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Women of Sri Lanka should emerge to the forefront in 2021

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I present to my readers this first article of Nan’s for 2021 with affectionate good wishes for a much better year than 2020. I well remember in my first article last year, I said the very sound of the year – twenty twenty – slipping off the tongue so easily, is propitious. How wrong I was. But silver linings are always there; they only need seeking and seeing. The candle of hope should be kept burning, difficult though it be.

The entire world was totally skewed by Covid 19. However the countries that were least affected and managed to have their New Normal very akin to the normal they were used to, were almost all headed by women. Examples I need hardly spell out as everyone knows how New Zealand recovered from the pandemic almost totally, led by PM Jacinda Arden, so also Taiwan with President Tsai Ing-wen, while of the European countries, Angela Merkel steered her nation the most competently. Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has a very hard time, sandwiched as she is between mainland China, becoming more aggressive, and democracy demanding protesters, but her poise and determination are obvious.

Hence my contention that women in our country should move forwards, taking greater responsibility in steering Sri Lanka to recover as hastily as possible from present troubles. I don’t mean here take over the leadership. Not at all! We have competent leaders in the two highest posts and the Opposition, but within these ranks are some very competent women who should be drawn to centre stage. It’s only Pavithra Wanniarachchi who is a VIP now and she has let herself down badly in several ways. No example at all to emulate. I have heard on TV panel discussions new politicians like a young JVPer with a doctorate and Lihini Fernando of the SJB, so very communicative in English and so very different from such as traitorous

Diana Gamage who let down the SJB; we suppose for kickback or quick kick-up in politics. She is now lost in the wilderness. Women definitely usher in honesty, or thus in most cases. We need urgently a cessation of corruption and dishonest deals,

Greatest women in Buddhism.

The thought or rather hope I mentioned in the previous paragraph is due to the faith I have in women’s steady, honest capability. Also we have just had Unduvap Poya which in Sri Lanka is considered a month for celebrating women. Why? Because of Theri Sanghamitta. Thus my thoughts moving to promote women of our country this year and ones to follow, with outstanding women followers of the Buddha.

 

Theri Sanghamitta

Sanghamitta was the eldest daughter of Emperor Ashoka (304 BC – 232 BC) and his first wife, Devi. Together with her brother Mahinda, she entered the Buddhist Sangha. Mahinda Thera travelled to Lanka to introduce the teachings of Buddha at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa (250 BC – 210 BC). With him came a young samanera – son of Sanghamitta. When the king’s sister-in-law, Anula Devi desired ordination, he made a second request to Emperor Ashoka. Thus Theri Sanghamitta, on her own insistence, was sent to Sri Lanka together with several other nuns. She established the Order of Nuns or Meheni Sasna in Anuradhapura, and thus conferred equality on women which equality the Buddha proclaimed and Buddhism follows. She lived to a ripe old age, happy in Lanka.

 

Yasodhara

The ancient history of Buddhism has many great women of saintliness and perseverence: Prajapati Gotami, Prince Siddhartha’s foster mother and his chief female devotee – Visahka. Kisa Gotami and Patachara are made much of as their stories encompass life’s tragedies, but rising above with the help of compassionate Buddha. To me however, the very greatest is Yashodara, wife of Siddhartha Gautama, through many lives in samsara, to end with the Prince attaining enlightenment and Yashodara getting ordained and becoming an arahant.

She was neglected and even I did not consider her character until script writer and director – Prof Sunil Ariyaratne – presented to us his 2018 film Bimba Devi hewath Yashodara.

The entire film runs true to the life of the Buddha as recorded in the Buddhist Canon. It is a narrative beginning eons ago and dealing in detail with the life of Siddhartha Gautama and Yashodara with all important incidents shown. The film starts with a group of bhikkhunis trekking with the voice of Yashodara saying that she is old and near death and walks to where the Buddha is to die after seeing him for the last time.

The most striking of her character traits is her deep understanding and empathizing. She was happily married to Prince Siddhartha but knew before long he was seeking the truth of life; given a glimpse of suffering in his guarded life by his father who had been warned he would either become a great king or hermit. He saw a sick man and a corpse being carried for cremation. The urge to find a solution to humankind’s suffering had come through many samsaric lives and it had to be fulfilled in his present princely life. He had told Yashodara about this and his father and foster mother, requesting his stepbrother be made heir to the throne of Kapilavastu. Yashodara’s only request was that he leave her when she was asleep. He did so soon after their child, Rahula, was born.

Her sacrifice was intense but readily made. When she heard Siddhartha was suffering ascetic restraint, she slept on the floor and gave up luxuries. Her sacrificing her husband and allowing him to go his way is admirable. As a nun who spoke on TV on poya – Dec. 29 – emphasized, never once did she complain about being ‘deserted’ as she knew, carrying that through many lives, that he had to go seek the Truth of existence to help all mankind. She also realized that the Buddha had a great gift to give her son. Knowing, I suppose, that the Buddha might ordain the child, she sent him to meet his father when the Buddha visited Kapilwastu when Rahula was seven years old, directing him to ask for his inheritance.

She gladly decided to go forth renouncing her royal life when her responsibilities to family were over, showing immense steadfastness.

Her determination is evident in wearing the robes of a Bhikkhuni and striving and attaining arahatship. Her femininity comes in here. She decides to see the Buddha for the last time and die where he was resident. Hence her long last journey.

The nun I mentioned also said that being a mere housewife is not mundane and of no use to the nation. Bringing up her children well is her duty, which is almost always done well. Women have inner strength and most importantly are not swayed by desires for even money. Against so many scandals swirling around men leaders, women at the tops of countries usually emerge untainted. Hence our need for more women in active government and the Opposition. Let 2021 revert from being second and third waves of C19 and rampant corruption to the Year of Sri Lankan women!

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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