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Taste of wife’s tears in food

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Prison Diary – II

Extracts from the book
“Read Between the Lines”
By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff

(Prison diary Part 01 (Day One in Prison) was published in The Island last week)

Prison Diary – Day Two
(29th Nov 2018)

The usually very calm and quiet Welikada Prison, where most of the long-serving prisoners are kept, became very busy on 29th Nov., 2018. The reason was my presence. Mr. C. Pallegama came to visit me early in the morning. I met him at the Chief Jailer’s office. Mr. Pallegama, a dear friend of mine and respected public administrator, worked as the Director General of Prisons. When I was the Commander of the Navy, Mr. Pallegama was the Director General of the Civil Defence Force. Our wives are also very close friends, and children, too, know each other well. He was very sad to see me in jail. He requested all prison personnel to look after me well. The time was around 8.00 a.m.

Prison officials made arrangements for my meals to be brought from home. It is a fine arrangement. There had to be two tiffin carriers with padlock provision. One key was kept with me and the other with the person who brought food from home. The guards at the gate would open the tiffin carrier in front of the person who brought it, check it, then lock it and take it over. Then they would detail a special duty prisoner to take it to my cell, escorted by a prison guard. He would take away the other tiffin carrier and hand it over to the person who brought me food. That arrangement was in place to prevent my food from being tampered. Prison officials were very concerned about my security. They took extra precautions to ensure my safety. I was fortunate to eat food cooked by Yamuna. I thought her tears had been mixed with the food. She has suffered so much during the war years, fearing for my safety. She brought up our son singlehandedly as I was away, and now she was suffering agony, again.

I fed the kitty, my cellmate. I found a metal plate in the cell and cleaned it well. The kitty would have brown rice string hoppers, Linna fish curry, dhal curry and a little pol sambol. “Eat kitty, you are very lucky to eat food prepared by the First Lady of the Sri Lankan Military!” I muttered to myself.

While I was having breakfast, a message came for me to come to the Chief Jailer’s office as my wife and son had come to see me. It was difficult! Yamuna was crying, my son was looking very sad, and my sister-in-law was trying to calm her down. Mr. Pallegama and his wife had accompanied them. “A friend in need is a friend indeed”.

Yamuna narrated all what had happened following my arrest. She has gone with our son to meet the President, who knew me well. I used to call the President in the morning to brief him on the security situation. However, when I called him to say I was going to courts, the President had been busy at a meeting, and, therefore, I could not contact him.

My friends, Ana and Nirmala De Silva, Naeem, my Navy friends Shemal, Piyal, Jagath and Niraja visited my home. Ana and Nirmala remained until late night giving moral support to Yamuna. Shemal’s wife Carmel had been a tower of strength to Yamuna. I thank all of you for having been with us during the trouble!

Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando has been a close friend of mine for a long time. He was a Volunteer Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, much senior to us and three-time National Shooting Champion in the 1980s. In fact, he is the one who taught me the basics of sharp shooting at the Welisara Navy firing range when I was a Midshipman in 1981/82. He faced the enemy with us in the Naval Detachment Kuchchaveli in 1985. Mr. Fernando also visited my home to reassure my family.

The prison became a hive of activity again, when it was announced that the Prime Minister would visit me shortly. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived gracefully with his charming smile. He tapped my shoulder and said, “How are you Ravi?” I said I was fine. I knew even though I said I was fine, the President and the PM were very angry and upset about what had happened. Judge Advocate of the Navy, Shavendra Fernando, PC, accompanied the PM. Yamuna was sobbing in the back.

In our country, the judiciary is independent. That’s why even the CDS could be remanded. The independence of the judiciary is very important in a democracy.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa has a very high regard for me not because of any political affiliations—our military had never got involved in politics—but because I had trained his second son Yoshitha in the Navy.

Air Force Commander Kapila Jayampahty, also visited me and boosted my morale.

I had to be strong during difficult times! Usually, it is visitor who console prisoners, but in my case, it was the other way around. Some of them burst into tears on seeing me. So, I said Yamuna not to come again to see me, and I told my son to look after her. I told her I would refuse to see any visitors until 5th December. I am sure the prison officials were very happy with my decision as more than 10 people had already visited me during the last two hours.

The kitty had finished his breakfast and was waiting for me in my cell when I returned after saying goodbye to Yamuna and son. It must have been wondering where on earth I had vanished in the middle of my breakfast. He had now become my friend. He sat close to me and allowed me to touch him. My mind remembered Rexy, the lovely German Shepherd who had died six months back after being with us for more than 12 years.

Even though I had decided to receive no visitors, I could not refuse to see the religious leaders who wanted to see me. Chief Incumbent of the Nagadeepa Temple, Jaffna, was the first religious leader to see me. He must have left Jaffna at night to be at Welikada by 11.00 am. Our relationship goes back to 1984, when he was ‘Podi Hamuduruwo’ to us. I was a young Sub Lieutenant who was appointed as Officer-in-Charge of the Naval Detachment Nainativu when I first met Podi Hamuduruwo. Our primary task was to protect the Nagadeepa Raja Maha Viharaya and the two priests who were living there. We had an Army platoon also stationed with us to help us with land security. Living in Nainativu was very difficult, at the time. There was only one well, providing drinking water. We had to bath in salt water. Soap or shampoo could not be used as a result. There was no power. A small generator helped light up the perimeter fence. An old Patrol Craft (P110) from Karainagar brought our victuals every other day. Podi Hamudiruwo used to joke that when the P 110 engines were started in Karainagar, it could be heard in Nagadeepa! It was such an old Patrol Craft with very noisy engines.

However, we did our duty with utmost dedication and commitment. I took my own decisions as OIC, including giving dana and gilanpasa to the two priests daily from our rations—a meritorious deed the Navy performs even today. The Naval Base, Karainagar, is far away. I had to train and keep my boys, combat ready, to face any eventuality. I knew that I would get reinforcements only after 24 hours in case of an enemy attack. We took our duties very seriously. I went on leave after being on duty for two months at a stretch. That, too, only for a short period. Nagadeepa was my life.

After the LTTE carried out an attack near the Sri Maha Bodhi on 14 May 1985, in Anuradhapura, killing 146 innocent men, women and children, the entire country knew that the next LTTE target would be the Nagadeepa Temple. The terrorists who carried out the massacre was led by the Mannar LTTE leader Victor Fiyuslas. We were determined to protect the temple and priests at any cost. We patrolled the island day and night and slept only a few hours during day time. Podi Hamuduruwo was always with us. He was fluent in Tamil, having studied in the island school. He knew everyone there and the islanders respected him. Whenever they saw him on the road, they would run towards him and worship him. He was respectfully known as ‘Podi Swami’ to the islanders.

According to the Mahawamsa, Nagadeepa was visited by the Buddha during his second visit to Sri Lanka, five years after attaining Enlightenment. to settle a dispute between two Naga-tribe kings, Chulodhara and Mahodara. So, this temple is one of the most sacred places in Sri Lanka. I consider protecting Nagadeepa as the most important mission during my 39 years in uniform.

So, the Chief Incumbent of the Nagadeepa Temple and Chief Sanga Nayaka of the Northern Province, Ven Nawadagala Paddumakitti Tissa Thera, visited me in Prison with his junior priest. I saw tears on his eyes! Our bond is unique. He had seen me rise from Sub Lieutenant to Admiral. He was always there to bless me and my family whenever I reached a turning point in my career. He may not have expected to see me in prison, especially during my last year in uniform.

To be continued …

 

 



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Suppressing the struggle: Education and the Discourse of Class

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A file photo of the military presence at Galle Face during Aragalaya

By Anushka Kahandagamage

Protesters defeated the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime, making the Rajapaksas resign from their positions, premiership and presidency, of the government. After the collapse of the dynasty, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a Rajapaksa puppet, came to power with the support of a distorted majority in Parliament. Having got himself appointed as President, without a people’s mandate, Wickremesinghe began to suppress the struggle—the very struggle that led to his ascendency. Hours after Wickremesinghe took oath as President, at midnight, when the protesters were preparing to disband the major GotaGoGama (GGG) protest site, the military stormed in, violently assaulting some protesters, including women and people with disabilities. The military attacked media reporters, including BBC journalists, and destroyed the structures built on the location, prompting many to go to the GGG site in support of the protesters. A witch hunt would soon unfold, and, today, just weeks after Wickremesinghe came to power, arbitrary arrests are commonplace in Lanka, most recent and prominent, that of the trade union activist Joseph Stalin.

The Classed nature of the Discourse:

The Double Standard

National as well as international activists, academics, journalists, students, condemned the arbitrary violent attack on the GGG site. Social media was swamped with video footage of the attack, and posts, condemning the government’s moves. Many social media posts pointed fingers at the military, which was to be expected. But a notable and recurring theme was the link made between the military’s behaviour and its low education level – “Eighth grade passed Army”. Meanwhile, politicians from the ruling party (and others) publicly condemned the protesters’ actions, even calling them drug addicts (kuddo). The social media discourse targeting the military (low education) and the protesters (drug addicts), although coming from very different places, was steeped in a classed and classist language, and reduced their actions—whether of the protesters’ or of those suppressing the protest —to their level of education or social class.

Yet, there were surprisingly few discussions regarding the education level of the President, who commanded the attack on the protesters. There is no doubt that Wickremesinghe, whose past is linked with horrendous acts of violence, commanded the military to attack GGG. He is also behind the arbitrary arrests of protesters, the very people who placed him in power. While people are aware of Wickremesinghe’s violent tendencies, these inclinations are not discussed in relation to his education level. During the protest, when his house was set on fire, along with his personal library, many condemned the burning of the library, emphasizing the importance of ‘reading’ and ‘knowledge’. Ranil Wickremesinghe is seen as an ‘educated’ politician, well-read and knowledgeable about foreign policy and politics. A double standard manifests itself where the violent acts of the military (by no means am I trying to glorify the military) are criticized on the grounds of their ‘low’ education level, while the violence of Wickremesinghe garners little comment.

Violence and Education

There is no essential link between violence and education, rather capitalist structures have conditioned us to associate violence with under privileged groups and lower levels of education. Formal educational structures sustain hierarchies, power and, in our context, neo-liberal market economies. Education socialises the individual in such a way s/he/they come to embody dominant society’s values, beliefs, and attitudes. Educational institutions are particularly efficient in legitimising the current social order since they play a role not only in training workers in the strict sense of providing them with skills to be productive but also in the naturalization of social relations of production. Education thus entrenches the status quo, and, in that sense, is not an innocent space, rather a space where inequality and hierarchies are sustained and reproduced.

We associate ‘low’ educational levels, and underprivilege, with violence, as we are trained to do so by the political-economic structures which glorify the ‘learned’ and ‘wealthy’. While the military should not be glorified, under any circumstances, it should be understood that the soldiers, who attacked the protesters, on the ground, represent the disadvantaged classes, carrying out their ‘duty’ as commanded by a supposedly ‘educated’ President. It is an irony that society sees people who are directly involved in violence as the generators of violence, rather than the decision-makers who perpetrate violence.

Formal educational institutions, driven by capitalist values, serve to produce, reproduce and sustain such hegemonic narratives. Indeed, there is a link between our pathological social condition and our education system. While our mostly market driven education is trapped in narratives of employability, efficiency or productivity—needed to understand a phenomenon beyond what is given—human values and critical thinking remain neglected on the back burner. Under these circumstances, there is a great need for alternative education forms.

Counter narratives and alternative

forms of Education

Education has been crucial to the struggle to depose the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime. In this context, I am referring to the ‘education’ initiatives that have been a key element of the Aragalaya: education on democracy, the constitution, history of struggles, economy and so on. In the GGG site, groups connected to the protest as well as other initiatives organized debates and discussions to raise awareness about economic, political and social issues, to learn about how to utter the correct slogans and how to steer the struggle in the ‘right’ path. In doing so, hundreds of webinars were organized, numerous articles and posts written and videos uploaded. In the GGG main protest site, a library, university, college, and an IT centre were established to support ‘educating’ the people.

‘Education’ was a thread that wove the struggle together. There were (and are) different debates on education at various levels of the struggle where alternative forms of education were discussed, challenging hierarchy and institutionalized education. The protest has opened up a space for people to pursue alternative educational structures and build counter narratives. Unfortunately, most of these efforts ultimately fall, directly or indirectly, in to hegemonic educational structures, where hierarchy and Sinhala Buddhist hegemony are sustained in different forms. Similarly, the activists and academics, among the protesters, who tried to introduce alternative education forms and counter narratives often fell into capitalist hierarchical structures. The majority of the webinars and awareness raising forums were top-down in nature and were held in one language, discriminating against other language groups.

Furthermore, these forums were frequently clogged with ‘experts’ or the kind of academics who preach their opinions to the ‘uneducated.’

In conclusion, existing capitalist educational frameworks train one to discriminate, based on class and educational levels, normalizing certain ways of life and being. For example, it’s fascinating to see how Wickremesinghe was removed from the violence and education discourse while the military was at the centre of it. Alternative forms of education are needed to question and challenge these hierarchies.

(The author is a Doctoral Candidate in School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)

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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Prioritising protection of Government over the people

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by Jehan Perera

According to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the natural condition of mankind was a state of war in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all.”  Therefore, it was necessary for them to come to an agreement. The philosopher John Locke called this the social contract. Social contract arguments are that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. Constitutions set out the rules by which societies are governed.

 The evolution of constitutional thinking  since the 17th century that Hobbes and Locke lived in has been to find ways to regulate the powers of the rulers and protect the people from the rulers. Those who have power need to have checks placed on them. They need to be held accountable. If those who are rulers are not checked or held accountable, they invariably abuse their powers. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely has been a truism. Over the past 74 years we have seen that the rulers have used their power indiscriminately some more than others. PTA is an example of a law which was instituted to deal with the Tamil separatist insurgency over 40 years ago, but it still remains-to protect power of the rulers. In the past three years when the rulers of Sri Lanka held virtually absolute power by virtue of the 20th Amendment to the constitution, the situation in the country deteriorated. The country became bankrupt for the first time ever.

 The current debate over the 22nd Amendment is to ensure and enlarge the role of civil society to mitigate the powers of the politicians who are rulers. A key question now is with regard to the three civil society representatives who will be in the Constitutional Council. The present formulation of the amendment is that the civil society representatives will have to be acceptable to the majority in parliament (thereby giving the government final say). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s experience with constitutional reform has been  in the direction of further strengthening of the powers of the rulers against the people. The so-called reforms have invariably strengthened the hands of the rulers against the people and justified that it is being done for the sake of the people.

 ERODING CONTROLS

 The 1972 Constitution replaced the constitution that the country had inherited from the British colonial rulers. It ensured the independence of the judiciary and of the civil service and also had special protections for human rights and non-discrimination between ethnic communities. However, these protections were removed from the 1972 constitution that sought to empower the ruling politicians on the justification that they embodied the will of the sovereign people. It was argued that the elected politicians were closer to the people than unelected judges and civil servants. But being away from the people makes them non partisan, a value less understood. Judges were sacked when the new constitution came into operation and treated shamefully. The 1978 constitution repeated the activities of the 1972 constitutions. Judges were once again sacked and treated shamefully. At a later point they were even stoned.

 It is these cultures we developed that have led to the present crisis of lack of values beyond the economy itself and formed the base for Aragalaya. The 1978 constitution took the centralisation of power in the 1972 constitution even further and centralized it in the  office of one person, the executive president. He could now be even above the law, like the kings of old before parliaments that represented the people came into being. The first executive president of Sri Lanka, J R Jayewardene, said that the only power he did not possess was the power to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man. It is not surprising that with this power going into  the hands of the elected rulers, that the abuse  of power and corruption should grow without  limit. From being  a country  near the top of Asia at the time of independence, Sri Lanka  is today nearer the bottom. The life savings of its people have been halved in half a year and not a single politician has faced a legal accountability process.

 The 22nd Amendment belongs to the family of constitutional amendments  that began with the 17th Amendment of 2001. This  amendment was  agreed to by the then president due to the weakening of the government at that time. The  JVP  then,  as now, the party of the disadvantaged in society, gave the lead. The amendment resulted in the reduction of the power of the president and sharing those powers with parliament, state institutions and with civil society. The idea behind the 17th Amendment was to strengthen the system of checks and balances and thereby promote good governance in the national interest. The 19th Amendment that resembles it was the work of a coalition of parties that had opposed the abuse of power of the rulers they had just deposed through an electoral mandate.

 HIGH CORRUPTION

 However, the limitation on the powers of the rulers has never been acquiesced by those who would be rulers or belong to their party. The 17th Amendment was overturned in 2010 by the 18th Amendment that gave back to the presidency the powers it had lost plus some more. When this led to an increase in the abuse of powers by the rulers, the  successor government brought in the 19th amendment to once again reduce the powers of the presidency. This was in pursuance of the mandate sought at the presidential election of 2015. But once again in 2019, those who formed the next government overruled the 19th Amendment and with the 20th Amendment and gave back to the presidency its lost powers plus some more.

 It is under the 20th Amendment which is about to be repealed that the corruption and abuse of power in the country reached its zenith and plunged the people into unprecedented economic hardship and poverty. It is these hardships that gave rise to the Aragalaya, or protest movement, that culminated with the physical storming of government buildings and the forced resignations of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers. The shrinking of the middle class who have toiled a lifetime are now falling between the cracks and joining the poor and vulnerable created by the government in less than three years. Yet highlighting the priorities of the rulers, no  one of the seem to be thinking of compensating those who have lost their savings, only of compensation of what happened to a few of the rulers and their henchmen during the 2015-2019 period  or the Aragalaya period in which the houses of the rulers, much beyond their known sources of wealth and income were burned down.

 An Indian political analyst Dr Maya John, has written, “Although the Aragalaya targeted not only individual politicians like the Rajapaksas but also the wider ambit of corrupt political forces – as evident in the parallel slogans of “GotaGoHome” and “225GoHome” – the bulk of people’s energy was overtly focused on dislodging certain individuals from political power; indicating the tendency for the ruling establishment to still hold sway with the ouster of particular politicians. As the well-known Sinhalese proverb goes: inguru deela miris gaththa wage (exchanging ginger for chilli), we have simply got rid of something bad and got something worse in return. So, the Rajapksas have been replaced but the same ruling clique and political system remain intact; in fact, in a more offensive reincarnation.”

UNEQUAL TREATMENT

 The protest movement was a reaction to the social  tolerance limits, economic hardships, shortages, queues and steep price rises that in effect halved the general income of the people, with some suffering more than others. But the crackdown on them by the rulers has been both subtle and harsh in the present period. Those who gave it leadership are being picked off one by one, put into jail or being put on bail so that they dare not protest again. The unequal and discriminatory treatment of the protest movement is given the veneer of law which the government would he hoping would get it through the monitoring of the UN Human Rights Council next month and preserve the economic rewards of the EU’s GSP Plus, which is given to country’s that are making a genuine effort to improve the lot of their people, poor people not only the rich.

 In 2018, parliamentarians who attempted to stage a constitutional coup (which failed because the judiciary stood firm) sat on the chair of the Speaker of parliament whom they had forcibly chased off. They flung chairs and wrenched microphones out of their sockets. But none of them were punished even when the coup failed. However, those who joined the protest movement and sat in the chair of the president are being houndeds one by one and arrested. A protester who took the beer mug of the deposed president has been arrested. But ministers who are accused of corruption, accused reportedly even by diplomats accredited to the country, and ministers who have been convicted by the courts, sit on, in government. Such unequal and discriminatory treatment is likely to cause the sense of grievance to grow especially when the people are faced with price rises and shortages. They form the basis  to cause another Aragalaya.

 The current version of the 22nd Amendment which gives the rulers the power to pick the civil society members who will be in the constitutional council is not a sign that the government will heed the voice of the people. In this reluctance to be held accountable and to use power in a just manner, is a recipe for confrontation between the rulers and people in the future in which repression will be the response of the rulers who disregard the people. It may explain  why the military budget continues to take first place despite the economic collapse. Unless the people’s voices are represented truly in the parliament and the political processes, which can only come through a fresh set of elections, it is difficult to expect accountability in the system which is a formula for disaster sooner or later.

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Doing it…dad’s way

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Yes, of course, the older folks would all remember Edward Joseph; the young ones may find the name unfamiliar as Edward now lives in Germany and does his thing in that part of the world.

Better known as Eddy, he was with the leader of the group Steelers and they were big in the local showbiz scene…many, many years ago.

While Eddy is now busy, operating as a singer/guitarist/songwriter, in Germany, his daughter, Samantha, has decided to follow in her dad’s footsteps…as a singer/guitarist.

According to Eddy, Samantha decided to get actively involved, this year, and started performing with him, at various gigs,

A few weeks ago, she had the opportunity to perform with dad, to a huge crowd, on big stage, and after her impressive performance, she was asked to come for a casting by the State Jazz band of Frankfurt, whose conductor was in the audience.

She was also discovered by another promoter of a big TV Channel, in Germany, called RTL.

Says Eddy: “So, hopefully, things will work out for her. I never pushed her to do music because I know how hard and competitive, and dangerous, the industry has become.”

The proud dad went on to say that he only gave her the tools of advice, and tips, in singing and playing instruments.

“From that point, onwards, it was all her effort,” he added.

Samantha, originally, was keen to become a Music Teacher, says Eddy, rather than a performer, but now she is gradually getting the taste of the crowds.

“I am grooming her and supporting her in every way I can and hope that she will get better opportunities, in this business, than I had.”

Eddy says that if he was born and bred, in Germany, he, probably, would have come a long way, by now.

“But I am very happy with my life, the way it is.

“I still have my loving mom and dad, a fantastic daughter, a caring partner, my friends and family, and God, on my side, and I am now totally at peace with myself.

“I can proudly say that God has given me the path to be one of the most booked musicians, in my region.”

Most musicians, over there (born and bred in that region), according to Eddy, do find the going pretty tough, where work is concerned, due to the pandemic, and the Ukraine-Russia war, resulting in a food and fuel crisis.

Hopefully, if the scene brightens up, we may see father and daughter, in action, here!

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