By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne –
They say the Chinese have a curse: may you live in interesting times.
We Sri Lankans have definitely been cursed by the Chinese. This isn’t just a pun on the Port City: In the space of one year we, as a nation, have toppled a dictatorship, installed another one, cried out against Saudi Arabia and argued passionately the subject of bras being thrown at concerts. We’ve watched from afar as the specter of war spread throughout the world. We’ve battled inflation, corruption, and idiots crossing the street. Interesting times, indeed.
I can’t deny that much of it’s been disappointing, especially the political situation. While still nowhere near as bad as the Rajapakse regime, the current government seems to be well on its way to proving that the leopard is truly incapable of changing its spots. But all that aside, as the year draws to a close, I’d like to make a few notes:
- Sri Lanka is (still) not a truly multicultural society, but we’re getting better
Consider the current situation: certain parts and social circles of Colombo are multicultural, but the rest of the country is a mess. Pockets of “Sinha Ley” Buddhists over there, pockets of visually segregated Muslims over here, the Hindus hanging out doing their own thing over there, Catholics in their own communities over here, and so on. People only really associate within their bubbles, and assimilate only with reluctance.Colombo is a good example: Colombo 03, 04 and 07 are multi-cultural, and the rest of the city is largely racially segregated into communities. In the same way that Kandy is largely Sinhala Buddhist turf, Dehiwala, Wellawatte and Attidiya are Hindu / Muslim. While culturally diverse, we haven’t really melded together that well.That’s largely a problem of mentality. Right now, we seem to be in a curious limbo where we’re celebrating our differences more than our similarities. Case in point, the current crop of “Sinha Ley” stickers.
Nevertheless, we’ve come a long way since the BBS’s rise to fame. Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but social media seems to be playing a large part in this. It’s difficult to maintain a narrow mind when there’s an outpouring of thoughts around the ceremonies, cultures and philosophies of other beliefs. Not impossible, but difficult. I hope our generation – the first real digital generation of this country – will break down the rest of these barriers completely.
- This country is massively sexist and frustrated, and the media is ignoring this issue
Sexism – and sexual frustration, in the guise of culture, pervades every level of society, right down from the “ah nangi” from the tuk-tuk driver to the President of the country ranting on about bras. Often, it’s not even hostile racism; it’s so ingrained that it’s entirely unconscious. A waiter will bring the bill to the man at the table, regardless of whether the woman paid. A newspaper article will introduce a businesswoman by first mentioning her father or her husband. This is, after all, a country where a newspaper ran an article saying that two female Parliamentarians wore pants during a protest.The fault is not just in the men, but in the society that produced them and reinforces their beliefs; a society of fathers and mothers that raised children to believe someone making themselves look good was a whore. A society that somehow went from microskirts in the 60’s and 70’s to a religiously puritanical outlook on life in the 80’s and 90’s. And, even more surprisingly, a society that speaks of “preserving culture” while ignoring the fact that one of its most famous religious monuments (Sigiriya) is basically a castle-sized porn display.
These basic issues, rather frustratingly, are being ignored by the media, and are left largely to satirists and activists on social media. A common trend is to blame everything on Colombo’s adoption of “western morals” and the degradation of all that is good and holy. Nevertheless, as Pasan Weerasinghe pointed out recently, in the calendar year of 2014, out of a reported 2008 cases of rape/incest in Sri Lanka, Colombo has contributed to the tally a grand total of 26. At the same time, [the] Police division for the sacred city of Anuradhapura has reported 133 cases.
This does indeed beg the question: why indeed are we protecting such a culture – a culture of such hypocrisy that porn sites are blocked while Sigiriya’s bare-breasted women are shown in glorious technicolour to every young schoolchild?
- The lack of proper media platforms is startling
Where does one get their news from these days? Colombo Telegraph is a free-for-all frenzy. DailyFT is unreadable ever since they changed their website. Ada Derana just called Maithripala “Maithripaka”. Daily News does sentences like “hot on the heels of the hullabaloo over the budget which went through a series of unprecedented amendments that was embarrassing for the government and for Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in particular, last week saw an incident involving high profile United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra.” The Daily Mirror just ran a story about the National Broadband Policy with no backing, no sources and apparently no credibility. I’m no Shakespeare, but goddamit, it should be a crime to publish something so blatantly unreadable. Standards have slipped so far that they’re practically skating to hell now.
Interestingly, new media may be stepping in. Roar.lk’s roundups are increasingly more readable, and Yamu.lk seems to have things covered as far as events in Colombo go. However, these platforms have nowhere near the maturity and machinery that established platforms have. Lake House, Wijeya, start paying your employees better. Rs 15,000 salaries are not going to cut it – that’s bus money.
- We have railed against Saudi Arabia and won, and disturbing things have been said
How often is it that public outcry actually has a short-term, tangible impact overseas? Not often. Nevertheless, our outcry for that woman sentenced to be stoned in Saudi Arabia resulted in her life being spared. That’s a win, Sri Lanka. That’s a win.Out of this incident, though, a darker result emerged – people who advocate and believe in this kind of brutal violence in the name of holy law. At the risk of sounding racist, let me say this: religion should be tolerated and welcomes, but violence in the name of religion should be stamped out wherever possible. We haven’t done a great job of it – the BBS come to mind – but the last thing we need are Sharia apologists in this country. Anyone with a fetish for cutting off heads and beating up women with stones should be sent packing.
I can’t seem to find anyone who tells me 2015 was uneventful. A bad year, yes. Boring, no. People I know have found jobs, fallen in love, fallen out of love, started companies, gotten married, et cetera, et cetera. Some of them have stayed in our lives. Others have left. And some friendships, like infections, have festered. I’ve traveled, gotten tattooed, changed jobs, swung lightsabers and had my beliefs questioned. Time, that lunatic doctor, heals the old wounds and opens up new ones. This summary seems paltry in comparison.
What we can and should do is to take all of that what we’ve experienced and point it, in our own ways, towards fixing these problems with Sri Lanka. They need not be grand, sweeping changes with policy documents attached. It needs to be one step at a time. In 2016, go experience a festival from each religion. Talk an extremist out of his views. Put up a status abouts sexism. Make sure all your male friends see it. Share news worth talking about instead of yet another bathroom selfie. Little changes, like little drops of water, have the potential for great change.
Interesting times, indeed. Here’s to an interesting 2016.
*Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is a contributor to Colombo Telegraph, his articles can be found on his blog, icaruswept.com