“For Arendt, the private sphere is the realm of necessity where life in the household and family life, sustained by labour, production and consumption, take the centre. In contrast, the public sphere is the realm of freedom and action, with its focus on the world rather than life; it is the realm of public discourse preserved for individuality achieved through excellence, creating memory and thereby culture. It is the public political realm that stabilizes the world, preserves worldliness through friendship of discourse among citizens. Technical issues such as “poverty” are mattes for the experts, whereas politics is about determining what form of government we need to have.
Arendt has observed that the moderns misunderstand and equate the polis, or the political ream with the social realm, whereas in the understanding of the ancients, the private sphere, the realm of household and family and the maintenance of life, was clearly distinct from the public sphere, the polis, the political realm that attends to the affairs of the common world. The ‘emergence of the social realm, which is neither private nor public, occurs with the emergence of the modern age which lasted from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century which found its political form in the nation State (Arendt, 1958: 28).”
This essay by Gananath obeyesekere that appeared in Sri Lanka in Change and Crisis(Ed.James Manor, 1984) is a close investigation into post 1977 political realities, the implications of which have much to do with present impasse that Sri Lankan society seems to be in.
Gananath obeyesekere, the greatest anthropologist produced by Sri Lanka was born at Meegama in Darga Town in Kalutara. His father D.D.Obeyesekere, as he once remarked a cosmopolitan figure at that time in his life, was a lecturer in the Institute of Indigenous Medicine in Sri lanka. And he was also an adherent of Anagarika Dharmapala. Gananath obeyesekere received his B.A. in English with a first class honours in 1955 at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya. He recalled later about his higher education as to how he came to refuse the suggestion offered by his professor to join the English department, at that time the prestigious department in the university and also automatic scholarships to London and Oxford because of his sneaking anti-colonialism despite the fact that left-wing leaders of Sri Lanka went to London or Oxford, or Cambridge. He obtained his M.A and PhD in University of Washington. Gananath Obeyesekere is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. Before his appointment to Princeton, Obeyesekere held teaching positions at the University of Ceylon, the University of Washington, the University of California, San Diego. His books include Land Tenure in Village Ceylon, Medusa’s Hair, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini, Buddhism Transformed (coauthor), the Work of Culture, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Myth-making in the Pacific, Imagining Karma, Cannibal Talk, Karma and Rebirth and The Awakened Ones. He was also engaged in collecting and publishing rare historical manuscripts in Sri Lanka, which challenge the orthodoxies dominant in history. Among his numerous academic awards is the Thomas Huxley medal, which is given by the Royal Anthropological Institute and is listed as “the highest honor at the disposal of the Institute”. Obeyesekere has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Suntory-Toyota Fellow (STICERD) at the London School of Economics. His book on Captain Cook won the Louis Gottschalk Prize in 1993, awarded by the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.
( The following article was originally published in The Island on 8th and 9th of February 2005 under the name Citizen-Ordinary. The article was written in response to the proposals made by the then Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe inviting public discussion on what should be the ‘podu yahapatha’ or the common good of Sri Lanka. The gist of the proposals was that our common good should be based on democracy and the market economy. The issues raised in this article as to whether we want to accept the market as the guiding principle of our collective life are more relevant today when Ranil Wickremesinghe is the Prime Minister of the country and is at the helm implementing market driven reforms in the economy. The original article is republished here sans only the specific references to the then political context.)
The market as a legitimate part of the economy has also come to stay even though the manner in which the dominance of it was forced upon us in the post-1977 period has wreaked havoc on the Sri Lankan society, the unfolding of the serious ramifications of which will take a long time to come, as shown by one of its prime examples, the privatized public transport, experienced by the ordinary folk who travel around by bus. The real issue about the market is not whether it can be considered a legitimate partner in the national economy, but whether we want to accept the market as the guiding principle of our collective life.
Continue reading The common good, market economy and politics By Kumudu Kusum Kumara
” ව්යවස්ථාව කාටද?” යන මැයෙන් ජුනි 22 දින පුරවැසි සභාව සංවිධානය කොට සාමයික කේන්ද්රයේ ශ්රවණාගාරයේ පැවති මහජන සාකච්ඡාවේදී අහිලන් කදිර්ගාමර් ප්රජාතන්ත්රවාදය සම්බන්ධයෙන් අවධානය යොමු කරන ලද කරුණක් වූයේ ව්යවස්ථාව පිළිබඳ මහජන අදහස් විමසීමේ කමිටුව හමුවේ මෙසේ ජනතාව අදහස් ඉදිරිපත් කිරීම විශේෂඥයන් විසින් ව්යවස්ථාව සකස් කළ යුතුය යන කරුණට එරෙහිව යන සුභවාදී දෙයක් බවත් ව්යවස්ථාව හෝ ආර්ථිකය සම්බන්ධ දේ විශේෂඥයන්ට බාරදීම ප්රජාතන්ත්ර විරෝධී දෙයක් බවත් ය. මේ සම්බන්ධයෙන් වැදගත් කරුණක් වන්නේ මහජනතාවගේ පැත්තෙන් පොදුජන විඥාණය නොහොත් පොදු අවබෝධයක් ගොඩ නැගීම බවත් ඉතිහාසයේ යම් යම් දේ සම්බන්ධයෙන් එසේ වී ඇති බව ඔහු වැඩිදුරටත් පෙන්වා දුන්නේය.ඔහු දැක්වූ අදහස්වලට මෙහිදී වැඩි දුරටත් සවන් දිය හැක.
Ahilan Kadirgamar expressed his views on “Constitution: For Whom ?” at the public discussion organized by ‘Citizens’ Council’ held on 22 June 2016 at CSR auditorium.
He said that the peoples’ participation in public representation process towards constitutional reforms could be seen as an important form of democratic engagement against experts making constitution. As far as democracy is concerned it is about creating a kind common sense among people with the progressive view of the changes that they seek, he argued. Continue reading ව්යවස්ථාව කාටද ?/Constitution : For Whom ?- අහිලන් කදිර්ගාමර්/Ahilan Kadirgamar
Department of English,
University of Peradeniya
What is striking about the 2015 elections? It is the upsurge in the call for democracy and the call to put an end to aggression, arbitrary actions. Significantly, it has opened up spaces for the minority community, the minority voter, to once again find a voice within the politics of the state.
My writing here concerns largely Tamil politics, political leadership and the north and east Tamil voter, particularly of the north. In this, I wish to state at the outset, I am not addressing the Malaiyaha Tamil voter or those who are ‘traditional’ residents of Southern Sri Lanka. I write this in the context of how one should see the possibilities that have arisen around the Presidential Elections of 2015. I here focus on the northern Tamil voter, whose aspirations and social location I am more familiar with than that of the east. Elections 2015 has much to offer to the Tamil voter in the north, both in the peninsula, in the Vanni and in the rest of the province. How? The northern polity is under the yoke of both the military and a certain militarization of its structures, even where there is no military presence. There is tight control of its activities that has proved lethal for normal democratic action. This is so in the south, but amplified in the north, where the governor himself is a personality from the military establishment. Educational institutions seemingly come under very strict and direct surveillance of the military and the defence establishment. Routine civil activities, such as the right to gather, discuss, hold a wedding, a procession, have to be meticulously negotiated both with the local military authorities and the Defense Ministry at the centre. The Presidential Election of 2015 gives us hope and a confidence in our own strength to bring about change in the way administrative matters are handled, basic civil rights are safeguarded, greater demilitarization at all levels. For the north and east Tamil and Muslims, nothing will change overnight. But it will bespeak a change in the way we conceive of our own lives. In this respect, it is suicidal for the Tamil voter to not vote, to engage in a politics of isolationism and in boycott politics. The argument that not to vote is a democratic right is politically myopic. There is nothing inherently wrong with boycotts. But to boycott a major event such as the Presidential Election which has consequences for all of the people of Sri Lanka, in the years following the war, is to not seize the opportunities facing us at this crucial time: to belong or not belong. Isolationism is not the answer today. Continue reading Presidential election 2015 and the Tamil voter by Sivamohan Sumathy
The presidential election has been announced and each of us will be called upon to exercise our vote as citizens of this country on the 8th of January 2015. It is our considered view that our country is at a historically important juncture at this moment and our decision at this election will have crucial implications for future generations. While we do not believe that all the changes we desire can be achieved overnight, or simply through a regime change, we believe strongly that this presidential election offers a window of opportunity to re-establish democracy, the rule of law and good governance and to address issues of social justice.
We note with extreme concern that in the past decade we have witnessed a breakdown of the rule of law and all norms of democracy and good governance and the concentration of both political and economic power in the hands of a few. Continue reading Let us act decisively in the name of generations to come: declaration by university academics on the 2015 Presidential election