Sri Lanka - Page 8

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


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.


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


According to recorded history, the education system in Sri Lanka commenced after the arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd BC. Since then, it has evolved parallel to the expansion of Buddhism in the country.  This education system focused on studying religion (Buddhism) using Sanskrit and Pali languages and, to a lesser degree Hela Basha (as early Buddhist Commentaries or Hela Atuwa had been written in vernacular language). Subsequently, Sinhala became a medium of education in Privena (Buddhist Monasteries). However, like English in the modern world, Paali and Sanskrit were the elites’ languages and symbols of knowledge in the olden days. Ancient education was mainly targeted at Buddhist priests, Royal families, and nobles who were expected to be ruling class members. This education facility was provided by Pirivenas, primarily located on Buddhist temple premises, and teaching Buddhism was its main undisputed task. However, the knowledge required to maintain the socio-economic and political system of the day, such as astrology, medicine, governing principles, judicial matters, and military science, was also taught. Today, the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka assures the right to universal and equal access to education to persons at all levels and eradicates illiteracy. The average adult literacy rate in Sri Lanka was 97% in 2019, above the world and regional averages. Sri Lanka has a very high unemployment rate among youths who have completed secondary and university education.

Modern Education System in Ceylon- Favouritism

Christian Missionaries introduced Sri Lanka’s modern education system in the 19th century during the colonial period. Missionaries became very active in education in Colombo, Jaffna, and a few other main cities, mainly located in coastal areas. Missionaries played a prominent role in education in Jaffna peninsula due to contributory factors such as:

  1. Relatively a high density of Christian/ Catholic population in the Peninsula.
  2.  Even before the British period, Portuguese and Dutch missionaries had started the modern education system in Jaffna to train people to spread Christianity and participate in the administration.
  3. Due to the scarcity of natural resources in the peninsula, Tamils considered education an alternative for economic well-being and prioritised it.
  4. Sinhalese and Muslims were more interested in agriculture and trade, respectively, and had little interest in government employment. Hence, they did not look at education as a means of income.

 After 1836, based on the recommendation of the Colebrook Commission, the British Government commenced the fee-levying English medium schooling system and established a few schools in the main cities. Those were limited to well-to-do people in central cities and people who could afford to attend those schools. Most Tamil and Sinhala ordinary children who lived in rural areas were deprived of English and secondary education. Education in vernacular was free due to government grants for recurrent expenses and the contribution of local well-wishers. Those schools were limited to primary and junior secondary education to improve literacy, basic writing, and reading skills. Therefore, students at vernacular schools had no opportunity for secondary education and higher education in English.

Under the colonial regime, Catholic and Christian communities enjoyed a privileged position in education. For instance, by 1939, while Catholics and Christians were only 6.3% of the country’s population, they received 73.7% of the government grants for Assisted Schools.  Schools for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, who accounted for 93.7 % of the population, received only 26.8 % of government grants. English, the language of the colonial masters, was the language of administration. The primary purpose of the then education system was to produce the workforce required for the colonial administration, inculcate English cultural values, and increase the awareness of the British Empire among ordinary citizens.

Reputed schools established in Colombo were open to well-to-do people of all ethnic groups (Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burger, etc.).  But, due to the locational advantage, Jaffna schools were catering mainly to the Tamil community, giving them a disproportional advantage. Under these circumstances, well-to-do Tamils enjoyed the lion’s share of the English, secondary and higher education, including medicine, law, and science.  Also, the official language of the government was English. As such, middle and senior public service positions were also staffed mainly by Tamils, significantly exceeding their proportion of the total population. For instance, “in 1956, eight years after the independence, Tamils constituted 30% of the administrative panel, 50% of the clerical personnel of the railways, postal and custom service; 60% of the doctors, engineers, and lawyers; 40% of the armed forces, and 40% of other labour forces”.( The Ethnic Conflict of Sri Lanka: A Historical and Social Outline- SasankaPerera), while their share of the population in the country was less than 11%.   However, it should not be interpreted that the entire Tamil community benefitted from the then education system. Due to social stratification, the lower strata of the Tamil community were denied even free primary education. If at all, Sinhala and Tamil-educated ordinary people could join public service mainly as minor employees. Yet, Sinhalese did not wish to join many categories of government jobs (as minor employees)that were available according to their educational qualifications but did not match the social status enjoyed as farmers.

Although English was the official language, the Tamils had a minor advantage over the Sinhala community as most of the bureaucracy could speak some Tamils. If Sinhala people were to communicate their grievances to the bureaucracy, they depended on petition writers to write in English. During the colonial period, the ordinary Sinhala majority did not have the resources and opportunity to compete with the Tamil minority in public administration. Sinhala community understood it as domination by the Tamil minority over the Sinhala majority and looked enviously at the success of the Tamil minority. They could not see it as a problem of the colonial governance and education system, known as divide and rule. Until the 1960s, Sinhalese kept complaining about the Tamil over-representation in public service, especially in high-level professions such as medicine and engineering. Before the 1970s, Tamil overrepresentation in universities, especially in medicine, engineering, and science, was a primary grievance of the Sinhala community. According to the University entrance system, “Those who scored highest gain access to different faculties in universities irrespective of their district from which they came. While there was no bias inherent in this system, Tamils from Jaffna and Colombo did particularly well. For example, in the 1969-1970 intake to science and engineering courses, Tamils accounted 35%, while they accounted for over 45% of the intake of engineering and medical faculties”.  (The Ethnic Conflict of Sri Lanka: A Historical and Social Outline-SasankaPerera)

Free Education for All

The people of the then Ceylon got a reasonable share in the governance of their own country under the Donoughmore Commission Reforms in 1931.  Under these reforms, Sinhalese, the majority population, got more political power than other communities. Against this backdrop, they launched various campaigns to wield the power of Sinhala politicians to get a due share in education and public administration.

Under DrC.W.W.Kannangara, the Executive Committee on Education of the State Council of Ceylon took the initiative to establish a free education system for all. Based on the recommendation of this committee, the Free Education bill was introduced in the State Council in 1943, and approval was granted to implement it effective from 1st October 1945. According to this, every child above the age of 5 is entitled to free education irrespective of class, caste, or ethnicity. Also, the Language of instruction was made the SWAHBASHA (mother tongue). The decision to teach in the mother tongue may have been taken because the country lacked the capacity and resources to provide universal and equal access to education at all levels in the English medium. At that time, only about 7% of the population was literate in English. But the country had adequate capacity to provide education in vernacular. Also, both Sinhala and Tamil were well-developed languages used as mediums of instruction for oriental studies. Many people, as a passion or due to ignorance, blame S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike for changing the medium of instruction from English to Sinhala, but he has nothing to do with it. However, his patriotic movement created more enthusiasm for Sinhala as it was the official language. The use of Vernacular in secondary education was a baby of Kannangara, introduced along with the Central College system. Accordingly, changing the medium of instruction from English to vernacular in universities necessitated an automatic process during the Bandaranaike period.

Secondary Education for Rural Poor

The system of Central Colleges, introduced by Minister Kannangara, was commenced and modelled on Colombo Royal College. The program was to establish one such school in each electorate with hostel facilities in different areas of the country outside main cities but in central locations to provide secondary education in Sinhala and Tamil mediums. At the inception, students at Central Colleges were given a good English education, enabling them to proceed with higher education in English. The initiative of Minister Kannangarawas a turning point and a revolutionary step in the Ceylon education system, which was hitherto limited to the well-to-do people of the main cities. The system was further strengthened by providing scholarships to study in central colleges for poor but clever students of remote primary and junior secondary schools, enabling them to cover the cost of food and logging, clothes, textbooks, etc. As a result, many Sinhala and Tamil students in less privileged areas and less privileged families got secondary and higher education opportunities. The free education system and the establishment of the central college system reduced the imbalances in ethnic composition, rural-urban composition, and rich-poor composition in secondary and higher education and public service to a certain extent. However, the number of such schools was limited to 54 and could not significantly change the existing ethnic composition of the enrolment in Secondary and higher education and public service. As the public service was rapidly expanding, this marginal increase in educated people did not affect the Tamil and Sinhala elites. Hence there was no visible objection to the reform.

Free Education for AllBecameAReality and A Responsibility Of The Government

Assisted Schools and Training Colleges (Special Provisions) Act passed in 1960; was an Act that enabled the government to take over the ownership and management of many schools and training colleges managed by non-governmental organisations and private parties.  There was a big protest by the catholic organisation against the takeover of schools by the government. But the poor segment of the Catholics supported the move as their children would benefit immensely from the free education system. The Act was passed in the parliament with 60-member majority votes. However, United National Party and Federal Party, which represented Sinhala and Tamil elites voted against this Act. Under this Act, the government took over many schools that belonged to the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and schools that the Buddhist Theosophical Society managed. After implementing the above Act, the Free Education Ordinance- of 1943 became a reality. It practically ensured free education for all Sri Lankan children in their mother tongue, regardless of ethnicity, class, caste, and other socioeconomic differences. Since then, free education has become the government’s responsibility and children’s right.It ensures free education for any Sri Lankan child from kindergarten to a university degree. This means that every Sri Lankan, by birth or registration, endows full insurance coverage for education.

Along with these initiatives, in addition to the hitherto existing limited number of Central Colleges,manyMahaVidyalayas (like central colleges but without hostels) were established/upgraded all over the country, catering to all rural areas to teach up to the university entrance level in the mother tongue. To facilitate this process, the medium of instruction in universities also changed from English to the mother tongue (Sinhala and Tamil). Also, before this, two new universities Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara) were established, which enabled it to accommodate the increasing number of undergraduates coming from newly established Mahavidyalayas.

Equal Access

Before the 1960 forms, most poor Sinhalese, Muslims, and Tamils were educationally backward.In the early 1960s, parallel to the expansion of Sinhala and Tamil Schools for secondary education, the number of Muslim schools increased for primary and secondary education. The minimum academic qualification to recruit teachers during this period was GCE (O/L). But the Muslim community did not have an adequate number of people with minimum qualifications then. The minimum qualification criteria were relaxed in appointing teachers to Muslim schools to overcome this vacuum. Without the said special preference, it would have been impossible to trigger off education among poor Muslims.

However, at the inception, there was no adequate number of qualified teachers and other facilities in newly established/upgraded MahaVidyalayas.Therefore, the quality of education in these schools was much lower than in Central Colleges and reputed urban colleges. Further, most of these schools did not have facilities for science education. As such, university entrance from these MahaVidyalayas was limited to arts streams. They could not send students to universities to be qualified as doctors, engineers, scientists, accountants, or other professionals.

Educated Unemployed Youths as a Pressure Group

Regardless of various constraints, many students from less privileged areas and families became graduates qualified in art subjects. Most of them could not find gainful employment according to their expectations. Though university education is free, students who entered universities from low-income families were faced with numerous problems in financing the cost of food and lodging, transport, teaching aids, etc. Very often; their parents were indebted to fund those expenses and compelled to compromise the education of other children in the same family. Towards the late1960s, there was a large backlog of unemployed graduates. They became a dynamic and knowledgeable but frustrated lot, creating a new socio-economic and political problem. This was a more serious issue among the Sinhala community than among the Tamils. Still, the Tamil elites enjoyed a significant share of science education. As such, they felt the problem very little and were not bothered about the unemployment of art graduates from less privileged families. Moreover, due to the solid social stratification in the northern area, unemployed Tamil graduates did not have a social environment conducive to becoming a powerful pressure group to bargain with politicians or the government for jobs. They were voiceless at the regional as well as national levels. Even in those days, Northern politicians did not live in their constituency with the community, and there was a wide gap between political leaders and constituents. Despite that,Tamil political leaders did not want to see and did not allow the youth to understand that unemployment among educated youth is a national problem. Instead, they interpreted it as discrimination against Tamils and an ethnicity-related issue. They used the national crisis to justify a separate Tamil Country within Sri Lanka.

However, unemployed Sinhala graduates agitated against the then government, requesting a resolution for the graduate unemployment. They became an organised major political force in the late 1960s, and their pressure on the political leaders increased. During the 1970 General election campaign, United Front, led by Sri Lanka Freedom Party, pledged to resolve this burning socio-economic issue if they came into power. Against this backdrop, that party was supported by unemployed graduates, parents, and university academic staff. United Front won the general election and came into power with an overwhelming majority. Meanwhile, the Tamil leadership was preparing their youths to agitate for a separate state to resolve core problems, including unemployment.

To be continued

Rectifying history to vandalize it: Pujya K. Ariyamagga’s pain


A Youtube video (uploaded December 27, 2022) with the alarmist caption බුදුන් ඉපදුණු මේ ලංකාවට සිදු වු අපරාදෙ අපිත් දැන ගනිමුද  (Let’s be aware of the enormity of the injustice perpetrated on Sri Lanka where the Buddha was born) captured my attention this morning (January 1, 2023), both because of the sensationalism of the title and its association with the popular youtuber Harindra Jayalal who presents its content as an important news bulletin from a so-called ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization (presumably based in the UK). Five days after uploading, the video has got about 8,500 views, and only 301 subscribers. Though Harindra Jayalal presents it as a newsflash under ‘Breaking News’, the maker of the video is someone who chooses to obscure their identity by describing it as a DANAPALA VIDEO. While watching the video, though, I felt that Harindra himself made this video as a strong believer in the controversial new hypothesis that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka. But again, I thought ‘could a person like Harindra subscribe to such an improbable concoction’? In terms of my experience, Harindra is far too rational, educated, cultured and knowledgeable to embrace such a harebrained ideology. I believe that he is too honest to prostitute his journalism for mercenary ends.

Lucidity, idiomaticity, and precision of expression characterize Harindra Jayalal’s Sinhala. Such linguistic elegance is not common among ordinary Sinhala language Youtubers. His professionalism and sophistication as a journalist are hard to match. However, the emphatic positive tone of voice that he adopts right through to the end of the presentation cannot be due to any real personal commitment to the authenticity of the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ claim. Instead, by lending his patronage to this video, he may be helping out a struggling new youtuber through his own established fame. Yet, Harindra seems to be here overdoing his generosity because, his apparent espousal of that extremely anti-national heresy, might only provide some justification for the insidious process of cultural genocide that is being carried out, unknown to most ordinary Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities, against the country’s innocent Sinhala Buddhist majority, something that has been going for decades now. 

Be that as it may, according to this ‘news flash’, “…. The Ariya Kammattahna Sanvidhanaya/Ariya Kammattahna Organization led by a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk named Ariyamagga, resident in Europe, is going to sue the British government. He has taken steps to institute legal action against government officials who served during British colonial times. He charges that Britain has distorted historical information relating to the subcontinent of  India and that his fundamental rights are being violated by officials serving today in their place by intentionally failing to rectify those distortions. ……. The case names the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs, the State Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, Secretary of State for Tourism Zones and National Heritage, and the Secretary of State for Education as respondents……the court action will go ahead as the violations are continuing……”. (This is from the opening of the spoken text of the video as roughly translated by me from Sinhala as other relevant parts of the same spoken script found in the rest of this essay;  details such as names of ministries may not exactly tally with the real ones. – RRW)

The ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization argues that Britain has violated provisions of various legal statutes that it cites such as Britain’s 1998 Human Rights Act, the 1988 Copyrights, Designs, and Patents Act, and the 1907 Hague Convention. It demands that at least certified photocopies of the ancient ola leaf books stashed away in British libraries and museums be made available (to it on behalf of Sri Lankans) free of charge without reserving copyrights and that steps be taken to provide funds for new archaeological excavations needed to correct those (deliberately introduced) errors in our country’s history. 

The plaintiff organization pleads that (the British government) acknowledge that the school education system established under the colonial administration disseminated for public consumption false information without any foundation in Sri Lankans’ (collective) national and religious identity, and also that (the British government) tender an apology to the general public of the world for the crimes committed.

In Sri Lanka’s ancient chronicles, Buddhist literature and even in colloquial parlance in Buddhist religious contexts today the name Jambudipa (Pali) or Dambadiva (Sinhala) refers to the subcontinent of India. But according to the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ theorists, Jambudeepa was in the eastern part of Sri Lanka (if we imagine the map of the country as vertically divided with a line into east and west). A central claim made in the aforementioned plea for justice is that the true location of the Jambudipa where the founder of Theravada Buddhism, Gotama Samana, was born and lived and the locations of its cities and Buddhist holy sites were conspiratorially concealed from the world and that these venues were substituted by those in India by deliberately  altering the maps of Sri Lanka and India. This is alleged to have misled the Theravada Buddhist adherents and deprived them of their right to know the truth about their spiritual master. (By ‘Theravada Buddhists’ the petitioner ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization means Sinhalese Buddhists.) What does it aim to achieve for them by asserting the following harmful falsehood?  

“Having been misled (by false information) as explained above, the Buddhists of today mistake Hindu and Jain holy places to be Buddhist ones and go to worship at them. This is a tragic state of affairs” according to the plaint. But we know it is not. What is there tragic about it, even  if the alleged fraudulent deed actually happened? On the contrary, it would be a happy state of affairs. Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists have much in common (tolerance, nonviolence, compassion, humility, mind culture, inner search for truth, etc.) and have no problem visiting each other’s shrines without being challenged as impure infidels or non-believers. Community of basics makes for intercommunal peace and peaceful coexistence, as has always been the case in Sri Lanka between Hindus and Buddhists. However, this ludicrous complaint lets the cat out of the bag.

The ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ idea is obviously a piece of fiction carefully thought up by some evil minded individual or group to confuse the credulous unsophisticated, grievously ill informed (embarrassingly large) section of the Sinhalese Buddhist community about their religion as well as their history for some political and/or religious advantage. Those who stand to gain by this may be having a field day at present. They must be laughing their heads off in private at the silliness of those Buddhists who have swallowed this and other similar  fabrications (such as the mythical Ravana being their progenitor) hook line and sinker. 

 Believers in the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ myth might be induced to sever even their sentimental links with places that they correctly believed to be historic Buddhist places of worship in Sri Lanka later built over by invaders. The misguided adherents of the fiction will forget the Sacred Buddha Gaya/Bodh Gaya in India, which our indefatigable Anagarika Dharmapala did much to reclaim for the world Buddhists as he knew it was his historic responsibility as a ‘Sinhale’ Buddhist to do so. (This is because after the missionary Mahinda Thera introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka, its scriptures that had been until then transmitted orally was committed to writing there in the 1st century BCE and was preserved for posterity, making the island the repository of Theravada Buddhism. By the end of the 19th century CE, Buddhism had almost entirely disappeared from India due to Muslim invasions and anti-Buddhism Hinduist influence.) Dharmapala met with limited success, no doubt, but it was a great achievement, even an epoch making one, considering his smallness when pitted against the powerful opponents he had to face in that Hindu dominated religious environment during the British Raj at the turn of the 20th century. Anagarika Dharmapala, in association with activists like journalist and poet Sir Edwin Arnold from the British intelligentsia, laid the foundation for the current Buddhist revival in India. Today India is rediscovering and restoring its lost Buddhist heritage, for example in the form of rebuilding the ancient Buddhist monastic University of Nalanda (427-1197 CE) burned down by Muslim invaders in the 12th century. This made it possible for Prime Minister Modi to shout out to the world not long ago: “India gave to the world the Buddha, not yuddha (war)”. India honoured Anagarika Dharmapala by issuing a postage stamp commemorating him in 2014.  

I came across a book written in Sinhala about this ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ argument. Its title translates as “Evidence to prove that the land of the Buddhas is none other than this ‘Heladiva’ or Sri Lanka: Debunking myths” (2018) by a writer named S. Ariyaratne. It is full of information drawn from authentic sources, but garbled by him through misinterpretation. The book  contains a lot of interesting but, scientifically unauthenticated details both about the dhamma and history, but without any serious supporting evidence or rational elucidation. In some instances Ariyaratne quotes from the Mahavansa, which he seems to modify in his interpretation to suit his thesis that the Buddha was born, lived, and died in Sri Lanka. One example: in Mudaliyar L.C. Wijesinghe’s translation (1889) of the Mahavansa the last verse of Chapter VI is as follows: “This prince named Vijaya, who had then attained the wisdom of experience, landed in the division Tambapanni of this land Lanka, on the day that the successor (of former Buddhas) reclined in the arbour of the two delightful sal trees, to attain nibbana”. Ariyaratne interprets the same Pali verse in Sinhala; his version can be rendered into English thus: “Prince Vijaya of steady wisdom arrived the day that the Tathagata lay down to attain nibbana (in the shade) between two sal trees in Lanka or Tamraparni whose branches were intertwined” (Page 210 of Ariyaratne’s book). 

Between pages 112-132, Ariyaratne looks at Anagarika Dharmapala’s work in India from his own uninformed jaundiced point of view. His unconvincing, idiosyncratic argument is that the Lankan Buddhist  missionary, misled by the suddas (Whites/Europeans), mistakenly identified  Bodh Gaya in India as the birthplace of the Buddha, but  that towards the end of his life, he showed signs that he realized his mistake. But it is only an unsubstantiated assumption on Ariyaratne’s part. He points out that the Bodhi tree found there is not the Bodhi tree under which ascetic Gotama attained enlightenment, which should true for the original probably disappeared during foreign invasions. He thinks Alexander Cunningham (the pioneer of what later became the Archaeological Survey of India)  planted the extant Bodhi tree  in 1870. Concerning this he mentions ‘Relighting the Lamp’ by Australian monk Bhante S. Dhammika (no stranger to English language newspaper readers in Sri Lanka). But Ariyaratne doesn’t seem to have carefully read what he makes reference to. Actually, ‘Relighting the Lamp’ is only the last (or 4th) section of that monk’s 241 page book ‘The Navel of the Earth: The History and Significance of Bodh Gaya’ (BPS, Kandy, 1996)’ between pp. 119-171. In that part of the book, Bhante Dhammika  has included a fairly detailed account of Dharmapala’s legitimate heroic struggle to acquire the sacred place for Buddhists. Dharmapala played a key role in ‘relighting the lamp’ in India. 

Bhante Shravasti Dhammika outlines the historical importance of Bodh Gaya in his preface to ‘The Navel of the Earth…..’:

“…..Bodh Gayā’s historical significance is due to it having a longer and more complete history than almost any other place in the subcontinent, a history supplemented by epigraphical and literary sources from China and Tibet, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Nor is this history merely an outline of events or a list of doubtful dates, as so often encountered in the study of India’s past. Rather, it includes detailed descriptions of Bodh Gayā’s now vanished temples and shrines, accounts of the elaborate ceremonies and doctrinal disputes that once took place there, and even details of how time was kept in its monasteries. This history is also made more interesting by the participation of some of Asia’s greatest personalities, from Asoka to Curzon, from Xuanzang to Anāgārika Dharmapāla…..” 

The book also supplies information about the conspicuous presence of Buddhist monks from Simhale (Sri Lanka) and the construction of religious buildings in Jambudipa including Bodh Gaya under Sinhalese royal patronage. In the 4th century, Sinhalese king Meghavanne (304-332 CE) built a special monastery at the place of Buddha’s Enlightenment – the Bodh Gaya Monastery. It survived there for a millennium, functioning as a major monastic university complex. It operated along with two other Buddhist universities,the famous  Nalanda and Vikramashila monastic universities, which came into existence later. 

The author of “The Navel of the Earth…” is an extremely more reliable authority on the history of the Buddha’s birthplace than Ariyaratne. In fact, the erudite Bhante S. Dhammika, who is additionally an alumnus of the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, has devoted many years of his life for researching the subject, even traveling on foot where Buddha walked across that part of north India to and fro, preaching his message. He has written and published over a dozen books. A book by Bhante Dhammika published last year (2022) is ‘Lumbini’, which gives a short history of Lumbini “the first of the four major holy places of Buddhism, being where the person who was born to become Buddha was born”.

The truth is that, in my opinion, Ariyaratne is not at all worthy of comparison with Bhante Dhammika in this context. He has had no worthwhile academic training in either Buddhism or the history of Buddhism, not to speak about anything else that is ancillary such as the secular history of Sri Lanka and India. What may be taken as an autobiographical note on pp. 12-14 of Ariyaratne’s book mentioned above says that he was born in a small impoverished village in Nivitigala in 1972. At age 14, he was admitted to the Sangha order as a novice. He studied at a pirivena in Ratnapura, where he became a kind of loner allegedly trying to learn the dhamma in an unorthodox way, which meant  that he read material outside the prescribed syllabuses. Disgusted with the Sangha order at age 19 (i.e., before higher ordination), he disrobed, and became a layman again, reverting to his birth name Ariyaratne. But he claims that he continued his search in which he followed in the footsteps of such ‘Arya utuman’ (Arhants) as the infamous and totally ignorant  Waharaka (Abhayarathanalankara) and Meewanapalane (Siri Dhammalankara)!! Meewanapalane has been officially excommunicated by the Malwatte Nikaya, but he continues to preach to a dwindled audience. Waharaka died in 2017 and his death was described as ‘Parinibbana’!, a term used only in the case of the passing away of an Arhant, most usually in referring to the death of the Buddha. It is an abomination to abuse that terminology to apply to the death of a sinful fake Arhant. (There is a great possibility, nay probability, that these are plants intended to destroy the Buddha Sasanaya, which is the breath and being of our over 2500 year old Lankan/Heladiva civilization. Those who bristle at this, please listen to the advice of the Buddha in the Kalama Sutta, and independently find out  their hollowness by studying samples of their preachings.) 

Ariyamagga Thera who is the main motivator of the ‘We Rectify Our History’ project as well as  the leader of the so-called Ariya Kammattahna Organization may belong to the same group of rogues in robes. (I googled the name Ariyamagga Thero, but failed to find any monk by that name or an organization he heads, except the name in Sinhala characters ‘Pujya K. Ariyamagga’.) The theme ‘We Rectify Our History’ probably comes from Ariyaratne’s book, p. 116, where the author writes “Let’s rectify mistakes in our history by ourselves”. Isn’t it possible that some eccentric uneducated zealots have also been recruited or are simply being used as ownerless donkeys by the prime movers of a global conspiracy against the Sinhalese and their Buddhist culture? 

It is true that the British stole many archaeological treasures including ola leaf manuscripts of inestimable value from Sri Lanka. At least some of them are being preserved in British libraries and museums. They are waiting to be reclaimed by us through proper channels. This is not the time to get them, as we can understand, given the debilitating economic and political difficulties Sri Lanka is experiencing. This task should actually be left to present and future young generations. Ariyamagga’s silly move could be a preemptive strike meant to foil such an attempt being made by young Sri Lankans even before it is initiated.

Harindra’s video ends with a glowing eulogy to Ariyamagga: “The intrepid step that this monk has taken, daring Britain’s ‘White Crown’ is a courageous and heroic move made against the British Empire by a citizen of Sihale ever since the defeat of the (armed) liberation struggle of Uva Wellassa of 1818”. I hear the chuckle of the conspirators behind this mock tribute to Pujya K. Ariyamagga. (END)

Sri Lanka: Meaning Behind Our Instinctive Struggle 


2022 is over, and a new year has dawned. It is the 140th day that I have been in prison for labelling terrorists who committed economic crimes, killed people and maintained a murderous culture while the real terrorists were free. Not only me but there are also other people in prison who fought for a better society and demanded economic and political change. I know that even if many people are not imprisoned due to the repression of the government, they do not have the freedom to do their daily activities normally.

We cannot remove the year 2022 from history like removing the calendar from the wall. Because that was the year we learned. The year people knew about the power of the people. It was the year when it was proved that many things that were thought impossible and said could not be done could be done through teamwork. 2022 did not just pass. That is why 2023 did not just begin. The new year starts with the inspiration of many historical achievements of the past year.

We as a people are facing the most profound economic crisis we have faced in our lifetime. The country is bankrupt. The expectations of an entire society have been shattered. Especially the youth. The dreams of life have been devastated to the point of not being able to understand what will happen and what to do. Daily wage workers, plantation workers and construction workers have lost their sources of income. Farmers are unable to farm. Fishermen have not been able to find even their daily meals. Government employees and private sector employees are unable to live on the wages they get. Another aspect is that even the middle-class people who had previously built a certain standard of living in society have collapsed in the face of the crisis. In reality, a situation has been created where the middle class will be abolished. In the midst of all this, the existence of only a limited class has been confirmed, which plunged society into a huge economic crisis. A petty political group and a group of companies have only managed to gain profits even in the midst of the crisis.

The crisis was created by the rulers and a few company owners who joined hands with the rulers. Billions and trillions were borrowed. As of today, the per capita loan alone has exceeded the limit of 1.1 million. Nothing was done with the loans received. Funds from those loans were also stolen. People have been robbed of their tax money. Through indirect taxes levied on goods and services, 85% of the country’s total tax burden is paid by people who cannot even get their daily meals provided. While those people have paid all those taxes, the income-earning companies and capitalists have not paid even the meagre 15% tax they are bound to. From 2015 to 2019, this group evaded tax payments of 41,4400 million rupees. Today we are told that there is no money to allocate for education. There is no money to give for health and transportation. According to the government, the mistake is not that the rulers stole but that the children are studying. The fault is that people get sick. It is not the robbers who are punished, but the victims. Therefore, today this country has become a country where mothers commit suicide because they cannot buy their children’s school books. This has become a country where people are waiting to die, knowing they have fatal kidney disease, heart disease, cancer and no money to buy medicine. This has become a country where parents watch their children die of malnutrition. This country has become a country where university students drop out of their courses because they cannot pay the boarding fee.

So what else could we do without struggling against injustice? Are we supposed to eat something given and sleep looking at whatever is happening? No, as the people, we decided to fight. The entire society decided to put an end to the cowardly history that had tolerated this situation and turned the whole system upside down. The student movement intervened to play a crucial role in that people’s struggle from the beginning. We brought the slogan “Let’s overthrow the government – turn the system” into a struggle. With that slogan, we said what should have been done. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s disgraceful government, which made people completely helpless, should have been sent home. We should not stop there and overthrow the old political and economic system. That proposal and that expectation are still valid today. Representative democracy, which appoints people to parliament every five years as people’s representatives, has failed. It has been proven in the face of the struggle. Ranil Wickramasinghe, who could not even win a position as a Member of Parliament, became the President. What more examples to give about the deception of representative democracy? A Constitution with holes enough to allow a loser like Ranil to sneak in and sit in the presidential chair, for sure, does not represent the people’s expectations.

The economic and political crisis that arose was created by the political system that ruled the country for so long and by the rulers who governed that system. A crisis that was developed step by step. Therefore, the people should not be responsible for this crisis at all. The people did their best for the country, whether they had food to eat or not. When the people do that, the rulers steal the people’s assets as much as possible. This is why the traditional political system was rejected in front of the people. Since then, the hope of the people has been the struggle. The struggle in which the majority of the country’s people participated, regardless of colour, party, race or religion, introduced new dimensions to Sri Lanka’s politics. Instead of the illusion of representative democracy, the struggle allowed the people to try the sovereign power of the people. Therefore, we must win the people’s expectations in that struggle. What did the people say through the struggle? The rulers give us the money they stole from us. Companies to pay evaded taxes. Banks to recover from one who has not repaid massive loans. In 2020 alone, 10,500 million bank loans defaulted. We said that we needed a program to set up a fund and provide emergency relief to the people. The executive presidency should be abolished. A new Constitution is needed to accept the power to recall representatives, the power to call referendums, and education and health as fundamental rights given to the people. Briefly, this is as follows. We expected from the struggle;

1. A society with economic equity

2. Democratic reforms that are directly related to people’s governance

3. A political and economic policy that is responsible for society and the environment

People struggle with those expectations. However, we have not been able to fulfil those expectations yet. After Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sent, Ranil became the President after making constitutional coups. Now the Ranil-Rajapaksa junta is doing the same old work even faster. People are being taxed. Everyone who turns 18 years old is going to have a tax file. A large part of the salary of professionals who earn more than one hundred thousand rupees monthly is going to be cut. This is done when large-scale companies have evaded billions of tax money. Electricity bill increased by 70%. This year too, the electricity bill is going to be increased by the same amount. That means the price of goods will increase in comparison to that. People who are still eating one meal a day will starve to death after that, when hundreds of billions of export earnings are hidden outside the country when billions of stolen money are sent out of the country as revealed in the Pandora Papers, when tax money and loan money default, more burden is placed on the people without even a word about it. Even education and health rights are sold. People’s assets are being sold.

To cover up their incompetence, the government has started an extensive slander campaign against the struggle. Other pro-government parties, intentionally or unintentionally, have started slandering the struggle saying that there was no leadership in the struggle, no plan for the struggle, and had no purpose etc. However, in the midst of all this, we urge people not to allow those allegations and complaints to undermine the value of the struggle. This is the most successful struggle in the history of our country that we all did together. This is just the beginning of the struggle. It is not over yet. The rulers wanted to prevent the struggle from spreading from here to the final victory. At the very beginning, the struggle brought many accomplishments to this society.

1. The struggle built confidence in the people’s power to appoint governments and send governments home.

2. The struggle gave experience to this society about methods of experimenting with people’s power outside of institutions like parliament.

3. The struggle succeeded in defeating the politics of the Rajapaksa family, who dreamed of being in power forever.

4. It was possible to defeat the political tradition maintained by using prejudices based on religious and racial grounds.

These are the fundamental achievements that the struggle gave us. With the foundation of these historical achievements, the year 2022 ends and the new year 2023 begins. With that experience, the struggle must be continued until a final victory is achieved. The year 2023 dawns with that message. Therefore, I request all the people of my country to choose the struggle for your right to life. Do not kneel before government repression and economic pressure. Unconditionally, come the streets in an organized manner. Let’s fight for our lives. Let’s fight for our future generations. As a student movement, we are ready to make any sacrifice for the rights of people in this country.

Victory to the struggle!

01.01.2023 | in Colombo remand prison

Views expressed are author’s own

A very happy New Year 2023 to Sri Lanka and its people


I am writing from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I wish a very happy New Year 2023 to Sri Lanka and its people.

In the New Year-2023, Sri Lankans will need to put extra efforts together, to reignite the economy and promote growth and also to make it inclusive and beneficial to all. They will also need to intensify investment in education in 2023. They must work together to eradicate corruption, crimes, drugs and substance abuse as well as violence against people in their communities. Where they disagree, let them do so with dignity and respect and promote unity and cohesion as they build their country together. The challenge now is to continue to pursue the economic and political conditions that will spread the wealth throughout the population and provide an example for the rest of the world. They must work harder to build a truly caring society in 2023.

Despite all the success the country has achieved in recent years including 2022, new and old dangers – economic, political, and security-related – threaten to derail its progress. With sound policymaking, effective leadership, and enough foresight, however, can meet and defeat these challenges as well as the many more to come in the New Year. They probably use the beginning of every year to reflect on the past years, make decisions and set resolutions for the New Year. It is a good thing to make resolutions, but it takes a good deal of discipline and commitment to get results that would be different and better than what they got last year. Catherine Pulsifer wrote, “The New Year symbolizes the ending of one year and the beginning of yet another. We celebrate this event, yet it is only a moment in time, like any other day. But it is also considered a time when new beginnings can happen. Be determined to have a Happy New Year!” 

In the New Year’s foresight, Sri Lanka’s growth initiatives may be overarching themes that place the country at the tipping point and people perceive to be key areas for intervention to keep Sri Lanka on its current rising trajectory. This year’s format is different from years past, encompassing viewpoints from high-level policymakers, academics, and practitioners, as well as utilising visuals to better illustrate the paths behind and now in front of Sri Lanka. Growth in Asia and elsewhere has shown that industrialisation is crucial to job creation, a value that has to be enshrined in the new sustainable development goals of Sri Lanka.

The country has witnessed remarkable improvements in poverty reduction in recent years, but persistent challenges in inequality, education, health, and violence, among others, still plague it. As the 2023 year may provide the opportunity to be a jumping-off point for strong policies and efforts to accomplish the desired goals, they should understand the assortment of opportunities of 2022 provides for supporting human development efforts and argues for the central role that better data and corrective measures play in addressing them.

To explore the consequences of Sri Lanka’s rapid urbanisation which historically has facilitated the country transition from a reliance on agriculture to industry and jobs. However, without strong policies to deliver services, finance and build infrastructure, and support the urban poor, the country’s rapidly growing cities and intermediate cities cannot deliver on their potentials. The New Year may see a number of governance milestones and obstacles, and the march towards good governance. Any sort of violence, killing and destruction… shall have to be ruthlessly suppressed by the law and order controlling body of the government. People want peace and that has to be ensured. People do not want the banal forces and their mango-twigs to get any chance to fish out any benefits in the troubled waters. Raise your voice. Beware of that the ruffians must not get any chance to disturb them because Sri Lanka is for Sri Lanka’s people of all religions to live together in peace. 

The government should reflect on the country’s growth-governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes necessary to move from economic growth to economic transformation. Historically, urbanisation is a sign of economic prosperity. As a country underwent structural transformation, and its economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and industry, the composition of the population of the country shifted from being predominantly rural to predominantly urban. However, urbanisation in the Sri Lanka’s context displays different characteristics from the ones witnessed in Asia and other countries. This growth demonstrates a great need for better urban management and institution building. Thus, if managed properly, the new emerging cities can produce several economic opportunities as cities offer economies of scale, which can be conducive to sustainable economic prosperity and improved human development. 

Despite all the political and economic challenges facing the country, the people’s desire for a better life with better education for their children, strong domestic institutions, full employment opportunities and faster economic growth means that the future can be much brighter. Many of the hurdles they may uncover have policy solutions. Government should spend primarily on the work to improve not just education systems but also infrastructure across the board. Smart, pro-business policies will also help ensure the creation of decent jobs that can keep young people engaged in society and out of troubles.

Despite challenges on the economic front, together they made substantial progress in providing basic services, such as, electricity, housing, roads, water and sanitation, healthcare as well as accessible education. The country’s GDP has begun to show welcome improvements. Thus significant strides were made in the past years in fighting poverty, inequality and unemployment. Still the government needs for renewed efforts to boost inclusive economic growth and improve the lives of poor and working-class; and it remains a key priority of the government.

The mornings of winter fall on the last of the fogbank and will wash it away. We can smell the grass again, and the torn leaves being eased down into the mud.  The few loves we have been allowed to keep are still sleeping on the sky of Sri Lanka. Here in the country, they walk across the fields with only a few young cows for company. Big-boned and shy, they are like girls we remember. Those girls are matured now. Like Sri Lankans, they must sometimes stand at a window late at night, looking out on a silent backyard, at one rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons and cry hard for whoever used to make them happiest, and wonder how their lives have carried them this far without ever once explaining anything. They don’t know why they are walking out here with their coats darkening and their boots sinking in, coming up with a mild sucking sound we, as foreigners, like to hear. We don’t care where those girls are now.  Whatever they have made of it they can have. Today, Sri Lankans want to resolve many things. They only want to walk a little longer in the cold blessing of the wind, and lift their faces to it.

Emotions and excitement will be lifted up inside eyes and mouth widely grinning hands clap together anticipation rising going through the whole body. As we, foreigners, wait for the sunrise, we wait for a shimmering blue sea in Sri Lanka. We shall see a beautiful golden sun. And we believe it will set them free. We put our pens down greatness without sound; love without a doubt and a heart unbound; freedom of tongues is freedom of minds; and free air is freedom of lungs. We smoke though, temporary satisfaction for eternal sorrow; one more drag; confidence to load the mag up against our heads, we then resurrect ourselves with memories of something else in Sri Lanka. So, we as foreigners are grinding again, making our way up the lane, but the cities big so we take a… Melody Beattie reminds us, “The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

With the moon as the conductor, the symphony of lights begins. As the heavens open in anticipation, stars one by one comes filing in with each rhythmic starlight flicker keeping in tune with the galaxy. Entire planets hold their breath in wonder from everlasting to everlasting nebula breeze. It all plays out in harmony keeping perfect 3-4 times and such beauty is not held by boundaries and seen and heard light years through time. The year 2023 should be to do only good deeds for Sri Lanka.

The winds of bearable and golden-like and sweet-note are on the heads of Sri Lankans. The winds of civility and refinements having good or auspicious marks; of commendable looks… good governance…gentleness of disposition…exquisite beauty or grace…quite consistence; very reasonable; judicious; fair; adequate; relevant; well-refined life shall prevail in their days; and I wish our Sri Lankan friends, and people in general a glorified and restful festive season. Celebrate new life in the New Year 2023. From Bangladesh, I wish to finish-off today in the words of Goran Persson, “Let your New Year’s resolution be this: you will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.”

The End –

Sri Lanka: Professionalism – Missing Links


The right to rectify the wrongdoings occurring in the country or the right to be elected as public representatives should be granted only to those who are committed to discharge or have already discharged the responsibility assigned to them in the respective scope of work or the little professional world they represent and had committed themselves in maintaining a good, clean and orderly state in their particular fields by correcting and remedying the wrongs that may occur in them.

Many positive changes would occur in the political system when the political parties and their leaders are composed of people, who could claim for such a record in addition to having their merits limited only to educational qualifications. However, it is obvious that many people who have become members of conventional political parties of our country as well as those who have entered the political stream newly, are not those who could claim such a record.

The professionals are at the helm of all important sectors in the country. If the professionals had functioned strongly and unreservedly to eradicate corruption and rectify other faults extant in the areas which were under their control, certainly Sri Lanka would not have fallen into such a big mess and disaster it has faced today. We know that politicians are rotten with corruption. Similarly, the role of professionals in Sri Lanka is also not in good shape or in ideal condition. There are many examples that can be cited to substantiate this observation. The programs that have been implemented for a long time to digitise the affairs of the state are one such example.

Digital solutions contribute immensely to improve the affairs of the state, facilitate better communication between citizens and government agencies; it will improve the efficiency of the functioning of government institutions and enable minimising of corruption and waste. For a long time now, despite a substantial investment been made for digitisation, it has not been possible to make a discernible progress commensurate with the cost incurred. However, the progress achieved in digitisation by companies like John Keells in the private sector, is huge.

For example, despite having a digital system, the allegations levelled against the Department of Registration of Persons and the Department of Immigration and Emigration are serious. A situation prevails in these two departments where, apart from obtaining genuine ID cards and passports, it is possible to obtain fake IDs and passports as well, by paying a large amount of money underhand. It has been identified that there exists a situation where computer data could be altered in some institutions that have adopted digitised systems.

It is alleged that a mafia of electrical engineers is operating in the Electricity Board. There are accusations that the electrical engineers are making undue wealth by abusing their authority, and also discouraging or not paving the way for moving to a policy that emphasises the use of renewable energy sources due to vested interests they seem to have in the use of thermal power plants in generating electricity. It can be said that the dishonest practices in the field of accountancy and the audit have also affected the decline in the financial sector. If the accountants and auditors had fulfilled their professional responsibilities properly, the incidents of fraud and corruption in the financial sector in Sri Lanka would not have escalated to a level which the society could not bear. Such degeneration could not have occurred in the financial sector.

The lawyers as well as the judicial officials are presumably responsible for the breakdown in the rule of law of the country. Similarly this accusation can be made against the other professionals as well. Although there is a national Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka, which is a body of professionals presently belonging to 52 member associations catering to 32 disciplines with a total membership of over 50,000, apparently it has not been able to adopt a disciplinary control to govern its members and win the trust of the people about the organisation.

Correcting yourself before correcting the nation

Isn’t it important that the professionals should work strongly towards making the respective fields of their professions efficient and free of corruption, and earn the public trust, before they engage themselves in rectifying the entire system of the country? Shouldn’t they become leaders capable of solving national problems only through the launch of such programs? For example, the lawyers interested in entering politics, could initiate and run a campaign for necessary reforms to establish an independent judicial system with the power of judicial review, in addition to making a positive change in the legal profession itself. They can demand for the setting up of a regulatory authority with considerable powers to regulate the performance of lawyers.

Like in some Western countries, the legal career can be made into a profession that operates under a license system combined with a full professional indemnity insurance scheme that needs to be renewed every few years. In case of damage to the client and when compensation is due to be paid, it can be compensated by the indemnity insurance. Also, it would be possible to introduce a system for regulating the fees payable to the attorneys at law. Also a system could be set up so that the nature of the case, the law applicable, the client’s entitlement, the fee to be paid, the manner in which the payment should be made and the regulatory authority to be referred to in the events of misconduct or professional negligence could be indicated to the client in writing when a case is undertaken by the attorneys at law.

Also, action may be initiated to bring about positive and desirable changes in the Bar Association as well. Along with this, suggestions for an independent judicial system that would lead to earning respect of the public for the judiciary, as well as introducing a system that prevents delays in litigation can be made. Such a program will certainly create a strong platform to make far reaching changes in the field of legal profession and the judiciary as well, and offer an opportunity for the lawyers who appear for it, to earn a greater acceptance of the public while creating a strong background for them to enter politics.

Similar programs can be implemented in all other professional sectors. For instance, the professionals of the ICT Engineering (the Information and Communication Technology) could probe into the faults and drawbacks in the implementation of e-Sri Lanka projects in government institutions, which is an integrated approach to promote e-governance, and submit proposals to rectify the errors and implement them correctly at a low cost. It would be possible to make the professional association one belongs to, a catalyst against corruption that prevails in that particular sector, and also it can be made an exemplary institution where a proper code of discipline is maintained in regard to the conduct of the professionals of the association. If such a program can be implemented in almost every professional sector, it will undoubtedly lead to produce professionals who work with a deep sense of social responsibility in all professional fields, and through them to set up professional movements and create a vision that will contribute towards rectifying serious mistakes that had occurred in the fields of those professions.

The most important outcome of this process, in the sense of politics, will be that it will pave the way for laying a strong foundation for a distinguished group of professionals who have gained a certain amount of political maturity, practical experience and won public recognition in consequence of their involvement in fighting against and for rectifying the wrongs that happen in their own little worlds, to enter the national stream of politics. 

In search of a leader for Lanka

Thomas Jefferson, hailed as a great president of the United States of America, made many historic contributions to the development of the United States at its infancy and also wrote the Declaration of American Independence. He designed his own tombstone and wrote his own epitaph:

Here was buried

Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of American Independence

Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom

And father of the University of Virginia.

He did not mention that he was twice elected as the President of the United States! (Excerpted from 100 Great Nineteenth Century Lives by John Canning)

It is not possible to enumerate Jefferson’s many significant historic achievements in this column due to space constraints but Jefferson is also not without critics.

He was the son of a wealthy tobacco planter and did not renounce some of the powers and privileges that were exercised by those planters. Thus, he is the target of 21st Century anti-American critics, human rights activists, even business-like and buccaneering Sri Lankan NGOs, and genuine NGO activists of today.

Jefferson appears to fall somewhat into the category of a leader envisaged by Lao Tzu (601 BC), the founder of Taoism. He declared: A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.

That kind of leadership may have been scarce even in those ancient times and certainly extinct today. In 20th and 21st Century democracies, leaders attempt to work on the principle of: Ask not what the country can do for you but what you can do for the country, as enunciated by John F. Kennedy.

Of course, the performance records of a great many politicians of today, though they shout out to the world from rooftops that they are devoting all their efforts for the benefit of the country and not for themselves, show the personal benefits accrued by politicians from their country, far outweigh the benefits received from them by the country. Success for them is essentially the impressions made by them on the voters.

We delved into these qualities of leadership because the Sri Lankan people, now suffering from the worst financial and domestic crisis created by politicians since Independence, are searching for a leader who could take them out of the morass they are in.

The country is now being governed by two political parties whose leaders Ranil Wickremesinghe of the UNP and Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Pohottuwa (Lotus Bud) party had been bitterly opposed to each other since 1977 until the last General Elections in 2020. Through some unique constitutional procedure, Wickremesinghe is now the President of what is supposed to be a Democratic Socialist Republic which is not democratic, socialist or a republic with a president not elected by the people.

The question whether this kind of leadership can resolve the acute crisis— a significant proportion of the people facing starvation — is indeed valid. According to the FAO, 6.2 million Lankans ‘face acute food insecurity’.

An islandwide presidential or general election is believed by most people to be the panacea or Kokatath Thailaya.

What can the Rajapaksa family party produce at such an election as a solution to the imbroglio? Namal Rajapaksa, his brothers and cousins as ministers for a new government?

The party is reported to be back in the temples with the monks.  Would this strategy as in 2019 — ‘Sinhala-Buddhism is under threat, there is an international conspiracy that resulted in the collapse of the last government, and we won the war and saved Lanka from Tamil terrorism — work once again?

The Rajapaksas may be hoping that the sharp political divide that existed between the two parties — Rajapaksas and the UNP with the splinter group the SJB of the Premadasa faction — before the current crisis set in, remains and that their block vote is still intact.

If hunger, starvation, inflation at 300 percent, unemployment, the monumental fertiliser blunder, spiralling crime rate, schoolchildren being assailed with drugs and being without even exercise books, pens or shoes, and starving wild elephants smashing up homes and humans in search of food have not affected the thinking of the masses, then they are true political asses as they are often called by the political cognoscenti.

In this festive season when much is made of token gifts such as wheelchairs, donations to poor schools, Christmas treats, and the like, we place on record the magnificent and monumental gift of China to the children of Sri Lanka: School uniform material worth 90 million RMB (5 billion Lanka rupees) to meet 70 percent of Lanka’s requirements. Let us all thank the people of China.

When Wickremesinghe accepted the post of prime minister and later the presidency, the thinking was that his task would be mainly to negotiate with the IMF, other international lending institutions and Western nations with whom he has good relations. The initial breakthrough with the IMF which he expected by the end of December has not come through as yet.

According to reports, the economy has shrunk by 11.8 percent in the third quarter of this year ending in September. The suppression of the Aragalaya forces, using police and security forces after Wickremesinghe assumed the office of president with the objective of establishing political stability for economic growth, does not seem to have taken off. Repression of political forces that overthrew the Rajapaksa regime has not resulted in attracting foreign investments.

But he is going full steam ahead giving the impression that he will be president not only till the term of office of the Rajapaksa government officially ends but intends to contest elections and return as the president once again as his uncle JRJ rose phoenix-like from the fires of 1956 to the greatest election victory 20 years later.  The probability of lightning striking twice at the same place is said to be one in some millions.

Of the politicians in harness, Sajith Premadasa the leader of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Leader of the Opposition, is the brightest star on the horizon.  He is unsullied by the Rajapaksa dynastic corrupt politics and polled 5.5 million votes (41.99 percent of votes polled) in an extremely short presidential election campaign delayed because of his squabbles with Wickremesinghe. But Premadasa has placed himself in a conservative strait jacket and is still regaling about his father’s policies on housing, poverty alleviation and promotion of the garment industry.

Can he rest on his paternal laurels and not change with the times? He has to be politically savvy and open up to other political parties instead of trying to go it alone.  At the last party convention held on December 12, a formal resolution was adopted for the SJB ‘to work together with all progressive and democratic forces ‘to agitate against the government’s repression of mass protests’ and demand local government elections. But that resolution alone is not enough. He has to make moves and call for a united opposition with the JVP, and other left parties — at least an election no-contest pact. Above all, can he ignore the Aragalaya forces that threw out the Rajapaksa regime through non-violent means?

The Aragalaya leaders such as Vasantha Mudalige are still behind bars on flimsy charges such as obstruction of the police in carrying out their duties during mass legal democratic protests. Some of them are being held under the Prevention of Terrorist Act. Others were earlier arrested for sitting on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s bed and chairs when they stormed the President’s House. This petty nitpicking under the cover of terrorist laws has become a source of entertainment in social media.

Aragalaya leaders are possibly unique in that they are the only such leaders that threw out a government through non-violence — the force of the people’s opinion. They are perhaps the only revolutionary leaders who did not cease power and appoint a president from among themselves after throwing out a government!

Thomas Jefferson, twice elected as president, didn’t want to be remembered as a president.

The Aragalaya leaders did not want to be president!

Sri Lanka needs such leaders.

Sri Lanka in 2023: Challenges and beyond?


“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker – It’s not what you say but what you do that defines you – Buddha

“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.” – Buddha

The year 2022 will end as the year that turned Sri Lanka on its belly. It demonstrated that while some political leaders were well-meaning and did what they thought was good for the country, the collective effort of 75 years of independent governance had ended in the economic bankruptcy of the country and owing more than what it is economically worth. It has demonstrated that the country is good at living on borrowed money, and it had demonstrated that the country has functioned without a clear vision and a clear strategy as to how to achieve that vision.

It is not the time to dwell on the past unless one is doing so to learn lessons from the past. What is more important is the present, and what one could do to avoid mistakes of the past, create a new vision for the future and move to a better future. 

Not blaming politicians alone for such mistakes is one lesson one should learn as they are a product of the political system in place. Creators of the system and its participants includes the people who elect the politicians. So, collectively, the people, their representatives and the system in place have all failed the country. In saying this, the vast strides made in different sectors of the country are recognized, and so are some leaders who spearheaded such improvements. The achievements of the country are however looked at from the prism of where it is now, an economically bankrupt nation.

One may argue that after 75 years of independence, this bankruptcy extends beyond economic bankruptcy and to social, moral, and ethical standards despite the teachings of three major religions of the world, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam which are well entrenched in the country. Some would take the view that the strengthening of cultural, ritualistic aspects of these religions rather than practices based on the original teachings of these religions have contributed to the social, moral, and ethical bankruptcy that is being experienced. In this regard, it is the religious institutions that should look inwards and question themselves of the part they have played by just mouthing, but not living the teachings of the founders of the major religions.

Politics and religion, or rather the religious institutions and the political establishment has a symbiotic relationship of inter dependance. This is markedly so when it comes to the Sinhala Buddhist institution and the political establishment. Early in independent Sri Lanka, the leader who is hated and loved in equal measure, one who is recognized as the one who gave the Sinhala Buddhist community their due place, and at the same time who is recognized as the person who was the cause of the Sinhala Tamil rift, SWRD Bandaranaike, born a Christian, converted to Buddhism. Whatever the reasons for this conversion, there cannot be any doubt that this helped his political objectives considering that in post independent history, being the first citizen of the country has not been possible unless one were a Sinhala Buddhist.

In terms of the future, a question must be asked where this symbiotic relationship would take the country? More of the same? If the status quo continues, how could leaders of the two institutions, the religious and the political, work together to advance the country rather than themselves? This is one of the most important challenges for the future. While the Buddhist institutions argue that their role is to ensure the protection of Buddhism, their activities have gone well beyond this. Divisions within Buddhist Monks, the institutions they belong to, and their partisan preferences and actions as to who and which party should govern the country, have clearly indicated the real motive of some individual Monks and more broadly the   institutions. This motive being the desire to be a key stakeholder in political governance. In this context, as influential stakeholders, they have contributed in equal measure to the sorry state of the country today. 

The Buddhist clergy is supposed to abide by the Vinaya Pitakaya, the code of conduct applicable to them as Buddhist Monks. Today, this is a joke if one looks at the behavior of some Monks. The Buddhist institution is replete with various internal judiciary positions, all of which are no more than figurehead positions that do not seem to be performing their tasks as outlined in the Vinaya Pitakaya.

While it may be controversial to some, the role and power of the religious institutions and Buddhist Monks, their conformity with the Vinaya Pitakaya and their influence on political governance arising from their political partisanship is a challenge that the country will have to confront with. If their political partisanship, power and influence should remain, and their role as stakeholders in political governance continues, a truly bi partisan economic framework will not be possible to take the country forward. This political bipartisanship has not happened partly due to the actions of some influential members of religious institutions who have exerted a significant degree of influence with the voters who elect politicians and political parties to govern. In this context, such an influence factor contributes either to the success or otherwise of the country’s economic development. If the present status of bankruptcy is to be a yardstick, it can be taken that this influence factor has failed the country. 

Ideally, no religious institution nor its members should engage in politics, and if they wish to do so, they should leave their religious institutions and do so as lay persons. The ability to make this happen is in the hands of the people, and they should clearly and unequivocally send this message to all religious institutions.

Another key challenge for the country and its public is the need for a long-term development framework, at least the contours of such a framework. The very nature of the political system of 75 years has resulted in short term planning of not more than 5 years. There has never been a bi partisan development framework, even within a span of 5 years, let alone any period longer than that. The country needs such a framework of not less than 10 years, and it is heartening to note that the current President is said to be working on a 25-year framework. 

It is vital however for such a framework to have bi partisan (or multi partisan) agreement, and for such an agreed framework to be periodically reviewed and updated to keep it in line with global developments including technological developments.

Such a framework should include major economic drivers such as an export development plan, an import substitution plan, a tourism plan, an agriculture plan to assure food security, a plan to maximize land and water utilization, an industrial development plan that includes Port development, sustainable energy development etc., and an education plan that prepares the future generations to meet the challenges posed by such an economic framework. Besides these, the health of the nation is paramount, and the framework should include plans for long term primary and curative healthcare in the country.

It is questionable whether the people nor their representatives, and other institutions that influence governance planning and decision making will have the foresight nor the guts to make far reaching decisions for the benefit of future generations. Ad hoc planning has been the order of the day for 75 years, and sadly, it is quite likely that this situation will continue for another 75 years if not more. 

Sri Lanka has faced its gravest economic and social crisis since independence, and this has not been sufficient for the political leaders and their parties, in particular the Opposition parties, to work with the governing party and agree on an economic framework to lift the country out of its morass. Calling for fresh elections is the only plan they have offered to the country.  

Even if elections were held, history has shown that generally, the vote between the governing party and Opposition parties have been split in the ratio of 55 % to 45%. 

If this were to be the case at an election the Opposition is clamoring to have, what will suffer most will be the way forward for the economy as political partisanship, split in the manner described above will stand in the way of a commonly agreed economic development framework.

The country is bankrupt, and yet, the singing and dancing goes on. It has been reported that the appointment of more cabinet ministers is imminent. The Titanic is sinking, but more deckhands are said to join the captain. This may defy logic, but it does fit in with the reality that the morals and ethics of most politicians have already sunk far below the level of economic bankruptcy. 

Sri Lanka: Living with the Hope in Precarious times

Following is the keynote address delivered at the launch of the Junior Bar Journal on the theme ‘Law in context: Current trends and future projections’ held on 16 December

We live in precarious times. But precarious times are also times of great opportunity. The end of World War Two gave birth to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the end of Apartheid gave birth to the South African constitution, a constitution that has inspired the legal community for decades. A great deal is happening in the world and in Sri Lanka in particular, creating a fog of ideas and desperation to see our way out of the darkness.

This fog of ideas is based on the fact that there is a fundamental struggle taking place on the kind of society people wish to construct for themselves. This struggle over very basic ideas animates the most virulent hate and bias that we see throughout the world. What I am going to do in this lecture is to spell out some of those struggles, especially those relevant to young lawyers, and see what the future holds for their resolution.

The first debate in this fog of ideas relates to the debate on human rights. For my generation of lawyers working in public law at the international level, the most inspiring documents were those related to human rights – the universal declaration, the covenants and many other conventions relating to torture, women and children among others. Though today human rights and humanitarian law are dismissed as Western, at the Bandung conference in the 1950s, the Non-Aligned movement openly embraced human rights and it would be the driving force in getting rid of apartheid in South Africa and challenging disappearances in Latin America. Third World progressive activists were strong supporters of human rights during this period writing personally to heads of state when prisoners of conscience were taken in.

Amnesty International’s first visit to Sri Lanka in the 1970s was fully supported by everyone who worked on issues of social justice. Leading personalities like Suriya Wickremesinghe, Kumari Jayawardena, Professor Sarathchandra, and Raja Goonesekere formed the civil rights movement after the 1971 insurrection basing their founding principles on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today both the edifice and the norms are under a great deal of challenge especially from universities and think tanks many of them situated in the Western world.

The challenge to human rights is twofold. The first is that it is a Western structure created around the values of the Enlightenment where the individual is valued over the community and where reason is given prime of place over social values of cohesion and harmony. The second argument is about process and the double standards in the application of human rights. The rich and powerful countries are not held accountable while smaller countries may face the full force of the international political and legal process.

My argument has always been that the values of human rights may have resonance with some traditional values but they actually derive from a consent-based system of law. By signing the UN charter and the many conventions on human rights Sri Lanka and others have agreed to be governed by these norms and standards and as a result must be held responsible for their implementation. As for the argument of double standards, though this is certainly the case and the rich and powerful countries do enjoy impunity, it does not mean that we should put forward a position that we should have no standards at all.

The political and legal strategy should be to make more countries accountable for their actions. In national systems like ours the rich and the powerful also get away with a great deal and with a high level of impunity. The answer is not to throw away the law but to make sure that the system reforms itself to make everyone more accountable. For this we need not only law reform but also public mobilisation, national and international solidarity as well as political will.

The Suriya Wickremesinghe generation in Sri Lanka which founded the national civil rights movement was followed in the 1990s by a generation of some intellectuals who were part of a movement that spearheaded the post modern assault on human rights. In my mid thirties I was deeply influenced by the thinker Michel Foucault whose life’s ambition was to deconstruct the European Enlightenment and the particular cruelty it has visited on the world. Seeing human rights as a part of that legacy he saw it just as a façade for imperial and national political ambition. In his famous book Discipline and Punish he analyses the legal process and the carceral system that goes with it. He refuses to acknowledge that law, the legal system and the judiciary could be an autonomous sphere making decisions on positivistic principles. He insisted that politics, hidden or open always guided their intervention. He is also particularly harsh on those who try to rehabilitate and mould prisoners in their own image. Humanism was a dirty word for him, a thin veil that hid the real exercise of power in any given situation. He saw the humanitarian impulse and the desire to save the world as another side of the European conquest.

Later in life as part of the United Nations I went constantly to the field to situations of armed conflict. As I landed in Rwanda in 1995 a month after the genocide I was taken to a school. Throughout the school, on the floor was skeleton after skeleton, their bodies smashed and mutilated by the perpetrators. I was then taken to a church with a beautiful sculpture of the Madonna. Beneath her, again bodies upon bodies, a terrible haven for violence and destruction. Children, women, old men – none were spared. The victims who survived reached out to us. “Take our story tell it to the world”, they said.

I realised then that Foucault only saw the structures; he did not feel the pain. The world just could not be silent. It needed a language and discourse to give expression to this outrage. After that, in a qualified way, I embraced international human rights and humanitarian law as a vocation.

The embrace of human rights and humanitarian law with a realistic understanding of geopolitics becomes all the more important in the face of governments developing deadly styles of warfare while also increasing repression at home. I spent some time in an Afghan village and watched as children cowered under their beds fearing drone strikes. To this day governments will not move to formulate a convention on drones. The technology of war has totally outpaced the laws of war. As a member of the International Commission of Experts on Ethiopia I chronicled just two months ago the devastating consequences of aerial bombardment by drones as well as other forms of weapons that operated on the ground. Total destruction. The Ukraine war is another reminder. Regulating and curtailing these weapons is a major challenge for the future in the area of humanitarian law.

More repressive legislation and practices

At the same time many countries, including our own government, are developing more repressive legislation and practices to prevent freedom of speech, freedom of organisation and political protest. Under the guise of fighting terrorism all manner of legislation is brought that result in incarcerating mostly young people. My first human rights task in the 1980s was to take down an affidavit of a young prisoner kept at Boosa who had been tortured. It was clear to me that he had committed no act of terrorism though he was taken under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He just came from a cohort of young men that the state suspected as being likely to be influenced. I saw the same thing when I went to Batticaloa last year and met with wives and families who had their husbands and sons taken under the PTA after the Easter attacks. There were no charges but they were not released.

Incarcerating young men so as to control their behaviour and beliefs is not a healthy or productive practice for any criminal justice system. In a book recently shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize Carla Power went around the world looking at counter terrorism programs and concludes that this practice of incarceration does not really work and the young men emerging from such incarceration are not going to become good citizens.

If one decides to have programs, which in itself is problematic, they should be outside the purview of the criminal law and she points to programs of mentoring that have been quite successful in some countries. In any event any such action should also be taken with caution. Freedom of belief is a fundamental human right and some countries are against any action in this regard. Any interference with freedom of belief must be subject to the greatest possible scrutiny.

Given this onslaught at the international and national level, human rights in 2022 has a new and urgent responsibility and many are beginning to recognise its renewed importance. Young people in their twenties around the world are rediscovering human rights and rescuing it from post modernism and geopolitical agendas. Whether in Thailand, Sudan, Myanmar, Iran, Chile, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, the US, they have embraced the language of human rights. It is the only universal language of dissent and results in mobilisation that cuts across borders and has universal appeal. These movements are also refining the concept of human rights so that it addresses the many issues of class as well as the systemic structures of discrimination that earlier rights activists were less sensitive to. Often dismissed as “woke” their sensibility has already had a major impact not only on governments but also on every day life. They face an inevitable backlash but as the mid term elections in the US show the next generation seems mobilised and committed to these norms.

While human rights is struggling to survive as a worldview the second debate that is emerging around the world is the debate on the nature and function of constitutional democracy. At the national level, my generation working on public law issues was very involved in what has recently been termed the movement of Constitutionalism. The idea of the Constitution as a written text that prescribes the rule of law and limits the power of government is a product of the Enlightenment, especially the English Enlightenment. But Constitutionalism, on the other hand, is a very modern phenomenon.

With its origins in the famous case Marbury vs. Madison, it entrusts the judiciary as the role of the guardian and gives the judges powers to nullify legislation and executive acts that violate the written text of the Constitution. It also gives the judiciary the power to interpret the Constitution to the facts before it. This sometimes results in judges going beyond the plain meaning of the law and engaging in judicial innovation to ensure that justice is done. In this way we have what advocates call “a living Constitution”.

Despite its American origins, this framework of Constitutionalism spread to Germany with its Basic Law, India with Ambedkar’s Constitution and South Africa after Apartheid. With decolonisation many countries have also accepted this framework. Loyalty to a written text that will protect the interests of the nation is the hallmark of this tradition. It has given rise to thousands of young lawyers committed to the Constitution, determined to write that brief, argue that case and persuade the judges to do what is right.

The main driver of constitutionalism has been the bill of rights or the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution. Perhaps the first such case was Brown vs., Board of Education where the US Supreme Court outlawed the practice of racial segregation and introduced busing children as a way of remedying the segregation. Professor Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom I have worked, meticulously argued her cases on sex discrimination that would set the stage for legislation that would prevent discrimination against women.

In South Asia lawyers came together to get the powerful Indian Supreme Court to follow suit. With Justice Bhagwati they found a willing partner and Professor Upendra Bax and Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam helped draft brief after brief in the 1970s and 1980s fighting for the economic and social rights of individuals. Using the right to life and dignity clause of the Indian Constitution many victories were won. Under trial prisoners, pavement dwellers, bonded labour, women in custodial homes all found their day in Court and managed to secure innovative judicial decision making and forward looking remedies. The Court expanded its standing provisions to allow a wide array of parties to file cases and as part of its proceedings often set up fact finding commissions to investigate cases. The remedies were also sweeping though recent reappraisals point to the fact that with time they lost their effectiveness.

Though Sri Lankan judiciary did not open its processes in this radical manner, the Fernando Amerasinghe era also saw many forward-looking judgments. Even today in Sri Lanka lawyers file case after case in the spirit of Constitutionalism to attempt the Court to pronounce on issues relating to justice, to interpret the Constitution so it better protects the public interest. Sometimes they are very successful. Some of the judgments of Justice Prasanna Jayawardene were path breaking and his early demise has deprived the court of a strong and thoughtful judge.

Constitutional democracy

As the American Courts gave an initial impetus to this tradition of Constitutionalism, they are now signalling its eventual demise. Martin Loughlin in his new book Against Constitutionalism makes a strong argument why we must move beyond Constitutionalism to what he calls constitutional democracy. The shocking recent decisions of the US Supreme Court in throwing out clearly laid out precedents in every field and under the guise of “textualism”, playing to the worst prejudices in society has made many realise that reliance on the judiciary to make positive changes is not always the answer.

Judges are appointed in diverse ways, they reason in complex directions and sometimes they can make major changes. Sexual Harassment was incorporated into the law not by the legislature but by the Indian judiciary in the famous Visakha case and Justices Mark Fernando and Amerasinghe opened our eyes to many things including environmental law. Recently in the Court of Appeals there is a far-reaching judgment about elephants having legal recognition as sentient beings. These developments have to be recognised as forward looking.

But Loughlin cautions us to be weary. As the US Supreme Court does away with some of America’s most precious liberties, the new generation of young lawyers is trying to find alternatives. Relying only on judges to make changes in your society may backfire and one may not be able to control the direction of the bench. In the end according to Loughlin it is constitutional democracy and political practice, meeting, speaking and convincing people at the community level that will truly make a change that is lasting and more sustainable.

In recent times the debate on constitutional democracy has also deepened in other ways. As we speak about democracy, we remember only decades ago, Francis Fukuyama declaring, after the fall of the Berlin wall, that the world had agreed that there is only one form of government and that is representative democracy. In recent years, there has come the belief that democracy leads to chaos and the pampering of minorities. In its place came the ideology of the strong leader and majoritarian democracy. Throughout Asia, Western Europe and the United States strong leaders exercised charismatic control over their populations. For public interest lawyers it was a truly an era of darkness.

Recently the tide appears to be slowly turning again with the active participation of what is termed generation Z. There is the realisation that not all strong leaders are in the model of Lee Kwan Yew, even if that is an authoritarian model that is acceptable. Instead many may become Pol Pots or Idi Amins emphasising the fact that the need for checks and balances in a system of government is essential for modern governance. Whatever reservations we have about Constitutionalism, its role in limiting the executive and developing independent Commissions have been key to the successes of democratic experiments.

There is a belief among business and political elites that you cannot make hard economic decisions without a measure of authoritarianism. This has been disproven in Sri Lanka itself. Minister Mangala Samaraweera, taking the unions and other stakeholders into his confidence managed to partially privatise Sri Lanka Telecom. The belief that reform can only be imposed and not negotiated in a good faith bargaining process is the key to this misunderstanding that democracy will prevent economic development.

Struggle to maintain democracy may only be beginning

In this struggle against authoritarian schools of thought Sri Lanka has clearly not been an exception. The Aragalaya movement showed many of us that the democratic spirit was alive and well but the hold that such democratic ideas have on the public at large will only be tested at another general election. As we watch a government taking action with the help of the security forces, unapologetic for its authoritarian ways, the struggle to maintain democracy may only be beginning.

At the same time, while protecting representative democracy from the onslaught of authoritarian models of governance, many new thinkers around the world are being imaginative thinking new ideas about democracy itself. Such experiments focus on direct democracy and organising at a community level. They question who should represent and who is privileged. While representative democracy is fairer than authoritarian models it is still not structured to prevent inequality and discrimination. It does not truly engage the full participation of the citizenry as in the model of democracy outlined by thinkers such as Rousseau. By raising these questions there is an attempt to deepen democracy and participation.

These issues came to ahead in Chile during and after its recent elections. The Chilean elections brought forth a government that believed in experimenting with these new forms of democracy placing emphasis on direct democracy and implementing a broad scope with regard to participation. The new Constitution was drafted using these principles and a very innovative, imaginative Constitution was presented. Nevertheless it was roundly defeated at a referendum sending Chile back to the drawing board. Unless new experiments in democracy truly understand the nature of the electorate, the conservatism of many ordinary people and the years of ideological conditioning that predates the exercise such experiments will inevitably result in failure.

In Sri Lanka today, given the failure of representative democracy there are many discussions and experiments suggested with regard to alternatives. The Chilean experiment is a reminder that though people may want change, they may not want the kind of drastic change that alters the system of government they are comfortable with. Any experiment must be realistic and practicable and command the confidence of the average person. Lawyers will be intermediaries in these developments. They will be the drafters and the gatekeepers who can help and guide any such process. Their skills are crucial. Without Ambedkar, the visionary dalit draftsman, the Indian Constitution would have no legacy.

Any democracy has to be founded on the principle and exercise of free speech. Governments understand that and journalists are usually the first to be imprisoned when there is a crackdown. For lawyers to protect them and defend them is a constitutional duty as a means of securing democracy. The murder of eminent journalists throughout South Asia and the impunity for such a murder points to the fear of information being made available to the public. All over the world especially in South Asia, the assassination era is slowly being overtaken by an era where businesspeople close to government or political actors acquire media houses so that the marketplace of ideas is strictly controlled and the public only receives select messages. Only social media has broken this stranglehold. Based on the principle that every individual has the right to publish unedited and undeterred it helps prevent a complete shutdown of opposing views.

Yet social media has added complications to this process. While it is liberating in many ways the dark web and hate speech are its frightening dimension. I was on the International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. There was no doubt that Facebook had a major role to play in the violence there. Part of my work involved reading the most horrendous posts and the posts of the military generals contributed evidence to make the case for genocide. Myanmar generals were unrestrained in their feelings of disgust for the Rohingyas and many were open in the suggestion that they should be eliminated.

Even in Sri Lanka with regard to the incidents in Digana recently, Facebook and WhatsApp played the role of bringing thugs and crowds to the location and in creating a climate of hostility. Content moderation then becomes a serious issue. It cannot be left solely to governments or big tech – the Elon Musk drama with regard to Twitter is a clear example. Some mechanism has to be devised at the global level to play that role of moderating content on social media platforms. Hopefully a fair and reasonable one that understands and respects freedom of speech will be devised in the near future.

The third area where there is a struggle and debate over ideas is the field of economic and social rights. While discussing the issues mentioned above it is important to remember the warning of Thomas Picketty, one of the world’s leading thinkers, that the most important issue of the 21st century is the problem of inequality. Inequality destroys societies from within creating fissures and social tensions that can only lead to violence and injustice. It is the cancer that truly destroys a society.

For societies like Sri Lanka the first issue of inequality that has darkened our 75 years of independence has been ethnic relations and minority rights. In law and political science classes all over the world there are textbook solutions to these issues. For minorities one creates a constitutional and legislative framework to ensure equality at the Centre with mechanisms for implementation. For a territorial minority the textbook solution has always been power sharing agreements. Lawyers have spent hours devising, writing and redrafting such solutions. For a great part of my early career I worked with Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam reading every constitution and every analytical text on equality and power sharing. But as Indian scholars have written murderous majorities and minorities have torn apart any textbook solutions creating an atmosphere of distrust, suspicion and hate.

Reconciliation and rebuilding of trust will take some time

Reconciliation in this context and the rebuilding of trust will take some time. Whatever is agreed to on paper will only be sustainable if there is a buy in from the majority of the population and only if trust is created and rebuilt by media and educational systems that have so far been for the most part divisive and destructive.

The issue of inequality is also alive within communities. As Partha Chatterjee has written our traditional elders made a compact with British colonialism. While public life was to be governed by western and multilateral models of governance such as the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the corporation, it was decided that private life would be governed by the distinct communities through their own laws. Private life where women dominate would remain untouched and timeless – the sacred private space where tradition and rituals will be enjoyed. Many of these laws written centuries before modern personhood was defined discriminate against women in fundamental ways.

When the community is the majority the legislature can change the law through the normal process but if it is a minority community the politics is far more complex. My approach is to listen to the voices of the women of the community. The recent legal reforms suggested to the Muslim Marriages and Divorce Act is spearheaded by leading Muslim women. It is important that their voices be heard and that we support their endeavours.

The most important issue of inequality that grips Sri Lanka and the whole world at this moment is of course income inequality. After the pandemic and our present economic crisis, economic and social rights of the population become paramount. With rising poverty and malnutrition and with the forecast that things will become worse trapping a generation into a cycle of poverty, it is important that the whole country including lawyers pay attention. Much of the writing on these themes is divided between the so-called neo liberals with their emphasis on growth and the Marxist school with a strong redistributive class analysis.

The discourse and narrative of social democracy has been erased from the debate especially in Sri Lanka – a narrative that accepts the market as inevitable but attempts to ensure maximum social protection. It was once called the Scandinavian model. Many of the international legal instruments are built around this impetus for social protection. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women for example places a great deal of emphasis on women’s economic and social rights as well as their labour.

If we are to go through the IMF process, a process that seems inevitable, it is very important that public lawyers keep their attention on the delivery of services especially food and education and the provision of resources such as cash transfers. Lawyers will be drafting these agreements and perhaps in the public interest they should raise these questions. As the economy contracts in the next few years it is vital that the public remains fed housed and educated.

Perhaps the debate on economic and social rights is supplemented with our mounting concern about the environment and our wildlife. This debate is about how we are going to structure our world so that we share it with nature and other animals on our planet. I am a petitioner in the recent case that attempts to prevent the mistreatment of elephants by private actors, to protect them from harm and to recognise that they have some rights under the law. The Supreme Court provided interim measures in our favour last Thursday. These young, ambitious hard working activists in the environmental movement must be commended for keeping these issues alive. They are about our future in every sense of the word.

Though many people are pessimistic about Sri Lanka’s future I remain open to the possibilities. As young lawyers and as you navigate your future, step back and reflect what is your idea of Sri Lanka. Sunil Khilnani once wrote a book called the idea of India and showed how Gandhi, Nehru, especially Nehru, and Ambedkar not only freed India but moulded and created the idea of India. Now Nehru’s grandson Rahul Gandhi is marching the streets of India fighting for that idea to be kept alive in the wake of what he sees as an assault on its fundamentals.

What is your idea of Sri Lanka? Some see it in religious or ethnic terms; some see it in terms of a modern nation state. For me it is a work in progress. There must be an idea that everyone can embrace – not only one community, caste or class. If we ever have genuine discussions on a future Constitution perhaps a unifying idea will emerge. At the moment it is fragmented and the debates I have mentioned are only the beginning of an honest discussion. 75 years after independence we are yet to decide on the final social contract that will govern us.

Finally, one image I carry in my mind’s eye throughout these difficult times is the picture of the young lawyers during Aragalaya linking their hands separating the protesters from the security forces. I also remember the image of young lawyers flooding the courts in their hundreds to protect the rights of those taken in after peaceful protests. In my conversation with young people I saw a lot of potential. They did not appear to carry the baggage and the scars of the previous generations. There was freshness and a wholesomeness that should be preserved.

Though there was terrible violence toward the end that should be condemned, Aragalaya also brought out the best in young people and that should not be forgotten. I have no illusions. All over the world movements led by young people are being crushed. But time is on your side. You will outlive the older generation with their oppressive world-views and hopefully you will make society anew. We may not be alive to see it but we hope seeds planted by the generations before you will strengthen your resolve.

Sri Lanka: Beckoning the devilish anarchy


Since the ending of the internal civil war, I have been vehemently vocal on the need for directing Sri Lanka towards a profound reform program. Following the Black July of 1983, Sri Lanka remained in a bizarre state of persistent bloodshed for a long time, until the end of the internal civil war in 2009. The people of the country were compelled to live in an atmosphere overwhelmed by the fear of death during this long period.

The insurrections launched by the Sinhala and Tamil youth had resulted in the death of a large number of young people. The entire society was rendered more or less dead spiritually, by the brutality unleashed on the society by the Sinhala and Tamil rebels as well as the security forces that suppressed the riots. Though the security forces had succeeded in defeating the Sinhala-Tamil insurrections, both the victorious security forces and the State suffered serious damage from those insurrections.

Many things were destroyed in this ugly socio-political environment, and the things that escaped from being destroyed completely had become distorted and corrupt. This particular socio-political environment had caused to corrupt and distort the politicians of the country and the state including the government officials and the entire institutional system of the state. This situation had plunged the entire state into a dilapidated level.

My role

Introducing necessary reforms without delay, for rectification of the decline and the distortion occurred in the socio-political system and the state had become an essential condition for the very survival of the state and the social system. I used the 25th and 30th anniversary of the Ravaya held in 2012 and 2016 respectively, which were participated by the leaders of major political parties of the country, to point out to them the urgent need for having reforms introduced to overcome this situation.

But when it appeared that the political leaders of the country do not have a genuine interest or commitment in making necessary reforms, I reached the conclusion that, in the absence of essential reforms, the country will inevitably plunge into a great destruction, and consequently there will be a great collapse in the state and the social system, and eventually the country will be pushed into a state of economic bankruptcy and political anarchy.

In order to explain the situation, I wrote and published two books in Sinhala titled “Lankawa Galawaganima” (Rescuing Sri Lanka) and “Jathiye Kedavachakaya” (The Tragedy of the Nation). The number of scholarly articles authored and published by me in this respect could be hundreds. Besides these, I founded an organisation called the “Punaruda Vyaparaya” (Revival Movement) to enlighten the public about the great collapse destined to occur, and nearly 300 public discussions were held raising the public awareness on the impending downfall. I wish to assert that I have always appeared in favour of a profound transformational reform program implemented within a comprehensive framework centred on wide public participation.

I can be considered as one who was able to foresee and predict in advance with a considerable degree of certainty that Sri Lanka will soon fall into this abyss unless appropriate remedial measures were taken to arrest the trend. I was able to make such a prediction because I had focused my keen attention on this question long before it was going to happen. In fact, I had a deep intellectual involvement and emotional relationship with the crisis in Sri Lanka. It was due to the knowledge and discipline I had acquired through perceiving and evaluating the crisis well in advance that I was able to analyse it and make suggestions as to how it should be overcome as soon as Sri Lanka fell into the abyss.

At the time when the country has fallen into a state of bankruptcy and a massive public unrest had emerged in the form of the Aragalaya launched by the youth against president Gotabaya, I appealed to the protesters to take the Aragalaya into a constitutional framework without allowing it to be thrown into an anarchic state; and, at the same time I ventured to meet president Gotabaya and point out to him the importance of directing the country towards adopting a reform program that would make a profound change in the system which is corrupt, and handed over to him a list of reforms required to be introduced together with a methodology that could be adopted in implementing the proposed reforms.

What ought to be done?

I am not a political follower or a protagonist of Gotabaya. During the presidential election, my stance was that Gotabaya was not a suitable person to be appointed the president of the country because he remained indicted with serious allegations. Despite my stance regarding Gotabaya, in the face of the country falling into a state of bankruptcy, I ventured to meet him with my reforms proposals, not with the intention of gaining undue advantage, but with the view to persuading him to direct the country to a reform program without delay, and thereby reduce the possible destruction to the country. Not only did he express his agreement with my proposal, but also he had enlightened Ranil Wickremesinghe about it when the latter was appointed the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister also spoke to me about the proposal. It is interesting to mention that I had held two rounds of talks previously with Ranil Wickremesinghe about a reform program even before the country went bankrupt. Late Mangala Samaraweera also participated in those discussions. Three of us knew that the country was heading towards a big crisis. We had a rough idea about the need for intervention at an appropriate time and about the reforms to be introduced.

When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed the presidency, I felt that the opportunity had arisen to lead the country to a reform program. For that purpose I decided to extend my voluntary support to President Ranil Wickremesinghe without expecting any payment or personal benefit. After all, it is an essential condition to create a common consensus among the parties representing the legislature for launching a profound program of reforms. To achieve that purpose, we (the People’s Movement for Reforms) met the leaders of major political parties and discussed this issue with them.

The list of political leaders whom we met and discussed is as follows: Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), Maithripala Sirisena, leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Rauff Hakeem, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Basil Rajapaksa, National Organiser, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), M.A. Sumanthiran, media spokesperson of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Mano Ganesan, leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), Douglas Devananda, leader of the Elam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and Champika Ranawaka, leader of the 43rd Brigade.

The purpose of discussing with all of them was to explain the need for having a profound reforms program and the importance of creating a common consensus for adopting a framework which is acceptable to all of them, and would not allow anyone to act arbitrarily in implementing the reforms program. The need for having a profound reform program was accepted by all the leaders. It must be said that the time spent by some leaders for these discussions ranged from two to three hours.

It was evident from some of the statements published in social media that the discussion held with Basil Rajapaksa, the National Organiser of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), has caused great anger in some people. It is not difficult to understand that it was a special situation that has been created and maintained purposefully and systematically rather than being a natural or spontaneous reaction. Many of those who have commented had demonstrated amply, the negative characteristics such as poverty of their knowledge, sometimes their stupidity, political bigotry and their lumpen heritage. The failure of a country is not only an indicator of the failure of politicians and officials alone, but it should also be considered as an indicator of the failure of academics and the professionals of the country as well.

The black market economy of the country is larger than the formal economy. The size of the lumpen social group in the country is also unusually large. It can be said that the lumpen-style debase rowdy language has become the accepted linguistic usage of the revolution and the revolutionary academia. Due to political bigotry or bias, some are inclined to think that the crisis in the country is a matter to be solved by a government elected of their choice and not through the reforms implemented by the incumbent government. Also, they seem to think that whatever may be the reforms to be introduced, they should be implemented in the absence of those representing the Pohottuwa party.

Could the country survive without solving this crisis until the next government comes to power? What will happen to the country if no one gets enough power to form a government in the next election? Since the ruling power rests on the Pohottuwa party, a reform program cannot be implemented without the support of that party. If the Pohottuwa should not be involved in the reform program on the basis that it is corrupt and has committed serious mistakes, then, the same accusation can be levelled more or less against every party that has ruled the country and represented the parliament. Sri Lanka has received a golden opportunity for introducing profound reforms. If this opportunity is not utilised properly, there is no doubt that the nation will be compelled to pay a big compensation for missing it.

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