The Hela Revolution and its Consequences

The article below by C. Wijeyawickrema, also known as Chand Wije (CW), has the subtitle "Socio-economic significance of 1956". The year 1956 is of course the year of the Great Hela Revolution (q.v.= see ACSLU Glossary). It is one of the long articles which this writer is known to produce occassionally. Nobody seems to offer any comments on these missives for the simple reason that they regurgitate the same half-baked analysis in different contexts. The present writer initially commented on them had to give up for the reason mentioned. So these comments on the present article will of necessity be brief. Its aim is to show that the Hela Revolution can be considered in quite a different light to that cast on it by CW. The starting point for the article is the current mayhem created in the Universities by the JVP. We shall first give a brief account of how the JVP had been able to capitalize on the failings of the educational system, and then consider some of the arguments of CW.

This crisis in the Universities is the direct result of the educational reforms introduced by the Hela revolution. In fact the whole JVP movement is due to the frustration of those who had been subjected to this education system. The unscrupulous leaders of the JVP were the first to capitalize on these frustrations. The educational system introduced by the Hela revolution was based on their Sinhala Only ideology with the exception that because they could not force the Tamil students to study in Sinhala they were allowed to study in Tamil. Thus Sinhala and Tamil became the media of education from the kindergarted to the University with English allowed to Burghers and curiously also the Muslims.

In the event political control of Tamil education became too much for the Hela politicos partly because of the distance involved (most Tamil students being in the Northern and Eastern provinces) and because they had to rely on Tamil teachers and administrators who were not very enthusiastic about the reforms introduced by the Hela revolution. So the full force of the educational reforms were felt on the Sinhalese studends. The problems were not very evident in the primary and the middle school school but when the Swabhasha stream reached the upper school and ultimately the Universities the defects of the sytem became glaring. There were insufficient textbooks (relying mainly on bad translations of one two texts per subject), not enough qualified teachers to teach them, and finally administrators who were directly under politicians who wanted to use the education system for their own political aims. At the same time there was a rapid expansion in the number of Universtities with the limited higher education budget spread too thin so that most of these new Universities did not have the basic infrastructure of well qualified faculties. Student indiscipline like ragging and strikes became all too common and the administrators could not, or were not allowed to, do anything. The result was that the Hela education system produced large numbers of poorly education, unemployed and unemployable graduates.

The JVP were the first to realize the potential of this situation. They promised a Pol Pot type of government with the existing elites exterminated and the unemployed graduates eased into their shoes. But to do so they had to overthrow the system in totality. Thus occurred the two JVP led insurrections in which a large number of people, mostly youths, were killed in appalling circumstances. Realizing tha their revolutionary strategy failed the JVP entered the "democratic" process realizing that they could achieve their ends through the election process. There were many issues on which they could capitalize on. The Hela elite who had carried through the Hela Revolution were themselves hypocrites and sent their children abroad for their education so that they could escape the system that was left for the poor Sinhalas. The Bandaranike dynasty provides a good example of this, and now the Rajapakse dynasty is following a similar route.

As was said earlier the Tamils were never happy with the education system for the Tamils, and many of them went abroad forming the Tamil Diaspora. When Prabhakaran was able to challenge the GOSL militarily the Diaspora enthusiatically supported P. providing him with the bulk of the funds and the propaganda. The failure of GOSL to eliminate the LTTE imposed increasing burdens on the people and this too was capitalized by the JVP who are now in a balance-of-power situation in political scene in SL. This gives a brief account of how the current situation evoloved. It is symptomatic that the current crisis in the Universities arose from the refusal of the JVP students to agree to the naming of a Hall of Residence in Peradeniya after Sri Ivor Jennings. They could not understand that but for Jennings there would have been no University in Peradeniya.

CW totes the extreme Hela line that puts all the blame on the colonial system now half a century in the past. He fails to realize that the Whisky-toting kalu suddhas (q.v) he condemns have long been replaced by arrack-toting Helas dressed in the regulation white kapaṭi suit (usually with a trade-mark coloured scarf to suit their idosyncracy). For him Jennings is the culprit for the current educational mess, not those who led the Hela revolution. I do not want to enter into a pro-and-con debate on the role of Jennings. You have only to compare the relatively peaceful state of the country when Jennings and his British left, with the situation today where the country is racked by terrorist insurgencies everywhere, most things including law-and-order being politicized, and the country on the verge of been "devolved" into racial areas very much like an apartheid state. The educational system, as CW at times seems to acknowledge, is in a near-terminal state. It must be stated that the British rejected the Federalism and fifty-fifty demands of the Tamils largely on Jennings' advice. CW seems to think that if anything went wrong after the Jennings-Soulbury constitution was adopted it must be due to that Constitution. It was due to the political developments that took place after that, particularly the Great Hela Revolution. CW thinks that the village masses got "independence" in 1956. Most of them ended up as victims of corrupt Hela politicians.

A few brief comments could be made in other points in CW's essay:

  1. The Brahmin Caste. CW talks of a Brahmin caste. Certainly a new 'Brahmin' caste emerged after the Hela revolution – the caste of corrupt Hela politicians. This Brahmin caste has two branches – one UNP led and the other SLFP led with communal parties and the JVP holding the balance. There are virtually no policy differences between these two groups of Brahmins. The contest is only to find whose hands end up in the public till. To do so they offer bribes out of public money to communal and sectarian leaders. The jumbo Cabinet of the present President is the best example of this phenomenon so far. In turn the Ministers help themselves. One of them seems to have struck a novel note when he is reported to have given his future son-in-law a plum job in a leading Embassy, perhaps as part of his dowry!
  2. Vishnu to the Rescue. CW seems to think that V. is "protecting" the country. If so V. is doing a lousy job. The Muslims think that Allah is protecting them. But A. only seems to be allowing only the mass slaughter of Muslims. Simmlarly V. must be asleep while the country sinks slowly into the abyss. What did V. do to protect the airbase in the 'holy city' of A'pura? I think it is time that CW, Muslims, Christians etc. should abandon their idea of divine protection.
  3. Teaching Mediciine in Sinhala. CW quotes the incredulity of Felix Reginald Jayasuriya that medicine cannot be taught in Sinhala. I would like CW to state what percentage of medical training in SL takes place in Sinhala now so many years after the death of FR. Perhaps they are taught about the Bisokotuwa and the Dimbulugala lamp.
  4. The Soap Factory. CW claims that Jennings set up a 'soap factory' to produce graduates. In reality Jennings aim was to produce quality graduates even though their number may be small. The soap factory approach of mass production of graduates was a contribution of the Hela politicians. We have seen the consequences of that policy.
  5. Communal Representation. Certainly the communal representation policy in colonial legislatures was not democratic. But under colonialism the legislature was not sovereign and sovereignty remained with the colonial authorities. Today what is advocated by the Helas (including the current GOSL) is power sharing along on communal lines. This is far worse than communal representation in the colonial legislature before under power sharing executive power is shared. Even now there is communal representation in Parliament but there is no power sharing as under the Jennings-Soulbury Constitution the Parliament is supreme. It is this supremacy of the the (unitary) Parliament that is undermined under the power sharing policy of the Helas.
The rest of CW's long essay deals with a large number of separate topics, historical anectodes, religious excursions etc. in a somewhat disorganized way. It would be a waste of time to pursue each of these. Some contain a grain of truth, others not, but they do not contribute much to his main theme of the Socio-economic consequences of 1956. Most of them are red herrings to give an air of learning to an article that lacks a consistent and coherent argument.

VG


JVP and the Upatissa Damanya

by C. Wijeyawickrema

Socio-economic significance of 1956

The October 13, 2007 Island editorial about the sabotage by JVP students of naming a new residence hall at the Peradeniya University to honor Sir Ivor Jennings generated harsh comments from several readers (Oct 15 and 17) including an essay by Tissa Jayatilaka (TJ) (Oct 18). The one on Oct 22 forgot even to mention the Jayatilaka Hall. These emotion-laden reactions reveal an unsatisfactory understanding of facts of history requiring further clarification and rational discussion. In this regard the latest on Oct 23 by Bandu de Silva asked a very relevant question: "Can we blame the students today?". We cannot be ostriches hiding heads in the sand. If MPs fight in the Parliament, how can we blame what can we expect in the country other than indiscipline?

The writer, TJ says that "the 1956 government differed little from the government it replaced." Facts prove other wise. In 1948 Colombo ruling families received "independence." In 1956 village masses saw what independence means. Why did Sir John kick M.S. Themis on the buttocks on the steps of the parliament building? The 1962 Coup gave an indication of the gravity of the 1956 change with the new information that Sir John and Dudley Senanayaka directly (and JRJ perhaps indirectly) knew about it (J.R. Jayawardena of Sri Lanka: a political biography, K. M. de Silva and W. H. Wriggins, 1978). One of the coup officers gave as a reason for his frustration SWRD's order to him, "Let them come in." The officer was trying to prevent people rushing to the parliament chamber after the "ape aanduwa" victory in 1956. Another officer disliked the villagers telling the officer that the army jeeps were a people property and not of the army officers' (Coup Theories and Officers' Motives: Sri Lanka in comparative perspectives, Donald L. Horowitz, 1980).

An anti-colonial, national protest movement, which first surfaced with incidents such as James D'Alwis (1823-1878) feeling guilty about his inadequacy of Sinhala knowledge as a court interpreter in the 1840s and the relocation of Ven. Walane Sidhdhartha (1811-1868) from Panadura to Ratmalana to establish the Parama Dhamma Chethiya Pirivena, reached its zenith in 1956 as a people's liberation movement (Ref. Buddhism in Sinhalese society 1750-1900, K. Malalagoda, 1976 and Language, religion, and ethnic assertiveness, K.N.O. Dharmadasa, 1992). Think of what had happened in Hungary that year. One should not forget that the liberation of low caste people from the math professor Sundaraligam's Kovil barriers also took place after 1956. Low caste Tamils entered the Peradeniya University after the 1956 "revolution."

Brahmin caste and Marxists

The late Martin Wickremasinghe thought that 1956 marked the down fall of the Brahmin caste in Ceylon! What had happened during the short period of April 1956-September 1959 could be compared with the American administration of John F. Kennedy (January 1961-November 1963). The people's government faced LSSP-organized strikes more in number than the total number of days in the calendar ("NM killed my husband alive," 1960 general election platform) until the midwife of the people's government SWRD himself, was assassinated by agents of the Brahmin caste. The paddy lands act faced opposition not only from some black-white cabinet members but also from SWRDs own kitchen. The country had to wait until Nov 2005 to resurrect the 1956 spirits. Yes, TJ is correct in stating that "political and social elites [are/were] responsible for the rise of JVP."

Teaching medicine in Sinhala

The late professor F. R. Jayasooriya once told me that the late R. G. Senanayaka used to ask him "can we actually [really and truly] teach medicine in Sinhala?" (Ithin aththatama Sinhalen medicin ugannanna puluwanda) RGS' wisdom saved Trincomalee for us. Some could have genuine doubts about the adequacy of technical Sinhala as a path to science education or some could be so prejudiced and ignorant. King Buddhadasa did not know English. The Bisokotuwa or the famous Dimbulagala vacuum-operated lamp was not designed by Englishmen. Jews in Israel or in Vienna did not learn medicine in English. Germans and Russians did not work in English. Sir Isaac Newton thought in old English (which was similar to old Sinhala), but which was the language of power of Albert Einstein? In Japanese, there are nearly two-dozen words to describe different types/kinds of snow. Language development is society and environment-based or need-based. Sinhala language may not have all the words needed in teaching medicine or nuclear physics. But human brain finds solutions when faced with obstacles.

What is known as a universal truth is the positive connection between later creative activity and basic education received by one in his/her own mother tongue. The Buddha selected the language of the people and not Sanskrit for communication. For the Sinhala people English should only be a vehicle. Learning English should be like learning how to ride a bicycle. Like a typewriter or a computer, English for us should be a tool for our use and benefit and not a status symbol. Sir D. B. Jayatilaka, who learned his Sinhala from Buddhist monks, commented that after150 year of exposure to English education native Ceylonese had failed to produce a single product of creativity. If English language has any magical powers then there should not be poverty, unemployment or crime in UK or USA. In USA about 60% of college students (after their high school education) cannot proceed further without passing remedial education courses in reading, writing and math.

The problem is the use of English as an instrument of suppression (kaduwa) — English is superior mentality. This is ingrained in the minds of people who were under colonial rule. This is why in Sri Lanka even in 2007 when an English learner makes a mistake others automatically laugh at him automatically (not necessarily intentionally). This is not so in the case of learning Hindi or German. Because English is a window to see the world what is needed is a working knowledge in English and not English medium schools. Just like an auto mechanic does not need English to repair a car, human blood and bones do not discriminate against Sinhala, English or German.

Sir Ivor and Lord Nelson (who did not know how to swim)

It is rather unfortunate that the old alumnus who identified me as a lover of Peradeniya decided to stay anonymous. This was exactly the kind of behavior Sir Ivor's system expected from his soap factory. The tragedy of the commons — each graduate benefits personally from his degree in the short run (CCS cadets marrying rich daughters?) but the country at large suffers in the long run. The alumnus enjoys freedom of speech (writing) while hiding behind the editor's veil.

Sir Ivor's childhood poverty is irrelevant to this discussion. What is relevant is that he was a junior Macaulay. For him Ceylon was a "cultural desert." Colonialism and colonial mentality continued in the former British Empire not by actions of neither Lord Nelson nor the general Cecil Rhodes but because of the genius (brain) of Macaulay. Macaulay had such misunderstanding of Asian culture, because he asked, "... who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia.." (Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian, John Clive, 1973, page 372). But the Indian Penal Code that he developed (Ceylon Penal code was a copy of this) was evidence of his understanding with surgical precision the Indian and Sri Lankan mentality to convert them to "a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.. (page 376)." Was this not why Sri Lanka ruling families invited Prince Charles for its 50th birth day celebrations and signed a Liam-Fox agreement? Macaulay planted the seed in 1834 with his famous "Education Minute." Even Nehru was so unhappy when Indira failed the exam that would have allowed her to enter the London University. No one escaped from Macaulay (Ref. The world revolution of westernization: the twentieth century in global perspective T. H. Von Laue, 1987).

"You cannot legislate against geography"

Not a single country with Sir Ivor's constitutions remained constitutional or rich. In fact, Ceylon and India are the only two countries to remain democratic outside the white world. India is a unique situation. It is my belief that God Vishnu protected Ceylon then (1962 Coup) and now (2002 CFA). Burma, a Buddhist country went under dictatorship in 1962. Sri Lanka was saved from anti-national forces by a razor-thin margin in November 2005. Tsunami derailed Prabakaran's plan to capture Trinco and Jaffna by flooding his missiles with salt water.

The question with Section 29(2) was that it was an attempt to legislate against geography. It took 100 years from 1832 to 1931 to get out of the "communal representation" system which was a sanitized form of divide-and-rule. India became two countries under this method and Tamil Nad demanded a separate country from London on this basis as far back as in 1918. A group of separatist-prone Tamils who wished a separate country for them did not want territorial representation which was not based on race or caste. The governor Manning led a coup unsuccessfully during 1922-1924 to make the majority Sinhalese a minority which the black-white Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil leaders did not oppose (Communalism and language in the politics of Ceylon, Robert Kearney, 1967).

This was similar to what the majority Shia in Iraq is now facing. The geography of Ceylon or democracy does not allow 20% to have 50% power at the expense of 80% who faced humiliation and discrimination under white rule for 450 years. What Sir Ivor did was planting Manning's plan as Section 29(2). The separation of powers and the protection of fundamental rights of people are different matters from what Sir Ivor did. What was Sir Ivor's plan to erase the imbalance of minority control of majority in every field, just like what the blacks in South Africa faced under a white minority rule? In 1978 the Manning-Sir Ivor plan came back with deadly vengeance as JRJ-AJ Wilson "bahubootha vyavasthava." Along with the new election law it became a death trap for Sri Lanka.

Gal Oya project and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

The anonymous alumnus preaches against vilification of former leaders. Did he know that the late Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe begged the "leaders" not to have one large reservoir at Gal Oya but to have dozens of upstream smaller tanks? The Gal Oya project was, for the most part, a white elephant in cost-benefit terms? Soil was not suitable for irrigation on the left bank. Water catchment area was greatly overestimated that before 1970 only twice it reached spill level (Ref. Pioneer peasant colonization in Ceylon, B. H. Farmer, 1957; Norman Uphoff (2003) Money wasted thus could have been used for lot of other irrigation work.

Gal Oya was the first experiment outside USA by American contractors after their own TVA experiment which ironically followed for the long Tennessee River the method that SAW proposed in Ceylon for the Gal Oya. What was the reason then for a huge samudraya? And what about uplifting the Kandyan peasantry who are suffering even to date? Didn't the "leaders" repeat the same mistake with the Mahavali project? Who benefited from a rapid acceleration and massive reservoirs? People suffered unnecessarily from political stupidity. It should have been a series of small reservoirs and completed in slow phase with local talent. One should also remember that a number of British governors after 1855(Ward, Robinson, Gregory, Gordon) thought about the dry zone peasants.

Hitler, Gandhi and Ceylon's freedom

It was Gandhi and Subash Chandra Bosh who "fought" for freedom from British colonialism and not the "somebodies and nobodies" crowd in Colombo that Kumari Jayawardena was talking about in her book (Nobodies to Somebodies: The rise of the colonial bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, 2000). Actually, it was Hitler who forced Churchill to start closing down the shop called the Empire. Hitler was bombing London and U.S. President Roosevelt made American military aid conditional — when Hitler was defeated British colonies would be given freedom. Even before the Pearl Harbour attack, Roosevelt knew that the American people did not want him to support a colonial master. When one think of the brutal manner in which they massacred people at Jallianwala Bagh (April 13, 1919) it was shameful how Englishmen folded up their tents and left India in a hurry leaving an imminent human carnage for which they were directly responsible by their actions in the past 100 years. Yes, the anonymous alumnus is correct. Circumstances prevented Sir D.B. Jayatilaka becoming the first prime minister! As the late Ven. Balangoda Anandamaitreeya Thero said Sri Lanka would have been different if DBJ became the PM. He was called "Abittya" (temple servant) by the Marxists in the State Council and he was perhaps the only leader then who knew both Sinhala and English.

Bible and JVP

JVP has become the "third force" because the Bible said so! Jesus said "poor will always be there." Koran is all about helping the poor. Christians are expected to give a certain percentage of their income (10%?) to church as charity. Buddhists cannot even begin anything if a person is hungry without first feeding him. A rational Buddhist layman is expected to use a portion of his income for charity.

A significant number of the 1971 JVP leadership was Christian-related and Marxist-theorized and did not aware of the "Ehi Passiko" (come and examine, not come and believe) rule in a Buddhist society. They did not have the commonsense to realize that a popularly elected government in July 1970 cannot be removed by murder in April 1971. The previous generation of western-educated Marxists took 30 years (1935-1964) to learn "Ehi Passiko" because they were in effect a sub class of black-whites — a set of Colombo-living whiskey-drinking, English-speaking club, agitating workers to shout "Banga wewa" (destroy). Their disservice to the country was more than their service to the working class.

Exploitation of man by man

The history of human society is a history of a tiny group of people exploiting the rest. World religions failed to stop this. This is true at the village-town level or at the country-global level. If colonialism was a march by the rich and powerful in Europe looking for resources in the world, the black-whites in the former colonies were the tiny group Europeans groomed and left in the colony to continue subjugation and to continue the draining of resources via its harbor, which is the primate city in a former colony even today. Karachchi, Bombay, Dacca, Rangoon and Colombo are examples from South Asia.

The exploitation is normalized using law. What is law is what the ruling class decides as law. During the Dutch rule, destruction of a cinnamon tree was punishable by death. In USA, until 1967 (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1) a mixed marriage between a black and a white was illegal (Ref. The behavior of law, Donald Black, 1976).

Youth Commission Report-1990

The JVP (undergraduate) "problem" cannot be handled by branding them as illiterate beasts. In a climate of white diplomats in Colombo, nakedly interfering in local affairs, so that colonialism could be continued, it was foolish in the first place to try to name a hall in such hostile and volatile environment with a name of a white foreigner. Karuna (compassion) for one could be Nivata-niyaalu (timidity) for another. Because, the ruling class removed history and geography from school curriculum these JVP students or any student for that matter and most faculty may very well not know who was Olcott, who was Rhys Davids, who was Rev. S. Mahinda, Kumaratunga Munidasa, Gunapala Malalasekara or even the Anagarika Dharmapala. School teachers do not mention the name of Dutugamunu for some kind of fear of just like the Nanda Malini song "Me Sinhala Apage Ratai" was withdrawn from air waves so as to prove that there are no Sinhala Chauvinists any more! No wonder then JVP wants a Ranjitham Gunaratnam hall! The naming should have been done after public discussion and input from people and not by administrative fiat. This kind of tackles behavior only adds unwanted headaches to the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration (MRA).

The 1971 JVP insurrection as well as the "Tamil boys" agitation in the North which took a different turn due to its ethnic flavor, and the exploitation of it for their benefit by the Tamil State Party (FP, TULF) had the same source of grievance. Battle-hardened and non-English educated Col. Karuna said it in a few words — "Give us what Colombo gets." This is a genuine statement compared to what the late Kumar Ponnambalam said with the benefit of his rich and powerful Colombo environment — "Tamils have aspirations." Turkey has an aspiration to become an EU member; France has an aspiration to keep EU white and Christian!

Mismanagement by ruling families

Youth commission report was a confession on how the country was mismanaged by a class of Colombo ruling families. Former colonies inherited an open economy connected to the mother country by a port importing finish products and exporting raw material. Thus Ceylon exported rubber and graphite while importing pencils and rubber erasures. Ruling families and a cadre of officers behind them talked about diversification of the economy, regional development etc. and muddled through. Yet, the black-white class did not really and seriously want to change or give up their privileged way of living. What did they (UNP, SLFP, LSSP, CP, FP, PA, UNF and UPFA) do?

1. Since the 1960s they destroyed the structural democracy (killed the separation of powers doctrine started in 1802 when North was the governor, rule of law, independence of the judiciary, impartial public service);

2. In 1978 territorial democracy was killed with an electoral system that robbed people of their representative democracy, and by demolishing the VC-TC local government system;

3. In the 1980s village level civil administration was politicalized by increasing the number of GSN units from 4,000 to a mind-boggling 14,006 (each GSN unit has a GSN, Samurdhi Niladharee and [a mid-wife?]);

4. A corruption trinity developed after 1978 with AGA-local MP-NGO agent in control. Each AGA unit (there are 319 of them) has between 100-150 officers excluding teachers;

5. The gap between Colombo and villages increased under globalization and free trade; and

6. The separation between Colombo rich and village poor widened especially after 1978.

A. T. Ariayaratne's 1988 book, "The Power Pyramid and the Dharmic Cycle," the late professor Sarachchandra's "Dharmista Samajaya" (1982) and the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Local Government Reforms, Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1999 (Abeyawardana Report) discussed in detail this Sri Lankan tragedy. Even the catastrophic theory of planning, where in other countries changes were effected after a catastrophe, did not work in the case of Sri Lanka. The basic issues Ceylon faced in 1948 were:

1. diversification of economy

modern plantation sector but neglected peasant sectors

grow food crops and non-traditional export crops

develop an industrial sector (agriculture and industry are two legs of a country)

develop import substitution

new economic sectors-limited tourism sector, export of gems, flowers

2. reduce the existence of two countries (English language (5%) vs. Sinhala/Tamil language country (95%), two nations)

3. reasonable and fair readjustment of the effects of the divide and rule colonial policy (minorities vs. majority)

4. wisdom in dealing with the separatist movement in the Tamilnad (Valvetithurai smugglers of goods and people)

5. reasonable and fair readjustment of victimization of Buddhists by a Christian colonial government (there is no need for a government minister for this).

Sri Lanka's next war

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda's archeology field book "Our heritage of the North and East of Sri Lanka" (2003) disproves any myths about Tamil ethnic homelands and as the late chief justice M. C. Sansoni said "If the Tamils' cry for separatism is given up, the two communities could solve their problems and continue to live in amity and dignity" (Sessional Paper No. 7 of 1980). With the end of the Wanni war the Mahinda R Administration is expected to begin the next war, which JVP has identified as "waste and corruption." It is not that simple — it is an antho-jata-bahi-jata problem. What Sri Lanka is facing today is an accumulation of the results of 60 years of bad behavior by its politicians and officers.

It is interesting to see that Sri Lanka's problems are no different from the problems in USA except that a wound on a mouse is more serious than a wound on an elephant's leg. Poverty, crime, drug abuse, child abuse, lack of health care, near breakdown of the system of public education, racial prejudice, people's loss of confidence in politicians, lawyers and the legal system exploiting people are not just problems limited to poverty pockets in US cities. This is why in USA, increasingly democracy is defined as a system to make elites accountable (Democracy matters, Cornel West, 2004). Ten of the most important issues impacting Black people today in the U.S. are no different from Sri Lanka's (The covenant with Black America, Tavis Smiley, 2006). Thus if 10% of Sri Lankan population were afflicted by some form of mental illness (Daily News, 10/25/2007), one-third of Americans suffer from extreme stress, driving them to overeat, drink and smoke (Survey by the American Psychological Association, Reuters, 10/24/2007). Such comparisons are important when NGOs try to push Sri Lanka in to "failed state" category.

JVP and Buddhism

In an edited book, Jesus and Buddha (1997) Marcus Borg asked "why Jesus who came from a fisherman family, who went to street and fought for social justice could live only for less than two years, but Buddha who came from a royal family, who preached to people who came to him and lived for 40 years?" Jesus faced the Roman Empire and in India there were small republics. But there was a larger fundamental difference that is increasingly relevant to the entire world today, not just the JVP in Sri Lanka. Buddha did not tell kings not to have harems, he did not ask hunters to stop killing animals. He did not want to get involve in social justice issues let along social revolutions. He showed the path for good life and happiness which an individual can follow on a voluntary basis. On war and peace Buddha did not tell kings not to have armies but he pointed out how democracy was protecting the Lichchavi kings. The Dasa Raja Dharmaya was a living reality of which the best example was the self-conversion of the king Asoka (Inner Revolution, Robert Thurman, 1999). When the former Indian president Abdul Kalam said in 2007 that the solution to world's problems lie in Buddhism he was echoing the late Buddhist philosophy professor W. S. Karunaratne's 1960s election platform preaching the need for santhanagatha viplavaya (individual-spiritual) not just a baahira viplavaya (material advancement) that politicians try to promote.

Ven. Soma's dowry

During a time that lay persons were afraid to talk Ven. Soma began a lonely crusade to resurrect the Sinhala-Buddhist system of values. Two incidents after his tragic death showed his success: (1) absolute discipline by people attending the funeral procession and (2) covering with a white cloth a politician came wearing party color. During the subsequent elections Ven Soma's dowry split in three ways: SLFP rural faction, JHU and JVP. That was the time monks waited on road sides to tie pirith nuul on the wrists of JVP protest marchers. That was also the time a former PM said that (because of JVP) SLFP and UNP parties have become avalangu kaasi (worthless money).

No one could deny that there is a JVP movement separate from JVP leadership and without the support of this movement Sri Lanka will not be able to win its next war. The question then is how to convince them to follow the Middle Path in Buddhism in politics and in living. This has to be an Upatissa Damanaya, Nalagiri Damanaya or an Angulimala Damanya and should not be an exercise of directing one's personal venom against a few unruly JVP agents or leaders. It is easy for JVP to blame UNO or USA or India and suggest drastic action, but it is not that easy for the president of the country to implement them violating the Middle Path. There is Buddhist Economics (E. F. Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful, Chapter 4, Harper & Row, New York, 1973) but Buddhist politics is not that simple. For example, one cannot demand a smaller cabinet when the 1978 death trap constitutional system requires a president to go for jumbo cabinets to get the budget passed. Unless the system is overhauled it is not rational to blame the president who has in fact become a constitutional prisoner. When spies are all over it is essential to loyal people in key jobs.

In 1971, as one of the 200 civilian officer deployed by the government to record evidence from JVP detainees I had mixed results of trying to preach to JVP supporters. When the person who conducted classes for the teacher-trainees at Maharagama came before me I asked him if he knew about the recommendation of the Tea Commission Report to reforest marginal tea estates. He said no and I asked him any of his teacher-students asked him that question or any question. He said no one asked "questions" from him. When I asked the 17-year old son of the Tire Corporation Sales Manager, why he collected weapons under his bed when he and his sister had a comfortable life, he shot back and "killed" me, "I did not join because of me, my Alsatian dog gets better food than most [poor] people, I joined to fight against an unjust and unfair system." This reply is ten time, fifty times powerful today in 2007.

Empowering people at village-level

If one thinks of the education sector the need is not for English medium schools. The need is for a change in approach. The design of an admission method by the Supreme Court is not the solution. The solution is to take steps to improve the schools outside Colombo or other big towns so that parents do not have to rush for selected schools. The improvement of schools must be a parent-teacher affair with proper accountability. In private schools teachers do not go home until they finish that days work and ready for the next day. In public schools teacher are on tuition business. Because of politics teachers cannot be disciplined.

Sri Lanka cannot progress until appointments and promotions are given on merit (except in some sensitive areas where loyalty is crucial). The universities are worst in this regard. Seniority or first-come-first-serve basis should not be the yardstick of teacher promotion or salary increase but research and merit. A method to evaluate teachers' performance by students is a necessary evil in higher education.

Sri Lanka has had a trinity of gama-vewa-dagoba (village-tank-temple/mosque/kovil) political-economic system and just like in India the Panchyathi system is promoted, this ecologically sound spatial arrangement should be the foundation of devolution of power. This is the only way real empowerment could take place in a language-blind administrative set up.

Sri Lanka's Seventh Great Force

Sri Lanka's sixth great force is the janitors and housemaids toiling under semi-slavery conditions shouldering one-third of SL budget, yet without even the right to vote! The American Revolution was based on no vote no tax! If these people who sacrifice their human dignity for 100 dollars a month stop remittance for three months SL budget will be on logs (kota uda) and the janitor would get a cabinet post for them. The negative personal and family consequences of this migrant labor trade are enormous and most of these people are from villages.

The core of the seventh great force is the Sinhala Buddhist village boys and girls who went to Sri Lankan universities in the Sinhala medium and who now live in the West as professors, directors of research, medical doctors, scientists and engineers, earning their jobs after world-wide competition. Just like Ven. Soma, they are a branch of the children of 56. Just like JVP and JHU, they are for a just society in Sri Lanka. They did not have pastures in Sri Lanka to look for greener pastures as alleged, but they left Sri Lanka disappointed with a corrupt political system. Unlike so many children of the black-white class who could not pass the university entrance exam, they had their brains as their wealth.

The treatment of university students in Sri Lanka as inmates in a prison — because the rich now send their children to the international school, a business machine, and then to affiliated foreign universities — must stop and their dignity, resources and a non-political academic climate must be restored. This begins with introducing merit system to universities and removing party politics from teaching staff. A country which ill-treats and does not take care of its university students is doomed for ever.

One advantage of the seventh great force is that they bring a synthesis of the east (village) and the west removing the need for highly paid western white experts. They will not allow political interference and the JVP movement will find them appealing as products of with roots in villages. This Hathveni Balavegaya became very active at the 2005 November Presidential Election and fulfills an important role in trying to protect Sri Lanka's interests overseas. They do a better job than Sri Lankan embassies abroad! They also contribute in various ways to the welfare of their country of birth. It is possible to find a thousand or even five-thousand dedicated expatriates with expertise in many areas needed in Sri Lanka. When the country is ready for its next war against waste, corruption, illiteracy and poverty this force could be utilized by any nationalist-bent government in Sri Lanka.

"Your reverence, I dreamed I saw rice cooking unevenly in a pot. Some was overcooked, some well-cooked and some still raw."

"Don't worry about this either," said the holy man. "This dream foretells a time when all will be unwholesome, not like today! Kings will be unwholesome, and so will officials and ministers, priests and homemakers, city and country folks. Amazing as it may seem, this dream indicates a time when holy men will be unwholesome too! In addition even the gods, tree spirits and fairies will be unwholesome and wicked!

"The winds will change quickly, sometimes blowing too hard and sometimes not at all. These winds will shake the heavenly homes of the sky gods. Therefore, in some places rains will cause floods, it will rain just right in some areas, and there will be terrible droughts in other places. It will be like rice in the cooking pot - some overcooked, some well-cooked, and some raw.

-King Pasenadi Kosol's Tenth Dream, (India, 545 B.C.), (Source: www.Buddhanet.net)