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Independence and Fraternity – A thought on Sri Lanka’s independence day

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Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine

Independence Day in Sri Lanka has now both a national and an international connotation.

It is indeed curious that the 4th of February each year marks the commemoration of Sri Lanka’s independence which Sri Lanka achieved from the ruling British Raj in 1948 and The International Day for Human Fraternity, which was the collective initiative of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2021.   The United Nations Resolution which adopted The International Day for Human Fraternity – which was co sponsored by 34 Member States of the United Nations – expressed deep concern for acts that advocate religious hatred and undermine the spirit of tolerance and recognized “ the valuable contributions of people of all religions and beliefs to humanity and underlines the role of education in promoting tolerance and eliminating discrimination based on religion or belief. It commends all international, regional, national, and local initiatives and efforts by religious leaders to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue”.

In recent times many significant attempts have been made by the religious leaders of Sri Lanka to eliminate discrimination based on religion or belief. Tolerance, recognition and respect for the Christian faith has been nobly demonstrated by the members of the Buddhist clergy and this recognition has been reciprocated by the Christian church leaders, thus bringing together a collective rejection of religious and cultural bigotry.  Both Buddhism and Christianity have commonalities, as was said by James Fredericks of Loyola Marymount University: “Practices that Buddhism and Catholicism have in common include monasticism and clerical celibacy, meditation and chanting (we call it the “rosary”). Catholics have lots of devotions. Buddhists also like devotional practices. We should teach each other about the Blessed Virgin and Kannon Bosatsu”. Pope Francis in 2020  called  on Catholics to “reach out to those who follow other religious paths” encouraging Catholics to enter into what he calls a “dialogue of fraternity” that is calculated to work together in the wider community to promote the common good and human flourishing.

One instance that brought to bear this empathetic trend was seen in   the aftermath of the Easter Sunday devastation on 21 April 2019 caused in three churches in Sri Lanka, as well as in  three luxury hotels in the commercial capital, Colombo.  More than 100 people were killed in the three churches as well as  39 tourists outside.  In a rare gesture of fraternity Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders joined the commemoration of the destruction on Easter Sunday at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, where they offered prayers and observed a two-minute silence to remember the dead.  Monsignor Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo said:”“ Catholics of Sri Lanka should play an active role, along with other religious communities, in creating a united country, giving space and respect to different ethnicities, faiths and political organizations”. Two years after the bombing, on Easter Sunday during Mass, Cardinal Ranjith is reported to have said: “ “Today Holy Father Pope Francis has visited Iraq and has had a discussion with the Shia leaders (in Iran). It shows religious leaders in the world think about unity and brotherhood, not about creating strife. Therefore, I request anyone inclined to create conflict on account of religion to give up that idea”.

Another significant milestone in the demonstration of fraternity was seen politically where, irrespective of religion or ethnic background, thousands of Sri Lankans demonstrated peacefully in what was called “ Aragalaya” in 2022 – an independent and collective effort of people power without visible single leadership – which forced the political leadership of Sri Lanka to vacate office.  The Aragalaya was a signal combination of the independence of the citizen demonstrated with abiding fraternity. The thousands of youth and elders invoked   what is now called “collective leadership” – a form of leadership that has become a trend where multiple individuals exercise their leadership roles within a group whereafter the entire group collectively provides  group leadership to the entire populace involved in protesting. Collective leadership has been further explained by David Trafford, Co-author of Beyond Default and Managing Director of Formicio, a strategy and change management consultancy, and Peter Boggis, Co-author of Beyond Default “It’s a fluid and flexible approach to leadership, where roles and resultant accountabilities evolve in response to changing circumstances”.

Aragalaya brought to bear the true meaning of independence of the people and was pursued by all without racial, religious and ethnic barriers. The protesters gave a valuable lesson in the context of the words pertaining to the extinguishing of impressions created by the flaws of constitutional democracy.  When they fought for removal of the existing leadership, the argument given by the rulers was that leadership could be changed only through a constitutional process which allowed the leadership to remain for a couple of years more.  The implication was that the people had no independence to summarily throw out an unacceptable regime. The attempt to kill the principles of the protesters by the argument seemingly based on democracy was obviated by the protesters who showed collective strength of the principle “salus populi est suprema lex” (the welfare of the populace is the supreme law). The Aragalaya has also did something very significant and valuable for Sri Lanka and its present and future generations: it finally put to rest the perceived implacability of the so-called democracy and parliamentary process behind which mendacious leaders take solace.  The protesters exposed  this fallacy and demonstrated their true independence.

True independence of the nation (people) was eloquently  elaborated by the Hon. D.S. Senanayake, then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka when the Union Jack was finally lowered to make way for the Lion flag on 4 February 1948: “Freedom carries with it grave responsibilities. Our acts and omissions henceforth are our own. No longer can we lay the blame for defects and errors in our administration on others. It is, therefore, the duty of every citizen of Lanka to grasp this opportunity and to strive and toil willingly for advancing the happiness and prosperity of the country. Our nation comprises many races, each with a culture and a history of its own. It is for us to blend all that is best in us, and to set ourselves with the resolute will to build up that high quality, and to join with the other nations of the world in establishing peace, security and justice for all peoples.”

If this isn’t a testimony to independence and fraternity and their symbiosis, nothing else is.

Sri Lanka: Surviving the 75th year of independence

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Sri Lanka will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day on February 4, 2023. As a republic the country has come a long way from the dominion it was at the time of independence. The shaky step with which President Ranil Wickremesinghe steps into the 75th year of independence, tells that his job to mend the fractured country left in disarray by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is far from over. His government has to survive at least one more year to ensure the economic recovery process is started as per IMF norms.

The former president Gotabaya’s flight to safety from the country to escape from the wrath of the people has a lesson for all political leaders. They cannot afford to take popular support for granted. That includes President Wickremesinghe, though he is not elected President by popular mandate. Embers of Aragalaya struggle are still smouldering; a small number of vested interests, nihilists and ultra-left wingers are trying hard to keep alive the protest movement. They have been indirectly helped by the government’s continued lack of accountability. People cannot afford the resurgence of another Aragalaya upsurge as it would shift the national focus from economic recovery. It is the government responsibility to get its act together to ensure the popular discontent is handled with sympathy, sensitivity and fair play.

Apparently, the government has shown signs of getting its act together. It has just released Wasantha Mudalige, Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation and one of the leaders of the Aragalaya protests, after holding him in custody under the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for nearly nine months. But much more needs to be done by the government to gain public confidence. It is in this backdrop that events in the month need to be understood.

Economic recovery

The seamless connectivity between external relations and the economic recovery of the country came into full play during the month. Early in the month, President Wickremesinghe addressing businessmen in Colombo, briefed them on the state of economic recovery. He had said Japan and the Paris Club, two of Sri Lanka’s major creditors, had expressed their willingness to assist. Talks had begun with India and China. “We discussed with China’s EXIM Bank and are currently debating on how to restructure our debt. The Chinese side has agreed to move quickly” he added. Japan’s State Minister of the Cabinet office Satoshi Fujimaru, China’s Vice Minister of the International Department of the CCP’s Central Committee Chen Zhou and India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Colombo in that order. The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs is currently visiting Sri Lanka to “offer continued support for Sri Lanka’s efforts to stabilize the economy, protect human rights and promise reconciliation” according to the State Department.

The Paris Club is said to have proposed a 10-year debt moratorium and a 15-year debt restructuring programme. Japan’s minister Fujimaru came with a delegation of Japanese businessmen and his discussions with the President focused on investment opportunities available in Sri Lanka in hospitality and tourism, mining and training of Sri Lanka’s workforce. Chinese Vice Minister Chen led a delegation with the avowed aim to meet leaders of the government and political parties to brief them “on the CPC National Congress decisions and enhance cooperation with friendly developing countries under President Xi Jinping’s policies.” On debt restructuring, he assured PM Dinesh Gunawardena that “several ministries and financial institutes of China are working closely on this issue for quite a long period. I’m confident that Sri Lanka will have good news very soon.” But “the good news” that China’s EXIM Bank agreeing to a two-year moratorium on Sri Lanka’s debts may not satisfy the IMF programme.

In contrast to China, India – the third largest creditor – validated its “neighbourhood first policy” by writing to the IMF Chief of its support to restructuring of Sri Lanka’s debts on the eve of EAM Jaishankar’s visit to Colombo. In its letter to IMF, India has said it will support medium to long term treatment of debts through maturity extension and interest rate reduction or any other financial operations that would deliver similar relief. India also said that it expects Sri Lanka to seek equitable debt treatments from all commercial creditors and other official bilateral creditors.

After bilateral talks, EAM Jaishankar addressed a joint press conference at the Presidential Secretariat along with President Wickremesinghe and Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry. He said in Colombo that India will stand by Sri Lanka in its hour of need and expressed confidence in overcoming challenges. His words that India “felt strongly that Sri Lanka’s creditors must take proactive steps to facilitate its recovery” and extended financial assurances to the IMF to clear the way for Sri Lanka to move forward. Our expectation is that this will not only strengthen Sri Lanka’s position but ensure that all bilateral creditors are dealt with equally,” must be heart-warming to the beleaguered President.

He also said India will encourage greater investments in the Sri Lankan economy, especially in the core areas like energy, tourism and infrastructure. Apart from the use of rupee settlement for trade, he also suggested strengthening connectivity, encouraging Indian tourists to make RuPay payments and the use of UPI payment as helpful to Sri Lanka.

Implementing 13th Amendment

The Indian EAM’s talks with Sri Lankan leaders in Colombo seem to have nudged President Wickremesinghe to walk the talk on unfulfilled promises on ethnic reconciliation and implementing 13th Amendment (13A) to the Constitution in full.

The President informed an all-party leaders conference on reconciliation that the Cabinet was agreeable to fully implement 13A. In a statement issued by his secretariat, he said “The 13th Amendment has been in existence for over 30 years. I must implement it. If anyone is opposed, they can bring in a constitutional amendment to change it, or abolish it.” Explaining his stand, he said he was working according to a supreme court decision on 13A. “We are still in the bounds of a unitary state. I am against a Federal state but I support the devolution of power to provinces. The provincial councils don’t even have the powers enjoyed by the City of London. So, we can’t call this a federal state,” he said.

It is clear that the President has left the decision to implement or scrap the 13A on political leaders from all parties. it might be a political ploy to tide over a tricky political issue for a short time. But, his credibility as President is likely to be tested when he attempts to implement 13A. His statement has already received negative reaction from Tamil National Alliance as well as Sinhala right. And we can expect more political flak on this issue across parties.

This adds yet another rider to the political stability of the government, which does appear to be clear about conducting the local government elections(LG) in March. Already, the uneasy ruling coalition of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is divided over the conduct of LG elections in March. Lack of clarity on the issue is already causing scepticism about the government’s intentions among the public . In the face of a brewing political turbulence, it will be a tough call on the President to take decisive action even at the best of times. Now, when the country is trying to save itself, it is going to be tougher.

Tailpiece: Sri Lanka’s annual bilateral naval exercise ‘CARAT’ (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) was held on land and at sea in Colombo, Trincomalee and Mullikulam for a week from January 19. The exercise aims to promote regional cooperation, maritime partnerships, enhance maritime interoperability and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. These aims coincide with that of the four-nation Quadrilateral framework. The Japan Self Defence Force (SLDF) and the Maldives National Defence Force joined the Sri Lanka armed forces in the last leg of the exercise. These details reflect the changes taking place in the strategic narrative of Indo-Pacific theatre after the Quad. China is sure to take not of the strong strategic message CARAT is sending.

Starvation in Sri Lanka: Is it A Product of Policy Makers and Professionals? – Part 1

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Self-sufficiency in food was the focus of the agriculture sector policy in Sri Lanka, even before the independence. But the quality and the display of the local food items offered to consumers in the market are yet to be improved substantially. The prices are exceptionally high compared to many citizens’ purchasing power and the country’s per capita income. According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey -2019, Sri Lankans’ average monthly household expenditure on food is 35.1%, leaving a low share for non-food expenses, which is an indicator of the poor quality of life. The situation could be much worse among the middle and low-income groups, and the malnutrition level is increasing. Sri Lanka’s agriculture, especially the food crop subsector, is yet to be modernised with new technology and commercialised. Despite those constraints, the country had reached near self-sufficiency in essential food items by 2022.

The aftermath of Covid-19 and the government’s policy mismatches suddenly brought the country into a catastrophe in 2022 without sufficient local or imported food. According to the Colombo Consumer Finance Index, food inflation in September 2022 has risen to 94.9 %, which means citizens’ food affordability has been reduced by almost 50%. According to the FAO, 78% of the population suffered from food insecurity in the latter part of 2022. Most people attribute the whole responsibility for the food crisis of 2022 to banning agrochemicals. Though it was the immediate and foremost reason, several other structural issues have aggravated the situation. The situation could be returned to the pre-2022 position in a few seasons after lifting the ban.  Still, the shortcomings inherited over a long period in local food production may continue unless those are adequately addressed. Food prices are yet to come down to match the income levels of the majority through improved productivity and quality. Therefore, this article aims to understand the present food crisis in relation to the policies and strategies followed by the different governments over eight decades and their pros and cons. The focus is to discuss some remedial actions based on historical evidence and my brief experience in the sector.

The Sri Lanka National Agriculture Policy paper, prepared by the government in 2020, says, “The agriculture sector will continue to play an important role in the application of strategies targeted towards planned socioeconomic development of the country. Rapid growth for the agricultural sector, particularly the domestic food production, floriculture, and export crop sectors, is essential to achieve self-reliance at the national level, ensure food security and bring about equity in the distribution of income and wealth for alleviating poverty.” It shows that policy-wise, the government has firmly committed to developing the agriculture sector as a strategy for macroeconomic development. According to the population figures in 2021, eighty-one per cent of Sri Lanka’s population lives in rural areas. As per the labour force statistics, in 2021, 27.3 % of the total labour -force was employed in agriculture. Still, their contribution to the GDP was only 6.9%, which shows that the farming population is relatively poor. As a cultural practice, almost all rural people in Sri Lanka engage in agricultural activities in one way or another. If not for their main employment, they do agriculture as a source of supplementary or secondary income or at least to produce their food. As such, the Sri Lankan labour force engaged in agriculture is much higher than the figures shown in labour force statistics. Despite many drawbacks, local food production had increased considerably by 2023, but at a very high cost to the public coffer for over eight decades.

Evolution

Under the colonial administration, plantation crops were the priority sub-sector of agriculture. Domestic agriculture, especially food production, was not a priority. In 1931, under the Dhonurmore Constitution, the decision-making power for local matters was substantially transferred to the State Council of Ceylon, represented by elected local representatives. Since then, the translation of nationalism and patriotism into action was commenced in many aspects of society. D. S. Senanayake’s vision as the Minister of Agriculture and Landin the State Council of Ceylon was that colonising the thinly populated dry zone is the only solution to land hunger poor peasants in the densely populous wet zone, self-sufficiency in rice and food security.D.S. Senanayake’s imagination in the colonisation programme seems to create a group of contented middle-class farmers like the rural elites in the traditional villages. Accordingly, 5-10 acres of irrigated and high lands were alienated to colonists. It was also expected to reduce the increasing pressure on land to produce food and housing in the hill country and the wet zone and generate full-employment opportunities for the peasant community. Accordingly, he prioritised domestic agriculture and the Dry Zone Colonization programme. After becoming the first prime minister of Ceylon in 1947, his son Dudley Senanayake was appointed as the minister in charge of the subject to continue the programme with the same priority. Also, the second World War outbreak validated the need for food self-sufficiency. The food scarcity in the war environment encouraged the peasantry to food production and the colonisation programme. During wartime, in 1942, a scheme to purchase paddy under a guaranteed price well above the market price was also established. Since then, the guaranteed price for paddy, above the market price, has become a permanent feature.

The colonisation scheme was a massive and ambitious program involving the supply of irrigation and drinking water, social and physical infrastructure, housing, land clearance for farms, settlement of people in a complex, unfamiliar environment, establishing the public administration and public service delivery system, etc. All settlers were allocated an equal extent of land, which could not operate with the family labour. Different from the wet zone, there was no agricultural proletariat or social arrangements to work on medium size farmlands, especially during the cultivating and harvesting periods. Unlike in the wet zone, sharecropping arrangements (Ande Cultivation) or hiring casual labour was impossible, as all settlers were landowners. Farm mechanisation was also rare in the early stages, but many colonists became unemployed during off-seasons. Unlike in the wet zone, there were no modern large plantations to find wage employment during off-seasons. The colonisation programme reinforced the same peasantry agriculture in local food production, creating a dichotomy between plantation agriculture and local food production. Though there were many economic and social issues at the beginning, with continuous and substantial government supports, these colonisation schemes became sustainable. In addition to the above programmes, in line with the then policy, government-owned farms were also established in different parts of the country under the department of agriculture. These were considered model farms to introduce new farming technics, increase food production, create wage employment, seed production, etc.

The colonisation program helped to reduce the population pressure in the wet zone and increase rice production to a certain extent. However, it was an extension of the area under cultivation with the traditional smallholder farming system, more than increasing productivity under modern farming practices using technology.  Also, most of the second and third generations of settlers became unemployed. Many of the settlers were socio-economically backward and needed to gain experience even in agriculture at the beginning. Under this socio-economic environment, only a few entrepreneurs ventured into non-agricultural activities to generate employment for the second and third generations.

Green Revolution

Though there were some shortcomings in the D.S Senanayake’s Agriculture policy and strategies (expansion of the area under cultivation through land alienation, irrigation facilities, colonisation, model farms, and guaranteed paddy prices Etc.), its positive factors were attractive. The policy continued without many changes during the Bandaranaike governments from 1956 to 1965. In 1965, Dudley Senanayake’s government also prioritised the agricultural sector and continued along the same path. Moreover, the international program of the Green Revolution influenced the agriculture policy and the program in this period. The agriculture sector benefitted from the productivity improvement agenda of the green revolution, such as farm mechanisation, chemical fertiliser, highbred seed, pesticides, weedicides, etc. Consequently, productivity and local food production have significantly increased.

In addition to the smallholder sector, the Dudley Senanayake government gave prominence to large-scale farming, enabling the transfer of new technology and thereby reducing the cost of production, improving quality, and providing wage employment for the rural poor. To this end, his government leased relatively large plots of land in the dry zone to the corporate sector and entrepreneurs. The government facilitated lessees to import machinery, equipment, vehicles, etc. This is a deviation from the previous policy of the dry zone colonisation program at a high cost to the national budget and reinforcing the smallholder system. However, large-scale farms and large landholdings were not compatible with the Land Reform Policy of Mrs Bandaranaike’s government, which came into power in 1970 with a coalition of left-wing parties. Under the land reform policy, land ownership was limited to 50 acres per person. Most of these farms were acquired by the government or abandoned by the owners due to the fear of acquisition and lack of government policy support. If this programme had been continued, it could have become much cheaper than colonisation schemes to create employment, increase production and productivity through technology, and transfer the technology to local farmers.

The newly established Mahaweli Programme had much potential for large-scale commercial farming. The open economic policy had been introduced by this time, and trade was liberalised. But the government followed the same concept of smallholder farming. Several large land blocks of marginal lands without water and infrastructure have been leased out to entrepreneurs. Due to the threats of wild animals, lack of water, agriculture proletariat and other infrastructure, the tenants abandoned most of such blocks. They passed them on to several hands with little development. All settlers in Mahaweli were equally poor, and most could not purchase agricultural equipment. Unlike their original villages, in the beginning, there were no entrepreneurs who could afford to hire equipment for small-scale farmers. If extensive holdings had been allocated to entrepreneurs randomly on arable lands, they could have been instrumental in diversifying and changing the economic structure. It could have been a facility for the poor settlers to obtain inputs and other services required for farming and daily needs. Also, they could have generated employment in off seasons and for the second generation. Sri Lanka missed both opportunities (Mahaweli and Dudley’s leasing scheme of more extensive holdings) to establish large-scale private-sector farming for rice and other food crops. If Sri Lanka had utilised the above opportunities, the food crops subsector would have been commercialised and modernised, leading to high quality and low cost with value addition, like in many other countries.

Import Ban/Restriction of Food Items

During the 1970/77 period, the policy of self-sufficiency in food and the promotional strategies for local food production has been further strengthened through import controls. Regulations were introduced to reduce rice consumption and encourage the consumption of locally gowned pulses, yams, grains, etc. A massive Food Production Drive named ‘’WagaSangramaya” was launched in 1973, and a vast enthusiasm was created among the citizen to cultivate and economise the food. All government-owned farms were fully utilised, increased seed production and introduced new crop varieties. Import bans resulting in high prices encouraged the cultivation of marginal land and uneconomical crops to the country’s agroecological condition. This overenthusiasm led to the mal-allocation of land and other resources and high-cost and low-quality products. The ban on importing all food items was not a result of the 5-Year Development Plan of the then government. Still, it was necessitated due to the foreign exchange crisis, like the situation in 2022. Before the 1970/77 period, local food production was mainly a subsistent activity of poor peasants. Due to the import restrictions, a dichotomous situation has been created in domestic agriculture. While poor peasants were doing subsistent farming, some people commenced commercial agriculture aimed at the broader local market but at low quality and high prices. However, during this period, many import substitutes, such as lentils, chillies, yams, milk, sugar etc., emerged from subsistent farming to commercial farming. Suppose the government had continued tariff protection and advisory services, with corrective measures for a few more years. In that case, some products with comparative advantages could have been established as viable economic activities.

Sluggishness

The free trade policy introduced in 1977 allowed the import of almost everything without restrictions. The market was flooded with imported cheap food and consumer items creating a new demand for foreign exchange. The newly open trade sub-sector did not increase the foreign exchange earnings to match the increased need for food imports. Due to the sudden and unplanned trade liberalisation, commercial farmers could not face the competition from imported foods and were compelled to abandon farming. It resulted in rural unemployment, especially among the agricultural proletariat. The poor peasants, who could not integrate with the new economic order, remained subsistence farmers. The Banking system also prioritised the trade sector, which is less risky and profitable than agriculture lending. Domestic agriculture lost the policy support and backup services such as research, seed production, extension services and bank lending. Meanwhile, Mahaweli Authority established its own system to provide advisory and input services for Mahaweli farmers undermining the regular agriculture department’s authority.

The Department of Agriculture is one of the oldest departments in the country, manned by highly qualified professionals. Sri Lanka had a well-organised extension service for the food crop sector under its department of agriculture, integrated with research, demonstrations, model farms, demonstrations, in-service training for officers and a comprehensive field network comprising district-level officers (assistant directors), subject matter specialists, zonal officers (agriculture instructors) and village-level officers (KrushiVyapthiSevaka). The extension division and the research arm at the centre supported the field network. From time to time, different systems of extension service have been experimented with and implemented nationwide with uniformity. As such, extension service has been developed over the years through an evolutionary process till the late 1980s.

After establishing the provincial council system in 1987, agriculture extension was devolved to provincial councils. Since then, the sub-national level network of the extension service has lost connectivity with research and other divisions of the Agriculture Department and the Ministry. Also, the village-level extension staff (KVSs) were absorbed into the cadre of Grama Niladari, creating a vacuum at the field level. Later, in 1999 a new cadre of field officers named “Agriculture Research and Production Assistants” was appointed, but they did not have professional qualifications or experience in research or extension works. They coordinate agriculture inputs delivery and enforce agriculture-related Acts of Parliaments such as the Agrarian Development Act, The Paddy Land Act etc.Agriculture extension, especially the food crops sub-sector, has been severely affected after the devolution of power to nine independent provincial councils. Occasionally extension programmes are being implemented by provincial and national agencies without proper coordination between the two levels. Sometimes, those are incompatible with each other. Since the government has an aloof attitude toward the extension service, unprofessional business-minded agrochemical vendors are filling the vacuum with non-scientific advice. Therefore, a comprehensive national policy and strategies with a coordination mechanism at the national and sub-national levels are paramount.   The extension service needs more recognition from the government at both national and provincial levels. When the government attempted for organic farming-only policy, vacuums of the extension service were visible. There was no field network of extension staff to educate farmers on organic farming, and neither the farmers nor the fertiliser vendors had scientific and practical knowledge of organic farming. 

Contented at a Low Level of Achievements

For several decades, with some degree of ups and downs, a unique smallholder farming system has been developed in the country with a combination of government subsidies, some degree of tariff protections, some elements of subsistence farming and the modern agriculture techniques introduced under the green revolution (highbred seeds, chemical fertiliser, other agrochemicals, modern machinery, and equipment etc.). Under this equilibrium, the labour component of the farm inputs has decreased, and the land and labour productivity increased considerably. The country became nearly self-sufficient in rice, vegetable, fruit, and coarse grains such as maise production. Inputs supplies, prices, farming practices, farmer behaviours, consumer preferences and logistic aspects had stabilised to match this equilibrium (sufficient quantities at a relatively high price and low quality, but all stakeholders are substantially satisfied). So, to a considerable extent, the security of essential food items was ensured through local productions.

Moreover, those developments have brought the country many social and environmental benefits. Childlabour, which was abundantly used under the traditional farming system, was released from farmlands enabling them to continue with education. The customary use of women’s labour in farming was also considerably reduced, allowing them time for childcare, family welfare and other non-agricultural activities. In addition to the family food needs, most farmers could produce a marketable surplus that improved the physical quality of life. The Chena-farming (slash and burn) system, which increases the demand for land and harms the environment, has been reduced dramatically. Instead of moving from one land to another, farmers started cultivating the same land regularly with the blessing of the improved farming system. Consequently, many new settlements have developed with urban facilities, which changed the lifestyle, bringing many social and economic benefits.

Interruption

However, during the Government of good governance (Yahapalana Government), from 2015 to 2019, except for chemical fertilisers, other necessary agrochemicals, especially weedicides,were suddenly banned. Sri Lanka depended for many decades on agrochemicals for weed and pest control.By this time, farmers had lost the traditional knowledge of insects and weed control.The Chena Farming system, which doesn’t require agrochemicals also not in practice. Characteristics of improved/highbred seeds were incompatible with conventional weed and pest control practices. Farm labour was not readily available, and the cost of manual wedding had become high. It is yet to develop planting and weeding tools/machinery and planting practices appropriate to our agroecological conditions, soil conditions, and terrain and acceptable to smallholder farmers. This new situation mainly affected tea plantations and Paddy cultivation. Seed broadcasting, the paddy cultivation practice commonly used by farmers, is inappropriate for mechanical weeding. So, farmers could not positively respond to the new challenge. Consequent to the new challenge, farmers faced increasing production costs, while productivity fell below the previous years. Some farmers abandoned the cultivation. After banning the agrochemicals, the Paddy production in the 2016 Yala season dropped to 1,517,392 metric tons from 1,942,408 metric tons in Yala, 2015. Further, the production of the 2016/17 Maha season has fallen to 1,473,832 from 2,902 693 metric tons in the 2015/16 Maha season. This downfall is not purely attributable to the agrochemical ban; climatic and other factors may have contributed to it.

For many years, the use of herbicides had been promoted as a cost-cutting technic in the tea plantation. When labour became more expensive, weedicides became a blessing in disguise for the tea plantations to reduce the cost of production.  Like the paddy sector, the country had not developed planting methods and appropriate tools/ machinery for weed control in tea plantations. Consequently, the cost of production increased, and productivity dropped. In 2016, tea production fell to 292,000 metric tons from 328,960 tons in 2015.

The Sri Lanka National Agriculture Policy- 2020 accepts that the productivity of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka still needs to improve. It further says, “The agriculture sector was also not geared to absorb the rural unemployed compared to the other sectors of the economy. It is necessary to reverse this trend and improve the agricultural sector to meet the aspirations of the people, particularly that of the farming community.” Further, the policy highlights the need for promoting the production and utilisation of organic and bio-fertilisers and gradually reducing the use of chemical fertiliser through the Integrated Plant Nutrition System, ensuring timely availability of chemical fertilisers in sufficient quantities, and providing soil and plant testing facilities for their rational use and minimising the use of synthetic pesticides through promoting bio-pesticides and integrated pest management.  This policy and strategy about agrochemicals seem sensible and timely. However, any attempt to absorb the ever-increasing unemployed into agriculture would be an attempt to share poverty with the second and third generations.

Going Backword

While farmers were attempting to adapt to the situation created by banning agrochemicals by the the Mithripala government, banning the import and use of chemical fertilisers without prior notice, preparedness, and alternatives by the Gotabaya government in April 2021, affected the entire society and the economy facing famine by much of the population. It is contradictory to the documented policy and strategies of the agriculture sector.  The move is suspected of an attempt to save US$ 300 to 400 million in foreign exchange, which the country spends annually to import fertiliser. Before the public, the President justified this move as the remedy to prevent increasing kidney disease and materialise the Sri Lankans’ rights to non-toxic food. He further promised to compensate for the income loss due to organic fertiliser application and import organic fertiliser to fill the gap due to the sudden decision. He also expected Sri Lanka to be the first to adopt the 100 per cent eco-friendly organic farming policy.

The farmers’ attempt to produce organic fertiliser in homesteads failed due to a lack of sufficient biomass and the long gestation period. Fertilisers produced by some entrepreneurs were of inferior quality, not acceptable to farmers and many malpractices were evident. An attempt to import organic fertiliser from China failed due to the debate on quality and procedural issues. The desperate government attempted to import organic liquid nitrogen from India. But that also ended up with quality issues and corrupt practices. The production loss was enormous, and the government did not have sufficient funds to compensate for the income loss of farmers. Eventually, the government ended up with a nightmare of wasting more foreign exchange, which was in short supply, to import fertiliser and essential food items. The outcome is creating a black-market price for agricultural inputs and food items. Towards the end of 2022, 78% of the population became food insecure.Most of the farmers abandoned the cultivation of seasonal crops. The productivity and quality of plantation and perennial crops have dropped drastically. Paddy production in the 2021/22 Maha season dropped to 1,931,230 metric tons from 3,061,394 metric tons in the previous Maha season. The average production per hectare also dropped from 4,307 Kg. to 2,853 kg.

After creating a big socio-political and economic nightmare, the government wriggled out of the concept of organic farming. Restriction for importing and using agrochemicals, including chemical fertiliser, was removed in early 2022, leaving long-lasting adverse effects. Though the ban was lifted, the agrochemical market was distorted by unscrupulous importers and traders, making the price unaffordable to farmers. This distortion may remain for a few more cultivation seasons. Perhaps some farmers who have left farming may not recommence. This nonsensical policy decision of 100% organic farming destroyed the entire agriculture sector built through subsidies and some degree of scientific inputs for more than 80 years. The government should have realised that the country doesn’t have sufficient biomass to produce the organic fertiliser required for 100% organic farming. Most of the land used for seasonal crops in Sri Lanka cultivate for 2 or 3 crops a year without a fallow season, leaving little room for the natural process of soil enrichment. Therefore, using a high dose of fertilisers is a must.

The Mithripal-Ranil government and the Gotabaya Rajapakse government justified the ban based on the assumption that the cause of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin is the continuous use of agrochemicals in agriculture. However, it is yet to be proven scientifically. Though we exaggerate the ancient glory, the high price, periodical and seasonal scarcity of food and starvation was common problem till the recent past, which highly affected the poor. Though agriculture has not developed as it should, consequent to the green revolution and the Mahaweli scheme, the food supply situation improved, and the price became affordable for most of the population. Whatever the economic and political issues we face from time to time, farmers cultivated without room for famine. The immediate impact of the organic food policy was that food inflation in September 2022 had increased to 94.9%, per the Colombo Consumer Price Index. According to a survey conducted by WFP in September 2022, more than 1/3 of the population is in food insecurity, which rapidly increases child malnutrition.  Though organic farming is a good move to provide healthy food, if the country continues with that policy, most people will not be able to afford the high price of organic food. They may face starvation and periodic and seasonal food scarcity again. Then, the better-off, who can afford the expensive organic food, would live longer, while the life expectancy of the majority is decreasing.

Layman consumers believe that the frequent insecticide/fungicide sprays on vegetables and fruits are more dangerous than weedicides and chemical fertilisers. The fundamental problem in Sri Lankan agriculture is not the use of agrochemicals but the overdose for various reasons. The farmers’ knowledge of fertiliser and other agrochemical applications in what quantity, time, soil types, type of pest etc., are limited. They learn by trial-and-error method, not by understanding the chemical composition. If one chemical is not answering, they use another. Vendors prescribe those, and vendors also learn from the trial-and-error experience of farmers. In most farmlands, broadcasted urea is exposed to sun and rain, allowing a considerable amount to evaporate, or wash off.

To be Continued

Adani’s Calling Off Public Offer: A Big Setback for India’s Green Hydrogen Projects

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All those who are keen that India should successfully set up massive green hydrogen projects to overcome the impending energy crisis are greatly disappointed that Adani group has decided not to go ahead with the fully subscribed  Rs.20,000 crore   Follow On Public Offer.

Using this public offer of Rs.20,000 crore,  Adani group earlier announced that it would spend a substantial amount to set up green hydrogen projects,  which are unlikely to happen now.

Need for green hydrogen energy project

India presently imports around  80% of it’s crude oil requirement amounting to around 250 million tonne per annum,. India is also importing around 50% of India’s requirement of natural gas, which amounts to around 35 billion cubic metres per annum.

Import requirement of crude oil and natural gas is likely to increase at 6 to 7% per annum in the coming years, as domestic production of crude oil and natural gas is likely to remain stagnant in the coming years.

Amongst many plans being implemented by the government of India to reduce the use of fossil fuel and avoid global warming, the promotion of green energy projects in a big way is one of the very important strategies.

The government of India has allotted Rs.35,000 crore for green energy projects in the 2023-24 annual budget.

The government of India is targeting to generate five million tonnes of green hydrogen annually from the year 2030, which is the industry’s total amount of (non-green) hydrogen consumed today.

This shift to green hydrogen would avoid  30  to 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per annum and avert import of more than ₹60,000 crore worth of natural gas and crude oil.

Adani group’s proposed plans:

Adani group’s business spans coal trading, mining, FMCG (Adani Wilmar), seaport, solar power manufacturing, airports, roads, data centres, green hydrogen and so on. 

If the proposed public offer would have been accepted by Adani group, about ₹10,800 crores would have been used to fund the capital needs of green hydrogen projects, airports and expressways. 

Green hydrogen project proposal of Adani group covers the green hydrogen ecosystem from scratch.

While a few other green hydrogen projects are in the preliminary stage in India, the green hydrogen project proposal of Adani group is one of the largest.

A big setback for India’s project investment plans:

Private sector investments in projects like what Adani group has announced have to happen in a big way if India is to attain the target of 5 trillion dollar economy in the coming years.

Obviously, to attain this target, many massive projects require huge investment, for which large public issues of several thousand crores of rupees are required. 

If such public issues were to be throttled and sabotaged by vicious and motivated campaigns by some so-called research groups, then,  it would result in big setbacks for India’s future development programmes.

When an industrial group achieves spectacular growth, it is seen that those who cannot match the performance of the fast-growing group view such performance with surprise and disbelief. 

There have been cases and instances, where competitors from India or abroad would try to indirectly launch campaigns against the fast-growing group and support negative campaigns.

There have also been cases where motivated environmental groups have scuttled projects by carrying out hate campaigns and stating unproven environmental violations against particular companies. The immediate example is the closure of Sterlite Copper unit in Tamil Nadu

There have been many instances to show such motivated campaigns across the world for whatever reasons.

These conditions cause setback to India’s plans to achieve big leap forward.

Adani group   – A victim of motivated campaign  in this case:

A vicious campaign   against Adani group   was carried out by a US-based investment research firm known as  Hindenburg Research, stating several  vague  allegations, some unproven violations 

Due to the massive publicity given to such campaigns in Indian media before proper investigation, the gullible investors became panicky.  In such circumstance, the share of Adani group have seen massive losses.

In such extraordinary circumstances, Adani group felt that going ahead with the fully subscribed issue will not be correct,  since the interest of the investors have to be protected.

The net result of the situation is that  India has lost massive investment opportunities in green hydrogen projects.

Further, the motivated American research team and the detractors against India, wherever they may be,   seem to be highly pleased and satisfied.

The entire Adani episode is a case of negative forces winning ,  which is a very unfortunate situation for a growing and developing country like India.

Revival of Terrorism – View from Pakistan

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Some people might be misguided by the thought that the menace of terrorism in Pakistan was successfully crushed to the roots a few years back and after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan things have become quite normal but actually the situation is not that way.  Terrorists and terrorism both are still alive; it seems they had hibernated themselves for a very short period of time. Once again, they are out of their short sleep and ready to ‘do more’. The recent bomb attack on a mosque in Peshawar on 30th January seemsthe beginning of a fresh wave of terrorist activities in Pakistan. The terrorists have chosen a time when Pakistan is passing through the toughest period of its history with a lot of political and economic instability. Different experts on security affairs were already apprehendingoccurrence of such incidents. It is also being feared thatmore episodes of the same type could take place in near future. Certainly the law-enforcement agencies will have to be more active and more vigilant against the peace-destroyers.

Even the last year had not been very peaceful regarding terrorist activities in Pakistan. According to a think-tank based in Islamabad The Pak Institute for Peace Studies, Pakistan had to face 254 militant attacks in the year 2022. More than 400 Pakistanis lost their lives in these attacks. The Arab News said referring to the report prepared by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies that ‘The toll is significantly higher than last year 2021, when 335 people were killed by militants in 207 incidents, and in 2020, when 146 attacks killed 220.’ The most affected area had been Baluchistan where foreign-patronized terrorists targeted security forces and particularly the Chinese nationals working on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project which is a multibillion-dollar project having a lot of possibility of strengthening Pakistan’s economy. Attacks on the Chinese nationals certainly effected the work on CPEC project as hovering security threats make things very difficult for the foreigners working on different development projects. It seems that the sole target of all terrorist activities was nothing but to create hurdles in the way to completion of the CPEC.

Now the beginning of 2023 does not seem very pleasant and hopeful with reference to the terrorist’s activities in Pakistan specifically in Baluchistan and KPK province. On 18th of January, according to the Voice of America, a militant attack from across the Iranian side of the border had killed four Pakistani soldiers.The attack took place in the remote Panjgur district in southwestern Baluchistan province. Sources say that the terrorists used Iranian soil to target a convoy of security forces patrolling along the border. The government of Pakistan, just after the incident, asked the Iranian side to hunt down the terrorists on their side. Whatever happened there at the Pak-Iran border was certainly very much unexpected and disappointing even for the Iranian government and the Iranian embassy in Islamabad strongly condemned the terrorist attack on Pakistani troops but this act of condemnation is not the solution to the problem. Without looking into the matter in detail, such incidents might reoccur in near and far-future.Panjgur district of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province is an area which borders Iran and Afghanistan. The area surrounding Panjgur had always been terrorists’ hot favourite. In 2019, both PakistanandIran had expressed their desire toform a joint quick reaction force to counter and combat militant activitiesalong the border. Unfortunately that desire has yet not been materialized. Though no terrorist group has yet claimed the responsibility of blood-shed in Panjgur. On December 19th 2022, in another incident of the same type four members of Iran’s security forces were killed in a firefight near the Pakistan border. The killed ones were members of The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. These four were killedafter a fight with an unnamed terrorist group, said the Aljazeerareferring to a statement released by the Iranian state media.The incident reportedly took place in Saravan, in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan, near the Pakistani border. The attackers allegedly fled to Pakistan when IRGC ground forces repelled the assault.

The situation in Afghanistan is also deteriorating with reference to the terrorist activities. Last year on 23rd September several people were killed and dozens more wounded when a car bomb went off at a mosque in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. The worshippers streaming out of the mosque afterthe ‘afternoon’ prayers were targeted. According to the Aljazeera,‘gunshots rang out several minutes after the explosion in Wazir Akbar Khan area which is the location of many foreign embassies and NATO. More than 15 people were killed and 41 wounded in that incident. Earlier on 18thAugust 2022, a huge explosion ripped through the crowded mosque during evening prayers, injuring 33 people and killing another 21. Prior to that in April 2022, two boys’ schools were targeted in the western Kabul. The targeted schools were Abdul Rahim Shahid high school and the nearby Mumtaz Education Centre, both located in the Dasht-e-Barchi area. More than ten students were killed and around 30 seriously wounded.

In short, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, all are facing the worst situation regarding terrorist activities. In present scenario, any type of blame-game would simply add to the gravity of situation. Be it Afghanistan or Iran or Pakistan; terrorism is in the benefit of no one. We all will have to join our efforts with all possible devotion and dedication to curb this menace. The government of Afghanistan will have to play the most active role in resolving the situation as a consistent peaceful atmosphere is the most-required and most-needed ‘element’ for the stability and firmness of that war-torn country.The point to rememberis that the flames of terrorism never remain limited to some particular area or some specific region; they are like a pandemic which goes on and moves on from one place to other. We must never forget the Twin-Towers tragedy which was the most horrible episode in the long series of terrorist activities. All self-proclaimed ‘Super Powers’ including the US, China and others must step forward and try to ‘Do More’ against the revival of terrorist’s era particularly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Writing About a Joy That Invades Jenin

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Israel calls its latest military campaign Operation Break the Wave, a lyrical description of a brutal reality. This year, 2023, will be the seventy-fifth year after the Nakba, the catastrophe of 1948 when Israeli troops illegally removed Palestinians from their homes and tried to erase Palestine from the map. Since then, Palestinians have resisted against all odds, despite Israel’s formidable backing by the most powerful countries in the world, led by the United States.

Operation Break the Wave started in February 2022 with the assassination of three Palestinians in Nablus (Adham Mabrouka, Ashraf Mubaslat, and Mohammad Dakhil) and continued with terrible violence along the spine of the West Bank, spreading into brutalised Gaza. On 26 January 2023, Israeli forces killed ten Palestinians – including an elderly woman – in Jenin and in al-Ram, north of Jerusalem, and then shot at an ambulance to prevent it from assisting the injured – a clear war crime. The Jenin massacre provoked rocket fire from Palestinian resistance forces in Gaza, to which the Israeli Air Force responded disproportionately, shooting at the densely populated al-Maghazi refugee camp in the centre of Gaza. The cycle of violence continued with a lone Palestinian gunman killing seven Israelis in the illegal settlement of Neve Yaakov in East Jerusalem. In reaction to that, the Israeli government has put in place ‘collective punishment’ systems – a violation of the Geneva Conventions – which allows the state to target the gunman’s family members, and the Israeli government will make it easier for Israelis to carry firearms.

The Israeli government launched Operation Break the Wave in response to habbat sha’biyya (‘popular uprisings’) that have begun again across Palestine and express the frustration generated by Israeli pressure campaigns and the near collapse of economic life. Some of these uprisings took place not only in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza where they are more common, but amongst Palestinians living inside the 1948 Green Line of Israel. In May 2021, these protestors gathered under The Dignity and Hope Manifesto and called for new agitations, a ‘united Intifada’ which unites Palestinians in exile, inside Israel, and in the Occupied Territories. These moves and the gains of Palestinians in the United Nations system indicate a new dynamism within Palestinian politics. Most recently, on 31 December 2022, the UN General Assembly voted 87 to 26 to ask the International Court of Justice to provide an opinion on Israel’s ‘prolonged occupation, settlement, and annexation of Palestinian territory’. The new phase of Israeli violence against Palestinians is a reaction to their achievements.

In the midst of all this, the Israeli people voted Benjamin Netanyahu into office to form his sixth government since 1996. Already, Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for over fifteen of the past twenty-seven years, as he heads into another seven-year term. His government is fiercely far-right, although from the standpoint of the Palestinians there is steady continuity in Zionist state policy, whether the government is led by the far-right or by less right-wing sections. On 28 December 2022, Netanyahu defined his government’s mission with clarity: ‘The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel – in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea, and Samaria’.

Netanyahu’s maximalist standard – that the Jewish people, not just the Zionist state, have the right to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – is not something that has appeared precipitously in this government’s statements. It is rooted in Israel’s Basic Law (2018), which says, ‘The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established’. This legal manoeuvre established Israel as the land of Jewish people, not a multinational or multi-ethnic territory. Furthermore, every administrative definition of the ‘State of Israel’ asserts its control over the entire territory. For example, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has, since at least 1967, inaccurately counted any Israeli living to the west of the Jordan River, even in the West Bank, as an Israeli, and official Israeli maps show none of the internal divisions produced by the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Israeli state policy, rooted in a settler-colonial mentality, leaves no room for a Palestinian state. Gaza is throttled, the Bedouins in an-Naqab are being displaced, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are being evicted, and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank are growing like a plague of locusts. Netanyahu’s governmental partner Otzma Yehudit (‘Jewish Strength’) is willing to conduct Palestinicide in order to create a Jewish-only society in the Levant. The promise of Oslo, a two-state solution, is simply no longer factually possible as the Palestinian state is eroded and contained. The idealistic possibility of a binational state – made up of Israel and Palestine with Palestinians given full citizenship rights – is foreclosed by the Zionist insistence that Israel be a Jewish state, an ethnocentric and anti-democratic option that already treats Palestinians as second-class residents in an apartheid society. Instead, Zionism is in favour of a ‘three-state solution’, namely expelling Palestinians to Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.

In 2016, the United States and Israel signed their third ten-year Memorandum of Understanding on military aid, which runs from 2019 to 2028, and under which the US promises to provide Israel with $38 billion for military equipment. This aid is unconditional: nothing in the agreement prevents Israel from using the equipment to violate international law, kill US citizens (as it killed Shireen Abu Akleh, a reporter), or destroy humanitarian projects funded by the US government. Rather than mildly rebuke Israel for its ethnocidal policies, US President Joe Biden welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu, his ‘friend for decades’, to assist the US in confronting illusionary ‘threats from Iran’. Furthermore, just after Netanyahu’s government deepened Operation Break the Wave, the US military arrived in Israel in force to conduct a joint military exercise called Juniper Oak, the ‘largest and most significant exercise we have engaged in’, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder. Backed to the hilt by the US and nonchalant about condemnation from international bodies, the Israeli state continues its fatal project to erase Palestine.

Maya Abu al-Hayyat, a Palestinian poet living in Jerusalem, wrote a beautiful poem called ‘Daydream’, which settles into a rhythm of Palestinian life and geography defined by little towns in the West Bank. There are children playing, women dancing, life where life is denied by an occupation that has lasted for generations and generations, where the screams of the occupied mimic the loud alarm of the Palestine Sunbird, the national bird.

I’ll write about a joy that invades Jenin from six directions,
about children running while holding balloons in Am’ari Camp,
about a fullness that quiets breastfeeding babies all night in Askar,
about a little sea we can stroll up and down in Tulkarem,
about eyes that stare in people’s faces in Balata,
about a woman dancing
for people in line at the checkpoint in Qalandia,
about stitches in the sides of laughing men in Azzoun,
about you and me
stuffing our pockets with seashells and madness
and building a city.

My pockets are filled with rage and hope, an expectation that our struggles of solidarity alongside the Palestinian people will prevail, because the ‘process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible’.

Flight MH 17 and The Little Dutch Girl – A Personal Reflection

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You are an open wound

And we are standing

In a pool of your blood

Rupi Kaur

25th of January 2023 was significant from a judicial standpoint, but it was a grim reminder of how many lives were stolen in the most violent and egregious way.

The Destruction

One of the worst atrocities in the annals of civil aviation was perpetrated when Flight MH 17 was destroyed over Eastern Ukraine by a ground-based missile. Was Russia to blame? Or was it Ukraine? Or even the airline for flying over dangerous territory?  The aircraft operating the flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine about 60km from the Russian border on 17 July 2014, allegedly by pro-Russia separatists.  All the 298 passengers – 193 of whom were Dutch – are believed to have died, and some of the remains of those who perished were never recovered. It is now revealed that death was not instantaneous.

Everyone seemingly responsible for the heinous act started deflecting blame, and a little girl (and all others on board) on the flight was forgotten, except for her  devastated father who grieved the unbearable loss of his only child. 

From then on, everything became clinical and adjudicatory.

Seven and a half years later, The European Court of Human Rights ruled on 25th January 2023 – on a purely procedural and technical issue –  that complaints against Russia from Ukraine and the Netherlands should go to trial, but it was not about what the little Dutch girl lost. Who would care anymore, anyway?

The European Court of Human rights, in a press release said: “Among other things, the Court found that areas in eastern Ukraine in separatist hands were, from May 11, 2014 and up to at least January 26, 2022, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation” , referring to “the presence in eastern Ukraine of Russian military personnel from April 2014 and the large-scale deployment of Russian troops from August 2014 at the latest.”

The Little Dutch Girl

One day in mid July 2014 a young girl –  full of hope for her future and bubbling with the energy of youth – boarded a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, in Amsterdam.  She had everything in life to be thankful for  – a university education,  romance and courting, a good life  with a warm home and a family – all  in front of her.  The best was yet to come.  It was time for new life to start with the freshness of hope and all the happiness that her young  heart could take.  Her  penalty for being born was not even in the distant horizon.

Her destination was Kuala Lumpur, and she was looking forward to a lighthearted romp on a fun flight and a glorious holiday with her family who were travelling with her.  

Yet she did not make it.

Every day, people die of accidents caused by their own negligence, or diseases beyond their control. People also die of intentional killing by others. Somewhat rarely, people suffer death through random acts of violence – like the little Dutch girl. For her there was no second chance.  There was no going back to the perfumed meadow of Summer. It was as though an alien sky swallowed her that clear day and the future became an illusion.

There are no answers no good, no evil only a million promises not kept that day when it raised its ugly head.  We can only fill the craters with ashes; level the furrows plant grass, trees, flowers lay white gravel path some rustic benches – a public park and hush the cries of orphaned parents.

But there was no one when darkness fell that night and all the lights went out.  She should have had someone that she could find.  She should not have been alone to weep.

My Reflections

Today, that little girl would have been in her early twenties. What would she be doing? Perhaps reminiscing over her first and only love at university? The first time she saw him and looked down and walked away? How memories of him protecting both under a tiny umbrella when they walked alone in the rain flood her mind? How she forgot to tell him what was on her mind? How she hurt for having forgotten to tell him what was on her mind? How excited she felt when she scored high grades and ran up to tell him? The look on dad’s face when she told him of her grades.

Maybe she would be holding her first born lovingly and tenderly, while her baby peered at her radiant like a pearl in an oyster that had a little door. She would have been overwhelmed with joy as though her whole world had been invigorated by the touch of a butterfly and the splash of a drop of dew. She could have had many days walking through tender meadows of sunshine and warmth amidst the laughter and joy of simple pleasures.

We Failed Her

We did not keep our promises to a little girl who depended on us for her safety We did not have stringent regulations, and Standards to stop that flight.  We knew the area was dangerous,  infested with unscrupulous elements holding  ground-based missiles. Yet we did nothing to prevent the ominous and grave risk that was posed to the flight. We did not have a system of sharing and disseminating threat information in a timely manner. We did not know to whom this information should have been relayed.  We don’t seem to have known what risk avoidance was – that it involved a risk assessment technique that entails eliminating hazards, activities and exposures that place valuable assets at risk.  In the case of civil aviation within the context of conflict zones this would mean eliminating hazards by avoiding the airspace over that zone entirely.  Unlike risk management, which is calculated to control dangers and risks, risk avoidance totally bypasses a risk.  The information to States on threats posed to their civil aviation over conflict zones would therefore had  to be disseminated through policy and procedure, training and education and technology implementations.

We did not do that.

Sorry little girl. May the doors of heaven open at the sound of your footsteps May a bright angel watch over and follow you  through your  inevitable journey. May we meet again on the horizon of eternity when our ship finally sails beyond every limit of our sight.

Above all, may we never walk away from you.

Sri Lanka: Peace amidst Instability

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In a press release issued on January 25, 2023, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka noted,

…the maintenance of the prevailing tight monetary policy stance is imperative to ensure that monetary conditions remain sufficiently tight to rein in inflationary pressures. Such tight monetary conditions, together with the tight fiscal policy, are expected to adjust inflation expectations downward, enabling the Central Bank to bring inflation rates towards the desired levels by end 2023, thereby restoring economic and price stability over the medium term.

An economic crisis of unparalleled magnitude hit Sri Lanka in 2022. Inflation, at 4.2 per cent in December 2020, increased to 12.1 per cent in 2021, and surged to an alarming level at 57.2 per cent in December 2022. The Sri Lankan rupee (SLR) depreciated drastically against the dollar from 181.3 in January 2020, to 190.5 in January 2021, and at 201.2 in January 2022. By December 2022, the SLR had fallen to 367.5 to the dollar. As on January 27, 2023, it is still at 364.13. Foreign exchange reserves fell from USD 2362 million in January 2022, to USD 1705 million in October 2022, but began to increase thereafter, to touch USD 1896 in December 2022.

The crisis led to severe shortages of food, medicines, electricity, fuel and other essential items for months. In the face of the collapsing economy, Sri Lankans of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds came together in a broad-based protest movement commencing March 2022, to seek a change of leadership, accountability for corruption and economic mismanagement, and to seek more extensive reforms.

As protests intensified, the Sri Lanka Police shot dead one man, identified as Chaminda Lakshan, and injured 10 others on April 19, 2022, in the first fatal clash with demonstrators protesting the island nation’s crippling crisis. In a Tweet on April 20, 2022, the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared,

Sri Lankan citizens’ right to peacefully protest won’t be hindered. @SL_PoliceMedia will carry out an impartial & transparent inquiry the incident at Rambukkana which led to the tragedy for which I’m deeply saddened. I urge all citizens to refrain from violence as they protest.

According to an April 28, 2022, report, more than 100 trade unions, including some affiliated to the Rajapaksas’ ruling SLPP party, joined the general strike, as demands grew for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family members to resign.

Later, on May 6, 2022, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a State of Emergency effective midnight, May 6, 2022, for the second time in five weeks, giving Security Forces (SFs) sweeping powers, as nationwide strikes demanding his resignation brought the country to a standstill.

Subsequently, the then Prime Minister (PM) Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters attacked nonviolent demonstrators in Colombo, forcing him to quit as Prime Minister. Following this, there was widespread violence against those who supported the government around the nation, which resulted in the deaths of eight individuals and the burning or damage of the homes of about 70 lawmakers.

Finally, Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to resign on May 9, 2022. After weeks of political uncertainty, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed United National Party leader Ranil Wickramasinghe as PM of an interim National Unity Government. However, the economic crisis persisted, as did the protests. On July 9, 2022, hundreds of protesters invaded and occupied the offices and the official residence of the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in Colombo. Ranil Wickramasinghe’s private house was also attacked by the protestors. At least 102 people, including two police officers, were injured in clashes during the protests on July 9.

Though both President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Wickramasinghe offered to resign, President Rajapaksa finally did so on July 13, while Wickramasinghe managed to retain power as Parliament voted him in as President on July 20. Since then, a measure of political stability has been restored, with Wickramasinghe strengthening his position within the Government, as demonstrated by his success in ensuring the passage of the budget in the Parliament on December 8, 2022. While 123 Members of Parliament voted in favour, 80 voted against, while two Members abstained.

Meanwhile, on January 4, 2023, the Sri Lankan Election Commission (EC) announced that local government elections would be held across the island in March 2023, with nominations accepted between January 18 and 21, 2023. The elections must be held before March 19, 2023, when the current term of local government bodies ends. A positive result in these elections will help Wickramasinghe strengthen his position further, while any slip up may undermine the stability to his government. Indeed, fearful that popular anger may express itself in a humiliating electoral defeat, Wickremesinghe and his government have desperately attempted to call off the polls.

The economic situation remains precarious and has the potential to derail political stability at any time.

Despite the major politico-economic upheavals, the country remained free of terrorism, though one terrorism-linked fatality was reported. On November 28, 2022, a suspect linked to the April 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, who was out on bail, was killed by unidentified assailants in Mattakkuliya in Colombo. According to the Police, the assailants had arrived in a car and killed the 38 years old suspect, whose identity is yet to be disclosed. There was no terrorism-linked fatality in 2021.

The Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar continued to hear the Easter Sunday attacks cases filed by the Attorney General against 25 accused on 23,270 charges, including conspiracy to carry out terrorist attacks, and aiding and abetting the attack on Easter Sunday. On January 5, 2023, the Court rejected the bail request made on behalf of all 25 suspects who were in remand custody. The case is to be called up before the Court again on February 1, 2023. On September 1, 2021, a Trial-at-Bar Bench, comprising High Court Judges Damith Thotawatta (President), Amal Ranaraja and Navaratne Marasinghe, had been appointed to hear all cases related to the bombings.

Meanwhile, on January 11, 2022, a live hand grenade was found inside the premises of the All Saints Church in Borella in Colombo. Police later recovered four pistols, one revolver, two swords, a knife, and another weapon from the residence of a 76-year-old retired doctor, who was among the six persons arrested in connection with the incident. The case is still under investigation.

Further, on April 23, 2022, the Sri Lanka Navy arrested a suspect, a resident of Kuchchaweli, in possession of explosives, at Sallimunai beach, Trincomalee District.

Moreover, the threat to security from drug cartels with established foreign linkages, persisted. In over hundred incidents of drug seizures in 2022, around 350 persons were arrested. In a major incident, on December 23, 2022, the Sri Lanka Customs seized SLR 165 million worth of narcotics sent into the country from Spain, UK, Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands. Earlier, on December 14, 2022, the Sri Lanka Navy, along with the Police Narcotics Bureau and State Intelligence Service seized over 200 kilograms of Heroin and crystal methamphetamine from two multi-day fishing crafts in the deep sea, off Sri Lanka’s Southern seas. Seven suspects were arrested during the operation.

The continued respite from terrorism has been a big relief to the security establishment, even though residual challenges persisted. Indeed, in 2021, 18 organizations and 577 individuals had been blacklisted in the country for financing terrorism under the United Nations Regulation No. 1 of 2012, according to the Defence Ministry. Through an Extraordinary Gazette Notification dated August 1, 2022, the Ministry of Defence, removed six organisations and 316 individuals from the 2021 list, but added three new organisations and 55 new individuals to the list. Thus, as on August 1, 2022, at least 15 organizations and 361 individuals were blacklisted in the country. The organisations that were de-listed in the August 1, 2022, Notification included six international Tamil organizations – the Australian Tamil Congress, the Global Tamil Forum, the World Tamil Coordination Committee, the Tamil Eelam People’s Congress, the Canadian Tamil Congress and the British Tamil Forum. Of the 15 existing groups in the list five are Islamist groups that include National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ), Jama ‘athe Milla’ athe Ibrahim, Willayath As Seylani, Darul Adhar alias Jamiul Adhar Mosque, Sri Lanka Islamic Student Movement and Save the Pearls.

The island country is indeed going through a tough politico-economic crisis. Luckily for it, the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) no longer pose any significant threat, though the vigil against residual elements of the outfit remains a security imperative. Moreover, though the sweeping action has been taken by SFs against persons and organised linked to the Easter Sunday attacks, and these have hit Islamist extremist elements hard, forcing them into dormancy, given their established foreign linkages, it will remain necessary not to provide any leeway, lest they create significant threats in future.

Remembering The Holocaust – When Abuse of Power And Hatred Met

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“Of course, it was, under the law of all civilized peoples, a crime for a man with his bare knuckles to assault another. How did it come that multiplying this crime by a million, and adding firearms to bare knuckles, made it a legally innocent act?” Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg Military Tribunal (1945)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day fell on 27th January, as it does every year, in commemoration of the day in 1945 when  the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – where in excess of  one million people were sent to gas chambers  to meet their agonizing deaths during the Holocaust – was liberated. One commentary says: “The Holocaust was the state-sponsored persecution and mass murder of millions of European Jews, Romani people, the intellectually disabled, political dissidents and homosexuals by the German Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. The word “holocaust,” from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “kaustos” (burned), was historically used to describe a sacrificial offering burned on an altar”.

One could not be blamed for thinking that the categories that the victims fell into –  as decided for extermination by the Nazis  – could have been described by the Nazi regime as “useless vermin” (particularly in the context of how they were disposed of)  although 78 years after the liberation of the camp we overwhelmingly recognize them as valuable and innocent human lives. The victims were persecuted, tortured, and killed based on their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, or sexual orientation.  The Nazis  had been involved in annihilating, in the cruellest possible manner, not only Jews, but also Russians, Belarusians, Poles, Ukrainians and Serbs, Romanis (gypsies), LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), the mentally or physically disabled, mentally ill; Soviet POWs, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people of the Baháʼí Faith, among others.

It is arguable that the two pivotal words that impelled the unspeakably egregious and evil acts perpetrated in the Holocaust are “power” and hatred”. Recent results of test conducted have revealed that when people are given power they wield it in accordance with their mor a al and ethical values.  The question is, do good people perpetrate bad deeds when they have power over others, or is it only the bad and the evil who are guilty?  Smithsonian Magazine reports: ”  a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that… people’s sense of “moral identity”—the degree to which they thought it was important to their sense of self to be “caring,” “compassionate,” “fair,” “generous” and so on—shaped their responses to feelings of power”.

In other words, Lord Acton’s famous words “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” may no longer ring true in all instances.  Good persons may exercise powers equitably, with empathy and  goodness while the evil may exercise their power iniquitously with egregious intent.  The bottom line seems to settle at Abraham Lincoln’s statement that   “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The most evil use of power is fueled by hatred, which has been described as “the most destructive affective phenomenon in the history of human nature”.   The inevitable corollary to hatred  is hate propaganda which often ingrains itself in a social system where the social degradation of the subject occupies the forefront of political discourse. Hate propaganda, spawned by hate speech, dehumanizes and depersonalizes the subject, degrading him to an imaginary persona and relegating him to the lowest depths usually assigned to a sub human species.

The immediate reaction of a society to this phenomenon is the recognition of hate crimes which emerge from hate speech and propaganda as any other crime, thus obfuscating the hatred that inspired such crimes and trivializing their qualitatively different nature. The ultimate result is of course the social acceptability of hate crimes and their desirability. This odious conclusion to a parasitic process is almost ephemeral and pervades the intellectual consciousness of a society to its ultimate destruction.

The mission of our institutions should be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race, religion, language or wealth of persons. This will require us to look beyond the framework of cultural nuances. States and their educational authorities must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the state or nation its richness and character. As former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said, a genocide begins with the killing of one man – not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one person is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity.

We must therefore start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The power of seniority of status or particular immunity must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights, nor must the authorities concerned turn a blind eye to atrocities that may likely be committed on the young and the innocent. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security.

Truth and justice are unhappily mutually exclusive. While in legal terms, legislative parameters will define acts and qualitize their reprehensibility, in truth, speech and conduct that ingratiate themselves to a society have to be addressed politically. This is the dilemma that legislators will face in dealing with racial hatred. Hate speech and hate propaganda primarily erode ethical boundaries and convey an unequivocal message of contempt and degradation. The operative question then becomes ethical, as to whether societal mores would abnegate their vigil and tolerate some members of society inciting their fellow citizens to degrade, demean and cause indignity to other members of the very same society, with the ultimate aim of harming them? Conversely, is there any obligation on a society to actively protect all its members from indignity and physical harm caused by hatred?

The answer to both these questions lies in the fundamental issue of restrictions on racist speech, and the indignity that one would suffer in living in a society that might tolerate racist speech. Obviously, a society committed to protecting principles of social and political equality cannot look by and passively endorse such atrocities, and much would depend on the efficacy of a State’s coercive mechanisms. These mechanisms must not only be punitive, but should also be sufficiently compelling to ensure that members of a society not only respect a particular law but also internalize the effects of their proscribed acts.

Who Can and Who Will Save Democracy?

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Democracy has a dream-like character. It sweeps into the world, carried forward by an immense desire by humans to overcome the barriers of indignity and social suffering. When confronted by hunger or the death of their children, earlier communities might have reflexively blamed nature or divinity, and indeed those explanations remain with us today. But the ability of human beings to generate massive surpluses through social production, alongside the cruelty of the capitalist class to deny the vast majority of humankind access to that surplus, generates new kinds of ideas and new frustrations. This frustration, spurred by the awareness of plenty amidst a reality of deprivation, is the source of many movements for democracy.

Habits of colonial thought mislead many to assume that democracy originated in Europe, either in ancient Greece (which gives us the word ‘democracy’ from demos, ‘the people’, and kratos, ‘rule’) or through the emergence of a rights tradition, from the English Petition of Right in 1628 to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. But this is partly a retrospective fantasy of colonial Europe, which appropriated ancient Greece for itself, ignoring its strong connections to North Africa and the Middle East, and used its power to inflict intellectual inferiority on large parts of the world. In doing so, colonial Europe denied these important contributions to the history of democratic change. People’s often forgotten struggles to establish basic dignity against despicable hierarchies are as much the authors of democracy as those who preserved their aspirations in written texts still celebrated in our time. 

Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, a range of struggles developed against dictatorial regimes in the Third World that had been put in place by anti-communist oligarchies and their allies in the West. These regimes were born out of coups (such as in Brazil, the Philippines, and Turkey) and given the latitude to maintain legal hierarchies (such as in South Africa). The large mass demonstrations that laid at the heart of these struggles were built up through a range of political forces, including trade unions – a side of history that is often ignored. The growing trade union movement in Turkey was, in fact, part of the reason for the military coups of 1971 and 1980. Knowing that their hold on power was vulnerable to working-class struggles, both military governments banned unions and strikes. This threat to their power had been evidenced, in particular, by a range of strikes across Anatolia developed by unions linked to the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), including a massive two-day demonstration in İstanbul known as the June 15–16 Events that drew in 100,000 workers. The confederation, established in February 1967, was more militant than the existing one (Türk İş), which had become a collaborator with capital. Not only did militaries move against socialist and non-socialist governments alike that attempted to exercise sovereignty and improve the dignity of their peoples (such as in the Congo in 1961, Brazil in 1964, Indonesia in 1965, Ghana in 1966, and Chile in 1973), but they also moved out of the barracks – with the bright green light from Washington – to quell the cycle of strikes and worker protests.

Once in power, these wretched regimes, dressed in their khaki uniforms and the finest silk suits, drove austerity policies and cracked down on any movements of the working class and peasantry. But they could not break the human spirit. In much of the world (as in Brazil, the Philippines, and South Africa), it was trade unions that fired the early shot against barbarism. The cry in the Philippines ‘Tama Na! Sobra Na! Welga Na!’ (‘We’ve had enough! Things have gone too far! It’s time to strike!’) moved from La Tondeña distillery workers in 1975 to protests in the streets against Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, eventually culminating in the People Power Revolution of 1986. In Brazil, industrial workers paralysed the country through actions in Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo, and São Caetano do Sul (industrial towns in greater São Paulo) from 1978 to 1981, led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (now Brazil’s president). These actions inspired the country’s workers and peasants, raising their confidence to resist the military junta, which collapsed as a result in 1985.

Fifty years ago, in January 1973, the workers of Durban, South Africa, struck for a pay rise, but also for their dignity. They woke at 3 am on 9 January and marched to a football stadium, where they chanted ‘Ufil’ umuntu, ufile usadikiza, wamthint’ esweni, esweni usadikiza’ (‘A person is dead, but their spirit lives; if you poke the iris of their eye, they still come alive’). These workers led the way against entrenched forms of domination that not only exploited them, but also oppressed the people as a whole. They stood up against harsh labour conditions and reminded South Africa’s apartheid government that they would not sit down again until class lines and colour lines were broken. The strikes opened a new period of urban militancy that soon moved off the factory floors and into wider society. A year later, Sam Mhlongo, a medical doctor who had been imprisoned on Robben Island as a teenager, observed that ‘this strike, although settled, had a detonator effect’. The baton was passed to the children of Soweto in 1976.

From Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Chris Hani Institute comes a memorable text, The 1973 Durban Strikes: Building Popular Democratic Power in South Africa (dossier no. 60, January 2023). It is memorable in two senses: it recovers an almost lost history of the role of the working class in the fight against apartheid, in particular the Black working class, whose struggle had a ‘detonator’ effect on society. The dossier, beautifully written by our colleagues in Johannesburg, makes it hard to forget these workers and harder still to forget that the working class – still so deeply marginalised in South Africa – deserves respect and a greater share of the country’s social wealth. They broke the back of apartheid but did not benefit from their own sacrifices.

The Chris Hani Institute was founded in 2003 by the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Chris Hani (1942–1993) was one of South Africa’s great freedom fighters, a communist who would have made an even greater impact than he did had he not been assassinated at the end of apartheid. We are grateful to Dr Sithembiso Bhengu, the director of the Chris Hani Institute, for this collaboration and look forward to the work that lies before us.

As this dossier went to press, we heard that our friend Thulani Maseko (1970–2023), chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholders Forum in Swaziland, was shot dead in front of his family on 21 January. He was one of the leaders of the fight to bring democracy to his country, where workers are at the forefront of the battle to end the monarchy.

When I reread our latest dossier, The 1973 Durban Strikes, to prepare for this newsletter, I was listening to Hugh Masekela’s ‘Stimela’ (‘Coal Train’), the 1974 song of migrant workers travelling on the coal train to work ‘deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth’ to bring up wealth for apartheid capital. I thought of the Durban industrial workers with the sound of Masekela’s train whistle in my ear, remembering Mongane Wally Serote’s long poem, Third World Express, a tribute to the workers of southern Africa and their struggles to establish a humane society.

– it is that wind
it is that voice buzzing
it is whispering and whistling in the wires
miles upon miles upon miles
on the wires in the wind
in the subway track
in the rolling road
in the not silent bush
it is the voice of the noise
here it comes
the Third World Express
they must say, here we go again.

‘Here we go again’, Serote wrote, as if to say that new contradictions produce new moments for struggle. The end of one crushing order – apartheid – did not end the class struggle, which has only deepened as South Africa is propelled through crisis upon crisis. It was the workers who brought us this democracy, and it will be workers who will fight to establish a deeper democracy yet. Here we go again.

Newsletter of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

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