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Midweek Review

The animating presence of folk literature



By Prof. Wimal Dissanayake

The dialogue between folk literature and classical literature, in many regions of the world, is as complex as it is fascinating. I am a great admirer of the post-modern writings of the distinguished Italian writer Italo Calvino. I have read all his books, creative and critical, translated into English with great interest. I have written critical essays on his works introducing them to the Sinhala reader. The other day as I was re-reading with mounting interest his book Italian Folktales, I was reminded of the urgency of the intersections between folk and elite literatures.

The Italian Folktales is a collection of 200 folk tales prevalent in various regions of Italy. Italo Calvino has rendered them into standard Italian, making adjustments and alterations when and where necessary. It is indeed a re-telling of these stories by Calvino. This book was first published in Italian in 1956 and translated into English in 1962. Since them there have been other English translations of it. In composing this volume, Italo Calvino was influenced by the thinking of the Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp. Clearly, this is a book intended for the general reader in a way that Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale is not.

The folktales gathered in this volume are full of kings, peasants, ogres, as well as strange animals and plants as indeed in most folktales the world over. Many discerning critics have claimed that Italo Calvino did for Italian folktales what Brothers Grimm did for German folktales. This collection of stories was extremely well received outside of Italy as well. The New York Times Book Review said, ‘This collection stands with the finest folktale collections in the world.’ The Times called it ‘a magic book and a classic to boot.’

The impulse of Italian peasants for collective self-representation and the subtle literary sensibility of Italo Calvino meet in these pages with remarkable results infusing the stories with a vibrant and seductive glow. Indeed, what Brothers Grimm did for German folktales, Calvino did for Italian folk tales. These stories are activated by various dualisms such as reality and fantasy, conventionality and originality, simple and complex, local and universal which discerning literary critics with a deconstructive bent of mind would find extremely attractive and will persuade them to harness their analytical impulses in diverse ways seeking to annul the facile dualisms.

The Colombian Nobel laureate Garcia Marquez is an equally talented writer; but he is very different from Calvino as a literary artist. However, he too was deeply attracted to folk art and folk literature. He has often observed that his narrative impulse and skills were stimulated and nurtured by the folktales that his grandmother told him. He was also profoundly stirred by the Colombian folk music form vallenato. It is a popular folk music genre that is highly lyrical and expressive of a vigorous folk imagination. Garcia Marquez was not only enticed by this musical genre, but he also promoted vallenato concerts. His literary sensibility was memorably penetrated by this musical genre. He once remarked that, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude, his magnum opus, was a 250-page vallenato. As with Calvino, Garcia Marquez too displayed a great partiality for folk art and literature and the distinctive imagination of folk artists.

When discussing the power of folk art and folk literature, another distinguished writer that springs into mind is the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Tragically, this highly talented writer was assassinated at a relatively young age. His work can best be understood as representing the intersection of folk literature and modern literary sensibility. His work the Gypsy Ballads exemplifies this aspect admirably. He deployed the traditional ballad meter with eight-syllable lines and traditional symbols with remarkable ingenuity. He made use of the self-protective symbolism of Spanish folk poetry to escape the nervous intimacies of personal anguish. Lorca was interested in uncovering the hidden contours of Andalusian imagination. A passage of poetry like the following taken from his Ballad of the Moon illustrates this facet of his work convincingly.


How the night heron sings

How it sings in the trees

Moon crosses the sky

With a boy by the hand


At the forge the gypsies

Cry and then scream

The wind watches

The wind watches the moon


Here Garcia Lorca deploys traditional symbols such as night, moon, sky and wind with new and at times Freudian valences. The ballads appear to be simple, but they conceal a sophisticated art.

The visionary Irish poet and playwright and Nobel laureate W.B.Yeats is another brilliant writer whose imagination was profoundly stimulated by folk art and literature. From the beginning he was attracted to folklore, myths, legends, ballads and so on. He once remarked that legends are the mothers of nations. He also said that, ‘all folk literature, and all literature that keeps the folk tradition, delights in unbounded and immortal things.’ Yeats was not, to be sure, enforcing a simple duality between folk literature and elitist literature; he was referencing a much more complex interaction.

Earlier, I referred to the collection of Italian folk tales by Italo Calvino. Similarly, Yeats published in 1888 a collection of folk tales and poems titled Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. It consists of 65 tales and poems that lead us to the vibrancy of the Irish folk imagination. They introduce us to a fascinating world peopled by kings, witches, ghosts, priests, saints, fairies, demons and peasants. Italo Calvino was interested in uncovering the hidden powers of the Italian folk imagination. Similarly, W.B. Yeats was interested in demonstrating the hidden powers of Irish sensibility. It was his conviction that ‘the very voice of the people, the very pulse of the people’ could be happily recovered through folk literature. Yeats was closely associated the famous Irish Literary Revival and his interest in folk literature constitutes one aspect of it. A well-known literary critic once observed that, ‘Yeats turned to folk sources to give his work the grain of ordinary humanity and the direct appeal of ballads and other traditional forms.’

Coming closer to home, the distinguished Nobel Prize winning writer Rabindranath Tagore also displayed a remarkable interest in folk art, music and literature. Yeats, of course, played a significant role in gaining a reputation for Tagore in the West. His poetry manifests a memorable amalgamation of folk, classical and Western influences. The spatial and temporal structures in his poetic compositions can be usefully understood in terms of folk art and literature. The foundational alphabet of his poems’ codes are traceable to folk roots. He was deeply sensitive to the interesting ways in which the folk imagination left its imprint in the vicissitudes of language. His poetic and lyric texts are marked by a pulse of folk-musicality.

Tagore was undoubtedly one of the greatest Indian writers of the modern age. His myriad talents moved in diverse directions. He earned a wide reputation as a poet, lyricist, novelist, playwright, short story writer, painter, musician, cultural critic and educationist. He was the author of some 60 collections of poetry and a great body of prose writings. He was a gifted musician who composed over ten thousand songs. As a painter, his work was exhibited in New York, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Birmingham. In all these manifold endeavors one can identify the animating presence of folk art and literature. The rhetorical frameworks guiding his literary creations make audible a dialogue between the folk and elite traditions.

Among the Sri Lankan writers who have assiduously sought out the nurturing presence of folk literature, Gunadasa Amarasekera merits close study. His book of poetry, Amal Biso constitutes a landmark in the evolution of modern Sinhala poetry. In it, he has drawn heavily on the vitality of Sinhala folk poetry. The challenging equation of sense and sound, content and form, logic and syntax, the polyphonic achievements, the musically-patterned complex articulations that one discerns in this poetry book display a deep allegiance to the folk tradition. He combined the power and possibilities of folk poetry with an evolving cotemporary sensibility to produce poetry of a high order.

Let us, for example, consider a poem like Mal Yahanavata Vadinna, which I consider to be one of the finest Sinhala poems of the twentieth century. It recaptures the struggle between carnal love and romantic love drawing on all the available resources of folk poetry – diction, spatial and temporal structures, registers of discourse and rhetorical frameworks. It reconfigures a world fissured by complexity. He annuls easy disjunctions between binarisms of purity and impurity physicality and ideality. As Calvino, Garcia Marquez, Yeats, Garcia Lorca and Tagore had amply demonstrated, to draw on folk literature is not to romanticize it but to make it a vital contemporary presence, poignantly relevant to modern times. Gunadasa Amarasekera, too, has drawn attention to this important fact. It is interesting to observe the ways in which he allows the poem to rediscover the sense of its own textuality. Broadly speaking, a number of other outstanding Sinhala writers have been sensitive to this conjunction of folk and elite literature. In my book Enabling Traditions: Four Sinhala Cultural Intellectuals’ I have drawn attention to this point.

So far, I have discussed how highly gifted and consequential writers from different regions of the world have drawn on the vigor of folk literature to enhance the power and reach of their own work. Another facet of the influence of folk poetry is the diverse ways in which the discourse of the folk tradition has inflected the main tradition of literature. If we take the example of the Sinhala poetic tradition, we can observe how from the beginning the folk tradition has played a pivotal role in shaping the visage of the main tradition. For example, among the Sigiri poems, some of the earliest poetic compositions we have, we see representations and exemplifications of the classical as well as folk traditions.

Most literary historians are inclined to regard the folk tradition and the elite tradition as running along parallel tracks. At a superficial level, one can appreciate the legitimacy of such as approach. However, when we pause to inquire into this topic more deeply we would realize that throughout history there has been a constant and mutually fructifying interaction between the two traditions. Discerning literary critics like Martin Wickremasinghe and Gunadasa Amarasekera have established this fact. If we consider a highly esteemed and popular poem like the Guttila Kavya we would realize how the two traditions fruitfully meet in its pages. Gunadasa Amarasekera in his Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya has drawn attention to this fact. Srinath Ganewatte and I, in our book on Sinhala meter titled Viritha ha Arutha have demonstrated how folk literature has played a determinative role in the growth of Sinhala meters.


As we seek to explore in depth the power and resourcefulness of the folk tradition we need to bear in mind its diverse heuristic possibilities and the need to interpret it from fresh angles.

For example, some products of folk poets lend themselves to a form of subaltern approach. What I seek to highlight by this is the way folk poets foreground their agency, give voice to their predicaments and offer, through their texts, a kind of counter-tradition. Sinhala folk poets have demonstrated the fact that subalterns indeed can speak through their poems of deprivation and loss. This is an attempt to unsettle conventional structures of feeling and upend taken for granted viewpoints. This is indeed a subject area that invites further analysis. It requires elaborate theoretical equipage.

When we begin to unpack the creative and critical possibilities of the folk tradition, we should pay attention to the notion of the performative. Folk poems are nothing if not performative. It is not only in the case of oral poetry but also on the later written poetry, the idea of performance is supreme. Performativity should not be confined to folk poetry alone. All poetry, whether ancient or modern, folk or elite is performative. We do not seem to pay adequate attention to this important fact. By regarding modern poems as a performative events we can open new doors to their many-layered meanings and complex structures.

It has become increasingly clear that the discourse of tradition has to be located within the proper historical and cultural contexts and to focus clear-sightedly on the material forces that contribute to the shaping of tradition. In recent times, critics, like Sena Thoradeniya, have sought to underline this fact. The interplay between the folk and elite literature enables us to map more productively the dynamics of literary tradition. An exploration into the nature and significance of folk literature would permit us to engage in a more focused analysis of the constructedness of literary tradition.

Literary traditions are the outcome of the interaction between language power and nationality. We normally tend to discuss the evolution of literary traditions in linear terms. But it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to adopt a more complex vision which does justice to periods of intense activity and those marked by relative dormancy. Instead of linearity we need to foreground complex re-configurations. Traditions are not innocent of politics in the broader sense of the term. Questions of exclusivity and repressiveness and resistance loom large. We need to reimagine literary traditions as sites of conflict and challenging negotiations where an incessant struggle for meaning and truth takes place. A serious engagement with folk literature as instances of collective self-representations enable us to appreciate the importance of this move. We have been led to believe that literary traditions are transparent and free from the exercising of hidden power. The rhetorical strategies that go to form the discourse of literary traditions, along with the promoted hierarchical truths, have to be patiently mapped.

When we investigate into topics such as literary traditions, literary history and folk literatures our inescapable reference point and the guiding framework become the nation. Our desire to adopt a national framework in the evaluation of tradition is understandable. However, owing to the increasing impact of globalization the inevitability of the concept of nationhood is being challenged. We are asked to come up with a broader frames of intelligibility. The supra-national perspective has several implications. Let us consider a poem like Mal Yahanavata Vadinna by Amarasekera that I alluded to earlier. It is securely located in the folk tradition thematically, structurally and rhetorically. However, readers familiar with the respective writings and visions of Sigmund Freud and D.H. Lawrence would almost certainly find additional layers of meaning in the poem. The need to locate the poem in a larger horizon of meaning becomes apparent. What this highlights is that we need to be aware of both the metaphors of globalism and metonymies of localism. This awareness has a way of mitigating the anxieties of recognition.

On the basis of the preceding discussion, it can plausibly be argued that folk-literature can become a useful point of departure for the deconstruction of literary tradition and literary theory. Traditions are sites of the confluence of language, power and knowledge. This entails choices and preferences which result in exclusions and marginalizations. We have to think about traditions and literary history in new ways in the light of newer theoretical developments in the humanities and the social sciences.

The focus on literary traditions should pave the way to newer explorations of literary history. Literary history is not linear and transparent as is commonly believed, but circulatory and multi-layered. Our focus should be on reconfigurations and parallel assemblages obeying the dictates of Bakhtinian chronotopes (space-time formations). Such an approach will facilitate a more comprehensive view of literary history. An inquiry into folk-literature will expedite this hermeneutic process.

This short article consists of some reflections triggered by my re-reading of Calvino’s Italian Folktales. This re-reading brought to mind the works of Garcia Marquez, Garcia Lorca, Yeats, Tagore and Gunadasa Amarasekera, all of whom in their diverse ways, drew upon the power of folk literary forms. This discussion, I am persuaded, points to the importance of deconstructing literary traditions and literary history and demonstrating their constructed nature and the power plays involved. This article has, inevitably, taken the form of scattered reflections rather than a tightly constructed argument. Given the vast scope of the subject under consideration, and the limited space available, this is only to be expected.


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Midweek Review

Former OMP Chief now at BASL helm



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Editor of ‘Annidda’, Attorney-at-Law K.W. Janaranjana, in a piece in its Feb 21, 2021, edition that dealt with the election of Saliya Pieris, PC, as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), asserted that the government hadn’t made a special intervention in the contest.

The government hadn’t made political intervention, though a group of people, including the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and its National List MP, and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam, made a bid to secure the backing of the government for Saliya’s rival. Such attempts made at the provincial level, too, failed to produce the desired results.

Saliya Pieris, who succeeded Kalinga Indatissa, PC, polled 5,093 votes at the election conducted on Feb 24. His rival, Kuvera de Zoysa, PC secured 2,797 votes. The winner secured a staggering 2,386 vote majority – just 321 short of the number of votes polled by De Zoysa.

Janaranjana, a leading member of the civil society grouping Purawesi Balaya, who played a significant role in the yahapalana political campaign, claimed that some of the lawyers who represented top government figures, too, backed Saliya Pieris. Emphasizing that all of them worked for Saliya’s victory, Janaranjana dismissed assertions that the victory achieved by Saliya Pieris was a severe debacle suffered by the Rajapaksas.

Janaranjana attributed the President’s Counsel’s victory to his commitment to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and human rights throughout his legal career.


A battle between SLPP and Opp.

 In spite of the government refraining from taking a stand, as pointed out by Janaranjana, the contest received unprecedented attention, with the lawyer electorate turning it into a battle between the SLPP government and the Opposition. Saliya Pieris, in an exclusive interview with Janaranjana, also published on the Feb 21, 2021 edition of Anidda, three days before the election, flayed the rival group. Pieris emphasized the responsibility, on the part of the BASL, to take a principled stand on contentious issues, regardless of the consequences. Pieris explained his public role since the arrest of High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekaratne, in 1998. Essentially, Pieris flayed the BASL for its failure to take up issues, such as the alleged attack on the Mannar Court by supporters of the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential term. However, Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now represents the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

Pieris also referred to the impeachment of Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake 43, also during the previous Rajapaksa administration. However, there hadn’t been any reference at all to the BASL receiving Rs 2.5 mn sponsorship, in 2016, from disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in support of a high profile event conducted at a leading hotel, with the participation of the then Chief Justice, Attorney General, Solicitor General, the President and the Prime Minister. The BASL never explained why funds were obtained from PTL, despite its perpetration of Treasury bond scams, in Feb 2015, and March 2016.

The BASL should be also be seriously concerned about Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent lawyer arrested on April 14, 2020 over his direct involvement with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. Hizbullah was recently produced in court on a directive issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera. The lawyer’s arrest, too, caused a sharp division among BASL members and contributed to the overwheming victory achieved by Pieris.

When the writer asked a lawyer, who voted for the winner, why he did so, he explained his position, on the condition of anonymity. The lawyer said: “Voted at the DC polling booth in Colombo. I didn’t vote last time. Lawyers preferred an anti-establishment candidate since the independence of the bar is paramount. On the other hand, lawyers detested hitherto unseen level of inducements being offered to win votes, as well as fabricated false accusations. Anonymous accusations and despicable strategies resulted in further revulsion towards the losing candidate. Unprecedented number of members turned up to ensure a resounding mandate to the winning candidate.


Saliya Pieris responds

 The writer sought views of the newly elected BASL President as regards several issues.

(Q) What would be your priorities?

(A) Securing the rights of lawyers in the profession; making a positive impact on issues pertaining to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and protection of fundamental rights; supporting juniors in the profession and supporting the welfare of the membership.

(Q) You served as first Chairman, OMP (Office of Missing Persons), an apparatus set up in terms of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. GoSL in March 2020

quit the Geneva process. What can BASL do to address accountability issues, both during the conflict and the post war period?

(A) The role of the BASL is different from the OMP. As I have stated, upholding the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary will be a priority. All domestic institutions which address these issues must be independent so that the people who seek relief from them trust these institutions and have confidence in them.

(Q) You secured well over 2000 votes than your rival. How do you intend to win the confidence of those who voted against you?

(A) I have received support from lawyers, across the country and from every community and area. My support cut across all lines, be it party, race, religion or area. On the very day of the announcement of my election, I reached out to all those members who did not vote for me and will continue so. At the same time, I am sure that the members who voted otherwise at the elections will work with me for the betterment of the bar.

(Q)What would you do to prevent deaths in police custody?

(A) Police torture and deaths in custody affect the rule of law and should be condemned. There must be zero tolerance. The Bar must carefully examine these issues and, if needed, lobby the government to ensure fair investigations and that the perpetrators are punished.

(Q) What is your stand on implementation of death penalty and presidential pardon?

(A) These have not been discussed at the Bar Council as yet. My personal view is that I am opposed to the implementation of the death penalty. On presidential pardons, I am of the view that the power of pardon must not be used unreasonably, and must be done by taking into account several factors including the nature of the crime and the views of the aggrieved party. 

Let me remind the readers of nine previous BASL Presidents, before Saliya Pieris, who won the presidency: Desmond Fernando, PC (2005 – 2006), Nihal Jayamanne, PC (2006 – 2008), W. Dayaratne, PC (2008 – 2010), Shibly Aziz, PC (2010 – 2012), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC (2012 – 2013), Upul Jayasuriya, PC (2013 – 2015), Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC (2015 – 2017), U. R. De Silva, PC (2017 – 2019) and Kalinga Indatissa, PC (2019 – 2021).

Of those 17,200 eligible to vote at the Feb. 24 election, approximately 8,000 voted, though usually only about 6,500 voted in previous years. In other words, nearly 47 per cent chose not to participate in the process.


Who betrayed the country?

 Janaranjana discussed how the rival camp depicted Saliya Pieris as a person who betrayed the country by being involved in a treacherous international conspiracy to undermine the armed forces. According to Janaranjana, the rival camp exploited social media and other propaganda means to depict Saliya Pieris as a traitor whose election would lead to the division of the country, on ethnic lines. Janaranjana pointed out how the unprecedented victory achieved by Saliya Pieris proved the failure of the rival camp’s strategy.

Against the backdrop of unsubstantiated allegations, directed at Saliya Pieris, as regards his role as the Chairman of the OMP, it would be pertinent to examine the failure on the part of the BASL to genuinely address accountability issues related to Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The OMP was one of the four mechanisms established in terms of the controversial resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ The four apparatuses are (i) A hybrid judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law (ii) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (iii) An Office for Missing Persons and (iv) and Office for Reparations.

The previous UNP-SLFP administration established the first permanent official body, tasked with tracking down missing persons, in terms of Act No. 14 of 2016. This was done in line with one of the recommendations in the 2015 UNHRC Resolution co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka. Due to political turmoil, the government was able to establish the OMP two years after the Act was passed. The OMP initiated ‘operations’ in May 2018 with members visiting Mannar to meet the families of those disappeared in that District.

The OMP’s mandate, according to Part II Section 10 of the Office on Missing Persons Act, No. 14 of 2016:

(a) To search for and trace missing persons and identify appropriate mechanisms for the same and to clarify the circumstances in which such persons went missing;

(b) To make recommendations to the relevant authorities towards addressing the incidence of missing persons;

(c) To protect the rights and interests of missing persons and their relatives as provided for in this Act.

(d) To identify avenues of redress to which missing persons and relatives of missing persons are entitled to, and to inform the missing person (if found alive) or relative of such missing person of same.

(e) To collate data related to missing persons obtained by processes presently being carried out, or which were previously carried out, by other institutions, organizations, Government Departments and Commissions of Inquiry and Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry and centralize all available data within the database established under this Act.

(f) To do all such other necessary things that may become necessary to achieve the objectives under the Act.

Saliya Pieris received the appointment as Chairman, OMP on May 1, 2018. The civil society activist quit the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to take the leadership of the OMP. The outfit comprised Saliya Pieris, PC, Ms. Jayatheepa Punniyamoorthy, Major General (Rtd.) Mohanti Antonette Peiris, Sriyani Nimalka Fernando, Mirak Raheem, Somasiri K. Liyanage and Kanapathipillai Venthan.

The now defunct Constitutional Council picked the OMP members. The then President Maithripala Sirisena finalized their appointments. It would be pertinent to mention that OMP member Mirak Raheem had been a member of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), headed by Attorney-at-Law Manouri Muttetuwegama. The outfit called for full participation of foreign judges in the proposed inquiry.


OMP’s intervention helps Lanka

The then Joint Opposition campaigned both in and outside the OMP, alleging the outfit would pave the way for unprecedented international scrutiny of the war-winning armed forces. However, thanks to OMP’s intervention, Sri Lanka was able to disapprove the high profile accusations, pertaining to the Mannar mass graves. Whatever the accusations, the OMP helped Sri Lanka to counter an extremely serious allegation raised in the run-up to the March 2019 Geneva sessions by UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.

Bachelet served as the Chilean President for nine years, beginning 2006. Bachelet had been in an indecent hurry to pressure Sri Lanka over accountability issues and she blindly blamed the Mannar mass graves on the Sri Lanka Army before a leading US lab, contacted by the OMP, tested the bones and found them to be several centuries old and belonged to the colonial period. Unfortunately, the then government never bothered to further examine the Mannar mass graves case as part of an overall investigation into unsubstantiated allegations. In fact, Sri Lanka never properly examined the campaign conducted by interested parties to undermine post-war Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Wartime disappearances are certainly politically sensitive issues, exploited by political parties here, as well as various other interested parties.

The scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains, sent from the Mannar mass grave site, quite upset the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). TNA appointed then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswarn rejected the US findings. Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.

The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.”


Disappearance of Ekneligoda

However, Sri Lanka cannot ignore the issue as disappearances took place during successive governments. Disappearances took place during the conflict and also in the post-war period. The disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of the 2010 January presidential election, is a case in point. The failure on the part of Sri Lanka to address Ekneligoda disappearance increased international pressure on Sri Lanka. The government owed an explanation as regards the media personality’s disappearance over a decade ago. There cannot be any rationale in blanket denial of accusations. In fact, efforts to deceive the public, and the international community in respect of perhaps isolated cases such as the Ekneligoda disappearance had facilitated the high profile Western strategy meant to subvert Sri Lanka on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

With Saliya Pieris at the helm of the BASL, it can certainly play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s effort to ascertain the truth. The new BASL Chief, with valuable experience as a member of the HRCSL as well as the Chairman, OMP, can undertake a thorough examination of events/developments leading to the final confrontation between the Army and the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the Mullaitivu district, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The BASL had been largely silent on the Geneva issue though one of its high profile members, TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, declared, in mid-2016, the acceptance of foreign judges in local war crimes investigation mechanisms. The declaration was made in Washington in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there Prasad Kariyawasam. The Foreign Ministry remained conveniently silent on the issue. In August 2017, Kariyawasam received the appointment as the Foreign Secretary, whereas President Sirisena brought in Tilak Marapana, PC, and a one-time Attorney General as the Foreign Minister. Marapana, too, followed the UNP strategy. The UNP-led government turned a blind eye to the UK House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017 how the British government suppressed confidential dispatches from its Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash (Jan-May 2009). The UK, now leading the Sri Lanka Core Group targeting the country in Geneva, in the absence of the US, continues to shamelessly suppress dispatches, pertaining to Sri Lanka, as the disclosure of such would jeopardize the Western campaign against the country.

Perhaps the appointment of Saliya Pieris couldn’t have taken place at a better time for the country. The respected lawyer received the BASL leadership, the day Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena responded to Michelle Bachelet’s damning report. The writer is of the opinion that Minister Gunawardena, in his speech, should have requested Michelle Bachelet, as well as the 47-members of the UNHRC, to re-examine all available evidence, information and data. Minister Gunawardena should have formally requested the UK, a member of the UNHRC, to disclose all such dispatches sent by Gash to London. The UK released only a section of heavily censored dispatches, following the unprecedented intervention made by Conservative Party veteran Lord Naseby. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Gash dispatches in spite of Lord Naseby raising the issue, ahead of the Geneva sessions. Let me reproduce the relevant question raised by Lord Naseby and the response received.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on Feb 16, 2021, told Parliament that the UK Government had not received any request from the Geneva Council for copies of dispatches written by the former defence attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka Gash about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.

Lord Ahmad was responding to Lord Naseby’s query raised on Feb 4, 2021, whether the UK government provided to UNHRC any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches from Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009, relating to the civil war.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka for some strange reason, refrained from raising the the US disclosure, in 2011, that battlefield executions didn’t take place, or confidential UN report that contradicted the main Geneva accusation the military massacred 40,000 civilians.

Perhaps, the BASL, under its new leadership, can examine the whole gamut of issues, with the focus on the UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report (March 31, 2011) that prevented examination of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations on the basis of which Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 2015 Geneva resolution. According to the PoE (paragraph 23, titled Confidentiality of the Panel’s records), the examination of unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be allowed till 2031 in terms of the UN directive. Even after the 20-year period of classification as confidential records, those unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be examined without a declassification review. Let us hope the BASL undertakes a thorough study on accountability issues. Pieris, is certainly the most qualified to lead the inquiry.

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Midweek Review

Two colliding and coexisting Asian giants



Book Review


CHINA and INDIA – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition Editors

– Paramita Mukherjee, Arnab K. Deb and Miao Pang
Publisher –

SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. (

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This book is itself proof that India and China, two Asian political giants, could come together in peace and work constructively and cooperatively towards worthy ends. ‘China and India – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition’, is a product of profound, combined political science scholarship between India and China, which could not have come into our hands at a more appropriate time.

The reason for the latter observation ought to be plain to see: after a months-long military stand-off on their disputed border in the Ladakh sector, in particular, which at times claimed lives, the giants have decided to withdraw their troops, giving negotiations a chance. In fact, constructive engagement rather confrontation has been the dominant feature in India-China relations over the past few decades, although negative quarters, including those among the international media, have chosen to see otherwise.

That said, it could not be denied that India-China relations have been badly ruptured at times by divisive questions and conflicting interests. Some of these differences have been grave enough to prompt the giants to resolve them on the battle field. For example, their border dispute drove these powers to resort to a full-blown war in 1962. Other issues remain to be resolved as well.

However, Siparna Basu in his paper in ‘China and India…’ titled, ‘Multiple Paths to Globalisation – The India-China Story’, commenting on the history of India-China ties, reveals how India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly declined an offer, backed by the US in the mid fifties, to allocate a UN Security Council seat to India, proposing that the offer should be made to China instead. Apparently, India considered this offer as a move against China. It is a measure of the cooperative spirit which existed between India and China at the time.

But the numerous papers in this book of combined scholarship, while being evidence of the unity of purpose the regional heavyweights could achieve, open revealing windows to also the achievements in numerous fields of the Indian and Chinese civilizations over the centuries.

The countries are revered civilizations that have fertilized the human spirit everywhere through their enduring and ennobling achievements and the papers in this book give us an ample description of these accomplishments, besides updating the reader accurately on the latest developments in India-China ties, in a multiplicity of areas, including inter-state politics.

A strong merit of ‘China and India..’ is the ample space it devotes to economic cooperation between India and China on the one hand and the numerous exercises in such cooperation featuring these key powers and their neighbouring states, on the other. That is, we are kept very much abreast of the latest developments relating to groupings, such as, BRICS, BIMSTEC, BCIM, SCO, to name just a few. This is as it should be because it is economics in the main that is driving international relations currently and not so much politics and military conflict, although the dominant tendency among major opinion moulders, such as the media, is to focus on ‘geopolitics’ to the detriment of economics.

In keeping with the overall spirit of the book, researchers continually focus on the huge potential for bilateral economic cooperation between India and China, besides drawing attention to the benefits of regional collaborative efforts in commerce, trade and investment. Just two papers that are of immense worth from this viewpoint are: ‘Driving Force and Constraints of BCIM Economic Corridor’ by Li Jingfeng and ‘Regional Inequality over the Post-globalization Era: A Study on India and China’ by Arindam Banik and Arnab K. Deb.

Accordingly, ‘China and India…’ gives us the actualities in India-China ties lying behind the smokescreen of sensational military developments between the countries. Besides, it’s a remarkable update on the potential for inter-country economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean region while focusing also on the major economic forces driving global and regional political change.

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Midweek Review

Stand-alone Splendour



By Lynn Ockersz

With kingly poise he glides,

This milk-white wonder,

Whom we take for granted…..

The quickening Beira waters,

For him holding no terrors…

But study his every deft action,

And behold a stand-alone splendour,

Of the country’s ravaged eco-system,

Who is at peace with himself,

And is in no need,

To beg, steal or borrow,

Or cut deals that bring him dishonour.

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