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The Sunday TimesPlus

9th March 1997



In his kingdom of animals

By Roshan Peiris

Dr. Kandasamy with a baby monkeyA day in the life of Dr Ponnudurai Kandasamy is an invigorating one, as he walks around the Dehiwela zoo looking after a 'commonwealth' of animals from all over the world.

The amiable doctor after a very small meal of brown bread and butter (he is a diabetic) arrives at the zoo. There he spends his day looking. after his animal family.

"I do have an interesting time especially with the monkeys. They are friendly and almost human in their gestures and attitudes."

As he walked with me, he courteously shook hands with a monkey who looked at him as if he had something to say.

The chimpanzee took it into his head to ignore his 'adopted father' as it were, he was busy scratching himself and sulking.

"Oh here is the silver leaf monkey she is weird," said the doctor, explaining that she had wanted no part of her new born baby.

"The father took charge but since we had to feed the baby monkey we coaxed him to give us this baby. We feed with a bottle.

"Her coat is turning into silver from white. I meet and pet her daily, for who knows she must be missing her indifferent and unnatural mother.

"Here we come to the baby giraffe and her mother. After 460 days of pregnancy she delivered this giraffe. Yes, he looks small and his neck has not grown much. But look how the mother giraffe feeds him.

"Here are the spotted Jaguars, they don't look friendly. Here is the baby jaguar" He opened that cage and out romped the baby jaguar which the doctor caught with familiarity.

"Here are the hyenas, considered scavengers in the forest. They eat up their young, so we have taken a baby hyena away, the only one left after they had devoured two. The baby spotted hyena, is being fed by a bitch who has as you can see a puppy of her own. See the bitch makes no difference, she is calmly feeding the baby hyena.

"We have two African elephants. The rest of our elephants are Asian. Feeding the baby elephant is almost a daily ritual for me .

"She drinks six bottles of milk. See how she opens her mouth, puts her tongue half way out and gulps down the milk as I feed her.

"The lions today seem to be in a bad mood so they are ignoring me. Ah here are the hypos. Two of the baby hippos were drowned and there you see that plump baby hippos much like an overgrown pig of great size. She loves the water.

"The servile cats over here look harmless but if you get too close they will attack. They eat meat once a day as do all the carnivorous animals. Otherwise with less exercise they get sluggish and fat and fall sick at times.

"In a day we get tons of green leaves, grass, fruits for the birds and large quantities of meat.

"And each day I walk miles. On different days I go in different directions and talk to the keepers - the nannies of our family.

There are almost twenty-seven acres of land and it takes supervision and effort to keep it all clean especially the children's park.

"We who work tackle it in sections.

"I go home at about five and every other day at 6.45 after the three elephants have given their dance performance. Now we use only female elephants for the performance since we once had trouble with the males.

"The female elephants are easy to control.

"I am the President of the Lions Club of Colombo District 306 so I spend the evenings attending to Lions Club matters.

"I love the animals and believe me. I find them friendly, grateful and more faithful than most human beings," said the doctor of his animal family.

"When animals fall sick we can do nothing for the big animals like lions, tigers and bears. But now this jaguar cub for instance is being injected.

"I give vitamin injections and antibiotics. These animals hardly fall sick. When they do we give them antibiotic injections and vitamin injections."

So ends a day in the life of Dr. Kandasamy an intriguing and varied one never the same as he walks around with these denizens of the forest talking and petting them as and when he can.

The Sunday Times thanks the Director of the Zoo K.D.R. Wijesinghe for his co-operation.

March 8 was International Women's Day

Helping'em to face the world

Many Migrant workers who leave Sri Lanka with high hopes, return under a cloud having faced harassment and other problems in their employment. As wemark International Women's Day, Shelani De Silva visits a centre in Seeduwa that assists such workers in their hour of need

Moosa Deseema: badly shaken both physically and mentally
Three women in their early thirties left to the West Asia looking for jobs as house maids. They returned to Sri Lanka last month hugging five-month-old babies. The shame in having an illegitimate child forced these women to come home without informing their families. Stepping down at the airport, the trio was apprehensive, to say the least, about the reception they would receive.

Stories of housemaids returning in difficult circumstances are many. Yet few are aware that help is at hand. A team of officials from the Foreign Employment Bureau work 24 hours at the airport to help men and women returnees. Further assistance is provided for them by the Foreign Employment Bureau Welfare Assistant Centre situated at Seeduwa.

The centre" where help is at hand
The centre which opened its doors in 1994 was set up to house migrant workers on their way to jobs abroad or those who have just returned. Upto date the centre has provided assistance to more than a thousand people, the majority being West Asian returnees.

A two storey building, the centre has rooms for both men and women. The upper floor is occupied by women and more than thirty can be accommodated at any given time. The general procedure followed is that at the airport the returnee has to complete an application from, where relevant details are given as to the problems she has and what kind of assistance she requires.

Since the families are not aware of their return, the women who sometimes return penniless, request for their bus fare. Others request the centre to contact their families. Until they leave the centre their meals and all other facilities are provided free of charge.

Centre Manager R Nimalsiri said although they are geared to assist those leaving and returning, their services are used 100 percent by those returning, usually under a cloud.

"Very rarely do we get any one coming to the centre on their departure. But there are plenty who seek assistance on arrival. Our main aim is to provide welfare and assistance to everyone, be it if they left the country through the Bureau or through an unregistered agency.

"Each individual has a different story. It's pathetic too see how our women are treated by the employers. The biggest problem they have once they return, is facing society. We never force anyone to leave the centre. They take their own time. But once they come to the centre the first thing we do is send a police message to the family and a telegram," he said.

Once the family arrives, she is asked to sign on a book that she is leaving with her family."We don't just hand them over. There is a certain procedure to be followed."

"Each girl's case is different. Some are scared and become very secretive. Thus getting information is not an easy task. Some are stubborn and we have to be tactful,"Mr. Nimalsiri said.

While some are given busfare to go home and others are kept until their relatives come for them, some others refuse to inform the family. In such a case the Bureau provides transport for them back home after a certain period of time. "It's not only providing shelter for the girls but preparing their families to accept the tragedy that has befallen on them," Mr. Nimalsiri added.

In the case of the three women who returned with their infants last month, one of them, a thirty four year old mother of a 11 year old son had refused to go home, fearing that she would be rejected from the family. The centre had informed her sister that she had arrived in Sri Lanka.

"The following day her sister came here, accompanied by the woman's husband. "We knew she would not go home. A staffer asked the sister to accompany her to her room. Once she explained the situation the sister said that she would go home and break the news, promising to return the next day to collect the mother and child. Fortunately for this woman, her husband was willing to accept her. The other two women also returned to their homes,' Mr. Nimalsiri said..

When The Sunday Times visited the Centre last week there was one maid who had returned from Kuwait a few days ago. The traumatic experience she might have undergone had left thirty year old Moosa Deseema seated on the bed staring into space. She refused to speak to anyone. She looked badly shaken up both mentally and physically.

With the greatest difficulty the staff had been able to get her address, and they were awaiting the arrival of the family. "She is only a mild case, there are worse cases. Once they come to the airport office the staff finds out their problem. At times the girls are so bad that we have to transport them to the Angoda Mental Hospital. It's so pathetic when such cases come" said Mr. Nimalsiri.

The inmates are given their meals free of charge. The centre allocates rupees 25 for each meal. They are given the choice of getting down any meal to the cost of 25 rupees. "The women are not allowed to come downstairs, we have a helper and she could ask for anything to be bought. All facilities are available at the upper floor and they are strictly prohibited from coming downstairs.Some might say it is like a prison but we have to see to their security.Once they enter the centre we are responsible for them," Mr. Nimalsiri said.

Although the centre has been in existence for more than three years, it should be mentioned that many a woman has been provided not merely with shelter but also time to heal her wounds and most important to adjust both mentally and phisically to face society again

Peace, partnership and freedom

By Asoka Bandarage

Human history reveals that there is a dialectical struggle between the forces of war and peace, domination and partnership, repression and freedom. In this struggle, women have managed to maintain spheres of female control in which life and human reproduction were valued and protected from conquest and destruction by men.

Likewise, many other people have struggled against domination, seeking freedom from serfdom from slavery, and from incorporation into industrial, capitalist and social order.

In the modern world, feminism is one of the major philosophical and social movements taking up the challenge of psychosocial transformation to achieve peace, partnership, and freedom.

The limitations of liberal feminism, which accepts materialism and individualism and seeks equality, self development, and success for women within the technological, capitalist hierarchical model, have become apparent to women burdened with the superwoman syndrome.

But the conceptual limitations of liberal feminism are now being transcended by alternative visions which integrate socialist feminism, radical feminism, and those strands of feminist thought that focus on spirituality and ecology.

Socialist feminists have long argued that women cannot find liberation within capitalism. There is plenty of contemporary evidence for this claim, especially within the ruthlessly exploited Third World. Similarly, the radical feminist argument that women's freedom cannot be found within patriarchal social structures is confirmed everywhere one looks, from corporate board rooms to family bedrooms, from the feminization of poverty to the myriad forms of physical and psychological violence directed against women.

Some see an opportunity for freedom from patriarchal control in new reproductive technologies. But ultimately, artificial reproductive measures do not signify freedom; rather, they reinforce the growing dehumanization of our lives.

The challenge is not to deepen our separation from each other and nature but to strengthen our connections while safeguarding and celebrating our differences. The strengthening of women's solidarity and women's communities worldwide is essential if women are to find greater material and psychological freedom from the pain and suffering that are inflicted upon them.

The task facing the women's movement, then, is to evolve social environments in which respect and caring undergird all relationships. The mother-child bond is often seen as the quintessential expression of unconditional love and compassion; it is perhaps the only relationship in which the interest of the other overrides the interest of the self.

But in a world where so many children are without adequate material and emotional care, the social function of mothering cannot be restricted to biological mothers - it must extend to communities as it often did in tribal and rural societies.

The metaphor of mothering should be used not to restrict women to nurturance and caregiving but to widen the scope of human caring to include the public sphere and greater numbers of men. But in order for human nurturance to be perceived as a strong rather than a weak activity, a basic social shift must also take place from a profit-oriented militaristic world to a people and Earth-oriented compassionate world.

Here, we can draw inspiration from the spiritual strand of feminism which identifies the Mother Goddess as a symbol of female power and also from the Sanskrit concept Shakthi, which refers to the primordial female energy of the universe, connecting the Earth as mother of all life with woman as bearer of human life.

In the struggles for environmental preservation and human rights, women, often those from the most oppressed groups, are emerging as the champions. Thus, we see women leading forest-protection efforts, like those associated with the Chipko movement in India. They are putting ancient rituals to new purposes, adapting the ancient custom of embracing trees in order to protect them from timber contractors, developers, and government agents promoting development projects.

While these people continue to draw on ancient beliefs and rituals, they are, ironically, also being forced to enter into modern political battlefields - the electronic media and the courts of law - in order to safeguard the survival of their land, their cultures, and themselves.

Other women are taking the lead in movements to preserve human life against political violence.

The commitment to nonviolent methods of confrontation is one of the strongest attributes of women's struggles. If this commitment is not strengthened through international support, however, feminist activists facing increasing violence and backlash around the world may be driven to take up violence themselves.

The creation of a new world order must involve the sharing of global resources across classes, nations, ethnic groups, and the sexes.

How can there be peace and justice in a world where nearly trillion dollars a year is spent on weapons of destruction while forty thousand people die each day of hunger? How can there be peace and justice when about six percent of the world's population, living in the United States, claims a disproportionately large percentage of the world's income, and women, who make up half the global population and do two- thirds of the world's work, have only one-tenth of the world's income and one one-hundredth of the world's property?

People in the West, especially industrial workers and middle class people struggling to maintain their lifestyle, often vent their anger and frustration at Japan or workers in the Third World.

Within the Third World, however, there is increasing recognition that economic injustice, ecological destruction, and militarism are interconnected, rooted in the dominant military-industrial global order.

This recognition and the struggles of Third World peoples for their rights and dignity frequently go unreported by the mainstream news media that are controlled by a few corporations. By contrast, liberation theologists in Latin America clearly understand the necessity for global redistribution of power and resources, as do the socially-engaged Buddhist peace and ecology activists working for change in Asia.

Their emerging networks of engaged spirituality represent progressive alternatives to rightwing religious fundamentalism, which brings together religion and politics in order to conserve rather than transform the decaying authoritarian social order.

It is in the Third World that the struggle between the forces of repression and freedom, between the old order and the new order, is being most violently fought. Unlike in the West, where one can still speak in relative safety, in the Third World, agents of change - union organizers, environmental activists, human- rights lawyers, and intellectuals - are routinely killed or forced into exile.

When those in power do not allow non-violent opposition, the groups fighting for change often take up violence themselves. As a result, the world military economy and the global arms trade are further strengthened. The advanced capitalist world itself is not immune to the stresses of social dissatisfaction, with escalating violence in urban life being one manifestation of these stresses.

The rise of political and economic conservatism and religious and ethnic fundamentalism signals the efforts of the old order to protect vested interests against the liberalizing efforts of certain social sectors, namely, women, the poor environmentalists and others. With repression comes the threat of violence, of ever-increasing frequency and ferocity, putting the entire planet at risk. Those who are struggling for the new world order need to do so non-violently, with compassion and creativity. For, as the Buddha said, "Hatred ceaseth not by hatred, hatred ceaseth with love".

Asoka Bandarage is Professor of Women's Studies at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, U.S.A and author of Colonialism in Sri Lanka, and Women, Population and Global Crisis

Continue to Plus page 4 - The enigmatic Mr.Wilson, Part II - A great discovery at Trincomalee * Camelot brought to life * Pitiakande: Where the sprites gurgle with glee

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