By Dr. Mahim Mendis
Response to the Article, “Shamelessness”,
by Prof. Sasanka Perera
Prof Sasanka Perera’s article published in The Island on 16 June, 2021, under the title, “Shamelessness”, helps us in “soul searching”, as to who exactly we are, ideologically, emotionally, and even spiritually. The only disadvantage right now is that the people are heavily burdened, as victims of multiple shocks by a regime that has no sense of dignity, public accountability, respectability, and credibility in addition to “shamelessness”, that Prof Sasanka Perera has added.
Prof Perera makes an enlightening statement with reference to Chinese Philosopher Meng Ke, that “Feeling shameful for doing something wrong is necessarily a core foundation for the emotional and ethical development of a person, as well as the society in which he or she lives”.
Yet, what has gone wrong for us as a nation, to be devoid of these traits, when compared to another island nation like Singapore with its post- colonial background? They were in fact an insignificant port city in the 1950’s, when Lee Kuan Yew was elected. Extremely Visionary with a very strong personality, Lee was however, humble enough to gain inspiration from Sri Lanka; a nation with great stature, comparatively during the same period.
ARE WE IN A NATIONAL CRISIS WITHOUT PROPER ETHOS/GRAND CONVICTIONS?
One could argue that it is a shame not to be driven by a formidable ethos in life as without an ethos, a person or an entire nation will be like a “Rudderless Boat”.
As much as Meng Ke, it is important for us to make sense of shamefulness. Let me refer to the Greek Philosopher, Aristole,who explained that an Ethos refers to a man’s character or personality, especially in its balance between passion and caution. Today ethos is used to refer to the practices or values that distinguish one person, organization, or society from others.
Aristotle, according to Krista C McCormack of Washington University, recognized the inherent truth that we believe good men more fully and more readily than others. Furthermore, Aristotle recognized, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker, or the leader, may be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.
A fundamental question in the context of Sri Lanka is whether we are a people with a clear ethos as individuals, as a society and as a country? Do we know what we in fact stand for now and stood for in the past ideologically? Adding to this burden, I often meet university academics, including so called professors from the present generation, who have not heard about Sir Ivor Jennings, the founding father of the University of Ceylon, and how he perceived the University as an institution.
LYING AND WORKING AGAINST OUR CONSCIENCE
Aren’t we a people, who probably know what is right and wrong, but willfully implement what is wrong without any shame? We even tend to lie without principles. History records clearly how Justice Mark Fernando, in 1991, gave a judgment from the Supreme Court in the Impeachment Case of Ranasinghe Premadasa, that Lalith Athulathmudali was guilty of “Lies and Deception”.
Such a verdict could have been avoided by Oxford-educated Athulathmudali, if he had an honourable ethos. So to be without shame is not a recent trait, but an old trait that we carry ever since Prince Vijaya landed in this island, having been deported by his father for being immoral in his own land.
LACK OF CONSCIENCE AS A NATIONAL TRAIT: CASE OF SRI LANKAN LEADERSHIP ON ENGLISH EDUCATION
To give a random example, an elderly person asked me recently, how I perceive the way the late Solomon Dias Bandaranaike named his son, as Solomon West Ridgeway, in the presence of the British Governor West Ridgeway. He said that his own illustrious father, a distinguished product of St. Thomas, College that Bandaranaike himself attended, would not have done such a thing, as this is a shameless opportunism without a conscience.
He said that such a standard of opportunism also inspired the son, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (SWRD), who benefitted from the Western Protestant ethic at St. Thomas’ College, Mount. Lavinia, and the University of Oxford. As a politician, SWRD became the father of the Sinhala Only Act, while knowing so well that this policy would deprive the ordinary people, the model of education that made him a polished personality during that time.
These issues are raised in good faith to provoke the imagination of the readers as to what would constitute “honour” or “dishonour”, as our leaders should have been role models with the type of privileged education they received. Role models in influencing fellow countrymen to act with a conscience. Also role models sharing with the countrymen what benefited them and their children.
WORKING WITH A CONSCIENCE: CASE OF SINGAPOREAN LEADERSHIP ON ENGLISH EDUCATION
Writing to the Time Magazine, in 2005, Simon Elegant and Michael Elliott, described Lee Kuan Yew as, “The Man Who Saw It All”, as the founding father of Modern Singapore, transforming an insignificant port city as a model state for the world.
This they said because Lee’s actions were firmly grounded on an ethos that he should share with the people of Singapore, what he himself benefited from. To think in terms of the big picture where all would live with dignity on a level playing field, enjoying the fruits of public policies for the Common Good of all Singaporeans.
Ironically, Sri Lankan leaders believed in the opposite and sabotaged the progressive reforms of C.W.W Kannangara, even going to the extent of depriving him of the Education Portfolio, in 1952.
Lee who was almost 24 years junior in age to SWRD who was educated at Oxford, had his university education at the University of Cambridge. About English education, he states in “My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey”, that, “We learn that there were four changes at the helm of the Education Ministry in four months in 1975. We learn that there were Chinese-medium schools in Singapore right up to the mid-1980s. We learn of the pain of “teachers who had to switch from teaching in Chinese to teaching in English, almost overnight”, and likewise that of students who were “caught mid-stream” in the transition from a Chinese medium of instruction to an English one.
As stated by a Singaporean analyst, “We learn why the National Day Rally of 1986, was a milestone and why he “was a proud man that day”: For the first time since Singapore’s independence, 21 years earlier, the Master of Ceremonies for the event did not have to use three languages – Chinese, Malay and Tamil – to lead the audience, as finally, English had become a language understood by all Singaporeans.
The lesson we should learn as Sri Lankans is that we should be sincere in heart and mind; in other words, decent men and women who will be objective enough to perceive issues without bias.
THE OPPOSITION LED BY SAJITH PREMADASA
The Opposition, led by Sajith Premadasa, decimating one of the oldest political parties that formed many Governments since independence, namely, the UNP, should be accepted without bias. SJB performance was a formidable achievement, that not even SWRD Bandaranaike was able to achieve after breaking away from the UNP, led by D.S Senanayake.
The JVP/JJB group, even with their vote base stagnating, continue to do their best, maximizing their own potential as a Left Wing alternative. To be fair by all, during the first year of the Gotabaya Rajapakse regime, with Covid- 19 dictating terms to all, they as an Opposition have been extremely active.
CYNICISM WILL UNDERMINE DEMOCRACY
In the case of the SJB, can any rational person say that he or she has seen the SJB functioning as a branch of the Government, as stated by Dr. Sasanka?
I would argue that to get out of this shameful political culture, we could achieve nothing by being cynical about the Opposition. All what we should do is to ensure that these parties represent an alternative socio-economic, political and cultural order to sustain democracy in Sri Lanka; not to undermine the democratic process and the parties vying for power.
In this context, we all know that Sajith Premadasa clearly represents a Social – Democratic alternative to the present regime, that will ensure economic development with the government and the private sector enabled to perform maximally. Today, with crony capitalism in Sri Lanka, no one can survive if one is not a close affiliate of the influential elements of the Government.
SJB also firmly believes in a foreign policy which is favourable, to relations with all countries irrespective of their ideologies, defined as “Positive Alignment”. This is driven by the national interest and the wellbeing of the majority, unlike what would happen for example, through the proposed Port City.
SJB’s policy on national security has much to do with social, political, economic and cultural security and not acute militarization of institutions that has today undermined the status of armed forces by taking over the functions of the trained officers of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service. Also to ensure that we would arrive at a viable political solution to the ethno-political crisis, by going beyond the 13th Amendment that the present regime threatens to abolish.
Similarly, the JJB believes in its own alternative. It would be dishonest to say that the SJB and the JJB do next to nothing as an opposition.
WAY FORWARD FOR GREATER DEMOCRACY
The role of the Opposition is to provide a viable alternative to the present regime with sound policies. The Government ironically with all the power it enjoys, continues to make a mockery of themselves, without a sense of direction.
Are we now saying that after one year of governance, the Government should be sacked immediately, and in this context, the Opposition has failed to organize street protests in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic?
If they did that, the same people would blame them for sabotaging the government. In my perception, we can be happy that Sajith Premadasa who polled 42% of the vote, against 58% by Gotabaya Rajapakse is not accused by anyone that he is sabotaging the work of the Government, as was the case of the Rajapaksa led constitutional coup, in 2019.
Let the people at this stage see for themselves and opt for a better alternative legitimately next time.
“Our ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business, and our politics”.-
Howard Zinn, American Historian, Playwright.
A ‘painless shot’ from Army
When I was told that the Army was administering Sinopharm Covid vaccinations at Viharamaha Devi Park with special provisions for individuals with disabilities, I decided to take my wife, herself a Rehabilitation Medicine Physician, but now afflicted with Alzheimers disease, for her Covid shot, not knowing quite what to expect.
At the driveway into the park an Officer in smart uniform stopped me and inquired politely if there was anyone with a disability. When I answered in the affirmative, indicating my wife, I was asked to drive in and given instructions where to park my vehicle. In the parking area, another army officer kindly directed me to park under the shade of a “Nuga” tree for my wife’s comfort and asked me to proceed to the Registration desk and obtain my vaccination card.
Walking the short distance to the registration desk I observed those awaiting the vaccination seated comfortably in shaded and green surroundings. There was even a vending machine which was, I presume to provide refreshments for those waiting.
The several registration desks were manned by smart young male and female army personnel. The gentleman who attended to me took down my details and when my contact number was given information that the owner of this phone number had already had the vaccination appeared on the computer correctly, as I had been already vaccinated. Now, I expected a typical “public servant’ response that the “rule” is that a contact number could be registered only once. However, the officer used his brain, and after listening to my wife’s situation proceeded to complete the form. Then came the consent form that had to be signed. When I explained that my wife was unable to do so again I expected him to say, “Then get a letter from a doctor saying she cannot sign.” But this officer who did not behave like a robot used his judgement and allowed me to sign the form.
The paper work having been duly completed, I was asked to bring my wife to get her shot. When I explained that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, I was directed to the doctor at the site. I walked up to the young yet professional looking doctor attired in scrubs. When I explained my position, he promptly directed a staff member to go along with me to the vehicle and administer the injection while my wife was still seated there.
I then inquired if the young man who was helping my wife could also get his vaccination, and “no problem” was the answer. And before I could say “Sinopharm” the whole procedure was done and dusted!
What first class service!
To be at the receiving end of empathy and kindness was indeed a satisfying experience.
My thanks and appreciation to the organisers of the vaccination programme at Viharmahdevi Park on Wednesday (21 July)
Those who are critical of the army playing a lead role in Covid pandemic control, please take note.
On ‘misinformation’ against Minister of Health
Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana (UW) is a regular contributor to this newspaper. His articles are almost always interesting and sometimes they provide valuable perspectives.
I find his criticism/castigation of the Minister of Health (MOH) in an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ (Island 19.07.2021) unfair and baseless. UW singles the MOH out as ‘the leader of the pack, undoubtedly is the Minister of Health who conveys wrong health messages’. This is erroneous and unwarranted
The main issues that UW quotes in support of his argument is that ‘she recently went to a shrine to thank a goddess for protecting her’ and ‘that she dropped pots in rivers to prevent the spread of the pandemic’.
From the onset of this pandemic a multitude of rituals have been conducted and they are still in force; all night Pirith, Bodhi Pooja, continuous chanting of the Ratana Suthraya, etc. The MOH releasing pots to the rivers that would wash down the ‘pandemic’ to the sea was one such ritual. A salient point to be appreciated is that while there is the possibility that the MOH herself believed in the effects of releasing these pots; this ritual was done primarily for the country/public rather than herself- hence the coverage on TV and news.
In contrast to this, her fulfilling a vow that she and/or her family made on her behalf when she was at death’s door, is based on a personal belief, and unlike the previous public action was done as an extremely private affair. If not for the fact that she is the MOH and her actions got reported in the press, none of us would have been even aware of this act. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has not fulfilled a vow; be it for himself or herself / siblings/ parents /children with regard to examinations, illnesses, promotions, etc…
None of these actions has any bearing on how the MOH has advised the public based on the counsel that she has received from her health officials and as such she is certainly not guilty of conveying any ‘wrong health messages’.
The MOH contracted Covid -19 because she was at the forefront of this epidemic and was constantly in touch with frontline workers. Not because she abandoned good health practices in favour of a cultural ritual! She had to be admitted to the IDH, was in the intensive care unit and according to medical sources was quite sick. We now see her on TV, the effects of the Covid-19 are apparent, a person who has had a near brush with death, fully cognizant of the danger of her current position. Certainly this would not have been something she signed up for when she took on the job as the MOH! This being the case, for UW, a doctor of medicine, to refer to ‘There are other idiotic politicians around the world who paid with their lives for the folly of not accepting the reality of a viral pandemic’ is not worthy of a healer.
Having recovered from her illness the MOH at a press conference publicly thanked her medical team for the effort they put into saving her life. I am sure that she would have thanked them personally as well. UW concludes his diatribe against her saying ‘Her life was saved not by goddesses, but by the excellent doctors, nurses and other health professionals Sri Lanka is blessed with. A person who is unable to even grasp that reality surely does not deserve to be the Minister of Health’. Is UW seriously suggesting to this readership that the MOH is unaware of the difference between science and culture? Is it his contention that anyone who engages in a religious /cultural ritual has no grasp of reality?
As a side note I am amused by the use of the term ‘Sri Lanka is blessed with ’. Based on UW’s logic ‘who are highly trained in Sri Lanka’ ought to have been a more appropriate term as blessings have nothing to do with a scientific reality!
Dr. Sumedha S. Amarasekara
Night soil as fertiliser
I write with reference to a letter on night soil as a source of fertiliser by my good friend Upali Wickremasinghe which appeared in the Island of 17/07.
In the first place we were not talking of ammonium sulphate only but all chemical fertilisers vs compost as the sole supplier of nutrients for successful crop growth.
His suggestion to use night soil is an invitation to revisit the smelly past. It is true that some Asian countries and Sri Lanka too used this on a very limited scale many years ago mostly on home gardens.Our concern is on much larger holdings. Irrespective of the scale of operation the implementation poses many problems,
Outdoor latrines have to be built. Who collects and cleans the buckets used? In the olden days scavengers were employed. Today, we attach more respect and dignity to human labour. These kinds of latrines particularly around Negombo were designed for the pigs reared on the range. Repulsive no doubt. I remember a story I heard as a child. A state councilor who visited a friend in Negombo spent a night with him. The following morning when using the toilet he was amazed to find a pig catching his dropping in midair. He is supposed to have commented that although he had been a state councilor for many years it was the only day that his motion was carried! There was also a practice to tether buffalows to coconut palms overnight. Their dung and the urine nourished the palms.
I will not elaborate on the sanitary and enviorenmental issues which are bound to be overwhelming
Some theoretical concepts cannot be adopted in practice particularly on large scale. UW talks of some girls in Nigeria generating electricity from urine, One could also conceptualise to extract sugar from the urine of diabetics. How feasible is it?
UW in earnest implores to find ones roots. Whatever it means it cannot be scattering human waste all over.
Let us view the fertiliser issue crippling the farmer and the nation more seriously.
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