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lasanthaLasantha Manilal Wickramatunge was a prominent Sri Lankan journalist and former editor-in-chief of the The Sunday Leader. Wickramatunge was assassinated on 8 January, 2009, while driving to work in Dehiwela, just outside Colombo. His killing has been widely condemned by the media and viewed as an assault against press freedom. The government is being held responsible for the killing as it has failed to stop attacks against media personnel. His murder is the latest in a series of murders of journalists in Sri Lanka.

(Disclaimer* The views expressed in this article are solely that of the late Mr Wickramatunge and not mine or the organisation I work for. I empathise with what he says and this post is in memory of him)

One of his last essays read:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honor to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader’s 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognizing the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognize that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic… well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you’d best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let’s face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labeled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that – pray excuse cricketing argot – there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing exposes we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organizations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen – and all of the government – cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President’s House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I – and my family – have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am – and have always been – ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be – and will be – killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niemoller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niemoller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem0ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

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computer2Do you remember that a few posts ago, I had protested against a Christian Wife Disciplining (Domestic abuse) book on Amazon.

I had said that I was shocked to check this link posted at TW. The stories written by Leah Kelly are truly sickening! Any idea on how to petition Amazon to stop selling such books?

Today, I check out Amazon to read the reviews on Kite Runner and I find that books of grown men spanking women appears as search history. And Amazon heads off that section with “You might like this…..”

Ugh! First thing I am annoyed that Amazon should record my search history and secondly the header is “You might like this….” Nauseating!

I am really not for these hidden cookies that are there on every site, which record your history. Its supposed to make your online experience better, but somehow all this electronic-spying freaks me.

On Facebook again, there might be walls. But I am not sure that I want all the 80 people on my friend’s list to read what I have been doing, who I have been chatting with and what latest games I played. Facebook, Orkut and Myspace collect and store personal information to increase the “user’s experience.” But then what is not often mentioned is that they are ok with sharing this information to google, other websites and SMS services.

Why should my age, occupation, gender and the fact that I like Asterix & Obelix, be made available for the general edification of the public at large? When asked, Facebook has stated that it wants to provide a “more personalized service that will increase our enjoyment.”

And what happens if Facebook or Orkut are taken over by another company? Well there is a transfer of all the information owned by these organizations to the new owner.

And again people do all kinds of stupid things on Orkut. They give their cellphone numbers; they give their home addresses; they even fix up dates via their scrapbook. If you made a fool of yourself when you were 14, would you like Facebook or Orkut, carefully storing that information so that they could “maximize your enjoyment” even after you were 21?

Google privacy policy forms part of signing up on YouTube. So if you have signed into your account, you will have YouTube happily storing away everything about you.

Let me see, what was the last video I saw on YouTube…….. it was this horrid video of T Rajender spouting his usual nonsense and insulting a fellow-member of the press.

So, will YouTube now take this as proof that I am a big fan of T Rajender?

I have never used Yahoo’s services. But reading their privacy terms didn’t really tempt me to sign up. They say, ‘Once you register with Yahoo! and sign in to our services, you are not anonymous to us.’

What is this whole ‘user experience’ that they use as justification? Well, its basically hidden cookies that track every website we visit and every product we see, so that they can jam our inbox with spam.

And then there are your friends. Some of my friends have no problem downing drinks in front of the cameras. Though a teetotaler, there have been many parties I have attended where the drinks were freely flowing. Now, I find that some of these pictures have been uploaded onto my friends’ social networking sites. I find that irritating to say the least! Even if you are very private and not given into sharing personal information on the net, you will find that you are on someone or something’s database.

And so far I am just talking about image-consiousness. What about more serious threats like that of sexual predators?computer13

I am also not for large corporations or government bodies (in particular the US) having access to my entire Internet history. What if a guy had been through sex abuse as a kid and hence reads up a lot on that subject. If he mails his CV to Amazon, what if they decide to look up his search history? They will no doubt dub him a “weirdo” or think he has bad taste and dump his resume.

One must never forget the moral behind the Quechup expose. This social networking site used the email addresses on its database for a spamming operation.

Basically this means “Invasion of Privacy.” And I am dead against it!

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Since, I’m both of the above, I was curious to click on this link on google, while checking out Vasanthi Sankaranarayan’s translation of Retelling of the Ramayana.

Apparently, someone had written something on Sita and the Sangh Parivar had to retaliate.

The Jaina and Buddhist hypocrisy is picked up by the selective scholars, researchers, bloggers etc.,
under the guise of feminism, women lib etc., throwing venom on “Sita”.
Really, it is not known why she has been targeted for more than 2500 years, or 3500 years according to different estimates.

I thought feminists were influenced by Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft and the likes, but apparently we are influenced by Jains and Buddhists. The same site also states quite definitely that the Ramayana belongs to Treta Yuga and is dated as far back as 880,000 years in the past. Now how did Rama’s wife Sita get herself suddenly transported to 500 or 1,500 BC?

That such importance given to her, however shows her established status of chastity, ideal womanhood and model wife. It is unfortunate that only “Sita” is targeted – Why? Nowadays, certain women are coming out as “feminists”, but exhibiting perplexing characteristics, dispositions and expressions.

Well, patriarchy loves the three words – chastity, ideal womanhood and model wife and feminism has a lot of problem with the suppression, control and suspicion that ensures that women remain chaste, ideal and model wives. And I wonder what strange perplexing characteristics did the feminists he knew exhibit? Did they grow four heads and eight hands and attain feminine divinity?

They have also accused historian Romilla Thapar of falling for this Ramayana-bashing syndrome.

Recently, Paula Richman(editor)’s “Many Ramayanas” has been discussed in some forums, just to tarnish the image of Ramayana. Whenever Ramayana becomes popular, anti-Ramaya campaign would be triggered to counter it. It has to be pointed out that a woman-historian of stature – Romila Thapar has not been exception to this syndrome. This time, it was Karunamnidhi who initiated such activation through his famous questions of “Who is Rama? In which Engineering college he studied? And so on! Romila came out this time also, but only support Karunanidhi ideologically burying all her historical knowledge and expertise

Now if she had the xerox copy of Rama’s engineering college degree or his birth certificate, she wouldn’t have had her academic credentials questioned. And I know its hard to abuse someone coherently when ur angry, but the least they could have done was getting Karunanidhi’s name right.

But the Sangh Parivar does get some things absolutely right. The snide remarks about how our politicians have many binamies to enjoy their aggregated wealth hit the right chord with me. They seem to have taken pretty good pot-shots at the DMK, though they refer to it as the DK (must be a hangover from the last history class they attended in school).

The DK has tried its best, but it failed, because, their own leaders have only “exhibited the character” of “Ravana”. They have / had more than one wife one many wives with or without concubines. So not only Sita, Surpanaka, Mandodhari and other Ramayana or other women had / have to be afraid of them. And ironically, none of the wives or women of Black Parivar want their husbands or would-be’s to be “Ravanas”.

The article goes on to talk about how immoral feminists must feel inferior when thinking about someone as pure as Sita

Psychologically, their inferiority complex works opposite with superiority complex. They have only one agenda – attack, abuse or even blaspheme Ramayana, you get attention of all easily. But, they may or may not realize its seriousness. It is just like calling one’s own mother a prostitute (Though I am very sorry to use such expression, as otherwise, people understand only such language in some cases)

As to why feminists are so bad. They say, its because of

a) Love failure at school, college or neighbourhood levels

b) Pre-marital experiences from touching to sex levels affecting them psychologically after marriage or during intercourse with present husband

Note the word present. Its supposed to mean feminists will naturally have many husbands and they – the family moralists, are talking about the plight of the current one

c) Divorce, second marriage with children with indifference of the second husband

If the husband was indifferent, how did they get the kids in the first place? Our guru of Indian traditions and morality explains…

d) Divorce, second marriage without children, but husband living

e)Inter-caste marriage, clash of thinking, culture, etc

This is really disgusting. What do they mean? That all people are not equal? That some people have blue blood, others have red and yellow-coloured blood in their veins? How snobbish, castiest and disgusting!

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