17th March 2002, Volume 8, Issue 35

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Don Stephen Senanayake

By Ranee Mohamed

Minister of Environmental Affairs Rukman Senanayake remembers him. But anecdotes and incidents, he can barely remember. For he was a toddler when the Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake, his grandfather, was making history in the then Ceylon. But his older brother Ranjit remembers a few visits he made to his grandfather's, the broad-shouldered and tall D.S. He remembers as a child being taken to the farm at Ambewela and being made to drink fresh milk, which he did not like very much.

The Senanayakes of today - Devinda, Ranjini, Ranjit, Rukman and Yasmin Nilmini are children of Robert Parakrama Senanayake, one of the two sons of D.S. The other son was Dudley Shelton Senanayake who was twice prime minister of Ceylon.

Ranjit Senanayake married Suwanitha, the granddaughter of D.C. Senanayake and they have one child, 28 year old Vasantha Senanayake. Vasantha, who cherishes his ancestry, is however very down to earth and humane in his approach to life.

It was fifty years ago this week in March, when The Observer reported "Up to 3.30 p.m. today over 500,000 persons had filed past the remains of the late Mr. D.S. Senanayake at the assembly hall of the house of representatives. At 10. p.m yesterday the queue stretched over three miles. It wound past along Lower Lake Road, Elephant House and through Ingham Street in Slave Island to Parsons Road. The end of the queue was opposite the Regal Theatre. There are tentative arrangements for the funeral procession of the late leader which is due to start from Parliament House for Independence Square at 3.p.m. tomorrow.

Policemen from all parts of the island  will be on duty at  various points on the route.

The story speaks of a pace setting party of twelve army, navy and air force personnel, a gap for women and children and British service commanders and detachments of the British navy, army and air force in Ceylon and also Ceylonese military service commanders.

The story in The Observer of March 1952 describes the funeral arrangements of Don Stephen Senanayake, the great statesman of his day, whose death moved the nation then, as its memory moves the nation today, exactly 50 years later. He died following a riding accident on March 22, 1952 at the age of 67.

During his lifetime, through the giant strides he made, he gave this country the pride of nationhood  -  he gave it independence.

D. S., a leader of men, born on October 30, 1884, was educated at S. Thomas' and excelled in cricket and other sports. H.A.J. Hulugalle in his Life of D.S. Senanayake however states thus:

The three Senanayake brothers DC. FR and DS were all educated at STC, which was then in Mutuwal and their father Don Spater Senanayake had always been concerned about the education of DS, the youngest of them.  DS's school report showed in a certain class, he had always held the 4th place, and the father was naturally pleased at this, and was lavish with pocket money for the boy. Later, he discovered from FR (who later entered Cambridge University) that there were only four boys in that class and DS was 4th.

 When his father died D.S. was compelled to give up studies at the age of 18 in order to take charge of his family estate. Thrown among the peasants he was quick to understand their plight at first hand and was determined to improve their lot.

D.S. was Ceylon's first minister of agriculture and lands. It gave him this gentleman-farmer the authority to implement his plans. Never since the days of the Sinhala kingdom was there so much irrigation and agricultural activity in the dry zone. Soon, Minneriya, Minipe, Polonnaruwa and several other schemes had begun to yield the bounty of the earth.

D.S.  Senanayake entered public life when Ceylon was a crown colony ruled by a foreign power that was not concerned with the aspirations of the people. The masses had no political rights, poverty and disease were widespread, literacy was low and life expectancy was short. Ruthlessly exploited for centuries by three foreign powers, the country's economy had  ceased to have any 'blood'

Under his leadership however, it was possible for the country to cast away all these adversities and achieve independence. Though he entered the legislature at the age of 40, his climb to become the dominant political figure of his time and the architect of great changes in politics and agriculture was itself remarkable.

He had little education and few academic qualifications. He was no great orator. Yet, at a time when the political stage was adorned by men of great talent and ability, D.S. rose outstripping his elders and peers. Though said to be full of common sense and disarming reasonableness, he was governed by deliberate, sometimes ruthless purpose to direct and shape events.

D.S. had the gift of making friends and influencing people and Lord Attlee, who was the Labour Prime Minister of Britain at the time Ceylon gained her independence spoke of 'his great personal charm," while Sir Robert Menzies, the Australian prime minister of "his singular personal attraction."

Sir John Kotelawala, one of D.S.'s cabinet colleagues, is reported to have made a forthright comment when he said, "No one was too small for his attention if he had the time, and somehow, he would find the time. No man who went to see him can ever forget the sincerity with which he promised to look into his grievance."

Despite his commanding presence and Stalin moustache, D.S. had been the kindliest of men, and a great lover of children and poor folk. He made the same impression on foreigners and fellow-countrymen.

It is 50 years since he died, but D.S. has lived in the memory of every Sri Lanka and has cast a indelible impression that can never erase itself from the history of Sri Lanka.

His vision and his endeavours are for all times. They are true today, as they were 50 years ago. For him life was about people, about freedom and about a better life for all.

For peace and freedom he strove hard. Then, after the dusty and sometimes bitter conflicts over communal representation and the balance of power in the legislature had ended, Senanayake led a united people to the goal of independence.

He was able to persuade the State Council to accept the Soulbury Constitution, by a near unanimous vote. He succeeded in winning over the minorities to his way of thinking and all these were mere steps to his final destination of peace and freedom.

Fifty years ago, today, leaders with a vision for a better and peaceful Sri Lanka strove thus, winning over minorities and being architects of great changes.

Sri Lankan was fortunate to have had such a leader in the final phase of her agitation for freedom. The wisdom of Don Stephen Senanayake and the political philosophy of the UNP have ushered in the freedom we enjoy today.

 The Senanayakes of today

Suwanitha Senanayake's home down Pahalawela road, Sri Jayawardenepura sprawls quietly to merge with its unspoiled surroundings. Strangely, it seems to be set in an environment that could easily be mistaken for one of a bygone era. Greenery, gravel and grass and an uninhabited immediate neighbourhood provide  the ideal setting to this Senanayake  home.

As one enters the house there is a black and white photograph of the late D.S. Senanayake standing majestically. It says it is from Briggs studio dated around 1951.

In this building lives Ranjit and Suwanitha Senanayake and their son Vasantha. But the memory of D.S. Senanayake is strong and vivid here. Photographs and documents, books and cuttings, are all reminders of Ranjit's grandfather - the late Rt. Hon.  D.S. Senanayake.

Suwanitha, is no stranger here. She is the granddaughter of D.C. Senanayake,  brother of D.S.

"My parents used to visit the Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake and I remember driving up to Temple Trees with my parents. I remember our arrival being announced. But what I remember most is the Madati tree in the garden to which I ran the moment I arrived there," she tells me.

Though Suwanitha was a child at that time, she still remembers the late D.S. "He loved the children and I remember the small cowgirl suit he bought for me when he came from overseas. He bought similar suits for the all the little girls in the family. He appeared tough and rough, but to us he was so kind.


It is between life and death

By Marianne David

For the kids at Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital, the power cuts are a terrible thing, far worse than it is for us.

The hospital is powered with three generators when the power is out but they aren't enough to provide electricity to all areas and are sufficient only for the most important points like the operating theatre, the children's ventilators, certain other machines and power points. The power cuts are at the same time as they are for the general public, resulting in the power being out at the hospital during the late evening cuts too.

"The power cuts are the biggest problem we have. Even though the generators work and provide power for the important points, at night the building and its corridors are in darkness. This creates a very dangerous situation in case of an emergency. For example, if a generator that supplies power for the ventilators stops, the ventilators stop too and then we are in a big fix, running about to do the best we can and get people down to make the generator start again," said Administrative Officer A. D. E. Bernard.

Ruvani, who runs a day care centre, finds the power cuts a big menace because she has to look into the needs of a large number of children instead of one or two as in the case in many homes. She says that the first two morning cuts are not so bad but the afternoon cuts, when the children are put to sleep or as they wake up are terrible. The children not only cannot sleep soundly without the fans but also wake up in bad moods due to the lack of sound sleep.

Another set of persons undergoing a very hard time due to the power cuts are the A/L students who have to sit for their exams in April. How can they possibly study, given the times the power is out in the evenings? Many children study in the evenings and late into the night because they are at school or classes during the day.

"We find it difficult in the evenings because the students are unable to study. Even the hostelers cannot do anything. We continue with normal classes during the day even though the children are uncomfortable without the fans but the sound system is down, which is yet another problem.

"Even having an assembly without the power is difficult so we plan around the power cuts. I feel very sorry for the A/L students who are sitting for their withdrawal exams right now before A/L exams in April and want to study, but find it impossible," said the Rector of St. Joseph's College, Colombo Rev. Father Victor Silva.

Shalini, an A/L student said, "Even if they cut the power for any number of hours during the day it is all right because there is light, as long as the nighttime cuts are reduced or stopped by at least nine in the night, so that we can study after that."

Tamara, a housewife and mother of two, said that the morning power cuts made the children restless and crotchety the whole day because they sweat and cannot even watch a movie. Additionally, she cannot get her housework done on time.

"Well, I can take the children to the park or for a walk in the morning but where can I take them in the afternoon? And how am I going to get the housework done and prepare their meals when I have to keep on trying to entertain them instead? The early morning power cut is terrible because it starts soon after we get up so I cannot use most of the appliances in the kitchen. The afternoon cut disrupts the children's sleep and makes them easily irritable. In the night it is dangerous for them because it is hard to keep your eye always on two boisterous children so I am worried that they may have some sort of an accident," she said.

Gayani, a housewife who has a three month old baby said she was at her wits' end wondering how to get through the day and finish her work on time because the minute the power is out, her baby starts to cry and she has to then carry her and walk around or sit down and fan her for hours.

"I can't just ignore her when she cries and hope she'll fall asleep because I am worried that she may choke or stop breathing. The late evening cuts are terrible and I can't do anything but be by her side," she said.

Office staffs are not go untouched by it all either. Once they get to work, they get caught in the morning and afternoon cuts. The 7:30 cut starts the morning off in a totally inefficient manner because most companies need their computers and other machines work to conduct their businesses. In the afternoon, the heat is unbearable and cuts into the efficiency level and output of all the employees. Above all, time is wasted and projects delayed repeatedly, resulting in many problems within the office and with customers.

"When I go to work in the morning, if it is the early cut, I find most of the office personnel just walking about, talking or generally doing nothing productive. If power is out in the afternoon, we go out and have lunch and talk for ages waiting until the power is back on. There is no choice because we find it impossible to stay in our offices when the power is out," said Asanka, an executive.

Tilak, a sales manager in a showroom said that the power cuts are a menace because the showrooms need to be well lit in order to display their products properly. Adding to these problems is the inability to use even the fax machines in offices when the power is out, thereby delaying work processes due to lack of certain information which could be sent and received by fax. Companies that need to correspond by e-mail with other countries or receive faxes from abroad regarding projects or orders are in dire straits due to this problem too.

The bottom line is that not only do we have to suffer the consequences of the power cuts, it also becomes a life or death situation for patients in critical conditions and those who are connected to various machines.  They also reduce the efficiency level and output of all companies without generators thereby resulting in a loss to the entire country and the economy. The power cuts, though essential, are obviously setting our country back even more.

At least for the sake of the A/L students, who in many ways are our future, the reports that the morning cuts will be eliminated during the period of the A/L examinations is a great relief as it will allow the students to leave their homes without hassle and sit for their exams comfortably.


The unkindest cut of all

By Risidra Mendis

A better life, a healthy income and the love  for plants were the reasons for Matara Arachchige Don Karunadasa to take a trip to Cyprus. But the life he wished for and the salary he expected were only dreams.

For Karunadasa, who has a vast knowledge of plants and extensive experience overseas in horticulture, the idea of being employed in Cyprus was a challenge. Unlike others trying for that dream trip to an unknown destination, for Karunadasa the opportunity came easy. With his brother already employed in Cyprus, it was only a matter of time before Karunadasa got the necessary documents to work in the country.

On January 14, 1999, Karunadasa's employer  Mr. Charlambos paid for his air ticket and got him down to Cyprus. Karunadasa's work was maintaining the horticulture concern selling plants at the Begonia Garden Centre Ltd. in Cyprus. "I had to work for 1 « months to pay back my airfare," Karunadasa said.

However the future Karunadasa saw ahead of him was not to be. On October 19, 1999 while mowing the lawn at the Begonia Centre his hand got cut by the machine. "While mowing the lawn I tried to save the machine from going over a stone. For my bad luck the machine slipped and came forward and ran over my hand," Karunadasa said.

Karunadasa was then taken to hospital where he was treated by Dr. Alkiviades Alkiviadous, MD. According to the medical report Karunadasa has lost the thermal phalanges of the second, third and fourth fingers of his left hand. Having undergone three operations between October 19, 1999 and October 23, 1999, Karunadasa was entitled a compensation from the insurance company. However due to the callous attitude of his employer Karunadasa says he was not paid anything.

"After leaving the hospital about a month later, I was taken by my employer and his wife to the insurance company to get the compensation due to me. My employer showed the insurance company officials my hand and claimed the money. Charlambos and his wife then took the cheque and paid the hospital bills. The rest of the money they pocketed and I didn't get anything," Karunadasa said.

Even though Karunadasa's contract was for a period of two years starting from January 14, 1999 he was sent back to Sri Lanka by his employer on July 11, 2000 after depriving him of his earnings as well. "I worked at the Begonia Centre with only one hand during that time after the accident but I was sent home without a penny. On numerous occasions I asked Charlambos for my insurance money. Everyday he used to say he would give it to me, but never did," Karunadasa said.

Karunadasa then decided to consult a lawyer in Cyprus regarding his problem. But unfortunately for Karunadasa, Charlambos found out that he was not going to give up his dues without a fight. "During the summer holidays I was given the air ticket and told to leave my job within a day and sent back to Sri Lanka by Charlambos," Karunadasa said.

When Karunadasa first signed an agreement with Charlambos his monthly salary was supposed to be CR 340. However he was paid only CR 240. "I wasn't given a copy of the contract of employment at the time," Karunadasa said.

Having returned to Sri Lanka, Karunadasa contacted  the honourary consul for Cyprus. "The honourary consul's assistant secretary told me that nothing could be done now. I next went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These officials were very kind and sent my documents to Rome and then to Cyprus where Doros Jeropoulos, Consul General for Sri Lanka in Cyprus contacted me by email," Karunadasa said.

Within a year hope dawned once again for Karunadasa when Jeropoulos came to Sri Lanka and met him. On the instructions of Jeropoulos, Karunadasa gave the power of attorney to him to act on Karunadasa's behalf from Cyprus.

Constant communication between Jeropoulos and Karunadasa took place for a while, and then came a bolt from the blue. Karunadasa received a letter from Jeropoulos saying Karunadasa had signed a document stating he has received compensation from the insurance company on February 6, 2002.

"I didn't sign any document. This was a forgery and it was set up by Charlambos. Anybody looking at the letter can see that it is a forgery as there is a clear black line half way down the page. It is therefore obvious to anybody that my signature has been cut out of another document and pasted on the insurance claim letter," Karunadasa said.

Jeropoulos then told Karunadasa that he  would see if social service organisations could help him out and also arrange an entry visa for him to come to Cyprus to sort out the problem.

But this creates fresh problems for Karunadasa. "How can I afford to pay for my passage to go back to Cyprus?" he lamented.


A great son of Sri Lanka

By Bryan Turner

Last week we commemorated the fifty-second death anniversary of the late George Edmond de Silva . He was the third son of a famous ayurveda physician who migrated to Nuwara Eliya in the late 1870s to set up a lucrative practice at Nuwara Eliya. He owned the Orange Tree House on hill street, Nuwara Eliya at the foot of the Pidurutalagala Mountain. On  March 12, 1950 he died from a stroke followed by two heart attacks, while playing golf at the Peradeniya golf course with an Englishman. He was 71 years old at the time if his sudden death. He was a very keen golf and tennis player. His brother Timothy de Silva was the first Ceylonese golf champion.

George E de Silva was a very prominent politician in the Donoughmore era of Sri Lankan history.

He was a tall sturdily built man, handsome and jovial with a constant smile and he instantly attracted the attention and friendship of all whom he met. He began his career as a journalist. He was a reporter to the Ceylon Independent and later worked as a staff journalist at the Times of Ceylon. He had been a brilliant journalist in his era having obtained many news scoops through his contacts. He had a brilliant command of the English language having been tutored by the famous European scholar at Nuwara Eliya Henry Young.

He entered the Law College, from the then famous Lorens tutory in Colombo. He passed the proctors final exam  and went to Kandy in the 1900s and within a very short period established a very lucrative practice as a criminal lawyer. Two of his brothers, Timothy and Gregory were also lawyers of repute.

The Kandy Bar at the time was dominated by many famous Dutch, Burgher lawyers and they resented the entry of George to the Kandy bar. On the first day of his entry to the court house, all other lawyers staged a walkout, but the English magistrate remained and George won his first case. Subsequently he found it difficult to get a chair in the court house and he got his valet to bring a chair. In Kandy he met his future partner in life Agnes Nell, the only daughter of Paul Nell, who was the provincial engineer.

George was a very keen ballroom dancer and quite adept in dancing and singing. He met Agnes at many if these parties and subsequently married her. She was a very kind hearted lady who championed the franchise for females in the 1930s.

 He entered politics as a ward member of the Kandy municipal council and in 1931 he was elected as the member of the State Council seat for the central province, which extended from Dambulla to Nuwara Eliya. He defeated Sir Gerard Wijekoon and Albert Godamunne, two well-known figures in Sri Lankan politics. He was thereafter re-elected as the member for Kandy for 16 years. He was minister of health for five years and the first minister of fisheries and industries in the first parliament of Sri Lanka. He was also a Member if the War Cabinet from 1942. The cabinet at that time comprised only a dozen ministers.

The racial riots that started in 1915 at Gampola, spread to Kandy the next day and within a few days it spread to all parts of the country except the North and East. Many Sinhalese national leaders and professional men from many areas were jailed and some were tried by the kangaroo courts held by British planters, who were justices of the peace.

 He fought valiantly to save the lives of young Hewavithara and D.G.Pedris. He championed the peasantry who under the yoke of the feudal lords had to perform compulsory Rajakariya. The Rajakariya systems were abolished and the depressed class citizens got their due place in society. He established 250 cottage hospitals in rural areas, and got malaria eradicated by the introduction of DDT spraying. He established the first ayurveda hospital and gave a great deal of encouragement for the development if ayurveda. He came from a generation of famous ayurveda physicians of Galle and Matara. His Excellency J.R. Jayawardene who was a close political associate of George in a forward to the book Our George authored by Dr. Jane Russel an Oxford scholar has stated this.

"I worked with George E de Silva during the war years in the Ceylon National Congress and came to know him as a patriot and an untiring worker for social and political reform. His death in 1950 deprived Sri Lanka of a man of progressive thinking for it must be remembered that together with A.E.Goonesinghe, George E de Silva had proposed the introduction of universal franchise in 1931 and supported freedom in 1943. George was essentially a man of the people. Although he became the minister of health from 1942-1947 and president of the Ceylon National Congress on several occasions, he was a man who never lost the ability to feel the articulate, heartfelt desires of the common man. His championship of the cause of Ayurveda and rural hospitals proved this.

I welcome the writing of the biography of this great son of Sri Lanka.

President of Sri Lanka. J.R Jayawardene.

15th December 1978".

George's political achievements were innumerable. He was the founding father of the Bank of Ceylon. He not only moved the motion in the State Council to establish the Bank of Ceylon, but also went to England and fought very hard with the colonial rulers

George E. de Silva died as a poor man. His tea estate was sold on a mortgage and he was at one time the co-owner of the biggest coconut plantation in Sri Lanka. He had built a palatial bungalow in Kandy at Katukelle. The St. Georges, overlooking the Hantane and Hunnasgiriyn hills. All the wealth he amassed as a very successful lawyer with the best criminal practice in the Kandyan area magistrate courts were spent on his political campaigns.

He gave a helping hand to many poor students, and his supporters during illnesses. He looked after his enemies in time of their distress and won them round. Whenever he got news that one of his enemies was ill he would visit him with a car load of gifts and alleviate his suffering.

 His worst enemy in the Kandy Bar was the late Cox Sproule, the famous lawyer. He had been arrested and detained at Diyatalawa, military camp during the martial law era. He was to be shot dead like many other prominent Ceylonese in that era that spoke against the military excesses of the British Raj. His wife came and fell at George's feet and appealed to him to save his life, and George being an Anglican was able to save him through his influence with the British rulers. It was a memorable day for George to take the risk of traveling all the way to the Diyatalawa camp and get his life long enemy released from certain death.


 When a mother killes her babies...

By Hemamala Wickramage

People in the Meegaspitiya area in Dodangoda are left in dreadful horror  with the news of a mother killing her two children, aged just 5 and 3 by setting fire on them and herself as well.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, OIC, Dodangoda police, D. A. Karawita, who is currently conducting investigations into this murder suicide said, "It is different when a mother kills her children. It is not like other murders".

Trying to understand the mother's state of mind ; what would drive her to that ? Was it insanity ? As a mother why did she fail in her primary responsibility - protecting her children?. Was it because she was an unfeeling, irresponsible mother or did the circumstances drove her in to such desperation ? These questions leave anyone baffled with a lot of doubts, but only a few answers.

For the neighbours around Meegaspitiya area where the family lived, they just looked like the average family. Father, Chandrasiri Samarasinghe, 38, works at a hotel in Colombo. The mother, 35 year old Udula Ratnaseeli cared for the two children and looked after household affairs. "There was nothing unusual about them. Both loved their children very much." said one neighbour.

As is the case with most of these stories what is important is what lies beneath the details of the crime and the devastation it has left behind. Most people fail to realise that rarely addressed issues of domestic violence and other family conflicts that go unnoticed in our busy everyday lives leads  to most heart wrenching situations such as this.

According to police evidence unearthed so far, the mother had killed the children as revenge against their father. "This is a family dispute that went out of hand and at the end, led the mother to an act so much against human nature it is almost not comprehensible" said OIC Karawita.

Thursday, March 7, was a special day for Udula and Chandrasiri. They had the 'akuru-kiyaweema' for their youngest son. Relatives from both sides of the family gathered for this happy occasion when little Dhanuka was first taught the alphabet at the auspicious time.

However, their happiness ended when the husband started yelling at his wife for not serving lunch to his younger brother. He started accusing her of neglecting people from his side of the family. As the accusations got worse the verbal abuse turned physical. In the husband's police statement, he admitted that he hit his wife. He then threatened to come back and take it up with her again the next day, once he returns from work.

There had never been any complaints to the police of violence in the Samarasinghe family before this. However, apparently the husband's threat made Udula panick. As she later admitted to police, in her statement, she feared for her life and the children's as well.

On Friday, 8, she took the two children and went out to the town in a three wheeler, after Chandrasiri left for work.

According to boutique owners in the town she had attempted to buy rat poison. Rat poison had not been available in the shops at that time, Udula just bought two bottles of fizzy drinks and went home. On her way home, she went and settled some money that she had earlier borrowed from a friend of hers.

Around mid day, 19 year old Anusha Priyadharshani, a neighbour of the Samarasinghe family noticed smoke emanating from the house. She entered the house through the back door and by that time the front room of the house was up in flames and there was heavy smoke inside the house.

The neighbours who rushed to the scene helped rescue Udula, but failed to reach the children on time. Their charred bodies were later found lying inside the room by  Dodangoda police.

The funerals of the two children took place on Sunday, 10. Udula Ratnaseeli who was warded at Nagoda hospital died the next day. According to the police, after his wife's funeral, the distressed husband  had tried to take his own life by jumping in a well. However, the relatives were able to stop him and there by prevent another tragedy from taking place.

What is most difficult to fathom, is the amount of frustration the mother must have felt in order to carry out the unthinkable ; infanticide.

The couple had been in love for seven years before marriage. The two children were the result of further seven years of marriage. The children who brought so much love and joy to the family in their innocence, too young and weak to defend themselves were killed by their own mother, leaving behind a father to deal with the dreadful horror of this all.

Here, in this story lies not a question of how sick the society is becoming. But rather, why do domestic violence related incidents go unheard in close knit communities such as ours. It also stresses on the need to 'leave families to lead their own lives' without the interference from in-laws that we so commonly hear of. These issues definitely require much deeper attention so that this doesn't happen to anyone else again. 

 

 

 

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