Dear Thisuri,

Let me first congratulate you on your many achievements in academic and non-academic endeavours. I’m told that you hold a prominent position among the Sri Lankan community that engage in political/social commentary on social media and other electronic media platforms. While I have not had the fortune of reading your previous work, I did however have the misfortune of reading your latest article. I’m writing this to kindly bring a few matters to your attention, that you appear to have purposely or mistakenly overlooked. May be you’ve heard some or all of this already and going by your response to criticism, I expect nothing in return from you. Who knows, to quote your own words, “may be your denial is the first of many steps in the path to change”. Nevertheless, here goes – an attempt, not to elicit a response from you, but to get those who follow you to think twice before accepting prejudice as an acceptable norm.

First things first, I absolutely agree with you that Sri Lanka is a patriarchal and misogynistic society. We should all draw more attention to this deficit and constructively contribute to this discourse in order to find suitable solutions. But somewhere down the line, in your article, you’ve absolutely lost the plot and make it a jeer of the childishness and supposed lack of education among the big match crowd based on personal prejudice and broad generalisations. Your article is as constructive to addressing patriarchy and misogyny in Sri Lanka as Misandry (hatred of men) is to Feminism (advocacy of equality among the genders) – not much at all. So, with all due respect, let me break this down according to your chronology of arguments.

 

#1. Fraternity with schools and not universities

a) The article goes on to state that rather than fraternise at the school level, one should aspire to fraternise at the university level. In your most eloquent words,

“It’s somewhat easier to understand why a culture of fraternity may prevail among these university students; elite universities are extremely competitive, exclusive and promote a certain culture of academic thought that they collectively take pride in.”

The Harvard-Yale rivalry was initiated since they were some of the earliest universities that existed in the United States, similar to that of Royal-St. Thomas’ and Ananda-Nalanda. If, for example, Bennington College had been established around the same time as Harvard or Yale (1600s), the rivalry would have been between Bennington-Harvard/Yale, not based on their Ivy League and Liberal Arts College tags, but based on history. Similarly, the school rivalries in Sri Lanka were established considerably earlier (mid/late 1800s) than the first university was opened in 1921 (Ceylon University College). So to expect university rivalries to gain the same prominence within such a short span of time is fallacious.

b) The article also refers to a “social culture that binds them” based on their academic thought and competitiveness. Rather than belittle fraternity at the school level, how is it that you do not discuss the reasons behind an absence of fraternity at the university level in Sri Lanka. How would you expect anyone to develop a binding social culture in university when the first experience you have is of seniors “ragging” the juniors? This is partly why Sri Lankans relate more with their schools rather than the university, since at the school level a certain brotherhood/sisterhood is developed based on the school. If you don’t believe me, ask your schoolmates who participated in a “St. Bridget’s Past Pupils Association Sports Meet” just last week. In case you missed out on being part of that sisterhood, I sympathize with you.

c) I was quite blessed to attend a so-called “elite university” (your words, not mine) and some of the traditions associated with the “Homecoming Game” are not necessarily those that we should be aspiring to. May be your admiration for the “elite universities” have tainted your perspective, but before you prescribe something for us to follow, make sure you are well versed in the subject. In fact, many aspects of the fraternity of universities you so aspire to run counter to your attempt to address misogyny or patriarchy.

d) All of the above issues are just minor compared to the one I’m about to address – your complete disregard and snobbery of students within the Sri Lankan school system. You say that,

“Less than 10% of their annual graduates receive entrance into distinguished universities. Is the reason for their return to school annually, to behave as they would have when they were children, an implication that school is as far as most of our population get in life?”

It’s extremely unfortunate that someone who claims to have been researching the education system of Sri Lanka attributes the low level of university graduates (6% according to you) to the low standards of schools and absence of qualified students. May be certain people should check their privilege at the keyboard and realize that the low rate of university entrants in Sri Lanka is due to the dearth of opportunities that exist. While those who miss out on the limited spots but can afford end up at “low quality mid-way alternative higher education programs” (I assume you’re quite condescendingly referring to places like RI and CFPS); thousands of those who are definitely qualified enough to get into “elite universities” can’t do so because they lost the “birth lottery”. So no, an absence of a university degree does not imply that an individual is “socially and intellectually backward”. It, however, demonstrates that those who judge the worth of an individual based on their degree is socially and intellectually backward.

You, my friend, are doing exactly what the patriarchy has been doing to women – “victim blaming”!

 

#2. The trucking culture

a) To somewhat equate boys breaking into schools and vandalizing property even broadly to rape is to undermining ‘rape’ itself and to desensitize people to the concept of rape in its entirety. To be clear, I do not in any form or manner condone vandalism or trespass and strict action is and should be taken against those who vandalize schools. But as you seem to do quite frequently in this article, you are conflating several issues without much regard to nuance.

b) If you feel that “trucking” is trespass, encourage your school administrators to report it to the police. In fact, in several cases, school administrators of girls’ schools have invited the boys into school, albeit informally. Prosecute those engaging in the crime without making accusations by linkage. It goes for the assaults that you mention too. Sexual or physical assault has no place in society, be it in a school or elsewhere, and rather than use it as a tool to prove a point, treat it with the seriousness it deserves. Also, I hope you reported the said instances you observed to the relevant law enforcement authorities, at the time. Because if not, that’s quite negligent on your part!

 

#3. Big match parades and trans-phobia

I somewhat agree with you on this one. I can’t speak for the intentions of those that engage in the practice, so while some may use cross-dressing as a tool for humour; it may underline certain prejudices that exist within our society. That said, you mistake the parades of one very particular big match to those of all big matches. I kindly request you to provide any evidence of cross-dressing at a parade associated with the “Battle of the Maroons” or in a wider spectrum of big match parades. If you’re commenting on the “big match culture” please do not cherry-pick examples, for your convenience. That’s just bad form.

 

#4. Racism and the “Battle of the Maroons”

a) I recognise that I’ll be accused of bias in commenting on this issue. But, you ask,

“Someone (to) go to the “Battle of the Maroons” to see how blissfully ignorant and backward a majority of boys in these schools are. The racism is a whole other level. It’s like someone did a mass infomercial for ‘Sinha-le’.”

You’re essentially calling a majority of Anandians and Nalandians racist because they go to a “Sinhala-Buddhist” school. For someone who has won and been nominated for so many literary prizes, I assume that you used your words quite carefully and in doing so, “majority” was used with purpose. Please, oh please, give me evidence to substantiate this fact. If this is about Sri Lankan schools identifying themselves through a certain religious lens and that directly inculcating extremism, are you also suggesting that Zahira College is creating a majority of “ISIS supporters” or that Christian Schools such as St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s mould a majority of its students to be “supporters for the Ku Klux Klan”? If not, what’s the unique nature of “Sinhala-Buddhist” schools in creating a majority of racists through their institutions? Where’s the causal effect?

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are a few individuals with racist tendencies that roam the halls of “Sinhala-Buddhist schools”, similar to other institutions as well. But these few do not represent an institution and most certainly do not represent a majority of students. If you wish to clarify this claim, you’re most welcome to do so, but if you cannot, I insist that you issue an apology to the two institutions involved in the “Battle of the Maroons”. An inability to justify your claims simply proves that you are as prejudicial as those you accuse of prejudice.

 

b) On a separate note, I attended the “Battle of the Maroons” on both days this year. I did not hear a single chant or comment that was racist or in favour of the BBS/Sinha-Le. So, may be I unknowingly got tickets to the “non-racist stand” at the match, since apparently a majority of my peers are inclined towards racism.

On a lighter note, please let me also take this opportunity to extend an invitation to you and any one guest you wish to bring to the next “Battle of the Maroons”, on my dime.

 

I am most certain that you had good intentions when you decided to write this article. May be a commentary on the “big match culture” was a convenient theme to base your ideas on since it is such a widely discussed topic this time of the year. As I have noted above, there is an element of misogyny and patriarchy in Sri Lanka that requires urgent attention. However making prejudicial, biased, and false claims as a supposed response to underlying social issues does not help solve the problems you so valiantly wish to solve. It’s quite ironic that as we have this discussion, Donald Trump is engaging in exactly that – making prejudicial, biased, and false claims under the guise of addressing social issues. To quote a friend: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And most of us get drunk off the temporary power that our written opinions bring. Generalizations are offensive; half-baked assumptions even more so.”

If I were to use your own measure of judgement, I would end this post with..

What Your School Didn’t Teach You: To refrain from generalisations and prejudice

But I’ve learnt better!*

 

 

 

* Edited
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44 thoughts on “A Letter to Thisuri Wanniarachchi

  1. “What Your School Didn’t Teach You: To refrain from generalisations and prejudice”
    I disagree. Our school taught well. That last line makes you one of her kind as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. I was going for a literary flourish there by referencing Thisuri’s title. But yes, I may have inadvertently offended your school and I apologise for that.

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      1. Maroon – I agree that your suggestion would be more apt. However, for ethical reasons I will not edit a published article. I take full responsibility for the words on it – the good and the bad.

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    1. Echoing Meyasi’s comment above.

      Our school taught us well you shouldn’t judge its capacity to educate based on one person.

      I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of your post. Just not that final line. Cheers!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I was going for a literary flourish there by referencing her title. But yes, if I may have inadvertently offended Bridget’s, that’s my mistake.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I would say, rather than hatred, more of well-meaning, but misguided half-baked thoughts. I encourage her to keep writing and reading! It takes time. I applaud the writer of this blog for being professional in this response. Personally, I think there is much to think about in both articles..

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  2. Please do keep in mind, for a 21 year old, she did a pretty good job in trying to grapple with some issues that really have no answers. If anything else, she did make you write this response. I think she makes a good point: to reconsider some things our colombo school culture perpetuates and takes for granted. Her example about ivy leagues…I would argue the Sri Lankan ivy leagues ARE the Royal/ Thomian, Ananda/ Nalanda schools. SL Universities are not the majority Colombo crowd..Makes perfect sense to me. I would give her a break.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I applaud her getting published at a young age but to cut slack on a publicly written article is to endorse her views and perpetrate the prejudices promoted by her article. It’s a market place of ideas and it’s important issues raised in such a manner is discussed in a rational manner.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Shamalie, can’t argue with your point. Sadly, I think I have come to have such low expectations for our journalism, this really wasn’t as bad as some of the other articles I have read through the years. I did not pay attention to this article other than dismissing it as a young, well-meaning kid, trying to find answers to things we will most likely never quite understand. Point taken 🙂 Cheers.

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    2. “A little knowledge about something is a dangerous thing”. Being a 21 year old in todays day and age isn’t the same it used to be a decade ago. One can always do research if one wants to. Age and gender does not mean that one is let off easily.

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  3. Both you and Thisuri did a great job writing these discourses. On my point of view, Thisuri needs to focuss more on her facts and the way she represent it. I agree with what she is trying to convey in the article otherthan the fratenity in schools, but she fails to defend her points with validity and content.
    Good job… Nerdage. You are well on to the weak points in Thisuri’s article.

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  4. I agree with most of the facts but saying our culture and country a patriarchal and misogynistic is just absolute nonsense.

    Just take a look at our hospitals check the wards. If you do a proper research you could see the men’s wards are the worst. No privacy at all, filthy toilets, grumpy nurses followed by children’s ward and finally women the best out of the three. This same theory applies to boys schools. I don’t want to talk about the education systems as we all know education is run by women and boys are failing it big time.

    Also Sri Lankan men are more likely to die on the streets, job, in jail, while in police custody or by violent crimes and suicides.

    Again women have the better healthcare and education along with higher life expectancy. So much for patriarchy plus rigged and bias laws and a criminal justice system just like many other countries.

    Finally I would like to know say hypothetically if a crazy woman attack you on a street for no apparent reason. Why do you think will happen in this so called misogynistic society?. You would end up in jail even though she’s the one who assaulted you just like what happened in Wariyapola.

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    1. You can’t pick isolated incidents or the sanitary facilities provided for women to counter the fact that SL culture is patriarchal. It’s more deeper than that. The things you mentioned are very true, and are a result of culture evolving for the better. But there is no denying that we are still in essence a patriarchy.

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      1. I would like to know facts? Please do enlighten me. I would like to know a one thing that woman can’t do but man can do except for misandrist laws that protect women because obviously women are above somehow in this twisted misogynistic society. (Ex: women aren’t allowed to fight in wars, women aren’t allowed to work in dangerous profession or work fields like mining, firefighting, fishing, construction..)

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    2. Sadly, my fear is exactly this type of response from well-meaning, reasonable gentlemen who are otherwise wonderful, well-balanced people. Please keep in mind, the world you experience as a man vs experiencing reality as a woman in Sri Lanka (or perhaps other parts of the world) is very different. I do not think this is only unique to Sri Lanka either. Also, an example of one hospital is really not a good way to simplify the experience of millions of women.

      If we compare your experience growing up as a man, even in day to day public spaces, it is very different from mine. I have been told I cannot do so many things on account of my gender, from a simple thing as whistling a tune, to riding a bike, to even when I should shower, or which spaces I can enter, based on when I have my period. Haha. Needing to learn how to be a domesticated servant is what still marks me as accomplished, not the academic qualifications under my belt. Especially if there is no real husband to validate my existence as a good Sri Lankan woman. Luckily, our generation has been better than our parents or that of our grandparents.. But this experience itself is largely different, based on income and class, and most of us in this sphere, with access to the internet and English do not speak for the majority of Sri Lankans.

      Remember, the middle class, English speaking Colombo crowd girl/ woman experiences gender equality differently to the non-English speaking girl from the not-urban areas. Please don’t assume somehow your over simplified examples of toilets and hygiene in a hospital somehow prove some sort of gender equality. If you are not sure, talk to the women in your life. Ask them what their experiences have been, growing up as a woman, taking public transport in Sri Lanka. Ah, the horror stories one can tell you.

      Sadly, most importantly, Sri Lankan law is nowhere near to protecting the rights of children and women as much as it should. The hypocrisy is too much, the unreported abuse and domestic violence most likely hidden by the mirage of our traditional values.

      I know you do not mean anything offensive in your response, but please reconsider your position and really ask if you have any idea what a Sri Lankan woman experiences in her lifetime, as a second class citizen. I love my identity as a Sri Lankan, HOWEVER our culture and country IS patriarchal and misogynistic. This is FACT. Good news, I think we are getting better everyday, as we learn more and teach our children better.

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  5. Extremely well written. My thoughts exactly when I was reading her article. Coming from a Sinhala Buddhist-only female school, it sounds like she’s attacking all of us in a very subtle manner.

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  6. Shaa, such a nice riposte to little Thisuri! Please note I am not saying little Thisuri as a misogynist or out of sexist paternalism, but out of pure and simple ageism practiced unashamedly by one who has lived much longer and seen much more than said bright eyed and bushy tailed protagonist.

    But I digress.

    On #3, you let little Thisuri off too lightly. Her idea that boys dressing up as girls is somehow anti transexual is also fairly ridiculous, if not outright ridiculous, like the rest of her article. Little Thisuri, being a western educated (read brainwashed) pseudo intellectual liberal teenybopper has little to no idea that crossdressing has been appropriated by transgender people in Sri Lanka from times immemorial. Yes, little Thisuri, if you’re reading, this, like way, way before Caitlyn Jenner! OMG!!!

    Much like the rest of the subcontinent, “the third sex” has historically had a place in Sri Lanka – perhaps a rather marginalised one, in the greater scheme of things, but a place nonetheless. Of course, this is before the Victorians decided to impose their cultural norms and criminalise such behaviour. But some vestige of historical acceptance remains even to date: trans people even participate in the Perahera in drag; they are very much a part of the rich cultural tapestry that we in the Asian subcontinent have. Or had, before people like Lord Macaulay fucked us up.

    So the crossdressing at the Roy-Tho could quite possibly be a re-appropriation of a normative transgenderal cultural context with rich historical roots, rather than the simple minded transphobia little Thisuri assumes it to be. But how would she know? Sri Lankan culture is probably not high on the curricula at Bennington College.

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  7. Very well written. and appreciate you apologizing for offending the rest of us Bridgetines and our school. Our school taught us well. To respect and accept all human beings, hence we are trying to forgive this young brat whose harping on some horseshit! It was indeed a good read. Thank you! All the best!

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  8. For all those who criticize this YOUNG writer (I guess most of you are also her age), what Thisuri is trying to tackle is a very complex problem Sri Lanka has faced for generations. At least once per decade, the respective government tries to fix the problem. I was born in the 1960s… for the past 5 decades, many governments and NGOs have tried to fix this school issue, but it is going from bad to worse ( I am sure many my age will remember President JRs ‘Maha Vidyalaya’ thing and how ‘Royal college’ remained ‘COLLEGE’.)

    Let me relate a true story: I don’t live in Sri Lanka anymore. But my youngest Son went to my school in Sri Lanka for 1 year. When I went to get an admission form the queue was over 2 KM LONG!!! (No, I am NOT exaggerating!) Due to ‘security reasons’ my diver had to park on the main road (I mention this because I was lucky to have a driver if not parking would have been pure hell). I walked in to my school and walked out, immediately, in disgust (at 8:30 AM). A school worker asked me ‘Sir, why are you leaving?’. I said ‘There is NO way I am going to stay in a line to put my child to a school…’. I was ‘loud’ and the message got through to the principal. I went back to school at 2:30PM, ‘waltzed in’. picked my application and walked out, all in less that 5 minutes :). I don’t want to mention the ‘donation’ it cost me, later on.

    There are many who attack Thisuri. I know Thisuri went to St. Bridget’s. Here is a (one of many such) TRUE stories about St. Bridget’s. A teacher wanted her students to purchase ‘brand new’ ‘apparatus’. So, most parents purchased the ‘apparatus’ ranging from Rs. 6,500 to Rs. 10,000+. One week later, the teacher says ‘if you want to learn to use the ‘apparatus’ you are ‘encouraged’ to come to my PRIVATE music class at Rs. 250 per hour’. This is NOT LIMITED to St. Bridget’s, it applies to ALL SCHOOLS. I am sure most ‘Bridgeteens’ (who are NOT teens anymore – sorry couldn’t help that one :)) remember how the Nuns were on about ‘This is our school and the Archbishop has no authority over us… we do what we like’ (remember that one?) – well, it is yours truly who wrote the Archbishop and the Archbishop sent his special Envoy to St. Bridget’s and told the parents that ‘St Bridget’s does come under the purview of the Archbishop’.

    I will caution all of you who are criticizing Thisuri, YOUR DAY WILL COME when you go to admit your child to your Alma-Mater or any other school. The current GOING RATE is Rs. 500,000 per child (Jan 2016) PLUS BRIBES (not to mention the cost of ‘address fixing’)! Just like California is the world’s 2nd biggest economy, Schools in Sri Lanka is the biggest contributor to to Sri Lanka’s GDP 🙂

    I don’t agree with Thisuri’s praising of the University system, it has its own flaws even in the country I live in right now. I have worked and lived in MANY COUNTRIES. East or West ‘IT IS WHO YOU KNOW AND NOT WHAT YOU KNOW’. But, I think, it is high time that Sri Lanka stopped concentrating its education on a FEW schools in the big cities and gave EVERYBODY and EQUAL OPPORTUNITY!

    Tradition is good, and I think the Big Match tradition is a good thing… but we should be more inclusive NOT BE LIKE A CULT! It should also not be marred with ‘vulgar’ ‘parties with strippers and prostitutes’…

    So, it is time the Government of Sri Lanka opend more schools and put in a VERY STRICT system to monitor the 25 KM radius required. You do not need to be a ‘rocket scientist’ to see that the ‘school van’ coming fro ‘Gampah’ to Royal College, St. Peter’s, St. Joseph’s, St. Thomas’, Ananda, Nalanda, Isipathna, Thurstan, etc are NOT WITHING the 25KM radius 🙂

    So, come-on people, Thisuri is young is being ‘socially responsible’ and may have got a few points ‘skewed’, but she it trying to fix a problem, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Srimiavo Bandaranike, J.R. Jayawardene, Chandirka Kumaratunga (Laith Athulathmudalis’ white paper), Mahinda Rajapakse tried and achieved LIMITED success.

    Hopefully, President Maithripala Sirisena and Hon Ranil Wickramasinghe can fix this problem. But, Mr, Wickramasinghe being a ‘Royalist’ might mean that ‘Royal college’ will get preferential treatment.

    Anyway, I will caution all Bridge’teens’ again, wait until the day you want to admit your child to school, by that time the going rate for ‘donations’ will be around Rs. 1 MILLION 🙂

    My biggest fear is that Sri Lanka seems to be on an ‘Immoral Path’. Sri Lanka may have survived the LTTE Terrorists against all odd (Sri Lanka stood alone when ALL western countries supported the LTTE), but we may still lose the country because of our disregard for MORALITY. The way Sri Lanka is going the population will hit a NEGATIVE growth rate VERY SOON!

    May God/Tripe Gem/Allah/Vishnu Bless Sri Lanka and people like Thisuri who have the courage to take on difficult problems like this!

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  9. Good response. Thisuri doesn’t seem to be aware that people who don’t enter university aren’t ignorant. She seems unaware that a university degree is not the ultimate qualification anyone can obtain. Some people do other things and get qualified in those areas like accounts for example. She may also want to fact check the institutions providing training and qualifications in technical areas, skills development etc that while not being on the same level as a degree is nevertheless a good qualification. She also doesn’t realise that some of the biggest businessmen, policy makers etc and the movers and shakers of this country went to the schools she mentions so disparagingly. What a waste of three years. Maybe she should be taught how to do proper research.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Long time ago, when I attempted to converse with Ms. Wanniarachchi about three factual fallacies in one statement related to constitutional law and history of Sri Lanka, I was cut off from that post. That day I learned that some people are not open to constructive criticism. Your response to her article is very well formulated and written. However, I am not sure how this would be responded to. I have seen Ms. Wanniarachchi attacking the personality of opposing authors rather than engaging with the substance of the argument. May this response serve as an aye opener to Ms. Wanniarachchi.

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  11. What a write up! This Thisuri girl sounds so immature. God help Sri Lankan educational system if these kind of people are invited to solicit ideas!

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  12. Nice reply, well written and very well put. Agree with it, for the most part. Except for that bit about the guys dressed in girls school uniforms. Wtf, people? They are NOT ‘crossdressers’. Nor ‘transgenders’. Not closet-gays, seeking an opportunity to ‘come out’. They are none of those, nor representative of them, in any way whatsoever. They’re just a bunch of guys, ‘let lose’ (after a fashion), allowed to ‘go crazy’ one day of the year, who borrow and wear their sister’s, relative’s or friend’s school uniform, for fun. All part of the moment, the occasion, the spirit or whatever you want to call it. That’s it. Plain and simple. No inner, hidden, deeper or ulterior meanings, agendas, motives, innuendos or any such thing. Don’t dig further or read deeper in to something, where there is nothing. Just a bunch of guys, having fun. Plain and simple. No more, no less. That’s all it is. Just leave it at that.

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