Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 8 March 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

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 political change.

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 religion.

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 benevolent rule.

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 archaeology.

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