Changing adversity to opportunity
Posted on January 24th, 2015

By Rohana R. Wasala

 

The embryonic beginning of representative government in Sri Lanka occurred in 1833, just eighteen years into the British occupation of the whole of the country, with the establishment of the Legislative Council of Ceylon along with the Executive Council of Ceylon on the recommendations of the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission. At the beginning, however, there wasn’t even a modicum of people participation in government, but there was a clear suggestion of the divide and rule policy of the British and the particularly discriminatory treatment of the majority community deemed necessary by the rulers for the purpose of putting them in their place and for ensuring a firm grip on their new ‘possession’. This is not to say that the other native Sri Lankans came to be treated any better, except when and where it served the colonialists’ selfish interests. The Legislative Council had 16 members six of whom were appointed, unofficial members. Three of these were Europeans, one Sinhalese, one Tamil, and one Burgher. (There was no seat for Muslims in this council.) The six unofficial members could take part in discussions, but could not contribute to the legislative process. After a staggered evolutionary history since then, the parliamentary system of government is today a mature adult.

With the recent presidential election result ensured by an array of diverse political groups and individuals whose coming within even hailing distance of one another would not have  been in our wildest dreams, we see that a certain possibility has turned into probability. The possibility is that of chances emerging for a successful national engagement with the minority-majority problem. Now the inescapable duty of the country’s leaders is to turn the possibility that has  become a probability into actuality. What I have in mind here is the possibility of all the minority and majority communities relinquishing or thoroughly modifying their hitherto unsuccessful, intransigent positions in order to work out a universally acceptable framework for resolving the national problem. It has to be something new that would be acceptable to all the people in the country. Instead of assigning communities to ethnic enclaves, traditional homelands etc. a new approach must be devised by consensus, and designed for a people inhabiting a single homeland that equally belongs to them all.

Personal development gurus advise us on how to transform personal and professional life by drawing on the principle of ‘thinking out of the box’. ‘The Art of Possibility’ by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander (Peguin Books, 2000) deals with this principle. Novel, constructive ways of thinking liberate us from accustomed constrictive modes of trying to solve problems, allowing us to explore other possibilities, thereby increasing our chances of success. It is an infinitely desirable alternative to frustration in our personal and professional spheres. And I choose to extend the application of the art of possibility to our participation in public affairs (i.e. in the political sphere) with which we are concerned here. Instead of feeling frustrated and resorting to fratricidal violence in the face of our failure to resolve the longstanding  minority Tamil majority Sinhalese problem, we need to move out of the box into the promising land of limitless possibility.

But, what does it mean to think out of the box that is supposed to open infinite vistas of possibility? This needs some explaining: We humans are a highly evolved biological species and we possess the highest evolved brain among animals. But we haven’t transcended the processes of evolution; we are still subject to them, because we can’t escape biology; and these processes will go on until the end of time as far as we are concerned, unless we get completely wiped out from the face of the earth in some way before that. In sensory perception of reality, we are similar to other animals, though we are infinitely more complex: our brains are programmed to receive only those sensations that are critically needed for our ‘survival’ in the special sense that the term is used in biology; and our awareness of the environment is further restricted by the fact that we recognize only those sensations for which we have mental maps or categories or frameworks or paradigms (meaning the same thing). That is why scarcely any succeed in working out the answer to the well-known nine-dot puzzle.

To state the nine-dot puzzle verbally for those to whom it might be new: On a sheet of paper, draw nine dots arranged in three parallel rows, each dot equidistant from its neighbours (only nine dots altogether, three to a row, and you get a kind of box or square). What you have to do is to join the nine dots with only four straight lines without raising the pen or pencil from the paper. If you want to try this puzzle at this point before reading on, please do so. {Pause if necessary to do the experiment.} If you find it difficult to find the answer, let me give you a cue: your straight lines need not lie within the box/square; you can use the space outside it. If you are able to find the answer now, you will realize the value of ‘thinking out of the box’.

Given this puzzle, nearly everybody recognizes a flat square with a dot at each of the four corners, and tries to connect the dots within the square, ignoring the space around. This is because of the human mind’s inherent necessity to classify information into categories in order to perceive it. The brain establishes this arrangement of the dots as a box even though no box exists on the page, and gets stuck there. The abstract ‘box’ here is a framework or model that our minds create. Such paradigms define and restrict our perceptions. All problems, dilemmas, and dead ends that we encounter in our personal, professional, political, and social situations, that we think are unsolvable are seemingly so because they are framed within a certain set of assumptions or model (a paradigm) that doesn’t work. So, it is necessary to break free from that ‘box’, or enlarge it, and try the new opportunities that arise. Then the problems disappear. The popular phrase ‘paradigm shift’ refers to a striking or revolutionary change in such a model of perception.

Just as the tsunami disaster of December 2004 threw thousands of people in the affected areas in the same calamitous situation irrespective of their different ethnicities, social ranks and political ideologies, the overall result of the recent election, most representative presidential election ever held perhaps, has forced all Sri Lankans into a propitious state of shared expectancy about the future. The way we behaved during that catastrophic experience ten years ago demonstrated the best qualities inherent in our common culture: spontaneous fellow-feeling towards the affected and readiness to extend mutual support in the face of adversity. We showed generosity and kindheartedness towards those who needed help, humility and selflessness in the discharge of self-imposed responsibilities in relief work. Volunteers from the south visited the north and east on relief missions, similar workers from the north and east, including LTTE supporters visited the south with relief supplies. Of course, this reaching out to each other between the northern Tamil representatives and the southerners was an isolated event. That too occurred during a tenuous ceasefire agreement signed under less than ideal conditions in the country’s political landscape. There was no chance for the friendliness to be reasserted, mainly due to the fact that free democratic interactions between the southerners and the northerners were disrupted by terrorism.

The current meeting of hearts and minds between the minorities and the majority under clearly fortuitous, even somewhat forced, circumstances must nevertheless be consolidated by the respective leaders, taking into consideration our common humanity and the brevity of time that we live on this earth for better or for worse. The Sinhalese majority on the one hand and the minorities (particularly the Tamils) on the other have always been labouring under a mutual ‘siege mentality’ that dates from the time early in the twentieth century when  the nationalist agitation for self-rule started in earnest. It is a fact that during the colonial times  minorities generally received preferential treatment (while, however, the masses were subjected to equal fairly apportioned dispossession and exploitation irrespective of their ethnicity). During the struggle for independence, some Tamil leaders opposed legislation that they believed would create conditions in which the Sinhalese would dominate. They were skeptical about their chances of securing their due under the Sinhalese. However much the Sinhalese leaders wanted to convince them that they were mistaken, they didn’t succeed in doing so. The Sinhalese started thinking that the minorities were constantly out to get them. After so many decades of fluctuating majority-minority relational fortunes, we are now arriving at a stage of political maturity in this regard, where we are wise enough to ‘ditch the box’ and launch into the land of promise, that is, the land of possibility.

The recent change of government was a result of a revolt within the UPFA exploited by opponents without any proper democratic backing of the majority. The new president, however, is the leader of the SLFP, the major constituent of the alliance, and the largest party in parliament. If the corruption charges raised against the leaders of the previous regime are founded on evidence, let the law take its course. Personalities, however popular, are not important in politics, but processes are. Processes of good decision-making and implementation, collectively called good governance, must be upheld for the good of the country, which is our concern. Though currently subdued by a panic attack, the UPFA still has the numerical strength in parliament that is necessary to assert its influence in contributing to the ‘change’ the people asked for. It is up to the president to marshal that strength in the best interest of the people.

(The original version of this article was previously published in The Island under the title ‘Let (us) not to the marriage of true minds – Admit impediments…’. {21 January 2015}. I have specially updated it for the Lankaweb in view of changing perceptions.)

4 Responses to “Changing adversity to opportunity”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Ranil Wickremasinghe IS GOING FULL SPEED AHEAD to deliver our Motherland bound hand and foot to the Eelamists by Implementing 13A in FULL before the General Election later this year!

    This is what those TREACHEROUS EELAMISTS “Facebook” Lorenzo and his servile LAPDOG Nanda were STRIVING to ACHIEVE ALL ALONG!

    Is it for THIS that Tens of Thousands of Patriotic Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Policemen sacrificed their lives as the FULL MEASURE OF DEVOTION to their Motherland?

    Aiyoooo Sirisenaaaa …. What are YOU DOING in CAHOOTS with UNREPENTANT TRAITORS ENABLING the DESTRUCTION of our Motherland!

    Your name will go down in BLACK LETTERS in Sri Lanka’s history as its GREATEST TRAITOR!
    ……………………
    Lanka reaches consensus to implement 13A: Wickremesinghe

    Zeenews.India.com
    January 24, 2015

    Colombo: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday said political parties have agreed to implement the thirteenth amendment as a solution to end the country’s over three-decade-old ethnic conflict involving the Tamil minority.

    “All parties have agreed to solve the ethnic problem within the framework of the thirteenth amendment. We are continuing our talks,” Wickremesinghe said while addressing a gathering at Deniyaya in the south.

    He further said that all provincial councils will have equal powers now that the Tamil National Alliance has said that they are for a solution within an undivided Sri Lanka.

    Provincial Councils became part of the Sri Lankan statute as a direct result of the landmark 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord, popularly known as the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord, after its architects ? Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Lankan President J R Jayewardene.

    He also blamed the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for failing to resolve the thorny issues concerning the Tamil minority despite having ended the two-and-a-half decade-old civil war with the LTTE in 2009.

    On the UN’s human rights investigation on Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe said it was the result of Rajapaksa’s mishandling of the issue.

    “They (the Rajapaksa government) agreed with the UN Secretary General to have an investigation after the war ended. Later confirmed it at the UN Human Rights Council. But the investigation did not happen, so came the appointment of an investigation panel,” Wickremesinghe said, referring to the March 2014 UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka.

    Rajapaksa government had resisted to cooperate with the investigation meant to probe the human rights abuses by both the LTTE and the government during the final days of the battle in May 2009.

    Wickremesinghe said the new government’s policy on the investigation is that all criminal charges will be probed through a local mechanism.

    “Only Sri Lankan courts will have jurisdiction for criminal investigations,” Wickremesinghe said.

    The new Maithripala Sirisena government which succeeded Rajapaksa rule was urged by a section of the international community to cooperate with the UNHRC investigation and resolve the issues concerning the country’s minorities.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Oh My God, MORE STEPS BACKWARDS as Ranil Wickremasinghe by DESTROYING Sri Lanka’s National Investments to APPEASE his Wesytern REGIME CHANGE sponsors by SUPPORTING of their CHINA CONTAINMENT POLICY at Sri Lanka’s EXPENSE!

    This DESTRUCTION of Sri Lanka’s National Investments WILL NOT END until Sri Lanka is again REDUCED to a Colonial Backwater!

    These MYOPIC IDIOTS MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE in the FUTURE for this DESTRUCTION of Sri Lanka’s FUTURE ECONOMIC GROWTH and ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE! They want us to REMAIN VASSALS of the NeoColonial West FOREVER!

    Aiyoooo Sirisenaaaaa …. What HAVE YOU DONE to our Motherland!

    ……………………….
    Sri Lanka PM to decide whether to continue port city project with China

    ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Jan 24, Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that a final decision will be taken within the next two weeks on whether to continue the Colombo Port City Project launched by the previous government in partnership with China.

    Mr. Wickremesinghe earlier said the government is reviewing the Colombo Port City project launched during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Sri Lanka last year.

    The government has not yet seen the reports of feasibility study and the environment impact assessment, he said.

    “We will have to look into the environmental and feasibility aspects,” Mr. Wickremasinghe said.

    The Prime Minister’s Office said that 3 reports called for by the PM have been received so far. The Ports Authority, Board of Investment (BOI) and Coast Conservation Department have submitted reports but the Central Environmental Authority has not submitted a report as their views were not obtained at the time the project was launched.

    During his visit to Sri Lanka in September 2014, President Xi and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa launched the US$ 1.5 billion Colombo Port City Project to build a modern city on land reclaimed from the sea.

    Construction of the port city was to be carried out by China Harbour Engineering Company under a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Sri Lanka Ports Authority with China Communication Construction Company (CCCC).

    Concerns have also been raised on the agreement since under the deal signed with the CCCC, the company is getting land on a freehold basis in a high security zone.

    The proposed city will be built on 233 hectares (583 acres) of land reclaimed from the sea between the Colombo South Port and the Galle Face Green and under the agreement 20 hectares of land will be given to the Chinese firm on an outright basis.

    Sri Lanka’s new Investment Promotion Minister Kabir Hashim said the land in a high security zone cannot be given to another country and project needs to be completely reviewed.

    Sri Lanka’s neighbor, India has also raised security concerns over the project as a large portion of cargoes bound for India are transshipped through Colombo port.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    MORE UNDERMINING of Sri Lanka’s PATRIOTIC SPIRIT, and DISMANTLING of Sri Lanka’s DEFENSES!

    While the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) is an UBIQUITOUS FEATURE on the UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES of that Champion of Democracy engineering REGIMES CHANGES across the World, Sri Lanka DISMANTLES her the training of her future Defenders in her Officer Corps!

    MUNTA HENA GAHANDA ONEY!

    Aiyoooo Sirisenaaaa …. What are YOU DOING to our Motherland!

    ……………………………
    Sri Lanka terminates military leadership training in education sector

    ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Jan 24, Colombo: The new government of Sri Lanka has decided to terminate a mandatory military style leadership training program initiated by the previous government for school principals and university entrants.

    Sri Lanka’s new Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said the government is ending the program that was compulsory for the students entering the country’s universities under the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration.

    Similarly the government will call-off the leadership training for the school principals and awarding brevet military titles to them.

    Previous government’s mandatory leadership training program for undergraduates was highly unpopular among the students and parents, and has been seen by intellectuals as a militarization of the education sector.

    Sri Lanka’s Marxist party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), affiliated student union had charged that the leadership training was a part of the government strategy of militarizing the society.

    The new government installed earlier this month under President Maithripala Sirisena has pledged to reduce the military’s role in the society, especially in the education sector.

    The Education Minister said the military training is not necessary for school administrators or students adding that the Education Ministry is in the process of preparing a circular announcing the discontinuation of the program and it will be sent to the President for approval soon.

    Over 4,000 school principals have received military titles through the physically demanding program.

    The three-week long, physically demanding program was given at military camps to provide leadership training and enhance positive attitude in new university entrants. The rigorous fitness training had resulted in deaths of three students and a principal also died while participating in a training program in 2013.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    HELL NO! CJ 44 SHOULD NOT GO!

    Furthermore, Chief Justice Mohan Pieris …. Please do not TRADE your post for a DIPLOMATIC POST; it smacks of the WORST KIND OF HORSE

    TRADING, and DEMEANS your High Office and your Personal Dignity!!

    A Chief Justice is SUPPOSED to DISPLAY HIGH CHARACTER; summon your COURAGE NOW, dig in your heels and DO YOUR DUTY!

    “BASL “Losing Patience”?? When was the BASL appointed as an Arm of the GOSL?? Why should the CJ GO to PLACATE the BASL, an organization

    FLOODED with Anti-Nationalists whose National Name BELIES its DEVIOUS BIAS!

    These are the VERY SAME Anti-National AGITATORS who PROTESTED the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake’s dismissal; why are they

    complaining now??? Is there no FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE here, beyond Party Politics, they should uphold??

    Ultimately, What is GOOD for the GOOSE, should be GREAT for the GANDER as well!

    BLOODY HYPOCRITES!

    ………………………..

    CJ 44 won’t go; Govt and BASL losing patience

    Peiris’ security pruned, lawyers to hold special meeting

    Chief Justice 44 Mohan Peiris is refusing to relinquish office and now demanding a plum diplomatic posting in return for vacating his post despite a demand by the country’s lawyers that he step down.

    His choice is either as Ambassador to the UN in New York or as High Commissioner in London, but Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has offered him Brazil, a National Unity Government source said yesterday.

    “We are losing our patience. By deliberately delaying he is precipitating a serious situation that could hurt him the most”, the source added.

    The development over the week came as Public Order Minister John Amaratunga told the Sunday Times he had ordered the pruning of the Chief Justice’s security detail from ten police officers to two.

    “This is in accordance with his entitlement,” Minister Amaratunga said.

    On Friday, Mr. Peiris was questioned by detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over his presence at Temple Trees around 4 a.m. on January 9 when Presidential election results were being released by the Elections Commissioner. The National Unity Government maintains that there was an attempt at suspending the count and that the Chief Justice was providing legal advice to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

    The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has called for the Chief Justice’s resignation on the grounds that he has failed to maintain his impartiality as required by the Constitution by his pre-dawn presence at ‘Temple Trees’.

    Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaskshe told the Sunday Times the Chief Justice had agreed to resign to three separate audiences. He was present at all three, he said.

    “He agreed three times, once in the presence of the President and myself, secondly when the Premier and I discussed the matter with him, and thirdly when all three of us were present. He was negotiating with us for a diplomatic posting, and we finally agreed on Rome,” Mr. Rajapakshe said.

    According to him, Mr. Peiris was expected to submit his resignation letter as Chief Justice and collect the appointment letter for his new posting last Wednesday evening. Although Mr. Peiris had come while the cabinet meeting was being held, no resignation was tendered or the appointment letter collected, Mr. Rajapakshe said.

    “He later called the Presidential Secretary for an appointment and was scheduled to meet the President on Thursday at 8.30 a.m. at the Presidential Secretariat. But he did not turn up. We were waiting till 9.45 a.m. No further communication has been received from the Chief Justice since then,” he said.

    During the week, Cabinet spokesman and Minister Rajitha Senaratne announced that the Chief Justice had told the Prime Minister he would resign but did not mention anything about being offered a diplomatic posting. The next day, a person claiming to be a spokesman for the Chief Justice, a Ratnapura lawyer, Wijeratne Kodippili denied that Mr. Peiris had offered his resignation.

    Commenting on that incident, Minister Rajapakshe said that the Chief Justice had never been allocated a spokesman, nor had the recruitment of such personnel been approved by anyone. According to the Minister, the Government knows nothing about the person who issued a statement on behalf of the Chief Justice.

    “We don’t even know if he is a Sri Lankan or not,” he said.

    The BASL’s Executive Committee met again last afternoon and decided to summon the association’s 500 strong council members for a special meeting

    next Saturday to discuss the deadlock. The BASL Ex Co, the governing body of the country’s lawyers, will also meet the Bar seniors today and

    request an appointment with the President and Prime Minister next week, BASL President Upul Jayasuriya said.

    He said the Chief Justice was contacting junior lawyers and seeking their support to sign a petition in support of him.

    “The questioning of the Chief Justice by the CID — in his chambers — is the worst insult the country’s judiciary has faced in its more than 200-year history. The CJ 44 has now resorted to canvassing, lobbying and applying pressure on junior lawyers. This is unheard of. We will discuss the possible courses of actions when the council meets,” Mr. Jayasuriya said.On Friday, when the Sunday Times contacted Mr. Kodippili and asked

    him what the Chief Justice had to say about his presence at ‘Temple Trees’ on the night the Presidential election results were being released, he said he was not authorised by the Chief Justice to speak on that matter.

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