Education

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.

Distorted World: End of Globalism

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Following excerpts adapted from the author’s newly released book, Against the World: Anti-Globalism and Mass Politics between the World Wars published by W. W. Norton & Company

“In a world of falling prices, no stock has dropped more catastrophically than International Cooperation.” — DOROTHY THOMPSON, 1931

The era of globalism was over.

Even committed internationalists “have lost faith and join in the chorus of those who never sympathized with our ideals, and say internationalism has failed,” despaired Mary Sheepshanks, a British feminist and internationalist. Although she was confident that the spirit of internationalism would return once “the fumes cleared from men’s brains,” it had been replaced for the moment by “race hatred and national jealousy, leading to tariffs, militarism, armaments, crushing taxation, restricted intercourse, mutual butchery, and the ruin of all progress.”

The year was 1916. Hundreds of thousands of European boys and men were already dead, and nearly everyone was penning obituaries for internationalism. The fumes did not clear quickly. More than twenty-five years later, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig would publish his memoir, The World of Yesterday. It was a nostalgic eulogy for a lost era of globalism. Zweig, a self-described “citizen of the world,” recalled, “Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all. People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled from Europe to India and to America without passport and without ever having seen one.” After the war, everything changed. “The world was on the defensive against strangers . . . The humiliations which once had been devised with criminals alone in mind now were imposed upon the traveller, before and during every journey. There had to be photographs from right and left, in profile and full face, one’s hair had to be cropped sufficiently to make the ears visible; fingerprints were taken . . . they asked for the addresses of relatives, for moral and financial guarantees, questionnaires, and forms in triplicate and quadruplicate needed to be filled out, and if only one of this sheath of papers was missing one was lost.” He linked these bureaucratic humiliations to a loss of human dignity and the lost dream of a united world. “If I reckon up the many forms I have filled out during these years . . . the many examinations and interrogations at frontiers I have been through, then I feel keenly how much human dignity has been lost in this century which, in our youth, we had credulously dreamed as one of freedom, as of the federation of the world.”

In Britain, economist John Maynard Keynes penned his famous obituary for globalization shortly after the war ended. “What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914!” he wrote. In the golden age before the war, “The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.” It was an age in which “the projects of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper.” These looming threats “appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of his social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.”

Stefan Zweig and John Maynard Keynes remain among the most renowned analysts of the changes brought by the First World War. They both understood these changes in terms of the end of a golden era of globalization, during which people, goods, and capital breezed across international frontiers. But their very nostalgia for a lost world of globalism offers an important clue as to the causes of its downfall. Both men were myopic about the extent to which the freedoms they associated with globalization were the privileges of a narrow elite (“It may be I was too greatly pampered,” Zweig speculated . . . ). The earth had not belonged to everyone before 1914. It had, however, belonged to people like Keynes and Zweig.

Zweig and Keynes traveled the world unmolested by bureaucrats before the First World War largely because they were wealthy, highly educated, white European men. They traveled freely for business and pleasure, with no concern for their physical safety. Nor did they worry about the meddlesome interference of husbands, fathers, or state authorities.

In steerage, the World of Yesterday looked quite different. Migrants headed toward the United States in the late nineteenth century were already subjected to the poking and prodding of doctors charged with excluding sick, disabled, and mentally ill migrants, along with those deemed “likely to become a public charge” (including most single women). Nonwhite migrants were categorically excluded. Millions of people in the world lived in deep poverty in regions that were denied political sovereignty and exploited economically for the benefit of Europeans and North Americans. While it was true that international trade benefited all parties in the aggregate, it exacerbated inequality between rich countries and poor countries. Likewise, within industrialized countries, globalization did not benefit everyone equally: there were clear winners and losers.

Keynes frankly acknowledged all this. The bounty of globalization was not shared equally. But inequality, he claimed, had been seen as a necessary corollary to progress in the nineteenth century. “The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at a low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot.” This was because they believed in the prospect of social mobility. “Escape was possible,” he insisted, “for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average.”

The war shattered those illusions. The magnitude of wartime sacrifices bred popular demands for more immediate justice. Across Europe and the world, workers, women, and colonial subjects took to the streets, demanding sovereignty and greater equality. In Russia the discontent combusted into revolution, which seemed poised to spread westward. The wheels of global integration ground to a halt. This spelled disaster for Europe and the world, Keynes warned. “An inefficient, unemployed, disorganized Europe faces us, torn by internal strife and international hate, fighting, starving, pillaging, and lying.”

His warning was prescient. The era of anti-globalism lasted another two decades, punctuated by the greatest global economic crisis in world history, the Great Depression. Nor would the strife be overcome with a new treaty or a peaceful handshake. Rather, as American journalist Dorothy Thompson would observe from Berlin in 1931, “Looking at Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans, one is forced to the admission that after twelve years of the League of Nations, the International Court . . . multilateral treaties, Kellogg Pacts, the International Bank and disarmament conferences, the whole world is retreating from the international position and is taking its dolls and going home.”

WHY AND how did so many people turn against the world after 1918? And what were the consequences of this anti-global turn? This book attempts to answer these questions. In the process, it reframes the history of interwar Europe not only as a battle between fascism and communism, democracy and dictatorship, but also as a contest over the future of globalization and globalism. The era between the two world wars was defined by attempts to resolve mounting tensions between globalization on the one hand and equality, state sovereignty, and mass politics on the other.

Moving through time and across space, I aim to give voice to the diversity of individuals who participated in this debate, to how it played out in local everyday contexts and at the level of national and international politics. The protagonists include several famous and infamous people—dictators, internationalists, industrialists, and economists— but also many individuals on the margins of history, including migrant women, garment workers, shopkeepers, unemployed veterans, radical gardeners, and disillusioned homesteaders.

There is no doubt about the decline of global mobility and trade in this period. On the one hand, the First World War was a “global” war. It mobilized human and material resources around the world and increased international financial entanglement through a massive web of international debt (especially debts to the United States). But at the same time, the war produced unprecedented supply shocks. The cost of shipping tripled, and inflation soared. Meanwhile, states introduced new tariffs, exchange controls, and other protectionist measures, and sought to cut off supplies to their enemies. Economic historians estimate that global exports declined by 25 percent due to the outbreak of the First World War, recovering to prewar levels only in 1924. There was a brief period of growth in the late 1920s, but all these gains were lost during the Great Depression. By 1933, world trade had declined 30 percent from 1929 levels and was 5 percent lower than it had been in 1913. Trade did not reach pre-1913 rates of growth again until the 1970s.

Transatlantic migration, which reached a peak of 2.1 million in 1913, came to a sputtering halt during the First World War and recovered only briefly after the war ended. Global migration rates remained high in the 1920s, especially within Asia, but the Great Depression radically curbed mobility everywhere in the world. This was partly due to a reduction in demand for migrant labor, but it was also caused by the closing of state borders and new restrictions on migration and mobility. Global communication also slowed down. News that raced via telegraph from Europe to North America and Australia in a single day in 1913 took weeks to arrive in 1920. And the gold standard, the motor of global financial integration, broke down during the First World War and was abandoned by the roadside during the 1930s, first by Great Britain (1931), then the United States (1933), and finally by France and other European powers.

These numbers, and the broader economic histories of globalization and deglobalization between the two world wars, are critically important. But my focus is rather on the grassroots origins and human consequences of the popular revolt against globalism, both for self-professed globalists such as Keynes and Zweig and for individuals who saw globalism as a threat to their aspirations for greater equality and stability. It was this popular confrontation with globalization that ultimately caused its disruption and transformation. Popular anti-globalism arose with accelerating globalization itself in the late nineteenth century, but in the 1920s and 1930s, the demands of anti-global activists were increasingly taken up by political parties and states. Their efforts to render individuals, families, and states more self-sufficient had mixed results, but lasting consequences.

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Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?

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First of all, let me express my sincere respects to Mr D.L. Sirimanne, the writer of the interesting article entitled ‘Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence’ (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023). He struck me as a venerable old man, who, at 103 years of age, still thinks about the welfare of his fellow Sri Lankans. It is rare for a person of that age to be so clear-headed and lucid in his writing. His generous spirit and his literary activity may be one reason for his healthy longevity, I think. His mention of retired aviator turned writer Elmo Jayawardana, whom  I highly admire for the same altruistism of character and the same literary gifts that Mr Sirimanne displays, made me check out whatever other information is available about him online. Actually, I had never come across the name D.L. Sirimanne before I read his Sat Mag feature in The Island ‘An epic Air Ceylon charter flight…….’ on October 24, 2020, which I re-visited today and which enabled me to relive the delightful experience of reading it. I also watched an old TV interview uploaded to the You Tube, featuring him. We have very few unsung heroes like Mr Sirimanne. It was time well spent, I thought, although I do not share his views about the history of Sri Lanka, the hallowed and historic homeland of the Sinhalese, their inalienable Motherland, or his opinion about the primary cause of the economic mess that Sri Lanka is currently undergoing. But the old ghosts he recalls in the otherwise excellent essay that he’s written had better be exorcized once and for all, for denigrating the majority Sinhalese community and belittling their history which is synonymous with that of their island home, based entirely on wrong assumptions, will definitely undermine all attempts to bring political stability, economic prosperity, and intercommunal harmony to Sri Lanka.

Please rest assured, Mr Sirimanne, my writing this will not detract in the least from my deepest admiration for you. You are not wrong in holding the views that you are sharing with the readers, given the time that you spent your youth, the most vibrant years of your life. It is only that times have changed, new discoveries have been made in science leading to the emergence of new technologies, and corresponding advances in the ever expanding universe of human knowledge, including such domains as astronomy, psychology, social sciences, art, culture, politics, history and archaeology and so on, in the light of which we are developing a better, more accurate idea of our past among other things. Something that has not changed, though, as far as our country is concerned, is the interfering ghost of departed Western colonialism, that is largely responsible for our problems. 

The fact that we are surrounded by the ocean has determined the nature of our evolution as an independent civilization, and the character of our commercial, cultural and political/diplomatic relations we have had with the outside world. As island dwellers, quite naturally, we have always been wary of foreigners though we have always treated them hospitably; we have been always independent spirited, and protective of our land, and our Buddhist culture. Before the depredations of European occupation, we, as an island nation had an extensive global reach on account of trade and our Buddhist spiritual culture. Groups of people and individuals travelled into as well as out of the island in connection with the last mentioned. The main body of the original inhabitants of the island were saved from being numerically overwhelmed by the influx of large numbers of immigrants from the relatively less hospitable or less inhabitable lands around, due to the sea barrier. Foreign commercial-cum-military powers that made incursions into the island from the legendary Vijaya to the British mercantile/imperial power at the end of the 18th century had first come as traders, attracted by the natural riches of the country. (According to new scientific findings in historiography and archaeology, the legendary Vijaya and the later invader Elara who ruled at Anuradhapura (205-161 BCE) were actually connected with trade.)

Mr Sirimanne seems to come from the minuscule Westernized,English speaking, Christian ‘elite’ society, the comprador class of the native population, that lived in relative comfort and  probably didn’t worry too much about independence from the British.They were akin to the ‘mimic men’ in Trinidad-born English novelist V.S. Naivpaul’s novel by that name, who tried to be what the imperial British did not allow them to be. But this was at the expense of the vast mass of the downtrodden  colonized ‘natives’, who were subjected to flagrant exploitation and relentless dehumanization, something that reminds me of what journalist and novelist Robert McCrum says about the lack of moral justification for the comfortable lifestyle of the rich upper crust of the Anglo-American society today: “No one dwelling in comfort on the higher ground of Anglo-American society should ever forget that a brutal trade in human lives was a motor of the British and American economies throughout the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth century….”. (Globish, Viking, 2010). McCrum, of course, is referring to the slave trade.

In the case of Sri Lanka and its large northern neighbour India, this period of European imperial exploitation became most virulent for the two centuries from around the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. (It looks as if, in the West dominated global media, this history is being fast sanitized.)  Former Indian diplomat and writer Dr Shashi Tharoor (who served at the UN for twenty-nine years, ending his stint there as Under Secretary General), in his ‘INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: What the British did to India’ (Scribe, Melbourne and London, 2018) tells the thoroughly researched true story of the British in India – from the arrival of the East India Company to the end of the Raj – and reveals how Britain’s rise was built upon its plunder of India. However, the careful reader understands that Tharoor’s purpose is not to narrate a sequence of events and tell a story as such, but to critically study the legacy the British left in India and to demolish arguments that try to support claims for alleged benefits of colonial rule. (However, Tharoor does not deny that the British did leave, incidentally though, a few treasures, such as a democratic form of government, and the English language.) Delhi-based historian William Dalrymple’s ‘THE ANARCHY: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company’ (Bloomsbury Publishing Company, London, 2019) is a riveting narrative that tells the story of how the (British) East India Company transformed itself from an international trading corporation into something quite different: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business run by English merchants collecting taxes from the impoverished natives using a ruthless private army. 

Sri Lanka is very small compared to India in terms of area. India is roughly 46 times the size of Sri Lanka and its population roughly 64 times. But internationally, we are accepted as an independent sovereign state similar to India that enjoys full fledged membership of the United Nations. There is nothing unusual about this. There are dozens of countries with even smaller populations than ours, such as Burkino Faso, Chile, Malavi, Mali, Romania, Zambia, etc., that stand as independent sovereign states. We are not, by any means, inferior to India as a sovereign nation.     

To liken Ceylon (or Sri Lanka) to ‘a brilliant emerald on the beautiful pendant of Mother India’ is to imply that our country is/was an appendage of India! It never was, but present day Indian politicians appear to wish it was, and even to behave as if it already is, and some of our own worthless unpatriotic politicians seem to agree! How can a Sri Lankan celebrate a ‘Mother India’, instead of Mother Lanka? To be colonized by foreign invaders is not an experience that can be or should be forgotten with glib talk. No self-respecting nation in the world will relish that humiliating experience. We are a people with an honourable history. Our country has been called Sihele or Sivhela or Sinhale or Sinhaladipa (the europeanized ‘Ceylon’ is a derivative of Sihele), or Lanka, as it is often referred to in the 5th century CE Mahavansa or the Great Chronicle and as it is usually called in colloquial Sinhala even today, and Tamilized as Ilankei. (Incidentally, all the quotations from the Mahavansa and its continuation the Cuavansa found in this essay are from Mudaliyar L. C. Wijesinghe’s translation of 1889.) 

Sri Lanka had survived 17 invasions from South India before the European phase of colonization actually started at the beginning of the 17th century (1602), though the fortuitous arrival of the Portuguese happened almost a century earlier in 1505. The Portuguese were in Sri Lanka till they were driven away in 1658 by the Dutch, who in their turn gave way to the British in 1796. The British helped themselves to the maritime provinces of the country previously occupied by the other two European powers. All these invasions and occupations met with the fiercest resistance from the native Sinhalese  population. They did not bring Tamils from South India to fight these wars. Jayantha Somasundaram claimed in an article published in The Island a couple of months ago that the Sinhalese did not go to war against invaders because as Buddhists they did not want to kill. This is a deliberate falsehood. Of course, it is true that when there was internecine strife, Sinhalese kings sometimes brought in mercenaries from South India as when Mugalan did in order to challenge his half-brother Kasyapa of Sigiriya in the 5th century CE. Invader Magha of Kalinga brought an army of Kerala mercenaries (according to Chapter 80 of the Mahavansa (in the form of Culavansa written in the 13th century CE by a Buddhist Bhikkhu named Dhammakitti) to fight against the ruler of Lanka at the time Parakrama Pandyan of Polonnaruwa in 1215 CE. By the time of the British advent at the end of the 18th century, the interior part of the island formed the Kandyan kingdom or the diminished kingdom of Sinhale hemmed in all sides by occupied territories; but it had itself repeatedly and heroically foiled European military occupation. It was only through subtle diplomatic intrigue that it was annexed to the British Empire in 1815.  

Even my father (who was of Mr D.L. Sirimanne’s generation), though he was no historian, scoffed at the implausibility of the Mahavansa story about prince Vijaya. “How could we be descendants of a lion, an animal, and still be humans?” he used to say. He also ridiculed the Aryan claim in the Hitlerian sense. He only believed in the word ‘Arya’ as it is used in Buddhism, that is, to refer to a spiritually advanced person. But Mr Sirimanne seems to have no issue with the ‘Aryan’ identity of the Sinhalese, who had allegedly come from Sinhapura in North India.  Mr Sirimanne believes that the tribes that inhabited the place when prince Vijaya landed at Tambapanni, known as Yakkas and Nagas, were ‘probably Hindus from South India’. He has left out the Devas and the Rakshas, the other two of the four indigenous tribes who are believed to have inhabited the island then. 

However, the Vijaya legend must have a nucleus of historical truth in it. It might be based on an actual invasion by a north Indian prince, who initiated a dynasty that imported princes from the mythical Sinhapura to rule at Tambapanni. The subject Yakkas’ Sinhalese identity must have derived from the natural admixture at that stage of the native Yakkas with the members of the invading north indian ‘Aryan’ clan. There definitely had developed a struggle between the invaders and the local elite over sovereignty by the time of the death of king Panduvasudeva (who reigned at Tambapanni from 504 to 474 BCE). In fact, Pandukabhaya (born in 474 BCE, the year his grandfather died) who ascended the throne at Anuradhapura after a protracted military struggle against his uncles is considered the first truly Lankan monarch (but the 6th king overall) since Vijaya. The Mahavansa story (found in Ch. 10) about the emergence of Pandukabhaya features a number of real Yakkhas and Yakkhinis, who are shown to be as much human as those who had come from Sinhapura (though they are presented with a supernatural touch.) 

But today we know for sure that the Yakkas were the real ancestors of the Sinhalese (Kuveni was a Yakka princess), and that they were also contemporaneous with the Veddas. The fake classification of the Veddas as ‘aadivasin’ (aborigines) by Western anthropologists was probably meant to deny the Sinhalese their autochthonous origin in this island.  Yakka language inscriptions have been found and deciphered, one of which, according to archaeology Professor Raj Somadeva, declares “api yakku” we are yakkas. The Mahavansa says that the missionary Mahinda Thera preached Buddhism ‘in the language of the islanders’, which was undoubtedly, the Yakka language, the ancient version of Sinhala, that was in circulation then. 

The most powerful factor, next to genetics, that distinguishes one race from another is its language. In the case of the Sinhalese it is the Sinhala language with its unique vocal sound system, its own grammar and vocabulary. (Words like vatura for water, vee for rice paddy, haal/sahal for(rice, bath for cooked rice, kamata for threshing floor, gala  for rock, and so on are original Sinhala words, not borrowed from any other language; another original Sinhala word is ‘wewa’ (turned into Pali form in the chronicles as waapi)), meaning an artificial water reservoir constructed by building a dam across a valley for storing water for agricultural irrigation during rainless months. However, down the ages, contact with the North Indian languages of Pali or Magadi and Sanskrit has heavily hybridized the Sinhala vocabulary. This is the reason why Sanskrit-derived Hindi and Bengali languages sound more familiar and are more easily intelligible to the Sinhalese than the Dravidian languages of South India such as Tamil or Malayalam (a few elements from the last two can also be detected, particularly in spoken (non-formal, non-literary) Sinhala…

Continued   

Source: The Island

Air Taxis and Vertiports – A Growing Trend In 2023

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If transportation technology was moving along as fast as microprocessor technology, then the day after tomorrow I would be able to get in a taxi cab and be in Tokyo in 30 seconds ~ W. Daniel Hillis

Known as flying cars by some, air taxis (or flying taxis)   are technically known as EVTOL (electric, vertical take off and landing) aircraft.  In other words, they are drones propelled by multirotor  equipment and are usually designed to carry less than a dozen passengers (there are two seater air taxis in the design phase in China and Germany)..  Air taxis are calculated to ease traffic congestion on the roads making it easy for commuters to get from one place to another without being bogged down in traffic. A good example where air taxis could be beneficial is in the context of a rush to the airport to catch a flight or a dash to the railway station to make it to a train which is few and far between during the day.   Air taxis take off and land vertically, obviating the need for runways needed by conventional aircraft, and land in vertiports – described as “half airports, half subway stations”.

EVTOLs other uses are in search and rescue operations, transporting organs for transplant, as well as delivery and tourism. It is estimated that in the coming decades there could be  hundreds or even thousands of EVTOLs in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States .

The Economist’s annual journal The World Ahead 2023 says: “air travel turns profitable as international arrivals  soar by 30%. But they stay below pre-pandemic levels”. At present only up to one third of air travel pre 2019 can be seen, but the demand for travel is growing. The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA)  – the trade association of airlines – has forecast that there will be a return to pre pandemic levels for global airlines by around end-2023, calling it “about the right timeframe”. The use of air taxis would largely be domestic, particularly in large countries such as the United States, Canada, China and India which have large domestic markets.  The exponential increase in international air travel would in turn mean that air taxis would be a popular and efficient mode of transport in the context of domestic connections.

The Economist goes on to say: “This will be a crucial year for the aviation pioneers developing electric vertical take off and landing (EVTOL) aircraft …several firms are hoping to obtain the necessary certification in 2023 to commence commercial production, paving the way for the fast passenger services”.

Prior to starting to manufacture these aircraft, manufacturers and regulators would have to agree on safety standards and the latter would have to issue a license for the aircraft before passengers can be carried.  BBC Science Focus reports: “Many developers believe their vehicles will be safety certified and cleared for take off by 2025, if not sooner. Boeing, Airbus and Hyundai are some of the familiar names building air taxis. Another is Joby, which bought Uber Elevate, the ride-sharing giant’s foray into eVTOLs, in December 2020. Meanwhile, British firm Vertical claims to have the highest number of conditional pre-orders with the likes of Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines among the investors lining up for its VA-X4 vehicle”. The Report goes on to say that sprawling and congested cities such as  Los Angeles i São Paulo, Osaka and Singapore are some of the cities preparing for the advent of advanced air mobility offered by air taxis. In Europe the continent’s first vertiport  is being built in France in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics,  with the United Kingdom following close. 

Regulations on air taxis in most countries are yet to attain fruition. However, air taxis could arguably be considered analogous to any aircraft big or small, and therefore regulators could well be influenced by current international regulations applying to the manufacture of commercial aircraft. Annex 8 to The Chicago Convention which addresses issues of airworthiness of aircraft provides that the State of manufacture is required to ensure that each aircraft, including parts manufactured by sub-contractors, conforms to the approved design, and that the State taking responsibility for the production of parts manufactured under the design approval has to ensure that the parts conform to the approved design.

The Annex begins with an obligatory provision on the State of design of an aircraft by saying that it is required to transmit to every Contracting State which has advised the State of Design that it has entered the aircraft on its register, and to any other Contracting State upon request, any generally applicable information which it has found necessary for the continuing airworthiness of the aircraft, including its engines and propellers when applicable, and for the safe operation of the aircraft, and notification of the suspension or revocation of a Type Certificate. For its part, the State of Registry has to ensure that, when it first enters on its register an aircraft of a particular type for which it is not the State of Design and issues or validates a Certificate of Airworthiness it is required to advise the State of Design that it has entered such an aircraft on its register.

The State of Design has to ensure that, where the State of Manufacture of an aircraft is other than the State of Design, there is an agreement acceptable to both States to ensure that the manufacturing organization cooperates with the organization responsible for the type design in assessing information received on experience with operating the aircraft. The State of Manufacture of an aircraft is obligated to ensure that, where it is not the State of Design, there is an agreement acceptable to both States to ensure that the manufacturing organization cooperates with the organization responsible for the type design in assessing information received on experience with operating the aircraft.

There is also a requirement (not specifically aimed at manufacturers) that compliance with the Standards prescribed as above is required to be established by flight. Chapter 4 of the Annex stipulates that the functioning of all moving parts essential to the safe operation of the aeroplane is required to be demonstrated by suitable tests in order to ensure that they will function correctly under all operating conditions for such parts.  Initially air taxis will have crew piloting the aircraft. Annex 8  contains a requirement that the aircraft be provided with approved instruments and equipment necessary for the safe operation of the aeroplane in the anticipated operating conditions. These include the instruments and equipment necessary to enable the crew to operate the aeroplane within its operating limitations.  The underlying principle is that the aircraft is required to have such stability in relation to its flight characteristics, performance, structural strength, and most probable operating conditions (e.g. aeroplane configurations and speed ranges) so as to ensure that demands made on the pilot’s powers of concentration are not excessive when the stage of the flight at which these demands occur and their duration are taken into account.

Certification of airworthiness of an air taxi is a serious business and internal regulations of a country must consider analogous standards already established by member States of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

An Ancient Recipe for Social Success

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New evidence and understandings about the structure of successful early societies across Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere are sweeping away the popular assumption that early societies tended toward autocracy and despotism.

Archaeology has a more valuable story to tell: Collective action and localized economic production are a recipe for sustainability and broader well-being. The Mesoamerican city of Monte Albán, which was a major regional urban center for 1,300 years, is a shining example. It is a powerful case study that early investments in public infrastructure and goods foster longer-term sustainability.

There is a rich vein of insight here for some of the most pressing challenges faced by humanity: billions of people living in poverty, and collapsing social structures in the developing world. And in the wealthy industrialized world, many are increasingly disillusioned by the flaws in our political and economic models.

But if we’re going to use the models from the ancient past, can we be confident about how early societies really operated?

Researchers have begun to identify archaeological evidence that works as indicators for political and social behaviors and institutions:

  • Is there evidence of extreme wealth disparity or equality in lifestyle or burial?
  • Does monumental architecture foster exclusivity (elite tombs, aggrandizing monuments, evidence of dynastic legitimation) or access (e.g., open plazas, wide access ways, community temples)?
  • Are palaces prominent or is it not clear where the leader resided?
  • Does art emphasize lineal descent, divine kingship, and royal patron deities or does it feature more abstract themes such as fertility or integrative cosmological principles?

There is a lot we can determine from a society’s tendency toward the first or second option in each of these questions about whether it was more autocratic or associated with collective/good governance.

In a study of 26 early urban centers in Mesoamerica, Monte Albán was one of 12 that was characterized as a collectively organized city based on a series of indicators. Prior to the city’s abandonment, Monte Albán was not highly unequal: there were few, if any, lavish tombs, no great caches of household riches or other evidence of extreme wealth differences, and no large, ornate palace that was unequivocally the ruler’s residence.

From early in the site’s history, the city’s core was centered on a large plaza that could have accommodated a significant proportion of the site’s population. Flattening the hill’s rocky top and then defining and creating this large open space entailed planning, coordination, and cooperation. Until very late in the city’s history, material representations of rulers were relatively rare, and there is an overall lack of ruler aggrandizement. During the city’s first four centuries (500–100 BCE), there were few depictions of seemingly important individuals or leaders. Rule was largely faceless.

How did it happen?

In this light, let’s travel to the early sedentary villages (c. 1500–500 BCE) in the Valley of Oaxaca—the largest expanse of flat land in Mexico’s Southern Highlands. They were situated on or near well-watered land.

Around 500 BCE, however, a new hilltop center, Monte Albán, was established at the nexus of the valley’s three arms, where agriculture was far riskier due to unreliable rainfall and a dearth of permanent water sources. During the era of its establishment, not only was Monte Albán larger than any earlier community in the region, but many other settlers moved into the rural area around Monte Albán.

This marked shift in settlement patterns and the underlying processes associated with the foundation of Monte Albán have long been debated. How can we account for the immigration of people, some likely from beyond the region itself, to an area where they faced greater risks of crop failure?

One perspective, reliant on uniform models of premodern states as despotic, viewed the process from a basically top-down lens; leaders coerced their subjects to move near the capital to provide sustenance for the new center.

Yet more recent research has found that governance at Monte Albán was generally more collective than autocratic, and in its growth period, productive activities were collective, centered in domestic units and not managed from above.

By the time Monte Albán was established in the Valley of Oaxaca, more than a thousand years had passed since foragers transitioned from mobile lifeways to sedentary communities. Maize, beans, and squash, which had been domesticated prior to village formation, were key elements of an agricultural economy, with maize providing the bulk of calories. Early villagers also exploited a mosaic of other natural resources including clay for making ceramic vessels and figurines, stone for making tools and ornaments, and plant materials for processing into a range of woven products.

The shift to sedentary life was a long social process through which formerly dispersed populations not only adjusted but committed to living in larger communities and interacting with more people on a daily basis.

The Valley of Oaxaca has a climate that is semiarid, rainfall is unpredictable and spatially patchy across the region, and not all sectors of the valley floor receive the minimum annual precipitation necessary for reliable rainfall farming of maize, the region’s staple and culturally most important crop.

The prime factor that determines the productivity of maize is the availability of water, and a diversity of water management practices have been used since prehispanic times. These manipulations, which increase agricultural yields, include wells and pot irrigation, check dams, and small-scale canals, all of which were easily managed or implemented at the household level.

The Valley of Oaxaca was a core politico-economic region. Prior to Monte Albán’s founding, most of the populace resided in one of three clusters of settlements that were separated from the others by largely unoccupied areas, including the center of the valley where Monte Albán was later situated. In each arm, a cluster of smaller communities surrounded one larger settlement that had special functions and served as the “head towns” of small competing polities.

This millennial pattern was broken when Monte Albán was built on a steep hilltop in the center of the valley. The settlement’s establishment and rapid growth in size and monumentality set off a dynamic episode of innovation and change that included demographic, dietary, and other economic shifts. Populations grew rapidly not only at the new center, which became the largest and most monumental city in the valley’s early history, but also in the surrounding countryside. The center and rural communities were integrated through an emergent market network that provisioned the city.

This dramatic episode of change required the coordination of labor to build the new city. The rocky hilltop was flattened into a large main plaza with monumental buildings constructed along its edges. The scale and orientation of this central plaza represent a key transition from prior community plans in the region. Residences for the city’s burgeoning population were constructed on the steep slopes of the hill by creating flattened spaces, or terraces, shored up by stone and earthen retaining walls, each of which sustained a domestic unit.

The allocation of the hill’s apex for civic-ceremonial space and the lower slopes for commoner residences was a blueprint for a broad social accord. Built environments are not neutral, but political, and Monte Albán’s footprint with a large, relatively open central space and little display of hierarchical leaders points to a collective arrangement.

The city’s concentrated residential precincts comprised strings of artificially flattened terraces that shared long retaining walls. Construction of the terraces required allotments of domestic labor to clear trees, flatten steep inclinations, erect stone walls to retain flat spaces where houses would be built, and construct drainage channels to divert rainwater from living spaces. The construction, sharing, and maintenance of front retaining walls involved high degrees of interhousehold cooperation between neighbors.

Additionally, commoners adopted construction techniques and basic ceramic wares that previously were the domain of high-status families. In the early city, most houses included contiguous rooms with plaster floors, often constructed around a patio; they were built with adobe bricks on stone foundations instead of the mud and thatch typical of earlier commoner houses. The pottery wares that previously were largely used by higher-status families or as ceremonial vessels became more broadly distributed in the centuries after Monte Albán was established. This level of cooperation and coordination is evidence of a social charter or norms, in which a wider array of residents had access to what previously had been higher-status materials and goods.

No large-scale production has been uncovered, and there is no indication of central-governmental food storage at Monte Albán, as one might expect with top-down economic control or redistribution.

Economic production at Monte Albán was situated in domestic contexts. Instead of being coerced to move to Monte Albán, people were attracted to the city. Monte Albán was settled by a sizable group, possibly as large as 1,000 people, and rapidly grew to about 5,000 people within a few hundred years. Populations also increased in the rural areas around Monte Albán, and the annual rate of population growth in the valley exceeded what could have been maintained by natural increase alone. Populations expanded again in and around Monte Albán after c. 300 BCE. The threefold growth was too large to be accounted for by local, “natural growth,” so that people must have been drawn to Monte Albán and the valley from more distant, extra-regional locations.

Evidence indicates that the agricultural catchment for feeding Monte Albán likely extended 20 kilometers from the city. The market and exchange networks that moved food to the city created a high degree of interconnection among small settlements and Monte Albán. This interdependence required cooperation, infrastructure, and institutions that together provided the means of moving food and distributing seasonal surpluses.

Prior to Monte Albán, early “head towns” were generally positioned adjacent to good farmland. But the new city was located in an area of the valley where agriculture was riskier and largely dependent on unpredictable rainfall. Why would people move to a place where they faced a high risk of crop failure, where they could have been taxed more highly, and where, if governance were coercive, they had little voice? Such a scenario seems improbable, and it is far more likely that people moved to Monte Albán to take advantage of economic opportunities, a parallel to most migrants in the world today.

Credit Line: This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Use of Lethal Drones in War – Are the Laws Silent?

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“I know it is bad, but we must finish it.

It does not finish. There is no finish to a war.

War is not won by victory.”

Extracted from A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

There is a famous Latin maxim Inter arma enim silent leges attributed to Cicero – known by some as the greatest orator who ever lived – which translates as “In times of war, the laws are silent”. In the 21st century, this maxim, which was purported to address the growing mob violence and thuggery of Cicero’s time, has taken on a different and a more complex dimension, extending conventional warfare in the air to the use of lethal drones (remotely operated flying missiles) as arbitrary killing machines.

The devastating damage caused by drones in war causes the greatest number of civilian fatalities along with destruction of buildings, reducing them to piles of rubble.  This type of attack was seen in 2011 where  an American drone is reported to have hovered above Pakistan’s Waziristan area one day in March 2011 and unleashed three missiles on a gathering of people, some of whom were armed.  Most of the 40 or so killed were civilians.   These drones were operated in most instances, far away from the actual zone of attack by trained personnel operating hand held consoles.  A strike is called a bugsplat.   .

In March 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which inter alia decided to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians.  The Resolution also authorized Member States to take all necessary measures, to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi.  This resulted in concerted air attacks by NATO forces on Libya. 

 The First Question

The first question is: “what redress do innocent victims of war have against egregious air attacks?”

From an international perspective, the operative law with regard to victims of war is international humanitarian law. This limb of law is also known as the law of war, the laws and customs of war or the law of armed conflict. Basically, international humanitarian law encompasses four limbs, the first being that persons who are not, or are no longer, taking part in hostilities must be respected, protected and treated humanely. They must be given appropriate care, without any discrimination. Secondly, captured combatants and other persons whose freedom has been restricted are required to be treated humanely. They should be protected against all acts of violence, in particular against torture and if they are brought to trial they have the right to enjoy the fundamental guarantees of a regular judicial procedure. Thirdly, the right of parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited. No superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering must be inflicted. Finally, in order to spare the civilian population, armed forces are required at all times to distinguish between the civilian population and civilian objects on the one hand, and military objectives on the other. Neither the civilian population as such nor individual civilians or civilian objects should be the target of military attacks.

Within these four precepts, international humanitarian law is entrenched as the legal corpus comprised of the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions as well as subsequent treaties, case law, and customary international law. The Geneva Conventions consist of four treaties formulated in Geneva, which set the pace in Standards for international law as applicable to humanitarian concerns. The fourth Convention, which relates to the protection of civilians during times of war in the hands of an enemy and under any occupation by a foreign power, provides in Article 3 that even where there is not a conflict of international character the parties must as a minimum adhere to minimal protections that should be accorded to certain categories of persons. These persons are described as: non-combatants, who usually are civilians, members of armed forces who have laid down their arms, and combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause. Article 3 also requires these persons to be in all circumstances treated humanely, with the following prohibitions: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b)taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Article 4 defines a person protected by the Geneva Conventions as one who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, finds himself, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or occupying power of which he or she is not a national. However, it explicitly excludes nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention and the citizens of a neutral state or an allied state if that state has normal diplomatic relations with in the State in whose hands they are.

What is :  “War?”

The term “war” is no longer used in its traditional restrictive sense of a conflict involving international dimensions. In the modern sense, war is any prolonged state of violent, large-scale conflict involving two or more groups of people and is now considered to include non-international armed conflicts as referred to in Article 3 of the fourth 1949 Geneva Convention. Also, humanitarian law does not apply only to victims of wars between international actors. Professor Rainer Hoffman, in his report to the International Law Association’s seventy second conference observed that if present international law admits of an individual’s right against a State for injuries suffered during the course of a war in which that State is involved, it must necessarily follow that it is difficult to maintain that the same right might not prevail against international organizations and non-State actors. He further stated that if such Organizations and non-State actors are subjects of international law and engage in acts which could have been committed, under traditional international law, only by States and thus behave like or as States, then they should, in principle be held accountable in the same way as States.

The Second Question

The Second question addressed in this article is: Can the law, administered by the courts, play an active role in preventing or bringing the carnage  caused by drones to a halt?

When the PAN AM disaster over Lockerbie in Scotland which was caused in 1989 was considered by  the International Court of Justice, Vice President of the Court – Justice C.G. Weeramantry – delivered his famous judgment where he said inter alia: “A great judge once observed that the laws are not silent amidst the clash of arms.  In our age we need also to assert that the laws are not powerless to prevent the clash of arms.  The entire law of the United Nations has been built up around the notion of peace and the prevention of conflict.  The Court, in an appropriate case, where possible conflict threatens rights that are being litigated before it, is not powerless to issue provisional measures conserving those rights by restraining an escalation of the dispute and the possible resort to force.  That would be entirely within its mandate and in total conformity with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations and international law.  Particularly, when situations are tense, with danger signals flashing all around, it seems that this Court should make a positive response with such measures as are within its jurisdiction.

 If the conservation of rights which are sub judice comes within the jurisdiction of the Court, as I have no doubt it does, an order restraining damage to those rights through conflict must also lie within that province.  If international law is to grow and serve the cause of peace as it is meant to do, the Court cannot avoid the responsibility in an appropriate case.

I would indicate provisional measures proprio motu against both parties preventing such aggravation or extension of the dispute as might result in the use of force by either or both parties.  Such measures do not conflict with any decision the Security Council has made under Chapter V11, nor with any obligation arising under Article 25, nor with the principle underlying Article 103.  The way towards a peaceful resolution of the dispute may thus be preserved before the parties find themselves on paths from which there may be no return.  This action is based on Article 41 of the Statute of the Court and Articles 73, 74 and 75 of the Rules of Court”. 

Conclusion

The imposition of sanctions against an aggressor, coupled with military aid to the State attacked has not historically worked.  They have only made one party more determined in its actions.  An example is Cuba which carried on relentlessly amidst decades of sanctions imposed against it. Short of nuclear devastation, capitulation is rarely achieved in the modern age.  On the other hand, diplomatic negotiation based on judicial interpretation and intervention might well work in modern warfare. For this, the entire world should coalesce.

We should give this approach a serious try. 

Sri Lanka: End Arbitrary Detention of Student Activist

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The Sri Lankan government should immediately end the arbitrary detention of Wasantha Mudalige, a student activist who was arrested on August 18, 2022, 7 human rights organizations said today. Since August 21, Mudalige, 29, has been held on orders signed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a draconian law that the government has long promised to repeal.

A hearing on Mudalige’s bail application has been scheduled for Hulftsdorp Magistrates Court on January 17, 2023. Under the PTA, the court does not usually grant bail if the Attorney General’s Department, acting on the government’s behalf, opposes it.

The Sri Lankan government detained Mudalige as part of its crackdown since an economic crisis in 2022 sparked largely peaceful protests demanding governance reform and action against alleged official corruption. The government responded by giving sweeping powers to the police and military, which used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse demonstrations and arrest hundreds of people, including many students.

Many of those detained have since been released on bail. However, the authorities have used extraordinary powers under the Prevention of Terrorism Act to keep Mudalige in detention despite having produced no evidence of any involvement in “terrorism.” As convenor of the Inter University Students’ Federation, he had taken a prominent part in the protests. Much of the time he has been held in solitary confinement and poor conditions, which can violate the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment under international human rights law.

In December, Mudalige required hospital treatment for breathing difficulties. His family and his lawyer have expressed concern for his safety and his health in detention. On October 4, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka issued a notice calling for the police to protect Mudalige’s safety in custody.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act allows for up to a year of detention without charge on the orders of the defense minister, who is currently President Wickremesinghe. Since it was introduced as a “temporary” measure in 1979, the law has been used particularly to target members of the Tamil and Muslim communities, and to stifle dissenting voices including journalists and human rights defenders. The United Nations and human rights groups have repeatedly documented that the PTA has been used to enable prolonged arbitrary detention and torture or other ill-treatment.

Successive Sri Lankan governments, including the present administration, have repeatedly pledged to repeal the PTA and replace it with rights-respecting legislation – most recently to the European Union in October. Yet the government continues to use the law to violate human rights, in breach of its own domestic and international commitments.

On August 18, the authorities arrested Mudalige along with 19 other people during a protest in Colombo that the police violently disrupted using excessive force. Two others arrested that day were also detained under the PTA, but both have since been released without charge. Hundreds of people arrested under ordinary criminal legislation for offenses allegedly committed during the 2022 protests, such as damage to public property, have also been released on bail.

During the first three months of his detention, Mudalige was shuttled between two detention centers run by the police Terrorism Investigation Department. One is a dilapidated and abandoned prison unfit to hold prisoners. He and the other detainees were held in solitary confinement, in cramped cells without access to basic facilities including sanitation and sunlight. Holding people in such conditions violates the international legal prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Prisoners suffered ill health, apparently as a result of the conditions in the jail and lack of treatment.

The abuse of counterterrorism legislation to arbitrarily detain a student activist involved in non-violent protest has a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, the groups said. President Wickremesinghe has called anti-government protesters “terrorists” and “fascists,” and threatened to renew a state of emergency and redeploy the military if fresh protests emerge amid the ongoing economic crisis. The authorities have continued to pursue other activists alleged to have participated in the 2022 protests.

On December 14, Mudalige was taken before a magistrate for the first time since he was detained. The magistrate ordered the attorney general to submit any evidence against Mudalige at the next hearing, on January 17, or to agree to bail. On January 5, the police took Mudalige before a magistrate and introduced new cases against him under ordinary criminal laws, related to other protests in which he purportedly participated in 2022.

The authorities have targeted Mudalige in the past for his activism. On August 3, 2021, he was arrested and jailed for more than three months after protesting for the right to free education. Thirteen human rights organizations issued an appeal against his detention.

The Sri Lankan authorities should immediately impose a moratorium on the use of the PTA, and promptly repeal it, the groups said. The authorities should immediately review the detention of  anyone held under the PTA, ensuring adequate access to fair bail hearings. They should also release all protesters facing charges that do not meet international standards.

The government of Sri Lanka should fully respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Joint statement issued by Amnesty International, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Frontline Defenders, Human Rights Watch, International Working Group on Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

Aviation Trends in 2023

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7 mins read

It’s good to learn from your mistakes.  It is better to learn from other peoples’ mistakes…Warren Buffett

The pandemic wrecked havoc on aviation over the past three years and now the end seems in sight.  Those starved of satiating their appetite for flying no longer face stringent health barriers and have unleashed their pent up frustrations of claustrophobia with a vengeance, filling  up aircraft all over the world.  The demand for air transport has bounced back in leaps and bounds, perhaps much more than expected, prompting Thomas Romig, Vice President of safety, security and operations at Airports Council International (ACI) to say: “ as countries lifted measures, the traffic just bounced – almost on a vertical line.  It would be flat for a little while and then another vertical leap in demand.  Growth like that has obviously been much harder to manage”.  The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said: “ The travel recovery continues to gather momentum. People need to travel. And when governments remove COVID-19 restrictions, they do. Many major international route areas – including within Europe, and the Middle East-North America routes – are already exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels”. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in a statement issued in May 2022 said there were ” “ clear signs of a strong global recovery in air traffic, characterized by increasing airline confidence and a range of regional air connectivity and air travel facilitation improvements”.

Air Transport

The volatility of geopolitics, public health and the energy crisis effectively precludes one from reaching any accuracy in forecasting.  However,  it is not difficult to hazard a conjecture based on plausibility and  foresight. The introduction of masks, safety protocols, and service disruptions has left its impact leading to a continuing trend of “permanxiety” – a word coined by Skift in 2017 “to describe how social, political, and climate turmoil is coloring consumer expectations of everything, including travel. Skift went on to say that “travelers endure a barrage of worries about terrorism, security, neo-isolationism, racial tension, Trumpism, technology and its adverse role, the widening economic gap, culture wars, climate change, and other geopolitical and local issues.”

Permanxiety could be seriously aggravated by delays in border crossings in 2023 brought about by inadequate staffing, computer glitches and delays in visa processing. It has been estimated that in the United States alone “The delays will prevent 6.6 million international inbound visitors from coming to the U.S”. Prolonged visa processing times, lack of trained staff have also affected Europe which have exhibited “pathetic turnaround times”.

All these factors have given rise to a trend where pre Covid business travellers and tourists resorted to “bleisure” – a hybrid of business and leisure travel. The hospitality industry joined in on this concept, an example being the Hilton chain which started a competition to identify and provide for the blended business and leisure traveller. It is plausible that this compromise trend will continue through 2023.

Intriguingly, these bottlenecks and implosive trends seemingly do not adversely affect the revenue side of the equation for airlines. Aviation by Inform says: “Moody’s Investor Service is forecasting a positive outlook for the aviation industry in 2023. The organization is projecting operating profits for those airlines it rates to increase by more than 200% in 2023. Its projection is based on the premise that increased travel by large corporations and the rebuilding of long-haul international routes will make the recovery more resilient despite declining gross domestic product (GDP) forecasts and other economic factors could increase the risk of falling passenger demand”.

Airports

There are other encouraging ongoing trends as well.  From a technological perspective, airports are increasingly becoming space tech hubs, turning into g spaceports and vertiports. As an example, in Houston, spaceport integration has already begun. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a Spaceport Office which has so far licensed 14 spaceports. Furthermore, continuing trends in airport technology include the foray into using liquid hydrogen as an energy source to help in combatting climate change and global warming;  the use of artificial intelligence  for facilitation; and the “Digital Twin” which can effectively plan and determine where passengers, gates and planes should be located and directed. The Digital Twin is being used at Schiphol in Amsterdam, San Francisco International and Vancouver Airport.

The Digital Twin is a virtual replica of every aspect of airport operations and performance “to maximise efficiency and increase capacity in a more timely and cost-effective way”, as an article in the magazine Passenger Terminal World reports.  Its most effective purpose is to alert airports to anticipated problems on a 24-hour basis and flag operations staff at the airport so that they can obviate the threat and operational difficulty that could ensue. It also points to problem areas that could inconvenience and delay passenger flows, thus avoiding congestion.

Another useful purpose of the Digital Twin is that it can alleviate passenger stress.  An example cited is the airport and flight experience it offers before the actual experience, thus enabling passengers who are anxious to be more prepared when undergoing the actual experience.  One category that benefits from this platform is the autistic community.

The Digital Twin can also offer insights into the future.  For example, if an airport has an aspirational goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2030, it can model the aircraft and on-ground vehicle movements as well as other activities on the airfield.  These models can be applied to machine learning that can reflect the most efficient way an airport can be run.   Even in the planning process of an airport, the Digital Twin could offer the best iteration as Schiphol has done in the application of building information management software to generate a 3D digital version of physical and functional characteristics of an airport infrastructure

On the economic side, Airport Economic Zones (AEZ) – which, according to Paul Woodley, a senior lawyer, are “ suburban areas where infrastructure, land use and economy are focused on the airport” – are increasingly becoming popular where the community around an airport has the airport as the focal point of economic and financial progress.  A major study conducted by Gatwick International Airport and a partner in July 2022 revealed that the airport could generate 8.4 billion British Pounds by 2028 through the development of an AEZ.  The same study envisions the creation of 50,000 jobs in the AEZ by 2028.

Another burgeoning concept running into 2023 is the “Freeport” – where customs duties and tax do not apply to goods that stay in the airport and are directly shipped overseas. An example is the East Midlands Freeport in The United Kingdom which encompasses three main sites: the East Midlands Airport and Gateway Industrial Cluster (EMAGIC) in North West Leicestershire, the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station site in Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands Intermodal Park (EMIP) in South Derbyshire.

Paul Woodley explains that these areas are strongly supported by robust infrastructure comprising “strong existing road and rail freight infrastructure connecting them to all other parts of the country, including seaport-based freeports. There is significant room for growth across the sites, accelerating regeneration, increasing skills and training opportunities and helping to level-up some of the UK’s most deprived areas. The site development process will be managed by the respective landowners and any future development proposals will be subject to planning approval and public consultation”

The Regulator

States must formulate their own strategy on how best to regulate air transport in an year where the end of the pandemic is in sight. One starting point could be a Resolution adopted by the 41st Session of the ICAO Assembly in the third quarter of 2022.  States should strengthen their crisis management capacity, including by establishing a crisis framework and mechanism while ICAO should continue to collaborate with the  World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health groups, with other relevant aviation medicine and other relevant specialist medical organizations, with Planning and Implementation Regional Groups (PIRGs) and the Regional Aviation Safety Groups (RASGs).  ICAO should, while keeping close contact with its regional offices be on the alert for public health information from them while  working with the Air Navigation Commission, with aviation subject matter expert groups including such as the Personnel Training and Licensing Panel, and the Safety Management Panel to enable the sharing of information and resources for purposes of global harmonization relating to the prevention and management of public health emergencies.

ICAO should also develop an Aviation Health Management Plan by ICAO supporting implementation efforts of comprehensive management of health in aviation, by consolidating the various references to medical and health-related Standards and Recommended Practices in the Annexes to the Chicago Convention into a comprehensive repository for the management of health in aviation.

Conclusion

From early 2020 to date, we have had numerous lessons that must be learned if air transport is to continue in a safe and orderly manner in 2023. The first is that there must be harmonization in communication.  Timely exchange of information is crucial.  The second is that geopolitics should not interfere with civil aviation and respect for global harmony in  adherence to the principles of international aviation law.  There must not be repetitions of blatantly egregious breaches of established norms of international law. 

Two instances in this context stand out:  the first where Ryanair Flight 4978 which was operated  from Athens to Vilnius on 23 May 2021, while over the airspace of Belarus, was diverted to Minsk National Airport in Belarus on seemingly spurious grounds. The Boeing 737-800 which carried 126 passengers and 6 crew members was just 45 nautical miles south of Vilnius and 90 nautical miles west of Minsk when it was ordered to divert from its course and land; the second where  The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK, which is  a member of ICAO),  launched, without prior notification to the international community, two short-range ballistic missiles  22 minutes apart on a trajectory over its  eastern waters, seemingly in defiance of  the redeployment of an aircraft carrier by the United States near the Korean Peninsula, which had been in response to Pyongyang’s previous launch of a nuclear-capable missile over Japan. The launches were ominous in that they landed between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. 

As a sage once commented, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

The Winds of the New Cold War Are Howling in the Arctic Circle

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In 1996, the eight countries on the Arctic rim – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States – formed the Arctic Council, a journey that began in 1989 when Finland approached the other countries to hold a discussion about the Arctic environment. The Finnish initiative led to the Rovaniemi Declaration (1991), which established the council’s precursor, the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy.

The main concern for these governments at the time was the impact of ‘global pollution and resulting environmental threats’ to the Arctic, which was destroying the region’s ecosystem. There was little understanding of the scale and implications of the polar ice cap melting (consensus about that danger was amplified by the research of scientists such as Xiangdong Zhang and John Walsh in 2006 and the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007). The Arctic Council’s remit was later expanded to include investigations on climate change and development in the region.

More recently, at the 2021 ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Reykjavík (Iceland), Russia took over as the organisation’s rotating two-year chair. However, on 3 March 2022 – exactly one week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the other council members began to boycott meetings in protest of Moscow’s involvement in the group. In June 2022, these seven countries agreed to ‘implement a limited resumption of our work in the Arctic Council on projects that do not involve the participation of the Russian Federation’. In essence, the council’s future is at stake.

Yet, geopolitical tensions in the Arctic did not begin last year. They have been simmering for more than a decade as these eight countries have jockeyed for control over the area – not to stem the dangers of climate change, but to exploit the vast deposits of minerals, metals, and fossil fuels that are present within the 21 million square kilometres of the Arctic Circle. The region is estimated to contain 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas (although extraction from this region remains expensive). Far more lucrative is the mining of rare earth minerals (such as neodymium for capacitors and electric motors and terbium for magnets and lasers), whose value across the Arctic – from Greenland’s Kvanefjeld to Russia’s Kola Peninsula to the Canadian Shield – is estimated to be at least one trillion dollars. Each member of the Arctic Council is racing to establish control over these precious resources, which, until now, have been locked beneath the melting ice.

Because more than half of the Arctic is made up of international waters and the continental shelves of these eight countries (i.e., landmass that extends into shallow ocean waters), its regulation largely falls under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is ratified by 168 parties. According to the UNCLOS, the sovereignty of a coastal state extends to its territorial sea, defined as the area within 12 nautical miles from the low-water line of their coast. States also have the right to create an ‘exclusive economic zone’ within 200 nautical miles of that low-water mark, where many of these resources are located. As a result, exploitation of the Arctic’s resources is mainly the domain of the council’s member states and is largely outside of multilateral control. However, the UNCLOS does constrain individual state sovereignty by declaring that the deep seabed is the ‘common heritage’ of humanity and its exploration and exploitation ‘shall be carried out for the benefits of mankind as a whole, irrespective of the geographical location of States’.

The UN created the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to implement the UNCLOS treaty. In Kingston (Jamaica), the ISA’s legal and technical commission is developing a mining code to regulate exploration and exploitation of the international seabed area. It is worth noting that one fifth of the commission’s members are from mining companies. While there is no possibility of enacting a global moratorium on deep-sea mining – even in the Arctic, despite the 1959 Antarctic Treaty effectively banning mining on that continent – a mining code that favours mining companies will not only increase exploitation, but also increase competition and the risk of conflict between major powers. This competition has already intensified the New Cold War between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) states – led by the US – and countries such as China and Russia and has led to the rapid militarisation of the Arctic.

Every member of the Arctic Council has already created military bases on the Arctic rim, with the race to dominate the region accelerating after 2007, when Russian scientists symbolically placed a titanium flag on the Arctic seabed, 4,302 metres below the North Pole. Artur Chilingarov, the Russian explorer who led this geographical expedition, said that he was motivated by science and a concern for climate change and that ‘the Arctic must be protected not in words, but in deeds’. Nonetheless, the Russian geological expedition was used as a pretext to expand militarisation in the region. For decades, the US has had a military presence deep inside the Arctic Circle, the Thule Air Base in Greenland, which it developed in the 1950s after Denmark – the colonial ruler over Greenland – joined NATO. Other Arctic littoral countries, too, have long had military forces that traverse the ice and snows of the north, a presence that has grown in recent years. Canada, for instance, is building the Nanisivik Naval Facility on Baffin Island, Nunavut, aiming for it to be operational in 2023. Meanwhile, over the past decade, Russia has renovated the Nagurskoye air base in Alexandra Land and the Temp air base on Kotelny Island.

The Arctic Council was one of the few multilateral institutions to facilitate communication between the powers in the region. Now, seven of them have decided to no longer participate. Five of these abstaining members (Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and the US) are already part of NATO, while the remaining two (Finland and Sweden) are being fast-tracked into the organisation. Increasingly, NATO is replacing the Arctic Council as a decision-making authority in the region, with its operations based out of the Centre of Excellence for Cold Weather Operations in Norway. Since 2006, this hub has brought together NATO allies and partners for biannual military exercises in the Arctic called Cold Response.

In May 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to the Arctic Council meeting in Rovaniemi (Finland) and accused China of being responsible for environmental destruction in the Arctic. Although China has launched a Polar Silk Road project, there is no real evidence that China has played a particularly deleterious role in the northern sea lanes. This hostile comment towards China and similar sentiments about Russia’s role in the Arctic are part of the ideological battle to justify the New Cold War. Less than a month after Pompeo’s speech, the US Department of Defence released its Arctic Strategy (2019), which focused on ‘limiting the ability of China and Russia to leverage the region as a corridor for competition’ (a mood repeated in the US Air Force’s 2020 Arctic Strategy).

In October 2022, Reykjavík hosted its annual Arctic Circle gathering, attended by all of the major powers, except Russia, which was not invited. Iceland’s former President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who was embroiled in the 2016 Panama Papers corruption scandal, chaired the keynote speech given by the Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee. Bauer said that NATO must have a more muscular presence in the Arctic in order to check Russia as well as China, which he called ‘another authoritarian regime that does not share our values and undermines the rules-based international order’. China’s Polar Silk Road, Admiral Bauer said, is merely a shield behind which Chinese ‘naval formations could move more quickly from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and submarines could shelter in the Arctic’.

During the discussion period, China’s ambassador to Iceland, He Rulong, rose from his seat to say to the NATO admiral, ‘Your speech and remark are full of arrogance and also paranoid. The Arctic region is an area for high cooperation and low confrontation… The Arctic plays an important role when it comes to climate change… Every country should be part of this process’. China, he continued, should not be ‘singled out [from] the cooperation’. Grímsson closed the session after He’s intervention to muted laughter in the hall.

Absent from most of these discussions are the indigenous communities who live in the Arctic: the Aleut and Yupik (United States); the Inuit (Canada, Greenland, and the United States); the Chukchi, Evenk, Khanty, Nenets, and Sakha (Russia); and the Saami (Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden). Though these communities are represented by six organisations on the Arctic Council – the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Gwich’in Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and the Russian Association of Indigenous People of the North, and the Saami Council – their voices have been further muted during the intensified conflict.

This silencing of indigenous voices reminds me of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (1943–2001), the great Saami artist, whose poetry rattles like the sound of the wind:

Can you hear the sounds of life
in the roaring of the creek
in the blowing of the wind

That is all I want to say
that is all

Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka; Is it an Upshot of Free Education System? – Part II

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This is the second and last part of this series, click here to read the first part. ~ edits

Rebellion in 1971- A Consequential Impact of Free Education

However, the failure and the delay in resolving the unemployment problem became significant causes of the first youth uprise (JVP movement in 1971) against the newly established United Front government. This insurgency movement was led by the unemployed graduates and educated youths of the Sinhala community, especially the rural youths. No Tamil youths took part in this rebellion. The unemployment problem would not have been a significant issue, or their leaders would have diverted emerging frustration to a different direction to carve out a separate Tamil country.

After defeating the insurgency movement, the government implemented many socio-economic reforms hurriedly based on the lessons learned. Various reforms in the education sector, including standardisation of marks for university entrance, changing the school curriculums, land reforms, nationalisation of foreign investments, employment generation scheme to reduce rural unemployment (Divisional Development Council Projects), agriculture reforms, import restriction to boost the local production were a few of them.

These programs were done in a hurry, but the government and the country needed more resources, capacity, and preparedness to address those issues reasonably, equitably, and sustainably simultaneously. As discussed before, since the 1960s, the Sinhala community, and the educated youth, have been agitating to regain the socio-economic opportunities they had lost during the colonial period (ethnic imbalance in education and public administration).

Discrimination against Tamil Vs. Favouritism for Sinhalese

The policy of standardising university entrance was introduced in 1971. Under this, a quota system, using the language of the university entrance examination as the parameter, was introduced to correct the historically existing ethnic imbalance. The number of allocations for university entrance was proportional to the number of participants who sat for the examination in each language. Also, considering the long-felt grievance of Sinhala stunts (i.e., lack of opportunities for admission to faculties of engineering, medicine, and science), a lower mark system was introduced for Sinhalamedium students for those subjects. The new system discriminated against Tamil medium students and favoured Sinhala medium students. Tamil Medium quota dropped to the bare minimum. While correcting the ethnic imbalance in general, the limited allocation made available to Tamil medium students was mainly enjoyed by students at reputed schools in Jaffna city. The Sinhala language quota was also mainly enjoyed by students at reputable schools in Colombo. It defeated the original policy objective of expanding higher education facilities to low-income families and rural areas. In 1972, a district quota system within each language was added to the parameter to correct this anomaly.

Before the introduction of the language-based standardisation system, the Tamil community enjoyed the lion’s share of opportunities for science subjects in university education. According to 1969 figures,27.5 % of the university entrance to science base faculties such as medicine, engineering, physical science, bioscience, etc., had been enjoyed by the Northern Province, which is predominantly populated by Ceylon Tamils who comprised only11% of the country’s population. Out of the balance, 72.5%, a significant share (67.5 %) had been enjoyed by the Western Province, which is open for elites of all ethnic groups, leaving only 5% for the majority rural Sinhalese and most of the rural/poor Tamils. After adding the district quota system, 1974 figures show the Northern Province’s share of science education was reduced from 27.5% to 7%. Also, the share of Western province declined from 67.5% to 27%, demonstrating a better distribution of science-based higher education opportunities among rural regions and a relatively higher percentage for rural Sinhalese. The system favoured the backward regions for science education and affected urban elites of all communities. But favouring the Sinhala medium students in university entrance and science education adversely affected all Tamil groups regardless of their social status. It caused severe frustration among all Tamils.

Since the independence, Tamil political leaders have fought for a separate Tamil country but could not mobilise mass support from their community. As a result of the above standardisation system, they got a perfect tool to articulate the interest of Tamilyouthsto fight for a separate Tamil country. Moreover, before 1970, Tamil political parties had good bargaining power with successive governments, as none of the ruling parties had a significant majority in the parliament. However, SLFP led United Front in the 1970 general election, and UNP in the 1977 general election got an overwhelming majority in the parliament. Therefore, those two governments could ignore Tamil parties and their demands. As a result, Tamil-dominated areas of the country lost political patronage and bargaining power in government-sponsored development programs. All of these contributed to emerging radical groups, and many started advocating violence to win the Tamil Country of Elam.

Under this scenario, Tamil youths may have thought winning a separate country for Tamils would resolve their unemployment and other economic problems. Perhaps, their traditional political leaders may have planned to use these groups (educated unemployed and lower strata of the society) as a cat’s paw to carve out a separate Tamil country and enjoy the feudal socio-political power and enjoy the Tamil Vellala Cast supremacy.

The language-based standardising system for university entrance was abolished in 1977 and introduced a new approach based on merits and district quotas for less developed districts. It ensured the fair distribution of opportunities among all districts. Jaffna and Colombo benefitted from the merits system, while Tamil and Sinhala Communities in remote areas benefited from district quotas. Though the mistake was corrected later, the distrust between the two communities remained unresolved.

Is Tamil A Recognized Language In Sri Lanka?

With the introduction of the Free Education bill in the State Council in 1943, teaching in vernacular (Sinhala or Tamil) in government schools became compulsory. The government had legally accepted Vernacular education since the Colebrook commission’s recommendation in 1841 and has given equal status to both Sinhala and Tamil languages in education. As discussed, a small percentage of government grants were available to vernacular schools. Any person to be fully qualified in the national examination of the ‘General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level),’ a credit pass in the mother tongue is compulsory. Sinhala and Tamil languages are contemporaries as mediums of instruction in Sri Lankan universities.  Also, according to a circular issued by the Department of Education in the year 2000, the Tamil language is a compulsory subject for all Sinhala medium schools from grade 1 to grade 9.

Tamil Nadu is predominantly a Tamil State in India, and apparently, it is the motherland or original homeland for the Tamil people and the Language. According to the 2001 Census, Tamil is spoken as the first language by 88.59% of the Tamil Nadu population. However, Tamil Nadu Tamil Learning Act was passed very recently in 2006. According to this Act, State Board and Matriculation Schools had to teach Tamil as a compulsory subject from Class 1 in a phased manner, gradually scaling up to Class 10.  However, it was not fully implemented due to various objections, and now it is rescheduled to be completed by 2025. But Sri Lanka has been given equal opportunity for Sinhala and Tamil languages in education since the establishment of formal education under the recommendation of the Colebrook Commission in 1841.

Tamil Nadu Official Language Act -1956, which is an Act to provide for the adoption of Tamil as the language to be used for the official purposes of the State of Tamil Nadu, became effective in July 1958.  It is not a national language that can be used all over India for official purposes. But according to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, both Tami and Sinhala are official National languages with equal status all over the country since 1987. Even without a constitutional provision, the government used Sinhala and Tamil to communicate with people and judicial matters before 1987. Today any Tamil-speaking person who lives in any part of the country has the legal right to communicate with the government in the Tamil Language. According to the language policy since 2000, all public servants must be competent in the second language within five years of joining the service. Under these circumstances, as an official language, Tamil has better recognition in Sri Lanka than in Tamil Nadu, India.

 Free Education And Terrorism Contributed ToDenude Educated From the North

Long before bearing the fruits of the free education system in the country, the Jaffna peninsula was inundated with professionals in all fields (doctors, engineers, accountants, scientists, mathematicians, etc.). Sometimes, government institutions in Jaffna were overstaffed with those specialities or had more than required due to various socio-political reasons. After retirement, most professionals who worked in Colombo or other parts of the country and abroad went back to Jaffna to spend their retirement life. Consequently, some local government institutions, community-based organisations, farmer organisations, and co-operative societies were handled by highly educated retired professionals, and those institutions became very successful. Jaffna became the hub of knowledge in then Ceylon. However, Due to the terrorist movement, the process started reversing. Educated/rich People who had the capacity and resources migrated to other countries, and others settled in and around Colombo. In contrast to the situation before the 1980s, today, many Tamils do not wish to settle down in Jaffna after their retirement but want to stay in Colombo and its sub-urban areas. 

After the 1980s, those who achieved success through free education did not wish to go to their hometowns in the north due to terrorism and the existing social stratifications.  Even today, the professionals of low strata of society, who are nationally and internationally recognised, can’t receive due recognition and respect in their hometowns. Therefore, they prefer to work and stay in Colombo or other main cities or leave the country. Under these circumstances, free education helped some poor people succeed in their personal lives, but not many benefits to the community. Free education has induced denuding educated intellectuals from Tamil-dominated areas. The trend and the process that existed during the golden era of Jaffna have now been reversed.

 Young and middle-aged people who live in the North today have been influenced by terrorist ideology and have experienced the sufferings of war for 30 years(dying in cold blood, the shock of bombs, firing and fighting, abduction of children to be trained as terrorists, living with fear, hard life). During this period, they have seen only the armed soldiers as “Sinhala people” and have not seen Sinhala civilians. Terrorists and non-governmental organisations who occupied the area during the war taught the children that ‘Sinhalese is a dangerous group of invaders who have come from somewhere to destroy Tamil country. For them, the word ‘Sinhala’ has a connotation of the enemy to be got rid of.

As discussed so far, the free education system introduced in 1945 has been followed by a series of subsequent reforms, which resulted in changes in the entire social fabric within 2 to 3 decades with many positive and negative results.

Positive Impacts

  • The adult literacy level of the country increased to 97% as of 2019, which is above the regional and world average
  • All parents realised the value of education, and children’s education became the highest priority of almost all families in the country.
  • Students qualified in secondary education (GCE- O/L and A/L) and University graduates are found in many rural areas, especially from low-income families, regardless of their caste, class, or ethnicity.
  • Inherent intelligence became the most important factor for acquiring knowledge and upward mobility in society and the economy, instead of ethnicity, caste, class, and wealth. Even a child of the lowest strata of society can now climb up to the top of professionalism.
  • The presence of Sinhala students in universities and public service increased rapidly. The Sinhala community progressively started acquiring the due share of opportunities they had lost during the colonial period. But the thirty-year war has brought disproportionate benefits to Sinhalese and lost the expected share of Tamils. While addressing the long-standing grievances of Sinhalese, it created a new set of problems leading to frustration and dissatisfaction among the Tamil community.
  • Rural youths found new avenues for more remunerative jobs outside the village without confining themselves to their parents’ low profitable traditional livelihoods. That contributed immensely to poverty alleviation.
  • With the Sinhala-speaking people in the public service and Sinhala being the official language, the Sinhala community felt more comfortable dealing with the bureaucracy, but Tamils found it challenging.
  • The transfer of technology at the local level became more convenient due to improved literacy and knowledge.

Negative Impacts

  1.  Even today, most secondary schools still need facilities and resources for science and technical education. Most educated youths, including university graduates, were qualified in humanities without employment-oriented knowledge and skills. Their expectation is white-collar jobs. But such opportunities are limited in the job market and create a high rate of educated youth unemployment. Every child and parent trusts that education is the only way to find decent employment. Unfortunately, what they have learned for many years does not help them to find such jobs.
  2. Since the late 1960s, educated youths’ unemployment has become a recurring social and political issue. This contributed significantly to the 1971 and 1987 Sinhala youth uprisings and fuelling the LTTE terrorism in the North of the country.
  3. Under this scenario, inter and intra-community completion has emerged for the limited job opportunities in the public sector and free university education. Elites observed an intense competition for their children from the educated youths of low-income families to enter public sector jobs. Also, sometimes, in competitive examinations, children of low-income families perform better, depriving the elites. The intra-community conflict was more prominent among Tamils, as elites were reluctant to compete with the oppressed segment of the society. Instead, they prefer to study in the USA or Europe.
  4. In addition to the competition within the community, the Tamil community, in general, faced extreme competition from the Sinhala Communitysincethe 1960s. When English was the medium of education and the official language, the Tamil community enjoyed a higher percentage of higher education, professions such as medicine, engineering, accounting, science, mathematics, and public service in general. Being less than 11 % of the total population, they were over-represented in many fields and played a dominant role in almost every aspect of governance. Under the reform agendas, the Sinhala community’s participation in all fields increased rapidly, resulting in the loss of opportunities that the Tamils had enjoyed for decades.
  5. Today, the Tamil community in the North and East has become less competitive and less represented in higher education and public service due to the 30-year prolonged terrorist movement.
  6.  Many Tamil students who performed very well In GCE (A/L) had been deprived of science-based university studies due to the language-based standardisation of marks for university entrance, introduced in the early 1970s. Though this short-sighted discriminatory policy was corrected within four years, the hostile attitude created against the Sinhala community is yet to be reconciled.
  7. After 1956, Sinhala became the official language, and public servants were compelled to be conversant in the Sinhala language. Some public servants from all communities who did not want to learn Sinhala started leaving public service. The vacuums created in such events were also filled by the Sinhala community resulting in a further reduction of Tamil presence in the public service.

Summary and Conclusion

Most National and International writers have interpreted that the Education sector reforms in independent Sri Lanka have been targeted toward depriving or harassing the Tamil minority.  But it is a gross misinterpretation of the good works done by successive governments to mainstream the country’s hitherto isolated and oppressed majority. Education in vernacular and changing the official language from English to Sinhala was resented by the affluent class of all ethnic groups (Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay, Catholic, etc.) because they wanted to enjoy the benefit of independence by themselves without passing it to the poor and the oppressed majority of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, and Catholics. They wanted only to transfer the power from White Westerners to Westernised Browns. Westernised Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim Elites wanted to use Sinhala/Tamil Speaking un-educated or less-educated majority to maintain a feudal system. According to the elites, the vernacular-educated orvernacular-speakinglot is not cultured (Godayas or Biyas). Vernaculars are to communicate with domestic servants. The voting against Act No. 5 of 1960 for the nationalisation of private schools by the then United National Party and Federal party is clear evidence.  Unfortunately, international writers do not hear the voice of the oppressed groups who have benefitted from the education sector reforms. They hear only the voice of the loser elites. 

The free education system and the government’s taking over private schools greatly benefited non-English-speaking, poor Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslims, and Catholics, who accounted for 90% of the country’s population.

Changing the official language from English to Sinhala did not negatively affect poor and ordinary Tamils because they did understand either Sinhala or English. As the medium of instruction had been changed from English to vernacular, changing the official language from English to vernacular was the need of the day. However, in 1956, Sinhala made the official language, ignoring Tamil, which is a severe mistake. But, compared to Tamil Nadu State in India, Sri Lanka has accorded higher recognition for Tamil as an official language and medium of education.

Early implementation of the Free Education Ordinance- of 1943 has done social justice to the poor of all communities and added immense value to their lives. However, accepting the vernacular as the medium of instruction has done irreparable damage to the education system and socioeconomic advancement of educated individuals and the country. Instead of changing to vernacular, priority should have been given to producing teachers who could teach in English at the inception. The vernacular should have been introduced as a subject.

Language-based standardisation was done purposely to increase the Sinhala student population in universities, especially for science-based studies, since most Sinhala schools did not have facilities for science education. However, it was implemented only for four years. Except that, all other reforms were targeted towards benefiting the country’s deprived majority (90%), regardless of ethnicity or religion. Number wise increased presence of the Sinhala community in higher education and public service is inevitable when equal opportunities are provided, as they are much of the country. It should have been understood as regaining rights by Sinhalese, which they had lost during the colonial period, and acquiring their due share as per the population size.

During the colonial period, schools were established based on religion, race, or language. The expansion of the number of secondary schools in 1960 was also preceded by the same line, paving the way for nurturing racialist ideologies since childhood. This is detrimental to national integration and nation-building. According to the above discussions, it is evident that the conflict was not much among ethnic groups but mainly between the privileged minority and the oppressed majority.

The Marxist political and economic ideology penetrated the Sinhala society in the 1930s and became more visible after the 1956 political change. Therefore, Sinhala elites could not openly resist/react against the reforms as social awakening had created solid political pressure. But well-educated and knowledgeable Tamil elites did not accept the defeat and gave an ethnic interpretation to all the above reforms. Tamil leaders mobilised oppressed and suppressed groups against the Sinhala-dominated governments. Interestingly, the problem of educated youth unemployment has been perceived/ interpreted in two extremely different ways by the two communities. While Sinhala Community understood it as a national economic problem, the Tamil community understood or wanted to understand it as a specific political problem related only to the Tamil ethnicity.

As a result of half a century-long struggle for an unwarranted issue, infused by traditional Tamil leaders (to regularise and continue disproportionate privileges enjoyed during the colonial period), the present generation of Sri Lankan Tamils has inherited numerous social and political, administrative, and economic problems. In contrast to the golden era of Tamils, they are now less competitive and under-represented in many aspects. According to several discussions I had with Jaffna, Kilinochchi, and Vavuniya in 20019, correcting these evils is the ‘reconciliation and accountability expected by the ordinary Tamils.

Concluded

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