All posts by Ahilan Kadirgamar

The Draft Labour Code on Social Security-Workers’ Concerns: Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan


In March this year, the Ministry for Labour and Employment unveiled the third of its series of Labour Codes aimed at simplifying and rationalizing the labour laws. The Draft Labour Code on Social Security has been placed in the public domain and comments and suggestions have been invited in respect of its provisions. The Draft Code is ambitious in scope and amalgamates the provisions of 15 central labour laws relating to social security. Continue reading The Draft Labour Code on Social Security-Workers’ Concerns: Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan

Seven Years After the End of Sri Lanka’s Civil War: Mahendran Thiruvarangan


When the civil war came to an end in May 2009 I was still a final year undergraduate at the University of Peradeniya. Peradeniya was miles away from the war zone. The only venues that supplied us with details about the happenings in the war theatre were the television channels stationed in the South, self-censoring the civilian casualties incurred and feeding to the Sinhala nationalist jubilation of the times. And on the other side were websites like Tamilnet and Puthinam run by parties sympathetic to the LTTE releasing carefully filtered out reports singularly focusing on the deaths of civilians caused by the military leaving no trace about how the top leadership of the LTTE was recruiting children and adults, despite knowing so well they had already lost the battle or how the civilians who were trying to flee the war zone were shot down by the militants.

One had to work around these competing narratives to get at least a partial sense of the nature of the violence that the people ensnared in the No Fire Zone were exposed to. Some of us had friends whose relatives had been in the LTTE-controlled areas. When the guns breathed their last in Mullivaikal, some of them had already moved to hospitals and camps in Trincomalee and Vavuniya with their loved ones injured during the war. It was from these wounded men and women and their families that the harrowing experiences of the thousands of people inside the narrow battlefield trickled down to us in May 2009. The South erupted into celebrations when the re-unification of the island was announced via the media. As the former president in his televised address from Parliament was busy instructing the people of the country to annul the notions of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ from their political discourses, fire crackers celebrating the military victory started to deafen the ears of those of us who were seated under the senate building of the University of Peradeniya—Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and Malays—pondering in groups what was awaiting us and the country in the days and years to come. Continue reading Seven Years After the End of Sri Lanka’s Civil War: Mahendran Thiruvarangan

Jayadeva Uyangoda on Ambedkar’s Legacy

Text of the talk delivered on April 22, 2016 at the Indian Cultural Centre, Colombo on the occasion of B. R. Ambedkar Commemoration.

Ambedkar’s Legacy: Critique of Religion, Quest for Social Justice and the Paradox of Constitutionalism

Jayadeva Uyangoda, Senior professor of Political Science, University of Colombo


May I begin my talk this evening by thanking His Excellency Y. K. Sinha the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo for inviting me to deliver this lecture on B. R. Ambedkar? This event is part of a series of celebrations in connection with the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, which fell on the 14th of April. I am afraid my talk may not celebrate great Ambedkar’s memory and legacy as such. It will only present some disjointed and hurriedly constructed thoughts about the life and legacy of this great son of South Asia.

Ambedkar’s name is well known in Sri Lanka. In Sinhalese society, the popular culture of which I am somewhat familiar with, Ambedkar is known as the leader of India’s Harijan communities. The word dalit is not in much use in Sinhalese society. The Gandhian neologism of harijan is better known. Ambedkar is respected as the Harijan leader who embraced Buddhism along with several thousands of his followers. Sinhalese Buddhists are particularly sympathetic to Ambedkar and his social reform movement. For them, Ambedkar’s project constituted a critique and a rejection of Hinduism. This is despite the fact that Buddhism has historically and in terms of elite as well as popular practices been closely interwoven with Hinduism. Quite independent of Ambedkar, Sri Lankan Buddhists have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Hinduism and Hindu traditions as well. It is almost like their ambivalence towards India in general, as some of their intellectuals and professionals seem to be inclined to demonstrate these days. Continue reading Jayadeva Uyangoda on Ambedkar’s Legacy

Sri Lankan Academics and Activists Condemn Vicious Campaign Against Nivedita Menon


We, the undersigned, wish to express our shock and indignation at the vicious right wing media campaign conducted over the past few days against well-known feminist scholar and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Nivedita Menon. This media campaign mischievously decontextualizes her lecture at the public teach-in programme in JNU with the use of selective clips and inflammatory commentary. The television channel Zee has led the main campaign by branding Professor Menon as ‘anti-national’ and instigating viewers to take action. Such branding is tantamount to a television channel acting as both judge and jury, and directly placing an individual’s rights and safety under threat. Continue reading Sri Lankan Academics and Activists Condemn Vicious Campaign Against Nivedita Menon

Debt, Counselling and the Production of Neoliberal Subjects

financialfactsoflifeHousehold debt has plagued the North and East since the war ended in Sri Lanka. Activists and journalists have long highlighted the consequences of predatory credit and the devastating indebtedness faced by the war-torn people; from rural indebtedness, to debt accrued from the Indian Housing grants to the debt trap with lease hire purchasing.

More than such writings, the crisis on the ground, with increasing rates of suicide and attempted suicide, half built houses and protests by people have awoken donors and policy makers to the crisis of indebtedness. The Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) was commissioned to study debt accrued with donor-funded housing schemes, and more recently by the Swiss Development Cooperation to evaluate their financial counselling initiative, which aimed to alleviate house-building related debt. Continue reading Debt, Counselling and the Production of Neoliberal Subjects

Principal Anandarajan and the Legacies of a Long and Pointless War: Luther Uthayakumaran


A lot has happened since the early 1980’s, when I first got to know Anandarajan. Nearly thirty-five years later, it seems a different world. A way of life has died between then and now. It is through these multiple layers of life and memories that I remember that evening. It was nearly dusk when the news spread through Jaffna ‘Principal Anandarajan shot dead” and then the other three words followed in a hushed tone, like a reluctant trailer, ‘….. by the boys’.

AnandarajanI first met Anandarajan when I was fourteen years old, a few weeks before I was to join St John’s. Anandarajan was introduced to me at a family function, as my would-be principal. The first thing I noticed about him was the total lack of aloofness. His response was ‘I say, I was a classmate of your mother at St John’s, and she was the only girl in the class whom I was scared of’ (which my mother vehemently denied!). In the years that followed I came to know Anandarajan more closely, first as a teacher, and then as a close family friend. In those days at St John’s the first year Advanced Level classes occupied the open sheds opposite the Vice-Principal’s house, and everyday from my classroom I would see Anandarajan walk purposefully across the school grounds from his residence to the principal’s office. If it was a Monday, I would see him again a few minutes later, wearing a black academic-gown walking up the stage of Peto Hall to chair the assembly. I used to enjoy those Monday morning assemblies, as they provided a welcome reprieve from the stress of cramming for exams. Anandarajan would invite interesting speakers to address us, from Hindu mystics to those who spoke on more earthy topics such as pollution and war in the Middle East. Ironically for many of us in those days, war was something that happened only in distant places. If there were no outside speakers Anandarajan would address the assembly himself. It was on one such occasions that I learnt a value that I have cherished ever since then. It is in Anandarajan’s own words: “Always defend yourself. Never let anyone accuse you falsely – not anyone – not even me. If you let that happen, part of the blame is yours”. Continue reading Principal Anandarajan and the Legacies of a Long and Pointless War: Luther Uthayakumaran

Elections, Politics and Tamil Nationalism: Hopeless Impasse and Strivings of the People

This article co-written by SWASTHIKA ARULINGAM AND AHILAN KADIRGAMAR was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Samakalam, a Tamil monthly magazine on contemporary affairs. A group of us have been writing a column every month titled ‘Dissent and Debate’. Samakalam is a unique effort to interpret the debates in the national press in Sri Lanka to the Tamil speaking audience and in turn also engage the rest of the country on debates in the North and East through a few articles in English.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has swept the 2015 parliamentary elections in its Tamil constituencies. This victory further consolidates the power of the TNA and particularly the Federal Party (ITAK). However, this is also the weakness of Tamil nationalist politics. Historically, Tamil politics dominated by the Federal Party has done little other than win elections. Politics should be much more, building alliances with other political forces and mobilising society and finding solutions to people’s social, economic and political problems. Tamil nationalist politics neither seems to have the capacity to govern as with the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) nor does it seem to have a vision to recover Tamil society out of the post-war crisis in the North and East. This article addresses the future of Tamil politics given this problematic political trajectory. Continue reading Elections, Politics and Tamil Nationalism: Hopeless Impasse and Strivings of the People

Piketty and the Economic Crisis in the Euro Zone: Cenan Pirani

PikettyGuest post by CENAN PIRANI

Though the US has seemingly bounced back from the 2008 financial crisis, southern European countries like Portugal and Greece are currently dealing with debt situations that were once only characteristic of the “developing world”. In order to stabilize their economies after the 2008 crisis these European countries took on a series of IMF and European Central Bank loans in which rates of interest were higher than the countries’ rates of GDP growth, thus stagnating their economies for the foreseeable future.

This situation that currently befalls these countries’ economies was explained by Thomas Piketty in a recent interview he gave for the major Portuguese newspaper, PÚBLICO. Piketty, who has become a prominent public intellectual due to the popularity of his recent work, “Capital in the 21st Century”, was in Portugal this week in order to discuss the economic future of the country with some of its political figures. Besides outlining the problem, he discusses possible courses of action for the countries to release themselves from perpetual debt and austerity. These ideas ironically enough come out of the paths once carved by those now economically dominant countries in the Euro Zone, specifically France and Germany. Continue reading Piketty and the Economic Crisis in the Euro Zone: Cenan Pirani

My elections days, 2015: Sivamohan Sumathy


campaigning, exciting, tense, nervous, delirium-invested, holding training sessions on the verendah for the immediate neighbouhood, as nobody but appa had voted in any previous presidential election, strangely agreeing with appa on politics for once, passing on all the wild gossip about the mr family, nightmare riddled pre election nights, sleeplessness, inducing drinking, exhilarating, liberating, cautionary, educating vasuki’s children about the elections ( they are keenly interested), near addiction to fb and quarellling with totally unknown friends on it, while another plethora of unknown persons writing in to befriend me, baila sessions, holding candle lit vigils for assassinated journalists, being connected to the universe on election night through thiru, who was on every tweet, every note, every social bleep, planning, writing, tasking for the future, doubts, setting off crackers, taking to singing, questions, pondering profound political questions on the nature of the state, reforms or revolution, gramsci’s historic bloc, not stopping at paradigm shift as most liberal commentators have done with this over used and abused term, not bothering with muslim bashing in europe over charlie whatever, in fact, just a wee bit short of visionary.

no paradigm shift,
no revolution, it is toward …….

they cut the jak tree down in our backyard,
the day after elections.
the parrots displaced again.

Challenging the West’s Narrative on Sri Lanka’s ‘Victory for Democracy’: Devaka Gunawardena


Of the many pieties that have been promoted in the Western media in the aftermath of Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in the recent Sri Lankan presidential election, none has been more cherished than the notion that Sri Lanka is now on board with “democracy.”[1] This claim is counter-posed to Sri Lanka’s recent cozy relationship with China and other authoritarian countries. A new Cold War is supposedly being fought, with Sri Lanka’s election reduced to its strategic relevance to policy makers.

At the same time the dominant narrative promoted by Western media and diplomats has been conveniently ignored in other places where it is considered politically unfeasible to support democracy. The same diplomats and officials that criticized the previous Rajapaksa regime have often argued that equally if not more repressive governments in places such as the Middle East are “on the path to democracy.” This claim temporizes the same political expectations that have been applied to Sri Lanka. Continue reading Challenging the West’s Narrative on Sri Lanka’s ‘Victory for Democracy’: Devaka Gunawardena

Information on Aluthgama – Fact Finding by a Women’s Collective

A Fact Finding Report by a Women’s Collective on the Ethnic Riots in Aluthgama, Sri Lanka.


On the 15th of June 2014 ethnic riots took place in Aluthgama following a rally organized by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a Buddhist fundamentalist organization. Even though the police and state officials had been informed of the potential of the rally to turn violent, no steps were taken to stop the same, instead a large number of police and Special Task Forces (STF) personnel were deployed in the area. In the aftermath of the violence that shocked the country, a women’s team visited Aluthgama and met with several survivors with the objective of documenting the events that took place. Below is their report. Considering the safety of the survivors their names, location and other identities are not recorded.

“Around 12 midnight on 15/06/2014 the Welipitiya Mosque administration made an announcement that a large group of thugs were coming to destroy the Mosque. Upon the announcement the men from the village brought their families, left the women inside the mosque for their safety, and stood outside the mosque to protect the mosque. Around 2000 persons arrived in a procession at that time chanting slogans saying ‘we will destroy the Dharga Town mosque’, ‘we will change Dharga Town into a Sinhala village’ and started pelting stones from all sides,” said a mother whose son was attacked in this incident. She stated that she has four sons, she has been separated from her husband since the birth of her youngest son, and has brought them up single handedly amidst various challenges. “My two unmarried sons aged 20 and 17 heard the announcement from the mosque and left to guard the mosque. A few minutes after they left home I heard gun shots and ran outside to look for my sons but I could not locate them. I ran back home and prayed for their safety. I could hear the firing of gun shots for about 2 hours. Continue reading Information on Aluthgama – Fact Finding by a Women’s Collective

Aluthgama – Thinking about Co-existence and Resistance in a Time of Crisis: Mahendran Thiruvarangan


I come from a community that was both a victim and a villain in the thirty-year civil war that unsettled all of us. We were victims because the Sri Lankan state killed thousands of us, grabbed our lands and made us homeless; we were villains as we could not question the LTTE strongly when the movement massacred members of the Sinhala and Muslim communities and members of our own community who refused to conform to the movement’s ideology. We witnessed how the narrow nationalist politics that we romanticized, alienated us from the other communities on the island. We witnessed how our failure to criticize the decisions made by our leaders contributed in part to the death of thousands of Tamils in Mullivaikal in May 2009. We witnessed how our obsession with the particular—our language, our culture, our religion and our homeland—incarcerated us within the walls of purism and political decadence. It is true that there was no space for dissent when the LTTE ruled us. But we need to accept as a community that because the LTTE fought against a state that dominated us and persecuted us, many of us often, in our everyday conversations, justified its violence against other communities. Any community that clings to a narrow-minded nationalism has many a lesson to learn from the painful experiences that the Tamils in Sri Lanka went through during the war. When I read about the recent attacks on Muslims in Aluthgama, I remembered the Eviction of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE and the violence that the LTTE directed at the Muslim community in the East in the name of Tamils. Continue reading Aluthgama – Thinking about Co-existence and Resistance in a Time of Crisis: Mahendran Thiruvarangan

Waiting on Biafra and Lanka

As May turns into June the quiet loneliness of war-torn Jaffna lies before me. For how much longer, years or decades into the future, will I look back into the past? And who will help me reflect on that past?

Some, fifty years ago, the tragedy of Biafra unfolded. I grew up hearing about the legacy of Biafra. During the early years of Tamil militancy, my father and a few other Tamil intellectuals of his generation warned that we may end up like Biafra. That many intellectuals perished in the struggle for Biafra I knew, but what they did I did not know back then.

It is over the last year, that I returned to Biafra, through the powerful novel of Chimamanda Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun. A novel sometimes helps us think about questions we find difficult to ask. Adichie made me think about how long it takes for us to grasp the suffering that comes with a devastating war. Indeed, Adichie writes about Biafra some forty years after. From Adichie, I moved to Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. What struck me most about Achebe’s memoir, is that almost fifty years later, he is still struggling to come to terms with what Biafra meant to him, shackled by lingering nationalist sentiment. It takes a life time or even more to deal with the past in places like Biafra and Lanka.

Mid-May marked the fifth year since the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Continue reading Waiting on Biafra and Lanka

Fear and the Predicament Facing Muslims in Sri Lanka

A Muslim lecturer friend some time ago described a troubling moment. The incident took place when he pulled into the parking lot of a supermarket with his wife few weeks ago. As they got out of the car, a group of men standing by first stared at his wife, who was wearing a headscarf, and then looked intently at him. In a split second, his day was disturbed; he reflected on this moment for quite some time. Was this a harmless gaze or did it reflect a change in attitude towards Muslims? My friend described his own reaction to that momentary stare as one that brought on fear. What did he fear? And why?

The Muslim community is in a state of fear in Sri Lanka. That is what many Muslim intellectuals, activists and community leaders have been saying in recent months at various forums. Do they fear the fringe groups mobilising Sinhala Buddhist nationalism against the Muslim community? Or is it the reception of anti-Muslim rhetoric by broader sections of the Sinhala community? Or is this fear rooted in the support given to such extreme forces by the ruling regime? Or is it fear of the Sri Lankan state itself, responsible for the security of its Muslim citizenry? Continue reading Fear and the Predicament Facing Muslims in Sri Lanka

Economic Democratisation in Sri Lanka

Even as there are important debates on a political solution to the national question, militarisation, Sinhala Buddhist nationalist mobilisation and authoritarianism, Sri Lanka is also going through a major neoliberal economic transformation. A recently formed Collective for Economic Democratisation has been engaging such matters through a political economic lens. Their recent editorial is on the political economy of devolution even as there is a major debate underway in Sri Lanka on the question of the powers to the provinces and a political solution. Their earlier editorial is on the rising costs of neoliberal policies in Sri Lanka. They have also published commentaries on urbanisation including on Colombo as a world-class city and the World Bank’s urbanisation policies in Sri Lanka. The website of the Collective for Economic Democratisation is also a useful resource of economic news and developments.

The Political Economy of Anti-Muslim Attacks in Sri Lanka


The Muslim community is under attack. There have been increasing reports of attacks on mosques and shops owned by Muslims as part of a broader hate campaign against Muslims. The attack on the Dambulla Khairya Jummah mosque in April 2012 saw a decisive shift in the scale of these attacks. This act of violence was built on anti-Muslim rhetoric and a nascent campaign that had been simmering for years. More recently, the anti-Halal campaign and the boycott of No Limit stores has mobilised much larger sections of society. The mobilisations, together with chauvinistic public discourse, have alerted a few critical journalists, public intellectuals and activists to rightly draw parallels between these developments and the events that led up to the July 1983 pogrom against the Tamil community. Indeed, there needs to be stronger mobilisations and statements of condemnations to arrest this wave of anti-Muslim attacks. In this article, I ask a question that has not received as much attention: Why are these attacks on the Muslim community taking place now?

Published in Sunday Island, Colombo

Can University Teachers Bend the Sri Lankan State?

The major strike launched by university teachers in Sri Lanka on July 4th is gaining momentum. Their struggles are proving to be the single most sustained and nationally organised movement in Sri Lanka’s post-war years. This strike follows previous trade union action taken last year where the Heads of Departments of state universities resigned from their positions for several months. With the Government unheeding of their demands, the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has reinitiated a full blown strike that is national in character with state universities from all regions of the country participating. Continue reading Can University Teachers Bend the Sri Lankan State?

Understanding Indian human rights movements through the lives of two human rights defenders: Jinee Lokaneeta


Watching Advocate alongside Democracy Dialogues: a Tribute to Balagopal, both by Deepa Dhanraj, made for a powerful experience for its remarkable documentation of human rights movements in Andhra through the lives of these two human rights defenders and the collectives that they were a part of whether it was Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Human Rights Forum or People’s Union for Civil Liberties. There is of course a sharp sense of loss, since in the last few years we have lost both these incredible people but one was grateful for this effort to record and document their inspirational lives in such a beautiful manner. It also points to a further need for us to understand the connections of human rights groups to law, the relationship of human rights defenders to the courts, and their role in pushing for the realization of some of substantive aspects of the Indian Constitution in the process. Continue reading Understanding Indian human rights movements through the lives of two human rights defenders: Jinee Lokaneeta

Caste and Exploitation in Indian History: Bharat Patankar

Guest post by BHARAT PATANKAR translated by GAIL OMVEDT

Introduction: The Process of Exploitation

Exploitation arising from the caste hierarchy is a particular feature of the South Asian subcontinent. There was no such exploitative system in other continents or in countries outside of South Asia. But since caste exploitation has been a reality for 1500-2000 years this shakes the belief that only class can be the basis of exploitation. And because of this we have to transcend the attempt to find a way only pragmatically and deal with the issue on a philosophical and theoretical level. Class has been theorized extensively in terms of exploitation; to some extent gender also, but not caste. Exploitation as women in various forms has also been a reality for thousands of years; this also is not through “class”. This reality from throughout the world gives a blow to the idea that exploitation can only be class exploitation. This can also be said of exploitation arising on the basis of racial and communal factors. Continue reading Caste and Exploitation in Indian History: Bharat Patankar

Fuel Prices and Protesting Voices in Sri Lanka: Mahendran Thiruvarangan


The United People’s Freedom Alliance government’s inability to put forward economic policies that address the grievances of the downtrodden sections of the Sri Lankan polity, outside the frameworks of neo-liberalism, has led to chaos in the country. The government’s move to privatize the higher education sector created a major uproar in the country last year. The academic staff attached to Sri Lanka’s universities began a trade union action demanding higher wages in 2011. In the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, garment sector workers took to the streets against a pension scheme introduced by the government much against the interest of the workers. These protests have brought to light the government’s ill-conceived economic policies, and its indifference to the concerns of the working people. Financial mismanagement, corruption at the various levels of the state, the escalating expenditure on the militarization of the North and East provinces, and the government’s sheer disregard for the fundamental needs of the people have created an atmosphere of economic instability. This situation might lead to political unrest in the future, if the Sri Lankan government continues to lack the will to salvage the economy from neo-liberalism and mismanagement. The government’s move to increase the prices of fuels has aggravated this situation.

Continue reading Fuel Prices and Protesting Voices in Sri Lanka: Mahendran Thiruvarangan

A Quick Analysis of the Independence Day Speech by President Rajapaksa

“There is great chaos under heaven – the situation is excellent.” Mao Zedong quoted by Slavoj Zizek a year ago amidst the revolt against Mubarak in Egypt.

Given recent developments, I am jotting down a quick analysis of the positions, concerns and silences in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Independence Day speech today. The tone and substance of this speech is slightly different from the last few Independence Day speeches characterised by triumphalism and exuberance. The context of the speech is the mounting protests on the ground and increasing economic pressures.

The location of the speech in the historical city of Anuradhapura and the reference to Kebethigollawa in Anuradhapura District – the site of a horrific LTTE attack on a civilian bus in 2007 with tens of lives lost and scores injured which contributed to shifting the Sinhala public opinion fully behind the war effort – are attempts to remind the public of the horrors of war, the war victory and to mobilise Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. The solution, at the outset of the speech to all of Sri Lanka’s woes, is emphasised as the government’s “giant development works” as part of the march from “backwardness to modernity”.

Continue reading A Quick Analysis of the Independence Day Speech by President Rajapaksa