Category Archives: Sri Lanka

5000 People Spoke Out Against Racism in Sri Lanka

Petition pic

5,081 people that is. The petition was created by a small group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens, following the systematic harassment of minority communities around the island over the past few months. What started out with banning Halal food, rapidly developed into arson attacks on Muslim owned businesses, defacing of Mosques and attacks on Churches.

That’s not to say that the issue cropped up recently. In 2012 an extremist Buddhist group, lead by monks, stormed a Mosque in Dambulla and torched the 50 year old building. The Buddhists in the area condemned the violence against their Muslims neighbours, stating that they have co-existed peacefully over the years. The government did what they do best– they ignored it.

Just as they ignored other isolated incidents of both Mosques and Churches being attacked as well in the recent past. They went as far as calling the public delusional and having cooked up the Grease Yakka attacks.

Then again, this has been an issue since the 1950’s; possibly beyond. The problem is undoubtedly deep-rooted, and we cannot allow it to fester as it has for all these decades. It has been the impetus of the 30 year conflict, and here we are once again, repeating the mistakes of our past.

We need to speak up. We need to work towards chipping away at the racism in Sri Lanka that’s preventing us from truly progressing. No amount of expressways, wider roads, wetland parks and cobble-stone pavements (all built on borrowed money as we sink deeper and deeper in debt), will help Sri Lanka progress.

So 5081 people spoke out. They called on the government to take action against the hate-speech, hate-crimes and racism. The petition was mailed to the President a few weeks back and has reached the Presidential Secretariat.

Here’s a link to the petition in case you’d like to read through it (there’s a Sinhala and Tamil translation available as well)-

http://www.change.org/petitions/his-excellency-mahinda-rajapaksa-the-president-of-sri-lanka-take-action-to-stop-incidents-of-harassment-against-minorities?utm_campaign=friend_inviter_chat&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=permissions_dialog_false

You can check out the Facebook page too(it’s got lost of neat graphics and posters)- http://www.facebook.com/NoMoreHateInSriLanka

I do hope that all those who signed the petition will continue to speak out and fight against racism in Sri Lanka. Signing the petition is a good first step, but we need people actively working towards bringing about change.

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world-class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

OBR in Pictures

Click on an image to view slide show.

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

One Billion No More

One Billion Rising has been launched in several countries, and on Sunday Sri Lanka joined the growing list.

Women in Need conducted a walk the same day that led to Galle Face where OBR Sri Lanka  was launched, with motivating speeches from inspirational women, street theater, song and dance.

Pic by Tehani Ariyaratne

Pic by Tehani Ariyaratne

Pic by Tehani Ariyaratne

Pic by Tehani Ariyaratne

At Galle Face for the launching of OBR Sri Lanka!

Pic by Megara Tegal

Pic by Megara Tegal

Street theatre performance about VAW

DSC_1348

Pic by Megara Tegal

The engrossed audience

Pic by Megara Tegal

Pic by Megara Tegal

 

We Are Rising

We support this and we’ll be at Galle Face for the launch of One Billion Rising in Sri Lanka.

Yes, one billion exceeds our 20 million population. And that’s what’s startling. See, the UN has discovered that 1 in 3 women become victims of gender based violence everyday. With a world population that stands at 7 billion, it equates to ONE BILLION victims each day.

One billion women and girl-children are subjected various forms of gender based violence, from catcalling to rape. So Eve Ensler, the founder of the bold plays ‘The Vagina Monologues’, decided to create a movement to raise awareness. Her plan is get one billion people– men, women and children, to protest against gender based violence leading up to 14th of February 2013.

Each country that has pledged their support of OBR has launched the campaign in their respective countries. Sri Lanka will join them on the 25th of November (this Sunday). And that’s what the flyer is about.

So join us at the launch of OBR Sri Lanka and show your support.

Sri Lanka’s Youth Plan for Sustainable Development

The Rio+20 Summit is in full swing and the Sri Lankan arm has taken its first initiative, in which a statement has been presented to the Minister of Environment. Post-war Sri Lanka certainly is in need of a system of sustainable development and at this stage the country has a fresh start in which adopting such a system is relatively trouble free; or so it should be.

The statement that encapsulates several vital areas in sustainable development was drafted by over 30 youth-led and youth-focus local organizations that are involved in environmental conservation, management, climate change, sustainable development and advocacy for environmental issues. Bringing these organizations together and orchestrating Sri Lanka’s participation in the Rio Summit, is the Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka (YGSL) that was established earlier this year (March 2012). The statement is a position paper on which future projects will be based. The paper was presented to the Ministry of Environment, as the ministry had arranged for the involvement of youth groups in the process. Nashen Gunesekera, the drafting committee chair, says it shows the enthusiasm of the government as other governments had not involved environmental conscious volunteer groups, apart from the ministry’s own.

Attaining sustainable development

A large team of local environmentally conscious youths has formulated a multipronged action plan, addressing several key areas that are intrinsic in the development of a nation. Top of the list and under the umbrella of youth policy positions, the statement mentions society’s role in sustainable development. The activists believe that equality is essential, they explained “our aspiration is equality for all, and not the luxury of the 20 per cent of the world’s people who enjoy the exploitation of 80 per cent of its resources.”

Well-being and happiness as well as right mindfulness were also highlighted as the cornerstone to sustainable development. Society being at the heart of development, even with an extraordinary physical plan, it cannot fruition sans the right mindset of the people.

The economy is another key area that needs to be addressed, and therefore, the team included environmental sustainability and poverty reduction, and a Green Economy in the statement. YGSL explains, “A Green Economy should replace the current economic order of inequity, destruction and greed. A Green Economy should be an economic system that ensures social equity, protects the ecological balance and creates economic sufficiency. The core idea of a Green Economy should be to enforce sustainability, specifically the wellbeing of all people and respecting and preserving the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems.

A green economy manages consumption and production in an environmentally conscious manner. The document indicated, Agenda 21 (Chapter 4.3), which is an outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED 1992) states that; “The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.” According to the team enabling the SCP should be the focus of any emerging international outcome. SCP is a systemic process of lifestyle and livelihood behaviours that ensures the wellbeing of all people in an equitable manner while conserving the ecology for current and future generations.

Political solutions are on the cards as well as sustainable development governance, which they said, “We understand Sustainable Development Governance should necessarily create platforms at every level for the voice of youth to be heard and to be considered within the decision making processes, for it is on the shoulders of youth the responsibility rests.”

On that note they believe it is necessary to establish an office for the ombudsperson — high commission for future generations. “We the youth representatives of Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka understand that there is a lacuna in current decision making processes and institutions of the world, especially as all of them fail to consider the long term effects of decisions made today. The proposal stated at paragraph 57 of the Zero Outcome document calling for the establishment of an Ombudsperson/High Commissioner for Future Generations is thus an opportunity to meet this short coming and by establishing such an office, we believe that both the aspirations of youth and future generations will be protected.”

How Sustainable Development Can be Achieved

The team also presented a set of recommendation that can be adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the governments in the international arena. They laid emphasis on the inclusion of the youth at all levels of decision making so the future can be shaped to suit the next generation better. The team expressed, “We wish to state by participation, youth are empowered and are given the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential hence enabling them to harness their skills required to move the world toward the paradigm shift which is necessary to achieve economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability.”

Employment for the youth is also mandatory for a better greener future, according to the local Rio+20 Summit members. “At present there is a lack of green job initiatives and access to green skills training programmes for young people. We believe bridging the skills gap among young people through improved education and training will be a key to achieving environmental objectives and a transition to a green economy.”

Education and training  —  skills development opportunities, the opportunity for youth to volunteer to achieve sustainable development.

The President will present the paper as part of the country report at the summit. Neshan Gunesekara said, “The international community will analyze, scrutinize and criticize the paper. The point of presenting the paper at an international forum is so that other countries can take stock of what Sri Lanka has achieved over the years and adopt some of these strategies that will help them.

He added that, he personally believes that the youth of Sri Lanka is very environmentally conscious, and they have shown an initiative but what they lack, is the support of the government and other authorities, in implementing plans and taking their concerns into consideration.

Well, that’s good news for BB too. Having particular goals will help us channel our efforts in these areas and those connected to contribute to sustainable development in Sri Lanka. It should also make devising project plans easier. So three cheers to our Rio paper!

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

The Dansala of Inspiration

Vesak 2012

Pic by Rushda Mohinudeen

What comes to mind when you think of Vesak? I am sure you’re reminded of observing sil, going to the temple and worshipping, the jathaka stories, the stories from life of Lord Buddha, the importance of the Dhamma etc. I am sure that thoughts of making Vesak koodu (lanterns) at home, of the lavishly lit thoran (pandols) and dansal will run on the fringe of your mind as well.

Whilst the religious activities continued throughout the weekend, where many visited the temples to observe sil or to engage in the Dhamma, at night, the country was up in lights and music. Throngs of people walked on the roads or got in to trucks to go see Vesak. To enjoy the massive thoran which depict stories from Lord Buddha’s life or to enjoy food from a dansala.

Speaking of Dansal, the only thing that comes to a Sri Lankan’s mind is food! Various kinds of food, be it a hot meal of rice and curry or ice cream. However, this year Beyond Borders gave the word dansala and its concept, a whole new meaning! Working on the lines of inspiring, Beyond Borders decided to have an ‘Inspiration Dansala’ whereby distributing quotes from the Dhammapada, to the general public making the people more aware of the meaning behind this religious celebrations.

Making of the BBites Dansala board

Joining the people on the streets of Colombo, the guys and girls from Beyond Borders gathered near the Gangarama Temple to spread the inspiration to the people. With a few hiccups at the start, the distribution of these quotes had a lovely response with some people coming behind the energetic team asking for more sticker quotes, or asking for translations!

A rather blurry pic of the BBites distributing… inspiration!

Even though our team was a little hesitant in getting this going, we felt welcomed by the response from the people. The overall experience was overwhelming!

Bhagya Senaratne

Bhagya is a board member of Beyond Borders. She is currently reading for her MA in International Relations and she’s our mole in the government. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

Sexual Offenders Go Scot Free (Only in Sri Lanka)

In Sri Lanka sexual offenders are pretty much the same as petty thieves. After all, assaulting and raping a 12 year old girl is the same as stealing mangoes from your neighbours garden– at least that’s how our judiciary see it.

In 1995, after much coercion by women’s rights lawyers and activists, a law was passed stating that anyone found guilty of committing a sexual offence will receive a minimum prison sentence of seven to ten years. Now that law acted as a deterrent. It was a strict sentence that would ensure that the more devious of men would not act on their lascivious urges for fear of being contained behind bars for several years. Progress was being made up until 2008, when a particular High Court Judge in Anuraddhapura, felt it wasn’t fair to dispense such a harsh ruling on a man who had consensual sex with a 16 year old girl. The victim and the accused had eloped, gotten married and started life together as a married couple. With consent from the Supreme Court, the judge simply ruled a ‘suspended sentence’. A suspended sentence is the blacklisting of criminals who are free from any form of punishment unless another complaint is made aganist them.

Using this verdict several criminal lawyers have helped sexual offenders escape serving a prison term. Since 2008 to 2009, it’s been found that of 129 reported cases identified by LHRD, an alarming 114 received a suspended sentence which included a paltry compensation fine and freedom to harass the victim and maybe even commit the crime over again but this time around make sure the victim doesn’t spill the beans on him.

That’s 88% of the reported cases. 88% of  those who have been found guilty of sexual offences- some as harsh as violently assaulting and raping a woman, ganging raping a woman who was waiting for her bus in the middle of the night, and a man who repeatedly raped his niece and threatened to kill her if she spoke about it- all free to walk among us.

Will the ‘suspended sentencing’ of sexual offenders be lifted? Going by what the Attorney General’s Department said at a press conference organised by the Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD) on the matter- not too soon; if anytime at all.

Attorney, Kalyananda Thiranagama who is also the executive director of Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRW) stated that court proceedings must speed up. One of the reason’s a suspended sentence is declared is because the court cases are prolonged. While Dr. Mario Gomez of the Law Commission of Sri Lanka said that at the very least the Supreme Court should set up guidelines to direct High Court Judges when passing verdicts on sexual offenders. The Attorney General’s Department however, did not have a satisfactory response, instead they were vague and uncommitted.

So what hope is there? Well for now we can raise awareness. Having read this do share this information with friends and family, if we can make enough noise about it, maybe the government will finally realise that intimidation and forced sex is nothing close to a petty crime.

– Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist, part time TV show host, 3rd grade caricature artist, student in social sciences and she holds the world prize for klutz-iness. Her opinions are her own. She blogs here.

Bohemian Pursuits

Rajiv is torn between pleasing his parents and pursing his passion. Time is running out and he’s cornered into choosing a safe but dull career in the field of commerce or trying his luck as an artist. As the walls close in on him, Rajiv picks the latter; but at a dire cost of losing his family.

What would you suggest could improve the course of events and bring about a happy ending?

All those who’d come for the Galle Literary Festival had the chance to help Rajiv and his family, as the BB FT team staged ‘Bohemian Pursuits’. Enacting events from Rajiv’s life from making his decision to becoming a successful albeit uncaring artist- callously refusing to attend his father’s funeral.

The overall play highlighted many pertinent issues brought up by the youth in Galle. These include the influence of foreigners who seems to be taking over the fort, parent-child relationships, ambition, career guidance and the Sri Lankan mentality regarding ‘acceptable careers’.

The FT was performed twice at the Galle Literary Festival and here are some scenes from play.

And we present the FT team-

Hard work, sleepless nights and a bumpy ride to Galle- the team charged on and performed the first BB FT down south.

This is the first of many more FTs by BB that will be performed out of Colombo this year. Watch this blog for more updates.

Gearing up for the Galle Lit Fest

Preparing for the Focus Group discussion

In the run up to the 2012 Galle Literary Festival in which Beyond Borders will be participating in  two sessions, we decided to run down to Galle to gather some ideas for our dramas.

We didn’t get up early in the morning, as is customary when going our of Colombo, to catch a bus. Rather we decided to go a little late and well late we did become. However, we managed to have a lovely bus ride to Galle, chilled, well rested and ready for action!

We spoke to youth residing both within the Galle Fort and outside, and were enlightened to a variety of issues that were unique to that area.

The youth we spoke to, between the ages of 16 and 20, mostly felt that their parents were not giving them the freedom they sought. This was the key issue, resonating the discussion throughout the time we spent in discussion with them. This when questioned, boiled down to external problems like the Western influence within the Fort. According to the children, the parents felt that they were unable to give too much freedom to their children because they might run astray. We realised the locals were experiencing a certain reverse culture clash. The group we spoke to felt that their parents were not like the ‘cool’ Colombo folk who gave their children ample freedom to engage in youth activities and social work. However, most of the youth were rational, citing the pros and cons of their parents’ reasoning, but they wished that they had less restrictions on socialising.

Another problem that arose was on the topic of education. Like youth from most other places, the youth from Galle too felt that the education system does not allow them the best of opportunities to showcase their talents. They felt the current education system only made them ‘bookish’ and did not allow them the chance to engage in the sporting activities they are otherwise good at. We found that this is the same story everywhere. When the child comes to higher levels of education in school the parents want their children to prioritise on their education, keeping all other extra-curricular activities at bay.

Of course, the guys felt that they couldn’t talk to the girls and that they were shy; but that was besides the point during the interactive session we had with these energetic youth.

The Galle Literary Festival will be held from the 18th to the 22nd of January 2012 and beyond Borders will be performing on the 20th and 21st of January.

Bhagya Senaratne

Bhagya is a board member of Beyond Borders. She is currently reading for her MA in International Relations and she’s our mole in the government. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

 

Virus

The good news– Sri Lanka is a ‘low prevalent country’ for HIV AIDS.

The bad news– With the country’s precipitant development, the risk of HIV AIDS spreading wildly is a burning problem.

What’s worse- The youth are highly vulnerable to contraction of the virus due to the “increase in migration internally, externally and internationally due to economic, leisure, [and] displacement”- according to the Family Planning Association.

So ask yourself- do you know all there is to know about HIV AIDS? Did you know that the virus can be contracted due to momentary carelessness?

One of the best methods of prevention is to keep yourself informed and Beyond Borders is inviting you to a Forum Theatre production on HIV AIDS. Bring your friends too and watch the enthralling interactive play and discussion.

The event is for free. All you need to do is register here- online form.