සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #104: බලන සැම තැන කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවලින් සපිරි දේශයක්!

Map of Pakistan, courtesy Lonely Planet

In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala), I take a look at rampant conspiracy theories in Pakistan, arguably the most conspiracy-happy country in South Asia. This is partly inspired by my recent visit to Karachi, a strong contender for the title ‘conspiracy capital of the world’.

From weather extremes to food shortages, and from political violence to maternal health, every aspect of life in Pakistan is linked to a ‘foreign conspiracy’ supposedly meant to undermine the nation.

Some of these tall tales provide harmless amusement, while others have dire consequences for public health and safety. I cite two examples: resistance to polio vaccination, and misplaced and widespread fear of iodised salt.

‘හොඳ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථාවකට අපි කවුරුත් කැමතියි!’

මගේ මාධ්‍ය මිතුරකු ළඟදී මට මෙසේ කීවේ මෑතක පටන් අපේ රටේ වඩාත් ප‍්‍රබලව පැතිර යන නොයෙක් අභව්‍ය හා මායාරූපි (ෆැන්ටසි) කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථා ගෙඩි පිටින් විශ්වාස කරන අය සිටින බව මා පෙන්වා දුන් විටයි.

සමහරුන් කියන හැටියට අපේ දුපතට වින කරන්නට, රජය හා ජන සමාජය අස්ථාවර කරන්නට විජාතික දේශපාලනික හා වාණිජ බලවේග රාශියක් පෙළ ගැසී සිටිනවාලූ. මෙබඳු කථාවලින් ජන සමාජයක මානසික තත්ත්වය ගැන දළ හැඟීමක් ලද හැකියි.

එහෙත් අපේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ දුපතටත් වඩා බොහෝ සෙයින් මේ ‘කලාව’ ප‍්‍රගුණ කළ රටක් දකුණු ආසියාවේ තිබෙනවා. ඒ තමයි පාකිස්ථානය. මිලියන් 180ක් පමණ ජනගහනයක් වෙසෙන, න්‍යෂ්ටික අවිවලින් සන්නද්ධ වූ මේ රට තරම් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී කථා බිහි කරන, පතුරුවන හා අදහන තවත් රටක් මට නම් හමු වී නැහැ.

පසුගිය සැප්තැම්බරයේ මා කරච්චි නගරයේ දින කිහිපයක් ගත කළ අවස්ථාවේ පාකිස්ථානයේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී මානසිකත්වය නෙතඟ බැල්මක් ලැබුණා.මගතොටේ දී මෙන් ම සරසවි හා විද්වත් සභාවලත් අතිශයින් නිර්මාණශීලි වූ එහෙත් කිසිදු පදනමකින් තොර භීතිකා හා කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථා සංසරණය වන හැටි මා දුටුවා.

එහිදී තර්කානුකූල වීම, සාක්ෂි සොයා යාම හෝ වෙනත් බුද්ධිගෝචර ක‍්‍රියාදාමයක් වෙනුවට ලිහිල් හා ආවේගශීලි පදනමක් මත බොහෝ ජනමාධ්‍ය, වෘත්තිකයන්, දේශපාලකයන් හා අනෙකුත් ජනමතය හසුරුවන්නන් ක‍්‍රියා කරනවා.

එරට දේශපාලකයන්ගේ ප‍්‍රසිද්ධ ප‍්‍රකාශ හා මැතිවරණ පොරොන්දු ආදිය ගැන කිසිදු විශ්වාසයක් නොතබන උගත් නාගරික ජනයා පවා රටට හා ජාතියට එරෙහි බහුවිධ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ තිබේ යැයි තරයේ අදහනවා.

සරල එදිනෙදා සිදුවීමක් වූවත් පැය හෝ දින කිහිපයක් ඇතුළත ලෙහෙසියෙන් ම විදේශික බලවේගයක හෝ අදිසි හස්තයක බලපෑමක් හෝ බවට පත් කර ගනු ලබනවා. කුමන්ත‍්‍රණයක කොටසක් ලෙස විග‍්‍රහ කැරෙනවා. එය පසුපස සිටින විජාතික බලවේගය ලෙස වැඩිපුර ම නම් කරනු ලබන්නේ අමෙරිකාව හා ඉන්දියාවයි. මීට අමතරව ඉස්ලාම් විරෝධී යැයි සලකා ඊශ‍්‍රාලයත්, පොදුවේ බටහිර රටවල් මෙන් ම ගෝලීය මට්ටමෙන් වෙළඳාමේ යෙදෙන බහුජාතික සමාගම් ද නිතර කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ චෝදනා ලබනවා.

සොබා දහමේ ක‍්‍රියාවන් පවා මේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී කථාවලට හසු වනවා. වෙලාවට වැස්ස නොලැබුණොත් එය පාකිස්ථානය ‘මට්ටු කරන්නට’ දියුණු රටක් කළ ‘කාලගුණ පාඩමක්’. එකවර බොහෝ වැසි ලැබී ගංවතුර ඇති වූ විට එයත් විජාතික ‘කාලගුණ ප‍්‍රහාරයක්’.

මේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී කථා එරට ප‍්‍රබල ම ජනමාධ්‍ය වන ටෙලිවිෂන් පුවත් නාලිකාවලට Breaking News සඳහා නිරතුරුව මාතෘකා සපයනවා. එබඳු වාර්තාකරණයේදී මෙබඳු කථා බරපතල ලෙස කියන්නටත් වාද විවාද කරන්නටත් මුකරි බව තිබෙන අන්තවාදී විද්වතුන් (ටෙලි-පණ්ඩිතයන්) රොත්තක් ද බිහිව සිටිනවා.

පාකිස්ථානු සමාජයේ සැබෑ ප‍්‍රශ්න හා විසමතා ගැන නොබියව වාර්තා කරන පුවත් නාලිකා අතර (2012 ඔක් 21දා කොලම බලන්න) මෙබඳු කට කථා, ප‍්‍රබන්ධ කථා හා ප‍්‍රලාප බෙදා හරින නාලිකා ද තිබෙනවා. දුෂමාන ආරංචි තහවුරු කිරීමකින් තොරව කාලීන තොරතුරු ලෙස ප‍්‍රචාරය කිරීම නීතිවිරෝධි නොවූවත් සදාචාර විරෝධි හා සමාජ විරෝධි ක‍්‍රියාවක්. මෙය නියාමනය කරන්නට පාකිස්ථානු රජය ඍජු උත්සාහයක් නොගන්නේ මාධ්‍ය නිදහසට හරස් වීමේ චෝදනාව මතු වන නිසා.

පාකිස්ථානයේ මුද්‍රිත හා විද්‍යුත් මාධ්‍යවලට විශාල නිදහසක් තිබෙනවා. එහෙත් ඒ නිදහස තුළ වගකීමකින් යුතුව ක‍්‍රියා කරන්නේ සමහර මාධ්‍ය පමණ යි. විශේෂයෙන් ම දේශිය බසින් වාර්තාකරණයේ යෙදෙන නාලිකා සමහරක් කෙටිකාලීන ජනප‍්‍රියත්වය සඳහා කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ රටට බෙදීම සරුවට කරනවා!

පාකිස්ථානයේ සාක්ෂරතාව අඩුයි. පිරිමි අකුරු කියවීමේ හැකියාව 70%යි. කාන්තාවන් අතර එය 46%යි. අධ්‍යාපන මට්ටම් සීමිත වීම නිසාත්, දැඩි වැඩවසම්වාදී සමාජයක් නිසාත්, එරට බොහෝ දෙනකු විචාරශීලි වනවා වෙනුවට ආවේගශීලි වීම දැකිය හැකියි. දැඩි ලෙස ආගම්වාදී වීම පාකිස්ථානු සමාජයේ තවත් ලක්ෂණයක්. එරට ජනමතය හැසිරවීමේ විශාල බලයක් පූජකයන්ට තියෙනවා.

එරට නිර්මාතෘ මොහමඞ් අලි ජින්නා පූජක බලය සීමා කොට රාජ්‍යකරණයේ යෙදුණත්, ඉන්පසුව බලයට පත් වූ (හෝ බලය අල්ලා ගත්) නායකයෝ කෙටි කාලීන වාසි තකා සමාජ සංස්ථා දැඩි ලෙස ඉස්ලාමීයකරණය වන්නට ඉඩ දුන්නා. සියලූ දෙනා නොවූවත් බොහෝ ආගමික නායකයන් රටට හා සමාජයට එරෙහිව බහුවිධ බලවේග පෙළ ගැසී ඇති බවට නිතර මොර ගානවා. කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ අදහන පසුබිම සකස් වන්නේ එලෙසයි.

සමහරක් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ කථා හුදු විනෝදාස්වාදය සපයන අතර, ඉතිරි ඒවා ජනයා මුලා කරමින් ඔවුන්ගේ එදිනෙදා ජීවිතයට, සෞඛ්‍යයට හා යහ පුරුදුවලට හරස් වනවා. මේ දෙවැනි කාණ්ඩයට අයත් දැඩි සේ ප‍්‍රචලිත වූ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදයක් පෝලියෝ ප‍්‍රතිශක්තීකරණයට සම්බන්ධයි.

Polio vaccinaation in Pakistan - AFP Photo

Polio vaccinaation in Pakistan – AFP Photo

මුළු ලෝකයෙන් පෝලියෝ රෝගය තුරන් කිරීමේ දැවැන්ත ප‍්‍රයත්නයක අවසන් අදියරට පිවිස සිටින මේ අවස්ථාවේ පෝලියෝ හමු වන රටවල් තුනක් ඉතිරිව තිබෙනවා. එනම් නයිජීරියාව, ඇෆ්ගනිස්ථානය හා පාකිස්ථානය. පාකිස්ථානයේ 2012 දී වාර්තාගත පෝලියෝ රෝගීන් සංඛ්‍යාව 58යි. http://www.polioeradication.org

මේ මට්ටමට පෝලියෝ පාලනය කර ගත්තේ දශක ගණනාවක සිට පාකිස්ථානු රාජ්‍ය සෞඛ්‍ය සේවය හා ස්වේච්ඡ සංවිධාන විසින් කරගෙන ආ ප‍්‍රතිශක්තීකරණය නිසා. එහෙත් සමහර දෙමවුපියන් තම දරුවන්ට පෝලියෝ එන්නත දීම ප‍්‍රතිකේෂ්ප කරනවා. එයට හේතුව පෝලියෝ එන්නත “ඉස්ලාම් ජාතිය වඳ බවට පත් කරන්නට බටහිර රටවලින් ක‍්‍රියාත්මක කුමන්ත‍්‍රණයක්” යැයි රාවයක් පැතිරීම.

කිසිදු වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාත්මක සත්‍යතාවක් නැති මේ කටකථාව මත එල්බ ගෙන තම දරුවන් භයානක පෝලියෝවට ගොදුරු වන්නට ඉඩ දෙන තරමට සමහර දෙමවුපියන් එය අදහනවා!

මහජන සෞඛ්‍යයට විශාල වශයෙන් බලපාන තවත් පාකිස්ථානු මිථ්‍යාවක් අයඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු වටා ගෙතී තිබෙනවා.

අයඞීන් අපේ ශරීර ක‍්‍රියාකාරිත්වයට අත්‍යවශ්‍ය ක්ෂුද්‍ර පෝෂකයක්. තයිරොයිඞ් ග‍්‍රන්ථිය මඟින් ස‍්‍රාවය කරන හෝමෝන දෙකක් නිපදවීම සඳහා සිරුරට කුඩා පරිමාවලින් අයඞීන් ඕනෑ. මුහුදු මාළු මේ ක්ෂුද්‍ර පෝෂකය ස්වාභාවිකව ලැබෙන හොඳ ප‍්‍රභවයක්. එහෙත් මුහුදු මාළු ලෙහෙසියෙන් හමු නොවන දුර බැහැර ගොඩබිම ප‍්‍රදේශවල වෙසෙන ජනයාට අයඞීන් ඌණතාව හට ගත හැකියි.

ලෝක සෞඛ්‍ය සංවිධානය (WHO) කියන හැටියට ලෝක ජනගහනය බිලියන් හතෙන් බිලියන් 2ක් අයඞීන් ඌණතා අන්තරායන්ට මුහුණ දෙනවා. ළමයින් වැඩෙන කාලයේ හරිහැටි අයඞීන් නොලැබීම නිසා ඔවුන් මන්දබුද්ධික විය හැකියි. අයඞීන් ඌණතාව නිසා හට ගන්නා අනෙක් ආබාධය නම් ගලගණ්ඩයයි.

සුළු අමතර වියදමක් දරා විශාල ජන සංඛ්‍යාවකට ලෙහෙසියෙන් අයඞීන් ලබා දීමේ උපක‍්‍රමය ලෙස ලොව පුරා මහජන සෞඛ්‍ය විශේෂඥයන් දැන් පිළි ගන්නේ ලූණුවලට අයඞීන් ස්වල්පයක් එකතු කිරීම. අමෙරිකාවේ අයඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු අලෙවිය ඇරඹුණේ 1946දී. ගෙවී ගිය දශක කිහිපය තුළ බොහෝ රටවල මෙය හඳුන්වා දී තිබෙනවා.

පාකිස්ථානය අයඞීන් ඌණතාව බහුල රටක්. එරට ජනගහනයෙන් භාගයකට අයඞීන් හරිහැටි ලැබෙන්නේ නැහැ. මේ නිසා දිගුකාලීනව හට ගන්නා දැඩි අලස බව හා අඩු බුද්ධි මට්ටම පාකිස්ථානයේ සමාජ ප‍්‍රගතියට හා ඵලදායීතාවට අහිතකරයි.

එහෙත් “අයිඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු කන්න එපා!” පාකිස්ථානයේ අන්තවාදීන් ජනතාවට අනතුරු අඟවනවා. ඔවුන් කියන්නේ අයඞීන් එකතු කරන්නේ මුස්ලිම් ජනයා අතර වඳබව ඇති කිරීමට බටහිර කුමන්ත‍්‍රණයක් ලෙස බවයි!

කිසිදු අතුරු ආබාධයක් ඇති නොකරන ලොව පිළිගත් මෙබඳු සරල සෞඛ්‍ය පියවරකට පවා පාකිස්ථානයේ අස්ථාන භීතියක් හා ප‍්‍රතිරෝධයක් මතුවීම සෞඛ්‍ය සේවයකයන් කම්පාවට පත් කරනවා. සෞඛ්‍ය බලධාරීන් හා වෛද්‍යවරුන් කෙතරම් පැහැදිලි කළත්, අයඞීන් මිශ‍්‍රිත ලූණු භාවිතය නතර කරන්නට සැළකිය යුතු ජන කොටසක් පෙළඹී සිටිනවා. මෙය සමහර උගත් මධ්‍යම පාන්තික පවුල් අතරත් හමුවන බියකරු ප‍්‍රවණතාවක්.

මේ අස්ථාන භීතියට පසුබිම කුමක් ද?

පාකිස්ථානයේ අධික ජනගහන වර්ධනය දිගු කාලීනව රටට හා සමාජයට ඇති කරන අහිතකර බලපෑම් ගැන 1995දී විද්‍යාත්මකව තක්සේරු කළ එරට රාජ්‍ය නිලධාරීන්, මාතෘ හා ප‍්‍රජනන සෞඛ්‍යය ගැන ජනයා දැනුවත් කිරීමට විශාල පරිමානයේ සන්නිවේදන දියත් කළා. රජයට අයත් PTV ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකාව හරහා කාන්තාවන්ට පෝෂණ හා සෞඛ්‍ය දැනුම සරලව කියා දුන්නා. අයඞීන් නිතිපතා ආහාරයේ තිබීම වැදගත් බව ද කියැවුණා.

එම දර්ශනය අවසානයේ එය නිර්මාණය කළේ රජයේ ප‍්‍රාථමික සෞඛ්‍යය හා පවුල් සැළසුම් පිළිබඳ දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව (Department of Primary Health and Family Planning) බව කියැවෙන නාමාවලියක් පෙන්වනු ලැබුවා. අයඞීන් ගැන කථා කොට මොහොතකට පසුව මේ දෙපාර්තමේන්තු නම දිස්වීම නිසා ටික දෙනකු මේ දෙක අනිසි ලෙස සම්බන්ධ කරමින් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදී තර්කයක් මතු කළා.

Iodine deficiency is a common cause of goiters, an affliction visible in this woman and child in Nothiya, Pakistan, a village on the outskirts of Islamabad (Photo courtesy - Network for Consumer Protection)

Iodine deficiency is a common cause of goiters, an affliction visible in this woman and child in Nothiya, Pakistan, a village on the outskirts of Islamabad (Photo courtesy – Network for Consumer Protection)

පවුල් සෞඛ්‍යය යනු පුළුල් විෂයයක්. ළමා හා මාතෘ පෝෂණය, ළමා රෝගවලින් ආරක්ෂා වීම ආදී සංකල්ප සමඟ පවුලක දරුවන් අතර නිසි පරතරයක් පවත්වා ගැනීම හා ගැබිණි මවුවරුන්ගේ සෞඛ්‍යය ගැන විශේෂ අවධානය යොමු කිරීම ද එයට ඇතුළත්.

එහෙත් කුමන්ත‍්‍රණවාදියෝ එය පවුල් සෞඛ්‍යය පවුල් සැලසුම් කිරීමට පමණක් ලඝු කොට “ජාතිය කප්පාදු කරන්නට රජය හා විජාතිකයන් ගන්නා උත්සාහයක්” යැයි බොරු බියක් පතුරවනවා. ජන මනස මෙසේ දුෂණය කිරීම හරහා කාන්තාවන් හා දරුවන්ගේ ජීවිතවලට කරන හානිය ගැන කිසිවකු සිතන්නේ නැහැ!

පාකිස්ථානයේ කුමන්ත‍්‍රණ මේනියාව යථාර්ථයෙන් හා වගකීම්වලින් අත්මිදීමේ බොළඳ උත්සාහයක් යැයි එරට ප‍්‍රමුඛ පෙලේ පෞද්ගලික ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකාවක අධ්‍යක්ෂවරියක් මට කියා සිටියා. “මේ විකාර කථා වැඩිපුර ම අදහන්නෙත් පතුරු වන්නෙත් පිරිමි උදවිය. ඔවුන් කැමතියි කථාන්තර කියමින් එදිනෙදා කළ යුතු දේ කල් දමමින් වගකීම්වලට මුහුණ නොදී සිටින්න. මේක දැන් වසංගතයක් වෙලා!” ඇය කීවා.

ප්‍රෞඪ ශිෂ්ටාචාරයකට හිමිකම් කියන, උගත් මධ්‍යම පාන්තිකයන් විශාල සංඛ්‍යාවක් සිටින, අපට වඩා මාධ්‍ය නිදහස තිබෙන පාකිස්ථානයේ මෙබඳු පසුගාමී මානසිකත්වයක් දැඩි ලෙස මුල් බැස ගත්තේ කෙසේ ද?

අනේ අපේ රටේ නම් මෙහෙම දේවල් වෙන්නේ නැහැ! අපි සාක්ෂරතාවයෙන් හා අධ්‍යාපනික මට්ටම්වලින් ඉහළ, ලෙහෙසියෙන් රවටන්නට බැරි මිනිසුන් වෙසෙන දේශයක්…

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Go ahead, just say the word: Condom! Now say it again…

not an easy task...

Acting out condoms in broad daylight in India: not an easy task...

Condom!

No one is certain how or where the word originated, but it has become one of those ubiquitous items in modern society.

It’s a two syllable word, fairly easy to pronounce. Then how come so many people – at least in South Asia, home to a fifth of humanity – get their tongues tied or twisted in saying it?

That’s because it’s to do with sex! That’s not a subject that many South Asians still feel comfortable in talking about, in public or even private.

Sex may be a very private matter, but individuals’ sexual behaviour has direct and serious public health implications. Especially today when the world is still struggling to contain and overcome the spread of HIV that causes AIDS.

Condoms originally came into wide use to help prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In the past quarter century, condoms have become a major weapon against HIV.

Despite this, condoms still remain a hush-hush topic among many grown ups, even as the younger generation warms up to them. Across South Asia, we still have some hurdles to clear in normalising condoms – or making it socially and culturally acceptable for people to talk about condom use, and to go out and buy them without fear or shame.

They come in all colours and shapes!

They come in all colours and shapes!


This is the challenge that various communication groups have taken up, especially in India. According to a 2007 survey by UNAIDS and India’s National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), at least 2.5 million people live with the HIV virus in India, placing the country third in the world after South Africa and Nigeria. However, AIDS prevention in the country is not an easy job. Many people, especially in rural areas, cling on to preconceived taboos about sex — and are often hesitant to use condoms.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard from two campaigns that are trying to change this. One is the BBC World Service Trust working with Indian broadcasters and other partners to normalise condom use through a campaign. I’ll be writing a separate blog post on that effort.

Last month, I received en email from someone called ‘Spread Word for a Better World’, who shared with me web links on a socio-cultural group based in Hyderabad, who are using the performing arts to promote condom awareness.

For over a decade, the Nrityanjali Academy has been singing and dancing their way to the glorification of condom use. They see it as a crucial fight in their central region, where 2 per cent of the population is HIV positive.

P Narsingh Rao, director of Nrityanjali, recently told France 24 online: “Our main target groups are people vulnerable to the HIV virus like sex workers, transsexuals or truck drivers. We tour villages in mobile video vans to show the film. The screening is followed by a question and answer session about condom use and sexually transmitted diseases.”

He added: “We also encourage the use of female condoms, a relatively new concept. We tell the women to negotiate the use of female condoms with their male partners: for men with little sex education, the insertion of the female condom in the vagina can in itself be an erotic act.”

Here are some YouTube videos showcasing their work:

This is an entertaining and educational video in Telugu language on Condom usage, to prevent from sexually transmitted infections and HIV:

A more instructional video on how to use condoms properly:

And finally, an HIV/AIDS song in Telugu – with all the fast-beat music, gyrating and riot of colours we typically associate Bollywood movies and songs with:

The videos speak for themselves. They are matter of fact, engaging and presented by ordinary people (trained entertainers) rather than by jargon-totting medical doctors or health workers. There is none of the awkwardness typically associated with conversations of this subject. No one is tip-toeing around perceived or real cultural taboos. They just get on with it.

Importantly, they involve both men and women, both in performances and in their audiences.

Training young men on just how to do it right...

Training young men on just how to do it right...

Related blog posts:

July 2007: The Three Amigos: Funny condoms with a serious mission

April 2007: Beware of Vatican Condoms – and global warming!

Images courtesy France 24’s The Observers.

Arthur C Clarke: My Vision for Sri Lanka in 2048

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Sir Arthur Clarke, who died last week, was buried at Colombo general cemetery at his request. That ended a 52-year-long association the author had with his adopted home.

His interest in diving and underwater exploration led him to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he settled down in 1956. He pioneered diving and underwater tourism in Sri Lanka through his company Underwater Safaris, and played an active role as a public intellectual and as a patron of art, science and higher education. He served as Chancellor of Sri Lanka’s technological University of Moratuwa from 1979 to 2002.

Although he became the island nation’s first Resident Guest in 1975, Sir Arthur always remained a British citizen. The Sri Lankan government presented him the Lankabhimanya (‘Pride of Lanka’), the country’s highest civilian honour, in 2005. In December 2007, government officials, scientists, artistes and diplomats came together to felicitate Sir Arthur on his 90th birthday.

During the past few days, there was a good deal of coverage, editorialising and reminiscing in the Sri Lankan media about Sir Arthur, whom a former foreign minister once called a ‘one man cheering squad for Sri Lanka’. Most of this coverage looked back to recall the highlights and anecdotes of the sarong-clad, table tennis playing, myth-busting icon.

As Sir Arthur would have said, that was necessary – but not sufficient. His business was talking about the future and helping to shape it. So I dug up from my own archives a 1,100-word essay that I had written for The Sunday Observer in Sri Lanka a decade ago, for a series titled Sri Lanka in 2048. There, leading artistes, scientists and other public figures were asked to outline their personal vision for the year Sri Lanka would complete 100 years of political independence (the series marked the Golden Jubilee of this event).

Upon re-reading the essay, which was in Sir Arthur’s first person narrative, I found that it was still fully valid, and even more relevant a decade later than when it was first written. So I passed this on to Pramod de Silva, editor of The Daily News, the sister newspaper of the Observer, which ran it on 22 March 2008 – the day of Sir Arthur’s funeral. I found that quite appropriate – the physical remains were going on their final odyssey, but Sir Arthur’s vision would – hopefully – propel Sri Lanka to a better future for decades to come.

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Here’s how he opened the essay, My Vision for Sri Lanka in 2048:

“A guest must be careful about what he says of the host: contrary to popular perception, I am not a Sri Lankan citizen — only a resident guest. Yet, having lived here for 41 of my 80 years, I now regard this alone as home, and have visions and hopes for my adopted land.

“Half of all Sri Lankans alive today were not even born when, in December 1954, I had my first glimpse of the then Ceylon — when the P&O liner Himalaya carrying me to the Great Barrier Reef paused at the Colombo harbour for half a day. What I saw on a single afternoon tempted me to come back a year later to explore, and by the end of the 1950s, I had developed a life long love affair with the island.”

Taking stock of Sri Lanka’s already high human development indicators, Sir Arthur noted:
“It has been said that the biggest remaining challenge in terms of human health and welfare is not so much to add years to life, but to add life to years. For a country like Sri Lanka that has already achieved high levels of life expectancy and other impressive social indicators, this is indeed the next major challenge. The vision for the next fifty years should be to develop ways of improving the quality of life of all Sri Lankans. Difficult though it certainly is, such development will have meaning only if it is socially and environmentally sound.”

He then talked about two areas that were crucial for the socio-economic development of his adoptive land: energy and telecommunications. But he knew these physical improvements would not, by themselves, create a better society until and unless lasting peace could be achieved:
“The biggest challenge for all Sri Lankans in the coming century would be achieving better communications and understanding among the different ethnic, religious and cultural groups and sub-groups all of who call this their motherland. For material progress and economic growth would come to nothing if we allow the primitive forces of territoriality and aggression to rule our minds.

Read the full essay on the Daily News website

Related essay: Rebuilding after Tsunami: Sri Lanka’s challenges by Arthur C Clarke, January 2005

Photos by Rohan de Silva, Sir Arthur’s personal photographer

Making fun of HIV: Welcome to the Scenarios from Africa

General Assembly of Diseases: In the city of Contaminobo, assorted germs in an emergency session. Tuberculosis, Polio, Hepatitis and others are all angry and afraid because their favourite target – humans – are fighting back. Enter ‘His Royal Heinous, Overlord AIDS’. Hope at last! When he attacks the immune system of humans, other germs can still have a chance…The humans are so careless, that it’s easy for AIDS to quickly spread from one to many. But wait a minute – somebody has been listening into all their talk. Which means the secret of defending humans from HIV and his cronies is out.

Iron Will: Moussah is a young man with a healthy, or bubbling, interest in girls. His male friends advise him to be play it safe — carefree sex can easily expose him to HIV, for which there is no cure. They talk about condoms, and another strategy that is an alternative to using the rubber latex. But Moussah doesn’t quite understand the expression ‘iron will’. He interprets it differently, and gets custom made iron underpants made — much to the amusement of his friends, who remind him the most important sex organ is…the brain!

Just Once: A man returns from the field and feels like making love to his wife. She is living with HIV and insists that he uses a condom — but they’ve run out of stocks. So he cycles far and wide in search of condoms – where is a rubber when you need one? Finally he succeeds and rushes home, only to find that his wife did have one last, unused condom with her. So why didn’t you tell me, he asks in exasperation. Her answer is revealing….

Intrigued? There’s a lot more where they came from.

These three stories are part of Scenarios from Africa — a highly successful and popular pan-African initiative to use moving images to get young people talking and acting on HIV/AIDS. The decade-long project has been carried out with and for young people, with community mobilisation, education and media elements.

Integral to this communication effort are television drama vignettes about different scenarios involving HIV in everyday life.

Some are very funny while others are very moving. They cover many dimensions of the HIV epidemic, from preventing the virus spreading to taking care of persons living with HIV. Underlying themes include safe sex, removing social stigma from the epidemic and dispelling misconceptions about how HIV spreads or does not spread.

The project was started in 1997 and is coordinated by the non-profit Global Dialogues Trust. It gave African children and young adults an exciting opportunity to educate themselves and others about HIV/AIDS by inviting them to participate with internationally acclaimed directors in the production of these short films.

The films are based on ideas thought up by young people in a series of contests. So far, over 105,000 young people from 37 African countries have taken part in these contests. Over 1,000 local and international partner organisations have been involved in organising the contests and selecting the winning ideas.

The films range in duration from just under 2 minutes to almost 15 minutes. They were produced by top fiction film-makers and animation specialists in Africa.

All stories use African actors, locations and situations – and employ different story telling tactics.

Scenarios from Africa is a multi-media communication project that has been widely acclaimed by practitioners, activists and scholars worldwide. The films are supported by a user’s guide and online discussion points that help teachers, trainers and activists to make the best use of these stories in their work.

The films are all distributed on a non-commercial basis across Africa and beyond, for broadcast and narrowcast use. The Scenarios films have been broadcast on locally-based television stations in almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa. The films are also collected on compilation DVDs and video cassettes for use by organisations and schools. Some 60,000 copies of the films (DVDs and video cassettes) of the films have been distributed to date.

The films are now available in a wide and growing range of African and European languages, and are reaching tens of millions of people.

Says Daniel Enger of the Global Dialogues Trust: “Although the films were originally produced for the sub-Saharan African cultural context, we have been pleased to learn over the years that the films have proven useful as awareness-raising tools in many countries of the Asia Pacific area. Indeed, most of the HIV-related topics raised in the Scenarios from Africa collections have universal relevance, making the films useful discussion starters across the globe.”

TVE Asia Pacific has recently taken on the task of distributing all Scenarios films across the Asia Pacific region. As with all other films in its catalogue, TVEAP will distribute Scenarios on a non-exclusive, non-commercial basis to broadcast, civil society and educational. We have been promoting the Scenarios films since we screened them to packed houses during the 2004 AIDS Film Festival in Bangkok

Meanwhile, the 5th Scenarios contest will be held from 1 December 2007 to 15 March 2008. Please contact for more information.

Watch Scenarios films on the official website (RealPlayer required)

Scenarios from Africa now available from TVE Asia Pacific

All images used in this post are courtesy Global Dialogues Trust.

Read my other blog posts on HIV:
HIV: Stigma a bigger killer than the virus?
Three Amigos: Funny condoms with a serious mission
Beware of Vatican condoms!
50? In South African terms, you’re probably dead!
Ratomate’s best cup of tea
A girl named Nan-nan

The Three Amigos: Funny Condoms with a serious mission

For some reason, my blog post with the highest number of daily hits for the past few days has been what I wrote in mid April: ‘Beware of Vatican Condoms – and global warming’.

I’m not sure if the interest is really in condoms, the Vatican or global warming, but since we must be demand-driven, here’s a new condom story! It concerns the three funniest condoms I’ve met.

Image courtesy Three Amigos website

They are called The Three Amigos – they are three differently shaped and coloured condoms, each with distinctive personality. They go places — certainly more than your average condom — to airports, forests, football games, recording studios, even television talk shows!

They are funny, amiable and out to have a good time. Occasionally they are also fallible and gullible — just like many humans are.

And like many of us, they grapple with hard choices in life – for example, between caution and temptation, or between right and wrong.

So far there are 20 adventures of The Three Amigos — each no longer than a minute: in those precious few seconds, a compact story is told with stunning effect. Talk about packing a punch.

Wherever they go, and whatever they do, the three friends have one mission: to remind us of many ways in which we can help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Three Amigos is a series of twenty Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in the form of short comedic sketches, featuring three animated, talking condoms. Some 80 volunteers in Canada, India and South Africa have created this ground-breaking behaviour modification programme to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

It is a multi-award winning series that has been endorsed by Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who believes these PSAs are a powerful communicating tool to encourage people to change their behaviour.
Read Desmond Tutu letter here
See testimonials from all over.

The Three Amigos The Three Amigos The Three Amigos The Three Amigos

The Three Amigos is a north-south joint production. Its producers are Brent Quinn of South Africa and Firdaus Kharas of Canada. They are jointly responsible for the project and its contents.

Firdaus Kharas, who was also the Director of the series, is Ottawa-based and specializes in the creation of television programmes, feature films and animation. Most of the productions are international in creation and on international themes such as children’s rights.

We met Firdaus in person when TVE Asia Pacific organised the International AIDS Film Festival 2004 in Bangkok, as part of the XV International AIDS Conference held in the Thai capital.

We screened The Three Amigos every day, always to a packed house. Amidst the often depressing, long-format documentaries dealing with the death and misery unleashed by HIV (very much part of the HIV story), the animated cartoons livened up the audience — and showed that discussing HIV on television can be funny yet serious at the same time.

Producer Firdaus Kharas at TVEAP's AIDS Film Festival 2004 Producers Brent Quinn (L) and Firdaus Kharas

Earlier this month, July 2007, I showed a dozen of The Three Amigos PSAs as part of my presentation on ‘Who is afraid of Moving Images?’ at the regional communication capacity building workshop under our Saving the Planet project, held in Khao Lak, Thailand.

Our participants, all engaged in non-formal education through civil society organisations from South and Southeast Asia, had interesting things to say about The Three Amigos. In conservative Philippines that extends the Vatican’s dictates, for example, our friends can’t go very far — and it was uncertain if they could go on the air at all.

In conservative yet secular India, some of it could get on broadcast television – but not the more explicit ones. Clearly, making fun of sex, sexuality and sexual habits is a very delicate task, and such humour does not always travel across cultures.

In Thailand itself, The Three Amigos will have no problems of media and public acceptance. After all, condom use has been popularised by the well known Senator Mechai Viravaidya, better known as Mr Condom.

Read what Senator (Mr Condom) Viravaidya and actor Richard Gere said at our AIDS Film Festival 2004 in Bangkok.

As Asia grapples with an increasing incidence of HIV, countries will have to make some hard choices on confronting the epidemic. One choice is how to make the best use of tried and tested, existing public educational materials like The Three Amigos, all too willing to traverse Asia spreading their message: use condoms to stop AIDS.

Watch The Three Amigos online at their website

How to order tapes of The Three Amigos

PS: The website is careful to stress this:
“These PSA’s should be used as one component only in a comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention programme. The PSA’s will not be appropriate in all settings and in all cultures and careful evalualtion of the appropriateness of each PSA should be made.”

The return of the ‘Donnish young man’

Some of my friends who read this blog think I’m fond of name dropping. It’s just that I keep meeting some really interesting and accomplished people as I travel around the world in the course of my work.

Each such encounter enriches me. I write about some of these here to share that joy and inspiration.

Remember I wrote about Robyn Williams , the doyen of science broadcasting in Australia, and his analogy of science journalists and whales?

Well, Robyn and I are among the few participants at the Fifth World Conference of Science Journalists here in Melbourne who were also at the first such conference, some 15 years ago. That was held in Tokyo, Japan, in the Fall of 1992.
Jim Cornell, president of the International Science Writers Association (IWSA) is another.

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In Tokyo, Jim Cornell invited me to join a panel discussion on science journalism in the developing countries. I was 26 at the time, and was on my first visit to Japan. All these years later, I can’t recall everything I said. But I remember how I quoted Karan Singh, a former minister of population in India, to the effect that in many poor countries where survival was a daily struggle, ‘Development is the best contraceptive’.

Robyn Williams picked this up in an account of the conference he wrote up in UNESCO Sources, the monthly magazine published by the UN’s science agency. He described me as ‘a donnish young man from Sri Lanka’!

I’ve been trying to live this down ever since.

Beware of ‘Vatican condoms’ – and global warming

See also my 19 July 2007 post: Three Amigos: Funny Condoms on a serious mission

You never know where the next piece of helpful advice can come from.

Here at the Fifth World Conference of Science Journalists, currently underway in Melbourne, we were told to be careful in using Vatican condoms: they have holes in them!

It’s a joke, of course, but the implications of increasing human numbers is no laughing matter. And neither is global warming and resulting climate change — one major topic of discussion at the conference.

Professor Roger V Short, FRS, from the University of Melbourne made a passionate plea for controlling our numbers: “We are the global warmers. And we hold the key to containing and reducing it.”

He was speaking at session on ‘Life and death in 2020: how will science respond?’

Human population has increased at an unprecedented rate. When he was born, the world had a total of 2 billion people, the elderly academic said. Now, the estimate is around 6.7 billion.

By 2050, according to the United Nations, it is set to reach 9 billion. And that with all efforts at family planning.

The United States and Australia are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Yet, Australia is the only developed country that is encouraging its people to increase the birthrate.

Are we out of our minds, Professor Short wondered.

The message was loud and clear: unless we seriously contain our numbers, we — and our planet — are doomed.

Prof Short recalled how he’d spent a inspiring week with Thailand’s Senator Michai Viravaidya – known as ‘Mr Condom’ in Thailand for his unashamed and long-standing promoting of condom use — to both reduce population growth and to contain the spread of HIV.

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Wide use of condoms, and globally adopting a one-child-per-family policy, can give us a chance to arrest run-away global warming, Prof Short suggested.

The world is urgently in need of many more Mr Condoms, it seems.

To illustrate his point, Prof Short took out a T-Shirt saying ‘Stop Global Warming: Use Condoms!‘ and presented it to John Rennie, editor of the Scientific American, who was chairing the session.

The good sport that Rennie was, he immediately donned it.

Read what Christine Scott said about HIV and South Africa during the same session

See also my 19 July 2007 post: Three Amigos: Funny Condoms on a serious mission