Sri Lanka Model United Nations (SLMUN) 2020, Asia’s largest student-run simulation of the UN, was held over the 12th and 13th of September with its own distinctive twist, under the theme ‘A world of conflict’. With over 500 delegates taking part, the conference was conducted virtually via Microsoft Teams.
The Opening Ceremony took place at 8.30 a.m. on the 12th of September. The Chief Guest for the day was Dr. Harsha Alles. The proceedings began with the traditional lighting of the oil lamp and the singing of the National Anthem. The ceremony drew to a close with the appointing of the Secretary-General for the year 2020, Seth Ganepola after which he declared the session officially open.
The rest of the weekend was a blur of faces on screens, as the delegates tuned in from home to discuss and debate their relevant committees’ topics. Despite a few technical difficulties, each committee was filled with fruitful discussion as the delegates competed as well as collaborated to come up with the best solutions.
The conference concluded with the Awards Ceremony held at 4.30 p.m. on the 13th of September, where the most noteworthy delegates of the conference were recognized for their efforts. Following the Vote of Thanks given by the Under-Secretary Generals Kalindu Kalinga and Tharusha Fernando, the 13th session of SLMUN was adjourned by the Secretary-General.
SLMUN 2020 presented not only the delegates but also the Executive Committee with unprecedented challenges. Organizing an online MUN conference and conducting committee sessions virtually was not an easy task and required a Herculean effort from all parties involved to overcome. This endeavor would not have been possible if not for the unwavering commitment and perseverance of some key individuals:
First and foremost, our Charge’d Affairs, Mr. Rohan Ellawala. With over 16 years of MUN under his belt, it was he who pioneered SLMUN, and to this day, is the driving force that made our conference a success.
Our main sponsors, CHEC Port City Colombo and Vantage, for the tremendous support they gave for our conference this year.
The Gateway Group for providing us with the facilities to conduct the conference via MS Teams as well as providing us with the venue to host our Main Workshop. Practice Debates and conference.
Our Print Media Partner, Wijeya Newspapers Ltd., for providing us with print media coverage for all these months.
Mr. George Cooke who took the time out of his busy schedule to sit down for an interview and share with us his valuable insights on diplomacy.
The Executive Committee, led by our Secretary-General Seth Ganepola, who worked tirelessly to make this conference a success.
The Administrative Staff who made sure the conference ran smoothly and efficiently.
The principals and faculty advisors of all the schools who took part for their cooperation.
Our parents for understanding and for supporting us through our entire journey.
Last but not least, we extend our gratitude to our passionate delegates for dedicating their time and energy to attend the conference during these challenging times.
SLMUN 2020 was undoubtedly a unique experience for everyone involved. The world we live in is ever-changing and each day presents us with newer and harder obstacles to overcome. However, we hope that our delegates benefited from what they learned at the conference this year and that the knowledge they gained will help them as they learn to navigate through their own “world of conflict”.
This is the Executive Committee of SLMUN 2020 officially signing off!
By Chanuli Randunu and Sayumi Jayawardene.
Gone are the days where so-called, “male-dominated roles” such as political involvement and leadership as a whole are set aside exclusively for men. We have entered what would have been a ‘Utopia’ in the past for women in terms of a constantly growing, revolutionary change in roles for women in leadership spheres. Evolving job needs are empowering women and leveling the playing field. We can now be at a day and time where a woman can at the least, hope to receive the same recognition as a male figure in the job sphere.
However, needless to say, it hasn’t always been this way around the world, nor is it even remotely at this level in some, if not most, third world countries. As of the status quo, while we are most definitely moving forward towards a better future, leadership spheres for women are immensely limited, with the uncontested, common belief being that this is the man’s domain. It is indeed an overwhelming relief to see women like Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, the first female CEO of a conglomerate group in Sri Lanka, rising forward as a pinnacle of example for the aspiring female youth of our country.
As Hitler was for the Nazis and Stalin was for the communist USSR, a pioneer is needed as a face for a revolution. If women start to step forward as role models and make an initial move, this will pave the way for other women to step out of their comfort zones and venture further out into the field of leadership; including and not limited to the business world.
In most parts of the world today, we see women going beyond their role as mothers or housewives and conquering higher heights, sometimes even challenging men in their respective work fields. A rapid and significant increase could be seen in the number of women taking up leadership roles in the 21st century when compared to any other time, across the world. This is mainly due to the loosening of barriers to women’s leadership with the society coming into the realization of the capabilities and the capacity of a woman. The ability to work collaboratively with groups, emotional intelligence, rational thinking and better problem-solving ability has paved the way for women to be put in leadership roles in the present day, more than ever before.
Some of the most iconic women in the 20th century would be the first female Prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, Nobel prize winner Marie Curie, Princess Diana, and Indira Gandhi who was the first female Prime minister of India. Even though these outstanding female personalities achieved some level of success they had to face many challenges on their way merely because of their gender. Many years later in the most advanced version of humans in history, or in the so-called generation z, gender discrimination still remains a challenge to women when taking up leadership roles in society.
Although women around the world are closing the gender gap in areas such as education and health, only twenty-three percent of world politicians are women. Nevertheless, personalities like the German Chancellor Angela Markel, Theresa May, Ellen Sirleaf who was the first female President of Africa, Jacinda Arden; Prime Minister of New Zealand who became the world’s youngest head of government have surely made a significant contribution towards changing the attitude about female leaders in leadership roles. Hence it is clear that only a more balanced society with more females in leadership roles would enable a country and the world as a whole to gain better peace and prosperity.
Sri Lanka Model United Nations (SLMUN) returns for its 13th session this year with the promise of a brand-new experience. Considering the status quo around the globe, the theme for the upcoming conference is ‘A world in conflict’; aiming to unite today’s youth to stand up against misgovernance and injustice and creating a better future for all. SLMUN 2020 is scheduled to be held on the 12th and 13th of September 2020 and will be simulating a total of 11 committees this year.
What is Model United Nations?
Model United Nations (MUN) is a simulation of the United Nations where committees such as the General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council will be simulated with delegates representing sovereign nations and other entities from across the globe. The delegates shall deliberate over a topic assigned to the committee of which they are a member while taking care not to stray from the mandate of the committee or violate the foreign policy of their respective nation. The MUN arena is one of diplomacy, negotiations, and tact, and while in session every person in the committee room follows a strict procedure. A well-conducted MUN session is ripe with well-researched arguments and constructive criticism as each delegate vie to come up with the best solutions.
SLMUN over the years
Being the pioneering MUN conference in Sri Lanka and the largest student-run UN simulation in South East Asia, SLMUN consistently attracts more than 1000 students coming from diverse backgrounds nationwide each year. Since our inception in 2008, we have endeavored to give the youth a platform to voice their opinions and encourage fruitful debate in order to reach viable solutions. Our mission is to shape our delegates to be compassionate and intelligent young leaders who will lead society towards a brighter future. Your experience as a delegate in SLMUN is sure to develop your skills in leadership, teamwork, communication, and critical thinking.
The 13th Session
The COVID-19 outbreak has drastically changed the way we live, society has adapted to the new normal of social distancing. We at SLMUN too, have altered the conference to adhere to the health guidelines published by the Ministry of Health and will be hosting our first-ever virtual conference this year.
While an online conference limits our capabilities in certain ways, it cannot be denied that it has opened doors towards new opportunities. It allows our participants to take part in committee sessions from the safety and comfort of their homes, but also it gives international delegates, who are unable to commute due to travel restrictions, a chance to join from all over the world.
Our partners for SLMUN 2020
A virtual MUN conference presents the Executive Committee as well as the participants with unprecedented challenges. From the software to internet facilities to the necessary devices, we intend to give the best experience possible to our delegates. Many organizations have stepped in to support our endeavor of organizing a successful virtual conference. Hewlett Packard (HP) has offered an attractive discount for the delegates to purchase a 250 G7 Notebook laptop. Furthermore, Dialog Axiata, our official telecommunications partner, has come forward to resolve possible connectivity issues with a discount for a Dialog Home Broadband connection while providing exclusive data packages for participants of SLMUN 2020. All delegates are eligible for these offers once they have registered and paid the delegate fee for the conference.
We are happy to announce that we will be utilizing Microsoft Teams as a platform to host this year’s conference, which is freely available as a desktop application. As the platform may be a new experience for some, the Executive Committee will be releasing video tutorials as well as instructive documents on how to operate MS Teams. Moreover, we will be conducting practice debates prior to the conference so as to give an opportunity to the delegates to familiarize themselves with participating in committee session virtually.
In order to provide our delegates with the best possible experience this year, the Executive Committee has taken steps to guarantee the smooth transition from physical debate to virtual debate by employing several features available to Microsoft Teams such as ‘Breakout Room for lobbying sessions and raise hand options before obtaining the floor to make certain that standard MUN procedure will be followed from roll call and speaker’s list down to resolution discussion while ensuring that the delegates receive the authentic SLMUN experience they crave for.
To begin with, all the delegates will be able to witness the Opening Ceremony as it will be broadcasted online through MS Teams. Following that, the delegates will be joining their respective committees for the formal sessions. Each committee will have its own Team, and only delegates belonging to that particular committee will have access to it. From that point onwards, we will be following the usual MUN procedure from Roll Call and Speakers’ list to Resolution Discussion. The ‘Raise Hand’ feature in MS Teams will substitute the placard and delegates will be required to raise it to obtain the floor. For lobbying sessions, we will be employing the ‘Breakout Rooms’ feature, and the delegates will be able to build up their resolutions with privacy in their selected blocs just like they would be able to at a physical conference.
All of the delegates will also be required to have their video and audio on to ensure that they would feel the thrill of debating against one another just like at a physical conference considering how diverse this year’s conference is going to be owing to it being virtual as this will bring together an unusually diverse group of delegates from within Sri Lanka as well as delegates from around the world since all they require to be a part of SLMUN 2020 is a laptop and a stable internet connection.
In spite of the challenges ahead, the Executive Committee of SLMUN 2020, along with our generous partners, is ready to make this year’s conference unique and indelible to all our delegates.
Here’s to taking on a world in conflict!
Please contact +94 71 801 3722/ +9477346 5375 or visit https://www.slmun.org/registration/ to register for the 13th session of SLMUN.
Himaya Perera and Diyara Jaswar
“Race, gender, religion, sexuality, we are all people and that’s it.”
– Connor Franta
What is equality? Equality is ensuring every human being is treated with every ounce of love and respect that they deserve and giving everyone a fair chance at life realizing that, regardless of our different skin tones, genders and faiths; we are all the same on the inside. So why is it so difficult for society to digest the concept of equality?
Inequality comes in various forms: whether it’s being called a disgrace because you love a person from the same gender or with an age gap, being undermined because you’re a woman, or being looked down on because you are from a “low-class family”.
We have seen discrimination amongst genders exist since the beginning of time. Men are stereotyped to be strong and capable while women have been portrayed as weak and powerless beings. Even at present, women’s efforts to acquire the power they deserve are often laughed at, and even in instances where they achieve high feats, the world reacts to it as if they’ve done the impossible, when in fact, women soaring to these levels should be normalized.
Moreover, we judge everyone around us based on our economical differences. Whether it’s the farmers that provide us with food, the construction workers who build the homes we live in, the teachers who work tirelessly to educate us: No matter how small we consider these professions to be, they all contribute to our lives and are a vital clockwork in the functioning of our society.
Srilanka too has experienced discrimination in various forms. The 30-year-old war that began with the small flicker of hatred towards the Tamil community is proof of how discrimination has the potential to erupt into a massive catastrophe that is bound to be destructive. It has been eleven years since the war ended and while there is a newfound respect for harmony amongst citizens despite racial indifferences, especially in the northern parts of the nation that was previously a warzone, the scars of racial disparities have not completely healed. We see many instances of racial bias, and a fluctuating blame game whenever our nation is subjected to various issues.
In the instance of the Easter bomb attacks, while the nation sympathized with our Christian citizens, they were also quick to accuse the Muslims as the responsible party for these attacks. Islamaphobia was spread out through society and a wave of outrage was directed towards our fellow Muslim citizens, making them feel unsafe for a crime they were not guilty of. Society failed to identify that the general Muslim community is victimized by these extremist terrorist groups who were responsible for these attacks.
Even with regards to gender discrimination, while Sri Lanka is far more progressive and accepting of women, we still see an abundance of scenarios where females receive unfair treatment and are being told that they are ‘ not good enough’. Most of our nation’s toxic ideologies that undermine feminism come from age-old stereotypes. Whether this arises in the form of abuse, body shaming, wage gaps, or toxic workplace culture, it shames one half of our society that has equal potential.
While women face these challenges, men too go through several hardships, and sadly, neither issue is talked about enough. The suppression of males’ emotions, with phrases such as ‘boys don’t cry’ plays a heavy role in the mental state of many individuals causing a great deal of strain and anxiety upon them.
Even though more people are speaking up against discrimination now when compared to the older days, we still have a long path ahead of us. A key factor that plays a huge role in the existence of discrimination is that there is an absence of mainstream discussion concerning these subjects, such as about the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Therefore, we see so many stereotypes coined upon how people dress and live their lives, especially regarding the LGBTQ+ spectrum, being chained with derogatory terms to bash these communities causing them to lead a life of fear and hiding.
Change within a society is directly invoked from proper discourse and discussion. Society will never accept these progressive notions if these topics are constantly swept under the rug. Therefore, we need to break the barriers of what our ancestors swore to be taboo, and shine a spotlight on them. Since respecting others is best taught when one is young, children need to be educated on the theme that a person’s religion, culture, or sex are not reasons to discriminate.
Furthermore, we see the phrase ‘white privilege’ being constantly thrown around in the world when speaking about the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. The concept of privilege, however, not only concerns race but diversity altogether. ‘Privilege’ is a powerful weapon in the face of inequality as it can make or break the movement. This is why movements like ‘He-for-She’ and ‘straight-ally’ are such a powerful part of the overall coalition.
We as a society should not be afraid to speak up and hold people accountable for their actions. Once that becomes the norm, deterrence is automatically instilled in society, and then, people will begin to question their own moral compass and these long-lasting ideologies, causing a domino of change to erupt from within a person to the society as a whole.
Decades of discrimination and oppression are the foundation our society was built upon. It is our generations’ responsibility to speak up, act out, and stand up for what’s just in the face of social injustice. If you are skeptical about whether this is an issue that your generation is burdened with solving, look around and ask yourself,
If not now, when?
If not us, who?
The following are hotlines for if you or a loved one needs immediate support:
A safe space for the LGBTQ+ community
By Sonal Randeny and Asiri Ekanayake
Sri Lanka Model United Nations (SLMUN) returns for its 13th session this year on September 12th and 13th. Considering the status quo around the globe, the theme for the upcoming conference is ‘A world in conflict’; aiming to unite today’s youth to stand up against misgovernance and injustice and creating a better future for all. SLMUN 2020 will simulate the following ten committees this year.
The Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee (SOCHUM), one of the main six committees that form the General Assembly (GA), focuses on issues relating to fundamental human rights and social and humanitarian affairs that affect the international community. SOCHUM will debate on the topic ‘Countering the spread of violent extremism.’
Like SOCHUM, the Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC) is a part of the GA. This committee attempts to resolve matters regarding disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace that impact the global society. The topics for DISEC are: ‘Discussing the measures to strengthen international counter-terrorism efforts’ and ‘Discussing efforts to curb an arms race in outer space.’
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees was formed in 1950 to help displaced communities and stateless people. In addition to refugees, the countries that choose to accept them are also affected. Considering the current refugee situation, we must ‘Devise strategies to alleviate the burden on refugees and the countries that accept them.’
Comprised of the more experienced MUNers, the Security Council (UNSC) is a competitive committee with 15 member states that discuss issues relating to maintaining international security and peace. This year’s topic is ‘The situation in Syria’ which will undoubtedly stimulate intriguing debate within the council.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) seeks to develop an accessible and effective system for Intellectual Property (IP) and reward and stimulate creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCE) are IPs that contribute to cultural identity. The importance of protecting them is precisely why ‘TCEs and IPs’ was chosen as the topic for WIPO.
The World Health Organisation is a specialised agency formed in 1948 to ensure “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”. In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, we must invest in avoiding and preparing for such diseases in the future. With that in mind, this year’s topics include ‘Addressing the global threat of pandemics’.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council is the central forum for coordinating the economic and social aspects pertaining to specialised agencies and various commissions of the UN. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the global economy as well as communities all over the world. Therefore, we hope to ‘Identify strategies to overcome economic and social challenges following the 2020 COVID Pandemic’ at this year’s conference.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an autonomous organisation formed in 1957 to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and inhibit using it for military purposes. To ensure this, IAEA will discuss ‘The future of nuclear energy’ and the ‘Nuclear non-proliferation treaty.’
The Global Summit on Climate Change 2020 is a forum which will gather leading green energy practitioners from around the world in hope to support and showcase ‘Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement’. At SLMUN 2020, we will ‘Discuss and confront the economic, social and geopolitical challenges caused by climate change.’
The International Court of Justice, which serves as the main judicial body of the UN, carries an exclusive role in MUN much like its real-life counterpart. Delegates of the Courts will deviate from the usual committee procedures and have the privilege of gaining a unique experience witnessing justice in action.
As always, SLMUN strives to give an enlightening experience to all our delegates which is sure to be valuable in their journey to become capable and knowledgeable young leaders of the future.
Dinithi Gunasekera and Yakuta Dawood
Sri Lanka, a country acclaimed for its distinguished location in the East-West trade route has ample potential and the quintessential geopolitical advantage for becoming the key logistics hub in South Asia.
In reference to the past decades, the Indian Ocean has been an emerging growth pole for trading over two-thirds of global oil shipments and one-third of bulk cargo across the East-West corridors. Hence, the Government of Sri Lanka took the opportunity to further extend the maritime networks and to enhance infrastructure development, on a seemingly far-sighted pretext.
Initially, Sri Lanka had three main seaports: Galle Port, Trincomalee Port, and the largest cargo handler, the Colombo Port. However, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had welcomed Chinese investments with open arms to build a new port in Hambantota.
To build the port, the Sri Lankan Government had obtained several loans from China EXIM Bank (2007-2016) with the grace period of around five years and a payback period of 15-plus years. The total amount of loan borrowed was $1bn (£770m).
Currently, Sri Lanka is struggling to repay the hefty sum and the Government has signed an agreement to give a Chinese firm a stake in the port to cover the debt owed. This eventually raised several controversial concerns in Sri Lanka.
“We don’t like our land being given away to China,” says fisherman Aruna Roshantha. “Not just China, if any country comes and takes land from Sri Lanka, we don’t like it. The government should protect our land, not sell it.”
However, the bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and China did not end after these large borrowings. Soon, the Chinese Government invested in the Colombo Port City project which is said to be the “biggest foreign direct investment in Sri Lankan history”.
To build the Colombo Port City, Sri Lanka has borrowed a total sum of US$1.4 billion from the ‘China Communication Construction Company’, a mammoth state-owned engineering firm.
Although Chinese funded infrastructure projects multiplied by the day, the Hambantota Port determines itself by its failure as predicted, which it essentially became. In 2012, only 34 ships reportedly docked the port, despite possessing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
“It was an economic dud then, and it’s an economic dud now”, stated Mr. Shivshankar Menon, the former Indian foreign secretary.
The Port attracted resentment as the Sri Lankan Government scrambled to repay its debt, only to lease the port and 15,000 acres of surrounding land to China for 99 years. Statistically, 85% of the port is owned by China Merchants Port and the remaining 15% is controlled by Sri Lanka’s Government, dismantling the pride and the name of prosperity and self-sufficiency Sri Lanka holds dear, as the country faltered in debt.
In terms of attractive loan offers with low-interest rates and reasonable grace periods, Chinese demands seemed to pioneer on handing over equity rather than relaxation of terms and conditions. Within this deception of ownership, despite its commercial pretexts, “intelligence and strategic location of the port was part of the negotiation”, confirmed Sri Lankan officials. Concerns regarding military intervention and sovereignty infringement, in reference to China’s doings around the South China Sea, aroused more fear of a possible “trap”.
“The only way to justify the investment in Hambantota is from a national security standpoint — that they will bring the People’s Liberation Army in,” (Menon). Rightfully, Chinese Submarines were docking the harbor in considerably early stages.
Hence began the gradual animosity of the international community. The shared distaste of the rest of the world against China took a definite toll on Sri Lanka’s diplomatic relations globally, specifically with neighboring India. With China gaining control of territory suspiciously close to rival, India, and a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway, Lanka is en-route of crippling politically.
The anxiety surrounding the concept, “Neocolonialism” and China’s “String of Pearls” – and attempts to “colonize” through financial means, adds fodder to the fire. To the world, Sri Lanka is now a country that has fallen face-first into China’s rumored “Debt Trap Diplomacy.”
Many believe that a debt trap cannot be a blessing in disguise in whatever shape or form it manifests. This is why this “debt-trap diplomacy” Sri Lanka is allegedly throttled by, is assured to end fatally.
It’s inexpedient to affirm the case of a legitimate “debt trap” in regard to the facts and figures. The case of the Hambantota Port is a prime example of not only how world superpowers make haste to attain any and available opportunity to fulfill its own ulterior motives via politically wavering nations but also the drastic repercussions of poor political judgment.
Sri Lanka’s colossal debt vexation runs far beyond China. As a nation ridden with debt, we have essentially bargained our future.
In the midst of the intense debate and resolution-making at a typical Model United Nations (MUN) conference, the International Press Corps (IPC) gives a unique perspective into the world of diplomacy. Unlike the usual committees made up of delegates who represent countries, IPC comprises of a team of journalists who are each assigned a well-known news agency.
IPC was first stimulated in Sri Lanka Model United Nations (SLMUN) 2008 and has since been a consistent committee throughout the years. SLMUN 2019 saw the biggest turnout of IPC delegates yet, with 46 journalists, spanning six excellent new agencies. SLMUN, being one of the very few MUN conferences in Sri Lanka stimulating IPC, will be entertaining six news agencies in its upcoming 13th session: BCC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The New York Times, Reuters and Fox News.
IPC delegates will be sent into one of the ten committees stimulated at the conference. They are required to not only report on the committee proceedings but also analyze the debate that takes place and submit a news article at the end of the day before the deadline. They are free to choose any news angle they wish given that it does not deviate from the mandate of their respective agency. They are also expected to verify the arguments made during the committee session, capture photographs to support their article, and interview a particular delegate or Chair for a quote. Additionally, they have the liberty to use mobile phones, laptops, and Wi-fi throughout the conference to assist their writing. IPC delegates should be familiar with the mandate and writing style of their news agency as well as have a basic understanding of the topic of their allocated committee.
Be it within conference or out in the real world, being a journalist is an exciting yet challenging occupation. They are the people who put who undertake dangerous assignments and go into war zones and disaster areas in order to bring the news to the public. They are the ones who decide from which point of view the story will be heard. Consequently, journalists have a huge responsibility in ensuring that the news they deliver to the public is timely and accurate. According to the Ethical Journalism Network, there are five core principles of ethical journalism one should follow when pursuing a career in news and media. As an IPC delegate at SLMUN, you also will be expected to abide by them. They are listed as follows:
1. Truth and accuracy
Reporting the correct facts is the fundamental principle of journalism. A journalist must always prioritize accuracy and verify each detail included in their report.
Journalists serve the public. Therefore, they must be independent voices and should not act on behalf of special interests.
3. Fairness and impartiality
While it is not mandatory to present every side of each story, the narrative must be balanced in order to give the correct context to the readers. Moreover, impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.
As the harbingers of news, journalists should be aware of the impact their words make on the public and how it may affect the lives of others. Be compassionate and tactful as the situation desires.
Like all humans, journalists make mistakes. When erred, journalists must hold themselves accountable and correct their errors as soon as possible.
Although IPC delegates carry an unconventional role in the MUN arena, the experience gained is unique and undoubtedly valuable. IPC provides a rare opportunity for those interested in pursuing a career in the journalism field as well as aspiring writers to explore the uncharted territory of article-writing and sharpen their writing skills.
As the month of June passes by, an age-old topic that lies beneath our society’s general discussions rises to the surface. Yet, as always, it is eventually dismissed and sent back to the list of taboo topics that we Sri Lankans chose not to discuss. And what is this forbidden subject? LGBTQ+ and anything and everything related to it.
What is pride?
What pride means to a person is entirely individualistic. However, all these opinions can be assembled into a common theme of acceptance and liberation. Pride celebrates individualism, standing up to anyone who shames you and being proud of who you are, regardless of your beliefs. June was chosen as LGBTQ pride month to commemorate the LGBTQ+ community, and strengthen their fight for their rights and freedom.
The origin of pride
In June 1969, when homosexuality was still a crime in the United States, the police arrived at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City to arrest anyone who was in drag clothing or as part of the gay community. Police raids were common in the past; they marginalized and inflicted pain and discomfort on those who were “different”. However, on that day at Stonewall Inn, for the first time in history, the community rallied together and fought back. Greenwich Village, as a whole, joined hands to resist police brutality and more importantly, to send a powerful message about their frustration with the status quo for LGBTQ individuals. This particular event went down in history as ‘the Stonewall Riots’ and is the historical significance behind Pride month.
The current status of LGBTQ rights in the world
Currently, the World Health Organization recognizes homosexuality and gender identities as “normal” and not a mental illness, as most of our society presumes. Moreover, gay marriage is legal in 29 countries, and each day more and more countries recognize LGBTQ individuals and are on the path to legalizing gay marriage. But on the other side of the spectrum, many countries refuse to acknowledge this subject at all, and in some, being homosexual is even punishable by death.
Status quo for LGBTQ folk in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, there are no laws that recognize or protect the LGBTQ community. Furthermore, this topic remains entirely controversial and is never discussed out in the open. Even when politicians attempt to bring it up, it is taken as a joke, and various slurs are thrown around to shun them.
The irony in this hostile attitude is that pre-colonial Srilanka had an open-minded society, where homosexuality and even concepts such as polyamory were recognized. Our nation succumbed to our current mindset in the act of being colonized.
It is important to address that being a person of the LGBTQ community is not a threat to any other community or anyone else’s beliefs. Pride is about celebrating these individuals within their community and making them feel valid in a society that constantly invalidates them. Even though the sacredness of marriage between a male and a female was used to shun those who were different, Pride does not take away the sanctity of marriage. Pride does not hurt anyone or their beliefs. Pride simply celebrates love in all shapes and forms.
Turning a new cultural leaf
Noticeably, the youth of Sri Lanka is far more progressive in terms of acceptance than the previous generations, and are more willing to understand the movement and stand up in the face of injustice. Along with globalization, our youth engage in discussions regarding these topics and have access to information that will help them sympathize and understand topics our society refuses to discuss. Furthermore, recently, we see various organizations such as Equal Ground that advocate for LGBTQ rights as well as Colombo Pride that gives the LGBT community and their allies to celebrate themselves and their love.
If you are part of the youth of our nation, combating these issues is in your hands. Our older generations fought for issues such as classism, racial issues, and female empowerment, therefore our generation must be more progressive and even more accepting. We must be the ones to spark up the discussion that will hopefully make the future safer for everyone.
What can you do as a member of the youth
Firstly, creating awareness and starting a discussion is vital in introducing progressive concepts. Educating those around us and letting them know that being a part of the LGBTQ community is neither a mental illness, nor a sin, nor is a characteristic to be ashamed of. Especially in instances such as in all-boys’ schools, the concept of masculinity is extremely toxic. Stand up for your peers if they are being bullied, because they are not “man” enough or if they like subjects that are typically considered unmasculine. Break down those barriers that have been forced among us to degrade people and make them feel worthless. Stop using terms belonging to the LGBTQ community as slurs and insults. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement such as letting your loved ones know that they are accepted, regardless of their gender, sexuality, beliefs, etc. and that these features are a part of them, but in no way make a difference in your friendship with them.
Due to the unsafe atmosphere in the status quo in Sri Lanka, to be open about one’s sexuality is risky and challenging. This environment leads to many closeted young people being scared and feels like they have no one to turn to. They are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders and fear that their families will disown them the second they find out. They yearn for a home where they are loved. If you are not a part of the LGBTQ community, this may be a hard concept to grasp, but that does not justify turning a blind eye. These are your colleagues, your friends, your family, and they deserve your compassion, your protection, and most importantly, your unwavering acceptance.
by Sonal Randeny and Sayumi Jayawardene
During the last hundred years, atmospheric temperatures have been readily increasing to the point where we are now experiencing some of the most extreme temperatures on record. This is both caused by and cause for a self-sustaining feedback loop that inevitably worsens these conditions. It’s abundantly clear that by releasing heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere, as a result of the means we have employed to power our modern lives, we’re accelerating this morbid cycle and driving our planet further towards doom. Today, greenhouse gas levels are at the highest they have been in the last 800,000 years.
Although the abstract idea of global warming and the greenhouse effect is no longer a mere hypothesis but widely credited and scientifically proven, there is still an air of suspicion and disbelief among some. Not to mention the complicity and inaction shown by the government in many countries including Sri Lanka.
There are many other factors that affect the climate besides human activity. Volcanic eruptions, varying levels of solar radiation and solar wind, the position of the earth in relation to the sun, and certain weather patterns are a few natural occurrences that cause variations in atmospheric temperatures. However, it’s clear that these are only responsible for approximately two percent of the recent warning effect. By definition, this goes to show that human activity is responsible for the remaining 98%.
Since the dawn of the human race, heat-trapping gases have been naturally absorbed through natural means, providing stable temperatures in which civilizations can flourish. However, since the industrial revolution, when fossil fuels were introduced as ways to produce energy and a precursor of our post-modern lifestyle was created, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and atmospheric temperatures have been on the rise. In the 150 years since then, humans have increased the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threefold. This is causing processes that would usually happen over thousands of years to take place in a matter of decades. These changes occur faster than most organisms can adapt to, and as a result will pose a multitude of challenges to all Earth’s inhabitants.
In addition, climate change also causes irreversible damage to the environment. The remaining ice sheets such as those in Greenland and Antarctica are beginning to melt. This sets off a chain reaction where the extra water could raise sea levels significantly in a short time. The Global Change Research Program projects that by 2050, sea levels will rise by 2.3 feet. To perpetuate this cycle, the greenhouse gases trapped in the glaciers and ice caps will be released into the atmosphere and further exacerbate the greenhouse effect. This leads far more extreme weather patterns.
Unfortunately, it seems that we’ve forgotten our roots. Especially as a part of a culture that’s historically and physiognomically attached to nature and our environment. However, it’s ironic that we, as a country, haven’t addressed this issue due to a plethora of reasons. As a small tropical island nation, we’re far more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. We’re also susceptible to the socio-economic effects of climate change as our economy is heavily dependent on the fashion and garment industry as well as the tourism industry, two of the most environmentally destructive trades, of which, the latter is immensely more so.
However, all hope is not lost. Our planet’s afflictions may come in thousands but humans come in billions. We may doubt the impact that an individual can cause, but it is important to remember that your duty is all you can do and it is each person’s responsibility to contribute to the solutions.
By Himaya Perera and Asiri Ekanayake
Hazing, also known as ragging, is a common occurrence in state universities and is used to establish seniority within the student body. Initially, hazing was a way of eradicating the social hierarchies which exist beyond the boundaries of the university. Everybody got hazed therefore, everyone was equal. However, in status-quo, it has evolved into a display of power. Seniors will pressure freshmen into engaging in various acts, on the threat that their lives at university will be miserable if they refuse to oblige.
Hazing could include anything from being asked to sing in public to forced consumption of various substances and even inflicting physical and sexual harm on students. Once hazing gets out of hand and causes emotional and/or physical harm, many students are driven into committing acts of self-harm such as suicide or to leave the particular institute altogether. Around 20 students have committed suicide due to hazing and according to the University Grants Commission, out of the registered university students, 1989 students have dropped out due to ragging incidents that occurred in 2017 and 2018. Since the students who enter local universities are those who passed their Advanced Level examinations with flying colours and are the cream of the crop, every drop-out is a huge loss to our nation.
This topic was brought to light recently because of an incident that took place at Sri Jayawardenapura University. On March 5th, 21-year-old Pasindu Hirushan from Kamaragoda, Minuwangoda was descending a flight of stairs around 1.30 a.m. after a “bucket party” (an event celebrating the end of the ragging season) when a group of senior students had sent a tractor tire down the stairs. The tyre had hit Pasindu causing him to collapse on the ground and hit his head, causing severe damage. It is still unknown whether the seniors were under the influence of alcohol. As of now, Pasindu is paralyzed. According to medical professionals, even if he recovers, he will have many side effects including loss of memory.
The response on social media was fast and passionate. Among the many tweets, stories, and posts calling for justice, the police and the Sri Jayawardenapura University administration have launched separate investigations to inquire into the incident.
Pasindu is only one of the many victims who suffer permanent consequences of ragging. But given that this issue has existed for many decades, why aren’t effective preventive measures in place yet?
Under the Prohibition of Ragging and Other Forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act No. 20 of 1998, ragging is a punishable offense by law. Moreover, the UGC has set up a 24-hour hotline (011- 2123700), a website (https://eugc.ac.lk/rag/), an anti-ragging mobile app to report different forms of threat and harassment on campus grounds as well as a special office at the Commission that is open on all days from 8.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., excluding government holidays.
Despite the governments’ and universities’ best efforts, hazing still prevails, often carried out in remote locations around campus or even in private residences that are rented specifically for hazing such as in the incident at the University of Peradeniya in 2017. Ragging cannot be conquered by merely establishing a few laws; there is a dangerous age-old herd mentality that needs to be changed to make a significant difference. In order to do so, the government and higher authorities cannot take action alone. The youth must take a stand on enforcing morals within themselves to protect their peers from being succumbed to such injustice.