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Murder most foul

When The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was gunned down by goons on that fateful day, it certainly was a dark day for media freedom in this country.  It was an unforgivable crime for the editor's life had been snuffed out in the prime of his life.

The pungent comments, well directed pot shots, critiqu‚s of top rung persons in the paper he edited, rang bells in the heart and soul of the body politic in the country.  Fearless and forthright, The Sunday Leader though young like its editor was a Gulliver among other Lilliputians.  It eclipsed others in its expos‚s and criticism while in the process of disseminating news and views  - a weekly that brooked no nonsense.

As a reader of both The Sunday Leader and The Morning Leader, I enjoyed not only the news but also relished the editorials.  The hard hitting editorials proved a thorn in the flesh of the powers-that-be and left a bad taste in the establishment past and present, so much so, The Leader newspapers became a force to be reckoned with.

As a regular contributor, I have had an intense delight in seeing my contributions published in both the papers, showing that the editor was prepared to accommodate dissenting opinion. The papers devoted a full page to carry the point of view of a cross section of readers.

As an independent reader I can vouch for the fact that the papers did a thankless job of calling a spade a spade.  The papers rarely sang hosannas and offered bouquets to the high and mighty.  Instead they were spiced with biting criticism and brick bats aimed at those leading 'Jekyll and Hyde' lives, laced with humour and sarcasm.

The Sunday Leader, true to its name was a 'Leader' when it appeared in the newsstands on Sunday mornings with its juicy stories, gossip columns and its unmatched political column which revealed it all to the reading public.  No doubt it would have offended the high and mighty on lofty pedestals.

The Sunday Leader editorials thundered every week to the chagrin of those that mattered.  The sting in them proved deadly and venomous.  It stung them with force to instil a sense of sanity in power crazy people.  These weekly write-ups became a bitter pill for the top guns in the saddle.  The paper was no respecter of persons either and said what it had to say, come what may, sometimes even getting entangled in defamation cases!

True to form the editor took on the high and the mighty for misdemeanours committed by them, criticised persons who played ducks and drakes with anything and everything, delved deep into transactions of tenders and other shady deals, exposed commis kakkas, highlighted rampant corruption, malpractices and financial mismanagement, spoke about the fraudulent activities of the captains of commerce and industry, and criticised the lords of the drug mafia and underworld kingpins with commendable courage.

The Sunday Leader stood tall in exposing unsavoury episodes. Naturally therefore he earned the wrath of a host of enemies in the process. In fact, latterly, the editor had an adversarial relationship with the top hierarchy of the government. Various influential individuals at various times shamelessly used their hirelings to silence Lasantha and the newspaper.

The chronology of such attacks on Lasantha and The Leader go like this. In 1995 he was physically attacked by armed goons. On June 17, 1997 his house was sprayed with bullets. On May 22, 2000, The Sunday Leader press was sealed.  On October 16, 2005 an arson attack on Leader Publications press. On December 28, 2006, there was an alleged move to arrest him by the CID. On November 21, 2007, the printing press of Leader Publications was burnt.

Despite these onslaughts, the paper was never cowed and neither did it waver. Instead it emerged strongly to take to task the adversaries, thanks to the bold, courageous and strong willed Lasantha Wickrematunge.  He wielded his pen to good effect on those who tried to stifle him.  However on January 8 this year the doughty Lasantha was laid low with an assassin's weapon that extinguished the luminous star for good.

One may not have agreed with all what he said.  Yet no one could have questioned his right to say them.  His brutal killing can never be justified.  Voltaire aptly remarked 300 years ago, "I do not like what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it."

As it is, the government stands on the dock. Even the Opposition Leader has accused the government. The so called investigations have to be completed and the culprits have to be brought to book.

Hitherto, the miscreants who killed politicians and media personnel have gone Scot free.  People do not have confidence in the government's probe.  The many murders committed before prove this; especially the murder of the 17 NGO personnel in the east.  The government's opposition to a probe by international investigators proves this point.

However, the President as the head of state owes it to the people to hold a proper investigation into this killing and bring the offenders to book instead of looking for excuses.

M. Azhar Dawood

Retribution will surely come

Dear Lasantha, perhaps you would not know how angry people were, when they heard about your murder.  They showed their support, love and anguish at your funeral.  There were many more millions like us who just could not attend your funeral to show our solidarity, due to many reasons.  Be assured that you have not died in vain.  Your killing has been nailed on to the hearts of those who killed you and everyone who masterminded it.

A guilty conscience, like a rusted nail within them will cause them terrible suffering.  We eagerly await to see the punishment they will suffer.  They will also suffer for the killings, abductions and torturing of many other journalists and ordinary, innocent citizens, the latest victim being Rivira Editor Upali Tennekon. 

The joy, smiles and power they wield will be short-lived.  They will live with guilt and shame throughout their lives and Sri Lanka will continue to bleed until they receive the punishment they deserve. 

They will face gruesome agony much more than what you underwent on that fateful day.  That will not take long.  They will not experience immediate death, but it will be slow in coming with painful, gruesome and unbearable agony for days, months and years before they finally succumb to their fate.

Those around them will not be able to bear to see the agonies they undergo.  Retribution is sure to overtake them.  According to the dhamma 'people such as these who attack and kill innocents have no future.  They will be destroyed.  The scriptures say: "you will observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked."

There are one or two persons in your own profession who say things against you.  These they could not say when you were alive.  Cowards they are!  It is terrible to be so vindictive when you are not there to defend yourself.  These people doubt "the letter from the grave" that appeared as the editorial in The Sunday Leader of January 11 (three days after your death).

But be assured that everybody on this earth other than these villains know and believe that it was yours, and that every word in it was plainly yours.  It was also reported that this editorial was read out in the US Congress and in the Australian Parliament.

Dear Lasantha and all those who have been killed and maimed,  you can be sure that all these masterminds, killers, abductors and liars will soon realise their folly when the tide turns against them.  We have seen it happening around the world and we will see it happening here too. Watch from above and you will see it happening here.



Setting up a Private Medical College

Readers would remember that about 20 to 25 years ago, under the then UNP Government, a few individuals got together and started a Private Medical College in Ragama. This led to hordes of protests and eventually this became one of the State Medical Colleges called the North Colombo Medical College of the University of Kelaniya.

Professor Carlo Fonseka stated that Professor Nandadasa Kodagoda, Professor Colvin Gunaratne and he were vehemently opposed to the establishment of a private medical school at that  time.  He has said that now he was not against the establishment of a private medical school and has given his reasons for his stand.  I am sure Professor Kodagoda too, had he lived, would have expressed his views courageously.

A week or two ago an advertisement appeared in a newspaper about the establishment of a private medical college in collaboration with a Russian university.  This new venture is to be started by Dr. Neville Fernando, a gentleman known for his business acumen.

As a parent I would like it, if Professor Gunaratne and the Medical Students' Unions express their views publicly on this matter.  No doubt the views of the Minister of Higher Education Dr. Visva Warnapala and his government would be immensely useful to parents who wish to admit their children to this private medical college. 

I too wish to admit my only child to this private medical college, but do not wish to sacrifice the little money I have, if there is going to be a hue and cry about the establishment of this private medical college.

V.S. Perera


The notion of equality in Islam

This in-depth study discusses the origin of evil and the evolution of how humanity perceived it through time.

The account of creation in the Quran clearly teaches that people who exalt themselves above others, supposing themselves to be better, are embodiments of Satan; they bring about the wrath of God upon themselves. They lose the blessings of God and with it the opportunity to participate in the honours bestowed by God.

The feeling that "I am better" does not allow people to give recognition to another. In the vision of God, the one who falls prey to jealousy and arrogance on such occasion follows the path of Satan. The one who crushes such negative feelings produced by Satan finds the straight path, which leads to Heaven.

Muslims believe that all human beings were created equal in the sight of God. None are born with the slur of shame on their faces, nor has anyone come into the world with a mantle of honour hanging around his or her neck.

The one who is high and honoured is the one who is God fearing and serves the people with good words and deeds. Distinctions of birth and glory of race are no criteria of greatness and honour. No consideration is given to one's pedigree or parentage.

Muslims consider Jesus and Moses as two of the mighty Messengers of God and revere them as much as Abraham and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Islam does not make any discrimination in the fundamental rights on any basis: race, sex, blood, nationality, wealth, or distinction.

The apparent differences between various religions are due to national characteristics and the varying stages of intellectual growth of the people concerned, as well as to the accretions, misrepresentations, and distortions wrought by clerics.

Every human is free in the view of God and plan of nature.

Human racial equality does not and cannot mean that everybody is physically or intellectually or spiritually equal or can be made so.

But it does mean equal opportunities for all and no political, economic, or social barrier should stand in the way of any individual or group.

Therefore, natural justice demands that, not only equal opportunities but also special provision for educational, economic, and cultural growth must be given to backward groups so as to enable them to catch up with those who are ahead of them.

People form a universal brotherhood. They spring from one common origin. Their individual lives, their nations and races, interbreed and blend, and go on to merge again in one common human destiny upon this planet.

The Islamic message of equality and social justice is propounded in order to show humans thirsting for light and freedom in a dark and narrow world, the way to break their shackles and avail themselves of the priceless bounties of nature that were scattered over God's wide earth.

V. A. Mohamad Ashroff



Neville Siriwardene

I start off this appreciation of my Loku Thaththa Neville Siriwardene with much guilt as it has taken me exactly a year to write a few words celebrating his life. He passed away on February 28, 2008 following a brief illness.

He was the eldest in a family of many brothers and sisters - Olive, Enid, Earl and Vernon (my father). They were the offspring of a distinguished couple in that era in Wackwella, Galle - G. R. Siriwardene and Florence Agnes Siriwardene. G. R. Siriwardene was a well known personality. He was a teacher at Richmond College, Galle and later Kingswood College Kandy.

According to my father, Loku Thaththa was educated at Kingswood College, Kandy. He was a much loved science teacher at St. Aloysius' College, Galle and later Piyatissa Maha Vidyalaya, Galle. He enjoyed teaching at the latter, specially teaching and doing a service to the less affluent. He was a former librarian of the Galle Fort Library.

What I remember most about him was his own library of books and records in his house in Kaluwella.

There were days in my childhood, when I was sick and was made to rest in their house, Loku Thaththa and Loku Amma (the late  Clara Abeysekara Siriwardene - also a very kind hearted lady who made a loving wife to Loku Thaththa) took good care of me. I still remember those Hindi records he used to play on his gramophone. He was a great painter. Loku Thaththa lead a carefree life and he was a familiar sight on his ladies' bike.

He was always with a smile and even the most serious topics he used to talk about with a touch of humour. His love for music persisted until the last days of his life.

I was told that his fingers were tapping to some rhythm he must have heard subconsciously, in his last stages, lying in the hospital bed.

He took his violin with him where ever he went. He spent Christmas 2003 in Galle, and we brought him to our place in Kitulampitiya.

My parents and I really enjoyed ourselves as he played our favourite carols and other Sinhala and Hindi tunes and we had a sing-song. My mind goes back on how he stood up from the chair, positioned the violin in style between his chin and neck and played on. He too enjoyed himself so much and we begged him to spend the night at our house.

But as those who were close to him might know, he preferred his own way of sleeping, with the familiar surroundings, with his self invented devices close at hand - so he politely refused.

I still remember the last time I met him. He was overjoyed when I took a photograph of him with my son as I wanted it to be kept as keepsake, for Raneesh had only one Loku Seeya from his maternal grandfather's side. I regret not seeing him afterwards as I never expected him to go so soon. I admired his youthfulness even at the age of 89.

But on February 21, 2008, Anoma Akka (his daughter) called my mother in the morning to say that he had got a stroke and was unconscious.

I was grief stricken at the thought of him lying motionless in a bed because in one instance long ago when I visited him in hospital, he was lively and ready to crack a joke. Scenes of him in my mind as a patient were rare.

Loku Thaththa was the one who taught me my first letters - the akuru - and my parents later told how I had said the whole alphabet when he simply started with 'A' and how amused he had been. Later when I was pursuing my studies I was always reminded that it was Loku Thaththa who had given me the first push. Thank you Loku Thaththa I am ever grateful to you for that.

My father was very fond of his Aiya and we all have a passion for music especially those old Hindi numbers, which I feel must have been inherited from Loku Thaththa.

In every way he was a knowledgeable person and when I think of him, I think of Goldsmith's lines

"And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,

That one small head could carry all he knew."

May your soul rest in peace.

Nisha Siriwardene Peiris










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