Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Unfolding train wreck

Something I wrote a few months ago when Islamaphobia was raging. It may yet return.

I have been watching, with growing fear the racism directed towards the Muslims of Sri Lanka.

What makes it  difficult to understand is the rapidity with which it emerged and the sheer intensity of the emotions involved. People seem to be turning against colleagues, neighbours, associates and even friends. Were the Tamils as hated and as ostracised as this?

I have been observing the development of Sri Lanka's conflict since the early 2000's and I dont recall anything like this.

The sensation I have is like observing, in slow motion and at a distance, an unfolding train wreck. One can see it happening, even as we speak, yet unable to do anything to stop it.

What is inexplicable to me is how few people seem to be able to see what is happening and how little people seem to care. How quickly have we forgotten the last war that we no longer see the ground being prepared for another ? How can other minorities, particularly Tamils now indulge the very invectives that were once directed at them? 

We know the venality of the political class but to think that they can once again stoke the flames of racism and hope to contain the resulting fire? Bandaranaike succumbed to the very forces he unleashed. Premadasa parried with Tigers, collaborated supplying arms to eject the Indian Peace Keeping Force-and then fell victim. Prabhakaran collaborated to with the regime in waiting, to enforce a Tamil boycott of elections that scuttled the peace, before it eventually consumed him.

J R Jayewardene alone, the Old Fox, who contributed more than any other survived to die of old age. 

I have been writing about this but it feels like screaming into a hurricane.

Anxiety & Doubt

Anxiety & Doubt
by Erich Fried

don't doubt of
who's saying
he's anxious

but be anxious of
who's saying
he's without a doubt

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Words to Music: Eastern Man, Western Man


Eastern man walks slowly

Afraid of the flash in the sky,

Western Man walks swiftly

Less reason why.

Eastern man walks slowly

Afraid of the bolt from the blue,

Western man walks swiftly

Blind to the view.

Eastern man walks slowly

Shakes as the rockets boom,

Western man walks swiftly

Swiftly to his doom.

      -- Guy Amirthanayagam

Thursday, April 04, 2019

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Are Sri Lankans really peace loving? - (updated)

A friend of mine raised a question at a discussion yesterday. He said that there are two statements we commonly hear:

1. We have bad politicians who appeal to nationalist sentiments/play the race card to win elections.
2. All ordinary Sri Lankans are very peace loving and do not share in the racist sentiments expressed by politicians.

His questions were:

1. Can both of these statements hold true at the same time?
2. What if the Election Commissioner had a moment of real insight when he said that most Sinhalese welcomed the attacks on the Muslims?
3. Assuming politicians are elected on the basis of statements made then either one of these statements must be false. Both may be partly true.
3. Given the violence against Muslims in 2013 and 2018, the long conflict with the Tamils, riots and insurgencies (1987-89, 1983, 1971, 1958) are we really as peace loving as we like to think?

On November 6, 1959, ten years after returning to West Germany in the wake of the Nazi period and Holocaust, the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno addressed teachers from the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation with a lecture whose central question continues to echo more than a half-century later: “What does working through the past mean?” Underlining the need to confront the persistence of fascist structures within postwar democracy, Adorno argued powerfully against the desire in the German society of the 1950s to “close the books on the past and, if possible, even remove it from memory.” The potential for a relapse into catastrophe was all too real, according to Adorno.

After 1945 antisemitism In West Germany did not die out. Studies carried out between 1946-52 showed a third of the population to be strongly antisemitic while another third was antisemitic. The defacing of a synagogue in 1959 lead to a public repudiation of antisemitism by the media, political parties, trade unions and the church.

From that point on, openly antisemitic attitudes encountered more vehement criticism. The Nazi past and the extermination of the Jews became topics that were given increasing importance in the media, schools, historical research and cultural activities. By the end of the 1980s, only 5% of the West German population was blatantly, and over 15% considerably, antisemitic. Attitudes in Germany were thus statistically in line with average West European populations. From now on, the younger generations proved to be the least antisemitic.

After the most recent violence should Sri Lankans also start questioning themselves as to why this seems to keep happening? It is uncomfortable to think about it, we prefer to do something to salve our conscience, perhaps help a few Muslim friends or charities and then move on. To forget painful incidents seems preferable to dwelling on them.

Should we start by trying understanding the story of these conflicts? What happened in 2013 and 2015? What were the chain of events that lead to 1983 and the war in earnest after that? Can a team of historians with sufficient independence and distance set out a broad common narrative, at least as a starting point. There is a fog of disinformation and misinformation, would trying to dispel this be a start? Different groups hear different stories. They don't interact or understand.

I remember some classmates discussing the habits of Tamils, perfectly harmlessly but in utter ignorance- referring to them in the same terms as we would to Chinese, Indians or other foreigners. They had never had any interaction and only knew of them through fables.

If we are even arguing over history, refusing to acknowledge one-another's mistakes, how do we move forward?

Any one of the events above (and many smaller ones besides) could be dismissed as an aberration. If it was really so, why does the cycle of violence keep returning?

 Adorno’s argument about the need to confront the persistence of the past in the present seems relevant to Sri Lanka today. What do you think?

My friend was interested in hearing the responses from Sri Lankans on these questions. Please put in your views as comments?

I am not trying to debate the issue, just trying to see what people think, just put your thoughts down in the comments section.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Muslim owned shop attacked for allegedly selling food adulterated with birth control medication

A Muslim-owned shop and a mosque in Ampara were attacked yesterday after the shop was accused, on social media, of mixing birth control medication in the food being served.

According to news reports, a video was posted on social media by a Buddhist organisation where a man is forced to confess to mixing the pills in the food.

The allegation can easily be proved wrong. All one needs to understand is how birth control pills work. Taking a birth control pill is not like popping a tablet of Panadol, something that will provide quick relief within a couple of hours.

Birth control pills work by regulating a women's hormonal system, to work you need to take a full course over a month. There are number of different formulations and depending on the type, need to be taken daily over the course 28 days, 21 or 91 days. Just to be clear, if it is alleged that the pill is one that makes males sterile, it does nor exist

If anyone in the restaurant was mixing birth control pills in the food then it would simply not be effective, people would need to eat every day from the same place (and stop eating on prescribed days).  If they do not follow the exact instructions it simply does not work. 

Rumour and myth will proliferate amongst ignorant minds. People need to learn to ask questions, not blindly believe what people tell them. The Internet is easy to access, a simple search would have revealed the truth.

Property has been damaged and racial tensions inflamed, all because people seem unable to think.



Saturday, February 24, 2018

Abortion in Sri Lanka : 27 February at 17:00–19:30 at Centre for Society & Religion

 A discussion on abortion in Sri Lanka will be held on the 27th of February (Tuesday). Details below. Link to Facebook event page. All are welcome.

Date: Tuesday 27th February 2018
Time: 5pm to 7.30pm
Venue: Centre for Society and Religion (within Fatima Church Maradana premises)

What do you know about abortion in Sri Lanka? Is it completely illegal in Sri Lanka or legal under certain circumstances? Do women actually become sterile after undergoing the procedure? Are rape-related pregnancies significant enough to justify aborting?

There is a lot of misinformation and and confusion about the truths and realities in Sri Lanka. Join us for this discussion with three distinguished speakers to address the legal background of this conversation on abortion, medical realities, and history and context of women's reproductive health in Sri Lanka and around the world. We will also reflect on Catholic theology really teaches us about a woman's right to choose.

Ermiza Tegal is an attorney at law, practicing mainly in the areas of fundamental rights, family law and domestic violence. Her advocacy work focuses on legal and social exclusion in areas of women rights, civil and political rights and urban eviction.

Dr. Lakshmen Senanayake is an obstetrician-gynecologist. He was the National Coordinator of the FIGO/IPPF Initiative on Reducing Unsafe Abortions in Sri Lanka from 2005-2011 and was the co-consultant for the UNCP/Ministry of Women initiative to develop Sri Lanka's National Plan of Action ot address gender-based violence. He currently serves as a member of the Expert Committee on Women's Health of the Sri Lanka Medical Association.

Anupama Ranawana researches religious political thought and the global political economy, focussing on Buddhism, Catholicism, and feminist theology.. She is a Senior Researcher for the Centre for Poverty Analysis.


Organized by the Feminist Catholic Network

The Feminist Catholic Network are an independent collective of Sri Lankan Catholics who seek to amplify the voices of the laity in social justice debates. We are guided by the principles of Catholic Social Thought, and by Catholic feminist theology. Using community learning and collaborative discussion, we endeavor to provide an alternative voice for Sri Lanka's Catholics.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Abortion and the law in Sri Lanka

Abortion is legal in Britain, but only when carried out under conditions of strict medical control. If not carried out under medical supervision it is still a criminal offence in the UK under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

As this article explains:

"As things stand, a terrified teenager, who takes abortion drugs that she has bought over the internet rather than tell anyone that she is pregnant, is committing a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment."
This clearly inhuman. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has voted strongly in favour of supporting the removal of criminal sanctions associated with abortion in the UK.  

Sri Lanka has similar, archaic laws on abortion that should be revised.The Government has proposed some minor amendments that have been vehemently opposed by the Catholic church which has lead a successful campaign to have this blocked.

A study undertaken in the late 1990s estimated that 125,000 to 175,000 induced abortions,mostly illegal are performed annually in Sri Lanka (1). A subsequent study estimated a much higher figure of 658 induced abortions per day, giving an abortion ratio of 741 per 1000 live births (2). The latest study applying Bongaarts’ models estimates an induced abortion rate of 0.035, 0.147 and 0.087 per women in years 1993, 2000 and 2007 (3). In other words 8 out of every 100 women are likely to have an abortion at some point in their lives.

Illegal abortions are dangerous. In the year 2013, the percentage contribution from abortion to maternal mortality was around 10%, making it the third most common cause of maternal death (4).

Clearly, prohibition does not prevent abortion but drives women to seek dangerous illegal abortions. There are sound moral and public health reasons for ending the legal prohibition on this matter.

Catholics make up only 6.1% of the population of Sri Lanka but the Church’s role in influencing public policy  affects everyone—Catholic and non-Catholic—by limiting the availability of reproductive health service to all citizens.

To deny access to certain medical services to over 90% of the population who are non-Catholics on the basis of the church's teaching is unfair and unjust.

Even in a predominantly Catholic country, laws governing access to abortion need not adhere to the official Catholic position. Portugal voted to allow abortion in 2007. The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom called Catholics to respect other faiths. This is significant, given that the Catholic church’s position on abortion is more conservative than other major faith groups. Catholics can and do support public policies that appreciate the Catholic tradition while honouring others’ freedom."

The Church should cease its campaign against the propsoed legislation while calling upon its flock to follow the teachings of the church. Christianity is a religion of faith, the church must trust its flock to follow its teachings not rely on secular law to enforce an article of faith.

A group of Catholics who dissent with the church's official view has organised a petition to the cardinal.

If you are Catholic of Sri Lankan origin and would like to sign and support this, please send your name to femcathnet@gmail.com along with any titles and affiliations you would like to include.

The statement explains using theology and social consciousness how supporting the current amendments to the Penal Code are not in contradiction with the faith.


1. De Silva IW. The Practice of Induced Abortion in Sri Lanka, Harvard School of Public Health: Takemi Program in International Health 137, 1997.

2.Rajapaksa LC. Estimates of induced abortion using RRT Technique. Colombo, 2000.

3. Abeykoon ATPL. Estimates of abortion rate in Sri Lanka using Bongaarts model of proximate determinants of fertility. Colombo: The United Nations Population Fund, 2012.

4. Family Health Bureau. Annual Report on Family Health 2013. Colombo: Family Health Bureau, 2014.