And so, the visiting Indian Minister of External Affairs was here, and on cue performed the role of virtual attesting witness to the marriage his Government had brokered, not without coercion, between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the creation of the Northern Provincial Council. It is not an exaggeration [...]


India has her say and gets her way


And so, the visiting Indian Minister of External Affairs was here, and on cue performed the role of virtual attesting witness to the marriage his Government had brokered, not without coercion, between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the creation of the Northern Provincial Council.

It is not an exaggeration to call it a ‘shot-gun’ wedding. Gradually, and with infinite patience and stratagem, India got what it wanted in its over-all geopolitical game plan; a pro-Indian Sri Lankan political party in power and place in the North of Sri Lanka.

There were no blushes either. The newly elected Chief Minister of the Northern Province paid his salaams to the visiting Indian Minister in his first official meeting as Chief Minister. Publicly he said, “Thanks to India, the Northern Provincial Council elections were held. I am here because India almost had a hand in the elections when the (Sri Lankan) Government was saying we are not going to have it……India was instrumental in allowing the provincial council elections to take place after 25 years”.

There was this mad rush to solemnise the marriage. The question of before whom the newly elected Chief Minister must take his oaths was swiftly resolved. The TNA ‘swooped to conquer’, so to say, by taking oaths before the President (in Tamil) to uphold the Constitution of the country and one would presume, the Sixth Amendment pledging not to even speak of secession from a unitary Sri Lanka.

The seeming bonhomie between the President and the Chief Minister and hopes of a new era of bridging the North-South divide must be tempered with political reality. The Indian Minister’s low profile, little over 24 hour visit looked merely to ensure that the remaining rough edges were smoothed and to see the TNA installed and ensconced in office in the North of Sri Lanka.

In the immediate backdrop of India keeping Sri Lanka on tenterhooks not confirming whether or not the Indian Prime Minister will attend CHOGM next month, the Sri Lankan Government did not appear to want to displease the visiting dignitary in any way. The MoUs for the controversial Sampur coal power plants were signed despite unchallenged allegations both by the Opposition, and the Government’s own Minister of Technology (see last week’s Sunday Times Political Commentary) that the plant would be a colossal loss to the country. And thus the twin issues India wanted were extracted and fulfilled. 

But what of Sri Lanka’s demands?

Clearly, the Sri Lankan side caved in for fear of not upsetting the apple cart pre-CHOGM. Not that the Indian Minister gave any assurances either of the Indian PM’s arrival for CHOGM. That issue is suspended in mid-air still, with only a month to go for CHOGM. The only concession Sri Lanka may have got was the President playing for time with a Parliamentary Select Committee to implement the ‘Made in India’ 13th Amendment. But then, India plays test cricket and it will bide its time now that it has got first innings points by way of the Northern PC.

The issue of poaching in Sri Lankan waters by Tamil Nadu fishermen was completely deferred — just as Indian wants it. There was only a passing reference in the Joint Media Statement after the two Ministers of External Affairs had official talks on this monumental issue that Sri Lanka’s Northern fisher families face and which India wants downplayed for obvious reasons.
The statement refers, only in passing to exactly what the Indian side wanted; i.e. a) ensuring the safety of the poachers, and b) dragging the issue till eternity by saying that the matter must be resolved by the fishermen’s associations talking to each other. Not a hum about the rape of Sri Lanka’s marine resources or the Joint Working Group that does not meet because of India’s prevarication. It was a total capitulation by Sri Lanka and there is no milder word but to say “shame” on the Sri Lanka Government for such a meek surrender.

Bring them into mainstream society

October 1st was Elders Day. Today is International Day for Disaster Reduction; tomorrow is World Standards Day and the day after is the Day of the Visually Handicapped. All these commemorate one issue; the empowering of people with physical disabilities, fostering resilience, ensuring their inclusiveness in society and generally recognising the diversity in human ability.

According to a message from the UN Secretary General, there are one billion people worldwide who live with a disability. He probably refers to those with permanent disability. He points out that it is they who suffer most from disproportionately high levels of disaster related mortality and injury.

In Sri Lanka, the Government has given an unrealistic figure of 10% of the population being ‘disabled’; the real figure could be more than double that when one takes those who are temporarily mobility impaired due to sicknesses, injuries, pregnancies etc. Even the Mahinda Chintanaya puts those above the age of 65 as 13.2%, so a guesstimate could put the figure at easily quarter of the population having some physical difficulty in mobility.

A string of public interest cases have gone before the Supreme Court from 2011 onwards. It has now reached a stage where the country’s apex court has recognised the rights of people with restricted ability and mobility, and ordered that they be given every opportunity to integrate with society. But the court’s orders do not seem to get implemented.

There is a lacuna under the Accessibility Regulations of 2006 of the Protection for the Rights of People with Disability Act No. 28 of 1996. Some 70 per cent of ‘public buildings’ like hotels, malls, supermarkets, banks, and cinemas come under the private sector where the Supreme Court’s writ does not reach, bringing its decisions to naught. The Attorney General is scratching his head wondering how to implement the court’s rulings and get the private sector’s cooperation to provide proper facilities for those with disabilities.

There is a huge onus on the OPA (Organisation of Professional Associations) and the Chambers of Commerce, the Travel Trade and the Bank unions and others to carry the ball from this point: with CHOGM negotiating the bend, Sri Lanka’s international “standards” for the ‘disabled’ will come under scrutiny.

These are human rights issues that know no race, religion or language; nor are they restricted to any geographical province. They embrace all of humanity across the board and merit our urgent attention, not just lip service on international days dedicated to them.

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