"Sulugune" an isolated village surrounded by Knuckles mountains, situated in the Wilgamuwa Divisional Secretariat, in Matale District, Central Province. About 76 families live there, mostly farming. 06 men work in the military. There are about 30 school aged children, 14 children go to the village primary school while others go to a school about 8 km away. Only four had passed the GCE Advance Level so far, and two entered university". The villagers have to walk 05km to get to the main road as there is no transport available.
An exposure to the village "Sulugune” was organized as a part of the Human Rights Workshop for Religious and Priests held from the 09th - 11th September 2020 organized by the Human Rights Office Kandy Sri Lanka. On the 10th September 36 participants visited the village and had a firsthand experience of what the villagers go through. Wild elephants are a major concern villagers face, and they feel projects outside the village, such as Moragahakanda and Kaluganga projects, have made the wild elephant issue worse for them. One woman described how her father had been killed by a wild elephant while he had been at the paddy field. Others showed and talked about damages to their houses and cultivation. Rs. 5.2 million had been spent on elephant fence, but it had broken down after few months and we saw some pieces. The villagers also told that the issue of wild elephant cannot be resolved by a mere elephant fence, but through a national policy.
The participants who arrived at the Fatima Retreat House in Lewella, Kandy on the 09th September were given a brief introduction to the exposure after the self-introduction each of them made along with their experiences being shared during the lockdown period with COVID 19. Many participants said that they shared whatever they had with the poor during this period while they also had experienced love and affection from their own communities, being together, working together in home gardens, planting vegetables, trees and flowers etc. COVID 19 lockdown has also given time they said to reflect about themselves as well as to pray for others, especially for the victims of COVID 19.
A thanksgiving mass was offered on the 10th evening on Rukshan’s Birthday and the participants joined in prayer and thanked the Lord for the person of Ruki who is a gift to the Sri Lankan society and the church who is recognized internationally as a committed Human Rights activist and a resource person.
On the 11th September, during the first session, participants made their comments, remarks and findings of the exposure. The courage and the leadership of the villagers, specially of women were very much highlighted and the participants thanked the organizers for selecting “Sulugune” village for the exposure as it broadened their knowledge about the struggles, that the villagers go through not only with wild elephants but with the poor attention paid by the state authorities.
Mr. Ruki Fernando and Fr. Jeyabalan Croos made presentations during the second session on “Emerging trends” in the country and the situation in the north after parliamentary elections. This was followed by a discussion and the participants expressed that the Sinhala Buddhist voters expect the leaders to safeguard them and hence the minorities in the country are challenged in all spheres. Further it was noted that the human rights activists will have to take additional risks as the democratic spare is gradually sinking and the activists will have to find new ways and means to voice for Justice on behalf of the victims of injustice.
Taking forward the discussion of February 2020 RPHR, it was noted that the increase of the daily wages to thousand rupees for the tea plantation workers, in spite of promises made during presidential and parliamentary elections were not fulfilled. Further it was noted that, the Militarization in the north continues with a new face as “security measures” since Easter attack & COVID 19 pandemic. However, the families of the disappeared in the north still struggle with their campaign for justice.
Sr. Nillanthi Ranasinghe FMM spoke about the need to protect the children in the face of growing number of child abuse cases in Sri Lanka.
2020 has recorded the highest number of child abuse cases with 5242 cases being reported until June 2020. Regarding unreported cases of child abuse, university students Shehan Kodituwakku & Supupi Medamarandawela, shared their findings and experiences on the research.
Fr. Nishantha Cooray TOR, made a very challenging scriptural presentation on the theme “Future challenges with emerging trends" inviting the participants to commit themselves totally to be prophetic voices. He said that we have to give the Lord the best, the only thing and the things that we are not able to give up.
Reflections sent by Fr. Ried Shelton Fernando & Dr. Philip Setunga were also read and explained by Fr. Nandana Manatunga and the participants were given the opportunity to react and comment. Dr. Philip Setunga explained about the False sense of nationalism that is experienced in Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and elsewhere as a new wave of Nationalism discarding human right or ethical standards. Therefore, he remarks “the question of validity of social movements around human rights issues or their relevance in the present day context is something that needs our deliberations. If they are found to be relevant, what are the new forms and methods that can be employed?”.
Fr. Reid in his reflection, explained the main question that vexes mind of the Christian leaders and the faithful: how would the majority leaders would react to the promotion of any social activism and unable to provide progressive models of pastoral approaches for the welfare of the country. Further he suggests that the Catholic Church has to learn from the past events that all Catholic experienced since the Easter Carnage & the COVID 19 pandemic to seek the Divine promptings to listen and to act positively in a new normality by giving importance to the welfare of the people. “The structural-based approach is not the solution, instead of going back to the old systemic approach there is need to put on new thinking caps on with the support of the Holy Spirit guided by the Word of God and act supporting the people”.
With the identified emerging trends in the country, it was suggested that the activists should campaign as a group and assist and collaborate with each other and use the google group to keep in touch with one another and further update on the emerging trends.
The workshop was concluded with a thanksgiving mass on the evening of the 11th September. On behalf of the organizing committee, Fr. Nandana thanked all the participants who joined the workshop from different parts of the country, making an extra effort, spending long hours of travel. Further It was proposed that the next workshop scheduled in February 2021 to be held in the north, either in Mannar or in Jaffna.
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Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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