With Australia carrying the World Cup home, a decent tournament comes to an end. It’s not been a classic for us Sri Lankans, but it’s not been too bad as well.
But for us at CEPA its been an exciting couple of months with the launch of our site whatsthescore.lk.
On What's the Score, we used statistics and stories to highlight the 14 cricketing nations' progress in human development and their performance in tackling poverty and inequality.
There are a number of people behind this. And we want to say THANK YOU to them. Special thanks go to Mr. Paul Fernando for his interesting cricket updates and write-ups on the site. He invested a lot of time on this initiative and thank you for that. From the CEPA team, Karin Fernando and Nadhiya Najab and Prashanthi Jayasekara were instrumental in taking the initiative forward. Thank you very much!
Also a big thank you to all those who contributed blogs. Priyanthi Fernando, Karin Fernando, Prof. Hiran Dias, Vagisha Gunasekera, Mira Philips, Usitha Sivapragasam, Navam Niles, Aftab Lall thank you for your insightful blogs. [You can read their blogs here]. We must also thank Manjula Hewaga for his valuable technical input.
Thank you all for following, sharing, commenting, and supporting.
Australia will take on India today at the SCG but the grounds may feel more like Eden Park as Desi support (called the swarmy army) is said to dominate. Australia is a nation made up of people from all over the world, but migrants also tend to hang on to their original identities. For some this is unacceptable but for others it is the norm. Hence it is not surprising that there are such divergent views on new policies for asylum seekers in Australia, Take a look at this opinion poll ..
Sport's power to change lives and move nations is often overstated.
But Nelson Mandela may have been the first global leader to use sport as a tool to unite people and to redefine a country's international image.
It was central to his political beliefs, perhaps shaped while in jail on Robben Island. There, during his years of incarceration, he watched other political prisoners from the African National Congress playing football, at first covertly with bundled up rags, and then more openly in the prison yard.
It would be another eight years before Makhaya Ntini became the first black player to play for post-apartheid South Africa .
Around the time of his 80th birthday Mandela joked that maybe it was time for him to learn about cricket. He may not have understood the laws of the game but throughout all those years of South African sporting isolation he fully understood the political impact sport could have.
Nowhere was that more striking than during the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. Even more than cricket, rugby union was the sport of the white Afrikaans community.
The picture of him presenting the World Cup to Francois Pienaar,wearing the Springboks jersey, remains one of the most enduring images from his presidency. It's hard to believe now but at the time the green and gold shirt was still deeply associated with the racial struggle in South Africa.
Mandela defied his advisers to wear it, knowing in an instant how the gesture could do more for harmony and equality than years of talks.
Pienaar, like most young white men in the country, had grown up believing Mandela was a terrorist. And the Springboks captain had to convince his team to learn the words to the country's new national anthem, previously a song of black protest.
And yet after meeting him in the dressing room before the final and that presentation on the pitch at Ellis Park, Pienaar described him as the "symbol of everything that is good about humanity."
The image of Mandela handing the Rugby World Cup to Pienaar has become part of South African history
As for Mandela, he said he was so nervous before that final against the All Blacks that he nearly fainted.
Looking back, Mandela's achievement was not only persuading a predominantly white sport to warm to him as leader but to convince the black community to get behind a team which had only one black player - Chester Williams.
But while the Rugby World Cup had a powerful political resonance, it was the football world cup which perhaps provided Mandela's greatest sporting legacy.
It is still difficult to understand how some members of Fifa's executive committee could take calls in their rooms on the eve of the 2006 vote from a politician of Mandela's stature and still turn South Africa down.
But his and the country's perseverance paid off and the Fifa president Sepp Blatter delivered on his promise to take football's biggest event to Africa for the first time.
The tournament itself was more memorable for its historical significance than its footballing pedigree. By simply staging an event of such complexity and scale South Africa achieved something remarkable.
But it was more than an organisational triumph. During that tournament I interviewed Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town. He told me: "We have all talked about the rainbow nation. But we are the caterpillar that has become the beautiful butterfly. If you had told me we would be experiencing what we are experiencing I would have asked: 'Who is your psychiatrist?"
And that was the magic of South Africa 2010. The sense of the whole world looking at this modern nation - confident and assured on the international stage.
Danny Jordaan, the former head of the World Cup organizing committee, worked closely with Mandela during the two bidding campaigns. He described him on Friday as the "difference maker".
"Any country can put together a programme of stadiums and airports and roads but we had Nelson Mandela. Other countries used to complain that it wasn't equal."
It was cruel that come the World Cup Mandela was already too ill to enjoy it. His eventual appearance, frail and freezing, on the back of a buggy on the night of the World Cup final at Soccer City in Johannesburg, in July 2010, was still one of the most moving moments I have been lucky to witness.
Jordaan said: "We thought he wasn't going to be able to come. He was so sick at the time. Then at the last minute we got the call that he was coming.
"We told him just go out on the car, wave to the people and then go back to your bed.
"Looking at it now, it was his last big public appearance - the last time the cameras were around him - and it was so appropriate that it was at a World Cup final he had worked so hard to bring to the country."
As all eyes now turn to Brazil, another nation with problems using the World Cup to try and redefine its image on the global stage, Mandela's view of sport has never seemed more fitting:
"Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers."
Last week we eagerly watched the knock-out round quarter-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the biggest event in 4 years for cricket fans all over the world. A few of my friends have formed a whatsapp group especially for the cricket World Cup and though I was not watching the Australia vs. Pakistan match on Friday in person with them, I received a ball-to-ball commentary of the match with other comments from the peanut gallery, which were equally interesting. When I scrolled up later in the day to get a summary of the match, I ran into comments like “Shane Watson saved Australia’s ass”, I wondered whether we ever pay this much attention to women’s cricket in our countries. How many of us have ever watched Ellyse Perry, who is currently one of the finest cricketers in the world, intimidate batters with her fast-medium bowling action? How about the all-rounder skills of Jhulan Goswami of India, the bowling of Sana Mir of Pakistan, and Shashikala Siriwardena of Sri Lanka? Related to the reality that we pay less attention to women’s cricket is our abysmal knowledge of the pay-gap among male and female cricketers in the world.
The Gender Pay-gap in Cricket and other Sports
In 2013, Cricket Australia restructured their contracting system that resulted in a sharp increase for female international and state players. Top-ranking female athletes are paid a maximum of $52,000 (more than double the figure prior to restructuring); a minimum of $25,000 and a retainer of $5,000. The daily tour pay was also hiked from $100 to $250 (Lip Magazine 2013)[i]. Although Australia might not top the ‘favourites list’ of many a cricket fan, CA’s move to address the structural issue of the gender pay-gap in cricket is commendable. It should come as no surprise that female cricketers are paid less than male counterparts in a world in which ‘equal pay for equal work’ is still a slow-moving work-in-progress (not to mention an uphill battle). In 2014, when Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) met to discuss player contract payments, they emerged with the following: for the T20 2014 tournament in Bangladesh, the male cricket team received a participating fee of USD 500,000; a further payment of USD 250,000 when Sri Lanka reached the final; an additional USD 250,000 when the team won the final. For the women’s T20 tournament in Bangladesh, our players qualified for prize money only if they reached the semi-final (USD 50,000), the final (USD 25,000) or won the T20 world cup (USD 25,000) (Sri Lanka Cricket 2014)[ii]. These figures drive home the reality that female cricketers (and women in sports in general) have to balance a full-time workload (that includes both paid and unpaid reproductive work such as childrearing and attending to housework) with training and playing commitments. There are reports of instances when they are given ultimatums by their employers to choose their job over their passion – cricket. For example, Shashikala Siriwardena, the Captain of the Sri Lanka women’s cricket team was once asked by her then employer – Slimline – to choose either cricket or her job as a human resource assistant (BBC 2008)[iii].
This reality is not limited to cricket. In 2014, the BBC carried out a study of prize money in sport and found that there is glaring inequity in awards for men and women. Men receive more prize money than women in 30% of sports, with football showing the greatest disparity. Athletics, marathons, tennis, figure skating and shooting are among the sports that paid equal prize money. Table 1 present some highlights of the gender-gap in prize money for some of our favourite sports (BBC 2014)[iv]:
Prize money in Sterling Pounds (Men)
Prize money in Sterling Pounds (Women)
World Twenty 20
Chicken or Egg?
The most common hypothesis for fledgling plight of women’s sport is the following:
Most argue that there is a very small audience for most women’s sports which in turn diminishes related industry interest and subsequently, investments. In 2012, the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) reported that only 5% media coverage was for women’s sport; a study revealed that women’s sport receives just 0.5% of all commercial sponsorship, while only one in five board members of national governing bodies are women[v]. But, is there little coverage of women’s professional sports because they are unpopular or are they unpopular because there is little coverage? For instance, the Sri Lankan media (both private and public) did not build the momentum leading up to the women’s T20 World Cup; there were very few advertisements, and there certainly was no “සිංහයෝ අපේ” theme song for our women. Studies have shown that most sports fans are passive consumers[vi]. Therefore, interest in women’s sports would increase if given greater billing. Familiarity and interest in European football has increased since ESPN pushed the World Cup heavily and obtained rights to La Liga and the Premier League. Would it have an effect if ESPN India, SLRC or CSN made the same marketing push for women’s cricket and other sports? Media has the potential and the capacity to creep into our psyche and help us dismantle attitudes that perpetuate patriarchy. However, sadly, media is a male-dominated arena with a considerable number of sexists who at least subconsciously feel the only place for women in the sports media is the Swimsuit Issue. Now there are a few women reporting sporting events, particularly in the India media; but we need more women, feminist women and men, writing columns, editing, hosting and producing shows.
This is not only about the media. It is about the way in which we think about sport and gender. When we watch the Williams sisters tear up the court, or Michelle Wie rocket a golf ball 348 yards, or champion swimmer Diana Nyad prepare for her historic swim from Cuba to Florida (at age 62!), we are in awe of their talent as athletes. Not women athletes. This kind of recognition that some athletes command from sports fans and the opportunities they have were unthinkable 30-40 years ago before some countries passed laws that removed barriers for women to enter and succeed in sporting careers. For example Title IX (1972) in United States guarantees gender equality in everything from the scheduling of games to the provision of locker rooms to the compensation of coaches and tutors. Such structural changes have worked in favour of women in sport. As equally important are the pioneers who embodied the promise of legislation like Title IX (United States) by fighting for their place in sports history. For example, when Tennis star Billie Jean King ‘creamed’ the former champion Bobby Riggs on a Houston, Texas, Tennis court, in what was called “The Battle of the Sexes”, she dispelled the outrageous claim that “any half-decent male player could defeat even the best female players” (Riggs 1973)[vii]. King’s victory was seismic, putting to rest, once and for all, the myth of male supremacy in sports, while reminding young girls across the United States (and other countries) that not biology, but skill and talent, were destiny.
Pay inequity in sports is inherently tied to policies, practices and attitudes that are rooted in biological determinism that forms the basis of patriarchy. While the struggle to dismantle patriarchal power structures remains a battle of feminist women and men, there may be a few things we can immediately do to become part of the solution that addresses pay inequity in sports. The next time when you hear about a women’s sporting event, go and watch them play; encourage TV stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports; encourage young women in your lives to play sports in school and continue to play even after they leave school; offer to coach a girl’s sports team; and most importantly, if you are or know of a female athlete that is being discriminated against, speak up for her rights.
[vi] Crawford, G. 2004. Consuming Sport, Fans and Culture. London: Routledge; Redhead, S. 1997. Post-fandom and the Millennial Blues. London: Routledge; Taylor, I. 1992. Football and its Fans. Leicester: Leicester University Press.
Muhammad Nabi is one of more than 6 million Afghans displaced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His journey, from being born in a Peshawar refugee camp to captaining the Afghan national team’s debut at the cricket World Cup, is a one of a kind tale. For most conflict displaced people, a return to normal life, let alone stardom, remains a distant dream.
51.2 million people worldwide displaceddue to persecution, conflict, generalised violence or human rights violations by the end of 2013
Pakistan has the largest number of displaced people, with 1.6 millionwithin its borders by mid-2014
The experiences of those displaced by the Sri Lankan civil war, which ended in 2009, are a case in point. Many concerns were raised about the lack of proper facilities in the camps and internally displaced people (IDP) being compelled to return to areas where shattered livelihoods could not support normal life. The ad hoc creation of High Security Zones, restricting civilians from lands vital to their livelihoods, has also affected the rebuilding process. These measures reflected the growing authoritarianism of the previous regime, enforced through rapid militarisation. Post-war reconstruction focused heavily on infrastructure development, militarisation and control of local administrative structures by the centre, effectively sidelining local authorities. Moreover, the lack of a systematic approach to tackle access to basic services, psychosocial support and land grabs has deepened unresolved grievances.
The surge in large scale infrastructure in the North and East was accompanied by a proliferation of banks and small enterprises. The rationale for opening the North and East to national, regional and international markets was to spur economic growth and employment, thus stabilising livelihoods. However, this finance oriented post-war reconstruction is at odds with the socioeconomic makeup of the resettled communities, historically subsistence fishers and farmers who have been isolated from global markets for nearly three decades. In fact, with the increased indebtedness, youth unemployment and alcoholism that have accompanied the opening up of this region to global markets have major implications for reconciliation between the state and war-affected communities and deserve urgent attention.
Post-war reconstruction under the Rajapakshe regime saw an increase in corruption, nepotism and patronage politics, contributing significantly to the regime’s downfall in the last presidential election. While there is certainly a case for the new government to continue providing infrastructure in the conflict-affected regions, it must tackle the specific needs of people affected by the war. Although the new government has taken baby steps towards demilitarising the North, the military apparatus remains largely intact. Its seizure of private lands, along with a lack of devolution of policing and land rights pose huge barriers for people trying to find a sense of normalcy. Furthermore, the government needs to address issues of missing persons, war related trauma and disabilities, landlessness and poor housing, as well as the needs of women headed households, orphans and the elderly.
The psychological and material consequences of war remain with people long after the actual fighting has ceased and people have been resettled. Hence, equating the end of IDP status with successful resettlement is a gross misconception of the experiences of people affected by Sri Lanka’s war. The nature and conditions of resettlement must be revisited through a more holistic lens, addressing people’s economic, social, cultural and political rights. Justice and real peace demand that we do so.
For more discussion of these issues, read ‘Resettlement of conflict induced IDPs in Northern Sri Lanka: political economy of state policy and practice,’ by Chamindri Saparamadu and Aftab Lall, available through the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium website here:
As the last group matches are played this week to decide the quarter finalists of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the local Big Match revels have kicked off as well. The country’s leading schools face off in the most prestigious encounters in the school cricket calendar, and the next generation of national players walks on to the field in schoolboy whites.
Cricket aside, school is a vital stepping stone in helping children lead full and productive lives. This is why we value a good quality education so highly.
According to UNICEF, a good quality education is one where,
The learners are healthy.
Their learning environment is safe and non discriminatory.
The content is relevant and goes beyond basic skills to skills for life.
The schools are adequately resourced and well managed, with trained teachers using child-friendly teaching techniques.
So, as a result of this good quality education, children gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes to contribute positively in society.
Sri Lanka has a history of free education affording every child, irrespective of social background, an opportunity to learn. Free education is considered an equaliser in society, one that has allowed many to make a better life for themselves. However, there is growing concern that our education system is not maintaining quality. Geographic disparities are rife in terms of access to education, with more remote schools lacking teachers, equipment, science streams and classes in the higher grades.
Here are some statistics that show these disparities:
According to the Ministry of Education, 49% of Sri Lankan schools are classified as “difficult” or “very difficult,” in terms of facilities and accessibility.
The Western Province has the least number of difficult or very difficult schools.
In Nuwara Eliya, where most of the population is from the estate sector, 237 schools out of 538 (44%) are either difficult or very difficult.
In the Anuradhapura District, which is primarily rural, 272 out of 540 (50%) schools are difficult or very difficult (NHDR, 2014).
The Western Province has the highest number of schools, with classes up to GCE A/L in allsubjects – science, commerce and arts.
In certain districts, especially in the north, there are very few such schools with all subject streams for A/L. In Kilinochchi District, there are only 7 schools, Vavuniya and Mullathivu Districts have 6 each (NHDR, 2014).
According to the National Youth Survey (2013), 44% of youth in the Western Province have passed the GCE A/L,
Only 15% have passed in the Uva Province, where poverty is high.
The Central Province, where a large poplulation comes from the estate sector, has the highest percentage of those who have only completed lower secondary school (NHDR, 2014).
Figure: Highest Educational Achievement by Province
Source: NHDR 2014
Interestingly, we find disparities by gender with girls staying in school longer than boys. In 2012, out of the youth who sat for O/L, 51% were girls. This number rose to 56% at the A/L (NDHR, 2014). However, the educational performance of girls doesn’t get translated in the labour market. This indicates that education doesn’t necessarily empower girls, as they will later face greater restrictions in choice of employment. According to the National Youth Survey (2013), a majority of the boys who dropped out felt that it is more useful to enter the labour market than to finish school.
The statistics also do not reveal some of the qualitative aspects of a good education. It cannot tell us if the teachers are well qualified to teach or if curricula, teaching and testing methods are leading to “life skills” or the ability to understand, rationalise, critique or be creative. The recent issues with the appropriateness of the exams, re-sitting of papers, very low scores on mathematics, etc. also reveal that the education system itself needs to be revamped.
According to the National Youth Survey (2013), 60% of school dropouts said that cost is a barrier to continue education. Despite free education policies, families have to shoulder financial burdens, such as school maintenance cost, expenses for extracurricular activities, and more importantly fees for tuition classes. The rampant culture of tuition classes brings into question the quality of the education system. This not only mocks the concept of free education, with additional financial burden on families, especially poor families, but also increases the pressure on children, who then spend longer hours in classrooms with less time for extracurricular activities or just the free time necessary for a balanced learning experience.
Education is a human right. Quality, accessibility, equality and relevance in education are cornerstones to broader development goals, such as reducing poverty, improving health, strengthening social justice, peace and sustainable development. The current emphasis on examinations and employability needs to move towards a much broader, more enriching educational experience. While Sri Lanka celebrates its free education system, the country also needs to renew its policies in light of the current and emerging challenges.
While the Indian cricket team fight to "keep the cup" this Cricket World Cup 2015, rural Indian farmers fight for their right to be consulted in land acquisition.
It took eight days of walking for 80-year-old Dhanmatya Mumat to reach New Delhi.
Like thousands of other farmers from rural India, Mumat - from the state of Bihar - made the 1,000km-long trip to the Indian capital to protest proposed changes to a little known land law that he said would destroy his life.
"We came with the hope that our land will be saved, if the government takes away our land, we will die of poverty," Mumat told Al Jazeera.
"I request the politicians of the country to kill me rather than taking away my bread and butter."
Organisers say some 7,000 people arrived by foot to demonstrate in New Delhi to coincide with a parliamentary session on Wednesday that will decide on proposed changes to the land act - revisions that have raised the ire of many rural Indians.
"At least 7,000 people from 15 states turned up at the protests," said another farmer Darshan, 45. "It is a warning for the government to think about poor and landless people. If the government does not change its attitude towards the poor, we will flood the streets with 100,000 people."
Industrial and infrastructural projects such as special economic zones and dams have displaced millions in the past six decades since India received independence from the British in 1947. The majority of those displaced continue to wait for compensation.
The proposed changes to the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 removes a crucial consent clause for land acquisition. This means in the areas of defence, infrastructure, industrial corridors and public-private partnership projects, land may be acquired without the necessary consultation of the local community.
India's corporate sector has conveyed its displeasure with the 2013 law, which according to the industry has made the land acquisition process slower and has spiked the cost of projects.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi - who won parliamentary elections in a landslide last May on promises of economic growth and job creation - has defended his government's decision to address delays in land acquisition.
India's biggest foreign direct investment, worth nearly $12bn, has been stalled for the past nine years because of stiff resistance from local farmers and tribals, who face displacement because of a mega steel project by South Korean company POSCO.
Modi has been pushing to make India a manufacturing hub and improve infrastructure in cities as it works on its promise to create jobs for millions of young people who are desperate for employment and better life.
Since India adopted economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, the mammoth South Asian country has witnessed high growth. The country's middle class has boomed, but it has also seen rising inequality.
With a burgeoning population, land is a major point of contention in India. The proposed changes are seen as an attempt to facilitate land acquisition for commercial use, and critics are concerned it is short-sighted and in contempt of the rights of rural dwellers.
In a country where more than 65 percent people still live in rural areas, the government is well aware of the political danger of being branded anti-farmer.
Opposition parties have thrown their weight behind the protesters, giving a further headache to the government, which lacks a majority in the upper house of parliament. The ordinance has to be ratified by both the houses of parliament within six weeks of its promulgation.
Speaking in parliament on February 27, the Indian Prime Minister struck a conciliatory tone saying he was ready to tweak the ordinance if it was deemed anti-farmer.
The government amended the land bill to placate the opposition as well as some of its allies. On Tuesday, it passed the lower house of the parliament, where the government has a majority.
Critics have questioned the haste with which the government made the changes to the 2013 land law, which was backed by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while in opposition.
"The 2013 law was a historic piece of legislation that sought to redress the injustice caused by the enactment and implementation of the [colonial-era] 1894 act," Namita Wahi from the Centre of Policy Research said.
The heavily negotiated and contested legislation was debated over seven years before being enacted.
BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli told Al Jazeera the 2013 act had many "inadequacies".
"Many chief ministers [of states], including [the opposition] Congress party, complained against the bill. In the current form, the land acquisition bill is inoperable," he told Al Jazeera over the phone.
"We are open to suggestions to improve the bill. Protest for the sake of protest is not going to deter this government from carrying out development."
Industry vs Farmer
While Wahi admitted there were some problems with the current act, she disagreed with the government's approach to fixing it.
"The problem with the 2013 Land Acquisition Act was that it introduced too many layers of bureaucracy in the procedures. The new government should have sought to fix those procedures instead of doing away with them completely," Wahi said.
Food policy analyst Devinder Sharma described the government's claims as "intriguing".
"How can the 2013 Land Acquisition Act become a roadblock to investments and industrial development when it has not been implemented even once? The fear that the 2013 act will go against industrial development is therefore hypothetical."
Successive governments in the past have been accused of ignoring the interests of farmers and favouring big businesses - an accusation corroborated by a report by the Comptrole and Auditor-General (CAG) of India that said the government had diverted land to private real estate developers.
When the United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress party went on a land acquisition drive in 2005 it drew huge protests, many that turned violent.
But the main purpose of the special economic zones - the creation of jobs, encouragement of investment, and boosting global exports - was largely unsuccessful.
According to the CAG report, about 50 percent of the land acquired remains unused, and only 170 out of total of 576 projects approvedare operational.
The government is well aware it faces a huge task as the country's vast mineral resources are locked in states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand.
Here impoverished tribal communities have waged armed rebellion at the prospect of displacement.
Conflict over land has shot up by 30 percent in the past two years, according to a survey by a Washington-based think-tank Rights and Resources Initiative and its Indian partner Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development.
More than one-third of India's 664 districts faced land conflicts between 2013-14, the survey said.
The practice of the state acquiring land for private enterprise is hugely problematic, Wahi said.
"Democracies work on compromise between competing interests, and not on executing the writ of the most powerful interests in society," said Wahi. "I do believe the current hegemonic model of economic growth that privileges industrial growth over anything else needs to be seriously evaluated and questioned."
Ultimately, there are fears the current approach to development and industrialisation will come back to haunt.
"India's growth story hinges on agriculture. If agriculture does well, so will the country's economy," Sharma said.
"Agriculture is also the biggest employer. It is economic stupidity to destroy the jobs in agriculture and shift them to the cities to do menial jobs as daily wage workers ... An economically viable agriculture is the best safeguard against the growing rural dissent."
Australia may have beaten Sri Lanka on Sunday's (08.03.2015) match, but this article by Amantha Perera highlights the perceptions of some who still choose to travel to Australia by boat.
Weerasinghearachilage Ruwan Rangana had it all planned out last year in September: the big break that would change his life and those of his extended family had finally arrived.
The Sri Lankan youth in his early twenties was not too worried that the arrangement meant he had to make a clandestine journey in the middle of the night to a beach, board a two-decade-old trawler with dozens of others and be ready to spend up to three weeks on the high seas in a vessel designed to carry loads of fish.
He and his fellow commuters prayed that the boat would not crack in two before it reached Australian waters, where they all expected to find a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.
Rangana told IPS that most of the roughly three-dozen people on board were leaving in search of better economic prospects, though members of the minority Tamil community are known to take the same journey to escape political persecution.
The boat ride was the relatively easy part. After reaching Australia, Rangana would have to seek asylum, land a job and secure an income, before beginning the process of bringing his family there to join him.
“At least, that was the plan,” said the young man who was a contract employee of the state-owned Ceylon Transport Board in the remote village of Angunakolapelessa in Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota District earning a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees (about 90 dollars) when he took the boat ride.
Half of the plan – the life-threatening part – worked. The other part – the life-changing one – did not.
Despite a leaking hull, the vessel did reach Australian waters, but was apprehended by the Australian Navy, newly emboldened by a policy to turn back boatloads of asylum seekers after fast-tracked processing at sea, sometimes reportedly involving no more than a single phone call with a border official.
By mid-September Rangana was back in Sri Lanka, at the southern port city of Galle where he and dozens of others who were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities were facing court action.
Thankfully he did not have to spend days inside a police cell or weeks in prison. He was bailed out on 5,000 rupees (about 45 dollars), a stiff sum for his family who barely make 40,000 rupees (about 300 dollars) a month.
Now he sits at home with no job and no savings – having sunk about 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) into his spot on the rickety fishing boat – and makes ends meet by doing odd jobs.
“Life is hard, but maybe I can get to Australia some day. I did get to the territorial waters; does that mean I have some kind of legal right to seek citizenship there?” he asks, oblivious to the tough policies of the Australian administration towards immigrants like himself.
Clamping down on ‘illegal’ entry
Since Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013 following the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, at least 15 boats have been turned back at sea, including the one on which Rangana was traveling, to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Last year only one boat reached Australia, according to the government.
The programme has resulted in a significant drop in the number of illegal maritime arrivals in Australia. Compared to the one boat that reached Australia in 2014, the 2012-2013 period saw 25,173 persons reaching the country safely.
In the 10 months prior to the controversial military programme, 281 unauthorized boats arrived with a total of 19,578 people on board, according to the Australian Department of Immigration.
Just this past week, Australian authorities interviewed four Sri Lankans at sea, and sent them back to the island. Officials claim that the new screening process saves lives and assures that Australian asylum policies are not abused.
“The Coalition government’s policies and resolve are stopping illegal boat arrivals and are restoring integrity to Australia’s borders and immigration programme. Anyone attempting to enter Australia illegally by sea will never be resettled in this country,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office said in a statement this week.
As of end-January, there were 2,298 persons in immigration detention facilities in Australia, of whom 8.1 percent were Sri Lankans.
The policy has been criticised by activists as well as rights groups, including by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“UNHCR’s position is that they (asylum seekers) must be swiftly and individually screened, in a process which they understand and in which they are able to explain their needs. Such screening is best carried out on land, given safety concerns and other limitations of doing so at sea,” the agency said in a statement earlier this month.
According to the international watchdog Human Rights Watch, “Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities.
“The government has muted its criticism of authoritarian governments in Sri Lanka and Cambodia in recent years, apparently in hopes of winning the support of such governments for its refugee policies,” the rights group added in a statement released last month.
The end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil conflict and the election of a new, possibly more democratic government in January this year add to Canberra’s justification for turning away those who seek shelter within its borders.
In reality, the risk for asylum seekers is still high. Newly appointed Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told IPS that the government was yet to discuss any changes to accepting returnees. “They will face legal action; change in such a policy is not a priority right now,” he added.
Lawyers working with asylum seekers say their clients are unlikely to face extended jail terms, but could be slapped with fines of up to 100,000 rupees (750 dollars), still a lot of money for poor families.
Even if the legal process is swift, and those impounded are able to post bail, their reasons for wanting to leave remain the same.
Take the case of Kanan*, a young man from the war-torn northern town of Kilinochchi. He took a boat in August 2013 after paying a 750-dollar fee, agreeing to pay the remaining 6,750 dollars once he reached Australia.
He never even made it halfway. Six days into the journey, the boat broke down and was towed ashore by the Sri Lankan Navy.
He was fleeing poverty – his home district boasts unemployment rates over twice the national figure of four percent – and possible political persecution, not an unusual occurrence among the Tamil community both during and after Sri Lanka’s civil war.
He knows that very few have gotten to the Australian mainland and that even those whose cases have been deemed legitimate could end up in the Pacific islands of Nauru orPapua New Guinea.
But Kanan still hopes to give his ‘boat dream’ another try. “There is no hope here; even risking death [to reach Australia] is worth it,” says the unemployed youth.
This ranking system has some of the highest scorers hanging their heads, doing the walk of shame back to the dressing room.
The graph shows that a higher GDP per capita tends to go along with higher CO2 emissions. The United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Australia, UK and New Zealand have the highest GDP per capita, all above US$30,000, andboast the highest CO2 emissions at over 7 tonnes per capita.
However, there are exceptions. Ireland has a higher GDP than Australia but with just half the latter’s CO2 emissions. Similarly, Zimbabwe has a GDP equivalent to just 15% of Sri Lanka’s but more CO2 emissions.
Increased industrial activity, as a part of development, undoubtedly contributes to high carbon emissions. Nevertheless, other factors, like the type of energy and industries in the country, its policies, the application of green chemistry in industrial activities, the availability of green jobs and people’s choices and life style also influence the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere.
What’s the score and even who won or lost is not the point. The game IS. We become obsessed with the numbers and lose count of what they represent, - people. It’s the people who are poor, whose conditions of living we are measuring. We aggregate and analyse them and work out various indices believing that the data we have collected portray accurately and reliably what they are supposed to portray. If we were to ask those whom we are measuring with our sophisticated “survey instruments” what the score is, it is very doubtful whether the scoreboard they produce would be anything like what we produce.
Poverty is as much emotional and psychological as the more quantifiable indicators that attract our attention. Too often we forget that it is the people who develop. Those of us who received a good education and found suitable employment cannot visualise the mental state of a head of family. We do not need to make the critical decisions daily simply to survive. If she/he is to raise the family out of poverty, it would require not just the opportunity to increase the family income but a whole new mindset and lifestyle. Even in the past many or most people who are poor were indebted. With credit now more easily available from micro-credit institutions and consumer durables being available on higher purchase, indebtedness is far more serious and much of this credit is not invested in productive activities. Even if they are motivated to invest in productive activities the opportunities available in the area are limited and their ability to exploit these opportunities is also limited.
Match may depend on the pitch conditions, toss, the weather and so many other conditions but the score does not say anything about that. If we want to alleviate or eliminate poverty, we need ensure that those conditions are favourable and to do that we must understand how they affect our central issue, - poverty.
In short, what we need to know is not the score but how the game is played.