Nation Special

Dissension, discontent free upbringing breeds non-violence

By Nabiha Ariff and Dilukshi Thomas
In a small but comfortable room, sits Dr. N. Radhakrishnan. Wearing a crisp white kurtha, white trousers and a serene expression on his bearded, bespectacled face, his whole manner speaks of tolerance and his kind brown eyes hold memories of battles won and lost in his crusade for non-violence.
Speaking to The Nation, Dr. Radhakrishnan stressed on the importance of a wholesome healthy upbringing, in creating people with non violent attitudes.

“The home is a breeding ground for dissension and discontent,” said Dr. Radhakrishnan, adding that “this is why it is important to have a healthy home background.”
Leaning back on the armchair, with his legs crossed, Dr. Radhakrishnan spoke about his passion for social service, which started way back from when his childhood. He explained that he had always been involved with social issues, as a part of student unions and other projects since his school days and continued to do so in college and university as well. Playing an active role in these places, he gradually found that he was going down the same path that his father took, many, many years ago.

“My father worked closely with (Mahathma) Gandhi; I grew up with socially committed parents,” the scholar smiled.
Dr. Radhakrishnan stressed on the importance of family values and the value of good teachers in one’s childhood. His mother was a social activist and a folk- dancer; she trained young women to dance and he recalls (with laughter) playing a woman’s role in folk-dancing.

The Gandhian scholar began his career as a journalist, since he loved writing, however, it wasn’t long before he realised his true calling towards being a teacher, so that he could reach out to the youth and voice ideas on the importance of nonviolence. He continued teaching for 22-years at the Gandhigram Rural University and was a visiting lecturer at 20 other universities worldwide, and loved every minute of it. The scholar firmly believes that it is the youth who can make a difference. He observes that, after training, students are thrown in the deep end. Here, they go into villages and adapt to that living, empathise with the villagers’ way of life, recognise their drawbacks and then, help them lead better lives.

Having written over 50 books, most of them on Gandhi and his projects, Dr. Radhakrishnan, is well aware of promoting nonviolence in problematic areas of the world. He has trained several youth organisations and groups, including the National Anti War Front (NAWF) in Sri Lanka, during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. According to the scholar, the situation in Sri Lanka would worsen, if both parties refuse to compromise and not come to a non-violent solution.
Though Dr. Radhakrishnan only intended to promote peace and harmony, he still faced a great deal of challenges and oppression, not only in India but, in other parts of the world.

In 1987, he was viciously attacked in the midst of promoting peace, close to the university at which he taught. He was camping in the village with 30 young student workers, to settle a 100-year-old feud between the Christian and Non Christian community, over a piece of land that lay between a church and a temple.
The activist was also held captive for three days by the Chambal bandits in the Chambal valley ravines in central India, in 1986, while he was involved in yet another peace promoting campaign. In addition to these challenges, he also recalls a time when he was kidnapped in Columbia, for assisting the Governor of Antioqia, Dr. Gaviria, in non-violent tactics.
Having faced so many challenges, oppressions and risks, one would expect this to dampen Dr. Radhakrishnan’s spirits. It didn’t! He continues to implement his ideas fearlessly and believes it is all worthwhile.

“Most of us live in a violence accepting culture; it makes it difficult, in such circumstances, to conduct programmes that promote peace,” he said. “Violence is evident in almost everything; even music has violence,” he exclaimed. “Music is supposed to be soothing and refresh one’s mind,” he said, but added, “it is not so now.” He added that even films have become more violent and that such films are what attracts the audience now. He asserted that disputes can’t be resolved if both parties react with violence.
He strongly believes that instead of opposing violence with counter violence, one should be just and peaceful to produce a peaceful society, where injustice is replaced by justice, violence by nonviolence and hatred with love. Practising this will help solve most problems in society, said Dr. Radhakrishnan, however, adding that he was aware that it is easier said than done. As for him, nothing is impossible. People should be optimistic and confident.


J.K. Rowling outs Hogwarts character

NEW YORK - Harry Potter fans, the rumors are true: Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts, is gay. J.K. Rowling, author of the mega-selling fantasy series that ended last summer, outed the beloved character Friday night while appearing before a full house at Carnegie Hall.
After reading briefly from the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” she took questions from audience members.
She was asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds “true love.”
“Dumbledore is gay,” the author responded to gasps and applause.

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. “Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” Rowling said of Dumbledore’s feelings, adding that Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down.”
Dumbledore’s love, she observed, was his “great tragedy.”
“Oh, my god,” Rowling concluded with a laugh, “the fan fiction.”
Potter readers on fan sites and elsewhere on the Internet have speculated on the sexuality of Dumbledore, noting that he has no close relationship with women and a mysterious, troubled past. And explicit scenes with Dumbledore already have appeared in fan fiction.

Rowling told the audience that while working on the planned sixth Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” she spotted a reference in the script to a girl who once was of interest to Dumbledore. A note was duly passed to director David Yates, revealing the truth about her character.
Rowling, finishing a brief “Open Book Tour” of the United States, her first tour here since 2000, also said that she regarded her Potter books as a “prolonged argument for tolerance” and urged her fans to “question authority.”
Not everyone likes her work, Rowling said, likely referring to Christian groups that have alleged the books promote witchcraft. Her news about Dumbledore, she said, will give them one more reason.


“I’ll be safer in the conflict areas” – Sunila

Light brown eyes, dark hair with streaks of white just above the forehead, clad in a simple kurtha and a pair of pants with her backpack slung over one shoulder, and a constant warm smile on her friendly face. Sunila Abeysekera, former actress turned human rights activist spoke to The Nation about her journey from being an actress, singer, a member of Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) and now an award winning human rights activist.
She, along with a few others, won the UN Award for Human Rights in recognition of her work highlighting the rights of women and communities displaced by the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Since 1992, Sunila has been working with the Global Campaign for Women’s Rights and is also actively involved in lobbying at all the UN Conferences since then – 1993 in Vienna and 1995 in Beijing – focusing on the issue of mainstreaming women’s rights concerns within the international human rights arena. In Sri Lanka, Sunila works with the Women and Media Collective, which conducts national level organising to rally on women’s issues.
Long before she ventured into the human rights field, Sunila started off her career as an actress and singer. “My father directed plays and that’s how I got introduced to the industry,” she said. Her first movie was with Henry Jayasena, a renowned director at that time.

Sunila is also the Executive Director of INFORM, a leading Sri Lankan human rights organisation set up in 1989. In 1988, when she was several months pregnant, death threats forced her to flee the country. This was because of her persistent demand for accountability for human rights abuses and action against perpetrators of human rights abuse, regardless of their rank or position.
“Working with the JVP taught me how ordinary Sri Lankans live,” Sunila said referring to the times she was affiliated to the JVP.
Most of us in Colombo find it easy to discuss peace and have opinions on the on-going war. However, it is the victims, who understand the actual situation and yet do not have the freedom to express their concern, Sunila explained. People in these conflict driven areas live in constant fear and consider violence and injustice a norm, she added.

Recalling one of the many incidents she has witnessed, Sunila recalled some of the stories she finds difficult to forget. Returning from one of her visits to the north-east, she halted at a checkpoint where she saw three young boys, not more than 13 years of age, all in tears and shock, being shoved into a truck by the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP) paramilitary group. “I just sat in my vehicle staring at the scene in front of my eyes and couldn’t do anything to help, even though I am supposed to be this big award winning activist,” Sunila said with a glint of amazement still in her eyes.

The situation in the country has become such that, she added, “I couldn’t get down and ask them what was going on, because I would definitely be shot at the next check point.”
“Yes, I am afraid,” she admitted, human rights activists are always the target since they indirectly or directly, affect any party’s activities.

Surprisingly, she believes that it is safer to be in the conflict affected areas where all three groups, army, the TMVP and the LTTE are present, “because they know I don’t take sides and am critical of each of them, equally,” she laughed.
However, here in Colombo, she explained that it is more likely for her to be in danger and soberly added that former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was murdered two years ago and investigations are still underway.
“If I die too, it will simply be taken as a bad joke!” she exclaimed. (NA and DT)


Pay teachers on merit for best results

By Shenali Waduge
The role of any teacher we would all agree is an arduous one. Handling over 20 to 30 children is likely to test any person’s patience, and one can imagine how it must be to teach children with different absorption levels. Therefore, we should never undermine the service rendered by teachers anywhere across the globe. But there are many teachers who can stand above these challenges to perform under trying circumstances, and produce excellent students who would always marvel at the manner in which these teachers handled them. Then there are also teachers who prefer to meekly attend to the chore of teaching and only try to complete the school curriculum, without creating a love for learning amongst the students. Would it then be fair to reward both type of teachers in the same manner? No one would or should grudge any recommendations for teachers to be rewarded according to a ‘merit pay programme’.

A merit pay programme would differentiate good teachers from others, and would also serve as an inducement for other teachers to seriously review their approach to teaching, and perhaps consider changing the way they teach. It is not impossible for all teachers to fall under a merit pay program. Just imagine how great a feat that would be to have all school going children of Sri Lanka doing extremely well in their studies, and journeying towards becoming good citizens of the country. The gratitude to all these teachers from their pupils in the North, East, South or West of Sri Lanka, who are able to do well in life because of them, would be overwhelming. So too would be the satisfaction of the teachers themselves in having done their job well.

Presently, the calls to end corruption, violence, discrimination etc, all boil down to the need for a change in perceptions. The best way we can create that change is to influence the children to think differently from the older generation, who are finding it extremely difficult to compromise on their ideologies. Thus, it falls upon schools and the teachers, to take on this task, so that the correct message is given to these children during their years of formal education. One can imagine how easy it would be to misguide these children. We already have evidence of such misguidance when we consider the present higher education system, where youth use only violence to demand and obtain by force and violence, what they feel is right, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong.

Returning to the topic of merit pay, we should take note of what was described as a ‘historic’ deal in New York recently, when the Teachers’ Unions agreed to introduce the merit pay programmes for teachers, on their classroom performance rather than seniority or academic degrees. This was heralded as a much looked forward to move, by all the States of America.
It is time that the Ministry of Education initiates immediate action to resolve those issues that have been long ignored and therefore aggravated over the years, instead of turning a blind eye to them, or blaming the political party in power, or the minister in charge of education.


Divisadero, bitter-sweet memoirs of a fractured family

By Christopher Ondaatje
I have just read my brother’s book Divisadero for the second time. He has brought his fiction writing to a new level. All his books are fractured and, being a poet, he tends to create a mosaic by putting the pieces of his poetic literature together. Part of the secret of understanding Divisadero may lie in his bitter-sweet 1982 memoir
Running in the Family about our own family in colonial Ceylon. Like the characters
in Divisadero we too are a fractured family, at one time reduced to penury, and now living in different corners of the world. There is forgiveness but there is no forgetting.
The genius of my brother is that he has managed to weave a fragile thread of
compassion through the emotionally scarred characters in his new and divided
novel set in Northern California and in the Gers region of South-Central France.
Source: The Sri Lankan Anchorman, Toronto, Canada