Those were the days…
I was selected to undergo training at the prestigious Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK (commonly known as Dartmouth or BRNC) in January 1982, on completion of a one-year training course at Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee. I was 19 years old, and the course I had to follow was “International Midshipmen Course”. Fifty two foreign officers, mainly from the Commonwealth countries and Arab nations attended the course with me. I received a Commonwealth scholarship and my fees and payments were handled by the Commonwealth Office.
BRNC, the initial Officer Training Institute is located on a hill overlooking the port Dartmouth, Devon, England. It is the place where beautiful Dart River meets the sea. Training Naval Officers in Dartmouth goes back to 1863, when HMS Britannia, a wooden hull ship was moored at river Dart used for training Royal Navy officers.
A foundation for a new Naval College was laid in March 1902 by King Edward VII (King of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Emperor of India from 22nd January 1901 to 6th May 1910 and elder son of Queen Victoria). Sir Aston Webb designed the College and built by M/S Higgs and Hill. Work completed in 1905 and the first batch of trainees joined in September 1905.
King George V and King George VI were naval cadets trained at Dartmouth. Prince Phillip of Greece and Princess Elizabeth (Present Queen) met for the first time in Dartmouth when Prince Phillip was a Naval cadet. Prince of Wales, Duke of York and Prince William has undergone training in Dartmouth. The best Naval Cadets from the Commonwealth countries go through training at Dartmouth. A large number of them became Navy Commanders.
The motto of Dartmouth is “To deliver courageous leaders with the spirit to fight and win”.
I met Defence Adviser of British High Commission in Colombo, and he gave me all the air tickets and the train warrants (which were to be changed into tickets at the Railway Station in London). And some cash for my journey. He categorically informed me no one would come to receive me and I had to travel to Dartmouth on my own. All necessary instructions were given in writing, which he said, I might need to read time to time during the journey. Another letter was given, indicating that I was a visitor of the UK government and I should be given maximum assistance in case of an emergency.
I flew from the BIA to Muscat (Oman) to Roissy Charles De Gaulle airport Paris by Union de Transport Airlines (UTA) flight number UTA 567, and then took Channel crossing by Air France aircraft (flight number AF 8110) flight and landed at the Heathrow airport. By the time, I landed there, I was tired, but full of excitement. I had two bags, and one was large. My mother bought me a belt with a small pouch before my departure. She advised me to carry my passport, air tickets, money and any important documents in it.
I hate wearing ties. So, first thing after boarding the plane was to remove the tie and put it in the hand bag. After disembarking at the Heathrow airport, I took the tube, reached the Paddington railway station and got my warrants changed to a railway ticket. There were a few hours for the train and I had some snacks. Now I wanted go to the toilet.
I went to a closeby toilet in Paddington station. I had to take a few steps down to enter the toilet. So, I left the trolly carrying my bags (both hand bag and large bag) at the entrance to the toilet and went in. After a few minutes when I came out, the bags were missing! Someone had stolen them! I panicked. All my uniforms, civilian clothes and other belongings were in those bags. Luckily, thanks to my mother, my passport, tickets, important travel instructions and money was on my hip pouch.
I went to the Police post at Paddington railway station and lodged a complaint. When the policeman saw the letters issued by the British High Commission, he became very serious and took my statement and advised me to travel to Dartmouth. The Police assured me if they found the bags, they would be delievered to BRNC Dartmouth.
Now, I reported to BRNC Dartmouth that evening, without uniform and other belongings, even without a necktie. I had reported a few days before the course started and thankfully that gave time for me to settle down.
The following day I found myself in front of the Training Commander. I explained to him what happened and also said that I never knew London had such thieves. Training Commander had a discussion with my Divisional Chief Petty Officer Quick. CPO Quick, was a huge hulk of a man, a rugby player but very kind-hearted towards foreign officers. He was very upset. Poor Midshipman Wijegunaratne from Sri Lanka had been robbed in London! (He could not pronounce my name. He used to call me Midshipman Wije!). The following day, I went with Chief Quick to “Marks and Spencer’s” shop in Dartmouth town. CPO Quick selected the following civil clothes for me,
Two suits – one pinstripe and one light colour
Four shirts – light colour
Two pairs of Oxford shoes (one black and one brown)
Four trousers (two light colours and two dark colours)
Four pairs of socks
Two leather belts (black and brown in color)
Four sports shorts
Good pair of running shoes, socks and underwear
Other necessary items
All my uniforms, caps, uniform shoes, belts and epaulettes were purchased from M/S Gieves and Hawkes shop in the college and uniform makers stitched my uniforms. All payments were made by the College!
To be very frank, I should thank that thief at Paddington railway station for the favour he had done for me. Otherwise, I would have been wearing a suit stitched by a Sri Lanka tailor.
Most of the Royal Navy and foreign midshipmen at the time (1982) did not know where Sri Lanka was. They thought Sri Lanka was a part of India. When I donned the newly-bought expensive clothes, they thought I was a son of a wealthy Indian Maharaja!
Those were the days ….
Women in Power
The Revolutionary Lives and Careers of Siva, Doreen, Vivi and Sirima
By Kusum Wijetilleke
(firstname.lastname@example.org) & Rienzie Wijetilleke (email@example.com)
Women in Sri Lanka make up 52% of the population and 56% of registered voters, but a mere 5% of legislators. The Sri Lankan female voter, whilst having significant strength in numbers, has been unable to translate said the bers should make women’s issues front and centre for politicking but the reality is quite the opposite. The tax rate on sanitary napkin imports was just over 100% in 2018, until a reduction to 52%. There was controversy over the recent halving of maternity leave from 84 days to 42 days for trainee development officers in the public sector. Throughout the country we find reports of domestic abuse being ignored by authorities, of street harassment with the countrywide tradition of ‘cat-calling’ being “accepted” as part of a culture. Our politics indicate a level of flippancy with regards to women’s issues in general, with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs no longer worthy of a place in the Cabinet.
There were eight women elected to parliament at the 2020 General Elections, out of a total of 75 female candidates from the major political parties, making them a distinct minority in Sri Lanka’s 225-seat chamber. Around the world and in Sri Lanka, the debate around female representation in politics has been raging in social sciences for some time, with a variety of explanations proposed. Most pertinent might be the principle of “you cannot be what you cannot see”, asserted by Feminist Author Marie C. Wilson, President of the Ms Foundation for Women, established by Gloria Steinem. Ms Steinem remarked, “We’ll never solve the feminization of power until we solve the masculinity of wealth”. This is especially true for women that long to enter the very expensive business of politics. Another given and accepted reason is that the conservative and traditional family arrangements restrict most women’s career choices.
In Sri Lanka, the argument from traditional family restrictions on career choices certainly rings true, but with a few very notable and accomplished exceptions. In her most famous work; ‘Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World’ (1986), Sri Lanka’s definitive feminist academic and activist Kumari Jayawardena stated the importance of a political account on women’s struggles in the East as necessary for the women of these countries who may be “unaware of the role in liberation struggles of their ancestors and great-grandmothers”. She further discusses the limitations of women achieving liberation through education and entering the workforce, proposing that true liberation is only achieved through political as well as social and economic equality.
A cursory glance at Sri Lanka’s early history as a nation State shows that women did indeed hold some very important keys to power. These women were, as you might expect, from the upper classes and many with substantial financial clout and some did also have the full support of their families in political endeavours while others succeeded in spite of familial and cultural restrictions.
When Sri Lankans envision women in politics, we invariably fall back on the two most recent matriarchs, both from the same aristocratic family. ‘Sirima’ and ‘CBK’ certainly blazed their own trails in the world of politics. Whereas their political dynasty seems to have ended with CBK’s final term, the mixed fortunes of ‘Mrs. B’ and the times during which she ‘ruled’ are nonetheless fascinating. To begin with, Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike becoming the world’s first female Prime Minister may no longer be appreciated in the way that it should. When she was elected in 1960, six years ahead of Indira Gandhi, the London Evening News stated “… there will be need for a new word. Presumably, we shall have to call her a states-woman… This is the suffragette’s dream come true.”
If you define democracy as a system where all citizens of the state have an equally weighted right to vote, then Sri Lanka is the oldest democracy in Asia. Class, sex and ethnicity were all used to restrict the vote throughout history. Until 1918 in the UK, only property owning men over the age of 21 were allowed the vote. The 1965 Civil Rights act definitively lifted restrictions on Black Americans voting in many Southern States. Indigenous peoples in Canada achieved the right to vote in 1960 and those in Australia had to wait until 1967. Japanese women achieved suffrage in 1947 and Pakistani women in 1956. Yet Sri Lanka achieved universal suffrage in 1931 which is quite significant considering India only achieved the same parity in 1950. Thus the introduction of Universal Suffrage was by no means a simple evolution.
Sri Lankans will recall “Sirima” and her time in power with a shrug of dissatisfaction given the failures of her socialist economic policies. Following her husband’s assassination and her elevation as the leader of the SLFP and its candidate for PM, she would often cry during campaign speeches, which earned her a nick name; ‘the weeping widow’. Members of Parliament would speak disparagingly of her efforts to govern with references to the “kitchen cabinet”. Yet due to her strong intellectual and ideological positions, she eventually earned a sort of begrudging respect from the many men in that kitchen cabinet. Her time in power was characterized by food shortages, bread lines and rationing, but Ms. Bandaranaike is also remembered for her ruthless dismantling of the JVP insurrection in the early 70s, leading to a remark by a prominent politician that she was “the only man in her cabinet”.
The 1962 coup d’état attempted by high ranking military and police leaders is less recalled and worth revisiting. The aborted plan to detain Ms. Bandaranaike and her senior officials at the Army Headquarters was the result of a power struggle many decades in the making. Sri Lanka’s pre-independence elites were highly westernized, even Anglophilic, right wing and Christian and many had close ties to the UNP. The sudden and dramatic power shift post-independence, led to a political establishment that was staunchly Sinhala-Buddhist, left wing and ‘rural’, that is to say; non-westernized. Sri Lankans today are acutely aware of past ethnic divisions, but may not fully appreciate the class and religious divisions that were dominant during the colonial era.
The inevitable shift and consequent fissure, betrayed the nation’s ethno-religious divisions. The main protagonists of the attempted coup were all from the upper classes; property owning, well-educated and with right-wing ideologies. The coup was aborted at the last minute after an informant revealed the plans to the PM. All 24 individuals charged with the conspiracy were Christian: 12 Sinhalese, six Tamils and six Burghers. The coup was also an attempt to arrest the country’s economic decline that began with Ms. Bandaranaike’s nationalization of key industries including banking, foreign trade, insurance, transport and petroleum. Her policies further exacerbated the import-export imbalance and the country was $2 billion in debt, but the mantra she repeated defiantly through-out was “produce or perish”.
Whilst the faults of “Sirima” are widely accepted, her foreign policy and internationalism, which in many ways saved the Sri Lankan project, deserves more attention. With only two weeks’ worth of rice in stock, she negotiated an emergency shipment of 40,000 tons from China. These being the beginnings of the cold war, international diplomacy was fraught and required careful navigation, especially for a Socialist Republic having just achieved independence. Sri Lanka grew in stature internationally as a founder nation of the Non-Aligned Movement under the guidance of Ms. Bandaranaike and she made countless overtures for peace between the major Western Powers and the Soviet Union. In 1963, following several state visits to “western” nations, understanding the need to balance both sides, she became the first Sri Lankan Prime Minister to visit the Soviet Union and returned with an agreement for large quantities of discounted petroleum from the Soviets. The nationalization of the oil industry and the resulting distress to British and American corporate interests led to the US cutting aid to Sri Lanka. Egyptian President Abdel Nasser sent oil tankers to Sri Lanka and in 1975 Ms. Bandaranaike negotiated a supply arrangement for 250,000 tons of oil on a deferred payment scheme after direct negotiations with the then Vice President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.
Getting used to life in cell, thinking of karma and performing yoga
Prison Diary – III
Extracts from book ‘Read Between the Lines’
By Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy) Former Chief of Defence Staff
Prison diary Part 02 ‘Day Two in Prison’ published in The Island last week Prison Diary – Day 3 (30 Nov 2018)
The third day in Prison. I had got used to the prison routine. I would wake up 4.30 am, when the Jumma Mosque’s call to prayer begins , perform my ablutions, get into my PT kit and start reading and writing until 6.00am, when the door of cells opened. This process is known as the open-up. The closing of cells at 6.30pm is called the lock-up. I started reading the book by General Prevez Musharraf, In the line of Fire. The first two chapters explain how he twice escaped possible death when his motorcade came under terrorist attacks and how, as a small child, he moved from Delhi to Karachi during the partition of India, in 1947. I have a special liking for General Musharraf as he has a Special Forces background.
I cleaned my cell between 6.00am and 6.30am. The floor was shining after two days of mopping. Prison Guard Kumara, who had served in the Navy for 12 years as an electrical and electronic branch sailor before leaving to join the Prisons Department, was very helpful and arranged my morning cup of tea from the canteen at 6.30 every morning.
Then, began my workout routine. The corridor in front of my cell was long enough for me to run 25 steps. I kept jogging up and down like a caged lion for the next half an hour, followed by floor exercises and yoga. I started yoga exercises with ‘Wajrasanya’ and finish with ‘Bugenshasanaya’. I was happy to perform ‘Wajroh Muditha’. There was no mobile phone to disturb me!
I am happy that before going home after his three-day turn, Prison Guard Madushanka gave me the best compliment I have received so far: “Sir, you sleep very well. You are snoring the whole night! Was I sleeping that well on the prison floor? The credit for that should go to the Sri Lanka Navy for training me to sleep anywhere, anytime.
Two Buddhist monks, the Chief Incumbent of Sunethradevi Pirivena and Uduwe Dhammaloka Theras visited me. They brought me books on meditation and blessed me for early release from the remand prison. I met my classmate, P. G. Nimalasiri, the owner of PG Martins. I met our dear ‘Marty’ near the Chief Jailer’s office. Marty has a special pass to enter the Welikada Prison; he has his vocational training centre in the Welikada Prison. He trains prisoners on leather goods production. These prisoners will know how to make leather products when they are released. I told Marty that I was fine and to tell that to my classmates of Royal
College class of 80, who were worrying bout me. I wish there would be more of such projects inside the prison by our kind business leaders.
The prison doctor visited me around 2.00pm. He kindly inquired after my health. I told him that I was fit as ever! Other than major injuries I have suffered in action and due to para Jumping and playing rugby, I am basically a fit person. I hardly reported sick during my entire service career. The prison doctor was very impressed because most of the so-called VIP inmates had themselves admitted to the Prison hospital, which is much more comfortable than a cell. I was not that desperate to report sick!
Anyway, I informed the good doctor that there was a possibility of a dengue outbreak due to the rain and also mosquitoes in the prison. He immediately arranged for fumigation. I was very lucky that I had South Korean-made mosquito repellent spray my brother had sent me. It was very effective, but instructions were in Korean on that plastic bottle. I could not read Korean, but I must say, it was very effective.
As the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), I was in-charge of the dengue eradication operation. We regularly cleaned canals, waterways and gardens with the help of our troops. The Health Ministry officials assisted us in detecting possible mosquito breeding sites, but we never went inside the Welikada Prison, which is a very large area in the centre of Colombo.
Three prison welfare officers came to see me in the evening. One of them was a student of our batchmate, music legend Chandimal Fernando, who had sent a message to me through him. This welfare officer taught music to prisoners. He required musica l instruments and support. I told him that I would get the support of the three services.
It was around 6.00pm. My dinner came in a tiffin-carrier all the way from home. It was lock-up time now. The guards started locking the cells and another two took the roll-call. Kitty and I would be locked up till the following morning.
Even though I spent a few more days in remand prison, I will end my note at this point. My message to you is very simple and clear. President John F Kennedy, the youngest elected President of the United States, who had commanded PT boats in the US Pacific theatre during World War II, in his 17-minute inauguration address to nation, had this to say: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” I, like all other members of the military, ask this myself every day. You also should ask yourself the same.
Do not worry about what happens to you. Do not think too much. Carry on with your life. Look after your loved ones. The karma we carry from previous births will determine your destiny. Do good and help others as much as you can. Be happy in any situation!
You may not be as lucky as I am to go to Prison, but you can visit, ‘Experience Cell’, in Fort Hammenhiel in Karainagar, maintained by the Sri Lanka Navy. You have to spend USD 100 a day to experience what it is like to be in prison. The cell you are going to use in Fort Hammenhiel is a historical one, where JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera and other JVP seniors such as Lionel Bopage, Upatissa Gamanayake were also kept there in 1971. This is the only place, where you see original handwriting of Wijeweera. Google ‘Fort Hammenhiel’ for more details. You are getting a prison uniform in Fort Hammenhiel. Food will be served on metal plates and water in metal cups just like in prison. You have to use common bathroom and toilets with squatting pans! You are detailed for hard labour and drill every day by a in Karaindrill instructor and PTI at Parade Square of the Fort. The lock-up is at 1830 hrs and the open-up at 0600 hrs. A reduction of five kilos of your weight within one week is assured.
Sorry state of rubber industry in SL
By Dr. L. M. K. Tillekeratne
Former Director RRI, UNIDO expert in Rubber Processing
Rubber plantation was established in Sri Lanka over the past nearly 10 decades for extracting latex for the manufacture of raw rubber grades namely Ribbed Smoked Sheets (RSS), latex crepe, technically specified rubber (TSR), the starting materials for the manufacture of moulded products such as tyres. Rubber latex in concentrated form is used to manufacture foam rubber and dipped products like household and medical gloves, condoms and balloons. With the spread of diseases such as AIDS, the demand for the natural rubber based medical gloves and condoms started rising rapidly in the mid-1980s.
Due to COVID-19, which is fast spreading all over the world, the demand for medical gloves used for examining patients and household gloves used in supermarkets, etc., is growing at an unexpected high rate, thereby increasing the demand for concentrated rubber latex. This trend is expected to rise further at least for the next two to three years until an effective vaccine is found for COVID-19; the developed nations like Japan, the US and some European countries have already decided to live with the Covid-19 next couple of years until an effective vaccine is developed. Hence if the rubber plantations in the country start following proven agro-management practices introduced by the RRI, without engaging in extracting latex over in excess of what is biologically available trees by using harmful extraction techniques such as stimulation, they will be able to reap benefits of this rising demand for latex. However, if trees are exploited above 100% efficiency level, the way some of the plantations are doing today, the day the rubber industry disappears from this country is not far off.
The main reason for some of the rubber estates finding it difficult to remain viable today is due to the drop in productivity in kg/ha/yr by over 50% during the last half decade to about 770 Kg/ha/yr, and it is declining further due to the adoption of incorrect agro management techniques totally rejected by the RRI. The countrywide productivity in 2013 was over 1,200 Kg/ha/yr and in 2018 it has dropped down to 774 kg/ha/yr purely due to bad management; this is not due to infertility of the soil or due to poor weather conditions.
It should be mentioned here with appreciation that some rubber plantation companies earn high profits purely as they followthe RRI recommended agro-management practices. They have also been able to show that the rain guards introduced by the RRI to minimise crop loss caused by rain interference on tapping have helped record an annual crop increase of over 30%. Now they are engaged in low frequency d4 or d5 tapping trials on their own, thereby vastly reducing the tapper shortage in their estates.
Harvesting of latex from the rubber tree is done by tapping the bark using tapping intensities recommended by the RRI. The S2d2 tapping system adopted in most part of the island is called the tapping system of 100% efficiency. This 100% efficient tapping technique is capable of giving biologically possible highest yield from a rubber tree over a period of over 24years. If attempts are made to over-extract latex over and above this recommendation, with the help of rash techniques tapping, panels dry up (TPD) thereby making the tree worthless. Further, due to the high intensity tapping the productive period of the tree too is reduced. Hence, in order to obtain satisfactory returns on the investment it is essential to adopt the RRI-approved techniques.
But, it is very sad to note that in most of the RPCC-managed estates, unwarranted bad extraction techniques to extract more latex from the trees (far above what is biologically possible to extract) is practiced and hence today in most of the estates the percentage of Tapping Panel Dried trees (TPD) present is over 50%. If proper agro practices are followed, this percentage should be below10%. In other words, more than half the healthy trees in such estates are without a bark to yield even a drop of latex. Virtually they are like culled cows in a dairy farm. Unfortunately, when you travel on the Colombo Ratnapura road or on the Colombo Matara highway, right along the road you see rubber estates with healthy trees with a big canopy. But, how many of you are aware that most of them are useless trees not yielding any latex due to the above reason.
There has been a proposal of growing other crops on rubber estates. Then what will happen to the rubber products industry earning over US $ 1.25 Bn annually? If such estates are used for other crops which demand more inputs and better care are also subjected to poor agro-management, can they earn profits? Then, what will be the damage caused to the environment?
If the RPCC-managed estates are economically unviable, it means they have not been properly managed; important inputs like fertilizer have been curtailed and exploitation has been intensified by totally ignoring the recommendations of the RRI to achieve short term high yields, thereby lowering productivity to unexpectedly low uneconomical levels. They have been trapped in a vicious circle. Therefore, action must be taken as early as possible to prevent the rubber industry from disappearing from our soil. If not, over 250,000 unskilled workers engaged in estates and over40 to 50,000 semi-skilled and skilled workers employed in the rubber products industry will have to find employment elsewhere.
Another factor that has contributed to this situation is the communication gap between the RRI scientists and the RPCC-managed plantation. The valuable rubber bulletin published twice a year compiling all research findings of scientists and economic analysis of the industry done by reputed economists both local and overseas has not been published since mid-2018. Regional meetings conducted to discuss new developments in the industry and on the plantation and the problems faced by the estate managers in their management activities have not been conducted for years after setting up of the plantation rehabilitation and monitoring committee by the Ministry of Plantation Industries. As a result, not only the RPCC but also the Rubber Development Department officers have been doing things the way they want without heeding the RRI recommendations. Scientific committee meetings conducted by the RRI for planters and the RDD officers have not been held for a long time. A case in point is the present clone balance of rubber planted in the country. Without heeding the pressing need to maintain a uniform plantation of five top quality group 1 clones namely RRIC 100, 102, 121 and Pb 216 and 28/59 covering 20% of the total extent from each, replanting has been done with whatever the clone that is easy to access in their nurseries. This recommendation was made by all the IRRDB member countries in 1986 to avoid mass destruction of the entire rubber plantation or a very high percentage of the total rubber extent in the country in case of a disease pandemic effecting one of the clones starts to spread in the plantation like what happened in mid-1980s to the clone RRIC 103.
A policy decision was taken by the MPI in 1995 to eliminate the low yielding clone Pb 86 from the plantation by destroying even the bud wood nurseries controlled by the RDD and RPCC. According to statistics published following a countrywide survey carried out by the RRI in 2012, even 15 years after banning the propagation of Pb 86 clone, there is still 29% Pb 86 on plantations. This means neither the RPCC nor the RDD has followed the ruling given by the MPI to eliminate this low yielder from the plantation. This factor also has contributed to the declining yield of the rubber plantation in the country. Further, the RRIC 121 population has reached 33% of the total extent, which is slightly more than the recommended norm. Hence, a decision has been taken by the MPI on the advice of the RRI to reintroduce RRIC 100 clone to the plantation and also to discourage planting 121 for some time.
According to the survey carried out by the RRI in 2020, the clone population in the country is in a worse situation now. According to this survey results RRIC 121 population in the whole country which includes SHH has risen to unexpectedly high level of 73% of the total extent while RRIC 100 population is stagnating at a low level of only 8%. Also, the group 1 recommended RRIC 102 clone population in the country is insignificant. A joint effort should be made by the RRI with RPCC and the RDD, to bring the clone balance in the country to a satisfactory level. If a pathogen affecting the clone RRIC 102 enters the Sri Lankan plantations, we may have to make a greater effort than that by the government to control COVID-19, to save the rubber estates.
Therefore, if the new government is to develop the rubber industry, it must first ensure a close interaction among the RRI and the RPCC, the RDD regional offices and resume inspections by the RRI officers in RPCC estates without further delay to identify the wrong procedures followed by them and advise them to adopt remedial measures. RRI must take immediate action to publish its bulletin regularly as in the past to educate farmers on new research developments. One must keep in mind that the damage done by the RPCC by following unacceptable exploitation techniques to draw latex from the trees far above what is biologically available, must be stopped immediately for the sustainability of this valuable industry highly beneficial to the economy of Sri Lanka and also equally to the environment of the country.
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