07th December 1997

Sex, racism and black power

By Mudliyar

Law Entrance classes are mushrooming in every part of the Island. I am informed that more than 12,000 students sat for the Law Entrance Examination where only 250 were selected. General knowledge and intelligence is a paper where most students fail.

The general knowledge of students, teachers, administrators, educationists and even ministers, is very poor. Quite surprisingly one student related this story, which I thought showed an exceptional knowledge of the teacher who happened to be an apprentice waiting to be enrolled as a lawyer, and a female student who showed a wide knowledge of news and current affairs. The teacher asked the following question.

"Now the question is", said the teacher, "Is sexual intercourse between two consenting adults of the same sex permitted under the laws of Sri Lanka?."

Every one laughed loudly, because for most students sexual intercourse is a matter never to be discussed in the open. They thought that the teacher cleverly using a current situation to discuss something which would otherwise never have been discussed in the classroom. Sex is taboo and our cultural prejudices are such that when it comes to sex we equate ourselves to children. As there was no answer, he replied, "homosexual relationship is taboo and illegal in Sri Lanka, and in many other underdeveloped countries. In England and America homosexuals have agitated for their rights and won those rights and a relationship between two consenting adults of the same sex is not illegal in many parts of Europe.

"Is black African youth a racist remark? asked the teacher. "Yes" said the student who had earlier answered the questions.

"Is black American youth a racist remark?" asked the lecturer.

"No" said the student.

"Why not?"

"If it was a racist remark, then why did Mangala correct the media report on his speech in Parliament, and say that he had been misquoted and misreported and what he actually said was Black American youth".

"Is it your position then, words Black South African youth or Black African youth is a racist remark and Black American youth is not a racist remark?'


"But do you know that almost all Black Americans have come from Africa?"

I do not know Sir"

"Do you know that if Mangala used the word Black American in a derogatory sense, he could be charged in court for using racially offensive remarks".

"But Sir, Mangala never used those words in a derogatory sense, but with tender loving care; he said that ' none of the officials of the Sports Ministry needs her warmth, she seems to me like a black American young man. If they accused me of going after her, at least one could assume that there was some truth in it. So Sir, he has openly declared his likes and dislikes of men and matters.

So your argument does not hold good, as Mangala has not used the words in a derogatory sense, and therefore the remarks are not racially abusive".

"So is it your position that Mangala would fall in love only with a black American youth, but not with a black African youth?

Yes Sir, is it not obvious?"

"Surely what would Nelson Mandela think of Mangala, and what would Oprah Winfrey, or Larry King would say, if a remark of this nature is made by a politician in America?"

"That would be the end of his political career Sir. Why won't our leaders apologise to the offended?"

"You must understand, girl that, there is lot of racial hatred in America, but there is racial harmony in Sri Lanka. If you want to experience it you must see Mangala's Thawalama".

"Mangala is trying to build the Jaffna library, burnt down by the racists".

Lord Denning was the Master of the Rolls in England and he is considered one of the great modern Judges of England. Judges, law professors, academics and lawyers often quote Lord Denning to buttress their line of thinking and to impress Judges. Lord Denning after such an Illustrious career reached the peak of fame and had to retire quite abruptly due to one small mistake he made. At the age of 83 he wrote a book called 'What next in the Law', and said quite innocently that in selecting jurors those who had come to England from overseas might not be suitable to serve on juries. The other passage which drew criticism was that the accused person used the power to challenge the jurors to pack the jury with jurors who were sympathetic to their side, and Lord Denning referred in his book to an instance where in a trial at Bristol about some riot, the accused challenged the jurors, to ensure as many coloured people on the jury as possible.

Unlike in Sri Lanka, these two passages were sufficient for the media to attack Lord Denning atrociously, and call for his resignation forthwith. A group, the Society of Black Lawyers, called for the immediate retirement of the Master of the Rolls. The chairman of the Society, Mr. Kadri, who is a Pakistani, said the remarks were insulting and degrading and couched in terms virulent enough to destroy any remaining credibility Lord Denning may have had as an unbiased and impartial interpreter of the law. The society said it would call on the Lord Chancellor to ask Lord Denning "politely but firmly to retire" Mr. Kadri who was the President of the Pakistani Organizations was to call a meeting to start a campaign to ensure that Lord Denning retire. The black jurors who formed the Jury of the Bristol riot case were contemplating suing Lord Denning for the alleged remark he made in his book.

Lord Denning expresses his anguish and the trauma he underwent which culminated in his retirement, in his book called 'The Closing Chapter. " On the Saturday evening the telephone rang. I lifted the receiver. The caller said, "I am David Leigh of the Observer. I understand that black Juros are going to sue you. Do you wish to comment on it?" I replied: I do not think I want to comment on anything like that. That call was ominous. Was I, a serving Judge, to be sued? I was sorely worried. I had a sleepless night" The Observer carried big black banner headlines 'Black jurors to sue Denning unless..' Lord Denning, The Master of the Rolls faces a libel action from two black jurors in the Bristol riot case, after claiming in a book published last week that they had failed to convict guilty people because they were of their own face. Lord Denning, 83, gave last year's Bristol Riot trial as an example of a packed Jury overloaded with what he described as coloured people, he then claimed that black coloured and brown people did not have the same standard of conduct as whites. Lord Denning described the harrowing experience he underwent when these attacks were directed at him due to some reference he made about black and coloured people.

"I had another night of worry, sleepless, tossing to and fro in my bed. 'Thou fool' I kept saying to myself, recalling the parable of the rich man who had laid up treasure for himself. The Times condemned Lord Denning's for his ill-considered remarks."

The Times said "Lord Denning's ill-considered remarks on the unsuitability of many blacks for Jury service, have understandably caused considerable offence in the black community. Should he have to give judgment in a case in which race is a factor, he will be exposed to charges of prejudice, and to suggestions that the decision might be affected by his personal feelings on racial matters. Such criticism would, it is hoped and expected, be unwarranted.

"But Lord Denning had only himself to blame, for placing himself in a position where such attacks could be made. It was the same on issues affecting industrial relations. The accusations which the political left and many trade unionists had made against Lord Denning have only partly been based on the judgements he has given against Unions in a number of court cases. Much of the feeling against him has resulted from remarks he had made in lectures and in his books.

Thus Lord Denning's illustrious career came to an end. Even at the age of 83 he remained one of the greatest judicial minds of this century. In the words of to Mr. Rudy Narayan, one of the leaders of the coloured people in England, a great Judge has erred greatly in the intellectual loneliness of advanced years." While his remarks should be rejected and rebutted he is in a personal way entitled to draw on that reservoir of community regard which he has in many quarters, and to seek understanding and forgiveness"

Lord Denning immediately tendered his letter of retirement to the Lord Chancellor. Lord Denning made a public apology to the coloured people of England, and his book was withdrawn from the sales outlets and the offending passages were removed. But this can happen only in a truly civilized country where Judges and politicians hold that the rule of law is sacred and that none is above the law.

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