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When a Diplomat and 'once a Diplomat' cycle to nowhere

The Dutch are obsessed with cycles. The Ambassadress for Netherlands in Sri Lanka, Her Excellency Ms. Joanne Doornewaard, no doubt is too. She therefore proposed “cycling around” instead of “driving around”. Ms. Doornewaard with the Colombo Municipal Council Mayoress, launched the first ever project they called “CarFreeCMB”, for six hours in Colombo city on anything that is not motorised. “Car free Colombo” was Sunday 14 July, when Ambassadress Doornewaard and Mayoress of Colombo city, onetime diplomat Rosy Senanayake got on cycles and were given publicity in mainstream and social media.

What were they out to achieve? From what they told media, they intend reducing public dependency on motor vehicles and promote a healthier and more sustainable urban lifestyle. They called people to come play on the streets, roller skate, walk and do anything other than run on vehicles. This was announced as a “pilot effort” initially tried out once every month. The launch was not about reducing use of motor vehicles at least during the 06 hours announced. Vehicles were re-routed instead, by closing a few kilometres of city roads. Also, except for a media briefing, there was no campaign in creating awareness on why motor vehicle use should be substituted by cycle use. Most importantly, there was no stress and importance given to city air pollution and major traffic issues that has other reasons, why increasing numbers of private vehicles are on the streets.

Netherlands had a tradition of using cycles pre WW II. They gave up on that after WW II. Present Netherlands became a “cycling nation” once again through sheer public agitations in the 70’s. In the 50s and in the 60s with a steep rise in private vehicle use, Netherlands experienced an increasing number of road deaths that shook them as a society. In 1971, Netherlands experienced over 3,000 road deaths that included 450 children. In response, the “Stop de Kindermoord” (Stop Child Murder) public campaign that emerged, grew into a strong civil movement demanding safer cycling paths for children that changed the entire landscape of public commuting. The 1973 petroleum crisis also played a motivator and helped the shift to cycle use.

We have far more serious crises at hand, but don’t have such social outcry. The CEA official website says, “Annual averages of ambient PM10 level in Colombo over the years have remained relatively within the 60 to 82 µg/m3 range with a slight decreasing trend from 1998 to 2011.. ……These values, however, consistently exceeded WHO latest guideline value of 50 µg/m3 for PM-10. Thus Colombo city is very unhealthy in terms of its particulate pollution.” The same source says, “Regulations for vehicle horn noise control was gazetted (no details though) and vehicle horn noise testing program was implemented to aware and control noise pollution caused by vehicles.” (accessed on 17 July 2019). On police records, last year alone, 3,164 deaths had occurred on Sri Lankan roads.

The “car free Colombo” campaign, did not bring any of those major issues into focus. This “cycle campaign” therefore was seen as and is, an urban middleclass “health exercise” and nothing more. As Mayoress of Colombo, if Rosie Senanayake is serious about reducing vehicular volume on its roads, “CarFreeCMB” is not the campaign slogan to use. Nor is closing roads once a month for cycling going to be anything serious. A more practical theme would be “CycleToSchool”. All government schools from 1962 admit children to “Year One” on the distance to school from “home” that initially was a maximum of 02 miles. For all popular and leading schools in Colombo, that distance came to be reduced over the decades due to the crazy scramble for admission. Distance to them now is less than 01 km. One km is a distance all children can even walk to school and back. With over 55,000 students in the 10 leading public schools alone within Colombo city, campaigning for “CycleToSchool”, should technically stop school vans and buses and even cars that transport children to school.

Yet in Colombo, that would be one of the hardest tasks ever to achieve. It has other dynamics at play. Nevertheless, the campaign “CycleToSchool” if launched, would expose one of the biggest scams in this country, Rosie Senanayake could take pride in exposing as the City Mayoress. Almost 90 percent of the “Year One” admissions are on “false documents” obtained through official channels to prove “false residency” as permanent. That remains the reason for school vans, school buses and cars to operate from as far as Aluthgama, Eheliyagoda, Gampaha and Negambo. A phased out “CycleToSchool” campaign to remove long distance school transport stand valid in answering the major traffic issue in Colombo and air and noise pollution as well.


Cycling as a mode of transport can only be introduced as part of a “public commuting” programme in the City. As Mayoress responsible for convenient commuting in her city, she has every right to take over “city commuting” under the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). She could revive the “Tram car” or the “Trolley bus” service the CMC owned from 1944 and ran till M.H. Mohamed as UNP Mayor scrapped the service in 1965 instead of settling the Trolley bus workers’ strike. Bonus in having a fast moving, Tram car or Trolley bus service in the city is, they are “Carbon free”, running on electricity and is “green commuting”.

Sri Lanka’s eternal city traffic jams and increasing hazardous air and noise pollution has many vested interests and many unnecessary factors accommodated. There is no stopping people buying their own 02 wheel or 04 wheel private vehicle, in a society the governments ignore the responsibility of establishing an efficient, comfortable and an affordable public transport system. In that context vehicle buying is very much accelerated in a free market economy which promotes selling of any commodity with leasing and part payments; everything from a mobile phone to a high-powered super luxury four-wheeler. For governments in search of revenue, allowing unrestricted import of vehicles provide a source of steady revenue that in 2017 had been Rs.230,000 million (IRD Performance Report 2017) plus around Rs. 290 million from licenses issued by the Import and Export Control Department, for import of vehicles. There is more revenue at the RMV Department as well as with the “Carbon” tax added to the previous “emission tax”. The simple logic is, more vehicles on roads, more revenue for poverty struck governments. For politicians in power, adjustments to taxes and duties levied, often provide many untold and unspoken of privileges and profits.

Numbers say it all. In 2017 from new registration of 451,653 vehicles, around 50 percent were motor bicycles, around 15,000 were 3Ws, while the rest were all 04 wheelers. That works out to about 208,000 4W vehicles imported in 2017. Leaving a margin of about 10 percent for public and agricultural purposes, new private vehicles registered in 2017 total to about 190,000 vehicles. (calculated from RMV data)

It is a vicious cycle. More vehicles on roads for government revenue in turn increase import of fuel. That adds to city pollution as return. Once again, in a free market economy dominated by the “filthy rich”, fuel import is an extremely profitable business for middlemen. In 2014 Sri Lanka imported 36,480 crude oil barrels per day and was the 58 largest crude oil importer in the world, that year. The cost was 2.1 million US dollars per day (The World Factbook). Despite fluctuation of prices in the global oil market, the total burden on the national economy would not have had any worthwhile difference, in reducing the burden.

In terms of the burden People have to bear, in 2017, total revenue from “exports” was 17 billion US dollars (SLCB). That reads as 46.6 million US dollars a day. On a very conservative calculation, if the c.i.f value of importing a vehicle is left at 18,000 US dollars at an average, the total cost on private vehicle imports in 2017 would have been around 9.6 million US dollars a day. This proves, out of 46.6 million US dollar income per day, we are spending 11.7 US dollars a day for import of vehicles and fuel only. This chaos is in the increase. Currently Sri Lanka has a total of 6.6 million vehicles including 3.5 million motor bikes on the roads. Obviously, it is waste of fuel and productive time of People in disgusting traffic jams, morning and evening.

Yet Sri Lanka is one among the “eternally developing” countries that pays no attention to efficient, comfortable and affordable public transport as a profitable way out of this nightmare on city roads. The whole focus is on widening roads, construction of overhead bridges and adding “highways” with speed limits. Lately with the Megapolis urban transport project, the “light rails” are also on board at an unbelievably high cost. Within this awfully filthy, free market economy, every heavy construction related project with mega budgets are loaded as solutions to problems. That’s where the money is for everyone involved in numerous ways.

To get out of this dirty mess, Colombo “ratepayers” should demand for a “Carbon free” city with an efficient, comfortable and an affordable inter city public commuting service. Before cycles are brought in, Sri Lanka should replicate the Dutch slogan “Stop de Kindermoord” (Stop Child Murder) with our own “Stop killing our time” slogan. Demand for a decent public commuting service the CMC and the government are both responsible for.

Kusal Perera

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Phir Ek Baar Mahinda Sarkar: 2019 elections & Modi to Mahinda

Phir Ek Baar Mahinda Sarkar: 2019 elections & Modi to Mahinda

By Kusal Perera

Many interpretations and analyses on the “Modi phenomenon” have already flooded the public domain after 2019 Lok Sabha elections concluded in India. For Indians Modi’s explosive return would have different meanings than to her neighbours. For Sri Lanka, it would be as much the same as all that for the Indians with SL elections only 06 months ahead.

Phased out Indian Lok Sabha elections with over 67 percent of the 900 million registered voters going to polls with 15 million “first time voters”, proved the BJP theme

slogan "Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar" (Modi once more) was more than valid. In alliance with Shiv Sena, AIADMK, Janata Dal and with 17 other tiny regional parties, forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), BJP won a phenomenal 303 seats for itself while the NDA totalled around 354 seats in the 543 seat Lok Sabha. BJP polled over 38 percent of the total votes polled.

Comparisons with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections show BJP as a “Modi phenomenon” has gained greater dominance in all sectors of the Indian population and in most States, across caste and class. In 2014 elections the BJP polled 17.7 percent from Scheduled Caste (SC) votes and have increased that almost twofold polling 34.3 percent this election. BJP polled 38.2 percent from Scheduled Tribes (ST) in 2014 and increased it to 42.2 percent this time. From the poorest 20 percent of the population BJP polled 31.9 percent in 2014 and increased that to 39.2 this election. From the richest top 20 percent, the BJP increased from 27.8 in 2014 to 33.1 percent. Considered the rich urban middleclass, the second 20 percent from the top, also voted more with BJP increasing from 27.7 percent in 2014 to 33.0 percent. On the rural-urban divide too, the BJP increased its number of constituencies from 190 in 2014 to 207 this election in rural India and from 53 to 58 in semi urban India, while maintaining the same 40 urban seats.

Where the BJP lost or was comparatively reduced was in Constituencies with high Muslim concentrations of over and above 30 percent. While that was obvious or was close to what should be obvious, everything else in this Modi victory is not “obvious”. Seen steadfastly gaining ground as lead campaigner of the Indian Congress Party led alliance, Rahul Gandhi was firing on “false promises” by Modi and accusing him “Modi ne loota hai” (Modi has looted), but lost his seat Amethi in UP, the ancestral constituency of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Firebrand student leader from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Kanhaiya Kumar who was charged for sedition in 2016, contested as CPI candidate for Begusarai once known as “Leningrad” of Bihar. He emerged as the star campaigner backed by high profile personalities like Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar and Swara Bhaskar. A seat, Kanhaiya Kumar was expected to win, but lost to BJP hard line Hindutva Candidate Giriraj Singh by a huge margin of over 422,000 votes.

Modi wiped out all others in most States except in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra. How did Modi become post independent India’s most charismatic vote puller? India’s “independence movement” led by Gandhi, Nehru and the likes of Ali Jinnah, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajagopalachari, Lal Bahadhur Shashtri to name just a few, was turned into an inclusive national dialogue with respected and popular literati like Rabindranath Tagore, Subramania Bharathi, Muhammad Iqbal, Chattopadhyay, feminist campaigners like Sarojini Naidu and Begum Rokeya, champions of social justice like Ambedkar providing an extremely broad and diverse platform. Politics of the “independence movement” thus came to be sealed as both secular and inclusive. Post independent India led by the Congress Party with Jawaharlal Nehru, and a Constitution which identified and accepted regional diversity on “linguistic differences” carried with it a democratic, secular and an inclusive social psyche.

What gave way for the Modi phenomenon was the fact he accepted “linguistic diversity” but turned “religious diversity” into a “religious divide”. In democratic, nationalist and secular India constituted as a “Republic” did not accept “religious diversity” as a political factor in its independence movement though Hindu reformist and revivalist movements were alive. By 1925 Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s “Hindu Nationalism” was given organisational form as “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” (RSS) by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar a physician in Maharashtra. By 1946 Ali Jinnah added another dimension to religious politics demanding a separate State on the basis of Islam as a religion. Proscription of RSS first after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, thereafter during Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule during 1975 to 1977 and then for its role in the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 gave legitimacy to RSS as a Hindu nationalist campaigner, while Jinnah’s political move in creating Pakistan, East and West of India, provided RSS with undue advantage of peddling Hindu ideology as “anti Islam”.

Yet for more than 02 decades time wasn’t right for Bharathiya Jana Sangh (BJS) formed in 1951 to be accepted as an “alternate” to secular politics of the Congress. BJS came to be recognised post 1977 after secular democratic politics of Congress went into crisis with poverty and economic stagnation. Contradicting its own “democratic” tradition, PM Indira Gandhi clamped down “Emergency Rule” in 1975. With a crisis around, RSS had begun militant activism with the early formation of affiliates like the “Vishva Hindu Parishad” (VHP) that later led to the formation of the BJP and also far more extreme new groups like Abhinav Bharath, Shiv Sena, asserting themselves aggressively in Hindu society. Emergence of the BJP with RSS backing thus became an alternative to secular politics of Nehru-Gandhi Congress with a Hindutva ideology tied to free market economics. After many electoral upsets, the RSS and BJP worked towards a strong Hindu voter base with an “anti Muslim flavour” that was being created outside political parties. There wer e violent attacks on Muslim communities like in Gujarat, Malegaon, Samjhauta train bombing, Ajmer Dargha blast and in Hyderabad the Mecca Masjid bombing.

The RSS by then had groomed its successor to Vajpayee in Narendra Modi who was publicly accused as responsible for the massacre of Muslim people in Gujarat, one year after he became the Chief Minister. Spate of attacks on Muslim people and on Mosques hardened Hindutva politics that by 2013 qualified Narendra Modi to be declared the BJP prime ministerial candidate. Modi’s 2014 election campaign therefore was basically a challenge to democratic secularism of Congress on a Hindutva nationalist platform within the free market economy.

BJP with Modi was heavily funded in their electoral campaign by the Corporates. That clearly indicated the Hindu Corporate lobby too wanted a Neo liberal leader of their own. Their election campaign was more about “development” showcasing the “Gujarat model” under Modi as the most vibrant alternative to Congress politics. Election campaign was a two-tiered campaign with RSS and its affiliates working on the ground ensuring a large Hindu turn out at polls, while the BJP and Modi downplayed their Hindutva image at national level. Modi’s efforts in making him look secular and a determined “development Guru” against “corruption” attracted the Urban middle class that came out on streets with Anna Hazare, against mega corruption of the Congress government.

The explosive comeback of Modi at this 2019 elections, should therefore be assessed on two different aspects of “politics in governance”. One, politics of his image building as a strong Hindu leader, and two, his politics in economic policy focussing the urban and rural middle class with populist offers to the poor. In the first two years as PM after the 2014 elections, Modi worked towards centralising the otherwise devolved State power. He had a bill passed in Lok Sabha to have more power in appointing Judges and reducing that of the judiciary. In his first year itself Modi took advantage of accusations and allegations against the policy designing apex body “Planning Commission” for inefficiency and lack innovative development programmes, to replace it with his own; National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) – Aayog. This in effect reduced horizontal accountability in developing policy and space for State governments to negotiate with the Central government despite promises for “co-operative federalism”. His appointments to high posts too were aimed at more centralised power around him. He thus gave himself greater ability to stand above executive power of the government.

Government economic policy could thus be implemented without a Lok Sabha “nod” and they became “Modi policy” more than BJP government policy. His heavy stress on social media in emerging as a strong national leader, thus appealed to youth and the urban middle class. This creation of a strong leader in Modi, was backed by bringing RSS into active mainstream politics and allowing Hindutva goons to go about lynching, attacking, vandalising Muslim life with impunity. His image with greatly centralised executive power was thus moulded within brutalised “Hinduism” of RSS as a political force and not within religious “fundamentalism”.

A strong leader at the Centre, who could manage and sustain an economic growth, was seen as the most formidable alternative to Rahul Gandhi and his Congress when April 2019 elections were approaching. Inability of Congress politics to challenge inequality, social injustice and anti Muslim violence backed by the Modi rule within a truly democratic development alternative left Modi with his Hindutva majoritarianism as the dominant factor in current Indian politics. A free market economy Modi sustained with a 7.0 percent growth rate as the fastest growing economy, tied the growing middleclass with Modi rule. Thus, while anti Muslim violence was moving around with impunity, there was no social questioning, how 01 percent of the richest in India under Modi could accumulate 73 percent of the wealth created in 2017. How 67 million people who are the bottom half of the poorest in India was left with only 01 percent increase in wealth. There is also no social debate on how 09 billionaires till year 2000, galloped to 101 in 2017 and now to 119 billionaires, just 05 years with Modi. It is said, a minimum wage worker in rural India would take 941 years to reach the income of a top executive in a leading apparel sector company in India. (Oxfam - https://www.oxfam.org/en/even-it/india-extreme-inequality-numbers)

Summing up this socio economic crisis, Professor Himanshu of JNU is on record saying, “What is particularly worrying in India’s case is that economic inequality is being added to a society that is already fractured along the lines of caste, religion, region and gender.” Yet when they are not brought to mainstream politics as major issues by Opposition political parties, when urban middleclass and social intelligentsia goes without demanding serious answers, Modi gains social and media space to run his own Hindutva agenda. Over the past years, everything negative and brutal including corruption was brushed with a new and an aggressive “Hindutva” fragrance breathed into society to project Modi as the nationalist leader for India to emerge as a world power. Nationalist image for a super power was lacking in Rahul and his Conservative politics, while Modi used recent conflicts with China and Pakistan to his advantage. He gave them the spin on his election platforms to project him as the patriotic Hindutva leader who dictated terms for the benefit of India.

In a nutshell, despite all orthodox challenges to his economic policy, Modi proved he could manage the free market economy for the benefit of the Hindutva majority and keep India safe and growing, with violence against Muslims, savagely widening inequality and crying social injustice all ignored and covered up by an aggressively dominant Hindutva campaign to poll 38 percent of the Indian vote that gave him a disproportionately large comeback that makes him a political legend in post independent history of India.

This same majoritarianism is more than apparent in Sri Lanka. Recent violent and brutal Easter Sunday attacks on 03 Catholic churches and 03 super luxury hotels in Colombo by a small extremist group that does not seem to have much training and expertise. It was more like self-hypnotised few Islamic extremists walking in wearing back-packs with explosives to explode themselves. But these brutal attacks were immediately turned into anti Muslim politics with violent attacks on innocent Muslim people far away from where the extremists exploded themselves. They are now being justified with unbelievable anti Muslim stories, the mainstream political leaderships don’t dissociate from. The RSS, the VHP and the like have similar anti Muslim violent outfits, patronised by mainstream politics. Fumbling of the economy and mis-governance by the present UNP allows the main Rajapaksa opposition to go one step beyond Modi, with the advantage of challenging a fractured and a feeble government. President Sirisena is making a valiant bid to be relevant within the now emerging anti Muslim, Sinhala Buddhist politics. The ground is being readied for elections that would take the same campaign trail, which brought back Modi with unexpected and uncalculated margins that none ever thought was possible other then Modi and his extreme Hindutva politics.

In months to come, with all indications of dressing up Modi like, the slogan here could also be "Phir Ek Baar Mahinda Sarkar" (Mahinda once more). The “Lotus bud” voters can then sing praise "Chalo Ek Baar Phir Ham Mahinda Sarkar Banate Hai / Garv Ke Sath Desh Ko Age Badhate Hain/ Phir se Kamal Khilate Hai (lets elect Mahinda government again, let’s move the country ahead with pride, let's help lotus bloom again)".

That being the irony we are faced with.

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Open challenge to all aspiring presidential candidates

There are many who aspire to be the next President in a few more months. While main political parties are desperate in deciding who their presidential candidate should be and in what political alliance if any, there are also individuals staking a claim for the presidency from a distance. They all claim they have the magic answer to solve all problems.

While talking about all problems and solutions to them, I personally believe our education system needs urgent and serious attention. It is education that produces persons for every slot in the State from policymaking to implementation. Education produces politicians too.

It is education that produces personnel for national security, law enforcement and the judiciary also. All that is in dire straits. Our education system has only produced, and still keep producing, total misfits to all systems.

This education system also nurtures Sinhala Majoritarianism that results in this heavily polarised racist society.

Wonder how many of those who aspire to be the next President, know this. A complete breakdown in education is there at every level from pre-school to university and tertiary education.

This includes syllabi, curricula, textbooks, teaching quality and competence, school facilities, administration and policymaking. They have major disparities, inequalities and lapses in day to day school life, that makes Free Education a complete farce. It is school education that qualifies and promotes students for higher and university education. This school education obviously cannot produce good intakes for higher and university education.

There are 10,194 government schools on the whole island with 4.1 million students and a tutorial staff of 241,591 teachers. Of all schools, only 1,029 schools (1AB) have Science and Maths for A/L students. There are also 1,818 schools (1C) with Arts and Commerce streams for A/L students. Of the balance number, there are 3,288 schools (Type 2) with classes up to Year 11, which is up to the O/L examination.

Going into more details show how the whole concept of Free Education in Kannangara Reforms has been completely miscarried by now. Kannangara Reforms accepted every child’s right to education and proposed reforms to ensure “equal opportunities” within a “national education” system.

They focused on common facilities to all rural and urban children. It is important to note that Kannangara Reforms never opposed private and fee levying schools. Kannangara Reforms instead brought them into the “national education system” with the State taking over conducting of “national examinations”.

Within the national education system, the State was brought into level the playing field, to support parents who could not afford their children the same opportunities the affluent parents could afford. That makes taxpayer money important in national education and hold governments responsible for a quality education system for all children. Kannangara Reforms came into effect from 1947.

Central Colleges with good facilities including hostels were established in most rural districts. They supported a quality improvement in provincial education. Yet, the Kannangara Reforms were not carried through as expected and planned. Therefore, even in the decades of 50s and 60s, there remained serious disparities and anomalies within the school system.

The most serious reforms since independence were introduced in 1972 as the New Education System that was no answer in improving the quality of school education, nor in levelling the playing field for equal opportunities and facilities.

With the open and free-market economy introduced in 1977, during the past 40 years, education became a profitable sector for investments, while Governments relaxed on their responsibility of maintaining and improving school education. A parallel private-sector education thus emerged and dominates urban life. The free market economy being strictly a city-based market economy, rural schools were treated as mere political footholds for votes.

With that, for the benefit of all aspirants for the presidency, it is worth glancing through data on schools to understand how opportunities and facilities in schools have been glossed over in creating a gapping disparity for the disadvantage of the larger majority while education slipped into major chaos.

There are 1,486 schools with less than 50 students. There are other 1,560 schools with over 50 but less than 100 students. It means out of 10,194 schools, there are 3,046 schools with less than 100 students. They are all “Type 3” schools with classes up to year 05 or year 08 only. The question is, what facilities and opportunities do children in these 3,046 schools have? These certainly are wholly neglected schools.

This lot also need serious attention. There are 54 schools with only a single teacher. There are 97 schools with only 02 teachers. There are also 2,979 schools with less than 09 teachers. They add up to 3,130 schools with less than 09 teachers. What type of schools could they be? What education would children have in these 3,130 schools with inadequate teachers?

Note this yawning disparity too. There are 3,262 schools with classes up to year 11. Students in these schools who qualify for A/L studies, have to find another school for their A/L studies. If some of these students wish to pursue Science or Maths for A/L, there are only 1,029 schools scattered across the country. Of them, Western Province has 201 (Kalutara nevertheless is disadvantaged), while whole Eastern Province has only 99, North Central has 64 and Uva only 83. Not that other provinces are far better.

How many of those students in those provinces who wish to pursue Science and Maths studies for A/L would be able to find a “Type 1AB” school within the travelling distance? Public commuting is as bad as any other service and daily travelling is a hassle and time-consuming. The cost parents will have to bear, is another major issue. Some, therefore, end up in a school with Arts or Commerce that is reachable and affordable. Some give up higher education altogether. Are there equal opportunities and equal facilities in this free education system? Is it fair by all students?

"That in no way answers the major issues in the school system. Numbers above reveal a crumbling school system without basic needs; water, toilets and teachers."

It is far worse and certainly uncivilised too to have schools with no acceptable source of drinking water and schools without any water source. The Western Province has only 54 percent of schools with pipe-borne water supplied by Local Government bodies. 40 percent of the schools use an open well or a tube-well in the school premises. Northern Province has only 12 percent of schools with pipe-borne water from an Local Government body. 73 percent use open wells/tube wells, 05 percent are served by bowsers and 10 percent have no water. 25 percent of the schools in North-Western (Wayamba) Province have no water. In Uva Province, it is 26 percent, while 21 percent depend on streams/springs. In the North-Central Province, 21 percent have no water. In the Central Province, 23 percent have no water while 20 percent depend on streams/springs. In the Sabaragamuwa Province, 19 percent have no water and 20 percent depend on streams/springs In the Eastern Province, 13 percent have no water.

No water means, no toilets and latrines. What does that in reality mean? Schools that depend on streams/springs and open wells also would not have proper and decent toilets and latrines.

Thus, the number of schools without proper drinking water, toilets and latrines would be more than 20 percent at a minimum. That comes to 2,038 schools in the country. Yet the national figure 16 percent is only about schools with “no water” anyway. In actual terms schools without drinking water and without toilets should be much above the conservative calculation of 20 percent. What a yawning gap is between proposed Tabs and Toilets!

From 2017 the UNP government and its Education Minister kept proposing Tabs to schools with A/L classes that total 2,847. It was dragged on, with numerous allegations on their procuring. Last week at the cabinet meeting, President Sirisena is said to have reduced it to 353 national schools as a pilot project.

That in no way answers the major issues in the school system. Numbers above reveal a crumbling school system without basic needs; water, toilets and teachers.

The most honourable objective of Kannangara Reforms to ensure “right to education” to all children with common facilities and equal opportunities has turned out a dead project over the past decades. It has left an ailing and partly dysfunctional school system for the majority and a privately funded functional education network for the affluent urbans.

We need to have answers to all issues these numbers spell out (All stats and data – School Census Report 2017 / Ministry of Education). We need an education system that would positively contribute to the future of this country and produce as Kannangara Reforms said, citizens who would accept the diverse culture in society and work for the “common future” of the country. We need to have quality education on level ground from Kolombuthurai to Colombo city.

What “reforms” would the aspiring presidential candidates offer in solving these yawning disparities among schools? What “reforms” do they propose to ensure “right to education” for all children with equal opportunities and good quality facilities? To all 4.1 million children in school now and for new entrants in the

Will these aspiring candidates who believe they could as President-elect solve all problems, tell us how they plan to reform education worth the taxpayers’ money? Or do they have any? Waiting for answers, please.

 kusal perera cover picKusal Perera


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From Islamic extremism to marauding Sinhala-Buddhist violence

Just four days short of a month after the April 21 Easter Sunday tragedy that could have been averted, this country is still left in panic mode, in fear of terrorist attacks.At least that ‘fear’ is what’s carried over and sustained in this post-Easter Sunday period. Yet, all that we see around us is Sinhala-Buddhist extremism, in their most violent “anti-Muslim” outbursts. 

By Kusal Perera

It is being whipped up in vulgar forms through fake notices, unconfirmed and unsubstantiated stories, gossip and through some mainstream Sinhala media. Initial debates about Muslim political leaders having links with the now proscribed extremist National Tawheed Jama’ath organization have become less important. The opposition to the Burka cultivated in Sinhala - Buddhist society was brought out loud and the Government decided to restrict it in public with All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, an organization of Muslim clerics consenting.

Debates and conflicts among different ideological interpretations like Wahhabism, Sufism, Salafism and other smaller fundamentalists were becoming irrelevant within the Muslim community in facing violent Sinhala-Buddhist extremism.
Their ideological differences apart, they were being bundled together as one single extremist community. For the Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, ideological differences within the Muslim community mattered little in their campaign to ‘Cleanse this Sinhala land of Gauthama Buddha'.Sleeper cells of numerous Sinhala-Buddhist extremist groups, that played low-profile after the crackdown on them post 2018 March Digana mayhem, came into the open with loud demands on social media to marginalise or eliminate the Muslim community.

In such context, schools that were on vacation till the 22 of April were left closed till the 29 of April after the Easter Sunday attacks. The Government thereafter decided to reopen them on May 6 with the Security Council providing clearance on April 26. Yet, on May 2, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith announced all private Catholic schools would remain closed until further notice. This contradicted the clearance given by the Security Council and led to unwanted panic immediately among the Catholic community.There are a large number of Catholic and Christian Government schools across the island since the 1962 take-over of schools. Catholic parents of children attending these Government schools were left in a dilemma after Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s announcement. The obvious reaction was, all parents decided it wasn’t safe to send children to school, though schools were to reopen on May 6.The previous night, Sunday, May 5 saw the first direct attack on Muslim property and on a Mosque in Negombo starting from Pothupitiya and spreading to adjoining areas.People in those areas feel disturbed that a few Catholic priests were “behind the scene” instigators. With curfew clamped in Negombo, this again created uncertainty in society and kept all schools almost empty. From Negombo, the anti-Muslim violence went over to Chilaw, again with a Catholic priest implicated. With far more organized attacks on Muslim people, Kuliyapitiya and surrounding small towns were set ablaze since Sunday last, for almost three consecutive days.These savage attacks saw curfew being clamped on the whole island while SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera MP rushed to the Police Station allegedly to have his men released on Police bail.

Especially in attacks and arson against Muslim businesses and homes in Kuliyapitiya and its surrounding areas, widespread allegations are that Police either came too late or with inadequate numbers to stop goons on a rampage and that both Police and armed forces were too slow in saving people and property.A common statement is that “They allowed goons to run amok before intervening”.Between the Negombo attacks on May 5, and those in Kuliyapitiya from 12 to 14 May when Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith announced on May 09, private Catholic schools would reopen on May 14 depending on the situation or else may get extended till after Vesak, brought the entire school education to a pathetic standstill.While his newly acquired popularity more among Sinhala Buddhists than among the Catholic flock, gave him an undue advantage in dictating terms to the Government.He wasn’t too innocent not to have understood the consequences of ignoring the security clearance and keeping private Catholic schools closed. He wasn’t unaware I believe when he told the popular Al Jazeera TV there is information received from international sources about possible terrorist attacks in the coming weeks.It is common sense in a very uncertain, panicky situation where everyone is made to suspect the ‘other’, public statements by a leading clergyman on possible terrorist attacks and therefore keeping private Catholic schools closed, drives the whole society into further panic and into a fear psychosis.Let’s not ignore the fact, destabilizing the entire school system had its effect on the entire society.  Unlike during schools’ vacation, this virtual closure through fear kept all State sector institutes also in doubt and dysfunctional.

"It is being whipped up in vulgar forms through fake notices, unconfirmed and unsubstantiated stories, gossip and through some mainstream Sinhala media"

This also allowed anti-Muslim sentiments to be openly displayed in Government schools and offices and in public spaces. Teachers were not allowed to schools wearing the Hijab, which left the face uncovered.Lady officials were told to remove their Hijab when reporting for duty. Three-wheelers and cabs preferred to refuse Muslim customers.Breakdown of normal daily life with Sinhala-Buddhist extremism on the rampage was creating a threatening atmosphere within minority communities.Clamping down an all-island curfew on two consecutive days when violence was only seen in a few places within the Kurunegala District, was difficult to be understood in civil society.But in practical life, night curfew that covered even far off sleepy districts like Jaffna, Moneragala and Hambantota helped sustain uncertainty and fear.All that prompted moderates in the Muslim community to speak about ‘integrating’ with the ‘Sri Lankan’ culture, that had no other meaning but compromising with extreme ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ demands.

Mano Ganesan contradicting Minister Samaraweera said:“We have to accept Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country”, virtually saying his Ministry for National Integration, Official Languages, Social Progress and Hindu Religious Affairs can be simply scrapped without wasting public funds.And there is no debate this UNP Government is being pushed to the wall, unable to cope with the growing anarchy and contradictions within. The Government leadership does not know what’s happening and where. PM Wickremesinghe is still in his Neo-liberal world and believes the Government is having ‘international’ support and expertise in facing “Global terrorism”, while Sinhala-Buddhist extremism is busy destabilising the whole country. His “internationalism” is basically the US with its few Western allies wanting to decide world politics. With more US military and “intelligence experts” seen in Colombo after the Easter Sunday tragedy, big funds pledged by Washington too, Sri Lanka’s absence along with US and India at the Beijing summit on its Belt and Road Initiative, saw President Sirisena making a quick trip to Beijing on Tuesday to attend the Asian Civilisation Discussion on Development.

That appears more like Beijing wanted President Sirisena with them than Sirisena wanted to be there. This geopolitical conflict that leaves PM Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena on two different and opposing platforms has left the Government further distanced from handling anarchy on the ground. That hesitancy and inability on the part of the Government leadership has paved the way for two serious developments.One is that in the absence of an effective and responsible Government, the whole society is left more and more dependent on security forces for their safety. That ‘security dependency’ too has a Sinhala-Buddhist flavour, with many Muslim and some Sinhala moderates complaining over deliberate lethargy in cracking down on violent Sinhala-Buddhist extremism on the rampage. Two, the Sri Lankan society is being polarised with Sinhala-Buddhist extremism displacing the moderate. That Sinhala-Buddhist extremism is now destabilising society, creating a Sinhala mindset that demands a new ‘Rule’ under a ‘Benevolent’ Sinhala Dictator.Preface to such change is being written already. 

On Saturday last at St. Lucia’s Church, Kotahena, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was reported as having told the Congregation:

“Not only the officers but also the country’s leadership should be held responsible for the failure to prevent Easter Sunday’s bomb attacks…..They cannot absolve themselves from it. They have to be penalized. That is by expelling them from their office. Those who are unable to take up responsibilities are unfit to govern our country. They have to be removed. Some are still at large though. Some behave as if they did nothing. They think they can get away from this,” (DM of 13 May 2019).Rajapaksa is there in waiting, using exactly the right tongue to project himself as the stern and  ‘fair to all’ leader. Stressing on this Government’s inability to have proper security in place, Rajapaksa had tweeted, reports DM on 15 May, “Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa today urged all members of any political party, including those of his, to maintain law and order and not to aggravate the already sensitive situation.“The responsibility of protecting all citizens and maintaining law and order by us as leaders is the need of the hour,” he tweeted. It would not be long I presume, before posters with the slogan “Dissolve Parliament, hold elections” come on city walls. 

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Sri Lanka: Power without authority

By Basil Fernando

An election can give political power to the winning political party and its leadership. Thereby, they could claim that their exercise of power is legitimate. From the point of view of formal legitimacy, that claim is justifiable.

However, elections cannot create the authority of the state if it has lost that authority. In quite a few Asian countries today, we can see how the power transfer is legitimate but the elected governments cannot exercise their authority in order to fulfill the purposes for which that power was given to them. This article explores how this conflict between political power and the authority of the state developed in Sri Lanka.

In essence, the state is supposed to exist regardless of the particular governing party in charge. The institutions of the state are supposed to function in accordance with certain innate principles and within their legal framework. When they do not, the elected governing party or coalition adopts two ways of dealing with this: one, institutions are taken over to serve political interests of the leadership or those they grant favours to; and, secondly, ad hoc methods of running of these institutions are taken up in order to fulfill the immediate needs of the moment. The illustrative example in this article is about the way police functions were handed over to the military, in contravention of the law and established norms, which revealed a deep failure in the underlying institutions of the state.

To understand this, we need to go back several decades. We may begin with the 1958 race riots and the declaration of emergency. The 1958 race riots and the manner in which the emergency regulations were used was one of the first examples of the failure to control violence by those who had the authority to deal with such a situation.

After the 1958 race riots, there was a secret meeting of the officers of the police hierarchy to have what they called a postmortem of what took place during this time, particularly on why the police failed to predict and control the situation efficiently. A related question was whether it had been necessary to call in the military to deal with the situation when there was a police force that had a large group of officers and also an adequate legal framework within which they could operate in order to prevent such occurrences and/or bring them under control within the shortest possible time.

The assumption that underlay this discussion, judging from a report of the meeting published by Tarzie Vittachi in his famous book Emergency 58, clearly shows that the police hierarchy at that time thought that it was the police’s duty to deal with the situation and the military need not have been called had the police ably carried out their duties. They admitted the general principle that maintaining law and order is the function of the police, and that the military could only be on standby. However, in 1958, the military had to be called, and they took control of the law and order function, and this was an indication of the failure of the policing system to deal with the situation. The postmortem, as they called it, was an attempt to understand how such a situation had occurred.

Top police officers of the time gave their opinions during this gathering, as recorded in the meeting’s minutes.

One clear agreement that seems to underline the comments that were made by these higher officers was that there had been a serious failure of the policing system and that, for various reasons, a tendency towards police inaction had entered into the system.

The discussion centered on the need to get back to the proper functioning of their system, and thereby to assert the authority given to the police. Some of the reasons that emerged for inaction within the policing system were as follows: that there was an apprehension widespread among the police that the top officers may not stand by the police carrying out the operations that needed to be carried out in a situation of tension and violence because they lacked the confidence that they will be protected by the headquarters. This apprehension has caused a certain levels of demoralization among the police force. Under those circumstances, a tendency to not to get too involved - meaning not to take necessary action - had developed among the police officers in general.

A further reason that was mentioned by one of the DIGs of the time, Sydney Soida, is that there had been an overall undermining of the rule of law. These background developments affected everyone. In these situations, rioters and those stirring up discord were encouraged because they were aware of the overall breakdown, and they perceived that this could be utilized to their advantage. Meanwhile, the police as the agency responsible for handling such riots was affected by the overall breakdown of the rule of law, which creates a crisis in all institutions, including the police.

However, in 1958, there was still the determination at the top to examine the problems that had developed within the system, and to make an attempt in order to regain the authority that they had lost.

1962 the Coup Attempt

There was a coup attempt to overthrow the government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which was led by some officers of the armed forces and police. This coup has been well documented in the book of an American researcher who interviewed almost all of the persons who were later charged for attempting this coup. The primary objective of the coup was to oust Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike as a Prime Minister and to arrest all the cabinet ministers. In their place, the military was to appoint a ruling council, which would also include all the surviving prime ministers in the country. Their expressed belief was that this would be a bloodless coup, and while the ruling council prepared the way, fresh elections could be conducted in order to elect the next government.

The reason why they wanted this change was as a reaction to the forces that were unleashed in the 1956 elections in which Mr. S.W.D. Bandaranaike won a massive victory and became the Prime Minister, defeating the former ruling party, the United National Party, by reducing their numbers to 8 seats. The reason for this massive victory was the pressures which came from the rural areas particularly in the South where the people had a general feeling that, from the beginning of the British Colonial rule up to that time, they had been neglected and that the perks of whatever developments that had happened had gone to a small minority of persons who spoke English and who were educated in the few prestigious schools which were mainly situated in Colombo. These vast masses wanted a change of this situation so that their children would also be able to claim jobs in much sought after government services and professions.

This led to conflict between the more privileged sections of society and the overwhelming majority of people belonging to the rural areas, who happened to be mainly Sinhalese and Buddhist.

The leaders of the military and the police that had participated in the conspiracy for the coup were people who thought they had been disadvantaged by this social change and their children will not have the prestigious positions that they used to hold under former times.

The coup was defeated due to information leaked by someone who passed the information to political authorities who in turn got the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to act immediately in order to arrest the conspirators and to stop the execution of the coup. The coup was to happen at the midnight of a particular date, but by that morning the conspirators had been arrested.

What is important for the purpose of this article is to show that already there was a strong tendency at the top of the armed forces and the police to be deeply demoralized by the changes which were happening in the country, and that they wanted to alter the course of history. Thus, this marked a higher stage of demoralization when compared to the situation in 1958. Though the coup was exposed and defeated, and the coup leaders were brought to trial and convicted according to the law, nothing was done in order to examine the causes of dissatisfaction and demoralization.

1983 Anti-Tamil Pogrom

1983 marks a more prominent expression of police inaction than it has ever happened before. 1983 riots were spread nationwide, but were particularly strong in the South, closer to capital Colombo, and it was this event that marked Sri Lanka as a violent spot in the political map of the world. It has been extensively recorded how the police just stood by and hardly took any action in order to decisively intervene against the rioters, and that in many instances, the police themselves participated in provoking violence as well benefitting from the looting.

There were many reasons for this behavior on the part of the police. One was that the riots were reaction to the killing of about 13 persons by the LTTE in the North. The demand for burial for all the 13 together at the Colombo main cemetery was allowed by the then President J. R. Jayewardene, despite him being warned that riots would follow. It was considered politically expedient for his consolidation of power.

The police would have seen the attack on the military as an attack on themselves. It was the attack on the protective arm of the state of which they were also a part. Further, the cause of the riots was racial, between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The vast majority of the policemen were also Sinhalese; therefore their sympathies would have also lay with the rioters.

There was clear evidence that the military in many areas passed information informally to the police stations a few hours before the riots broke out about what might happen that day, and with a request that they should not interfere to stop the riots.

Above all, the attacks on houses, individuals, and business premises of Tamil people were led in many places by the local UNP organizers. That very fact would have indicated which side the government was in this matter, and that would have influenced the manner in which the police would have acted on those circumstances.

Above all, there was no clear evidence of strong assertions of authority by the top police officers in order to mobilize the police in order towards decisive actions. The failure of leadership, whether it was deliberate or not, was a factor of the police inaction which led to huge loss of lives and property, and created an undeniable mark of shame on Sri Lanka as a whole.

This was a key moment in the process towards entrenched inaction within the policing system, which had reached much higher stage than in 1958 or in 1962.

The two JVP uprisings

The 1971 and 1987-91 JVP insurgencies saw the police being used to commit heinous crimes, such as enforced disappearances and widespread torture, including the creation of torture chambers.

Such crimes took place on a large scale. Institutionally, this meant the breakdown of discipline. The creation of a disciplined police force takes a long time. When discipline can be flouted without consequences, institutional memory of functioning according to laws and guidelines begins to disappear. As people have said, the disappearance of persons was accompanied by the disappearance of a system. The influence of this factor remains unaddressed.

The fight against the LTTE

The former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in Mahinda Rajapaksha’s regime openly admitted that in guarding Colombo against LTTE attacks, police were taken away from their policing duties and used for national security functions. Tha also contributed to the loss of whatever institutional habits were inbuilt over a long period beginning with colonial times to be lost. The result, once again, was transforming a civilian policing system into more of military functions. No real attempt was made since the end of the fight against the LTTE in order to have a drastic reform to bring back the institution into its primary function of enforcement of law and order, and for the protection of people.

21 April 2019: The Bomb Attacks on Churches and Some Tourist Areas

Perhaps more than all events, the attacks on three churches and several hotels and other places, which killed around 300 persons within a few hours, has shocked the whole nation.

The questions that are being asked is as to the responsibility of the inaction of the intelligence services, the police and also the political authorities even after intelligence from neighboring country about the imminent attack in which even the possible places of attacks and those who are seen as the masterminds were detailed out.

In this instance, there is no controversy over the conclusion that the inaction of the police including the intelligence services were at the root of allowing this attacks to take place.

That there was no leadership from the top of the police or intelligence services, and also from the political leadership in order to deal with an extremely dangerous situation has been an issue, which has unanimous consensus.

There is an attempt to discuss the causes of April 21 event. However, they are discussed in isolation and without going into the processes in which the policing and the intelligence systems came to the point of such neglect of their basic functions.

If a solution is to be found to the events of the 21st of April, it is essential to back into the process into which there was a transformation of the policing system, which gradually degenerated into what it is now. Without such a historic understanding of what has happened, there could hardly be any durable solution to this problem.

Thus, discourse aimed at understanding the events of April 21 requires serious attempts to understand the processes by which the state lost its authority while governments continue to be legitimately elected by the electoral process. The gap between formal legitimacy and the ability to exert authority for the protection of the people, which is the most important function of a state, needs to be looked at holistically with reference to the historical process by which Sri Lanka came to the position that it is in now.

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How to respond to an assault on humanity

How to respond to an assault on humanity
By Sajith Premadasa

Every suicide bomber has a dream, a fantasy of how their destruction will consummate cataclysmic change. Sri Lanka stamped out such heinous desires once before. Now we are called upon to do so again.

At a May Day rally in 1993, a suicide bomber assassinated my father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa. My father was the second ever head of government to be killed by a suicide bomber. My father’s killer walked up to him and detonated his vest leaving a cruel circle of death. Just as the blast destroyed seventeen lives, it shredded the hearts of seventeen entire families, including my own. Nothing can ever fill the void left in the hearts of myself, my mother and my sister, or of the other sixteen families who lost loved ones that day, or of the many suicide bombers who have struck since.

These so-called ‘Tamil Tigers’ used suicide bombers without a second thought to slay dozens of lawmakers, including several Tamils. In 2009, our military eradicated the Tigers, relegating them to the dustbin of history. Ever since, Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religions have lived together in peace and prosperity. Easter Sunday marked the end of our decade-long respite from terrorism. The so-called “Islamic State” targeted churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing over 250 innocent worshippers and tourists while maiming hundreds more in the carnage. Most died instantaneously, while peacefully praying before the altar of their God. As a Buddhist, I find solace in the fact that these tranquil final prayers might serve as blessings in their next lives.

Next month, my father would have turned ninety-five years old. For the last 26 years of my life, every moment I have cherished or battle I have won has been hollowed by my father’s absence. I know that the future holds similar struggles for the hundreds of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives haunted by the final words and smiles of those they lost. In honor of the fallen, we have a duty to seek justice, and prevent further attacks.

Sri Lankans across the board have risen to the occasion. First responders and medical staff risked themselves to save others. Our police and military have already unraveled much of the terror cell, arrested several insurgents, foiled follow-up attacks and saved countless lives. Religious leaders united Sri Lankans of all faiths.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith took the lead, rising to the occasion and preventing retaliatory violence by expressing solidarity with the Muslim community. He and local Muslim leaders made crystal clear that there is nothing “Islamic” about the Islamic State. Sri Lanka’s Muslims stand against these barbarians, just as Tamils before them stood against the Tigers. Especially In the shadow of such remarkable leadership, those who launched political campaigns on the back of such a tragedy are willing customers of terror.

History will remember this attack as Sri Lanka’s “9/11”. In2001, al-Qaeda hijackers killed nearly three thousand in the United States, then a country of 285 million. On Easter Sunday, IS bombers killed over 250 in Sri Lanka, a country of just 21 million. Reports emerged that US authorities were warned of the 2001 attacks. Similar reports have emerged that Sri Lankan authorities sat on critical intelligence. 

These attacks should spark a paradigm shift in the psyche of our civil service, away from a bureaucratic passing of the buck towards a dynamic culture in which public officials exercise autonomy and accountability. Officials must learn to take snap decisions, not to delegate and delay. The world’s priority after September 11, 2001 was unity – standing together against those who sought to divide and destroy through violence. Just as NATO declared then that an attack against one nation was an attack against all, the world has rallied around Sri Lanka, offering unprecedented assistance. 

The living will judge us by how we avenge the dead and how we honuor them. It is essential that we assist those who lost loved ones and care for the injured. They cannot withstand more pain. Whatever they need, we must provide.

Sri Lankans have rallied before, whether rebounding from the 2004 tsunami or becoming the only country in the world to have eradicated terrorism. We must rekindle this unity, set aside our differences and erase ISIS from our country. We will do so.

Sri Lanka’s military and police have never failed us in a crisis.When we stand as one, it is only a matter of time before these terrorists meet the same end that befell Vellupillai Prabakharan and his Tigers.

To those who ask how they can help Sri Lanka, my request is plain. Terrorize the terrorists. They want you to be afraid: afraid of Muslims, afraid of entering churches, temples and hotels, and afraid of countries struck by terror. Deny them your fear. I call on the world to adopt a radical counter-terrorism doctrine to deter future attacks.

Invest in Sri Lanka and other democracies struck by terrorism.Let it be known that every country struck by terror will be strengthened. Leave such countries stronger, economically and politically, than before they were attacked. It is high time terrorists got the message, loud and clear, that the world will rally around every nation they dare to strike, and that fresh attacks will only hasten their demise. 

Together, let us show these fanatics that an attack on any countryis an attack on every country, that their brutality has no place in the civilized world and that their dreams were doomed to die the instant they resorted to barbarism and mass murder.

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Next Presidential Elections; Are We Missing The Point?

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Once again, maybe for the umpteenth time in the midst of election euphoria, we are talking about the upcoming Presidential Elections and its candidates. Who is coming from the United National Party (UNP), who is representing the Pohottuwa and is Maithripala Sirisena, the current President, preparing to contest again and if so, from what Party, if the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) fielding candidate, what chances are there for any candidate if the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) decides to field their own candidate etc. are amongst the questions one is asking oneself these days but to everyone’s utter dismay, no clear answer is forthcoming from any of these political parties and alliances.

When the election season arrives, those who gain most from it, at least in the context of financial gains, are the media organization owners, except perhaps the very candidates, among them those are at higher levels of prominence, who receive massive amounts of cash donations from their own sponsors, corporates, individuals and perhaps some foreign organizations such as the Diasporas of all denominations. Some of these Diasporas might have their own favourite candidates.

Yet one stark truth remains latent and unattended to. That is the fact that whether elections come and go, whether the candidates win or lose, whether the media organizations make profits or losses, the voters at large do not stand to gain anything, none whatsoever. Time after time, election after election, it has been shown that the ordinary voter, the average Saranapala and Siriyalatha, the average Subramaniam and Rasamma, the average Mohideen or Fathima, the ordinary folks who day in and day out sweat and spend all their waking hours to make ends meet, do not stand to gain any reasonable ground after the election.

The story is getting bleaker and bleaker with each election cycle; the successive generations in the country are finding it extremely hard to put up with each succeeding government; the politicians are, in fact, becoming more accessible but to no real material purpose. The economic status or the poor is becoming impossible; their children are messed up; either they are begging at the corner of an urban street or addicted to the dangerous drugs that are increasingly becoming available at affordable prices. While the drug industry, as an easy means to quick wealth, especially among those who are closest to politicians, and those who consume its products are being subjected to a pitiful way of life and livelihood far beyond one’s comprehension.

This melancholy element of life is fast becoming a reality among the young and uneducated. Birthday parties of the children who attend overseas schools are the breeding ground for these nefarious activities of experimentation with treacherous drugs. When parties are in session in the exclusive halls of McDonalds fast-food restaurants, what is most wretched scenery is of those children who cannot afford to either pay for such parties or not among the qualified to be invited to such parties, hanging on to the outside railing of the halls, with their mouths open, salivating and watching those who are better off than they are, dancing and cutting cakes, the taste of which they never ever had the opportunity to taste. The widening gulf between the haves and have-nots is visible and inviting many a social scientist to research and really find nothing as it seems for such social scientists do look for the nuanced aspects of life rather than at the obvious facts that surround an ordinary man’s daily life.

The influence of politicians and their greed and avarice play a huge role in defining the ordinary man’s ability to put food on the table. What the social scientists forget is one of the greatest demands of our people’s lives: a suitable school for his child. Those people who have had no special education, with no University degree or post-Advanced Level diploma, yearn to provide what they themselves could not achieve in their simple life. Provision of a better education with no extra fees and economic hardship is of paramount import for all our men and women in the villages. The village farmer has hardly had a chance to elevate his social status from that of a peasant to a farmer or a farming entrepreneur. The sophistication of a wealthy businessman is alien to our farmer and he has had not the opportunity to provide himself with such an erudite system of farming or any such modern scheme which lends itself as an educative tool.

Against such a cruel backdrop what can he do? His immediate attention goes towards those politicians who promise heaven and moon at the election time on those decorated platforms. The politician is corrupt; his very survival is directly dependent upon sustaining his friendships and connections to his sponsoring businessmen who have managed to gain vast profits from the businesses the politician has awarded them. This vicious cycle of corruption keeps turning and the poor villager does not see it nor does he seem to care as he has his own quota of worries.

Today’s politics is just that. Sheer greed for power attired in patriotic slogans has inundated the entire landscape of politics. Whether it’s the Rajapaksas or Sirisena, whether it’s Wickremesinghe or Premadasa, the mould is the same. Minor adjustments made to the customized exterior may change, but the inside core of all these men and women is rotting and stinking. To him, arguments and logic behind who will be the candidate, who will be the running mate and who is ahead of whom and who has to do what to get ahead of the other is all irrelevant.

Yet our villager, born in the North, South, East or the West, does not have the elementary capacity to understand this simple logic of power politics or he doesn’t care about such nuances. His preoccupation with his own worries overtakes the social scientists’ analyses. It is more tragic than pitiful; it’s more alarming than just cruel and it’s more man-made than natural- the cycle of power politics. Writers, including yours truly, have ignored these day-to-day worries of the ordinary man and woman. One may say that it’s the way of life, yet it’s no reason for a reasonable man or woman to pay no attention to those worries of the ordinary and examine the nuanced sides of human living.

As Minister Navin Dissanayake said the other day, all 225 must go; leave the well of the House of Parliament free and empty. Beginning at the beginning may be one of few choices still available for the well-being of our Land. As Dostoyevsky said in Brothers Karamazov, human life, for its sustenance need more than just staying alive. One needs a goal to live for. Our politicians have not provided that vision for our ordinary men and women. Empty election promises are not a vision; false election manifestos do not consist of a broad scope of work an ordinary man and woman should envision for themselves and their children. Leaving a legacy of failure and under-performance is not an option.

Come election time, these ordinary men and women should tell our wretched politicians to go to hell. Unless and until they map out a way and path to realistically achievable goals and targets, they must get out of the way. Brand new faces, brand new personalities who are well read and educated to a reasonable level must take to politics.

But I’m sure it won’t happen. The same old machine will grind its wheels and produce the same old noise and throw out the same old slogans and promises. The system is too corrupt to attract opposite revolt. The breaking point is yet to come. But social media has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. That ordinary villager has access to such modern-day gadgetry and he is eager to use it. But social media too has its inherent wicked ways of being fake.

Then who is to blame and who is to take corrective measures. Democracy has shown us, amidst many a shortcoming and inadequacy, that it, amongst many, is the only decent and civil system of governance that a citizenry can tolerate. To withstand its inadequacies and adjust to its varying measures of demands is no way easy and a placid people would ultimately pay an unpalatable price.



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Burka, the Beard and the Bombs

“Mums and Wives drag their sons and hubbies to salon, to have their beards shaved.” Said a tweet a few days ago. Another tweet said “Burka banned but not hijab. Face to be excluded from covering.” Al Jazeera reported “Cardinal Ranjith asked all Catholic schools to be closed till further notice. News from international sources of more attacks, Ranjith said.” 

Those now in their retired life, I mean those who were teens or kids in the 60’s and the 70’s may well remember Muslim ladies young and old coming out of their houses with the “fall” of their saree pulled over their head and the end of it tucked at the waist. “Saree” is a dress borrowed from Indian culture that became the traditional dress of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim women. There was that “commonality” in culture that made little difference in their first appearances, yet carried their own identity within that “commonality”. The “pottu” on the forehead and small white Jasmin flowers on their hair of Tamil Hindu women and the saree covering the head of Muslim women leaving the face uncovered, gave them their own cultural identity, different to Sinhala women. Among Sinhala women too, there is a distinction in how the Low country and the Kandyan women drape their sarees. Kandyan saree draped with frills around the waist is called the “Osariya”.
Muslim men, I mean the ordinary folk, with no long and unruly beards wore a plain “sarong”, a shirt neatly tucked in and a stretchable broad black belt over the sarong at the waist, when they went about their daily work. Some wore an “off white” thick cotton coat over the white shirt. Their Muslim identity can even now be visualised with a red woollen, round cap that had a flat top, commonly called a “Fez” and a pair of painted wooden slippers commonly called “katta sereppu” worn around in their errands. A fair number of urban Sinhala men who wore long trousers for their daily work later switched to the “national” dress after “Sinhalisation” of the Southern society after 1956, again an adoptation from South India. Tamil Hindu men wore a white cloth called the “veitti”, each maintaining their own cultural identity.    
From wherever they came Centuries ago, whether from the Arabic world, from the South of the Indian sub-continent or from the Malaysian-Indonesian island society, they integrated themselves with their own cultural identities into the common Sinhala and Tamil culture that also evolved through Centuries integrating with South and East Indian cultures. In all these cultures, what is called a “Pure Sinhala”, “Pure Hindu” or “Pure Muslim” culture is their own “richness” gained by assimilating “other cultures”. Pre and post independent “Ceylon” was that until the end of the decade of seventy. Slow and restricted life with little contradictions between ethno-religious groups while still co-existing, except that Sinhala Buddhist dominance in politics was quite evident. Exposure to the world in that era was also very much restricted and was not sought for by society. Knowledge and information were very much local even among the English educated small urban elite communities in Colombo. Communication in a very much closed society was restricted to the government owned radio and few privately owned newspapers that provided a fairly well edited, decent news coverage. Personal communication was very much restricted to fixed line telephones rarely available in private homes and that too very much in urban society.

In that less vibrant society, the Muslim community remained what they were from their earliest entry into ancient feudal Lankan society. Traders in most parts of the country and landed agri farmers and labourers in the Eastern province where the concentration was very much more and also expansive. East was comparatively poor and Muslims in the East were less assertive. Within this Muslim culture till the end of the 70’s, higher education was not considered important in life to be successful. Religious education and knowledge were nevertheless very important and that came down within mostly Sunni traditional teaching of the Quran. Muslim religious education was very much traditional, organised around the Mosque. Success in life was measured in how successful one was in business as a practising true Muslim. Muslim people were very much dominant in gemming, hardware, betel and tobacco, small cafeterias and beef and mutton trade. They came down the family line, from generation to generation.

This slow and tidy lifestyle took a deep turn with the introduction of the open market economy in early 1978, at the end of the decade of seventy. With a free market that allowed unrestricted import and export of goods, travel abroad was also unrestricted. The almost dormant private sector thus saw a speedy expansion and new investments coming in, making the private sector more dominant in an economy that had State controls released. This new evolving market brought about many changes and challenges. First, it became increasingly competitive. Two, it gave space for a new growth within the formal sector and a growing new informal sector. It also added new services that brought profits quick and fast. It was becoming diverse beyond imagination and that needed new knowledge, new management skills and improved technology. This became a challenge to the Muslim business community to remain in business.

Muslim community that did not give higher education much importance previously, immediately adopted to the changing socio economic situation and took education more seriously than ever before. In the following 02 decades after trade liberalising, Muslim youth went into higher education and became qualified professionals in many disciplines; IT experts, Medical doctors, lawyers, Financial managers, Chartered and CIMA qualified Accountants and in many more areas including Mass media. Most qualified themselves in professional fields from foreign universities than from State universities here in Sri Lanka. Also, the emphasis on education in the urban middleclass paved way for more Muslim girls to enter higher education, stepping out of their conservative Muslim homes and then getting employed in various fields of their choice.

As it did to the Sinhala and Tamil communities, all this opened up the once docile, traditional Muslim community to a new world with new ideas, new debates, new knowledge and a new culture. Information and knowledge about their own religion that was once the privilege and the monopoly of the Mawlawi, opened up for other educated people to participate in. Unrestricted travel allowed personal interactions with other Islamic societies outside Sri Lanka. Radicalisation of Islam in the Arabian and North African societies, could be watched and studied from anywhere in the world within a hi speed communication belt. The internet allowed access to numerous debates and discussions and also dissenting arguments that were taking place within the Muslim world. While the new generation Sri Lankan Muslims got exposed to this radicalisation, they also got access to a new culture that evolved in the Arabian world, including the dress.  

It wasn’t much different in the Sinhala society as well. Sinhala culture also evolved both in terms of food and dress. If one dares to compare general consumption of food and beverage in this free market economy with those in the 60s and the 70s, there is a massive change we have not even noticed while we evolved to who we are now. While Chinese type food is now served by roadside little “hut cafes” in every nook and corner, “fried rice” has almost replaced “rice and curry” lunch for the urban employed. From “Kottu” to “Coca Cola”, from “Broiler chicken” to “BBQ chicken”, the whole eating culture in Sinhala society has changed. Bakery chains, Takeaway shops and lunch parcels add more to a new food culture. The ordinary man on the street who had a “bun and a plain tea” is no more. Now it’s the “Chinese roll or a pastry and a Nescafe”.

So has the “dress” changed in Sinhala society. The long skirt and blouse or the “Cheeththe and hatte” (cloth and jacket) that was just ordinary wear of women in the 50s and the 60s are no more. With no difference in age and gender, the “denim slack” has replaced all that and has come to stay. Mostly in urban Sinhala society, extremely short “shorts” are in vogue among young girls. T-shirts, short blouses, baggies, skinnies, tights are common words in the dress market. The lingerie market has lately become one of the most profitable markets in apparels with designer wear sought for. Mothers and Grandmothers in urban and semi urban Sinhala households who were in saree almost the whole day even as housewives, now live only in memories. Now they are also in slacks, even at home. 

All societies “changed”. Yet within the Sinhala and Tamil majority life, these cultural changes don’t stand out as visually different. All that “change” over the past three decades seems just common and normal and is taken for granted. It’s the ‘burka’ and the long unruly ‘beard’ that stands out visually different from the norm that new changes made. The “beard” came with the long tunic. This “change” in Muslim attire, the black “burka” and also the “niqab” became conspicuous over 25 years ago. The change in Muslim attire is sometimes explained as the result of large numbers of Housemaids leaving regularly to the Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. This explanation tends to say those “housemaids” returned with the “burka” and the “niqab” and that made it a common dress among the Muslim community.

There is a major misconception in this common, simplified explanation. Till the Eastern province was “cleared” in 2008, large majority of the housemaids who went to Mid East were Sinhala Buddhists and they never came back with either the “burka” or the “niqab”, even if they had to wear it in their country of employment. The “burka”, the “niqab” and the “hijab” had become popular long before increased numbers of Muslim women went to the Mid East as housemaids. Moreover, it is extremely doubtful housemaids from very poor Muslim families even if they came back with the “burka” or the “niqab” could influence the urban middle class. Norm is the other way round. It’s the urban middleclass that brings in new fashion and is then copied by others. The urban Muslim middleclass had left their conservative homes and was exposed to the world before the “burka” and the “niqab” came.  There is also the OPEC factor and Saudi Arabia that adds more ideological support for this change. With the first Summit of Heads of State and Government in Algiers in 1975, that called for “cooperation in international relations in the interests of world economic development and stability”, led to the establishment in 1976 of the “OPEC Fund for International Development”. Saudi Arabian support for religious education is seen in the increase thereafter, especially in countries that are majority “Sufi”. Dissenting voices among Sufi Muslims, those who believed the Quran has a different interpretation than what they are taught by conservative “Sufi” Mawlawis, perhaps came with cyber browsing and more with scholarships and religious education through Saudi Arabian sponsorship. Rich and pro US Saudi Arab is the home of “Wahabism” and is opposed to the type of moderate “Sufism” in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. In late 80s the Sufi faith experienced a new order within them as the “All Ceylon Thareekathul Mufliheen” led by M.S.M. Abdullah, popularly known as “Rah.” His new Muslim sect ran into conflict with the traditional Sufi Muslims and with Kattankudi based Wahabism.

By then the Eastern Muslim community was coming out of their limbo after armed Tamil politics emerged in Tamil parts of the East. First Muslim political party was formed by Lawyer A.H.M Ashraf from Kalmunai East giving them a political voice they never had. Conflicts with Tamil armed groups and then the LTTE provoked Muslim youth to counter Tamil dominance with their own identity given a militant upgrading. Meanwhile Wahabism faced dissent within them creating many organised Sects commonly called “Tawheed Jama’ath”. They were being influenced by different fundamentalist ideologies that came from Saudi Arab and from other radicalised Wahabi streams. They all picked on the long tunic and the “beard” for their identity. They not only wanted to be different in “beliefs” but also wanted to look different to the traditional, conservative Sufi Muslims. The “burka” and the “niqab” followed long unruly bearded men in long tunics, with wives and sisters falling in line.

But that alone wouldn’t make a “burka” and “niqab” trend grow. Middleclass and markets grow together. When the middleclass choose to change their attire for whatever reason, market responds quite quickly. Market response then creates a vogue too. We therefore saw shops specialising in “burkas, niqabs and hijabs” coming up in predominantly urban middleclass Muslim areas. The fast growing “burka” and “niqab” is thus a milieu of religious radicalising and the market response for profits.  

Increasing visual presence of especially the black “burka” was propping up Sinhala perception that the Muslim community is fast growing and is taking over space the Sinhala people should have. This was in the backdrop of Sinhala Buddhist politics looking out for a new “bogey” after they declared the Tamil Tigers completely annihilated in 2009 May. “Burka” and the “niqab” therefore became visual icons in daily life in lifting the anti Muslim campaign.

This in fact is a “cultural factor” that was politically exploited by Sinhala Buddhist extremism as the “burka” and the “niqab” stands out as “alien Islamism” in Sri Lankan popular culture. As one that took the traditional Muslim identity away from Sri Lanka. One that dragged the Muslim identity into conflict in a context where traditional Muslim majority was perceived as compromising with “extremist ideology”. There is definitely no complete turn around possible now and immediately. Yet compromising with Sinhala extremism will not help the Muslim community to challenge Islamic extremism within their own community. Muslim leadership both religious and community, needs to be more open and assertive within their community in challenging bomb laden “extremism” and not be part of decisions the government takes in pleasing Sinhala extremism. Compromising with extreme Sinhala demands will only lead to more dissent and strengthen explosive Islamic extremism. Having wasted time, this conflict now need time to turn around and determined, uncompromising neutrality in social interventions. For now, that patience and determination seem absent in both Sinhala and Muslim leaderships. A readymade decoction for further crisis.

(Kusal Perera)

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Counter the Potential for Anti-Muslim Actions with a Mass Education Campaign

By Jehan Perera

The wounds inflicted upon the body politic by the Easter Sunday bombings continue to fester and become more poisonous. They are not going away as might have been hoped for, and as might have been expected, in a country where much is eventually swept under the carpet to be forgotten by all except the victims, which increasingly looks like the fate of those who died or went missing in the three decade long ethnic war.

The much debated transitional justice process, dealing with the human rights violations which took place during that period, which was being pushed forward by initiatives from the international community, appears to have been derailed at this time, with political attention shifting to the Easter Sunday bombings and their fallout.

Two months after the six deadly bomb blasts that claimed the lives of 255 persons, polarisation between the country’s ethnic and religious communities continues to grow at a rapid pace. Even local government institutions are being subjected to division, with Tamils and Sinhalese joining hands in the eastern town of Kalmunai to demand an equal local government to match the one currently dominated by Muslims.

The highest ranking religious clergy are not immune to this polarisation that has the capacity to misguide them away from more universal values they are expected to uphold. One of the prelates recently called for an economic boycott of Muslim businesses. He has even said that the stoning to death of suspected offenders, on the other side of the divide, who are suspected to have engaged in illegal practices that are suspected to have cost many thousands of potential lives, is something that needs to happen.

It all sounds so irrational but it is deadly serious, because the mind is the forerunner of all states of being, and if we believe in absurdities we will be capable of atrocities. This includes mass riots and collective crimes against communities. These have happened in Sri Lanka and they have happened elsewhere. In Rwanda, people were described as cockroaches and a million were eliminated in a few days because they belonged to another ethnic community, though they shared the same religion.

Ten years after the end of the end of Sri Lanka’s three decade long war, Sri Lankans thought that our hard-earned peace would be sustained. But it collapsed in the debris of the Easter Sunday bombing of Christians by Muslim extremists which had no internal logic.

Past Evidence

Today we are reminded in different ways of how close we are to the brink. A colleague recounted this morning that a traffic policeman who apprehended him had also warned him that there was intelligence information of a possible attack, though it was not specified what type of attack or where.

There was supposed to be a larger presence of police on the ground on Sunday as a result, but there was no attack. If another bomb were indeed to go off, and take with it many lives, there could be a sudden descent into chaos.

An acquaintance referred to the discovery of many swords in the places of worship and homes of Muslims, which boded ill for the rest of the country. He spoke about the violent practice in “Muslim countries” of chopping off the limbs of those convicted of wrongdoing.

Not content with stopping at the issue of swords in the present day, my acquaintance also referred back two millennia, to the time of the great Buddhist kingdoms of India, and to the ancient Buddhist university at Nalanda which was looted, burned and utterly destroyed by invading Muslims who also slayed thousands of Buddhist monks.

He had no good faith or trust in the goodwill of Muslims towards Buddhists. On the contrary there is the irrational fear that continues to remain deeply entrenched in the psyche of many people, such as rumours that eating food prepared by Muslims can be dangerous on account of infertility drugs introduced to render non-Muslims sterile and unable to reproduce their communities.

Indeed, I have noted that when I express my conviction that it is not possible for a single doctor to sterilise thousands of women in the course of Caesarean operations, most of those I address remain dead silent, which makes me wonder if they think it is indeed possible and the truth.

The government has appointed an investigation committee comprising medical specialists in the field but there are protest marches being organised saying this is not enough. I say that I am sure that the story of the doctor sterilising women is implausible because he would be in the midst of teams of doctors and nurses who would be observing every step of the Caesarean procedure.

But I am aware that my audience may be rejecting my views.

Urgent Need

The tragedy is that this situation of polarisation, mistrust and hateful speech is likely to get worse and not better. There are two reasons for this. One is that business rivalries at the local and national levels make it advantageous to spread misinformation that causes one community to perpetrate economic boycotts upon the other, even at though it adds to the hatred and mistrust on both sides of the divide.

The second reason is that the country is careening into election mode, where each side is preparing to win by any means possible including whipping up inter-religious and inter-ethnic hatred. This accords with the long observed strategy of politicians who promote such negative sentiments because that can yield the harvest of votes that politicians so greedily want to prevail at the hustings.

In these deeply troubled circumstances, it is incumbent upon the rational elements in civil society to try and fill the vacuum of a speedy mass education campaign that the government and leaders of all political parties should be carrying out but are not. In particular, Muslim civil society needs to come out and publicly affirm that they do not subscribe to the agenda of the Islamic-State affiliated bombers when Sri Lanka is their home. Not once or twice, but all the time until the crisis ends as it will.

There is a special need to advertise widely that swords were found in only two out of several thousand mosques, and that it is not true that they were found in a large number of mosques.

The canard about infertility-inducing drugs being found in food distributed by Muslims needs to be similarly exposed.

They need to be advertised and broadcast on multiple news channels and in both print and electronic media. The millions and billions of rupees that business companies spend on their advertising campaigns need to be devoted to this more urgent and needed purpose.

This mass education campaign needs to be powerful enough to counter the political and social media campaigns of those who seek to widen the rift between the communities for their own purposes. It will need to be carried out at least until the presidential and general elections are completed, and a new government leadership comes to power that, hopefully, will have the moral vision and credibility to speak the truth and counter the untruths that now dominate the thinking of masses of people.

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Terror attacks can help Rajapaksa use wartime credentials for political gains

The deadly Easter bombings that rocked Sri Lanka bring significant political and social implications to the forefront. The attacks, which have rattled most Sri Lankans, have added yet another layer of complexity to a country that has always faced sectarian divisions. And, the tragic events will clearly be exploited by the country’s political opposition, led by former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka’s current president Maithripala Sirisena is extremely unpopular (and that’s been true for quite some time). Similarly, the present administration, led by the United National Party and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also the prime minister of the country, is weak and rudderless.

A Mahinda Rajapaksa-led opposition is resurgent. A party he backed dominated the local government elections in February last year. It was widely believed that Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, would contest the presidential election later this year; on 26 April, he declared his candidacy. He is likely to be the frontrunner in the election.

As Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa oversaw the defeat of the ruthless Tamil Tigers and ended the 25-year civil war in 2009. He’s still venerated by many Sinhalese as a war hero. As secretary to the ministry of defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a significant role in the war as well. The Easter attacks make it even easier for the Rajapaksas to use their wartime credentials for political gain.

The attacks point to a major intelligence failure, which is an outcome (at least in part) of the infighting between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It’s widely known that the relationship between the two leaders has been in a terrible shape for a while now.

Investigations into the attacks are already underway; the process should include significant international involvement to ensure it is credible. Thoughtful, meaningful and non-partisan intelligence reform should also be on the security agenda.

Fear of anti-Muslim backlash

It’s important to keep in mind that ethnic Sinhalese dominate the country’s institutions, including the security apparatus. A careless state response targeting minority communities would exacerbate tensions and further destabilise the already-precarious situation. In that context, President Sirisena’s move to give the military sweeping police powers, followed by parliament’s passage of very broad emergency regulations, is extremely troubling. Such tools have long been instruments of state repression.

Besides, the government already has a draconian anti-terrorism legislation – the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) – in place that gives state security personnel broad powers to conduct searches, make arrests and detain people. Historically, the PTA has been used to target the Tamil community.

More than a week into the Easter attacks, some locations still remain under curfew.

In addition to these, there’s also a very real prospect of widespread communal violence between different ethnic or religious groups.

Again, Sri Lanka’s history is replete with such instances, like the anti-Muslim violence in 2018. With Islamic State taking credit for the bombings, Islamophobia and the possibility of violence against Muslims are major concerns.

Electoral exigencies

Forthcoming national elections – both presidential and parliamentary polls – won’t just be about the failures of President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the former coalition government. Rajapaksa and his allies are likely to stoke the flames of ethnonationalism.

Terrorism, national security and law and order are set to be big issues as well.

There is grief, anger and tension in Sri Lanka. Several terror suspects are still at large. The US State Department says that “[t]errorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka”. Concerns regarding Sri Lanka’s future are not unfounded.

*Taylor Dibbert is an Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum.

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The Cardinal Truth

By Mangala Samaraweera M.P.

For as long as Sri Lanka has been an independent and sovereign nation, our people have been torn between two opposing political forces. This is the battle between the politics of unity and politics of division. To unite peoples across religious, ethnic and geographical lines requires moral courage and national vision. Unfortunately, many who have aspired to leadership roles in politics, the clergy and business have, far too often, taken the short cut of trying to gain or retain their power and influence by seeking to divide our people.

Some like the LTTE have tried to carve our country in two among ethnic and geographical lines. More recently, the radical Islamic cult of Zahran Hashim and ISIS sought to set the country on fire by igniting themselves, hundreds of innocent civilians and communities. All Sri Lankans condemn this unspeakable brutality. Our country owes the victims of these attacks an incalculable debt. Their grief is eternal, and the UNP will stand with them until the end of time.

Sadly, these terrorists are not the only forces who have succumbed to the temptation to lead Sri Lankans by dividing and not uniting. In 1983, several national leaders were guilty of, at minimum, turning a blind eye to heinous persecution of innocent Tamil civilians who were made to pay the price for crimes committed by the LTTE. During the 1989 insurrection, extremists ruthlessly killed civilians of all faiths and ethnicities. The government’s crackdown on their brutality was so heinous that none other than Mahinda Rajapaksa went to Geneva to seek international intervention to protect the human rights of Sri Lankan citizens.

In recent years, Sri Lankans have made many strides towards a more united country. For every step forward we take, the stark reality is that there will always be those whose political survival depends on dragging the country backwards and trying to divide us along sectarian lines.

It cannot be said too many times that most Tamils had nothing to do with the LTTE, most Sinhalese did not support the JVP insurrections, most Muslims abhor and denounce radicalization of their Islam, and most Catholics and other Christians are disgusted by the attempts of a few to legitimize a racist and religiously motivated witch hunt.

At the forefront of this witch hunt, attempting to hijack our criminal justice system with sectarian fairytales about forced sterilizations and terrorists lurking under every kufi, are the same men of the cloth who before 2015 led mobs to burn innocent shopkeepers alive. Standing in solidarity with this hatred are those who committed the cardinal sin of remaining silent while these same mobs attacked and set alight evangelical churches with the tacit blessing of the last regime. These laymen and clergy do not represent the vast majority of followers of their faith, who want only to live together in peace and harmony.

But there is a clear and present danger in ethnic peace and harmony. It is not a danger to the country or to its people, but a danger to certain politicians, media institutions, political movements and clergymen. In a united Sri Lanka, where Muslims don’t fear Buddhists, where Sinhalese don’t fear Tamils, and where Christians can worship in peace, they would become irrelevant.

When a political party, media organization or religious leader depends for their survival on one group of Sri Lankans becoming afraid of another, we must be wary of them. When their survival depends on highlighting what divides us and undermining what unites us, we must be wary of them. What role is there for them in a Sri Lanka in which Sinhalese women were not afraid of lurking Muslim doctors waiting to sterilize them, and instead choose their doctor without regard to religion. What role is there for them in a Sri Lanka where a Christian need not be tempted to convert to Buddhism to succeed in politics?

What role is there for them in a Sri Lanka where your religion or ethnicity does not play a role in your employment, housing or marriage prospects?

What these people do not want you to know is that in such a Sri Lanka, they would have no role. No one would vote for them. No one would worship with them. No one would advertise with them. No one would listen to them. That is why they try to frighten us. That is why they try to divide us. That is why they mercilessly and ruthlessly target anyone who would try to unite us. They don’t care what faith a person belongs to, or whom they support, so long as you are on their side.

Everyone should know how Rishard Bathurdeen earned the ire of the Podujana Peramuna and its minions among the media and the clergy. When they tried to illegally overthrow the government last October 26, they pleaded with this very same so-called terrorist Rishard Bathurdeen to join their government. They tried bribing him. They tried threatening him. But Rishard Bathurdeen refused to support an illegal government.

Mark my words. Had he supported Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament last year, there would not have been a no-confidence motion against him. He would not be called a terrorist. There would be a new target. Even today he is being cajoled to join the other side in exchange for the removal of his “terrorist label.” This is a man who served as a Cabinet Minister under them for almost a decade, who we are supposed to believe suddenly became a terrorist overnight after he stood by the UNP and by democracy.

The irony of the no-confidence motion being brought against this man is that it is being championed by Parliamentarians who clung to power for a whole month after their illegal government last year was defeated in not one, not two but three consecutive no-confidence motions. When they saw that they could not get their way, the whole country and the world watched as they tried to terrorise Parliament on 16 November 2018.

Every elected and appointed official in our country has sworn an oath to uphold and defend a Constitution that does not give power to politicians, priests or social media platforms to decide who is guilty or innocent of any crime, including terrorism. That is a sacred duty left to our judges, after a police investigation and fair trial.

In a country with such a proud tradition of justice, where all citizens were once entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty, people including a cabinet minister have been declared guilty without evidence, and the police have literally invited public complaints against these targeted four individuals in order to find them guilty of something – anything. Racists and xenophobes have hijacked our justice system and literally turned it upside down.

If Rishard Bathurdeen or anyone else has committed a crime, there is a process for a criminal investigation to commence, for evidence against them to be presented before courts and for justice to take its course. If they are guilty, they should be punished. Especially in the current context, our police and security forces have unprecedented autonomy to investigate and prosecute anyone remotely connected to these attacks.

But never in the history of our country have people first been declared guilty by the press and in Parliament, only to thereafter have the police call for evidence that they may have committed a crime. Today the targets are Muslim leaders being accused of terrorism. Who will tomorrow’s targets be? What will they be accused of? If this becomes the new norm, no one will be safe from this kind of mob lynching.

In a way, we must sympathize with those Sri Lankans on the street who have taken the bait fed to them by their political and religious leaders and are driven to violence by fear and a carefully nurtured sense of hatred. Even those people who cursed my parents for my actions must be doing so because they have been programmed to be afraid of anyone who dared question the leaders of their tribe.

These leaders who bait and whip them into a frenzy do not deserve our sympathy. Whether they sit in Parliament, call themselves clergymen, print newspapers or use our airwaves, they know what they are doing when stir up mobs against each other. Especially at a time when our marshals, generals and admirals are appealing to us to keep the peace, it is devastating to see politicians, religious leaders and media moguls trying to incite racial and religious hatred that could drive us into another war.

I have no doubt that my parents would be proud of me for standing on principle and fighting for a united Sri Lanka. As for those who are trying to set our country on fire, it is their children, and great grandchildren who will one day be forced to reckon with and disavow their dirty deeds. No lie can live forever, and someday the whole country will see through their self-serving duplicity.

To the vast majority of Sri Lankans of all faiths, ethnicities and political orientations, it is our turn to speak up before it is too late. If you abhor terrorism, the act of using violence or the threat of violence to achieve a political objective, you must speak up. If you believe that evidence of a crime must be put before a judge by the police and prosecutors before someone can be pronounced guilty, you must speak up. If you want your children to grow up in harmony within a peaceful and united Sri Lanka, you must speak up. If you believe that extremism, whether radical Islamic extremism, radical anti-Islamic extremism, and other forms of racially charged hatred have no place in our motherland, you must speak up.

Do not try to appease extremists or seek middle ground with them. They will make use of you and then move the goalposts further to the extreme. I have often criticized Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike for reneging on the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact and giving in to the extremists of his day. In the end, he did not go far enough to appease them, and paid for it with his life.

Even with his abdomen shredded by bullets and with every reason to give in to hatred and vengeance, he found the courage and humanity to try and unite his country. In the truest sense of Buddhism, he appealed for his murderer to be shown compassion. “I appeal to the people of my country to be restrained and patient at this time,” said the dying Prime Minister. Those closest to him, he implored “to be calm and to face the present situation with courage and fortitude.”

I am a devout Buddhist, not because I say so, but because I believe deeply in the tenets of Buddhism and the teachings of Lord Buddha. I believe that when our Constitution calls upon our country to “give to Buddhism the foremost place” and to “foster the Buddha Sasana”, this means defending the values Lord Buddha preached, such as compassion, tolerance and peace.

At the very outset of the Dhammapada, we are told that “hatred is never appeased by hatred. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.” This week, Muslim Ministers let by Rauf Hakim and Kabir Hashim gave life to this teaching of Lord Buddha by bravely standing in solidarity with their colleague who became the target of hate. I applaud their bravery and stand in solidarity with them.

But I believe that as the guardians of Buddhism, all Sri Lankans, especially Buddhists, have an especial and sacred duty to stand up to those who seek to preach hatred, intolerance and violence in the name of Lord Buddha.

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Sri Lankan authorities may have fallen into a trap set by a foreign power 

The entire world remains confronted with the horrors that unfolded yesterday throughout Sri Lanka. Whilst the country remains under curfew, the authorities have pinned the blame for the attack on an obscure group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ). NTJ is reportedly an Islamist terror group that as noted by Sri Lankan authorities, has multiple links to foreign countries. The links to foreign countries appears to hold the key to determining who is really behind the attacks. Notably, it has been reported by journalists that the group trains in Chennai in Tamil Nadu – the same location where LTTE had previously trained. Others yet claim that NTJ is such a small and obscure group that even if it wanted to pull off such an attack, it did not have the capacity to do so.

As the Muslim population of Sri Lanka is less than 8% of the country’s entire population, it is difficult to conceive that any genuine local Islamist group would seek to stage such massive attacks when the possibility of any material gain would be limited by the fact that not only is Sri Lanka’s Muslim population at harmony with the Buddhist majority, but the population of Muslims is incredibly small. This contrasts sharply with the situation in Syria where a Sunni Muslim majority was weaponized against a leadership comprised of the minority Alawite faction.

Therefore, due to NTJ’s foreign links, it is highly likely that a foreign entity, most likely a foreign state or state intelligence agency was behind the attacks and that the men on the ground who have been captured are merely pawns in a much larger and even more dangerous game. When it comes to seeking to pin-pointing the country with a clear motive for orchestrating the attacks, India is the one that springs immediately to mind, not least because NTJ reportedly trains where the LTTE once did.

India has a long history of seeking to manipulate the power balance in Sri Lanka in order to turn the country into something of an Indian protectorate. These attempts have notably been resisted by most contemporary Sri Lankan leaders who seek an independent foreign policy that aims at securing win-win friendship not only with India but crucially, also with China and Pakistan.

In spite of this, India was one of the first open backers of the LTTE’s reign of terrorism that gripped Sri Lanka beginning in 1983. India ultimately paid a price for its dithering in the early stages of the Sri Lankan civil war. By the end of the 1987, India had given up on LTTE and instead sought to influence the situation by committing a deeply controversial peace keeping force to Sri Lanka whose overall effect only served to provoke further violence. As a result of India’s 1987 decision to publicly “switch sides”, LTTE assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. In spite of this, it has been widely known in Sri Lanka and elsewhere that in spite of the official rhetoric in New Delhi, India’s RAW intelligence agency resumed covert support of LTTE later in the 1990s.

Since the end of the war against LTTE in 2009, India has sought to monopolise foreign influence in a post-war Sri Lanka that has developed ever more economic ties with China and plays a key role in the Belt and Road initiative. This has clearly been a source of consternation for an Indian state that has a track record of meddling in the affairs of both Sri Lanka and the much smaller Maldives. In both Sri Lanka and the Maldives, political factions are often divided by foreign observers into a pro-India side and a pro-China side. Although such divisions are not black and white, there is a level of truth to such descriptions. As such, India recently engaged in what geopolitical expert Andrew Kroybko described as a “electoral regime change in the Maldives”. This came after the prominent BJP supporter Subramanian Swamy called for a traditional war against the Maldives.

India was clearly looking to the south both in terms of Maldives and Sri Lanka for much of late 2018 and early 2019. Beginning in late 2018, Sri Lanka experienced a serious political crisis after President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former political rival (and former President) Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to Sirisena and his supporters, the proximate causes of Wickremesinghe’s dismissal were personal, cultural and class differences that Sirisena called irreconcilable. Furthermore, it was claimed by some in the Sri Lankan press that the sacking of Wickremesinghe was due to an Indian backed assassination plot against the President which resulted in the abrupt about face in respect of the Sri Lankan President’s loyalty. Later however, Sirisena assured Indian Premier Modi that he had never made such an accusation.

But while Sirisena took the time to assure India that stories regarding an Indian assassination plot are ‘fake news’, an inevitable geopolitical justification for Wickremesinghe’s sacking was offered from many quarters of Indian media.

According to the Indian narrative throughout the end of the 2018,  the traditionally/”formerly” pro-India Sirisena dismissed the pro-India Wickremesinghe in favour of the pro-China Rajapaksa due to pressure from Beijing. Of course, no one has been able to present any evidence of any Chinese involvement in the matter while China itself has taken a diplomatic line on the matter that has respected Sirisena’s decision in a rather subdued manner.

Ultimately, the courts overruled Sirisena and Wickremesinghe has continued to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.

Whilst the saga which pitted Wickremesinghe against Rajapaksa on the orders of Sirisena does ultimately seem to have been a completely internal matter, India clearly has not forgotten that Sirisena had moved to install a Prime Minister who ostensibly was more favourable to China and less so to India. As Sri Lanka is a much larger country than Maldives, meddling in the political situation was clearly going to be more difficult than the “electoral regime change” that New Delhi pulled off in Malé. Beyond this, whilst Indian media did their best to meddle in the situation in Sri Lanka during late 2018 and early 2019, this may well not have been enough to satisfy elements of the Indian deep state seeking revenge against Sirisena.

Beyond this, the timing of the attacks is incredibly suspicious. After India’s  recent provocation against Pakistan resulted in humiliation after Pakistan downed two Indian jets and safely captured and later released an Indian pilot, it can be logically deduced that India sought to create a different regional disturbance against a target that is generally seen as “softer” from the Indian perspective vis-a-vis Pakistan.

As Sri Lanka defeated LTTE ten years ago, the atmosphere of peace that had prevailed may well have created a false sense of security that was ripe for exploitation. Even before Colombo named an obscure Islamist group as the culprits of the attacks, Indian politicians up to and including Narendra Modi began banging the drums of jingoistic Islamophobia as is par for the course when it comes to the radical Hindutva BJP.

Therefore, when one connects the dots, one sees that India stands to uniquely benefit from Sri Lanka’s turmoil not only in terms of internal electoral politics but in terms of weakening a Sri Lankan government that in spite of its allegedly pro-India Prime Minister maintains healthy and growing ties to China and Belt and Road. Thus, the attack could well serve as a “punishment” for Sri Lanka’s “crime” of moving closer towards Belt and Road. Making matters all the more beneficial for India is that a relative of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s family was also killed in the attack which took place on a five star hotel in which he was staying. It cannot be ruled out that RAW had knowledge of this and specially targeted the hotel in order to inevitably inflame Bangladeshi sentiment against Sri Lanka for its self-evident security failure.

Taken as a whole, India has clear motives for seeking to destabilise Sri Lanka at this time. What’s left for Sri Lankan investigators to do is make the foreign links of NTJ know to the wider world whilst Sri Lanka must also record and make public the voices of the surviving suspects so that experts can determine if the suspects speak in the language, dialect and vernacular that one would expect. Also, the bodies of the terrorists must be examined to determine whether they are circumcised or not. This is crucial as previous Indian false flag attacks have involved non-circumcised men (therefore not Muslims) participating in allegedly Islamist attacks whilst also, previous false flag attacks in India allegedly involving Pakistanis were later exposed due to the fact that the “Pakistani” suspects could not speak Urdu or any other official Pakistani language but instead spoke in languages and vernaculars common only to India.

Therefore, while it cannot be concluded with certainty that yesterday’s atrocity was a false flag attack, it can certainly not be ruled out. As such, anyone with a clear motive for conducting a false flag attack should be thoroughly investigated by the Sri Lankan authorities.

(Adam Garrie)

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