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The continuing relevance of the Mahatma

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Mahatma Gandhi, humanist par excellence

The priceless legacy that is Mahatma Gandhi and his thought continues to resonate in the hearts and minds of the righteous of the world. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of India’s political independence which falls this year, it is obligatory on the part of women and men of goodwill to not only re-visit the core nuggets of the Mahatma’s political wisdom but to resolve afresh to perpetuate them in view of their inexhaustible relevance.

Non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes within countries and among countries was a cardinal tenet with the Mahatma, and of the teachings he imparted to the world, this is a foremost pick. The fact that the principle of non-violence or Ahimsa is continuing to win zealous adherents all over the world testifies to the fact that the Mahatma has etched his teachings in the hearts and minds of thinking people with resounding finality.

Yet, the world has never been at peace over the decades since the passing away of the Mahatma. Whereas one would have expected the hearts of those who project themselves as the world’s leaders to have mellowed, this has not come to pass. Both within and among countries, the first preferred approach to conflict resolution seems to be armed violence and coercion. Consequently, states are continuing to spend money and resources in mind-boggling amounts on armaments and the defense industry.

This does not mean that the Mahatma spoke in vain. It is just that his seeds of wisdom have fallen on stony, unfertile ground. In order for his words to bear fruit, they need to fall on civilized consciences that are receptive to humanity. We are compelled to infer from these observations that the hearts and minds of the majority of men who get into positions of authority are bereft of humanity, care and kindness.

Thus, barbarism and savagery continue to be unleashed on unarmed publics by these strongmen, whereas the majority of civilians only desire to be at peace with the world and among themselves.

Among other issues, the above trends compel attention to the need for those ‘entering politics’ to be of cultivated and civilized hearts and minds. Considering the continuing bloodshed and violence in the world, the conclusion is inescapable that the majority of men in seats of power the world over are characterized in the main by low cunning and little else. Apparently, the world needs questioning and educated publics who would evaluate closely and scrupulously those men who assiduously and insistently canvass their vote at election time, in the case of democracies.

Accordingly, if we have in place educated publics in particularly the South, who would ensure that only the civilized, in the Gandhian sense, enter politics, there could be an easing of the world’s agonies and anxieties. Needless to say, getting to this goal is a prolonged process since an educated public also comes to mean a people of refined sensibility who would be accommodative of Gandhian values. Nevertheless, democracies need to take on these challenges without further delay if caring, civilized societies are to be brought into being.

Meanwhile, the international community continues to face the uphill task of containing the world’s bloodletting and violence, with all evidence pointing to the fact that

scant respect is being paid by aggressor states to the UN’s authority. The latest such flouting of UN norms and principles takes the shape of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The civilized world is likely to echo the view of UN chief Antonio Guterres that such brazen invasions are unthinkable in this day and age but we have all the evidence in this demonstration of savagery by Russia that the world is retrogressing steadily into a state of anarchy and lawlessness.

It needs to be noted, though, that some of the most glaring instances of the flouting of international norms relating to peace and law and order in recent decades took the form of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The trend was set for the exercising of might with impunity as never before by the foremost powers in the mentioned theatres of conflict.

Accordingly, the prime powers are going to any lengths currently to establish their global supremacy but they are leaving the world in unprecedentedly bad shape. Needless to say, the stage is being set for increasingly barbaric bloodshed and violence, since the aggrieved in these war zones are unlikely to opt for pacifism in the face of the fierce aggression that is being unleashed on them. Russia is currently re-learning this lesson of history.

Considering the continuing relevance of the teachings of the Mahatma and the respect he continues to command among people of goodwill worldwide, it is imperative on the part of the world community to ensure that the collective conscience of the world is continued to be nourished by his moral teachings. While in the short and medium terms, the international community should seek to broaden the membership of the UN Security Council, to enable countries, such as India, to be in this vital organ, with a view to checking the excessive power wielded within the body by recalcitrant states, in the long term the systems need to be in place to continuously nourish international norms relating to peace with the core teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

The latter process could be initiated at multiple levels. It could even begin at school level through the intervention of member governments of the UN, since the Mahatma was an internationalist and his moral teachings are in tune with the core values of the world’s civilizations. The effecting of qualitative changes in the moral outlook of people takes time but given the steady descent of the world into lawlessness there is no choice but to take up these challenges without further delay.

The urgency of taking on these tasks is underscored by the fresh insights the Mahatma provided into some core concepts of the world’s greatest religions. For example, with regard to the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism, he is on record as having stated: ‘Nirvana is not like the black, dead peace of the grave, but the living peace, the living happiness of a soul which is conscious of itself, and conscious of having found its own abode in the heart of the Eternal.’ (See page 55 of ‘Gandhi and Sri Lanka, 1905-1947’, a Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha Publication, with the permission of the Navajivan Trust).

It is plain to see that the world would stand to gain substantially through continuous international efforts to expose the hearts of people to the Mahatma’s timeless teachings.



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South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what it means for SL

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At the head table (L to R): High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya and Executive Director LKI Dr. D.L. Mendis.

State circles in Sri Lanka have begun voicing the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the country, on the lines of South Africa’s historic TRC, and the time could not be more appropriate for a comprehensive discussion in Sri Lanka on the questions that are likely to arise for the country as a result of launching such an initiative. There is no avoiding the need for all relevant stakeholders to deliberate on what it could mean for Sri Lanka to usher a TRC of its own.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, took on the responsibility of initiating public deliberations on what a TRC could entail for Sri Lanka. A well-attended round table forum towards this end was held at the LKI on November 25 and many were the vital insights it yielded on how Sri Lanka should go about the crucial task of bringing about enduring ethnic peace in Sri Lanka through a home-grown TRC. A special feature of the forum was the on-line participation in it of South African experts who were instrumental in making the TRC initiative successful in South Africa.

There was, for example, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Communication of South Africa Roelf Meyer, who figured as Chief Representative of the white minority National Party government in the multi-party negotiations of 1993, which finally led to ending apartheid in South Africa. His role was crucial in paving the way for the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Highlighting some crucial factors that contributed towards South Africa’s success in laying the basis for ethnic reconciliation, Meyer said that there ought to be a shared need among the antagonists to find a negotiated solution to their conflict. They should be willing to resolve their issues. Besides, the principle needs be recognized that ‘one negotiates with one’s enemies’. These conditions were met in South Africa.

Meyer added that South Africa’s TRC was part of the country’s peace process. Before the launching of the TRC a peace agreement among the parties was already in place. Besides, an interim constitution was licked into shape by then. The principle agreed to by the parties that, ‘We will not look for vengeance but for reconciliation’, not only brought a degree of accord among the conflicting parties but facilitated the setting-up of the TRC.

Meyer also pointed out that the parties to the conflict acted with foresight when they postponed considering the question of an amnesty for aggressors for the latter part of the negotiations. If an amnesty for perceived aggressors ‘was promised first, we would never have had peace’, he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fanie Du Toit, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, in his presentation said that the restoration of the dignity of the victims in the conflict is important. The realization of ethnic peace in South Africa was a ‘victim-centric’ process. Hearing out the victim’s point of view became crucial. Very importantly, the sides recognized that ‘apartheid was a crime against humanity’. These factors made the South African TRC exercise a highly credible one.

The points made by Meyer and Du Toit ought to prompt the Sri Lankan state and other parties to the country’s conflict to recognize what needs to be in place for the success of an ethnic peace process of their own. A challenge for the Sri Lankan government is to ban racism in all its manifestations and to declare racism a crime against humanity. For starters, is the Lankan government equal to this challenge? If this challenge goes unmet bringing ethnic reconciliation to Sri Lanka would prove an impossible task.

Lest the Sri Lankan government and other relevant sections to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict forget, reconciliation in South Africa was brought about, among other factors, by truth-telling by aggressors and oppressors. In its essentials, the South African TRC entailed the aggressors owning to their apartheid-linked crimes in public before the Commission. In return they were amnestied and freed of charges. Could Sri Lanka’s perceived aggressors measure up to this challenge? This question calls for urgent answering before any TRC process is gone ahead with.

Making some opening remarks at the forum, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said, among other things, that the LKI discussion set the tone for the setting up of a local TRC. He said that the latter is important because future generations should not be allowed to inherit Sri Lanka’s ethnic tangle and its issues. Ethnic reconciliation is essential as the country goes into the future. He added that the ‘Aragalaya’ compelled the country to realize its past follies which must not be repeated.

In his closing remarks, former Minister of Public Works of South Africa and High Commissioner of South Africa to Sri Lanka ambassador Geoffrey Doidge said that Sri Lanka’s TRC would need to have a Compassionate Council of religious leaders who would be catalysts in realizing reconciliation. Sri Lanka, he said, needs to seize this opportunity and move ahead through a consultative process. All sections of opinion in the country need to be consulted on the core issues in reconciliation.

At the inception of the round table, Executive Director, LKI, Dr. D. L. Mendis making some welcome remarks paid tribute to South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela for his magnanimous approach towards the white minority and for granting an amnesty to all apartheid-linked offenders. He also highlighted the role played by Bishop Desmond Tutu in ushering an ‘Age of Reconciliation’.

In his introductory remarks, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena said, among other things, that TRCs were not entirely new to Sri Lanka but at the current juncture a renewed effort needed to be made by Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka should aim at its own TRC process, he said.

During Q&A Roelf Meyer said that in South Africa there was a move away from authoritarianism towards democracy, a democratic constitution was ushered. In any reconciliation process, ensuring human rights should be the underlying approach with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights playing the role of guide. Besides, a reconciliation process must have long term legitimacy.

Dr. Fanie Du Toit said that Bishop Tutu’s commitment to forgiveness made him acceptable to all. Forgiveness is not a religious value but a human one, he said. It is also important to recognize that human rights violations are always wrong.

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Cucumber Face Mask

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*  Cucumber and Aloe Vera

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel or juice • 1/4th grated cucumber

Method

Mix the grated cucumber and aloe gel, and carefully apply the mixture on the face and also on your neck.

Leave it on for 15 minutes. Wash with warm water.

* Cucumber and Carrot

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon fresh carrot juice • 1 tablespoon cucumber paste • 1 tablespoon sour cream

Method

Extract fresh carrot juice and grate the cucumber to get a paste-like consistency. Mix these two ingredients, with the sour cream, and apply the paste on the face.

Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (This cucumber face pack is good for dry skin)

* Cucumber and Tomato

Ingredients

• 1/4th cucumber • 1/2 ripe tomato

Method

Peel the cucumber and blend it with the tomato and apply the paste on your face and neck and massage for a minute or two, in a circular motion.

Leave the paste on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water. (This cucumber face pack will give you brighter and radiant skin)

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Christmas time is here again…

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The dawning of the month of December invariably reminds me of The Beatles ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again.’ And…yes, today is the 1st of December and, no doubt, there will be quite a lot of festive activities for us to check out.

Renowned artiste, Melantha Perera, who now heads the Moratuwa Arts Forum, has been a busy man, working on projects for the benefit of the public.

Since taking over the leadership of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha and his team are now ready to present their second project – a Christmas Fair – and this project, I’m told, is being done after a lapse of three years.

They are calling it Christmas Fun-Fair and it will be held on 7th December, at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Koralawella.

A member of the organizing committee mentioned that this event will not be confined to only the singing of Christmas Carols.

“We have worked out a programme that would be enjoyed by all, especially during this festive season.”

There will be a variety of items, where the main show is concerned…with Calypso Carols, as a curtain raiser, followed by Carols sung by Church choirs.

They plan to include a short drama, pertaining to Christmas, and a Comedy act, as well.

The main show will include guest spots by Rukshan Perera and Mariazelle Gunathilake.

Melantha Perera: Second project as President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum

Although show time is at 7.30 pm, the public can check out the Christmas Fun-Fair scene, from 4.30 pm onwards, as there will be trade stalls, selling Christmas goodies – Christmas cakes and sweets, garment items, jewellery, snacks, chocolate, etc.

The fair will not be confined to only sales, as Melantha and his team plan to make it extra special by working out an auction and raffle draw, with Christmas hampers, as prizes.

Santa and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ will be in attendance, too, entertaining the young and old, and there will also be a kid’s corner, to keep thembusy so that the parents could do their shopping.

They say that the main idea in organizing this Christmas Fun-Fair is to provide good festive entertainment for the people who haven’t had the opportunity of experiencing the real festive atmosphere during the last few years.

There are also plans to stream online, via MAF YouTube, to Sri Lankans residing overseas, to enable them to see some of the festive activities in Sri Lanka.

Entrance to the Christmas Fun Failr stalls will be free of charge. Tickets will be sold only for the main show, moderately priced at Rs. 500.

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