Women and politics
Never before, perhaps since
times of ancient royalty, has Sri Lankan women played such a pivotal
role in politics as they did in the moves to unseat the seemingly
all-powerful regime of Mahinda Rajapakse, perhaps the most ‘macho’ of
all leading politicians in post-colonial Sri Lanka.
It was none other than former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who
performed the critical role as facilitator in the dramatic transit of
Maithripala Sirisena from the centre of power to the rapidly growing
opposition movement to end a regime of rampant mis-rule. Then there were
other headline-catching female political personalities in the form of
one-time beauty queen-turned-politician Rosie Senanayake and young
Hirunika Premachandra who was propelled into the political frontline by
the tragic assassination of her veteran politician father.
Equally important, but not so prominent, was a host of women social
activists whose names run into a list too long to mention individually.
Their hard and brave work over decades, in building civic action
networks countrywide on a range of burning social issues – including
gender oppression – now bore fruition in the urgent mobilisation of
social forces into an inclusive ‘rainbow coalition’ that backed
Maithripala Sirisena’s election campaign.
It was the first time that so many activist women joined their male
counterparts shoulder-to-shoulder in that historic movement for
Chandrika Kumaratunga, in a speech at a seminar on Friday
acknowledged this dramatic emergence of the female political power.
The former President, herself the target of an assassination attempt
by a female suicide bomber, has bluntly argued for the need to
acknowledge the still hegemonic social position of men in society
whether in terms of actual social and political institutional
entrenchment or in terms of ideological legitimacy via philosophy and
How Sri Lanka, and the many men that lead her, will respond to this
emerging challenge by her women for an equal share in the burden of
development and the challenge of civilization, remains to be seen in the
exciting days ahead as we re-build our nation. International Women’s Day
is only a moment for reflection.
The General echoes an Emperor
Former Army Commander and DNA leader General Sarath Fonseka
emphasized recently in a public speech, the need for the majority ethnic
community, the Sinhalese, to embrace the smaller ethnic communities in
socio-cultural relations that would build trust between communities. He
argued strongly that it was through such inclusive nationhood that that
very ‘nationhood’ could be strengthened and protected.
Coming from a veteran soldier who has been hailed as ‘conqueror’ and
‘war hero’ by the majority Sinhalese to a large extent and to a lesser
extent by the other ethnic communities, such gestures by the General are
useful initiatives that help build greater inter-ethnic harmony in a
country beset by ethnic mistrust, discrimination and bitter memories of
suffering. General Fonseka significantly echoes yet another
conqueror-turned-political leader – the great Emperor Ashoka, better
known in our country as ‘Dharmashoka’.
In his long rule over a vast empire that he built through conquest
and political negotiation, Emperor Ashoka later turned to benevolent
style of governance that, at its height, drew on and demonstrated the
rich spiritual resources of the sub-continental civilisation of which
our island nation is a part.
In one of his famous rock-carved edicts, the Emperor exhorted his
provincial governors to ensure that all cultural and religious
communities were treated equally in order that the empire remained
stable and unified. Indeed, the Emperor urged his governors to take
special care of minorities so that they felt they were subjects of a
Prof. Senake Bandaranayake
The Sunday Observer records with sorrow the passing away of Professor
Senake Bandaranayake, historian, archaeologist, teacher, cultural
conservator and aesthete. Professor Bandaranayake, who in later years
served his country by representing Sri Lanka as an Ambassador, is best
known for his immense contribution to archaeology and socio-historical
research and less known for the generations of history and archaeology
scholars he taught and nurtured.
He must be acknowledged as the successor to H.C.P. Bell and Senarath
Paranavithane in his contribution to this country’s historiography and