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The Caste System



by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Sri Lanka has been long considered a caste-blind society on the basis that it is a predominantly Buddhist country, and the Buddha himself denounced the caste system which was the accepted social stratification system in India.

However, the Sinhalese caste system certainly prevails today, perhaps not to the same degree it existed 100 years ago.

Though the significance of castes may depend on social and educational standing, it still plays an important role in matrimony. Personals in today’s newspapers abound with matrimonial advertisements, which, rather like the dating sites of the west, remain the best way to contract a marriage in a country where open and casual dating is still, by and large, frowned upon. And, unlike the dating sites of the west, requirements of race, religion, caste and often horoscopes are almost always specified.

Whether it’s a marriage based on caste, social and financial standing, or other criteria of compatibility; or the “love marriage” preferred by the progressives, the institution remains a crapshoot. The odds of divorce in the west currently stand at even money, because divorce is both easy and subject to no stigma. Divorce in Sri Lanka is rarer, as it has a social infrastructure to hold a marriage together, but the odds of a happy marriage, without divorce entering the equation, are also about even money.

Caste has never been an issue in our family. For those of us in the lower, or horrors of horrors, mixed lower castes, we proudly say that we do not care about caste. Rather like the billionaire who says he does not care about money. Or the lady married to an Adonis who says she doesn’t care for looks.

There is an interesting story about one of my aunts, which may throw some light on the caste system prevalent in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the mid-20th century. The social injustice this system represents prevails, to a lesser degree, even today.

My aunt was a most attractive lady, who met a gentleman at the university. They had a romantic relationship, and were planning to get married. There was one huge problem, however. My father was from the Karawa (fisher) caste, while the prospective groom was of the ‘high’ Goyigama (farmer) caste. Or was he even from the so-called aristocratic Radala caste? I don’t know, my knowledge of the caste system is just about non-existent, constrained as it is by an explanation given by my father, which I will relate at the end of this anecdote. They were planning nuptials, without first getting the blessing of the groom’s parents.

When the father of the prospective groom heard about the impending social disaster to his family, he immediately took a train to Hikkaduwa and imperiously told a villager to summon my grandfather to meet him at the railway station. The villager came back with the response from my grandfather, that if the honorable gentleman wishes to meet him, he’s welcome to do so at his residence.

So the noble gentleman humiliated himself by proceeding to my ‘low-caste’ grandfather’s house. Shunning traditional formalities, he told the old man that his son and my aunt were planning on getting married, which was unacceptable because of the difference in caste. To which my grandfather replied, I am sorry, sir, but you must get your son to stop this marriage. I am unable to do so, as I already have agreed to the marriage of my oldest son (my father) to a lady of an even ‘lower’ caste. My mother was of the ‘low’ Durawa caste, traditionally toddy-tappers, a caste I suspect didn’t even make the top ten. So the high-caste gentleman went back to his aristocratic mountains, and prevailed on his son to desist. Which was the end of that romance.

Time went by. My aunt, obviously a glutton for punishment, fell in love with another of these ‘high-caste’ types. His father, too, objected to the marriage, and made the same trek to Hikkaduwa, meeting with the same response from my grandfather.

My grandfather used to break into English when he was excited. So when his daughter came home for her vacation from the university, he exclaimed, “Your second father-in law also came”.

That particular high-caste gentleman disregarded his parents’ objections and married my aunt. Actually, he was a nice guy, and he was trading up. They enjoyed a long and very happy marriage.

My father’s attitude to the caste system is best illustrated by his answer to a question I think my younger brother Praki asked him when he was about seven years old. He said that the kids at school were talking about their castes, and wanted to know to which caste we belonged. My father said, Well, son, your mother is Durawa, I am Karawa, so you must be Jarawa (filth or trash in Sinhala).

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Third DNA test on Sarah: SJB questions veracity of police claim, asks Prez to dig deep



Easter Sunday carnage

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday (30) questioned the veracity of a police headquarters declaration that one of the Easter Sunday bombers Achchi Muhammadu Mohamed Hasthun’s wife Pulasthini Mahendran alias Sarah Jasmin had been killed on the night of April 26, 2019 at Sainthamaruthu.

The media was told at the Opposition Leader’s Office at No 30 Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha that the SJB was quite disturbed and surprised by the police headquarters statement issued on the basis of the Government Analyst’s findings.

Top SJB Spokesperson Mujibur Rahuman said that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government owed an explanation as to how a third DNA test proved Sarah Jasmin’s death when the two previous DNA tests failed. The former MP said that the two previous tests had been conducted during the tenures of President Maithripala Sirisena and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Sarah Jasmin’s husband Hasthun is believed to be one of the bomb makers of the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) blamed for the series of near simultaneous blasts. Explosions caused by suicide bombers claimed the lives of about 270 persons including dozens of foreigners.

Rahuman told The Island that he would like to remind President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Defence Minister that Easter Sunday carnage was meant to undermine the yahapalana government in which Wickremesinghe served as the Prime Minister. “We expect the President to look into this matter. The possibility of a conspiracy cannot be ruled out,” the former lawmaker said.

Authoritative sources said that the likes of ex-MP Rahuman was seeking political advantage from the Easter Sunday fallout. The Colombo District politician repeatedly questioned the investigation for reasons best known to him, sources said, alleging interested parties were working overtime to substantiate conspiracy theories.

Rahuman challenged the government to reveal the status of the investigation into the arrest of a police officer under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for helping Sarah Jasmin to flee Sri Lanka. The former UNPer said that the police officer’s role in Sarah Jasmin’s escape transpired in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the Easter Sunday carnage.

The Batticaloa High Court granted bail to Chief Inspector Nagoor Thambi Aboobucker who had been arrested on July 13, 2020, a few weeks before the last general election, after he filed a fundamental rights application. The law enforcement officer had been held in custody for a period of 32 months.

Rahuman noted that Abdul Cader Fathima Saadiah, the wife of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks mastermind Zahran Hashim, too, had been granted bail. She had been held under the PTA for almost four years.The SJB official emphasized that regardless of repeated assurances given by successive governments, the Easter Sunday massacre remained a mystery. Rahuman said that SJB MPs Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, who had been severely critical of the Easter Sunday investigations and repeatedly alleging a conspiracy, switched allegiance to the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government in last May. However, the SJB wouldn’t allow the incumbent government to suppress the truth, he said.

The former lawmaker asked whether the new partners had reached a consensus on the matter, therefore interested parties were busy covering up tracks.Rahuman said that those at the helm should be ashamed that the P CoI recommendations were never implemented. Demanding punishment to those who neglected their responsibilities, Rahuman said the current dispensation should know the conspirators, too, should be dealt with.

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CBK: Proposed anti-corruption bill inadequate to end widespread problem



“75 percent in parliament are crooks.”

There is nothing in the proposed anti-corruption bill to prevent people from engaging in corrupt activities, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike said yesterday in Colombo.She said that she had accessed the draft of the bill, formulated at the behest of the IMF.

“The bill focuses on what to do when someone is identified as a crook. But there is nothing to prevent people from engaging in such acts.”

Corruption had become a key feature in Sri Lanka since 1977 despite some efforts by political leaders. However, there were strong anti-corruption sentiments in the country and they had to be harnessed, she said.

“75 percent in parliament are crooks,” she said.

The former President was also critical of the proposed new anti-terror laws. She said they were very dangerous laws and anyone could be detained for having dissenting views.

“These are scary laws. Everyone must unite to fight such laws,” she said.

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SJB MP throws party union under the bus



By Akitha Perera

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP S.M. Marikkar on Thursday said that he supported the government’s decision to liberalise the petroleum sector and that the state should not be involved in business. Marikkar added that most Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers were idling and that they got paid for not doing any work.

“If you ask me, I say that we must liberalise the CPC. We must open the market. We can’t have this island mentality and it is our parochial thinking that got us into this mess. We can’t live in isolation. The world is open and an increase in competition leads to better outcomes for the consumer.

We believe that the state should not be involved in business. The Lanka IOC is in Sri Lanka. When three other companies come in, there will be greater competition. Most CPC employees are idling. They draw fat salaries at the end of the month for doing nothing,” he said.Marikkar said that while the average CPC employee wasted public funds, those who headed it were involved in corruption. Both waste and corruption had to be stopped, he said.

“I am not sucking up to the President. We have principles and we stand by them,” he said.

However, the SJB’s trade union arm led by Ananda Palitha is playing leading role in CPC trade union struggle against the Cabinet decision to award licenses to more foreign companies that intend to enter the fuel retail market in the country.

In a Twitter message, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera said China’s Sinopec, United Petroleum of Australia and RM Parks of USA in a collaboration with Shell Plc would enter the fuel retail market in Sri Lanka.

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