Dr Ajith Perera has aggressively promoted the idea of
creating an environment friendly for the disabled through his
non-profit humanitarian service organisation, Idiriya
Text and pix by Nabiha
In November 1992 a sudden twist in fate could never have been
expected by two individuals, chauffer and Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera.
A large wayside tree came crashing down onto their moving
vehicle, in Colombo. This accident killed the driver instantly
and left Dr. Perera disabled and forced to get about on a
wheelchair. However, though he certainly was disappointed about
what had happened to him, he managed to pluck courage and put
the skills he still possessed to good use and get going in his
life’s journey. If there is any difference between him and
someone else, in the endeavor of serving the nation, he is doing
it from a wheelchair. He spoke to The Nation about the
importance of having an environment in Sri Lanka that is
convenient for each and everyone. Sitting on his wheelchair and
smiling throughout the conversation, Dr. Perera seemed more
cheerful than a person with no disability.
At present a voluntary disability activist and advocate, Dr.
Perera along with his non-profit humanitarian service
organisation, Idiriya, is trying to spread awareness on making
these disabled people a part of the society.
Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Perera, a few public buildings and
facilities are giving extra attention to make their
infrastructure disabled friendly. He explained that mobility is
a temporary asset and as life unfolds, this same mobility can be
snatched away without prior warning. However, people need to
realize that being physically disabled does not mean that one is
mentally disabled. Therefore segregating them would mean
bringing in unnecessary barriers. “One way that we could change
this mindset and break these barriers is by making obvious
changes in the lifestyle first,” he asserted. Life is all about
accessibility to the essential. Therefore, without convenient
access to most places in these ‘man-made’ constructions, those
who are disabled are left out. Here is where Dr. Perera steps in
with his expertise. Most architects or owners of some of the
most important buildings in Colombo, seek Dr. Perera’s advice in
designing buildings in order to make it disable friendly. “When
the new British Embassy was being built, the high commissioner
sent for me to get a second opinion and considered and worked on
the changes I suggested”, he said. It is not only for those who
are disabled that people should make a safe environment but they
should do so to avoid further accidents. When one builds a
house, building or any infrastructure the diverse sections in
the public need to be considered in order to let the public be
assured that they are given importance. Having an extra bar or a
universal slope entrance into the house, would not cost more.
After all, prevention is better that cure. Especially the
toilets in most of the five star hotels do not have disable
friendly washrooms. There have been several accidents, too,
where pregnant mothers and elderly people have nearly injured
themselves due to lack of facilities in these hotel toilets.
It literally means ‘moving forward’. Members of the Idiriya team
help enable the people who are severely disabled after being
victims of accidents, occurred due to poorly built buildings.
At, Idiriya, they create awareness, give support and promote the
necessity of better built buildings. Some of the organisations
that have helped in order to make buildings more disabled
friendly are, HSBC, HNB, British Council, British High
Commission and UDA.
“What we do is not for personal gain. It is for the nation,” Dr.
Idiriya was not established to make profits. Instead the
authorities strictly focus on helping the shattered dreams of
people come alive. All efforts channeled towards propping this
mission of national importance will help create a safe
environment for both the able and disabled.
Man of courage
Dr. Perera is an individual experienced in diverse fields. He
has won himself national recognition in several fields. He
completed his post graduate studies from the University of
Colombo and is a chartered analytical chemist. Following the
completion of his higher education, he stepped into an entirely
diverse field from chemistry. His passion for cricket made him
dabble as umpire, scorer, training instructor and an examiner.
He authored two of the finest books in cricket, which cricket
fanatics, for sure, treasure. Unfortunately, when his life was
just brightening and two prosperous careers lay ahead of him,
fate dealt a cruel blow on him, altering the course of his life.
Only a few have had the ability like Dr Perera to turn an ordeal
into a learning experience.
Pancha’s many ‘
CAMPAIGNS FOR A CAUSE’
By Carol Aloysius
Pancha’s return after his long honeymoon in the romantic
surroundings of Nuwara Eliya, has livened up the residents of
After leading an uneventful month since his departure to Nuwara
Eliya, we have all of a sudden, found ourselves virtually
inundated by numerous ‘CAMPAIGNS FOR A WORTHY CAUSE’ which
Pancha had undertaken. This was to make up for the time he had
lost before and after marriage, he told us.
The first, which I mentioned last week, was his ‘Campaign to
Eradicate Mosquitoes, Rats and All Other Vectors Spreading
Dengue, Chikun Gunya and Rat Fever’ from our neighborhood. Even
though we had launched this campaign last week, Pancha wanted us
to continue it this week as well. So, having gone through this
exercise many times under Pancha’s watchful eyes, it did not
take us long to sweep our gardens, cut all overhanging branches
and flush out the drains. Anticipating his next request, we
residents then went out to the nearby lanes and market place to
woo all the stray cats to our neigbourhood. This was to
eradicate the rats, pole cats and other creatures that could
spread rat fever. Pancha was so pleased we had taken the
initiative without waiting to be asked. He promised to get the
CMC to recognise our collective efforts to clean up our
neighbourhood, by presenting each of us with a plaque that read:
“ THANKING OUR PATRIOTIC CITIZENS FOR A JOB WELL DONE.”
No sooner was this particular campaign officially over ( Pancha
kept reminding us that for the campaign to be a success it had
to be sustained throughout the year and the following year as
well), Pancha decided to observe two other important days which
were officially declared by the UN. One was International Day of
Tolerance which fell on November 16, and the other International
Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25,
which he told us, will continue to be observed till December 10.
Since International Day for Tolerance was aimed at bridging gaps
between communities and ethnic groups, he made us each bring
along a friend belonging to a different community, race and
religion other than our own, for an informal , “Get together “at
Sarath’s Kopi Kade. The highlight of our informal gathering was
an inspiring discussion on the significance of this day, how it
began, and its relevance to those of us in a country torn apart
by lack of understanding and respect for each other. This was
followed by an interesting discourse by the three religious
leaders of the nearby temple, church and kovil who also
reiterated the importance of tolerance and understanding to
bring about real peace. The residents decided to stage an
amusing skit carrying the message of tolerance, which was highly
appreciated by the audience, that they called for an encore.
Pancha was so pleased with our performance, that he gave us all
a plaque containing the words, “FOR INNOVATIVE ACTING’, which we
were instructed to hang in a prominent place on our walls.
Pancha’s next campaign was the most challenging of all. Noting
that we were now about to observe the UN declared “ Elimination
of Violence Against Women,’ day, which would continue to be
observed during the next sixteen days of “Activism Against
Gender Based Violence”, Pancha decided that it was nothing but
right that he too should contribute his mite towards this worthy
cause. Starting with this week, he decided to carry out a
campaign to prevent gender violence from taking place at
Vipulasena Mawatha. He told us that the following week would
focus on other perpetrators of gender violence such as bus
conductors, commuters, employers etc etc.
With this in mind, Pancha and Piyasena his assistant , visited
all the houses down the lane, where there were womenfolk.
Carrying a large CR book and a red ball point pen, they wrote
down the names and status of every woman resident, from
housewives to daughters to women boarders to live- in domestics.
He then asked them to be present at a “ vishesha rahas meetimak
gahanu kattiyata vitharai” ( a special meeting of a ‘Highly
Confidential Nature” for women only..
A total of thirty women who had surreptitiously crept out of
their homes without their husbands’ knowledge, gathered in a
vacant room in the nearby church that afternoon. After greeting
them and putting them at ease with a cup of plain tea and a bun
which Kopi Kade Sarath had kindly offered, Pancha asked them to
freely confide in him of any instance when they had been
physically or mentally abused by their husbands, lovers,
brothers, masters or boy friends who lived down Vipulasena
Going on Pancha’s assurance that their confession was ‘Strictly
confidential’, the women poured out their woes. Out of the
thirty, only two said they had been lucky to have never been
abused physically or mentally by their men folk.
After cancelling the names of these two women from the list, and
congratulating them for managing their men folk so well, Pancha
then proceeded to divide the rest of the women into the
following categories: 1) Abused once 2) abused several times 3)
Abused more times than they could remember.
Their replies to these questions were an eye opener for Pancha.
Shocked at finding that the majority of women fell into the
third category, Pancha decided to act fast and put an end to
what he called ‘ an epidemic of gender violence” spreading down
His strategy was to first, ‘catch the bull by the horns.’ This
meant confronting the offenders directly, a task which was
easier said than done. Taking Piyasena and his merry band of
helpers as escorts ( in case the offenders took offence and
retaliated violently) , the offending male residents who
included husbands, boyfriends, masters who had allegedly
committed these acts of gender violence, flatly refused to
co-operate. It was only after Pancha threatened to report them
that they finally confessed. After chastising and warning them
never to inflict mental of physical harm on their women folk
again, he dropped another bombshell on them. He told them he was
gong to start a ‘CENTRE FOR REHABILITATING MALES WHO INFLICTED
ABUSE ON WOMEN.’ The suggestion was received with mixed feelings
both by the abusers and the victims (the latter being reluctant
to have their silent suffering made public). But Pancha was
adamant. Rehabilitation through counselling and anger management
therapy was the only way to eliminate such abuse, he told them.
So having persuaded a psychiatrist from the nearby hospital, to
give a series of talks on ‘How To Stop Abusing The Weaker Sex’,
he ordered the offenders to attend the meetings. If they
refused, he warned them that he would name them in public as ‘
WIFE BASHERS’ and ‘WOMEN MOLESTERS’, and make them parade the
streets with placard hung around them to shame them.
Afraid he would carry out his threat, the offenders opted for
After four weeks of two hourly sessions, they were soon on the
way to complete rehabilitation.
As for the wives, daughters and girl friends who had suffered
their shame in silence, they cannot thank Pancha, enough.
These days, Pancha’s house is virtually flooded with bouquets,
flowers and fruits and numerous ‘Thank you ‘ notes with the
words, “ You are our Saviour’” written on them.
Puffing his chest out with pride he tells me modestly, “ mama
kale sulu deyak ape gahanu kattiya beranne. Isarahata katayuthu
keepayak karanne mama balaporothu veneva” ( What I did was just
a token gesture to give women back their dignity. I have many
more activities in mind to help them for the future), on my way
The missing rupee
By Vihanga Kusal Perera.
While some things change, others simply do not: the same applies
to the inability/lethargy. Many bus conductors time and again
display in returning the passenger his/her proper balance. For
me, not receiving the due balance is one of the most irritating
things that can happen on board a bus. At times, depending on
the mood and the time, one prefers to simply walk away without a
grunt. But, as it frequently happens, we are forced to throw
unnecessary “shows”, asking for our change. Why fight for a
rupee, one may argue. But, that rupee is your right and the
returning of that rupee to its rightful owner is a principle.
Then, again, a hundred persons “cheated” of their change
constitute a hundred rupees. As it happens, there are times
where you have to take three connecting buses in reaching your
destination; and all three conductors fail to return you your
This “missing rupee syndrome” is, by now, a condition of modern
sub/urban living. The conductors, of course, have many excuses
for the “missing” change. His not having “coins (change)” is, by
far, the most common. Then, again, he is not so self-contained
when the blame is shifted on the passenger for not having paid
with change in the first place. “Passe dhennam” – that he will
give the change later – is another template the conductors have
in common. But, as it often happens, “passe (later)”, in the
conductors’ jargon, connotes the same meaning as “never”. Even
in cases where the passenger nags and reminds him, he returns
with the negative: “No change...Look: only five rupee coins”.
Sometimes one wonders how a bus that runs from morning till
night loses all coins/change, specially, in the evening trips.
This, I think, is one of the most baffling mysteries in public
The conductor not giving you back the proper change is not an
“inability” or a “shortcoming”, but a case of arrogance and
incompetency. I would call it incompetency, for a “conductor” is
expected to manage his “purse” in such a way that there should
be sufficient coins/change to work with. This should be so for
both the morning trip as well as the last trip for the day. One
doesn’t expect a barber to open shop without razor blades.
Halfway through the day, the barber cannot turn around and tell
his/her customer: “sorry, I have run out of razor blades. So,
you will have to do with half a haircut”. Not having change,
therefore, is not an excuse under any circumstance. The problem
is that it happens so often, that today it has immersed into our
daily life as a “natural phenomenon of a day’s work”. Of course,
there are people who fight till the last penny. But, such
protests are becoming lesser and lesser.
The no-change situation is mainly due to the conductors’
arrogance. In my reading, it is more a show of “who’s boss” and
“who’s calling the shots”, for, in the bus-scenario, the
passenger is at the mercy of this manual ticketing-machine. The
conductor, too, is a service provider – same as a grocer or a
vendor. But, this is one service that is supplied with minimum
respect for the client, because it is understood that
irrespective of respect the passenger will have to take that
bus. This is also owing to the want of an established training
programme the conductors ought to undertake. The authorities, at
its best, should formulate an “initiation course” that would
guide all would-be-conductors to fashion themselves into better
service-providers. However, at its worst, the same authorities
are yet to even properly lay out a schematic monitoring system
to safeguard the efficiency of public transport.
It is my belief that the “missing rupee syndrome” is far more
common in private buses than in the “CTB” services. This happens
both in short distance as well as long distance routes. While
the missing change in short routes gets confined to a rupee or
two, in longer routes this can even lead up to ten or twelve
rupees. Once travelling from Ratnapura to Badulla on a
so-defined “Semi Luxury” bus, I was charged Rs. 235. As I was
standing half the way I simply had no means to enjoy the
“semi-luxury” of it all. But, the worst happened when the
conductor-boy couldn’t remember that he had yet to pay me my
change of Rs. 15 as we reached Badulla. After much debate, the
driver interfered and settled the issue – but, as it shouldn’t
be, this was with my having to cause a sensation in front of the
When the contemporary German economy crashed, Nietzsche duly
justified suicide as a means of escape for desperate debtors and
creditors. Likewise, in the absence of a courteous and
passenger-friendly transport system the public has to device its
own mechanisms to maintain sanity. The more common responses are
to pay less and not to pay at all. These should not be
considered as “cheating” or as “uncivil behaviour”, because they
are used as counter-propositions to the conductors’ cheating and
uncouth conduct. Nowadays, people employ these on a more
frequent basis – both, due to the rising cost of living, as well
as a means of self-fashioning an affordable transport service.
In buses where proper tickets are not issued, paying less or not
paying at all can easily be applied. Once, travelling in the 155
from Bambalapitiya to Mattakkuliya I happened to overhear a
young mother with two children take her tickets to Ellihouse
Park. However, she actually got off alongside me only at
Mattakkuliya (For me, she was a real life hero and I felt quite
honoured to get off the bus in her shadow). There are many who
do not pay the bus unless asked for – and this number, I feel,
is on the rise. My opinion is that these people are not at
fault: it is the faults of the system that encourage them to do
The authorities also need to introduce a form of quality-control
to the transport service. Specially, the so-called “semi-luxury”
services are notorious for their service, in return for the
charges they make. The basic charge of a “semi-lux” is twice as
the normal fare. For example, a “semi-lux” running from
Anuradhapura to Embilipitiya would charge a passenger Rs.80 from
Avissawella to Ratnapura (the normal fare being Rs.40). Yet,
contrary to the claim, these buses, too, keep picking up
passengers from arbitrary points and the fare, too, then,
becomes arbitrary. The “semi-lux” ticket machine, again, is
prone to “night fever”: for, in evening trips their charges tend
to be more arbitrary – unless, of course, they consider the late
trips as a “value added service”.
Electronic ticketing machines have been introduced in several
routes; but, this, still, is not the remedy for the “missing
rupee syndrome”. While the tickets are duly issued, the
conductor still refrains from giving you the proper balance.
This malady, I feel, cannot be overcome without a proper
facelift to the vocation of being a conductor and without
relevant training in customer service. But, knowing the system,
I know that this is a tall order – but, an order all the same.
On a parting note I will lay out an incident of extreme protest
against a bus conductor that I witnessed in 2004. During a
morning trip, a conductor of the 155 accused a schoolboy of not
paying the fare. The boy, in retaliation, argued that in fact
the conductor did not return his balance. The argument continued
for a while and neither withdrew their stance. The boy, who had
a mobile phone with him, called (as we later found out) some of
his friends/allies and as the bus approached a Colombo 7 school
several other boys entered the bus. The conductor was asked to
get out of the bus and he was requested (though not in the
melodious tones of a morning bird) to pay the proper change. The
boys left the bus conductor and the bus as soon as the due
amount was retuned.