March 18, 2018
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Rags To Riches In Mavady Munmari, The Handicapped Villager Who Found His Way

Mar 15, 2017 0
Rags To Riches
In Mavady Munmari, The Handicapped Villager Who Found His Way

Handicapped man Thiagarajah Sothinathan has not been able to walk properly since he was a child. But that has not stopped him from becoming a hero in his own town.

Having learned to ride a bicycle, despite his inability to walk, it is common to see Sothinathan going by.

“When something happens here, he is always the first one there,” says the elderly man in the village of Mavady Manmari, about 24 kilometres from Batticaloa, one of the largest towns in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. “If somebody is killed by an elephant, or their house is destroyed, he travels there on his bicycle to help. When there is a funeral he supplies the chairs and the sound equipment. He won’t ask for any money for that, just accept whatever is given. If somebody’s goats or chickens get sick, they go to him for advice. Everybody likes him,” the 75-year-old explains.

“It is so strange that God has disabled such a good man,” the elderly local muses.

Many organisations provide us with assistance but not everyone seems to be able to make use of it.

He is talking about Thiagarajah Sothinathan, a local man who has lost the use of both his legs. His story is one of rags to, if not exactly riches, then certainly decent standing in his own community.

Sothinathan was born in 1990 and was brought up by his grandmother, and then his aunt. A congenital disease meant that, from a relatively early age, he was no longer able to walk. Living in poverty, he became a crippled outcast, unable to even attend school.

“Nobody liked me,” he says sadly.

The Sri Lankan civil war made life even worse for local handicapped people. Sothinathan started to move around the countryside begging. “I hated life,” the villager says.

Things took a turn for the better when he was 19 and married his wife, Vavith. The couple made their way out of economic hardship when a charity encouraged Sothinathan into self-employment by giving him a chicken and some goats, with which to start his own business.

“The 50 chicks and five goats they gave me, made me more confident,” Sothinathan explains. “From the income, I bought 20 more chickens and made money from the sale of eggs and meat. I now have 15 goats. I also garden at home and sell the produce: curry leaves, chillies, bitter gourd, maize, pumpkins and some cereals. Whatever is surplus to our own needs is sold,” says the father of two.

Thiagarajah Sothinathan and his goats.

Thiagarajah Sothinathan and his goats.

Another charity donated to his cause by giving him an amplifier and he is now able to earn money by hiring this equipment out.

“Many organisations provide us with assistance but not everyone seems to be able to make use of it,” Sothinathan notes.

Having learned to ride a bicycle, despite his inability to walk, it is common to see Sothinathan going by with his sound equipment on the back of his bicycle, on his way to hire out the audio equipment to locals holding functions.

“My wife takes care of the livestock while I am out with the audio equipment,” Sothinathan explains. “I am so lucky to have a woman like her by my side. She is the one who keeps me going when I get depressed,” says the man, who now does everything by bike, including taking the children to school.



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Overseas LTTE-backed plot to assassinate TNA MP Sumanthiran in Jaffna revealed

Jan 28, 2017 0

sumanthiran-a“Nallavan” (not his real name) is a Tamil youth living in a Northern village. He was a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization who had surrendered to the armed forces in May 2009. He was incarcerated for a period of time and released after undergoing a process of rehabilitation. Life in a post-war Northern environment was painfully difficult because Nallavan could not get gainful employment anywhere. Neither did he have adequate financial resources to go abroad. Nallavan lived with an aged aunt and engaged occasionally in manual work as a casual worker 

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Uduvil Girls College crisis: Students petition President –

Sep 10, 2016 0

uduvil-aBy Dharisha Bastians

Students of the Uduvil Girls College (UGC) in Jaffna handed over a petition to President Maithripala Sirisena opposite the Jaffna Library yesterday, as crisis deepens in the church administered school over a popular headmistress who was retired this week.

Falling at the President’s feet last afternoon, the schoolgirls wept and appealed to him to intervene to reinstate Shiranee Mills as Principal of UGC. In their petition, the students asked President Sirisena to ensure their safety and wellbeing and ‘release the school from the grip of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI) by making changes in the governing body’.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry, I will take action,” President Sirisena soothed the crying school children and their parents at the Subaramaniam Park where he was attending an anti-narcotics programme the Government had organized during his Northern tour.

A group of Uduvil Girls College schoolgirls have been engaged in protests and hunger strikes at the school against the appointment of a new Principal over the past week. At least one student was hospitalized briefly during the fast.

Mills, who turned 60 on 7 September, was requested to vacate her post upon reaching maximum retirement age as per an employment contract signed on 24 October 2009 and after she was refused a further extension by the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India which administers the private Christian school.

The CSI’s Jaffna Diocese is headed by Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah.

On Wednesday, Northern Province Education Minister Thambyrajah Gurukularajah wrote to Bishop Thiagarajah asking the church to ‘cease all steps’ to terminate the services of Principal Mills and appealing to him to reconstitute the board of management of the school since he believed it was “biased”.

Bishop Thiagarajah replied the Minister saying that Uduvil Girls College was a private school whose control and management were entirely with the Church, including the appointment of principals. In his letter to Gurukularajah, the Bishop said that the installation of the new principal had already been concluded and that the appointment was now a “concluded matter.” Bishop Thiagarajah also requested the provincial minister to “desist from interference with this matter” in his three-page letter.

Appointed principal in 2005, Mills is credited with having transformed the school, with a focus on English language training, IT, sports and personal development. Her contribution to the upliftment of educational standards at the Uduvil Girls College resulted in a wave of protests, particularly by the school’s alumni when news broke that she would retire in September 2016 upon reaching the age of 60. Past pupils argue that principals of UGC have traditionally retired well over the age of 67 years.

However, Bishop Thiagarajah told Daily FT that the retirement was not a matter of surprise since the school’s board of management had been planning for Mills’ retirement in September 2016 at separate meetings in August 2015 and February 2016, that the principal had also attended. Principal Mills had been granted extensions of service for the past three years, after she turned 57. Her final extension was approved in August 2015 during a Board Meeting at which she participated, Bishop Thiagarajah said.

Minutes in Daily FT’s possession show that on 10 August 2015, Principal Mills submitted her own name in a list of 2016 retirees before the school Board of Management. Mills had even put up a notice on the school notice board announcing the vacancy of principal, and informed the Bishop that she had displayed the notice, authoritative sources told Daily FT.

Subsequent to the announcement of the vacancy, Mills also submitted an application for reappointment, which she says she did on the instructions of the Bishop, and submitted to an interview process. Principal Mills had not been the choice of the selection board, and was not granted an extension. Past pupils have alleged that the selection board had been biased against Mills.

The executive Committee of the JDCSI appointed Patricia Suneetha Jebaratnam as Principal with effect from 7 September 2016 but Mills said in an interview last night that she would be willing to resume her position.

“At the moment since the new appointment is already made the only option open to me is to hand over. But if there is a possibility within a legal structure to return to the school and work with the children again, I would be willing to do that, provided the administration of the school is made more democratic,” Mills told Daily FT.

Bishop Thiagarajah meanwhile insisted that the selection process had been independent and transparent and that the new principal recommended by the selection board would be a good choice.

The Bishop appealed to students and parents involved in the protest to maintain the dignity of the school. “The issue is being created by third parties with vested interest. Until that happened there was no problem, Principal Mills agreed to vacate and hand over by 6 September 2016,” the Bishop said in an interview.

Principal Mills is yet to vacate the principal’s bungalow inside the school premises, but has promised a local district judge to move by Monday (12). Mills said she had agreed to hand over to the new Principal on Monday (12) but informed a local district Judge that she would need two months to vacate the residence. School administration officials however told Daily FT that the Judge had communicated to them that Mills would move her personal items out of the residence by the end of September.

The Mallakam District Judge who is also magistrate of the area intervened in the issue after the school girls complained to him that they were being ‘beaten’ for protesting. Protesting parents and students allege that there had been assaults and crude remarks cast on the school girls on Wednesday (7), by teachers returning to the school following a retreat. A probation officer has been stationed at the school to ensure the safety of students. Officials of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the National Child Protection Authority also arrived at the school on Thursday to look into the students complaints and verify their security, Bishop Thiagarajah told Daily FT.

The Uduvil Girls College saga has taken a major political twist, with Northern politicians of every shade now in the fray and flocking to the site of the protests over the past week. Suresh Premachandran, leader of the EPRLF which is a constituent party in the Tamil National Alliance and Northern Provincial Councillor Ananthi Sasitharan are accusing Jaffna District Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran of ‘political interference’ in the school.

Sumanthiran represented Bishop Thiagarajah, who is under fire for not extending Mills’ term, in legal action against the breakaway faction of the church seven years ago. During that case, Sumanthiran moved the court against Mills on the basis that she had perjured herself three times in cross examination. Principal Mills has also been embroiled in a legal battle with the Church over a disciplinary inquiry which went up to Supreme Court, where the case was dismissed. Sumanthiran was legal counsel for the Diocese in that case as well. The Jaffna District MP was a practicing lawyer and had not entered politics at the time.

Bishop Thiagarajah said it was ironic that the only politician who had not stepped foot in the school since the unrest started and had no involvement in the issue in 2016 was being flayed for interference with school matters.

Mills told Daily FT that Sumanthiran had a ‘natural animosity’ towards her because of  past legal tangles in which he represented the Diocese.

Mills was sacked in 2009 after the legal battle, but subsequently reinstated after then Minister Douglas Devananda intervened on her behalf following appeals by the students. Similar protests to reinstate her had taken place in 2009.

She was reinstated on the basis of a letter of apology she issued to the Church, regretting among other things not adhering to directions of the School Board at the Church executive committee. In her reinstatement contract, Mills undertook to abide by the directives of the school management board and the Diocese, and clauses that indicate that her extensions will be at the sole discretion of the management.

Further politicizing the issue, Daily FT learns that Devananda had visited Principal Mills at the school on Thursday (8). Mills confirmed that the EPDP leader had paid her a visit, but noted that many other politicians had also visited. Devananda and State Minister for Education V.S. Radhakrishnan were instrumental in getting the students an audience with President in Jaffna yesterday, Daily FT learns.

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How an American idea influenced Swiss morality

Jun 29, 2016 0

02-buchman-with-adenauer-jpgThe Caux Initiatives of Change Foundation, formerly Moral Rearmament, is celebrating its 70th anniversary. looks at an international evangelical and anti-communist movement which has left its mark on Swiss conservatives – both before and after the Cold War.

It was during the first half of the 20th century, when the West was at war and in crisis, that an American evangelist had an idea that would develop into the Moral Rearmament movement. On Friday, the movement marks 70 years at its headquarters above Montreux, overlooking Lake Geneva.

Frank Buchman (1878-1961) was convinced he had the solution to saving the world from the torments it was going through. In the 1930s, he and his followers founded the Oxford Group, which played a role in the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But Buchman, a man with conviction and Swiss roots, didn’t plan on stopping there. Faced with what he saw as the vices of capitalism and devil-led projects of atheists, he stressed the need for a “moral rearmament”. In 1938, that became the official name of the movement launched by the Oxford Group.

In a book devoted to this movement, the US historian Daniel Sack wrote: “Moral Rearmament sought to change the world by changing human nature, even in political and economic arenas, not through rational persuasion or logical argument but through storytelling.”

‘Soft Swiss fascism’

This resonated throughout Europe and the world. In Switzerland, almost 30 political conservatives joined the movement. The political positions of the Swiss members of Moral Rearmament reflected the debates among Swiss conservative parties.

“During the 1930s the crisis was total – simultaneously economic, political and intellectual,” said conservative historian Olivier Meuwly.

“The rise of fascism and communism scared a lot of the world. And a minority of the Radical Party [the largest party on the right at the time, holding a majority in the Swiss government] questioned the concept of parliamentary democracy, all the while asking themselves whether it was necessary to reform capitalism. That was where some people got the idea of finding an authoritarian solution for Switzerland.”

In the second half of the 1930s, this idea was spread with a certain success in Switzerland by the ultra-Catholic aristocrat Gonzague de Reynold, who worshiped the memory of António de Oliveira Salazar, ruler of Portugal from 1932 to 1968. In 1933, Salazar installed the Estado Novo, or Second Republic, an authoritarian, conservative, Catholic and nationalist regime which was overthrown in 1974.

“Salazar was a model for a soft Swiss fascism,” said the leftwing historian Hans-Ulrich Jost, adding that this included Protestant conservatives.

For some on the political right it was a question of defending Switzerland’s sovereignty in the face of Nazi Germany, while bearing in mind the numerous authoritarian regimes in Europe which were stamping a new European order – actually a period of destruction and massacre.

This vision was doing the rounds in several conservative associations – think tanks before the term existed. “But the historical research hasn’t been carried out explaining the links between the various conservative associations during the 1940s and 1950s,” Jost said.

This provokes a reaction from Olivier Meuwly. “These associations make certain historians on the far left fantasise – not so much about Moral Rearmament but theMont Pelerin Society, seen as a global conspiracy to establish the reign of money,” he said.

The Mont Pelerin Society, which would play a founding role in the promotion of the neo-liberal economy, was founded in Caux a year after Moral Rearmament. They are geographical neighbours, but Hans-Ulrich Jost sees another similarity.

“The Mont Pelerin Society defended the same values as Moral Rearmament but without the religion. It had been founded by the economist Friedrich Hayek and his colleague Wilhelm Röpke, who in 1942 launched a moral appeal in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung for a renewal of Switzerland centred on individual and economic liberty with a harnessed state without a social policy.”

Change of direction

“After the war, all the slightly posh conservatives were in Moral Rearmament, a network which had a certain impact on all those associations which were looking to have an influence on politics and the army by targeting the elite,” Jost said.

This view is shared by a former official in the movement. “I went to Caux for the first time when I was 18 or 20, at the beginning of the 1960s,” Jean-Pierre Méan said in an interview with the Protestant News Agency in 2010.

“The message at the time – as far as I understood it – consisted above all of mobilising Christian values against communism. A lot of effort was spent on the leaders of third-world countries so that they didn’t turn to communism when they gained independence. This approach didn’t interest me.”

The reason that Méan eventually rejoined the Caux Initiatives of Change Foundationin the 2000s stems from the change in direction taken by Cornelio Sommaruga, who took over Moral Rearmament, as it was still called, when it had lost a lot of its 1970s aura.

Highly regarded in Switzerland as well as within the international organisations based in Geneva, Sommaruga humanised and embodied – like no one before him – the presidency of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a post he held from 1987 to 1999.

Under his direction, the title Moral Rearmament, which had become cumbersome, was dropped and the organisation became the Initiatives of Change Foundation. The original spirit intended by Frank Buchman has been preserved, minus the most ideological trappings.
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Report says public media must reform

Jun 19, 2016 0


A federal report has concluded that the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) must keep evolving to adapt to the digital revolution overtaking all media.

The report, prepared at the request of parliament and adopted by the government on Friday, comes in the wake of pressure from right-wing politicians to scale back the mandate of the public service media.

Reaction to the report was varied. Whereas some groups saw it as providing a good basis for discussion, others found it “disappointing” and “incomplete” and said they had hoped for more concrete suggestions for reform.

The centre-right Radical Party criticised the report’s “lack of a strategy for the future”. Simply holding on to the current model of public service will not bring the media landscape further, the party said in a statement.

The report adopted Friday says the public media service must be information-oriented, multilingual, high quality and take account of all population groups, but that it also must continue to improve its offering for young people who mainly get information or connect through the internet.

“Especially in the area of entertainment, but also in sport, more competition is not only needed but essential,” said the conservative right Swiss People’s Party.

Other parties were generally satisfied with the report. The centre-left Social Democratic Party and the centre-right Christian Democrats felt the report offers a good basis for constructive discussion of public service.

The SBC should offer more opportunities for programming that promotes the development of public opinion, the Christian Democrats wrote.

And the Social Democrats praised the report’s call for strengthening the SBC’s internet presence.

The report maintains a ban on online advertising for the next three to five years. However, the cabinet wants to update the laws for electronic media, beyond the current language for radio and television.

Support for the SBC

In a statement following the release of the report, the SBC said the cabinet considers it to be an organisation “willing to change, which continually evolves and has proven its value in the digital age”. The SBC has the know-how to “make a contribution in a time of fragmentation in the digital community”.

The public broadcaster added that in the midst of upheaval in the media the government report creates “the basis for a constructive, open discussion of what constitutes successful public service and how the public media company SBC will develop in the future.”

Earlier this month, the cabinet approved a new mandate for, the international online service of the SBC, for a four-year period starting from January 1, 2017.

The cabinet will contribute nearly CHF20 million ($20.2 million) annually – or CHF1.6 million less than it does currently – to continue to co-finance, as well as, TV5Monde and 3sat, which all provide news and information for international audiences.

For the first time, the mandate for explicitly requires the service to offer relevant curated content from external sources and “citizen journalism” to more actively involve the public in content creation.

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Seeing the “Eastern Outburst” on the Sinhala canvas: In defence of Eastern Province Chief Minister (Article)

May 29, 2016 0

Hafiz-Nazeer-AhamadThe Navy high Command has taken one step too far, too quick. The Daily Mirror (DM) on 27 May (2016), carried in one of its columns a statement made by the Navy media spokesman, Captain Alavi as saying the Navy Commander had given instructions to all navy officers and camps that Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Nazeer Ahamed should not be allowed into any naval camp. Captain Alavi is on record saying, “We have also informed all Navy officers to refrain from attending his functions”.

This begs the question, can the navy Commander, or for that matter any commander in the tri-forces take such decisions against an elected official in the capacity of an executive, a Chief Minister of a province, whatever the issue or allegation is? The most appropriate procedure for the Navy to take action seems, the Commander submits a full report on the incident to the Minister of Defence through Secretary, MoD “for necessary action”. The ministry could then request a report from the Governor as well as from the CM before arriving at a decision the Minister feels as necessary. Instead the navy had gone on its own asserting an authority that I tend to think is far beyond theirs. This is a political decision the navy had taken and I personally feel, the navy is now treading on forbidden land. Sadly, the MS-RW government does not have the political authority and the will to tell the navy and the tri-forces that in a post war situation, there is a complaint mechanism and a procedure to be adopted in civil administration that would take care of all such issues and decisions. That the government would ensure justice prevails for all.

The passiveness of the government in managing the battle hardened security forces in post war Sri Lanka, is very much so due to lack of a programme in allowing the tri forces to step back into a normal civil society and also the bias of this political leadership towards the Sinhala constituency. This ineptness in governance was seen in Jaffna when Foreign Minister attended a function on developing a mechanism for the reconciliation process. There in mid-February this year, Minister Samaraweera ran into friction with Major General Chagi Gallage. There was mischief in media interpretations of the incident. Yet it was most silently sorted out, compromised on a transfer arranged for Major General Gallage, one time head of Rajapaksa’s security. This now is the second friction on the high, between the political authority and the tri forces within just 03 months. This verbal altercation unlike that in Jaffna, is now out in public and discussed in the media. Sinhala racism that has lost their glitter on the Colombo roads have crowded in social media, busy giving it a racist burst. Few protests gathered in the East with Buddhist monks crying loud against “a Muslim insulting our Sinhala war heroes”. Certainly an unwanted and an unnecessary prop from hard line Sinhala “patriotism”. A dangerous trend if allowed, especially with President Sirisena led government that is grappling to have the Rajapaksa image copied with maximum accuracy for its ill calculated advantage.

It is therefore necessary to see the Sampur event in context, before pointing fingers at CM Nazeer Ahamed. On record, Governor Austin Fernando does not deny the explanation given by CM Ahamed. CM Ahamed was in Kinniya at another event attended by the US Ambassador Keshap and the Governor. Was not accommodated in the chopper to go to Sampur. Was instead asked to go on road to Sampur till the ambassador and “others” flew to Sampur by chopper. Governor himself “managed” a seat in the chopper that was crowded. CM’s details on the next issue in the school at Sampur also goes without denial. It thus goes to say, the CM of the province had not been given due recognition as the elected head of the provincial administration, at both events. What in fact Governor Fernando has put on record (DM on 27 May) is a long excuse to stress he is not at fault.

His long explanation thus raises more issues than answers. The school, Sampur M.V had been under the Navy. The LLRC recommended and stressed civil administration should be established in the provinces and civil life should be allowed freedom in all aspects of society. That was 04 years and 05 months ago. Yet nothing had changed. In fact the tri forces can even secure funds to improve anything they think they should including school facilities, and they do. The navy had thus secured funds from a private company (Arpico?) to provide the Sampur school with a science and a computer laboratory constructed by the navy.

Education is a wholly devolved subject, Governor Fernando is well aware of. All schools, except those few the Colombo government grabs now and then to call them “National” schools, come under the authority of the PC. No funds therefore should go to any school without the approval of the provincial education administration. But they do go, as the Sampur school event proves and Governor Fernando also knew the navy was in charge of the school and funds were available with the navy, when he settled in Trincomalee as Governor. The Governor certainly has had no issues with security forces getting involved in civil administrative work, as he explains himself. The navy perhaps did not even want any approval or consent from the provincial authorities to undertake the construction work they completed.

In such context, the event owner in this instance was without doubt the navy and obviously the local education officers and school staff has to fall in line. The navy had not thought it important to invite the CM. To indicate he was more thoughtful, Governor Fernando says he invited the CM for the event as he thought it good to also have him. What does all this mean?

Even one year and four months after the “rainbow revolution”, what the LLRC strongly recommended has not been undertaken even by this government in re-establishing civilian administration. Authority of State security forces in civil administration and public life stands firm and both North and East Governors add to it. As with the Northern PC where Governor Cooray trespasses on the provincial council’s mandate to develop its province, in the East Governor Fernando has also allowed the PC to live a marginalised life. He thus sounded a sorry personality when he told DM, “When we reached the venue, we found that the organisers had marked the seats. Accordingly, the Navy commander of the Eastern section sat next to Atul Keshap but the CM claimed that he should have sat there. But I didn’t see anything wrong in the commander sitting next to the ambassador.”

That very clearly spells out Governor Fernando’s perceived position on civil administration and the value he gives provincial rule in relation to the authority of Sate security forces in his province. This perception is well cemented further in his explanation, when he goes on to say the handing over of the school is good for the security forces as there are allegations the army is anti-Tamil and adds, “Therefore, this was a good opportunity for them (the security forces) to show that this allegation was false”. He thus works on the premise there is no problem with the security forces doing public work and is very casual about leaving the civil administration with no clear devolved power.

That being how the Governor of the province consents to security forces being involved in civil duties, the navy was in control of the event from day one and they decided the importance and glamour of all arrangements including seating. For the navy that for a long period during the war was in charge of affairs in East along with other State security forces, provincial councils are not as important as themselves. In fact even the previous Governor for almost 09 years was Rear Admiral (Rtd) Mohan Wijewickrama, one time Chief of Staff of the SL Navy. Therefore from how the navy understands, a civilian Chief Minister is not as important as the Eastern Province Navy Commander to sit next to the US ambassador. The irony is, Governor Fernando, a retired senior civil administrator also think, there is nothing wrong in that.

This conflict in who runs the province and where the CM of the province should stand in the provincial hierarchy, had been dragging on in the Eastern Province, even after Mr. Fernando was appointed Governor. That conflict is yet there even in the North, even after Cooray a politician who boasts he was always for devolution from Vijeya Kumaratunge’s time was appointed Governor. Yet we don’t see such conflicts between Governors and CMs in the other provinces and the question is “Why?”

In the other provinces that are fundamentally Sinhala constituencies, almost always, the Governor is the representative of the President, whose politics don’t contradict that of the CM and his provincial council. The CM and the Governor in fact work in tandem with the Colombo power centre. That is reason why the provincial leaders in the other provinces don’t feel they need better and effective devolved power. And the other important factor is, in these provinces the State security forces have never been involved in running the provinces. They have not been part of or authorities of the provincial administrations. South has not been militarised to the intimidating extent the North and East have been militarised.

With that the Sinhala South wrongly perceives “Devolution” as a political process leading to separation. The South therefore don’t discuss the fact that all outside Colombo have been neglected and denied much needed quality “development” in this Colombo centred “Unitary State”. Rural poverty in Sinhala South have been dragged along this Unitary State for 67 years since independence. They don’t make an effort to understand they too need to assert provincial rule for their own development within better and effectively “devolved” power.

Sinhala Governors appointed to the two Tamil and Muslim dominated provinces don’t think any differently. They don’t have to when the Colombo government that promises “reconciliation” don’t recognise the N & E PCs and it opts to work with TNA parliamentarians on everything provincial. The Governors thus try to maintain a status quo, with a dominant presence of State security forces and Colombo centric power on which they are appointed. This leaves the two provinces denied of political authority to run their own administrations. This status quo is not what the Northern and Eastern people want. They expected civil persons as Governors in their provinces to pave way for a total civil administration. Sadly the two Sinhala Governors don’t act any different to Major General G.A. Chandrasiri in the North and Rear Admiral (Rtd) Mohan Wijewickrama in the East. Nor does the Colombo government that promises “reconciliation” facilitate a change to effective civil administration in North-East.

The recent verbal altercation is thus a reflection of this on-going conflict. It had to surface somewhere some time. It was clearly articulated by the Eastern PC Chief Minister in his explanation. He was honestly clear when he gave vent to his feelings “Nobody gave me due recognition. I have never been insulted like this before.” in the DM.

How the reaction to this continued status quo that leaves the elected provincial council and its CM less important is not the best way it should have been articulated. It should have been taken up the way CM Vigneswaran protested against Governor Cooray. Still a better way would have been to adopt a strongly worded resolution stating the protocols in the PC. I would have therefore appreciated CM Ahamed’s explanation more, had he included in his explanation a decent apology to the Naval officer, who would have also felt insulted before an audience, just the way the CM Ahamed felt humiliated before his own constituency.

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The struggle for memory (Article)

May 22, 2016 0


I went to the place on May 18th around 10am, where we had the commemoration last year thinking that security would be eased and space given for people to commemorate the tragedy of May 18th. To my surprise there was no arrangement done and just a few who had braved the harassment were trying to fill in the low ground after it had rained the previous night. I asked them why people were not there to organise the event and they replied in chorus, ‘people are sacred to contribute due to the recent abductions’. I had to join them organising the event though there were multiple events organised by various groups to mark the massacre. Youth, after my arrival, reluctantly came to prepare the event thinking that my priestly presence would give them security though I am not sure that’s the case. I recall that Fr. Frances Joseph who facilitated the surrender on 18th May 2009 disappeared, Fr. Praveen was arrested under PTA, and Fr. Jim Brown was abducted and killed. As in 2015 we had the intelligence groups photographing us and asking various questions from those who organised the religious observance.

A few security personnel provided security without our permission, reporting to headquarters about our movements. It took me a while to understand why the intimidation happened again and why people were prevented from reaching Mullivaikal where the wrecked ship is. Erecting a monument had to be done at last moment and I had to request some clergy and friends from the South to be with us in order to reduce the harassment.  It was dark when we erected the monument and we had unwanted visitors immediately, who appeared in the vicinity asking queries about the monument. The three uninvited visitors took photos to report back on us.

Those who were deployed seemed to have had the details of everyone who was there. They already knew what I was planning that day. They also requested the local Gramma Sevaka official to provide all the details of those clergy who attend the religious observance in order to file an intelligence report.

‘Does collective remembrance of a troubled past impede reconciliation?’ is the debate taken forward by the International Centre for Transitional Justice in which Pablo de Grieff, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non recurrence, states that an  ‘unacknowledged past breeds manipulation and fear’.

Seven years after the end of war, victims who undergo daily threats and harassment do not have space to mourn their dead but braved the monitoring, surveillance and intimidation to commemorate May 18th. The day was polarised as everything else. For the South it is a victory day and for the North and East a day that marks immense loss of lives though the numbers are contested.

Past abuses and crimes need to be acknowledged. The quest for justice is a path they victims will take however long it proves. Rawlinian justice is not even taken into account where the parity of power is highly polarised in Sri Lanka’s post-Mullivaikal history. The space for memory in the post-Mullivaikal world is dominated by the triumphant discourse, which deny space to an alternative narration making truth the looser. Men who perpetrated crimes at the expense of the lives of Tamil civilians are praised as heroes without realising that history will not forgive them.

The victory monuments erected along the A9 road and inside the former war zone promote the justification of the killing of civilians trapped in ‘No Fire Zone’ declared by the GoSL. The holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the Bosnian genocide are commemorated annually and these commemorations help the victims rewrite history and give space for victims to have their stories expressed as they endured untold suffering in the 21st century. Similarly in Sri Lanka the UN failed to protect when the GoSL refused to protect its own citizens.

The ‘memory entrepreneurs’ are the victors who have their own project of building a collective memory. It is crucial to understand who articulates the collective memory project in a given time and space so as to understand what motivates them and what they do to try and achieve their aims by erecting victory monuments in the former war zones. They promote triumphalism, exuberant about the defeat of the Tamil people and paint our struggle as terrorism.

Remembering is not only re-writing  history from a victim-centric perspective as opposed to a triumphalist construct but deconstructing  the tainted picture, to gain a ground where victims articulate the truth as they witnessed it in order to pursue justice, to regain their dignity and individual and collective identity that was shattered due to torture and so called “rehabilitation”.

The debate goes back and forth between these binaries of triumphalism and defeat. Mobilisation of commemoration in the pursuit of justice and truth needs to be endured individually and collectively. Shrinking space for commemoration of the victims even  seven years after the end of war is a manifestation of the state’s denial of atrocities. It is monopolizing the space of commemoration with its unitary narrative and doesn’t want to move forward.

Erecting the first monument at Mullivaikal is the beginning of the rewriting the history by the victims.

Resisting the state’s version of truth is another struggle victims wage; there should be space for victims’ narratives that help in constructing truth and eventually historical memory. Historical memory is collective. The monument portrays the suffering and perhaps more importantly the struggle people endured for their rights and hegemonic resistance.

Today victims still need to struggle to remember their dead ones in spite of intimidation and surveillance. Why would there be extra deployment of military, police and other intelligence services on the day of mourning. The previous regime did the same and the current has not changed. On the verge of national consultations if people have no space for memorialisation, how would there be a  space for free expression of what people need in terms of a justice mechanism.  Civil societies especially from the North and East have already raised concern over the process of transitional justice and the content of the offices being set up without the participation of victims and organisations that are working with the victims. They are worried that the transitional justice project itself has been hijacked and led by the state, divorced from the victims.

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War, Peace And Victory Celebrations (Article)

May 17, 2016 0
soldier21Seven years have passed since the guns were finally silenced marking the end of Sri Lanka’s 30 year war. Accordingly, for the seventh consecutive time, we Sri Lankans are preparing to celebrate the war victory.

However, behind the colourful banners, the pomp and pageantry of victory celebrations, there are some issues that still remain unaddressed. Are we really enjoying the fruits of peace? What have we done to prevent conflict from erupting in the future? What has happened to the many victims of war? These are a few among many questions that require our immediate attention.

The war came to an end with a victory but have we been able to move forward with reconciliation among ethnic groups? Even today traces of past hatred are evident. In the recent past, conflicts among ethnic and religious groups ended with innocent lives lost. Even though the previous government boasted of its achievement in putting an end to torture, a recent UN report has stated otherwise. All these issues point to the fact that we have not yet reached a level where we could expect sustainable peace and harmony.



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The Sad Story Of Widows In The North (Article)

May 10, 2016 0

17.1At a time the blazing sun’s heat was boiling the still waters of Nandikadal lagoon situated in the South Eastern part of mullaitivu, we arrived at Salewaraji’s residence. Through the walls of her shabby and small house, dark shadows of a sad past were thoroughly visible. “During the height of war my husband and three off my children were killed by shell fire. Now with the remaining three children I have been compelled to make a living with utmost difficulty” she said.
47 year old Salevaraji (assumed name) who lives in Kapopilaw, Mullaitiu, along with her three children had lived in IDP camps for over two and a half years after the end of war. During the war her husband had provided for the family by selling sweets in LTTE bunkers in Walliyamulliwaikkal. Unfortunately on the 29th of May 2009 her husband along with three children had perished from a shell attack. Two other children who had survived the blast have become disabled. At present Salevaraji has been compelled to make a living along with these two disabled children and one other child. The never-ending burden of life and unemployment
“Only one of my children is doing a job. He is earning some money by fishing. Our whole family depends on what he earns. Even he is carrying out his work without any facility. Although the government promised to give us fishing nets so far we have not received anything. The disabled children cannot do any work. I cannot send them away. Selvaraji puts out her sorrow without a pause. From time to time she wipes off tears from her eyes.
“ We need money to live. We need money to buy medicine for the children. Previously they were treated by the Army. I too am earning a little money by preparing food for villagers. Even that is hard to continue as we all are ridden by poverty”.
This plight is not confined only to Mullaitivu. According to investigations carried out by various civil society organisations it has been uncovered that around 40,000-60,000 women have become widows in the North. In a recent survey conducted by the government 50,000 families have reported that they are headed by females. According to the 2012/13 Domestic unit income and expenses report of the department of statistics the majority of the female heads of household belongs to the 40-59 age group. Half of them are widows.
The 30 year war has destroyed the lives of widows in the North. “Even after the conclusion of the war, the problem of war widows has become a serious issue. It is only now that its true impact has started to emerge. Economically they have faced various problems,” Additional District Secretary of Mulllaitivu District Mr. M. Mohandas says. The biggest problem is that these women do not have sufficient means to provide for their families. Although the North has witnessed some infrastructural development after the war, it has not done much to thousands of poverty-ridden women such as Selvaraji. “Even during the war we had no means of employment. That is why my husband tried to sell sweets. Even now there is no favourable condition to earn money. I am only able to find some money by cooking meals for neighbours,” Selvaraji said. This problem of unemployment among women in North was confirmed by Mohandas as well.

Is the Govt support on widows adequate?
According to 2014 Govt statistics unemployment among women in Sri Lanka is 65 percent. Out of the four districts that have the most number of unemployed women, Killinochchi and Mulliativu are at the top. At present a project has been initiated to empower the war widows here. The Ministry for Women and children’s affairs has allocated Rs. 5.43 Million to provide self employment facilities to war widows. Under this project 181 families would receive a monthly allowance of Rs. 30,000. Further, over 54000 families in Jaffna are receiving Samurdhi benefits. However, when queried as to how many war widows are receiving Samurdhi benefits, the Samurdhi officer at the Jaffna District secretariat office said that he was unaware of the number. Apart from this the government has also initiated a programme to grant a monthly allowance of Rs.3000 for families affected by the war.
However, Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Vigneshwaran points out that this programme is not something that is focused on war widows and that the government officials do not have any clear idea as to what type of families that can be admitted to the category of “families affected by the war”
“Even having enough funds at hand, these officials do not give them to those who are in need. When asked why they are not giving away the funds, they said that they had not yet identified the various need groups. When asked as to how they are planning to dispense the funds, they said that the families must personally apply for it. Then I explained to them that the people would never do such a thing,” Vigneshwaran said. Claiming that he had instructed development officials to look for families in need by engaging in field visits, the Chief Minister further claimed that the Prime Minister has also listened to his proposal of increasing the allowance to Rs 6000 Rupees. “We have decided to allocate the majority of the Rs 6 Million funds that we have received from the consolidated fund, for the benefit of war widows. Up until recently there was no ministry for women’s affairs in the Northern provincial council. Now we have set up such a ministry. We did not receive any government funding for this. We have requested funds from international organisations” he said.
Expressing his views on the matter, Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray said that although the government and the international community have spent a fortune on rebuilding the North, it has still not been able to cure all the wounds of war. “There are two main reasons that have aggravated the problem of widows in the North. First, as a percentage from the entire population in the area, the number of women is very high. Since a lot of lives have been lost in war the situation has become even worse. The second reason is the added burden that has fallen on these widows such as feeding and teaching the children while having to provide for the family. These reasons have pushed these women in to misery. “ the Governor said. Meanwhile the chairman of the national committee for war widows Mrs. Shantha Abhimanasingham PC points out that the small scale projects initiated by the central and provincial government aimed at the welfare of war widows, they are inadequate to address the issues faced by them. “During the LTTE insurgency most of these women had lived by cultivating in government and other deserted lands. However, since many of the land had fallen in to the hands of the military as well as the owners who had gone abroad a long time ago, their way of living has been threatened. They have even lost their houses. Since the prices of necessary commodities are still high, they have faced many difficulties in surviving,” she further said.
“This has prevented them from sending their children off to school. They are not able to bear the expenses of books and transport. If this continues, there is a danger of uneducated youth falling into dangerous ways” Abhimanasingham said. At present, for a woman to live alone in society is like getting stranded in the ocean. Especially women who are left helpless due to the burden of providing for their families often become easy prey for wrongdoers. Re-marriage is frowned upon in the Sri Lankan culture, especially in the North. Therefore the widows in the North have faced an immense problem of survival. Unemployment, economic hardships, education of the children, sexual abuse and mental stress are some of the problems faced by these women. There are 1237 war widows in Killinochchi alone. Out of the 4967 widows 1442 have suffered their fate from the war. 985 families are headed by women below 40 years. In the Jaffna district there are 13000 families that are headed by women.

Parameshwari’s Story
34 year old Parameshwari’s husband had died in 2009 from a landmine. Being a mother of four children she is living a hard life. “When my husband died our youngest daughter was only two months old. My husband was the sole provider for the family. He was a fisherman. I got married at the age of 16. My father had also perished in the sea. After my husband’s death I could not figure out how to survive alone. There were many problems. Even though I wanted to send my children to school it was not possible. I had given up all hopes of living, but I had to hold on for the sake of my children. In 2010 an NGO came to help me. Now I make my living by selling sweets but that is not enough to provide for my children. Now my eldest son is working as a labourer. “Parameshwari is living with mental stress. Although she is receiving help from her relatives, the loss of a father and a husband has become a serious problem. She expressed her dislike towards getting married again.
“I thought of getting married again but I cannot do so while the children are around. There was such a woman in our village who got married again but the villagers spoke ill of her. I do not need to suffer such insults. It would not be good for the children too. What would happen to them if I could not look after them after getting married?”
This is how Parameshwari sees the issue of re-marriage. Is re-marriage off limits to a widow? For most widows in the North it is against their religious culture and they continue to live alone and bear up the hardships of life. Furthermore they have doubts as to whether the new husband would be trustworthy and whether the children would be looked after.
In a survey conducted by the Jaffna Women’s Development Center it has been revealed that 52 percent of the widows have consented to a re-marriage but 42 percent have refused to comment. Many have not spoken about getting abused. Hence the Tamil community must be more sympathetic and humane towards these war widows.
The problem of dowry has also prevented many widows from thinking about a re-marriage, the Center says. For a woman who is making a living out of scraps, finding a dowry would be like falling into the fire from the frying pan. There is an urgent need of providing physical and mental health support to these women. Not only the widows, but also their relatives must be made aware of these problems.
“The majority of war widows are young women. In order to rebuild their lives the cultural bonds must be relaxed, former dean of the Jaffna University Art Faculty and the head of the Social Sciences department,” Prof. R. Shivachandran says. He pointed out that Tamil political leaders including the TNA must make a request from the public to allow these widows to re-marry. “Even at the height of war these women had means of earning an income. Some were even proud that their relatives were in the LTTE and since all such things have now been wiped off they have faced a serious mental collapse. Even though it is not shown these are the reasons why some widows are prone to prostitution, narcotics and even suicide.
“Getting married at an early age due to the war, getting abused and cultural barriers have aggravated mental problems among these women,” Psychiatrist at the Mullaitivu hospital Dr. C. Wijendran says. Many political parties and NGOs have raised their concern about the rising level of prostitution in the area. So far accurate data has not been received. Under this crippled social system, there is no wonder why these women turn into such darker ways. The lives of thousands of widows living in the north and the lives of their family members cannot be cured just by bags of cash.



  • The Sunday Leader-
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Remembering Sivaram (Taraki) – Article

May 1, 2016 0

hqdefaultToday’s event focuses on one man. Today morning, there was a protest in Colombo, organized by a coalition of media freedom groups and others, demanding accountability for Sivaram’s murder. It is fitting that events to remember Sivaram are held in both North and South, as he had also worked and lived in South and had many friends in the South.

Although the events today focuses on one man, we can also reflect on broader issues related to free expression, democracy and human rights. I will share brief thoughts on some of these.

The man
Much has been said and written about Sivaram. I have never met him or his family, and have read only few of his writings. So I have little to share about him, and will restrict myself to one thought. Sivaram appears to have benefitted from having had the opportunity to write and publish unpopular views in mainstream English papers based in Colombo. This is well captured in a tribute to Sivaram by Mr. Gamini Weerakoon, editor of “The Island”, who had offered Sivaram a job during which he came to be known as “Taraki”. Despite his (Sivaram’s) views being different or opposed to dominant editorial positions of mainstream media in the South . Mr Weerakoon says he had taken the risk of publishing Sivaram’s views, even when they were “sailing close to the PTA”. Today, it maybe pertinent to question whether Sivaram himself allowed and promoted freedom for dissenting views as an editor? Does Tamil media in the past and today, promote and allow plurality and dissenting views? As we remember Sivaram, it’s good to reflect how much media today – including web media – provide opportunities for views different or opposed to that of its ownership and editorial policy.

Freedom of Expression
A few days ago the newly appointed Secretary to Media Ministry issued an official circular in Sinhalese only, giving “political advice” to journalists, which appear to be in favor of the present government. When he was questioned about this, he had reportedly asked that anyone who needs translations can get it done by themselves. The government also appears to be making efforts to compel news websites to register. The Prime Minister and Ministers have discredited journalists in public. In the North, this month, journalists have been assaulted and threatened, a camera broken and although these incidents have been reported to have been settled amicably, we should not treat such incidents lightly. We certainly have more freedom of expression now than under Rajapakes, but just this month indicates we have a long long way to go.

After 11 years, including 475 days of “good governance”, we are no closer to accountability for those who killed Sivaram. That’s also the case for many other journalists who had disappeared, been killed, assaulted, and media institutions that have been subjected to arson and other attacks. Three days from now, on 2nd May, also here in Jaffna, we will remember the killing of Uthyana staff, on eve of World Press Freedom day. Press Freedom day in Sri Lanka will remain bloody red and no amount of rhetorics, discussions and provision of privileges to journalists by the government can take this away. Only genuine structural reforms together with accountability will help erase the stains.

Abductions, Extra-Judicial killings and PTA
Sivaram was abducted and killed extra-judicially. 11 years later, this month, we see an alarming rise in reports of abductions in the North and East. Some of those abducted have been reported to have been found in custody of TID. Fate and whereabouts of others abducted still appear to be unknown. There have also been an wave of arrests under the PTA, a draconian law which this government had promised to repeal, a law which has been widely used to suppress free expression, including my own. When we remember Sivaram, we cannot and should not ignore this context, today, particularly in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

Today we have a monument for journalists killed in Jaffna. We were able to lay flowers, light lamps and have a commemoration, after which, we came here to the historic Jaffna library for this commemorative event. Memorialization is a tradition that successive Sri Lankan governments and armed groups such as the LTTE and JVP had frowned on, restricted and prevented through threats and violence. This government had allowed memorialization to some extent, but had also tried to restrict and crackdown on some memorial events, such as on 18th May last year. But let’s try to push this tradition, while being careful of not glorifying violence and abuses of the past.

Concluding reflections
Sivaram benefitted and used the little bit of space that was available for plural and dissenting views. He paid for dissent with his life. Perhaps a meaningful way for us to pay tribute to him would be to persevere with that tradition of dissent, plurality and defiance, for ourselves and others. Without plural and dissenting views to that of majority and of the powerful, it will be difficult to address root causes of the ethnic conflict, especially grievances and aspirations of numerically minority communities. Welcoming and appreciating plural views and dissent is also crucial to find ways of dealing with war related past abuses, including ones against journalists and media workers. Dissent is also important to address historical injustices within and across communities such as economic injustices, caste, class and gender.

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