Groundviews Journalism for Citizens Wed, 17 Jan 2018 03:54:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 3448807 Technology-related Violence Against Women and Girls in Sri Lanka: Key Trends Mon, 15 Jan 2018 09:33:39 +0000 Featured image courtesy Politico

There is little research done on technology-based violence against women in Sri Lanka. In addition, there are no trilingual, easily accessible, open-source resources for digital security, key because many leaks occur due to lack of understanding about security measures to ensure privacy online. Research shows the varied impact of online harassment can be felt offline. The stigma has even driven young girls to suicide in Sri Lanka. Attempts to report violations to Facebook are met with the response that they do not violate Community Standards, as most of this content is in Sinhala or Tamil; the vernacular languages. While Information and Communication Technology has given women and girls increased capacity for self-expression and public and political engagement, often a direct proportionality can be seen in the increase of women and girls’ access to the Internet and increase of violence against women online.

It is in this context that the Center for Policy Alternatives (the institutional anchor of Groundviews), Ghosha (a feminist initiative in Sri Lanka exploring intersections between technology and women’s human rights) and youth group Hashtag Generation set out to conduct a research on the prevalence of technology-related violence against women and girls in Sri Lanka, with a specific focus on Facebook. We began to analyze a set of Facebook pages in October 2017. The past three months have also been significant on account of a global conversation on violence against women in the form of the #MeToo campaign. It is by no means the first such conversation (or even the first #MeToo campaign), nor will it be the last. It is important to recognize this as a significant moment while also acknowledging the various factors and privileges that elevated this particular movement. The momentum of the campaign has reached the Global South as well, with the release of an online list of Indian men in academia accused by women of repeated sexual harassment and the conversation and debate that arose from it. Many in Sri Lanka participated as well, highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment here too.   It is in this context that we share some preliminary observations from our research.

Key trends

Culture of Sexism and Misogyny

The Facebook pages monitored in these three months have shown that,

  1. Incidents of sexual harassment
  2. Non-consensual dissemination of images and intimate images and
  3. Other forms of technology-related violence against women and girls

are not isolated incidents. They happen in the context of a culture of casual sexism and misogyny that is the norm in these Facebook pages. This is common across pages in Sinhala, Tamil and English. The messages are often conveyed using humour and packaged as memes and cartoons. As part of the ongoing research, these posts have been documented for posterity, including screenshots, but we are opting not to share them at this stage.

Nonconsensual Dissemination of Personal Images and Intimate Images

One manifestation of the culture of sexism and misogyny online is the non-consensual sharing and dissemination of personal and intimate images, a clear form of violence against the women affected. The pages we have monitored indicate that the images shared publicly are just a preview of larger databases and are used as a way to invite page followers to privately gain access to more images. In some instances, the images used are personal images and not intimate images, but the accompanying captions and comments are derogatory, abusive, violent and incite further violence.

Propagating violence against women while defending women

Another trend noted was that even when some pages publish content in defense of women, the captions and comments are using derogatory and abusive language against other women or women in general to support their defense. This is an indication that as an extension of the public space in which people live their political and social lives, the Internet is replicating and sometimes augmenting structural inequalities against women.


There is a strong culture of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of online violence on Facebook. The pages we monitor don’t indicate who is administrating them and most often, the followers and commenters are not identifiable either. They are either using a fake identity/profile or have not shared identifiable markers such as a profile picture or a full name. While there might be opportunities to use Facebook reporting guidelines to report perpetrators and get content removed (and the next section explains why this is not so simple), if the women facing violence on Facebook want to report to law enforcement, there isn’t sufficient information to identify the perpetrators. Facebook’s real name policy has in fact been used to target members of the LGBTIQ community in the past – many of them use pseudonyms on social media but were inadvertently outed by the policy. As a response to the criticism Facebook said they would change their policy so that it did not disproportionately affect marginalised communities. Yet in practice users continue to subvert the system, as the research is showing.

Manipulation of Facebook Reporting Guidelines

Finally, the key trend we have observed during this period is that all these pages take various measures to avoid coming under the purview of Facebook reporting guidelines. This is done in a variety of ways including only liking and commenting on posts and not sharing, so that the posts are not visible beyond the pages, not including captions to the posts but only text on images and not directly linking to websites that publish non-consensual intimate images but including the link on images. These pages are also taking advantage of the fact that technology-related and online violence against women or violence and hate speech on the basis of gender are not identified as grounds for reporting under Facebook reporting guidelines for photos (as opposed to links and comments). Unless you know the women whose photos are being shared as explained before, there are no options to report the often abusively framed photos. Ultimately, most of these posts fall through the cracks of Facebook’s security framework because they are in languages for which comprehensive support is not available. This has been confirmed by several survivors and activists, who note that though content is violent and abusive in Sinhala and Tamil (though Tamil content is more closely monitored as it is comparatively widely used) Facebook does not identify it as violating community standards when reported.


Some of the challenges our team faced during this period included:

  •    Some of the pages identified in our methodology being deleted by the time data collection happens though our different methods of data collection are addressing this issue – perhaps due to the pages being reported by other users.
  •    Monitoring both Sri Lankan and Indian Facebook pages in Tamil given that Sri Lankan Tamil language Facebook users are active on both types. We have decided to monitor both types of pages to understand user behavior in both.
  •    Mental duress on the researchers due to some of the graphic content we have been monitoring and documenting. We have formed a WhatsApp group on which we can have conversations and support each other and also identified that we must seek counseling should we need it.

As part of this project, we will be hosting a series of focus group discussions in early February, and invite all women and girls who have experienced technology-related violence against women to write to us with your input.

For those seeking support for specific cases of technology-related violence, please contact the Grassrooted Trust/

Editor’s Note: Also read ‘Beyond the Report Button: Tackling Incidents of Cyber-Violence in Sri Lanka” and “On the Harassment of the Comic Con Players” 

]]> 0 23034
MMDA: Personal Narratives – 8 Fri, 12 Jan 2018 12:39:04 +0000 Featured image courtesy Maatram

This is the seventh in a series of videos conducted by sister publication Maatram, highlighting the difficulties faced by women under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA).

Article 16 of the constitution states that existing written and unwritten laws, such as the MMDA, will continue in force even over constitutional law. There is currently a campaign for the reform of personal laws, with some calling for the repeal of Article 16 altogether.

Read English transcript below:

“My future husband’s family liked me, so we got married. At that time, I was 25 years old. My husband’s father knew how old I was – he had seen my NIC. However he didn’t tell my husband my age. At the time of registering our marriage, some people told my husband that I was too old for him, and asked him to send me away. At that time, my husband was 19 years old.

From the time of our wedding day, he would torture me saying I was too old. I could not live in peace. He would not talk to me. We didn’t live as a family. He threatened to burn me. Using my age as an excuse, he threw me out of the house. I filed a case in the Quazi courts. After not receiving a solution I filed a second case. To this day, I have not received any solution for my plight. This wedding happened against my wishes – if parents want to arrange marriage for their children, they should ask them if they want to get married in the first place. When they ignore this and force their children into marriage, they will end up having to go to court.

I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. I have no brothers and sisters. If I did they would have been able to support me. For one and a half years, I have been going to the Quazi courts and back, but to this day, I have not received a solution, nor have I received any compensation.”

Editor’s Note: To view the earlier videos and transcripts from this series, click here: 7654321

]]> 0 23031
‘Raped’ by society – A second attack Fri, 12 Jan 2018 05:34:42 +0000 Featured image courtesy Women’s Media Centre

Warning: This post discusses sexual abuse and rape. If you are experiencing trauma as a result of sexual abuse, the hotline for Women In Need is 011-4718585. 

Throughout time, humanity has been challenged by the spread of prejudice. One such concept that has plagued humanity is prejudice, as well as discrimination and stereotyping, inflicted on the basis of the gender. The term “sexism” was coined to identify this phenomenon. However, due to the nature of the societal attitude towards females, sexism primarily identifies with the discrimination of women. Nonetheless, sexism is multi-faceted. One such embodiment of sexism is “Rape Culture”. Rape Culture refers to the communal attitude towards rape that normalises rape and sexual abuse. The term “Rape Culture” was coined by the second wave of feminists, who used it to describe behaviour such as victim blaming, trivialising or normalising rape or sexual abuse and objectification.

The mere fact that rape has been given enough social importance to have coined the term “Rape – Culture” in itself reflects the decadence of society. To my understanding, what we seem to dismiss in terms of “Rape Culture” is the fact that by the standards of this term, rape essentially is not a gendered issue but a social problem that is in fact societies own doing (as with any other social problem). But we speak of “them”, the “others” who victimise those who have been sexually abused as if they are aliens and we have not contributed to this atrocity.

As such, society has always trivialised rape and exercised victim-blaming vigorously. Even though academic and non-academic discourse regarding this issue assumes prominence from time to time, it is still a very real problem. The gravity of the problem has been minimised by the reluctance of victims to speak up, owing to this victim blaming, bringing the issue to a disheartening full-circle.

To my understanding, what is needed in terms of mitigating the problem is a shift in societal attitudes . “Rape” has to be rebranded as a social problem and not a gendered issue. The fact of the matter remains that sexual abuse is not inflicted based on gender. The perpetrators, who essentially can’t distinguish between “yes” and “no” do not have the capability of distinguishing between gender, age, social status or any other form of categorisation.

My argument regarding the shifting of gendered perceptions on rape to a more societal perception is twofold. First and foremost, the culturally imposed taboo on the mere discussion of “Sex” has created a void of information that could only be filled by unorthodox (and mostly illegal and unethical) means. While this argument extends the blame to a more holistic and societal front, it is imperative to state that the intention is by no means to justify the rapist or the act of rape.

Secondly, the act of victim blaming, as stated above, essentially endorses rape.

Elaborating on the first argument; growing up the only information passed on to us by the adults and the high-priests of the society was, “sex is bad”. Beyond this piece of allegedly vital information, no other knowledge regarding sex – the should do’s, the shouldn’t do’s, the rights and responsibilities – were disclosed. The education system brushed through the “reproductive system” in a very anatomy- based understanding of sex which was also skipped during lessons in schools because, “don’t have sex” just about summed it all up. The curious thirteen year olds were at the mercy of the Internet, the sixteen year olds ‘knocked-up’ by their high-school sweethearts, and eighteen year olds curiously drawn to the red-lights. Somewhere down the road, at the age of twenty, “yes” meant “no” and “no” meant “yes” and we became victims of your trivialisation. “Raped” was word used to describe a game, “sex-scandals” were headlines, and “sex-tapes” made celebrities.  It’s the age old story of the spider and the web. Like a spider weaves the web to catch its prey, you spun illusions to keep us safe. And just like in the spider’s story, you and I got caught in the same web – the predator and prey alike, caught in our own lies, packed and ordained, “social norms“.

By this argument, what I’m trying to highlight is that there is a severe case of what economists conceptualise as “imperfect information”, that is a situation where one party engaged in a transaction is worse-off because of the upper-hand on information the other party involved has. This, when applied in the context of sex-education, translates in to how worse off curious minded youngsters are due to the reluctance of educators to disclose information. Just as it’s identified as a negative externality in economics, so the same effect is created in society. Therefore, the culturally superimposed stigma in terms of the mere use of the term s-e-x, should be mitigated.

The second argument, is that victim-blaming endorses Rape. The tragedy of our society is that it seeks refuge behind the comfort of apathy. As Dante Alighieri states in his work of art, The Inferno, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” The depth of the social parasite that is rape, is reinstated when one channels the blame on to the victim, disregarding the perpetrator. The social stigma that is associated with rape has escalated the issue to the point where rape and sexual abuse remains the most underreported act of crime with only one in six cases being reported. To my understanding, this second attack in terms of pushing the victims to self imposed exile of silent suffering is more than half the percentile of the problems surrounding this heinous act of physical violence. Statistically, sixty-six percent of the victims of sexual abuse are concerned about being blamed and convinced they are at fault. That is sixty-six percent who suffer through a second attack due to you and I. This leads to a horrifying thirty-three percent of rape or sexual abuse victims entertaining suicidal thoughts, while thirteen percent of victims’ attempt suicide. In addition, victims of sexual abuse are considered six-percent more likely to have mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in comparison to victims of any other crimes.

It is imperative that discourses regarding rape and sexual abuse are depoliticised, moving away from an individual approach to a society-level approach. Essentially, many victims who tell others about their assault must endure a ‘second assault’ in the form of negative reactions, such as victim blaming and disbelief. One third to two thirds of victims may experience such reactions, which have negative mental and physical health effects on the victims. These aftereffects are essentially inflicted by society due to the reluctance to look at the menace of rape as a social problem or sometimes even acknowledge it at all.

As such, it is essential the “rape” is looked at as a social problem and not a gendered issue, in order to mitigate the menace. It is imperative that we assume responsibility for our part in nurturing this toxic rhetoric. I hope we do our part, by way of maintaining honest conversations and steering clear from harmful practices such as ‘casual rape jokes’.

Editor’s Note: Also read, “Of rape, killings, impunity and our collective amnesia” and “Rape and domestic violence in Sri Lanka: Triggered by a mindset?

]]> 0 23013
Poll: Reader Reactions to CoI report on Central Bank bond issue Wed, 10 Jan 2018 06:14:11 +0000 On January 10, Parliament will convene for a session to discuss the report released by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Bond Issuance of the Central Bank, which was handed over to the President on December 30, 2017.

President Sirisena released a statement discussing the findings of the report on January 3, 2018. In what was described as a hard-hitting statement, Sirisena said that legal action should be taken against wrongdoers, including Perpetual Treasuries Ltd, Arjun Aloysius and Kasun Palihena. Sirisena also said that action should be taken against MP Ravi Karunanayake for revelations made during Commission hearings, to the effect that a penthouse apartment he and his family were occupying was paid for by Arjun Aloysius.

Karunanayake denied the allegations and said that some members of the Government and the Opposition were indulging in character assassination.

In light of this, Groundviews conducted an online poll in order to gauge reader’s reactions to Sirisena’s statement, which discusses some of the content of the final CoI report. President Sirisena said the final report itself would be made public once it was discussed in Parliament. The mainstream media has reported questions around the effectiveness and utility of a Parliamentary debate without the report made available to MPs and in the public domain.

The poll asked the following questions:

  1. How confident are you that civil or criminal action will be taken against those implicated in the final report of the Commission of Inquiry?
  2. How confident are you that action will be taken against MPs implicated in the report?
  3. How efficient do you think the Bribery Commission will be in taking legal action against those implicated in the report?
  4. How efficient do you think the CID will be in investigating into the allegations of those implicated in the report?
  5. Do you want the full contents of this report to be made public?
  6. Do you want the full contents of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Fraud and Corruption to be made public?
  7. How confident are you that the CoI reports will be made public, as promised?

130 people took the poll, with the results showing that most were uncertain or simply not confident that any concrete action would materialise from the CoI report, despite Sirisena’s hard-hitting statement.

Most were not confident that any civil or criminal action would be taken after the revelations made in the report.

An even larger number (49% of those who took the poll) were not confident that there would be any action against any MPs named in the report.

There was also uncertainty and some pessimism on the perceived effectiveness of independent Commissions and the CID.

Edit: This piece has been edited to note that the CID will investigate, rather than take legal action against those implicated in the report – legal action will be initiated by the Attorney General’s Department. 

Only a few respondents thought these bodies would be able to operate in an effective manner.

A majority of those who took the poll (over 90% in both cases) said they wanted the full contents of the CoI report on the Bond Issuance, as well as the CoI report into Fraud and Corruption to be made public. Only 20% were somewhat confident and 14% very confident that these reports would be made public at all.

The CoI report and the Commission hearings have been one of the most controversial issues faced by the current Government – during the hearings, allegations were made that MPs phones were being tapped as information on phone calls and even WhatsApp and Viber calls was leaked to the media. This was referred to the Privileges Committee as House Leader Lakshman Kiriella said the MPs privileges had been breached.

Several of the MPs also denied that they had spoken to Arjun Aloysius. Meanwhile, Anika Wijesuriya, who testified before the Commission about Karunanayake leasing the penthouse, fled the country in October following death threats leveled against her. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also testified before the Commission, saying he had nothing to hide. Conversely, and in a somewhat farcical turn of events, Aloysius claimed he did not remember his username and password for his Apple Account, but later tried to delete backup data from his account with his wife’s phone in August.

In a bizarre turn of events, General Secretary of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) Udaya Gammanpila said the President had not used his sword to trap the real culprits behind the Bond Issue. He chose to make this statement at a press briefing holding a real sword to make this point, flanked by fellow party members Dammika Rathmale and Madumadawa Aravinda.

The controversy around the issuance of Central Bank bonds dates back to February 27, 2015 when allegations were leveled against Arjun Aloysius and Perpetual Treasuries for insider trading.

January 8, 2018 marks three years since Sirisena was elected. There is increasing evidence of disillusion as President Sirisena falls short of the ambitious promises made in his manifesto. This disillusionment is mirrored in our online poll results, which show that respondents are not confident any meaningful action will be taken as a result of the debate. This is important to keep in mind as Parliament debates the report.

Editor’s Note: For more coverage on this issue, also read “The Bond Issue Controversy: An Analysis” and “The Central Bank Bond Controversy Revisited“. 

]]> 0 22996
Making Journalism Great Again Tue, 09 Jan 2018 12:51:25 +0000 Image courtesy DW

OXFORD – In the debate over the future of journalism, “fake news” has taken center stage, with storylines featuring a ranting American president, Russian communication “bots,” and betrayal and subterfuge competing for public attention. But in an era of diminishing profits and shrinking audiences, is fake news really the biggest threat that traditional media face?

In a news environment increasingly prone to hyperventilation, it can be difficult to separate fact from fabricated or deliberately skewed content shared via social media. The proliferation of “bots” – computer programs that automatically spread disinformation – has blurred these lines further. And as the methods of manipulation multiply, the problem is only likely to worsen.

And yet the near-constant focus on fake news has distracted many in the industry from more serious challenges confronting professional journalism. The erosion of business models and growing dependence on third-party digital distributors – like Facebook and Google – have handcuffed news organizations and cut deeply into their profits. Worse, audiences no longer trust the information presented to them. This suggests that the problem is bigger than fake news.

In fact, large, traditional, or legacy media organizations still trump social media as trusted sources. As the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report 2017 revealed, 40% of news consumers say that established media organizations – The New York Times, for example – accurately differentiate fact from fiction. For social media, this share is only 24%.

But this also means that 60% of news consumers regard the legacy media as being careless with facts. That statistic alone should be a cause for grave concern to everyone in the industry.

According to the report – which surveyed some 70,000 Internet users in 36 countries – 29% of respondents said they were avoiding news altogether. For many, this was either because producers’ preference for negative stories put them in a bad mood, or because they viewed the reporting as politically slanted and therefore untrustworthy.

Without trust, there is no audience; and without an audience, there is no business. If the survey’s results are representative of broader trends, one of the world’s most important pillars of democracy – a free and open press – is in jeopardy.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise. In the digital era, trust deficits have affected most major institutions, from political parties and big companies to religious organizations and universities. This could be a sign of a more informed and critical citizenry; or, more likely, it could be a response to feeling overwhelmed by choice and powerless in a complex world.

But what has changed for news organizations is that, thanks to social media, they no longer have a monopoly on holding the powerful to account. On the contrary, they have come to be identified with the powerful – part of a media-business-political elite divorced from the concerns of ordinary people. Having become a target of popular anger, journalism will need to “disrupt” itself to regain credibility and restore audiences’ trust.

To this end, media organizations should take at least six steps. For starters, news outlets must set their own agendas, rather than wasting resources on pursuing someone else’s. The international investigation that led to the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers are brilliant examples of journalism that is relevant and interesting – two fundamental criteria that all reporting should meet.

Second, reporters have a responsibility to their audiences to analyze what powerful actors are doing, rather than what they are saying. As the Washington Post’s media columnist Margaret Sullivan recently observed, coverage of US President Donald Trump has focused narrowly on his words, at the expense of his policy.

Third, the media must become better listeners. Journalists’ distinction between “reporting” and “reporting on the ground” highlights the reality that a sizable proportion of newsroom staff never leave their desks. Journalists don’t necessarily do this by choice; many are glued to their screens because their companies lack resources, or force them to follow and report on twitter feeds. In a sense, reporters’ behavior is merely a symptom of an editorial pathology.

Fourth, news organizations must engage audiences – talking to them, not down to them. Very often, the news cycle is driven by assumptions about what viewers or readers might like, rather than what they actually want. Diversity in a newsroom is vital to broadening the relevance of its coverage.

Fifth, in the rush to experiment with new forms of storytelling, some media companies are forgetting their mission. News outlets should forego expensive, flashy projects if they do little to further audiences’ understanding of a story.

Finally, rebuilding trust will require a new definition of news itself. When audiences feel overwhelmed by information and complexity, the response can be to tune out. The media must give people a reason to tune back in. (One example: positive news is dramatically undervalued in today’s media environment.)

If traditional media outlets allow themselves to be defined by the fake-news debate, they, too, will be overwhelmed. So long as social media companies optimize for advertising revenue, their algorithms will tend to reward the extremes, and news organizations will waste valuable resources battling disinformation.

A better approach would be to make news less boring. Reputable media companies have always sought to capitalize on facts: the scoop, the exclusive interview, the probing investigation. Truth, like trust, is a commodity. The future of the industry depends on getting better at producing it.

Alexandra Borchardt is Director of Strategic Development at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.


]]> 0 22992
Fault Lines: precarious lives in Spring Valley’s estates Tue, 09 Jan 2018 08:59:20 +0000 Spring Valley is one of the coldest places in the Uva Province. Located in the Hali Ela administrative division close to the foot of the Namunukula mountains, this hilly terrain, which is nearly 1,200 meters above sea level, is dangerously vulnerable to the elements.

The National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) has identified nearly half of the Badulla district as being prone to landslides. The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) lists the Badulla district as one of the most environmentally-sensitive areas on the island.

These risks are practically invisible for those visiting the area; the majestic landscapes often distract from the precarious nature of daily life for those who live in these mountainous regions.

The Uva province is home to some of the country’s oldest and most historic tea plantations. While these estates are often highlighted in glossy tourism brochures, particularly last year, when Sri Lanka celebrated 150 years of Ceylon Tea, the community that lives and works on these estates is among the most socio-economically disadvantaged in Sri Lanka. The threats to basic safety posed by the environment compound their vulnerability, and impact on their quality of life.

View the full story, compiled using Microsoft Sway, here, or scroll below.

]]> 0 22988
Introducing #snapshotlka – Our Hashtag on Instagram Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:22:59 +0000 Groundviews, Vikalpa and Maatram invite their followers on Instagram to follow #snapshotlka, as the platform recently announced the launch of a new feature allowing users to follow hashtags, in the same way as following an Instagram account.

Users who choose to follow a hashtag will see top posts appearing in their main feed. This allows users to follow specific areas of interest – for instance, through following hashtags such as #photojournalism. Rolled out on December 12, the feature was described as a ‘game changer’ by Forbes.

Followers of #snapshotlka will have easy, real-time access to photos collectively posted by Groundviews, Vikalpa and Maatram in one single page. Additionally, it allows those who do not have the Instagram app on their smartphones to view photography from all our sites, in one location, over any browser. To our knowledge, this is the first time a media organisation is using this feature in Sri Lanka.

To follow a hashtag, search for it via the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen, or tap on a hashtag on any post, allowing a page of images related to the hashtag to load. There should be an option to follow the hashtag at the top of your screen. Previously, those who wanted to view content under a particular hashtag would have to search for it each time – a relatively time-consuming process.

Groundviews, Vikalpa in Sinhala and Maatram in Tamil are institutionally anchored to the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Since inception, each site’s technical innovation around storytelling, including over mobiles, is without parallel in the country. Each site engages actively with users over a variety of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Groundviews now has over 35,000 followers on Facebook and over 90,000 followers on Twitter. Over 1000 followers receive regular updates from Groundviews, Vikalpa and Maatram on Instagram. The Groundviews WhatsApp group, relaunched in 2016, has seen active and continued engagement by leading civil society activists, diplomats and government officials, leading to the creation of a second group due to demand. It is currently the only contextual civic media news and information instant messaging group in the island.

Follow us here –

Twitter: @groundviews
Facebook: Groundviews
WhatsApp Group Invite:
Instagram: @groundviews and #snapshotlka

]]> 0 22982
MMDA: Personal Narratives – 7 Fri, 05 Jan 2018 12:11:32 +0000 Featured image courtesy Maatram

This is the seventh in a series of videos conducted by sister publication Maatram, highlighting the difficulties faced by women under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA).

Article 16 of the constitution states that existing written and unwritten laws, such as the MMDA, will continue in force even over constitutional law. There is currently a campaign for the reform of personal laws, with some calling for the repeal of Article 16 altogether.

Full English transcript of the interview below.

“I married at 19 years old. I had my child when I was 21. From the time I gave birth to my son, there were problems. My husband would go to work, but never brought money or anything else home. If I asked, then the problems would start again.

When the water or electricity bill came, he would send me to ask my mother to settle it for us. One day instead of asking my mother for the money as usual, I returned because I didn’t want her to think less of my husband. While I was doing this, he pushed me off the bicycle. My son was injured as a result. At that time, I was pregnant again.

One day, he tied my son’s legs and my hands. He lit the house on fire. After that, he took my son and left to Vavuniya, leaving me behind. When I shouted for help, the neighbours came and saved me. I lodged an entry with the police, along with my brother. After negotiations, they encouraged me to return to my husband. After that, the situation got worse. He stole from me and tried to steal my sister’s possessions as well. My sister complained to the police again and this time he spent two weeks in prison.

I didn’t have any money to survive. I went to work at a children’s madrasa (religious school) washing clothes. For one day of work, I received Rs. 300. It is with that Rs. 300 a day that I am raising my two children.

Subsequently, my husband married someone else, and didn’t pay the iddah maintenance fees (for the customary three month waiting period). He doesn’t come to the Quazi court hearings.

Our case is still ongoing in Quazi court. My husband gave us family maintenance for just one year – worth Rs. 65,000. He still owes five years worth of maintenance fees. That amounts to Rs. 540,000.

My children often take what we have for dinner to school the next day as well. In order to make sure they have food to eat, I often skip meals. As a result, I have gastritis and other ailments. If my husband had paid the monthly fees, this wouldn’t have happened. My children only have me to look after them.

When I first went, the Quazi asked me to come next week, as he couldn’t find my file. Then when I returned the next week, he asked me to bring my son, for him to locate our case file. Now he’s asking me to file a new case.

I have to talk about a lot of sensitive issues during the Quazi court hearings, but there are no female Quazis. There should be someone who understands about these issues.”

Editor’s Note: To view the earlier videos and transcripts from this series, click here: 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

]]> 0 22977
The Year in Photos Fri, 29 Dec 2017 05:59:03 +0000 Featured image by Raisa Wickrematunge

As 2017 draws to a close, Groundviews shares a selection of photos taken over the course of the year, covering a variety of issues, from displacement and militarisation in the North to barriers to education and nutrition in the estate sector, to the drought that affected over a million people across Sri Lanka.

View the full story, compiled on Microsoft Sway, here or scroll below:

]]> 0 22969
Is it too much to ask for emotionally Intelligent mindful leaders in the 21st Century? Wed, 27 Dec 2017 01:54:00 +0000  

Photo courtesy Asian Mirror

Dwight D. Eisenhower said “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.”

Many politicians stand in the way of peace for their own vested interests, or from a sheer lack of self-awareness, care and emotional control.  This makes them blind to the impact their words and action have on millions of people.

In an interconnected, transparent world, our political leaders are under scrutiny unlike any other time and leaders who do well for the world will manage themselves – their emotions and actions and find the power of balance.

Dee Hock founder of the VISA card wisely said –

“Without management of self no one is fit for authority no matter how much they acquire, for the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become.  It is the management of self that should occupy 50 percent of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do that, the ethical, moral and spiritual elements of leadership are inescapable.”

Management of self can only come from self-awareness grounded in a practice of mindfulness.

History provides enough painful narratives about divided nations ruled by selfish leaders.  The separation of people causes tremendous suffering that can lead to violence and destruction.

Trumpism – in going back to a primal reptilian emotional place, to stoke fears of people who are disadvantaged for much larger reasons than the other’s colour or where they came from – globalization, neo-liberal economics, the World Trade Organization, the Federal Reserve and the likes of Wall Street – Donald Trump, one of the most self-obsessed, emotionally immature leaders we have seen in a long time, keeps finding scapegoats and separating his people through fear, when they should be coming together to meet its economic, social and climate change challenges.

A divided nation is easily tampered with and the USA has a lot more to lose than any of those waiting to pounce on it for their own advantage.

Divisive rhetoric of a national leader puts people on edge – separates neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces and even families.  Not only that, a divided nation has a tremendous cost to individuals, communities and institutions, as the dissonance, pain and suffering it generates could end up in a major upheaval and tragedy.

Lessons from Sri Lanka

We never imagined, growing up in a multi-ethnic Sri Lanka in the 1960s and 70s with Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Sinhala and others in relative harmony that, we would end up in a brutal thirty year war starting in the 1980s, which killed almost a 100,000 people.

In order to make amends to the domination of Tamil bureaucrats and other favours by the British colonial government, the post-independence government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake pandered to Sinhala nationalists and denied the Tamil minority, their language and civic rights in 1956.

Allowing a peaceful group of Tamil protesters in Colombo on 6th June 1956 to be beaten by Sinhala thugs, the country began to squander its ability to come together as one nation, rather than divide along ethnic and language lines. Instead, if Prime Minister Bandaranaike, invited the protesters to a conversation and continued a dialogue, perhaps Sri Lanka could have changed the course of history.

As Sri Lanka liberalized its economy in 1977 aligning with the USA and the west, India played cold war politics to destabilize the country. What better way than to fan the fire by training a cadre of disenfranchised Tamil youth[i], which eventually resulted in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – one of the fiercest fighting forces of its time[ii].

The Sri Lankan government also walked into a trap of the Sinhala extremist action in July 1983.  That ‘Black July’ day riots left hundreds of Tamil people dead and thousands displaced in Colombo and other cities, which brought the country’s deep divisions to international notice.

Sri Lanka as a sovereign nation lost its cohesion and control as the world deemed it a pariah and the war was fuelled through international support and interest.

As the country was divided and separated with poor leadership, opportunistic politics, stoking xenophobia, outsiders with geopolitical interests and the arms industry took advantage.

No nation is immune, not the US and not even Canada, if we, the people, do not play our role to keep pluralistic values that hold together the diverse tapestry of humans in harmony.  This requires exemplary, mindful leadership and we, the people, are responsible for putting them into power.

Canada’s Strains

“Why don’t you go back to where you came from” said the young man to a response – “What! do you want to me to come and build my Teepee in your backyard?” from a First Nations Aboriginal women who was threatened a few days after the tragic October 2014 shooting of Sgt. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa. The young man was bewildered by the response and made a hasty retreat, according to the woman – a Canadian Federal Government employee, who was at one of my soft skills training programmes.

This young man would have been emboldened like others who harassed people of colour over the next few days, egged on by Prime Minister Harper’s insinuations of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – differentiating old and new Canadians – implying the ‘them’, the non-white are separate and could be terrorists.  The government authorities deemed this a terrorist attack by Canadian born Michael Zehaf-Bibeau – who happened to have a Libyan father and was known to be mentally unstable.

Nevertheless, the ambiguous yet subtle finger pointing reaction towards Muslims extended to minorities of colour by the Prime Minister, gave license to some ignorant opportunists towards aggression.

These reactions are reptilian, could be driven by a larger fear of the other, now perceived as perpetrating terror – they were also acts of cowardice, as many men picked on women of colour. Yet, it put us all on edge, as the head of Canada was not speaking out on these.

So, refreshing was Justin Trudeau at the time, leading the Liberal Party for elections, as his principled fearlessness led him to take a stand on the notion of us and them Canadians. His position on the Niqab (the face covering as a part of the Hijab), which the Harper government was bent on banning for the Canadian citizenship ceremony to begin with, was courageous, as it was a political risk just before elections.

At a time when the polls showed the Harper conservatives leading, when the security issues were front and centre driven by extreme Islam of a few and the ISIS – Trudeau did what was right in stating that the government had no right to legislate a dress code and that it was un-Canadian to do so.

Trudeau was bold enough to say the following, even if it risked losing support of the average Canadian for his fledgling Liberal party at the time;

 “You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up as a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights……But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”

Then he went onto say;

“But what’s even worse than what they’re saying is what they really mean. We all know what is going on here. It is nothing less than an attempt to play on people’s fears and foster prejudice, directly toward the Muslim faith,”

This brought Harper’s Evangelical Christian religious beliefs, even showing a Social Darwinist approach of manifest destiny and white superiority into light, and the dangerous edge he brought the country towards racial divisiveness. Canadians were more astute and Trudeau’s emphatic response actually put the Harper government on the back foot.

Canada voted in spades for Trudeau and Liberals at the time, as it showed Canada in its true light – a multicultural, plural nation that is an example to the world that diversity can work with a strong set of values and fearless leadership.

The other fissure that Canada has to make amends for arises from its history – a nation built on the backs of its aboriginal people and their lands.  Trudeau government has made a promise to deal with them – the poverty of the communities, land claim issues, violence against Aboriginal women to making amends for the stolen generations in the residential schools.

The government took children away from aboriginal families to put into church led residential schools to erase their language, culture and spiritual practices to make them ‘Canadian’.

Canada’s Aboriginal Pedigree

Historian and writer, John Ralston Saul asserted – “we should not be imagining ourselves in the tradition of either, but recognize the country’s distinct nature, born of this land, and the integration, not just interaction, of settler and aboriginal life”.

Saul begins his book, A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, by establishing the country’s aboriginal pedigree where he says, we all owe many of our best qualities as Canadians to our indigenous peoples’ heritage.

In one of ex-Prime Minister Harper’s rare brilliant moments in June 2008, he made a formal apology to aboriginal people for the residential schools acknowledging that an absence of an apology gets in the way of reconciliation, and he said, “we are sorry”.

His formal statement read in the Indigenous and Northern Affairs website[iii];

Two primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.  These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child”.  Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.

What he said then and the follow-up action of his Conservative government did not match, making a mockery of the apology, yet it opened the door for a more sincere effort at reconciliation later.

I was surprised on a trip to North West Territories not long after I came back to Canada in 2011, an aboriginal business leader told me – “We do not tolerate nor do business with people from the south.  I will speak to you because you are not white”.

I was afraid that the fissures I witnessed between mainstream Canada and the Aboriginal people – First Nations, Inuit and Metis – one of the fastest growing and advancing communities in Canada, would someday hurt Canada’s cohesion.

Therefore, sooner Canada accepts and honours that pedigree the better. That especially goes to new Canadians also to know and accept that history, as we come together and influence each other, into the ever-evolving culture of Canada.


Another positive move by the Stephen Harper’s former government was to establish the Global Centre for Pluralism (GCP) in partnership with the Aga Khan to spread Canadian values of pluralistic democracy around the world.

Canada certainly has the credibility right now to do that as the GCP website states[iv] –

In too many places, diversity is a source of competition and fear. Taken to extremes, escalating exclusion leads to oppression, extremism and violence. Rooted in respect and inclusion, pluralism offers a different path.

More than anything, a commitment to pluralism creates mutual benefits, giving every member of society reason to get along.

  • When valued rather than feared, human diversity enriches and benefits a society.
  • Having difference recognized by the state and the nation fosters belonging, participation and equality.
  • Cultures of inclusion do not erase difference or disagreement; rather, they offer ways to manage conflict peacefully.
  • Majority identities and minority aspirations must be considered.
  • Pluralist societies require ongoing work and investment – by citizens, civil societies and governments – but the returns are enormous.

These tenets should set the standard for us to elect any political leader or a party and if we follow these – we, the voters, globally, have to be vigilant and engaged never to allow in the likes of Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders of the far right and even at 95, emotionally immature Robert Mugabe and other unwise, opportunistic individuals to come into power, as they will divide, separate and create dissonance – as we see Trump doing to the USA.

At a time when the world has to come together to deal with issues of inequality, poverty and most of all natural calamities, we can ill afford for nations to implode for prejudice and xenophobia.

For that, we, the people, have think critically to ensure we only elect leaders who are mindful, emotionally mature to manage themselves first and understand the implications of the power they wield.

Learning not to be credulous, applying constructive doubt in order to test unexamined beliefs, and resisting the notion that some authority, a great philosopher perhaps, has captured the whole truth”.

Bertrand Russel on Critical Thinking


[ii] Indian intervention in Sri Lanka: The role of India’s intelligence agencies

by Rohan Gunaratna



]]> 0 22966