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Opinion

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

Where are the Maha Nayakes?

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Coincidentally, February 26th was Navam Full Moon day, when after 20 years of attaining enlightenment, the Buddha preached the “Vinaya Pitakaya” or the code of conduct for Buddhist monks. It is sad that that the majority of them hardly heed the principles laid down there.

I was anyway, contemplating writing a piece on the conduct of Malcom Cardinal Ranjith on national issues when Dr Upul Wijayawardhana beat me to it with an excellent piece in today’s (26.02.21) The Island!

The Cardinal has been very discreetly and without undue emotions addressing the national issues at stake with substance and authority, and the appropriate actions the government should take. By contrast our Buddhist priests often deviate on political riffraff, praising the political leadership or criticizing it, rather than confining themselves to the matters at stake! Often their utterances over electronic media are disdainful, full of emotion and very unbecoming of monkhood! They are unaware that the moment one becomes emotional, one loses self-control and make a mess of things! They should take a ‘leaf from the ‘Cardinal’s Bible’, as it were!

There is no argument that priests, Buddhist or otherwise should take evidence-based stands on national issues and endeavour to move the political authority in the right direction. They should not go to praise the President or other politicians unduly, but confine themselves to facts of the matter as the Cardinal always does.

What is most disdainful is the manner in which Buddhist monks conduct themselves in protest rallies, often shouting slogans, forcefully breaking through security defenses, and even climbing windows! Very often the leaders of mass demonstrations, especially of universities, are priests. Of course, they do so, knowing that the police will handle them gently, with dignity and respect!

It is noteworthy that other religious leaders hardly participate in protest demonstrations. Even if they do so it is done in a peaceful manner. Our Buddhist priests should follow suit.

The question is where the leading monks who should discipline the juniors are. Many of them are, sadly, the culprits themselves! Have they at least read the “Vinayapitakaya”? Moreover, I am not aware of any instances of Mahanayakas endeavouring to discipline monks. Should they not at least ensure their conduct is on the key principles of “Vinaya Pitakaya”? It is time the Mahanayakas and other leading Buddhist monks addressed this vital issue of discipline of monks as matter of highest priority.

 

Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

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Opinion

A drive of great memories

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Sanjeewa Jayaweera’s recent recollections (The Island 25/2) of advantages of coming from Ceylon/SL – or rather “benefits” accruing from Mrs B’s permitting Pakistan to use Ceylon/SL airspace in 1971 — when he was living in Pakistan, remind me of similar experiences in 1974.

Four of us drove overland (well, only one of us could drive then) in a Beetle from London to Sri Lanka, taking nearly six months. At the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, neither side checked our heavily laden car.

We had gotten used to cooking for ourselves in many countries, and camping up to Turkey; so we always carried basic foodstuffs. In Pakistan, however, many things were rationed and towards the end of our stay we needed to stock up.

Just before leaving Lahore for India, we went in search of rice and sugar (rationed). One chap we happened to ask, got into the car (with four already in it and luggage overflow) and said he would get us what we needed. He insisted on giving it free — “You are my brothers!” Very strange – it was only later that we discovered the reason for this.

He jumped out near a shop and disappeared, presumably to queue somewhere. Returning with about 8lb of rice and 3 lb of sugar, he absolutely refused to accept any money. Instead, he insisted that we visit the Shalimar Gardens and wouldn’t let us pay there either. We took a photograph with him which we promised to send him. He was an Assistant Store-Keeper at Pakistan Oxygen.

However, things were slightly different at the border. The Pakistan side wouldn’t let S, our Ugandan-Asian friend, cross. No Hindu from any part of the world was allowed to cross into India. Fortunately, our group was pretty mixed (with a Sri Lankan Buddhist, Sri Lankan Muslim and an Anglo-Asian atheist! – though fortunately, that wasn’t on the passport). S’s “companion” insisted she’d become a Muslim by marriage, and signed a declaration form to that effect. Problem solved! But a moment of anxiety at Indian Customs when a cursory search was made of the car. Officials were offended by the fact that we’d brought rice with us — “We have rice in India!”

MANEL FONSEKA

 

 

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Opinion

Realities of Canada’s efforts to prevent child conscription

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Letter to PM Justin Trudeau

 

Right Honourable Prime Minister,

Canada’s efforts to prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is greatly appreciated. Your statement on the 12th of February 2021, reaffirming Canada’s commitment to draw attention to this inhumane practice with the longstanding intent of ending such conscription, along with nearly 100 UN Member States endorsing the Vancouver Principles on ‘Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers’, is most commendable.

The late Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka’s former distinguished Minister of Foreign Affairs, too devoted a great deal of time in campaigning for the same laudable objectives, and also canvassing international support towards the aims envisioned in the Vancouver Principles, and peace in Sri Lanka. He was unfortunately gunned down on August 12, 2005, by a sniper belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which group was designated as an international terrorist movement by the UNSC in September 2001, as he was emerging from the swimming pool at his residence in Colombo.

The LTTE was one such organization that abducted and conscripted children, several of whom were as young as 10 years, over a long period, that came to the attention of UNICEF that recorded a total in excess of 7634 such child soldiers. After a short period of training, they were unleashed on remote villages in the north and east of Sri Lanka settled by Sinhalese farming communities, who were set upon in the middle of the night to be hacked and shot to death while they slept, to make them combat ready. The last such village that was attacked was Gonagala in the Ampara district in the year 2000, where 62 persons were put to death, with the lucky ones escaping to the jungle to be rescued later by Sri Lanka’s security forces. Despite the LTTE signing a pledge with UNICEF’s Special Rapporteur, Olara Otunnu in 1998, and thereafter making repeated promises to the UN officials, they continued to conscript underage children to their fighting forces. They would abduct them on their way to school or homeward bound children after school hours, and by instilling fear and making threats to the parents. Subsequently, they forced each family to release a child for their separatist war effort.

These child soldiers were given combat training and were equipped with an AK47 automatic weapon and a cyanide capsule strung around their neck, to be bitten into in the event of their being captured. They were used as stormtroopers in the LTTE’s unceasing waves military strategy, adopted in battles against the Sri Lanka Army, with many of them becoming casualties in combat. Their bodies were laid to rest in the special cemeteries set up to bury the LTTE’s martyrs, with no mention of their dates of birth, and only the date of death being recorded on the gravestones in order to hide the fact that they had conscripted under age children below 15 years, which was a war crime. Some of the children so conscripted were brainwashed to become suicide bombers, with the LTTE holding the world record, having exploded around 377 human bombs.

Those responsible for the disruption of schooling and family living and care for Tamil children in Sri Lanka, are present in Canada as well, and raised funds for the terrorist war engaged in by the LTTE through extortion of Tamil expats and Tamil owned businesses, drug and human smuggling, passport fraud, and numerous other illicit activities. Following the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, and ending of the three- decade long separatist terrorist war in Sri Lanka, these LTTE activists in Canada, have donned the cloak of human rights activists to spread their fabricated stories, doctored videos, and unsubstantiated wild allegations of IHL violations and war crimes, supposed to have been committed by the Sri Lankan security forces during the last phase of the armed conflict January 1 to May 18, 2009. It is a shame that these allegations have been swallowed by the powerful countries in the west that continue to harass Sri Lanka at the UNHCR and other fora, based on these unproven alleged violations, citing Ban ki-Moon’s one sided three- member panel report headed by Marzuki Darussman, which has been locked away for 20 years till the year 2031.

Unlike these bogus allegations emanating from born again pro-LTTE Human Rights activists, Sri Lanka rescued about 300,000 Tamil civilians held by the LTTE as a human shield, in the final battleground at Mullivaikkal on the northeast coast; sheltered them in welfare camps in Vavuniya where they were fed, provided with education, vocational training, psychiatric help, etc., until the land area of almost 1,000 sq. km was cleared of landmines, houses and infrastructure restored, and made safe for resettlement in their former villages. Among those who surrendered were nearly 12,600 former LTTE fighters, including the remaining 594 child soldiers who were rehabilitated with new livelihood skills and released to their families and society, where they could be gainfully employed under the restorative justice principles adopted in their case.

A new 12-minute video documentary has been produced under the title ‘Truth Behind Dare’ using video clips provided by the rehabilitated ex-LTTE fighters which shows the military training given to the children who were abducted and conscripted as soldiers for armed warfare, most of whom perished in battle. Some scenes show parents handing over their children to the LTTE terror organization as part of their propaganda to claim willingness of the civilian population to give up their children for the separatist cause; which obviously fails as the parents faces shows the immense pain they suffer at the time, as the alternative is violence being directed at them and their children still risking being abducted on their way to or from school.

Other scenes show Adele Balasingham, the Australian nurse who was married to the LTTE’s ideologist, in military attire, participating in a Passing Out Parade of women cadres most likely trained by her, who were being garlanded with the signature ‘Cyanide Necklace’ for committing suicide in the event of capture. Adele Balasingham today resides freely in the UK, probably supported with the tainted funds raised by the LTTE, with no questions asked about her being part of a designated international terrorist movement.

The LINK to this revealing video is given here: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpz8Cl_-YpM&feature=youtu.be> .

Please watch the video to learn the facts behind the rigged version that is propagated by the pro-LTTE organizations, which have been sold to the western powers who seek to punish Sri Lanka for geopolitical reasons best known to them.

MAHINDA GUNASEKERA

Toronto, Canada

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