Sri Lanka Guardian Essays - Page 5

Are these floods in Pakistan an ‘act of God’?

Calamities are familiar to the people of Pakistan who have struggled through several catastrophic earthquakes, including those in 2005, 2013, and 2015 (to name the most damaging), as well as the horrendous floods of 2010. However, nothing could prepare the


No Peaceful Multipolar World Anytime Soon: Underestimating US Power is Dangerous

“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.” Sun Tzu

But it turns out there isn’t really any military threat by the United states. Not only [has the U.S] and NATO run out of normal military arms, but America really can’t mount a land war anymore. There will never be another Vietnam. There will never be the United States invading another country, or Europe invading any other country, because you’ll never get a population willing to be drafted, [since] the anti-war movement. And without that, America has only one military leader against other countries: the hydrogen bomb. There is nothing in between a targeted assassination attempt and an atom bomb.” Michael Hudson &Radhika Desai

Both [Russia and China] are strong — and Russia is more advanced technologically than China in their advanced offensive and defensive missile development, and can beat the US in a nuclear war as Russian air space is sealed by layered defenses such as the S-400 all the way to the already tested S-500s and designed S-600s….Beijing’s strategic priority has been to carefully develop a remarkably diverse set of energy-suppliers. If China has so far proven masterly in the way it has played its cards in its Pipelineistan “war,” the US hand — bypass Russia, elbow out China, isolate Iran — may soon be called for what it is: a bluff.Pepe Escobar


Come on, Russia “can beat the US in a nuclear war.” Really? Even President Valdimir Putin decried the use of nuclear weapons. According to Reuters, “Putin said…there could be no winners in a nuclear war and no such war should ever be started.”  For how  nuclear war between the two nation states might pan out go visit Princeton University’s Science and Global Security website. There you will find an unsettling computer simulation known as PLAN A that assesses “the consequences of nuclear war under different assumptions. Attack scenarios are constrained by the size and capabilities of existing arsenals and weapons systems including delivery vehicle range, the footprint of the Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) that carry nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles, and hard target kill capability. The simulation tool incorporates an atmospheric transport model to assess nuclear fallout for each attack scenario.

TheNord Stream pipelines have been destroyed. My guess is that it was US Navy DEVGRU guys and a Virginia Class submarine that carried them in. Right up their alley. That was no bluff, I think.

There is no antiwar movement in  the United States that has any influence on US military or political actions. But there are soldiers who are bored, doing drugs and aching for war.  “This is what happens when there is no war, no direction, and an 18-month red cycle with no mission,” a Special Forces soldier said. “So dudes are fucking around…and the craziest drugs. All these lives ruined because people are just bored.”ConnectingVeterans

That young soldier may not have long to wait to cure his boredom on the battlefield killing “the other” in Ukraine.

Cracks in the BRICS

Multipolarity? Belt and Road Initiative? Forget about it for now, or for the foreseeable future. For those notions to be birthed a global war will have to take place to dislodge the United States.

The BRICS? Consider that Brazil has severe internal problems: poverty chief amongst them. There is also the threat of a coup and so it could be tough for the new president (Lula) to hang on. How about China? I doubt it as China fears a confrontation with United States, as it is a large holder of US Treasury notes. If a war came, they would never receive their payout. Further, China has not fought any major wars recently and thus their military is untested. Already, the US is crushing their semiconductor chip market through economic warfare.

India? They have a long standing territorial rivalry with China and are very wary of Chinese espionage and instigating on its borders. India’s poverty level is off the charts, compared to Brazil’s. It may be the largest democracy on the planet but it society still runs a caste system and tensions between religious sects (Hindi, Islam) is a real problem. And let’s not forget about Kashmir. According to Wikipedia, “Today, the term encompasses a larger area that includes the Indian-administered territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the Pakistani-administered territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, and the Chinese-administered territories of Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract.”

And Russia? Well, it is already fighting United States’ weapons systems, operational contractors, ISR aircraft, CIA operatives, and US defense contractors/mercenaries. When the US sets up a no-fly zone over Western and then Eastern Ukraine, it’ll be just a couple of steps, or mistakes, until full scale ground combat between the US and Russia takes place. Already, there are reports that the US is considering arming Ukraine with long range missiles that can reach Crimea. Russia stands alone against the West, a west that does not understand that Russians view the war as an existential crisis. Their way of life is threatened. And the Satanic hatred that Americans and Europeans have toward Russia is astonishing but it is engendered by Western governments and their hatred is broadcast by the MSM, an MSM which is owned by wealthy corporations, who, in fact, tell their populations how to think.

The US Military Just Sits Around?

So, according to critics, the US government/military is a ghost of itself and unprepared for industrial war and/or a per opponent. Let’s check that assumption out. We’ll turn to the US Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) “Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress”

US defense strategy is currently designed to prevent “the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia.” That strategy is based on US policy maker’s assessments (dating back to President Obama’s administration) that Eurasia is not “self-regulating” in that the countries of Eurasia can’t be relied upon to use their forces to stop a country that wants to dominate the region. That is viewed as a threat to US policymakers. For example; if China wanted to control, by force, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, who would rally to stop them? Would the Shanghai Cooperation Organization step in the way? No, the USA would.

So, the US defense department’s force structure is designed based on a “policy decision” made in Washington, to inhibit by threat or action an attempt by China or Russia to overrun other nations in Eurasia or the Pacific (think Taiwan). That means it has the capability to deploy military assets far afield from the US mainland (and from forward bases; e.g., Qatar, Bahrain). The package includes long range bombers like the B-2 and B-52; a naval battle group that includes, for example, a Nimitz Class carrier, Virginia Class submarines; Aegis warships; troop transports by air (C-10) and sea (Marine amphibious assault ships), ISR capabilities (RC-135V, satellites and drones).

Fighting Russians in the American Desert

For the past few years now the United States has emphasized planning that focuses on high-end conventional warfare, according to CRS. “Many DOD acquisitions, exercises and warfighting experiments have been initiated, accelerated, increased in scope, given higher priority, or had their continuation justified as consequence of the renewed US emphasis on high-end warfare.” For example, a warfighting experiment is taking place at the US Army’s Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert. A mockup of an urban town you might find in Ukraine , along with open terrain that surrounds the town, has been built. The Red Team uses Russian tactics to try and defeat the US Blue Team using its combined armed tactics (drones and electronic warfare are a key part of the exercise).

A peaceful multipolar world? I don’t think so.

Russia can’t create one alone.

Russia is as ready as it can be for the US boots on the ground in Ukraine. It will stand alone while its “friends” watch. And the USA knows for the first time in decades it will have to fight to get to the fight. Hard times ahead.

It is going to be a violent road to get to a multipolar world where nations don’t act ruthlessly in their own interests. I wish I could live to see how it all ends. Don’t we all?

Find and Read Please, Dig Deeper

How the US military is shaping the environment for Ukraine and wider war: Military Information Support Operations, MISO, Joint Publication 3-13.2

The US has astronomical power. Study them here: Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare. FM 3‐05.130

What does Ranil Wickremasinghe have up his sleeve? 

Whatever it is, equipped with his education, native intelligence and acquired political wisdom, he will be able to hold the country whole until it passes lawfully into the hands of the uncorrupt patriotic young generation that is waiting in the wings in patient silence (not into those of the ignorant noisy buffoons in the ‘aragalaya‘). 

A number of sacrilegious attacks have been made in recent times on the Sri Dalada (the Sacred Tooth Relic) in Kandy, astonishingly by some Buddhists. The two most recent instances are: Sepala Amerasinghe, an elderly YouTuber, committing repeated verbal sacrilege by calling the Tooth Relic a ‘labba’ (an impolite word implying a pendant male sexual organ) in his videos; the other instance may be described as a form of desecration of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy where the the Tooth Relic is housed: a kind of faith-healing veda mahattaya/native physician (a notorious charlatan and a crooked businessman according to social media accounts) by the name of Janaka C. Senadhipathi is building at Potuhera, Kurunegala, an unauthorized replica of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, claiming that the sacred relic will be miraculously transported to his new shrine from the Kandy Sri Dalada Maligawa, which according to him, is polluted by the materialistic corruption of its present custodians). It is ironic that these acts take place (by design or coincidence) only a few days after president Ranil Wickremesinghe showed his desire to have a special exposition of the Dalada ahead of the next independence day due to be held in February. The president is obviously hoping to achieve something of tremendous importance for the nation that he seems to think is significant enough to be celebrated with a Dalada exhibition. What this epoch making development probably is not a mystery to adult Sri Lankans who have some idea about the dynamics of post-independence politics in Sri Lanka. It must be something to do with the final settlement of the so-called Tamil national problem or the implementation of 13A+.

This confronts the nation with a dilemma concerning Ranil Wickremesinghe as everybody’s  (225 in parliament’s and the general public’s) refuge/saviour: it is the general public perception that, at this moment, there is no political leader who can at least try to bring about some sort of economic stability to the country except Ranil Wickremasinghe. But will he be able to garner enough parliamentary support to implement 13A+? To compound the confusion, there is the problem of holding the lawfully scheduled local government elections, the likely result of which will not strengthen the mutually dependent parliament+president combine, nor benefit the nation economically or politically. The people will question: Why are you so particular about sticking to the electoral laws at this critical juncture where the flagrant violation of other existing vital laws such as the antiquities ordinances has introduced a previously non-existent religious and racial dimension to the country’s political divisions? But be that as it may. Let’s return to our present topic.

Since the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka in the 4th century CE (this is well recorded in the Mahavamsa and other chronicles), a tradition evolved according to which the ruler of the island acquired the legitimacy of his sovereignty by virtue of the possession of the sacred relic. The Dalada was held in a shrine within the palace complex. The shrine itself later came to be called ‘Maligawa’ or palace, the residence of the king, because of this connection between sovereignty and the sacred relic. Due to this reason, the Dalada was subject to changing hands between external invaders or internal rivals and the reigning monarchs in troublous times, as happened several times before the European advent in the island and after. The desacralization of the sacred relic and the attempted dilution of the sanctity of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy could be premeditated. Though it is  well known that the Dalada has neither any connection with, nor bears any responsibility for, the current economic and political crises, it has become a target for attack concerning even natural disasters. Sepala Amerasinghe mentioned above, before calling the Dalada a ‘labba’ for which offence he has been arrested and remanded till January 17, blamed the recent floods in Kandy caused by heavy rain on the ‘kunu datha’ (rotten tooth) in one of his videos. This was an oblique reference to the traditionally held belief among Buddhists that the Dalada has rain making powers. Such beliefs (and relic worship itself for that matter) are not found in Theravada Buddhism, but are imports from the Mahayana tradition which are now part of the local Buddhist religious culture.

So there seems to be a deliberate attempt by certain inimical forces  to dilute or totally negate the symbolic power of the Sacred Tooth Relic for the majority Sinhalese Buddhist polity. It is the bounden duty of the government on behalf of all concerned citizens to investigate what sinister force is behind these incidents and take remedial action. But there are no blasphemy laws in Buddhism. When a TouTuber brought the ‘kunu data’ insult to their notice by phone, the Anu Nayake Theras of both Malwatte showed little concern about it. It was when several concerned lay Buddhists complained to them again about Sepala Amerasinghe repeatedly making sacrilegious statements that the Mahanayake Theras and the Diyawadana Nilame, the guardian of the Maligawa, wrote to the president about it.

Incidentally, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to be lurking protectively behind Senadhipathi. The former’s erstwhile sidekick Mervin Silva visited Potuhera, and ordered the demolition of the front part of the building in question, declaring that there should be only one Dalada Maligawa, the one in Kandy and that the rest of structures in the place must remain. Mervin Silva was reported to have threatened with death social activist Nilantha Ranasinghe who had raised the issue in public and exposed Senadhipathi’s questionable activities with audio, video and print evidence. Mervin Silva told another YouTuber (named Chaturanga Bandara) that Mahinda Rajapaksa phoned him to thank him for what he did.)  Mahinda exploited the nationalist groundswell to sweep the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections against the previous infamous yahapalanaya led by prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and president Maithripala Sirisena; but he totally betrayed that victory through the entrenched corruption he supported among his stooges and his own obsession with dynastic rule, which ultimately brought repeatedly rejected Ranil Wickremasinghe to the helm. Mahinda seems to have so morally weakened in parallel with his obvious physical degeneration as to make a futile attempt to salvage his lost popularity among the Buddhist voters by championing fake ‘Bosath’ Janaka Senadhipathi, with the help of thuggish Mervin. 

To return to the beginning, the media reported (December 24, 2022) that a request that president Ranil Wickremasinghe made for a special exposition of the Sacred Tooth Relic before February 2023 when Sri Lanka completes seventy-five years of independence did not get a positive response from either of the two Ven. Mahanayake Theras of the Siam Nikaya, Malwatte and Asgiriya, in Kandy, who are joint custodians of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The president’s request was conveyed to the prelates in a letter from him personally delivered to them by prime minister Dinesh Gunawardane, who expressly called on them for the purpose. The Malwatte prelate, according to the news reports, suggested that the PM should approach the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera about this as it is the latter’s turn at the moment to be in charge of the service at the Dalada Maligawa. When the premier visited the  Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera with the president’s proposal or appeal, the latter wonderingly asked him  if a Tooth Relic exposition at this juncture wasn’t a difficult task to perform.

With hindsight one would hazard a guess that the two Buddhist prelates of the Siam Nikaya, namely the Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera of the Malwatte Chapter and the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, especially the former, might accommodate the presidential wish, if  Buddhist public opinion also favours it. There are two other nikayas, Ramanna and Amarapura, which signed an agreement to merge in August 2019; the expected merger was a step in the right direction, for the Maha Sangha unity is indispensable for the survival of the Buddhasasanaya as a religious cultural establishment. The living component of the Buddhasasanaya is the ‘sivvanak pirisa’ or the fourfold community of male and female bhikshus and male and female lay Buddhists. This is not a political entity, but a religious one, though it needs state protection (just as it enjoyed full royal patronage under Sinhala kings before the time of foreign invasions); in this, the Sinhala Buddhist community  is not different from other religious communities. (In Sri Lanka, 70% of the ethnically and religiously diverse total population comprise Buddhists.) No religion is more compatible with the best form of government evolved to date, democracy than Buddhism, though it is not your average religion. Bhikkhus and Bhikshunis may personally hold different political views, and even exercise their voting rights as they please, as citizens, but it is not proper for them to engage in partisan politics, because that would definitely cause divisions within the fourfold community of Buddhists. The clergy must leave active politics involving campaigning and electioneering entirely to the lay Buddhists. May the Mahanayakes have the wisdom to tell the president not to desecrate the Sri Dalada by dragging it into politics.

However, traditionally and historically, Buddhist monks have wielded great power over the Buddhist community including the rulers. Currently though, they are becoming increasingly powerless, mainly because of their meddling in politics, patronizing corrupt politicians, and also because of the Mahanayake Theras’ incomprehensible inaction and disunity. President Wickremesinghe’s seemingly cynical suggestion must be viewed in this context. Is he, through having a special Tooth Relic exposition held to coincide with the implementation of whatever solution he proposes to the Tamil ethnic problem, trying to make palatable to the Sinhala Buddhist majority something they would not normally look upon with favour. Is he bringing back an earlier unpopular deal that sent him and his party home at the hustings? But Ranil is too intelligent to repeat past errors.

I am tempted to say this because Ranil Wickremesinghe, unlike his predecessors Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, does not usually make a show of unfelt religious piety for hoodwinking the masses. If he wants, he uses religion in a more street-smart way. Unlike the latter duo again, he is no religious hypocrite; he doesn’t even care to show if he is really a Buddhist (which of course is right, and befits a genuine Buddhist). The important thing, I think, is that he seems to know that ordinary Buddhist voters, true to their faith, do not worry too much about whether he is a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist. (Unfortunately, however, global scale media distortion against them demonizes Sinhalese Buddhists as racist chauvinists and religious fanatics simply because circumstances force them to raise their voice when their human rights are violated by others (such as unethical conversion of Buddhists, encroachment or vandalizing or desecration of Buddhist archaeological sites, deliberate distortion of historical and Buddhist doctrinal facts).

What is happening in Sri Lanka in this respect, hardly recognized or taken seriously by the global powers that be, is doubtlessly a crime against humanity carried out by an externally well funded medley of subversive organizations and individuals, that is getting more and more explicit and more and more overpowering in the Sri Lanka’s present economically and politically debilitated situation. It can be argued that the same forces that are behind this insidious barbarity are at least partly responsible for worsening the political and economic maelstrom that is currently engulfing Sri Lanka, despite the abundance of  rich natural resources and the  high quality of the human resources locally available, both of which its citizens can be justly proud of.

For president Wickremasinghe to want a special Dalada exposition he must be contemplating to consecrate, as it were, something momentous like a nationally important historic event concurrently with government celebrations that will mark the completion of seventy-five years of independence (whatever the last word is held to mean) from British colonial occupation. When it comes to true freedom from Britain, we believe that the 1948 independence was eclipsed by the promulgation of the republican constitution in 1972 under the United Front government of Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike. Yet, it looks like that Wickremasinghe wants to return to the Western fold by ignoring the 1972 change, which was not supported by the Illankei Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Lanka Tamil Kingdom/State Party/or misleadingly called the Federal Party in English) founded in 1949 by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, an immigrant Tamil from Malaysia. (The clamour for a separate state for Tamils started soon after the grant of so-called independence, which was actually nothing more than dominion status. The 1972 declaration of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was until then known among foreigners and English speaking locals) as a republic severed that last link with the  British empire.

 Sri Lankans are a democratic people. Ranil Wickremesinghe or any other political leader could easily accommodate the legitimate interests of the global and regional superpowers that the country’s geographical location makes it obligatory for it to satisfy, if he did it with the people’s full democratic approval, while at the same time preserving their national dignity, sovereignty and independence.     

When in 2019 Wickremesinghe and the UNP that he still leads got kicked out of parliament, he had spent forty-two years in that august body as elected member serving repeatedly in responsible senior positions over that long period as cabinet minister, opposition leader, and prime minister, and now as president at least by default. Ranil Wickremasinghe the politician has nothing more to win or lose in his life; he has nothing to look forward to, except perhaps a dignified obituary. But he suddenly finds ‘greatness thrust upon him’ by a strange turn of events in a context where  Sri Lankans of all religious and political persuasions are up against the wall economically and politically. The Sinhalese Buddhists, in addition to this adverse global predicament experienced, not only in Sri Lanka, but across most of the world outside, are simply facing a form of cultural genocide as argued above. It is expediently connived at by our corrupt traitorous self-seeking politicians and blithely indulged by an apparently unconcerned, blissfully ignorant Maha Sangha.

Ranil Wickremasinghe can still use his intellectual superiority and political acumen to rescue our nation.

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

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 –

Where are we heading in 2023?

One mistake we normally make in analysing the situation or crisis in Sri Lanka is to do it in isolation. Sri Lanka is unfortunately only a part of a world system. Although this situation is valid to almost all other countries, smaller or weaker a country, larger are the effects of external factors. Strategic importance also playing a part of the equation. Even before colonialism, there had been waves of civilisational expansions from major or larger countries into surrounding areas and countries. These happened in regional contexts until the advent of colonialism.

Colonialism and accompanied capitalism are the major trends that brought the world into an interrelated system where Western countries apparently dominate until today. Nevertheless, countries like China, Russia and many parts of the Middle East resist and confront Western influences although there is a clear symmetry between the West and them in terms market economies and capitalism. The role of India is much more nuanced.

Global Realities?

Are there possibilities of socialism in Sri Lanka or any other country soon? It is quite unlikely although the country’s name remains as the ‘democratic socialist republic.’ What might be appropriate is to promote ‘socialist’ or ‘social democratic’ values within society and economy beginning with the educational system. Although this advocacy may appear theoretical, given the enormous problems that the poor and the disadvantaged people face today, there is space and need for such a promotion. This could be done both in the name of socialism and/or human rights in the socio-economic sphere. Nordic countries are the best examples that Sri Lanka or any other country could follow. Australia and New Zealand also give examples. However, to follow those footsteps the economy should be sustainably developed.

The world and humanity are at a particular juncture today. In the year 2022 that we are now completing or even before, the survival crises that the world and humanity are facing were obvious. Of course, the scientists, paid by businessmen and politicians, might be able to transport some people into the moon, if the world becomes a place of inhabitation. Some parts are already socially inhabitable. The over-exploitation of nature and the earth is the main reason for this situation. The climate change has gone in the direction of global warming. Not only the temperatures have changed, but also the weather patterns. The main reasons are the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) and cutting down of forests. At present, Americas are facing extreme cold or ice waves.

Even countries like Australia have seen uncontrollable forest fires and devastating floods. America is the same with many other countries. Among other factors, what has been neglected or unrecognised is the geographical change. The world today is experiencing probably the highest possible number of people living on the earth, exceeding eight billion. Of course their living conditions are uneven from rich countries to the poor ones. There is no question about building houses and other buildings for their necessities. However, the world is competitively building cities and metropolises covering the earth with concrete and cement without allowing the earth to absorb rainwater. Uncontrollable floods are the result.

Some Principles to Promote

Without gas for cooking, oil for transport and coal for electricity at reasonable prices, ordinary people in Sri Lanka cannot live a decent life. However, all these are the causes of global warming and climate change. Just war in Ukraine cannot be blamed for all these scarcities and price hikes. The ever dragging on war in Ukraine in itself shows the crisis the world community facing today. The UN has terribly failed on this matter of peace keeping and peace promotion.

The world is in a terrible crisis. Not only Sri Lanka. This should moderate our responses while steadfastly promoting our democratic values and principles. What could be our principles? Some of them in my opinion are follows.

1. Uniting all citizens in the country transcending ethnic, religious, gender, generational and other differences. Uniting with citizens of other countries again irrespective of above and other reginal or historical differences. India is our closest friend and country. Common humanity and universalism should be our principles while protecting cultural rights of all communities and regional diversity.

2. Poor and their grievances should be our policy priorities also focusing on the disadvantaged, marginalised, and the neglected sections. Not only the advocacy of women’s rights but also practical programmes to protect them should take primacy. Family violence against not only women but also children should be eliminated. Reforming of men’s values and practices should be one area through education and dialogue.

3. In the political sphere, defence of democracy and democratic values should take prominence. It means the practice of democracy not only in the political sphere but also in the family, educational system, industrial relations, and personal matters. Elections should be held regularly and timely. Man made economic crisis or difficulties should not be an excuse for the delay or not holding elections.

4. Economic crisis is the main reason for the current and recent political crisis. What has been proved is the inability of the Ministers responsible, and the Secretaries and other key bureaucrats (i.e. Governor of the Central Bank) responsible for the managing of the economy, balance of payments and income-expenditure or the Budget of the country. In the case of foreign debt, it is revealed that different past governments have not even been keeping the records properly. What has been the reason for this irresponsibility? Irresponsibility itself is one. The background of that undoubtedly comes from politics, political manipulations, duplicity, and double-dealings. These are not unknown to other countries. But Sri Lanka has come easily to the top of the list.

5. How come that Sri Lanka has degenerated to this much of low level? There has been a deep moral degeneration among the educated and also among the people. There have been discussions on who is primarily responsible for the country’s economic disaster. Of course, people are also greatly responsible for the country’s predicament. But the politicians should take the primary responsibility as they are elected to manage and develop the economy. There should be a strong movement against bribery, corruption, fraud, and economic mismanagement. That should embrace all levels of economic and political management.

Prospect for Future?

2023 appears quite bleak for the whole world. Irrespective of vaccinations or antiviral drugs, Covid 19 in many forms is spreading while giving death to the most vulnerable. China is again facing the most devastating effects while vacillating between zero Covid policy and now allowing freedom for the young to gather and go ahead with their routines. China is one of the countries which has neglected the natural geography in achieving modern development. New cities and concrete/cement structures are all over. All countries are experiencing extreme weather conditions. At present, America and Canada are engulfed in extreme winter storms unprecedented in their history.

War in Ukraine will not be subsided. Although the Western media believes that Russia is at the receiving end, the strategy of Putin appears to be different. While the new recruits and old armaments are overwhelmingly used, the strategy appears to be to modernise and strengthen the armed forces and armaments in the process. We are at the brink of a Third World War with the danger of nuclear confrontations.

Equally alarming is the developing violent internal conflicts spreading even in established democratic countries. America and Donald Trump have supplied an ‘exemplary’ example! No election appears to transfer power without controversy and violence. This is something Sri Lanka should avoid although it has a history of election violence. Apart from controversies over the transfer of power, in many Western countries racial violence and conflicts are emerging or remerging. France is the nearest example. After killing of three Kurdish people on racial grounds, streets in Paris are engulfed in protests, counter protests, and violence.

The reasons for these riots and violence are not only racial, but combined with economic and social grievances. The world economy is not going to be better in 2023 than in 2022. Unless there is a strong movement to address the economic issues and calm down the people and youth, there could be violence and chaos in many countries. Sri Lanka would be the same. All political parties in the government and in the opposition, trade unions, religious organisations, and NGOs, all should try to come to a common understanding while working jointly as much as possible in the coming future. Otherwise, the prospects for the new year 2023 would be extremely bleak.

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 in 2023: Saffron, Kurahan, Red or Green?

“Winds don’t blow as ships desire.” ~ Arabic proverb

Before Gotabaya Rajapaksa, there was SWRD Bandaranaike. Before Organic Only, there was Sinhala Only. And the related transformation of Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara from monastic colleges to secular universities. Like Sinhala Only, this was an election promise; like Sinhala Only, this was implemented with no forethought or planning.

The first signs of the coming malaise were evident by 1962 prompting the government to appoint a three-member Universities Commission, headed by DCR Gunwardane. In its report, made public in 1963, the Commission called the 1958 bill an ‘ill-considered and irresponsible’ piece of legislation pushed through by ‘political Bhikkus’ who “dictated policies, dominated public affairs, and incited actions which people in their normal senses would have considered even possible.” These political monks were also “responsible in large measure for inflaming the racial and religious passions that erupted in such sickening fashion in the early part of 1958,” the Report pointed out. The commissioners, all of them Buddhist civil servants, concluded that as “the higher education of Bhikku and higher education of the laity cannot be brought under one organisation, the two pirivena universities should cease to exist at the earliest possible moment.” The fusion, if continued, “would have a disastrous effect on the entire Sangha,” the Report warned.  (All quotes are from Prof. HL Seneviratne’s The Work of Kings).

The warning was ignored and the Report consigned to oblivion even though the Commission was appointed in response to widespread societal concerns about the effect of the two universities on ‘mahanakama’ (monkness) and the ‘Buddhist way of life’. Sixty years later, those fears have been fully realised. A new definition of ‘monkness’ and of ‘Buddhist way of life’ is now entrenched. The horrendous tales emerging from the Buddhist and Pali University are not anomalies but symbolic of these transformed notions of monkness and Buddhist way of life. Monks (with a few honourable exceptions) have become key engines of violence, intolerance, and ignorance in society.

In Buddhism Betrayed, SJ Tambaiah tried to understand and explain how a teaching based on compassion and loving kindness towards all beings became a religion of violent hatred. The monks of today are the rightful adherents not of what the Buddha taught but of this ‘betrayed Buddhism’, a creed devoid of all moral-ethical underpinnings and reduced to a body of mostly meaningless rituals.

During the initial idealistic phase of the Aragalaya, a young protestor in Kandy was pictured holding a hand-drawn poster depicting a rogues’ gallery of top pro-Rajapaksa monks, with a telling caption: Become Ordained at least now. In the same week, when a political monk tried to join a protest in Battaramulla, he was respectfully told to leave. In those early days, the Aragalaya was not only non-party; it was also secular. That promise would soon turn out to be a mirage. Saffron robes and cassocks became a common sight, with some even acting as the public face of the movement.

Political Bhikkus are a key component of the Lankan malaise. Yet, like politicians, they see themselves as The Solution. Walavahangunawave Dhammarathana thero, the chief incumbent of the Mihintale temple, is the latest monk to succumb to this delusion publicly. In June 2020, he was praising Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his ‘wise leadership’ and thanking him for ‘saving the country from Covid-19 and promoting indigenous production’. In August 2022, he was calling Ranil Wickremesinghe a leader with ‘foresight’. Now he is on the warpath against all politicians. He has given the authorities a month to relieve the poor of their economic miseries. If the government fails to do so by next poya day, he wants people to get out onto the streets and throw out, well basically everyone.

Whether this is another flash in the pan or the prelude to a serious upheaval remains to be seen. Equally unknown is the story behind this sudden emergence, as sudden as that of Galagoda-atte Gnanasara. Is this new saffron-robed rebel chief his own man or an unwitting pawn? Either way, this latest attempt to fuse religion and politics even more tightly, to uphold the myth of Saviour-monk, again, doesn’t augur well for 2023.

Last week, Iran publicly executed a second unarmed protestor, Majidreza Rahnavard. It is instructive to remember that the mullahs were once liberators, courageous resisters to the Shah’s authoritarianism. Religion and politics is a deadly combination. Bad for politics, worse for religion, worst for the people who fail to maintain an unbridgeable wall between salvation in this world and next.

A Worrying Vacuum

The latest results of the Institute of Health Policy’s opinion tracker survey paint a picture that is fascinating and disturbing in near equal measure. If the question is Who is the most popular of them all, the answer seems to be none (at least according to the data made public).  If the question is Who is the least unpopular of them all, then the answer is Ranil Wickremesinghe. His net unpopularity rating is the lowest at 45%. Sajith Premadasa is the most unpopular political leader with a net unpopularity rating of 57%. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a net unpopularity rating of 51% and Anura Kumara Dissanayake a net unpopularity rating of 55%.

If that is the fascinating part, the worrying part is the remarkable decline of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s unpopularity. He is now less unpopular than either Sajith Premadasa or Anura Kumara Dissanayake and within touching distance of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Recently a group of Lankan boat people were rescued by a Japanese vessel in Vietnamese waters and handed over to Vietnamese authorities. The Lankans were headed to Canada, but didn’t mind being sent anywhere so long as it wasn’t Sri Lanka. That wasn’t the country the Rajapaksas inherited in 2019; that was country they were compelled to relinquish in 2022. Not that they consider themselves blameworthy in anyway. “If people were patient a little more, the economic crisis would have been resolved,” Basil Rajapaksa said in a recent TV interview.

“The Aragalaya is over, what is the difference?” Basil Rajapaksa asks in the same interview, opting not to see, for example, that there are no fuel or gas queues, because Aragalaya got rid of President Rajapaksa, PM Rajapaksa, and Finance Minister Rajapaksa. His answer to the SLPP being a family party is to tell us to look at North Korea, Kim Il-sung succeeded by his son and grandson. When questioned about the preponderance of Rajapaksas in the SLPP, he answers, “If that is what the people of this country hopes for…” When asked if he’s willing to give up US citizenship or angling for another constitutional change, he turns coy saying he is willing to act “according to need”.

The Rajapaksas still create their own facts, live in their parallel universe, believe themselves to be inerrant, and are committed to familial power and dynastic succession. And at least one of them has become way less unpopular, which turns a Rajapaksa comeback from a mere theoretical possibility into a very real one.

Commenting on Jair Bolsonaro, Yascha Mounk says, “Brazil is yet another indication that the threat from authoritarian populists is here to stay” (The Atlantic –4.11.2022). He calls this the new normal, something democracies must learn to manage. A truth applicable to Sri Lanka as well. The Brazilian case is instructive in another sense. Jair Bolsonaro was a deeply unpopular incumbent. Lula, the challenger, was probably Brazil’s most popular politician. Yet the presidential election went into a second round. Lula’s eventual margin of victory was disturbingly narrow. Populism’s obituary is ever premature. It’s more a vampire that rises from the dead when democracy undermines its own credibility and democrats are too busy with their childish squabbles to see the looming shadow.

As Basil Rajapaksa makes clear in his interview, the Family, like President Wickremesinghe, is playing a waiting game. If Mr. Wickremesinghe fails to maintain living standards at least at the current low levels, if there are huge hikes in the prices of essential goods or services or long power cuts, if the necessary privatisation of state enterprises is not handled carefully (as Mangala Samaraweera did with Telecom), the SLPP will move into the oppositional space. Given current economic trends, that day may not be far ahead.

Three examples suffice. Economic contraction worsened in third quarter. 193billion rupees worth of gold was pawned in the first 10 months of 2022, mostly by middle class people, mainly for educational and agricultural purposes, according to a study by Prof Wasantha Atukorale of the University of Peradeniya. 6.3million people are food insecure.

The breakup of the UNP in early 2020 was a key causative factor of the current disaster. Had the UNP faced the election as a single party, the Rajapaksas would not have gained a near two-thirds majority. Without that massive majority, and the validation conferred by it, the Rajapaksas may have steered clear of some of the more extreme measures, such as Organic Only and the 20th Amendment.

Correcting that seminal error might be a way to prevent a Rajapaksa comeback either as kingmakers or kings. The main differences between the UNP and the SJB are not political or ideological, but personal, a sense of pique, thwarted ambitions. If leaders on both sides can rise above their personal animosities and petty concerns (not an easy thing to do, as history demonstrates again and again), an understanding is possible. A reconstituted UNP can then build the same working relationship with the JVP that enabled the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 and the progressive reforms that stemmed from it, such as the 19th Amendment, the restoration of judicial independence, and the right to information act.

Healing the UNP-SJB breach might be the only way Sri Lanka can emerge from the economic morass with not-too-high a cost. If the breach continues, it could hasten a descent into social violence, a return of the Rajapaksas, or possibly, and sequentially, both.

The Extremist Gene  

“People began to feel that the Ceylon University catered more to the elite society, absorbing western ideas and ignoring all that was indigenous,” wrote Ms. NGD Sirimanne (Ratnapala) in her MA thesis, The Evolution of Higher Education in Sri Lanka. “The emergence of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna in 1956 was the result of this grievous Cultural Consciousness. Thus began the need to establish a University ‘much like ourselves’.”

A key impulse behind the changes of 1956 was the desire to level down instead of raise up. Those who stood in the way of that drive towards the lowest common denominator were condemned as traitors, reactionaries or both. Tribalism, racial, religious, and social, was made coterminous with patriotism. Insularity was enthroned as a moral good, forgetting the positives we received from across the seas, starting with the teachings of the Buddha.

Sixty years on, we have universities ‘much like ourselves’ where no difference is tolerated, ignorance is no bar to advancement, and violence is the first and preferred way of settling a dispute. The relationship between society and university is a two-way street, microcosm and macrocosm interacting with and on each other in an endless spiral. We are a less civilized and more barbaric country than we were before these changes were introduced.

During a ceremony to honour outgoing US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican congressman and former speaker John Boehner said they often disagreed with each other but were never disagreeable to each other. “You can disagree without being disagreeable,” he emphasised. If democracy is to survive, political and civil society must practice the art of disagreeing forcefully without resorting to force.

This is perhaps the tolerance we lost, when we turned universities into spaces of exclusion, racial, religious, and social. If this tolerance survived in our universities, ragging would not have become torture and last week’s mob attack on the house and person of a former vice chancellor of Peradeniya would not have happened (even if the former VC’s son was inebriated and verbally abusive, as student leaders claim, as in mitigation).

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s repression of unarmed demonstrates and the JVP’s inability to unequivocally condemn Peradeniya mob violence are but two sides of the same intolerant coin. Janaka Thissakuttiarachahi of the SLPP and Nalin Bandara of the SJB were being equally uncivilised when they hurled sexist remarks at female parliamentarians. Hirunika Premachandra’s recent remarks on Ranil Wickremesinghe demonstrate yet again how far we have moved away from common decency. Politeness is not a class virtue, it’s a human virtue.

“We are a disaster.” This is a phrase Latin Americans use to refer to their contemporary condition, according to Ariel Dorfman in Other Septembers. If Sri Lanka’s economic disaster is not to turn it into a societal one, if this country is not to become an ungovernable, unliveable wasteland in 2023, restraint on the part of everyone would be necessary. Political, economic, social, and religious leaders should take the lead, but waiting for them to do so is no longer an affordable luxury. There is very little to choose between statal and anti-statal violence, if you are an ordinary citizen caught between those contending forces. We have lost much, but we could lose way more. 2023 may be the year we made the turn around, economically or socially, or the year we plummeted a depth too horrendous to contemplate, yet all too easy to imagine.


In my November column I said that the parliament would stand dissolved if the budget is defeated. I was wrong. It is the cabinet of ministers that would stand dissolved as per Article 48(2) of the Constitution. I apologise to the readers for this error. My thanks to Gamini Viyangoda for kindly bringing it to my notice.

Sri Lanka: Recontextualizing cheeky ‘Manape’


by Lakshman Dissanayake and Bernard Fernando on behalf of the LEADS Forum

1.      Background

A General election, if held under the current system in Sri Lanka without rectifying its covert critical system errors, will undoubtedly result in a Parliament that is not different from the current one. Therefore, these suggested necessary ‘system changes’ must be legalized before any election to ensure that we have a competent, trustworthy Parliament that can lead us to recover from the current political, economic and cultural crisis.

The First-Past-the-Post (FPP)System democracy is a thing of the past, primarily because many votes cast for the losing candidates are discarded, thereby distorting

 the final electoral representation. The Proportional Representation (PR)system is more democratic because almost all valid votes contribute to the election result.

Sri Lanka currently has a PR  system but its the primary objective of fair allocation of seats through equal value to valid votes has been distorted by the application of manipulative devices such as 22 Bonus seats, a minimum 5% District vote requirement and predetermined ‘District –wise’ allocation of seats leading to inaccuracies in the allocation of 196 seats. Besides, its value has been badly impaired by  Preference vote (manape – ‘මනාපේ’) and the  Mixed Member Voting (MMV) systems.

2.      The cheeky  ‘manape’  (මනාපේ) system

The original PR system (1978) had the ‘District Party candidate list in merit order’ as an integral adjunct. In 1981, it was replaced by the infamous ‘Preference Voting’ system (මනාපේ), a unique modification that erodes the value of the PR system. Further, the addition of the MMV system, which partially calculates a formula-based introduction of the FPP, also failed the ‘Litmus test ‘in the local government elections in 2018.

The ‘manape’ (මනාපේ) system should be scrapped because;

  1. The current ‘manape’ (මනාපේ) system allows the parachuting of candidates(Henchmen with ill-gotten money) to a District, based on the preferences of the ‘power hungry’ political party leaders to fatten their Vote Bank.
  2. It enables the party leaders to surreptitiously install and promote their own political and economic agendas that will benefit them contrary to the People’s wishes. 
  3. Honest, forthright and competent candidates lacking financial might and  those not loyal to the leader are likely to be excluded at this stage, making  a mockery of internal party ‘Democracy.’
  4. The ‘manape’ (මනාපේ) system also pushes the voters to be individual-centric for personal benefit without first heeding the policy manifestos of the contesting parties.
  5. It also promotes ‘party allegiance’ more than ‘voter allegiance’ among the elected politicians who raise their hands within the Parliament for their survival and to safeguard their candidacy in a future election instead of conforming to their manifestos or the public interest. This psyche is entrenched in the current political behaviour in the Country.
  6. It has also created internal rivalry among the same party candidates, leading to many corrupt activities and violent election campaigns, contributing to environmental degradation and violence.
  7. The laborious counting of preference votes has resulted  in re-count challenges,  enormous expenditure and wastage of time and resources of the Elections Dept
  8. It has contributed to undue delays in the release of Final results.

3.      The National list – not truly national

The appointment of defeated, non-elected and non-listed persons through the National list downgrades Democracy as it provides a backdoor to enter through corrupt deals for political expediency. Therefore, such provisions should be scrapped too, and the system should be changed to allow only relevant ‘Experts’ to be listed in the Party National list before the election and not to be changed after registration along with other nomination lists. Party National lists should be prepared transparently per unique criteria laid down by the National Election Commission (NEC) in the  Constitution, which needs to be amended accordingly to prevent sneaky changes post-election. NEC should be empowered and made accountable to implement the amended constitution’s provisions and spirit of the amended form. Please note the extreme example of a non-elected but appointed member of parliament(MP) becoming an Executive ‘Parliamentary’ President through a ‘covert’ method diluting the democratic power within the Parliament recently. This was an unprecedented loophole, installed within the constitution by the politicians themselves through the so-called 2/3rd majority.

4.      The Bonus seats, 5% minimum vote requirement, and computation of ‘others’ – for whom?

In the present Parliament, the provision for 22 Bonus Seats (10%) has proved undemocratic. It has allowed the winner to gain 17 bonus seats unsupported by votes and muster a dictatorial 2/3 voting majority in the Parliament.  

The provision for predetermined seats on a District basis has also deprived a major Party of winning their rightful number of seats in proportion to their aggregate National vote.

Similarly, the District-wise minimum 5% vote requirement has deprived another Major Party of winning their rightful number of seats, as those votes are discarded.

The inclusion of votes under the category ‘Others’ ( Not entitled to seats) for the computation of 196 seats, too, has affected the accuracy of clean proportion and logic. Thus, external devices have distorted the real PR system and weakened the proportionally elected candidates in carrying out their duties. We need to ensure the accuracy of seat computation by maintaining equality of vote and protecting the values of a fair and clean Proportional Representation System.

Towards such end, the following demerits have to be removed.

  1. In the present  Parliament,  the provision for 22 Bonus Seats (10%) has proved undemocratic as it has allowed the winner to gain 18 bonus seats unsupported by votes and muster a  dictatorial 2/3 voting majority in the Parliament.
  2. The provision for predetermined seats on a District basis has deprived a major Party of winning their rightful number of seats in proportion to their aggregate National vote.
  3. The district-wise minimum 5% vote requirement has deprived another Major Party of winning their rightful number of seats. This disregard for a substantial number of valid votes in the aggregate boosts chances for the winning candidates who also cunningly use Independent decoy groups to weaken their opponents and strengthen their position.
  4. The inclusion of votes under the category ‘Others’ ( Not entitled to seats) for the computation of 196 seats, too, has affected the accuracy of clean proportionate logic.

Those mentioned above, external devices have distorted the real PR system and weakened the proportionally elected candidates in carrying out their manifesto duties.

5.      Vetting the candidates – like for any publicly responsible job

Currently, there is no appropriate ‘vetting’ system for candidates. Even the existing requirement for the Declaration of assets is not adequately implemented and is almost defunct, with the propagating underhand provisions for ‘offshore’ deals avoiding the radar.

Those mentioned above, external devices have distorted the real PR system and weakened the proportionally elected candidates in carrying out their manifesto duties.

Vetting the candidates – like for any publicly responsible job

Currently, there is no appropriate ‘vetting’ system for candidates. Even the existing requirement for the Declaration of assets is not adequately implemented and is almost defunct, with the propagating underhand provisions for ‘offshore’ deals avoiding the radar.

The vetting process should be designed and legalized to select candidates with the qualities necessary to be good parliamentarians. As a result of not having a solid vetting system, the simple and innocent voters have inadvertently elected sentenced murderers, drug lords, illegal sand miners, fraudsters, bribe takers, village thugs, and communalists, including vandalizers of the sacred Parliament under the protection of party leaders favourites ‘umbrella’… Even famous actors/actresses and sportsmen are being used to increase votes. All such MPs cannot be expected to favour any ‘system’ changes to the electoral system that has been the pillar of their success over the years.

6.      What we need

Our system must promote ‘Country/voter allegiance’ more than ‘party allegiance’ among elected politicians to the Parliament. These fundamental system changes will make the MPs more concerned about the Country and the ‘voter’ unhappiness rather than ‘party leader’ unhappiness. Then, the elected candidates will be more inclined to resolve people’s real issues and difficulties. This will make MPs more accountable to the voters. This also promotes consensual governance, not as aggressive or contentious as we see now.

7.      What other electoral system changes will achieve the above objectives/goals?

  1. Make election manifestos legally binding subject to an appropriate ‘Force Majeure clause to allow for Acts of God such as Pandemics and unanticipated major Disasters such as Tsunami. The Parties and the MPs did what they wished for their benefit and aggrandizement. Most of the time, what was said in manifestos became history after capturing power. As a result, they have become fantasy documents of promises and ineffective plans for the future.
  2. As aforesaid, repeal of the infamous ‘Preference (මනාපේ) Voting mechanism’ will allow the selection and election of suitable candidates with a strong track record’ and credentials to occupy the allocated seats. This will minimize or eradicate candidate bias introduced by the ‘preferential vote’ system, where the party leader selects the candidates, applying ad hoc, personal criteria sans any public participation or knowledge.
  3. Abolish the ‘cross-over’ provision for MPs, as this has been the root cause of many corrupt political deals involving ‘buying’ or ‘selling’ the sovereign vote. As they have ‘betrayed’ the confidence placed on them by the voter, upon conviction, the ‘system’ should automatically evict such members from the Parliament and promote a by-lection held in their representing districts. This will indeed establish an ethical & consensual political culture sans corrupt deals.
  4. Application of ‘meritocracy’ in selecting Ministers to ensure they understood their subject area well. We have witnessed how a ‘peniya’ became a death trap for us during COVID.
  5. We need to re-establish a mechanism to install the voters’ “Right to Recall” elected politicians for specific reasons within a legal framework.
  6. Revise the candidate selection process to ensure women and youth representation within the Parliament by making it mandatory to include 20% each of women -and youth (<35 yrs.) in the party nominee lists.
  7. Abolish the ‘mixed-member voting’ (MMV) system. The ‘Mixed Voting’ System has painfully adopted ad hoc ratios to satisfy only FPP and PR proponents, culminating in delays, ‘over-hang’ problems and an uncontrolled increase in the number of members to approximately 9000 in the local government.
  8. Make the party election manifesto a legally binding document to become the primary determinant for a wise voter decision.
  9. Fix a ‘maximum expenditure limit’ for party campaign financing to ensure a ‘level playing field’ and create an opportunity for eligible applicants sans financial strength.
  10. National Election Commission (NEC) must mandate standardized minimum eligibility criteria and a structured interview system to ensure nominations of genuine, ‘country-first’ political candidates based on merit. The political parties should be regarded as registered corporate bodies with constitutions incorporating necessary provisions.
  11. Revert to the permanent secretary system that prevailed before the mid-1960s to have an independent civil administration and ensure the continuity of policy implementation. India provides a success story of a robust civil administration run by “technocrats”, justifying a politically independent civil administration system.

8.      The advantages of the above recommendations

  1. It will ensure primary ‘Equality of vote’ and make the electoral process rational, fairer, simple, cost–effective and productive.
  2. The election of ‘Country first’ politicians’ as People’s Representatives achieves the secondary objective of an Election.
  3. Elected representatives will be more accountable to the voters
  4. The electoral process will become more meaningful and non-violent.
  5. Expenditure, Time and Energy spent by Elections Dept. will decrease drastically.
  6. Election results can be announced before Midnight.
  7. The whole Election exercise will be peaceful and environmentally friendly.
  8. 5.0 Minimum Eligibility Criteria of candidates

9.      What qualities should we have in a parliamentarian?

This need to be answered first before imposing eligibility criteria. What is essential is that the minimum eligibility criteria of an election candidate should not erode into the democratic principle. There are no qualifications to assess honesty, empathy, respectfulness to others, understanding and working democratically, punctuality, ability to read, understand and respond in at least one national language, and no nepotism tendencies. Still, being helpful without favouriting, tolerance for other opinions, seeking and honour advice when necessary and happily vacating when people say to do so. Most important is to have a proven track record displaying the above qualities. Developing these eligibility criteria needs to balance against the erosion of democratic principles and hence requires more comprehensive consultation led by the NEC.

Sinhalese: A Nation Comfortable in Isolation – Part 2

In part one historical and anthropological factors were discussed to understand their relevance for the present ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka and encourage racial-minded extremists to think differently to achieve ethnic harmony. The detrimental effects of deep-rooted mythical stories and self-centred political ideologies are discussed below.

Effects of Indo- Aryan Notion

A significant part of South India is populated by Ethno-linguistic groups of Dravidian origin, such as Telingu people of Andra-Pradesh and Telangana, Tamil of Tamil Nadu, Malayalam of Kerala, Kannadigas of Karnataka, etc. Also, Singapore and Malaysia have a sizable Tamil population outside India. The World Tamil population is well above 80 million. Further, many Dravidian people, including Tamils, were taken out for bonded labour by colonial authorities or migrated to many parts of the world during the colonial period. As such, the Dravidian population in India and the rest of the world could be more than 250 million. They are a recognised socio-economic and political power with a unique identity in India and many parts of the world today.

Though Sinhalese have been labelled as Aryans, no so-called Aryan Nations or Ethnicities have recognised Sinhalese as a nation that belongs to their racial group. Contrary to that, Sri Lankan Tamils are recognised, accepted, and supported by all Tamils in India and other parts of the world as members of their families.  The wider Dravidians family scattered in many parts of the world also accepts Sri Lankan Tamils as Dravidians.

Sinhalese are genetically different from Indo-Aryans but look much closer to Dravidians in South India. Nonetheless, Sinhalese are wilfully alienated from the much larger Tamil and other Dravidian racial groups due to mythical beliefs and artificial labelling as Indo- Aryans. Consequent to this hypocrisy, Sinhalese became a negligible, frustrated, and isolated minority among the Dravidian groups of South India and Dravidians in the rest of the world.

Sinhala Mentality

Throughout history, Sinhalese suffered the feeling of a minority in the Indian Sub-continent due to several Dravidian Nations with a large population at their doorstep, South India. Sinhalese always lived with the fear of South Indian invasions, especially from Tamil Nadu. Ordinary Sinhala citizens do not see a difference between Sri Lankan and Tamil Nadu Tamils and other Dravidian ethnicities from South India. Therefore, Sinhalese are accustomed to labelling anybody from South India as Tamil. For the 2500 years of recorded history, up to the European colonisation, ‘Sri Lankan History’ means nothing else but playing the defensive role against invaders of South Indian kingdoms. Even today, the above feelings and notions are deep-rooted in the minds of Sinhalese and scared of Tamil domination and aggression in other forms. This fear is reasonable from a historical perspective.

Original Sinhala kingdoms, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, had the best land to cultivate staple food but were abandoned by Sinhalese due to intermittent invasions and colonisation of those regions by Tamil invaders from South India. After losing the Polonnaruwa kingdom, the Sinhalese were forced to cramp into the less fertile hill country and southern wet zoon, which are unsuitable for paddy cultivation. As such, the North and East Tamil Homeland has little validity. It has happened as a historical process after the falling of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom and subsequent invasions by South Indians and Europeans. Therefore, Sinhala Buddhists will never agree to forget the great population centre of the golden era of Sinhala Buddhist civilisation and accept the new concept of Tamil homeland in the North and East. That will antagonise the Sinhala –Buddhist community and widen the ethnic gap.


Ancient Sinhalese rulers had different strategies to face the threats from Southern Indian kingdoms. As much as possible, while maintaining the identity of Lanka as a separate country from India and the identity of Sinhalese as a unique nation, they kept the goodwill, socio-economic and political relationship with different South Indian kingdoms (Dravidian) as a national security strategy. Sinhala kings used to seek military assistance from Dravidian kings whenever there was an invasion by another Dravidian king in South India. They never depend on the large Aryan kingdoms of North India for that purpose.  Inter-marriages between Lankan and South Indian Royal Families were another critical strategy followed during those days to maintain regional solidarity. In several instances, Sinhalese have accepted South Indian Princes as claimants for the Sri Lankan/Sinhala throne through hereditary marriage relationships. Sinhala Kings of Pandiyan Origin (Prakramabahu the Great, Nissankamalla Etc.) have ruled the Sinhala country without dispute about their Dravidian origin. Sinhalese kings also supported some South Indian kings to get protection from their rival opponents of neighbouring kingdoms. Also, they had enrolled well-recognized dignitaries and experts from south Indian Kingdoms in the government administration and various development works, enhancing cooperation and understanding.

After the collapse of the Polonnaruwa kingdom, Sri Lanka became politically weak and unorganised and could not face any foreign g invasion. Vijaya Nagar kingdom was established in 1336 and became a powerful kingdom in South India. Up to the European invasion of the Indian Subcontinent, the Vijaya Nagar kingdom protected South India, including Sri Lanka, from Islamic Invasion. If not for the powerful Vijaya Nagar Kingdom In south India, Sri Lanka could have been subjected to Islamic invasion resulting in conversion to Islam. Intentionally or unintentionally, the Vijaya Nagar kingdom has played a vital role in safeguarding the Sinhala-Buddhist identity in Sri Lanka.


Sri Lankan Tamils are very proud of their nationality, language, culture, and religion. They believe they are a branch of the Dravidian family, the oldest civilisation globally and superior to Sinhalese. They are unique in observing cultural values at family and community levels and exhibit the national identity by conduct, behaviour, and appearance strongly and openly. Contrary to this, Sinhalese believe they are a group of Indo-Aryans, and Tamils are non-Aryans and rank below the level of Aryans in nobleness. Therefore, Sinhalese are superior to Tamil. Extremists of both communities use these Tamil and Sinhala hypocrisies to widen the gap, fuel the mistrust, keep the reins in their hands, and manipulate racialism to satisfy their agendas.


 Conflicts, competition, friendship, love, and hate between Sinhalese and Tamils have been common throughout history. But it was intermittent and limited to Lanka and a few kingdoms of south India. The Sinhalese are a minority ethnic group in the Indian Sub-Continent, struggling with a significant Tamil Population in South India (next door) to survive as a separate nation with a distinct identity and a particular territory (Lanka Island). During the colonial period of Western powers, there were no invasions by southern Indians. But Tamils and other minority groups became more prominent than the Sinhala majority. After independence, Sinhalese are trying to regain lost opportunities during half a millennium-long colonisation period. But their strategies seem very much based on historical memories, without considering the social, political, and economic evolution that took place during the colonial period and the changes in the new world.

The master minders of the 1983 black July have branded the entire Sri Lankan Tamil community as terrorists fighting for a separate country or supporters of separatism. Also, in local and international media and government literature, the word ‘Tamil and Dravidian’ is synonymous, especially in the Sinhala language.  Most of the Dravidian ethnicities in India are not sympathisers of the Tamil course in general or the Sri Lankan Tamil in particular. But by using the words Dravidians and Tamils synonymously, an inference has been established that Dravidians are being harassed/discriminated against by the Sinhalese/Sinhala-dominated governments in Sri Lanka. Therefore, a substantial Dravidian population has become sympathisers for the Sri Lanka Tamil course, regardless of the validity of a separate Tamil country. Repercussions of the issue expanded beyond the boundaries of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nādu and got it internationalised, while Sinhalese are losing Tamil friends worldwide.

In addition, Sinhala patriots have recently started using the word ‘Sinhala- Buddhist’, creating a sub-ethnic group within the Sinhalese. If they used the word ‘Buddhist,’ it could have enlarged the frontier by enlisting the sympathy of the larger Buddhist population of the world, as the Tamis do. At least if they had used the word ‘Sinhalese,’ much of the Sri Lankan population (75%) could have been retained in the lobby. But using the word ‘Sinhala- Buddhist,’ Sinhala Frontier became small. While LTTE has strategically expanded their network to the Indian subcontinent and the rest of the world, Sinhala patriots are trying to be an isolated smaller group within Sri Lanka.

Under the above circumstances, Sri Lanka has miserably failed to prevent the dissemination of misinformation and prove that the demand for a separate country is unwarranted. Instead of putting the correct facts on the table and demonstrating the commitment and genuineness for co-existence, the Sinhala camp continues to deny the allegations put forward by separatists before the international Tamil sympathisers and justify the LTTE demands.

Under these circumstances, Tamil patriotism became highly relevant and acceptable to much of the world community, while Sinhalese’s sincere attempts and patriotism became unacceptable, isolated, and voiceless.

Swimming the Upstream

As discussed above, there are no tangible or visible social and cultural issues between the two communities to fall apart. Probably this conflict is due to the competition for limited economic opportunities. After the independence, both communities wished to exploit the available narrow economic base (small piece of cake) for the benefit of their communities instead of working together to widen the economic base (make the cake bigger). Against this backdrop, after the independence, a serious animosity with deep-rooted dislike has developed between Sinhala and Tamil communities, especially among political leaders. Gradually this has escalated into an armed conflict between Tamil Tigers, backed by some external forces, and the Sri Lankan government, supported by the Sinhala majority. The government militarily defeated this conflict in 2009. However, now socially and politically, this difference and hatred have become more severe.  It is a politically induced scenario staged by power-hungry politicians of both communities. Their weapons include the fabrication of news favourable for conflicts, misinformation, generalisation of isolated incidents, and exaggeration of sensitive information related to ethnic issues. That is to maintain an emotionally energised society ready to fight with the opposite community, keeping the said politicians in frontiers with reins in their hands.

By this time, most of the core ethnic issues have been resolved by the government legally and constitutionally (devolution of political power, acceptance of Tamil as a national language like Sinhala, development of infrastructure, and provision of welfare facilities without communal or regional discriminations, investment to reduce regional disparities, etc.). However, in general, Sinhalese people are not interested in providing equal opportunities to Tamils. Therefore, the administrative implementation phase of constitutional and legal provisions is prolonged, leading to dissatisfaction among ordinary Tamil people. Tamil politicians also have a very aloof attitude towards seriously implementing such legal and constitutional provisions to do justice to ordinary Tamils who have been suffering for more than three decades. They are happy to sustain a suffering Tamil community in Sri Lanka to justify grievances at the international forums and seek asylums for the well-to-do Tamils in advanced countries for a better standard of living. Therefore, most of the expressions of ethnic conflicts taken into the platform by Tamil politicians looked more like symbolic demands and picked isolated issues attractive to international forums than a representation of deep-rooted core structural issues of the ordinary Tamil people.

Way Forward

  • Sinhala Frontier

If Sinhalese maintains that they belong to Indo–the Aryan race and are entirely different from Tamils and other Dravidian groups and superior to them, the conflict will continue. It is detrimental to the co-existence with the large Tamil and Dravidian populations next door, South India. To ensure the sustainability of Sinhala Jathiya (Sinhala Nation), Sinhala Extremists must understand the world’s reality and investigate the ways and means for co-existence with the Tamils in Sri Lanka instead of suppressing them.  Sinhalese must stop pushing the Sri Lankan Tamils, world Tamils, world Dravidians, and their advocacy groups to a broader frontier of enemies. They must realise that world sympathy has been cultivated in favour of Sri Lankan Tamils and un-sympathy against Sinhalese. It may not be based on correct facts, but it can’t be changed or brought back history through an arrogant and adamant approach or counterarguments. Instead of harping on ancient Sinhala glory, solutions shall be sought based on the present demographic, social, political, and economic structures.

  • Tamil Frontier

Traditional Tami leadership and diaspora should be more concerned about the burning issues of the poor Tamils who live in Sri Lanka and co-exist with Sinhalese instead of harping on the hidden agenda of a separate Tamil country within the small island. Instead of widening the gap between the two communities, they must investigate how they can co-exist with Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Tamil leaders’ priority must be rehabilitating the war-affected people and areas, correcting past mistakes and injustices, and assisting them in rejuvenating their lifestyle with the assistance of the government.

Next, they must use the devolved political power and the national political representation to benefit Tamils to the maximum possible extent and prove their commitment, integrity, genuineness, and ability for democratic governance. Then request for devolution of power further to fill gaps, if any.  They must understand that any rights lost by Tamils can be availed only by the Sri Lankan government. Also, they should not expect to regain the privileges enjoyed during the colonial period. Base-less concept of the North and East Tamil homeland, which leads to widening the gap between Tamils and Sinhalese, should be dropped from their demands. Entire Sri Lanka is the homeland for all citizens of Sri Lanka. The LTTE has distorted the unique Tamil Hindu culture of Sri Lanka, and the young generation of the Tamil Diaspora is further distorting it. If they do not change their minds to live with Sinhalese cordially, it is detrimental to the sustainability of the unique Tamil-Hindu culture of Sri Lanka.

  • Diaspora

The diaspora is using legally or illegally earned huge assets abroad to cultivate hatred among the young generation, who doesn’t know what has happened in history. Instead, they Should invest in the North and East of the country to generate more employment for their people and to remove the misunderstanding between the two communities. Cultivating hatred among young and future generations of both communities will close all avenues for reconciliation and co-exist forever. It may create another Palestinian- Israel situation on this earth.It is very pathetic, even 14 years after the war; the priority of the Tamil leaders and the international community is illusive accountability, not the issues of the war-affected people. Accountability will satisfy the hateful minds of a limited crowd but not the needs of ordinary Tamil who have suffered for about four decades. The lack of focus on the well-being of the affected people is an obvious indication of the deceitfulness of all parties involved in the accountability agenda. If they are genuine in this process while following the accountability mechanism, very high priority must be placed on the rejuvenation of the economy and lifestyle of the war-affected people on par with the rest of the country instead of allowing them to suffer for many more decades.

  • International Community

Accountability has no meaning if the parties involved /responsible for the action can’t correct/ compensate for the ill effects of their actions.  According to UNHCR s Operational Guidance on Accountability to the Affected People, “accountability to affected people is a commitment to the intentional and systematic inclusion of the expressed needs, concerns, capabilities, and views of persons of concern in their diversity; and being answerable our organisational decisions and staff actions in all protection, assistance, and solutions, intentions, and programs “. As such, without limiting to one party or aspect, the accountability should apply to all stakeholders, including the international partners and cover all aspects.  Accountability should not be narrowly defined as punishing a person or a group for satisfying the hidden agendas of some groups with vested interests.

After the Civil war, even hard-core Sinhala patriots started developing sympathy, compassion, and friendship toward Tamils. Ordinary Tamil people had shown interest in living in Sinhala areas with Sinhalese and rejuvenating their lifestyle and livelihood with the government’s support. The hard-core terrorist also accepted the rule of law in the country and integrated into civilian life after the rehabilitation.  Even traditional Tamil political leaders working for a hidden agenda of a separate Tamil country became more lenient towards the concept of one country. Though they did not participate in the government’s rehabilitation efforts, they kept neutrality without disturbing it.

As such, an environment conducive to a long-lasting solution emerged slowly after the war. However, the unwarranted involvement of UNHCR reversed the whole process at its inception. At present, their cause of action is counterproductive. It gives an unwarranted expectation and confidence for a separate Tamil country, which is the hidden agenda of traditional Tamil political leaders. Also, it cultivates hatred in the minds of the second and third generation of Tamil Diaspora based on a fabricated and unfounded allegation of the Tamil genocide, which will close all available avenues for reconciliation and co-existence forever.

Artificially sympathetic international community towards the Tamil course should understand the above realities and Sinhalese mentality. Undue pressure on the Sri Lanka government will increase the suspicion, hatred, and gap between the two communities resulting in more suffering for ordinary Tamils who live in Sri Lanka. The UNHCR and the UN should be able to put pressure on both the Government of Sri Lanka and the powerful, influential, and adamant Tamil Frontier for reconciliation and co-existence.


Suppose Prince Vijaya’s legend’s embroidery is removed away. In that case, the core could be that a prince from Odessa or the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent had invaded Lanka and unified it as one country and one nation in the 6th century BC. Over centuries it has evolved as Sinhala Nation (Sinhala Jathiya) and Sinhala Country (Sinhale). Since then, socio-economic immigrants from South India would have been assimilated into Sinhala Jathiya (Sinhala Nation).

Lanka being an island, its language, the ‘Sinhala’, may have evolved as a unique language as a mixture of local dialects, the language used by Vijaya and groups, and the Tamil language used by their spouses came from Madurai. Subsequently, it may have been enriched from North Indian languages due to the influence of Buddhism and eventually shaped as an Indo-Aryan language. Genetically Sinhalese are not Indo-Aryans. They are a mixture of Indo-Aryans, Dravidians and indigenous people and are genetically closer to Tamils.

Though the war has been concluded by defeating terrorists, the conflict has escalated more than before and is escalating further. Entire processes, including the Hippocratic attitudes of Sinhala/Tamils and their racialist pressure groups/advocacy groups, have caused irreparable damage to both Sinhala and Tamils and blocked the avenues for ethnic harmony.

In this rapidly changing world, the Sinhalese must change their thinking patterns, attitudes, approaches, and behaviours, as mentioned earlier, to ensure the sustainability of the Sinhala nation, which they fought for more than 2500 years. The priority of the Sri Lankan government should be ethnic harmony, national integration, and building Sri Lanka as a nation while enjoying the rights and identities of different ethnic and religious groups. The diaspora and international forces should genuinely cooperate with the government in its efforts for national integration and nation-building for the best interest of Tamils living in Sri Lanka. I am concluding this article with the following remarks.

“Sinhala people are fond of Tamil Films, Tamil dances, Tamil Songs, Tamil music, Tamil foods, Tamil costumes, Tamil professionals, Tamil workers and Tamil girls, but they don’t like the Tamils. The Tamil people live, eat, sleep, work together with Sinhalese, and depend on them for livelihood, but hate the Sinhalese.”


  1. Mahawamsa
  2. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine – December 1988; Conflict and Confusion in Sri Lanka
  3. Yes, the Sinhalese have their origin in Bengal Odisha. By Adriya Roy Couwdhury
  4. Sinhala People- Wikipedia
  5. Genetic Affinities of Sri Lankan Population- by Gautam Kumar Kshatriya
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