Letters to the Editor


Has mindset changed since black July '83?
Nineteen years have passed since the horrendous events of July 1983. I wonder whether this is the first time since then there has been a cessation of hostilities till the end of July. It is good to reflect on those events, so that their memory will help us not to repeat them.

I was a graduate student in London at the time, and did not experience the horror first hand.

However, the very fact of being away may have caused those events to make a greater impression on me.

The BBC gave coverage to President J.R. Jayewardene before President Ronald Reagan, although it was publicity that we could have done without.

There had been race riots in our country earlier too even as close as the late seventies. But did we ever think before 1983, that our Tamil friends would have to jump over walls to escape marauding thugs, have their homes and possessions go up in flames and even be killed on the streets? I guess other atrocities have occurred since then but who is to judge whether one atrocity is worse than another? All should be condemned.

We must also not make the mistake of thinking that something is atrocious merely because it happens in Colombo. July 1983 was a turning point for our nation.

I found that many "liberal" Sinhalese (who would previously have been aghast at such events) had hardened their hearts against the plight of the Tamils.

These impressions filtered through only slowly since I was in London. I was shocked to discover a "serves them right" mentality in some quarters.

There were, of course, many Sinhalese who risked life and limb to protect their Tamil friends and colleagues, but was this more the exception than the rule?

Another turning point was the birth of a Tamil diaspora, as thousands of Tamils left the country. This itself has been a thorn in the side of successive governments - i.e. the LTTE support base overseas.

The Tamils have probably never stopped feeling like "second class citizens in their own country" since July 1983. As a result we have seen the ranks of professionals and scientists depleted. Most Sinhalese don't mind this and even welcome it as there are more jobs for them.

It is also more "convenient" to have only two languages (i.e. Sinhala and English) to cope with. Besides, almost all Tamils still appear to be suspect - could they be LTTE agents, willingly or unwillingly? For myself, I think the loss of Tamil academics, scientists and professionals is inestimable.

This is not because I want to project myself as a liberal-minded Sinhalese, but because I believe that diversity is the fount of creativity. We need people of diverse backgrounds for progress. It is bad enough that we have lost most of the Burghers. Even now, we should try to woo them back.

In the current euphoria about peace, have we really reversed the mindset created in July 1983? Do Tamils feel they are full-fledged citizens of Sri Lanka? Do the Sinhalese feel that Tamils (and indeed Muslims) are essential to go forward as a nation?

I gathered that national leaders, from the then President downwards, when they finally spoke to the nation after the riots, had no hint of apology for the Tamils.

Then came the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution that required all public servants to take a pledge against all acts of separatism and an oath of allegiance to a unitary state. It is not that I was or am against the sentiments of the amendment.

But I felt the timing was wrong. It was like rubbing salt into the wounds of the afflicted. What did the amendment achieve?

Did it stop the move towards separatism? On the contrary it resulted in TULF MPs (who were not able to sign the pledge) having to resign their seats in Parliament, and from then on the political leadership of the Tamils moving from moderate politicians to armed terrorists.

My own papers were sent to me in London for my signature. I had to go to the Sri Lankan High Commission just a stone's throw away from where I was living in Bayswater, to sign them before an official. I wondered many a time whether I should take a stand against this and refuse to sign.

However, I was only a young Assistant Lecturer at the time, and didn't want to jeopardize an academic career. So, in the end I did sign. I wish I had the strength of character not to.
Professor Priyan Dias

Filthy mess
The people who buy fish at the St. John's market in Pettah wish the Mayor of Colombo will visit it early morning, preferably in a pair of Wellington boots.

The market opens around 5 a.m. and the filth is deplorable. The floor is full of holes filled with ankle-deep mucky water with pieces of rotten fish in it. Due to the crowd and men carrying boxes of fish on their heads, shouting at you 'Yanawa Ooyi' it is impossible to take a step forward or backward without stepping into a puddle.

There are no checks in the market. Vendors place their fish boxes and fish on the ground leaving no room to walk. This is deliberately done to make buyers move at snail's pace looking at the fish.

The scales on which the public can check the weight have been damaged by the vendors and withdrawn by the Municipality but not replaced. The vendors' scales are adjusted to give them an advantage of 50 to 150 gms.
Colombo 10

Playground and roadway
A smooth drive from Kollupitiya to Wellawatte along Duplication Road is denied to motorists due to a stretch of land not given for road development by Muslim Ladies' College. The reason cited is that the school has to sacrifice its play area.

A solution at some cost is to duplicate the play area on concrete columns and slab with sufficient clearance for vehicles to pass under.

This is the only solution which meets both goals -keeping the play area and freeing the road.

Initially, the cost may seem enormous, but the overall benefits will be invaluable.

* Acquiring of land to relocate the play area will not be necessary.

* Traffic pressure on Galle Road and Havelock Road will be reduced.

* The overall commute on Galle Road, Duplication Road and Havelock Road would be 10 minutes less each way.

* Those whose properties have been acquired would finally feel the exercise was worth it.
Vinodh Wickremeratne

Long live VAT!
Dear VAT, who ever you may be
Let me take this opportunity
To thank you for all your high ideals
Your 'lending hand' in our hour of need.
In the newspapers and on TV too
They say our roads are made by you!
The city's being cleaned and all that free food
And uniforms and textbooks and all that good
Is done by you! Our very smiles
Are there because you stopped awhile
To help us, dear son-of-the-soil, one of noble birth
Though your name's rather odd, much is your worth!
Now aged and old, I may die in peace
To know that you're there for our country's ease.
No taxes, no levy - our money... intact
Hurrah! Three cheers! Long live this fellow "VAT'
A Senior Citizen

Travails of lone gate-keeper
The Pilimatalawa railway crossing was unprotected for many years with only signal lights to indicate oncoming trains. Then during President Premadasa's time a bamboo gate was erected.

The only access to government and private institutions, private hospitals and schools is through this level crossing. The number of vehicles using this route has also increased rapidly making the services of one gate-keeper inadequate. The gate-keeper runs hither and thither to pull the bamboo down in front of the fast moving train.

The railway authorities should put in a more efficient system to prevent accidents and avert a disaster.
A. Prabhath

Who pockets the stamps?
Applicants for birth and death certificates or national identity cards are required to submit self-addressed stamped envelopes along with their applications to the District Secretariat in Moratuwa.

Then the applicants wait for a long time. When they make inquiries, they are directed to visit the Grama Sevaka who hands over the documents. Who pockets the uncancelled registration stamps on the self-addressed envelopes? Over to you, Secretary, District Secretariat, Moratuwa.
C.I. Terence Fernando

Caste, class matter not
Man has created barriers such as class and caste differences and these decide our relationships!

Even though a man and a woman may love each other deeply and find they are compatible, they cannot build a life together because of these obstacles.

If someone disregards them, he/she is cast aside by society.

Should factors like caste and class differences affect relationships? Certainly not!
Deepanjalie Abeywardana

Parents tied up in uniform red tape
I am a parent who is affected by the new policy of the Ministry of Education which stipulates that all children who need uniform material should indicate their requirement by filling numerous forms and register with Grama Sevakas, to be eligible for this right, they have enjoyed for so long .

Although my husband and I are both working in the private sector, we have always used the uniform material given by the government for our two boys studying at a leading boys' school in Colombo. This time, the red tape we have to go through to get this material is ridiculous. If this new scheme has inconvenienced people like us, one can imagine the difficulties the more disadvantaged parents face.

Another parent told me that she had to go thrice to the Divisional Director's office, fill several sets of forms and stand in long queues for this process which was so simple last year.

Does the Ministry want us parents to suffer more than we already do, in this struggle to give our children an education?

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