Letters to the Editor

24th November 1996


Handapanagala Elephants

On November 11, Rupavahini showed a documentary, which desperately tried to prove what a wonderful job was being done at Handapanagala to "save" our elephant herd.

When we all knew who was the oppressor (man) and who was the oppressed (elephant), was it not ridiculous to line up the settlers, each of them whining and complaining about the hardships inflicted on them by the elephants, whose territory they had invaded? Not a single elephant could, however, tell us of the torment inflicted on them by these men, who were encroaching on their land. The unwarranted, selfish reasons for settling these men of the sugar and other plantations in "elephant country" by the authorities has, of course, been already revealed to us by well-informed, unofficial sources.

Watching the scene in the film where an obvious antiseptic was sprayed on the wounds of the elephants' legs, where the thick ropes had bitten into the flesh, some viewers pointed out that it was a sure way of getting rid of the problem! There was no long-action antibiotic administered at the time of giving the tranquilizer. Letting the elephants loose with wounded legs and no medication, it surely was the most effective way of inviting infection, possibly gangrene and an agonising death. Is this why so few are trying to walk back home?

In other countries protection of wild life habitations is a sacred trust bequeathed to succeeding generations. Here men are purposely let loose in these areas, armed with knives, iron rods and firearms to drive the resident wild life with all possible speed to extinction.

The very same time the elephants were being driven to Yala, a notice appeared in the newspapers requesting humans not to visit Yala because of lack of water and persistent drought. Do the authorities expect the Elephant God Ganesh of the Hindu pantheon to send out-of season showers to slake the thirst of the elephants dumped into this scorching aridity?

And where are our conservationists/animal rights societies? After an initial, weak protest, not even a murmur of denunciation has been heard from them. Are they, too, afraid of being banished to Yala?

Animal lovers,


Human Rights - more visibly

A highly respected Supreme Court Judge, speaking to an august gathering recently, confirmed that there are severe human rights violations - not excluding torture - committed within Police Stations. When you compare the situation to a few decades ago, these complaints were virtually unheard of then. Granted that the socio-politico situation is far different from those tranquil days, we must, as a society, strengthen our monitoring process particularly with regard to those rights affecting all citizens. One hardly imagined this country would come to this situation. We were disturbed to learn recently, that noted killers and "dons" from the local underworld were given target practice in high-security institutions meant for training by the Police.

A noted President's Counsel, well known as a human rights activist, speaking to an NGO recently on the subject "Human Rights and the Citizen" - in answering questions from the audience confirmed the following:

1. When the Police or members of the Armed Forces enter a home and seek to remove persons for further interrogation they are expected, under existing legislation, to properly identify themselves and to provide an authorised receipt to a member of the detenu's choice. Not providing a receipt, when asked for, is a punitive offence.

2. If the detenu is moved from one known detention point to another his next of kin should be immediately informed by the detaining authority of the change and permission granted, when asked, by the relatives/friends for visits to the next place of detention.

3. Detenues should be permitted visits by next of kin, friends or Counsel by the authorities, where they are held.

4. If the Detenu is not satisfied with the food provided by the State he has a right to get down meals from outside, subject to the usual screening by the authorities.

5. A person to be taken out of his home for interrogation can refuse to leave home if the vehicle that has been sent to fetch him does not bear clear and proper identification numbers.

6. Complaints from relatives of persons taken by the armed forces in breach of the established law can be lodged at the Human Right Task Force (HRTF) Office at Flower Road, Colombo 7. An assurance was given by this Speaker, a member of the HRTF, that these complaints would be promptly followed and efforts to provide relief to the parties concerned made.

7. All Police Stations are expected to prominently display notices outlining the rights of citizens in the event of their being taken into custody and such notices are expected to be displayed in the three languages viz: Sinhala, Tamil and English.

It is satisfying that the country's legal framework provides some sort of civilised protection to citizens in the event of arbitrary arrest. But this, as we understand, is being observed in the breach. What is required, one ventures to suggest, is for these laid-down rules guaranteeing the rights of citizens should be given much wider publicity by the State in all three languages than what they presently enjoy. The Human Rights lawyer concerned agreed that the publicity so far afforded in the matter was inadequate and needed to be improved upon. I hope the authorities concerned - the Police, the Army and other sections of the Armed Forces, the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Human Rights Groups would take necessary steps to educate the citizens to the effect that both the State and the Legislators have been mindful of their duties by the people. Surely, an important piece of legislation, particularly in the contemporary context when citizens have much reason to complain of. Gross human rights breaches by the State, should not remain silent in the Statute Books only but should be more visible and effective. Unless we are eternally vigilant, as the saying goes, we will not only lose our individual liberties but also slip down - as some South American and other countries unfortunately have - to a State where "disappearances" of citizens become only too common and, such a society, would have voluntarily abdicated all claims to consider itself a civilised society.

A. Kandappah,

Colombo 3.

Ignorance amongst vegetarians

Both Buddhism and Hinduism preach "Ahimsa" which basically means "non-killing" "compassion" and "reverence" extended to all life and the observance/practice of vegetarianism is simply a corollary of this tenet/concept.

It is unfortunate, however, that many of the "minority" vegetarians among both Buddhists and Hindus are ignorant of the fact that some of the dairy produce, such as cheese and yoghurt they consume are not always vegetarian as they believe them to be, because most brands of cheese and some brands of yoghurt use rennet and gelatine respectively in their manufacture.

Rennet is usually of animal origin though it can also be of plant (microbial) origin. Rennet of animal origin is an enzyme obtained from the stomach of slaughtered cows/calves. Gelatine is always of animal origin obtained again from slaughtered animals, sometimes even from beef.

In countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and U.S.A. the ingredients used in the manufacture of all food items are clearly stated/labelled which enables the customer to make the correct choice. Most of the imported brands of yoghurt do not contain gelatine and it might be mentioned here that the "Philadelphia" brand cream cheese made by Kraft is free of Rennet and the "Haberfields" brand cheddar and vintage cheese use non-animal (microbial) rennet.

It is, therefore, important for vegetarians to know that both cheese and yoghurt which are good sources of protein for them could be either "vegetarian" or "non-vegetarian" depending on whether animal source rennet or gelatine is used in their manufacture.

In a predominantly Buddhist/Hindu country like Sri Lanka it should be obligatory on the part of the government to ensure that the people are provided with detailed information of the ingredients used in the manufacture of all food items.

At present the labelling requirements of the Food Act and Consumer Protection Act make it sufficient to declare only the generic name of the ingredient.

As such appropriate legislation should be enacted to include the specific names of all ingredients used so as to leave no room for any doubt.

Professor M. Sivasuriya


More letters to the editor - Ingratitude to a great cricket coach *Pollution of Bolgoda Lake * "Pooja" is an offering

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