Vision & Mission

Vision: A peaceful and just country in which freedom, human and democratic rights of all people are assured.

Mission:To work in partnership with different target groups to educate, mobilize and advocate to build a society of rights conscious citizens and a political culture that enables a political solution to the ethnic conflict and equal opportunities to all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What the Modern Woman Wants... By Amanda Chong Wei-Zhen

In 2004, Amanda Chong Wei- Zhen, then a 15-year old Singaporean student of Raffles Girls’ School, took part in the Commonwealth Essay Competition, choosing to compete in the higher age category for 16-18 year old as a personal challenge to compete with writers older than herself. She won the Top Prize in the competition that attracted over 5000 entries from 52 countries!

Amanda Chong
Amanda Chong
Her short story, titled What The Modern Woman Wants, focuses on the generational gaps and the conflicts in values between a modern career woman and her old mother. She got the inspiration for her essay from the book “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. She used mother-daughter relationship as a platform to explore the themes of identity and what a modern woman wants.
The message she wanted to convey was that we should not forsake our roots for the sake of success and material gains and that what society holds important today are fleeting and ephemeral. Material wealth does not equate to happiness.
Her essay was hailed as a “powerfully moving and ironical critique of modern restlessness and its potentially cruel consequences” by the Chief Examiner Charles Kemp.
This is her essay……..

What The Modern Woman Wants………by Amanda Chong

The old woman sat in the backseat of the magenta convertible as it careened down the highway, clutching tightly to the plastic bag on her lap, afraid it may be kidnapped by the wind. She was not used to such speed, with trembling hands she pulled the seatbelt tighter but was careful not to touch the patent leather seats with her callused fingers, her daughter had warned her not to dirty it, ‘Fingerprints show very clearly on white, Ma.’
Her daughter, Bee Choo, was driving and talking on her sleek silver mobile phone using big words the old woman could barely understand. ‘Finance’ ‘Liquidation’ ‘Assets’ ‘Investments’… Her voice was crisp and important and had an unfamiliar lilt to it. Her BeeChoo sounded like one of those foreign girls on television. She was speaking in an American accent.

The old lady clucked her tongue in disapproval. ‘I absolutely cannot have this. We have to sell!’ Herdaughter exclaimed agitatedly as she stepped on the accelerator; her perfectly manicured fingernails gripping onto the steering wheel in irritation.

‘I can’t DEAL with this anymore!’ she yelled as she clicked the phone shut and hurled it angrily toward the backseat. The mobile phone hit the old woman on the forehead and nestled soundlessly into her lap. She calmly picked it up and handed it to her daughter.

‘Sorry, Ma,’ she said, losing the American pretence and switching to Mandarin. ‘I have a big client in America. There have been a lot of problems.’ The old lady nodded knowingly. Her daughter was big and important.

Bee Choo stared at her mother from the rear view window, wondering what she was thinking. Her mother’s wrinkled countenance always carried the same cryptic look.

The phone began to ring again, an artificially cheerful digital tune, which broke the awkward silence. ‘Hello, Beatrice! Yes, this is Elaine.’ Elaine. The old woman cringed. I didn’t name her Elaine. She remembered her daughter telling her, how an English name was very important for ‘networking’, Chinese ones being easily forgotten.

‘Oh no, I can’t see you for lunch today. I have to take the ancient relic to the temple for her weird daily prayer ritual.’

Ancient Relic. The old woman understood perfectly it was referring to her. Her daughter always assumed that her mother’s silence meant she did not comprehend.

‘Yes, I know! My car seats will be reeking of joss sticks! ‘The old woman pursed her lips tightly, her hands gripping her plastic bag in defence. The car curved smoothly into the temple courtyard. It looked almost garish next to the dull sheen of the ageing temple’s roof. The old woman got out of the back seat, and made her unhurried way to the main hall.

Her daughter stepped out of the car in her business suit and stilettos and reapplied her lipstick as she made her brisk way to her mother’s side.

‘Ma, I’ll wait outside. I have an important phone call to make,’ she said, not bothering to hide her disgust at the pungent fumes of incense.

The old lady hobbled into the temple hall and lit a joss stick. She knelt down solemnly and whispered her now familiar daily prayer to the Gods.

Thank you God of the Sky, you have given my daughter luck all these years. Everything I prayed for, you have given her. She has everything a young woman in this world could possibly want. She has a big house with a swimming pool, a maid to help her, as she is too clumsy to sew or cook.

Her love life has been blessed; she is engaged to a rich and handsome angmoh man. Her company is now the top financial firm and even men listen to what she says. She lives the perfect life. You have given her everything except happiness. I ask that the gods be merciful to her even if she has lost her roots while reaping the harvest of success.

What you see is not true; she is a filial daughter to me. She gives me a room in her big house and provides well for me. She is rude to me only because I affect her happiness. A young woman does not want to be hindered by her old mother. It is my fault.

The old lady prayed so hard that tears welled up in her eyes. Finally, with her head bowed in reverence she planted the half-burnt joss stick into an urn of smouldering ashes.

She bowed once more. The old woman had been praying for her daughter for thirty-two years. When her stomach was round like a melon, she came to the temple and prayed that it was a son.

Then the time was ripe and the baby slipped out of her womb, bawling and adorable with fat thighs and pink cheeks, but unmistakably, a girl. Her husband had kicked and punched her for producing a useless baby who could not work or carry the family name.

Still, the woman returned to the temple with her new-born girl tied to her waist in a sarong and prayed that her daughter would grow up and have everything she ever wanted. Her husband left her and she prayed that her daughter would never have to depend on a man.

She prayed every day that her daughter would be a great woman, the woman that she, meek and uneducated, could never become. A woman with nengkan; the ability to do anything she set her mind to. A woman who commanded respect in the hearts of men. When she opened her mouth to speak, precious pearls would fall out and men would listen.

She will not be like me, the woman prayed as she watched her daughter grow up and drift away from her, speaking a language she scarcely understood. She watched her daughter transform from a quiet girl, to one who openly defied her, calling her laotu;old-fashioned. She wanted her mother to be ‘modern’, a word so new there was no Chinese word for it.

Now her daughter was too clever for her and the old woman wondered why she had prayed like that. The gods had been faithful to her persistent prayer, but the wealth and success that poured forth so richly had buried the girl’s roots and now she stood, faceless, with no identity, bound to the soil of her ancestors by only a string of origami banknotes.

Her daughter had forgotten her mother’s values. Her wants were so ephemeral; that of a modern woman. Power, Wealth, access to the best fashion boutiques, and yet her daughter had not found true happiness. The old woman knew that you could find happiness with much less. When her daughter left the earth everything she had would count for nothing. People would look to her legacy and say that she was a great woman, but she would be forgotten once the wind blows over, like the ashes of burnt paper convertibles and mansions.
The old woman wished she could go back and erase all her big hopes and prayers for her daughter; now she had only one want: That her daughter be happy. She looked out of the temple gate. She saw her daughter speaking on the phone, her brow furrowed with anger and worry. Being at the top is not good, the woman thought, there is only one way to go from there -down.

The old woman carefully unfolded the plastic bag and spread out a packet of beehoon in front of the altar. Her daughter often mocked her for worshipping porcelain Gods. How could she pray to them so faithfully and expect pieces of ceramic to fly to her aid? But her daughter had her own gods too, idols of wealth, success and power that she was enslaved to and worshipped every day of her life.

Every day was a quest for the idols, and the idols she worshipped counted for nothing in eternity. All the wants her daughter had would slowly suck the life out of her and leave her, an empty soulless shell at the altar.

The old lady watched her joss tick. The dull heat had left a teetering grey stem that was on the danger of collapsing. Modern woman nowadays, the old lady sighed in resignation, as she bowed to the east one final time to end her ritual. Modern woman nowadays want so much that they lose their souls and wonder why they cannot find it.

Her joss stick disintegrated into a soft grey powder. She met her daughter outside the temple, the same look of worry and frustration was etched on her daughter’s face. An empty expression, as if she was ploughing through the soil of her wants looking for the one thing that would sow the seeds of happiness.
They climbed into the convertible in silence and her daughter drove along the highway, this time not as fast as she had done before.

“Ma,” Bee Choo finally said, “I don’t know how to put this. Mark and I have been talking about it and we plan to move out of the big house. The property market is good now, and we managed to get a buyer willing to pay seven million for it. We decided we’d prefer a cosier penthouse apartment instead. We found a perfect one in Orchard Road. Once we move in to our apartment we plan to get rid of the maid, so we can have more space to ourselves…”

The old woman nodded knowingly. Bee Choo swallowed hard. “We’d get someone to come into do the housework and we can eat out – but once the maid is gone, there won’t be anyone to look after you. You will be awfully lonely at home and, besides that, the apartment is rather small. There won’t be space. We thought about it for a long time, and we decided the best thing for you is if you moved to a Home. There’s one near Hougang – it’s a Christian home, a very nice one.”

The old woman did not raise an eyebrow. “I’ve been there; the matron is willing to take you in. It’s beautiful with gardens and lots of old people to keep you company! I hardly have time for you, you’d be happier there.”

“You’d be happier there, really.” Her daughter repeated as if to affirm herself. This time the old woman had no plastic bag of food offerings to cling tightly to; she bit her lip and fastened her seat belt, as if it would protect her from a daughter who did not want her anymore. She sunk deep into the leather seat, letting her shoulders sag, and her fingers trace the white seat.

“Ma?” her daughter asked, searching the rear view window for her mother. “Is everything okay?” What had to be done, had to be done. “Yes,” she said firmly, louder than she intended, “if it will make you happy,” she added more quietly.

“It’s for you, Ma! You’ll be happier there. You can move there tomorrow, I already got the maid to pack your things.” Elaine said triumphantly, mentally ticking yet another item off her agenda.

“I knew everything would be fine.”

Elaine smiled widely; she felt liberated. Perhaps getting rid of her mother would make her happier. She had thought about it. It seemed the only hindrance in her pursuit of happiness. She was happy now. She had everything a modern woman ever wanted; Money, Status, Career, Love,Power and now, Freedom, without her mother and her old-fashioned ways to weigh her down…

Yes, she was free. Her phone buzzed urgently, she picked it up and read the message, still beaming from ear to ear. ‘”Stocks 10% increase!”

Yes, things were definitely beginning to look up for her… And while searching for the meaning of life in the luminance of her hand phone screen, the old woman in the backseat became invisible, and she did not see the tears.


Day after day the news that invariably grabs the media headlines is the effort of the Tamil Diaspora to put the Sri Lankan government into more and more difficulty in the international arena on the issue of war crimes.  Scarcely a day passes without an account of a big event in which leading politicians in foreign countries get together with the Tamil Diaspora to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government.  The most recent such event was an Indian television show that pitted Indian intellectuals and human rights activists, mostly based in Tamil Nadu state in debate with the army spokesman General Ubaya Medawala. Others who featured in the debate included retired Indian army officers, and former Indian and British Foreign Ministers, including David Miliband who has written against the Sri Lankan government’s stance on the last phase of the war.

The matter that was debated on Indian television was the Channel 4 video, for which the government has categorically blamed the Tamil Diaspora.  This creates an impression that the Tamil Diaspora in an active and powerful force abroad.   The high degree of prominence given in the local media about the activities of the Tamil Diaspora and the threats posed by it, have created an image of a public enemy that threatens the country.  The more successful that the Tamil Diaspora is in discrediting the government internationally, the more public support that the government is able to mobilize internally, as it presents itself to be unfairly victimized by some sections of the international community.

There is a perverse sense in which both the Tamil Diaspora and the Sri Lankan government reinforce and strengthen each other as enemies.  The Tamil Diaspora leaders who are engaged in anti Sri Lanka activism abroad, continue to find a relevant role in their society that enables them to address the larger society in their countries.  The LTTE no longer exists as a military power to give the hope of achieving an independent state of Tamil Eelam. But the determination of the Tamil Diaspora to bring the charge of war crimes against the Sri Lankan government gives them a continued purpose.  At the same time, the Sri Lankan government is able to use the international threat posed by the Tamil Diaspora to justify its own restrictions on democratic freedoms on the ground of national security considerations.


It is unfortunate that while the government and Tamil Diaspora duel on the issue of war crimes, the plight of the survivors of the war living in the former war zones does not receive equivalent attention by either party.   The energies expended by the Tamil Diaspora on bringing the Sri Lankan government to international justice does not carry over to easing the desperate struggle of the war victims to get on with their lives with even their basic needs satisfied.  The plight of these people can be illustrated by the fact that, at the present time, most of them would not ask for political rights, and only for food, clothing, shelter and education for their children.  This is in accordance with the basic needs theory of Abraham Maslow who argued that basic needs have to be satisfied first, before people ask for higher level needs, including political rights.  Although the government has ensured the resettlement of most of the war victims in their original places of residence, they have not been provided with adequate resources to restart their war destroyed lives.

There are many factors that would appear to have delayed the recovery process of the war affected people.  One is the shortage of resources and the misapplication of the country’s limited resources.  The government is cash strapped due to its priorities and unable to grant long promised salary increases to government sector employees, including university teachers who have been on strike for several weeks. Although this is no excuse for failing to cater to the most needy section of the country’s population, the government has apportioned little or no resources to channel to the war destroyed areas.

At the same time, the government has strictly limited non governmental agencies, both local and international, from going into the war destroyed areas to help the people. This is on account of its mistrust that non governmental initiatives will aim at stirring up trouble among the people and put various anti national ideas into their heads. Any non governmental group, whether NGO or ordinary people, who wish to provide resources directly to the war victims living in the north of the country, cannot do so without obstacles.  Instead they have to go through a complicated and time consuming process of getting governmental permission even to do good works for those who desperately need help.  


At a recent meeting with a section of the Tamil Diaspora in Europe they expressed the sentiment that they really wanted to support the war victims and war destroyed areas of the country with their financial resources and technical expertise.  The main point they wished to stress was that the Tamil Diaspora is not a monolithic one, with one opinion. On the contrary it is a plural society based in different countries and containing within itself a whole range of ideas, just as is the case with the different ethnic communities in Sri Lanka itself.  There are some who want above all to punish the Sri Lankan government leaders for what happened in the war, but there are others who want to help those who have been the victims of the war.

The group I met with was a group that was opposite to the stereotype of an anti Sri Lanka Diaspora. They wished to focus on the future as their contribution to the country of their birth.  They said they were about as large in numbers as those who were extreme in their Tamil nationalism, though not as well organized.  However, they also complained that when they tried to provide assistance to Sri Lanka, they encountered many obstacles put in their path by the government.  They referred to the need to get special approval for any project by the Presidential Task Force for the North, which has been criticized in the past for not having any Tamil members on it.  The government only partially rectified this problem by appointing two Tamil government servants to this regulatory body. 

Today, and especially in the Vanni and eastern districts there is a category of people that is especially weak and marginalized.  They have relatively few of their family or relatives living abroad to supply them with economic resources at regular intervals, as is the case with those living in Jaffna or Colombo.  As most of them have no access to personal resources, they are in need of official or organizational assistance.  At the present time, the official assistance they are receiving is very meager.  The war victims need much more if they are to rebuild their lives.  But two years after the end of the war, they continue to be left in the lurch.

The Tamil Diaspora would be one important source of economic and human resources for the empowerment of the war victims.  They have the resources and the motivation. But for them to be mobilized into action on a large scale, as opposed to a small scale, the enmity between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Diaspora needs to end, which is something still in the indeterminate future.  On the other hand, even small scale support by the Tamil Diaspora will be better than nothing for the war victims and needs to be explored by the liberal minded elements on both parties.