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Sunday, 12 January 2003  
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Travel travails

Many passengers experienced an unpleasant journey on December 16 (while travelling in a semi-luxury bus of the Eastern Bus Company, Kattankudy Depot). This bus left Colombo Central Bus Stand on December 16 at 9.00 p.m.

From the time we were seated in the bus, it was raining. when the bus began its journey rain water started to leak from the upper portion of the bus. The leakage was not in one place but from front seats to the rear seats. All the passengers were standing uncomfortably after paying an extra fare for seat reservation and luxury bus fare. I was seated as I could not stand for a long time in damp clothes. Most of the seats were wet so we couldn't sit on them.

It has been brought to my notice that several passengers have complained in this regard to the concerned authorities verbally, but all their complaints have proved futile. We, the travellers hope that concerned higher authorities after reading this letter the will take remedial action to repair these buses and provide a comfortable bus service to the public.

S. A. Junnaid,

Sari monopoly - a response

I totally agree with Liza Falaldeen's view about wearing saris and I am sure most women do.

There are many instances where women are forced to wear saris by the people who have authority. Apart from these schools, some school dental clinics do not allow mothers to bring in their children for dental care if they are not wearing saris.

Can anybody see the connection between the mother's dress and dental caries? In the dental faculty, female students are supposed to come in saris while male students come in shirt and tie with trousers.

At viva voce examinations of all faculties, female students are forced to wear saris, adding to their difficulty, while male students comfortably wear their everyday shirt and trouser with only addition of a tie. I can remember a Malay student who once came for a viva in another dress, was questioned by the male examiners about her dress, before being questioned on the subject matter. Some consultant doctors force the female doctors and medical students to wear saris to hospital.

They find it very inconvenient at the hospital environment as they have to go to the theatres, labour rooms and the sari which has to be worn touching the floor, gets dirty with all the germs.

It is difficult to attend to an emergency with a sari and a jacket, which limits movement. On rainy days, wearing a sari can pose many problems. At weddings, women are supposed to wear sari whether the male dresses in traditional costume or Western dress.

Dressing is a human right. Let women choose what they should wear, be it a sari or something else. Unless a particular dress is a uniform at a particular place, no one has a right to force women to wear saris.

Dr. Shalu Amarasinghe

Bend bridges and crooked roads?

The Hingula Bridge (near Mawanella) which had a double "ninety-degree" bend was a man-made accident service. With the advent of the open economy and the resultant influx of vehicles, the railing of the bridge took a beating never before experienced by it. Many a vehicle came to grief especially on the Kandy - end of the bridge. Thankfully the authorities took cognizance of the fact and decided to remedy the situation in order to safeguard life limb and property not to mention the taxpayers' monies.

The solution was simple - just remove the double bend and make it a straight line and that is just what the authorities seemed intent on doing.

Many months later the newly-constructed bridge was opened for traffic. It was a long awaited occasion after all the hardship faced during construction. But lo and behold!, the bridge had a bend on it, an "S" bend to be precise. Possibly a first time in the history of bridge-building in Sri Lanka, but by the looks of it definitely not intended!

The road on either side had been made suitable to hold either end of the bridge and the positioning was exactly right to make the bridge a straight one, but that was not be. The bridge, while being constructed, had deviated off-line and apparently got adjusted like an arc ending up with a curve that could have been avoided. But non it is there to stay! The 'S' bend not as prominent as before is still there. So the possibility of accidents is still very much on the cards. An engineer friend stated that the curve was the mistake of the technical people who took the settings - whatever it is, and the engineers had to stick to the settings so given. Well, we expected a straight line, which as per geometry we learned at school, is the shortest distance between two points.

May be with advancement of technology there will be an explanation and a theory to prove why it need not be so but the road users will still have to negotiate a bend over the Hinglua "river".

If that was the insult then the injury has been caused a few kilometres towards Colombo on the same road. The authorities concerned had decided to by-pass the Mawanella town, and thankfully so. So at Anwarama, the Colombo-Kandy road was diverted with a new bridge thrown in, to connect the road back to the main road beyond the town.

Why the new road could not be made straighter is another story (it has something to do with bore holes to check the existence of rock on the proposed roadway so as to avoid costly dynamiting). The concern however, is that the road leading to the town on the old road has ended up with a sharp bend - a double bend at that - at the point of diversion which was not there before, Ironically while the exercise to construct a new bridge at Hingula was to eliminate an accident prone (double) bend, a brand new one has been created a short distance away.

Vehicles, especially the private coaches with their maniacal drivers, are bound to meet their waterloo on this bend, as it is so sharp and does not appear to be cambered adequately to prevent vehicles carrying off line. We are bound to see a number of road accidents on this spot and there is no need for Nostradamus to make a prediction.

The new road diversion had cost only a few million tax payer smackers more than estimated, due to the need for rock blasting which could have been easily avoided. The 'slight' error in judgement in constructing the bridge too may have wasted only a few million rupees more. Very soon the straightening of the bend at Anwarama is going to cost only a few more millions of taxpayer money.

We should be happy that this is only because the 'safety' of the travelling public is of paramount importance to the authorities. A slight error in judgement on the part of the engineers and human errors on the part of other supporting experts and non-coordination between the parties should be ignored. After all they are doing a service to us poor souls and the engineers need something to be occupied!

So let's live with it folks! Surely, there will be many excuses, an abundance of taxpayer money and a lot of talk shows where experts gather to burn the midnight oil to analyze why things can't be done right in Sri Lanka and how much more money is needed to avoid such situations. They have done this for over fifty years and will surely continue in their own merry way.

They can talk but cannot do a thing straight, leave alone roads and bridges.

Sunil B.,

Confusion over ethnic groups

In these days when ethnicity is a highly sensitive subject and every effort is being made at discerning levels to clarify misunderstandings and defuse tensions, it is a sad reflection on the media to find the Sunday Observer editorial of 3rd November, 2002 on "Maligawatte" (para 4) very piously 'confusing' a religious denomination with ethnic groups, viz,

"Yet another generation of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and Sri Lankans of other ethnic groups and mixed ethnicity....."

At first reading, the inclusion of a religious denomination in this sentence may not be evident. Probably, the editor himself may not be quite aware that 'Muslim' is not an ethnic group but a religious denomination. As the sentence refers to ethnic groups such as Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, malays, etc. The use of the term 'Muslim' is inappropriate. The ethnic group, 'Moors' should be substituted for 'Muslims' for the sentence to be 'ethnically correct'.

A Muslim is a follower of the faith of Islam and in Sri Lanka, Muslims comprise, in the main, Sri Lankan Moor, Indian (coast) Moor, Sri Lankan Malay, Bengali, Memon, Borah, Malayali and Afghan ethnic groups.

By way of illustrating this 'confused' thinking, it is a fact that almost 99% of the Muslim population in the Eastern Province and in Beruwela in the Western Province are Sri Lankan Moors. But, they are called 'Muslims' and not 'Moors' when referred to as an ethnic group! This 'twist' may, probably, be to gain political mileage.

This 'confused' thinking has been reduced to the point of absurdity and has created more confusion than meets the eye, not only amongst the media but also in administrative circles in the country. It is high time such thinking is called off at discerning levels, and the fourth estate could well take the lead in taking corrective action. Let us call a spade a spade.

M.A. Sourjah, 

Assistance or resistance?

On 5.12.2002 I went to the Coconut Cultivation Board at Labuduwa, Galle to purchase six DxT coconut plants (bagged). At the time there was no responsible officer in charge of the nursery and the labourers, who were present informed me that none of the 36 plants available could be sold as the entire stock had already been reserved. I brought this situation to the notice of the Accountant, who was good enough to take prompt action regarding the matter.

He went to the nursery and personally checked the records to find that no one has ever paid money for the reservation of the aforesaid coconut plants. Thereafter, on the orders of the Accountant the six coconut plants I required were sold to me, but at the rate of Rs. 80 per plant, which is priced at Rs. 75. The relevant receipt No. 59853 in respect of the sale was issued by a labourer and the nursery mentioned therein is Baddegama instead of Labuduwa, at which nursery the plants were in effect sold.

Is this not resistance rather than assistance offered to the coconut growers to improve the coconut cultivation, which is a dire need of the hour?

In this context the Minister concerned may do well to initiate action to inquire into this deplorable state of affairs and revamp the Labuduwa branch of the Coconut Cultivation Board to ensure it does not in any manner negate the very purpose for which it has been established.

P. Herbert Mendis, 

80 club and Muslims

The 80 Club of Colombo whose membership perhaps has the cream of the urban elite has shown callous disregard to the dignity and religious sentiments of Muslims.

The advertisement in the Daily News of December 4, 2002 carries a notice from the 80 Club announcing to its members a Ramazan Celebration.

The text of the message is Islamically offensive in the extreme as it proudly and brazenly announces that alcohol will be copiously served (wining and dining the advertisement says) with a musical band in attendance.

How insensitive can the 80 Club be towards the feelings of Muslims worldwide as they complete the Holy month of Ramazan and begin to celebrate the Eid-Ul-Fitr Festival. The insolence of the 80 Club Ramazan advertisement is too obvious to ignore.

The crescent and the five sided star commonly used by the Muslims has been replaced in the most obnoxious advertisement with the crescent and a six sided Star of David, which is the symbol of Zionism, the arch enemies of present day Muslims.

The 80 Club appears to sink to low levels of human decency by its thoughtless racism.

Mohsen Mukherjee, 
Colombo 4.

Hats off to Camillus and Punchi !

Camillus, congratulations on your remarkably perceptive portrayal in the Sunday Observer of December 15 2002 through Siribiris - of the deeply distressed condition of the average man in Sri Lanka that drives him to flee from house and home and seek solace in alcoholic stupefaction.

The rope - symbolizing very neatly the invisible psychological ties that bind him - around his neck and the facial expression of the woman holding him captive and dragging him along indicate very clearly the source of his distress. His occupation of a position occupied by a pet dog in other cultural contexts indicates how he is perceived by his captor. This perhaps offers also an explanation - though by no means a justification - of the increasing incidents of violence directed by men against women in Sri Lanka.

Punchi you have very aptly portrayed the etiology of this state of affairs in your interlude published in the Observer of the same Sunday. Almost every child in Sri Lanka is subjected to physical and spiritual abuse at the hands of their parents and teachers.

This violent abuse of children turns them into passive and spineless beasts of burden bereft of conceptual capacity and strategic competence and hence robbed of their initiative and all sense of moral values, stricken with fear and therefore unable to speak out against harmful actions and attitudes, or even about the violation to which they themselves have been subjected, and condemned to a life of obedience and hard labour in order to provide for their spouses, children, family, religious institutions and state at the cost of the realization of their own individual vision, mission and goals - the kind of spiritually barren and broken wrecks who carry out the orders of those who occupy positions of authority without question or criticism and who thereby place the interests of the institutional framework of our civilization above and before being human; enabling thereby the rise and rampant rule of terror.

The manchild in Sri Lanka as elsewhere is entitled to a childhood free of violence intimidation and abuse; and men in Sri Lanka are entitled to a life free of crippling psychological ties that disable through the dependencies they create.

Perhaps your work - published just days after the ceremonial release by the World Health Organization of its first ever "World Report on Violence and Health" will awaken them to the violent and unhealthy situation they have been subjected to in the past and to the possibility of a life free from such violence, intimidation, harassment and subtle psychological coercion, and inspire them to collaborate with each other towards its realization through the adoption of behavioral norms that protect them from such subtly institutionalized forms of violence and by ensuring that the intended "Domestic Violence Act" now being prepared by the legal draftsman contains adequate legislative provisions therefor.

Nirmalan Dhas, 
Colombo 3.

Private zoos

One of the reasons given for having private zoos is to promote tourism. Is it likely that a foreigner with a large, attractive zoo back home will waste his time peering through the rusty bars of small enclosures, incarcerating pathetic, ill-nourished creatures? Let us not forget our last private zoo. It was accused of neglecting, starving and, literally, doping its inmates. VIPs were borrowing the sedated animals, we heard, to show them off - Roman style - at their parties. Inspite of mounting protests, their backing kept the zoo going, until a lion fatally mauled a boy. Even then, it closed only after a fight.

The majority here are Buddhists and locking up living beings goes against that religion. While many countries are beginning to treat their animals better, why is our administration going all out to inflict more cruelty on ours? It was recently mooted in Parliament to import cattle, while ours is mercilessly slaughtered, especially for export. Cattle, goats, fowl, rabbits, pigs, etc. are being distributed to rear for slaughter. Not only are the norms of the majority religion being violated, its followers are temptingly compelled to do so, too.

When a starry-eyed deputation went to meet those responsible for revoking the law against slaughtering pregnant cows, calves and buffaloes, it was told that there was no money to look after old cows and bulls. (This, while the begging bowl was frenziedly being passed around for sustaining the man-eaters)! It was pointed out that after the cows were drained of their milk and the bulls were bruised beyond repair and broken, was it not better to dump them in a slaughter house and get some money?

Besides, they walk aimlessly up and down roads, impeding the dash of VIPs from one point to another. What else was there to do except kill the lot? (and they say the Buddha kept gazing at the Bodhi Tree that sheltered Him, not only to show gratitude, but to also instill that nobel quality in his followers)! The deputation was given no chance to state that the wish of the citizens was to grant pension rights (in this case, a patch of grass and clean water) to those who had been drained mentally and physically to serve them day and night and not, repeat, not to what appears for only a five-year stint of mostly self-servicing, to vanish thereafter.

It is rumoured that the private zoo suggestion was more a feeler to know the reaction. Hordes of business-minded Sri Lankans go to Thailand, which is dotted with animal amusement parks, inflicting torture. For instance, a tiger and dog are caged together.

The dog is beside himself in sheer fright and keeps nervously snapping at the tiger, who soon tears him to pieces, while another is put into the cage. A fat sow, after littering, is exposed to suckle puppies and tiger cubs, whose claws tear into her flesh, while her own brood hardly gets a chance to reach a teat. She and her piglets are doomed to be devoured soon, anyway. Animals are made to run through fire, drop from dizzy heights, drowned in water, elephants are balanced precariously on impossibly fragile gadgets, etc. An admirable group of Sri Lankans had protested against the rank cruelty displayed, both to the Thai authorities and some of the embassies, before leaving. It behoves us to be vigilant, as there was already a TV suggestion to start a crocodile farm here, like in Thailand.

Several animal lovers are waiting belligerently for the next election. True, it will be changing one pathetically ineffectual bunch for another. But they say the very foundation of which it was hoped to fashion a better deal for our animals is being shattered by the "bull in a China shop" antics of the present lot.

Prema Ranawaka-Das, 

Vacancies - Sri Lanka Ports Authority

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