Saturday, October 22, 2005

More on the Trincomalee visit
The Transitional Shelter Phase of Tsunami Reconstruction
The transitional shelter phase of tsunami reconstruction is almost over, but not without issues. Poor site selection is hampering efforts to upgrade water and sanitation facilities that are presently underway in the transitional shelters. According to an INGO representative in Trincomalee it is feared that the transitional shelters will be flooded during the monsoon season again as a result of poor site selection. She further said that nobody has taken into account the need for a proper drainage system in the transitional shelters. Furthermore she lamented that when it comes to sanitation related facilities for the people, it is generally limited to an understanding that it only involves building toilets.

Water container vehicles are providing water to the families living in the transitional shelters, funded by various NGOs. But most of them work under a very strict financial time restriction and one wonders as to whether these NGOs will continue providing this service, say in one years time. If this is going to be the same manner in which water is going to be supplied to the permanent housing schemes one can assess the quality of thought and planning that is being given to these vital issues affecting the Tsunami hit people.

Permanent housing phase
Finding lands for permanent housing has been a problem in many of the Tsunami hit districts, where there are not enough state lands to provide to the people. Even where lands are being found there has been complaint of proper consultation with the people not being done resulting in poor site selection. The Urban Development authority (UDA) functioning from Colombo has no local knowledge of the situation in the districts and makes arbitrary decisions with regard to all these issues. The GAs in the district have a better understanding of the situation, but mostly they are voiceless in the dominating presence of the UDA backed by the Government in Colombo.

During the early days of the Post-tsunami period the government and the UDA did a lot of ‘fancy’ planning, producing colourful handbooks and power point presentations at conferences and seminars. But no proper assessment was done before these plans were formulated and one wonders where these plans are lying now. According to people involved in Tsunami reconstruction efforts there is very little planning that has gone into as to how the Government should respond to these issues.

Tsunami Politics
In Trincomalee a Task Force on Tsunami Reconstruction was set up soon after the Tsunami, the same way it happened in all the tsunami affected districts. But the taskforce was shifted to Colombo soon after the first (or the first couple of meetings). The Secretary of the SLFP (Mr. Maithripla Srisena) was appointed Chairman of this task force. The task force was obviously, because of its lack of presence in the district, very slow in responding to the Post-Tsunami issues which needed immediate attention and needless to say it cut-off or made any kind of consultation that the Govt had with the people worthless. Even for the civil society groups or NGOs to get permission to work with the tsunami affected people they had to go to Colombo to get permission. Some of the local Community Based Organisations (CBOs) found this entirely impossible to comply with because of the bureaucracy that was involved in getting the permission.

One local NGO that we met in Tricomalee said that they had problems with the SL Army in transporting construction materials to LTTE controlled - Tsunami affected areas. The Army did not directly ban them from taking the materials but made it difficult for them and prolonged the process of taking it to the affected areas. The general procedure is that the GA when giving permission for these NGO’s to carry out relief work in LTTE controlled areas gives them a letter which is copied to six people including the NGO and the Brigadier of the Army in charge of that area. When this particular NGO took this letter that was copied to them to the army check point along with the construction materials they were turned back for not bringing the original copy of the letter. It took that NGO two more weeks to sort this issue and get the materials across for work to start in those LTTE controlled areas.
Press release on the Peace Walk, held on 22 October 2005 organized by Voice for Peace (A Youth led National Peace Movement) and the Interact Club of St. Thomas College, Mt.Lavinia.

Voice for Peace

The dilemma of nation building has been something that we have been struggling with, since independence.

Efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict in this country have failed time and again mainly because of lack of political commitment and because of a non-concentrated civil society effort with poor people’s participation in the peace processes that this country has experimented with.

The youth have been both used as fodder for the war and have suffered immensely from the consequences of the war, many of us loosing our childhood, youth life and education in the process.

Today we organize this walk asking for an end to the war and requesting all stakeholders to initiate a more concentrated effort towards resolving the ethnic conflict through an inclusive, pluralistic peace process.

Politics of convergence on the national issue, across the wide spectrum of our polity is vital in achieving lasting peace.

Hence, we send out a message on behalf of the youth in this country to the presidential candidates, to engage in a constructive national debate on how to resolve the ethnic conflict and to unite in vision and commitment to find an answer to the national question.

To the civil society in this country we request for a more focused and coordinated effort in involving the people in the process, in achieving durable peace.
As youth we are committed in working for peace. We believe in working for peace rather than just hoping for peace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I was pulled by one of my friends into a batch meeting at the Faculty (Law faculty, University of Colombo) today after classes. I was reluctant in attending primarily because of my non-familiarity with the language of the meeting and secondly because of my disinterest in the topic of the meeting - Elections to the Student Union Council. What brought to me into the meeting was my friend's insistence and secondly my inquisitiveness.

As i walked into the meeting the first thing that stuck me was that the meeting was closed to girls. First years are offered three positions in the council. and here we are to decide who should file nominations to represent us in the council without the girls who formed 70% of the student population. Talk about gender represenataion...and these people are going to be the future generation of lawyers....some of them also might get into politics... I was shattered. When i asked one of the organisers for the reason i was told that this is how the seniors did it and that we are merely following their footsteps..Nothing but herd instinct...

Another aspect that i noted was that none of the Tamil medium students were in attanedance at the meeting. When i raised this with one of the organisers he didnt provide me with a proper response.. he seemed to mumble something to the effect that...' we have only three positions...we dont have enough fo the tamil medium students' I was rudely taken back.
When i asked one of my friends he told me that they will be coming a bit late. They never turned up. At the meeting, though i couldnt follow the proceedings properly, i managed to understand that they were talking about unity, despite the medium divides that we have.This opinion would have been appreciated if it had come from a meeting where all the medium students had been present. ...

I am not a pessimist but if my colleagues happen to represent in general the attitude that our generation has towards issues of representation...the future does not offer much for us. The silence into which we are deeply embossed should be broken!!! If not the destruction of the essence of our societal existence will continue to take place.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The name of my Blog - 'Aachcharya', is the Sanskrit translation of the word 'Guru', which forms part of my name. The URL Title of my blog- 'Guruchethra' is the name of the famous battlefield in the Hindu epic 'Mahabharatha'
Trincomalee visit - Religion, Politics, Issue of Religious Conversion etc.
I was in Trincomalee recently on a field research mission as part of a civil society group research team. I was able to witness heavy military presence in the city, with security personnel deployed almost at every junction in the city. The presence is much stronger than what it was in 2004 when I was at Trincomalee the last time. This signifies, perhaps the political developments in the district, which nevertheless has been a high conflict density zone, through out the history of the ethnic conflict.
The Buddha statue and the surrounding barbed wire has taken a lot of space of the Bus stand and one wonders with the heavily barbed wire around the place whether one can actually enter the premises and even atleast offer flowers to Lord Buddha. It is a sorry state of affairs in this country that religion has been pulled in to the whim of political arrogance that our politicians are famous for. The same can be said of how the Anti-conversion Bill is being dealt with. Whilst agreeing to the fact that there are certain religious groups in this country that take advantage of the economic status of people to convert them to their religions (only God knows why they do this.. And I wonder whether any religion actually thinks that by increasing the number of followers in their religion, the objectives of the religion being practiced can be met!!!). But these are matters that society should deal with and should not be pulled into politics thus violating the individual autonomous space of decision making that any person has entitlement to. As President Kumaratunge once noted (one of her sensible comments, I must say!) if Buddhism and Hinduism are to prosper the people who profess the religion should take the religious to the laymen and assist them in their social and economic development. I cannot but agree with her on this.