Harvard, LTTE, UN and Sri Lanka Guardian – the Global Cycle

 "As part of a community, we have the responsibility to allocate status at least to the extent we were allocated status by that community. That is when there is continuity of values represented by hierarchical status."

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam
(March 19, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I keep looking through my mail for an acknowledgment of my complaint of Unlawful Racial Discrimination against Dr. Palitha Kohona, to the Australian Human Rights Commission, on 03 March 2011. As per Due Process which the Commission did follow under previous presidents, I would have by now received an acknowledgment which always helped me feel that I was being valued at that level. To some it may be just routine by an unknown number within the Commission. To me it is usually a return of my investment in the Administrative Structures of Australian Public Service which are also my investment in self governance through Public Administration. When the person on the other side is also genuine, we merge to form wholesome governance at that level. That is real foundation for Peace through small common avenues. In real terms these are far more valuable than grand administrative victories at the higher level – to which most cannot relate. The complaint could still be dismissed by Commission but respect expressed at every stage is respect gained from the People so the distance between the Government and the People is reduced.

Our current President of Human Rights Commission, the Hon Cathy Branson, QC, is reported to have said as follows, in regards to the Christmas Island detainee protests :

‘We think the way to address the problem is to deal with the underlying structural problem which is a system that has too many people held for too long in detention, for indefinite periods of time and in remote places like Christmas Island.’

The structural problem of the Immigration Department is not different to the structural problem of the Human Rights Commission which is yet to even acknowledge receipt of my complaint – more than two weeks after the complaint was lodged. The detainees are the parallels of migrant complainants from the countries of the refugees. The remoteness of detainees in Christmas Island is the remoteness of complainants who seem to have been discarded by mainstream systems and are therefore usually ‘dismissed as lacking in substance’. This ends up with negative social status at various levels – most importantly within the community and the family that the applicant / refugee feels a part of.

It is important that leaders of a community allocate status within their own members as per faith for internal / domestic positions and merit for external / global positions. Recently I wrote as follows to a community group about my achievements as a Sri Lankan:

‘ But those of you who do (know my credentials) - need to act in the consciousness of all those achievements - so that they do not get damaged for our community - which is the community which naturally thinks I am a part of them. My family needs me and my community needs me at that level and not at the level where I am 'told' by someone. Facilitating the status of each person as per their earnings is important to prevent such problems. It is towards this that we have anti discrimination laws which require us to consciously think that the other person is equal to us when we do not know them - not more status than us nor less. I attach an email communication with the grandson of a teacher of mine. Sam Hensman came up and spoke to me at the canteen of Jaffna College where I went in-between lectures last year. He did not know who I was but it happened. It was later that I found out that he was the grandson of my teacher. I felt I was a good student back then and hence I received this kind of respect even now from someone two generations younger than the teacher who received my respect.’

I felt really valued by Sam who studied at St. John’s College Jaffna (which school my brother also was groomed by) as well as under Mrs. Margret Saverimutu, who was my English Guru. Sam confirmed that the respect we genuinely pay our elders would return to us one way or the other. Likewise the respect we pay our Governments. I therefore identified with the account that the editor of Sri Lanka Guardian gave of himself during what seemed to be some painful experience in his own profession. Here is what Nilantha Illangamuwa says about himself:

‘I started journalism when I was 19 years old and worked for a monthly Sinhala medium magazine based in Colombo. Whilst I was doing my degree at the University of Kalaniya I joined the Divaina. Then later, I joined the Mawmiba and left after some government pandangkarayas at the Divaina made false allegations against me accusing of links to the foreign intelligence agencies and helping separatism.

I never worked as a freelance journalist, but was a permanent staff editing the foreign news page of a weekly Sinhala newspaper and moved to the English medium. The management fully supported me to develop my English knowledge knowing very well I was brought up in a village school in the outskirts of Colombo. My ability to progress received all the support from the management where firing was the norm for non performance. I used the pen with high esteem to uphold truth and justice. What I write and promote may hurt someone, but it is not done for my own personal benefits.

I did my duty to the utmost. I used to travel to war torn areas frequently without taking a cent payment from the company. Money was not my motto! Greed, dishonesty, hero worshiping etc., has corrupted many of our so-called English medium journalists. When I publish stories, I will defend them when being caricatured by the conditioned mindsets. I will not hesitate to say sorry if I did something wrong. I will always respect the decent journalists who had guided me during my employ to uphold high values when I was working for the Upali Newspapers.’

I really enjoyed reading this because I could identify with many parts of my life through this. For example, I also left Jaffna and came to Colombo to serve articles at M/s Satchithananda, Schokman, Wijeyeratne & Co., Chartered Accountants, at the age of 17. From then on, I have battled on, on my own, including for financial back up when my father retired from work when I was 18. Hence I enjoyed reading Nilantha’s account of himself. I did appreciate the valuation Nilantha often showed ‘independence’ but now I realize that his foundation has been similar to mine in many ways.

Like me – Sri Lankan of Tamil origin, Nilantha – Sri Lankan of Sinhalese origin, has valued his gurus from whom he seems to have learnt with faith. This was the aspect that I appreciated in Sam Hensman also. Where that faith is high enough to flow from a common origin (person or value) – it naturally unites us. More importantly, it comes to our aid when we need it most. In Sri Lanka, these days I often work amongst people with whom I do not share a common connection, unlike the way I did when I was studying and working in Sri Lanka – before 1982. Our valuation is through those people and the rest is to be completed by us – either as an addition or a deduction. That’s when the valuation is true and we would be able to perform independently in any environment.

As part of a community, we have the responsibility to allocate status at least to the extent we were allocated status by that community. That is when there is continuity of values represented by hierarchical status. Official structures help in this regard. Where we are not able to add our own assessments in this allocation, we need to produce the physical values of our work at least as processes and information, in a language that would benefit others outside that community – for example at global level – which I believe I am doing. That is the value of Democracy. Hence my complaint of Unlawful Racial Discrimination against Dr. Palitha Kohona to the extent the Tamil Community did not show status within the community to confirm its valuation of my work.

Just last week for example, I noticed a Tamil website criticizing Sri Lanka Guardian for publishing the letter written to American State Department by a Sinhalese Canadian – Mr. Mahinda Gunesekera. But that website itself published that letter – in effect negating its own criticism of Sri Lanka Guardian. To me that criticism was an expression of dislike that they could not ‘tell’ Sri Lanka Guardian what to do and what not to do. If the criticism was based on substance that letter should not have been published in that website either. To me, it was a case of ‘Don’t do as I do but as I say’

I have also from time to time wished that my articles would be given the same importance as I feel about them, by publishers including Sri Lanka Guardian and the above Tamil website,. But I remind myself that they would be driven more by their Structural requirements than I – a freelance writer. Public Administration is my ‘home’ structure and for this I thank and respect Australian Public Service, which continues to show valuation for me despite my legal defeats. That to me happened due to the Doctrine of Separation of Powers being practiced by some Australians.

Whether it is Politics, Journalism, Public Service or Global Governance, we find many ‘free lance’ participants at various levels. These freelance participants tend to be driven more by substance and less with structure. Unless therefore the official structures are strong enough, their work would not benefit others who seek to benefit from their work. Majority participants need Due Processes and Protocols through which to invest in the work of their elders. Hence we need professionals with high status towards these Structures. Where these professionals lack substance and we care we, the ones without portfolios, could add our own substance to underpin their structures. We would if we felt part of a community enough to want to progress in status with the community more than as an individual. I believe that it was my work to democratize the Financial Management systems of the Faculty of Medicine, University of NSW – that gave me the foundation to complain against Dr. Palitha Kohona to the Human Rights Commission, on the basis of his expressions at Harvard University.

I did write criticizing Dr. Kohona previously – but that was as a freelance writer. I did use the same yardstick of Equal Opportunity – but did not take action through our Administrative or Legal systems. But when it happened at Harvard University, it took a different dimension – because the structural make up of the experience is similar to that of University of NSW and there was one Academic-Administrator in common to both – Dr. Bruce Dowton who did value my work in action, by continuing with the structures I developed, even after I left that University. I do believe that I am a stronger Resource Manager than Dr. Dowton and hence structured the Resource Management systems at the Faculty of Medicine, University of NSW to be democratic enough for his mandate. Independent of Central Administration, Dr. Dowton did express appreciation for my work. Now Dr. Dowton is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Partners Harvard Medical International. The respect I paid the position of Dean of Medicine – through Professor Dowton gave structure to my work - the value of which traveled beyond the seas to return to me from Harvard University - through Dr. Kohona to take on an Administrative form – needed by Australians working at global level. I wrote also in support of Journalist Thissainayagam when he was sentenced by the Sri Lankan courts in 2009, under Prevention of Terrorism Act. I responded to a call from a community leader in need of support. This month, I saw some return of that genuine work, through Mr. Thissainayagam who is now Nieman Fellow at Harvard University Journalism School in Boston, working with Professor Nicholas Burns – Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

As Lord Krishna said - whatever we take/receive is taken/received from the ‘common pool’ and we are all temporary custodians of the real values that are owned in common. That which is not owned in common, but is possessed , would not travel far and hence individual takers are lone travelers. So let’s share our status with the communities in need.

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