Thursday, March 29, 2012

Looking beyond the disaster

With the onset of a disaster, everyone becomes a victim in one way or another; no one is spared.  The most globally impacted natural disaster occurred in 2004 when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off in Sumatra, Indonesia resulting in a tsunami that washed on the shores of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Somalia.
The effect of the tsunami in Sri Lanka was different from the regions but mostly the north-eastern, eastern and south eastern parts were hit hard. Overall, the tsunami affected two-thirds of the coastline of Sri Lanka, over 1,000 kilometers in total.  Seawater penetrated from tens to hundreds of meters inland (in places thousands of meters), and typically drained away within 30 minutes.
Boxing Day tsunami claimed more than a million lives. In addition to human impact, it had a devastating effect on the ecosystem and environment of Lanka.
The island is home to several rainforests, mangroves, agricultural fields, coral reefs, sea grass beds, salt marshes, beaches, sand spits, rocky shores and dune systems.
A great stretch of coral reefs is located mainly in the east coast of Trincomalee and north-west of Mannar coast. The reefs faced heavy exploitation of mining and as the tsunami struck it displaced large chunks of boulders and sections of reef, as well as thousands of tons of smaller fragments, sand and silt, which crush and kill marine biota.
Mangrove areas are extensive in Puttalam district followed by Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts and have been diminishing with the amount of deforestation. The surging waves uprooted most of the young mangrove plants and displaced them.
The beaches of Negombo, Lunawa, Maduganga, Hikkaduwa, Habaraduwa, Mawella and Kalametiya were polluted by debris and rubbish as the presence of houses and hotels were close to the coast.
A lot of seawater, wastewater and sewage have contaminated the bore wells which the lankan population depend on for supply of drinking water. The pipe water system bore damage as well leaving the survivors with nothing to quench their thirst. Efforts were taken to pump out the wells and chlorinate them. Salt water that seeped into the paddy fields have destroyed the fertility of the land and rendered them useless.
In order to create plans of environmental restoration and disaster prevention United Nations and Environment Programme (UNEP) Asian Tsunami Disaster Task Force (ATDTF) was established by the Executive Director of UNEP on 28th December 2004 with support from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Sri Lanka.

Importance of Origin

The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) was mainly fueled in the 20th century by political leaders. However distress between the various ethnic groups present in Lanka dates back to pre-colonial and colonial times.
In the pre-colonial times the ethnic groups were divided and termed as Kambojas who were actively involved in trade, Dameda or Tamils who were the Tamil merchants, Milekha were an aboriginal population of Vedda people (People of the Forest) and others were Muridi, Merya and Jhavaka. These terms appeared in the pali chronicles.
In the modern times, Sinhalese, an Indo-aryan group constitute about 73.9% of the total population. They speak Sinhala and are predominantly Catholic or Buddhist. There are caste systems as well under it. The Lanka Tamils believed to be a Dravidian group constitute about 18% and speak Tamil. They are predominantly Hindu and live across the Palk Strait. The Indian Tamils form a distinct group and constitute about 5.2%. They were brought by the British to Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers which is concentrated in the south-central of Srilanka.
The Moors comprise about 7% of the population and who believe are the descendants of Arab or Indian Muslim traders. The Malays descend from South East Asian settlers, and the Burghers are descendants of European colonists, principally from Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK.
Initially the Sinhala group dominated the island from 5th century BC. However the Tamils flourished under the Portuguese and Dutch reign. As the British brought then-Ceylon under its colonial rule, the demographic distribution of territories to Tamils created a whole concept of “Tamil homeland”. This was a major factor in the disputed between Sinhalese and Tamils.  The tamil minority were also privileged in attaining jobs and educational opportunities under the British rule.
Religion played a part of the conflict as Buddhism was the earliest belief existing in Ceylon while Hinduism belonged to Indian Tamils and Islam came from the Arab traders. Conversion to Christianity by british missionaries was common practice and led to a group of Catholics among the Sinhalese.
As Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, the Sri Lankan government passed the Ceylon Citizenship Act and the 'Sinhala Only' Official Language Act. Establishing Sinhala as the official language was a political tool to take control of the administrative and educational policies. The emergence of Tamil nationalist movement was a strong reaction to these policies. The Tamil youth armed themselves and organized themselves into liberalization groups. It is here that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] was created and won favour from the youth and all tamils. It turned into a militant organisation founded by Vellupillai Prabhakaran who waged for an independent state for the Tamils.
The ethnic conflict finally came to an end as news reports say in 2009 as the Sri Lankan army defeated the forces of the LTTE. Sarath fonseka who led the army and defeated the LTTE force also killing Prabhakaran entered politics after the war.
India’s reaction to the end of this conflict was one of happiness. A statement was issued that India will to the best of their capabilities work with the people and government of Sri Lanka to provide relief to those affected by the brutal conflict.


Every country has their set of folklore derived from ancient recordings and archaeological proof. The Sinhala greatly impacted by Buddhism has much to offer in terms of legends and folklore.
The early Buddha text teaches that that reincarnation occurs as it is said to be evolving consciousness. According to Buddhism there is no permanent soul. That karma just passes on from one life to another. Sinhalese folklore present real cases of children between the age of 2-4 yrs begin to relate experiences and events of a past life.
One such case involved a girl named Gnanatilaka. She was born on 14th February 1956 in Kotamale in Sri Lanke (Ceylon). The case started in 1960 when she was 4 ½ years old and told her parents that she wishes to meet her real parents. She claimed that she was actually a boy named Tilakaratna and lived at a tea estate near Talawakele, about 30 miles from where she lived. As professors from Ceylon University heard the story they accompanied her to visit the other family. Gnanatilaka introduced the other two parents by their names to the professors and also used the nicknames of each family member in the house. In the present life the two families had never met prior to this incident. The former life parents were interviewed; they described the character and habits of their son who had passed away on 9th November 1954. Gnanatilaka refuse to talk with her former younger brother. The former parents explained that the two brothers is always fighting and quarrelling with each other.
Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, flew from America to Ceylon to investigate the case. Stevenson is a researcher who specifies in rebirth cases. was the former head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia who devoted many years to the scientific documentation of past life memories of children from all over the world  and has investigated 180 cases from Sri Lanka. He termed Gnanatilaka’s case as important and the best by far in rebirth cases as the evidence and factual presentation appear to be real and not falsified.
Another case followed up by Stevenson and Godwin (his interpretor) was of Duminda Bandara Ratnayake. He was about three years old when he started to speak about a life as a chief-monk at the Asgiriya monastery in Kandy and often expressed his wish to visit that temple. The Asgiriya monastery is one of the largest monasteries in Sri Lanka, and its monks share with the Malvatta monastery the privilege of guarding the Temple of the Tooth, one of the foremost places of pilgrimage in Theravada Buddhism. The statements often heard by the boy were that he had been a senior monk, had owned a red car, a radio, money bag and had an elephant. The boy would obeyed cleanliness rules and objected to the touch of his mother’s hands as well as other girls.
They investigated the statements recorded by him and came as far finding a match with Ven. Gunnepana Saranankara, who was chief monk of the Asgiriya monastery from 1921 to 1929.
Other types of lore record the Sinhala ritual which delves with demons and gods. The rituals were performed to rid evil and protect those from its influence and to heal them. In the book titled ‘A Methodology for The Collection of The Sinhala Ritual’, S.G. Samarasinghe mentioned three important rituals:
“1.Rafa Yakuma (Ceremony of the Country Demons) which is performed "For the purpose of ensuring safe delivery to pregnant women and for protecting the child in the womb or for securing health to the infant already born, or in order to make a barren woman conceive.
2.Gam Maduwa (Ceremony of the Village Hall) is a ritual performed as "a manifestation of gratitude towards the deity and expresses the people's happiness that the danger, has, at last, happily passed away. The performance of this ceremony may, upon occasion, be extended up to seven days and seven nights, and so actually becomes a village f e a ~ t " . ~It is also very often performed to bring good luck and prosperity to the entire community in the village.
3. Huniyam Kapima (Cutting the Huniyam Charm) is a magical rite intended to remove the influence of the Demon called Huniyam who is supposed to be inflicting people with grievous diseases.”
Similar to 'Gam Maduwa' rituals, Kohomba Kankariya(KK) ritual is performed to ensure freedom from diseases, invoke blessings and for the people to live in prosperity. The blessings are expected to manifest only in the location that KK is enacted, so that if any others want such blessings, they too are compelled to enact KK in their own areas.


In a war inflicted country some emerge as heroes while others are dealt to survive with the remains. Sri Lanka has a population of 19 million that consists of Sinhalese, the majority ethnic group, and Tamils and Muslims as minority groups. Over 50 percent of the population and the labour force of 6.6 million are women.
The contributing factors to the GDP of the country are tourism, tea plantation, textile and apparel industry, and agriculture. The women are the backbone of these economic sectors.
Firstly social pressures such as early marriage were faced by young girls and are common in districts of Polonnaruwa, Hambantota and Moneragala. As in most war situations, during the civil war between the armed forces and the LTTE, women lived sheltered lives until they were forced to work to survive and feed their children. The three decade fight left 80000 and more war widows inhabiting the north and eastern part of Lanka.
A Jaffna based non-profit group named Centre for Women and Development (CWD) found that there were 40,000 female headed households and 20,000 more in the Jaffna district itself.
According to Association for War-Affected Women (AWAW) many employers are taking advantage of the situation and paying less than US $1 per day. Women sometimes are employed by contractors who find them as cheap labour.
A drastic change in the economic development was recorded as the opening of Export Processing Zone (EPZ) or Free trade Zone (FTZ) in 1978. Its objectives were to attract foreign investments and industries, expand exports, earn foreign currency and generate employment. Investors mostly from Europe, America and East Asian countries were lured by offers of labour relaxation laws ,long tax holidays etc. But the main attraction was the submissive workforce of semi-literate women who could be exploited for low wages work.
The policies regarding stipend in these foreign companies were unjust. Reporting to work a few minutes late resulted in no monthly attendance incentive. Their total leave was 21 days per annum. The government granted funds for utilizing large spaces and big buildings for the companies but did not include provision of quarters for the workers travelling from rural places. Travelling at night for women was dangerous and most of them slept on the factory floors.
Another sector that benefitted during the liberalization of economy was the hotel sector. Both the EPZ and hotel sector involved working long hours and even overtime hours.
In those times no trade union had enough power to fight for labour rights. In the 1980s women workers tried to form unions while they were attacked by military forces or the government. The women workers turned to more experienced workers to form a union that came to be known as Ceylon Mercantile Union. The Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU) began leading the campaign for the rights of workers in Sri Lanka's free trade zones in 1982.
The laws that apply to working women now in Sri Lanka are Factories Ordinance of 1950 and the laws that protect women in working environment are Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act of 1956 and subsequent amendments. They ensure that women are protected and provided reasonable earnings for the type of work they are employed.


Thinking of visiting the beautiful island of Sri lanka the images that come to mind our evergreen forests, beaches and sun, tropical fruits and spicy food.
The architecture of this island was heavily influenced by Buddhism. Lanka’s most renowned architect Anjalendran says, “Good architecture has the power to heal wounds and inspire”. The Ancient Sinhalese boasted of construction of tanks (Wevas) or reservoirs, dagobas (or Stupas) and palaces.
Parakramabahu I of Polonnaruwa,one of the kings of Ceylon was determined in constructing the reservoirs as he believed that “not even a little water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean without being made useful to man”.
If one doesn’t research on the architecture, the buildings and temples found will remind most of those found in India and Nepal.
Buddhism has left its mark on the architecture as it was introduced to Ceylon in the 3rd century BC. One could not miss out on the earliest cave temples found was Mihintale in Anuradhapura. Other cave temples such as Dambulla, Situlpahuwa, Mulkirigala demonstrate rudimentary architectural developments of the island. Some of these cave temples were later turned into image houses.
In Anuradhapura which was the capital in times of monarch, one can find the majestic stupas whose purpose was to enshrine Buddhist relics. The Jetavanaramaya is a stupa, located in the ruins of Jetavana Monastery in the sacred world heritage city. It is significant as it was not only the tallest building before the Pyramid of Giza but it was built in place of the Mahavihara, a monastery representing Theravada Buddhism.
Abhayagiri vihāra(ranked fifth) and Ruwanwelisseya ( seventh highest stupa) and located in this city. The Bo tree, under which Buddha meditated and received enlightenment, was brought to the city in 288 BC under Buddha’s orders. The tree lives and flourishes making it one of the oldest attractions around.
One of the grandest occasions in Colombo, Lanka’s present capital is the annual event of Gangaramaya Navam Perahara at Hunupitiya by Beira Lake. The event would include 100 colorful elephants parading the streets with Buddhist monks, performers following them.
Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque built by the Pettah Muslim Community is one the most visited tourist spots of Colombo. One look at the mosque would remind anyone of the domed structures in Moscow.
Thanks to the Dutch presence in Lanka, a 36-hectare Fort that is visible in the beautiful city of Galle is marked today as a World Heritage Site.During British rule, the Galle fort was very well preserved and was used as Galle’s administrative centre.
An important masterpiece from the history of Galle is the Dutch Reform Church. It was built in 1640 however completed only in 1755 and services are still held each week.
One of most ancient spots to visit is Sigiriya located in the central matale district of Lanka. It means Lion’s rock and is a large stone and rock fortress. The structure was built by King Kashyapa in 477 BC. The place is also one giant cave of paintings which are termed as frescoes. The frescoes mostly depict beautiful women pointing towards the Kandy Temple considered scared then.
But the most exciting as most tourists have witnessed is visiting the national parks. Elephants are considered scared and mighty. They were cared for by Buddhists and became a part of their culture. Ancient coins were found that depicted the elephant in most of them. Each coin of a different dynasty or area had a Raja-ankha or a heraldic emblem signifying them. About 10,000 Sinhalese coins were found with a svatiska as raja-ankha. The emblem was a religious symbol as well as a good luck charm. These coins were mostly of stone. Gold coins were also used and known as Rankahawanu that carried a symbol of ‘Kuvera’ on both sides
Sri Lanka has an elephant orphanage called the Pinnawala elephant orphanage that started out as conservation centres rescuing four baby elephants. Now they’ve expanded and allow those visiting to get an up close and personal interaction with the beautiful animals.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Survival beyond Kyoto

Nicaragua is feeling the brunt of climate change. It is a country greatly dependent on its farms and plantations, and rightly proud of its immense forest cover. In the past decade or so, however, rising sea levels and change in rainfall patterns have been threatening the country’s agriculture as well as forests – and people’s lives and livelihoods with them. So much so, that global warming is considered a national security issue in Nicaragua.

Around 40% of Nicaragua’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. It contributes to about 25% of the GDP. One of the prominent agrarian communities in the country is the rice- growing Miskitos Indian. The Miskitos have traditionally been farming for centuries. They have a reputation for depending on natural harbingers to gauge the weather, and plan their sowings accordingly. That is the practice that they have followed since ancient times and still do today- letting the first sighting of silver fish or blooming of avocados decide step after step. Climate change in recent years, however, has left them completely baffled. The change in the pattern of seasons and sudden bouts of rain, draught and heat- waves that even their reliable harbingers now fail to predict has reduced their annual production drastically. For most of these subsistence farmers, earning a minimum amount and surviving has now become a challenge.

According to Dr. Paul Oquist, President Daniel Ortega’s personal advisor for development policies, Nicaragua has been losing “since 2006… $200 million a year in lost agricultural production due to climate change”.

Coffee is one of the country’s prime exports. It is usually grown at a height of 1,300 metres (m) above sea level in the areas of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega and Matagalpa, where the temperature conditions are ideal. With rising temperatures, however, it appears that entire plantations of coffee will have to be shifted to higher altitudes, from time to time. If the change in location is over a large distance, it might imply migration and space issues. Moreover, there are concerns that if the rate of temperature rise increases, coffee won’t be cultivable on Nicaragua’s not- so- high mountain tops beyond a point. This is another source of worry for the country.

With global warming and climate change already having a direct impact in the country, economically and otherwise, global response- primarily the Kyoto Protocol- has been a major disappointment. Kyoto was a further disillusionment for Nicaragua, adding to the fact that the Green Climate Fund was never translated from paperwork to living reality. The Green Climate Fund was a fund created in 2009, with a $30 billion target, meant to aid underdeveloped countries in their fight against global warming. The money never came forth, and many Central American countries today are convinced that they will have to handle their own share of climate change- issues by themselves, despite having ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

In the case of Nicaragua, a major abettor of global warming in the country is illegal logging, leading to massive deforestation. The Daniel Ortega government has decided to deal with this nuisance head- on, and has found a novel way to do so. It has formed what it calls an “Ecological Battalion”, a veritable green army whose job centres on patrolling the countries forest areas in search of illegal loggers. These “soldiers” are armed not only with basic weaponry to stop logging, but also equipment like shovels, to plant trees in areas already deforested.

Everyone knows that the government’s interest is mainly in securing water for upcoming hydroelectric projects, and not the plight of its poor. Nevertheless, this step is still one of the most direct and impactful ones taken by a government in its fight for the planet. Nicaragua, in this aspect, has much to learn from.

Monday, February 27, 2012

crimes against women in Afghanistanfghanistan

Afghanistan and its laws have been known for suppression of women. Violence against women is not only common in this nation, India and other countries are also known for it. In most countries, women are the weaker sex and nations that follow the patriarchal society norms lead to oppression of women to an extent of torture. Recently, the country was in news due to the Sahar Gul case. The country sent shockwaves across the world with this news.
Sahar Gul, a 15 year old married girl was rescued from her in-laws house in the northern Bhagian province in December 2011. The girl was in a critical condition for over a month. Later when she was interviewed, she said that her husband and his family tortured her as she refused to work as a prostitute. Her in-laws gave her electric shocks and more over pulled out her hair and ripped off her fingernails. She was brutally beaten with cable wires and was barely given food and water. What was more shocking was that the teenager was stubbed all over her body with cigarettes and chunks of her flesh were cut out with pliers. This young girl suffering both physically and mentally has become a bruised face of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
One of the other shocking incidents which come under crimes against women in Afghanistan is of Gulnaz. She filed a case against a man who raped her and was imprisoned for adultery. She was later forced to marry the man who raped her so that the society doesn’t look down upon her family.
Instances of violence against women still persist till date and the women’s committee in Afghanistan is now helping women in such conditions to fight for justice denied to them.