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Indian visas: Imposed discrimination

I recently read yet another letter in the press by a reader pleading for justice in the matter of visas to India. The press continues to highlight the concerns of Sri Lankans, now subject to greater inconvenience than ever before, to obtain these cumbersome visas.
The constant worry of Sri Lankans in this regard is known to all except those who refuse to see – the Sri Lankan Cabinet and government, Indian High Commission authorities here and many in their government in Delhi and the media at both ends.
There is even a certain amount of ‘imposed discrimination’ against nationals of this country in that Sri Lanka allows Indians to enter this country freely initially for the first 30 days – while India adamantly continues to refuse to reciprocate.
I am amused when Indian leaders preach homilies to their smaller South Asian neighbours, “Treat India not as a threat but as an opportunity.” Where is the sincerity in this hollow statement?

One the other hand, our government remains stonily unmoved on the face of the worsening plight of Sri Lankans forced to suffer at the gates of the Indian High Commission from dawn – merely to get a visa; a suffering the Lankan government has graciously removed from our friends across the Straits.

Our much-travelled Foreign Minister, several of our senior cabinet ministers have been seen visiting Delhi in recent years more than ever before. We are told all this is due to that precious commodity called “growing Indo-Lankan friendship.”
Our President just returned from Delhi where he called on the Indian Prime Minister and the more powerful Sonia Gandhi – among many other important VIPs there. This is his third visit to Delhi since he came to power.
Only if our leaders used their persuasive skills under this so-called “growing and warming Indo-Lankan friendship” they would have earned the gratitude of a large number of Lankans.

How nice it would have been only they spared some thought for their suffering countrymen and persuaded India to reciprocate the ‘visa on arrival’ facility we extend to our Indian friends for some years now? Sadly, our government subjects the ordinary Lankan to suffer in the face of this uncalled for discourtesy. When are we going to succeed in getting the Indian government to be reasonable? It is on record that even the head of the tourist industry in India in several SAARC gatherings called upon the governments of the region to help dismantle at the earliest opportunity travel restrictions and the visa regime within the region. But who cares?

One is therefore forced to wonder if the speculation that there is big money to be made in the business of issuing nearly 500 to 1,000 visas a day to Sri Lankans visiting India is true after all. Obviously, India gives two hoots either to what the Sri Lankan Government says or to the pains of the Sri Lankan people although the press now and then spotlights the issue.
As for me, I still need to be convinced much more about the sincerity of India in its declaration of goodwill to its neighbours until India does fair by the Sri Lankan people in freeing the visa regime without any further delay.
S. Rajaratnam
Colombo 6


Ban loudspeakers!

Imposition of, and by, sound. That’s what I call the incessant loud, indecipherable and meaningless incantations that emanate from the Buddhist temple loud speakers and the street corner Buddha statue loud speakers.
If these loud and intrusive sounds are meant to drown out every other sound and promote Buddhist principles as the loudest and so the best, then they have succeeded partly, but certainly at the expense of a large minority, if not the majority, who are irritated, disturbed and annoyed at the nuisance these loud speakers cause.

The original offenders, since it is an offence, were the mosques, with their early morning call to prayer, and since such devices did not exist in the times of the prophet, its usage, though initially an advantage, has now lost its relevance. It is the same with other purportedly religious cacophony.

The modern day provides for personal options when practicing religion, without intruding into others lives. The radio, TV, CD, DVD and other forms of electronic media provide access to any religion at any time. Why then loud speakers? Early morning bana has been available on radio for well nigh 40 years.

It is a statement that reverberates very loud and clearly that the law can be broken in the name of religion. I cannot single out Buddhists or Muslims. Christians, of various denominations, too during times of feasts and other merrymaking and observances use loudspeakers, without concern to the public at large, as do the Hindus, but to a lesser degree.

Using loudspeakers in the name of religion therefore becomes a common factor, the most significant being that the majority appears to impose their will on the minorities, as was done similarly with language some time back. The result of which is now evident. Can we not learn from our mistakes? If the government departments propagate the use of loud speakers for their routine functions, it then becomes legal de facto.

Offending sounds come in various forms in addition to religious use – lottery vendors, loud radios, neighbours’ dogs, vehicle air horns, and exhausts, musical shows and of course industrial noises from various factories.

It is basically their levels that are offensive and a nuisance. Laws to prosecute such nuisances are available, though their enforcement is visibly lacking. It must also be noted that all of these sounds, especially loudspeakers, are offensive not only to humans but to the avifauna as well. I would invite scientific confirmation of this.

Indiscriminate use of loud speakers and proliferation of sound without concern to others is very uncivilised, besides being illegal. I would welcome any enactments that ban the use of loudspeakers, and I exhort the government to first show intent by enforcing the already existing nuisance laws.
D. M. Balasuriya


Wedding cards – What a waste

Yesterday I received two wedding invitations.
One, an exquisite card, printed on gold-coloured expensive paper, inscribed with golden letters, overlaid with a transparent white shiny tissue like paper and the names of the couple inscribed in beautiful letters in gold, with a small, delicate rose made of sequins adorning the centre. The envelope was made of expensive transparent paper. Each card would have easily cost Rs.100 or more.
The other invitation was on cream coloured paper, personally addressed to us inviting to their son’s waleema. It was signed personally by the father of the groom. The envelope was of normal white paper. Ironically, it is from a revert Muslim father (whom I know to be pretty rich) who also noted down at the bottom of the letter why he is sending such a simple invitation, to uphold true Islamic values – simplicity, frugality and modesty. It was heart warming to see that reverts understand the religion much better than the born Muslims. After noting down the date, time and place of weddings, I put both into the waste bin. Both were from close acquaintances and of course we would attend.

The cost for these cards would have been at least Rs. 50,000 if there are to be 1,000 guests. Rs.50,000 bucks – into the waste bin! Is the expenditure worth it?
What are we really looking for? An ‘aah!’ and a ‘ooh!’ and then the dust bin. In other words, isn’t it done merely for show off?
It would have been much more prudent to donate it to a poor person and obtain the blessings of Allah as the couple starts their married lives.

Sadly, I have seen pretty, expensive wedding cards printed by some hajiars for the very poor who come asking for just Rs. 5,000 to have the wedding. Wouldn’t it have been much more prudent to give the money to the parents and advice them to just send a letter as invitation?
Will the youth who are getting married think before jumping on the band wagon?

Dr. Mrs. Mareena Thaha Reffai


Sirasa Superstar Surendra should have won!

Sirasa Superstar, which was one of the most watched and followed events next to the Cricket World Cup final, ended on Saturday night. However, many people were disappointed as Surendra Perera should have been the winner. Pradeep Rangana should consider himself very lucky to have won this event. Many questioned the validity of SMS voting and felt that contestants should have been judged by an independent panel of judges. Furthermore, the telecommunication network that was receiving the SMS in the area where Surendra came from was jammed for a certain period of time, which prevented thousands of his supporters from voting for him.

It is evident that there have been some unscrupulous persons who benefited from this event and prevented the best person from winning this title. One also wonders whether his faith was a factor that went against him and thus discriminated.

Jennifer Van Twest
Millennium City, Athurugiriya


Non-acceptance of world renowned credit cards by CEB and NWSDB

The proposal of the Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister to introduce and implement a citizens’ charter in order to uplift the prevailing deteriorated corrupt public service and to prevent the bureaucrats to work and discharge duties according to their wishes is definitely a wonderful move in order to offer the suffering masses redress.

The citizens’ charter is a document where the employees’ role to the public, particularly the manner in which to offer the services, is clearly defined. However, to achieve this objective which is a long-felt need, the latest modern technology should be implemented. The caption of this article is very clear example.

In this country, similar to the usage of a mobile phone by the majority, credit cards which are world-renowned issued by banks and reputed institutions are also used by many as a mode of payment for bills/purchases, etc. With the introduction of credit cards over two decades ago, most people do their money transactions through them, which is very convenient rather than carrying cash along with them.

There is absolutely no doubt that the highest number of bills paid to a single government institution by individuals, institutions and companies is to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB). Since the amount of the bill varies, clients who are compelled to pay the electricity bill on a monthly basis one cannot place a standing order with the bank. Hence, a personal visit has to be made by each subscriber to a payment centre of the CEB.

Of course now many banks and post offices do accept payments for bills. The payments however have to be made by cash and there too, payments are not accepted by credit cards. These payments take a considerable length of time to be credited to the respective accounts of the millions of subscribers. Those amounts paid do not reflect in the following month’s bill and invariably the amount paid is added on as arrears, making the subscriber worried.

Although credit cards are not accepted, the bills of the CEB and the National Water Supply & Drainage Board (NWSDB) could be paid by personal or official cheques drawn in favour of the respective statutory institutions. A certain percentage of such cheques are bound to get dishonoured for lack of funds or for technical reasons such as ‘cheque post dated,’ ‘drawer’s signature differs from the specimen in our possession,’ account not stated,’ etc.

Hence, there is a definitely a risk factor involved in recovery of the payments due to these statutory institutions. The members of the staff handling the work of dishonoured cheques and follow up will have to devote valuable time to resolve these matters.
But on the other hand, if the payments are accepted via credit cards, it is just like paying physical cash. The bank charges for obtaining immediate credit for the credit card payment vouchers could be easily exempted in consultation with the respective credit card dealers, banks or credit card institutions.

So why don’t the authorities of the CEB and the NWSDB commence the exercise of accepting the subscribers’ credit cards, which would benefit them a well as millions of subscribers scattered islandwide? The credit card holders would benefit by this exercise mainly for the sake of convenience and the respective cards they use would have more transactions, thereby the approved credit limits would be automatically enhanced through a system certain multinational banks adopt.

It is surprising that these two institutions do not accept the world renowned credit cards for settlement of bills of the subscribers. At Sri Lanka Telecom this facility is available not only at regional telecommunication centres but also at the tele-shops. Well it is time that this globally accepted norm of accepting credit cards at the CEB and the NWSDB commence this exercise immediately for the benefit of the respective statutory bodies and the millions of subscribers who are holders of prestigious credit cards.

Sunil Thenabadu
Mount Lavinia


A battle not to lose

Nearly a decade ago, still in my blissful passionate youth, I met an army soldier at the Colombo National Hospital recovering from injuries sustained at Paranthan, in one of the many now forgotten military debacles.
Before being transferred to the battlefront he had served in Valvettithurai, the hometown of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. In fact the soldier had once been tasked to guard the childhood home of the Tiger Leader.

I was curious, how did he feel about protecting a monument which by all means was a symbol of the greatest enemy of the Sri Lankan military? I was expecting disgruntlement, even maybe some contempt at senior officers for tasking their juniors’ to guard a place that should most probably be demolished or at least the average macho rhetoric that one expects from the military types.

Yet the injured soldier, who most probably would not walk again thanks to the LTTE attack, harboured no such thought. “For those people, that house means something. Who knows, someday if they get what they are fighting for, this would be a valuable monument to them.”

I have been occasionally nagged with his comments throughout the years. Images from Anuradhapura this week which depicted dead bodies of the elite Black Tigers, stripped naked and loaded on to a tractor reminded me of that conversation which I had with that soldier, whose name I have long forgotten.

Recently with the clearing of Vakarai one of the first steps undertaken by the military was to demolish the LTTE cemetery. Bulldozers flattened the tombs of the dead and coconut plants have since been planted in the area. It was argued that all symbols of the LTTE occupation of the area, including their cemeteries, should be destroyed in order to assure the civilians that the Tigers are truly defeated.

This is not about Eelam, the LTTE and their brutality or even about the debate whether terrorist should be treated with dignity. This is about us, the Sri Lankan nation.

A nation that often boasts of a rich and long civilisation spanning 25 centuries, considered the custodian of a religion that preaches loving kindness to even one’s enemies. This is about us, as a people and what we have become. It is about you and me and our inability to see the world any other way than our own.

George Bush might have said, “You are either with us or with the terrorist,” but no other government in the world adheres to the motto better than the Sri Lankan administration.

Those disagreeing with the current thinking are branded as terrorists or terrorists’ sympathisers and traitors. Recent media frenzies and propaganda campaigns launched by pseudo patriots who adorned the walls of Colombo with their rhetoric to destroy all “media terrorists, NGO terrorists, leftists’ terrorists and all other terrorists” have contributed to this dehumanisation process of our nation.
I hope that soldier that I met all those years ago is alive and well. I hope he has passed on his values to his children and they have grown up with the knowledge that even in the midst of conflict, it is not necessary be blind to the greater realities.

More than anything, for the sake of my country, I hope that soldier will ascend to the highest ranks of the military or even political leadership and incorporate the values of a civilised world even when fighting a brutal war.

The day we can see both the elite Black Tiger suicide cadres and the army’s Special Forces soldiers as Sri Lankan citizens, sons of mothers who will equally grieve their losses, and fundamentally as human beings, we may rest with the knowledge that we have not lost this war. For this is not just a war to win over terrorism but a battle not to lose ourselves in the process.
- Ashoka Devapriya







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