Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 23 November 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

The Koslanda tragedy:

Need for better communication techniques a sine quo non

My first contribution was published in the Daily News, about 64 years ago. It was woven around an old woman on whom her hut crumbled in a heavy shower.

Her hut was at the edge of our land where it met the fields and for days the hitherto desolate place seethed with people who gathered there more out of curiosity in that rural setting where sensational events were a rarity.

What did they tell her? Obviously that she should leave that death trap of her hut. But none of them ever told her where to go. Or did they tell her at all? The dead leave behind no tales, so the old woman would never in macabre fashion rise from the cluttered debris around her and accuse, “No. They never told me anything. The world was too busy to tell me anything let alone notice me”.

Communication, though it can turn into a bugbear as demonstrated recently, is as old as human civilisation, the development of language buttressing it.


In the absence of language, other ingenuous modes are used for humans to interact. The writer remembers a white flag fluttering in a village almost sunk within the rings of mountains in the hill country. From roads that ran above it was an enthralling sight. That was the medium of communicating a funeral in the cosseted hamlet. The Ana Bere too was the most popular mode of communication in days gone by.

“Asav! Asav!” That meant the spread of a royal decree. If finding more high connections to this business of communication, we have to revert to the Buddha himself who can be reckoned as the most efficient media personality. We have just bypassed in the calamity a Poya that celebrates the launch of his teachings via five disciples.


Oh. Bhikkhus. Go your way spreading the Dhamma and each should take his own path. No two need to go on the same route.” All other religious leaders too naturally fall into this category of concerned media personnel.

A modern counsellor need to have added more injunctions at a time as that which presaged the Koslande tragedy and even been mindful of these factors. Will the message really reach the intended recipient?

Can the message so conveyed be put into actual practice?

Is the message conveyed in a plausible manner that the recipients would act on it fast?

Unlike in the instance of the encounter of Pas Vaga Mahanun of the Isipathna Deer Park fame here is an occasion where life and death themselves are immediately involved. The gap between the disposer of the message and the recipient has been testified by quotes from the involved officers. The haughty disdain is evident.

Ea minissunta kochcharawath yanta kivva. Eth ahuve nay”

We told those people several times to go away. But they never did”.

Conjure a pack of obstinate bulls not heeding any advice. The matter ended there for the bureaucracy but tragedy followed killing hundreds.

Indifferent communication can be as bad as non-communication. One has to make a go of it, if this process is to succeed. The target group has to be netted where they can be netted the most. Crowded places as the fair, the village co-operative, the local bus stand are very suitable venues to disseminate important messages and for this, did those officers ever go round and halt at these places saying that the angry hill is moving, that the massive rock is sliding down? May be they could have been accused of raking up unnecessary fear. But that is better than seeing hordes of dead bodies.


In any calamity, natural or otherwise, the ones at the bottom suffer the most. Come thunder, rain or floods. they get victimised first. A few years back a newspaper carried a grisly photo of five young girls electrocuted under a tree in our country. They had gone searching for firewood even as the clouds darkened and grew heavy with rain. The girls could have been even domestic servants afraid to go back to their working places without the firewood.

Needless to say none of the girls belonged to the upper class or even the middle class. Such miserable dramas too stalk only the poor. That those in the lower rungs move more with the natural elements need no reiteration. Flash a streak of lightning or let thunder make a little fuss, those used to soft and luxurious living ensconce themselves in bed. Their finely built houses would even last up to doomsday and never would accompany eroding earth.

Hence more vigilance regarding communication that percolates down to the masses is very much in need. There are whole Ministries and Departments delegated this task and endowed with all equipment mostly electronic and starkly modern (imported fresh from the west), but it is usually the glamorous aspects they are in pursuit such as the doings of politicians and the haloes of men and women already in the limelight.

Crime publicity today has earned a place mostly due to the sensational aspect of it. Even that pays. There is an evil alternative, that is to chant, que sera sera, “whatever will be”. But that is a despicable alternative that decimates to zero valuable human life.

Better communication modes for the lowly and the poor and for those far from the capital, is what is needed. And of course the needs of those for whom good communication is a matter of life and death have to be especially considered.


LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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