25 April, 2019

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The Spirit Of Vesak 2013?

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

Vesak this year has proven more eventful than any I’ve experienced in many years past, unfortunately, for the wrong reasons.

Being a long week-end and with another more personal occasion to celebrate, we had a house full of visitors, close family mostly.

After the usual pre-lunch libations and a typical celebratory Sri Lankan meal, most retired for the post-lunch siesta typical of the tropics, waking refreshed for tea.  Not so long after this we were jolted by two strangers running into our garage/car port and I ended up with an urgent summons from those nearest to the parked vehicles to come deal with what seemed like a potentially violent conflict.

The two individuals, Sinhalese by the sounds of it, claimed that there was a mob in pursuit of them and they were seeking our protection.  Given the fact that we live in anything but urban circumstances, with the closest house about half a kilometer away, it was hard to envisage a “mob” in pursuit of two “victims.”

A quick question or two elicited the information that the “victims” had arrived with some potential buyers to show them land that they (the “victims”) claimed to own adjacent to mine.  This was land on which squatters had, over probably twenty years plus, constructed very basic housing and in which they were continuing to raise their families, some of the children now in their teens.

Given the pandemonium that seemed to come from outside our gate which is about 75 metres away from the garage, I decided to see what was going on.

What first met my eyes was a small truck and what seemed like some of its passengers surrounded by a very angry mob, many seemingly the worse for wear in terms of alcohol (ab)use!  Several of the locals were people I knew quite well, so I inquired what the hullabaloo was all about. Out of the sometimes-incoherent babble, emerged a tale of intruders led by those claiming to own the land (one at least of whom had sought our protection) entering the land on which the residents now lived, loudly proclaiming that they would chase the current occupants away, torch their homes and give the potential new owners (who were with them) uncontested occupancy of that turf.  The potential buyers were Muslims.  To provide a potentially volatile ethnic cocktail, the ENTIRE mob that had the intruders surrounded was TAMIL!  To add to the volatility of the situation, the Tamils claimed that the intruders had already assaulted their young children in an effort to terrorise the families and drive them off the land.

In any event, I thought we had succeeded in defusing the situation when we persuaded the resident “colonists” to return to their homes which were about a kilometer away and persuaded the vehicle and its occupants to return whence they’d come, something they did with significant haste, destroying the shrubs and flowering plants we’d raised with great difficulty near our gate!  By the time I returned to our garage/car port, one of the two men who had sought our protection had disappeared.  In any event, I was able to get more information from the man who still looked to us for protection.

He said he had bought 18 acres of land from a man who claimed to have title to it from the Land Reform Commission.  I was relatively familiar with the history of this land because it constituted part of the “ancestral” plantation of my grandfather which, to cut a long story short, had been through an uncle’s ownership to a state plantation corporation under the Land Reform Act.  That entity had collapsed under the weight of massive incompetence and corruption and the resident workers who were, without any prior warning, left with no employment and, literally, without a roof over their heads, simply squatted on the land and built shacks in which to live, abodes which assumed a more permanent form as the years went by.  A separate dissertation would be required to do justice to the history of those latter-day refugee camps for the internally displaced workers of this part of the Central Province, but time and space do not permit an exploration of that time!

Some of the land, pretty much all of it, if one were to believe the oral history that prevails in this neighbourhood, was given to/appropriated by a couple of UNP MPs and their friends at the time that the collapse occurred.  After they had divested the land of its valuable timber, very few, if any, of these chose to do anything with what had fallen into their laps, and abandoned it to the dispossessed workers and neighbouring villagers who moved in and seemed to have acquired prescriptive right to it by virtue of their period of occupation.   In fact, many of them had acquired rudimentary recognition of their ownership of the land by the Land Reform Commission if local anecdote was to be believed.  Except for one individual, however, it appeared that none of the group who were invaded on that particular day had anything resembling a deed of ownership, resting their claims on the receipts they had obtained from the local government for payment of acreage or land taxes over a a period of close to 20 years.  Also, what differentiated this from other groups on this land was the fact that every single one of them belonged to the group sometimes referred to as “Tamils of Indian Origin.”  You’d have to be particularly insensitive not to realize that there was some connection between their ethnicity and their plight on that day!

To return to the narrative, after we thought we’d successfully dispersed the protagonists, we felt it was safe enough to let the man who had sought refuge with us return to his motor bike which he’d parked close to where the melee had occurred and which we had, by dint of bellowing at the local mob, saved from being smashed up.  He rode away and we thought we’d seen the last of this Vesak diversion.

That, unfortunately, was not to be.

Some of our visitors chose to take a hike down the approach road and, before they’d gone very far, came upon a group of “foot soldiers” travelling up the hill, armed with wooden staves and similar weaponry.  Three vehicles packed with several dozen passengers, one a police 4-WD with two policemen in it, were immediately behind the “infantry.”  It was obvious that another bout of warfare on our doorstep lay in store for us.  Thanks to cellphone technology, those of us still at home were warned immediately.  We could do little but ensure that our gate was secured to the extent possible.

What we pieced together subsequently was that the group had disembarked from their vehicles at our gate and proceeded up to the colony and wrought havoc on the residents, their houses, one’s motor bike etc. until the two policemen had prevailed upon them to stop.

I was informed that half a dozen of the Tamils were arrested by the two policemen for drunk and disorderly conduct and locked up in police cells overnight and will be charged later in the week in the local magistrate’s court.  Given my observation of the state of inebriation of several of that group, this appeared justified.  However, it does not appear that the long arm of the law had reached any of the invading force – both the initial group and those that followed shortly thereafter. Shades of what happens when the Bodu Bala Sena launches one of its “actions!”

I cannot but remark on the alacrity with which the local constabulary responded to the summons from those who provoked the entire brouhaha in the first place.  It was impressive, to say the least, particularly since it was Vesak day and most of the personnel were on leave.  As a resident of the area, I hope I am not being overly optimistic in the expectation that this heralds a new era in the matter of police response times and that some of us might expect our local custodians of law and order to respond as swiftly when we have cause to seek their intervention!  However, our over-riding concern is the level of violence that seems to be the rule rather than the exception and the fact that it seems to be driven by a belief that such conduct is acceptable if one can get away with it which, in this instance, seemed to be the case with not one of the “invaders” being charged with any offence!

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    The most common political objective of land reform is to abolish feudal or colonial forms of landownership, often by taking land away from large landowners and redistributing it to landless peasants. Other goals include improving the social status of peasants and coordinating agricultural production with industrialization programs. The earliest record of land reform is from 6th-century-BC Athens, where Solon abolished the debt system that forced peasants to mortgage their land and labour. The concentration of land in the hands of large landowners became the rule in the ancient world, however, and remained so through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The French Revolution brought land reform to France and established the small family farm as the cornerstone of French democracy. Serfdom was abolished throughout most of Europe in the 19th century. The Russian serfs were emancipated in 1861, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 introduced collectivization of agriculture, attended by loss of capital and devastating famines. Land reform was instituted in a number of other countries where communists came to power, notably China. It remains a potent political issue in many parts of the world. See also absentee ownership .

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    Hope with Vesak this year, people will change towards good.

    Religious leaders main objective should be guiding the people for good through all the programs they conduct in temples, radio, tv and various other ways…. Goal of these programs should be reducing thief’s , drunkers, liars, womanizer s, jealousy, hate etc… And encourage peace , harmony, respect etc … Eventually people will get peaceful, happy, relaxed life they search for.

    What ever the good or bad done will follow you.

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    This article is a Christian Writer explaining a Land-dispute between sinhala – speaking muslims and tamils is trying to blame that on the VESAK day and is trying to imagine what would happen If that was bodu Bala Sena.

    this is how you guys brought mayhem to the world.

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      JimSofty:
      If you began by checking the FACTS, COMPREHENDING what you read for instance, it might help inject a smidgen of sanity into what you have to say, particular since you are WRONG on every single count!
      P.S.
      I take it that making a “Christian” out of me is part of the racial stereotyping that bigots of your stripe indulge in as a matter of daily practice.

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        Emil Van der Pooten:

        Tell me you havn’t written articles on Christianity.

        there was link even in this blog.

        I know you write articles to ground views.

        Anyway, when the land dispute ws between two sinhala speaking muslims and some drunkard tamils why did you get a title with VESAK day and tried to use BBS also in that ?

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          JimSofty
          What a quaint name. Is it to remind one of a personal shortcoming? Never mind; if you have difficulty comprehending the language used in these columns, may I suggest use of a translation service. Don’t worry, there is no stigma attached.

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    Hope with Vesak this year, people will change towards good.

    Religious leaders main objective should be guiding the people for good through all the programs they conduct in religious places, radio, tv and various other ways…. Goal of these programs should be reducing thief’s , drunkers, liars, womanizer s, jealousy, hate etc… And encourage peace , harmony, respect etc … Eventually people will get peaceful, happy, relaxed life they search for.

    What ever the good or bad done will follow you.

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    Where was Bodu Bala Sena in this Poorten Epic?

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    claimed to have title to it from the Land Reform Commission
    There are no titles from the LRC, just permits.
    Permits can be transferred to relatives with approval of AGA.
    They cannot I emphasize cannot be sold, and there is no legal validity as ownership is still with state.

    At times the Govt converts these permits to Swarnabhumi, Jayabhumi titles. Again not valid for sale but at least ownership is with deed holder.

    Plenty of these permits floating around.
    a) Given to Estate workers in lieu of unpaid wages of failed estates. Typically 0.75-1 acre. Many in some of the most idyllic areas in the Knuckles, e.g. Katool-Oya also given to “Tamils of Indian Origin”.

    b) State Jungle land, specially in North Eastern, North Western and North Central. Permits given to develop agriculture. Typically 1-2 acres

    Good luck to the guys trying to grab land that “Tamils of Indian Origin” have permits. They better have huge amounts of political clout and deep pockets.

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      sbarrkum:
      Thank you for those clarifications.
      The key here, though, appears to be the matter of “huge amounts of political clout” because the word is that the goon squad that “invaded” happens to be that serving a neighbourhood UPFA Minister!

      K.A Sumanasekera:
      You might notice, if you take the trouble to read what you think you are commenting on, that the BBS wasn’t a part of this saga! But then, why spoil “erudite comment” with facts, right?

      Abhaya:
      It is quite evident “who wants to read this crap!” At least even my kindergarten teachers taught me basic grammar and punctuation!

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        Normally in Hill Country, the Estate Union and Affiliates trump Local politicians.

        Up in Madolkelle, Katool Oya area premium Knuckles Land available is mainly permit Land. There have been a couple of attempted land grabs by associates of hereditary politician (you know who) but have been unsuccessful. There also a small segment of Colombo crowd “buying” this permit land at cheap prices, and are on shaky grounds.

        It will be interesting to see if Estate Union trump Local politicians. Generally (not always) Local politicians trump Estate Union in the margins of tea Estate country e.g. Baddegama, Deniyaya (low country Tea) areas.

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    who wants to read this crap . pity you did not pay attention to your english teachers in school

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      Abhaya,
      Why are you getting in the bog if you don’t want to trot?
      If you want to play with the big boys, I recommend you go back to First Aid in English and start all over again.

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        Libations even in moderation is haram on this special soporific day.

        If your mate killed a wild pig or wild fowls in our Wilpttu Territory,for his close family feed, forget about any blessings.

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          K.A Sumanasekera

          Why haven’t you join your fellow proud citizens of Sri Lanka in celebrating White House Champion Of Change’ Dr. Sivalingam’s success story.

          He is your brethren a Jaffnian who has become an American.

          Please do join the others.

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    Emil,
    I read with unabated interest, as I always do, this, yet another, tale of everyday life in present day Sri Lanka. Wonderfully reminiscent of those ancient Icelandic sagas from my Reykjavic days. That it happens on a day so soporofic that you retired to siesta convinced that you had the noble blessings on you and your nearest and dearest makes the day even more unforgettable. Your role of peacemaker on this sacred day is highly admirable – but that is your wont. Alas, the strategy and tactics of the bbesque protagonists do indeed cause me to reflect; do you think Wimalajothi and Gnanasara keep a copy of Sun Tzu by their pillows?
    May the lamps in your Vesak Koodu never go out.

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    This story has no relevance to Vesak Day or Bodu Bala Sena. I couldn’t understand why he has dragged that two things to this incident. This is a short story written by Emil. It has good plot. I advise him to wtite more shot stories connecting the incidents which can be elaborated the plot of the story. Your personal agenda shouldn’t be included in your writing.

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      S.D.Dharmasena:
      I must regretfully decline your advice because, unfortunately, despite the fact that you display a singular sensitivity to any mention of the BBS, it is totally irrelevant to the matters described.
      Incidentally, if you think what was stated is fictional in any way, I’d suggest you check with the people involved in the incidents of that day. That should put your claims to rest!
      Also, it would help if you couch your statements in English that can be comprehended by anyone familiar with that language.

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