5 December, 2020

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What Do We Own ?

By Ranil Senanayake

Dr Ranil Senanayake

Land provokes visceral reactions. It is said that the land you are born in creates an indelible identity in a person and of course land has been the basis of innumerable wars fought by humanity. Property or individual ownership land has diluted this sense of ‘place’ as defined by land. But, while the commodification of land has become a feature of ‘development’, it seems difficult to erase those links of identity. It was the loss of our right to land through the infamous ‘waste lands ordinance’ that evoked such fierce resistance in the 1980’s. Now, as we stand on the brink a repeat of that tragedy, it is incumbent for all Sri Lankans to question both the motive and the right of the current crop of political leaders. A fundamental question that arises in the modern context is “ Can a person elected for five years, negotiate away the rights of many generations of our children? Thomas Jefferson, a President of the United States of America, asked: “Can one generation bind another and all others in succession forever? He also answered this question, “I think not. The Creator made the earth for the living, not the dead”. We could extend this notion of intergenerational responsibility and ask ‘can a politician, elected for 5 years, give away the land rights of five generations to come?

In a nation whose forefathers had created one of the most sophisticated water management systems as a gift to future generations, the current rush to hand parts of our land to various foreign entities, not questioning for a moment, their intent and the poisonous processes that they will bring to our nation, can never be accepted as a patriotic move. In fact such a process is just the opposite. The ultimate act of betrayal of a nation is for its leaders to sell the birthright of its citizenry. Access to clean land, access to clean air, clean water and safe food is our birthright no amount of political ‘spin doctoring’ can change that.

The landscapes of Sri Lanka are unique, an island with central mountains to catch the rain and drain it radially to a sophisticated system of about 30,000 reservoirs in the lowlands. An amazing engineering effort that created sophisticated ‘cascades’ of reservoirs an agricultural and engineering effort not seen anywhere else in the world. The long history as human association with the land resulted in the evolution of stable agroecosystems that maintained agricultural sustainability. The ability of such systems to co-evolve whilst maintaining core functions is referred to as socio-ecological resilience. Our farming communities maintained this resilience until the advent of ‘modernization’. Where the traditional agricultural landscapes were dispensed with to promulgate the modern ‘green revolution’ with its consequences of non-communicable diseases, loss of sustainability and loss of biodiversity.

This loss is encapsulated in N&H Harrison’s conceptual art piece on Sri Lanka:

“ Yet in some places the buffalo and its wallow still continue
their several thousand-year-old discourse
their collaboration
and one of the consequences of redirecting their discourse
into the technological monologue
will be a peculiar subtraction of possibilities
For gone will be the fish
That eats the larvae of the Malaria mosquito
While itself serving as a source of protein
And gone will be the vermin eating snake
That breeds in the wallows surrounds”

Yes, it is true that much of the landscapes that made this land resplendent have been turned into fields of commerce. Their sustainability traded for corporate profit. The mountain forests were opened up for ‘investment’, much in the manner that our land is currently being offered up for investment. The consequence of changing the montane ecosystems was realized even at the moment of their destruction. Fredrick Lewis an early Coffee planter describes the morning after the forests were set alight:

“When morning broke upon the day following the events recorded at the conclusion of the last chapter, I found myself gazing upon a scene not altogether unfamiliar to me. All around me lay hundreds of charred black logs, stumps in fantastic shapes and outlines: fallen branches, broken and distorted by fire: cinder heaps, and little rivulets of sodden ash: all indicative of the fierce, merciless fire that but a few weeks ago, had raged over a spot that so lately had been a beautiful forest land. 

It was now a blackened wilderness, to be changed into fields of coffee, by the labour and patience of man. A strange picture; fascinating in one respect: fearful in another and yet so full of a strange mixture of possibilities was this wild heap of ruins, this uncouth mass of slaughtered giants of an inarticulate, yet eloquent world, to be transformed by, industry in the pursuit of fleeting wealth.”

It was for this end that the lands of the peasants and the farmers preserved and protected for millennia became destroyed. These forests were not just ‘waste lands’ as the Rt.Hon. D.S. Senanayake pointed out :

“It is of importance to remember the part played in the conservation of water by the forests of the country. With the evidence daily accumulating of the wisdom of our forefathers, we need scarcely doubt that it was not merely the idea of making the mountain country difficult of approach by the foreign invader that caused them to preserve unfilled and uncleared the dense vegetation of their mountain slopes. We may readily believe that they deliberately left these untouched in order to provide that abundant supply of water on which they might draw for the benefit of man.”

Struggling to hold enough water on our mountains, with the degraded soils of eroded tea lands. The prophetic words of our founding father ring true.

So today we have the salt flats, the dry zone scrub forests, and the lowland areas where the soil eroded from the mountains, have their final repository. These areas are still unpolluted by the plethora of industrial chemicals that are starting to poison wells in the ‘industrialized’ west of the nation. These areas represent a unique blend of wetlands, mangroves and forests. Therefore, before declaring it a ‘waste land’ and repeating the tragedy of 1820. It will be well for us to remember that, in a horribly polluted planet, countries with responsibility towards their citizenry are pushing out their polluting industries. It is not difficult to guess where these displaced polluting industries will go. They will move to countries with loose environmental standards or with corrupt rulers, They will get those rulers parrot the formula of industrialization and come in as the ‘investors’ who will save us by providing jobs.

The ultimate act of betrayal of a nation is for its leaders to sell the birthright of its citizenry. Access to clean land, access to clean air, clean water and safe food is our birthright. We have paid the price of opening the door to ‘robber barons’, what is the identity and purpose of the new lot that are being invited in? What price will we have to pay now ?

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  • 8
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    Ranil Senanayake writes;

    “The ultimate act of betrayal of a nation is for its leaders to sell the birthright of its citizenry.”

    The land belongs to the future generation, not to the present stupid ones. We are merely a custodian than owners.

    • 2
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      Well said Native!

    • 3
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      Native Vedda is right. The present generation is in stewardship to protect, conserve and enrich these lands for those to come. The curse for several years now has been that those elected to govern us have forgotten this fundamental charge, and instead treat our land as a bargaining tool. Our political class for sometime has been guided by ‘serve ourselves’ rather than doing what is right for the country. If it goes on like this, the generations to come will be left with a tropical hell, where the mountains are shorn of its greenery, our rivers run rust-red with toxins, and the land lies scarred and good for nothing.

    • 1
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      Dr Ranil Senanayake

      The ultimate act of betrayal of a nation is for its leaders to sell the birthright of its citizenry.”

      How about the Tamil migrents who are claming a homeland out of those lands and th muslims who are in the making of a homelans with those lands ?

      • 4
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        jim softy dimwit

        “How about the Tamil migrents who are claming a homeland out of those lands and th muslims who are in the making of a homelans with those lands ?”

        How about the descendants of Sinhala/Buddhist kallathonies from south India who intent on converting this island into a Sinhala/Buddhist Ghetto?

        When are they going back to their ancestral homeland?

      • 4
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        Recent discovery in Ibbankatuwa between Dambulla and Galewala of urn burial sites with ancient artifacts resembling those found in Mohenjadaro – harappa, proves that the same people lived in the lands from Indus valley to Srilanka. While stone inscriptions in Tamil dating back to over 2000 years have been unearthed in parts of Srilanka, the oldest stone inscription in Sinhala is not before 7th century AD. If impartial and proper archaeological surveys are done in all parts of Srilanka, Tamil presence of more than 2000 years will be proved beyond doubt. Incidentally the first historically recorded Kallathonies are Vijaya and his 700 friends.

      • 1
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        How about Dalit Sinhala Kallathonis claiming homeland as Sinhale?

  • 2
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    One example of the type of “betrayal (by the leaders) to sell the birthright of its citizenry” is the Uma Oya Project that was initiated by the Mahinda Chinthanaya regime to provide water from the Hill Country via a pipeline to the Hambantota Port where the water would be loaded on tankers and shipped to Iran.

    This incredibly stupid plan (without a valid Environmental Protection Assessment) has already caused many of the wells in the Uva Province to go dry and has caused many homes in these areas to be abandoned.

    And here we are, with regular periods of severe drought that often cause farmers to stop cultivation, trying to ship our precious resources to other countries!

    How stupid could our ‘leaders’ get? Or is it their desire for $$$$ that cause these “ultimate acts of betrayal”???

  • 2
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    “What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
    Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
    In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
    The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.”

    Heber says in his Jour­nal of a Voya­ge to In­dia, September, 1823, ‘Though we were now too far off Cey­lon to catch the odours of the land, yet it is, we are as­sured, per­fect­ly true that such odours are per­cep­ti­ble to a very con­sid­er­a­ble dist­ance. In the Straits of Ma­lac­ca a smell like that of a haw­thorn hedge is com­mon­ly ex­per­ienced; and from Cey­lon, at thir­ty or for­ty miles, un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stanc­es, a yet more agree­a­ble scent is inhaled.’

    Reginald Heber, 1819.

  • 1
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    Dear Dr. Senanayake,

    Please enlighten the Air Force in the north about your discoveries that land is the birthright of the citizenry who lived there for generations till the end of the war, when they were displaced but returned to find their lands “taken over”.

    The C-in-C for whom they voted knows, but appears helpless.

  • 3
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    Country has moved on to the 21st century yet some still hark back to the 5 century AD !

    This author preaches yet fled to America to gain a PhD. Did you think about your carbon footprint flying there and back ? No !

    • 1
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      What a stupid response!

  • 0
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    “The ultimate act of betrayal of a nation is for its “LEADERS” (emphasis by me) to sell the birthright of of citizenry”. Do you or can anyone call them LEADERS? If anyone sells the birthright of citizenry, then he/she must be named a TRAITOR and treated accordingly. When will that happen in Sri Lanka? It has to happen and then only Sri Lanka will emerge victorious.

    • 0
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      Come on Dougie, you are better than that!

      Quibbling about semantics when the subject is far more serious is hardly the question!!

  • 4
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    Dr.Ranil Senanayake,

    “an island with central mountains to catch the rain and drain it radially to a sophisticated system of about 30,000 reservoirs in the lowlands. An amazing engineering effort that created sophisticated ‘cascades’ of reservoirs “
    Yes, blah blah and more blah about our ancient exploits. Good. But wht really is the difference between those who built these and those who populate this country now? Are they not the same Sinhalese? Ah, but the ancient ones did not need electricity, smartphones or pensions. They did not even have free education. They died like flies at the slightest whiff of flu, or cholera. They did not need expressways to Hambantota because they spent all their days in their “gama”.
    Now , I am not against expressways and such, but it seems our present lot have fallen into the habit of living beyond their means.
    Build a house? Of course, but with tiled bathrooms, floors and a car in the drive.
    And of course the car must run on a fancy expressway much better than those cheap Indians have.
    Going to school? Yes, armed with the latest phone/tablet like the neighbour’s kid.
    We must have an air conditioner in every bank and office,.
    We must all have a pension and free medical care.
    Who pays for all this? We don’t work hard enough, so we have to borrow.
    We still don’t have any money to repay, so we have to sell something, no?

    .” We could extend this notion of intergenerational responsibility and ask ‘can a politician, elected for 5 years, give away the land rights of five generations to come?”
    He bloody well can, because the parents of five generations voted for him.
    Who to tell aney? Who votes for these politicians, and who takes the given freebies?
    Our beloved country will turn around when people are willing to vote for someone who promises only hard work, high taxes, no handouts and a balanced budget.

    • 0
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      We don’t work hard enough, so we have to borrow.

      People say now that Sinhale govt employees are most unproductive.

      govt work places are full of employees, over staffed and none of them work.

      Politicians are still talkig about salary increases, Trade unions are fighting doe more and with what. All that money sent by mothers and women hardworing in the middle east to make ends meet and getting raped often and killed 500 a year.

      • 0
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        jim softy,

        I see many comments from you in this article. But this is the only comment you make some sense.

        Did someone use your name here? LOL

  • 1
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    Dr Ranil Senanayake:

    Another story is SLBC talks about a country with different nations and different languages. Yet, what is the country in the world that has different languages and different nations. Every country has immigrents but they all talk the majority language. Why Sri lanka is talking different.

    Tamils are promoting Tamil Racism, Muslims and christians are promoting their culture and religion.

    Only sinhala people with an established culture are asked to not talk any of those things.

    • 0
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      jim softy,

      In a democratic nation, nobody has the right to stop promoting someone’s culture. But everybody has the right to oppose someone trying to trouble other community.

      In Sri Lanka, only community that has the will and power to trouble other community is Sinhalese – That is because they are the majority. And because of the same reason politicians prefer manipulating Sinhalese for their bigger vote base, just like MR did.

      Tell me, who can stop Sinhalese talking about their culture? It is a false claim.

    • 0
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      That is Sinhalese fate. Just accept it and deal with it.

  • 2
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    “Economic freedom is political freedom”. And land is a (fictitious) commodity too,

  • 0
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    Theravada Buddhist countries like Myanmar and the Indi-Chinese countries stayed true to their Theravada beliefs and preserved their lands, heritage and identity. Guess they were not as colonized as poor Sri Lanka was, and on top of that we had Hindued India giving us all kinds of delusions to evolve in the wrong directions in the Western way.

    Myanmar and Indo-China are cautiously entering the global phase without compromising their precious lands and livelihoods. We have to learn from them. We have to collaborate with these countries and have our scientists devise plans for a Newer Lankan Order.

    This is where Buddhist Priests should come in. Like in the past, the Siyam Nikaya Asgiriya (whatever) should get involved in these other Theravada lands and develop post-modernistic plans. In the past they attempted to do this, but the whole thing got racial. Now is the more enlightened time to incorporate all sects of Lankan into one honorable Lankan venture. Current GoSLs are quite hopeless. We need to have a revolution!

    But we can also approach Trump. He’d be quite willing to maintain the US$$, without yet another country like ours sucking up to it, and imbalancing it further. The post-modernist thrust will surely give the global currency some relief, whilst moving countries such as ours to greater security in more noble directions.

  • 0
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    Every article here should be used to holler about the Tamil cause.

    Be it about medicine, arts, rocket science, agriculture or sex… the word “Tamil” should be there… at in some comments.

    That’ll help us take our “cause” way forward.

    • 0
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      TAMILs: Join the Sinhalese brethren and preserve the land!

      • 2
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        ramona grandma therese fernando

        “TAMILs: Join the Sinhalese brethren and preserve the land!”

        TAMILs: Join the Sinhalese brethren and leave the land we can preserve the it!

  • 0
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    Josie: Thank you. I was not quibbling about semantics. Not at all. I was very concerned of the use of that word “LEADER” for people who, unconcerned and do not care of preserving our Natural Wealth and go on dolling it to foreign sources merely for the sake of collecting “Dollars” to ease the burden. All of them are to me TRAITORS and NOT Leaders. To such “LEADERS”, I will definitely hit hard, no matter what. To me a LEADER is a hero who will strive to LEAD and PRESERVE our National Wealth and resources. Hope I have made myself clear and you understood me. Thank you.

  • 0
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    Douglas – Thanks.

    I do agree with you on the difference of ‘leaders’ who have the country at heart and those who have themselves at heart – and who could well be described as ‘traitors’ according to your view.

    Having said that, we would be hard put to find any ‘leaders’ among most of those who were voted into power over the past many decades!

  • 0
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    Josie: I appreciate your understanding and the hardship in finding true “Leaders” to steer the country towards prosperity. There is a way and we are not without hopes. This whole “culture” of handing over power from one to the other must change. New blood has to be introduced by empowering the youth who are much more educated and energetic than this present lot of so called “experienced” but corrupted. Just look at the report by the Commissioner of Election who says that 300 politicians have so far failed to declare their assets. This should not have been the case. Every candidate at the time of submitting the nomination must be required to attache that document; if not that nomination MUST be REJECTED on the spot. That is the change, I am speaking of. There are many more such policy/ administrative changes that the country needs. I know you are one among most of us who cry for that change. Thank you.

    • 0
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      Doug – Agreed!

      However, it would be a Herculean task to make this ‘cultural’ change when the Standard Operating Procedure (corruption) is so deeply entrenched.

      One can’t help but wonder if even those who are honest and free of corruption to begin with and are granted the ‘power’, are somehow conditioned by their newfound authority to prove the adage that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

      But then, if the effort isn’t made ….. !!!

      Cheers!

  • 1
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    Josie: I love this dialogue with you. That saying you quoted “power corrupts…….”. Yes, it is absolutely true when we give power to the indiscipline, untrained, self centered, egoistic hoodlums (in short who are named by Plato as “Bastards”). Unfortunately, these classes of people are found among the so called “educated” and “Professional” who are entrusted with the administration. Did you hear what the President said about the removal of the Chief Justice Mr. Mohan Peiris. I believe this, because, during those last days of him in office, what an attempt and bargaining he did to step down from his position. He even demanded that he be appointed to the Foreign Service as an Ambassador. That explains the type of “educated” and “professional” we have at high positions. These and very many in the Government of yesterday and today were and are corrupt. So no wander when these types (corrupt) get the power, they become corrupt absolutely. That is the present dilemma of the country. As you very correctly said; what if an effort is not made to correct the situation? A turning point has to be made and it has come NOW. We have done enough of experiments and waited too long; but nothing appreciable has come upon us except misery. So let us bring AWARENESS among the people and make them ready to take the plunge with confidence for an absolute change. It is useless waiting this present lot to do anything for us. It is an absolute waste of time and energy. So have courage and let us do it. Just resolve: “I can do it”.

  • 0
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    Doug – thanks, and the feeling (re ‘dialogue’ and in general) is mutual.

    However, “bringing awareness and making them ready” would be the difficulty and a ‘How To’ would be indispensable, but where to get it is the problem!

    The other difficulty in achieving this is that most decent folk don’t want to have anything to do with politics, having recognized all the negatives about the profession and knowing that almost all those involved are generally considered to be ‘scum-ish’.

    It looks like most of those who take on Politics as a profession are in it for personal gain and not through any altruistic motives or love for the country.

    But do keep on trying and all the best!

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