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Yet More About the Burghers of Ceylon/ Sri Lanka

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Remembered Yesterdays

by J. Godwin Perera

Of those Burghers, Oh! Those Burghers, we can only dream In the Arts, in Sports, in Law , or the Groves of Academe They were the brightest of the bright, the very, very, best. Whether North or South of Lanka, whether East or West.

The Burghers were indeed a very talented and dedicated community. They were a minority in numbers, but their contribution to this country was major in every sense of the word.

Unfortunately for this country the post 1956, cry of ‘Sinhala Only’ and allegations made by political demagogues that the Burghers were breeding a ‘thuppai culture,’ ringing in their ears they left for pastures new. Specially to Australia. Sri Lanka’s loss was Australia’s gain.

It will be recalled that the writer had submitted a previous article on the Burghers. It set off refreshing (many) and recriminating (few) ripples. Those whose names were not there but should have been there were pointed out. Those whose names were there but should not have been there were also pointed out. This then is another attempt to create more ripples. But trepidation tugs at the elbow. The Muse murmurs ‘Don’t rush in where even angels fear to tread.’ But determination gets the better of discretion.

But first a necessary clarification as to who is a Burgher?

The term ‘Burgher’ cannot be loosely used. It was defined by law in 1883 by the then Chief Justice before a Royal Commission by which a Burgher was one whose father was born in Ceylon having at least one European ancestor on one’s direct paternal side, regardless of the ethnic group of the mother or whatever other ethnic groups may be found on the father’s side. This is why true Burghers always have European surnames. Hence you will find names strung along the alphabet from – Anthonisz to Ludowyk to Weinman.

However there was one problem with one of these names. Pereira – spelt with an ‘i’ was Burgher. Perera spelt without and ‘i’ was Sinhala. But this problem became a trifle complicated because there was another group of Pereiras who were neither Burgher nor Sinhala. They belonged to the Baratha’s community.

Let’s now start the ripples flowing. NB: Since this article is not segmented by professions or surnames, the Burgher names are in bold letters. After all ‘B’ for Burgher. ‘B’ for bold.

Since cricket is much in the news with our own LPL tournament successfully concluded and the Jaffna Stallions emerging victorious. Here is something to think about and discuss over a beer. Playing for St Joseph’s College in their match against Royal in 1952, Milroy Brohier pummeled the Royal bowling to score 174 in just over 2 hours. Royal scored only 74 in the 1st innings and 79 in the second innings giving St Joseph’s an innings and 314 run victory. It must be noted that Milroy’s score by itself exceeded Royal’s total score in that match. Will a cricket statistician clarify whether this an all-time record in the annals of Inter-School cricket in Sri Lanka ?

Now that the Jaffna Stallions have got an honorable mention, remember that hilarious comedy ‘He Comes from Jaffna.’ It was written by Prof. E. F. C Ludowyk who was a Shakespearean scholar, author and playwright. When the University College was converted to the University of Ceylon he was appointed as the first Professor of English in 1942. Later in 1952 he was appointed as the first Dean of the Faculty of Arts, in the University of Peradeniya. Amongst his other literary works are ‘ The Footprint of the Buddha’ and ‘The Modern History of Ceylon.’

Since we are on the subject of history it is appropriate to mention Dr Richard Gerald Anthonisz. He was a lawyer, educationist, civil servant. Educated at the Colombo Academy – now Royal College. He served for a short term as Headmaster of Richmond College, Galle. Being a keen student of Dutch history he was appointed to a new post of Examiner of Dutch Records. He was then appointed to another new post of Government Archivist and Librarian of the former Department of Archives. This is now the Department of National Archives.

The mention of Royal College makes it necessary to mention someone who saved the very institution of Royal from being wiped off the educational black-board of this country. He was Fredrick Dornhorst. He was a Barrister and one of the first King’s Counsels of the Ceylon. He was a most illustrious product of Royal College. His brilliant and eloquent speech at the Royal College Prize Giving in 1916 was able to convince the higher authorities of the Colonial Government to abandon the idea of replacing Royal College with a University College. Royal’s most prestigious prize for the Most Outstanding Student was named in memory of Fredrick Dornhorst.

And when it comes to memory who can ever forget Ramani Bartholomeusz. She had an ethereal beauty which endeared her to her thousands of fans. She was an actress and model. She was crowned Miss Sri Lanka in 1985 and then represented the country at the Miss Universe Pageant in that year. Ramani died under very tragic circumstances at the tender age of 20 years. Many tears were shed.

But what has happened as happened. So let’s change the subject from the heart-breaking to the humorous. Hence we mention Aubrey Collette.

He had the knack of transforming serious issues into cartoons which were incisive, satirical and humorous. These appeared in the Times of Ceylon and Sunday Observer during the early post independent years. He displayed a deep insight into the foibles and failures of politicians. In fact with his cartoons he played around with the political elite. They in turn were delighted at being featured. This brings us to the political elite. Pieter Keuneman. At Royal College he was an outstanding sportsman and student as Leader of the Debating Team, Rugger Coloursman, Prefect, winner of the Shakespeare Prize and the Dornhorst Prize which was the most prestigious prize at Royal. He had an equally brilliant academic career at Cambridge University where he gained a BA Tripos in History, Sociology and English Literature. It was here that he became an ardent Communist. He was appointed Minister of Housing and Construction in the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Cabinet of 1970.

And in recording political appointments let’s move over to Dr Richard Leslie Brohier. Educated at the Colombo Academy – now Royal College he was the first Ceylonese to join the Survey Department and rose to be Deputy Surveyor General. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and the Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Our first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake making a personal request, appointed him as Chairman of the Gal Oya Development Board.

And from here it’s a leap to the prestigious Civil Service and so to Neville Jansz . He too was educated at Royal College. ( Thanks to Dornhorst it’s ‘Esto Perpetua’ for Royal – No hard feelings dear Thomians!) From where he then entered the University College, Colombo which was affiliated to the University of London. He then qualified to enter the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service and was appointed as the country’s High Commisionder to Australia. He was then appointed Director –General of the Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence and External Affairs.

And referring to the defence of our island’s borders we have our own navy which makes us turn to Rear Admiral D.V.Hunter – Commander the Navy from July 2, 1970 to March 31, 1973. He had the distinction of being within the historic transition when the Royal Ceylon Navy became Sri Lanka Navy on May 22, 1972.

But even as this is being written the admonition of the Editor can be heard. ‘There’s limited space for you my friend. Do not exceed it ’. OK Sir. Your will be done. PS: May there be no recriminating ripples this time!!!

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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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Features

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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