for the govt to surmount them. The legal fraternity, civil society and ordinary citizens, must fight hard to see that there is no transgression of the determination of the Supreme Court.

We need not and don’t need to incarcerate anybody. Those addicted to drugs should be handled by the health dept. or better still their families. These are our misguided sons and daughters who have taken a wrong path due to a failure in their families and the society around them. They need to be handled with care and consideration. Institutionalizing them would make the problem a costly failure.

Our lawmakers should hang their heads in shame if they vote for this draconian Bill as they may be viewed as persons who serve the wishes of the rulers and not those of the people.

Padmini Nanayakkara
Colombo-3

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