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The COVID-19 Pandemic in Sri Lanka: Contextualising it geographically



By Dr. Nalani Hennayake and
Dr. Kumuduni Kumarihamy

(Continued from Friday)

The statistics and information aside, what this tells us is that the hope for immunization through a vaccine for the coronavirus could be far off than we think. Dynamics of vaccine politics exists within global politics and the capitalist economy. The Drug Controller General of India has approved the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and another by the Indian manufacturer Bharat Biotech for emergency care. During his recent visit to Sri Lanka, India’s Foreign Minister had pledged that India would prioritize Sri Lanka when supplying vaccines to other countries. In the same meeting, the Indian Foreign Minister had reiterated “India’s backing for Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process and an ‘inclusive political outlook’ that encourages ethnic harmony while the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister rejoiced in the merits of ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.” At the same time, it was reported that Sri Lanka is making plans to sign an agreement to secure the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX facility, which is already approved by the Cabinet.

Various news reports indicate that Sri Lanka is discussing whether to obtain the vaccines from the United States, Britain, or Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. However, it is clear that Sri Lanka has entered into world politics of vaccines. Such vaccine politics tells us that we need to steadily continue controlling strategies such as social distancing, contact tracing, antigen, and PCR testing, significantly raising awareness at the micro-community level. The kind of resilience that local people display when a family member undergoes an infectious disease such as measles and mumps are remarkable. People must be reminded of their resilience and caring. The communities must be made aware of the importance of safeguarding against the coronavirus, given its increased politicization and uneven possibilities of immunization and care.

While it is difficult to anticipate an equitable distribution of the vaccines globally, Sri Lanka’s situation will be determined by the number of vaccines received and the pandemic’s increased politicization. The WHO recognizes four categories of vulnerable persons/groups: Persons at risk of more serious illness from COVID-19, persons or groups with social vulnerabilities, persons or groups living in closed settings, and persons or groups with a higher occupational risk of exposure to the virus. What guarantees that these groups will be considered on a priority basis and the process of immunization will not be biased towards economic and political power? The global geographies of vaccines communicate to us two important messages. First are the difficulty and the disadvantaged position of obtaining vaccines for Sri Lanka as a less-developed country, and as a result, the COVID-19 pandemic can be protracted. Until the vaccines are obtained and a sizeable population of, at least, the risk category – including the frontline health care and security personal – are immunized, we will automatically be identified as vulnerable territories in terms of bio-security. Second, this vulnerability can be manipulated politically, both globally and nationally, to negotiate other deals with powerful countries to trade with vaccines.

The possibility of uneven geographies of care is a fact that should be anticipated given that a majority of the infected are from what we call ‘low-income, low-social status’ communities. There is now a tendency to identify COVID-19 as a disease of the impoverished. The local government bodies such as Municipal councils must reevaluate their position, not how they have acted to control the pandemic, but what they have failed to do in addressing the social welfare issues of the urban low-income communities.

As we look at the possible geographies of care, it is evident that the existence of a relatively good hospital network (at national, regional, and local levels) with relatively good coverage of the entire country has been immensely helpful in treating and caring for COVID-19 patients and those suspected. In addition to the already existing hospitals, the government has converted various government institutions into treatment centres in different parts of the island. This provides breathing space for the government hospitals when dealing with COVID-19 patients and patients who need critical medical care for other illnesses. It should also not be forgotten that the Public Health Inspectors were a category of lesser-known among the hierarchy of the health workers. Their role in curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic has been indispensable: Working not under the best of circumstances and with the minimum personal protective equipment. The average labourer who was entrusted with the strenuous task of sanitizing public places must be cared for too.

The public health system operationalized through MOH areas, a total of 347 MOH areas, as per the Annual Health Statistics Report 2017, is an essential component of controlling the pandemic now or in the future. The health sector generally receives only 1.59 percent of the GNP and 5.94 percent of the National Expenditure, a measly share for an essential sector. According to the same Report, Sri Lanka records an acute shortage of health personnel. There is a significant shortage of nurses and doctors: One doctor for 1083 people, one nurse per 471 people, one Public Health Midwife for 3533 people. As we look into the possible geographies of care, the significance of Primary Health Care Units, the MOH-based public health system, in maintaining a healthy country is indisputable.


Micro-geographies of COVID-19

In its interim guidance issued on May 18, 2020, the directive issued by the WHO is as follows: “Physical and social distancing measures in public spaces to prevent transmission between infected individuals and those who are not infected, and shield those at risk of developing serious illnesses. These measures include physical distancing, reduction or cancellation of mass gatherings and avoiding crowded spaces in different settings (e.g., public transport, restaurants, bars, theatres), working from home, and supporting adaptations to workplaces and educational institutions. For physical distancing, WHO recommends a minimum distance of at least one meter between people to limit the risk of interpersonal transmission.” Thus, the WHO recommendation includes two components: physical distancing of one meter between people and social distancing as much as possible in the social events, gatherings, etc.

This requirement was initially communicated as social distancing (සමාජ දුරස්ථභාවය) in Sri Lanka. The exercise of ‘physical and social distancing’ during COVID-19 reminded us of the work of two Political Geographers, Robert E. Norris, and L. Lloyd Haring. They argued that “every person has [is] a portable territory that is larger than the space s/he physically needs” (1980:9). They further wrote that “This territory is called personal space. It is similar in some ways to a political territory. Both personal space and political space are bounded, occupants of each type of space interact with each other of their kin, and uninvited intruders in both types of areas cause stress and behavioural changes within the intruded area.” It is imperative to understand that the personal space or the portable territory is unique to each individual in both size and shape, and they may vary over time and space, according to their specific individual requirements. In such a situation, how can we/how do we regiment this personal space in fear of the uninvited intruder of the coronavirus pathogen, through a standard measure of one or two meters between individuals? Until the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, this space, the portable territory of ours, had been taken for granted. We operated with a sense of relative autonomy over our portable territories. Now, we are told by the state and those in charge of controlling the pandemic how to operate these portable territories, maintaining a distance of one to two meters from each other. It is also expected that every person would carry out this ‘social distancing’ uniformly.

In early years, geographers were influenced by the science of spatial distancing, proxemics, introduced by the Cultural Anthropologist Edward T. Hall, who studied proxemics to understand human spatial behaviour at a micro-scale. In his famous book, “The Hidden Dimension,” published in 1966, he introduced a typology of human spatial distancing. This typology classifies the micro-spatiality of human beings into four types of spaces: intimate space, personal space, social space, and public space. Each type of space is demarcated with a specific distance, internally divided into a near phase and a far phase. The ‘portable territory’ mentioned above includes the intimate and personal spaces in this typology. According to Hall’s generalization, these portable territories end at four feet (1.2 meters), where social space begins. In his typology, ‘social space’ (See Diagram 01) spans between four to twelve feet, which is housed between personal and the public space. Edward T. Hall elaborates that “a proxemic feature of social distance is that it can be used to insulate or screen people from each other” (1966: 123). Social distance thus demarcates the end of physical dominion of an individual or, in other words, literally the jurisdiction of the portable territory.


Diagram 01: Distance Typology

In the case of COVID-19, hypothesizing that every person could be a possible carrier of the pathogen, one must maintain the one-metre distance. The distance of one-meter marks the outer boundary of the personal space and the inner boundary of the social space. An effective way to control the pathogens’ spread is to ensure that one strictly remains within one’s portable territory or, control people’s proxemic behaviour. This is very challenging since human beings have been civilized as social beings with defined and undefined social spaces!

Social distancing has become our new norm, and there is an undeniable need for this restriction. However, proxemic behaviour is not entirely an individual matter of concern. People of different cultures display different proxemic patterns; in other words, proxemic patterns are culturally highly conditioned. The concepts of ‘near’ and ‘distant’ are culturally different and relative. “The specific distance chosen (between two or more individuals) depends on the transaction, the relationship of the interacting individuals, how they feel and what they are doing… (Hall, 1969: 128). Human space requirements are generally influenced by his/her environment and surroundings and cultural norms. It is essential to understand the various elements in the immediate surroundings and the larger social context that contribute to our sense of spaces, distances, and relations. Implementers of social distancing may think that all people in a queue are potential carriers of the coronavirus, and therefore, one must maintain a distance of one meter. But some people may feel uncomfortable with social distancing simply because they may have socialized into different proxemic patterns.

Our proxemic behaviour may change, given the particular circumstances. For example, the need to feed a crying child at home, ailing parents, or one’s family overrides the fear of the virus, and the social distance is often contracted, in fear the person in front may grab what you may need. How people feel about each other at a particular time in a given space is a decisive factor in maintaining distance. In his study, Edward T. Hall explains that when people are angry and frustrated, they unknowingly tend to move closer. Some people often forget or become inconsiderate about maintaining social distance simply because of the urgency that being served in a regular queue entails. On such occasions, people are often characterized and labelled as irrational, undisciplined, and even unruly, whereas in political gatherings, opening ceremonies, personalized ‘bodhi pujas,’ etc., proxemic behaviour is often overlooked.

The standard proxemics required to control the COVID-19 pandemic are not realities for people who live in congested localities such as urban low-income areas and plantation areas where COVID-19 is fast spreading. Public services and commercial activities must be streamlined to facilitate a rational proxemic behaviour to maintain the social distance (see, for example, photograph no.1), with the understanding that the proxemic behaviour is culturally conditioned. It is very self-explanatory. Our discussion on proxemics here is not an argument against the requirement of one-meter restriction or any other form of social distancing. But understanding the cultural nuances of proxemics helps us be sensitive and intelligent when handling difficult situations rather than labelling people as irrational, undisciplined, and uncultured.


Few conclusive thoughts

What we have tried to emphasize in the article is the need and value of contextualizing the COVID-19 pandemic geographically. There are two aspects to this. First, it is imperative that the prevalence of the COVID-19 is mapped at the GN level with the available data focusing on individual MOH divisions. With our ‘sample’ exercise of Kandy, we have shown that a better spatial picture can be derived from GN level mapping. Since the MOH division, among others, is a crucial operational spatial unit for matters of public health, it is essential to map the number of COVID-19 patients at the MOH level, preferably even randomly locating them within GN divisions. The unintended benefit of such mapping would be that the existing health record systems (IMMR/eIMMR, etc.) will be further developed as a spatial health record system. A spatial health record system helps to understand the ecological dynamics of any disease and can be used as a real-time health monitoring and surveillance tool. The existing health record systems contain patients’ identity numbers (bed-head ticket number), age, gender, postal address, etc. If locational information such as GN, DSD, and district can be added, the data can easily be extracted at any spatial unit from the database for analysis in a crisis. Moreover, the postal addresses can be converted to Geographic Coordinates, indicating the patients’ geographical locations, using geocoding techniques.

Second, it is essential to understand the socioeconomic and ecological contexts of areas where the disease spreads at high intensity. Such a task is made difficult because of the unavailability of data relating to socioeconomic contexts at the GN level. However, the existing administrative system and its resources (Divisional Secretaries, Grama NIladharis, etc.) can be utilized to gather information about local areas. The process of controlling the pandemic must be localized with the MOH as the key operational spatial unit while adhering to national health guidelines and ethical concerns. It is time for the MOH-led system to take pro-active measures (i.e., creating awareness), in collaboration with the existing administrative setup, community organizations and networks, to safeguard the areas where the disease has not yet spread. Most importantly, this process needs to be monitored at the district level. Perhaps, district task forces need to be established to assess and take stock of the district’s current situation, preferably at the GN division level, and implement management and preventive measures.

In its recommendations, the WHO has repeatedly emphasized the need to adhere to both public health and social measures and, very importantly, select and ‘calibrate based on their local context.’ The WHO writes very clearly in its ‘COVID-19 Global Risk Communication and Community Engagement Strategy,’ that “COVID-19 is more than a health crisis; it is also an information and socioeconomic crisis.” It highlights the need to be ‘informed by data that cover the community needs, issues, and perceptions’ and engage with the communities. When the pandemic becomes protracted and the vaccines are not within reach, it is crucial to engage with the communities at the lower levels to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The authorities must pay special attention to the areas that it has not yet spread and take pro-active measures to safeguard those areas, perhaps with the assistance of community organizations and institutions to create awareness among communities.

It appears that people are becoming complacent, and this can exacerbate the situation. Generally, people expect the government to control the second wave and are less inclined to take responsibility for individual behaviours and public health and social measures. On the other hand, the government seems to expect the full responsibility to be taken by the individuals. As the pandemic situation is drawn out, people tend to take risks for granted and assumes normalcy. Such complacency can be detrimental to the process of controlling the pandemic. Such complacency is also a result of poor or lack of communication about the disease, specially among vulnerable communities. Although the Ministry of Health has developed a comprehensive set of health guidelines, whether they are effectively communicated to the people is a matter of concern. Many people cannot grasp the severity of the disease and the significance of adhering to preventive health and social measures. Therefore, authorities must seriously consider sharing the responsibility of controlling the pandemic with the communities.

Finally, while we encourage mapping as a tool that can facilitate better decision making, it is important to understand that maps, and even charts and diagrams, etc., can become ‘political technologies.’ Such political technologies can instil a sense of concern, fear, and anxiety among the decision-makers and the public. We see that the pandemic is fast politicized in Sri Lanka. Mapping and geo-visualization of COVID-19 should not be ruled out either in fear of exposure or political manipulation, as it may suggest how the pandemic needs to be acted upon effectively at the local level.


Dr. Nalani Hennayake teaches a range of Human Geography courses) and Dr. Kumudini Kumarihamy teaches GIS and Health at the Department of Geography, University of Peradeniya.




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Science vs religion-I



Like oil and water, science and religion are immiscible and belong to mutually exclusive domains without any interface. Whenever they have been attempted to be brought together, the result invariably has been confusion, conflict, and bloodshed, of which there are too many gory examples in history. Allow religion to explain the origin of the Universe, according to its own ideas, and you end up with corpses of men and women burnt at stakes.


In Tao of Physics, Fritzof Capra wrote that science does not need religion and religion does not need science, while a man needs both. I am not so sure. Again, in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan wrote, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

“When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” If spirituality implies appreciating our own insignificance in the Universe and the resulting feeling of humbleness, then this has nothing to do with religion.

But, leaving aside spirituality, religion and science have never been compatible. While science teaches us a systematic, rational way of exploring this universe to understand the laws of nature that guide life and non-life, religion has brought untold misery and suffering upon humanity. throughout the course of history. by claiming certainty in “information” and “facts” amenable neither to reason nor to observation.

Like oil and water, science and religion are immiscible and belong to mutually exclusive domains without any interface. Whenever they have been attempted to be brought together, the result invariably has been confusion, conflict, and bloodshed, of which there are too many gory examples in history.

Allow religion to explain the origin of the Universe, according to its own ideas, and you end up with corpses of men and women burnt at stakes. Same with politics. Allow religion to rule a nation, according to its own theories, and you end up with Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran where the laws of Sharia are more important than human life or human happiness.

Given the chance, religion would turn this world into a demon-haunted place in no time – in fact it has attained a remarkable degree of success in doing so. But, what exactly is science, and what is religion? According to The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, “One way to distinguish between science and religion is the claim that science concerns the natural world, whereas religion concerns the supernatural world and its relationship to the natural. Scientific explanations do not appeal to supernatural entities such as gods or angels (fallen or not), or to non-natural forces (such as miracles, karma, or qi).

“For example, neuroscientists typically explain our thoughts in terms of brain states, not by reference to an immaterial soul or spirit, and legal scholars do not invoke karmic load when discussing why people commit crimes.” Science concerns itself with what is or can be observed and seeks an immediate answer. Religion claims the answer is either unknowable or explained only with the help of faith, that is acceptance of something whose existence is indeterminate.

Science claims to explain phenomena or mysteries only through the tested method of empirical inquiry which is a series of steps involving observation-hypothesis-experiment-inference-theory-prediction-testing. This process is indispensable, even where it may not succeed in explaining all observed phenomena, whereas religion takes recourse to God and finds it absurd that by studying STEM subjects (Science-Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) alone, the concept of God can be reduced to irrelevance. Given the chance, it will subsume science, too.

In fact, a great deal of effort has already been invested towards this end, to start a dialogue between science and religion that is actually an exercise in futility.In 1998, the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson in his book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, argued that knowledge is a unified system that embraces science, morality, and ethics as well. The aim was perhaps not to make science spiritual but to make religion scientific.

In the 1990s, with its multi-million-dollar grants, the John Templeton Foundation launched a magazine called Science & Spirit, “to explain what science cannot, and asking science to validate religious teachings”. The magazine died a natural death in 2009.The Foundation also financed several documentaries like “Faith and Reason”, “Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World” or “God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science & Spirituality”.

Scores of bestselling books, written by eminent scientists, followed, like Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998) by John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge physicist turned Anglican priest, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006) by Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, or Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (2021) by Stephen Meyer, Director of the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute which is the main organization behind the so-called Intelligent Design Movement, according to which the universe was created by an intelligent designer, the God almighty.

But physics explains the origin of the universe convincingly from quantum electrodynamics as arising from a vacuum fluctuation and biology explains the evolution of all life, starting with a chance molecule that learned to replicate itself. But both intelligent design and evolution cannot be true at the same time, hence the attempt to find a middle path – an absurd one at that – that God created the universe and left it to the laws of nature, also designed by him, to run it, without any further interference in its future course.

As the New York Times science journalist George Johnson wrote, thus “God becomes a metaphor for the laws that science tries to uncover.” On the question of faith, there are deep divisions among the scientists themselves. While Einstein’s God was one “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists”, and not one “who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”, many scientists hold radically different views. Some, like the cosmologist Allan Sandage, wonder: “‘How is it that inanimate matter can organize itself to contemplate itself? That’s outside of any science I know”, while others, like the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, believe that pursuing God is a “waste” of time that never has “added anything to the storehouse of human wisdom”.

Believers in God hold that a grand unified theory to explain the universe in terms of a single theory that is the holy grain of science would be incomplete without the integration of faith and ancient wisdom in it, while others, like Christians, were outraged when the radiocarbon dating of the shroud of Turin suggested it as a medieval forgery and not the burial cloth of Jesus, feel that as science develops more sophisticated techniques, their religious beliefs will be vindicated.

Fortunately, the endeavour of all these new-age scientists to blur and finally erase the boundary between science and pseudoscience has not yet succeeded. Similar efforts are on even in our own country. Religion is essentially about worship, and worship means surrender.

Faith is necessarily blind and has to disregard evidence in order to reinforce and validate its belief system. Human life is full of misery and suffering ~ indeed it is a “flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery” from which faith alone can provide a temporary deliverance. “Happiness is but only an occasional episode in the general drama of pain” that surrounds us, as Thomas Hardy said, and if surrender could mitigate even a little of that pain, it should be welcome.

Surrender can also be made more convincing when imbued with love and fear that a God is capable of inspiring in human minds. Finally, if the surrender can hold out the promise of something eternal, like an eternal deliverance from pain or from the endless cycles of birth and death, such an eternal vision becomes too tantalising to resist by most.

All that remains is to remind and reinforce these ideas continually through repetitive rituals, meaningless though they are, and the whole package becomes so overwhelming that few could emerge out of its enchanting aura to be able to see the world and reality with objectivity.

After all, we still do not know how the objective reality conveyed to our brain through the senses acquires a subjective meaning in our mind, how the scent of a rose gets transformed into the memory of our first love, or a fading photograph brings back long-forgotten emotions.

Subjectivity rules the roost, everything else, even hard evidence, becomes mere speculation. Blind faith has no rival, and when blind faith masquerades as science, the conquest of the mind by religion becomes total, and all logic has been clinically erased. The evolution of life and that too on a tiny planet called earth that has just about the right conditions with the right values of fundamental constants among billions of such planets is an awesome mystery that the believers cite to establish intelligent design as the only explanation.

They ignore the fact that there are planets with all possibilities and ours happen to be the one with only just one of these permutations that made life – and God – possible. Logic and faith, like science and religion – are incompatible; if bring them together, there will be combustion and conflict.

But bring complexity to replace conflict, and the science-religion debate immediately acquires a political dimension ~ struggle between secular liberalism and traditional conservatism, authority versus individual liberty, herd mentality versus reason, and state versus individual. In each one of these struggles, rationality is the obvious victim that is left bleeding to die.

(The Statesman/ANN)

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Vijayabahu, Gajabahu, and meanings of names



By Uditha Devapriya

The Sri Lanka Navy recently commissioned Vijayabahu, a former US Coastguard Cutter. The ship joins two other US origin vessels in the Navy. For some reason, the name seems to have caused consternation among certain circles. Alan Keenan of the International Crisis Group, for instance, has noted on Twitter that it is “loaded with social and political meaning” and that “it’s hardly an advertisement for the multi-ethnic, multicultural #SriLanka western govts say they want to promote.” He cites two other names, Gajabahu and Samudura.

The Pali and Sinhalese Chronicles depict both Gajabahu and Vijayabahu as national heroes: Gajabahu (113-136 AD) for having led a campaign to rescue 12,000 Sinhala captives in the Chola (or Soli) kingdom, and Vijayabahu (1055-1110 AD) for having driven Chola invaders from Polonnaruwa and laid the foundation for the unification of the polity by one of his successors, Parakramabahu (1123–1186 AD). Alan Keenan’s reference to the “social” and “political” meanings of these names is doubtless based on how Sinhalese Buddhists imagine these kings today, and how military regiments have appropriated them.

There is no denying that nationalist historiography has reduced these personages into mythical heroes today. It’s not just the military. Even popular writers prefer to see history through a particular prism. Their interpretation of the past places these kings as saviours of the race (jatiya) and unifiers of the polity (rata). This presents an interesting problem. In praising these monarchs for having brought the country together, nationalist writers tend to impute contemporary terms, like sovereignty, on what was essentially a non-unitary State. This is historical anachronism at its best (or worst?), and it is from there that these writers extract the contemporary meanings of these kings and their names.

I have implied in many of my essays that by viewing history through these prisms, Sinhala nationalists have done a disservice to their own history. In other words, they have not been fair to their past. We must be careful not to commit the same mistake when criticising these writers. While pointing out the errors of their methodology, it would be prudent not to use the same categories and binaries they deploy. To that end, it would be more constructive, instead of pointing out the “contemporary” meanings of Sinhala kings and their names, to highlight their historical and non-mythical meanings. Once we do that, we will be able to reconstruct a past more in keeping with the multi-ethnic, multi-caste character of Sri Lankan history, particularly in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods.

Vijayabahu, for instance, was the product of a period that saw deep and close interaction between Sri Lankan (Sinhala) monarchs and their South Indian contemporaries. In his book Rewriting Buddhism: Pali Literature and Monastic Reform in Sri Lanka, 1157-1270, Alastair Gornall notes three “interrelated” changes in the 10th and 11th centuries that profoundly shaped Sri Lankan history: the invasions of two Cola kings (Raja Raja and Rajendra I), the “fragmentation” of the ruling family, and “changing attitudes” to Sanskrit literature, which influenced Sinhala and Pali literary works. The early Chola invasions laid the foundation for Kalinga Magha’s conquests in the 13th century AD and the later shift from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa. In other words, there were linkages between an ostensibly “Sinhala Buddhist” polity and a “Hindu” South Indian dynasty that makes the use of binaries like Sinhala/Tamil, Buddhist/Hindu, and Sri Lanka/Soli redundant, if not anachronistic.

Indeed, the kings of these times actively involved themselves in the politics of South India. During the first millennium AD, Gornall writes, conflicts within the State were “contained.” What this means is that they never threatened the social and political patterns of the country. Once we pass this period, though, the Anuradhapura State becomes embroiled in the politics of its neighbouring states. As Professor Raj Somadeva has argued, between the reigns of Sena I (833-853 AD), Dappula IV (924-935 AD), and Mahinda V (982-1029 AD), Sinhala kings sided with one or the other contending dynasties in South India, thus exposing themselves to “the threat of outside invasion.” These interventions eventually lead to the humiliating deposal of Mahinda V, the last ruler of Anuradhapura.

Vijayabahu is celebrated in nationalist reconstructions of history as a just and able ruler who put an end to these humiliations, recaptured the State from the Chola invaders, and fortified the State. However, his hold was considerably tenuous. In seeking to unify the State, he had to account for and accommodate certain realities: he therefore entrusted the tooth relic of the Buddha to Velaikkara mercenaries. Gornall suggests that the Chola invaders harboured very little cultural ambitions in Sri Lanka: it was the South Indian social and mercantile elites who patronised and built Hindu temples in Polonnaruwa. Yet they did exert an influence on the political, social, and literary landscape of the post-Anuradhapura State.

In his book Foreign relations of Sri Lanka, from earliest times to 1965, Vernon Mendis argues that history has not been fair to this ruler: he is castigated for having capitulated to South Indian overlords and mercenaries. Nevertheless, to borrow an oft-quoted phrase, there was little that he could do. Vijayabahu’s response to these geopolitical realities was pragmatic, if not inevitable: in the interests of the State, he put up with a South Indian presence, to the extent that an inscription eulogising him was carved in literary Tamil, and married a Kalinga princess, Tiloka Sundari, to ensure “the longevity of his own lineage.” Not surprisingly, it is in this ruler’s reign that ties with South India become complex.

What nationalist interpretations of Vijayabahu’s achievements and failures thus omit is that the times he lived in were simply too complex to accommodate the binaries that popular writers impute to their reading of history. Long before Vijayabahu, before even the collapse of Anuradhapura, Sinhala kings had begun a tradition of claiming descent from the Kalinga line. This was, at one level, to add respectability to their office. It was also a creative way of accommodating the rise of South Indian power and the decline of Sinhalese power, both of which can be dated between the fourth and 14th centuries AD.

Following these cycles of decline and revival, we come across literary works, predominantly Sinhalese, that legitimise certain colonisation and nationalist myths. While the authors of the early Chronicles, especially the Mahavamsa, sought to validate specific religious sects, the authors of the later Chronicles, especially the Rajavaliya, sought to romanticise if not mythologise these cycles of decline and revival and to valorise the supposedly “enduring” character of Sinhala society. Hence the Rajavaliya eulogises Gajabahu for having rescued 12,000 captives from the clutches of a Chola king, though as Obeyesekere has pointed out there is little historical evidence for this. It also depicts him as settling Tamil communities in and around Kandy, though the rather anachronistic inclusion of Kandy indicates that this episode would have been the basis for a colonisation myth.

The polity and State presented in these stories are, to be sure, Sinhalese and Buddhist, and they admittedly legitimise the hero/villain distinctions that popular writers deploy in their re-imaginings of the past. Yet embedded with these same stories are important clues and signs of a vibrant, diverse, even multi-ethnic society. Gajabahu is presented as a Sinhalese hero, but there are narratives that depict him as the patron of the Pattini cult in Sri Lanka. Obeyesekere questions these myths and posits that they are “worthless.” Yet the inclusion of this king in a major Tamil literary work, the Silppadikaram, and the invocation of him in a ritual associated with the Pattini cult, the gammaduwa, tells us that the society of his time was more multifaceted that what the Chronicles would have us believe.

The Pattini cult itself shows clear linkages between Sinhalese and Tamil communities that have survived the many fratricidal conflicts we have seen since independence. Gananath Obeyesekere’s advice, in that sense, is probably the most important: when reading these myths, it is essential that we do not literalise them, since a literalist reading can pave the way for conflict and tension. That is why Alan Keenan’s point about the social and political meanings of names is highly relevant. However, it is important to not only highlight those meanings, but also look at possible alternative meanings. This admittedly requires historical and anthropological research of a sort we simply do not have here. It is only through such research and scholarship that we can prevent the country from sliding down into the murky waters of ethno-supremacism. For that, we need to return to our past.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at

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Relationship between sleep and blood glucose levels



Therapeutic sleep might furthermore reduce lethal blood sugar levels by facilitating healthy systems. Curtailed sleep is a risk aspect for improved blood sugar levels.

SNS: Sleep and blood glucose levels: Contended Sleep and good health is inseparable with immense health benefits. Sleep deprivation leads to many health complications including blood sugar levels which has a major link with sleep cycle. There are proven facts that decrease in sleep impacts the blood sugar level leading to diabetes which, if stretched longer may result in heart diseases.

However, the connection between sleep and blood sugar is complicated. There is not a reasonable formula that demonstrates a relationship between the amount of sleep and an interconnected increase or decrease in blood sugar.

How does sleep impact Glucose Levels in Blood?

It sounds antithetical that sleep can both raise and lower glucose levels. According to a Rutgers University study report our bodies encounter a cycle of changes every day which is called a “circadian rhythm” which naturally boosts blood sugar levels at night and when an individual sleeps. However these natural blood sugar mounds are not a reason for worry.

Therapeutic sleep might furthermore reduce lethal blood sugar levels by facilitating healthy systems. Curtailed sleep is a risk aspect for improved blood sugar levels. Even discriminatory sleep deprivation over one night improves insulin resistance, which can in turn upswing blood sugar levels. As a result, a lack of sleep has been linked with diabetes, a blood sugar disorder.

Additional analysis is needed to better understand the relationship between sleep and blood sugar.

Factors managing the relationship between sleep and blood sugar levels:

-The abundance of time a person sleeps.

-The phases of sleep a person experiences.

-The time of day a person sleeps.

-A person’s age.

-A person’s eating habits (which coincide with nourishment and sleep).

How does inadequate sleep and Blood Sugar levels?

According to Dr Stuti Sharma, PG Resident MAMC Delhi, inadequacy of sleep and blood sugar levels are connected.  Inadequate  sleeping significantly increases blood sugar levels. Researchers have conveyed the following relationships between sugar and lack of sleep or sleep problems:

Sleep-disordered breathing is related to higher glucose levels

Obstructive sleep apnea is attributed to defective glucose tolerance

More intense sleep breathing issues are linked with higher blood sugar

Obstructive sleep apnea stringency is associated with increased fasting glucose

Poor sleep is associated with a decreased capacity to control glucose levels in diabetic patients

Sleep loss is correlated with risen glucose levels in hospitalized patients with and without diabetes

Relationship between blood sugar levels and heart disease

People with diabetes have a higher chances of developing various health problems including heart disease. High blood sugar levels over time can damage the blood vessels of our heart and other organs leading to different health problems.  It means the longer you have diabetes the greater your risk for heart disease. Because of higher blood glucose level the heart may suffer from stroke and even death. But if blood sugar levels are maintained then there will be less chances of heart diseases. And it can be done by sound sleep as discussed earlier.

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