03 January 2022

On grievance, anxiety and belonging

In the matter of voicing, assessing and addressing grievances and apprehensions, it is my contention that there’s grievous neglect of acknowledging (say) ‘error.’ Communities, or rather those claiming to represent such collectives, are big on pointing fingers, wailing and stamping redress-feet, but seem all too ready to navel-gaze when their own faults of omission and commission are brought to the table. And so we have a shouting match.  Or worse. It gets us nowhere.

The last four decades, at least internationally, we’ve seen the Sinhalese (and sometimes ‘Buddhists’ or ‘Sinhala Buddhists’) being painted as the principal if not the only villain of the piece. We can debate about the how and why of it all. There’s political economy in the process and of course the hue and cry. Being the majority community hasn’t helped for there are those who like to think that minority-blemish has to be reactive, regardless of how horrendous the ‘reaction’ and regardless of the truth or otherwise of instigation. Yes, we can talk about the how and why of it all. Things have roots (plural, note). Things have sources and not all of them can be attributed to ‘some other villain.’

For ‘ease of business’ let's assume that the Sinhala-Villain narrative is the only tenable story. In other words, the British had no role, India had no role, Tamil chauvinism was absent; it’s just that Sinhalese (or Buddhists or Sinhala-Buddhists if you will) are alone responsible for perceptions or realities of non-belonging among Tamils, Muslims and other communities, ethnic or religious. If you want to make it more spicy, you could even say ‘the Sinhalese engaged in land-theft to boot.’ Only, you would have to substantiate that claim outside of rhetoric and frilled and fancied historiography. So let’s stick to the un-sexed version: Sinhalese made ‘belonging’ untenable and this caused grief and anxiety. It led to Tamil Nationalism, the 50-50 demand, the federal-cry, the separatist-demand and militarisation (yes, we leave out ‘terrorism’ in the interest of keeping things sanitised).

 

We could talk, then, of ‘Sinhala Only,’ the various anti-Tamil riots, the 6th Amendment to the Second Republican Constitution, the depravations and horrors associated with the armed conflict, the various ‘pacts’ which sought resolution and associated delivery-failure on the part of the Sinhalese, assuming for business-ease again, shifting of goalposts and non-delivery on the part of the other protagonist(s).

This is stuff for a doctoral dissertation and I am sure that there are tons of pages dedicated to the pernicious twisting of stories for purposes of pushing not-so-innocent agenda. For purposes of brevity which should not be taken as ease-of-business, I shall flag moments or issues where the Sinhalese or rather those claiming to represent them failed.

A caveat is needed here. Anti-Sinhala, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sinhala-Buddhist groups have for convenience labeled Sri Lanka as a Sinhala State (or ‘Sinhala Buddhist State’). They’ve used such descriptives when talking of governments and the major political parties/coalitions. Such is the ‘sin’ of a majority community that representational democracy always seat in power its members, regardless of whether or not such representatives are adherents of majoritarian or chauvinistic ideologies.

Riots. We’ve had our share. Tamils, in the main, but Muslims not excluded, have suffered. Now we can compare and contrast. We can talk of similar situations, how they evolved, their frequency and the relevant numbers in, say, India. We can talk of who fired the first salvo. We could trivialize and we could say ‘only so many victims but they are trivial compared to the numbers saved and the properties protected by Sinhalese,’ but that’s a copout. We can say ‘well, those were instigated by the UNP’s trade union,’ but that’s a copout too. A Tamil could be grateful to a Sinhala friend or neighbor who saved his/her life and protected his/her properties but it is still tragic that he/she was put in a situation where such protection was necessary. Also, it is undeniable that the identity of the belligerent was ‘Sinhala.’ They acted in the name of a community and it is natural for the victims to blame the agent as well as the community the agent (in their minds or in fact) represented. 

Those Sinhalese who claimed to represent the community and had the voice to issue statements, did not. Those governments, even though they didn’t represent the Sinhala community, could have made the relevant distinctions, explained contexts and separated the thinking, intent and acts of the thugs from those of the community, but they did not. The shining, intent and acts of individual Sinhalese were effectively removed from the narrative. Whether the scribes were pernicious in this absenting and misrepresentation or attributed to a collective the crimes of a few because they knew no better is only of academic interest. Bottom line: the feeling ‘we don’t belong’ got a boost.  The politics that came thereafter, including embracing the military ‘option’ obtained credence.

The above is true of all the violence we’ve seen post-independence. There were other moments that can be picked and discussed, but let me focus on just one. The Vadukoddai Resolution moved by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and adopted on May 14, 1976.

Now we can talk about the history of the TULF. We can talk of Appapillai Amirthalingam and the forefathers of Tamil chauvinism. We can talk of the merits and demerits of the Resolution. We can talk of what it engendered. We can identify many villains. We can point to a lot of villainy too. However, there’s one thing that Sinhalese or rather those who claimed to represent them missed: Tamils perceived a sense of not belonging so great that they felt a separate state was an option. The electorate overwhelmingly voted for the TULF in the 1977 parliamentary election. One might speculate that a community with thin or at least contentious histories, being a minority, could get excited about such an idea, but we cannot ascertain this conclusively. In the very least, the indication of a preference for identity-politics over issues such as class, for example, has to be recognised. It was not.

There are many ways to read the riots, the resolutions, the pacts and their ‘failure,’ the word 'sri' in number plates, the design of the national flag, the language of the national anthem and the descent into full-scale armed conflict. The issue of ‘belonging’ (or otherwise) hasn’t got much play in most of these things in the clash of arms, the bugle calls, the war-whoops and such. The Sinhalese, more than other communities, especially given perceptions of privilege and villainy, could have noted and addressed. They did not. They, for the most part, cherry-picked antecedents, pointed to the undeniable transgressions of their ‘enemy,’ the villainy of the enemy’s friends (India, primarily, but also the US, UK and the rest of Europe whose efforts were less products of cause-sympathy and mostly about benefits that may accrue). That was easy. That was too easy. It is still quite easy, at least in political debate.

And yet, here we are in the year 2021, with a war all done and dusted but with a fraternal community which, for the main part, is still aggrieved and anxious. The Sinhalese can revisit the moments flagged above and all such moments we could flag if there was space. The Sinhalese can say what their so-called leaders did not say. That would be necessary, but not sufficient. They could also do the brave and right thing: call for a historical audit so that ‘historical claims’ can be assessed and the results factored in when identity-related ‘solutions’ are discussed. There are probably a dozen or more ways to bring the issue of ‘belonging’ or lack thereof into the picture. This country hasn’t seen much of it. The longer we delay, as long will grievance and anxiety last.

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

24 December 2021

‘One Country, One Law’ in an aggrieved and anxious nation

 

The appointment of a presidential task force mandated to draft relevant legislation aimed at operationalising the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept precipitated howls of protests. The howlers weren’t exactly from those opposed in some way to a single corpus of rules; rather they by and large belonged to that small set of people who are either inclined to object to anything that any government proposes or to see demons in anything proposed by governments headed by people with the name Rajapaksa.

One has to wonder if the objectors would have been as livid had the President appointed anyone other than Rev Galabodaaththe Gnanasara Thero to head the said task force given his volatile (soft word) history. That aside, it is indeed intriguing that those who swear by secularism have issues with the notion. Moreover, it must be emphasized that the ‘One country, one law’ concept is not owned by the President. It is in fact co-owned — Sajith Premadasa as the presidential candidate of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya was in agreement with Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The numbers tell a story about the sentiments of the voting population. A total of 6.9 million voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa while Sajith Premadasa obtained 5.7 million votes. That’s 12.6 million. There were altogether 35 candidates. They either echoed this vision in their manifestos and rhetoric or were silent. In other words, at least 12.6 million people or 94.24% of the total number who cast valid votes (52.25% for Gotabaya and 41.99% for Sajith), voted for candidates who believed that Sri Lanka is a SINGLE COUNTRY and therefore should have ONE LAW for all. In fact if the other 33 candidates were asked ‘are you for or against?’ the chances are that the vast majority would say ‘for.’ We could then stop with ‘so there!’ That however would be simplistic if only because the devil would be in the details. Moreover we are talking about a nation so fractured along many lines that grief and anxiety have to be understood as key elements of the political soil in which the idea has to be planted, fertilized and tended.

Grief and anxiety are not value-free. They are infected with ideological and outcome preferences. They can and are often inflated by the allegedly aggrieved and anxious. They are also pooh-poohed by those opposed to such grievers. We have, in fact, contesting anxieties and griefs. Laws can be and ought to be dispassionate but their enactment and enforcement fuel emotion.  If the task force has as objective a set of rules that make for healing then we need to be sensitive to these emotions, political though the articulator are and pernicious though their fuelling could be.

Which community (ethnic, religious or political) in this country is free of anxiety? Is there any community that is not aggrieved? Can any community say ‘our anxieties are greater and we are more aggrieved’? Will any community admit ‘we are less aggrieved and less anxious’? Will anyone say ‘we inflicted suffering and we are responsible for grief and anxieties experienced by others’? The ‘yes’ and/or ‘no’ answers to such questions will give us some sense of the political terrain in which resolution-efforts of any kind (this one included) have to be planted. It’s not really an amazingly fertile soil that we are talking about. It is toxic and toxicity is deliberately enhanced by one and all, with the best of intentions or, as is more often the case, with vile intent.
 

To me, at some fundamental level, it is about one’s sense of belonging. Laws are controlling mechanism to which a population must submit. If the submission is done willingly (because there’s something to gain in the social contract) it’s all good. However if the law or a set of laws are discriminatory or else privilege a community other than one which you belong to (or identify with), displeasure if not anxiety and grief will ensue.

Do we need to list all the grievances and all the anxieties? When will we start recognising that we have caused grief and anxiety to others? When will we acknowledge that we have deliberately and even perniciously inflated angst and ridiculed that of others? When will selectivity be acknowledged? When will we say ‘we too are guilty of various crimes of omission and commission’?

What the Task Force is going to come up with, we cannot predict. We do know that the President appointed a committee of experts to draft a new constitution. One must assume that the committee has been busy drafting and that it has taken into account the popular sentiments of the people, the relevant histories and most importantly the fact that ‘One country, one law’ has been agreed upon by the vast majority of the voters. The Task Force ought to be in communication with this committee simply because its mandate, technically, is a sliver of the task assigned to the said committee.

The Task Force can insist, the committee can give weight but parliament and the people must in the final instance agree. That’s a process of law-formulation. On face value it seems an easy thing to do. At the end of it you’ll get new laws or you’ll have to live with what that currently exists. Either way, there’s no guarantee that the resolution desired will be obtained.

We have heard the pros and cons of this and that offered and refuted by one community or another. That’s the easy part and it’s the easy thing that we’ve done for decades. Understandable of course because that’s what politics is all about. It is hard to rise above all that. We look for ‘truth’ and talk of ‘reconciliation’ but what we end up doing is toss around half (or less) truths and insist on resolutions that sort out our anxieties and in some way alleviate our griefs, never mind what they could do to others.

So yes, we’ve talked for decades. And we’ve footnoted or erased much more than we’ve written. If Rev Gnanasara Thera and the Task Force he leads recognizes this and initiates a discussion along these lines it would be good. Indeed it would give much needed credence to the process. Even if it does not result in scripting formal rules relevant to the idea (One country, one law), it will take us quite a distance along the road to solidarities that have evaded us for too long.

malindasenevi@gmail.com

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


13 December 2021

Thanks goodness for Omicron!



Am I being flippant about something that is of serious concern to the health of the economy and the well being of the citizens? No. It’s sarcasm. Unfortunately, it needs to be labeled for the benefit of those who spin doom’s day scenarios with the unabashed objective of living in political territories closer to their hearts.

Pandemics are not for celebration. Covid-19 has taken an immense toll on one and all. It has crippled economies across the globe, a fact largely ignored by those who believe that bad times are a Sri Lankan preserve. The virus itself is evolving and scientists are struggling to keep pace. The world is better prepared in terms of people being well acquainted with basic safety protocols but there is still a considerable knowledge gap.

The pandemic has, as mentioned several times in this column, spawned innumerable epidemiologists. Remove the rhetoric, remove the commonsensical that does not warrant media conferences but nevertheless takes up much space in statements and news reports, and we have ‘better safe than sorry,’ or ‘prevention is better than cure.’

So why this ‘flippant’ title, then? In a word, politics. Ominous were the signs, ‘apocalyptic’ were their readings, especially from those who had political axes to grind (read this as ‘reduced political circumstances with respect to achieving preferred political outcomes’). Pundits expected health officials and the government to fight way above their respective weights in a world in which even the WHO and top scientists acknowledged being flummoxed by the virus.

The arrival of the virus was celebrated (yes, considering the unholy salivation!) as evidence of incompetence. Then there was talk of inability to obtain the vaccine. Then there were whispers about the efficacy of the Sinopharm Vaccine. Then there were questions about the entire population not being vaccinated. Lock-downs were insisted upon, followed by dire warnings about impact on the economy, food shortages and such, followed once again by calls for restrictions.  In short goalposts were constantly shifted. It’s an easy game. It’s a political game.

People are concerned as they should be. Organizations too. For example, Dr Padma Gunaratne, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), regularly issues public statements which are essentially directed at the general public. The SLMA has, I’ve learned, frequently offered advice to health authorities. Recently, after the detection of the Omicron variant, Dr Gunaratne said that all precautionary measures should be taken to ensure the new variant does not enter the country. She acknowledged that such measures have already been taken. She added that there is no guarantee that the variant would not arrive. She was proven right — an Omicron case was detected a few days later.

What can we conclude here? The best precautions cannot guarantee that variants will not enter, whether it is Omicron or the variants that came before or those into which the virus may mutate in the future. Now if we look back, what can we make of those who made a song and dance about government-failure in keeping variants away from Sri Lanka? Where they ignorant or were they wishing for disaster in anticipation of possible political rewards?

What is interesting about Dr Gunaratne’s (and of course the SLMA’s) statements is that they consistently appeal to the public to adhere to safety protocols including vaccination. The last echoes the views of Dr Chandima Jeewandara, Director of the Allergy, Immunology and Cell Biology Unit of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, who said it was vital for the eligible personnel to obtain the booster dose as well to face the new variant.

And yet, it’s the commonsensical by-the-ways that get media play: ‘Omicron: non-entry into country cannot be guaranteed!’ Upul Rohana, head of the Public Health Inspectors’ Union gives it a sexier twist: ‘there are many loopholes through which the new variant could enter the country.’ Dr Gunaratne doesn’t talk of loopholes, a word that implies incompetence. She’s essentially preambling as follows: ‘despite the best efforts of one and all…’ Not enough for ‘Doctor’ Rohana, no. He has to script in something sinister.  No caveats such as those offered by doctors and health experts.

For example, Dr Gunaratne stated, ‘Experts are of the opinion that the new variant is more transmissible than previous versions of the virus, and that it may be able to bypass certain levels of immunity. However, these theories are not yet proven to be true.’ Prof. Neelika Malavige, Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at Sri Jayawardenepura University echoed, ‘Sri Lankans should not worry about the new Covid-19 variant – Omicron - but rather should continue with the immunization program and follow strict health guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as they were of vital importance.’ The WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said ‘the new coronavirus variant Omicron appeared to be very transmissible, the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic.’


Panic, however, seems to be what the likes of Rohana are aiming for. After the first Omicron case was detected, he howled that the Health Ministry had not informed his union. Why should anyone keep unions informed? PHIs, perhaps, but unions? Director of Technical Services of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Anwar Hamdani stated that protocols were followed after the detection. Dr Hamdani stating that there’s no cause for alarm, did acknowledge that PHIs should have been informed by relevant MoH officers. So what do we have here if not lapse on the part of MoH officers. That warrants a media conference? Seriously!
 
The consensus medical opinion is that there is a knowledge-gap. Even the efficacy of the vaccine is being questioned. Talk to ten ‘experts’ and you’ll probably get several opinions about the behavior of the virus and ways of combating it.  
Here’s an example. Hong Kong based virologist Professor Malik Peiris, recipient of the 2021 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award, states (the obvious): ‘it is sensible to act with caution.’ The primary aim, he says, should be to avoid this virus getting into the country. Anyone can tell you that. Then comes this: ‘Detecting it after it has got into Sri Lanka will be too late, as we saw with Delta.’
Wow! Wow! Wow! Detection is only possible after entry, is it not? So ‘too late’ (in the case of detection) goes without saying. Wait. Didn’t Dr Gunaratne say that entry is inevitable?

So there you have it. People like Dr Gunaratne act responsibly, communicating or rather reiterating a message we all know but is conveniently forgotten by some and offering advise to health authorities. We have the Rohanas, spoiling for a fight (or is it some media-boost). We have the likes of Prof Peiris, again stating the obvious, but making for all kinds of media spin. And we have the media or rather certain sections of it, silent for quite a long time suddenly being titillated by a new variant, never mind obvious uncertainties and never mind the obvious irresponsibility of effectively urging one and all to press the panic button.

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







 



25 November 2021

‘One country, one law’ and forgotten manuscripts

 


 

If a priest, to toss in another example, claims that someone is guilty of a crime (for example, an act of terrorism), he/she better substantiate the claim — saying ‘Aney, I am also a victim, it was those in my faith-community who suffered most,’ won’t do. 'Victimhood' does not confer special rights to insult anyone and hiding behind a robe or cassock is a coward’s scheme. 

One country, one law. Now there’s something that has to prompt wild cheers from so-called liberals (including ardent UNPers, SJBers, not-so-red JVPers, funded-voices, rent-a-protest agitators and other Colombians). They are not cheering.

Why not? Let’s get that question out of the way first.  Several answers. The more legitimate would be the composition of the Task Force on the subject appointed by the President, in particular its Chairperson, Rev Galabodaaththe Gnanasara Thero. In word and deed the Thero has espoused the notion, but with a caveat. The Thero has ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ instead of the word ‘One.’ That said, the Task Force has since appointment strived to broaden the composition and make it more inclusive. Nevertheless the name and history of its head can be disconcerting.

The objectors, however, haven’t called for a re-composition. They don’t seem to be interested in moving beyond sneer and jeer. The real objection, then, could be that it is their political opponents who have moved on matters they swear by. Well, their ‘swearing’ is essentially about trumping Sinhalese and Buddhists while safeguarding the privileges of other religious and ethnic communities. ‘One country, one law’ for them is just that. The many proposals for constitutional amendment stand witness to this state of mind. They want ‘secular’ applied to some but not for others and so we have both celebration and abuse of specificity. What applies in the general should not be trumped by the specific, but they don’t mind that.

That’s politics and not some high minded philosophical predilection. They want a green Sri Lanka, for example, but would cut down all the trees and poison the land, air and water rather than see this government delivering what they are supposedly fighting for.

So there's a lack of trust. That’s understandable. After all, we don't live in a country where anyone can claim the judiciary is absolutely independent, rule of law rules, there’s due process etc. Such things are promised but laws, institutions, officials and cultures make delivery a tough task. We also have unequal application of statute. There’s also very real and highly visible privileging. We could use the term ‘privilege’ when dissecting religious holidays, but even in the everyday we all know that laws are bent and rules ignored. A significant portion of the Police Force, for example, is deployed for VIP security. We see VIP convoys. Part of the pessimism could be explained by such things.

People are cynical about new laws being promulgated and for good reason. In many cases it’s not that the legislation is absent; there’s sloth or even absence when it comes to application. This does not mean that we should abandon the idea. It’s better to have the laws in place than not.

In this case, moreover, the vast majority of people voted for the notion. A total of 12.6 million voted for ‘one country, one law’ (6.9 million for Gotabaya Rajapaksa and 5.7 million for Sajith Premadasa). The other 33 presidential candidates either echoed this vision in their manifestos and rhetoric or were silent. In other words, 94.24% of the total number who cast valid votes (52.25% for Gotabaya and 41.99% for Sajith), picked candidates who believed that Sri Lanka is a SINGLE COUNTRY and therefore should have ONE LAW for all.    Well, the people have spoken, haven’t they? We are talking of 12.6 million (or 94.24% of those who voted).

What Rajapaksa and Premadasa (and other candidates) promised is that there would be a single corpus of laws. In other words, what applies to a Sinhalese would apply to a Tamil, what applies to a Hindu would apply to a Muslim, etc. In other words, the fundamental concept of ‘Equality’ should be applied across the board.  Alternatively, and this seems to be the most logical course of action, all such regional, ethnicity or religion based laws should be repealed. Anyway, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has the mandate. And the United National Party (UNP) is honor-bound to support implementation.

Will the Task Force get the job done? That’s left to be seen. In a sense, the logic of setting up this body can be questioned since there’s already a committee tasked to draft a new constitution. That committee would not be ignorant of mandates. It has deliberated for close to two years now.

On the other hand, this is a Task Force. There are ‘tasks’ that can be undertaken. They could, for example, wipe the dust off the report submitted by the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Extremism on February 19, 2020, days before Parliament was dissolved. The mandate is clearly evidenced by the lengthy title: ‘Proposal for formulation and implementation of relevant laws required to ensure national security that will eliminate New Terrorism and extremism by strengthening friendship among races and religions.’ It is about national security and combating extremism, but does speak to the one-country-one-law idea.  

The report contained recommendations on the following areas: 1. Education, 2. Banning face coverings which hinder identification, 3. National Defence Policy, 4. Amending the Immigration and Emigration Law in line with new developments, national and international, 5. Electronic, print and social media, 6. Amending the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Law, 7. Empowering Muslim civil society, 8. Empowerment and legalization of the NGO Secretariat, 9. Amendment of the Wakf Act, 10. Suspension of registration of political parties on ethnic and religious basis, 11. Issuing birth certificates with Sri Lankan Identity Number, 12. Establishment of a ministry of religious affairs that combines all religions, 13. Building and maintaining Dhamma schools and religious centers to ensure inter-religious cohabitation, and 14. Halal certification process. The proposals, then, certainly address the vexed issue which we could headline as ‘One country, many laws.’

There are short and medium measures that could be immediately implemented this side of constitutional amendment. There are several important measures which can be implemented by the ministries of education, defence, media, justice, telecommunications, religious affairs etc. The Task Force could strongly endorse the recommendations of the Sectoral Oversight Committee and this would go a long way in putting lots of things right.

As mentioned, we don’t have to wait for constitutional reform for all things. Existing laws can be implemented. Rules can be enforced. And the onus is especially on those who have made careers for themselves by shouting themselves hoarse about such things.

No one is above the law and no one should have extra privileges. He who is libellous, for example, should be duly charged be he/she a politician or a priest. Citing parliamentary privileges, for example, is like shooting an unarmed person in the back. If a priest, to toss in another example, claims that someone is guilty of a crime (for example, an act of terrorism), he/she better substantiate the claim — saying ‘Aney, I am also a victim, it was those in my faith-community who suffered most,’ won’t do. 'Victimhood' does not confer special rights to insult anyone and hiding behind a robe or cassock is a coward’s scheme. It won’t do in a one-country, one-law situation.

So there are lots of interesting things to talk about in this one-country, one-law business. Among them, hidden manuscripts and even hidden agendas. Keep things in the public domain. Facilitate open discussion. Skeletons may fall out of cupboards. Good for the country, all things considered.

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

22 November 2021

Physicians heal (and how!)

doctor-patient ratio: With 1:921, India has healthy doctor-patient ratio |  Bengaluru News - Times of India

Years ago I wrote an article titled ‘I will die in the General Hospital.’ I was convinced that the best treatment possible in the country is obtainable from the public hospitals and not private ones. Overworked, understaffed and overcrowded simply on account of free healthcare, these institutions are a testimony to the dedication of the public service.

Obviously they don’t look as pretty as private hospitals but then again the sick are not exactly looking for holiday resorts. There’s 24-7 surveillance and the hospital staff are alert to changes of condition that warrant immediate attention. They may not be at your beck and call simply because they cannot, given workload, and because they are forced to prioritise.

Are they error-free? No they are not. However, we do live in a world where some people love to vilify the public sector and bend over backwards to ensure that the corporate sector is spared embarrassment. Public institutions are named and shamed in the media whereas private companies are not.

Not all doctors are writers and the best among them, typically, let their work speak for itself. They don’t brag. They don’t even write memoirs. If they did, perceptions about doctors and government hospitals would change dramatically. Instead we hear of the sporadic mishap inflated to the point that the excellent services offered and the remarkable achievements are all but blotched.

It’s not that all doctors are paupers, but it does take years for them to actually start earning money. Five years of university with one or more years added on account of political turmoil, followed by internships and further training means that they are usually in the mid thirties when they can really say they are on their feet. They, like anyone else, have lives, they consume and dream. They have aspirations for their children. Most of these things require money.

Dr Mark Amarasinghe once said that he has seen thousands of idealistic freshers who’ve spoken about wanting to serve their fellow human beings and their country who towards the end of their university days talk of securing a remunerative private practice. Life gets in the way of ideals. Reality kicks in. For one and all. Doctors not exempted.

One day, the GMOA will do a survey and tell the country, ‘We have X members of whom Y have a private practice.’ We should not begrudge anyone for wanting to make use of available opportunities to earn money. Indeed, it could even be the case that the doctors with the best private practice also happen to be among those who work tirelessly at their respective ‘day jobs’ and with utmost integrity.

All this is true. The issue is that anything that’s not not voluntarily is, by definition, coloured by self-interest.  Where ‘self-interest’ involves earning oodles of money, reference to the lofty ideals of the vocation and oaths taken therein do sound hollow.

This is not to say that everything said by a doctor or a health official should be taken with a pinch of salt, but as they say it could pay to be cautious when anyone, physician or otherwise, advocates on matters that are not strictly within the ambit defined by training and qualification or on behalf of collectives. The history and agenda of such collectives must be taken into account.

We had doctors (not all) who ridiculed those who spoke of the vaccine. ‘We will never get a single vaccine! so thundered some ‘experts.’ Later, some of these very people were so peeved that they couldn’t be in the forefront of the ‘vaccine drive’ that they bad-mouthed the security forces who were in the thick of things but in a manner way more orderly than the experts could come up with.

We had ‘experts’ making dire predictions. Some, quoting the daily deaths or infections, would state the obvious in somber tones ‘this is the worst period.’ One doesn’t need to be a doctor to read numbers. Some came out with interesting projections: ‘the x stage of the nth wave is nigh’ or something to that effect. No mention of what demarcates x from x-1.

This is known. Some doctors thrived on lockdowns. The GMOA would be able to tell us how many of those who called for lockdowns or their continuations had shifted to online consulting. And let’s not even start about the general ‘practice’ of operating like sales agents of the pharmaceutical industry!

All this said, I am still convinced that we have one of the best health services in the world. It is under-appreciated in the main. It is simply because the health sector is so amazing that some health ‘professionals’ can talk as though they are deities of some sort, pontificating, passing judgment, offering wild extrapolation and such. It works. Politically. It probably works in terms of enhancing economies.

In the long-run though, these things tarnish the vocation. The GMOA is a trade union. Nothing wrong with that. There are rights that need to be secured. There are gains that must be fought for. If it’s alright for others, then it should be so for doctors as well. The GMOA can, I believe, obtain higher moral ground if it turned stethoscope on its own chest (and back) and deployed analytical and enumerative skills its membership so obviously possess to give us a clearer profile of itself. It can say ‘yes, we are not perfect; yes, some of our members do not have integrity; yes, some of them clothe self-interest as public necessity.’

If you are wondering, yes, I still want to die in a ‘general hospital’ treated by doctors and specialists paid by the tax-payers. They are the best when it comes to treating patients. Outside of this noble vocation, I do question intent and of course integrity.


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

Of blinders and elephants



In the last match that Sri Lanka played in the ongoing T-20 world cup, against the West Indies, Rostan Chase was caught by Bhanuka Rajapaksa off the bowling of Chamika Karunaratne. A beauty, the commentators said. ‘A blinder’ was how cricinfo described it. It was extraordinary, certainly, and helped Sri Lanka sign off on a relatively high note.

‘Blinder’ has another meaning. Sometimes called ‘blinkers,’ blinders refer to the two flaps on a horse's bridle to keep it from seeing objects at its sides. This is typical in horse racing. You don’t want the horse to see anything but the path ahead. There’s a lot of predetermination involved, obviously. This is why the word is a metaphor.  As a metaphor, it’s about keeping individuals or collectives from even considering alternative pathways. Assertions of the ‘I am the light’ kind, in religion or politics or anything else, essentially precludes or hopes to preclude consideration of anything else that might contradict.

Obviously, in this game, those with power get to define ‘right’ and therefore ‘wrong.’ Bucks speak. And if anyone believes that truth cannot be bucked, one way or another, then simply consider the fact that corporations fund ‘research’ and task ‘researchers’ to obtain happy facts.

Here’s an example that would give an idea of how things work. In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic the tobacco industry gave a lot of play to a story. Yes, it was not confirmed. Maybe it was true, maybe not. Some village in Europe where there was a relatively high percentage of smokers, the story claimed, showed a rate of infection lower than those of neighbouring villages. Even if the story was true, no study had been conducted to determine the true cause of this ‘anomaly.’ It could have been a spurious relationship. This didn’t stop the tobacco industry from indulging in wild extrapolation!  

Are people so dumb that they can’t see through it all? Well, not really. Sometimes it’s just that they don’t have access to all the information necessary to make a decent call about most things. And it is not something that academics are immune to either. If you have been taught that there are various theories about the way economies or societies function and are transformed but after some of these are mentioned if focus is restricted to one particular paradigm, then that’s what becomes familiar. These theories take people through their ALs, university and postgraduate studies but also ensures that they are required to spend so much time in this restricted ‘world’ that they just don’t have the time to question received wisdom or consider alternative paradigms, and that’s what becomes ‘standard.’ It becomes ‘truth’ and ‘conscience’ demands that such truth be defended.

Wasn’t the Green Revolution marketed as an amazing mantra that would flood the world with prosperity? Wasn’t the white-man’s-way marketed as evidence of civilisation? Wasn’t everything else branded as archaic and obstacles to progress? Wasn’t ‘progress’ defined? These ‘conclusions,’ were they the product of impeccable scientific inquiry? Was ‘science’ itself value-free? If so, why did Western ‘science’ move away from flat-earth theories? Why doesn’t Western ‘science’ swear by Newtonian Physics any longer?

One could argue that new knowledge invariably calls to question prevailing theories and their amendment marks scientific progress. That’s fair. However, not all processes related to knowledge acquisition and subsequent theorisation are above board. These processes are not insulated by manipulation.

Here are some questions that might make us rethink received wisdom. If capitalism is so great and is the best system to generate peace and prosperity, why has the Age of Capitalism been marked by endless wars and insufferable deprivation across the globe and within countries? Teething problems, did someone offer? Is it that or are war and poverty essentials of the capitalist story?

What do blinders (or blinkers if you wish) do? They make us forget the elephant in the room. Elephants, one might say. Herds, then. There’s an elephant called ‘Health’ which we don’t see or are made not to see in a room named ‘Agriculture.’ There’s the health of those who have to be hands-on with chemicals called for by ladies and gentlemen in the consumer side of things and of course the buck-makers in the sector don’t have to worry about. Well, they would worry about it if they could see the elephant called ‘Carcinogens’ or the one called ‘Nutrient-deficient’ in the room called ‘Consumption.’ There’s a vast field called ‘Yield-density’ which economists are fixated about and in it there’s an elephant called ‘Nutrition-density’ whose presence, ironically, is marked by an absence.

So, blinders on, we wallow in the luxury-lap of pontification which essentially is an exercise in regurgitating received ‘wisdom.’ We say ‘run to the IMF.’ We don’t talk of what the IMF did and does and how the IMF conditionalities played out over the past fifty plus years. We talk of scarcity and prices after hounding out elephants we want to wish away. Yes, we call them ‘externalities’ because they are hard to capture. We pick and choose from history, the 1970s for instance, leaving out the relevant global economic context and focusing on errors and egos, which is the easiest way of debunking theories.

We love to talk about the fertilizer crisis, but we don’t ask ourselves the obvious question: should we not revisit the chemical input issue? No one says ‘this should not be attempted at all.’ Right now we are in ‘it can be done, but not this way’ kind of frame. Well, at least we are in that frame, but finding ourselves thus located we ignore the elephants and focus on the things that make for ranting and raving. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is ‘science,’ alright?

We are in a burning room. Someone says, ‘we need to get out’ and does his utmost to carry out an evacuation effort, to the best of his ability, to the best of his knowledge. Funny thing: there are people inside the burning house throwing the would-be evacuator question-grenades: a) are you sure the house is burning? b) will I have a safe and comfortable dwelling if I were to leave the house? c) what is the guarantee that the alternative is a house that is fire-resistant?

The thumb-twiddlers and navel-gazers, the armchair critics and all may have fire insurance. They may be fire-resistant too, who can tell? They are welcome to test the worth of their insurance policies and the substances they’ve coated themselves with. They need not stand in the way of those who want to escape. They should not block the doorway with half-truths and theories specifically designed to ensure the well-being of the few at the cost of ill-feeding and impoverishing the many. Well, the earth itself, one might add.

There are blinders that should be celebrated. The one associated with Bhanuka Rajapaksa for example. We should not forget the etymology though: 'make blind, deprive of sight, deceive.'

malindasenevi@gmail.com. 

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

Zeroing in on the ‘Mahamolakaru’



Here’s a sequence of events that makes for interesting commentary: a) Father Cyril Gamini makes a public statement regarding the Easter Sunday Attacks where he points an accusing finger at the Director, State Intelligence Service (SIS), b) the Director lodges a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), c) the CID summons Farther Gamini, d) Father Gamini requests a week to prepare himself for any possible questioning, e)  Secretary, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and former Minister of Public Administration and Management and Law and Order (during the time of Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government) Ranjith Maddumabandara issues a statement claiming that the Director and/or the CID was attempting to ‘shoot the messenger,’ that it was an attempt to stymie interventions of the Catholic Church related to the said attacks, that the victims were being tainted as suspects etc., f) Fr Gamini files a Fundamental Rights application seeking a Supreme Court order to prevent imminent arrest.


Yes, there was a before and perhaps an ideal after, and these are parts of the story. First the ‘before.’ Perhaps one should say ‘the “long” before.’ The attacks were carried out by the National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ), an extremist Islamic outfit led by Zahran Hashim. The leader, the followers, the bucks and arms didn’t fall from the sky. They had all that. They were well trained. The ‘operation’ was well-coordinated and execution almost immaculate. So there was a ‘long before' to it. Part of it was ‘warnings.’ Today we know that those in the highest echelons of power were in the know. Maybe they didn’t heed warnings, but they knew. Those responsible for maintaining law and order knew. Maddumabandara, considering his portfolio, had been duly informed about the activities of Zahran and the NTJ by the then Director of the SIS who strongly recommended that a special unit of the Police be deployed to arrest him. This was way back in 2018 (May 19 to be exact). Maddumabandara did nothing. Did someone saw ‘crime of omission’? Did someone else exclaim, ‘complicit!’?

A year later bombs exploded. Those who on account of incompetence and/or criminal negligence paved the way for the attacks were lost in ‘mumblement,’ navel-gazing and thumb-twiddling. The Catholic Church was the principal target. The majority of victims were Catholics. The Catholic Order was naturally very, very upset. The Cardinal, to his credit, did his utmost to calm his flock and prevent retaliatory violence. The Cardinal and others of the faith, very correctly, called for truth and justice. Of course the then opposition played the issue to the max, as oppositions are wont to do. The political landscape changed but it would be silly to put it all down to the Easter Sunday attacks or the ‘role of the Catholic Church.’

Investigations were launched. Many were arrested. Some were enlarged on bail and some were released, perhaps for lack of evidence to warrant prosecution. Indictments were served. The process moves, perhaps not as fast as some would like, but no one can say ‘nothing’s being done.’

Let’s assume, however, that there’s some devious plan to ensure that justice will not be done. Let’s even assume that the Director, SIS, is in fact the so-called ‘Mahamolakaru (‘The Brains’)’ alluded to in the preferred narrative spouted by the current opposition and certain Catholic priests. Since Maddumabandara in his missive on behalf of the SJB talks of proper procedure (claiming that the Director, SIS, should have lodged his protest elsewhere), shouldn’t the proper course of action been for Fr Gamini to make the complaint to the proper authorities (re the Director) and not make public accusations? Maddumabandara knows the basic dictum ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ No guilt has been established. Accusation does not amount to guilt and suspicion and suspects need to be played out through proper procedures.

Fr Gamini’s concerns about truth and justice are well taken. He, like any Catholic or indeed any Sri Lankan, has every reason to feel aggrieved. We all want truth and justice, sooner rather than later. We can insist, but we cannot hurry the judicial process. Grief notwithstanding it is wrong to accuse without substantiation, it is wrong to assume that accusation implies guilt, it is wrong to assassinate characters. Being a priest of whatever denomination is not a cover hidden behind which one can shoot at anyone one believes is a wrongdoer. That’s a matter for other authorities. However, if someone, priest or otherwise, deems that he/she has that right, then the intended victim of such attacks has every right to seek redress from relevant authorities.

What takes the cake, however, is Maddumabandara’s sudden grief about the Easter Sunday attacks. The icing is his (and the SJB’s) ‘high-minded’ umbrage at perceived targeting of Fr Gamini (talk about victims being labeled as culprits!) ignoring the established fact that the good father was out of order. So it’s about forgetting the back story. Is it about a political group in beleaguered circumstances imagining a better ‘later’ and trying to fish in waters they themselves ‘troubled’?

Mahamolakaru. That word. We don’t know if there was such an individual or, say, an organisation apart from Zahran and the NTJ. We can offer half a dozen conspiracy theories of course and blame it all on global politics, international political economy, religious-opiates or Original Sin. Not helpful.

This much is certain. There are lots of kuda-molakarus in the picture. No. ‘Small brained’ would be the direct translation. ‘Small-minded’ could also work.

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.]  


 
   


Cardinal sins


 

Sometime in the year 2012, Wijedasa Rajapaksha, at the time a UNP Member of Parliament, called for constitutional measures prohibiting clergy from entering Parliament. The target was the Buddhist clergy. If such a measure was legislated it would have barred people like Eran Wickramaratne from contesting elections. Indeed, all those belonging to Christian denominations which take membership as qualification sufficient to preach, would be similarly barred.

It’s a tough question of course. Is politics a no-no for the clergy? If so, would someone please elaborate on what is political and what is not? What’s not tough is to identify the selectivity and therefore the political and ideological frames that lend themselves to posturing on the question of permissibility.

A colourful and maverick (one may argue) politician, recently departed, once claimed that he had taken refuge in the ‘Noble Double Gem.’ He was essentially taking potshots at the Sangharatnaya. A grand generalisation which, one might add, indicated that the man’s knowledge of the Buddhavacana was pretty limited. Makes for interesting conjecture on the truth or otherwise of refuges claimed.

Get to the point, did someone insist? Alright. This is about Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. The Cardinal has not talked of contesting elections. That doesn’t make him apolitical. Neither does it mean that he is unaware of politics, political affiliations and processes. It doesn’t mean that he is apathetic about outcomes either. He’s no god. He’s a man. He has opinions like anyone else. He probably has outcome preferences as well.  

Did I say ‘probably’? Sorry. There’s no question about it. All one has to do is to map his behavioural patterns since the Easter Sunday attacks.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith wants truth and justice. That’s good. One might say ‘that’s all up to the omniscient and omnipotent.’ Indeed he could say and do as appropriate following stated religious convictions, but then he’s a man, let us repeat, and he’s frail therefore. Moreover one can interpret scriptures in many ways and some readings will sanction a more proactive role from the flocks and shepherds. We’ve had ‘liberation theology’ long before the term came into vogue in the political lexicon. The Catholic Church, the Cardinal (and the Pope) would agree, has rarely been apolitical. It has had interests. It has played the role of agent provocateur. And worse! It has, let us not forget, significant economic interests as well.

So. We have Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith in a political avatar, if you will. Nothing wrong with this. However, if that’s the garb he chooses to wear (and that’s his choice for the most part over the past two years, let us not forget), he must be read and judged politically.

The Cardinal may, in private, seek divine revelation and dispensation of justice; in public he doesn’t show any faith in astral entities — he wants here-and-now truth and justice from eminently non-divine institutions, processes and persons. The pruthagjanas. Nothing wrong with that. Legitimate expectations from any citizen who is concerned about such things, one could argue.

Here’s the ‘here’ of it. A presidential commission of inquiry completed a fact-finding mission. It can recommend and recommend it certainly did. The Attorney General was instructed to act upon recommendations, which obviously requires formal investigations. That’s ‘here.’  Over 700 persons were arrested in relation to the attacks, over 300 were enlarged on bail and dozens of others released. We have 11 indictments in which over 40 persons have been named.  ‘Here,’ again.

And that’s where we are ‘now.’ If the Cardinal or anyone else wants instant convictions, that’s downright silly and irresponsible. You can ask for it (you can ask for the moon too, it’s not illegal) but to expect it would be optimistic. You can take the existence of god as a fact but that’s essentially a faith-item. You cannot expect the judiciary to be omnipresent and omnipotent. That’s why we have courts. That’s why we have procedures.

And yet, that’s exactly what the Cardinal seems to be demanding. He’s drawn conclusions but if he were to be put on the stand and made to substantiate claims, he would probably embarrass himself, god help him.

So what does he do? He appeals to the Pope. Now, the Pope, officially, is not only the head of the Catholic Church, he rules Vatican City, which is recognised as a country. The Cardinal may believe that the Pope is the direct communicator with god, but that’s a faith-claim; the citizens of Sri Lanka are not compelled to accept such things; indeed, like the Cardinal, anyone else can make wild guesses about such things, anyone else can be aggrieved (tongue-in-cheek like) that god has failed in delivering the last word on truth and justice with respect to the Easter Sunday attacks. It’s subjective, folks.

The Cardinal has every right to appeal to the superiors in his order. However, only someone who is absolutely ignorant of established procedures would expect the courts to give ear to the head of some religious order located in some other country.  

Why then has the Cardinal a) written to the Pope, b) reveal the fact and c) read out the Pope’s response? To put pressure on the judicial process and the Sri Lankan Government, did someone say? Well, the assumption would be that the government is foot-dragging but that is speculation that is not proven; in fact the evidence is to the contrary. Put pressure on the judicial process? Really? That’s a good thing?

Clearly the Cardinal is on a mission and it’s all about opening doors for outside intervention that has nothing to do with truth and justice related to the Easter Sunday attack. It’s about creating conditions that could be manipulated for changing political realities.

The Cardinal, resplendently attired in his political cassock, recently claimed that those who used the Easter Sunday attack for political gain would have to pay. If he was referring to the results of the last two major elections, that’s thin political commentary. The Easter Sunday attacks did reveal the previous governments incompetence on managing national security, but it’s silly to reduce the election results to this fact alone. We need not elaborate.

On the other hand, it is no secret that there’s unholy fraternising between the Cardinal and key members of an opposition wallowing in political misfortune. The commitment to truth and justice of that lot was pretty evident in the heady days of witch-hunting and kangaroo courts between 2015 an 2019. It looks like the Cardinal isn’t checking credentials here. Indeed, one should not be surprised if he retired that dire warning about retribution if the political landscape was transformed as per his outcome preferences.

In Catholic theology there are sins, some of which are given tags such as ‘cardinal’ and ‘deadly.’ The gravest of sins would be turning away from god and destroying charity/love in the heart of the sinner. A mortal sin would be a drastic act committed in full knowledge of its gravity. They include vainglory, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. There are corresponding virtues too: humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience and diligence. The Cardinal would know.

‘Sins’ in ‘Cardinal sins,’ is a verb. An act. There could be commission and omission here. I do not wish to lecture the Cardinal on things ecclesiastical but would humbly submit that the virtue of humility could be affirmed at all times. In the here and now. In fact, ‘always’ wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

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.]




Easter Sunday Attack: Tragedy and Farce

[…]
 

 

Operations are under way to nab the so-called ‘Mahamolakaru,’ the mastermind who planned and executed the Easter Sunday attacks a couple of years ago. Mahamolakaru? Mastermind? Really? Well, technically, there could have been such a person. Outfits, especially terrorist organisations, have leaders. Such persons could be called masterminds, one supposes. Megalomaniacs thought they may be.

Anyway, some people in Italy think there was/is a Mahamolakaru behind the Easter Sunday attacks or else they want others to believe so. A group calling itself United Human Rights Organization (yes, sounds pretty NGOish and the word ‘united’ is a bit of a giveaway, but more on that later.) has organised a demonstration in Milano to call on whoever to help find the Mahamolakaru. Apparently a memo had been submitted to the UN as well on the matter.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this. Everyone wants justice to be upheld. Everyone wants the truth. The how and why and why now of it and of course the who of it merits some discussion, however.  It’s not as though António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations is a cop. Neither is Michelle Bachelet. His Holiness Pope Francis doesn’t go around chasing criminals and busting mahamolakaru-headquarters.

Mahamolakaru. Nice title. I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone is interested in capturing the Mahamolakaru of Capitalism, the system that has unleashed depravities, trauma, death, destruction, dismemberment, environmental disasters and cultural erasure across the globe. There could be, theoretically at least, a cabal (probably made of some super rich white men who may or may not confer and/or concur with Chinese counterparts) who meet up now and again or else have some kind of communication arrangement, pulling strings and moving bucks (never mind the collateral) in what is essentially a puppeteering exercise. That would devalue the inherent power of systems and institutions. It’s the same with the Easter Sunday attacks.


Take what the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims (who were loath to even speculate that Islamic fundamentalism and of course that Wahhabism had something to do with the emergence of the NTJ) had to say in the aftermath of the attacks. They said ‘Western Conspiracy.’ Well, they could be right in a sense. After all Uncle Sam has a long history of funding, arming and training all manner of rogues (monarchs, military juntas, theocrats, dictators and what have you?) In the pursuit of securing strategic and financial objectives. It doesn’t mean, does it, that Zahran Hashim was a brain-dead puppet? It doesn’t mean, does it that everyone in the NTJ, suicide bombers, enablers and approvers included, were briefed by some Mahamolakaru via WhatsApp while, say,  doing the rounds in a golf cart somewhere in Palm Springs, Florida?

Let’s just go with the bogey. Let’s assume there was/is a Mahamolakaru. Warnakulasuriya Lowe Roshan Anton Prasanna believes there was/is. Maybe he is a Catholic and is upset on behalf of that religious community. Maybe he is not, but that’s ok. It was an affront to civilisation and decency, democracy and community; it shocked all communities, religious and otherwise. Is he an outraged citizen demanding action and nothing more, though?

Here’s a bio-brief. Lowe Roshan is from Katuneriya. He was discharged from the Navy. Discharged? Maybe someone got it wrong. He may have retired and quit for legitimate reasons. Anyway, he’s no longer a sailor. Technicalities. What’s important here is that he’s a diehard UNPer. That’s what his social media profile clearly indicates. There’s nothing illegal about someone with political affiliation spearheading a demonstration, but circumstances do tell a story. Yes, the name. UNITED Human Rights Organization. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Now this Lowe Roshan may or may not have political ambitions (nothing wrong in that) of his own. He probably has preferred political outcomes. Nothing wrong in that either. What’s relevant is that he’s just one of many who have tagged themselves to the Easter Sunday ‘issue.’

Now let’s get some facts straight. We know that the then Government was aware of the threat. We know that nothing was done by way of taking preemptive measures. Every single individual in the Yahapalana Government is culpable, either because he/she was part of the commissioning exercise (who knows, maybe one of them could have been or is the ‘Mahamolakaru’!) or is guilty of the crime of omission — the latter more likely. There’s no way that Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sajith Premadasa, Patali Champika Ranawaka or others with presidential hopes can claim to have clean hands in this. They are part of the story. And that ‘story’ also contains a chapter on essentially dismantling the entire security apparatus, the intelligence operations in particular. Some bragged about it. Others kept their mouths shut when the braggarts rendered the entire population vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

We don’t know where this Lowe Roshan was at the time. We don’t know what he said after the attacks. However, if he (or anyone else) is interested in finding answers, there are known addresses that can be visited, known ‘molakaru’ who, although they may not have earned the ‘master’ tag, did have some grey matter which was either misdirected or else kept in cold storage.

More facts. A Presidential Commission of Inquiry was appointed and it produced a report. There are conclusions, but a fact-finding mission does not have the authority to serve indictment. That’s up to the Attorney General’s Department. The Attorney General hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs. The Inspector General of Police hasn’t been either. Over 700 persons were arrested in relation to the attacks; over 300 were enlarged on bail and dozens of others released. There are 11 indictments  in which over 40 persons have been named.

Investigations may lead to the discovery of a Mahamolakaru, if indeed there was someone like that. It’s a process. Investigations may lead us to conclude that it was Zahran. Yes, the man’s dead. The nitpickers might want to know how he became the terrorist who played a key role if not the lead role in the attacks. The nitpickers might be happy if all his teachers, all his friends and all his relatives are arrested and summarily executed. They might even say it’s Islam that’s to blame and might reserve their applause until a demand for the burning of all mosques and Qurans is satisfied. They might party till dawn if there was a Kangaroo court and a set of judges who will dish out convictions by snapping their fingers. More likely, though, they really don’t give a damn about truth, justice, convictions and punishment; if preferred political outcomes materialise they would probably drop the whole thing like a hot potato — after all, there was no talk of a Mahamolakaru until Sajith Premadasa lost, remember?    

What happened that Easter Sunday is tragic. What was perpetrated was barbaric. Treating the whole thing like a beggar’s wound maybe is the best that UNPers, SJBer, JVPers and their followers can do, given severely reduced circumstances. That could be called a tragedy. Only, it’s a farce.

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.]




Spit and venom in Geneva (same old, same old)



It’s Bachelet’s hour. That’s Michelle. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The second of her bi-annual Christmas-come-early party in Geneva. Time to get her kicks, probably. The grave countenance, deep tone and malice disguised as concern.  Yes, folks, it’s that time of year of regurgitating tired arguments based on tendentious claims made by unreliable sources with agendas that have little or nothing to do with human rights.  

So she’s done the usual re-hash. She’s dropped the business of the ‘Mannar Mass Graves’ which, in her lust for malicious barbs, made her look quite silly. The rest is there. The concerns, that is. Here’s the nutshell: reconciliation, accountability and militarisation.

It’s essentially an expression of angst over Sri Lanka refusing to inhabit Bachelet’s version (or rather the version touted by her bosses, primarily the USA and its allies in Europe) of Sri Lanka’s reality.

Bachelet is ‘deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.’ Death in police custody is not new. In fact there were dozens of cases in the yahapalanaya years. However, if true, these are serious issues that any citizen should be concerned about. The reports need to be tabled. They need to be investigated.

She has singled out certain things. Like the release of Duminda Silva. Yes, that was a strange decision, especially given that he could have appealed his sentence based on statements made by Hirunika Premachandra and what leaked telephone conversations involving one of the judges indicated about due process. However, it is strange isn’t it that she’s not mentioned the fact that 16 LTTE cadres convicted of serious terrorist crimes were also freed? She talks about reconciliation but says nothing of the successful completion of de-mining, the massive reconstruction and resettlement programmes that have been implemented, as was pointed out by Foreign Minister G L Peiris in Geneva.

She talks of Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem. The former has been charged, not the latter. The charges are serious. The process takes time. However, justice, one way or the other, should never be delayed. These are not ideal circumstances for terrorism is not a trivial matter. Indeed, Bachelet herself has referred to the Commission of Inquiry related to the Easter Sunday attacks. The CoI is a fact-finding body. The Attorney General has to act thereafter and there’s nothing to say that things are at a standstill. Politicians and ill-informed priests have every right to demand that cases be completed immediately. Well, that could also lead to justice being compromised. Creating fairy tales about a ‘mastermind’ does not help. Anyway, all that being said, the cases against Hizbullah and Jazeem need to be concluded. Jazeem needs to be charged if indeed there’s evidence. The cases have to be heard.

What’s interesting here is that neither Bachelet nor her local minions have uttered a single word about the years long detention of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, the former Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council and the leader of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal alias Pilleyan. Well, if it is about friends and family, bedfellows of the moment, and that kind of thing, it’s best not to talk of justice and certainly not in somber tones, eh? We shouldn’t be surprised, the lady nor her organization has a horse to ride, moral or otherwise.

So yes, if we go down to the details,  this other stuff and these other people are not sexy enough for Michelle, we have to conclude. It’s not stuff her minions operating in Sri Lanka are interested in, probably. Ah yes, the minions. That’s the so-called civil society activists who went silent on rights when their political gods were in power and now, in reduced circumstances and deprived of the toys that they were showered with in the heady days of the yahapalana regime, they whine. They talk of intimidation.

Bachelet says, ‘regrettably, surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared had not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.’ Evidence? She’s short on such things. It’s easy to delete context and privilege only that which suits one’s case, but that’s easy and irresponsible. Perhaps she can give the details. Chances are she will not, because if she does, then the government can respond to each and every case cited.

Here are some of the important developments she’s missed and which the Foreign Minister has flagged: 1) The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) as its core function, is finalizing the list of missing persons in collaboration with other agencies. The Office for Reparations (OR) has processed 3,775 claims this year, 2) The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) continues its 8 point action plan, 3) The National Human Rights Commission is carrying on its mandate, 4) A steering committee on SDG 16 is working towards enhancing peace, justice and strong institutions, 5) A Cabinet Sub Committee was appointed to revisit the PTA and to bring it in line with international norms and best practices, 6) A Commission of Inquiry headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court was established to address issues on accountability and missing persons and to revisit recommendations by previous Commissions.

There’s an interesting addition to Bichele’s bi-annual litany of woes. She’s mentioned that ‘militarization and lack of accountability (can have) a corrosive impact on social cohesion and sustainable development.’ Wow! What she understands to be ‘social cohesion’ we really don’t know. Perhaps she believes ‘social cohesion’ is some kind of arrangement where all the citizens are forced to live in a state re-constituted to suit the whims and fancies of her Sri Lankan minions. However,

As for sustainable development, Sri Lanka is doing far better than most countries with respect to the goals set and agreed upon. Indeed, things are moving faster and with greater commitment in this regard. Should we applaud militarization, then?

All things considered, Prof Peiris seems to have got it right. He has rejected  the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 while domestic processes are vigorously addressing the relevant matters. He warns that this could polarize society, as we experienced with Resolution 30/1.

'The Council must adhere to its founding principles. External initiatives embarked upon without the cooperation of the country concerned cannot achieve their stated goals, and will be subject to politicization. The resources expended on this initiative are unwarranted, especially when they are urgently needed for humanitarian and other constructive purposes in many parts of the world.'

Well said.

As for Bachelet, it's a lot of spit, a lot of venom. Misdirected of course. Yes, misdirected. It's a word to ponder upon.

malindsenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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

'Diplomatic' forays into the North and East

If you browsed the internet using the search words ‘terrorism + USA’ you’ll find lots of information including lists of ‘foreign terrorist organizations,’ terrorist attacks in the USA and US travel advisories, among lots of other things. Dig further and you’ll find that there are domestic terrorist organisations as well, where ‘domestic terrorism’ is defined as acts of terrorism carried out within the USA by US citizens or permanent residents.

Interestingly, as far as Washington DC is concerned, those acts carried out by the Feds and various police departments or by police officers with or without sanction from commanding officers are not considered ‘acts of terror’ even though in method and outcome they are no different from those perpetrated by ‘terrorists.’ Interestingly, also, there’s a knee-jerk readiness to use the T-word if the perpetrator happened to be a Muslim, whereas the preferred term is ‘extremism’ if it was, say, a white person belonging to one of the many Christian denominations.

This is also true of Europe.  The 2021 Europol Report on Terrorism in the USA reveals that of the  57 terrorist attempts in the EU, only 10 were jihadist attacks. In other words ethno-nationalist, separatist, left-wing and anarchist organisations or individuals in Austria, France, Italy and Germany out-gunned, so to speak, the ‘Jihadists.’  

There’s ample literature that show the naked racism and even religious fundamentalism in the way terrorism is written and read in these countries. It’s a slanted story or rather what we get are stories skewed courtesy political and ideological bias.  And, get this, it’s a part story. A small-part story, in fact, whose size is determined by definitional exclusion. Factor in US barbarity across the globe not just in terms of wars orchestrated, fought, funded, armed etc., but the scandalous extraction of value through these as well as ‘above the board’ operations through proxies and multilateral instruments and we get Terrorism Plus Plus.

Ah! Europe. Canada. Australia (of late). And of course India (again of late). Well, pawns. Adjuncts. Bid-doers of Washington, essentially. Uncle Sam says and these client states genuflect, mutter ‘Ah! Yes’ or ‘Ah! So!’ And so it is. Indeed, as all good ‘friends’ they provide eyes and ears for the Master. Tongue too, if and when necessary.

Obviously it’s not all covert intelligence. They all do that. Yes, the Indians and Chinese too. It’s good to know terrain, strategic and otherwise, for military as well as economic purposes. Then there are the official channels. The surface, if you will. Obviously those countries that have resources and expendable income are better equipped and positioned to do both. The USA and her minion-nations, specifically.

This is why it is important to keep track of what the officials do and say.  They need to know and we need to know, simply put.

Anyway, over the past week or so, diplo-mats (that’s deliberate, by the way and you can take ‘mat’ as metaphor and interpret as you will) in Colombo have been busy. Busy OUT of Colombo, that is.

On October 12, 2021, the ambassadors of the Netherlands (Tanja Gonggrijp) and Norway (Trine Jøranli Eskedal) visited Batticaloa and had discussions with the Mayor, Thiagarajah Saravanabhavan (TNA) and Member of Parliament Rasamanikyam Sanakiyan (TNA). They also visited the Sarvodaya Centre in Urani to meet with some NGO operatives and had discussions with representatives of Muslim institutions including the Federation of Katttankudy Mosques. A visit to State Minister Sathasivam Viyalanderan (SLPP), in this context seems a courtesy call if one were generous, but probably a token tossed to make it seem like they were checking narratives across the political spectrum.
 
In the meantime, on the same day that is, the High Commissioner of Canada, David McKinnon, visited Jaffna and had discussions with Mayor Vishwakingam Maniwannan about construction and rehabilitation. He also met SLFP MP Angajan Ramanathan and talked ‘development. ’ On the following day, McKinnon went to Kilinochchi where he met TNA MP S Sritharan to talk about celebrating LTTE heroes (yes, terrorists), alleged curtailing of provincial council powers (one wonders if they talked about no one caring about PC elections being indefinitely postponed!), Tamil young leaving the country ‘because of the actions of security forces’ (there are young people off communities leaving Sri Lanka; maybe McKinnon is into migration studies and if so a chapter on global political economy bearing on push and pull factors might be pertinent) and Canada’s stance on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC (aha!).


While McKinnon was making merry in the Northern Province, Gonggrijp and Eskedal were partying in Trincomalee. They met the Easter Province Governor Anuradha Yahampath and the  Naval Commander of the Eastern Province, Rear Admiral Sanjeewa Dias. Maybe they discussed the weather. They also met Rev Father Basil Dunston and some others of the Eastern Human Economic Development Centre. To discuss matters ecclesiastical, perhaps.  

But who are we kidding, ladies and gentlemen? These diplo-mats were essentially abusing diplomatic privileges to violate travel restrictions imposed as part of battling Covid-19.  That’s setting some example, eh? What’s the hurry? Why this, why these people, why now? Were they in some kind of tourist avatar, enjoying what their compatriots cannot courtesy travel advisories and such?

Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? The USA and her clients (in the form of US diplo-mats and their diplo-minions) are essentially busybodies pushing political, economic and strategic agendas. They don’t give two hoots about people in the countries they operate in. Such people, as there are, are essentially usable pawns with use-by dates. The truth of the bleeding heart humanism they spout can easily be assessed by how easily hearts turn to stone when their governments either bomb or facilitate the bombing of other countries (non-white, exclusively).  

They’ve got problems at home, clearly. Roosters coming to roost, did someone say? Their respective governments aren’t exactly calling terrorists ‘freedom fighters’ are they? They aren’t really worried about the near and dear of the domestic terrorists, are they? They are employing a ‘by any means necessary’ strategy aren’t they? Just imagine if they had to deal with a situation magnified a thousand times or more to mimic what Sri Lanka faced and for as long (almost 30 years). It’s easy to bomb other countries. It is easy to shed tears for terrorists in other countries if that’s what doctrines of preferred political outcomes demand. Not easy when someone’s turning familiar landscapes into rubble and reducing loved ones to numbers without names attached to them.  

We hope Europe and North America (and India, Australia and Japan) won’t have to live through what we had to live through. We hope the diplo-mats mentioned above had a nice time in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. We are pretty confident that they got some nice soundbites to be quoted (out of context). We know that molehills can and will be turned into mountains.

Just know, people, that we know. Just know that even as this is annoying, it is also funny. We laughed in the face of terrorism. Machinations we have known. Humor and spirit, we shall always have. Three hearty cheers, therefore for dip-lunacy. Cheers to the diplo-mats. May you live long and prosper. May karma slip (yep, that’s maithri for you — no, not THAT Matithri).

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.]


Covid-19 and responses: notes for doctoral theses



The Political Economy of Covid-19 and Responses to it. That would be an excellent topic for  doctoral dissertation. Of course ‘Combating Covid-19’ would also be an interesting and important study. We are still in the middle of the pandemic and therefore such exercises would be works in progress. The latter, admittedly, would be best taken on if and when we are out of the Covid-19 woods. The former can be studied at any time. In any event, keeping notes would be useful.

The earliest days were marked by trepidation bordering on panic. The world did hit the panic button soon enough. Countries showed varying degrees of caution and chaos. There was a sense of helplessness followed by hope and then back again to panic stations.  

One could put it down to the obvious and incontrovertible truth that knowledge of the virus, its mutations and related behaviour was sparse. The experts were stumped for a while. The more disciplined among them, went to the basics and approached the issue with fact and method, the more cavalier among them covered up ignorance and sloth with pronouncements that veered towards sloganeering, one way or another.

People and groups endowed with a sense of social responsibility resisted the temptation to self-advertise and make capital of one kind or another. The funds, medicines and medical as well as other urgently required equipment channeled to the health sector by well-meaning individuals and groups alone indicate vibrancy of philanthropy and solidarity. That’s another study for scholars,  students of sociology, for example. Such efforts go under the radar for the most part; there are those that like to advertise largesse of course but by and large such exercises have been devoid of any kind of profit motive.  

Politics. That’s where we find the down and dirty. For those in power, here and elsewhere, Covid-19 offers opportunities to cover up sloth and incompetence. All things considered Sri Lanka’s performance in combating the virus has been exemplary. Critics with other agenda will of course find fault, but what the health sector has done with the support of the security forces have done wonders. Yes, people have died. Did anyone believe that given the country’s resource complement we could have avoided it? On the other hand have the critics or the groups they cheer on directly or indirectly strictly adhered to the basic safety protocols? Are they guilt-free, in other words? A quick example: are those who pooh-poohed the vaccination program un-jabbed as of now? As for ‘experts’ who hold weekly media conferences, do they speak in one voice? If the experts can’t agree, can they say with absolute confidence that this (as opposed to that or another) course of action is non-negotiable?

Economy. That too, for there are bucks being made hand over fist so to speak, globally and locally. Desperation and panic produce great opportunities for exploitation. Life-and-death situations often prompt people to retire reason, embrace ‘gut-feelings’ and fall prey to those who are excellently positioned to create perceptions that push potential customers to their products and services. A crude but highly prevalent example would be of retailers who jack up prices willy nilly citing ‘Covid-19’ or ‘scarcity.’  At the high end we have certain countries which insist that visitors who haven’t been jabbed with particular vaccine brands need to be quarantined for a particular period of time. So there’s business for ‘quarantine hotels.’ Covid-19 has not put big hotels out of business, here in Sri Lanka. It’s the smaller establishments that have got hit and/or gone under.

Political economy, however, is the correct term of course. It’s about bucks and power, the capital monetary and otherwise that’s out there to be secured. Those who keep notes would be amused and those who do not might be persuaded to try it. Here’s a word that operates like a window into the political economy of Covid-19: lockdown. Yes, frequently used by never once defined by its ardent advocates (ever asked why?).

Think back on all the lockdowns we’ve had so far. Remember speculation about when each lockdown would end? Remember how, when the date approached, the usual coterie of experts (union leaders and leaders of political parties) insisted, ‘extend the lockdown!’? Yes, they never defined the parameters of restrictions, we need to repeat. Yes, there were experts too, but as mentioned above they were never in agreement about remedies or remedial measures outside of basic safety protocols. Remember that some of them, when lockdowns were proposed, talked of fundamental rights being violated and wept copious tears about the impact on daily wage earners? Remember how almost all of them said nothing about the effect on the economy and resultant repercussions for one and all as well as the country?

Now. What has happened to those who uttered the ‘lockdown mantra’ with fanatical religious fervour? There’s talk of the lockdown being lifted at the end of the month. There’s no talk of the fact that we have had restrictions of one kind or another since March 2020, but that’s an aside. What’s important is to ask why when we are days away (according to all reports) from restriction-lifting there’s no one saying ‘more of the same medicine!’

Is that some kind of grudging acknowledgment that the government’s ‘vaccination + restrictions’ strategy has worked? Is it that those who saw opportunity for advancement (political or economic)  have made the relevant bucks or have streamlined their affairs for sustained enhancement? Have they, should we dare say, been afflicted by some kind of shame for being self-seeking and pernicious in a time of crisis?

Months ago, there were ‘experts’ saying ‘this is the worst we’ve had.’  Even a child capable of comparing numbers could have concluded the same considering say the number of people infected and the number of deaths. Months ago, there were ‘experts’ saying ‘we will see the beginning of the next wave soon.’ Soothsayers, is that what they are? All this, based on knowledge that’s little more than a speck of dust compared with the universe of information yet to be obtained regarding the virus, its mutations and spread.

Here’s a repeat of a question posed a week ago: how does one account for the fact that the number of deaths (per week, per month) in 2021 has essentially remained the same as the averages over the previous five years? Why won’t ‘experts’ check the details? Are they scared they might encounter some devil that might give them nightmares thereafter?

Politics. Economics. Political economy. These are frames that help us unmask those whose intentions are not as benevolent as they might want us to believe.

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


 

Drop the mask, burst the bubble, unlock the mind

 


The re-opening of wine stores caused quite a stir. Memes of what’s now been called ‘bar pokura (wine store cluster) have done the rounds. Naturally much of the ridicule has emanated from those who are part of the ongoing union action by school teachers and principles as well as from those who support them. The political history of the leaders and their backers make dismal reading and as such the self-righteous chest-beating is rather nauseating. The reverse is also valid. A question would suffice to put things in the right perspective: ‘why are those who talked of the ‘guru pokura (Teachers’ Cluster)’ silent on the ‘bar pokura’ and vice versa?’ The answer: political humbuggery.

The humbuggery doesn’t stop there though. Consider the following comment from a long time activist against tobacco, alcohol and drugs on ‘reaction’ to the opening of liquor stores: ‘Such good fun, watching many of our powerful medical people caught in a dilemma. Those normally inclined to attack any restriction of alcohol sales or promotion, suddenly having to support it, in order to attack Basil R!  The urge to criticize Basil won over their usual, equally political, reflex support for the alcohol trade. So the mainstream medical establishment is quietly acknowledging  that alcohol is not so good for our health. Painful, no doubt - but no worries, it will pass. We can [expect] a revert to [the] usual soon.’

Covid-19 is no laughing matter. Those who have suffered extreme symptoms and recovered know. Those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic know. Caught unawares, the world has quickly pressed the panic button. This is not unusual. Human beings are not happy with the unfamiliar; the familiar, like the dispossession and alienation that’s part and parcel of capitalism, don’t drive people to panic stations. They are either taught to grin and bear or do so nevertheless. Throw something out of the blue and human beings get extremely uneasy. The uneasy are easy prey for all kinds of racketeers and of course those in the business of political manipulation. It’s all trotted out in somber tones, but let’s not fool ourselves: some are serious, decent people with no agenda but the well being of their fellow creatures, but others have something to sell, something that will fatten purses or further political ambitions.

If you are skeptical, consider the fact that some medical ‘professionals’ have been aghast at the plans to inoculate school children while others have insisted that this is absolutely necessary, absolutely non-negotiable. Some have advocated lockdowns but have not explained what they mean by the word. Different countries have implemented different strategies with varying degrees of success. It’s trial and error, mostly. Implication: everyone’s on various locations of a learning curve. And yet, those who propound theories strut around that their word is the first and last on pandemic control!  

Here are some numbers that will (in the very least) indicate the importance of details. The average deaths per month across the districts in Sri Lanka (and these are meticulously maintained — except in times was war and of course the UNP-JVP bheeshanaya of the late eighties) from 2015 to 2021: 11,136 (2015), 11,065 (2016), 11,820 (2017), 11,793 (2018), 12,340 (2019), 11,179 (2020) and 7,125 (until end of July 2021). The daily average across districts are as follows: 371 (2015), 369 (2016), 394 (2017), 393 (2018), 411 (2019), 373 (2020) and 238 (2021). If you broke it down to districts the picture is altered: the Western Province numbers are high and will exceed in all likelihood the average over the previous six years. Now that’s something that those who insisted on egalitarian vaccination can chew on. That said, the drive is an all-island affair. There’s vaccination politics of course and it’s not only about preferences for certain districts; it’s also about some people suddenly getting upset that others have been offered a piece of what they considered exclusive traditional homelands, never mind the fact that a jab does not require a medical degree.
 
How should we read these ‘deaths’? The way some people talk, it’s as if the total deaths in, say, 2021 can be estimated by adding the average annual deaths over, say, the past five or six years to the number of ‘Covid-19 deaths’ until, say, the end of September divided by 9 and multiplied by 12. What would then go missing would be the number of people who already had serious medical conditions and of course the elderly.

Get the numbers wrong (deliberately or out of ignorance) and one would most certainly demand that everyone be vaccinated. Panic doesn’t help obviously; sobriety is of essence in these kinds of situations, one would think. The vaccine is, for example, untested. As mentioned in this column previously, it takes years for any vaccine to be properly certified. As ‘untested’ as Ivermectin. Put another way, Ivermectin is as ‘tested’ as any of the vaccines in terms of combating the Coronavirus. There are lots of for and against arguments for both and this is why we can safely conclude one thing: there’s stuff happening behind the masks, there are back stories that are not being told, there are bubbles that certain people have invested in and in which they would like us to be sequestered.

Let’s finish this with an example too much in the public eye for anyone to plead ignorance about. Lockdown. Well ‘lockdown.’ The JVP and SJB called for a self-lockdown, as did the PHI’s union, the leader of which organization was photographed at one of his almost weekly media conferences without a a mask! Of course Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Sajith Premadasa cannot be expected to enforce such measures on their respective members, but are we to believe that the leaders (say the members of the Politburo, Working Committee or whatever their respective decision-making bodies are called) strictly answered their strident call for self-isolation?

Make no mistake, this is not a call for the dropping of all Covid-19 related safety protocols. We are on a learning curve, but even given ignorance it is, as they say, better safe than sorry, prevention is better than cure and that sort of thing. We must wash hands, use hand-sanitisers, maintain social distance and wear masks. We need to inhabit bubbles in that we cannot indulge in business-as-usual kind of socialising.

We are talking of other kinds of masks. Other kinds of bubbles. Other kinds of 'lockdowns'. The masks of deceit. The bubbles of ignorance. The locking down of minds. The title of this piece is tongue-in-cheek, therefore, but perhaps warrants some reflection. Some masks need to be removed; some people unmasked. Some bubbles need to be burst; so we don’t remain forever in cloud cuckoo land. Some things need to be unlocked; the secrets of the oh-so-other-worldly medical industry.


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]