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What is the Samagi Balawegaya

November 18, 2013 Leave a comment

For the past few weeks I have been asking people to join the Samagi Youth Corp, and rightly so many of them have asked me what exactly is the Samagi and what are the goals of the Samagi Youth.

I am taking this time to write a brief summary of what the Samagi is and how the youth corp will operate.

The Samagi Balawegaya (Force for Unity) is a coalition of civil society activists, trade unions, media groups, politicians and individuals who are concerned about and are dedicated to working towards a sustainable and all-inclusive future for Sri Lanka. The Samagi as a whole has agreed upon the ten principles detailed below: 

ONE 

Abolishing Executive Presidency 

TWO

Strengthening of Good Governance by re-installing the 17th Amendment to the constitution and removal of the obstructionist clauses under 18th Amendment

THREE

Affirming a united Sri Lankan identity by conserving the rights of every ethnic group in Sri Lanka’s diversity.

FOUR

Strengthening of Parliamentary democracy by repealing “Manaapaya” system

FIVE

Right to Information and Freedom Expression and Freedom

SIX

Re-affirming Rule of Law and Independence of Judiciary

SEVEN

Controlling Cost of Living and Implementing anti-corruption laws

EIGHT

Preservation and Strengthening of Universal Education and Healthcare benefits

NINE

Reducing the poverty and implementing a truly people-centric development plan for the country

TEN

Implementation of LLRC Recommendations

These ten principles will form the backbone of the Samagi as we continue to push the current government towards the change that the people of Sri Lanka are asking for.

What is the Samagi Youth Corp?

The Samagi Youth Corp is an arm of the Samagi that will work alongside the youth of this country who are committed to ensuring a future that we all agree upon. The main aim of the Youth corp is to demand from the government the necessary assistance in helping them build a future that is not only prosperous but also sustainable. 

Politics and politicians have, for too long, been allowed to sneak past the voters with the outdated populist methods. As the youth it is now our turn to take a step forward and start asking the hard questions and once again force the politicians to return to the role of being the representatives of the people. 

Asking the questions alone will not be enough, the Samagi youth will take upon itself the lead role. As we expand through the provinces, the corp will form a consensus among their peers over issues that our generation will be forced to inherit. The tough questions must be asked both of ourselves and the government. The traditional image of the role of the youth in society must be re-evaluated. 

While the demands are made of the government, we the youth must be prepared to work towards achieving the future that we want. 

The Samagi Youth Corp is throwing out an open invitation to all those who are interested to join up.

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Goodbye To A Legend

November 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Cricket has come to that period where a generation says goodbye to the legends they grew up with. A few years back the world said farewell, albeit a little later than they expected, to Sanath Jayasuriya. Last year India’s most underrated batsman, Rahul Dravid, bowed out of international cricket; and today the world prepares to say goodbye to Ricky Ponting.

Ponting has been in an up-and-down patch in his career for the past year. Averaging less than 15, he had a superb summer against India which included a double hundred before being shored up against the West Indies and now South Africa. While most supporters of the man have called for his inclusion, many others (including himself) knew that time was running out.

He did what all great sportsman do and called time on a career that was reaching its end.

Ponting can leave international cricket behind with his head held high knowing he was only second to Sachin Tendulkar in both runs and centuries, while he also has the mantle of having won three successive World Cups leading his team in two of those. He was also one of the most successful captains in test and one day cricket, and while people argue it was the team that gave him this, his record as captain speaks for itself.

Of course his career will be pockmarked with the three Ashes losses, including one at home, while a couple of hiccups against India and South Africa also surfaced in his time at the helm. His last bout as captain came in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup against eventual winners India. Ponting shrugged off the criticism to play a great hundred, but was unfortunately unable to deliver his team to a fifth consecutive final.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ricky Ponting a couple of times and from a personal point of view was certainly impressed with him. Despite having a hectic schedule Ponting took time off to get a game of golf in during their World Cup campaign in Sri Lanka. Even better was the fact that I got to play with him. The game gave me an insight in to the man off the field and away from the public spotlight.

Friday will be his last test match, and ironically it is Australia’s opportunity to regain the number 1 mantle (a spot Ponting did a great deal to secure for Australia in the first place). I will certainly be watching the match, and no doubt be hoping to see him produce that great last innings (similar to Greg Chappell) to help his team take the series and the number one spot.

Speak Up Before It Is Too Late

November 19, 2012 1 comment

I wrote an article the other day about religious intolerance around Asia and it prompted discussion both online and among friends. 

One of the interesting comments, which can also be seen on the article, was that I had been making “a mountain out of a mole-hill”. Now obviously I do not agree with this otherwise I would not have written the article in the first place. 

But I will admit that while religious violence in Sri Lanka is not a grave issue it certainly is something that is unfortunately sprouting up from time to time. Furthermore for those who live in the country would no doubt be aware of the growing sense that a section of the Buddhist population are looking to overshadow the other religions. 

Last Tuesday was Deepavali and when I was driving around the city in the morning I was treated to a sight of a temple hosting a Perahera. Now these are usually held back for Buddhist religious occasions  so I was a little confused as to why this priest decided to hold one on this day of all days. 

The fireworks and colourful celebrations seen in the Kovils was my answer celebrating Deepavali.

This is of course not the first time I have seen this. Last year on Christmas the temple near my house decided to hold a Perahera. Earlier this year before Easter, a section of Mount Lavinia was decorated with Buddhist flags.

So while religious violence is thankfully not a major issue in Sri Lanka, all signs are pointing towards a growing degree of dominance by the majority. I am not saying that all Buddhists in the country support this, or even the majority of them, I am saying that a section does. This needs to be countered and quickly otherwise we could open ourselves to situations as is seen in Pakistan and other such countries. 

The complaint of me making a mountain of a mole-hill reminded me of a quote by Martin Niemoller, a Pastor who opposed Adolf Hitler.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Halloween In America

I went last night to observe Halloween first hand in Ohio, and it certainly was an experience like none other.

In today’s modern word Halloween seems to be celebrated by everyone, costumes parties are held all over and even in some countries kids go trick or treating. But it got me thinking why is Halloween so big in America, in fact this event kick starts the holiday season (thanksgiving and Christmas are still to come).

The origins of Halloween are now unknown with many people divided over the reasons. Some people say that Halloween is celebrated on the eve of the feast of the All Saints (a celebration of all the saints, both known and unknown, in the Christian faith). Others have suggested that Halloween is celebrated to mark harvest festivals and festivals of the dead. This is a commonly accepted origin due to the need and want of people to scare their neighbors.

Interestingly, when reading up on the event I found that the original settlers in North America opposed Halloween. It was only accepted and embraced by North Americans when there was a large influx of Scottish and Irish settlers towards the end of the 19th century. Even then it took almost another 50 years before it was assimilated in to mainstream culture.

Today, Halloween is celebrated all over America by every American. Just like the movies show I was treated to streets full of kids dressed in costumes going from house to house asking for candy. The traditional scary Halloween costumes seem to have been discarded as kids chose to dress up as their favorite superheroes. In fact I only saw a handful of kids who were dressed up as ghosts, vampires, demons etc.

The assortment of costumes certainly did not confine itself only to the children, as the adults also partook in the celebrations.

House themselves retained the scary look with decorations depicting dead bodies, ghosts at the windows and grave stones on the front lawns. In fact a couple of people told me that the local neighborhoods get together every year and hold a competition to judge the scariest house.

At the end of the night kids returned home with their bags stuffed with chocolates, which parents told me would be consumed over several days (hard to see that happening), teenagers went for parties and the parents prepared themselves for the clean up tomorrow.

As much as the candy and costumes are part of Halloween so to are the pranks.

Some houses were clearly victims of such pranks, I asked some kids why they were pulling a prank on one house. They responded “Mr…. lives there and whenever our football goes over in to his yard he never returns it, this is the one time we can have our revenge.”

Today Halloween is over, the kids have hung up their costumes for another year and the parents are putting away the decorations. But there is still a sense that the holiday season has only begun here in the United States.

First Step To The US

October 22, 2012 3 comments

This will be the first of many blog posts documenting my journey in the United States.

Before I go on any further, let me explain what I will be doing. Thanks to the US Embassy in Colombo and the International Center for Journalists, I will be in the United States covering the ongoing Presidential Election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. After an initial briefing in Washington I am off to Toledo, Ohio where I will be working alongside a local newsroom covering the goings on.

I plan on posting daily updates of my journey both on twitter
and this blog. I will not only be reporting the happenings of this closely contested election, but also will be taking a look at the “behind the scenes” of a US election and the public’s reactions.

Any and all photographs will be uploaded either accompanying articles or on my flickr account (which will be updated upon my return to Sri Lanka).

If any of you have questions or would like me to look at any specific issues in the US during my time there, please feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to follow up.

The Failing Revolution of Cricket

October 19, 2012 4 comments

When one day cricket was first seen in the late 1970s, in the form of the controversial “World Series Cricket”, supporters of the game described it as a “game played in pyjamas”. Now, 20/20 is here and it can only be likened to a fancy dress party whose hosts have never been to a party before.

The World T20, which concluded in Sri Lanka two weeks ago, is a shining example of how this format has failed to live up to its billing in all aspects.
Of the 27 games which had been packed in to three weeks, the audiences were treated to only four nail-biters. When this format was first introduced to the world, it was promoted as an arena of explosive cricket that would keep the spectators on the edge of their seats.

Two ties, a win off the last ball and a win in the last over was all that it could muster; on the other hand the remaining 23 games were so heavily one sided that audiences were found to be turning off their televisions even before the game was over.

Entertainment had been promised both on and off the field; the ICC did not fall short in that avenue. The cheerleaders, who had been rounded up five days before the tournament, were an amusing sideshow. Out-of-sync, dressed in absurd outfits and clearly cursed with two left feet these cheerleaders were nothing short of a joke. I do feel sorry for them, with such bad choreography and so little preparation time nothing better could be expected.

Twenty-twenty cricket on the international stage has proven to be a joke, what about domestically? The “Champions League T20” is being held in South Africa and while the crowds have been impressive the games have been once again one-sided affairs. It only serves to highlight the gaping difference that exists between the domestic structures.

So why is this format, which has all the ingredients of being an exciting venture, falling short of its hype?

To the purists, ODIs were not accepted until the mid-80s. But this transition from test cricket was made easier due to the fact that it had the colourful characters of Caribbean cricket to help it through.

The 70s and 80s saw world cricket dominated by the West Indians, who had come along and challenged the old powers of England and Australia. The rest of the world jumped behind these men who defied all odds and swaggered on to the field with an air of arrogance that could never be emulated by their opponents.

Their “calypso” brand of cricket was unique in that it could not be taught but rather it was in their blood. Their tall lanky fast bowlers intimidated all that stood before them, while their batsmen dispatched bowlers as though they were swatting flies.

This arrogance, which resonated from their pure talent, can no longer by reproduced in the shortest format. Glimpses of it have been seen in Chris Gayle, but like the format it is fleeting.

Players that would have otherwise been found out in international cricket are now able to fly below the radar and still be considered class acts.
Prior to this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) Ravindra Jadeja was purchased for a whopping $2 million in the auction. A player who has never performed, and still couldn’t perform after being branded with such a price tag is just one such example of how 20/20 cricket overshadows the talented.

Test cricket, in its purest form, will separate the true greats who go down history from those who will soon be forgotten.
The battles between bat and ball no longer exist. The sight of a batsman dancing down the wicket to a spinner and clipping him through the leg-side have now been replaced by the ungainly image of a batsman closing his eyes and trying to flick the bowler over the keeper’s head.

Technique has been replaced by brute strength, patience by dumb luck and a day of cricket by 3 hours of mayhem that will often leave the spectator disappointed. 20/20 cricket has certainly cornered the commercial aspect of the game, but whether it grabs the attention of the lovers of the sport remains to be seen.

Technique has been replaced by brute strength

The Death Of Free Media

October 13, 2012 7 comments

For the past few weeks the talk around Colombo has been the end of free media with the buy over of The Sunday Leader and the subsequent resignation of its editor-in-chief Frederica Jansz.

They are right, to an extent; free media in the country is slowly being encroached upon by political figures. Yet the end of this freedom of media, as we know it, has been a long time coming and something which could have been prevented.

I worked at The Sunday Leader for the past two years, and during that time there was a gradual decline both financially and in terms of vocal and physical support from the public towards the paper.

Ever since the death of its founder editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, people have told me that the quality of the newspaper has dropped. In fact some have gone so far as to say that they no longer pick up the newspaper. A rather interesting comment, as it is almost as though those people view the paper as being responsible for his death and they are punishing it.

In hindsight the only people to truly be punished were the readers themselves, who are now left with newspaper who have close links to political circles.

Now with the newspaper having been bought over by a person who allegedly has close links to the government, people cry the end of free media. I personally have been insulted and accused of “selling out”, to those people I always respond with a simple question; “where were you when support was needed?”

I do not for a second defend the sale/purchase of the newspaper, but I do feel that this situation could very well have been avoided had those very people who cried about the death of free media supported that very same notion in the first place.
While not everyone could have given over support in the form of financial backing, they could have picked up the paper every Sunday and shown the public that independent journalism is still supported.

Circulation of the newspaper had dropped significantly and while advertising was never abundant in the newspaper even that had reduced. Rumours were spreading that major businesses had been told they could no longer advertise with us (something that I cannot confirm). I do know for a fact that businesses were not comfortable advertising with a controversial paper. While this may be acceptable, it should be noted that many of those in the business circle privately supported the paper while publicly steering clear.

In fact even the very people, who had stories which they wanted told, did not want their names alongside their comments for fear of repercussions. These repercussions were not the threat of white vans but the loss of business contracts.

No doubt there are numerous situations where people are justified in their want to have their name censored, but similarly those people who support free media needed to take a stand and open themselves to the repercussions.

Unfortunately, in my eyes free media in Sri Lanka is on the decline not because the government is censoring it, but because the people are not willing to support it. While everybody screamed blue murder with the sale of the paper, they were noticeably silent in the months leading up to it.
Ranting and raving aside I do not, despite the headline, believe that free media is over with. Call me an idealist but as long as people are willing to openly support such forms of media, independent journalism will continue.