30 October, 2020

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July – Many Reasons To Keep Calling It “Bloody & Black”

By Kusal Perera

Kusal Perara

Waking up to a misty, cold morning on Monday 25th July, I listened to the day’s first “Thevava” (තේවාව) of Dalada Maligawa, the pinnacle of Buddhism in this “Land of Gauthama Buddha”. Looking down at the Kandy town from the front garden space of “Satyodaya” on Pushpadana hillock, the town was seen just breaking out of its long night slumber. The morning breeze carried the drum beats of the Thevava across the silent town waking up men, women and children into this new day, that was to be etched in the “bloodiest black” possible, in post independent history of Ceylon and Sri Lanka thereafter.

The previous day, Sunday 24 July, I was attending a meeting of workers in Kandy, mostly State sector, who had struck work 03 years ago, between 17 and 22 July 1980. The Jayewardene government crushed the ’80 July strike with no mercy. Over 47,000 workers were thrown out of their jobs. July was turning black year after year since the workers’ strike, with reports of a striker or two committing suicide, while others were desperately trying to crawl back to life.

The word “Thevava” did not mean much to me then. But lately I found it is originally a Tamil word and the whole ritual had been borrowed by Hinduism, as practised in the Hindu kovils. Adopted in a Buddhist holy palace, there obviously had been a few changes to this ritual inside Dalada Maligawa, perhaps over the past few centuries. “Panikkiyas” (guess this is also a Tamil word) who perform at the Thevava with drums and flutes, are also of South Indian descent, now wholly “Sinhalised”.

Black July 83 - A Tamil boy stripped naked and later beaten to death by Sinhala youth in Boralla bustation | Photo - Chandraguptha Amarasingha

Then comes another Sri Lankan of much later South Indian decent who immediately after the pogrom on Sri Lankan Tamils in July ’83, went to Madras as Chennai was called in the past. Saumyamoorthi Thondaman was the accepted and respected leader of the up country Tamils of South Indian origin and was often consulted on issues of political importance to them. In Madras, questioned by the Tamil Nadu media about the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka, he is said to have summed up the pogrom, “In Sri Lanka, it is Sunday sil and Monday kill.

Four years later, July again left the whole of Sinhala South numbed and sleepless for well over 02 years. Signing of the bi-lateral agreement between India and Sri Lanka on 27 July, 1987 saw the JVP turn into a blood thirsty Sinhala nationalist terror group. That for the first time witnessed the killing of Sinhala politicians and social activists from Hambantota to Pulasthipura and Colombo to Siyambalanduwa. Killed were celebrity figures like Vijeya Kumaratunge to trade union leaders like Panditha and Wimalasiri in Colombo, to local village activists like Athugala in Wariyapola to dissenting JVP radical turned independent cultural activist Marasinghe in Anuradhapura.

“July” is therefore about the ’80 workers’ strike, about the ’83 Tamil pogrom and the ’87 Indo-SL Accord and after. Thus July stands as the month that has seen most blood, Sinhala and Tamil. The month that saw heavy demolition of life, both by a Colombo based Sinhala government throwing out thousands of workers from employment, watching Sinhala hooligans go racially berserk looting, burning Tamil property and killing Tamil people and a Sinhala insurgency killing Sinhala citizens in dozens, across the Sinhala South. This July, 26 years after the Indo – SL Accord was signed which paved the way for the 13 Amendment and the Provincial Councils (PC), we not only talk history, but talk of the future too.

This July also makes an important presence in this bloody and racially stained post independent history, with President Rajapaksa on 05 July, signing the gazette notice for establishing the first pre or post war PC in Tamil North and the TNA adding more importance with the first retired Supreme Court Judge, C.V. Wigneswaran named as their Chief Ministerial Candidate. In fact Vigneswaran is the first Judge of the Appeal or Supreme Court, retired though, to contest any election for a legislature in Sri Lanka’s three tier governing system.

July 2013 thus kick starts a new campaign for power devolution defined and designed under the 1987 July Indo-SL Accord, led by a person who was no Tamil Tiger fighting for a separate Tamil State. This time its not an Indian nominee, preferred by the R.A.W. This time its led by an incredibly straightforward and respected legal luminary, one who sat on judgement over  violations of the law and the Constitution. One who had not minced words before on what he’s called upon to comment on and would not, even now. His position has thus been made clear, no sooner he was named the TNA Chief Ministerial candidate. For those in the Sinhala South he said in the Sinhala language as well, he wants police and land powers if he is elected the Chief Minister of Northern Province and wants a civilian as the Governor of the NPC and the EPC too. That makes it clear. He is for full implementation of the 13 Amendment and an unhindered civil administration.

He is no Vartharajah Perumal. He is not asking for an armed police force like the ragtag group rounded up by Perumal, named the Tamil National Army. The confusion on this is due to the cunning interpretations given by government propagandists given equally large space by the media. That scenario, where Perumal thought he could meet the threat of the LTTE, after the IPKF leaves with an armed police, is history and no more. Today, Wigneswaran is talking about space the NPC could have constitutionally in administering the Sri Lankan police stationed in Northern Province. He is talking of a police under a provincial DIG who would be appointed by the IGP in consultation with him, if elected CM of North. with a National Police Commission that would have to be constitutionally established.

Land powers, because there is certainly an open threat, often argued by the Sinhala leaders in changing the demography of Tamil North and East. Land is therefore a serious issue for the Tamil people, beyond how they would utilise them for their own livelihood development. He has gone on record already, that outside Sinhala farmers have come to cultivate the land of the Tamil people, with military patronage. That should not happen and would happen, if the Colombo government is allowed to keep land powers with them.

Wigneswaran is quite open about his disapproval of ex – security officers being kept as Governors of provinces. He has already been proved right in the East. Even the Rajapaksa controlled PC has run into power blocs due to a Rtd. Rear Admiral being the Governor. An appointee of the President, the Governor represents the most powerful centralised power. President Rajapaksa, has therefore told his Eastern Provincial Councillors, their protests amounts to protests against his presidential decisions. Wigneswaran would not have it easy in de-miltarising the Tamil life, but his and the TNA’s proposition to have a person in the calibre of Prof. Savitri G00nesekere, could make it difficult for Rajapaksas to avoid the issue. Women have more issues than men in all war devastated areas, with over 80,000 young widows, most with little children and no proper livelihood. The rail tracks, roads, bridges and buildings the Rajapaksas talk of as “huge” development in the North, are no answers to these women and children. That makes the case for a woman Governor much stronger with a Sinhala academic like Prof Goonesekere talked of as Governor, gives Wigneswaran and the TNA a strong platform for lobbying and campaigning.

All that said, let’s agree the actuals will not roll in now. President Rajapaksa, accepted as a pragmatic leader even by slain LTTE leader Prabhakaran, seems to be bidding time till the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November, to come and go. He knows well enough, the CHOGM would give him the largest spanner, in thwarting the full implementation of the 13 Amendment. The April decision that finalised the CHOGM to be held in Colombo was not taken by political amateurs. Those decision makers helped by cooler than Dixit Indian diplomat, Kamalesh Sharma as SG  knew, the meeting in Colombo makes President Rajapaksa the Chairperson-in-office of the Commonwealth of Nations, for the next two years. They knew quite well, once in that chair, it gives this Rajapaksa regime a very prestigious standing among 54 nations of the Commonwealth and also among the UN member States. An international positioning that provides Rajapaksa to better manipulate international pressure. Locally, post CHOGM would see a huge carnival with grandiose felicitation ceremonies and applause. Already the MEA has begun organising the frenzy through school programmes. More would follow with songs and dance that would create an aura around him, no political leader or head of State ever enjoyed before.

What if President Rajapaksa thereafter decides to go for a presidential election, early 2014 ? Technically he could, after completing 04 years from January, 2010. Staying on till the end of the term in 2016 may be too stressful for a President who has failed in every aspect of governance. Cost of living, rule of law, post war dividends, he lacks credibility to promise  any more on any of them. President for a third term, he can afford to wave off 02 years from the second term if he has to and capitalise he would on “national pride” as Head of the Commonwealth, before the aura dies off. What with all such profiling and pride, if he then campaigns for a mandate to Amend the existing 13 Amendment ?

There isn’t any strong opposition candidate right now, who could challenge Rajapaksa firm and square, if he throws a Sinhala slogan with nationalistic pride. The UNP has always vacillated on the Sinhala issue, reluctant to be seen as standing for Tamil and minority rights as well. Except for Wickramasinghe, his remaining loyalists are mostly Sinhala chauvinists of different hues and degrees. A weak kneed opposition with no holistic development alternative and with no will power to present a pluralistic image, will be Rajapaksa’s best bet for an early presidential election.

This July thus brings about a new equation, that may not have positive answers, even after next July, if President Rajapaksa sticks to his promise of saving the Sinhala nation by refusing Tamil people, their due political share of post war dividends. If the main opposition remains hesitant in taking Rajapaksa head on, standing up for Tamil and minority rights and a wholly democratic, development option in cutting a totally opposite image to that of this Rajapaksa regime.

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    The issue of land is before the courts and that is the appropriate place to solve the issue. That is assuming we have an independent judiciary. Police powers too are effectively in the hands of the Defence Secretary by chain of command irrespective of devolution.

    What is desirable is that the president appoints suitable people to be governors of the provinces, not ex-military. That would go along way towards normalising the situation.

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      The joint opposition MUST appoint Chandirka Bandaranayaka Kumaratunge (CBK) as its candidate to defeat Rajapakse.

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    I wonder who took this chilling photograph of this shockingly cruel, humiliating scene. Does anyone know? Has anyone tried to identify the tormentors? Does the photographer know who they were? Did the victim survive?
    Has ANYONE gone into this at all?
    One might say that was not possible, everything was happening so suddenly and so fast. But someone DID stop to take this historic photograph. He must have taken others too that day, in the same area. Who was he or she? What happened to the rest of his/her work in that terrible period?

    Like the image of the South Vietnamese colonel shooting a captured militant a photograph like this makes one wonder how journalists can keep their cool at such times and “simply” capture the moment on camera, rather than attempt to intervene. But, of course, their images live on to tell the tale, whereas they might not have.

    Does anyone recall where this was first published and who the photographer was?

    @Manel, the photographer is Chandraguptha Amarasinghe, he used to work “Atta” and “Ravaya” – CT

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      Yes, it was claimed by Chandraguptha Amarasinghe as a photo taken by him and was taken in Borella, on the night of 24 July, 1983, when the first mob attack was let loose, after the bodies of the soldiers were brought to Borella Kanatta cemetry that evening. It was a Tamil man of Indian origin, from what Chadragupta later said about this photograph. Perhaps even he does not know the exact identity and what actually happened to this innocent man on the street.
      Kusal

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        Thank you CT and Kusal. I wonder how Chandragupta knew he ws of Indian origin. Did he speak to him or what? Is it possible to contact Ch now?

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        Do you recall which paper carried the photo? Aththa, I suppose, but any other ? An English paper? I must have first seen it in an English one unless a friend at Aththa (Kulasiri, perhaps) sgowed it to me. Alas he died some years ago. There was also a Culavamsa on Aththa.

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        What is the proof that the poor boy was killed?

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      Imagine, if this kind of riots would be the case in SL today? In a period, where no law and order exist, how far that can go ? I think in 83 – levels of crimes in general were not to what we experience in the country today.

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        And they boast they have a developed security force after the war…

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        This picture does arouse feelings of despair. A few years ago I felt that 1983 will never recur. But now I am not so sure. The way this Government has fanned the flames of communal discord makes me feel that we are now at the highest level of risk since 1983 for a repeat. Let us work in our small way to avert a catastrophe.

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    Yes it was indeed Sunday sil, and Monday kill. 24th July 1983 was a Poya, and on the 25th all hell broke lose. I clearly recall seeing thugs, and monks with what was later to be understood as the voters list being used to indentify and target Tamils. Oh how the government planned and reacted. Late Lalith athulathmudli later stating that they were ready to distribute food to the refugees within hours. Unfortunately, as a Tamil and a victim of this riot I will never forget nor forgive the governments for this. Judgement day is coming soon.

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      I always believed that the ‘late Lalith Athulathmudal’ introduced a cynical (to put it mildly) campaign slogan in the Referendum which contributed to the flames in July (perhaps even to the aggression against Tamil staff & students 2 months earlier in the university at Peradeniya. He it was, I think, in a Sinhala broadcast at the beginning of December, who began to equate a vote for the POT with a vote for terrorism, for disunity, for Eelam, appealing to one of the electorate’s more primitive instincts – the fear of the ‘enemy from the north’. I well remember (alas I did not photograph & wonder if anyone else did), the drawings & graffiti spanning one wall of the municipal cemetery in Athulathmudali’s electorate– the wall facing the temple. They included a graphic portrait of a severed hand, a broken sword; a shattered pot and the slogan in Sinhala: ‘Let us win Eelam by voting for the “Pot” – Amir.’ Amirthalingam himself strongly denied ever having said such a thing but Athulathmudali’s slogan: ‘A vote for the Pot is a vote for Eelam’ quickly caught on & was reiterated all over the country. Minister of State Anandatissa de Alwis, the Prime Minister Premadasa, & the President were only some of those who echoed it on referendum platforms, as did Athulathmudali, of course, again & again.

      6 months after the end of the campaign to prevent the vital parliamentary election which would have given new young voters who had become eligible in the 5 or 6 years since the UNP’s sweeping victory, given a voice to a disenchanted, ignored, impatient section of the electorate(& had they not been denied that opportunity, who knows, maybe the insurgency a few years later may not have occurred or at least been delayed)….6 months later the airport in Athulathmudali’s electorate became a refugee camp for more than 10,000 frightened Tamil people who fled in terror when armed mobs attacked their homes. Did his cynical slogan which fed the battle-cries of the government’s referendum campaign play any part in their tragedy?

      He may have been ready to distribute food to the refugees (I think Kalu Kolla is suggesting he had prior knowledge that it would be needed), but he hadn’t bothered to see the camp was properly guarded as some of us who took food and other necessities discovered when we went to it on Black Friday. We saw 2 or 3 soldiers around a huge perimeter & had to flee ourselves when mobs on govt lorries came riding to attack the camp.

      At the time I lived outside Colombo and we & experienced many things that I thought nobody would ever forget. I witnessed 1956, having come to SL only a year before, 1971, & 1983. I hope I will not live to see anything like that happen again in this country.

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        Correction: should be 1958 for the first ‘riots’ I ‘witnessed’, not 1956.

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        The lady should take to writing fiction.

        1.”Lalith Athulathmudal’ introduced a cynical (to put it mildly) campaign slogan in the Referendum which contributed to the flames in July”.
        Eelam and terrorism were not election issues in the Referendum held in December 82. Neither were they the root cause of the 83 July riots.
        There is no denial that the Referendum was a farce.

        2.”the drawings & graffiti spanning one wall of the municipal cemetery in Athulathmudali’s electorate– the wall facing the temple.”
        The Dehiwala cemetery is the only cemetery I know of in the Ratmalana electorate. There is no temple opposite this cemetery.

        3.” had to flee ourselves when mobs on govt lorries came riding to attack the camp (Airport)”.
        There were no such attacks. I myself used to visit this camp as a close friend of mine with his family was in the Camp.”
        At this time Lalit was only the Minister of Trade. The refugee camps and the defense of them were not under his control. But I remember meeting him at the camp on one of his several visits. In fact I got to know of the presence of my friend in the camp when he mentioned it to me.

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          Vichara — I only wish I COULD write fiction!
          Or are you really saying that I am lying?

          Re yr (1) “Eelam and terrorism were not election issues in the Referendum”.
          I can cite several press reports, tho, which testify to the frequent use of the slogan: “A vote for the POT being a vote for Eelam,” etc., after Lalith introduced it in early December. There is also the post-Referendum Hansard record where Amirthaingam denied he ever said what Lalith accused him of saying during the Referendum.
          Nowhere did I make any claim re this being a root cause of ’83.

          Yr (2) Maybe u call it the Dehiwela cemetery. I cant remember now if it is in Dehiwela or Mount, but its side entrance (from which one approaches the crematorium) is on Sri Dharmapala Mw, and a Buddhist temple is on the left of this road as one walks down to the sea — i.e. directly opposite the side wall of the cemetery. The cemetery’s main entrance is on the Galle Road, & a cinema is/was at the top of SD Mw on the left.

          Re yr (3) “There were no such attacks.”

          My words were: “when mobs on govt lorries came riding to attack the camp.” We were still outside the camp (having stopped at friends nearby, & they too saw the lorries with men brandishing weapons — & some of them with faces blackened a friend reminded me last night, which I hadnt remembered). We beat, I am sad to say, a quick retreat & so do not know how far the thugs got.

          The govt went all out to win the Referendum & anything was grist to its mill. I havent myself “investigated” the “Tamil” vote in the Ref, tho I have a hunch it would have gone largely to the POT, & if so, one, just one possible reason for the subsequent violence against the Tamils could have been as a kind of punishment, just as, perhaps — PERHAPS –cause of the Aug 1977 violence against them may have been (the latter being a continuation of post-election violence & thus as mmbent govtuch the responsibility of the incumbent govt as July 1983 was.

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            Correction to my last para above: “just as, perhaps — PERHAPS – the Aug 1977 violence against them may have been (the latter being a continuation of post-election violence & thus as much the responsibility of the incumbent as July 1983 was.

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    Bankrupt – journalists and NGOs are no different from vultures in animal world.

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    How did this photo come to be used by LTTE, the Diaspora and the NGos as evidence of torture by armed forces? Didn’t we see the same photo during JVP insurrection? It was a familiar situation in the south at Police stations in the south.

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    A good description of events to unfold. But one correction is necessary about the rag tag group, because it was never a Provincial Council affair.

    TNA
    The ‘Tamil National Army'(TNA) was not off the diabolical mind of Perumal. The same entity that brought forth the ‘Tristar’ to the shores of Mannar in 1987, made a second edition in mid-1989. Perumal did not so much as edit, as per directives he printed.

    What occasioned its creation? In mid-1989, President Premadasa had issued a peremptory order that IPKF must leave. The powers that be in Delhi felt that if the North East PC is dropped like a hot potato there will be loss of credibility for India. Emissaries were sent to convey to us that a rag tag will be in place to face both SL forces and LTTE cadres together and yet prop up the PC when the IPKf departs.

    Why this high sounding term National Army? To conjure up memories of the aura of the ‘Indian National Army’ INA, established in the early forties by Subhas Chandra Bose. What a caricature, TNA was and what sacrilege of a great patriot.

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    These things had little beginnings. The first Sinhala-Tamil riot happened in June 1939, when G. G. Ponnambalam went to Nawalapitiya and made a racist speech declaring that the Sinhalese were a mongral race unlike the Dravidians etc (See
    Hindu organ, June 19, 1939, and papers in subsequent weeks).
    The riots spread fast, and even reached Colombo but the British acted quickly and squashed the riots, unlike J.R.J in 1983, or SWRD in 1957, who allowed a free run for the rioters during those tragic events.
    The next landmine was laid in 1947 when SJV Chelva announced the doctrine of “exlusive homelands” and this was inscribed in the 1949 Maradana declaration of the the ITAK (Aarasu Kadchi). Things began to simmer hot with SWRD, JRJ and other Sinhala nationalists, as well as the Eksath Bhiksu Peramuna taking note of the rise of Tamil nationalism. The ITAK’s ideology failed utterly in 1952. The Kauvakaddu-lawyer led landed gentry (the Periah Dorei) loved the idea of separating out their lands from the Control of Colombo and creating an Eeelam, but they did not dare to take such risks. So, polarizing the ethnic groups, and alienating the Colombo Tamils from the Colombo Sinhalese were absolutely necessary to get Eelam going, as EMV Naganathan noted in 1952.

    Then came the unexpected Banda’s 1956 victory, the so-called “peaceful sathyagrahas of the Arasu people and the violent reactions of the sinhala goons,
    the rejection of the B-C pact by the Tamil nationalists and the Sinhala nationalists, more riots, the Vaddukkodai call to arms, the Kasi-Ananthan poems calling for death to the “traitors”, the “boys” of the TULF, the makkal padai of the ITAK, all these produced this escalating cycle of violence. Add to it an aging Pinochet like JRJ, and a young Pol-Pot like Prabhakaran, and we have the recent history of the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

    Now we have Wigneswaran, another Colombo lawyer with unmistakable similarities to a Tiruchelvam, and beliefs harking back to the 1970s. If the TNA, coming to power, calls for compulsory Tamil usage for everybody (sinhala or other) living in the North, and restrict free flow of people, we Tamils living in the south will have to once again face a violent backlash. The Wigneswarans, Sumanthirans and their likes have the money to send their kith and kin aboard. The not-so-rich Tamils of the south, if they are not inebriated with stark nationalism, should view the rise of the TNA with great apprehension. The best eventuality is if the TNA were to come to power in the North with just a razor thin margin.

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      Manoharan, This is where I am trusting Wignesweran and the TNA to be different this time and set an example to the Sinhalese in the South by extending the Tamil hand of friendship. That is the only way the Sinhalese and the Tamils can start to trust each other. In fact it is easy if there is political will. Mahinda Rajapaksa does not possess that political will or true grit.

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    It is really very sad situation that more than anyone large portion of the majority population has forgotten everyhting & now another community is the planned target , we really do not know fore sure when ,but it is going to happen,like Black july 83, it did not happen suddenly because for the death of the soldiers ,it was a master minded Island wide killing , which The Then President JR is to be held responsible forever, a man who died with his hands covered with blood, may he rot wherever he is ,look there ia no one to call his remembrance as family member, in fact racism may have been rooted into the minds of The Majority by Banda, but definitely it was fulfilled by JR , who sat and watched the ruthless killing of innocent men ,women & Children while he sipped his brandy..

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      “JR , who sat and watched the ruthless killing of innocent men ,women & Children while he sipped his brandy.”

      After the Army running berserk in Jaffna killing civilians after the murder of the 13 Army men, JR would have been hesitant to call the military to control the riots. He may have feared that if the army went on a rampage in Colombo as they did in Jaffna there would have been an utter disaster which may have even overthrown the government.

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        We all know that JR was not a good leader to the country alone the fact he is the one who introduced 78 consitution. This is already 3 decades ago. But how would you see it today – I mean the MR administration. I feel this is the worst ever we have since the country is independent.
        Right at the moment, prisoners are not well controlled they even have got access to cell phones. All of sudden, I happened to listen to Nethfm yestreday, that brought about ” Juliampitiya Amare” who said calling being in the prison. So why rulers cant take due action against these issues. Criminals plan their next perpetrations being in prison today. Was this the case in the past in SL ?
        Blind leader pays no adequate attention to any of this. He s become a joke to the western world today, but it would take rural stupid folks to grasp the reality of their REAL MR..

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    When the original message of all religions are diluted with fake traditions,superstitions,&extremism by the rulers of the past to suit their own agenda to rule over the masses by blind folding them with such voodooism rather than pure spirited philosophies, it is then comfortably carried down by the following rulers ,by further diluting the messages with more lies with the support of their hand picked clergies who in return live in luxuries and even commit sins unchallenged, surely there is not a religion on this earth today that is not diluted and in its pure form & all today’s religions & its clegies must bear responsibility for the the ruthless killings of the innocent people from all faiths , by supporting such atrocities …

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    We are yet to see Leelas comments on this,he im sure will have a comical repsonse as always !

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