20 May, 2019

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It Is A National Disgrace

By Madawala Hemananda

Madawala Hemananda

Madawala Hemananda

It is not an exaggeration that Sri-Lanka is reputed throughout the world, to be the repository of the earliest Buddhist scriptures and where the majority are practising Buddhists. Buddhism as far as I am aware, is the only religion, where there are no commandments and rules to obey and not even a dress-code, unless one is an ordained Buddhist Monk. The Buddha invited people to ‘come and see’ his philosophy, which was based on freedom of the individual, honesty and openness, as there was nothing to hide. Although openness, both in enquiry and investigation is a key feature of Buddhism, it appears that Srilankans have totally abandoned this noble tradition and are hiding themselves behind high front boundary walls and solid gates. One wonders whether they are hiding from an enemy or from their own neighbours, friends and relatives. Why are we continuing to behave like this, now that the civil war, which was often quoted as the lame excuse, is now well and truly over?

Even houses built in the remote parts of the Island, where everyone knows everyone else, owners have adopted the practice of hiding themselves, behind high front boundary walls. There are no visible signs of this practice easing or disappearing and in fact the opposite is happening, with high walls around houses becoming the norm, rather than the exception, as even before laying the foundation for a new house, a high wall is built, as if required by law. These front boundary walls while costing large sums of money, allow only roofs of these houses to be seen and to get access to them would be difficult, if not for the popularity of mobile phones, with which, one could alert the occupier having arrived in front of the house, so that the heavily fortified and opaque gate could be opened, often using brute force. Is this practice of hiding behind walls, not highly unbecoming of a great Buddhist nation that extols the virtues of a rich Buddhist cultural heritage?

Gnanasara BBSIn England it was back in 1947 that the Town and Country Planning Act made it illegal to build a boundary wall of a house fronting a highway, in excess of 3 feet in height (now 1 metre) and it is still the law, in this predominantly Christian country. If, as of necessity, e.g. a Nursing Home, a wall of special height were required it will only be allowed subject to planning permission. The overriding considerations for this legislation restricting the freedom of the individual, to build high walls in front of houses were, aesthetics, pleasurable built environment and opportunity for the public to enjoy and admire wonderful creations of brilliant Architects. How on earth can we enjoy an Architect’s beautiful creation when desirable residences in Sri-Lanka are kept covered and hidden behind a huge front walls and solid gates?

Restricted heights of front boundary walls have encouraged residents to develop their own arrangements to create safer neighbourhoods and schemes such as ‘neighbourhood watch’ are very popular in London, where neighbours look after each others’ properties and if need be by ringing the Police if they happen to see anything unusual in a neighbour’s property.

Travelling on ‘expressways’ we can now see this beautiful Island of Sri-Lanka in all its glory and outstanding natural beauty. But in this lush green resplendent land what we now see in its urban environment are walls and yet more walls, some of which, due to lack of care and maintenance, stand discoloured by large scale build up of mildew, moss and liberal coatings of slime, which have turned white walls, black. This means that instead of looking at greenery, pleasing to the eye, we are looking at slime coated black walls which by anyone’s standards are really disgusting and revolting. Why do we have to turn this wonderful Island into land of black and unsightly walls?

There is one other menacing development of recent origin, which makes me really sad and at times angry, seeing the way foreigners, who have chosen to live in Sri-Lanka, treating the citizens of their adopted country and their neighbours with contempt. Every residence occupied by a foreigner that I have seen was completely surrounded by very high walls and solid gates. They are literally fortresses on the one hand and virtual prisons on the other. No one knows what is going on inside them, what the occupants are up to, with hardly any contact with neighbours. Why are we allowing foreigners to behave in this manner? If they have come to live in our country they must abide by the cherished culture and traditions of the country, which I assume should be that they must not hide themselves behind high walls and solid gates.

Perhaps it may be that we have learnt to imitate the foreigners and happy to live in virtual prisons ourselves rather than encouraging foreigners to adopt our ways of living. Most of the hotels in Sri-Lanka are also completely covered with tall boundary walls and they are no go areas for the people of the country. Is this the way we want our country to be, littered with little fortresses everywhere? We must find a solution to this wonton destruction of our environment and concerted action is now becoming increasingly urgent.

It is high time for an ambitious politician, a political party or even a religious leader to take this responsibility to rid the country of this growing menace. This could even be a manifesto commitment of a powerful political party. People are fed up with the contempt with which they are being treated not only by the foreigners but also by our own rich and the powerful hiding themselves behind huge walls and solid gates. Time is also ripe to bring new legislation to protect the outstanding natural beauty of the Island by prohibiting new developments which are detrimental to the scenic beauty in general and the built environment in particular.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    1

    Interesting piece. I remember as a child there were no boundary walls around houses. Leave alone boundary walls, the front doors after opening in the morning was only shut at night before going to bed. If the front door was closed was an insult to the visitor. What changes we have done as houses and inmates are not safe with all the fortifications today. How the society has changed?

    • 2
      0

      In late 70’s, even in Colombo, all residential houses were separated with dangerous barbed wires.. Cricket in small vacant plot next door always through barbed wires.. So Most of us had scars from barbed wires… When I visited developed Asian countries and West in 80s, I was surprised because I couldn’t see any barbed wires in residential areas, only used in remote areas to prevent animal entering their lands. And when we go back home for holidays, you realise how barbaric to have those dangerous stuff in residential areas..
      Secured by barbed wires, secured by 8 ft high walls and gates, or secured by 4 ft walls with broken glasses on the top of the walls are the same thing.. Probably this insecurity or mistrust is in our gene pool….

      • 2
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        @AVB
        Not sure where you live but accept my congratulations on apparently never having been visited by a thief / common criminal intent on stealing even the meanest item from your washing lines, or someone who sees no harm in picking all the flowers in your garden so they can offer it at the local temple

    • 1
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      To me allow this pseudo monks to in safran robes is disgraceful than anything else. For their own reasons them to hide behind Sanga constumes and spread hatred by their form of hate mongering should be banned by bringing a national law. To harm wording towards any kind of nationalities should be banned as it is applied in Germany and Italy.
      Then only these buggers would finally shut their cesspits – else, the public speeches such as what was held at Aluthagama shortly before the riots arose there – could further creat new form of violence.
      This man Ghanasara should be sent to a rehalibitation centre for the benefit of the masses of the country. That support to BBS should be closely investigated – not letting them spread any hatreds.
      This country regardelss of ethinic background they are born to each individual should have equal right to live and express their views within the laws prevailing in the country.

      Muslims or non-muslims should be regardess as equal. If Ghanasara for his agreession tends to turn everything around him like to him – can only lead to the greater divisions.
      I am buddhist, but I equally respect hindus, muslims, chritians. I dont care what they are .. what counts me is being civilized.. as obama last week said, you can only expect dignity if you also respect others.

  • 6
    4

    While I agree that walls are unsightly and most are not maintained, I think that security is a reasonably valid reason to have these high walls. I would also submit that most people started building these after the 83 riots.

    That being said, I also know that Gotabhaya Rajapakse had initiated projects to bring down the walls, starting with the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station.. and extending elsewhere. I believe he started with public/government buildings and would probably have continued the trend ..

    Now of course, we need the walls to save us from the smell of the rubbish that is piling up on the street.

    Ah Democracy and Freedom!.. how I missed your aromas!

  • 4
    1

    Yes it’s to do with our hybrid dogs to prevent them getting away???
    Well the matter here is we are terrified of our selves Just in case we frighten the neighbours with our crossbread culture. We are neither western nor eastern ,put it this way we are frightened of their neighbours , simple as that.

  • 5
    1

    The Sri Lankan practice of building high boundary walls has nothing to do with foreigners or the practices of other countries. While backyards are separated either by hedges, chain link or wooden fences, homes are not barricaded off in foreign countries by walls or gates at the front entrance nor are they used to separate properties. In Canada, where I live, flowering plants, shrubs or trees along the drive way help demarcate properties at the front of the land, which simply blends into the neighoubour’s property.

    As for foreigners living within enclosed premises in Sri Lanka, again that should be directed at the landlords.

  • 11
    1

    I think the writer exaggerates Sri Lanka and its claim to being famous for practicing Buddhists. Indeed, when you go abroad you find that most people are not even aware of a country called Sri Lanka, let alone that it practices Buddhism.

  • 4
    1

    This writer stats with the Buddhist religious philosophy and connects it with building code and life styles. He mentions that Buddhism is the only ‘religion’ he knows which has no commandments and rules to be obeyed, whereas we understand it as a philosophy or a way of life that leads to inner peace of mind including a harmonious lifestyle, living close to nature. However, that says a lot about the disciplinary foundation that Buddhism is built on, to enable it to flourish and nurture uniformity in its practice amongst its followers world wide. Without the rules and regulations it becomes quite chaotic to say the least, and it would mean anyone is free to practice any way they wish and call it his understanding of practicing Buddhism.

    Getting to the point of the high walls built around living abodes. This is silly since there are so many other more rudimentary things in life that one needs to improver, before considering such mundane issues. Caring and sharing with the lesser privileged, consistency in the types of consumable food (some eat meat, some don’t), improve hygiene with good toilet habits, totally eradicate alcohol dependency, reduce divorce rates to a minimum, stop abortions, educate masses to show respect and kindness towards others (priority for ladies and children, the old and feeble, etc.) start training from very young age, raise living standards of people, I can go on and on. When accidents happen, people get so violent and instantly resort to mob violence, road rage on the rise, there is absolutely nothing by way of road courtesy by giving way to other road users, it seems to be never ending. There is still a long way we need to go before we can think of showing off the natural beauty of the country which is quite spectacular, and truly appreciating God’s gift to our blessed isle. Peoples attitude towards the welfare of their country need to change, the rest will take care of itself.

    • 1
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      Storming Norman

      You will be pleased that I can confirm to you as a person who has lived among the people of all communities of Sri Lanka, in towns and villages, that the vast majority (>90%) of ordinary people are those who are “Caring and sharing with the lesser privileged”. If you want to see proof, take your mind back to troubled times of the riots provoked by racist elements. How many Tamil lives were saved by Sinhala families, how many Sinhala people in Tamil enclaves were saved by Tamils, and How many Sinhala and Tamil lives were saved by Muslims?

      This view contradicts the venomous contributions of some writers to CT, and contributions of some commentors. One may think these represent the mindset of ordinary people, but they do not. Sri Lanka is blessed. The poisonous vermin can do no harm.

  • 14
    0

    Don’t we have other urgent problems to solve, like breaking down the walls that is dividing our nation.

    • 1
      0

      Dimi please relax and enjoy the ‘fun’.

      There is a saying “A barber without work shaved his wife’s cat” (pussy). Consider that writing the Article was something like that!!!

  • 3
    0

    There is a saying “empty vessels make the biggest noise”. This guy has nothing useful or substantial to say. This Article is intellectual masturbation. He does not even live in Sri Lanka. Still he advocates demolishing my wall so he can take a peek inside when he comes here on vacation.

    Get a life man.

    • 1
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      When he started with high and mighty Buddhism I thought he was highlighting Buddhists values. Then he diverted into concrete walls of SL.
      Would have been more interesting if it had been Theravada Buddhism to wake up the dead.

  • 2
    1

    Madawala Hemananda –”what we now see in its urban environment are walls and yet more walls, some of which, due to lack of care and maintenance, stand discoloured by large scale build up of mildew, moss and liberal coatings of slime, which have turned white walls, black. “

    What I also noticed while travelling around Sri Lanka in February/March is the number of Buddha statues that have cropped up all over the country. Some of them are huge.

    Why do the Sinhalease need to be reminded of Buddha every time they turn their head.!

    We should campaign for “Enough Buddha Statues”!

    The country is getting littered with them.

  • 0
    1

    Buddhism,high walls and gates….
    What is the twist – I mean using the picture of BBS cobras here….

    • 0
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      @Mohamed Hisham
      I live near a place of worship (non-Buddhist) which is surrounded by high walls – and I understand that inside this place of worship, there is further segregation enforced
      Any comments ?

    • 0
      0

      Brilliant observation Mohamed! No one caught the relevance of the picture, you did.

      And kudos to CT editorial staff, for inserting that particular picture where the smiling, but deadly, cobra is pushing the gate open. The editorial staff are saying something very important to Madawala Hemananda: Lets KEEP THE COBRA OUT.

  • 1
    0

    The writer has picked a poor subject to write about. Over the years we Sri Lankans have gone to great lengths to protect our privacy; first with barbed wire, and now with high walls. Unsurprising, given the years of ethnic strife and a long and vicious war. Even today, after 6 years of peace, we see Temple Trees, the offices and homes of other ministers, and the great and good around the more desirable areas of the capital, and elsewhere, remain hidden from prying eyes who would love to see ‘how the other half lives’. Before we can see the walls come down, let us outlaw the door-to-door ‘salesmen’, charity collectors, beggars, and other sundry people who simply walk up to your front door on some pretext or another. Let us first solve the problem of open stinking drains, erratic and sometimes non-existent garbage collection, stray animals, people who just walk up and want to do business, and, most of all, our native predilection to look covetously into other people’s property with a view to relieving them of their possessions.

    • 0
      0

      Please excuse the writer. He is not a resident of Sri Lanka. He lives in the UK. He is also senile, I mean a senior person. He likes to look into our houses on his rare visits to Sri Lanka, perhaps glance at our damsels inside. He sees the walls as his enemy. Sin aney!

  • 3
    2

    We should be ashamed to call SRILANKa as Buddhist Nation. Even the walls couldn’t protect thousands of civilians murdered in a daylight in the name Buddhism. How on a world you burn a library and none of them is brought under justice in the name Buddhism.

  • 0
    0

    The high walls are a reflection of insecurity and has nothing to do with buddhism. The country after 77 has become violent with a society that is overcrowded with urbanisation. The rule of law is no more. It is the corrupt law of the politicians and the rule of lawyers that has made us all insecure.

  • 1
    0

    I understand the message of Mr Hemananda that in SL we don’t always practice the concept of ‘love thy neighbour’ but the reason for building a high wall around your property is often for security purposes. SL is multi cultural and multi religious, and all religions preach the same concept but bigots & racists have interpreted religion to suit their own agenda. Although SL prides in being a Buddhist country, we are definitely not governed by Buddhist principals, judging by the rampant corruption, lawlessness and, in most cases, a lack of ethics in conducting our daily lives.

    Growing up in the 70s, I remember unfriendly neighbours confiscating balls & kites that happen to land in their property & ‘neighbours from hell’ who would tip rubbish over the fence to the neighbouring garden or encroach into the neighbour’s property by moving the fence even by a few inches at any opportunity. Therefore, a permanent structure to safeguard one’s boundary is necessary. Then, there are the petty thieves who scale the walls to get in to your property to steal whatever they can lay their hands on. I have lost count the number of times my house had been burgled or items stolen during the day by urchins & junkies, often in front of my old mother, taunting her while plucking coconuts, fruits or running off with garden tools & even clothing from the washing line, knowing she was helpless to stop them. Eventually, I had to raise the height of the wall in fear of the safety of my old mother who was alone in the house during the day. I now live in UK & fortunately, have no such problems. My front garden is not enclosed with a wall & the back garden has a 5′ wooden fence, same as the other houses in the neighbourhood but that is not to say that some manor houses of the rich are not without high walls or if you happen to live in a deprived neighbourhood, the same problems with junkies, ‘hoodies’ & other undesirables, known as ‘neighbours from hell’, just like in SL.

  • 0
    0

    ” the only religion, where there are no commandments and rules to obey “

    Everything in moderation eh ? Thieving is quite common today, where clothes are stolen from clothes-lines, fruits from the only fruit tree in the garden, and even the hub caps from stationery vehicle parked outside. Good going for a country that loves to describe itself as predominantly Buddhist. Obviously 9′ wall is not high enough.

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