Wednesday, October 22, 2008

THE DIASPORA...............!!!

Diplomats, Immigrants and the Diaspora
Ravi Perera

Although unintended, recent high profile judgments and sensational assassinations of political figures also bring into focus another live reality of this society, the phenomenon that could be called the other nation, the Diaspora.

The other nation although genetically made up of the same ingredients as the rest, in outlook, aspirations and possibly even sense of well being constitute an entity very different. Domiciled mainly in metropolitan Western countries with high living -standards, they now amount to almost a million, i.e. roughly one in twenty Sri Lankans.

Sometimes we need a death or even a finding of a court of law to realize, though physically absent, how prevalent the Diaspora is in our daily routine. Invariably if the deceased is a person of middle class professional background the chances are that most of his near and dear once will be in far flung places like Melbourne, Toronto or even California.

London - a melting pot

Recently when a former diplomat passed away his immediate family attended the funeral from the country he was formerly based in. Even in matters of a legal nature increasingly we find many carrying local names are in fact citizens of other countries.

It is a statement of the times that even the former leaders after playing their clamorous part on our somewhat chaotic national stage retire with their immediate family to richer environs. There they apparently gather, in cold undistinguished living rooms, a few countrymen of similar emigre status to talk of Kings, cabbages and the great things they did in the native land.

Generally it is said that a diplomat represents the interests of his home country. But since of late it has become the norm that most of our diplomats, particularly those in Western countries either have their immediate families living in that country or soon ensure they migrate there, tacitly admitting the inferiority of living standards and opportunities in the home country.

Although in an emotional sense they may identify with their land of birth in every other sense they could make common cause with their adopted countries. Gaping differences in living standards and easy transport make national borders porous.

The eager hands and cheap labour provided by the newcomers for the massive economies of the recipient countries confuse their policy makers when it comes to regulating the immigrant intake. We have seen in recent times unprecedented gatherings of diverse ethnicities within previously secure national boundaries.

Today if one goes by the gaggle of voices at tube stations or the food on offer at corner stores it will be hard to conclude that London is a British city. For more than three decades now Western countries have been the targets of endless migrant movements simply looking for something better.

In this context the following paragraph from VS Naipaul’s “The Mimic Men” makes interesting reading.

“ ...Just the other day I was in the West End, in the basement of one of those department stores where assistants carry their names on little plastic badges. I required a folding wooden clothes-airer. An assistant had her back to me. I went up to her. She turned. Her face was familiar, and a quick glance at the name pinned to her blouse left no room for doubt.

We had last met at a conference for non-aligned nations; her husband had been one of the firebrands. We had seen one another in a glittering blur of parties and dinners. Then she had worn her ‘national costume’ giving her a seductive appearance, colours of her silks setting off her rich Asiatic complexion.

Now the regulation skirt and blouse of the department store converted her breasts and hips into untidy bundles. I remember how, when we were saying our goodbyes at the airport, the third secretary of her Embassy, breaking the precise arrangements of protocol, had run up at the last moment with a bunch of flowers, which he offered to her, the personal gift of a man desperate to keep his job in the diplomatic service, fearful of being recalled to the drabness of his own background......”

For clear unsentimental depiction of the progress of the post colonial coloured immigrant in the chosen land, the Nobel Prize winning writer cannot be rivalled. However impressive the immigrants standing in the native country, he is an awkward refugee in the adopted country.

Grudgingly accepted if not tolerated, he can never hope to be fully assimilated in the new land. But he remembers the country where a fistful of dollars is a fortune and a foreign qualification a magical mantra. The rules are hazy and personal influence carries the day. So, the regular visits, with constant engagement with his country of birth.

In different ways the immigrant now outside of the national cage as well as those well and truly enmeshed in its various manifestations are victims of circumstances. The globalized world is small, glittering allurements tantalize while the obvious deprivations of life burn deep.

One cannot fault anybody for wanting a better life. But in the process the Diaspora form a group with dual identities. It is very likely that this duality will lessen with the second generation who will probably have only tenuous ties with the land of their fathers. But for the time being the easy mixing of the Diaspora with their country of origin does create piquant situations.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The abject failure of the cat act

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
It is now very clear that the Convention Against Torture and other Inhuman and Degrading Punishment Act No 22 of 1994 (the CAT Act) has signally failed in its intent to bring about an improved deterrent regime in regard to practices of torture in Sri Lanka.

As repeatedly pointed out in this column previously, Sri Lanka's High Courts have handed down only three convictions during the fourteen years of the CAT Act's existence. In contrast to this, three acquittals have been entered into while a number of trials are pending. The reason as to why we focus on this vexed issue yet again is that on 9th October 2008, the Negombo High Court delivered the fourth acquittal in terms of the Act in the case of Lalith Rajapaksa. As in the case of the acquittal of Gerald Perera, (again by the Negombo High Court), the acquittal in the case of Lalith Rajapaksa was judicially justified on the basis that the evidence was not sufficient to prove the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt.

The Rajapaksa Case

Rajapaksa's complaint was that he had been arbitrarily arrested by several police officers, beaten and dragged into a jeep. During his detention, he was subjected to torture for the purposes of obtaining a confession which caused serious injuries. A medical report issued by the National Hospital stated that the "most likely diagnosis alleged to assault due to traumatic encephalitis." He filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court which is still pending. Meanwhile, the Attorney General indicted a sub-inspector of police implicated in the torture, in terms of the CAT Act. The relevant acquittal handed down by the High Court early this month was in respect of this case.

While it is not the intention in this column to elaborate on the legal grounds of appeal which is a matter within the ambit of the legal process, some egregious discrepancies appear to be evident on a bare reading of the trial documents and the decision itself. For instance, rigorous scrutiny of the decision indicates that though the High Court had come to a conclusion that the medical record did not bear out the allegation by the accused that he had been mercilessly assaulted on the soles of his feet, this is refuted by the fact that injury numbers 8 and 9 on the medical report attests to injuries that were, in fact, explained by the Assistant Medical Judicial Officer in court as having been caused by assault with a blunt instrument.

Judicial assessment of the evidence

Further, the judicial assessment of the evidence seems problematic when evaluated against the evidence in particular, relating to the clear testimony that the victim was fit and healthy before being arrested by the police officers, that he sustained grievous injuries while inside and indeed, the evidence of the accused himself that the victim was taken in a virtually unconscious state to the hospital from the police station, that he had used minimum force in hitting the victim with a pole purportedly in order to prevent the victim from assaulting another policeman and inaccuracies that demonstrated the lack of credibility in the evidence of the accused.

No direct eye witness to torture

Generally, it must be said that examination of judgments relating to acquittals handed down by the High Court under the CAT Act indicate certain problematic features in the legal process. The acquittal of the torturers of Gerald Perera, a worker at the Colombo dockyard (who was tortured to the point of renal failure by officers attached to the Wattala Police Station with, as judicially held by the Supreme Court, the 'consent and acquiscence' of the officer in charge) is a case in point. A major reason for this acquittal was the lack of direct evidence testifying to the acts of torture being committed by the particular police officers who are indicted, even though the Court accepted the fact that Gerald Perera was a hale and healthy man when brought into the police station but had suffered multiple injuries when taken out of the station. (see Republic of Sri Lanka vs Suresh Gunasena and Others, HC Case No 326/2003, Negombo High Court, HC Minutes 02.04.2008).

However, it is inherent in the very act of torture that it will not be committed on a public thoroughfare and with onlookers nearbye. Rather, torture is commited in secret and in hidden places. In the circumstances, a judicial insistence on direct eye witness evidence of torture practices is clearly problematic and defeats the very intent and objective of the CAT Act.

Judicial understanding of the CAT Act

Problems with a lack of clear judicial understanding of the objective and purpose of the CAT Act also emerge from analysis of the relevant judicial decisions; Thus, in one acquittal, the High Court judge concludes as follows; "Even though it appears that when considering the number of injuries, the accused has used some force beyond that which was necesarry, that does not prove the charge against the accused in the case."(see Republic of Sri Lanka vs Havahandi Garwin Premalal Silva Case No. 444/2005 (HC), High Court of Kalutara, High Court Minutes, 19.10.2006. This decision is being appealed against to the Court of Appeal).

Another useless law

The CAT Act was brought to the country's statute books in 1994 with ambitious hopes of proving to be an effective legal deterrent to torture practices being perpetrated by custodial officers. However, copuled with the long delays in pending trials, lack of prosecutorial will to bring about convictions and manifest judicial reluctance to convict, it is evident that the legislation itself has lost almost all if not most of its force. Unfortunately, it has now been relegated to yet another useless law in Sri Lanka.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

SL:The Rewriting of History!

The re-writing of history and selective political memory in Sri Lanka

Reading the utterances of various politicians who, by virtue of the prominence given them by the local media are considered "important," one is left confused by the clash between one’s own recollection of times past, the recollections of those with no reason to prevaricate or distort and the claims made by these "VIPs" or "experts.".

One area that I am bemused by is the consistent line by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) that, during the insurrection of the late eighties, it was only the government of the day that was guilty of atrocities of the most heinous kind. Conversations with those with no partisan political axe to grind reveal that the JVP and those acting under cover of that movement were guilty of decapitations, hangings from lamp posts and other acts that were bloodthirsty, cruel and inhuman, to say the least. That the pro-government forces may have been guilty of more instances of this kind of behaviour than the JVP does not take away from the bestial nature of the JVP’s conduct.

At the same time, the absolutely ruthless manner in which the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government put down the 1971 insurrection is never referred to by the JVP’s spokesmen. While the total numbers of those tortured and killed might not have been as high as in the late eighties, there was very substantial loss of life in the early seventies’ uprising. In fact, if memory serves me right, no accurate figures were ever published and there was speculation that, in the census subsequent to the 1971 insurrection, there were net population losses recorded in some areas.

Having been a witness to what happened in JVP Uprising No. 1, I can certainly vouch for the fact that the youth of that insurrection were not involved, to any great extent, in killings and cruelty intended to terrorize the population. Notwithstanding this fact, their movement was ruthlessly put down and there were "extra-judicial" killings which organizations such as Amnesty International (a very young organization at the time) and the international media reported on extensively.

Why then does the JVP persist in letting the SLFP off the hook while pillorying the UNP? Is it because it is inconvenient to accuse a party of serious human rights violations against one’s own movement/party subsequent to bringing the SLFP to power?

The Silver Jubilee of Black July (1983) has led to another attempt by apologists for fascism and xenophobia to indulge their skills in a similar manner. The strategy employed here is of a different hue, though not substantially so. They seek, more often than not, to completely ignore the pogrom against the Tamils of Sri Lanka, referring to the ambush and killing of thirteen soldiers and downplaying what followed. Any comparison of the unarmed civilian Tamils casualties with thirteen (armed) soldiers ambushed is beyond description. But this attempt to whitewash what the murderous racist hordes did with the implicit (and I am being charitable here in choosing not to use the word "explicit") support of the government of the day is nothing short of obscene.

One need not be surprised though, because this is essentially the same Sri Lankan media that maintained a deafening silence in 1983 at the behest of a (different) government. As was once said, "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

While on the subject of anniversaries, another similar pogrom appears to have been missed altogether: that of "Emergency 58" when the Tamils were subjected to abuse, assault and murder on a scale hitherto unheard of in Sri Lanka. This was, so to speak, the dress rehearsal for what followed a quarter century later. The ’58 "communal riots," as they were then known bore a couple of other similarities to those of 1983: the Prime Minister of the day, S.W.R.D.Bandranaike, was initially dismissive of the events of murder and mayhem as was J.R. Jayewardene in 1983, describing them "as a few isolated incidents."

The other similarity was that it took an Indian threat of direct intervention to galvanize the Sri Lankan government into action. Sri Lanka was fortunate that, at that point of time, a no-nonsense Governor General in the person of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke took command of the situation and, under his direction, the armed forces acted in a firm and even-handed manner to quell the rabble. Those around J.R.J in 1983 chose, essentially, to toe his line and throw the Tamil citizens of this country to the racist rabble that ruled the land.

That political parties and their spokesmen will try to get away with whatever they can, particularly in the area of re-writing history is a given. However, the more relevant question would be, "Why has the media not raised these historical facts with those spouting them when the opportunity has presented itself times without number?" Is it just plain laziness or is it that the media in this country is as much a victim of the general dumbing down that appears to have taken place over the last several years? Or, more frightening yet, is this yet another indication of the self-censorship that the media, hitherto critical of those in authority, now practice? The last explanation is certainly a frightening thought for anyone interested in Sri Lanka surviving as a democratic entity.

Old Pachyderm



Sri Lanka destroys food aid withheld from tsunami victims..October 17, 2008 (AFP) - Sri Lanka said Friday it would destroy a consignment of more than five tonnes of rotting rice and lentils meant for victims of the December 2004 Asian tsunami.

District officials in the southern city of Galle said the food aid had not been distributed among the needy in the coastal town of Habaraduwa due to bureaucratic bungling.

"It’s the fault of the cooperative society in Habaraduwa which was supposed to distribute the rice and lentils, but for some reason they have not done their job and try to blame us," district official Saman Jayasekara told AFP.

Independent auditors have reported that only a fraction of the outpouring of international and local aid for victims of the tsunami here actually reached the intended recipients.

A spokesman for the Habaraduwa cooperative society, Samantha Weligamage, said it was sent the food stocks by the district secretariat, which coordinated tsunami aid without any instructions on how to distribute the food.

"The tinned fish we got was already unsuitable for consumption. We have returned the rice and lentils and they have also been declared unfit for human consumption now," Weligamage said.

He said the food had originally come from the World Food Program.

There was no immediate comment from the World Food Program which took a lead role in distributing food to one million people in Sri Lanka, one of the worst affected by the tsunami that killed an estimated 31,000 people.

The state auditor general in September 2005 noted out of 1.16 billion dollars committed to assist Sri Lankan victims, only 13.5 percent had actually been spent.

Since then, there have been no audit reports published on tsunami aid.


Friday, October 17, 2008


Do we speak up or remain silent? Shanie

Pastor Martin Niemoeller

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade union ists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,

there was no one left to speak out.

Pastor Martin Niemoeller was a German clergyperson. As a young man, he served in the Germany Navy during World War I as a submarine commander. Towards the end of the war, when the German Workers’ Party was formed, Niemoeller was an enthusiastic supporter. Under Adolf Hitler’s leadership, the Party began to adopt a stridently nationalist line and changed the name of the Party to Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party. When a democratic election was held in 1933, Niemoeller, like most Germans, supported Hitler who was elected the German Chancellor. Once elected, Hitler began to turn fascist, suppressing all opposition and propounding racial theories that created a "master race" with all others considered inferior. In 1934, he established a totalitarian state – the Third Reich – with himself as Der Fuhrer, The Leader. A plebiscite overwhelmingly confirmed him in power and he was able to rule virtually without any opposition until the end of the War.

Niemoeller was unhappy with the direction that Hitler was taking and became a critic. He was sent to a concentration camp in 1937 and narrowly escaped death only because of his standing. He was released only at the end of the war in 1945. It was about this time, the "poem" quoted above was written and attributed to him. Post-war, Niemoeller became a committed pacifist, apologized for his past in supporting the National Socialists, and campaigned for nuclear disarmament. At the height of the cold war and the Vietnam War, he called for cooperation with the Communists and in fact travelled to Vietnam and met Ho Chi Minh, causing an uproar among the western conservatives. He served from 1961 to 1968 as a President of the World Council of Churches, the apex body of the world-wide Protestant Churches.

Niemoeller’s life and poem have a meaning for all of us. If we truly believe in democracy, we have to acknowledge that each one of us is entitled to our personal views. We cannot fault or punish anyone for having views different from ours. We have to treat everyone, however strongly we may disagree with that person, with dignity and respect. That is why, we need to condemn and do everything in our power to stop the meaningless abductions, violence and killings directed at people by those who disagree with them. That is why the killing of General Janaka Perera is so reprehensible. We refer to him because of his prominent public profile. But there are thousands of others like him who have had and continue to suffer violence because of their political, ethnic or religious position. Janaka Perera’s family had to undergo many indignities in respect of his funeral, a Magistrate has made adverse comments regarding the tardy manner in which the investigations into his death are being conducted and there has been no indication to reassure his family and the public that an independent and fair inquiry will be held to identify and bring the conspirators to justice. Surely there is something rotten in a system that allows this?

To whom does Sri Lanka belong?

After the horrors of July 1983 and a southern insurgency that followed soon thereafter, Sri Lanka engaged herself in a task of nation-building. From the early nineties to the middle of the following decade, there was a momentum towards building up a national identity. It was true that there were vocal and at times violent expressions of Sinhala/Buddhist and Tamil chauvinism during this period. The LTTE continued suppressing dissent in the North and East, assassinating mainly but not solely Tamils who sought to challenge the direction in which they were taking the Tamil civilian population. Similar fascists among the Sinhala community attacked Christian Churches and their pastors. Also in a few instances, the Muslims as a community were subject to violence. But despite these aberrations, the political leadership, notably President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, was resolute in the task of nation building and resolving the National Question in a manner that offered justice and equality to all communities.

But the gains of that decade are being lost in the last couple of years. The Army Commander’s remark that our country belonged to the Sinhalese has not provoked any denial from the political leadership. The UNP and civil society organisations have sought to distance themselves from this statement but it has not provoked any outrage among the ordinary public. On the contrary, judging by the correspondence columns in the media, there are many (it is possible that it is only the chauvinists who care to write) who share his views. That is a shame. It is the kind of silence that Niemoeller was to lament in his reference to the response of the German population to the fascism of Hitler.

In Tamilnadu in South India, a frenzy is being built up on the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka. But there are also courageous voices who dare to challenge the dominant trend. Malini Parthasarathy has written a devastating critique of the LTTE arguing that India should stick to its policy since the early nineties of non intervention directly in Sri Lankan affairs, a view undoubtedly shared by Editor N Ram of the Hindu newspaper in which Parthasarathy’s article appeared. The point is that we may have our own views, but we must not remain silent or be afraid to speak up if our views run contrary to the dominant trend. As is attributed to Edmund Burke, "All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men (and women) to do nothing."

Professionalism in


The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed serious concern at the plight of the tens of thousands of innocent civilians who are caught in-between the two parties involved in the conflict in the Vanni. Along with other world leaders, he has also stressed the need to offer the minorities a political solution to their grievances and the necessity for dialogue. It was however refreshing to read, to those of us who have been used to polemical outbursts from government spokespersons, to read the response of our High Commissioner in India, Romesh Jayasinghe. Asked on the sidelines of a function for his off-the-cuff comments on the Indian Prime Minister’s statement, High Commissioner Jayasinghe has stated,

"It will presumptuous for me to comment on the Prime Minister’s statement. I have read about the statement in the media. What I can say is that whatever the Prime Minister has said it will be regarded as most important by Sri Lanka, and we would keep in mind his observations while dealing with the situation. This is in the spirit of the warm and friendly relations between India and Sri Lanka."

Thank God we still have professional diplomats of this calibre in our Foreign Service.

Dialogue and a Political


We are sure President Mahinda Rajapakse does not share the views of Wimal Weerawansa that the current war is the political solution to the National Question. It sounds very much like the ‘Final Solution’ of the Nazis. But what is worrying is that, despite all the rhetoric and the symbolic summoning of the All Party (sic) Conference, no political package has been forthcoming. Tissa Vitarana’s statement that consensus has almost been reached (we have heard that many times) but that it will be presented after the war is over sounds very ominous. One fails to understand why it is necessary to wait for the war to be over. In fact, the end of the war will be hastened if a consensus package is presented now. We trust that the chauvinists who are now in President Mahinda Rajapakse’s camp are not going to have the last laugh on Minister Vitarana.



Colombo Chetties are legitimate citizens of Sri Lanka
The Colombo Chetty Association of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Situ Sangamaya), at its Executive Committee meeting held recently, expressed deep concern about the recent statement attributed to the Army Commander Major General Sarath de Fonseka regarding the rights of minorities in Sri Lanka.

We are disappointed that to date he has made no denial or correction to the statement. We are also concerned that no reassuring statement has so far been issued by leaders of the majority community in Sri Lanka on the issue.

The Colombo Chetties, who are also referred to in historical records as Situ, Vaisya Setthi or Sitana, are an ancient community that has contributed immensely towards the socio-economic growth and progress of Sri Lanka. Their earliest settlements in Sri Lanka, according to historical records, dates back to over 2500 years.

Their contribution to the advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is an enviable fact that we are proud of. As mentioned by many historians, the seven brothers of Queen Videshi Devi, who were also the uncles of Prince Mahinda and Princess Sangamitta who arrived in Anuradhapura to prorogate Buddhism, were sons of Dev Setthi of Avanthi.

King Vasaba (BC 65-100), who inaugurated the Lambakaranna dynasty in Sri Lanka that ruled for over 350 years, was a descendant of Prince Sumitta, who was one of them. Even as the recent history of Kotte (1400-1521, mention has been made about Vira Nissanka Alakeswara and Sembha Perumal (Sapumal Kumaraya, belonged to our community.

The Colombo Chetties have long lived in close association and harmony with the major and smaller communities for aeons of time in Sri Lanka. They have at no time made any demands for an exalted place in the political structure of Sri Lanka, in ancient or modern times. More importantly, their loyalty to Sri Lanka has never been called into question. Although classified as a minority community due to paucity of our numbers, the welter of their contribution to the well-being of Sri Lanka, since ancient times to the present day, has legitimized our rights as inalienable citizens of this country.

We firmly believe that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, mulri-religious and multi-cultural country and that all communities, including the Colombo Chetties, are an integral part of the fascinating mosaic that constitute Sri Lanka of today, drawing deeply from the founts of its ancient well springs of diverse cultures.

Shirley P. Tissera
President Sri Lanka Chetty Association of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Situ Sangamaya)


Monday, October 13, 2008


UNP and SLFP Governments have discarded the Malays since 1965
by Saybhan Samat

The 70,000 strong Sri-Lankan Malay community is distressed, dismayed and very concerned that their culture, language and identity is fast disappearing. The cultures of the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils have made inroads among the Malays so much so that many Malays do not even know their own language, but only speak Sinhalese or Tamil depending on whether they live in Sinhalese dominated areas or Tamil dominated areas. The elite among the Malays speak the English language. The dress of the Malays is also not the traditional dress worn in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is either the saree, frock and now the blouse and jean-pants. There is a slow but sure erosion of Malay culture in all cultural fields, the cultures and life-styles of the majority Sinhalese, minority Tamils and in some instances the Western culture have swamped and drowned the original culture of the Malays. This trend has alarmed the once proud Malay community, who boldly projected their unique humane and beautiful culture in the past. In addition to the Sinhalese, Tamil and Western cultures that have influenced the Malays, their co-religionist the Moors too have strongly influenced the Malays. The culture of the Moors is quite different to that of the Malays. The Moors are descendents of the Arabs and South Indian Muslims, the South Indian Muslims in turn are the descendents of Arabs who came to South India while the Malays are descendents of the Javanese and Malays of Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Malays, some of whom were of Royal descent, were exiled by the Dutch rulers, while others were brought over here as soldiers, both by the Dutch and British. Even the Sinhalese Kings recruited Malay soldiers to their Army to fight the British. On some occasions, Malay soldiers on the side of the British would battle Malay soldiers on the side of the Sinhalese Kings. Malay soldiers were absolutely loyal to whoever recruited them. They were well known for their loyalty, valour, courage and fighting abilities.

The UNF and the PA governments, despite several appeals from responsible Malay citizens, have lumped them as Muslims. The Malays do not for a moment deny that they are Muslims following the religion of Islam, but since at present ethnicity is most relevant in Sri-Lanka society more than at anytime in our history, it is indeed a travesty of justice to ignore the ethnic claim of the Sri-Lankan Malays of today.

The Malays were originally Hindus. They then converted to Buddhism and finally embraced Islam. The history of the Malays in our island is marked by epic achievements. The present day Malays are completely ignorant of the historical glory, values and bravery of this small but courageous and innovative community. Most significantly, the Malays have not caused any trouble to the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities. They have co-operated with both main political parties viz. the UNP and the SLFP. They have also had cordial and brotherly relations with their co-religionist the Moors. Malays live island-wide and can very easily get along with the other communities to live in peace and harmony. In fact, the nature of the Malay psyche is peace, which is propounded by their religion, Islam.

The Malays are also noted for their spiritual abilities. Having so many saints whose shrines abound in this blessed island, the Malays reached their peak when they truly practiced Islam. In its heyday, 75% of the Police force, 90% of the prison services and 100% of the Colombo Fire Brigade were Malays. Large numbers of Malays also served in the Hambantota salterns, H. M Customs, in plantations as estate clerks and conductors, tea, rubber makers and in government service and the private sector. The Malays had a reputation for loyalty, honesty and hard work. Some Malays were self-employed and were very skilled artisans in rattaning and masonry.

The Sri-Lanka Malay Associations, the Malay Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club, in the island and the Konferensi Melayu Sri-Lanka (Coslam) have made some efforts to revive Malay culture. The attempts are mostly cosmetic. A big brouhaha is made about the Malay Rally by the Sri-Lanka Malay Association and the Malay Cricket Club. Once the rally is over, there is hardly any follow-up. The Konferensi, Melayu (Coslam) with much hype organises ‘Hari Bahasa Melayu’ (Malay Language Day), but after their rally they go into hibernation and nothing does happen. Cynics in the community claim that these occasions are organised by office bearers for social-climbing, vanity fare, ego-building, partying and for glitz and show and not for reviving Malay culture and identity.

Many Malays feel that it is possible to revive their culture if government sponsors and supports them. Hence it is necessary that the government like in the past, nominates in the national list a Malay to represent the community. Earlier, the Malay community was represented by Dr. M. P. Drahman and B. Z. Lye under the SLFP. The Malays were very thankful for this gesture to the SLFP. The UNP nominated M. H. Amit under the national list. However, when M. H. Amit was asked by the Malays as to why he gave up his seat in favour the late Gamini Dissanayake, he said that he was appointed as a member of the Muslim League, which is affiliated to the UNP and hence did not represent the Malays.

There are many reasons as to why it is incumbent on the government to nominate a Malay on the National List to Parliament. First of all, there is a historical affinity of the Sinhalese Buddhists to the Malays on account of the 50 year rule of a Malay Buddhist King, Chandra Banu, who established a Javanese Kingdom in Jaffna which extended to Hambantota in the 13th century and because the Malays were Buddhists before they became Muslims. Secondly, the Malays have time and again proven their loyalty to their motherland, Sri Lanka. Their peaceful conduct from the time their ancestors were exiled to this island is well known. Thirdly, although they are a very small community, their contribution is immense indeed to the development of Sri Lanka. They have made valuable contributions in various fields such as the civil-services, art, journalism, sports, the defence services, politics, social services and to the Colombo Fire Brigade and Prisons services. Finally, 21 Malays have sacrificed their lives and six, missing in the on-going ethnic conflict.

Hence, it is clear beyond any doubt that the Malay community, although small in number today, has contributed immensely to our rich and colourful heritage for several centuries. From Hambantota (Sampantota) to Chavakachcheri (Sava-ka-chari) from Ja-ela to Samanthurai from Java Lane to Jakaduwa (Mawathagama), to Jawatte and from hairy Rambutan to the spiky Durian, from Babath and Mani-Pittu to the all time favourite Wattalappan to the spicy Malay pickle, tangy Sathey to Nasi Goreng from Dodol to the Sarama, the list is endless, which stamps the influence of the Malay presence in our beautiful island.

Only the SLFP government nominated two Malay MPs in 1956 and 1960. Since 1965, both the UNP and the SLFP have discarded the Malays and not recognised the distinct ethnicity of the Malays. The present practice of the both governments to categorised the Malays under the definition of Muslim is unacceptable. The Malay language belongs to the Malayu-Polynesian language family, written in either Roman script or the Arabic script. The culture is the traditional culture of the Javanese, Malays and Indonesians. Hence, the Malays have a distinct cultural identity different from the Moors, whose language is Tamil and more than Arab culture, the Moors tend to South Indian Tamil culture.

The Malays are certain that if the government appoints a Malay MP after the next general elections, this political appointment long denied to them will propel them to revive their culture, language and identity. It is only fair, considering the contribution of the Malays to the well being and development of this country, in the past and in the present, that they be recognised by the appointment of a Member of Parliament to sit in the Legislature.


Sunday, October 5, 2008


'Govt.'s supremacist agenda destroying peace hopes'

Rauf Hakeem

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauf Hakeem while accusing 'certain extremists' within the government of continuing with its supremacist agenda to spoil any hope of peaceful co-existence in the country told The Sunday Leader in an interview that unless a collective effort is made by the minority parties and other likeminded political forces it would be difficult to re-establish democracy in the country. With regard to the Army Commander's recent controversial statement, Hakeem said that the Commander should not make such statements, as it would result in contributing to the alien feeling of the minorities. "In politics, the armed forces should not indulge in giving statements, that this country belongs only to one race and that the others are permitted to live only at the benevolence of the majority. It is regrettable that no responsible person in the government had the courage to clarify this." Excerpts:

By Nirmala Kannangara

Q: Army Commander Sarath Fonseka had recently stated that this is primarily the land of the Sinhalese and the minorities should not make "undue demands." Do you think that this is a warning to the minorities not to make political demands?

A: In politics the armed forces should not indulge in giving statements as if this country belongs only to one race and that the others are permitted to live only at the benevolence of the majority. These types of statements will make nonsense of the fact that this country is a multi-ethnic democracy.

What some construe to be 'demands' is a matter for the executive, the legislature and the judiciary to resolve when the issues surface. The Army Commander should be cautious not to exceed his brief, resulting in contributing to the alien feeling of the minorities.

I was the first to respond without rage when this interview was published. It has now been roundly condemned by many minority community leaders. What is regrettable is that nobody in government has had the courage of their conviction to clarify this issue. This indicates the current trend of xenophobia.

Q: Why did you decide to quit the Eastern Provincial Council after being mandated by the people?

A: The decision was made by the party, which took the original decision, that the top leadership must resign from parliament to contest the election. It was our original intention to file a high profile team to meet the extraordinary situation where the entire government machinery was to be used in a display of unremitting abuse of power along with violence, intimidation, harassment and vast scale vote rigging.

There are capable representatives in the provincial council representing our party who will discharge their functions to respect the mandate the people have given us. It was felt that I should return to parliament and play my role in national politics while guiding those who are serving at the provincial level.

Q: Do you think that post Pillayan, the east has settled in the way that the government perceived it would?

A: I am sure the government is well aware that the situation is far from ideal and that the encouragement given to certain political forces to be armed with the excuse that they are facing a threat is seriously undermining democracy. The rhetoric of development in a climate where you deny the basic rights of the people to choose their representatives by excising their free will, is going to gradually result in radicalisation of even moderate political forces.

The cultural impunity, which is permitted to grow among the armed forces and the police is causing resentment and in time to come will result in serious consequences as the government doesn't impose discipline and ensure that the security forces and law and order machinery retains public confidence while recruitment and deployment should take into consideration the delicate ethnic balance that needs to be maintained and promotions, transfers etc: should be de-politicised.

Q: What is the eastern development agenda and are you satisfied with it?

A: The bilateral and multilateral donors have been always willing to assist in improving the infrastructure and livelihood of the people of this province provided the government could establish a proper civilian administration with a properly elected council.

There are target programmes to eliminate the suffering of conflict and tsunami affected populations, which are still in progress and will continue to be supported for some years to come. The selection criteria is driven by a centralised agenda through the Ministry of Nation Building without sufficient grassroot input and the conflict is being ignored.

The cheap political publicity that is sought from most of these projects and the rampant corruption and mismanagement are also noticeable.

Q: The Eastern Province Chief Minister sacked the Kattankudi Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman citing irregularities. It is learnt that he is now conducting investigations into the other pradeshiya sabhas as well to find out whether there are irregularities. What is your take on this?

A: The Chief Minister of the Eastern Province is a very inexperienced politician and he is allowing himself to be used as a cat's paw by politicians alien to his ruling cabal. It is a local authority where the opposition is in control. Isn't it surprising that this urban council headed by the suspended chairman, was selected as the best council by his own ministry?

A preliminary inquiry has been held in order to substantiate the fabricated charges, which seems to be minor administration errors.

We will be taking suitable legal action and expose the Chief Minister's malicious intention and get suitable relief.

Q: Following the registration of the people who have come to Colombo from the north, those who have come from the east too are now being subjected to a similar registration process today. How do you see this scenario?

A: This type of profiling will only result in a further polarisation of Tamils from the mainstream. It is amusing to see from the Defence Secretary downwards, the powers that be talking of the imperative need to enforce these measures saying that it is for the common good of themselves.

Why cannot the government and its security agencies initiate civil society monitoring groups and entrust them to do a survey to achieve the same objective? The indignity and hardships imposed on Tamils who were coming to government controlled areas with outrageous remarks such as to get back to the north if they have no business here is a manifestation of the racist mindset.

Q: It is learnt that the formation of a minority alliance is on the cards and then a grand alliance. Through these alliances what would you hope to achieve?

A: To allow certain extremists within the government to continue with their supremacist agenda unhindered and unchallenged is to spoil any hope of peaceful co-existence in this country.

Systematic manipulation of the media along with violent intimidation directed against journalists and politicians will have to be countered by a collective effort of minority parties and other likeminded political forces. Moreover in re-establishing democracy and respect for the rule of law we have been mandated to play a decisive role. We felt that this should be done in a collective or organised manner rather than individually reacting to the situation. A collective agenda is the best way to get out of this situation.

Q: As the former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PVC), in your interim report there were serious charges of fraud and mismanagement within public institutions. In the backdrop of illegal financial institutions hoodwinking innocent investors what are your observations?

A: My report to parliament exposed corruption and mismanagement within the Inland Revenue Department in particular. Many officials who were found to be corrupt had been left off the hook due to the patronage they enjoyed and negligent attitude in not taking the necessary steps to ensure that the culprits were exposed.

Failure to order a domestic inquiry as warranted by court with loads of incriminating documentary evidence and testimony obtained through vigorous examination before the Public Accounts Committee have been of no avail. Appointing a Presidential Commission of inquiry or producing some of the accused before the High Court is akin to locking the stable doors after the horses have bolted.

The other revenue departments such as customs, excise and motor traffic were also found out to be slow in implementing the necessary checks and balances to prevent widespread fraud and we have found that certain officials have deliberately introduced circulars to avoid audits.

I feel that some provisions in some standing orders in parliament and the Audit Act need to be revised. Robust scrutiny will make it possible to overcome these.

Q: After the liberation of the Eastern Province the government claims besides restoring civil administration that the area is secure. Do you agree with this position? Does that mean that there is peace in the area and that the Muslim community does not face any threat?

A: We must concede that the situation is certainly better than what it was but is not altogether secure as the government claims. The people are subjected to much inconveniences and harassment when coming in from other areas of the country. While acknowledging the fact some measures would be unavoidable there is certainly much room for improvement to make the public feel at ease.

Most Tamils live in fear since they are subjected to so much of misery and indignity. The government must learn to take civil society in to its confidence and gradually relieve the security forces from check point duties and have a better-integrated police force to take over these functions.

Q: There have been reports about regular LTTE infiltration in the east. Are these substantial claims?

A: No not infiltration, but reactivation of dormant cells, which the LTTE has deployed in many parts of the east. The Karuna rebellion assisted the government to a great extent in apprehending and killings some of these operatives. But it is ridiculous to claim that they have totally chased the LTTE away from the east.

Moreover they must understand that the LTTE is only a symptom of a disease. The disease is the refusal by the government to restore the dignity of the Tamil and Muslim people and let them enjoy substantial autonomy in their areas of habitation. Treatment for the symptom is not going to cure the disease and they must realise that the war is only a means to an end and not the end itself.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

SEE! How Innocent Tamil Refugees Are Treated in USA by USAG?

Lankan cleared for US asylum after years of detention

LOS ANGELES—A Sri Lankan man has become eligible for asylum in the U.S. after being detained for more than four years on allegations he was a member of a terrorist group, an American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The U.S. attorney general's office decided last week that it would not review an Immigration Appeals Board decision granting asylum to Ahilan Nadarajah, who was released from custody in 2006, ACLU of Southern California spokeswoman Tessie Borden said.

U.S. immigration judges twice granted asylum to Nadarajah, but the government appealed both decisions to the board, Borden said.

The attorney general's office did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Nadarajah, 28, said he fled his homeland seven years ago after Sri Lankan government forces tortured him for allegedly being a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

He arrived in this country in October 2001 but was detained after the U.S. government accused him of being affiliated with the Tigers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Nadarajah's release in March 2006, saying the government was violating federal law by holding him without being charged and without the possibility of deportation in the foreseeable future. (The Associated Press)