The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Letters to the Editor


Yes, we can be proudly ethnic and still be proudly Sri Lankan

This letter refers to Professor J. Jinadasa’s comments (Sunday Times, June 17, 2012) to my views on Sri Lankan identity (Sunday Times, June 10, 2012). I do not wish to waste space in the Sunday Times by commenting on the trivialities and extraneous points expressed by Professor JJ. My first letter adequately dealt with all issues the professor raised. However, it is in order that I establish a few points, as the good professor is constantly shifting his goalposts.
South Indian labour, supplied mainly by the British East India Company since the 1840s (they were brought in to work on the plantations and road and railroad construction), was legally barred from permanent stay and permanent employment in Ceylon through specific colonial legislation. Colonial immigration/emigration records (all available) show that all those who came to this island went back regularly, as they were on one- or two-year contracts.
Because no females (wives and families) came, no children or grandchildren were born here. It is inaccurate, therefore, to talk of an Indian population that has been born and bred in this country for the past 150 years. Wives and families started coming to Ceylon only in the 1930s. However, with the start of World War II in 1939, the Indian Government imposed a temporary ban on the movement of Indian citizens, effectively preventing those already here from returning to India.
By the end of the war in 1945, and at Independence in 1948, there were some 800,000 Indians here. Of those, 5,000 who were born here were awarded citizenship under the Indian and Pakistani Citizenship Act (IPCA) of 1948.
Later, under the IPCA of 1949, another 134,000 were granted citizenship. These were married persons who had stayed here continuously for seven years, and unmarried persons who had stayed here continuously for 10 years.
How the rest either got citizenship later or were repatriated to India through the various Indo-Ceylon pacts is explained in my earlier letter. All those born here or had stayed here continuously for more than seven years became citizens.
At the 1952 elections, voting rights were granted only to those who had citizenship. Others, not being citizens at the time, were not “disenfranchised”; they simply could not vote as they had automatically reverted to their Indian status and were no longer citizens of the British Empire, the basis on which they were entitled to vote earlier, in British Ceylon.
Facts are sacred and should not be buried under racist and political slogans.
In passing, it is interesting to note that some Tamil political parties (those that vociferously took up the “disenfranchisement” cry later) vehemently opposed voting rights for these Indian Tamils, referring to them as “aliens.” This is additional proof that they were not born and bred here.
Prof. JJ neatly sidesteps my query about the very liberal citizenship laws (by affidavit) we have here in Sri Lanka, as against the strict requirements for naturalisation in the US.
Yes, “jaathiya” (race) is important – to people who are proud of their ancestry, ethnicity and religion. Tamils, Moors, Sinhalese, Burghers, Malays and others in Sri Lanka, like the native Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Caucasians, etc in the US, are all proud of their respective race/religion. And rightly so. This has nothing to do with collectively being “Sri Lankan” or “American.”
The concepts of “rata” (nation), “jaathiya” (race) and “aagama” (religion) are a practical reality and no bar to being collectively “Sri Lankan”. So, Tamils are justifiably proud of their Dravidian ancestry and their ancient language and culture. So are the Sinhalese, Moors, Malays and others. There is nothing wrong with it, and it is no impediment to a “Sri Lankan” national Identity.
In his letter of June 3, 2012, Prof JJ writes of a specific law for the North and the East that makes it mandatory for the Army to check on school concerts, birthday parties and weddings in these areas. I asked him to specify this strange (apartheid) law, but he has failed to do so. Instead, he shifts the goalposts and talks of the Army checking houses (including his house) during the war.
The authorities had every right to check people, vehicles, houses and places of lodging during the war. They were mandated to look for LTTE cadres and hidden caches of arms and explosives, which they found in plenty. This was a crucial wartime requirement, and it saved thousands of innocent lives. It was not a racially motivated exercise.
Prof JJ’s “greatest democracy on earth” – the US – uses these very practices as its armed forces go about their business in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, believe it or not, there are no “war-crime” probes against them.
Laboratory practicals for the Advanced Level university entrance exams were discontinued in the early 1970s (during Dr. Badiudin Mohamed’s tenure) mainly because of the poor lab facilities in many schools and the increasingly large numbers taking these exams. Tamil university staff, in some instances, did help Tamil candidates. This was a well-known fact (and involving persons known to me at the Peradeniya campus and certain other higher education institutions).
Finally, we arrive at Prof. JJ’s main thesis: if the “greatest democracy on earth” can produce a black man (Barack Obama) as US President, why can’t we be “ready to accept that notion?”
Why assume we cannot? Note please that we cannot just pluck Presidents out of the air. Candidates must be nominated by their parties, and the best available is elected by popular vote. If a suitable minority candidate comes along, people will definitely vote him/her in. After all, the Sinhalese voters elected Mr. Ponnambalam Ramanathan (and rejected a Sinhalese candidate) twice (in 1912 and 1917) to the Legislative Council. Lakshman Kadirgamar had the calibre and makings of a leader. Sadly, the nation lost him – thanks to Tamil extremism. All this and more was covered in my earlier letter, but the good professor seems to be suffering from amnesia.
A final word on Prof JJ’s promised land – the “greatest democracy on earth.”
The United States of America is a country that was forcibly acquired by European invaders who slaughtered millions of “Injuns” (native Americans), including three million Cherokees, and herded the survivors into “reservations”. The US is a country that prospered on the Slave Trade and the blood, sweat and tears of millions of African slaves. This is a country where the viciously racist Klu Klux Klan continues to be active; a country that destroyed innocent Japanese lives using atomic bombs; a country that killed millions of Koreans and Vietnamese during those respective wars (resorting to carpet bombing and the toxic “Agent Orange”); a country that that caused the death of half a million children in Iraq by sanctions on, amongst other things, paediatric drugs and infant food (US State Secretary Madeline Albright justified this saying it was “worth it”); a country that threw out a whole population of helpless people in Diego Garcia and took over their Island (a British Colony) for a military base; a country that is heedlessly causing the deaths of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, helping genocidal regime changes in Libya, Egypt, Syria, etc.
If this is “democracy”, give us a good old feudal system any day.
Whatever our problems, little Sri Lanka is by far a more decent and charitable nation, whatever our politicians say or do. We are a decent bunch of people who wish to live together in peace and harmony.
If Prof JJ thinks otherwise, he is welcome to stay on in his “five-star democracy.” We can look after ourselves without his two cents’ worth.
I do not intend to continue this correspondence any further.
None are as blind as those who refuse to see.

Cecil Dharmasena, Kandy

How to handle ‘bad’ doctors

Mrs. Surange’s letter detailing her ordeal when her child met with an accident during a family holiday in Nuwara Eliya made painful reading (Sunday Times, June 24).

Mrs. Surange can console herself by reading an appreciation that appeared on the same page. It is about the “Good Doctor” of Maharagama. This good doctor is a product of the “school by the sea” in Mt. Lavinia. The doctor from NE cannot be a product of a good school. We should have sympathy for this ill-mannered doctor who knows no better.
The Suranges want the Ministry of Health to hold an inquiry. We all know how these inquiries end up. However, if the Suranges contact another Doctor in the Kelaniya area, they can be assured of justice.
This Doctor has studied all the disciplines, except medicine, and he has an expert’s knowledge of how the mind of a public servant works. He also has the remedy for bad cases like the doctor in the NE. If you speak to him, he will arrange for his “goons” to tie this bad doctor to a pine tree in a park in the NE.
We must thank the NE Police for their understanding response to the Suranges’ plight. The IGP should take note of this episode. The good things the Police do often go unnoticed, even by the IGP.

L. K. Karunaratne, Wellampitiya

Why is it such a hassle to get to a Grama Niladhari’s office? 

When I settled in Kandy, after being displaced as a result of the communal disturbances of August-September 1977, I had to register my residential credentials with the Grama Niladhari of Mapanwatura.
The nearest public transport halt is at the Wattarentenne Junction, on the Kandy-Katugastota Road. From this point it is an uphill walk of about one mile along a well-maintained road (but strangely no buses). You then walk down 57 steps, without even a railing to hold on to. Then you walk up 15 steps to the Grama Niladhari’s office. Then for the return trip – 15 steps down, 57 steps up, the main road and a downhill trek to the Wattarantenne junction.
I have to get my pension transferred from the Colombo Thimbirigasyaya Secretariat to the Kandy Divisional Secretariat.
Meanwhile, the revision of Electoral Registers is coming up. I am 88 years old. I have been advised by everyone not to risk my life by making such a hazardous journey.
A fellow pensioner in Nawalapitiya told me that the Grama Niladhari’s office over there is on such a steep hill that even three-wheel drivers refuse to go up that incline.
This letter is an appeal to the Government authorities to locate Grama Niladhari offices in places that can be easily accessed. There should be special consideration for senior citizens-pensioners like myself.

S. Thambyrajah, Kandy

Rupavahini should beam the big sports events to all, not the elite only 

For nearly two decades, Rupavahini Corporation has been obtaining the rights to telecast major foreign sports events, and to telecast them only over the Channel Eye. Even though Channel Eye has been in operation for a considerable time, it can be viewed only in a limited number of areas in the country. Unfortunately, I do not live in an an area that is covered by Channel Eye.
I am a disabled person who enjoys watching sports. These bring back memories of my own days as a sportswoman.
However, the big cricket matches, the Olympics, the Asian Games, and so on are telecast only on Channel Eye. As a result, I have missed many great sports events. There are thousands of others, armchair spectators like myself, who are experiencing agonies by being left out of the sports arena. I have been complaining for years, but I have never had a reply, either from the media sports community or fellow readers.
The only occasion I succeeded in seeing a big sports event was when Susanthika won a bronze medal. Rupavahini keeps boasting about how they beamed Susie’s race to every nook and corner of Sri Lanka. At that time, they telecast the Games only on Channel Eye. The highlights were shown on Rupavahini news, late in the night. That day I must have given the Rupavahini Corporation at least 15 telephone calls, requesting them to telecast Susie’s race simultaneously on the National Channel. I was sure the race would be in the news bulletin of the National Channel later in the day. I said I didn’t want “stale bread”, and I continued to call. Finally, the then Director of Programmes came to the rescue.
Shortly after, Rupavahini announced that Susie’s race would be telecast over the National Channel as well. This is how “people in every nook and corner of this island” got to see Susie winning the bronze medal “on the spot.” That little victory of mine brought me much joy and satisfaction.
Those who obtain the rights to telecast major foreign sports events should ensure that that particular channel can be seen islandwide. Rupavahini’s National Channel satisfies that requirement.

Lalani Wakkumbura, Karangoda, Ratnapura

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