9th April 2000

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Focus on Rights

Just a simple apology

More often than not, it is not the fact of the happening itself but the extent and nature of what follows subsequently, that becomes immensely revealing. And it is from this mildly obscure and vaguely Shavian riposte with which this column is irresistibly compelled to commence, that we descend to welcome practicalities. In effect, to an incident a full two weeks back where a woman was (allegedly?) stripped at gunpoint at a Colombo checkpoint in front of (allegedly?) absorbed security forces and the police, not to mention a haggle of (allegedly?) interested civilians.

Out of the welter of disputed facts that surrounds this incident, what is now established is that the woman, Appuhamylage Siriyalatha, was dressed in a shalwar kameez, had failed to produce her national identity card, had been unable to speak Sinhala and had refused to put up her hands when asked to do so by the police. Proceeding from this, we come to somewhat more uncertain ground.

On the one hand, we have the police crying foul at being called to account for their actions and pointing out that Siriyalatha had been only asked to lift the top of her shalwar kameez . On the other hand, we have eyewitnesses including a photographer and a security guard who saw the stripping take place as testified to in graphically disgusting accounts. Siriyalatha was then detained in the Slave Island police station for four days and released after production at the Fort Magistrate's Court.

On her own admission, she is a sex worker. For the honest citizen in this conflict ridden country, the humiliation that befell Siriyalatha (back now to her dreary life and her 'makeshift' home in Pettah) has now become no more than one incident in a litany of many.

As one otherwise kindly matron who remained almost but totally unperturbed by what had happened pointed out very reasonably to this columnist "But these things do happen, you know, in this country. After all, there is a war going on."

No more and no less than what the police said, after all. And this is precisely what has become most astonishing. For the reactions that have followed this March 19th incident have been astoundingly revealing as to the nature of our troubled society. While the protests calling for some kind of awareness to be raised to the need to prevent incidents of a similar kind in the future have predictably been from activists and women's groups, the contrary responses are fascinating. Spanning the full range from outright bigotry to downright absurdity, some reactions have castigated the newspapers for drawing attention to what happened to Siriyalatha at all.

As one fulminating Letter to the Editor in a daily paper particularly goes, "it is regretted to note the demeaning attempts made by certain mediamen to turn events which are of a delicate nature, topsy turvy, specially those related to our patriotic and dedicated service personnel." Disregarding the somewhat uncertain syntax of these sentiments, one's imagination boggles as to what exactly the writer is getting at. Is it that the image of our "patriotic and dedicated service personnel" are better served if these incidents happen with impunity but are swept under the carpet?

Or does it imply that the entire operation itself was stage managed by those "certain mediamen" for what objectives one can only speculate? Regardless, the letter proceeds to even more fantastic lengths to point out that Siriyalatha, "being a sex worker, should have known better how to conduct herself in a manner not to cause suspicion on these vigilant days." This, in truth, is the crux of the matter. For, it does not require a highly acute mind to realise that the reason why Siriyalatha's plight was treated so complacently by the majority of our honest citizens is precisely the fact that she was a sex worker and therefore, by that same easy reasoning, fair bait for whatever treatment. Never mind the fact that, by her own account, she had been a very apparent victim of circumstances. Never mind the fact that, if what some reports have asserted is true, her plight of being cast on to the streets upon the death of her soldier lover/husband underscores what is so fundamentally tragic about the fate of many women in this country.

It is far easier, after all, to engage in diatribes against those perceived as mischief makers (including even calling for the banning of the shalwar kameez, as expressed in another similarly engaging letter which loftily prefers to ignore the fact that the suicide bomber at Flower Road was dressed in jeans, for heaven's sake.) than to grapple with such complexities. It is heartening to note that this call to ban the shalwar kameez has, at least, been met with a spirited response from one enlightened soul who points out that what women wear in public is not an issue for public debate or policy but a matter of individual freedom and liberty.

That the whole fiasco would be topped off by the Competent Authority joining the fray is, of course, delightfully apt. This honourable gentleman appears to have been labouring under an exceedingly grave misapprehension that the media, by reporting the incident, had committed an offence under the Emergency Regulations currently imposing censorship on the press. More specifically, that such reporting came within the ambit of " any statement pertaining to the conduct of the……" (military personnel). Judging from his silence to the repeated queries from the Sunday Times in particular, asking for clarification on this, he now appears to have decided that discretion is the better part of valour. Which is all to the good, of course.

Assuredly, what all this hysteria and defensiveness about the role of "our "patriotic and dedicated service personnel" has bypassed is very clear. What was required once it was discovered that Siriyalatha was not a security threat, at the very least, was a simple apology in recognition that a mistake had been made. Instead, what happened was that insult was heaped on injury in that she was detained for a further four days and (allegedly?) subjected to harassment before being released.

Again, what was required, at the very least, was the constructive communication of guidelines to all security forces personnel and the police to ensure the carrying out correct, effective and proper checking procedures which leave intact the dignity of any individual and not merely fat cats travelling in cars in the city. What was further required was the monitoring of such guidelines by a body such as the Human Rights Commission or the Anti-Harassment Committee, which are after all, agencies set up precisely for this purpose. Instead, what has happened is that an overall and pressing need in this respect has been relegated to the sidelines. And ultimately, what has been exposed in response to Siriyalatha's plight has been an unsavoury mishmash of bigotry coupled with complacency that now seems to be our immediate reaction to any situation.

Police Problems

Guiding the next generation- who is responsible?

Prevention and detection of crime, and maintaining law and order, are without question the responsibility of the Police. The inadequacies of the Police are many and they are exposed as and when necessary, expecting remedial action. But whom do we hold responsible for the decline in social values and increase in the indulgence of drugs, corruption, indiscipline, immorality etc. in universities, schools, homes and everywhere?.

What are politicians, the clergy, educationists, heads of schools, school teachers and parents doing about this trend?

Such degeneration in the society makes a policeman's job all too difficult. Politicians of course are doing everything possible to make things worse.

The clergy seem to be more concerned about how to run the government and often raising narrow racial issues when they could do a greater service to the country by inculcating proper moral values in the youth and children who are our future leaders.

Heads of schools and teachers are caught up in the politicians' claws and are toeing the line for survival. As for parents, their business interests take predominance in the case of many. Seeking their own avenues of entertainment (often lewd), they pay less attention to the moral needs of their children and to make up for it they dole out money to the children who spend it without any guidance on priorities, and go to 'extremes'.

This is in the case of children of affluent parents. But they set the trend and others with lesser or no means at all, have to find ways and means to join in.

With propaganda via media channels creating 'mass appeals capturing the upper niche audience with innovative programmes and promotions' of ecstatic rap music and dancing fever, and knowing the prevailing trend towards drug addiction etc., should we not pause to ponder where these 'drives' all lead to?.

Is there a desired monitoring taking place to find this out?.

Organisers of these 'extreme' dance parties certainly don't. They are only interested in the gate collection. Activities that attract the youth must be there as outlets for them, but complete with plans to keep them away from sordid extremes and grow into useful citizens and replace the present scourge of politicians, with 'politics as understood by the Greeks of the city states'. This is a pointer to one aspect only.

Evidently many right thinking people are now voicing their concerns over the calamity that has befallen the country. Some of them who have done research and social studies are agreed on the main causes, and even 'written without fear or favour' on the subject.

All these people are agreed that politicians are the scourge that has destroyed the country and continue to devour whatever is left of it. Now that right thinking people have identified the problem and those responsible for it, each one voicing his bit at a time, are only voices in the wilderness.

It is a solution to the problem that has to be found. The corruption, canker and political expediency have formed a force too strong for any individual to cope with, however 'right' he is. The first step to the solution would be for all right thinking people to unite and form a force strong enough to forge ahead with a well planned strategy to prevent our children, the future leaders, from going the way all signs portend, and to guide them grow into sensible adults. A non-political solidary group, energetic and strong enough to find ways and means to resuscitate the nation in spite of the politicians, is a must, and time is running out.

In search of our roots

By Kumbakarana

"It seems clear therefore that a Naga Kingdom existed in north Ceylon continuously from 6th century B. C. to the middle of the 3rd Century A. D. Its capital must have been either Kadiramalai (Kantadorai) in Jaffna or Matota. ("pg 32")"

"It is said that Vijaya who was undoubtedly a 'Hindu' built the temple called 'Tirutombalesvaram' in the north Ceylon. Thammba for copper and Tirutombalesvaram is the thambapanni. (pg 53)"

The above are Quotation from the Bible of Tamil Racism. Ancient Jaffna by C. Rasanayagam (1926) an amazing distortion of the history of the ancient city of Nagadvipa.

We are faced with a two-pronged attack by Tamil racism, one LTTE's bloody attack and two, the cockeyed views of the Colombo based so-called Ceylon Tamil Teachers' Union (CTTU) who claim that government text books have distorted history and that they should reflect the views of Tamils about their 'homeland'.

This view has been floated by South Indian separatist literature in the past century claiming that Sri Lanka had the Tamil civilisation for over three thousand years, centered around Jaffna which was able to spread to all of Sri Lanka from time to time.

Let us be clear about history. While it is accepted that Yaksha and Naga Tribes did not belong to the 'Aryan' category, there is no evidence - literary or archeological, to suggest that they spoke Tamil. However there is evidence to suggest that Sinhala was used even before Vijaya, in the island. Chulawamsa, Mahawamsa other literary sources, archeological excavations and foreign sources provide evidence to this. In fact excavations have revealed that Rasanayagam's claim Kandarodai the capital of Jaffna was actually Kadurugoda, a center of Sinhala Buddhist civilisation.

They later discovered Vallipuram Gold plate which also dispels all doubt that Jaffna had a distinct Sinhala Buddhist population. The modern researches on the Veddah population and the folklore on Kuveni clearly indicate that she laid the foundation to Sinhala civilization in the island. Village names found across the country eg. Navimana, Naotunna etc. proves that nagas were part of the Sinhala civilisation.

The two claims i.e. that the north-east provinces created by the British in 1889 is an 'exclusive Tamil homeland' and that Tamil was used as a language from the 5th and the 6th century BC in these provinces should be dismissed as myths. It is scientifically proven that when a language is used by a separated group of people, it evolves into a language distinctly different to the mother language. This is true for 17 dravidian languages including Kannada, Malayalam and Thelegu even though these are states geographically adjacent to each other.

It is mysterious therefore how there are only minor differences, between Tamil spoken in Jaffna and Tamil Nadu. It justifies the claim that Tamil language used in Jaffna would have a recent origin. So this claim that 'Tamil 'homelands' existed beyond written history and continued unbroken during and after chola invasions is nothing but a myth.

The link between the LTTE belligerence and historical distortion is merely one of losing privileges enjoyed by the Tamil elite under the British who used the ever successful tactic of placing minorities on top of the applecart to rule effectively. Prabhakaran therefore is fighting an elitist war, a true son of Arunachalam and Chelvanayakam but not one of Ravana, Kuveni, Elara or even Sankili.

History is also shaped through power and power is consolidated with the help of the gun. Prabhakaran believes in the power of the gun in rewriting history. This is not the time to rest assured that historical truth is with us and truth will be victorious someday. If the Sinhalese do not look sharp in year 2001, the history syllabus will be written by Ceylon Tamil Teachers Union on the dictates of 'President' Prabhakaran proving beyond doubt that historical truth can be created by sheer might too.

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