Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Degrees to Success



I dont have a degree in Communications. Neither does my daughter Nadeesha. But we have been published for a number of years in leading newspapers, written two columns and been co- authors of a book, not to mention co founders of popular online forums with thousands of members. My writing has shamed a big company into doing the right thing. It has organised charity work, saved a number of animal lives big and small, alternatively boiled and soothed my readers and also brought many a smile to their faces. Ive also had the honour of working with the company doing promotions for a famous drama series in 2010. Nadeesha worked part-time with a British content provision company. She influences many friends to eat better, live better and be happier. We are good communicators. We earn comfortably from doing what we love which is writing and I daresay our dubious names are known better than many journalism graduates, mostly because we do communicate well. Its nothing to do with any fancy foreign degree.
Its also why I want to talk about foreign degrees, suitable marriages and highly paid careers, which are popular goals towards which many parents blindly and determinedly push their unhappy offspring..
I once overheard a strong and brave mother from the village who decided to home school her children plus send them for private tuition, rejecting government institutions of schooling in Sri Lanka. This made absolute sense because anyway in Sri Lanka hardly anyone gets educated at schools because of the apathy of underpaid teachers. Everyone sends their kids for private tuition. Which is expensive. This is where this insane rush for formal education begins. It ends with people selling valuable houses just so that the precious son can get a US degree. They don't not stop to think of alternatives.
Consider the cost of snooty foreign paper qualification. My daughter did spend on a local bachelors degree of 650,000 (mostly because the relatives advised her to do this) and lets say theoretically she earns monthly at the rate of 65,000. Her cousin, educated with the posh US degree which cost 4,500,000 certainly does not earn 450,000 a month part-time. His parents had to sell one beautiful house and take out a five-year educational loan to help him get this. He earns nowhere close, coming probably to a maximum of about 200,000 if he's very lucky, and if it is Sri Lanka that work will involve all the misery of office politics, jealousy, backstabbing and aggravation not to mention a daily grind of commuting to work through third world megacity traffic, ...something that neither me nor my daughter has done for a long time now.. at the same time have you given a thought to the opportunity cost of putting 4,500,000 in a bank  or just renting out the house you sold to get a monthly income of at least 150,000/= without any work at all? It boggles me as to why any human running logically on Maslow's theory, any one who has remotely studied economics and opportunity costs, would justify such suffering just to be able to tell a few relatives or snooty potential employers that they have an American degree…
If its fulfilment you need in life there are wonderful ways to work for the community, to help people and animals, join politics, take up the violiin, whatever it takes to keep you occupied rather than actually do a job merely to keep you out of mischief. Finally if its fame you are looking for, if you google his name it wont turn up anywhere. Whereas my daughter and I are communicators, influencers and changemakers actually making a difference in the life of people we encounter. And you are now reading my article, not his. Hopefully this article may save one person from making the mistake of selling parental houses and getting in debt for years only to drain rupees to the UK or USA and become stuck in a twenty five year rat race from which you emerge at 55, gouty, diabetic, out of shape, unhappily married and generally unfulfilled and maybe barely able to complete the mortgage on a nice house which reminds of the nice house your parents sold 20 years ago, to get you the degree….

Dont get me wrong and think I look down on education or qualifications. I certainly would hope that the anesthesiologist who knocks me out for brain surgery has been through formal and structured training…. In the same way as I wish that parents who undertake one of the most challenging tasks known to mankind (bringing up offspring) were in someway educated in that subject or took the effort to educate themselves and think carefully before they followed the crowds like leaping wildebeest...learning is always a good thing but it doesn't really have to be through American (or British or Australian) universities...think of the most famous, awe-inspiring, revolutionary people the planet knows, Mother Theresa, Michael Jackson, Meryl Streep, Mohamed Yunus...and diverse modern icons like Lily Singh, Trevor Noah, Jane Goodall, Sathguru, Malala Yusefsai... was it foreign degrees that made them who they are?
When you think of the talents that are needed in real life, qualities such as empathy, emotional quotient, sensitivity, adaptability, creativity, humility the capacity to think out of the box, the ability to respect other humans, and a host of other important characteristics are not taught in Universities although they are very important. Then why is it that such a disproportionate amount of time, effort and money is put into obtaining degrees from foreign universities?

This brings me to the next item on my list, career success. Everyone seems to want it, to be able to climb right to the top and boss people around. To get to the top of your profession, to earn accolades, win recognition, have paper articles written about you, be there do that. That's a worthy goal, I concede, and it's quite grand for the people who do achieve it. But for every top chairman or woman, how many hundreds meander through a tedious daily grind which lasts through 30 years spending more than three-quarters of your waking life in a cubicle, and in traffic, with only miserable thoughts spinning through your head about office politics, glaring injustices and simply torturous interpersonal conflict at the work place, waiting for something good to happen, or simply waiting to be able to leave this drudgery...which is not a way to spend this precious commodity called life. Do you sometimes feel like the consultant in the story of the fisherman and the management consultant, waiting for some perfect moment in the future, when things will be just right- the story is about a happy island fisherman who was doing nothing lolling in a hammock under a coconut tree on a balmy tropical beach, having finished his days work early noon with the rest of the day off. Along comes a consultant and tells him about how the due to the wind speeds and directions he could easily triple his productivity, invest in two fibreglass fishing boats and some manual labour, open a marine company so that he can catch many more fish and make much more profits. He can invest this money in the bank no doubt the consultant will tell him how to work the stock exchange and invest in bitcoins etc, and apparently that way he can retire early. To which the fisherman in puzzlement asks, “what would I do if I retire?” And the consultant says “why you can  visit wonderful beaches, play with your kids, simply relax by the beach doing nothing, go for a beer and a baila in the evening every day...” and of course the fisherman gives him a look, and says “Isn't that what I'm already doing anyway?”
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"Water world" by Chandrika De Silva. Acrylic 40x60

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Snake Rescuer of Habarana


By Chandrika Gadiewasam


  • In Sri Lanka which boasts some of the highest snakebite deaths in the world, where snakes are hated and feared, one man daily puts his life on the line to save any snake he can.


He has given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a deadly Indian cobra and he  keeps a saline solution and aloe vera tub to help heal snakes who have been attacked using kerosene: a man of humble means, who makes a livelihood from maintenance work, Jeganadan the snake rescuer of Habarana has never in his life accepted payment for the thousands of serpents he has rescued and released, because, he says, 'then people may hesitate to contact me."


"I started my rescue work in 2004, with the realisation that snakes are the animals probably treated with the most callous injustice in the world. You will see people and organisations rescuing dogs, birds, elephants, leopards -but there is no one who will stop and help a suffering snake." he points out.

Jeganadan has made it his life's passion to do so, at no small risk to himself.

He has no access even to antivenom, which is not available in rural hospitals, and points out that a trip from Habarana to the nearest government hospital with snake venom, which is in Polonnaruwa would take 1.5 hours, which would be more time than it takes to kill a person if bitten by a viper.

"The media is not very interested in saving snakes, there is nothing newsworthy in it for them,' he says adding that all the emergency calls he gets are through word of mouth and more recently social media which helps spread the word about his cause. " If an article or a post can save at least ONE snake from being killed then that is all that matters to me,"


 

"My first advice to anyone if there is a snake discovered is not to poke or disturb it at all and never to throw kerosene etc, but to quietly watch it to make sure you know where it goes"  After a call, acting as soon as he possibly can, Jeganadan bikes over to the house and begins the long and arduous task of hunting the snake out, ensuring not to harm it in the process. This often means reaching into dangerous corners, climbing into roofs, operating in confined spaces and a great deal of patient searching until he locates and catches the slippery subjects.

On an average, he rescues around a dozen snakes a month, a few venomous but mostly non-venomous. Usually, the innocent non-venomous ones would also have been killed cruelly and needlessly if not for his quick intervention. Not only does he adamantly refuse any payment for this service, but all expenses are borne by him, on the principle that if he accepted payment some people may think twice about calling him. Often days of patient caring are needed to rehabilitate a snake which has been attacked with kerosene, by calming it, bathing it in saline, and then placing it in a tub of aloe vera gel; death from kerosene sprayed on any snake is long drawn out torment where the animals skin blisters and peels away leaving wounds which even show its skeleton, after which it gets infected and slowly rots to death over a number of days. More often than not it is entirely harmless non-venomous snakes that meet this fate, not to mention valuable endangered species. Even if a snake is venomous, as they never intend to harm people but only stray among us because their habitat is destroyed or they are hunting rats, or desperate for water, they can easily be kept at bay with proper precautions for example like keeping some water at a distance from the house, and keeping your environment cleared according to Jeganadan, who advises that all snakes have an important part to play in the ecosystems by controlling rodent populations which would otherwise devastate an agricultural economy such as Sri Lanka, and they are also the source for medical preparations etc. Only a handful of the snake species in Sri Lanka are venomous but due to lack of awareness of people, snakes are brutally attacked on sight.

On the subject of snake bite deaths and the lack of locally made antivenin, Jeganadan reserved comment except to say that after 30 plus years of trying to manufacture it, there has not been any real success from the authorities in charge. Many deaths would be preventable if the anti-venom were available, but it seems to be low in national priority as it is mostly poor villagers that would be affected.

Jeganadan goes out of his way to host regular awareness workshops for interested people, showing them the difference in non- venomous snakes so that at least knowledge will prevent the destruction of these innocent animals- but he has to carefully circumvent current laws which make it an offence to have such wildlife in one's possession. He laments over peoples attitudes, official lethargy and the ironic legal situation he personally faces when he tries to deliver this much-needed service to people; he needs to have live specimens to demonstrate to people that they are perfectly harmless, but at the same time it is an offence to have such fauna in his possession, so he has to release them very soon.

The attitudes of some people too have been most demoralising. Many ridicule him openly, some have even gone to the extent of trying to accuse him of profiting from the services he selflessly undertakes, which he points out is inaccurate because he insists that he will never accept payment for his time or expenses, as saving snakes is his life's passion. In spite of insult and criticism by such people for saving the snakes they believe should be exterminated, Jeganadan carries on undaunted, sure in the knowledge that he is doing the right thing, in saving people, snakes and Sri Lanka's environment alike.


Snake-handler Jeganadan can be contacted through FB@ ttps://www.facebook.com/jeganadan.habarana and on 0779 865 543



Thursday, March 28, 2019

Taking the Bitter with the Sweet

Chandrika Gadiewasam


Some of the deprived sad food my whole family has been forced to eat due to my diabetes. Ok you know Im being snarky (Photos courtesy Nadeesha Paulis)

Some years ago,  when I was hovering on the magical brink of becoming a symbolic 39, I went in for my annual overall check up and the reports came in with a positive diagnosis of diabetes.

Well, yours truly, Chands, was in shock for a while and thought it was some kind of mistake! This was an OLD PEOPLES disease! It was one of those incurable inconvenient things that happened after you are sixty or something! This went along with Alzheimer's, dentures and incontinence, in my list of geriatric issues.   This wasn't for me; I didn't deserve it,  I didn't really do any of the things I imagined would make me into a diabetic. Ok I was rather lazy about the exercise thing although on and off I would try to keep in shape, not for health reasons at all but because I wanted to wear some dress…and I liked having a coke once in a way but actually, I couldn't even afford junk food, so why had this happened to me? I was by no means overweight, my BMI was acceptable, I didn't eat half the oil or ice cream that I saw my relations down day after day, (even the diabetic ones, once they had taken their daily insulin)- I was the careful one, probably because I was an older sister and a mother, and we actually get used to giving up the food to other family members, particularly the sweet treats. Have you noticed? Most of the moms I know take home any chocolates they get at work to give the kids, and I was no exception. 

So why me? First there was the hazy denial stage… Maybe this was a mistake and it could be reversed…maybe it would go away and just be a bad dream and not end up in me having to lose my left foot (something I have been paranoid about since signing up for a Life insurance package which gave you double bonus if you lost limbs on OPPOSITE SIDES …think about that carefully – to claim you need to lose a right hand AND a left foot… tricky, but I'm sure it can be organised if you remember to stick them both out at the last moment before the train hits! Looks like the insurance people think of everything !…pardon the deviation here) …maybe a completely starch free diet and running five miles a day would work – I didn't know Fanny Adams about diabetics and it looked like I would have to learn fast…here, I figured out,  were some of the practical downsides: 

anything you previously spent on chocolates and sweets to pamper yourself, you now have to spend on medications and strips for the tester machine;  those are quite expensive

insurance companies automatically double the premium if they learn you are diabetic, and if they know you are OLD and diabetic they can even treble it 

you can't skip meals anymore since you go into a state of dizziness and nausea caused by having low blood sugar. So forget high-pressure jobs, unplanned journeys or in fact any real adventure

Diabetes also can make people feel sad, angry, or lonely because most of your friends are not watching their blood sugar levels! in Sri Lanka you get a lot of unfeeling comments too, like " oh, you must have eaten lots of sugary stuff!" (as if you are the only one, and the person saying it completely abstains from any!) and " oh my, at this age! How terrible !" (as if your entire future just went)

This is apart from the disease itself which involves gradual nerve degeneration and higher risks of cholesterol, heart disease and another boatload of more nasty sounding stuff, and of course, eventual amputation of feet.

Yes, it can be at first glance quite a damper on life…until-  in the spirit of Chands, you look for the possible positive bits! And here they are:

You automatically get the exercise you need, because if you don't you get in actual trouble. So exercise is compulsory. And then little irritations in life, like 'having" to walk a further 200 yards because you miss a halt, become positive opportunities. Compulsory walking, you find is exhilarating, interesting, time for creative thinking and saves on fuel and transport costs! And you retain a moderately youthful figure for free!!! 

Watching your diet becomes compulsory so now there is no fighting with your self-control. You settle on a diet and you get used to it and its actually good for you! No nonsense with new year resolutions which you mess up in February! 

You begin to realise how good something gooey and sweet tastes because you can't have it often. So you have a new perspective about the good things in life! 

You won't ever have to worry about growing obscenely, decrepitly, disgustingly old and being a gibbering, geriatric burden on your children. Statistically, most diabetics are usually quite dead by 73 or something.

Ok, I have to end by saying none of this is expert medical advice of any kind, and Chands is just an average person with a common problem, now, more common than it ever was, sadly due to modern lifestyles. Why it happened and what will happen next I do not know,  but I can leave you with some useful and honestly playful tips by the real experts which I found here: 

http://www.besthealthmag.ca/get-healthy/diabetes/19-tips-for-stable-steady-blood-sugar-levels


Monday, March 25, 2019

When the Going Gets Tough…and other random Diaspora tales

Chandrika Gadiewasam 2008

DIAS-PORAS

They are cleaner, shiny and their luggage smells good. Their kids speak alien tongues and burst apologetically into delicate pink bubbles in the evenings, on principle. You know who I'm referring to, it's the Diaspora.

That's those Returnees, kalu suddas, pita-rata-kattiyas  or in other words the sweet friends and relations of ours who have managed by hook or crook to land themselves in some foreign country and stay there, and are back on vacation for a few weeks to touch base and prove to us how happy they are. Seriously… we don't need convincing.

          I don't know if its just living in the same country as I do that puts them off, but the last time I counted at least a half a dozen of my acquaintances per month were immigrating. This is not about tourism, shopping tours or landing a nice job abroad, these people were withdrawing EPF, divorcing anyone inconvenient, selling their homes and completely and permanently deserting the country; any descendents they have will not know about Sri Lanka except as some distant, dusty, war torn Jungle Island near India which they read about in wikipedia, where "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" was filmed and which used to have a few elephants. The situation is that bad. A definite conundrum for future paleontologists who will wonder about this mass exodus of islanders from a country that seems for all intents and purposes, to be a paradise… 

 

 

THE MOTORCYCLE FAMILY
Do you ever wonder what the people in these countries which host us must be thinking?  Well, for a start if it were possible to calculate the numbers of Sri Lankans who have settled abroad and given up Sri Lanka it would undoubtedly exceed the number of those still here (although of course to give them credit they are trying their best to multiply to make up for those lost to brain drain).

The unfortunate fact of course is that since other countries only let in the most intelligent, cunning and tech savvy literates from Sri Lanka, the remaining inert half witted social parasites, this writer included, simply hang around drinking away their sorrows and when given the chance multiply without much thought to quality of life. One picture sums up Sri Lanka's future in my mind- that of the Contemporary Motorcycle Family – a kid in the front, then the guy, then the baby in the middle and the pregnant wife at the end of a 100 cc Bajaj, and probably the days shopping on the handle-bars. Optimists, I reckon who decide to make families first and then think of the repercussions later. Double salaries barely enough to get them from month to month, they have to find ways of making a home, buying a car, paying for children's education in a country where the best minds are leaving. And they don't really seem to think that when the kids grow older their might not be room for all five of them on the bike….do they?

          But Sri Lanka is green, it is a resplendent isle so what are the greener pastures we seek? It can't be sunny weather or the food, since we mostly agree that this country is beautiful and that "common" food is probably tastier and cheaper here than anywhere. It can't be the clothes or entertainment since the availability of pirate DVDS means we usually see the latest Hollywood hits before the Americans do. Don't forget valuable software which should cost 2000 dollars is available here for 200 rupees.  It cant be anything domestic since for example the local market for manpower runs at something akin to slave labour rates when compared with other countries, and having a housemaid or a "dog-boy" would be unthinkable in any of our glamorous destinations unless we were film stars or tycoons. It probably can't be broadband access.  Then what do the hopeful migrants actually want?

         

THE CASE OF THE LADIES' VEHICLE BASHER

Maybe it's not totally material, but rather attitude based. I know lots of people who just want to get away from prying, nosy, interfering, gossiping relations and friends (that would of course be us, ourselves.) I know lots of people completely fed up with the torture involved in bureaucracy, the fact that it takes days and so much exhaustion to get a simple official matter done, running from pillar to post; and finally there is the total helplessness that people face when their rights are violated, because of the lack of effectiveness of any legal process…

To give just one example let me regale you with the case of the Ladies' Vehicle Basher prowling Colombo

 

This scam has been going on for sometime and people need to be made aware about it, especially lady drivers. There is a ratty devious looking man (at least one definite case so far) driving around Colombo in a dilapidated grey Nissan "Caravan" van, who deliberately crashes into lady-driven vehicles in rush hour traffic. He then insists that he will not take the vehicle away from the site until the police comes, thereby  creating maximum disturbance. He then suggests the victim pay him 10K to paint his vehicle "later on". Then he will remove the vehicle or proceed to the police station to settle the matter at courts. (He points out that according to local traffic law in a case of dispute the Police cannot actually settle things but have to make the two statements and pursue the matter in court)

 

The latest victim of this scheme was a lady with her five year old daughter driving home from work; her vehicle was baldy damaged and needless to say the child too suffered some shock.  To the time-pressed lady executive of today who does not want to go through the whole process of sitting in a Police Station and the subsequent court case with the amount of time and effort entailed, submitting to this cowardly blackmail seems to be the only way out. The man himself is quite cool about it and is content to sit for hours since he knows he can get away with cash at the end of the day, and that working ladies do not have the time or inclination to follow this to court and even if it went there he probably would not lose.

 

Finally in desperation, at the police station the lady (who any way has the major damage) offers to repair the vehicle at her Garage without giving cash to hand but the sleezeball refuses saying that he has to get it done at his place as he does not "trust" other places. So this blackmail seems to have no end and you can well imagine the sheer teeth gritting head banging frustration it would involve, leading to darker thoughts of vigilante terrorism, perhaps…. 

 

 

HEADING DOWN UNDER MADE SIMPLE

 

Finally then, and to make my article actually useful, a word of advice from one of my nephews on how to get in to Australia (which seems to be where half of Sri Lanka is since of late) "don't bother with these consultants and wise guys who claim to be able to give you hints and tips. Some of them are definitely out to sabotage you and you only find out later that they have set you back by years so that they can get various commissions." he says, "If you can read English and you have access to the internet, go browse the Australian Immigration Department website thoroughly and find out what they want and if you have it or can get it -then work towards it. That simple."

          Sounds good to me and I shall think about it. Probably.

 

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The author loves Sri Lanka, with all its quirks and aggravations.  You can write to her at chandrika6@gmail.com, and share your thoughts and suggestions. And meanwhile if you have had a nasty experience with the Ladies Vehicle Basher be sure to contact her, and network. This really has to stop. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Week in the Village


To write the last bit of this book I took a bit of leave from my human rights NGO office and stayed in our village, at my house Jungle Library, surrounded by fields, tall old trees, 3 rude cats, and three thousand books. You can google "Jungle Library Sri Lanka"and see photos of this place and the surroundings (there are even 8 positive reviews from optimistic sri lankan google guides who have never seen the place)


beautiful landscapes

A hindu Kovila 

Jak Fruit Curry 


Time for art 


A Random Tree I thought was beautiful 

Some ancient herioc dude whose statue is in the Hanwella Town centre - it maybe Jayaweeragoda Appu- who was killed by the Portuguese. I dont care, he looks fierce and imposing so I took his photo 


It was an interlude I will not forget for a long time: not only did I eat the best of village grown superfoods and walk and hike for miles among pristine paddy fields, brooks, farms and rubber estates, but the exercise, fresh air, and healthy eating made my blood sugar descend to pre-diabetic levels for the first time in ten years. This in spite of the fact that I had forgotten to bring my insulin pen along and was also experimenting with less metformin than prescribed. So I don't need people to tell me that less stress means less disease- heres the proof clear and vivid on my sugar testing machine.

I finally managed to live with Keju ayya (yes he is older than me -by two months or something-) without fighting with him or screaming at him (except when he vaguely justified the man up the road burning a cobra. This is covered in my chapter on Village Ethics), generally because I learnt to let him sit all day doing whatever he wants including spending a large amount of time poking his phone on Facebook. He was also allowed to drink as long as he went somewhere else afterwards.

Early mornings I generally escaped our cosy bedroom, stumbled out into our rather gnat ridden living room and meditated before anything starts, not much at all just about 20 minutes at a time. Then after morning tea we hiked, exercised across the floor, pedalled our stationary bike, cooked stuff and then I did my typing, and did some freelance writing work because we needed money to survive, fix the plumbing when it became wild, and to pay internet bills. But generally, the daily expenses for both of us in the village, (without alcohol) came to around three or four dollars a day. I'm pretty sure if I lived alone and ate more of what I prefered, like more oats and bananas, it would be about one dollar.

Afternoon was a bit of a scuffle where Keju had to bully me into bathing because I'm quite lazy to do so. However the heat, even in December would escalate slowly till it became impossible to continue without soaking one's head in the refreshing well water of Hanwella.
We would also sometimes go "shopping" meaning prowling the town market to buy greens, beans, sweet potatoes, mangoes and fresh kippers for the cats, or anyway just go out to smugly remind ourselves of the busy working people and traffic out there, after which we would run back home and I would write again.
I love Sri Lankan marketplaces. They are vividly colorful, and in Hanwella on Mondays and Fridays there is a market which sells everything you need, from fruits and vegetables, to handbags slippers, butter cake, pork, flower plants and clay pots- you name it.

In the evenings we ate modest amounts of clay oven baked fresh bread with dhal curry, and then watched depending on the mood, war films, horror films  or comedies from pirated second-hand DVDs ( Maybe recycled is a more acceptable word ) available from a corner of the vegetable market (which cost about ten cents each).  Most of the DVDs had been watched before and were a bit scratched, so I had to wash them in shampoo and then rub them on my clothes to dry them.

There were no schedules, no traffic and no deadlines. No people, no visitors, no relations we had to please, no judgements we had to avoid, no time tables to be followed.

For me it was a week of incredible peace and happiness, and I understand how happy a person can be on one's own.

From Keju Ayya, in spite of his alcoholism, and complete lack of declared income, I learnt something which is very fundamental to the Buddhism I was studying, something which is almost inaccessible to even the most determined meditator: how to completely let go of the past and to forget the future and live completely in the now.

Kejus motto apart from "Bang your drum though the ship is sinking" and "Eat what you're given and watch what happens" is plain and simple: Just BE happy.
  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Access to Justice for women in Sri Lanka: A true WIN-WIN story


by Chandrika Gadiewasam

 

     Cyber crime a serious emerging threat to young women

     Sri Lanka's legislation to protect women comparatively strong

     Women often do not know their rights

     Sri Lanka as a prime tourism destination could be tarnished by GBV

 

 



It is estimated that one in four of Sri Lankan women are victims of domestic violence. It makes little difference if one lives in Colombo, in the rural outskirts of the country or if one belongs to so-called educated diaspora living in "progressive" countries. Marriage in particular, appears to provide a licence for men to abuse their wives with impunity, leading to cycles of violence and ripple effects which brutalise children and lead to generations who suffer from traumatic memories. It is also estimated that half of all women murdered worldwide are killed by their spouse or intimate partner. So how does the violence that begins with a drunken slap go down the slippery slope to battery, abuse, marital rape, manslaughter and even murder? Will cyber crimes lead to even more suicide in Sri Lanka? What can be done by society to prevent the suffering of its vulnerable women and children, and to prevent prolonged cycles of abuse, trauma and violence which sap at the very foundations of human wellbeing?

 

One organisation at the forefront of the fight to eradicate the scourge of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka is the long standing "Women in Need"(WIN) organisation which has for many years made determined efforts in a number of diverse areas, aiming for the protection of women and children from violence. Although WIN started as a"Drop-in Centre" for women in crisis, in time, the issues that WIN was called upon to handle became more complex and diverse. A number of its long term initiatives now include the provision of legal advice, counselling and safe houses to women who are under the threat of domestic assault, working with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and with the Police and judiciary, raising awareness among stakeholders including men and boys, school children,university students, state,police and legal personnel etc.

 

WIN Executive Director Savithri Wijesekera discussed the work and achievements of WIN in the recent past, in addressing gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. According to her, many women are still not aware of their rights, and recourse and also there are deeply entrenched attitudes of stigma attached to women who break the silence about their suffering.

 

New threat of cyber harassment

She pointed out that cyber-crime (including cyber harassment and so-called 'revenge porn') are an emerging new threat of horrific proportions, affecting young women with possibly tragic repercussions even leading to suicide in some cases. The current law in this regard is the cyber crime law which is very broad, and does not address this aspect specifically. The state and law enforcement including CID should take this new danger very seriously and address it with a special unit and special training, as well as drafting more effective legislation in this regards, she recommended. Parents in particular had an important role in this area to educate themselves and get an understanding of the dangers involved, as well as to be close to their children, and also be in a position to advice them for example not to bow to peer pressure, and ensure that children confide in them. Banning phones and internet outright was obviously not a practical solution in a modern world but similarly it was important that parents know what is happening in the lives of their children. She highlighted a recent report of a "Facebook party" which had resulted in the arrests of more than a hundred youth for involvement with drugs, and said that parents must be alert and aware as to what their children are doing. It is therefore important to strengthen the relationships with their children. WIN along with the Grassrooted organisation have carried out some awareness programs with schools, where principals have invited them to, but there has not been much official attention to this problem.

 

SGBV's negative repercussions in society

Savithri stressed that it is important for law enforcement to ensure that crimes against women were taken seriously, going on to mention that the recent release on bail of a provincial councillor who had allegedly raped a 16 year old girl, was sending a very negative message to citizens of the country that some people can get away with such crimes with impunity. Similarly while Sri Lanka is currently considered a number-one tourist destination, its treatment of foreign women (for example street harassment and exploitation) such as the recent rape in Hikkaduwa, will send a very damaging message to potential tourists. Savithri stressed that it was important to take steps to strengthen implementation of the strong laws that were already in existence.

Furthermore, she strongly emphasised women themselves should bring up their sons to respect women, and not to treat them as inferior or sexual objects; this appears to be more widespread in Asia.The message from all sources therefore should be that this kind of actions will not be tolerated.

 

 

Access to Justice

Often in cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), whether incidents happen in the domestic environment or on the street, or at the workplace, it is seen that women and girls hesitate to take action and seek legal recourse with a number of economic, social and institutional factors contributing to this reluctance. Through its numerous services, WIN facilitates victims/survivors of sexual and gender based violence to access legal and other remedies provided in law. Some projects are articulated in such a way as to address the challenges and various obstacles faced by women victims in accessing the justice process. For example A current project "Ensuring Formal Justice Sector Responsibility and Accountability to redress Sexual and Gender Based Violence against Women and Girls" seeks to encourage women to seek redress through legal means. Under this project WIN, in consultation with The Asia Foundation is engaged in a research where formal justice sector responses are documented and analysed. Attorney-at-Law Niroshika Wegiriya who co ordinates this project was interviewed in a regard to its scope.

 

Q.What are the objectives of your Access to Justice project?

A: WIN has been providing a number of services including awareness raising, counselling, safe houses, legal aid, and in this particular project a main objective was to actually observe and support the judicial process in cases where women availed themselves of the justice system. This is the first time such a project has been carried out in Sri Lanka, along with studying how courts handle these cases. WIN has found out a number of positive practices of the formal justice sector when dealing with sexual and GBV cases. We are happy to say many judges are sympathetic to and even empathise with women who are in such situations, although the lawyers appearing for the defense may be hostile, as they want to win their case, regardless. It was also found out that judges pay special attention to cases of statutory rape and for example ensure the privacy of the child when hearing such cases. On the other hand we have also seen some very traumatised, injured women who gather the courage to come to court but have to face insensitive attitudes from the defense lawyers and judges.

WIN is also focusing on working with men and boys, through because if men tell other men that GBV is wrong, the message is stronger, and we have carried out school programmes, to educate boys to respect women, as much as they respect their mothers and sisters, and not to objectify women.

 

Q What are the challenges you faced during the implementation of this project?

A: There are many challenges that prevent women from speaking out. They are naturally reluctant due to the sensitivity of the issues, there is social stigma, and unfortunately they have no faith in the police and judiciary. They are ashamed to go to the police or courts, they fear families will be broken apart and they aim to protect the matrimonial unity. There is an attitude that these problems should not be made public and women often appeal for it to be settled out of court somehow. Another important reason is that women are dependant on their abusive spouses. People are not aware of the laws available- for example did you know that a protection order can prevent an abusive husband from entering the matrimonial home even if it is his house? Women do not know how to make use of these safeguards. So the worst challenge is economic dependency, as they have no way of supporting themselves or their children. For us too funding is a challenge and in terms of the cases undertaken by our project, some cases are continuing beyond the term of our project, so we maybe unable to closely monitor them further.

 

Q What support do you need from women, men and other stakeholders to better achieve your objectives?

A: We need more people (women and men) to be aware of rights, and we have organised activities to promote awareness, for example social media campaigns, community awareness programs including street drama events, and training for stakeholders such as police women. We need men and boys to understand why society as a whole suffers when there is domestic violence, and we need law enforcement to take these cases seriously.

 

Q What do you feel about the progress you are making ?

A: We are supporting a large number of women through our various programmes, in spite of the fact that our organisation is not very well funded, many working here are deeply committed to this cause. More women are coming forward to our district crisis centers following the community awareness programs conducted. We have also received a number of requests from different stakeholders including Divisional Secretariats, Sri Lanka Midwives Association, National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA) (targeting youth) We have many success stories of women who were saved from what would otherwise be a lifetime of suffering

 

Q: What are you doing to address the issue of alcohol abuse?

A:This is a crucial factor contributing to GBV. There are positive cases where our counselling has resulted in men being rehabilitated from alcoholism, which obviously benefits the women, and the family institution. This is an area where progress can definitely be made

 

Q What can the women themselves do help fight GBV?

A: It's very important to educate oneself of the law. For example even in the case of cyber harassment, for example if there is an offensive photograph in a phone, the Police can act under laws like the obscene publications law, but they tend to refer them to the CID, which is not necessary. Women should come out and break the silence, but its not as easy as we think, due to the cultural and social backdrop. However it is important to realise that if this is not brought out into the open, it may result in a life being sacrificed. Children too can be traumatised very much and permanently emotionally scarred. To prevent this, women have to take a stance, and be courageous. We have success stories, for example where a judge had given a protection order according to the DV Act and prevented an abusive husband from coming near the family at least until the child's exams were over.

 

WINs 2six4 App

WIN also recently launched a smartphone App titled 2six4 which can be downloaded through Google PlayStore, and features one touch access to needed contacts, police stations, emergency services and trusted contacts. WIN's social media presence including its Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/womeninneedsl/) and the 2six4 App have resulted in more women approaching the organisation through these modern methods too. Visit their website https://www.winsl.net/ for more information. The WIN 24-hour Hotline is 011-4718585 ……………………………………………………

(The WIN project on Ensuring Formal Justice Sector Responsibility and Accountability is funded by the Asia Foundation with support from the EU, and the 2six4 App was co-funded by UNDP)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Media Conference on the need to enact the Animal Welfare Bill

January 13th, Ramanna Nikaya Headquarters, Colombo 5

 

A media conference was organised by Justice for Animals, a community project under the Sri Bodhiraja Foundation, to discuss the enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill. The panel consisted of three key speakers; Ven Dr Omalpe Sobhitha Thero - President of the Sri Bodhiraja Foundation, Mr  U. R. de Silva - President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and Mr Senaka Weeraratna - Attorney-at-Law and former consultant to the Law Commission, on Animal Welfare Legislation. The event was attended by the clergy, animal activist groups, animal lovers and the media, and discussed key problems relating to current legislation on Animal Welfare.

 

Our religion is to secure the rights of the voiceless

"There is no religion here. Our religion should be to secure the rights of the voiceless," said Ven. Sobhitha Thero who highlighted the pathetic situation faced by animals who share the earth equally alongside humans. "We've forgotten that animals have the right to share the world as much as we do. We seem to think that we are the owners of everything around us, including animals and natural resources. We have to acknowledge and respect the rights of all living creatures," said Ven. Sobhitha Thero. He quoted Mahatma Gandhi's saying that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. He cited many instances of Sri Lanka's pre-colonial era and how rulers at the time protected the rights of animals and promoted peaceful co-existence between humans and animals, and of the importance of influencing and putting pressure on the ruling parties to provide similar treatment for animals.

 

The process of enacting the bill

U. R. de Silva spoke of the role of the Bar Association in relation to initial preparation of the draft Act. Generally, the process involves drafting at the Legal Draftsman's Department followed by amendment of the Bill, based on suggestions from the Select Committee of Parliament and recommendations from the relevant Ministry, and direction by the Attorney General. After deliberations, the final Bill will be debated in the parliament and enacted. "Rather than waiting for something to happen, we must follow up and actively work on it," he said. He also informed that the full support of the Bar Association will be given to the enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill.

 

Current animal welfare situation

The existing law relating to cruelty to animals is as good as non-existent, and certainly not enforced, with the maximum fine for cruelty to animals being only a mere 100 rupees. Mr de Silva informed that a ten-member committee comprising the National Animal Welfare Authority, that is recommended in the Bill to be set up will comprise a lawyer, veterinarians practising both western and eastern medicine, academics and leading activists who are also passionate about animal welfare,  will be appointed to the committee to oversee matters.

 

People who abandon animals on the roads and temples after allowing them to procreate without taking proper responsibility for them, imprison animals in kennels without giving them adequate freedom, and abuse or neglect them, will be subject to punishment under this law. The Bill introduces a duty of care on every person who is in charge of animal(s). The draft Act stipulates a fine of 100,000 LKR as well as a one-year prison sentence.

Crimes against the voiceless

Topics raised by the audience included instances of shops and even individuals selling animals at exorbitant amounts and making money from the practice of puppy mills, individuals and groups carrying out financial fraud in the names of animal welfare preying on others' compassion for animals, elephants and other wildlife being neglected and abused in zoos, tourism and cultural based animals abused such as for horseback riding or elephant riding as well as use of elephants in religious processions. The lack of veterinary clinics to tend to animals in need, lack of accountability by pet owners when abandoning their pets, the use of purebreds as a luxury item, use of social media in showcasing and displaying acts of cruelty towards animals, animals in captivity, transporting and even rearing poultry under intense, cruel conditions for consumption will be covered under Regulations to be Gazzetted by the Minister in charge, under the provisions of this Bill.

This Committee will monitor compliance with the provisions of this Act and take steps as deemed fit to ensure that ,the objectives of the legislation are met and modern standards of treatment of animals become part of the way that animals handled by people in charge, while at the same time ensuring that those who violate the law will face the enhanced sanctions including increase in the quantum of the fine, and the extension of the sentence of imprisonment.

 

A country in shame

"It is a shame that we have to hold events such as this to enact the Animal Welfare Bill in a country that had paid so much more consideration and respect for animals during pre-colonial times. We were known as the 'Aryawansa', or the 'noble race', because of the way we treated animals," said Attorney-At-Law Senaka Weeraratna who was the Legal Consultant on animal welfare legislation to the Law Commission of Sri Lanka and had worked tirelessly in an honorary capacity, from 2000 to 2006 to draft and revise the proposed Bill. "In other countries, people take pride in working for the welfare of the animals. However, here, no one takes the side of the animals in parliament except for a handful. Why? Because animals have no votes, no money and no clout. We treat them as exploitable, without objection from anyone bar a limited number of organisations and animal lovers. The meat industry is disproportionately powerful in this country. They have even silenced the lawmakers and the media, clearly indicated by the number of advertisements showcasing meat in the media," emphasised Mr Weeraratna.

 

Currently, an online petition initiated by activist Anoka Abeyratne at Change.org which requests the Sri Lankan Government to enact the Animal Welfare Bill has garnered more than 113,000 signatures. Citizens are invited to sign this historic petition by visiting https://www.change.org/p/prime-minister-of-sri-lanka-pass-and-enact-the-animal-welfare-bill-of-sri-lanka-to-replace-current-law-from-1907.

(You can find the petition by visiting change.org and searching for Charlie Animal Welfare)

 

The draft Act prepared by the Law Commission is available for perusal here

https://lawcom.gov.lk/web/images/stories/reports/the_animal_welfare_bill_2006.pdf