Letters to the Editor

17th March 2002

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Which way: Cure or festering sore?

There appears to be a co-ordinated and well-orchestrated campaign to 'cripple' the on-going attempts by the Prime Minister to bring about peace in our troubled land. Those responsible for this rabble-rousing must be given short shrift by the government and maybe even indicted for treachery and treason, before the real negotiations begin with the LTTE. 

All earlier efforts to bring about a negotiated settlement were failures, because of these undesirable elements in our society. The fact that such people have held sway causing mayhem and dissension throughout our history, is evident when reading any authoritative book be it Robert Knox's "Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon" or any factual fiction (using an oxymoron) written by scholars of repute, about the Kandyan kingdom, the Kotte dynasty or any other period. 

Most probably it is this flaw in our collective persona that prompted Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826) to comment: 

What though the spicy breezes

Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle

Though every prospect pleases

And only man is vile

It is necessary to understand the meaning of at least one expression on everyone's lips - the Memorandum of Understanding. This is merely a prelude or preamble, rather like an introduction to a discussion. The fact that there are signatories to an MoU is not an indication of its validity/legality in a court of law. It is in reality a set of guidelines or framework rather than a legally binding document. 

It was in the past a business instrument used by multinational corporations and commercial houses before acquisitions and mergers. In recent times it has been used by international facilitators like the Norwegians to settle similar disputes in other parts of the world. What is disheartening though to those who prepare these documents in great detail, is the fact that in the final analysis (more often than not) the negotiations fail at the table. 

It should be our prayer, however, that the peace negotiations will be successful and that Sri Lanka and her citizens will once again be treated as men and women of culture as befits our ancient civilisation. 

It is the belief of a section of Sinhala nationalists (who take great pains to disabuse others that they are not racists) that the Prime Minister has given in to the Eelamists. It has also been suggested that he has been influenced by the Norwegians when giving his approval to the MoU. The fact that he has mentioned that there will be a referendum and now as an additional measure of reassurance a broadbased parliamentary committee to ensure that the sovereignty of the country is not jeopardised, however, has fallen on deaf ears. 

It is ironical that the new saviours of the Sinhala race are the JVP who were more sympathetic to the LTTE than even their most ardent supporters, not so long ago. Their volte face is easily explained. They want power at any cost, even of lives and institutions. Their philosophy and criminal activities in the early '70s and late '80s are nevertheless fresh in the minds of the people. It is unlikely that they would, despite their current rhetoric, change their policy and stance as they yet pay homage to the founding father of this insurgent movement, the late Rohana Wijeweera. 

The choice before the people today is, therefore, very simple - a cure or a festering sore. 

It is well to reflect on the words of Abraham Lincoln during his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865. 

"With malice towards none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in: to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." 

B.J. Karunatileka


Champagne and servility

I was shocked to read in The Sunday Times about the American Ambassador Ashley Wills proposing a toast to the Prime Minister, G.L. Peiris and Prabhakaran at the Amcham ball. America apparently hasn't learnt a lesson from September 11 but continues with its insensitivity towards the peoples of other nations. 

Mr. Wills has forgotten that Prabhakaran is responsible for 60,000 deaths, while Osama bin Laden with a mere 5,000 is not even on the charts. 

If the Sri Lankan Ambassador were to propose a toast to Osama at a business dinner in Washington he would have been shipped to Colombo the very next day in an apple crate! But Mr. Wills need not worry about facing that here. White people can say or do anything and get away with it. Such is the servility of our countrymen. 

Even more shocking was the fact that our business leaders who were present, joined in. If this incident took place in India (a big if, because America wouldn't have dared to offend proud India), the Indians would have walked out in protest. But no chance of that happening here. It takes only a little fried rice and a glass of wine for some of our business leaders to stay put and grin, while being insulted. No, wonder the Americans regard us with contempt. 

But then it is unreasonable to be angry with America. After all Bush didn't seek to sign agreements with terrorists. He annihilated them, something our corrupt politicians and armed forces have miserably failed to achieve. 

Sumedha Agalawatte


Where law fears to tread

It is common knowledge that two sons of Minister S.B. Dissanayake have been involved in criminal acts. These are the possession of illegal firearms, using firearms, disturbing the peace, attempted murder and damaging private property. The law prohibits the possession of illegal firearms. The government has called upon the public to surrender all firearms to the nearest police station.

Is it that the laws of the land do not apply to sons of ministers? On New Year's eve the Dissanayake sons fired shots, broke tables, chairs and damaged the property of Galle Face Hotel. They threatened the people and behaved like criminals. They took the law into their own hands.The government, even at this late stage, should take action against them.

Ronald Fernando


Tips for safer ride in trishaws

As a surgeon attached to the Accident Service, I have observed that the trishaw is the vehicle which is most involved in road accidents. Monica de Alwis (The Sunday Times - February 17) states that the introduction of meters would minimize the number of accidents caused by them. She states that "dangerous driving at break neck speed would diminish" if meters are introduced. 

While thanking her for her concern for the safety of the people who use this mode of transport, I have to state that what she envisages is not going to happen, and that there are other effective ways of achieving this objective.

We must understand why the trishaw drivers drive so fast and recklessly. They do it to save time and earn more. By driving that way, they could save 10-15 minutes from each trip, and by the end of the day, they would have had an additional 2-3 hours. More time means more money. Let us be realistic. Whatever we do, they are not going to change their driving habits. So what can we do?

Passengers: Those seated inside cars, vans and buses do not have to hold some object for support - let us forget the seat belt for the moment - while pillion riders of motorcycles usually hold the rider. The trishaw passenger should travel like the pillion rider, i.e. holding a part of the vehicle firmly, but they do not. They even carry small children on their laps while not holding the bar in front. 

Since there are no doors that could be closed, and not even crossbars on the sides, they are thrown out when the trishaw topples. The advice I give to the public, is that they should hold the bar in front firmly till the journey ends. 

Authorities: Only one in every few thousand trishaws has doors that could be closed. Others do not even have crossbars on the two sides. In foreign cities, the spinning wheels at amusement parks have such bars that are locked by remote control, before the spinning commences. 

The trishaw owners must be compelled by statute to get crossbars fitted; it would not cost more than a couple of hundred rupees to do so. I trust the Traffic Police and the RMV would take some action in this regard.

Dr. Wijaya Godakumbura 

Member, National Committee for Prevention of Accidents

Plea for allowance

The MLT trainees selected after a competitive examination held by the Department of Health are not paid an allowance. But trainees in the supplementary medical service are entitled to one. 

This is very unfair as MLT trainees too need to spend on lodging and stationery.

The high cost of living aggravates their difficulties.

Hope the authorities will heed our plight and pay us an allowance.

M.L.T. Trainees


Open this road too

A big thank you to the government for re-opening many roads that remained closed for seven years. This has helped traffic congestion in the city of Colombo. 

However, one road still remains closed, despite it leading to a private hospital, causing untold hardship to many patients. Keppetipola Mawatha which branches off from Havelock Road by the Ranjan Wijeratne statue, is closed and cordoned off as a "high security zone". But interestingly, Wijerama Mawatha which connects Bauddhaloka Mawatha with Gregory's Road, has been opened to traffic despite being a high security zone. 

It would be a great help to patients, if the stretch of road leading from the statue to the hospital is opened and the security check-point near Claessen Place shifted closer to the junction near the Senior Officers' Mess.

Mrs. A. De Alwis 


Save the professionals 

If the news on the resignation of Sri Lanka Tourist Board Chairman Renton de Alwis (The Sunday Times, March 3) is true, then a professional has no place in this country. 

Politicians will come and go but we must have true professionals of the calibre of Mr. de Alwis to do a job of work. Many a politician is putting himself before the country and ultimately the trade suffers. 

M. Fernando


Words of a true patriot

Although I am a Sinhala Buddhist, I am an admirer of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody. I quote below thoughts which undoubtedly show his patriotism. 

"As long as beehives are there in trees and caves, as long as cows supply milk in Ruhuna, as long as coconut milk is used to make curries, the country can never be divided. As long as the sun shines lustrously over Isurumuniya and Ruwanveliseya, as long as the lovers of Isurumuniya exist, our country can never be divided." 

B. Gunaratne


Don't forget the rights of the foetus

This is with regard to the articles in the newspapers about abortions. 

To argue that India and Bangladesh have already legalized abortions and, therefore, we too should follow suit is irrational because there are many other things in civil life which both those countries (and probably other SAARC countries!) have done, but we have not followed. 

India, from the time of independence, decided to remain a secular state, and also to have a decentralized form of government, but Sri Lanka did not follow suit. Pakistan, another SAARC country has blasphemy laws which our civil law does not accept. One wonders why only with regard to abortion laws, Sri Lanka needs to follow India and Bangladesh. 

According to 'Matter of life and death' (The Sunday Times, February 17), one of the main reasons to justify selective abortions is that a majority of the victims of rape and incest are children who are not in a position to be mothers because they are still in their childhood. This is true. However, we need to reiterate that without attending to the causes of such social crime, to abort the foetus is even more criminal. Is it the rapist or the innocent foetus that needs to be tackled head-on? 

Another reason given is that using the available procedures in Sri Lanka (scanning for example) when a mother finds out that the foetus in her womb is "malformed and may die soon after delivery", she should have access to abort such a foetus. It is particularly in this regard I intend to enumerate briefly the main points of the official Catholic teachings on abortion. 

The Catholic Church considers all abortions "abominable crimes", because every human life is sacred. Catholics, also believe that every human being is created by God in His own image and likeness. Catholics also believe that God Himself embraced human life in the person of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the fifth of the Ten Commandments does not allow killing. 

It is in this sense that the Church teaches that the taking of human life not only in abortion, but also in other human acts like murder, euthanasia (mercy killing), suicide, direct killing in war... etc., are always and everywhere morally wrong, irrespective of the circumstances and intentions. It is in the same sense that the Church condemns the death of some 30,000 human beings every day in our world, due to avoidable reasons, due to the repercussions of an unjust economic and political system. 

The Church condemns abortion because she believes that it is a killing of innocent life. 

With regard to abortions, the most popular argument is that it would be done only in a few selected, "deserving" cases. Such an argument surely does not take into consideration that human life begins at the moment of fertilization. It does not seem to consider that the foetus is also human and has a right to life. It is here that the Catholic teaching differs from many popular arguments. 

Catholics believe that every human life is sacred and deserves respect and protection from the womb to the tomb. Such a belief also serves in protecting the most vulnerable members of human society, embryos, the old and senile, the mentally retarded, those with Down's Syndrome, the physically handicapped and the terminally ill patients. Therefore, the Church proudly guards this traditional belief, and is very consistent in opposing all forms of abortion, because in her eyes, it is taking an innocent human life, unjustly. 

However, there are two special cases when the Church allows an involuntary abortion. That is when the mother's life is in danger. Using the traditional moral principle of double effect, the Church allows the removal of the foetus when the mother's life is in danger. One common case is a pregnancy in a cancerous uterus (womb). In such a pregnancy, if the only available medical treatment that would save the mother's life is the removal of the cancerous womb traditional Catholic teaching holds that such medical treatment is morally acceptable. 

Here the intention is not the killing of the foetus, but the saving of the mother's life. Or else, both the lives of the mother and the foetus would be lost. 

Another case where the Church allows the removal of the foetus from the womb is when there is an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a developing embryo does not implant itself in the uterus, but elsewhere in the mother's body, usually in the fallopian tube.

Such pregnancies pose serious threats to the mother's life because of the danger of haemorrhage. 

In some cases, it is necessary to resort to surgical treatment, i.e., the removal of that part of the fallopian tube (or any other part of the mother's body where the implantation has occurred), along with the foetus.

While the Church acknowledges the pain, agony and other unforeseen burdens that are normally forced on the would-be mother in a rape or incest case, the Church says none of these could ever overwhelm the right of the foetus to live. 

Fr. Vimal Tirimanna


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