23 July 2021

Reading the ‘re-election’ statement


‘The boss has said it loud and clear that he will contest a second time! Now the other side (opposition) would have to nominate Basil. If not, even someone from the tuk-tuk party could also do the job!’

The above is the rough English translation of an FB post by someone who has essentially backed individuals and parties opposed to the Rajapaksas and the SLPP (i.e. Maithripala Sirisena and Sajith Premadasa, the UNFGG and the SJB). He’s obviously referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s statement intimating that he would see re-election. He’s essentially saying ‘lost cause.’ He may be implying that the SLPP would have a better chance if it was someone other than the President.

Speculation. Speculation. Speculation. Ifs and buts. What ifs and if nots. Entertaining in its own right of course. Predicting political outcomes is sometimes about positioning preferred outcomes. It has a role in campaigns and this is why we see lots of ‘polls’ when elections are at hand. That said, predictions say more about predictors than about relevant candidates, parties and political realities. Let me elaborate.

Way before the SLPP announced that Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be the party’s candidate for the 2019 Presidential Election, there was an intense back and forth in social media which could be captured as a debate titled ‘Gota or Basil?’ Obviously the participants sided with the SLPP. Most of the more vocal of the debaters pointed out the positive attributes of one as well as the negatives of the other. There was a lot of exaggeration as well. Fun banter, anyway.

It was essentially a battle between Gotabaya-loyalists and Basil-loyalists. Now this is speculation, but I couldn’t help but wonder along the following lines. It made every sense for Gotabaya-backers to want him to contest. Gotabaya contests and if he wins, they profit one way or another. At the very least they have the satisfaction of backing the winner. If it was Basil, they would get nothing, unless he lost and they could say ‘We told you so; Gota would have won.’ Flip names and you get the flip-side.

Now let’s switch to the other camp, i.e. the UNP-SJB or let’s say ‘the anti-Rajapaksa bloc.’ They revelled. For them it was a case of a Rajapaksa split. They believed that once a candidate was announced the ‘hopeful’ who lost out and his backers would back away from the campaign.  This was interesting because they were also among those who ranted and raved about pavulvaadaya (familism?) and insisted that the power should not fall into the hands of a single family. If indeed the Rajapaksas had a clan mentality then it probably meant that they would resolve their disagreements one way or another, decide on the more ‘winnable’ and back him to the hilt.

We don’t even know if this ‘spat’ flowed from the two individuals — neither mentioned anything of the kind. In fact Basil, in an interview, quashed such speculation and jokingly said ‘Gota has less experience than Mahinda; so if he is the President I could have a bigger role than before.’

It was a wish, nothing more. The spat narrative and extrapolations, I mean. Didn’t pan out. Previously, they had speculated that Gotabaya would be stopped by none other than Mahinda. Here’s the ‘logic’ in brief:

‘Mahinda wants to be in control. This is why he got his people to vote for the 19th Amendment. He knows he can’t contest, but he felt that if power is wrested from the Ranil-Maithri combine, he could, as PM, call all the shots.’ [Note: obviously they hadn’t read the 19th Amendment carefully — Patali Champika Ranawaka had done so; he knew all about how much of the presidential powers had been clipped and moreover had a stake in the whole matter given his own presidential ambitions].’

Of course they didn’t address the obvious question: ‘If not Gotabaya then who?’ Anyway, it was the same mind-set that spun these scenarios. Wishes. Preferred outcomes. Extrapolations. Glee.

What happen next? Well, the SLPP picked Gotabaya. And then? Up came the citizenship issue. But why? Simple. They had to find some way to block Gotabaya. Why? Isn’t it obvious? The implication is that if Gota did get to contest, he would win. He did.

So what now? Will the President win a second term? If not, could we conclude that, say, Basil would have had a better chance? Well, whether or not he wins, we can never know if his brother could have bested him, either by securing more votes in a defeat or a greater margin of victory. All that’s speculation. Good entertainment in the main possible but not probably framed by ‘campaign strategy’ as alluded to above.

What should we make of this decision? Power nourishes greed? We don’t know. We could talk however about realities. The President would have had to make an announcement either way, sooner or later and probably sooner rather than later. If he ended speculation by going the other way, reiterating that he would not seek reelection, a scenario that would probably be followed quickly by the ‘emergence’ of an SLPP front runner, that would be a signal to one and all to line up next to him or if not at least behind him.

What would that do to governability? Wouldn’t help, that much can be said. Structures will remain but the people within them would not be as stable — they would move around, there could be foot-dragging and much time and effort will be expended by those who are tasked to get things done to secure their futures. That’s the political culture we live in, isn’t it?

This, then, is about the lame-duck factor. Typically the ‘decline’ in this sense begins the moment after re-election. If ‘no-show’ was announced, the decline begins right there. Then and there. That’s decline in terms of backing from within. It might impact the track-record of the regime negatively, but then again, that does not necessarily translate into an inevitable defeat in the next major election.

It must also be understood that the Opposition is in disarray, moving from one issue to another as though punch-drunk. No talk of Lankagama now. No talk of deforestation. No talk even of provincial council elections. No talk of constitutional reform. No talk of mishandling the pandemic (after all, those who got the jab, especially after saying ‘there won’t be jabs’ and ‘Sinopharm won’t work’ can’t really afford to complain).

Even angst regarding the fertiliser policy is not exactly translating into the rant-rave that is, sadly, the best that oppositions in this country do. A war-analogy would help explain, I believe. Back in the day the so-called peace activists said ‘war is bad’. They then said ‘the LTTE cannot be defeated’. Then they stopped saying ‘cannot’ and instead toned down to ‘do it right.’ Took years. In the case of the fertiliser issue it has reached ‘do it right’ in less than two months!

Back to the beginning. Could someone from a tuk-tuk party defeat the President? Let’s not get into the prediction game. It shows angst at best; says more about the sayer. What’s politically relevant at this point is that it strengthens the President. Loyalists won’t look for another pohottuwa hopeful at this point and unless there’s a significant change in the fortunes of the opposition and/or a series of significant blunders by the government, they won’t look outside the party either.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

16 July 2021

Obtaining probables from one piece of a jigsaw puzzle is a political game


An Army-run vaccination center

Political commentary is easy. Good political commentary is rare. Think of a jigsaw puzzle. A tough one, not the one with just a dozen pieces, but one with a thousand and where the picture to be obtained has colour-line elements that are similar and scattered all over it. Poor political commentary or in fact poor analysis on anything, political or otherwise, is when the whole picture is described by looking at a single piece of the puzzle.

Poor debate is about, well, debating points. Half-truths at best, but for the most part made of wild claims and worse extrapolation. We find a lot of that in a political culture where decrying the ‘enemy’ is second nature. The good is pooh-poohed, the bad is exaggerated. That ‘method’ is not the preserve of any political party. Neither is it the preserve of the media or even academics.

About a year ago there was a ‘news’ story about one village in Europe where it was ‘found’ that smokers were at less risk of being infected with the Coronavirus. No verification. However, the story was ‘picked up’ by a media station and this amazing ‘fact’ was disseminated throughout the world. Whether or not the tobacco industry planted the story and pushed its spread, we don’t know. One thing we do know is that there’s absolutely no science in this. A claim which was poorly substantiated was presented as fact. We know also that the only entity that stood to benefit is the tobacco industry.

Covid-19 or rather it’s effects and what can be expected is an unraveling story. The ‘full picture’ is not the kind we find on the covers of boxes containing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Things change. And so there’s extrapolation and speculation, ranging from sober to wildly intoxicating.

On May 10, quoting a study conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the United National Party (UNP)warned that Sri Lanka may see over 100 deaths a day by June, July if the situation is allowed to escalate. Mangala Samaraweera, ex-MP, told the media that more than 20,000 COVID-19 deaths in Sri Lanka could be expected by September, again based on the IHME report.

The IHME projections were adjusted for mask compliance and physical distancing, but as was pointed out by those who questioned the numbers at the time, no adjustments seemed to have been made for contact tracing, isolation and institutional treatment. Strange, since these were key elements of a concerted effort to deal with Covid-19.

The predictions offered by IHME since then are certainly a far cry from the horror-pic that Ranil, Mangala and others painted in May. That horror-pic picked much from India. Sri Lanka was going to nose-dive, we were told. And it seemed that the predictors were struggling to hide the drool from the edges of their smirking lips as they made painted such scenarios.

There were similar stories at the beginning as well. Sri Lanka will never get the vaccine, some said. Sri Lanka cannot afford the vaccine, they added. Sinopharm is suspect, we heard that one too. In fact the decision-makers were misled by Sinophobic (that’s the generous take) or absolutely irresponsible (the more likely reason) ‘experts’ into putting that vaccine on hold. Let’s wait for Pfizer, they suggested. All this, despite the fact that the WHO had sanctioned the Sinopharm Vaccine.  

So there are doom’s day prophets who revel in dire predictions, almost as though doom is their Promised Land, anticipated with undisguised relish. And then there are those who operate assuming that the worst case scenario is a distinct possibility, working tirelessly to meet the threat.

Here are some facts. Of those above 30 years of age in Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara, 71.88%, 56.82% and 54.57% have got the 1st dose and 25.23%, 21.08% and 20.51% the second as well, respectively. This is as for Tuesday the 13th of July, 2021. A total of 1.27 m does of Astra Zeneca, 7.1 m of Sinopharm , 180,000 of Sputnik and 52,000 of Pfizer have been administered so far. 2 m Sinopharm, Here are the figures for what we can expect in the coming months: 1.5 m doses of the Moderna vaccine and 1.4 m of Astra Zenecaby the end of July. The is to administer the first dose to 100% of those above 30 years of age in Colombo by end of July, 100 % in the Western Province by the end of August and 100% in all other districts by the end September. Keep in mind that the total population in the country is approximately 22 m, the number above 30 and below 60 is about 8.75 m, those above six in the region of 2.75. The total population above 30 is approximately 11.5 m.

We mistakes never made? Of course there were mistakes. Remember the ‘Navy Cluster’? That was in the early days when steps weren’t taken to protect the ‘front line’ of operations. The ‘third wave’ was at least in part effected by relaxations during ‘Avurudu’. Nevertheless, these debacles notwithstanding, the authorities have done a splendid job, this much has to be said. It is always easy to say ‘this wasn’t done’ and ‘that wasn’t done’. All the more easier if the recommenders do not have to take into account factors other than the pandemic and will not be held accountable for error.

Of course things are not done and dusted. Things can take a turn for the worse. There will be hiccups or worse. However, the vaccination program has to be seen as an integral part of recovering some semblance of normalcy. In fact, in the very least, it will help cure fear psychosis. One wonders if those who bragged (almost) that Sri Lanka won’t get the vaccine have, in fact, got the jab. Maybe they should say ‘thanks.’ Well, they ought to say ‘sorry’ too. Unlikely though.

The latest in this pernicious effort is to bad-mouth the military. Wickremesinghe wanted Cabinet to take over Covid-19 management. ‘There’s experience there,’ he said. Need we say anything of his judgment? The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has also wanted the military to be taken out of the equation. First of all the GMOA is not a professional organization (like the SLMA, the Sri Lanka Medical Association); it is a trade union. The GMOA would have us believe that some uneducated soldiers are roaming the country jabbing people in an ad hoc manner. In the Army alone there are 5 medical units. The total strength is more than 5000 and includes over 300 doctors and over 40 consultants. They operate in concert with the health ministry. The only reason why the GMOA might be upset (and this is speculation, admittedly) is that ‘the vaccine’ is or is becoming the crux of the battle against Covid-19. If the GMOA is not part of it, then the GMOA loses bragging rights or at least has their bragging rights dimmed somewhat.

So that’s how it goes. It is clear now (and Washington University has, in number and projection confirmed this) that the struggle against the virus is systematic, tireless and (happily) impervious to the slanders of the pernicious. Does this mean Sri Lanka will not take a nose-dive? Well, that would take us back to a speculation game. We could take a piece of the puzzle and extrapolate to some dismal painting of the possible/probable, but even if that were the case, it is hard to believe that the relevant authorities are in cloud cuckoo land, as their detractors would have us believe.

Get the jab. Keep social distance. Use hand-sanitiser. Wear a face-mask. If you want to bad-mouth anyone, at least stand up. Give your armchair some respite.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]


Island of a thousand hypocrites


A very wise man, then an undergraduate at the University of Peradeniya, once said that there are no wrongdoers in this world — everyone justifies their actions/decisions. The act or decision may be illegal or unethical respectively, but in the mind of the doer it is justified, it is right, it is even ethical, whether or not the world understands or sanctions.

No, I didn’t count the number of hypocrites in Sri Lanka. Neither is it a calculated guess or a ballpark figure. It simply means ‘large’ and is used simply because ‘Island of a large number of hypocrites’ is probably less eye-catching. An example of hypocrisy, then? Well, call it sleight of hand, but add ‘more or less harmless.’

There is however the pernicious kind, those who exaggerate, slip under the carpet, footnote, ignore or outrightly disavow not trivial matters such as the number in the title but things which are relevant to an entire population or the direction of national development.  

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece titled “Covid-19 and the ‘science’ of the wizards” in which I quoted from a lecture delivered by Dr Diyanath Samarasinghe on ‘How the [medical] profession can help us balance work and life issues.’ Dr Samarasinghe, penned a note upon reading the article.

‘I notice that the individuals who are most insistent that the government imposes further and more strict stay-at-home orders forever include those who usually insist that government should not interfere into people’s lives. Not only in the past, but even now – e.g., by restricting alcohol or tobacco sales. Suddenly they have become proponents of an extreme ‘nanny state’. On this matter alone. Curious.’

Curious. At the same time not entirely uncommon. Recently we had a bunch of NGO operators waxing eloquent on legislation related to the Port City.  Well, some had doctorates, but are either out of academe or are posited as ‘activists’ as much as ‘academics,’ — indeed their academic output is less advertised than their activism, so called).  Ok, let’s say call them ‘academics.’ These academics were examining the piece of legislation in terms of ‘sovereignty.’ Legitimate. 

Just because laws are passed by people’s representatives it doesn’t necessarily mean that they do not encroach on sovereignty. Any agreement which takes from the state’s power to control, regulate or annul can be construed as an infringement on sovereignty. This is why in a world of multilateral and bilateral agreements, some insist it is more useful to talk of ‘shared sovereignty’ which of course has a sanitary trace in that it can often launder capitulation. So it’s about degrees of sovereignty, which is not something any ‘sovereignist’ (if you will) could cheer.

We have palpable sinophobia in this country and those afflicted tend to be anglophiles. Brown sahibs, if you will. They take umbrage at the trivial (name boards with Chinese characters, for example) and the serious (Chinese run mega projects). Interestingly (and this is where hypocrisy is evident) very few (if at all) of these sovereignists/nationalists have had issues with things English (or, put another way, things UK and USA). ‘We are not a Chinese colony!’ scream those have have forgotten we were a British colony (if they ever believed the fact, that is) and that for many reasons we still are a plaything of North America and Europe (they’ve cheered all moves from countries in these regions to undermine legally or otherwise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty).

Now the Port City webinar-billahs can ask themselves a few questions (but they probably won’t). What did they have to say when the previous regime signed the Hambantota Port agreement?

Did the notion of ‘sovereignty’ ever cross their minds when the Yahapalana Government (in which people like Sajith Premadasa and Patali Champika Ranawaka were Cabinet Ministers) co-sponsored Resolution 30/1? Did they think ‘OMG, our sovereignty’ when Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the absolutely slanted (against Sri Lanka) Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE? 

In the long years during which successive US Ambassadors tried to push through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, did sovereignty enter their thoughts? [by the way the diplomat whose ‘cutting edge’ was pushing through such agreements, Alaina B Teplitz failed to deliver — was there a farewell party or is there going to be? Were these Born Again Sovereignists invited or will they be? Were people down in the mouth or will they have dehi-leli faces?]  Did they utter one word of dismay when diplomats representing countries in Europe and North America strut around and spat out venom as though they were veritable viceroys?

Did they in public or private say ‘bad show dudes’ when the cover on racism and brutality in the USA was blown? Did they say anything over the past few weeks when Canada’s ‘conveniently forgotten’ war on the indigene had to be remembered because the bones turned up? Did they tweet, tagging Michelle Bachelet, comparing that bone story with the Mannar bone story (remains over 400 years old marketed as ‘evidence’ of ‘genocide’ in 2009) with emojis and gifs denoting smirk?

Anyway, what do we make of these sovereignists and their sovereignism, these nationalists and their nationalism (if you want the terms that have made their way into dictionaries)? We could call them born again nationalists (or ‘heenen bayavunu’ nationalists, i.e. those who’ve just woken from a bad dream), but that’s easy.

What’s apparent is hypocrisy. It is not the preserve of these BANs (or HBNs). There were those who swore they would never stop fighting to repeal the 13th and yet happily contested Provincial Council Elections. There are those who swore to stop the Port City project, but let it proceed under worse terms. There are those who ranted and raved about democracy being destroyed but were strangely silent over elections being postponed indefinitely. Some talked of judicial independence but indulged in navel-gazing over extra-judicial (read, ‘kangaroo’) courts such as the FCID. We have trade unions that are pawns of political parties. Academics, professionals, journalists and others whose umbrage is framed by political preferences.

It boils down to this: our guys, whatever they do, is ok, ok? Isn’t that what it is? An island of a thousand hypocrites and a hundred thousand hypocrisies is not something to celebrate. Fortunately, we are also an island of a hundred thousand men and women of integrity and millions of everyday acts of wholesomeness. That’s where there’s true resistance to innumerable tyrannies and innumerable hypocrisies. Jayawewa!


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

14 July 2021

රන් අකුරින් නොලියවුණාට සමහර දේවල් පවතිනවා


මහින්ද ප්‍රසාද් මස්ඉඹුල ගේ 'සෙන්කොට්ටන්' නවකතාවේ පරිවර්තනයට එච්. ඒ.අයි. ගුණතිලක සම්මානය ලැබීමෙන් පසු 'අනිද්දා' පුවත්පතේ කර්තෘ මා මිත්‍ර ජනරංජන විසින් කරන ලද සාකච්ඡාව එම පුවත්පතේ මෙසේ සටහන් විය:

මීට ඉස්සෙල්ලා සයිමන් නවගත්තේගමගේ සංසාරාරණයේ දඩයක්කාරයා පොත පරිවර්තනය කරලා මාලින්ද සම්මානයට පාත්‍රවෙනවා. මේ පාර, මහින්ද ප්‍රසාද් මස්ඉඹුලගේ සෙංකොට්ටං පරිවර්තනය කරලා ඔබ ඉයන් ගුණතිලක සම්මානය හිමි කරගන්නවා. මේ පොත් දෙකම භාෂා විචිත්‍රත්වයෙන් අනූන, අරුත් දැනවීම සඳහා භාෂාව පොහොසත්ව වගේම විස්මිතව පාවිච්චි කරන පොත් දෙකක්.
මේ පොත් පරිවර්තනය කරන කොට ඒ දෙකේ යම් ආකාරයක සමානකම් ඔබ දැක්කාද, එහෙම නැත්නම් දැක්ක විශේෂතා මොනවාද?
සයිමන් නවගත්තේගමගෙ පොත පරිවර්තනය කිරීම මට අභ්‍යාසයක් වුණා, මේ පරිවර්තන කලාව ඉගෙනගන්න. සයිමන්ගෙ පොත හරිම අමාරු ටෙක්ස්ට් එකක්. ඔබ කිව්වා හරි, මේ පොත් දෙකම ඉතාම විචිත්‍රවත් භාෂා ශෛලීන් පාවිච්චි කළ පොත්. විශේෂත්වය, මස්ඉඹුල ජීවතුන් අතර ඉන්නවානේ. නමුත් සයිමන් අහල පහල හිටියේ නැහැ මම ඒක පරිවර්තනය කරනකොට. මුලින් කළ එක සයිමන් නැතිකරගත්තා. නැවත පරිවර්තනය කළේ සයිමන් මැරුණාට පස්සේ 2010දී.

රුවන් බන්දුජීවගේ ‘මීළඟ මීවිත’ (කවි පොත) මම මේ දවස්වල පරිවර්තනය කරගෙන යනවා. අමාරු තැනක් දැක්කොත් නවත්තනවා. වෙන වැඩකට යොමු වෙනවා. ඊට පස්සේ මාස පහක් හයක් අවුරුද්දක් දෙකක් වුණත් යනවා නැවතත් ඒ වැඩේට එන්න.

මස්ඉඹුලගෙ පොත සන්ඩේ ඔබ්සර්වර් එකේ කොටස් වශයනේ පළවුණු නිසා, මට හැම සතියෙම සිද්දවුණා කොටසක් බැගින් පරිවර්තනය කරන්න. නවත්තන්න බෑ. එහෙම වුණොත් පාඨකයාට අසාධාරණයක් වෙනවා. ඒ හින්දා අමාරු තැනක් දැක්කොත් මම මස්ඉඹුලගෙන් ඒ කරුණ ගැන අහගත්තා. සමහර විට ඒක වචනයක් විතරක් වෙන්න පුළුවන්. සමහර විට පොඩි ටෙක්නිකල් කාරණයක් වෙන්න පුළුවන්.

හැබැයි පොදුවේ ගත්තාම ඒ ටෙක්ස්ට් එක හරි පොහොසත්. ඒ කියන්නේ ඒක කාව්‍යමයයි. මේවා කාව්‍යමය නවකතා. සයිමන්ගෙ පොත වගේම තමයි.

කවි පරිවර්තනය කරන එකට වඩා ගද්‍ය පරිවර්තනය පහසුයිනේ. මම කවිවලට ආස හින්දා, කවි ගැන කියවලා තියෙන හින්දා, ඉංග්‍රීසි බාසාවෙන් කවි ලියලා තියෙන හින්දා මට ඒක අපහසු වුණේත් නැහැ. අභියෝගයක් තමයි, නමුත් ඒක ජයග්‍රහණය කරගන්න තරම් හැකියාවක් ඒ වෙන කොට මගේ ප්‍රගුණ වෙලා තිබුණා කියලායි මම හිතන්නේ. ඒ නිසා මුල් කෘතියට ලොකු අසාධාරණකම් කරන්නේ නැතිව, වැඩේ කරගන්න හැකියාව තිබුණා.

සම්මාන ප්‍රදානය කරන වෙලාවේ ඔබ දුන් විඩියෝගත කළ සම්මුඛ සාකච්ඡාවක තිබුණා, සෙංකොට්ටං පොත කියවලා අවසානයේ ඇසෙන් කඳුළු එන තරමේ කම්පනයක් ඔබට දැනුණා කියලා. ඒ කම්පනය පරිවර්තනය සඳහා ඔබව පොළඹවන්න ඇති කියලා හිතමුකො. මට අතිරේකව දැනගන්න ඕනෑ, සයිමන්ගේ පොත පරිවර්තනය කරනකොට ඊට පෙළඹවීම ලැබුණේ කොහොමද?
මම ඒ කාලේ කෝනල් විශ්වවිද්‍යාලේ ජර්මන් ස්ටඩීස් ඩිපාර්ට්මන්ට් එකේ කෝස් එකක් කළා, ජෙෆ් රේඩ් කියන ප්‍රොෆෙසර් තමයි ඉගැන්නුවේ. අපිට තිබුණේ ජර්නල් එකක් මේන්ටේන් කරන්න. මේ සතියේ කියවපු පොත් ලිපි ආදිය, කතාකළ සාකච්ඡා කළ දේවල් පදනම් කරගෙන යම් අදහසක් ලියන්න ඕනෑ, පිටුවක් වෙන්න පුළුවන්, පිටු පහක් වෙන්න පුළුවන්. ඒ දවස්වල මං සංසාරාරණ්‍යයේ දඩයක්කාරයා කියවමින් හිටියේ. පොතේ එක කොටසක් මට හිතුණා ඒ සාකච්ඡාවට, පන්තියට අදාළයි කියලා. ඒ හින්දා මම ඒක පරිවර්තනය කළා. ඊට පස්සේ මම පරිච්ඡේද දෙකක්ද කොහේදෝ පරිවර්තනය කරලා යැවුවා ලියනගේ අමරකීර්තිට. ඒ කාලේ එයා ඇමෙරිකාවේ විස්කොන්සින් විශ්වවිද්‍යාලේ පීඑච්ඩී එක කරමින් හිටියේ. අමරකීර්ති මේක කියවලා කිව්වා, මේක හොඳයි, මේක දිගටම කරන්න කියලා. ඉතින් දිගටම පරිවර්තනය කරගෙන ගියා.

සයිමන්ගේ පොතේත් කම්පනයක් තියෙනවා. සාමාන්‍යයෙන් ඕනෑම කෘතියක් කියවනකොට කම්පනයක් දැනෙනවා තමයි. හැබැයි එතැනදී මට ලැබුණේ මාර්ගඵල ලබනවා වාගේ හැඟීමක්.

මගේ ජීවිතේ හැරිලා බලනකොට වැදගත් වෙලා තියෙන්නේ කාරණා දෙකයි. එකක් මම දකින විදියට සමාජ සාධාරණය. අනෙක ආදරය. දැන් නම් මං හිතන්නේ සමාජ සාධාරණය කියන්නේත් ආදරයේ උප කුලකයක්ය කියලා.

මේ කතාවේ තියෙනවානේ ලොකු පීඩනයක්. මස්ඉඹුල කොහොමද ඒක දිගෑරලා තියෙන්නේ, ඒකේ තියෙන සියලුම පැති ආමන්ත්‍රණය කරලා තියෙන්නේ කොහොමද, ඒ ඔක්කොමත් එක්ක තමයි අර වේදනාව උත්පාදනය වෙන්නේ. ඒ කෘතිය ගැන මට විවේචනයක් නැතුවා නෙවෙයි. නමුත් ඒක මට දැනුණා. ඉතින් ඒක තමයි මුල් හේතුව මේක පරිවර්තනය කරන්න ඕනෑය කියලා හිතෙන්න.

ඊට අමතරව දිලිනි ඊරියගොල්ල මට කිව්වා, මේක පරිවර්තනය කරන්න කියලා එයාට කවුරු හරි කිව්වාලු. ඉතින් එයා වඩා කැමතියි මම මේක පරිවර්තනය කරනවා නම් කියලා දිලිනි මට කිව්වා.

හැබැයි ඕක සිද්දවුණේ සන්ඩේ ඔබ්සර්වර් එකේ අනුරාධා කෝදාගොඩ නිසා. එයා මට අවස්ථාව දුන්නා කොටස් වශයෙන් මේක පත්තරේට සතිපතා පරිවර්තනය කරන්න. පත්තරේක ඩෙඩ් ලයින්ස් තියෙනවානෙ. නැත්තං ඕක වෙන්නේ නෑ.

ඇත්ත වශයෙන්ම සංසාරාරණ්‍යයේ දඩයක්කාරයාත් එහෙම තමයි වුණේ. ඔබ්සර්වර් එකේ කොටස් වශයෙන් පළකරන්න ගිවිසුමක් ගහගත්ත හින්දා ඒක කරන්න වුණා. නැත්තං වෙන්නේ නැහැ. මේක මගේ රස්සාව නෙවෙයි, ආර්ථික බලාපොරොත්තුවක් නෑ, ආසාවට කරන දේවල්නේ. එනිසා වරින් වර ඊට වඩා දේවල් හරස් වෙනවා. ඒ නිසා අනුරාධායි දිලිනියි වැදගත් වෙනවා මේ පරිවර්තනයේදී.

සාමාන්‍යයෙන් සිංහල භාෂාවෙන් කියවන අයට අර කම්පනය විශාල ලෙස දැනෙනවා, භාෂාව ගැන වගේම ඒ සමාජ ආර්ථික ජීවිතය එක්කත් සමීපකම් තියෙන නිසා. නමුත් ඉංග්‍රීසි පොතක් බවට පත්වෙන කොට ඒක කියවන්නේ වෙනත් කුලකයක්. සමහර විට මේ ජීවන පසුබිම ගැන අත්දැකීමක් නැති අය වෙන්න පුළුවන්. ඒක අභියෝගයක් හැටියට මාලින්දට පෙනුණාද?
සංසාරාරණ්‍යයේ දඩයක්කාරයා වගේම සෙංකොට්ටං මම ප්‍රධාන වශයෙන්ම දකින්නේ කතන්දරයක් හැටියට. විශ්ව සාහිත්‍යය තුළ වගේම විශ්වයේ ඕනෑම සංස්කෘතියක් තුළ මිනිස්සු කතන්දර කියනවා. කතන්දරවලට ආසයි. ඒකේ පාරිසරික සමාජ ආර්ථික සංස්කෘතිකමය සුවිශේෂතා තිබුණාට, ඒ හැම එකක්ම පවතින්නෙත් පෙළගැහෙන්නේත් විකාශනය වෙන්නේත් මනුස්ස සම්බන්ධකම් හරහානේ. ඒවාවල විශ්වීයබවකුත් තියෙනවා. ඒ නිසා ඒවා නුහුරු නැහැ.

කොහොමද අපිට සෝවියට් සාහිත්‍යය නුහුරු නොවෙන්නේ? ඒක දැදිගම වී රොද්‍රිගුගේ දක්‍ෂකම විතරක් නෙවෙයි. එයාගෙ හැකියාව මම අවතක්සේරු කරනවා නෙවෙයි. ඒක ඉතාමත් වැදගත්. ඒවායේ තියෙන්නේ ස්ටෙප්ස් තණබිමනේ. අපි ඇහින් දැකපු ස්ටෙප්ස් තණබිමක් නෑනේ. නමුත් ඒ කතාවල එන චරිත, ඒගොල්ලන්ගේ සංස්කෘතිය අපිට නුහුරු වුණාට, ඒ චරිත එකිනෙක අතර කරන ගනුදෙනු අපිට නුහුරු නැහැ.

භාෂාවකින් තව භාෂාවකට දාන කොට යම් ප්‍රමාණයක් ගිලිහිලා යනවා. එහෙම කියලා ඒක නොකර ඉන්නත් බෑනේ. එහෙනම් අපිට ටෝල්ස්ටෝයිලා දොස්තොයෙව්ස්කිලා නෙරූඩලා හම්බවෙන්නේ නෑනේ.
ඒ හැම එකකින්ම අපි පෝෂණය වෙනවා, පෝසත් වෙනවා. ඒ පෝෂණය නොලැබුණා කියලා අපි මැරෙන්නේ නැහැ තමයි, නමුත් ඒක හොඳ දෙයක්නේ.

මගේ හිතේ කොනක තිබුණා හැම තිස්සේම මේක කියවන අය සිංහල දන්නේ නැතිනම් මොකක්ද කරන්නේ කියලා. සමහර වචන තියෙනවා ඒවා සිංහලෙන්ම දානවා ඇරෙන්න වෙන විදියක් ඇත්තේම නැහැ. තනි වචනයක් නැති හින්දා සමහර විට වචන තුන හතරකින් දාන්න වෙනවා. සමහර විට වචන තුන හතරකිනුත් බෑ. එතකොට තමයි අපි ග්ලෝසරිස් පාවිච්චි කරන්නේ. ඒ විදියට පොතේ කෙළවරට දාන්න පුළුවන් මේ වචනේ තේරුම මේකයි කියලා.

මේ පරිවර්තන කෘති ටික කියවලා තක්සේරු කළ විනිශ්චය මණ්ඩලයේ කට්ටිය ලංකාවේ සංස්කෘතිය දන්න නිසා ලොකු ප්‍රශ්නයක් නැහැ, නමුත් ප්‍රධාන වශයෙන්ම මම බැලුවේ මේ කතන්දරේ ඉංග්‍රීසි දන්න කෙනකුට තේරෙන විදියට ලියන්න. භාෂාව කිව්වාම වචන විතරක් නෙවෙයි, මේ චරිත ඒ භාෂාව පාවිච්චි කරන විදියෙ විශේෂ රිද්මයක් පවත්වාගන්නත් මස්ඉඹුල සමත්වෙලා තියෙනවා. මේ මිනිසුන්ගේ ඉරණම මොකක්ද කියන එක ඒ දෙබස්වල පවා ගැබ්වෙලා තියෙනවා කියලයි මම හිතන්නේ. භාෂා දෙකේම හසළ පළපුරුද්දක් තියෙන කෙනෙක් හැටියට මාලින්ද කොහොමද ඒක හරවගත්තෙ?

මට ඒකට මොකක් හරි තියරි එකක් හරි, සමීකරණයක් හරි තිබුණේ නැහැ. නමුත් යම් වාක්‍යයක් හරි දෙබසක් හරි මම තේරුම් ගත්ත විදියක් තියෙනවා. සමහර වචනවලින් ගොඩාක් දේවල් කියන්න පුළුවන්නේ. ඒක පළුදු නොවෙන විදියට පරිවර්තනය කරන්න මම පරෙස්සම් වෙන්න ඕනෑ. පත්තරේට ඩෙඩ් ලයින්ස්වලට ලිව්වා වුණාට, මම ඔහේ ඉඳගෙන ලිව්වා නෙවෙයි, මට ඕනෑ වුණේ නැහැ, පරිවර්තන ක්‍රියාවලිය තුළ මස්ඉඹුලට සහ සෙංකොට්ටංවලට අසාධාරණයක් කරන්න.

හොඳ උදාහරණයක් තමයි පොතේ ටයිටල් එක. ටයිටල් එක සෙංකොට්ටං. පොත දකිනකං සෙංකොට්ටං කියන වචනය ගොඩක් දෙනෙක් නොදන්න එකක් වෙන්න පුළුවන්. කොහොමද සෙංකොට්ටං කියන එක ඉංග්‍රීසි භාෂාව කියවන කෙනෙක් තේරුම් ගන්නේ. එයාට තේරෙන්නෙම නැති එකක් වෙන්න පුළුවන්නේ. මම ඕකට දැම්ම වචනෙ තමයි, දි ඉන්ඩෙලිබල් කියලා (The Indelible) ඉන්ඩෙලිබල් කියන්නේ මැකිය නොහැකි, නැතිනම් මැකෙන්නෙ නැති කියන එක. සෙංකොට්ටං එකේ සංකේතාත්මකව තියෙන්නේ මැකෙන්නේ නැති දෙයක් කියන එකනේ. ඒ වචනයේ තියෙනනවා ඉතිහාසකරණයේ ප්‍රශ්නය. සමහරක් දෙවල් ලියැවෙනවා. සමහරක් දේවල් ලියැවෙන්නේ නැහැ. සමහර දේවල් ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨයි. සමහර දේවල් ෆුට් නෝට් එකකවත් නැහැ. ඒ කෙසේ වෙතත් ජනප්‍රවාද සාහිත්‍යය තුළ මිනිසුන්ගේ චර්යාවන්වල සංස්කෘතික භාවිතය තුළ ඒවා කොහේ හරි ලියැවිලා තියෙනවා. ඒවා මකන්න බැහැ. ඒවා ඉස්මතු වෙන්නේත් නැති, රන් අකුරෙන් ලියවුණේත් නැති වෙන්න පුළුවන්, ඒ වුණාට ඒවා පවතිනවා. සබල්ටර්න් ටෙක්ස්ට්ස් Subaltern texts කියන්නේ ඒවාටනේ. යට ගිය, යට කරන දේවල්. සමහර විට යටගියේ නැතිනම්, ඒවා නැති වෙන්නත් පුළුවන්. මොකද, එක්කො නැති කරනවා. නැතිනම් සල්ලි දීලා ගන්නවා.

ඒ ටයිටල් එකේ ඉඳන්ම මේකේ ප්‍රශ්න තියෙනවා. ඒවා පරිවර්තකයෙක් ලිහාගත යුතුයි. මම ඒ නිසා කතාවට සහ කතාවෙ තියෙන සමාජ දේශපාලන සංස්කෘතික පසුබිමට අසාධාරණයක් නොවෙන විදියට පරිවර්තනය කරන්න තමයි උත්සාහ කළේ.

විශේෂයෙන්ම මස්ඉඹුලට මේකේ සියලුම ගෞරවය යන්න ඕනෑ, මම මේක අවසාන වශයෙන් එයාට කරන උපහාරයක් විදියට තමයි දක්වන්නේ. එයා කරන කියන දේවල් මට ලොකුවට දැනෙනවා සහ මම ඒවාට ලොකු වටිනාකමක් දෙනවා. එයාගේ ලේඛනකරණය වගේම එයාගේ ව්‍යාපාරික කටයුත්ත. එතැන එයා සාහිත්‍යයට කරන සේවයට උපහාරයක් හැටියට මේක දක්වන්න කැමතියි. මට ලොකුම දේ එතන තියෙන්නේ. ■

24 June 2021

Covid-19 and the ‘science’ of the wizards


Dr Diyanath Samarasinghe, speaking on ‘How the [medical] profession can help us balance work and life issues,’ at an event organized by the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), made a very interesting observation on science and the scientific approach. The example he took to illustrate his point, ironically, alluded to an SLMA statement regarding what measures the Government should take to reduce Covid transmission.  

This is what he said:

‘I’ve been having a running battle with some members of my profession who are, at this moment, recommending father and further orders for people to stay at home to reduce Covid transmission. Now we think this is a science based thing. That’s just the technological or superficial component of this business — applying the known facts. The scientist has to use these facts and make predictions; and say, ‘if in two weeks these these indicators do not change at all, I have to go back and see if my theory is right. You can’t say that at the end of two weeks and say…’no we need two more weeks’. If you keep extending like that, of course it will come down, and you can say ‘our recommendations work.’  We have to give criteria by which we shall be found fault with if we fail. That is science. That is the science based approach. Not forever to go on in faith that what we are saying is absolutely right, we know, and then explaining away any observations that do not accord with what should have transpired had our plan actually worked.’

Dr Samarasinghe spoke on the 15th of June. The SLMA had already written to the President urging that the lockdown be extended at least until the 28th of June. This was on the 11th of June, four days before Dr Samarasinghe made the above observations. And four days later, on the 19th of June, the SLMA wrote to the President again, expressing dismay at the decision to partially lift restrictions from the 21st to the 23rd.

Now, as I have written on several occasions, the Coronavirus has spawned, among other things, countless epidemiologists and an equal number of experts on practical measures to curb the spread, not to mention quite a few who have come up with miracle cures. We must also mention that the pharmaceutical industry is making a killing. Ironic, that word, but let’s leave it at that for now. The SLMA is made of people in the medical profession. They are not lay persons who are clueless about diseases and remedies. Naturally, what they have to say has more credence than out-of-the-woodwork pundits. We trust them. We have been taught to trust them. The trust is misplaced in certain cases, but even the mistrusting will, if needed, go to a hospital, see a doctor and take prescribed medicines.

Dr Diyanath has theories about the relevant politics and indeed the relevant political economy, but he’s not discussing any of that here. He’s talking about the science. He’s commenting about the scientific approach.

The generous view would be that the SLMA statement was backed by relevant research. It’s not evident in the letter sent to the president, which, for reasons best known to the SLMA, was released to the media even before the intended recipient had a chance to read and respond, if of course he believed response was warranted.  

It is clear that there are certain strategies that have been adopted. Restrictions is one. The vaccination program is another. Then there’s treatment. All this amid safety protocols which no citizen can claim to be unaware of, not just with regard to personal safety but response to evidence of symptoms. All this, moreover, in a context where managing the situation has to be balanced with the need to keep economic activity going.

There are no fool-proof strategies. As the SLMA has pointed out, there is also the issue of mutation and resultant variants. Whether vaccines can cover existent variants and those yet to emerge is a moot point. Let us also not forget that knowledge of the virus is still in its infancy. For this reason, this is a problem that is akin to a game where goalposts are constantly moved and often without warning. One exit can take us to another field where the strategies which got us there will just not work.  

It is a national problem and therefore has to be addressed by one and all. The ‘one and all’ can include those who gave themselves degrees related to epidemics. That’s not surprising. All the more reason for outfits such as the SLMA to ‘be on the ball.’ And, all the more reasons for such organizations to base statements on evidence and indeed state the evidence. The SLMA has promised to make public ‘an exit strategy.’ One hopes that such a strategy takes into account the other compelling needs of the country, i.e. things which are impacted by the pandemic but cannot be wished away. Indeed, the SLMA, one hopes, would consult those who have been working tirelessly to enforce risk-mitigation strategies (and not all of them are doctors), those who have to facilitate economic activity and those who have to design and implement strategies to make sure no one goes without food.

The numbers. These are important. The easy way is to take the aggregates (inflate them too, as is often done, perniciously), average and extrapolate. You can come up with multiple doom’s day scenarios that way, all the more easier when you are not called to verify the numbers. The problem is that not everyone is a doctor and not everyone has a doctor’s income. Some have disposable incomes and some are heavily dependent on daily wage. Lock them down (or lock them out, as is the case) and you have a problem of households struggling to get meals on the table. Also, if we don’t break down the numbers we might be aghast at the vaccinating rates. However, if we take into account the age categories most vulnerable (based on deaths, say) and which age categories are getting jabbed, we will get a better picture, subject of course to the cautionary note regarding variants mentioned above.

Make no mistake, we need organizations such as the SLMA to play a role. The SLMA obviously knows that this is not a case of a government operating without any advise whatsoever from relevant experts, especially those in the medical community. There are officials and experts tasked to come up with strategies. They may not get it all right, always, but there’s nothing to say that a team from the SLMA, GMOA or the PHI Union would necessarily do a better job. Indeed, if they were in it, they might very well conclude that things are more complex than they assumed.

Most importantly, given the SLMA’s statements alluded to above, the relevant doctors (and anyone else who deigns to offer solutions, whether they are experts or not) could take a cue from Dr Samarasinghe. In short, challenge themselves to include in ‘solutions’ criteria by which they shall be found fault with if they fail.

Dr Samarasinghe, in this segment of his talk, had this pertinent line about scientists which we can all learn from: ‘A scientist is able to change their mind when the evidence shows that they are wrong.’ The SLMA knows Dr Samarasinghe. The SLMA invited Dr Samarasinghe to speak after the first June missive to the President. The SLMA is clearly open to criticism. The SLMA needs to be commended. The SLMA could do better though. We could too. All of us.

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

18 June 2021

And Canada slips and slides on genocide

In an ideal world, or a flat world if you will (where liberty, equality and fraternity are affirmed in word and deed at every turn), it would be lovely for the people of one country to care about those of another. Well, even if it’s not entirely flat, it wouldn’t be out of order for one country to be concerned about the hiccups of another. Provided of course that a) hiccups weren’t imagined on account of ignorance or conjured up for reasons of political expediency, and b) the concerned weren’t themselves hiccuping.

Alright. Our earth isn’t flat. Neither is it mostly flat except for a few wrinkles here and there. It is slanted. In many ways. There are thugs and victims. Globally and locally, wherever you may be, whichever locality you are concerned with. Some have weapons of mass destruction and therefore they can bomb countries into the middle ages, sometimes on the pretext that the countries they discharge their largesse upon themselves have similar arsenal at their disposal. Yes, that’s the USA and the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Some have bucks, some don’t. In short, structures of inequality. Structures of exploitation. Structures of subjugation. Subjugators and the subjugated. Some control the media and others victims of spin. Yes, our earth isn’t flat.  

The earth isn’t flat but that’s ok. Even uneven countries can talk about the unevenness of other countries. It’s like saying ‘we have our own tumors, but that shouldn’t stop us from raising concerns about the warts you carry.’ Of course, in the political economy of unevenness, typically, certain tumors are not talked of and zits are called warts or worse. Mountains are made of molehills and that’s how ‘status of the world and countries within it’ is obtained. Manufactured, rather.  

The earth is not flat. Sri Lanka isn’t flat. Neither is Canada. However, Sri Lanka is not talking about Canadian unevenness whereas Canada is imagining unevenness in Sri Lanka that has nothing to do with geographical factors.

In Ontario, for example, they’ve legislated a bill about Sri Lanka. It’s about declaring an annual genocide education week which ends on the day that Sri Lankan security forces completed the elimination of the LTTE military apparatus. Those who had alternate outcome preferences, including those who used the conflict to buttress cases for residency (most of whom, Canada knows, actually visited Sri Lanka even during the height of the hostilities!), obviously have an axe to grind. Understood. Cooking up tall tales is probably second nature. Understood. Canada, a de facto client state of the USA and the UK when it comes to global affairs, has to go along with the narratives written and pushed by those countries. Understood.

Now, the claims are outlandish. They’ve got an exact number of people killed ‘in the last days of the conflict’: 146,679. Substantiation? Well, nothing there. Random numbers plucked from the air as is the norm for tale-spinners. Conditions of starvation, they say, were inflicted on Tamil civilians. Well, we know for a fact (the UN knows, so does the ICRC) that the LTTE pilfered rations. We know that the LTTE held hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians hostage (that’s the ‘human shield’). We know that the LTTE shot and killed those who tried to escape. So if people did starve, and some may have, certainly, then the charges should be leveled at the LTTE, the TNA (the political voice of the LTTE) and the various groups in North America and Europe who acted as mouthpieces for the LTTE, some of whom were the movers and shakers of this piece of legislation.

Tamil children, it is claimed, were taken from their homes. Yes, this is true. The LTTE kidnapped children. Forcible conscription of kids was part of their 30 year story. Some 500 plus children thus captured and trained to kill were reunited with their families almost immediately after the LTTE was vanquished. Yes, the Government of Sri Lanka facilitated that reunion. And get this: even the UNHRC, clearly no friend of Sri Lanka, had to concede that the events leading up to the final denouement in Vellimullivaikkal did not amount to genocide.

Now here are some facts which those in Canada objecting to this move have made public:
a). According to the most recent(2018) and most comprehensive study by the British House of Lords led by Lord Naseby, the death toll in the last Eelam war is 5000-7000 and NOT 146,679.

b) If 147,000 were killed by shelling and bombing, one may expect 2 to 3 times that many injured, i.e., 300,000 to 459,000 injured. Instead, only about 18,000 injured were found, corresponding to about 7,200 deaths, consistent with Lord Naseby's findings and the findings of academic researchers who have studied the death toll.

c). No mass graves corresponding to a death of 146,000 within a few months have been found, even though the Sri Lankan Northen provincial Council led by Mr. Wigneswaran had been very interested in locating such graves to further his allegation of a Tamil genocide.

d). The leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), Mr. V. Anandasangaree had stated at the 2008 annual convention of the TULF that the LTTE engaged in mass killings of its injured cadre as they were considered a liability to the LTTE, and as a way of indicting the Sri Lankan Army. In fact, the movie footage from such killings was used to make the Channel-4 'documentaries' claiming that the "No Fire Zones" were "killing fields" in Sri Lanka. Those movies have been analyzed and refuted in the study "Corrupted Journalism: Channel 4 and Sri Lanka".

e). The Tamil journalist D. B. S. Jeyraj, Tamil writer Sebastian Rasalingam, as well as the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights have stated that while the army took steps to minimize civilian casualties, the LTTE sought to maximize civilian casualties to claim a humanitarian disaster and demand international intervention. US ambassadors serving in Sri Lanka at the time confirmed this.

f). The claim of not supplying food to civilians held captive by the LTTE is based on an error in the Darusman report where the food supplied by the World Food Program (WFP) had not been counted in. It is shown that the WFP, the ICRC,and the Sri Lankan government provided about 4 times the required amount of food.

Wars aren’t pretty. The story therefore is not pretty. The LTTE had much to do with the ugliness, but so too the various governments. That said, there is truth and embellishment. There is molehill and there’s mountain. Warts and tumors. A spherical world and a flat earth theory. True concern and ridiculous politicking at odds with the notion of ‘civilized engagement.’ There’s literature if you want to know the truth. If you don’t, it won’t matter. That’s the case here, obviously.

So much for Sri Lanka’s alleged communal tumors. Fiction. Imagination. Quite creative, really. Not so the Canadian warts. Sorry, tumors. It is mind boggling, really. And we are not talking of ‘gifting’ blankets infected with diseases to indigenous peoples. We are talking of kidnapping and children being forced into ‘special schools’. We are talking of deliberate neglect. Well, it’s actually wrongful deaths (if you want to be cute about the terms) of children. Mass graves too. There’s evidence, as opposed to tall stories spun by unreliable sources.

Canada. O Canada. Genocidal country where the uncomfortable is wished away, forgotten and is made to be forgotten. Canada. O Canada. Genocidal country manufacturing genocide fairy tales elsewhere. A bit flat, what?

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

12 June 2021

History and Historiography 101 for US lawmakers


Tulsa. Remember the name. May 31 and June 1. Remember the dates. There’s a year to remember: 1921. And there’s a thing that the USA would want US citizens and indeed the world to forget. Remember it. Racism.

Tulsa, the second largest city in the State of Oklahoma, is said to have been settled between 1828 and 1836 by the Lochapoka Bank of the Creek, one of the 574 officially recognized ‘First Nations’ of the USA. Anyway, Tulsa is still part of the territory belonging to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.  

May 31 and June 1, 1921. That’s one hundred years ago, almost to the day. What’s significant about those two days? Well, Tulsa is a name associated with what is often described as the worst ever race riots in the USA. There are those who dispute the claim. Albert Broussard, professor of history at Texas A&M University, for example, believes no more than two dozen died. He adds that it is unlikely that after all these years any mass graves will be located.

There could be an error in the enumeration method of course. Just because you can account for only 38 dead people (Dr. Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist who served as a consultant to the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, claimsed ‘conservative estimate starts with 38 victims who could be identified individually.’) it does not necessarily mean that’s the total number of victims.  The Tulsa Race Riot Commission puts it thus: ‘Although the exact total can never be determined, credible evidence makes it probable that many people, likely numbering between 100-300, were killed during the massacre.’ Historian John Hope Franklin, in a report that accompanies the official state inquiry, wrote, ‘One-hundred-sixty-eight Oklahomans died that day. They were Black and white, Native American and Hispanic, young and old.’

Anyway, neither Broussard nor any one else disputes that mobs of white residents, many deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and destroyed homes and businesses. They will not dispute that attacks were carried out on the ground and from private aircraft or that 35 square blocks of the Geenwood District, home to the wealthiest black community in the USA and indeed dubbed ‘Black Wall Street’ were destroyed. They won’t deny that more than 800 people were admitted to hospitals, and as many as 6,000 Black residents were interned in large facilities, many of them for several days.

Fix the number at 38 or less (Broussard’s ‘two dozen’) and ‘Tulsa’ is not the worst race riot story in the USA. As Broussard points out, the 1917 race riot in East St Louis took the lives of 39 people while the Los Angeles riots in 1991 saw over 60 people being killed.

May 31 and June 1, 1921. That’s one hundred years ago, almost to the day. That’s a long time ago. Done and dusted, some might say. Well, some would want people to say and believe. The truth is that history and historiography in the USA is a riot in and of itself and not just about systemic racism and the relentless violence against non-whites, especially black people.

Doc Rivers was a successful basketball coach in Boston. The success of the Boston Celtics was put down to a highly talented team. Gregg Popocich was a ‘successful’ coach in San Antonio. His ‘Spurs’ haven’t sniffed the playoffs since Tim Duncan retired. The media hasn’t drawn him over the coals. Frank Vogel ‘coached’ the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship. This year, with serious injuries to the two stars in the team, Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the Lakers were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. You would think that how they underperformed with that lackluster effort, the coach would least get a mention. Nope. Brad Stevens, the current Celtics coach was showered with accolades when Boston prospered. When Boston faltered, no fingers were pointed at him. Vogel’s white. Brad’s white. Pop is white. Doc is black. Coincidence?

Here’s something to look out for: The Los Angeles Clippers, coached by Tyronn Lue, have lost Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal against the Utah Jazz. There’s a lot of series left. Supposing Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz make it to the final, check out what the media will have to say about Lue. And if they don’t, check out what the media will say (or won’t) with respect to the coach, Quin Snyder. Unfortunately you can’t compare the two because one wins and the other loses, but then you have the way Doc, Pop, Brad and Frank were treated by way of context. Yes, Tyronn is black, Quin white.  

The National Football League (NFL), just the other day (yes, not way back in 1917, 1921 or even 1991, but in 2021) stated that it will halt the use of ‘race-norming.’ Race-norming refers to the assumption that black athletes started out with lower cognitive functioning. It translated as less payment than for whites in case of brain injury claims.  

Racism in US sports is systemic. It’s a riot in fact. That’s not all, though. Consider the following facts. Every year, on average, 41 black women die of pregnancy-related issues for each 100,000 live births. The number for white women is jus 13. Black people make up 17.7% of the population but account for 23% of Covid-19 deaths. Longevity: the numbers for black people are 71.9% (men) and 76.4% for women; the corresponding figures for whites are 78.5% and 81.2%. The numbers for education, unemployment, prison populations, incomes, home ownership, poverty, political representation and other indicators follow this pattern. Racism didn’t end in 1917, 1921 or 1991. It’s alive in the USA.

Wait, let’s not forget that the USA has the worst track record in killing non-white people or facilitating genocide against such people in the world. Hitler was white, but as the comedian George Carlin pointed out, his only crime was that he was cutting in on US action or a US historical-cultural bent on killing brown people.

Remember George Floyd? Remember ‘I can’t breathe’? Remember ‘Black lives matter’? Happened in 1917 or in the 19th century, did someone really believe? In 1921? In 1921? No. Always and now. That’s racism. That’s ‘notes to an introduction’ for a course that is yet to be developed in any US high school or college: History and Historiography of Racism in the USA 101. A must, one might say, for US lawmakers.

Why is all this relevant though? Well, a US congresswoman named Deborah Ross has proposed a resolution (H Res 413). She represents North Carolina, a state notorious for extra-judicial murder of black people. A lynching state, then, and not the only one. Anyway, Ross has said a mouthful in the resolution.

She wants perpetrators of human rights violations to be held accountable (sure, of course, why not and all that kind of thing but also, ‘shouldn’t charity begin at home?’). She could trace the ‘narrative’ to the source(S). Who quoted whom, who quoted whom, and so on until she gets to the Darusman Report and the (interesting) sealing of sources (to enable conviction by pernicious absenting?) or at best to discover (horror of horrors!) unreliable and politically motivated ‘witnesses’. She could, but she hasn’t and it is unlikely that she would.

She doesn’t know or pretends not to know the truth about that frequently used term, ‘North and East.’ She doesn’t know that almost 50% of Tamils live outside this so-called traditional homeland. She doesn’t know that there’s no ‘history’ to speak of to back such claims. She cannot differentiate fact from myth, between history based on evidence and myth models.

Here are some facts she cannot dispute. Over 300,000 previously held hostage by the LTTE were resettled. A huge chunk of the post-2009 budgets have gone into infrastructure development in the areas turned into a war zone by racists who took up arms. Over 15,000 terrorists who surrendered or were captured have been rehabilitated, given life-skills and reintegrated into society (Ross could ponder such a process for political prisoners in the USA, especially those held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay, but she won’t). Elections were held in these areas. The elected represent the electors. They are fine with things as they are and as for devolution, they no longer utter that word — even though several years have passed without elections for the same.

History. Historiography. Interesting words. The USA has an ongoing ‘Tulsa’. Sri Lanka is not racism-free, but we are done with terrorism. And, compared with Tulsic-USA if you will, Sri Lanka is quite a happy place. Ross should visit sometime.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].

Letting and making things happen

What’s happening? That’s the question many ask. Then there are those who respond to the question or, as in certain cases, a question is not even necessary for comment. ‘Nothing’ is a common response/comment. To elaborate, ‘nothing is happening.’  

Nothing. It is an interesting word. A nation, a people, a history and heritage even — all rolled into a void? Well, that might please some. The problem is that there is seldom a void. There’s seldom ‘nothing’. There’s never ‘everything’ either. There’s always ‘something.’

So when people say ‘nothing’ or ‘nothing is happening’ it is usually a case of a condition that falls short of the expected. It’s relative, in other words. Maybe for some it’s about declining profits, diminishing assets, constraints in the commerce of take and take with little give.

For others it’s certainly dire. It’s not about ‘my net worth diminished from 4.73 billion rupees to 3.98 billion rupees, alas, woe is me etc., etc.’ It is about food on the table. Never mind schools, never mind online classes because a data card is unaffordable; there needs to be food. Basics.

Sure, we’ve heard about how important it is for the wheels of the economy to turn. We’ve heard corporate bosses and neoliberal economic gurus lament about workers losing incomes and facing starvation. Workers make a lovely and benign shield, but only in situations like this. At other times, they are generators of surplus labor which of course translates as profit for those on the sunny side of production relations.

The humbuggery aside, there’s some worth in the argument about economic activity. Not a happy equation certainly when it’s about some people having to submit to slanted terms of exchange or, to put it bluntly, having to agree to the terms of exploitation; and yet, at least from the unhappy point of view, tight restrictions become increasingly untenable or rather intolerable.  

‘Nothing’ has multiple applications, not just in the economic sphere. Constitutional reform for example. Talk of holding provincial council elections has ceased. Elections are necessitated on account of affirming constitutionality (illegally and perniciously though the 13th was in enactment) but anti-thematic politically given the government’s reform pledge. That’s then a ‘nothing’ we can celebrate for a while. The federalist talk shop has shut down. Another good ‘nothing.’ It’s hard to effect an absolute lockdown and indeed such a situation might have dire consequences all around. People do have more time to spend at home with family, and more time to, say, plant something (an objective precondition to earn the right to complain about ‘nothing’ or ‘pittance’ one could argue). That would be a close-to-nothing which will not be booed.

Lockdowns don’t make for witnesses and witnessing, but one doesn’t have to see in order to understand that everything possible is being done by healthcare personnel (from specialists to PHIs), those in the security services and Police, as well as innumerable public sector employees (from executives to unskilled workers) to the best of their knowledge and straining limited resources to the maximum, just to ensure that no one goes without food or the best healthcare possible under the circumstances. That’s not an ‘everything’ but it is certainly a fair distance from ‘nothing.’

There are countries in our neighborhood where back up systems (be it elements of the state apparatus or simply community mechanisms enriched by cultural practices and philosophical bent) are simply non-existent. Someone is infected and he/she either dies of it or dies of starvation simply because daily incomes drop to nothing. Yes, that word again. Some worry that we will get there very soon. We may, yet, who can tell? On the other hand, if nothing had been done, as it is argued, we should have got there a long time ago.

There are realities. There are aspirations. Mix the two and you’ll get a fix on your personal location in the nothing to everything continuum. For some this is the big picture. For some, indeed, it is the only picture. It’s easy to extrapolate from there. It is easy to generalize. It is easy to tell yourself and anyone who might listen, ‘this is the state of things.’ Such people are the ones who quickly get to blabbing about ‘nothing.’ The problem is that when you get there, you can’t see the ‘something’ that is the reality. You can’t even move to a ‘something’ in the realm of the possible, obviously not an ideal, cause-for-celebration ‘something’ but certainly a far cry from down-in-the-mouth ‘nothing.’

A pandemic analogy would be appropriate. If ‘nothing’ is where we are, then why wear a mask? Why maintain social distance? Why wash our hands? We might as well give up and await death which, according to our theory of all things, would come earlier than anticipated.

What is the ‘something’ we can do or expect? In a word, ‘learn.’ We can commit ourselves to using the time and space yielded by restrictions to reflect on the world and its health, on human activity and its impact on the planet, on personal choices and what they imply. The possibilities are endless. And there’s nothing to say that we cannot think of transformation of one thing or another or ‘all things’ if that’s the preference.

Minds cannot be locked down. Yes, we know about idle minds and devil’s workshops, but then we’ve moved on from ‘nothing-mode’ to ‘something-mode’ here. Hearts, even broken ones, resist closure. We can do something. If we really believe there’s a void, we can fill it. If we don’t, rest assured, a lot of garbage will get to it first. We’ll get nothing. Well, almost nothing, for it will be nothing but a stink.

We have let things happen to us. Colonization. Green Revolution. The 13th Amendment. Dependency of all kinds. The political culture we live in. We could even label each of these as 'everything.' Or 'nothing.' Somewhere, somehow there's agency. There's choice. There's space to make things happen. Things we can be proud of.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

The themagula, thilakshana and other thoughts on the Dhamma


There are things to talk about today. We could discuss the bipartisan House Resolution introduced by US Congresswoman Deborah Ross on Sri Lanka. It called for an ‘effective international mechanism for accountability,’ and a ‘permanent political solution’ in Sri Lanka. The resolution regurgitates the oft-uttered lies about territorial claims. Attempted land-theft, really. Anyway, it is a product of ignorance, arrogance and worse, it is easily refuted, never mind the fact that refutation is a medicine too weak to cure pernicious affliction. Yes, we could talk about this resolution and the politics of creative, racist and chauvinist Tamil historiography. We could ask Washington about Israel, Palestine, butchery, silence and humbuggery.


We could also talk about India. India, Prime Minister Modi and in fact each and every Indian pundit convinced that Sri Lankans must inhabit their version of Sri Lanka’s reality. We could talk about the Indian fixation with devolution in Sri Lanka in a context where India’s history of federalism was a) a mechanism made imperative for territorial enhancement and indeed the creation of a nation where none existed, or at least nothing even close to the ‘gathering’ that the British left behind, and b) a relentless process of centralization.

We could dwell on a characterization of the Modi administration by Avay Shukla in ‘The Citizen’ titled ‘Mr Modi may continue to rule, but can he govern?’ Shukla puts it this way: ‘[H]e demolished federalism by pulling down as many as nine elected state governments and rewriting [India’s] relationship with Kashmir, putting the goal of Hindu rashtra on the front burner with CAA and NRC, extracting the Ram Mandir judgment from the Supreme Court.’ And then we can talk of hypocrisy.


We could talk of the proposed move from chemical inputs to organics in agriculture. We could move from input-replacement to system-replacement. We could question things taken for granted in this sphere, the theories which are of the ‘goes without saying’ kind and the fact that such ‘eventualities’ are also describable as ‘came without saying.’ In other words, the fact that theory in the social sciences (in this case the hegemonic ‘science’ called Economics)  is seldom ideology-free.

We can point to the nay-sayers that ‘no can do’ was the chorus response to those who said the LTTE can be and should be militarily defeated. We could tell those who cry ‘name a country that has succeeded,’ that if show-success is ‘must’ then progress of any kind is impossible. We can tell the optimists that the LTTE was not defeated overnight, that the necessary preconditions included adequate human resources, training, hardware, streamlining of intelligence operations, political will and above a citizenry by and large convinced that it was possible. The last, as always in any national endeavor, is non-negotiable. We could discuss this.


We could talk of Covid19 and how it has changed the world, our nation, our communities, our workplaces, our families and ourselves. We can talk of the realities — their embellishment and/or their discoloration. The 'could be done but wasn’t' makes for comment. The grandstanding of the bystanders who do nothing but salivate at the misery of others could also be discussed.


Today is Vesak (as I write this). A celebration of and a call to reflect on the themagula, i.e the birth, the ascension to enlightenment and the parinirvana or the moment of release from samsara, associated with Prince Siddhartha, the Ascetic Siddhartha and the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama respectively. That’s more or less the official definition of Vesak. It could also be a moment that calls for reflection on the thilakshana, i.e. anicca (impermanence), dukkha (sorrow) and anatta (non-self or ‘substanceless’ if you will) associated with all things.

Some, for example Pope John Paul II, would characterize the doctrine or the Word of the Buddha, as a negative soteriology, believing it is a call for detachment or some kind of conviction that the world is bad. That, however, is a particular and particularly erroneous reading of the dhamma. The call, on the contrary, is for comprehension. It is about understanding the thilakshana by observation and the exercise of the intellect; a knowing which consequently makes for more wholesome engagement with the world and with self. It is an exercise that can be used to obtain the path to enlightenment and progress along it. It is also a framework that can inform all action outside of what might be called the strictly spiritual terrain.

In these days of socially distancing, self-isolation, sequestering and being subjected to all manner of restraints, perhaps it is worth considering the possibility of freeing the mind. It is free to lose itself in wild indulgence in sound, fury and all that glitters. It’s Vesak and so we could, alternatively, consider what could arguably be a more profitable deployment, that of deep reflection and the true discovery of the ways of things and processes. Yes, once again, the anicca, dukkha and anatta clearly evident and yet unseen in everything around us including customs acquired and practices confused with doctrine.

Reflection is also possible on the incomparable qualities of the Buddha and through such reflection build resolve to shape a different sense of being. In other words, reflection on the following: Araham (having eradicated all defilement), Samma Sambuddho (having discovered alone and understood fully the Four Noble Truths), Vijja Carana Sampanno (endowed with knowledge and conduct, theory and practice), Sugato (adept at choosing the right word at the right time and always to the benefit of the listener), Lokavidu (having understood absolutely the nature of the world), Anuttaro Purisa Dhamma Sarathi (a teacher incomparable), Satta Deva Manussanam (a leader unto one and all, people and the gods), Buddho (awakened from delusion and ignorance) and Bhagava (endowed with special powers on account of merit acquired).

This space is usually for political commentary. And so, since this is Vesak, and since the other discussable issues flagged above are also important, it might not be out of place to point to one of the most useful tools for the consideration of all things, political intrigue, designs for control and exploitation, turning myth into fact, myth-models into history included — the Buddha’s Charter on Free Inquiry as articulated in the Kalama Sutta.

‘Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' [Instead], when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.’

And let’s conclude with this wish: ‘May all beings be joyful and secure; may they be happy within themselves. Whatever living beings there be, without exception, movable or immovable, long or huge, medium or small, subtle or gross, visible or invisible, dwelling far or near; born or coming to birth, may all beings be happy within themselves.’

Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.  

Business unfinished even after 12 years

Twelve years ago, almost to the day, the Sri Lankan security forces brought an end to a three decades long struggle against terrorism. Against the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization, in fact. Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri opined recently that such characterization is actually a flip side of certain inabilities on the part of the state. He is correct, in part.

It should not have taken three decades. Incompetence, lack of determination, wayward and even treacherous policy choices by the political leadership at decisive moments as well as rank indiscipline on the part of certain military personnel did in fact contribute to the length of the struggle. It can also be argued that victory over terrorism could have been achieved 22 years before had J.R..Jayewardene been endowed with a fraction of the resoluteness and pride that Mahinda Rajapaksa demonstrated two decades later vis-a-vis the management of foreign relations, especially with India.

That said, one must have lived in a cocoon to imply that the LTTE constituted a pushover. It is even laughable when such characterizations are offered by those who were part of the choir that sang at every turn their ideological anthem ‘The LTTE can never be militarily defeated.’

Why celebrate the fact, 12 years later, some people ask. They do not ask, on the other hand, why independence is celebrated, why certain people want to mourn on a particular day because it’s on that day that the man mostly responsible for the worst days experienced by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka was killed, why we should celebrate Christmas etc.

Well, it marked the end of the biggest lie that liberals (so-called) in Sri Lanka had been tossing around for decades. Yes, the one about the LTTE’s invincibility. It marked the possibility of a different way of organizing social and economic life. It put an end to decades-long abduction and forced conscription of children. Tamil politicians, reduced to mere readers of LTTE missives, found their voice that day.

There are other significant factors that make that day historic. Dr Gamini Samaranayake, in a book on the JVP insurrection of April 1971 suggested that this particular adventure taught two lessons: a) there could be politics outside the democratic process, i.e. armed insurrection, and b) the state was ill-equipped to handle such an insurrection. True, the JVP insurrection was crushed within weeks, but then again it was one of the worst planner exercises ever. A better prepared, better equipped outfit with a superior strategy could have been a different kettle of fish. That’s the implication. Samaranayake suggests that it was the LTTE (and not the JVP of the late eighties) that learned these lessons best.

If that’s the case, then another lesson was learned or rather dawned on one and all on May 18, 2009 — a determined, well-equipped security apparatus backed by the correct political leadership and supported by the people would prevail against adventurers (if one went with Dewasir’s characterization) or thugs (closer to the mark) like Prabhakaran and the outfit he led.

There were liberals and Marxists who wagered that Prabhakaran and the LTTE would prevail. Dr Kumar David almost willed the LTTE to turn things around. Dr Jayadeva Uyangoda insisted that the LTTE would not be militarily defeated. There were others in that bandwagon. The USA did its utmost to throw a lifeline to the LTTE’s military leadership. Robert O Blake was the man behind such moves. Human rights advocated, so-called, international and local, shouted themselves hoarse trying to somehow leverage their global bosses to arm-twist the then Government to put a halt to the relentless forward march of the security forces.

Most fell silent. Some found cathartic release in conjuring up a war crimes narrative. They are still at it, poor them. Some changed their tune. ‘Terrorism was defeated, separatism was not,’ was the consolation-prize line they took in the face of considerably reduced political and ideological circumstances. They were correct of course.

Separatism, like Marxism or any other ‘ism’ is not easily buried. There can always be a Marxist or a separatist or some other relevant ‘ist’ around. Is Trotskyism dead, folks? Is flat-earthism dead, ladies and gentlemen? There are still people who believe that dinosaur remains don’t take anything away from the biblical time-line: ‘they say, they were put there by God himself to test your faith!’ There are economists who still swear by neoliberal ‘truths.’  There are ‘modernists’ who refuse to acknowledge the violence unleashed on all creatures and all things in fact by ‘modernism’ or at least its dominant versions.

There is nothing wrong about ‘-isms’ and ‘-ists’. Until such time (and it’s an unlikely eventuality by the way) that every single individual agrees with all other individuals on something, we can say “that ‘-ism’ is still alive” or “ that ‘-ist’ is still around.” The clash or clashes among ‘-isms’ or those among ‘-ists’ of this or that persuasion is not necessarily a bad thing. The difference is that the conversation is made of words and not a testing of this weapon against that. That conversation, if you will, ended on May 18, 2009 as far as separatisms and separatists are concerned.

Terrorism didn’t end, Easter Sunday 2019 reminded us. In other words, there’s always room for other kinds of terrorism. It does not mean that the defeat of one kind of terrorism, especially one that devastated a nation, should be pooh-poohed. The pooh-poohing hordes are more likely than not to be made of those whose outcome preferences did not materialize. Their sorrow is understood. Their logic is, well, amusing, let’s say.

There’s another important outcome: devolution and devolutionists (at least those swearing by lined arbitrarily drawn by a bunch of guns-in-booty-out brigands, yes the British) suffered a massive setback. No, they weren’t buried and will not be, simply because, as mentioned above, ‘-isms’ and ‘-ists’ are excellent survivors. However, as evidenced by the story that unfolded over the next 12 years, few today are interested in devolution. Here’s a fact: no provincial council elections in YEARS but nary a word of protest from devolutionists about this mechanism that was hailed as ‘THE solution to the “ethnic (sic) conflict.’

Twelve years later, however, the 13th Amendment stands. It is a monument to political ineptitude and cowardice. Its survival is an affront to democracy and all allusions to the unitary character of the state.

There was death, dismemberment, displacement and destruction for almost 30 years. The people paid a price. A very high price. Their sacrifices should not go unacknowledged. Indeed the best way to acknowledge all that would be to repeal the 13th Amendment. Closure on that count is also important.


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]

The 'Third Wave' of political chicanery

We had the first wave. The second. Now a third. And, as is typical of a capitalist world order, crises (or waves) are a bit like the bread of Egypt, Octavio Paz, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature once observed — ‘night passes over it and you can read it no more.’ One crisis erases memory of crises that came before. It’s good for governments. It’s good for capitalism.

Hitler, is reported to have asked rhetorically, at the conclusion of the Obersalzberg Speech ‘Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians (Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?)’ The reference was to the genocide of European Jews. It’s called ‘THE holocaust’ as though there have been none before or after. We have an ongoing one in fact, the butchering of Palestinians by Isread which, not surprisingly, the human rights angels in Geneva have not the eyes to see.’

Covid19 is not of those proportions. Millions have died, but it’s still less than 1% of the infected to succumb to the virus. Nevertheless, people talk of ‘The Wave’ as though it is like a holocaust and point fingers as though the pointed are guilty of genocide.

Remember the Tour Guide Cluster, the Navy Cluster, the Kandakdu Cluster, the Minuwangoda Cluster, the Peliyagoda Fish Market Cluster? Does anyone remember when the first wave started and when it ended? The second? Well, we can’t blame people for not remembering, because the here and now is not exactly something one can be complacent about.

It is not something to laugh about. We all know someone who was infected. Many know of someone, at least one person, who died. It’s not pretty. It’s not simple. It is serious. And this is probably why we ask about measures taken to combat the pandemic. This is why people wonder if enough is being done.

Of course, in this age of information, we easily forget that misinformation has as much play as anything that’s verified as being accurate. We don’t always filter and even when we do, we send things through sieves that are in part made of the political or ideological.  

It’s part ignorance and it is part political. Some call for lockdowns or island-wide curfews (‘lockdown’ is understood in multiple ways) but do not spare a thought to the economic ramifications of the preferred mantra. Some, on the other hand, offer mechanisms which could lead to chaos. There’s capital to be made politically in chaotic situations. We don’t need to detail such things.

Some pundits, for example, argued that the government could never get down vaccines. Later the question was ‘when?’ Thereafter, ‘where?’ and ‘how?’ Are there enough beds? Why can’t they do 100,000 tests every day, ask people who don’t know that lab facilities allow for only a certain number of tests to be processed per day. Just yesterday some 50,000 people were vaccinated. Why only 50,000, someone can ask. We heard people demanding that the government bring down all expatriates. Then, when some of those who returned were found to be infected, the government was blamed for opening the doors. Same with tourists. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s the kind of logic employed by some critics.

There are logistics that need to be sorted out, but the whiners don’t have to worry about such things. They even ask why there was a second and third wave in the first place, almost as though the authorities went out of their way to generate such surges. It’s endless. It’s as if ‘we told you so’ is a pill they keep constantly under their tongues, ready to be spat in the face of the government

What’s done is never enough, obviously. Obviously too, there are and will be errors. When it all began there was one virus. We didn’t hear of variants immediately. Obviously there are imponderables in all this. There are can-do things and then there are things that are beyond the control of governments. It applies to citizens too. To collectives and individuals.


Well, we know that the first two waves died down. Does this mean that the third wave will die down too? No, it doesn’t necessarily follow. However, it does mean that the relevant authorities were not exactly twiddling their thumbs.

A story doing the rounds claims that someone has predicted that at least 20,000 will die in Sri Lanka by September. The rider: this extrapolation was made by the same people who accurately predicted what would unfold in the USA. The USA, under Trump in particular but also under Biden, does not have even a rudimentary public health system. Arrogance, Sinophobia and rank ignorance are all part of the US story. Sri Lanka is different. We don’t have the bucks nor the capacity to manufacture vaccines (by the way, the local Sinophobes must be red in face now, considering that China has agreed to help Sri Lanka produce the vaccine here itself!). Well, the plan was to vaccinate 20-25,000 but in the end 50,000 got the Sinopharm jab in the first day itself.  There’s something right in our health system. The government obviously can’t take all the credit, but then those who blame the government for all things that go wrong, are morally compelled to applaud when things are done properly, one would think.

Let’s get back to the Second Wave. That was in October 2020. There were experts painting doomsday scenarios. Among them were doctors. They thundered that the Government had got it all wrong and it was imminent that all hell will break loose. They went silent when the numbers came down.

As the Second Wave subsided, all authorities warned people of a possible third wave on account of the New Year in April. Can anyone say that he/she was unaware of the safety protocols? Can any owner of any shop that was swarming with people claim that he/she was unaware? Maybe the government could have clamped things down on Avurudu. Rest assured that many who usually ridicule such festivals (especially those that are celebrated by the Sinhalese and Buddhists) would have cried out in horror about the government being insensitive to cultural sensibilities.

The fact that the daily numbers (of infected) dropped from around 800 to around 150, perhaps made people forget that the risk still existed. Well, the whiners didn't applaud anyone for having got something right, did you notice? Anyway, people partied. People ‘tripped.’ And now these very people talk of ICU beds and oxygen availability. When people wonder if Sri Lanka’s situation will become like that of India, one wonders if it’s born of worry or salivating anticipation.

All that said, there’s a need to control things. The vaccine will have an impact. Restrictions will help. There will be mistakes made by all parties either out of ignorance or arrogance. The unpredictable will have some play as well. On the other hand, if the can-do as far as an individual is concerned is neglected, there’s no point blaming someone else.

It takes all to turn things around. It takes one idiot to raise vulnerability levels for all. The experts including innumerable keyboard warriors don’t have to do what doctors, nurses, attendants, public health inspectors, people in the security services and Police, and many state institutions and employees do on a daily basis. They don’t talk, they work. They don’t complain, they work. They don’t have the time to hammer out horror stories on social media, they work. They work, but no one thrusts a microphone before them and solicits their views.

Covid19 has spawned innumerable heroes. And as many vile, self-promoting, politically motivated vermin. Emotion is waving a flag, reason has been retired. There are some incontrovertible truths, though. First, no one knows everything and therefore it is best to verify things before tossing them out as though they are the yield of a comprehensive survey. Secondly, it is best to focus on that which one has control over: adhering strictly to recommended safety protocols. The rest, for the most part, is fluff.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

07 May 2021

Detox: political economy and practicalities

Vegetables grown at Mihimandala in Welikandagama are free of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals [see Dr Prasanna Cooray's article 'Overcoming the challenges of organic farming'

The final challenge, so it is said, faced by the Ascetic Siddhartha prior to Enlightenment was an encounter with Mara. Mara confronted Siddhartha in his, Siddartha’s own image. Bernado Bertolucci offers an excellent visual rendition in his 1993 movie ‘Little Buddha.’ If it is taken as a metaphor, then the true ‘enemy’ however you want to define ‘enemy’ is within. True enemy, or ultimate enemy, if you will. It’s a parable with innumerable application, spiritual and otherwise.

We are talking about contamination. About poisons and poisoning. About extirpation. About agriculture. There’s a problem within, an enemy if you will. As in the case of the Ascetic Siddhartha, there is a ‘without’ in addition to ‘within.’ After all the senses are bombarded from outside; it’s the shards that cut into flesh, take up residence and send the poisons along blood streams.

Let me mention two statements which say something about the ‘without.’ An FAO representative, way back when, once infamously said ‘we will not rest until the last buffalo in Sri Lanka is sent to the Dehiwala Zoo.’ He was applauded by an audience that had more or less bought the modernization mantra. Then, almost thirty years ago, the then US Ambassador Teresita Schaffer said ‘your food security lies in the wheat fields of North America.’ Applauded again, this time by those who had memorized the market mantra.

Of course there is a political economic context in which policies are made/pushed. Officially, it is accepted and the blame can then be pinned on those accepting, never mind the arm-twisting, not forgetting of course that much of it is embraced enthusiastically simply because certain mantras are adequately internalized.

All this is relevant when it comes to a re-greening, if you will, of Sri Lanka. We are a poisoned land and it’s not only in the soil that the toxins have taken up residence. This is why we hear many people scream ‘cannot be done!’ They will ask lots of questions such as the following.

‘When yields drop, how will we feed the people? How will we compensate the farmer for drop in income? Do we have enough organic fertilizers, pesticides (or pest-control methods)? How about weeds? Has enough research been done? Do we have adequate seeds? What about export crops? How much of it is organic? Is there a mechanism to certify organic crops if we go for chemical-free production, even if we assume that we can get a premium price to off-set yield-loss? Do we have the extension mechanism to offer training to the cultivators? How about the existing food culture?

Legitimate questions. The good thing is that today we have a discussion on the subject. And so, we can talk of the doable. We can talk of what we had, what we embraced (uncritically or perniciously), what we have etc. Then we can talk of destinations, how to reach them and when.  

It requires of course a serious and deep exercise in self-reflection, as individuals (producers, consumers, policy-makers, academics, traders etc) and as a national collective. What we eat says a lot about who we are or rather who we have become. What we say reflects the ideological predilections we’ve cultivated as individuals and as a nation, knowingly or unknowingly.

Some ‘experts’ may say ‘no can do.’  Perhaps this is because they know no better. We have many universities and many courses related to agriculture, for example, but how many are framed by received ‘wisdom’ about what’s best? Didn’t we, after all, swallow hook, line and sinker the Green Revolution lies? Didn’t we buy the lie about coconut oil being harmful to health? We are taught classical (sic) economics in our Economics Departments. We are told there’s a think called Marxist economics, but that’s about it. There are dominant paradigms of development. There are dominant theories. They are not ideology free.

For example, isn’t it true that our experts are fixated with the yield-mantra? They know there’s something called nutritional-density but their focus is on yield-density. Has anyone asked why?  Those who talk of food culture don’t ask how it came about.

On the flip side there are those who talk as though things can be done overnight. They believe we can shift to traditional food plants, produce adequate quantities which the consumers will immediately delight in.

What’s missing is the fact that the doable is somewhere between the extremes. What’s important to understand is that it is not just the soils that are contaminated. It’s the minds, the mind-sets, the institutional arrangements too.

That said, it’s a place we can and should get to. The road may be long, but it’s got to be taken. However, if we are to walk through a mine-field we better be prepared for accidents. We better have mine-detectors. And talking of mines, we could recall how the war against terrorism was won. It took planning. It took preparation. Hardware and software were lacking. Political will was lacking. Human Resources were lacking. We got those pieces in place. This was a non-negotiable. Those who fought the war know this. Those who studied how things unfolded over thirty years, know what went wrong, what could go wrong and what needed to be done to get things right.

Policy-making is quite a distance from sloganeering. There’s nothing wrong in the vision here. The mission is clear. We can build a splendid agricultural palace but we need a solid foundation. That foundation involves solid research that covers a wide range of disciplines related to all aspects cultivation, preservation, transportation and consumerism.

The good thing is that all relevant agencies have had to wake up. Everyone has been challenged, the people included. The choice is simple: do we remain toxic or do we detox our bodies, minds and our nation? If we have to live with chemicals (as the case very well could be) just like we have to, according to some, live with Covid19, we have to figure out what the safe levels are. Living with Covid19 is not about letting the virus do its worst and us doing nothing. It’s the same with chemicals related to Agriculture. Bottom line: emotion should not trump reason. Another bottom line: research must trump rhetoric. And here’s a non-negotiable: we have to fight this war. War has been declared now. It is best to go about it with eyes wide open.  In the battle against terrorism, much work was done to get the people on the side of that particular policy option. It made a difference. It could make a difference here too. It will obviously take time. Haste will not just make waste but could wreck things so much that the toxic enemy will move in with renewed vigor. That could set us back by many years. Vision is good. Drive is imperative. Knowledge is the best cartographer and without a good map-maker, it goes without saying, we could get lost.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]