Connect with us


The Island has played its role fearlessly



By Dew Gunasekara

The period of 40 years since the birth of The Island covers, both globally and domestically, dramatic and far-reaching eventful developments. The Island, as a new breed and brand, played its role magnificently with dynamism since its inception.

Globally, we witnessed the birth of neo-liberation, collapse of the mighty Soviet Union, so called war on terrorism, emergence of Asia as the vanguard of the world economy after 500 years, China as the second largest economy, global financial crisis of 2008, gigantic infrastructure development projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative, emergence of a new economic order of multi polarity, change in the world balance of economic and political power, humiliating withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation, shift of geopolitical tension to South Asia, weakening of the imperialist camp on all fronts, and the exit of Britain from EU.

Domestically, we witnessed the disgraceful burning of Jaffna Library, Sri Lanka‘s first Presidential Election, the notorious referendum to put off the General Election, the Black July, mayhem created by the Indian Army, commitment of the Eelam war, second JVP insurrection of 1988/89, assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, a period of political assassinations, entry of Chandrika Kumaratunga as President, the end of the 30-year-war, administration of seven Executive Presidents, removal of two Chief Justices, the Easter Sunday terrorist attack, and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The birth of The Island newspaper took place at a crucial moment, when media freedom and responsibility was at its lowest ebb, under the regime of the First Executive President J.R. Jayewardene. JR assumed power with 5/6 majority with the backing of the entire private sector media.

The state-owned Lake House, and the state-owned SLBC came under the grip of the new regime. At the time, there was no state-owned television and the only private sector television station – ITN – was taken over by the government. As a result, a vacuum was created in the media realm. In fact, the fourth estate was in high company with the mighty executive, 5/6 majority in the legislature and judiciary.

In contrast, between the period 1960-1967, Sirimavo Bandaranaike had only the state-owned SLBC to run the administration, with the three powerful media houses – Lake House, Times and Dawasa Group – branded, in political, parlance, as Bera-Gedera, Samayang Gedara and Magul Gedera. Bandaranaike was confronted with a military coup in 1962 and a political conspiracy in 1964, following the brutal assassination of her husband Premier SWRD Bandaranaike. This was an inevitable process of political upheaval and reaction, following the social changes of 1956.

It was under these political conditions that the Aththa newspaper was founded as an alternative media instrument. The Aththa newspaper was the only media weapon in the hands of Mrs. Bandaranaike and the United Front, to come to power in 1970. The defeat of Mrs. Bandaranaike in 1964 was the result of a political conspiracy engineered by the media baron of the day, led by Esmond Wickremasinghe.

In my view, Upali Wijewardene, a clever business tycoon with political ambition, would have observed the growing conditions of authoritarianism in the country, without media freedom and responsibility and conceived the idea of founding the Upali Newspapers. He may have seen the impending danger of rising authoritarianism with democracy in peril. So The Island as an alternative appeared on the newsstand in 1981. We became regular readers of The Island ever since.

In the period of the United Front Government of Mrs. Bandaranaike, I was serving as the Private Secretary to Pieter Keuneman, the Minister of Housing and Construction. The Minister, being a distinguished journalist-politician, I was fortunate enough to associate myself with all men in the media profession who were frequenting the corridors of our Ministry.

The four Editors-in-Chief of The Island, namely; Vijitha Yapa, Gamini Weerakoon, Edmund Ranasinghe S. Pathirawitharana and Prabath Sahabandu had close association with Pieter Keuneman, who himself was an editor at Lake House soon after his return from Cambridge after higher education. I was blessed with the opportunity of meeting these distinguished men in the media profession.

With the rising popularity of the young The Island newspaper, Upali Wijewardene became a target of attack by high-powered politicians in power. Maybe they would have sensed the hidden hand behind Upali Wijewardene, as a potential rival in politics. The sudden disappearance of Upali Wijewardene remains a mystery and may remain so forever.

The Island has played a historic role during the last 40 years with due sense of media responsibility in exercising its freedom. Being subservient to none, The Island has successfully navigated amidst storms and hurricanes, earning the love and admiration of its readers. In my view, The Island always stood by the people, people’s sovereignty and national interests, evident from its editorials at all times. The editorials are a source of courage and inspiration, with unwavering loyalty to the people. Vijitha Yapa’s sober approach to problems, Gamini Weerakoon’s vituperative attacks on injustice, and Prabath’s penetrative analysis of events have enhanced the popularity and credibility of The Island.

I find that some of the regular contributors to The Island’s opinion page have turned out to be versatile writers. The page is full of substance, clarity on issues, inspiring critical thought, visionary thinking, and innovative ideas. I cannot but single out one of its regular contributors, Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana, who is a schoolmate of mine at Rahula College, Matara. This top doctor produced by Sri Lanka Medical College has turned out to be a scholarly writer, following in the footsteps of his illustrious father Justin Wijayawardhana, my teacher who guided us in the College Debating Society. So are many such contributors of high-quality, promoted by The Island.

The role played by The Island during the perils of the Eelam War is praiseworthy, with a policy of caution, realism and objectivity. The Island stood firmly with the country’s sovereignty, people’s interests, democracy and equality with malice to none but love for all. The Island refrained from being either opportunistic or sectarian. The Island never wavered from its policy of objectivity. It stood by science and not Myth at all times and in all climes. Currently, when the country is faced with an unprecedented crisis, its stands firmly by the people’s cause, not being subservient to any political force

On a personal note, I take this opportunity of saluting The Island for its fearless and dispassionate role on the issue of the Central Bank Bond Scam. On February 27, 2016, exactly on the 50th day of the Yahapalanaya Government, the Treasury Bond Scam took place. The only newspaper which broke the news was, The Island. When, the task of probing the scam was entrusted to me by the Parliament, on the floor of the House, I as the Chairman of the COPE acted swiftly and after several months of investigation and interrogation of the top officials, I prepared an interim report at the request of the Parliament and decided to present it to the Parliament, having placed it in the Agenda. As we were collecting signatures of the investigating Sub-Committee of the COPE in the evening, news broke from the Government Press regarding the Gazette Notification, dissolving the Parliament. The Speaker of the Parliament was not aware of the impending dissolvement, until I kept him informed. With this move, the presentation of the Interim Report was torpedoed. In addition, one of the members of the COPE, Sujeewa Senasinghe rushed to District Court in the following morning and obtained a restraining order, preventing me from revealing the contents of the interim report.

There was mounting blitz of propaganda against the unrevealed Interim Cope Report, using the dissolution of the Parliament. In the meantime, a letter was sent to the Secretary General of Parliament raising the question of privilege, in order to prevent any possible leakage of the COPE.

I was compelled to hold a Media Briefing to keep the public informed of what really happened. In this instance, The Island came to my rescue and revealed all what had happened. The Island played its role in the fine spirit of the media responsibility and in the overall interest of the people.

On July 30th 1983, with the outbreak of communal violence – Black July – the 3 left parties were banned and 4 leaders of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka were arrested at midnight and detained in the 4th floor of CID and later in the Negombo Prison. They were kept in detention and no visitors were allowed to meet them. Even Sarath Muttetuwegama, M.P. for Kalutara was denied of his Parliamentary privilege to visit his comrades for 3 months. It was only The Island which broke out the news and gave publicity to our grievances. The state-media kept mum. So, only The Island played its role fearlessly.

As Minister of Cultural Affairs and National Integrity, my first Cabinet Paper to make Tamil also compulsory for the public servants in keeping with the National Language Policy, I had to carry on a relentless battle and clear all the roadblocks for two long years until I received the green light from the Cabinet to issue the Gazette Notification in July 2007. This was the first attempt since 1966 after Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike failed to push through the reasonable use of Tamil. Also, I received wide publicity through The Island’ for which I am deeply indebted to. Only the Hindu and The Island’s’ sister paper Divaina editorials commented that it was a historic decision.

Again, when I completed the rehabilitation of 13,000 Ex-LTTE cadres and sent them back home, showers of affection were honoured on me by the media. Here too, The Island played a formidable role. Even the then Commissioner General of Human Rights, Navaneethan Pillay visited Sri Lanka and met Chief Justice in my presence, she acknowledged the success of the Rehabilitation Programme but she remarked that Sri Lanka failed to uphold the rule of law. In this instance, The Island played its traditional role in support of people’s interest.


On the happy occasion of the 40th Anniversary of The Island, I wish Many Happy Returns to The Island and express the hope that The Island will continue to play its historic role, keeping the country and the people at heart, strictly abiding to its traditional policy of media freedom and responsibility.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Rising farce of Family Power



Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.

He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.

He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.

“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,

 “If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again.  If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.

“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”

Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength.  In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.

It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.

While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.

Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law?  Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?

What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,

The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.

The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance.  There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser –  from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?

The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to

use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.

Continue Reading


A tribute to vajira



By Uditha Devapriya

The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.

A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.

In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.

One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.

Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.

In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.

In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.

Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.

Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.

Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.

At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”

If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.

Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.

These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.

Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.

As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.

As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.

Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.

That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.

The writer can be reached at

Continue Reading


It’s all about France in Kandy !



Sarah Toucas, Director Alliance Francaise de Kandy

This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.

A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.

All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.

Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.

Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.

To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.

Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar

comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Continue Reading