A tribute to Doreen Wickremasinghe
The death of Doreen Wickremasinghe (nee Young) on 29th May 2000 at the age of 93 marks the closing of a memorable and significant chapter in the shaping of modern Sri Lanka in which an array of foreign women played prominent roles in politics, education, health and social services as well as the local womens movement. From Dr. Mary Rutnam who was of Canadian origin, to Hilda Kularatna, Clara Motwani, Hedi Keuneman and Jeanne Moonesinghe, these women came to Sri Lanka either through marriage or inspired by the efforts of the Theosophical society to work in Sri Lanka, to support their husbands and the political parties they were affiliated to or spearhead innovative methods of education and health care. These women, the products of important political, legal and social changes taking place in the West itself, were first in the vanguard of the "new women" who travelled to the colonies where they were often dissidents, going against their own nationalities to support local anti-colonial struggles and the movement towards independence.
Doreen Wickremasinghes name is synonymous with one such anti-British campaign, the Suriyamal movement. Coming from a family background of socialist trade union activism in England, and having been educated at St. Christophers at Letchworth, Hertfordshire which was a boarding school run by the Theosophists, Doreen Young had been exposed early in life to left-wing thought and ideas of the Indian independence movement. V. K. Krishna Menon, later Foreign Minister of independent India, taught history at her school and Annie Besant was a chief guest there in 1924. Doreens university education at the London School of Economics from which she obtained a Bsc. (Economics) in 1929 further brought her into contact with radicals from the Indian subcontinent!
It was while in London she met Dr. S. A. Wickremasinghe, (later Communist Party leader) of Sri Lanka, and through him, obtained her first job in Sri Lanka as principal of Sujatha Vidyalaya in Matara in 1930. Marriage to Dr. Wickremasinghe would come later on 26th April 1933. It was a marriage that cost her a job. After her stint at Sujatha Vidyalaya, Doreen was asked to take over Visakha Vidyalaya in Colombo but the offer was withdrawn when her intention to marry Dr. Wickremasinghe, State Councillor and anti-British campaigner, became clear. She took over the reins of Ananda Balika Vidyalaya instead, and was its principal from 1933 to 1935. Here she initiated programmes and curricular for Buddhist girls leading up to the London Matriculation, and, in the words of one of her pupils "introduced many progressive reforms that left their indelible mark on the pupils."
This school activity was important in the run-up to the Suriyamal campaign. Anti-British nationalist fervour and thought encouraged through Buddhist education produced a body of pupils and some teachers who became enthusiastic supporters of the Suriyamal cause. Begun in 1933 as an oppositional movement to the British colonial governments initiative of Poppy Day to commemorate the First World War, the campaign forwarded a local flower - Suriyamal - instead, and proceeds from their sale was used not to bolster the British military and imperialism but pay for the education of a girl from a depressed caste. The British in Sri Lanka, officials and residents were appalled and accused Doreen, of utter bad taste also denouncing her crude politics. Doreens residence which was the principals house at Ananda Balika, became the nerve centre of organizing the campaign and from 1933-1936 she was the president of the movement, inspiring others to "demonstrate self-respect and independence". The campaign contributed significantly to uniting left-wing groups in Sri Lanka which emerged as the LSSP in 1935 and initiated a momentum vital in the nationalist campaign towards independence.
Doreen Wickremasmghes work in education for Buddhist girls was both timely and exemplary. In a colonial society under Western rule, culturally colonized to emulate its norms and Christian universalism, the encouragement for a modern education for Buddhist children, so that they too could aspire to professions, was a challenge. Educationists in Buddhist schools had to compete with Christian mission schools that taught in English and attracted the children of the middle classes and the elite. These schools had government and church endowments and prestige. However, Doreen was in the line of Theosophist educationists who had introduced innovative new methods to education in Sri Lanka. She learnt from the experiments at both Musaeus College at which Elizabeth Preston a British Theosophist had first introduced the Montessori method and had founded the Alethea School in 1928. Doreen introduced local history, world history and general knowledge to the curriculum; at Ananda Balika, facilitated teacher training, created an informal atmosphere in the school in which barriers between teacher and pupil were reduced and introduced shramadana in the school to clean its facilities. She compiled an anthology of poetry entitled "Poems of East and West" (1937) opening a window of knowledge for her students into the literature of Asia and the Indian subcontinent as well as the West. In 1942, she started the Modern School in Cotta Rd, Borella using the most up-to-date methods of teaching. The school also became a lively centre of discussion, and among the teachers were many persons belonging to the local political and cultural intelligentsia
Doreen in politics
Historians and writers of the Left movement have often overlooked the role Leftist women played in the anti-imperialist, trade union and political struggles from the 1930s onwards. Many wives of Left leaders became important political figures in their own right - they were Selina Perera (wife of N. M. Perera), Kusuma Gunewardena (wife of Philip Gunewardena), Vivienne Goonewardena (wife of Leslie Gunewardena), Hedi Keuneman (wife of Pieter Keuneman) Jeanne Moonesinghe (wife of Anil Moonesinghe) and Doreen Wickremasinghe. Doreen was not only the earliest woman of the Sri Lankan Left (when others Selina, Kusuma and Vivienne were still in school) but also survived them all - and was the last of the Samasamajists (male and female) of the early thirties.
Doreen was however a role model for many younger women who entered politics, her modernism in education, her stand on anti-imperialism and socialism and her championing of mixed caste and ethnic marriages were some of her pioneering achievements. In 1952, she became the first foreign-born woman to enter parliament polling 16,626 votes, at the Akuressa election and defeating her brother-in-law Sarath Wijesinghe (the famous businessman) by 1001 votes. In parliament from 1952-6, (where she was playfully referred to as the "very fair member from Akuressa"), Doreen constantly raised issues of health and education facilities for the poor, and highlighted infant morality, the lack of pure drinking water, and backward methods of education. In foreign affairs she exposed to pro-US stand of the government during the Cold War years. In later years she was active in local organizations concerned with world peace, nonalignment, Afro-Asian solidarity and campaigns against the war in Vietnam, colonialism in Angola and Mozambique and apartheid in South Africa.
The Ekasath Kantha Peramuna
One of Doreens most important contributions from a feminist point of view was the inspiration she gave to women of the three Left Parties (LSSP, CP AND BSP) to come together in a united front - the Eksath Kantha Peramuna (EKP). This unique experiment was very successfully for a short period. The EKP highlighted the plight of working women, their conditions of work and living and their low wages. Doreen wrote frequently about issues affecting women as well as national issues. She attacked the celebrations of February 4th, 1948, when the government while indulging in "callous festivity and rejoicing" was "preaching austerity to the starving" (Times 5 March 1948). The EKP had to dissolve because of the opposition by the Left parties to its bid for autonomy, reflecting the long-standing male chauvinism in Left parties of Sri Lanka. However the EKP remains as a important moment in Sri Lankan feminist history.
Much has been written in newspaper articles over the years about the contribution Doreen Wickremasinghe. We conclude with a quotation from her biographer:
What is perhaps most remarkable about Doreen Wickremasinghes career was the way she was accepted by Sri Lankans including activists of the Left, workers, peasants, women and even by the electorate. For many middle-class radicals too, she was an example of how a Western woman could devote her energy to causes ranging from national liberation and womens liberation to socialism. In terms of colonialism and gender she was indeed the opposite of the memsahib. Her foreign origin actually increased rather than decreased her popularity. For she chose boldly to protest against the imperialist policies of her own country of birth and to identify with movements social change in her country of adoption. She radicalized education in Buddhist girls schools, and succeeded in giving many teachers and pupils a political and social awareness, an ability to fight patriarchal family oppression, an appreciation of local culture and an internationalist perspective. Doreen Wickremasinghes life particularly serves as an example of a woman who participated in the social and political movements of her time, showed courage in confronting oppression and exploitation and spoke out without fear against all forms of injustice.
Doreen Wickremasinghes anti-imperialism and socialism were combined with a strong belief in secularism. Like her socialist family in England, Doreen had no belief in organized religion. After her death, Doreens body was donated to the Medical Faculty, "according to her wishes and beliefs" (as her family noted). In life as in death, she held firm to her principles.
Playing Footsie with the Enemy
by Dr. Anna Kondar
There is a mathematical theory of games based on the logical analysis of moves and countermoves in a two-person contest for the acquisition of finite resources. Pioneered by the celebrated twentieth century mathematician Von Neumann, these zero-sum games schematized in the so-called pay-off matrix serve as limiting models for real-life drama in board-rooms and battlefields where two parties are in conflict over such things as market-share and territorial suzerainty. Before proceeding to the meaty part of this discussion, I wish to give the indulgent reader a somewhat bowdlerized version of two important theorems in Von Neumann game theory. The first states that it is necessary to assume that the opponent (or enemy) if he makes the first move will choose that option which is most damaging to your side. Be ready with a response that that will reduce to a minimum the anticipated damage. (Minimax Principle). There is a mirror-image of this principle operative if the first move is made by you. Choose that option which cuts down to a minimum the effectiveness of the expected counter blow of your opponent (Maximin Principle). While formulated with mathematical precision in text-books on game theory, it must be confessed that these rules do not have anything that is startlingly revelatory indeed, common people use these rules intuitively and our field commanders in the hey-day of Sinhala civilization were, doubtless, past masters in the canny business of outwitting the enemy. The Von Neumann rules were in their blood, so to speak.
The sixty four thousand dollar question is whether the New Generation Rulers of Sri Lanka those confronting the wily Grandmaster Prabhakaran across the gaming table are savvy with the basic strategies of outwitting the enemy the kind of gamesmanship that Von Newman translated into mathematics. Perhaps this is asking too much. Are they equipped with the common sense of our local (and renowned) Maha-Danna-Muththa? When the greatest in the land declare pontifically that we must be rid of this kalakanni war a signal is sent to the enemy that our approach is lackadaisical, that we are merely reacting to events and are not prepared to take the kind of action that optimizes our strategic position vis-a-vis the enemy. When the Leader of the Opposition concurs declaring publicly that the enemy cannot be defeated and that intermediaries must be brought in to magically transform battle: settle what can the ordinary man do except weep in shame at this all-pervasive cowardice? And what Of our fighting men? We have not sent robots to the battlefront to do the bidding of a pusillanimous and wayward leadership that places moral qualms ahead of the dire need to outwit and destroy the enemy.
In a contest of any kind and, above all in a contest where ones life is at stake morale, determination and fortitude are supremely important and must constitute that essential moral fibre in the sinews of war. None of the mighty advances in fire- power and death-dealing innovation can make good the apathy and cowardice that descends like a toxic miasma when the fighting man feels betrayed and alienated. One must hasten to add in all fairness to our brave soldiers, some of whom have sacrificed their lives for the sake of their motherland that the picture we paint here is hypothetical. It is merely the enunciation of a counterfactual: if the game-strategy of a leadership involves the moral revulsion and disenchantment with the moves that the very structure of the game mandate, then a felicitous outcome is impossible.
It is true that the Mandela-Gandhi approach for which the von Neumann rules of gamesmanship are irrelevant and even antithetical calls for moral uprightness and forbearance even when dealing with your erstwhile enemy. The sword of the enemy (so declared Gandhi) is blunted by ones own passivity and overarching compassion for the folly of the aggressor.
Sounds beautiful but only a certified lunatic will vouch for its practical efficacy when dealing with the truly unique amoral monster named Pirabakaran. This diagnosis is extra-logical and based on a hunch that is obvious to all except the high leadership of our unfortunate homeland. When the latter speak of militarily weakening the Wanni Warrior to the point that the defanged and partly defeated enemy slithers to the negotiating table, has not hallucination replaced reality as a protective mechanism in an harsh and unrelenting world? Have we not gauged the man? His adamantine resolution, his implacable drive, his limitless capacity for violence? Can such a being metamorphose miraculously through Norwegian Mantrams and the pious bleats of lovelorn locals? There are those including the mightily lettered types who advocate what can be called the "ach- charu approach". While exchanging artillery rounds with the enemy at the battlefield, seek the midwifery of the Vikings to broker a deal. Meanwhile, burn the midnight oil to prepare a new constitution that will make Pirabakaran a Tamil Dinosaur in the eyes of his supporters.
If it is indeed a Dinosaur, surely it must be a meat-gobbling Tyrannosurus Rex that will issue from the mix of events that is currently unfolding before us. All that can be usefully said is that Von Neumann will turn in his grave when he knows that a new triple-barrelled game-theoretic approach has supplanted his own thanks to the golden brains of Lankas leadership.
In a land where religion is mixed up with everything, it comes as no surprise that some advocate the marshalling of the divine to succour a peaceful denouement to the conflict in the North. At this point the logical must give way to a religious perspective and it is a strictly Buddhist insight that is adopted by the writer in these concluding words. The redoubtable Leader of the Opposition (with the blessings of a section of the Maha Sangha) has initiated a kind of religious cavalcade to invoke the assistance of the Gods above to end the war. Let us note first that the deeds (or misdeeds) of Pirabakaran stink to high heaven and if the Gods have not noticed the mortal travail of this thrice- blessed island, they are unfit to hold high office. Secondly, there is no place in Buddhism for vibes, pleas, adorations and above all for a short-circuiting of the karmically ordained by the spectacular buffooeary of politically motivated religious shows. Let the leaders set aside their religion and fight when the enemy draws his sword. Even the Gods will be appreciative.
The nature of the problem
by Nalin de Silva
Ms. Schaffer a former ambassador of the USA to Sri Lanka writing to "South Asian Monitor" published in the USA has suggested a confederation as a solution to the so-called ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. It is only her personal view and not that of the USA government. However, it is significant that the solution proposed by the former ambassador is not very far from the Eelam, that the Tamil parties demanding. In fact Prabhakaran has said on many occasions that he would drop Eelam for a confederation. Prabhakaran more than anybody else knows that a confederation is a de facto Eelam. It is evident that Tamil racism through the strategy of "little now, more later" has come a long way from the Ratasabhas, in achieving a separate state. The strange feature of these solutions such as Ratasabhas, District Development Councils, Provincial Councils, Regional Councils is that they have not been able to solve the "problem" as identified by the formulators of the solutions. Instead the problem has aggravated over the years demanding more and more and more stronger solutions. A famous lawyer with a golden brain had once said "one language, two countries and two languages, one country" referring to the Sinhala Only Act. Though Tamil has been made an official language neither the golden brain nor the remaining aluminium brains have been able convince the Tamil racists to drop the demand for an Eelam. Instead the aluminium brains go round the country telling us too little was given too late and legislative power of the centre has to be abdicated for be weaned away the LTTE. Contrary to the thinking of the golden brain it could be said that "one language, one country and two languages, two countries".
All the solutions mentioned above start with the assumption that the Tamils have grievances. What are these grievances? Tamil racists were told that there are injustices done to the Tamils. What are the injustices that have been done? Did Tamils become second class citizens merely because Tamil was not made an official language? If that is the case then all the Tamils living in other parts of the world including Tamil Nadu should be second class citizens as Tamil is not an official language in any of those countries. There are Tamils living in England, Malaysia, Canada and many other countries. In those countries do the Tamils have any grievances? If not, does it mean that these countries have not caused any injustices to the Tamils?
Let us look at the first "grievance" of the Tamils. The Tamil leaders around 1915 demanded a separate seat in the legislative assembly for the Tamils (English educated and wealthy) in the western province. When the Sinhala leaders in the Ceylon National Congress (CNC) did not agree to this demand Mr. Ponnambalam Arunachalam resigned from the congress. Mr. Arunachalam had been elected as the first president of the CNC by the Sinhala majority. Having resigned from the CNC Mr. Arunachalam formed the Tamil Mahajana Sabhai, which was the first racist organisation in this country. The Tamil Mahajana Sabhai and the Tamil leaders were of the opinion that the number of Sinhala members in the legislative assembly should not exceed that of the Tamil members. Now would the Tamils in any other country think of demanding anything similar to this in their respective countries?
This particular demand was the result of the British treating the Tamils and the Sinhalas as the two major communities in the country, though the Sinhalas formed more than 75 percent of the population while the Tamils constituted about 12 percent. The British equated 75 percent with the 12 percent. They also ignored the significance of the unique culture that the Sinhalas had built in this country. Thus in 1833 the British had appointed one unofficial member each to represent the Sinhalas and the Tamils in the legislative assembly. It has to be remembered that the British did not appoint a member to represent the Muslim community in the first legislative assembly. With these appointments to the legislative assembly in 1833 the British had created Tamil racism in this country. There was no historical, cultural or numerical basis to treat the Sinhalas and the Tamils on an equal footing with respect to the appointments to the legislative assembly. If one member each was appointed to represent the Sinhalas and the Tamils then why did not the British appoint a member to represent the Muslim community. In fact the Muslims had demanded representation in the legislative assembly and in 1885 Mr. P. Ramanathan who represented the Tamils in the legislative assembly said that he represented the Muslims as well. The Muslim leaders such as Mr. Siddhi Lebbe protested and finally in 1889 the British had to appoint an unofficial member to represent the Muslims. In any event it is clear that from the beginning with respect to government employment, education and representation in the legislature the British had favoured the Tamils not only over the Sinhalas but the Muslims as well.
The Tamils, meaning their English educated leaders, considered it as an injustice, if the number of the Tamil members in the legislative assembly was less than that of the Sinhalas. In no other country, including India did the Tamils have such an idea of injustice. Injustices like everything else are relative and depends on how people look at them. People consider denial of something to be an injustice only if they think that they are entitled to what is being denied. In Sri Lanka the Tamils had always thought that they were entitled for equal representation with, if not more than, the Sinhalas in the legislative assembly, in spite of the fact that there was no basis for such representation. It is interesting to note that the English educated Sinhalas did not consider it as an injustice to them when the Sinhalas were represented by only one unofficial member in the legislative council. They never thought of demanding the appointment of at least six members to represent the Sinhalas if one member is appointed to represent the Tamils. Perhaps as far as they were concerned by Sinhalas it meant only the English educated Sinhalas and were satisfied with the appointment of one member.
In Sri Lanka the British had given more privileges to the Tamils. The percentage of conversions to Christianity was greater in the case of the Tamils and this was to their advantage. Even today the number of Tamils in the Church of Ceylon (The Anglican Church) is not less than the number of Sinhala members in that church. Also from the time of the Dutch the Tamils in Sri Lanka have been constructing a "new" history to suit their "importance" in the colonial administrative set-up. It was at the invitation of a Dutch manager (governor) that the "Yalpana Vaipava Malai" was written. During the time of the British this "importance" was so much that the English educated Tamils under the patronage of the colonial masters began to think that in the legislature, government sector and in the other fields they must have equal representation with the Sinhalas. As a consequence of this attitude, with the connivance of the British they took action to deny the rightful place been given to the Sinhalas. They refused to accept that the Sinhalas formed the majority of the country. The British considered the Tamils and the Sinhalas as the two major communities. In effect Tamil racism that was created by the British were on a "war" path denying the rightful place to Sinhalathva in this country.
In any country it may be said that all men and women are equal before the law, though this was not the case during the colonial times. However the fact that all are equal before the law does not imply that within a country all the cultures are equal. There are many local "pundits" (I use the word pundit to mean the Pundithaya in Sinhala and not in the Anglicised sense of the word) influenced by the western social scientists who are not tired of calling this country a plural country. By a plural country if they mean a country in which more than one culture is represented then Sri Lanka is a plural country. However, in the case almost all the countries in the world are plural. In Sri Lanka these "pundits" and their colonial masters use the term plural in a much stronger sense. When they say that Sri Lanka is a plural country they mean not only that in this country different cultures exist but that all such cultures are equal. In the European countries they do not use the word plural in this stronger sense. While more than one culture exist in those countries there is a more significant culture in each of them. For example though Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Asians, Africans, West Indians and others live in England no body would say that all these cultures have the same status there.
It is obvious that the significance of the Anglo-Saxon Christian culture is recognised in England. Mr. Charles Windsor may become the king of England even after getting married to Ms. Camilla Parker Bowles, but he will not be crowned if he becomes a Buddhist. In general in the Western European countries Christuthva or the significance of the various Christian cultures is recognised. Similarly in India Hinduthva or the significance of Hindu culture is recognised.
But in Sri Lanka the moment one says the country is plural it implies that the Sinhalathva or the significance that the Sinhalas culture has in this country is not recognised. Pluralism does not mean the same in Western Europe and in Sri Lanka. The western social scientists are shrewd enough to recognise Christuthva in their countries within pluralism but when it comes to Sri Lanka pluralism means not only that all men and women are equal before the law but that all cultures are equal thus denying the rightful place to Sinhalathva.
The aspiration of Tamil racism created, baptised and nurtured by the British and sponsored by Norway and the other Western European countries is to deny the rightful place to Sinhalathva. All the so-called injustices to the Tamils in this country stem from this aspiration. Giving the rightful place to Sinhalathva is interpreted as an "injustice" (or injustices) to the Tamils.
(To be continued)
An unlikely time for constitutional reform
by Jehan Perera
The lull in the fighting in Jaffna has enabled a lifting of the continuous curfew there.This has turned attention away from the north-east theatre of conflict to the political process based in Colombo.There is renewed speculation about the fate of the governments constitutional reform proposals that seek to address the political causes of the ethnic conflict.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has set a deadline of July 15 by which the political consultations taking place with the opposition parties must end.An important question is whether the government will actually place the draft constitution before Parliament prior to the forthcoming general elections.Parliament will have to be dissolved by August 25.
While the opposition UNP may not be too enthusiastic about some parts of the constitutional reforms, it has a strong and immediate interest in the adding of others, especially those pertaining to independent commissions for police, elections and public administration.Only such reforms could provide for free and fair elections.While the stabilisation of the military situation in Jaffna has given rise to a certain degree of complacence in the rest of the country, the mood is by no means an upbeat one.The steep increases in the prices of essential commodities last week, such as gas and electricity, have dealt a belly blow to the general population.The economic costs of the war are being felt in the absence of commensurate wage increases that have found real incomes of the wage earners dropping.
By way of contrast in February this year the mood in the country was an upbeat one.The Presidential election had just been concluded and President Kumaratunga had survived a dastardly LTTE assassination attempt.Yet she appeared to have put the past behind her by affirming that she would talk to those who had tried to kill her to bring peace to the country. The Presidents courage accompanied the unprecedented offer by the opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to provide his partys votes to pass the governments controversial devolution package in Parliament.
What is noteworthy, however, is that even in this time of relative optimism in the country the government failed to immediately take up the opposition leaders offer. In fact the opposition leader had to complain about the lack of response before the government made its response.This seemed strange as the government had its October 1997 devolution proposals which it had already tabled in Parliament.
In February of this year, the government could have held the opposition leader to his word. The government could have put forward its October 1997 proposals once again in Parliament and formally requested UNP votes to pass the devolution package in Parliament.
Instead of taking this short cut path, the government took the long route of re-opening the entire devolution package for discussion by the UNP and minority parties.Ironically, in re-opening the devolution package for debate, the government revealed that it had a lot of work to do even within itself to reach agreement on the package.
There has been speculation that the devolution package will make its appearance in Parliament before its dissolution on August 25 this year.While the government has been claiming such an intention it has also kept mixing it with denunciations of the UNP for foot dragging on the ongoing discussions.In particular, the government has blamed the UNP for going in reverse on the issue of land, seeking to vest it in the centre. However, it also appears that the government negotiators were only too happy to go along with the UNP in this matter.
The fact is that with elections approaching, both government and opposition are reluctant to be adventurous on the devolution package at the cost of their political futures. There is a strong hostility to the devolution package amongst a broad spectrum of Sinhalese opinion leaders. This was evident at a major conference on the ethnic conflict organised by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS), which is the premier organisation bringing together academics and other intellectuals.
The conference, which was open to the general public, gave an insight into a powerful constituency who have still to be won over to key concepts found in the devolution package. It is unlikely that the same degree of opposition will be found amongst the general population.
Ethnic competitiveness and a reluctance to devolve or share power is mostly to be found at the higher levels of society. However, it must be noted that a public opinion survey carried out by the National Peace Council last November revealed that 48 percent of Sinhalese polled opposed the use of the devolution package as a basis for negotiations with the LTTE, with only 41 percent in favour.
It is to be expected that politicians, with their political futures in mind, will not wish to engage in unpopular measures just before elections. The willingness of the government to take a risk with the devolution package has been further undermined by the LTTEs actions. The timing of the LTTEs military assaults in the recent past have coincided with elections and with the prospects of bipartisanship in arriving at a consensus on the proposed constitutional reforms.
To an organisation bent on success through military accomplishments, any political process is likely to be unwelcome and undermined. While these military and political manoeuvers go on, the population of Jaffna will continue to suffer, and with their lives at risk. The economy will also get run down as more and more billions are poured into the defence budget.
By its actions the LTTE has made it clear that it will only talk to the government from a position of strength. On the other hand, the primary electoral strategy of the government will be to ensurethe safety of Jaffna. It is unlikely that the devolution package will be a part of this electoral strategy. The government, which was unwilling to bring the devolution package to Parliament in February is not likely to do so in August.
by B. A. Ariyatilake
A newspaper report appearing on the first page of your journal on 26.5.2000 states that virginity tests are found only in Sri Lanka in the Asian region and that too among the middle classes in urban society. This is quite possible. The countries of South Asia mentioned were not exposed to the Christian ideas of sexual morality to the extent that our country was. In pre-colonial Sri Lanka sexual morals were lax and more humane. Robert Knox writing in the 17th century says, "they do not matter or regard whether the wives at the first marriage be maids or not". According to his evidence the Sinhalese had trial marriages - man and woman living together for sometime and then deciding whether the union should be permanent. This is the actual situation in the West today. Only when European peoples had cast off moral ideas of a shepherd society of some two thousand years ago, did some relief come to unhappy couples bound together by God".
Although the colonial powers could not spread Christianity in this country to the extent they desired, their moral ideas inspired by Christianity took root in certain sections of our society. The ancient Jews practiced virginity testing and these customs were passed onto some sections of our society during the colonial period. Let me quote the Bible to prove my point: "If any man take a wife and go in unto her (the vaginal test!) and hate her, and give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsels virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: and the damsels father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man for wife, and he hateth her; and, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughters virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him. (i.e. pay compensation to the father for the false accusation, without right to send away the accused wife). But if this thing be true and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel; Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her fathers house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her fathers house: so shalt though put evil away from among you" (Deut. 22:13 ff.).
"The tokens of virginity" referred to in the Bible are the blood stained bed linen exactly as those examined by the petit bourgeois class in Sinhala society. They learned the practice from the Portuguese, under whose rule marriage customs were performed imitating Biblical practices. The Bible writers had no knowledge that 20-25 per cent of the girls does not bleed at the first sexual intercourse. But the assumptions of their "Sacred Writings" brought death, pain and misery to women throughout the ages. Other excessive inhuman punishments in the Bible for sexual aberrations include punishments for adultery, (stoning to death), intercourse with a menstruating woman (banishment) incest, and homosexuality.
What we require today is dissemination of more knowledge to young people on matters regarding sex and marriage. Even if a girl had lost her virginity due to some cause or other, it should not be considered the end of the world for her and her family. Virgin young men are also a fast disappearing species these days. There is no room for double morality. Frank discussions on such matters would help a change in attitudes.