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Unresolved Tamil Issue

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by Gnana Moonesinghe

The failure of the Tamil ‘liberation’ movement is the failure to understand how the Tamil problem should be reviewed and tackled in today’s context. To me, the first issue is to understand if the Tamils consider their minority status a de facto reality. If they do, then they have to work within the limitations imposed by their minority status in society. This, they must understand in all its implications.

It is true that this nation has a majority Sinhalese population and minority Tamil, Muslim, and Burgher populations. These minorities are defined by their relatively smaller numbers in comparison to the majority; but this demographic factor should not pose any impediment to the concept of their equity placement vis-à-vis the people of Sri Lanka as defined in the law of the land guided primarily by the Constitution.

 

Reconciliation is the need of the hour

This should be a time for reflection. The state, at great cost to life and property, has successfully put down Tamil terrorism. It is, however, time for the leadership to rethink the strategies that have been followed, during and after the war. At a time of violence damage to life and property will and did happen. Kith and kin disappeared but what is in contention is why no attempt is made to track down the victims of war in order to give redress to their relatives. Instead, if celebrations of the war victory continues and homage is only paid to the armed forces as war heroes withou any strategy for reconciliation, discontent will prevail among the defeated.

To formulate strategies to overcome past problems would be one obvious way to resolve or perhaps narrow the divide that exists today in our society. At least it would serve as a demonstration of goodwill to a grieving population. It is true that the Tamil community was responsible for the outbreak of violence but it must be added that they were also acting under grave provocation. Bringing Sinhala-only legislation provoked the Tamils who had previously, on their own initiative, introduced Sinhala as a subject in the school curriculum.

Education is a subject close to the heart of the Tamils as their livelihood was dependent on securing government jobs. Other sources of earning income were limited in the North. Therefore, when the government introduced standardization it angered many who considered this an act of discrimination against them, adding fuel to the existing fire within the community.

No land, no jobs, no income.

Poverty levels have always been high but since the conflict many households have lost their male earning members; consequently these households are headed by women. There are many thousands of widows in the province; their husbands have perished in the war. Many of the lands as well as some lucrative businesses have been taken away from the residents, leaving them without recourse to their traditional sources of employment and income. True some lands have since been returned. But many languish without title to their previously owned property and this leads to much heartburn and resentment.

Jobs are not forthcoming in this atmosphere of negativity, and wealth creation in the Northern Province has reached an all time low, especially now with the COVID pandemic raging. Hitherto, the relief for the poor, especially those without security to offer lenders, has led to loans taken at extortionate interest. Microfinance has been tarnished as the worst among the loan sharks and branded an unsuitable source of relief to the needy. Some women approached an NGO and requested a minimal Rs. 5,000 to start a lunch delivery home industry and another indicated that if she had a sewing machine she could be self-sufficient. Unfortunately, that NGO had ceased to be in operation soon after and could not be of further assistance. With no hope for relief, the poor are left with no recourse.

This is one of the reasons why it is said that the Tamil leaders have let the people down. These leaders who have been elected in the hopes of offering avenues of assistance to their constituents, do not seem to have an agenda or a plan setting out methods of ameliorating the poor living conditions of the people. It is in this context that one despairs about funds granted to the chief minister to help the people of the North had been returned unused to the Treasury.

The politicians seem to be mostly fighting for power, ignoring the needs of the people whom they are expected to uplift by identifying needs by interaction with the needy and the grant of seed money to help start-up projects by the poor. Tamil leaders failed to perform this service, instead permitting the armed forces and commercial interests to occupy that space.

Credit was granted at offensively high interest rates which the recipients could not cope with and the people were in a worse plight than earlier. Consequently, there is an attack on micro financing as a poor relief enabling system. This reading is a result of the misunderstanding of micro -financing methodology.

Despite the multiple tragedies the Tamils are facing, the leadership continues in their one track pursuit of power and in the process endangering democracy within Tamil society. To stay in power the local leaders use a ‘divide and rule’ tactic not only among themselves but also within the TULF, their parent body. The Chief Minister of Jaffna has broken links with them and resorted to building his own base seeking to exclude the leaders who introduced him to the Northern Province. Whether this will enable the desired results or not, the future will unfold. But at the recent elections Tamil parties suffered losses to the benefit of the SLFP in what would have hitherto been a very hostile atmosphere.

There has been a significant impact by the introduction of military personnel to civilian positions both in the center and the provinces. Responsibility for this has to be cast on the political leadership that has fiddled while Rome burnt. Clearly, the Tamil and Sinhala politicians are not providing the necessary leadership vital in this context. Instead they are playing ‘cheap’ politics of invoking fear by making military appointments to certain positions previously occupied by civilian administrators who successfully discharged their responsibilities until the emasculation of democratic administrative systems. Or they are pitching one group against another causing greater turmoil among the people.

As a result of poor leadership and poor management of administrative affairs the rift in racial relations has surfaced again despite the example of the consequences of the LTTE’s war with the State. This time around it seems to be the minority Muslims who are at the receiving end.

The LTTE leadership was hostile to the Muslims living in the North for generations. Hostile being a rather harsh word to use, it may be better said that the Tamils did not engage with the Muslims culturally and there was a tendency by the upper caste Tamils to look upon them unfavorably. Could it have been due to the desire to be rid of the Muslims in order to make the peninsula a Tamil only place? This will remain a matter of conjecture for a long time.

In the meantime, the Sinhala majority with its penchant for getting rid of all minorities got into a tangle for a while with the Muslims until it exploded into the Easter Sunday bombings. Since then, there has been no open Sinhala-Muslim hostile engagement s. Violence ceased but there has been no strategies or policies for reconciliation.

 

Provincial Council?

In this context reference has to be made to the provincial councils

even if this be unpalatable to some. The PCs were created as administrative/political institutions that will have more powers to guide the destiny of the people in the North. But the NPC has become irrelevant because of the preoccupation of civil society and other leaders with widening its powers rather than prioritizing strategies to consolidate its present position and produce a viable work plan for the North. It is essential to device a program of action to ameliorate or at least reduce minority grievances and help the Northern Province to identify with the nation state.

It was with this in mind, and also the need for a uniform system of administration that the PCs, originally meant only for the Tamil provinces, was implemented countrywide. They have become white elephants merely replicating existing local government institutions sometimes less efficiently. The PCs have become training grounds for politicians aspiring to enter Parliament. Should the country carry such colossal expenditure to support a system such as this? In all honesty it must be said that at the beginning there was no demand for provincial councils except in the Tamil areas. But the system was replicated in all other areas for the sake of uniformity. Or as Minister Lalith Athulathmudali said long ago, “you can’t give Jaffna what you won’t give Hambantota.” Since the system was implemented,, Tamil areas in the North and the East have been demanding more power for the Chief Minister and to the councils.

For any system to function efficiently there has to be sincerity in the conduct of national affairs. For relative peace to be established it would be necessary to have PCs as envisaged by their initiators – to be a via media between the central government and the periphery. Instead it has been transformed into an instrument through which more and more powers are demanded without utilizing the powers in hand for the benefit of the people. The impression created in people’s mind is that there is an unquestionable thirst for more and more power and that the Councils are becoming combative vis-a-vis the central government.

In the midst of all this mayhem it is refreshing to learn that an army officer, Maj. Gen. Dias (retd), had requested the relevant authorities to permit interested Tamils to commemorate their dead the same way it is done in the South. This, he says, will be a just and equitable strategy to adopt which will also stop those who wish to benefit from such denial to gain increased political support. The fact that he has proposed a method of removing misunderstandings and ongoing persistent hostility between the army and Tamil civilians is commendable. The general by merely making this observation has helped clear the air and pave the way for communal harmony.

He had said that in an emergency in predominantly Tamil areas, requests for an ambulance, water bowser or a generator is directed to the army. This makes clear the existence of a relationship of trust between the army and the people in these areas. This friendly vibe must be used to create better relations between the people and the forces. This will certainly contribute to some extent to usher peace in the country and the much needed amity among its people.

There is also a possibility of PCs being able to request and secure additional powers. Powers to do what? That is the relevant question. When nothing is clear, would it then not be better to depend on the cost effective alternative of using existing local government institutions to address social problems? This strategy, if adopted, will put the nation on the road to better social relations and contribute to building sustainable economies in the provinces and the country as a whole.



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The battle against KNDU: Renewing our contract with the people

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By Sivamohan Sumathy

The KNDU Bill is designed to single-handedly change the face of education in Sri Lanka. Since the ‘90s, successive governments have tried to roll back the gains of the Free Education Poliicy of 1945. The history of free education is not linear, nor is it without contradictions. It is implicated in the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender and the multiple vectors of violence of state and civil society. Despite and because of these very contradictions Free Education has come to represent and symbolise the often contradictory but powerful assemblage of social aspirations and social desires of the general body of citizenry, particularly the vast majority situated on the margins or near margins of society. Free education does not serve everybody equally, but over the years and across decades, it has come to represent the hope of a vast majority for a better place in society. For a populace that is increasingly disempowered, it opens up opportunities toward social mobility, limited as they are; and as or more importantly, becomes the ideological and political weapon of the vast majority in the struggle for justice, social justice and bid for a democratic pact with the state.

Privatisation, Corporatisation, Militarisation

The State university system is an integral part of the state apparatus. Successive governments, have attempted and, to some degree, succeeded in undermining its integrity from within, creating parallel systems of higher education that would be on par with it. Privatisation of higher education follows a two pronged plan; the creation of fee levying centres and bodies of education and the degradation of state universities through under funding and sub-standardization. The fortnightly Kuppi Talk column in The Island has consistently foregrounded the pressures exerted upon the state university compelling it to carry out multiple reforms that compromise on standards and force it to privatise itself. From the ‘90s onwards (if not before), spending on university education has steadily deteriorated and in the post war years spending on education has stayed under 2% of the GDP (Niyanthini Kadirgamar, “Funding Fallacies,” https://island.lk/funding-fallacies-in-education/). The Humanities and Social Sciences are the most affected as highlighted in the various contributions of the Kuppi Talk column. It is no accident that the most recent move toward privatisation from within and without takes place by fiat and through militarisation. Much has been written about the principles of militarised authority that the KNDU bill enshrines. I do not have to reinvent the wheel here, but want to note that by rolling back the gains of free education and its potential to empower people, the KNDU bill points toward a future of repressive technocratic governance and repressive exclusions of those who most desire education as the path to mobility.

While the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a few stuttering steps toward privatisation of education, at the turn of the new millennium one is witness to the onset of an aggressive campaign toward the the dismantling of the long cherished free education apparatus as we know it. I trace this historical trajectory in “SAITM: Continuities and Discontinuities” looking at the different impetuses behind the establishment of NCMC and SAITM, the ideological similarities notwithstanding (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=161915

Certain forms of privatised tertiary education have existed for a long time and have expanded in recent years, but to this day, the establishment of a fully-fledged private university has run into problems. Popular will stood in its way. But it is also a fact that the country simply does not have the infrastructural, intellectual and investment-capacity for a viable private university to take off. Private sector in fact is weak in Sri Lanka. In the post war years, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, with S. B. Dissanayake as Minister of Higher Education spear headed a move to formalise private universities through an umbrella organization that would act as an accreditation council, bringing private and state universities on par and under the same purview and placing this purview within the ambit of corporate interests. In their eyes, Sri Lanka is to become an education hub, attracting foreign investment (“Education and its discontents,” ). The Yahapalana government is no better and blindly follows through on the privatisation plans of the previous regime with its Private Public Partnership policies, SAITM, and the degrading of Arts Education to some vague notion of soft skills development. The KNDU Bill was gazetted in April 2018 and was opposed by the academic communities and members of civil society. As with most corruption ridden neo liberal moves that render all aspects of life commodified, in this instance too, the state becomes an investor in privatised education. We hear that Bank of Ceylon and NSB have been ordered to pledge 36.54 billion rupees to KDU. (https://www.sundaytimes.lk/210725/business-times/kotelawala-uni-gets-over-rs-36-bn-from-boc-nsb-449828.html) If the rationale for privatising education is to ease the burden on the state, why does the state continue to subsidize these institutions? The logic boggles the mind.

The Democracy Call

From 2011-2012 the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) launched the greatest challenge that the teachers had ever made to an incumbent government and in the post war era brought together diverse disgruntled forces under its slogan of Save State Education and the 6% GDP campaign. It brought together different groups and a wide range of actors together to formulate a response to the neo liberal forces that were riding rough shod over the needs of an anxious working and professional class. Its call for action was framed by the call to save democracy. However, in the Yahapalana years and after, the struggle for education lost its momentum. FUTA itself was riven from within, preoccupied by its members’ narrower preoccupations, diverse aspirations, and loyalties. Other disparate groups took up the mantle to fight against privatisation, some of which may not have developed in desirable directions.

Today, the bill threatens to become a dangerous reality. It is not just Universities that are threatened by the KNDU. School teachers led by their unions have jumped into the fray. Beaten by the crippling conditions of COVID 19, teachers and students are facing the dire consequences of years of underfunding in education. FUTA is joining the protest as a key player, a mighty powerful player, but not as the only player. As Shamala Kumar eloquently put it at a press conference called against the KNDU bill on 24 July, 2021, the struggle against the authoritarian bill is a struggle against the PTA, a struggle for working people’s rights, guaranteeing safety of working conditions in the informal sector, particularly women, and a struggle for democracy within the university, including raising one’s voice against ragging. University teachers, rallying forces under FUTA, are once again on the cusp of a decisive moment of the history of education in the country. Let’s defeat the KNDU bill together!

 

Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the Univ. of Peradeniya

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Condolences, warnings and admonition never to forget

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Two great Sri Lankans have died and we as a country are much the poorer, and mourn their deaths. Manouri de Silva Muttetuwegama has vacated her long held position as a wise, consistent, fearless combatant for women and particularly those underprivileged, discriminated against, and helpless against forces of war and ethnicity that caused them suffering. Another noteworthy trait of the woman and characteristic of her work-ethic was quiet efficiency in going about her remedying, healing work with no fanfare and never seeking of publicity and praise. She was a lovely friendly person, always with a sincere smile lighting her face. Manouri served the country well and her daughter carries the torch.

Business magnate and media moghul R Rajamahendran, who used his money, influence and power to help the country is mourned, more so as he could have served his company Capital Maharaja Organisation and Sri Lankan media longer. The appreciation of him by Rex Clementine in The Island, Monday July 26, detailed the great good he did for Sri Lankan cricket. Teaming up with Gamini Dissanayake he literally fought for test status for our country, amply justified by teams of yore, one of which won the World Cup and another nearly did.

(Note: Cass uses the verb ‘died’ and the noun ‘death’ in preference to the softer, gentler ‘passing’, ‘passing away’ et al as she prefers the more real though stark word to euphemisms. Death is death.)

 

Never forget crimes committed

This is the thought that came to mind when coincidentally Cassandra, on 22 July watched the movie 22 July, almost a documentary on the 32 year old Anders Behring Breivik, who parked his bomb-laden van outside the PM’s office in Oslo; it killed eight people and caused utter damage, and then crossed to a summer camp on an island where he shot, point blank, the manager who welcomed him as a police officer but then wanted to see his ID, and a woman in authority. He embarked on a killing spree, which left 69 Youth League workers dead and many more injured. When the police arrived he tamely surrendered. At his trial he said he wanted to save Norway and Europe itself from multiculturalism, particularly naming Muslims, and that the killing of innocents was a wakeup call. His defence attorney attempted pleading schizophrenia but on hearing the awfully heartrending testimony of some of the young campers who escaped death but were injured grievously, he was found guilty on all counts and jailed in solitary confinement for more than two decades.

We, most fortunately have had no single mass murderer like Breivik and American school killers but murder most foul continues and may surface any time.

Cass’ thought was never forget terrible crimes committed on persons who were innocent or who were doing their duty. Yes, we as a nation must never forget these grievous crimes. The death of Richard de Zoysa stands out stark, but the police person who took him away from his home and his mother ‘for questioning’, tortured and killed him and dropped him far out at sea died gruesomely along with Prez Premadasa on May 1. Richard’s body washed ashore though weighted and dropped far out at sea. The person who probably ordered his demise too was killed by the same LTTE bomb. Thus, they paid for their heinous crime.

Others who murdered or ordered murders seem to live on powerfully and mightily. The gruesome murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is kept alive by his daughter, but to no avail. Never to be forgotten or forgiven is the killing of the young, harmless ruggerite whose only ‘crime’ was cocking a snook at those who thought they were superior. What the telling vine conveyed was that the rugger captaincy almost going to him had him tortured and killed. Again a coincidence or overconfidence brought to light the crime: Thajudeen’s body was placed next to the driving seat and his car pushed against a wall to fake an accident. It was all covered up. But people remember this murder, though no one shouts for justice for Thajudeen’s grieving parents.

When you question how come murderers and torturers seem to thrive, the answer is karma, Cass supposes. Maybe, the perpetrators suffer in the midst of utter luxury and in power. Maybe, even slightly, they are overcome with shivers of fright, but never remorse, we surmise.

Unanimously, we are all triumphant that the 15 year old Tamil girl’s death by immolation after prolonged rape in an ex-Minister’s home is being investigated. We hope it will move to correct, just conclusion.

 

Notes on news items

Highly commended is the article ‘Whither the Sangha and Buddha Sasana?’ by S M Sumanadasa in The Island of July 26. If you have not read it, and are a Buddhist, please retrieve the article and read it. It is spot on though gently written, very timely with so many protests going on, most headed by yellow robes. He starts by saying “As a keen observer …, I feel confident and justified in what I say…” Perfectly justified and every point made is valid. The majority of our Sangha strictly follow the 200 odd vinaya rules and render invaluable service to Buddhist lay people, to Buddhism, and the country, but the yellow robed bad eggs are truly rotten. The Sangha may only advise leaders and from a back seat. Sumanadasa queries why the Buddha Sasana Ministry and the Nayaka Theros do not stem the growing tide of indiscipline and reprehensible behaviour of men in Sangha robes. We ask the same. He states a truth that the death of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is really caused by the Buddhists themselves and some members of the Sangha.

An agreeing opinion by Piyasena Athukorale is in The Island, Wednesday July 29.

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits by Dr L M K Tillekeratne appears in the same newspaper. Cassandra retorts: Oh goodness! Enough universities! What benefit when sane advice by university dons and experts in agriculture and related subjects have been completely ignored by the President, the PM, the Cabinet and others in power. They have still not rescinded or withdrawn the overnight ban on import and use of inorganic fertilisers. When famine stares us in the face after the demise of the farmer (the country’s so called backbone) through suicide or utter disgusted exasperation and loss of livelihood, we Ordinaries will have to suffer hunger pangs and malnourishment while those who ordered the very ill-advised and too sudden ban, will live on happily. Maybe, exotic food from around the world will be helicoptered to them!

Professor Channa Jayasumana, I was told, has said that the long awaited and longed for Astra Zeneca vaccine was delayed in transport to our land by the Olympic Games. Cass really did not know that these Games blocked air routes or interfered with air travel. Maybe, the Prof meant that the vaccine gifted (we seem never able to buy this absolute requisite) by Japan was stymied by the Games in Tokyo. He should know as he is a professor.

Why Cass mentioned this tale is because thanks to Professor Jayasumana, she increased her life span by ten years, rolling around choking with laughter (bitter though) at the explanation of why the A-Z Vaccine is so delayed.

 

Enough is absolutely enough

Please, whoever the authority is, stop that telephone message that comes in the three languages exhorting us to act with care during this period. I have forgotten the terms used in

Sinhala and English as I don’t listen when the message comes through, but they are synonyms of urgencies, calamities, crises; which last short spells of time, not months and months as the telephone message has been. This is parallel to the Sri Lankan habit of hanging bunting, posting posters but never bothering to remove them.

It is better the government just calls up protesters for meetings (even though it intends doing nothing) so that spreader of the C19 will cease or at least decrease. We stay home – telephoners – so why have we to suffer a double whammy – eternal message and risk contracting C19. We completely disapprove of teachers protesting en masse all over the country for salary hikes. Not done, not done at all during a country’s economic crisis.

Will we ever learn to put the country’s good and people’s wellbeing before our acts of self-seeking and selfishness?

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Organic fertiliser

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Doing the right thing the wrong way

By Jayasri Priyalal

Nurturing nature is the right thing to do when mother nature is struggling to adjust to the manufactured damages taking their toll and challenging the mutual cohabitation of all living beings on earth. Feeding seven billion people with depleted natural resources and a degraded environment is a mammoth task for humanity. During the past ten millennia, homo sapiens have evolved to adjust and move ahead with their advanced cognitive abilities. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is ample evidence and warning signs to suggest that human beings have crossed the line in harming nature. Maintaining balanced biodiversity is advised by experts to mitigate natural disasters triggered by climate change.

Research in 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – was moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and is therefore exposed to ‘nature loss’, including tropical forests.

This article was prompted by the presentation delivered by Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, Department of the Crop Science, University of Peradeniya, yesterday (24 July 2021). My special thanks go to the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association [PEFAA] for organising the timely event.

The learned Professor presented his arguments with facts and figures from authentic sources and clarified many myths about synthetic fertiliser and pesticides use in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankans are truly indebted to all these professionals dedicated to improving our agricultural productivity in a scientifically sound manner, causing minimum impact on biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the use of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, and emergence above our competitors in the region on maintaining food security was an alarming highlight of the lecture.

The discussion heightened the public awareness of the proposed move by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to ban the import of synthetic fertiliser and agrochemicals and switch to organic fertiliser. Professor Marambe dealt with points and forewarned the dangers of these short sighted policy directives that appear to have been formulated without sufficient consultations with experts dealing with agriculture, instead relying on ill-advised opinion makers, based on assumptions instead of scientific facts.

Recent developments in the country, mainly various draft bills, attempting to militarise higher education, attempting to dispose of the country’s iconic properties to attract investment, indicate the quality of advisors to the President. Those who teamed up with him as Viyath Maga experts appear to have misled President Rajapaksa.

At the webinar, Prof. Marambe revealed that he and other agricultural experts had been appealing for an audience with the President to explain the dangers of this policy directive, which entails long-term adverse repercussions to an agricultural economy. President Rajapaksa has come out with strong convictions on the benefits of using organic fertiliser and sadly lacks scientific evidence to back the perceived benefits and advantages of the proposed policy directive.

I am making a humble appeal to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his team of advisors to seek expertise from the experts and decide on the policy directives instead of counting on assumptions.

Fareed Zakaria devotes a chapter on why people should listen to experts and experts should listen to people, in his book ‘Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World’. He refers to President Donald Trump being questioned about experts he consults, during the 2016 Republican nomination campaign. Trump responded, “I am speaking with myself, number one because I have an excellent brain; my primary consultant is myself.” His idea to inject a cleaning solution to treat COVID-19 patients could have surfaced through this process of self-consultation. Trump ridiculed the experts in 2016 thus: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” The rest is history; the mess he created during his tenure as the US President. These are useful lessons for many other political leaders.

 

 

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