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VANCOUVER, 1987

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

After another routine workday at the Mahaweli Center in October 1987, I dropped in, as was my wont, on my boss, Minister Gamini Dissanayake at his Alfred House Gardens home. The Minister was involved in a lively discussion with his senior advisers about the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord that had been signed between the two nations on July 29, 1987.

From August 1987, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), who had taken over the military function in Jaffna, was neglecting its prime duty, that of ending the civil war between militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists, principally the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military. The IPKF had taken no action against the LTTE, and in fact were working with the Tigers to eliminate the other Tamil groups like the Tamil United Liberation Front (TLUF).

The discussion was continuing when I decided to call it a day. I was on my way home, when I decided (a temptation I had often found most difficult to resist) to stop for a drink and play a little Blackjack at my favorite casino in Kollupitiya. That evening was a rare event for me. I had an amazing winning streak right from the start, and by the end of 30 minutes, had won far more than I expected. I was also tired after a day’s work, so decided, for a change, to quit while I was ahead, and go home.

When I got home, I was told that Minister Dissanayake had been phoning me, asking me to contact his office on a matter of urgency. The urgent matter being that I had been included in a Sri Lankan delegation to Vancouver under the leadership of Minister Dissanayake; that I should hand over my passport to his secretary immediately, to get a visa to Canada. We were scheduled to leave for Vancouver the following morning! The karmic merit I had earned by leaving the casino and rushing back to the bosom of my loving, if surprised, family paid immediate dividends.

I later learned that Minister Dissanayake had been ordered by President Jayewardene to represent him as his Special Representative at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), scheduled to be held between October 13 and October 17, 1987, in Vancouver, Canada.

The Sri Lankan delegation was led by Foreign Minister, A.C.S. Hameed. Minister Dissanayake had no role in the actual Conference. His responsibility was to seek the assistance of other heads of government, like the host, PM Brian Mulroney, Margaret Thatcher, PM of the UK, Lee Kwan Yew, PM of Singapore, David Lange, PM of New Zealand, to name a few, to persuade PM Rajiv Gandhi to instruct the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to implement the terms of the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Accord. This they had been neglecting over the past three months.

Their respective delegations had given us the questions they were prepared to answer during their TV interviews. President Jayewardene’s Secretary and I tailored the questions accordingly. Many of the Commonwealth leaders were prepared to answer most of the questions we had prepared for them. PM Lee Kwan Yew was especially supportive, and did not restrict us in any way. But I do remember the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher specified that she would answer one question, and one question only – whether she approves of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord or not.

Then came the bombshell – for me. Minister Dissanayake, who always had a wry sense of humor, decided that I should interview PM Lee Kwan Yew, on TV! I was dumbstruck. I know I talk a lot at social gatherings of friends, and in fact have been sharply criticized for this annoying behavior. But I have a mortal fear of speaking before an audience – I believe the phobia is called stage fright. My pathetic objections were summarily dismissed, and I was scheduled to interview the Great Man the following day. I had a dismal night, even contemplating suicide, and had to rush the following morning to buy a suit.

I am getting ahead of myself. I had the great good fortune to be in the same room while Sri Lankan TV interviewed world leaders, a highlight of my life. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, until it was the Iron Lady’s turn. She walked into the room with a commanding presence, followed at a respectful distance by her formidable bodyguard. I was in the presence of a lady I was immediately in awe, even fearful, of. A fear that most men reserve only for their wives.

She sat down, and the interview began cordially enough. The interviewer asked her the prepared question, and she nodded, Yes, the government of the United Kingdom is supportive of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord. As she was getting up, the interviewer did the unthinkable, and started to ask her another question. Before he could reach the third word, Ms. Thatcher stood up, banging her fists on the table and with fire in her eyes, said, I SAID ONE QUESTION, AND ONE QUESTION ONLY! And stormed off. If looks could kill, there would have been a coffin on our return flight.

Then came my moment of doom, the interview with PM Lee Kwan Yew, a leader I had always admired, though from a great distance. I had never imagined that I would have the honor of shaking his hand and sitting next to him. While the TV crew were doing their preparatory work, my interviewee saw that I was agitated, pretty obvious because I was sweating profusely. I managed to stutter to him, please forgive me, sir, I have never interviewed anyone before in my life. He smiled, put me completely at my ease, and after my first question, took over the interview. A most impressive and persuasive performance in support of the Sri Lankan position; and, more importantly to me, one that saved me from making an absolute ass of myself before a worldwide audience.

We had quite a lot of free time during the Conference, especially in the evenings. Many of us visited Vancouver’s watering holes to indulge in our favorite pastime. I was pleasantly amazed that just about every bar in Vancouver had an attraction I had never come across in taverns anywhere else. At regular intervals, beautiful young female dancers performed a striptease in a boxing ring specially constructed for the performance. A 15-minute dance in three stages, the nature of which I will leave to your imagination. Being married men, we did not go as far as to sit in the gynecologists’ row, as the seats immediately below the ring were named. But I would be lying if I said that these “performances” didn’t make my whisky taste that much more malty.

Of course, there are sleazy “Gentlemen’s Clubs” in cities like Los Angeles and Amsterdam, but they plied their trade in assigned “red light zones”. This type of entertainment was not ubiquitous elsewhere, in my experience, as it was in Vancouver.

On the last evening before we left Vancouver, we decided to treat ourselves to dining at one of the poshest bars, famous for its “performances”. There was a most distinguished older gentleman in our delegation we had never before dared to invite to these excursions. I suggested we invite him and he readily agreed to accompany us. Everything went well, until two ladies climbed up to the ring and proceeded to enact a most aesthetically pleasing lesbian performance. It was obvious to us that the older gentleman was getting more than a little agitated, and we all decided to leave, apologizing to him that we had been totally unaware that there were bars in Vancouver with such lewd performances. Having comforted him with this lie, we left him at the hotel in a reasonably calm state of mind. Then we immediately rushed back to the bar to catch the tail end (no pun intended) of the performance. Hell, it was our last night in a beautiful city.

This incident took me back almost 30 years, when I was accompanying my mother shopping at Oxford Street in London in the late 50s. I was 17 years old, and my function was to help with the many purchases of my shopaholic mother. After a couple of hours, she said she was tired and suggested that we catch our breath, watching a movie at one of those little cinemas in Oxford Street which specialized in “foreign” films. Breath was certainly caught, when she realized that she was exposing her innocent teenage son to a Swedish film featuring a couple of lesbian lovers, frolicking in a lake in innocent nudity. I had never seen my mother move so fast. I followed, reluctantly.

Our Vancouver mission was a complete success. The IPKF began their offensive against the Tigers within a month of our return from Vancouver. An offensive which led to the two darkest decades of violence and tragedy in Sri Lanka’s history.

 



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A call for confidence in Rajavasala

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The government is highly cheerful about the defeat of the SJB’s vote of no confidence on Minister Gammanpila.

It was able to display its two-thirds power in Parliament. Those smaller parties that are aligned with the Pohottuva such as the SLFP and Wimal Weerawansa’s NFF and others remained fastened with Pohottuva power. The new message after the SJB’s defeat is that the people are wholly supportive of the increase in fuel prices. In fact, they have been voting to support the new fuel prices, and thus Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa does not have to do anything about it. Forget all that talk about how that price increase would not have happened if BR had been in the country, or that he would reduce it in a couple of days in office.

The record of no-confidence motions in our Parliament from 1948 is certainly different. Many such motions have been defeated, but the wider and deeper messages they carried have remained with the voters, who did what was necessary when the time for a larger national Vote of No-Confidence came their way.

This is the first big issue that Sajith Premadasa faced as leader of the SJB. There was somewhat of a challenge to him with the presence in Parliament of his former leader, and continuing UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who did try a green twist to the motion by trying to amend it to read against the whole government. Such twists and turns in politics can only be expected when persons who are wholly defeated by the voters in an election, the entire party and himself included, enters the House through the backdoor of the National List.

What this no-confidence motion brought before the people is much more than the rise in fuel prices. Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government’s flagrant misuse of quarantine regulations to forcibly grab and transport trade union, civil rights, and political critics and opponents to a lock down centre in the North, combined with the continuing protests by farmers without necessary fertiliser, there is a rising mood of public discontent with the advancing power of the Rajapaksas. Here are some of the real ‘confidence’’ issues facing the people.

Does Pohottuva think the public are wholly supportive of the presidential pardon to a murderer convicted by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court? What about the three others who were also convicted with the same person? Is the public cheerful about such a pardoned, but not freed of crime – person, being appointed to head a major state institution on housing development? Is housing to be a sector of increasing political manipulation, much more than it was when Wimal Weerawansa, as Minister of Housing and Common Amenities, was at play in that sector, with luxury housing for relatives?

By the way, Weerawansa was a loud and strong opponent to the no- confidence motion against Minister Gammanpila.

There is currently some confused thinking on the silent protest carried out by teachers on distant teaching through the internet. The vast numbers, in several thousands, who participated in the public call for action by the government on the long-standing teacher demands, did show the necessity for action.

The public who may be even critical of the trade union action by the teachers are certainly not supportive of them being called ‘kaalakanniyo’ – miserable, wretched – even by a Cabinet Minister, whatever rank or status he may hold. Minister Rambukwelle could have turned many teachers, who may have preferred to be silent about their dispute on income and rights, to openly join the related trade union action. The Minister’s subsequent reference to teachers as ‘divinities’ certainly had little impact, in a land where there are unholy divinities, too.

The increase in the size of protests today shows a rise in the mood of opposition to the government. The public reaction to the ugly and shameful show of force against citizen protesters by the Police, against court orders, too, seem to have pushed the Police somewhat into the background. But we cannot be sure of that.

There have been many transfers and promotions of key police personnel, and the vacancy in the highest police post is not far away. Will the future actions on police management by the Rajapaksa Handlers send a new message on Police Brutality? Will the suspects brought to show evidence and are shot down, show an increase in the coming months? This is where public confidence in the government’s role in fighting crime and keeping peace will be on display, as the Rajapaksa Handlers move to more Family Power and less People’s Power.

More than two years have passed since that Easter Sunday attack on three churches, the deaths of so many, many more injured, families destroyed, parents gone and children lost, and the government still has to show the people the truth about this massive crime. The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has now given a one-month deadline for the President and the government to answer several key issues about this crime, which were key electoral promises of the Pohottuva candidate who is now the President, and the SLPP government of today.

The answers to these issues raised will show the confidence in the Sri Lankan government by the people of this country, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or caste; and the confidence in this country by the international community.

The defeat of the no-confidence motion on Minister Gammanpila should not be the stuff of worry for the Opposition in Parliament and the SJB. It is certainly a call to spread the wider message of no-confidence in a government that has failed in living up to its promises to the people.

The government may remain happy with its two-thirds majority in Parliament. But it certainly needs much more than parliamentary numbers to retain and build the confidence among the people. This is the real task of the Rajapaksa Power today. It has to move away from a Rajapaksa Senakeliya or Carnival, and try and settle down to Rajapaksa Service to the people, and not to themselves. A true call for Confidence in the Rajavasala, from those away from the Rajapaksa pack and players.

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How rebirth takes place

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(from THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Nārada Mahāthera)

“The pile of bones of (all the bodies of) one man
Who has alone one aeon lived
Would make a mountain’s height —
So said the mighty seer.”
— ITIVUT’TAKA

To the dying man at this critical stage, according to Abhidhamma philosophy, is presented a Kamma, Kamma Nimitta, or Gati Nimitta.

By Kamma is here meant some good or bad act done during his lifetime or immediately before his dying moment. It is a good or bad thought. If the dying person had committed one of the five heinous crimes (Garuka Kamma) such as parricide etc. or developed the Jhānas (Ecstasies), he would experience such a Kamma before his death. These are so powerful that they totally eclipse all other actions and appear very vividly before the mind’s eye. If he had done no such weighty action, he may take for his object of the dying thought-process a Kamma done immediately before death (Āsanna Kamma); which may be called a “Death Proximate Kamma.”

In the absence of a “Death-Proximate Kamma” a habitual good or bad act (Ācinna Kamma) is presented, such as the healing of the sick in the case of a good physician, or the teaching of the Dhamma in the case of a pious Bhikkhu, or stealing in the case of a thief. Failing all these, some casual trivial good or bad act (Katattā Kamma) becomes the object of the dying thought-process.

Kamma Nimitta

or “symbol,” means a mental reproduction of any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which was predominant at the time of some important activity, good or bad, such as a vision of knives or dying animals in the case of a butcher, of patients in the case of a physician, and of the object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc…

By Gati Nimitta, or “symbol of destiny” is meant some symbol of the place of future birth. This frequently presents itself to dying persons and stamps its gladness or gloom upon their features. When these indications of the future birth occur, if they are bad, they can at times be remedied. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man. Such premonitory visions of destiny may be fire, forests, mountainous regions, a mother’s womb, celestial mansions, and the like.

Taking for the object a Kamma, or a Kamma symbol, or a symbol of destiny, a thought-process runs its course even if the death be an instantaneous one.

For the sake of convenience let us imagine that the dying person is to be reborn in the human kingdom and that the object is some good Kamma.

His Bhavanga consciousness is interrupted, vibrates for a thought-moment and passes away; after which the mind-door consciousness (manodvāravajjana) arises and passes away. Then comes the psychologically important stage –Javana process — which here runs only for five thought moments by reason of its weakness, instead of the normal seven. It lacks all reproductive power, its main function being the mere regulation of the new existence (abhinavakarana).

The object here being desirable, the consciousness he experiences is a moral one. The Tadālambana-consciousness which has for its function a registering or identifying for two moments of the object so perceived, may or may not follow. After this occurs the death-consciousness (cuticitta), the last thought moment to be experienced in this present life.

There is a misconception amongst some that the subsequent birth is conditioned by this last death-consciousness (cuticitta) which in itself has no special function to perform. What actually conditions rebirth is that which is experienced during the Javana process.

With the cessation of the decease-consciousness death actually occurs. Then no material qualities born of mind and food (cittaja and āhāraja) are produced. Only a series of material qualities born of heat (utuja) goes on till the corpse is reduced to dust.

Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth consciousness there spring up the ‘body-decad,’ ‘sex-decad,’ and ‘base-decad’ (Kāya-bhāva-vatthu-dasaka).

According to Buddhism, therefore, sex is determined at the moment of conception and is conditioned by Kamma not by any fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum-cells.

The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.

Just as the wheel rests on the ground only at one point, so, strictly speaking, we live only for one thought-moment. We are always in the present, and that present is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions on it, to its successor. Every fresh consciousness, therefore, consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something more. At death, the consciousness perishes, as in truth it perishes every moment, only to give birth to another in a rebirth. This renewed consciousness inherits all past experiences. As all impressions are indelibly recorded in the ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and all potentialities are transmitted from life to life, irrespective of temporary disintegration, thus there may be reminiscence of past births or past incidents. Whereas if memory depended solely on brain cells, such reminiscence would be impossible.

“This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of Kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with, the previous one in its line — the aggregates that make up its composition being different from, having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being since it has the same stream of Kamma-energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense-perceptible world as the new being.

Death, according to Buddhism, is the cessation of the psycho-physical life of any one individual existence. It is the passing away of vitality (āyu), i.e., psychic and physical life (jīvitindriya), heat (usma) and consciousness (vinnana).

Death is not the complete annihilation of a being, for though a particular life-span ends, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.

Just as an electric light is the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, so we are the outward manifestations of invisible Kammic energy. The bulb may break, and the light may be extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another bulb. In the same way, the Kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. But nothing unchangeable or permanent “passes” from the present to the future.

In the foregoing case, the thought experienced before death being a moral one, the resultant rebirth-consciousness takes for its material an appropriate sperm and ovum cell of human parents. The rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi vinnana) then lapses into the Bhavanga state.

The continuity of the flux, at death, is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness.

Rebirth takes place immediately, irrespective of the place of birth, just as an electromagnetic wave, projected into space, is immediately reproduced in a receiving radio set. Rebirth of the mental flux is also instantaneous and leaves no room whatever for any intermediate state (antarabhava). Pure Buddhism does not support the belief that a spirit of the deceased person takes lodgement in some temporary state until it finds a suitable place for its “reincarnation.”

This question of instantaneous rebirth is well expressed in the Milinda Pa񨡺

The King Milinda questions:

“Venerable Nagasena, if somebody dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, and another dies here and is reborn in Kashmir, which of them would arrive first?

“They would arrive at the same time. O King.

“In which town were you born, O King?

“In a village called Kalasi, Venerable Sir.

“How far is Kalasi from here, O King?

“About two hundred miles, Venerable Sir.

“And how far is Kashmir from here, O King?

“About twelve miles, Venerable Sir.

“Now think of the village of Kalasi, O King.

“I have done so, Venerable Sir.

“And now think of Kashmir, O King.

“It is done, Venerable Sir.

“Which of these two, O King, did you think the more slowly and which the more quickly?

“Both equally quickly, Venerable Sir.

“Just so, O King, he who dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, is not reborn later than he who dies here and is reborn in Kashmir.”

“Give me one more simile, Venerable Sir.”

“What do you think, O King? Suppose two birds were flying in the air and they should settle at the same time, one upon a high and the other upon a low tree, which bird’s shade would first fall upon the earth, and which bird’s later?”

“Both shadows would appear at the same time, not one of them earlier and the other later. “

The question might arise: Are the sperm and ovum cells always ready, waiting to take up the rebirth-thought?

According to Buddhism, living beings are infinite in number, and so are world systems. Nor is the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth. Earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable plane, and humans are not the only living beings. As such it is not impossible to believe that there will always be an appropriate place to receive the last thought vibrations. A point is always ready to receive the falling stone.

 

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Dual citizens; shocking rape cases going unpunished

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I have a bone to pick with my co-Friday columnist who writes from across the ocean about the Pearl. In his July 16 column, he writes at length on dual citizens entering the Sri Lankan Parliament while retaining citizenship of another country. He lauds it in no uncertain terms, while most of us natives, living in our motherland, oppose the move that was introduced in the 20th Amendment. He writes: “A Dual Citizen is back as a national list member of parliament. Now, this in a country that passed legislation that banned dual citizens from entering parliament. This of course is something I was and am vehemently opposed to …”

The previous ban which he ‘vehemently opposed’ he pins on the Kaduwa syndrome – inferiority complex; frog in the well mentality; “fear of intimidation, fear, and revulsion of learning anything new from others”. Cass labels his reasons tosh! He goes to the extreme of writing: “The only good thing that has happened is that a dual citizen is back as finance minister, no less. … Our entire national list should consist of qualified dual citizens who have experience gained from the first world.” The implication here is that all our Sri Lankan citizens holding only Sri Lankan passports are no good against dual citizens who to him are nonpareil, more so legislaters. Thus, he casts aside as useless all those holding higher qualification gained mostly locally and are loyal to the country. They to him are less in ability, qualifications, broadmindedness than those who escaped to foreign countries when the going was bad and now return when it suits them. I present sole citizens like Champika Ranawaka, Eran Wickremaratne and Harsha de Silva and very many medical professionals and agriculturists who have shown they are pre-eminently qualified in their several fields, and loyal to Sri Lanka too.

Dual citizens left the country for whatever reason, mostly escaping a sinking ship for better prospects even as second-class citizens. Then they had the bug of nationalism arising in their breasts. This when it suited them; when it was opportune for them to return to their country of birth. They seize the opportunity to be recognised, elevated, lauded; and return from obscurity in a foreign country to hosannas sung by loyalists and promoters of dual citizenship like Rajitha Ratwatte. If they are so loyal and want to serve their mother country, why don’t they give up the citizenship of the country chosen for emigration and become solely Sri Lankan citizens? Oh no, they keep a safety branch handy for escape – to obscurity though – when things get too hot here. Even Basil Rajapaksa took plane to the US immediately after his brother’s defeat at the 2015 presidential election. Now back with several brothers in high power, nephews included; in short, a government mostly by the Family, it is ideal for Brother Basil to return and to boost his return, such loud singing of hosannas and prediction this Knight with superhuman powers will kill the dragon of economic bankruptcy that is poised to devour poor Sri Lanka. He may even banish the virus that has overpowered the entire world. We Ordinaries will wait and watch.

It is no to persons like medical interns who got their entire education- high school plus medical – at government expense and then scooted slyly to greener pastures immediately after getting their MBBSs. This closed door also to those who fled punishments or change of government or jumped the ship they thought was sinking or scooted for whatever expediency. However, those who felt they had no hope of career development in this country or went for higher studies (when local universities were closed for long or did not accept them) and then decided to stay back in the host countries as citizens are welcome back as even dual citizens since their return is prompted by caring for parents and siblings left behind, or wanting to settle down on birth turf and benefit the country with foreign money and expertise gained. Some highly qualified, medical professionals mostly, revisit Sri Lanka and give immense help free of charge. We welcome them wholeheartedly and are grateful. But not those whose motives for returning are purely selfish.

What particularly irked ole Cass were these two statements of Rajitha Ratwatte writing ‘From Outside the Pearl’. “The only good thing that has happened is that a dual citizen is back as finance minister, no less” and “our entire national lists should consist of qualified dual citizens who have experience gained from the first world.” I won’t deal with the first statement. How can he judge whether it is the only good move of government until Basil delivers the prediction of saving the country? Then the promotion of dual citizens to Parliament – “qualified with experiences gained from the first world.” I mentioned how some of these come back to help us but never as politicians or into politics. Those who come into the political arena so far have not advertised their higher qualifications and some have experience in petrol pumping if not dish washing!!

Rape rears its medusa head

We have been hearing and reading about a 15-year-old girl sold for prostitution by her mother and used by the many including some high persons. The case is out in the open and due punishment may be meted out. Another case was highlighted about a younger girl and I was told that social media highlighted a father who abused his two daughters and is in hiding now. Words fail ole Cass to express how reprehensible these cases are: unbridled perverse sexual desire and greed for money; two conditions rampant now. Cass nearly fell of her chair when she read the first page news item in The Island of Wednesday July 21. “National child protection policy not implemented for 21 years, says COPE.” Rather usual in this Paradise Isle gone rotten. But what followed both inundated Cass’s heart with deep sorrow followed by raging fury, though useless. A beautiful, typically dressed 16 year old Tamil girl – Ishalini Jude Kumar – is featured in the article “who succumbed to injuries caused by a fire in the residence of lawmaker Rishad Bathiudeen at No 410/16, Baudhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7.” Stunning. Shocking beyond words. Cass believes the rape and suspects it was continuous but never will accept the self immolation.

This particular MP and former Minister has had two previous allegations against him – the destruction of parts of a forest bordering Wilpattu to build houses for his supporters and association with some Easter Sunday carnage suspects.

Rape and molesting children are extra extra-nasty social evils. The perpetrators must be severely punished. In Saudi Arabia it was said that stealing was punished with hands amputated so…

Cass leaves you on that note – to mull over as Sri Lanka is saved by the Hon Basil R and we get back to being Paradise.

 

 

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