} Lalith Abeysinghe

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The ‘First’ Victim of the Executive Presidency Demands An “Official Apology” and Rs 10 Million Compensation

The ‘First’ Victim of the Executive Presidency Demands
An “Official Apology” and Rs 10 Million Compensation

I was a final year student in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Peradeniya in 1978.  Politically it was a tough and a crucial time with regard to the fate of the working class and the disadvantageous groups in particular and to the future of the country in general. Mr. J. R. Jayewardene securing a landslide victory at the Parliamentary Election in July 1977, seen preparing for a total dictatorship misusing the mandate got through the election. It was crystal-clear of the motives of JR that the whole country was ‘constitutionally’ converting to a hotbed for the benefit of the handful of rich and understandably for the agony of the poor.  
I was a member of Nava Samasamaja Party led by Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne and Vasudeva Nanayakkara and the President of Lanka Students Federation (Peradeniya University), the party’s student arm. After the first Party Congress in December 1977, it was decided to hoist Black Flags all over the country and declare 04th February as a ‘National Mourning Day’ to protest against the Bonapartist constitution, which was proposed to give massive and un-challengeable powers to the Executive President.  As a Political Science student and a responsible citizen, I was quite convinced about the agony which the country is going to face with the introduction of such a dangerous constitution. Hence I with the guidance of Dr Vickramabahu, who was a Senior Lecturer in Engineering Mathematics at the Engineering Faculty, at that time, took the leadership to organize the protest in and in the vicinity of the University.  We were hoisting Black flags and writing slogans to protest against the constitution. Incidentally, the government was preparing for the ‘National Celebration’ to introduce the new constitution and Mr. Jayewardene to take oaths as the First Executive President on the Paththirippuwa of the Sri Dalada Maligawa on the same day 04th February. 
As a new born party, though we realized the gravity of our act, which could be suicidal in a way, have to commit ourselves to alarm the entire nation of the devastating effects and the danger of the proposed constitution. While we were hoisting black flags and writing slogans on the Kandy- Gampola road, the police arrested us; Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne, the District Secretary of NSSP, Nissanka Karunathilake (who was murdered with his whole family in 1988 by JVP) and I were remanded for 14 days and then released on personal bail. However the police couldn’t frame any charges against us and subsequently we were discharged on 19 September 1978.
In the meantime, on the 1st March 1978 the University authorities took steps to cancel my studentship and on the same day Dr Vickramabahu was interdicted. We also learned that the ‘order had come from the higher authorities in Colombo’.  All the Campuses in the island went on a strike to protest against this unfair and undemocratic act of the university and, the government took steps to close down all the campuses. The student leaders who organized this protest at the Peradeniya University were also suspended indefinitely.  Communist Party student leader and social activist Sunil Shantha, Nissanka, left activist Dr Richard Perera and JVP leader Shantha Bandara (who was later killed by the armed forces), were among them.
Meanwhile the student council filed a case in the Supreme Court in my name and requested to issue a writ of certiorari nullifying the order of the University. As the Final Year examination was scheduled to be held in August, we appeal the Supreme Court to order the University to allow me to sit for the final exam.  Just before 12 days to the Final Year Exam, permission was granted to sit for the exam, though my application for the writ of certiorari was not granted.
In February 1979, the results of the Final Year Exam were released and my name was not in the ‘Pass’ list. I immediately met the then Vice Chancellor Mr. Panditharathne, and inquired whether my name is not in the ‘Pass’ list because of the suspension. He ‘arrogantly’ affirmed so.  The Degree Certificate was NOT released for 10 years and he demanded me to apologize in writing for the incident in which I participated. The ‘charges’ they originally framed were,
1.     (a) You have been fixing or have attempting to fix a black flag to a post to protest unlawfully to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka who is also the Chancellor of the University of Sri Lanka.

(b) You have been writing or attempting to write slogans unlawfully against His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka who is also the Chancellor of the University of Sri Lanka.

2.     By such acts or by causing such acts you have affected the goodwill of the University and also acted improperly as a student of this University.
(Highlighting are added)

The then Secretary to the Ministry of Education Mr. Stanly Kalpage, offered me a government job, if I apologized and obtain the Degree certificate. As all may agree with me, I turned down the offers and refused to apologize.

This unlawful unjust and undemocratic act by the University authorities has caused me a tremendous mental, physical, monitory, higher education, employment related hardships for the last 37 years. I had a discussion with Dr Arjuna Aluvihare, who became the Vice Chancellor in 1988, and asked him to release my Degree Certificate. He looked at my file and requested me to tender an apology, as the correspondents in the file indicated it. When I asked him whether a University student should apologize for participating in a very democratic act as a responsible citizen, he looked at me and said, do not apologize, but just give him a letter stating “I truly feel sorry, if any inconvenience caused by my act to the University”, which I did as I was pretty sure that participating in a very democratic act as a responsible citizen and as a student have not made any inconvenience to the University. He immediately ordered to issue my Degree Certificate and I got it within 3-4 hours. It was apparently a very simple act for the University which Prof Aluvihare performed understanding the nature of the university students and democratic and academic values.  He was regarded as a ‘pro student VC’ and thus a very respected VC at that time.

Even I got the degree certificate as a matter of a right and as a result of Dr Aluvihare’ s conviction, it didn’t have any value, as almost all the higher educational, scholarships and employment opportunities have already passed by then and by ten years.  By 1988, some of my batch-mates were in the high positions in government and private sectors and got higher educational qualifications. I say this to remind the authorities that I missed all these opportunities because of their unjust and arrogant decisions and attitudes.

This unlawful act of the University has led a student to crush to zero level academically, socially, economically and morally. We were regarded as ‘criminals’ as we were thrown out of the prestige Peradeniya University.

By now, almost all the political parties, civil society organizations, academics, the University Teachers Association and almost all the citizens have realized the ugliness of the Executive Presidency and the Constitution.  It has taken 37 years to realize this. We feel very happy about it and lucky to see the change in our own lifetime.

It is now evident, that as a student of the prestige Peradeniya University, has acted lawfully, properly and has contributed to upheld the goodwill of the University of Peradeniya, which are quite contrary to the charges leveled against me by the University in 1978.

But, we suffered a lot. My suffering is not comparable at all with the students, student’s leaders who have faced suspensions, cancelations of the studentships, been remanded and imprisoned some time face death as a result of fighting for a better society and for the rights of the others. My demand is in way to uphold their commitments as well.

Therefore, I demand two things from the University authorities.

1.     To make an ‘Official and Formal Apology’ to me stating the decisions that they took in 1978 to 1988 were wrong.  It is necessary to place this apology in my personal file in the University of Peradeniya for future reference. If not, the whole file indicates that I have acted unlawfully, improper manner and damage the goodwill of the University. This is proved otherwise by now.

2.     To pay Rs 10 million  compensation for the sufferings I went through during the last 37 years with regard to the losses of higher education opportunities, employment opportunities, financial losses and mental and physical hardships.  The amount, Rs ten million is not sufficient at all when compare to the damage the University did to me. This is reduced, understanding the fact that the present authority is not personally responsible for this particular arrogant act of the University.  But as an Office they are responsible and thus demand a ‘manageable’ amount from them.

This move is NOT ONLY to demand an Official Apology and to claim compensation from the University BUT ALSO to make the present and future University authorities and officers concern aware that they are responsible, answerable and accountable for the decisions they take. I could understand the move by Mr. Panditharathne to sack me and interdict Dr Vickramabahu, which is unlawful, undemocratic and barbaric in academic terms though, to show his political loyalty to the new government and its leader JR. But I cannot accept at all the way in which he holds my degree certificate for 10 long years demanding an apology in writing for participating and leading a very democratic act. 

We, Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne, Nissanka Karunathilake and I were the ‘First Victims’ of the Executive Presidency. JR did not hesitate to take immediate action on the same day he become the ‘First Executive President’, 04th February 1978 to crush us in order to ‘teach a lesson to all who intend to go against his will’.

I have already sent the letters to all concern and expect a just answer from them.
Lalith Abeysinghe

Monday, July 23, 2012

Internet and Children


Internet and Children
 

“Lankadeepa” the Sinhala daily news paper (17 July 2012) reported that police arrested seven A/L students (3 boys/ 4 girls) as a person called the police hotline and report that these students were at the school around 6.30 pm. It was then revealed that one student was showing some indecent pictures to the other students through his mobile phone. In the same news paper it was reported that two youths were arrested in the Colombo- Baddulla train, as they watching indecent pictures through their mobile phones and   , making them visible to two girls travelling in the train. The two girls had warned them not to do this, and as the youths ignored them, they has complained it to the security guards. ‘Divayina” the Sinhala daily (19 July 2012) reported another incident stating that two youths were arrested as some indecent pictures were in their mobile phones.


Month ago, a driver of a Cab service, became friendly with me as I hired a vehicle for two days. Casually I asked him about his family, children and their education. It appeared as he was waiting for that occasion. He eagerly told me that he has three children a daughter and two sons. The daughter is sitting for the O/L exam in December 2012. He looked very disturbed, when he talked about his daughter. The reason was, that she has quarreled with him and his wife and demanded that she needs a mobile phone. As she was almost threatened (!) them they bought one and gave it to her. When I   was returning home with him, he phoned his wife, daughter and the youngest son (age 4 years) who was very cheerful and talkative and had asked them to come to some place near to my house. I realized that he wanted to introduce them to me. I then very casually asked about the studies. The youngest boy suddenly replied and said that the sister has a phone and farther scolded her. As the driver already told this story to me, I realized that it had become ‘an issue’ in the family. This driver told me that they were compelled to buy her a phone, fearing, that she will commit suicide! 

Some parents used to ask me similar things with regard to the mobile phones and computers and is good to get them for their children. It looks that most of the parents do not know a thing about the phones and the computers. (So am I!). Some of the children have bought a dongle too, or the internet connection saying that they are part of the computers. Some of the parents have told me that their children are studying very hard, and said that they have seen that their children working long hours with the computer. (!)

Some forty years ago, when we were in the O/L class, one of our classmates caught by the class teacher for drawing a nude couple. He was very good at Art and his parents hold very respectable positions. This incident became a huge issue and I remember almost all the teachers were discussing this with very heavy heads. Hope everybody could understand the position and the mental agony of this boy. We were about sixteen years of age. As far as I remember my classmate was punished but not suspended. But he was so disturbed and couldn’t perform well at the O/L exam.  It was some forty years ago and there were no computers and mobile phones. It was the era of pen (ink), pencils and water colors and an era of postcards and telegrams. Even the ball point pens were not there. I very well remember, when ballpoint pens come, we were prohibited to use them. 

Forty years ago, the curiosity of my ‘Artist Class mate’ was same as the youngsters of the present day. I also remember that there was a huge opposition to the “Chithra Kataa” and cassettes.  I wrote some article against the ‘Chithra Kathaa and cassettes. 

In recent times there are so many incidents reported blaming the children for looking at these indecent pictures. One of the girls of a reputed Girl’s School committed suicide as she was blamed. I read an article written by the parents of this girl and it was really a pathetic incident, for which the children are not responsible at the first place. These were not produced by the children.  Nor they introduce these things and internets to the country.  They are in fact the victims of the whole drama. 

Most of the youngsters are now very good in IT. They even are better than the adults. These children, at least most of them are experts in IT.  Most of them know how to get at anything if they want to. If they really want they could go in to these ‘indecent’ websites and they are capable of it.  There are also some incidents to say that, some of their friends (relatives) are seen in these webs. They then may be, want to see them. 

I once requested the University to open a ‘Community Service’ for the parents to come and get advice with regard to the Computer, IT, Mobile phone usage of their children. But there was no response. Supposing a child ask for these things, the parents could come to this service with the child and get necessary advice and guidance. It is also very difficult to stop children using these things. They may even barrow them from their friends or they go to a friend’s place to use them. There are also vast numbers of ‘Communication Centers’ in all over the country and at every junction. When these youth are in their own peer groups, these ‘topics’ could be ONE of their discussion points. First of all we have to accept this reality also.  

The most appropriate thing that a society could do is to educate these youth regarding the ill effects of these things. This is also like the drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. These things too are freely available in the society. But there is no evidence to say that ALL the youth are using them, they do not in fact. One of my friends, who smoke about 5-6 cigarettes per day told me that, he is very happy to see that most of the youngsters do not smoke. It is because of the awareness creation among the children and also involve them in anti-smoking campaigns and educational programs. There is also a need of Sexual Education for the youth at least at A/L levels. There was some opposition showed by some parents, when this issue came on discussion. 

The world become small and is becoming very small. The technological advancement is beyond imagination. The youth in any society capture the essence of these new innovations before anybody else.  The problem of the ‘indecent websites’ too has to deal with bearing all these things in mind.    

Lalith Abeysinghe.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sathyarani: Blossomed, yet rooted

Sathyarani: Blossomed, yet rooted

“We have to put more efforts to make the Plantation people aware of their rights. They in fact trapped in a viscous circle. The very environment that they are in preventing them coming out from this fate. The ‘Plantation Set-up’ has made these people to live in poorer conditions, which is same in all the plantation set-ups in the world, whether they are tea, cocoa or coffee. Even though the village people are poor, they have the sense of ‘freedom’ in their minds. They at least ‘enjoy’ some sort of belongingness to their own community. But, the Plantation People though they live in Sri Lanka for generations, they still live as ‘strangers’ and alienated from the other people. Hence we have to involve more with these people to facilitate to get them out of this trap. It is still a very difficult task as these people in this situation for at least two centuries”, said Mr. Prabath Kumara, the Director of Future in Our Hands (FIOH) a Social Action Organization work in Baddulla, Sri Lanka

Rightly so: The situation of the Plantation People compare to the village and urban people lagging behind in every aspects of the human and social life.

The situation of the Plantation People

The Origin and the history

The Plantation People in Sri Lanka originally brought from Sothern India by the British in1820 s to work mainly in the Tea Plantations. By 1931 there were 693,000 such people brought from India and use them in establishing Plantation Industry in the country. They were used to clear the then thick virgin jungles and turn them to the present day ‘beautiful Tea plantations. They have labored immensely for the development of the Tea Industry, thus the country in very tough and unfavorable environment and had to deal with harsh weather conditions.

Immediately after the country gained ‘Independence’ in 1948, the then government brought the ‘Citizenship Act’ in the same year and denied the citizenship for the Plantation People who couldn’t ‘prove’ their citizenship rights. They suddenly become ‘stateless’ and lost all the benefits that a citizen could enjoy including the voting rights.

Under the Sirima-Shasthri Pact signed in 1964 between the Prime Ministers of Ceylon and India decided the fate of then numbering 975,000 ‘stateless people’ and agreed to accept 300,000 and 525,000 people by Ceylon and India respectively. The rest 150,000 people were subjected to a separate agreement. The whole processes of ‘Repatriation’ of the ‘Indian people’ and to offer citizenship to the other were expected to complete within 15 years. The armed conflict started between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and the Government forces disrupted this process. As a result, the Sri Lankan government offered citizenship to all the remaining people live in Sri Lanka in 1982, though the ‘paper work’ still has to be completed.

The Hardships

The Plantation People (about 1,050,000) record the worse social indicators in the country. The literacy rate, infant mortality rate, the lifespan, the malnutrition rate, passes at GCE O/L and A/L examinations and the University entrances of the Plantation People record the worst figures in the country. The ‘ownership’ of land in the country is the lowest among the Plantation Community. The wages of the Plantation workers are the lowest as well in the country.

The Plantation People were subjected to violent racial attacks at many times as a result of the ethnic tension prevailed in the country, though they were not a party to the claim of a separate state by LTTE.

After even centuries, majority of them still remain as plantation laborers. Most of them confined to the Tea Estate where they live and work. They still work in unfavorable conditions and there were many efforts taken to improve their situation by various groups including Social Action Groups and Trade Unions.

“I wanted to be an engineer, when I was at school and my sister Komadi wanted to be a Teacher”, said Sathyarani, 23 years old, an Estate Worker at Queens Town Estate, Baddulla. Her father was a watcher in the same estate and died in 2002. Her mother is also an Estate worker. She had two elder sisters and the elder brother, got married and lives elsewhere. Sathyarani now lives with her mother and her younger sister Komadi. Sathyarani and her family faced with a very sad incident, when her younger brother 17 years old died after a prolonged illness in 2009. They still suffer from the untimely demise of their younger brother.

Sathyarani family lives in a ‘line room’ provided by the estate. The line “room”, in fact the ‘house’ of these workers, in a double barrack type block consists of twenty ‘Line Rooms’ on the both sides. The ‘line room’ is the ‘house ‘for the workers provided by the Estate Management. The ‘house’ is basically an 8x10 sq. feet room with a small 5x 10 verandah, which usually they use for the kitchen. The ‘house’ has no windows, as three sides are covered with the walls of the other ‘houses’. The 8 x 10 house is the place for everything. Sathyarani’s family was an ‘average plantation family’, with parents and six children. They all have to live, eat, study, sleep and do everything else in the 8 x 10 ‘house’.

“I studied at the Estate School up to grade 5 and went to the Haliela Tamil School in the town. I was only managed to pass five subjects at the GCE O/L exam. Then I went work in a small factory in Colombo as we faced with lots of economic hardships. I had to come back to look after my younger brother who fall sick, as nobody was around. Sadly my brother died and mother also fallen sick. As she cannot go to work every day, I decided to go to work as an Estate Worker, though it was a very hard decision. We all as a family was very depressed and we felt that all of our dreams were shattered. The situation was unbearable. We really faced with lots of hardships. We were wondering how we survived”.

“I very much remember, in 2007, Mydili akka, (akka means ‘sister’ and it uses only for the people who are very close to each other) from FIOH visited our house. Mydili akka was a Field Officer of FIOH. She first sat with us and listened to our story. Nobody listened to our plight before. By this time my brother was sick and we were facing with lots of economic hardships. She told us not to be isolated and advised us to form a Small Group (SG). So I and my sister Komadi formed a group with 10 people (8 women and 2 men) who live in our line. Mydili akka instructed us to collect 20 Rupees from the ‘members’ of the group and gave a ‘pass book’ to enter the cash received. It was a real opening, we realized, when looked back. We, together with Mydili akka formed 10 such groups in our estate, Queens Town”.

“We meet every month, had a chat, discuss some important matters, collect money, involve and help with whatever work of a member family and we felt that we were ‘engaged’ in some useful activity. We were participated in various kinds of ‘training and awareness creation programs’, ‘exchange programs’ and various other engagements. Earlier we used to work and work round the clock. We couldn’t find any spare time. But with the formation of the ‘small groups’, we were able to give some time even for the community work. May be, that kind of thinking was not in our mindset earlier. We had different names for our 10 groups. It gives us a feeling that these groups were ours. We took decisions, though small ones in the beginning. Mydili akka and the training given by FIOH encouraged us to take full control and the ownership of these groups. We decided to get all the 10 groups together and form an organization with the guidance of FIOH. Then we formed the Integrated Community Organization (ICO) for our estate and we call it “Kalaimagal Makkal Abhivirudi Ameyppu”. We feel so happy. Most of the members were women. I became the Secretary of our ICO in 2008.We discussed various issues related to our life, our future and the situation of the estate. We were able to get lots of help from FIOH and from the other government organizations for the work in the estate. Earlier we didn’t know that, such kind of helps could be taken from the government organizations. The exposures and the awareness creation programs conducted by FIOH helped us to open our eyes.

We decided to open a Pre School in the estate. My sister Komadi and Nalayini were selected on merit to be the teachers of the Pre School. They underwent a thorough training under an Instructress attached to the Education Department. I really felt very happy for two reasons. The first is that we got a Pre School for our Estate. The second is that my sister was able to be a Teacher, and fulfill her childhood dream. I am also feeling very happy, as everybody is praising the performances and the standards maintain by the Pre School. There are about fifty children studying at the Pre School now.”

“Normally I go with Mydili akka to visit other groups also. She trained us in many things, such as keeping accounts of the group’s money, keeping minutes of the group meetings, how to conduct a meeting , how to speak in a meeting and so on. I often go to Baddulla now to attend various meetings, discussions and training. There we used to meet lots of other people from other areas, villages and other estates. Earlier we do not know anybody out side of our own estate. Now, when we come to Baddulla there were lots of people who we know. We now know even the government officers, as we have met them for getting some support for activities in our estate or as we met to make complains about the shortcomings of our estate. We meet even the Superintendent of our estate to ‘discuss’ various community problems and needs. They know what we do now and they listened to us and give whatever help they could. Earlier only the Trade Union leaders used to meet the Superintendent and we used to tell the Trade Union leaders of our problems. They all were men. Now because of the ICO we, most of us are women deal with the authorities. “

“I used to reflect on my mother’s life. She too was an Estate worker. But she didn’t have any of these opportunities. We remember she worked round the clock at home and in the estate. She hardly had gone out of the estate. I feel so sorry about her”.

“One thing happened in my life, rather in my family, I never forget. That is the illness and the untimely demise of my younger brother. We all were in a state of shock. But, hundreds if not thousands of people were gathered around our house on the funeral day. The whole estate had not witness that size of gathering earlier. Even though we were very sad, we also realize the enormous support we get, just because of being with the people through SGs, ICOs and CLO. It was a tremendous strength, when we were really in need”.


“Another thing happened. All the ICO s used to meet at the FIOH office and eventually had formed an apex body, the Cluster organization (CLO). As there are many ICOs in this apex body, we call it The Plantation Community Development Forum (PCDF)[1]. This is an unbelievable situation. All the money that FIOH got for the work of Small Groups, ICOs and CLO is now managed by us! We plan our work. The money is transferred to our (CLO/PCDF) Bank account. In June this year (2010) I was elected by the representatives of ICOs as the Secretary of CLO. First of all I couldn’t believe it. I remember the every second of this event and in a way I was surprised too. I alone with the Treasurer and the Chairmen of the PCDF, they too from the different ICOs, authorize and sign the cheques to obtain money for the work. I was only an ordinary estate worker. Though I had dreams to come up with my education, the harsh realities that we were encountering made them shattered. I was literally confined to the estate earlier. I live, work and did everything in the estate itself. We had no much connection with the outside world. But everything was changed with the visit made by Mydili akka to our home. The whole thing, when I reflected, a wonderful story. My sister Komadi and my mother too help and encourage me, as we have already witnessed the usefulness of such engagements”.

Komadi, her sister intervenes and said, “My sister and I contributed to the expenses of our home and now we manage everything. We want our mother to feel ‘free’ of the affairs of our home.We go to town on the pay day and bring most of the food stuffs for the whole month. It cost about Rs 5000-6000”. How much you contribute? I asked a question, one should not suppose to ask though! “I give Rs 2000, and keep another 2000 for my needs and save another 2000. I get only 4000-6000 per month. I also save some money for another thing, she said. What is that for? I asked another unwanted question. First she smiled, and then took couple of seconds, with a deep sense of emotion, she said, “I have collected Rs 2500 so far and I am going to buy a ring for my sister for her wedding!

Compiled by

Lalith Abeysinghe

2010

moon.lalith@gmail.com



[1] This is a unique initiative by FIOH and first in this kind in the Plantation sector. FIOH, with this initiative has taken steps to hand over all the responsibilities, the ownership, decision making authority, and the available funds to the PCDF. The ‘beneficiaries’ of the Plantation Project have now become the owners and the implementers of the program. FIOH is helping them in ‘capacity building’ and remain as a mentor. This initiative will certainly helps to take the so called ‘target group’ or beneficiaries in the Plantations to new heights.