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The spirit of the pin thaliya and social justice I believe that any discussion on human rights and

gender must be accompanied by a spirit of selflessness, giving and simplicity. All three aspects are demonstrated in Mario Pereras novel Amuttha (Stranger 1997) where a young man ponders the value of an ancient custom of Lanka:
I recalled the significance of the moon as the provider of water, which reminded me of our discussion about the pin thaliya or the meritorious gift of water in earthen pots placed in a shady place, be it a tree or an ambalama, where strangers and weary travellers could rest. ... no one was expected to humble himself by asking for such a vital necessity as water, and ... no one might exalt himself by giving it on demand. That was the significance of the pin thaliya. Shelter, the ambalama and water had simply to be anonymously placed at the disposal of those in need, especially of strangers and wanderers...

This custom was selfless because the identity of the giver and the receiver were not of the essence. The community had recognized the need and also recognized that drinking water should be freely available to everyone. There was giving because there were no terms attached to obtaining water. It was unconditional. The simplicity lay in all these things and the direct yet skilful means adopted to provide the service. It was also efficient because there was no unnecessary communication and no intermediaries. The pin thaliya also illustrates the principle of trust. This is something that a personal and community based enterprise must develop with a large number of strangers who come to rely on a particular product or service provided by it. In the case of the free gift of water there is mutual trust between the provider and receiver. The receiver relies on the suitability of the water to drink and its availability and the provider looks to the receiver not to waste, damage or steal what is regarded as community property. In the modern world we have seen vending machines that dispense beverages and snacks on the insertion of cash. These are kept in public places and there is a community consensus against misuse. This is an effective adaptation of the principles epitomised by the pin thaliya. There are many other examples. Thus we can assume on sticking a postage stamp and posting a letter that it will be delivered to the recipient. Now there is a higher reason than the monthly pay for the postman to faithfully keep his part of this arrangement; a reason that goes deeper than trust. This is goodwill or the mutual affection that makes people happy to serve each other with some degree of realization that all of us help to keep each other fed, clothed, housed and gainfully occupied in the larger scale of things. Mankind is in fact one great inter-dependent network that ensures living together. In some ways this is not a mere ideal but a living reality. The primary object of economic activity is the satisfaction of basic needs of all. But over the last few centuries this was challenged by a different object commodity production for profit maximisation. The old value of simplicity was replaced by complexity and custom was replaced by law. Today the greed driven profit ideal ensures that one of six human beings on this planet live in a permanent state of severe malnutrition. (Jean Ziegler former UN Rapporteuer on the Right to Food). This includes one out of three children under 5 years in Sri Lanka. Within this paradigm there are movements the world over that seek to integrate a different and more realistic way of life based on needs (not wants) and respect (not exploitation.) Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka have formulated ten basic needs for human beings.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. A clean and beautiful environment Adequate provision of clean drinking water Minimal supplies of clothing Adequate and balanced nutrition Simple housing Basic health care Basic communication facilities A minimal supply of energy

9.

Holistic education 10. Satisfaction of intellectual and cultural needs

We make ordinary people pay dearly for what should be accessible to them freely or at a cheap and affordable price. When a need is eventually provided, the three main upholders of our framework of exploitation whom I designate as the 3 Ps the professional, priest and politician feel that they are superior and magnanimous beings. The ordinary people for their part feel thoroughly inferior. As Hitler once said:
We do not want to do away with inequalities between men, but on the contrary, to increase them and make them into a principle protected by impenetrable barriers.

The law is one such barrier. If we place the basic needs mentioned above and the fundamental rights chapter of our Constitution side by side and ask a lawyer to explain how it can help our deprived communities achieve a higher standard of living he or she would be hard pressed to give a clear answer. Social inequality, the distance between judges and litigants and a difficulty on the part of the former in relating to the latter, the high cost of litigation and delays are not modern dilemmas. They were the same issues that Cameron faced when he designed our Judicature in 1833. It seems to me that we have overlooked a vital phase in our journey from a feudal to a modern nation state, and that is social justice. We have put the cart before the horse. Instead of clarifying our human values and building relationships we have imitated laws and institutions found in the West and placed more and more communication barriers between decision makers and the people. It is the dogged intransigence of the 3 Ps and their institutions that made our youth feel that armed rebellion was the only option to obtain their rights. Legal justice cannot provide answers where families and communities have broken down and there is no political commitment and social vision to include and take care of the most vulnerable. Yet this is what the legal responses to both child abuse and domestic violence have unsuccessfully attempted to do. The state intervenes after everything has happened, not to protect the victims but to punish and restrain the offenders. These processes help us to disengage from the real day to day issues that face victims and construct a duel in which the state plays the role of the hero and rescuer. The superficiality seen in the learned discourse on human rights and gender is the result of identity politics, the inability to see anything other than your preferred subjects. Our dualistic and partial understanding of human rights is a result of our forgetting our native values epitomized by the pin thaliya. These values also find a sympathetic chord in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Emphasis added)

This is a revolutionary call to see each other as human beings and help each other as human beings. Before we name ourselves with our exaggerated identities we are first and foremost a human being. This is the selflessness we must reach for when helping others. In pursuing the ideal of human rights using the fundamental rights jurisdiction and the Human Rights Commission we grabbed hold of the first sentence and completely overlooked the second. We pursued rights without consideration of our relationships; sought justice without making those essential sacrifices for building peace. As a further reflection of this bias we have given much attention to the public realm, politics, personalities, institutions laws and procedures and ignored the personal realm that plays a critical role in shaping personalities, behaviour and close relationships.

The dis-oriented professional, priest and politician must challenge himself or herself to rediscover and re-connect with the public service roots of his calling. Underneath each one of them is a social worker who needs the provocation, encouragement and opportunity to relate directly and humanely to his fellow men and women. The modern need for an approach that is open, grounded and realistic and one that does not claim and monopolize the solution to inter-personal problems is supplied today by the idea of social work. The fundamental strength that professional social work will claim if at all, is skilful communication with its clients. In the spirit of the pin thaliya, this is something that every selfless mother knows. As adults we react negatively to negative statements and behaviour and we seldom relate to the human needs and causes that lie beneath. The mother who is attuned to reading the babys emotions will instinctively know what the needs are. The baby is free to express herself freely without fearing a negative reaction. This is the golden key to building relationships, a social vision and social justice in our society.

Sajeeva Samaranayake Attorney at Law