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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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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