Connect with us

Midweek Review

The need for a holistic approach and restructuring of system



Dr. Amarasekara receiving his D. Lit

Speech delivered by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara after receiving his D. Lit from the University of Peradeniya, last week.

Let me first thank you for bestowing this honour on me, which I accept with gratitude and humility. I am grateful to the Dental Faculty for sponsoring it.

On this occasion in spite of my penchant for ideological and philosophical wrangling, I thought of speaking on something more down to earth, something which is relevant to the problems we as educationists and university lecturers are facing at the moment. Hence the topic, ‘The need for a Holistic Approach and a Restructuring of the System’. My observations are mainly to stimulate your thinking, and make you think outside the box. And, if you find them worthy of consideration it is left to you, who are more knowledgeable, to use them to formulate the envisaged model that is needed.

At the moment, I see a concerted effort by the education authorities to incorporate a knowledge of the basic sciences as well as the latest technical knowledge, technical skills and Information Technology to the universities, especially to the field of Humanities.

To put it in other words, it is an attempt to get a student following the Arts/Humanities to pursue a course in Biology or Mathematics, and a student following a course in Science to follow a course in History or Literature, and both groups to imbibe the latest technical knowledge offered by the Technological Revolution that has come into being.

Whether this is being proposed with a holistic perspective in mind to produce an enlightened graduate who could contribute to the intellectual, cultural life of the society, or to produce an employable graduate in demand is not clear at the moment.

It is most likely prompted by a desire to produce an employable graduate who will not turn out to be a rebel, an anarchist, or a threat and also, to prevent those insurgencies of the past that were centered round the universities. It is natural that the Arts graduate who faces a blank future with no hope in sight should resort to violence to vent his frustration and agony. We are lucky that so far this frustration is being channeled into the streets and not to violence against the establishment.

Even if the restructuring is prompted by a self -centered impulse it must be welcome.

This reminds me of a personal experience I underwent some time ago. It was in 1987 during the JVP insurrection. I was abroad at the time and very keen to know what was happening in the country. With my eyes glued to the television to see what was happening especially in the universities I could see the terrible mayhem, the terrible tragedy, the torture that was inflicted on the youth especially at Peradeniya. The picture of those decapitated heads lined up round that pond made me utterly sick, filling me with a deep sense of guilt.

When I came back, I was interviewed by a Week-end Sinhala weekly and was asked what remedial measures I could suggest to prevent such a tragedy happening in the universities. My response was an irrational and emotional outburst. ’There is no need to continue with these universities any longer. They have provided a breeding ground for those youth to be turned into rebels and insurgents. All these universities must be closed down, we must go back to the situation that was there prior to the establishment of these universities. We must have a Medical College to provide the number of doctors needed for the country, we should have an Engineering school to provide the necessary number of engineers, we must resurrect the Technical Colleges to provide the technicians necessary for the country. It is an unaffordable luxury to have residential universities to produce unemployable Arts graduates. If there is a need to teach Humanities, we could have a number of Open Universities to cater for that need.’

Mine was no doubt an irrational and emotional outburst. But I think it contained a kernel of truth; the restructuring programme that the State has initiated today is there in that kernel.

I think if this restructuring is to be a success it must start from the school level and not from the University level. The universities should carry on the restructuring process initiated at school level.

At the moment we have two major streams after O levels – an Arts stream and a Science stream. Those who follow the Science stream study subjects such as Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology and none of the Arts subjects they studied at O levels. The same happens with those who follow the Arts stream; none of the subjects they had studied as Mathematics, and Environmental studies are followed by the Arts stream. There is a complete separation; this separation and compartmentalisation should cease, there should be only one stream at the Advanced levels. The Science stream student offering Science subjects for Advanced Levels should offer an Arts subject such as History or Literature. The same applies to the Arts student, while offering Arts subjects he/she must offer a subject like Mathematics or Biology.

This trend should be continued at the University level. At the same time the technological knowledge and skills introduced at the University level should be considered as Applied Science, and not as something unrelated to science which they had learnt. If we want to impart technical knowledge unrelated to science, we need no universities to perform that function, we could have Technical Schools such as the German Technical School. (We could consider our own Technical Colleges as against the German Technical School).

The demand for incorporating Technology into the University curriculum is being adhered to by the universities of the West at the moment. They seem to have realised the inadequacy of the classical model to cater to the present- day needs. The Fourth Industrial Revolution- the Technological Revolution seems to have awakened them. However, this has brought about a controversy about the place that Technology should occupy in the University Curriculum.

Professor Aaron Garre in his remarkable work, Post Modernism and Environment addresses his mind to the dilemma faced by the universities. This is what he has to say. “Associated with these developments universities are fundamentally transformed , thoroughly corrupted by the publish or perish syndrome, and by the pressure to lower standards to accommodate the higher proportion of young people going on to higher education, they are being reduced to extensions of High Schools and Technical Colleges, valued by governments only in so far as they provide people with vocational training or produce technological knowledge, and by students only to increase their earning power. Arts and Science Faculties have lost status within universities with good reason”.

Let this not happen to our universities.

The emphasis on technology and technological skills, IT, etc., at the expense of scientific knowledge is bound to generate a warped idea regarding science. It may make the youth consider science not as a source of knowledge, a way of understanding the world, an indispensable way of thinking but as a means to an end, the end being to create a world dominated by gadgetry which will relieve the youth from thinking and creativity and make life more comfortable and make more money as suggested by Prof. Garre.

Such a concept could be detrimental to a ‘Third World’ country like ours, which has not experienced the Industrial Revolutions and the expansion of scientific knowledge of the West. This may reinforce the idea of science as ‘pattapal boru’ in the minds of our youth.

I believe, this idea of a holistic approach devoid of compartmentalisation of knowledge is not something new to us. In the Pirivena universities we had, they maintained this holistic approach.

There is a mistaken belief amongst us that these Pirivenas were religious centres, and their main function was to propagate Buddhism. Far from it; they were centres of learning and also intellectual and cultural centers, and the Heads of these were advisers to the rulers and also representatives of the people. I am sure you are aware of the triangular relationship that existed among the king, the Sangha and the people-the Asokan model of governance we inherited with Buddhism.

One of the foremost Pirivenas was the Vijayaba Pirivena of the 15th century headed by the great Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula .

This was pointed out to an international community of scholars by Arunachalam Ponnambalam when he addressed that gathering at the Calcutta university in 1916.This was the observation he made at that conference. “Long before the emergence of universities in the Western world in the 18th century we had in our country, in the 15th century, a great seat of learning, a university of international fame at Thotagamuwa headed by poet Sri Rahula”.

An examination of the curriculum followed at the Vijayaba Pirivena shows how it resembles the curriculum of the present-day universities of the West. The disciplines that were followed consisted of Asian languages such as Sinhala, Tamil, Siamese and Burmese, Buddhist Philosophy and Indian Philosophy, Logic, Poetics, Literature, Medicine, Legal Studies, and Surya Siddhantha consisting of Astronomy, Astrology and Mathematics. A student was expected to pursue a number of diverse disciplines without confining himself to one.

Even the vedamahattaya of today is not only a doctor but a scholar and an intellectual who guides the thinking of the villagers. I believe he is a product of a lost tradition.

It is this knowledge that was imparted by these Pirivenas that enabled our engineers to achieve those engineering marvels as the Bisokotuwa of the great reservoirs, the Yoda Ela with a gradient that has baffled modern day engineers and those great dagobas-examples of unique architecture. The builders of those dagobas surely would have been aware of the gravitational forces long before Newton discovered them.

One may well ask ‘what happened to that knowledge? Why did that knowledge fail to achieve the level of scientific knowledge achieved by the West?’

This question has been asked and answered by Joseph Needham in dealing with science in China, on which he has produced ten volumes. He believes that it was capitalism in the Western world that caused the expansion of scientific knowledge which was not relevant to the Chinese who had opted out of capitalism. This is probably the answer we too can offer. Professor Needham’s observation that Capitalism is unavoidable for the progress of science has been proven wrong by the China of today. It has shown how a feudal state can skip the capitalist phase in its march towards great scientific achievements. It is no secret that the Chinese civilisation based on Confucius and Taoist Buddhism and our own civilisation based on Theravada Buddhism abhor capitalism as kamasukallikhanuyoga,

inimical to human happiness.

I feel, that this attempt to restructure the university curriculum is not an innovative move as such but an attempt to go back to our own tradition as pointed out by me.

At the present moment I feel that in addition to the restructuring of our university curriculum, there is a need to restructure our training programmes in the fields of Medicine, Dentistry and even Engineering. I will confine myself to my own field of Dentistry.

At the moment there is a great demand for Medicine and Dentistry. Over thousands seek admission to the Dental Faculty. Most of them have the required qualifications, but only about 10% of them are able to gain admission. This is by no means a healthy situation; it creates frustration and envy in those who fail to get in. This could be avoided by restructuring the system.

We take five years to produce a Dental Surgeon, we see to it that he/she is not second to a Dental Surgeon in a highly developed Western country. After that long and arduous training he/she is sent out to perform a function which could be done without that exhaustive training. Isn’t that underutilisation of manpower as well as a sheer waste of the tax payer’s money? Consequently, the Dental surgeon himself is unhappy, and seeks to come to the urban centre where he could use his knowledge and skills to make more money or to migrate to a foreign country where he can make dollars instead of rupees.

The result of this procedure can be seen by looking at those rural peasants on the television screen. Most of them are toothless by the age of fifty, their oral hygiene is putrid, some of them harbour precancerous lesions in their mouths. I think oral cancer still occupies the first place in the list of our cancers. This is in spite of the fact that we have a first-class Dental Faculty here in Peradeniya and the best Dental hospital in South Asia in Colombo. Isn’t there something wrong in the whole process? Only callous disregard for humanity prevents us from seeking a remedy for this sorry state of affairs.

I have over the years thought of a scheme to remedy this situation. I will present an idea of the scheme I envisage.

There will be three stages. In stage 1 we take in almost all the students who have fulfilled the qualifications and are eligible.

All of them should be sent to the periphery after two years’ training; they will provide the necessary treatment required by the rural masses. In addition to being clinicians they will perform the duties of dental health workers as well. In Stage 11 out of that thousand or so, 25% will be selected for further training. They will be given three years’ training, the kind of training that is given today at the Dental Faculty. In Stage 111 out of that 25%, 10% will be recruited for Specialist training as required by the country. What I have presented is the bare outline of the restructuring process I envisage. What is important is that all these should enjoy the same social status irrespective of the position they occupy. Such a scheme would be absolutely necessary if we are to overcome the present state of affairs for the proper utilisation of man power and finances. It will also fulfill the ambitions of those thousands who seek admission to the Dental Profession.

Of course, this kind of thinking is radical. It calls for systems that have been taken for granted to be turned around.

This restructuring scheme I have presented has an ideological basis; it is village-based, with the village occupying centre stage.

The present scheme we have is urban-based with the city occupying centre stage. That is what the colonial masters wanted it to be. We have only been tinkering with it and not attempted to change it. It is time we realise this and reverse this order of things. This country is still a collection of villages, 70 % of our population still live there. The village is still the pivot of our existence, which we will soon realize with the present fertiliser fiasco when we find there is no rice on our plate.

A holistic approach combined with such a restructuring process will not only produce an enlightened graduate and a humane professional but also an intelligentsia across the country who will lift us from the morass we are in and liberate us from the tyranny of the power- hungry self-seeking politician who has ruined this country.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

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

Midweek Review

How Lanka ended up receiving humanitarian assistance from an Indian state



UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and PM’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake join CWC leader Senthil Thondaman and FM Prof. G.L. Peiris at a brief ceremony at the Colombo harbour where Indian HC Baglay handed over humanitarian assistance from Tamil Nadu (pic courtesy Indian HC)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The May 09 ‘operation’, whose father is yet unknown, meant to save Mahinda Rajapaksa’s premiership, has tarnished the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the police as well as the armed forces.

The controversial Temple Trees project not only caused irreparable damage to the ruling coalition, it paved the way for UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to regain the premiership for the sixth time, incredibly with just one seat in the 225-member Parliament.

With Wickremesinghe at the helm of the government parliamentary group, the UNP has begun playing an active role in the administration, though the party didn’t have any members in Parliament, other than its leader. However, Wickremesinghe has brought a selected group of UNPers into the administration while causing a division in the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) by winning over two of its vociferous members, namely Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara.

Having repeatedly accused President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of direct complicity in the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre, both received ministerial portfolios from the President. Wickremsinghe is in the process of consolidating his position.

There cannot be a better example to highlight Wickremesinghe’s strategy meant to resurrect his party than involving two former ministers Vajira Abeywardena, incumbent Chairman of the party, and Sagala Ratnayake, in the delegation that received urgently needed food assistance from India.

Sri Lanka delegation received the assistance, standing next to Tan Binh 99, the Panama registered general cargo ship, at the Colombo harbour.

The following is the text of the statement issued by Eldos Mathew Punnoose, Head – Press, Information and Development Cooperation, as regards the handing over of humanitarian assistance at the Colombo harbour: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay handed over a large consignment of humanitarian assistance worth more than SLR 2 billion from the people of India to Foreign Minister Prof. G.L Peiris, in Colombo, on 22 May 2022. The handing over function was attended by Minister for Ports and Shipping, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Former Minister Vajira Abeywardena, Sagala Ratnayaka, Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister, Senthil Thondaman, Leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, Food Commissioner Mrs. J. Krishnamurthy, among senior officials, and others.

The consignment consists of 9,000 MT of rice, 50 MT of milk powder and more than 25 MT of drugs and other medical supplies. It was flagged off from Chennai port by Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Thiru M.K Stalin on 18 May 2022. This is also the first consignment under a larger USD 16 million commitment of 40,000 MT of rice, 500 MT of milk powder and medicines by the state Government of Tamil Nadu.

Handed over materials shall be distributed among vulnerable and needy sections in various parts of Sri Lanka including Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Provinces by Government of Sri Lanka in the coming days.

More humanitarian consignments and other forms of assistance from India shall follow. Multi-pronged endeavour by both the Government and the people of India underlines the importance attached to Sri Lanka and reflects their concerns for the well-being of its people. Support extended to Sri Lanka ranges from economic assistance worth around USD 3.5 billion, supply of vaccines, testing kits, close to 1000 MT of liquid oxygen to combat COVID-19, immediate response by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard to mitigate marine disasters, etc.”

Sri Lanka’s utterly irresponsible political leadership has achieved the unthinkable. The country has been reduced to such a pathetic state, it has ended up receiving food assistance from the state government of Tamil Nadu. Sri Lanka should be ashamed of having to receive food assistance from an Indian state, 13 years after having proudly defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) considered impossible by many a pundit and against the wishes of the haughty West. Can that be the root of the unprecedented problems? Perhaps one day the truth will unravel through the work of an outfit, like WikiLeaks, on how Hawala or Undial underground cash transfer systems so successfully dried up foreign exchange flows into the country, leaving it unable to find even a few million dollars to clear an urgently needed shipment of cooking gas or lifesaving drugs. However much the deep state is entrenched in Western democracies with the open help of their ‘independent’ media controlled by the military-industrial complex, there are still plenty of people with clear consciences who want to do justice to the world.

R.K. Radhakrishnan, writing to India’s national magazine Frontline described the Tamil Nadu gesture as ‘a province in a developing country extending its assistance to another country.’ That line is sufficient to comprehend Sri Lanka’s plight. In spite of initial disagreement between Tamil Nadu and the Central Government of India regarding the humanitarian assistance offered by TN Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, they reached consensus on the matter. Four days before the despicable Temple Trees project, borne out of frustration caused by the government’s inability to end the sieges at Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat by so- called peaceful protesters, triggered mayhem in Sri Lanka. They were anything but peaceful by the way they tried to storm President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pengiriwatte, Mirihana, in late March.

Then Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, struggling to save his premiership, wrote to CM Stalin: “I wish to thank you and the Tamil Nadu government on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, for viewing the country’s crisis from a humanitarian standpoint, rather than a problem concerning another country.”

Six days later Mahinda Rajapaksa was compelled to quit the premiership. The war-winning President and his family were compelled to take refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command after having abandoned Temple Trees, Kollupitiya, the nerve centre of the disastrous May 09 project, fearing a fate similar to that which met Libya’s Gadhafi, where, too, the truth was turned on its head.

An elder brother’s lament

Chamal Rajapaksa, 80, possibly serving his last term as a lawmaker, recently faulted younger brother and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa for continuing in politics even after completing two presidential terms. The elder Rajapaksa attributed the current crisis to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s continuation in active politics. Chamal Rajapaksa said that politicians should be prepared to give up power. Otherwise, they have to be prepared to face situations like this if they were greedy for power. The one time Speaker was commenting on his brother’s dilemma in the wake of him losing the premiership. Chamal Rajapaksa said: “Ranil Wickremesinghe is very lucky. In 2015, Wickremesinghe was able to secure premiership in spite of not enjoying a parliamentary majority. Now, the UNP leader secured the premiership without another MP in Parliament. Wickremesinghe is lucky and the country too is fortunate that we have him to take up the mantle of leadership despite all his shortcomings of the past, when all other politicians are playing their petty tricks to grab power while the country was literally going up in flames.

But, can Chamal Rajapaksa absolve himself of his share of responsibility for the crisis that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to leave his brothers, Chamal and Basil as well as nephews, Namal and Shashendra, out of the Cabinet of Ministers. President Rajapaksa, himself is under pressure to do away with the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that gave him dictatorial powers. The abolition of the 20th Amendment enacted in Oct 2020 is part of the overall agreement sought by some of those who accepted ministerial portfolios in the current dispensation. Both PM Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, will push hard for the abolition of the 20th Amendment.

Before commenting further on ongoing moves to introduce the 21st Amendment at the expense of the 20A, it would be pertinent to examine Chamal Rajapaksa’s role as the Speaker (April 22, 2010-June 26, 2015) especially against the backdrop of his criticism of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s conduct. Chamal Rajapaksa, who has represented the Hambantota electoral district since 1989, continuously has declared that his brother Mahinda should have called it a day after completing two presidential terms (2005-2010 and 2010-2015).

Having said so, lawmaker Chamal Rajapaksa owed an explanation as regards his role in the enactment of the 18 A to the Constitution at the expense of the 19 A. During Chamal Rajapaksa’s tenure as the Speaker, the Parliament passed the controversial 18th Amendment Bill on Sept. 8, 2010, with 161 MPs voting for and 17 against the Bill. The following are some of its key points:

(a) The President can seek re-election any number of times (earlier it was limited to two;

(b) The ten-member Constitutional Council replaced with a five-member Parliamentary Council;

(c) Independent commissions are brought under the authority of the President; and,

(d) The 18th Amendment enabled the President to attend Parliament once in three months and entitles him to all the privileges, immunities and powers of an MP other than the entitlement to vote. In short, it is all about arming the President with absolute power.

The 18th Amendment was meant to empower Mahinda Rajapaksa. Chamal Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Speaker, oversaw the operation. The impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake, the 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, and her removal by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2013 should be examined against the backdrop of enactment of the 18th Amendment. Chamal Rajapaksa served as the Speaker at the time Justice Bandaranaike was removed. She was accused of several charges, including financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases, all of which she categorically denied. But her husband was found guilty by courts over his shady dealings.

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa ensured the implementation of the then UPFA government’s strategy. Having served as a minister till April this year and played a critical role in the manipulation of Parliament, it wouldn’t be fair to find fault with Mahinda Rajapaksa solely for being power hungry.

Chamal Rajapaksa also made reference to Wickremesinghe receiving the premiership in 2015 following the presidential election, in spite of not having at least a simple majority in Parliament. Chamal Rajapaksa appeared to have conveniently forgotten that he continued as the Speaker even after Wickremesinghe was appointed PM after having unceremoniously discarded the late D.M. Jayaratne. The UPFA leadership didn’t even bother to ask Jayaratne before reaching consensus with President Maithripala Sirisena and UNP leader Wickremesinghe over the premiership following Mahinda Rajapaksa’s shock defeat at the January 2015 Presidential election held ahead of schedule on the advice of an astrologer. Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran perpetrated Treasury bond scams in Feb 2015 and March 2016 in connivance with then Premier Wickremesinghe-led government.

The UNP-led government also betrayed the war-winning Sri Lanka military at the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Chamal Rajapaksa absolutely had no issue in continuing as the Speaker until June 26, 2015 when President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved Parliament to save the UNP. The dissolution of the House was meant to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) from submitting its report on the first Treasury bond scam to the House. Now again Chamal Rajapaksa has accepted Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier. Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked Wickremesinghe in late Oct 2018 and then offered him the premiership back within two months following judicial intervention and the primary beneficiary of Oct 2018 constitutional coup Mahinda Rajapaksa, are also in the same parliamentary group now headed by Wickremesinghe.

Proposed transfer of executive powers

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is pushing for the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The BASL wants Premier Wickremesinghe to demonstrate as early as possible his ability to establish a consensus among the political parties in Parliament and endeavour to build a representative Government of National Unity to implement a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) in the public interest.

The BASL insists on a clear timeline to introduce critical constitutional amendments proposed by the outfit, including the introduction of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

The National Joint Committee (NJC) is concerned about the BASL’s strategy. The nationalist outfit believes the SJB and the BASL are working on a similar agenda to do away with the Executive Presidency without changing the current electoral system or repealing the 13th Amendment.

If the ongoing joint high profile project to introduce 21 A to the Constitution succeeds, the UNP leader will receive powers at the expense of the Executive Presidency. Having received an overwhelming mandate at the last presidential election in Nov 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands to lose executive powers to Wickremesinghe who accepted the challenging task of rebuilding the devastated national economy.

Those who launched the ‘Gogotahome’ campaign remained skeptical about the SLPP’s commitment to introduce the 21 A. They believe the architects of the 20 A would do whatever possible to sabotage efforts to do away with the executive presidency. They believe the SLPP founder Basil Rajapkasa, who still wields power over the party apparatus reeling under accusations pertaining to unprovoked attacks on the public demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Flowers in Bloom



By Lynn Ockersz

Though made somewhat anxious,

By the numberless crises in the Isle,

That have brought their elders down,

The youngsters clad in speckless white,

And heading for a make-or-break exam,

Are the only resplendent flowers,

In an otherwise benighted land,

But their Social Science Paper,

Is bound to give them some laughs,

For, though patriots, they are told,

Fought the good fight decades ago,

And rid the land of enslaving shackles,

All whom they have as current leaders,

Are fickle creatures of malleable material,

For whom pelf and power are all that matter.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Ranil takes premiership amidst BASL bid for all party-consensus



A smiling Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after receiving the premiership. Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the President looks on. Mrs Maithri Wickremesinghe was present at the brief ceremony at the President’s House, Fort last Thursday evening (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe, in her current capacity as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), directed the police to provide adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister while protecting the freedom of speech and assembly through necessary and proportionate measures.

Justice Marasinghe, who received the appointment in Dec, last year, would never have believed she would be compelled to issue such a statement.

The HRCSL statement, issued on April 26, 2022, over a month after the eruption of violent protests at the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana, that lasted for several hours, didn’t name the President and the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa quit Temple Trees on May 10, less than 24 hours after he announced his resignation, in the wake of unprovoked violence directed at those demanding the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister and the so-called peaceful protesters who lay siege to his official residence Temple Trees virtually making, him a prisoner therein.

The first protest, targeting President Rajapaksa, was held at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, 2022. What began as a peaceful protest in the vicinity, quickly turned violent after the crowds made attempts to advance towards the President’s private home. The deployment of the Army, in support of the beleaguered police, failed to bring the situation under control.

Protesters set ablaze several vehicles, including two buses that brought Police and Army reinforcements to the scene of the unprecedented confrontation. Therefore, it would be pertinent to discuss the circumstances, Justice Marasinghe called for sufficient protection for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over two weeks after the launch of the protest campaign, in front of the Presidential Secretariat, on April 09, 2022.

Perhaps, the HRCSL should have also advised the Army, as well as the Special Task Force (STF), regarding adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister. The Army and the STF play an integral role in the protection of key leaders. The HRCSL cannot be unaware of the involvement of the Army and the STF in the protection of the President and the Prime Minister.

Justice Marasinghe called for ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ to meet the threat on the two leaders as those who had been demanding their resignation stepped up the campaign.

The HRCSL consists of five Commissioners, namely Justice Rohini Marasinghe (Chairperson), Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan. The President constituted the HRCSL in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Dec. 2020. Justice Marasinghe and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera were brought in Dec. 2021 in the wake of the resignation of HRCSL Chairman Jagath Balasuriya and NGO, guru Harsha Kumara Navaratne taking up the post of Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada.

Did HRCSL make an assessment before Justice Marasinghe issued instructions to the police? The HRCSL intervened in the wake of the erection of a new protest site, opposite Temple Trees, as the government struggled to cope up with an unprecedented political-economic-social crisis that brought the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to its knees.

The writer, over the last weekend, sought a clarification from Justice Marasinghe. The HRCSL Chief said that instructions were issued as access to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister had been blocked. The HRCSL was also informed of possible threats to their lives, Justice Marasinghe said, adding that the issue at hand should be examined on the basis of equal protection of the law.

In spite of HRCSL’s instructions, the police, and at least an influential section of the SLPP government, appeared to have been caught napping. Was it due to the fear of the wrath of the HRCSL or they being under the so-called international community spotlight? In fact, the law enforcement authorities had contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation to such an extent that mobs took control of roads. Had the police top brass realized the gravity of the situation, in the first week of May, they would have definitely advised the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa not to summon several hundreds of his supporters to Temple Trees. The failure on the part of the police to advise the ousted Premier was nothing but a monumental blunder.

In fact, the police appeared to have been part of a political project meant to dismantle those who had been protesting against the government, while laying siege to both Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. The operation was meant to regain control. Therefore, a primary objective was to silence those who had been asking Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, has been of that view, in the wake of about one-third of the SLPP parliamentary group demanding Premier Rajapaksa’s resignation to pave the way for an all-party interim administration.

PM, family take refuge in SLN base

Just two weeks after HRCSL asked the police to ensure protection of the President and the Prime Minister through ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ the latter had to move out of Temple Trees, under heavy security escort. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to authorize the deployment of SLAF assets to evacuate the ex-Prime Minister and some members of the family. They took refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command premises, Trincomalee.

By then, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the ousted PM’s second son and Chief of Staff and his wife, Nitheesha Jayasekera, had left the country. Interestingly, Yoshitha left for Singapore at 12.50 am on May 09 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 469 several hours before SLPP activists started arriving at Temple Trees.

Yoshitha Rajapaksa couldn’t have been unaware of the meticulous plans underway to bring in hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister was to address them. Those who believed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was to announce his resignation were proved wrong. Instead, lawmaker Johnston Fernando and the then Premier Rajapaksa created an environment conducive for an ‘operation’ to evict those who had been protesting against the Prime Minister and the President. The operation boomeranged. The end result was the Prime Minister having to take refuge in the Trincomalee Navy base.

Two days later, the Fort Magistrate’s Court issued a travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa and 16 others. They are Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon. The Senior DIG had been present at the time, SLPP goons broke through the police line, near the Galle Face hotel, to demolish the Galle Face protest camp.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded during the violence on the fateful Monday or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.

President of the Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association Lakshman Perera told the writer that the Attorney General‘s Department moved the Fort Magistrate’s court amidst preparations made by his outfit to move the court. Speaking on behalf of the Association, Perera underscored the pivotal importance of ensuring the safety and security of all, regardless of whatever the accusations directed at them.

For how long would the ex-Premier have to live under the protection of the Navy? In response to media queries, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne told a hastily arranged press conference, at the Battaramulla Defence Complex, that as a former head of State Mahinda Rajapaksa was entitled to required security. When would the ex-PM be able to move freely as protests demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation continue amidst traffic disruptions on main roads, especially over shortage of cooking gas? The situation remains extremely dicey.

Politically-motivated mobs destroyed many properties belonging to the Rajapaksa family. Mobs set ablaze the Rajapaksas’ ancestral home at Medamulana, Hambantota, and did not even spare the memorial built for their parents also at Medamulana, while the former Premier’s home in Kurunegala, too, was destroyed.

Properties belonging to elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa and his son, Shashendra were also destroyed.

Gangs set fire to Green Ecolodge, situated very close to the Sinharaja rain forest. The hotel, situated close to the UNESCO heritage site, is widely believed to be owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa, who recently warned JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of legal action against the accusations made in respect of Green Ecolodge. But the JVP instead of backing their accusations regarding that prized eco-property (torched by the politically-motivated mobs early last week) with facts, issued a veiled threat to expose Yoshitha on some other issues if he dared to go to courts. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa told the media that they would raise his fake qualifications, how he managed to enter the famed British naval college Dartmouth, etc., if he ventured to challenge them in court.

Well organized mobs also looted and set fire to properties of over 50 MPs, mainly of the government, across the country. They and their families were left with only the clothes on their backs.

Politicos under threat

The government should do everything possible to prosecute those responsible for incidents of violence, regardless of their status. Destruction of lawmakers’ properties should be denounced and punitive action taken against all those responsible. Who would take the responsibility for killing SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard at Nittambuwa? The slain MP was on his way home, after attending the Temple Trees meet earlier in the day. Did Atukorale open fire on those who blocked his path? Did his police bodyguard, too, open fire? The post-mortem revealed the MP had been lynched and contrary to initial reports there were no gunshot injuries. The post mortem also set the record straight that the MP didn’t commit suicide with his own weapon as initially claimed by interested parties over the social and mainstream media. Having allowed SLPP goons to go on the rampage, the police pathetically failed to intervene when the public retaliated. Politically-motivated groups obviously took advantage of the situation. At an early stage of the ongoing protest campaign, German Ambassador in Colombo Holger Seubert tweeted: “I’m impressed with how peaceful the proud people of Sri Lanka are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It reminds me of German unification back in 1989 when we experienced how powerful peaceful protests can be. Wishing all parties involved the strength to remain peaceful.”

During the second JVP inspired-insurgency, the then JRJ government issued firearms to members of Parliament. Some lawmakers formed their own death squads. The government accepted extra-judicial killings as part of the overall defence against the JVP/DJV violence perpetrated against the UNP and those connected with that party.

Members of the SLPP raised security issues at a meeting they had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House last Saturday (14). The government shouldn’t expect normalisation of the situation until tangible measures are taken to stabilize the national economy. Lawmakers wouldn’t be safe as long queues for diesel, petrol and cooking gas exist with the vast majority of the electorate struggling to make ends meet. The government should be mindful of interventions made by foreign powers and other external and internal players hell-bent on exploiting the situation to their advantage.

Recent demonstrations near the Parliament compelled the police to close several roads for traffic on May 05 and 06. The police closed the section from Diyatha Uyana junction (Polduwa junction) to Jayanthipura junction and from Jayanthipura junction to the Denzil Kobbekaduwa road to deter mass invasions by well organised demonstrators. The police asserted that closure of the roads were necessary, in spite of the inconvenience caused to the public, to prevent hindrance to lawmakers entering and leaving the parliamentary complex.

The police closed down the same sections of the roads yesterday (17) to facilitate parliamentary proceedings. Trade unions combine and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) have vowed to lay siege to the Parliament. The warning that had been made several days before the May 09 mayhem should be reviewed. The trade union grouping and the IUSF affiliated to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the breakaway JVP faction, should be mindful of the crises the country is experiencing.

A tragedy

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa having to take refuge in the Trincomalee SLN base is a tragedy. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to Sri Lanka’s war effort at a time the vast majority of lawmakers felt the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. Therefore, many accepted peace at any cost. They were prepared even to give up Sri Lanka’s unitary status in a bid to reach a consensus with separatist Tamil terrorists mollycoddled by Western powers. Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength and political acumen to take on the LTTE. The country should never forget how President Rajapaksa, in spite of strong objections from the military, flew into Kebitigollewa on June 15, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus. The blast killed over 60 men, women and children. Having visited the survivors, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance that the terrorism would be eradicated. The promise was made two months before the LTTE resumed large-scale offensive action in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful end in May 2009. But, the President, who restored peace, has ended up virtually running for his life and had to seek refuge in a military installation for the time being as post-war policies and strategies take their toll with interested parties taking advantage of the tragedy facing the country.

Continue Reading