30 September, 2020

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An Open Letter To The President, Prime Minister & All Leaders

By Ajith C. S. Perera

On behalf of the Country’s Largest Minority

It was most encouraging to read the message to the nation by the re-elected Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, after a lengthy dialogue with President Sirisena.

We commend your vision to build a new Sri Lanka in the coming sixty months, founded on the values of good governance and democracy, social justice, equality and accountability in what you hope would be a promise-keeping and NOT just promise-making era.

Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera

Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera

In writing this we represent the largest minority of citizens of Sri Lanka (the physical and sensory ability restricted persons) – nearly 20% of the population.

We appeal to you to help us help you build the ‘new’ Sri Lanka – A better Sri Lanka that will deliver on the promise of ‘Equality’ and ‘Social Justice’.

Towards an inclusive (equal) society

Irrespective of our positions and possessions, ABILITY is an asset available only temporarily to all of us. None can continue with same abilities at all times.

As such, world views and perceptions on what it means to be dis-Abled have changed rapidly to focus on enhancing equally the quality of life for all people.

Globally it is now recognized as a moral and economic duty to help make communities inclusive and liveable for everyone where everyday activities should NOT become a daunting task to accomplish.

The growing emphasis world over is that citizens should never be marginalised by attitudinal, physical or architectural barriers.

We also believe the time now is most appropriate to highlight some vital issues of national importance that we would like you to act on.

The country’s biggest minority 

Due to injuries after 30 years of armed conflict, accidents, ageing, numerous debilitating medical conditions or convalescing after surgery or illness, many people, for short periods or throughout their life, find their mobility, dexterity, sight, hearing or brain functioning restricted.

But, Sirs, it is NOT their impairments that find themselves fighting a silent uphill battle in daily life, but the social environment that renders people dis-Abled.

Hence, this trend is reversible in your able hands.

The benches of the Supreme Court, in 2009 and in 2011, have unanimously agreed that near 20% of our population in this plight form the country’s biggest minority.

Legal Provisions but Failed Promises

Laws and regulations made in 2006 October and the Supreme Court Orders in April 2011 enshrined the principle of ‘accessibility for all’.

Except for bits and pieces here and there, they are not implemented, promoting marginalisation.

The right to enjoy access is also the single right on which enjoying several other rights depend heavily on.

The dis-Ability Rights Bill (2010) that resolves key issues and the National policy of Sri Lanka on dis-Ability (2005) that affords equal opportunities within the socio-economic mainstream, have yet to be enacted.

152 countries, including Bangladesh, Mongolia and Vietnam have ratified the 2007 signed UN Convention to promote, defend and reinforce the basic rights of this minority; Sri Lanka has not.

We hoped that the elected politicians from several parties, with whom we have worked closely with, would make decisions for improving the quality of our lives.

Even after 20 years, progress has been negligible.

None of them has even spoken here in Parliament nor shown the desire to identify the root causes of our key issues.

We firmly believe that our former parliamentarians and leaders lack the empathy, experience or subject knowledge to act on what was truly needed.

After all there is an old saying: “YOU CAN’T REALLY UNDERSTAND ANOTHER PERSON’S EXPERIENCE UNTIL YOU’VE WALKED A MILE IN THEIR SHOES.”

Negative Consequences to our Nation

1. In daily life, people with restricted ability are still marginalised and deprived of equal opportunities in gainful employment, education, health, recreation, shopping, travel, information and communication.

Few examples are:

a ) Children with limited mobility are often unable to access schools or universities or even ATM machines due to inaccessible and unsafe design facilities.

Even such Mahapola funded recipients are marginalised from benefiting.

b) The gainfully employed such, are often denied the opportunity to continue to work due to inaccessible work environments and prejudiced employers. They then become a burden on their families and the nation.

c) None of the reputed hospitals has an accessible toilet in any ward for wheelchair users.

d) In spite of the law, many government and private institutions, banks, hotels, restaurants, sports stadia, schools and places of recreation – toilets and washrooms in particular – remain inaccessible and / or a safety hazard often for the ambulant.

e) Sri Lanka remains an unfriendly destination to a growing tourist sector, the global senior population of about 15%. The ‘Accessible Tourism’ sector is an untapped lucrative market mainly because of our poor infrastructure.

f) ‘Sign’ language – the only mode of communication for our hearing impaired people – is not legally recognised nor promoted in Sri Lanka.

g) The hand-held devices freely available overseas that bring improvement to the Quality of Life of those whose ability to see is poor, are yet not available here. Certain laws due to the absence of any ‘exceptions’ clause – such as The Intellectual Property Law – further hinders their lives.

h) For many of our heroic soldiers on retirement and also other victims of the 30 year conflict, now faced with various stages of restricted ability, life in civil society brings new sets of problems. We need to recognise and resolve these issues.

2. Constitutional protection still evades this largest minority

We proposed minor amendments to Article (12.3) of the Constitution, but found no politician to present this at the Parliament.

3. The right to live as Equal Citizens with Dignity

Two pre-requisites to achieve a sustainable national economy are: (a). Arresting the waste of human potential and instead mobilising this asset and (b). Minimising unwanted dependency through increased opportunities.

Political parties have belittle our cries for release of our innate potential.

Instead of promoting equal opportunities for employment and education, we are made unwanted dependants on charity and social welfare beyond minimum.

Although measures required to ‘Make Sri Lanka a truly dis-Abled friendly country’ – which will also boost our human rights image – are low cost and feasible, they yet to become a meaningful reality.

Seeking Representation in Parliament

With previous parliamentarians indifferent to rights for this largest minority in Sri Lanka, we realised the need to obtain a voice in parliament for the voiceless largest minority.

We made many efforts to be included in the nominations of the mainstream political parties for the recent parliamentary elections until 48 hours before nominations closed.

But….., none found any of us from this Largest Minority – several academically and professionally qualified intellectuals with vast experience – eligible to fill a place in their national lists.
We as a group of professionals then decided at very short notice to contest the August Parliamentary elections as independent candidates for the Colombo and Gampaha Districts.

Challenges faced as independent candidates

1) None of us had previous experiences in contesting any elections.

2) All of us have restricted ability in our mobility or sensory abilities.

3) We just had only 30 days to attend to all matters.

4) Almost all radio and television stations indicated that airtime to take out our messages could be afforded ONLY for those who had placed ‘paid advertisements with them’. Millions of Rupees thus needed was beyond our individual means.

We also were not able to get the justified intervention of the Election Commissioner to direct these stations.

Performance at August Elections

Despite these limitations, in the Colombo District we came second amongst 15 Independent Groups and were placed 14th from 36 contestants. In the Gampaha District we faired most encouragingly emerging as the 1st Independent Group and were placed 7th from 28 contestants.

This clearly demonstrated that emerging numbers of our citizens supported the rights of equality we are espousing.

Our Fervent Appeal to you

1. We offer you unreservedly our expertise backed by long years of wide experience to work with you in bringing about ‘Equality and Social Justice’ for the 4 Million Citizens with restricted ability.

Help us help you in the drive for equality.

2. Activate the dormant legislation and set up the framework to ensure it is effectively implemented and followed as promised by you to strengthen the rule of law.

Amongst the many other priorities the new government is having, we believe, in the larger interest of AN INCLUSIVE BETTER SRI LANKA, these are ‘practical and possible’.

As Dr. Lee Jonk-wook – the then Director General of W.H.O. said:

“The way a country treats its ‘ability restricted’ population and the true extent to which they are respected as fully-fledged citizens is a realistic internationally recognized measure of a country’s good governance, reflects its Human Rights image and a far more telling indicator and a sure test of society’s development than GDP.”

With our new leaders emphasising ‘Yaha Paalanaya’ (Good Governance), a Just Society and a ‘Pivithuru Hetak’ we are confident in this ‘promise-keeping’ era, you will soon heed our call.

It is not an act of Charity but an Act of Justice and, Justice Enriches us All.

*Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera – a former senior manager in industry and a test-match-panel cricket umpire – this August with three others, became the first wheelchair user to contest a Parliamentary Election in Sri Lanka. He was left instantly a paraplegic for life by a fallen way side tree in 1992. By reason of this personal adversity, he has bounced back to serve humanity as ‘a crusader on wheels’ – most importantly as a reputed pioneer activist and a widely experienced accessibility advisor, recognised even by reputed bodies overseas. For further information please see http://goo.gl/3FWyW

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Latest comments

  • 6
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    Ajith C. S. Perera –

    RE: An Open Letter To The President, Prime Minister & All Leaders

    “We commend your vision to build a new Sri Lanka in the coming sixty months, founded on the values of good governance and democracy, social justice, equality and accountability in what you hope would be a promise-keeping and NOT just promise-making era.”

    Ranil Wickramasingha and Matripala Sirisena has a VISION to let Rajapaksa Mafia Gang of Robbers, Crooks, Criminals and Murders to go free. They have an understanding between the President Sirisena and Prime Minister RW.

    [Edited out]

    • 6
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      Amarasiri

      “Ranil Wickramasingha and Maitripala Sirisena has a VISION to let Rajapaksa Mafia Gang of Robbers, Crooks, Criminals and Murders to go free.”

      … and that includes the gruesome murder of Wasim Thajudeen. A.k.a. a “Memorandum of Understanding”.

      • 0
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        [Edited out]

    • 2
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      Yes Mr Amarasiri, they ALL have Hidden Agendas and that is why FOR 20 YEARS they failed to recognise the Biggest Minority of People, hence this OPEN LETTER.

      • 0
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        Dear Dr Perera,

        You have said “in the Colombo District we came second amongst 15 Independent Groups and were placed 14th from 36 contestants. In the Gampaha District we faired most encouragingly emerging as the 1st Independent Group and were placed 7th from 28 contestants.”

        Whilst all people without exception must feel sorry for you, and that includes me, I can’t see myself voting for you – even if I were incapacitated to the same extent as you. Actually, I’m quite old, so I have begun to feel some debilitating effects.

        Let me be honest; if you actually want parliamentary representation, I fear that you have to provide us with the number of votes actually polled. Please forgive me if you find me rather cruel in my outlook, but isn’t that better than being polite and then forgetting the uncomfortable issues posed by the presence of so may disabled person (note that I have deliberately avoided the euphemism “differently abled”)

        • 0
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          Dear ‘Sinhala Man’

          Never mind the thought of NOT voting for our vision.

          After all there is an old saying: “YOU CAN’T REALLY UNDERSTAND ANOTHER PERSON’S EXPERIENCE UNTIL YOU’VE WALKED A MILE IN THEIR SHOES.”

          Individual ‘Manapa Votes’ which I am also very interested to find, I am told, they will not give unless we get certain % of the total votes that enables us to regain the deposit. But for total votes, you can get it yourself in visiting the SL Election Department Website.

        • 0
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          @Sinhala Man

          He’s not asking for your sympathy.. don’t you get it ?

          People like you are a disgrace to our common humanity because clearly, you have none beyond your own selfish desires. Typical Sinhala, you have no EMPATHY. Are you a Buddhist ? With your level of identification with the problems of others (nil), I would fully expect you to be one

          You probably bang on about Wonderful Buddhist Culture, tie bits of string on your wrist, smash perfectly good coconuts on the ground, feed obviously well-fattened Monks, say your “pan-sil” daily, listen to Bana and Pirith and all that Bullcr@p – all for nothing, if your response to Ajith Perera is anything to go by

          By all the Gods, the Buddha was right. The faith IS dying.

          • 1
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            Maalumiris:-

            You are quite right. The Buddha’s Teaching, The Dhamma, is already dead in Sri Lanka.

            ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ are following a Religion made up of Worship of the Greatest ever Human Being, as a God; Requests for Wishes to be Granted from a ‘Holy Tree’; and collecting Merit by offering Food and Money to ‘Priests’ who are expected to ‘Bless’ them, by Chanting in Pali, and intervening on their behalf with the Devas!

            • 0
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              Hamlet
              You forgot to mention, that the Four Brahmaviharas of Meththa, Karuna, Muditha, Upekkha, are not applied to the ‘Disabled’ of Sri Lanka, most of whom as Soldiers of the SL Army, saved the Lives of the ‘Sinhala Buddhists’, who now conveniently forget about them.

              What happened to the Slogan ‘Api Venuven Api’?

      • 0
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        Dr. Perera,

        I agree that the disabled in Sri Lanka need activists to organize and fight for their rights. For instance, buses in the US have extra accommodation to handle wheel chairs and there are elevators in most buildings and train stations for people using wheel chairs. Bank ATM machines have braille capabilities to support the blind, and phone companies have relay services to support communication via typing for the deaf.

        I am all for advocating to bring such accommodations to Sri Lanka, with legislation to make it necessary, and in general I support activism for the disabled. But a political party exclusively for the disabled is not a realistic proposition.

        I think even the disabled have different political persuasions, and based on your political persuasion, groups like yours should merge with one of the top 4 parties that won the elections in SL, and then contest elections via that party, while also lobbying for the rights of the disabled. I know a couple of US Congressmen in wheelchair and they are always in one of the two parties in the US.

        • 0
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          Dear Agnos,

          I agree and also disagree with YOIU with EMPATHY as a Voluntyary activist with 18 years of practical experience and wide subject knowledge.

          Did you read carefukly thisa ARTICLE at First, please?

          There I explained VALIANT EFFORTS to JOIN with a Mainstream Party BUT (MONEY the main cause) we were NOT afforded any Chance by any Political Party as I have explained which YOU have missed.

          We thus had NO other CHOICE to be the VOICE of the VOICELESS Biggest Minority Citizens which you too will soon join as ABILITY of everyone is only Temporary Asset.

          Then only, you too will realise NO POLITICAL PARTY cares two hoots for you and you have NO RIGHTS but a Third Class Citizen.

          I clearly have said, WE are NOT any Political Group BUT fight for the Rights of this Biggest Minority so that EVERYONE ELSE including YOU TOO, will benefit.

          First must read carefully before sharing your thoughts and I wish you good luck!

          • 0
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            Dr. Perera,

            Sorry that I missed the part about your attempts to join a mainstream party. I don’t get a lot of time, so I just scanned it quickly (I remembered your earlier article before the elections in saying you should merge with a mainstream party).

            FYI–there is a Nuffield School for the Deaf and the Blind in Kaitady, (between Chavakachcheri and Jaffna town), for the Tamil medium students. My uncle used to be its principal a long time ago before retiring. I think there is a similar school in Ratmalana for the Sinhalese medium, and the Nuffield students used to visit Ratmalana to participate in sports events.

            You should continue to organize as an advocacy/lobby group, seek membership and expand it throughout Sri Lanka, including the North-East, and then show the mainstream parties your membership strength. You should also seek donations (with transparent accounting) to keep the activism going, in spite of being ignored by the mainstream parties at this stage.

            Sri Lanka should come up with something similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA). Progress may be slow initially, but stay focused on that goal. If the politicians continue to ignore the issue, organize a massive rally in front of Parliament with the participation of the disabled from all corners of Sri Lanka.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 1
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    Sri lanka is far behind, I think, in providing a decent life to disable people.

    some one has to keep on promoting that, amidst all the barriers they have to go through.

    At least talk about that every where possible and make people realize the needs of yours.

    • 0
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      Dear Jim Softly,

      That’s exactly what I have been doing in my Wheelchair over the past decade, including a battle on my own at the Supreme Court in the larger interest of us 0- the largest minority of Citizens.

  • 1
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    It looks like most our our politicians are not educated enough to understand how important these things are in the society. It appears to be a good government in Sri Lanka this time, hopefully Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickramasingha will address these issues at once. Quality of the political leadership is getting better in the country.

    • 0
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      Dear Mr Fernando,

      That is the PURPOSE and AIM of this Open Letter. As YOU, ME and very many of us hope, let’s see how the Leaders respond.

  • 0
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    Politics means the techniques if lies and cheats.

  • 0
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    HiAjith Aiya,

    Please keep up the good work. It is a uphill battle, Sri Lankan Politician and society is very far behind with regards to this issue.

    Like all others, people with disabilities come into the world with for a purpose. It is not a disabled person we are looking at, but a person with a disability. This means that these individuals have much more to offer than what the label of a “disabled person” implies. People with disabilities are unique, talented and have much more to bring to the world than what society expects. Sri Lankan society needs to learn to recognise and acknowledge this fact.

    I am sure your work will immensely contribute towards improving the quality of life of the entire disabled community in Sri Lanka.

    Trust that you are keeping well.

    Take Care ,
    Primal

  • 0
    0

    Hello Dr. Ajith.
    How can I contact you?
    Pradeep

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