31st December 2001

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Democracy and Asian cultures

The topic of discussion of the Annual Teilhard Colloquium of Subodhi Institute, Piliyandala, this year was "Is Democracy Compatible with Asian Cultures." The topic was introduced by the Director, Fr. Mervyn Fernando who said that in recent times this question has been raised with some urgency, particularly in the wake of the process of globalisation, originating in the West and sweeping across Asia.

Dr. Fernando pointed out that the political democratic order is based on a philosophy of liberalistic individualism wedded to an economic system of free markets and the profit motive, which have its origins in the French and Industrial Revolutions. They were imported to, and imposed on, Asia with the colonisation of Asian countries by Western powers - in the case of Sri Lanka, by the British. On the other hand, systems of government in Asia were based on a very different understanding of the relationship between man (the individual) and society, a very different vision of life, history and human destiny. If Asians (and peoples of non-Western cultures) march to a different drum, it is obvious that they will stumble, get their feet crossed, in trying to march to an alien beat.

The main speaker of the day, Dr. Jayadeva Uyandoga, senior lecturer in political science at the University of Colombo, took a different tack. His thesis was that the idea and concept of democracy was not alien to the East at all; in fact Asia, and Buddhist societies in particular, had been given to the practice of direct democracy and decision-making by consensus. There had been ancient traditions, and institutions of consultation of the people in local government, all over Asia.

The degradation of the system occurred when representative democracy began to replace direct democracy; and in the West the philosophy of liberalistic/materialistic humanism appropriated democracy as its political counterpart and exported it to Asia and the east through colonial subjugation he said.

A lively debate followed. Manik Sandarasagara responding to the presentation of Dr. Uyangoda referred to a variety of phenomena and practices of governance, specially in the folk culture of Sri Lanka, ancient and modern, which could not be covered by the thesis of Dr. Uyangoda. A number of participants chipped in with illuminating insights.

Some participants pointed out that the apparent apathy and insensitivity of the Sri Lankan electorate to glaring political injustices and gross violations of ethical norms in public life may be due to attitudes of resignation inculcated by a deep-seated belief in Karma and cyclic processes of immense duration in the major religious world views of the country. Others, however, were of the view that the Sri Lankan citizen was not that passive and inactive; there have been, and are, a number of protest movements and activist organisations, both social and political, with regard to a wide range of issues.

A participant

College of Chemical Sciences

The Institute of Chemistry has announced the formation of a college of Chemical Sciences on January 25, 2001 as part of its Diamond Jubilee Celebrations that will be held at the SLAAS Auditorium at Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7. These celebrations will commemorate the founding of the Chemical Society of Ceylon on 25th January 1941 as the oldest scientific society in the basic sciences.

The Chief Guest on this occasion would be Prof. R. P. Gunawardene, Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education & Information Technology Development while the Guest of Honour would be Prof. P.P.G.L. Siriwardene, former Vice-Chancellor University of Sri Lanka and former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Colombo. Many members and well-wishers of the Institute will participate in the celebrations which will include the presentation of badges to all past Presidents and the award of Certificates and Plaques of the Australian Chemical Quiz Competition held last July.

President of the Institute of Chemistry, Ceylon Prof. Tuley de Silva in a news release states that the estabishment of the college of Chemical Sciences would enable the current educational programmes of the Institute to be placed on an even sounder footing than at present; the creation of the college would open new opportunities for the commencement of post-graduate diploma and degree programmes within the scope of the tertiary educational reforms currently initiated by the Government.

Applications are now being entertained by the Institute of Cemistry for the new Graduateship Courses in Chemistry that are scheduled to commence in January /February 2001. Those interested in obtaining more information about the courses and the proposed college of Chemical Sciences are requested to contact the Institute, Registrar at Vidya Mandiraya, 120/10, Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7 or the sub-office at 39, Sumanarama Road, Mt. Lavinia.

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