Sunday, June 15, 2014

Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims kill 3 in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa says  violence will be investigated

Eyewitnesses said mobs pelted a mosque with stones and set fire to Muslim-owned shops

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AA) – Sri Lanka's President  Mahinda Rajapaksa criticized the clashes that took place between Buddhist hardliners and Muslims in southern town Aluthgama on Sunday.

Police used tear gas to end the violence, which followed a rally by Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena addressed by the group's Secretary-General Galagodaththe Gnanasara. Members of the group marched through predominantly Muslim areas and clashes erupted, with Muslim-owned shops and businesses attacked.

"The Government will not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands. I urge all parties concerned to act in restraint. An investigation will be held for law to take its course of action to bring to book those responsible for incidents in Aluthgama," said Rajapaksa, in a series of posts on social media website Twitter. "I ask my Sinhala & Muslim brothers & sisters in Aluthgama to stand together."

Some Muslims sustained minor injuries in the clashes, including two television journalists covering the events. Police and Special Task Force personnel have been deployed to restore law and order.

"Police curfew has been imposed with immediate effect in Aluthgama Police area, after tense situation in order to prevent further clashes," Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana told Anadolu Agency. "Police curfew is imposed in Beruwala Police area as well. People are requested to be calm."

Eyewitnesses say that Buddhist hardliners pelted stones at the Mosque in Dharga town and mobs set fire to several shops owned by Muslims.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka welcomed the police curfew and urged Muslims to remain calm and not to be provoked into retaliating.

Deputy Minister of Investment Promotion Faizer Mustafa, who has just returned from a trip to Japan, is currently on his way to the Aluthgama to assess the situation.

Bodu Bala Sena, which literally translates to Buddhist Power Force, is a right-wing Buddhist group that was established after the end of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war in 2009. They belong to the country's Sinhalese Buddhist majority and have been accused of inciting hate against other religions in Sri Lanka.

Courtesy: Anadolu Agency ~

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Thyagaraja Aradhana: An evening of music and dance

Photos and text by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe” ~ Lao Tzu

"Magala Isai" at the beginning of the festival
Saraswathy, Goddess of Wisdom sits above the venue

Five Keerthanams are known as the “Panchrathna Keethnanam”. The “Pancha Rathna Krithis” are sung during the Aradhana. They areJagadananda of Natai Ragam, Dudukugala of Gowla Ragam, Sadinchanae of Arabhi Ragam, Kanakana Ruchira of Varali Ragam andEndharo Mahanu Bhavulu of Sri Ragam.

The Pancharatna Kritis of Thyagaraja are in praise of his beloved deity, God Rama and are extremely skillful and beautiful musical compositions. They are all set in Adi Thalam and each ragam represents the mood of the song and the meaning of its lyrics. They are actually set in the style of a Ragam, Thanam, Pallavi (RTP) with the charanams (stanzas) substituting for the kalpana swaras(improvisatory passages) in the pallavi section of the Ragam, Thalam, Pallavi.

Carnatic Music Festival to celebrate the genius of Sri Thyagarajah was recently held at the Saraswathy Hall in Bambalapitty, which was organized by the Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo in association with the Hindu Society, and Express Newspapers Ceylon Limited. Thyagaraja Aradhana is a rare event to witness, and be a part of it, where many musicians and dancers gathered and performed together. Musicians, vocalists, instrumentalists and percussionists came from all over the country to celebrate.

In this year’s festival, in addition to the musicians, dancers gorgeously performed, while the singers beautifully sang the five Keerthanams.

167th Sri Thyagaraja Aradhana celebrations were held recently in Thiruvaiyaru. Musicians from all over the state gathered, and sat before the Saint’s Samadhi on the banks of river Kaveri, sang “Pancharatna Kritis”, and paid homage to him.

Saint Thyagaraja was born on 4th May 1767 in Thiruvarur in Thanjavur district. He was born to a Telugu Brahmin family as the third son of Ramabrahmam and Seethamma. His father’s was a story teller. His family moved to Thiruvaiyaru soon after Saint Thyagaraja was born. Saint Thyagaraja got married to Parvaty in 1784, when he was 17 years. His wife Parvathy died in 1789, when he was 23 year. He married her sister Kamala in 1790, and got a daughter. Saint Thyagaraja named his daughter Seethalakshmi. It is believed that on 6th January 1847 would be the day when he was expected to embrace Mukthi. He attained Samadhi on “Pushya Bagula Panchami” in Thiruvaiyaru.

Saint Thygaraja was an eminent composer in classical music, poet, and a philosopher. He was an extraordinary personality born to teach humanity through music, and Rama Bhakthi. He saw Rama as a chief, as a saviour of mankind, and as a Lord of whole universe. Saint Thyagaraja praised him, cajoled him, taunted him, served him, and cried for him. Saint Thyagaraja lived with God Rama every moment. The name Thyagaraja means “Prince of Renunciation”.

He studied Sanskrit and astrology. He was very well versed in his mother tongue Telugu. Saint Thyagaraja has composed several Kritis. He made use of 200 ragas to compose different Kritis.

The “Divyanama Sankeerthanas” and “Utsava Samprathaya Kritis” composed by him are melodies. He composed 1,800 Kritis. He has created operas namely “Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam”, “Nowka Chittram” and “SitaRama Vijayam”. He wrote most of the Kritis in Telugu, and the rest in Sanskrit.

Kids corner at the festival

Dance corner at the festival Saraswathy Subramaiam from the Eastern University of Sri Lanka with a modern violin

Music lovers from all walks of life

Tribute to Sri Thyagaraja Swamigal
An eldery music lover enjoys the festival, while sitting on the mat

Crowd pulling musicians adding colour to the festival

Dance depicting one of the "Pancharatna Keerthanams"

Bridging the borders at the festival

Comparing the notes while singing
Paying tribute together with dance and music
Full house festival

Vocalists at the festival
Annual festival attracts many music lovers to gather under one roof to celebrate

Carnatic musicians consider Thyagaraja as their inspiration, source and touchstone of their creativity

Dancers beautifully describing a "Keerthanam"

Music lovers too joined in singlng along the five "Keerthanams"

The choral rendtion of the five songs is an integral feature of the festival

Friday, March 07, 2014

South Asian Women in Media Sri Lanka Chapter urges authorities to investigate crimes committed against women journalists and media workers and ensure their safety

March 8 marks the International Women's Day, a day that recalls and celebrates the women's struggle for equality and recognises the contribution women continue to make for the advancement of their societies.
The United Nations declared 8 March as the International Women's Day in 1975 which continues to be celebrated around the world in many different ways.

According to a recent survey carried out by UKAID, "Globally, women do 60% of the world's work but only earns 10% of the world's income and only own 1% of the world's property," highlighting the economic disparity that exists despite their ever increasing contributions to the advancement of the world. It further stated, "when a woman generates her own income, she reinvests 90% of it in her family and community."
In Sri Lanka too, women have been in the forefront as prime income generators in a variety of spheres, contributing to the growth of the country which is yet to be duly acknowledged.

Despite the advancement women have collectively managed to achieve, as in the rest of South Asia, in Sri Lanka too, safety of women has become a serious concern. It is unfortunate that women are increasingly becoming unsafe, also reflected in the media industry, with women journalists coming under various types of attacks including intimidation, threats, harassment and even murder, reflecting a social malady.

As this year's theme for the  International Women's Day being  "Inspiring Change", the South Asian Women in Media Sri Lanka Chapter urges the authorities to investigate the crimes committed against women journalists and media workers in the past and to ensure better maintenance of law and order in the country which would contribute to make a safe environment for women.

South Asian Women in Media Sri Lanka Chapter

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Lasantha Wickrematunge Memorial Vigil held in Sri Lanka

Text and Pictures by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

A candle light vigil was held today evening at the same spot, where the Founding Editor of the Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge was brutally killed on the 8th of January 2009. Justice has not yet been delivered, although five years have just passed by.

Family members, friend, and colleagues gathered in Attidiya to pay tribute to late Lasantha Wickrematunge on his fifth death anniversary.

"We will overcome;
We will overcome  One day;
It is deep in our heart;
We do believe;
WE WILL OVERCOME ~ ONE DAY!" was sung in English, Sinhala and Tamil, while participants lit white candles, and cotton torches, and emotionally placed them in front of Lasantha's portrait.

The memorial vigil was organised by SAMAGI (Force for Unity).

Banner says it all

Candles are lit in a row in front of Lasantha Wickrematunge's portrait

Lasantha Wickrematunge's older brothers, and nieces are taking a closer look at his portrait

Lal Wickrematunge, older brother of Lasantha Wickrematunge is in silent thoughts during the vigil

 Banner at site

Activists Herman Kumara, and Dr. Nimalka Fernando participating at the vigil

Placing to remember

Spot on site

Vigil at night

Singing with light

Slain and Silenced

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Lasantha Wickrematunge: Justice Delayed

Text and Pictures By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Rays of sun breaking through at the grave site

Grave site decorated with fresh flowers, and candles

Lal Wickrematunge, older brother of Lasantha Wickrematunge is seen grieving at his brother's grave

Lasantha Wickrematunge’s fifth death anniversary was marked today. Family members, friends, and colleagues gathered at his grave site in Kanatte in the morning to pay tribute. His grave was decorated with pink, and off white lotus flowers, and other flowers. Pink and white candles, and incense sticks were lit. A memorial service too was held at the site.

Lasantha Wickrematunge was the Founding Editor of the Sunday Leader, and was killed by masked men on motorbikes, on the 8th of January 2009, while he was on his way to work. A suspect has died under Police custody, while the other was released due to lack of evidence. Justice is yet to be delivered.

Lasantha Wickermatunge's brothers lighting candles to remember their beloved brother

Lit and placed to remember

During a memorial service

Emotionally singing at the site

Portrait of Lasantha Wickematunge at the site

Rest to Remember


Recalling and sharing their memories of Lasantha Wickrematunge

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Passionate librarian saved precious volumes of books

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Rohini Pararajasingam, a Jaffna Tamil woman is unknown to many. She is soft spoken, and a person with highest qualities, is proud to have saved 35,000 volumes of valuable books during the conflict in the peninsula. She served as the Assistant Librarian, and climbed the ladders with colours and dedicated service, and promoted as the Chief Librarian at the prestigious University of Jaffna. She served for 35 years, as Jaffna Peninsula has witnessed the worst years during the conflict. She was promoted as the Chief Librarian of the University of Jaffna in 1994, and retired in 2005.

She welcomes me with a warm motherly kiss, and a bright smile. She holds my right hand gently and softly, as we both walk through an alley to her house in Urumpirai, outskirts of Jaffna town.

Rohini Pararajasingam being an ardent reader, has passionately read Penguin books. She graduated from the University of Madras in India with a degree in Zoology, and has completed Diploma and Masters Degree at the same university in her passionate subject Library Science, and returned home to convert her passion for books into profession. She served at Cargills Book Store for a short period, before she was selected as an Assistant Librarian at the University of Jaffna. “I saw a newspaper advertisement calling for an assistant librarian, and I applied the day before the application date closed, and I was selected to serve”, recalls Rohini with a smile.

In October 1987, hostilities between the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF), and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were intensified in Jaffna Peninsula, and the University of Jaffna too came under continuous attacks, and causing extensive damage to the equipments and documents. Many unforgettable violent incidents took place in Kokkuvil, and Thirunelvely during this period.

Rohini Pararajasingam hails from Point Pedro, and was living in Thirunelvely, near the University of Jaffna during this time. She received a call from a fellow staff. The Chief Librarian was on sabbatical leave, and Rohini Pararajasingam was appointed as the Acting Chief Librarian at the time of violence in the peninsula. “I had to make an instant decision to move the books to a safer place. It was pitch dark, and pouring rain, something had to be done immediately to safeguard those books. Valuable books were being looted by the neighbours, and Indian soldiers were using the books as to serve as stools.

I along with some staff members, and volunteer students, have carefully started to collect the rain soaked books from the University Library, smoothly covering the books with my costly silk sarees, and transported them in lorries to Chaavakachcheri to be stored in a school. Sri Lankan army which was confined to the barracks during that period too came out to help us finding the rain soaked books. I bore the transport cost, which was later reimbursed. I think that, when libraries are targeted, the idea is to destroy entire culture, and to deny learning. There is a famous Tamil saying, that to look at one’s own reading is to know one’s mind and culture. It extremely hurts us. We love our books, and we lost most precious ones. There is no possibility of replacement.  People of Jaffna love knowledge and learning. It is part of our culture. What was lost will remain lost to the people of Jaffna. We can add new books, but nothing can replace the old books, what was lost will remain lost forever”, painfully recalls Rohini Pararajasingam with tears.

"We treat books with great care and love", reiterates Rohini Pararajasingam

Although her immediate action to move the remaining books to a safer place was bitterly criticized instantly, her brave act was commended with a certificate of appreciation by the Jaffna University authorities later.
I did what was needed to safeguard the rest of the books from being vandalized at that time. I neither stopped to think nor asked my husband to decide for me. I went ahead, decided, and moved the books to a safer place. I was 44 years, when I had to make a sole decision to safeguard priceless volumes of books ”, proudly adds Rohini Pararajasingam.

She also complained to the High Commission of India, in Colombo, about the way the Indian soldiers were disrespectfully handling the books at the library.  “Those books were our lives; our source of knowledge. Foreign army which was sent to maintain peace, simply did not know our culture.We could not safe the books in the statistical section, but only managed to salvage the books from the reference section, shares Rohini Pararajasingam as tears roll down her cheeks.

Rohini Pararajasingma goes through her memory lane ~ "We have lost a precious collection of books", painfully recollects Rohini Pararajasingam

Every time she mentions the words "books and library" her eyes uncontrollably fill with tears, and she cries. She revisits her painful past journey with dreadful memories. "I couldn't save all the books which estimated 64,000 at the time of violence. I only managed to save volumes of 35,000 books. The rest is all gone. We will never be able to replace", sorrowfully recalls Rohini, while wiping her tears.

Rohini Pararajasingm at her seventy, still mourns the loss of treasured volumes of valuable books. She has also lost numerous personal belongings, as the conflict intensified in the peninsula. She moved to many places, multiple times with her husband, and two young daughters. “I had to buy everything from the kitchen knife to a dining table. Our calm and simple lifestyles were suddenly altered more than once. Only the spate of violence that survived as our only belonging”, tearfully recalls Rohini Pararajasingam in Jaffna.
 She acknowledges with gratitude S. Murugavel, the Former Chief Librarian of University of Peradeniya, and University of Jaffna as her guru in Library Science.  She learnt the art of Library Science under his attentive guidance. 

Rohini Pararajasingam leads a retired life in Jaffna, but haunting memories don't allow her to forget the past.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Winning back the night

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

1760 rape cases in 2012

Wonder of Asia: Rape in every 90 minutes

Torch and slogan at the human chain

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence began with a walk to “Winning Back the Night”. It was jointly organized by the women’s groups and activists in collaboration with Women and Media Collective. Activists and concerned citizens have walked with placards, while chanting hard hitting slogans in Sinhala, and homemade torch from Rajagiriya to Kanatte Cemetery roundabout in Borella. Activists formed a human chain around the Kanatte Cemetery Roundabout, at night to attract attention to convey and create awareness on violence against women and girls.

Lit up the night

According to Forum against Gender Based Violence, “In Sri Lanka, as well as in other parts of the world, victim-survivors of gender-based violence are largely (over 90%) women and girls. Violence against women takes many forms – physical, sexual, verbal, psychological and economic. In Sri Lanka, the most prevalent types of violence against women are domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, sexual violence, forced prostitution, incest and trafficking. These crimes are not particular to a certain region or locality, but are widespread and cut across class, race, religion, ethnicity, economic status etc. In many cases these violations are hidden, this is especially true of domestic violence and incest. Violence against women is a violation of women’s human rights, and a violation of the country’s constitution and laws. Ending violence against women is as important as ending poverty as the cost of providing services for victim-survivors of violence and abuse is quite high as well as the human cost which hinders the education, gainful employment and health of women and girls”.

Standing to attract attention in the night

It further states, “rape, sexual harassment, assault and domestic violence are the most highly reported types of violence according to the Police Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Women and Children, Women In Need data and hospital desk data. However, these reported cases are among the most severe, while others remain unreported. Sri Lanka has made progress on various fronts, particularly in the legal domain, in an attempt to end violence against women, for example the adoption of the Women’s Charter, the amendments to the Penal Code in 1995, Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in 2005 etc. But, given that GBV is a complex multi-causal issue that has to be tackled at multiple levels, interventions made by state and non-state actors thus far, have touched only the tip of the iceberg. This highlights the need for continued collaboration and effective networking by all organizations working in this critical area”.

Joined to show solidarity

Mirrored in Rajagiriya

Activists on motorbikes taking the lead


Lighting up the night

Holding a placard at the human chain

Walking at dusk

Chanting slogans with placards along the street

"No to sexual harassment", read a placard in Tamil

Human chain around a round about

Walking at night

Walking to have equal rights

Activism on a motorbike

Placard at protest

"Don't give bail to abusers of women and children, reads a placard