Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera spent his university life at the Peradeniya campus, which, no doubt, had contributed to the development of his career in literature and profession. Therefore, it is only right that the University of Peradeniya confer an honorary Doctor of Literature upon Dr. Amarasekera in recognition of his very substantial contribution to Sinhala literature and his many achievements in other fields. He had been awarded a similar degree previously by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
Early life and education
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera was born in 1929 at Yatalamatta, a village in the interior of Galle District. He had his primary education in the village school and later at Nalanda College, Colombo. He had shown his literary ability before he entered the university, winning a prize in an international contest, for a short story titled ‘Rathu Rosa Mala’. A collection of short stories of the same name was published by M.D. Gunasena. He entered a dental school in 1954 and qualified as a dental surgeon in 1958. He excelled in the field of dentistry and literature.
Contribution to Sinhala Literature
Dr. Amarasekera’s literary career started very early; his first collection of short stories under the title ‘Rathu Rosa Mala’ was published before he entered the university, and while studying dentistry as an undergraduate in the Peradeniya Campus, he published several collections of free verse, ‘Bhava Geetha’, ‘Amal Biso’, ‘Guruluwatha’, ‘Avarjana’ and also a short story collection, ‘Jeevana Suvanda’.
‘Karumakkarayo’ was his first novel, which created a stir in the literary arena as he ventured into new grounds, probably influenced by the writings of D.H. Lawrence. He wrote ‘Yali Upannemi’ and ‘Depa Noladdo’, continuing in the same genre. Later he realised that his style was imitative. He agreed with Martin Wickramasinghe’s views that the Peradeniya School of writers looked at our society through foreign lenses which took man out of his cultural context. He came to believe that there are no universal values that literature could make its eternal subject. His response was to write ‘Gandhabba Apadanaya’ which was published before he left for England to follow post graduate education and this work attempted to place the characters of the novel in their cultural milieu.
In England, he realised how radically different their culture was from ours. He wrote some of his excellent short stories following the ‘culture shock’; ‘Ektamin Polowata’, ‘Katha Pahak’ and also novels, ‘Asathya Kathavak’ and ‘Premaye Sathya Kathava’.
Dr. Amarasekera has always believed that literature has a social function and he discusses this idea in his book on literary criticism ‘Nosevuna Kedapatha’. He wrote several books on literary criticism in an attempt to develop a system relevant to our society; ‘Vinodaya saha Vicharaya’, ‘Abuddassa Yugayak’, ‘Aliya saha Andayo’ and ‘Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya’.
If literature has a social function it has to take into account the socio-political underpinnings of the times and this Dr. Amarasekera does in some of his novels like ‘Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya’, ‘Pilima Loven Piyavi Lovata’ and ‘Vil Thera Maranaya’.
He undertook the ambitious task of writing about the development of the middle class in Sri Lanka with the semi-autobiographical series of novels starting with ‘Gamanaka Mula’. It consists of seven beautifully written novels that analyse the predicament of the village intelligentsia who struggled to climb the social ladder oblivious of the value of their own culture.
He has published several collections of poetry and four long poems, ‘Amal Biso’, ‘Gurulu Vatha’, ‘Asakda Kava’ and ‘Mathaka Vatha’. In poetry he had developed a new poetic form called ‘Pasmath Viritha’ derived from folk poetry. He attempted to trace the link that modern poetry must have with folk poetry in his work ‘Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya’, which was critically acclaimed as an ‘insightful analysis’.
Professor Wimal Dissanayake in his book ‘Enabling Tradition’ considers Dr. Amarasekera as ‘the leading cultural intellectual of present times’. Several of his novels, short story collections and poetry have won national awards. His short stories are considered as comparable to the best in the world.
Dr. Amarasekera is 90 years old but he has not stopped writing. He published three books recently; ‘Sabyathva Rajya Kara’, a socio-political analysis which proposes an alternative to Neo-liberalism and Marxism based on civilization, ‘Dathusena’, a historical novel based on King Dathusena’s life story, which attempts to exonerate Kashyapa from the grave crime of patricide and ‘Sankranti Samayaka’ a novel that explores communal relations in Sri Lanka.
These three publications display the versatility of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera. As a writer of novels, short stories, poetry, socio-political essays and philosophical theories, he is the foremost “cultural intellectual of the present times”.
During the last three decades, Dr. Amarasekera has assumed the role of the public intellectual. This may have been prompted by the realisation that addressing socio-political and cultural issues directly may have a greater impact than through fiction.
His first work in this genre was ‘Anagarika Dharmapala Marxwadeeda?’. In this work Dr. Amarasekera attempts to rehabilitate Anagarika as an intellectual with a vision, taking away that dubious label of ‘a Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinist’ that had been pinned on him. This work has prompted others to rethink Anagarika as a man with a vision, deeply concerned for the country.
The outcome of this controversy regarding the Marxist interpretation was the publication of ‘Ganaduru Mediyama’ at the height of the JVP insurrection of 1987. It was in this work that he presented the concept of Jathika Chinthanaya. What Dr. Amarasekera seems to mean by the term Jathika Chintahnaya was the existence of a civilisational consciousness instilled into the psyche of a people by its civilisation. This notion doesn’t imply racial bias. It is considered to be an emotion that is ingrained in a people who had built, nurtured and protected a civilization on their land and it is protective and defensive and not racist, oppressive or chauvinist. Social scientists like Erich Fromm seem to share this viewpoint regarding civilisational consciousness.
‘Sabyathva Rajya Kara’ published in 2016 is considered the natural outcome of the line of thinking followed by Dr. Amarasekera. It is presented by the author as an alternative to the Marxist and Neo-liberal ideologies. Professor G.L. Pieris, reviewing this book says, “The central aim of this book is an assiduous search for the roots of a culture which needs to be rediscovered and revived as the only meaningful way forward.”
His next publication, ‘Danawadayata Wikalpayak’ (An alternative to Capitalism), is an extension of the same concept, a corollary. The central idea contained in this work has been summed up by Dr. Kamal Wickramasinghe in his review of the book: “He points to the need for awakening ‘social consciousness’ of a broader society that is common to all religion-based civilisations that share humane values.”
Contribution to dental profession
It may not be out of place to mention the services Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera has rendered, as a professional, to the dental services and dental education in the country. He was the first government scholar to be sent to UK to obtain the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgery (FDS, RCS). On his return he was appointed a Consultant Dental Surgeon and the Head of the Dental institute and served that institution for over 15 years. He was the first Chairman of the Board of Study in Dental Surgery at the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. He has also served as the external examiner for the Final BDS and the Post Graduate MS in Dental Surgery examinations.
Prof. N.A. de S. Amaratunga DSc
Dinesh Gunawardena’s call
The call by Dinesh Gunawardena, son of that famous Left Leader Philip Gunawardena, who stood steadfast to protect his ideals for the sake of the poor downtrodden, has said ‘stakeholders must protect the government’.
We elect our representatives to Parliament, based on promises they make during election times, and if the government fails or introduces laws not announced at election meetings, then the responsibility of our representatives is to criticise such action; if the government does not heed their voice, our representatives should be prepared to cross over or resign.
The duty of an MP is to stand by the voter, and not the party he belongs to or is aligned to. Were the voters informed that dual citizens would be elected or appointed to Parliament?
Let me conclude by reproducing the last verse in an apt poem by Sir Walter Scott titled:
“LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL [MY NATIVE LAND]”
Despite those titles, and pelf
The wretch, concentered all in self
Living shall forfeit fair renown
And doubly, dying shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung
UNWEPT, UNHONOURED AND UNSUNG”
People try to wish away the following: the pandemic, especially the impact aggravated by unwise actions of those in charge; ever increasing cost of living, driven by product shortages and excessive money printing; gas explosions, due to unauthorised changes in gas composition and mismanagement; having to stay in long queues to collect gas, milk powder, rice, sugar, kerosene; lack of fertiliser and agrochemicals, by pursuing organic agriculture goals, leading to crop failures and possible food shortages; Inability to attend schools and universities, and the lack of e-learning tools and internet facilities; unauthorised and illegal land grabbing, deforestation, sand/gem mining and human-elephant conflict; unannounced power cuts, due to lack of petroleum and malfunctioning power plants; failing to uphold the rule of law and justice systems, suppressing democratic rights, and inconsistent policy and administration, with several gazettes and frequent revocations; extremely high levels of perceived corruption, wastage, money laundering, nepotism and cronyism; sale of national assets and grant of long term concessions, without best practice valuations; misallocation of scarce natural resources, lack of fiscal discipline, pursuing egoistic/high commissions linked projects, ignoring the priority needs of the poor and vulnerable segments; mismanagement of the external sector, unprofessional external debt management sans debt restructure, channelling short term high cost borrowed funds to pay long term external debt, overvalued rupee, export sector being distressed by disincentives:
Unwise and ineffective foreign relations, failure to optimise networking options with international agencies, especially the IMF and the UNHRC politicisation and ineffectiveness of key independent public institutions, law and good governance, accountability, empowered ministries and departments.
All these appear to originate due to unprofessional, arrogant, egoistic, childish and rent-seeking governance by the regime in control of the executive; and will deter value adding FDI flows, low growth, high twin deficits, rating downgrades, and possibly excessive stress on the citizens of a country heading towards a failed state.
With the voice of advocacy of the caring professionals and civil society mostly dulled, the business chambers placing all blame on the pandemic, and saying the governance action could not have been any better; the executive and leadership in governance promising to fulfil all remaining actions leading to ‘splendour and prosperity’ over the next three years; the legislative opposition overshadowed by the two-third majority of the party in power; activists and social media harassed, and the traditional media divided, with the few who correctly report and bring to surface bad governance, breakdown in law and order, corruption and engaging in investigative journalism pressurised; all eyes, ears and attention with hope is to the Judiciary, as the only saviours of democracy, rule of law and good governance.
The Fundamental Rights chapter of the Constitution excludes socio-economic rights, and Sri Lanka is not a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In the above context “Suo Moto” epistles are an essential need in the current governance environment?
“A Suo Moto cognizance is a Latin term which means ‘an action taken by a government agency, court or other central authority on their own apprehension’. A court takes a Suo Moto cognizance of a legal matter, when it receives information about the violation of rights or breach of duty through media or a third party’s notification.
In India, the Constitution lays down the provisions for filing Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court and High Courts, respectively. This has given rise to the court’s power to initiate legal action on their cognisance of a matter. Suo Moto’s actions by Indian courts are a reflection of activism by the judiciary, and captivated the general public with the speedy delivery of justice by the courts. Suo Moto cases in India are generally taken up by the Supreme Court. The Indian Judiciary has been undoubtedly holding the baton for democracy for the past few years. In numerous instances, different High Courts and the Supreme Court have risen to the occasion, by taking cognisance of a legal issue on their own, and providing swift justice. Various courts in India have initiated legal proceedings on their own, based on media reports, telegrams and letters received by aggrieved people, taking a Suo Moto cognisance of the issue.”
1. The Supreme Court of India has during 1990-2021 taken up 46 cases ‘suo moto’ without any petition being filed, or interest being brought before them.
2. The best recent example of the judiciary entering in to protect and promote the interests of the citizens also comes from India; where “The Supreme Court of India slammed the Centre and state governments for their inability to present a crystal-clear way forward to combat the menace of air pollution in the national capital. A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, and comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant, after hearing submissions of counsel of the Delhi government and Central government, said it needs clear answers on steps to curb air pollution in the capital, which has become a yearly phenomenon for the past several years.
Justice Kant told Delhi government counsel that nobody understands the plight of farmers and under what circumstances they are forced to burn stubble. “People sitting in 5-star and 7-star facilities in Delhi keep accusing the farmers (contribute four percent and 30 or 40 percent to pollution). If you have a scientific alternative (a resolution) … let us look at it, rather than blaming farmers…”, said Justice Kant. The Chief Justice pointed out that according to an IIT Kanpur study, stubble burning and firecrackers are not main contributors for pollution. The bench pulled up the government and bureaucracy for not doing enough to curb air pollution. The bench said the bureaucracy has gone into inertia and they don’t want to do anything. “Bureaucracy developed paralysis…all these things we have to say — how to use sprinklers, how to stop vehicles…they do not want to take any decision”, said the bench, slamming the attitude of bureaucracy. The bench emphasised that somebody has to take responsibility and everything cannot be done through judicial order. It pointed out that firecrackers were burnt in Delhi despite a ban.
Citizens and civil society believe that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), currently under a forward looking, courageous leadership, demonstrating by its advocacy that it cares for common citizens and is ready to step in to protect citizens impacted by bad governance, must now seek strategic ways and means of promoting “Epistolary Jurisdiction”; which involves “Invoking writ jurisdiction by a court itself on the basis of any letter or information or any news published in newspapers “which ? can ensure enjoyment of some the very basic fundamental rights by the poor and lay man such as: right to protection of law, enforcement of fundamental rights and equality before law. On this point, this jurisdiction is pro-bono publico in nature. On the other hand, some critics think that it may invite judicial activism in the administration of justice, which should not be in a strict sense. Some think that judicial activism should not lead the judges to transgress the limits of judicial functions nor attract them to intervene into executive policy decisions unless any act of the executive is violative of any provision of law or the Constitution”.
BASL must actively pursue options for getting the judiciary to follow some good practices adopted in yesteryears, by judges such as Justices Mark Fernando and Ranjit Amerasinghe, in showing the way with ‘suo moto judgements” and engaging in judicial activism.
Govt. stubborn on organic manure from China
According to media reports, it is evident that the Government is hell-bent on importing organic manure from the same company that supplied the first shipment, rejected by the Plant Quarantine officials of the Department of Agriculture (DOA). We are aware that US$ 6.9 million of Valuable Foreign Exchange (VFE) has been paid to this company (when the country is hard pressed for foreign currency) as compensation for the manure rejected due to obvious reasons viz. contamination with harmful microorganisms.
This VFE thus paid as compensation could otherwise have been used to import the much-needed chemical fertiliser. for which the farmers are rightfully clamouring. It was also reported that the Minister of Agriculture is planning to get a new SLSI Standard established, to facilitate this importation.
First things first, and it will be best for the authorities in the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Government, to sit for a while and study the Plant Protection Act No.35 of 1999, without losing time – better late than never. According to provisions and regulations under this Act, commercial quantities of organic manure cannot be imported to Sri Lanka. Only small samples of such materials can be allowed by the Director General of Agriculture, who is the implementing authority for the Plant Protection Act, and such samples can be used only for laboratory research work and cannot be added to the land.
As a retired officer, who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture, I am aware that no amendments have since been brought to the Plant Protection Act to change the provisions referred to above, and the regulations thereon. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether such amendments can ever be brought, since plant quarantine is an issue that cannot be compromised on the whims and fancies of Governments, and is subject to international covenants/agreements, as health issues pertaining to plant, animal and human life are involved.
Whatever standard that the SLSI establishes for organic manure imports, as per the request of the Minister of Agriculture, will have to comply with the aforesaid provisions of the Plant Protection Act. The so-called fresh shipment, if it is called organic fertiliser/manure, will necessarily contain a concoction of microorganisms, coming in bulk from a foreign environment to that of ours, and this itself could be disastrous, That is exactly why Plant Quarantine Services, the world over ( including Sri Lanka), are so strict in adhering to the relevant regulations. ( In this regard, we are all aware of the havoc created by the tiny Corona virus that, in fact, originated in China.)
In the event a fresh shipment comes, and if the Plant Quarantine officials act in the same manner as they acted when the first shipment came, strictly on scientific principles and in keeping with the regulations, the new shipment should get rejected if the material is really organic manure. So once again are we going to pay a massive compensation and lose VFE once more at this critical juncture; when we are in dire need of the same, to meet basic requirements? It is felt the Government should even at this late stage reconsider its policy on importing commercial quantities of organic manure/fertiliser, which no farmers ever wanted, and hence stop it forthwith, without getting this country into a further muddle.
The best is to produce organic manure/fertiliser on-farms as much as possible, due to the hassle of transporting over large distances, the way it was practiced by some farmers earlier, too, and use it as a soil re-conditioner; along with chemical fertiliser, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in appreciable quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets. Organic farming per se has been and can be practiced in Sri Lanka in niches over the years; it is nothing new and is known to give low/moderate yields at high cost, for special markets. Organic farming can never cater to our total national need, and the Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider its policy.
A.B. EDGAR PERERA
Retired Director/Agricultural Development
Ministry of Agriculture
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