By Emil van der Poorten –
A plethora of reports on politically prominent individuals who are in the process of being investigated or even (God forbid!) prosecuted for robbing from the public purse could not but gladden the hearts of those hoping that Sri Lanka might yet be returned to the model democracy it gave promise of becoming in this old codger’s dim, distant youth! To say that some other pieces of positive news had this writer’s heart overflowing with gratitude would be overstating the case, given the fact that all the events we were witnessing or being promised were long overdue, to put it mildly.
What seems like the first positive step in the application of the internationally-acclaimed “Senaka Bibile Plan” in the pricing and distribution of pharmaceuticals was the most recent step in that direction that I see in the media as I write this. The only thing that gives me pause in that regard is the source of the announcement – Rajitha Senaratne – who has a justified reputation for shooting his mouth off and then having to eat humble pie (even if he chooses not to notice the fact!) Even there, perhaps, the pressure of public opinion, assuming that such is forthcoming from a justifiably jaded populace, might help keep the scales tipped appropriately!
In the year “dot” I wrote a piece titled “The Talibanization of Trinity” about the dress-code that the Principal at the time, with the support of his Board of Governors and several old boys, it seemed, sought to impose on visiting parents and even those invited to the school for reasons other than being parents or guardians. That appeared to raise quite a few conservative hackles not only among the general readership of the publication but in the ranks of some old boys of that school. I certainly find the pronouncement by Akila Viraj Kariyawasam with regard to the matter of “dress codes” for parents visiting their children’s schools for whatever reason welcome news. I hope that an old friend who took issue with my sentiments and his blue-stockinged friends have the good grace to re-think their ultra-conservative opinions (accompanied, perhaps, by an appropriate serving of the afore-mentioned pie). Often and with good reason, these dress-code fanatics have been referred to the Sigiriya frescoes and the fact that the torsos of the females depicted in them are totally devoid of clothing or cover of any description. The fact that the “conservatism” practiced, not only in the matter of dress but in other areas of our day-to-day lives comes from Victorian (Colonial) England is something that our zealots for “purity of race and culture” very conveniently ignore. These are, more often than not, colonial constructs that have nothing to do with “2500 Years of Sinhala Buddhist Civilization.” And the sooner that that fact is rammed down the throats of intemperate bigots, the better, because such action would truly be in the national interest in circumstances where the constant repetition of this nonsense has led to some members of the public, at least, being brain-washed into according it some credibility.
The fact that several of what seemed like the political “untouchable class” during the last regime – and I use the term in an old FBI vs Mafia context and not in its detestable caste one – are being subjected to SERIOUS investigation, or at least what seems to resemble such, is positive. Here, again, I am not about to hold my breath in anticipation of the several additional steps required to bring them to justice taking place in the immediate future. The term “soon” has already acquired negative overtones given the endless comings and goings to this “commission” and that, some of these august bodies being graced by visits from these execrable individuals more often than others!
Concerted efforts, with the use of Closed-Circuit Television, to stop the blatant thuggery and violence that is visited upon those in police custody is also to be lauded. However, I would suggest that a word of caution would not be out of place here, either. These devices are only as effective as they are permitted to be and, I understand that the ability of such a camera to record events can be totally overcome by the simple expedient of draping an appropriate piece of fabric over the lens.
Pronouncement of principle is hardly good enough if it is not followed by practical application within what are often called “ground realities.”
To end on a sour note, a local MP and Minister who had widened a significant swathe of a footpath to give promise of a motorable road, has now informed us that this was done with a special “donation” from the “discretionary budget allocation” to his Ministry which is primarily responsible for the postal department and religious affairs of a particular affiliation. What this could well result in is an enhancement in the growth of a particularly pernicious invasive grass – Guinea “A” or “mana” as it is better known locally – rather than the beginnings of a project to provide residents of the area access to the only possible means of public transit. Talk about the road to hell being paved with good intentions! Seems like people of our neighbourhoods have to stop their gentle appeals to those in the seats of power and resort, instead, to more militant (violent?) modes of protest! In case, someone from that particular Minister’s/MP’s office chooses to read this piece, let me tell him/her that he is compelling us to take whatever, perhaps militant, steps we feel are appropriate to make sure that the promise made at a pre-election “pocket meeting” are kept! “Promises being as durable as pie-crusts” belongs in another part of the world, not in Sri Lanka and certainly not around our neighbourhood which has seen neglect in the provision of essential services that can accurately be described as monumental. All that said, if the initiative had continued to sit on the back-burner as it has for, literally, dozens of years we would not even have had the opportunity of attempting to talk about this project!
There does appear to be hope for a better tomorrow but, as the final anecdote would suggest, there is a great deal to be done to ensure that such a day actually dawns!