23 March, 2019

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Being A New Sri Lanka – Part 2

By Sanjayan Rajasingham

Sanjayan Rajasingham

Sanjayan Rajasingham

Stay aware

I’ve often heard the refrain “I’m not interested in politics”. If “politics” here means the latest political gossip – what X’s son did, who Y snubbed, etc – I’m not too interested either! However, if it means how our rulers use the power we have given them, we need to think again. Their power is public power, and they hold it for us. If we don’t keep an eye on them, they will probably abuse it.

Start small on this one. If you aren’t a newspaper person, read an article on the front page of a newspaper each day, or if that’s too much, one on the front page of a Sunday paper. Another option is to follow a certain column (though here you are at the mercy of what the columnist thinks is important). Either way, try and do one thing a week to keep in touch with what’s going on. Along with this, talk to others about what you read. Even if the papers are anathema to them, they will listen (at least briefly) because it’s coming from you.

There are several important things going on these days. Check out 100days.lk and see if promises are being kept. Find out about the budget, and ask if it’s just another election gimmick. Check out the reinstatement of Shirani Bandaranayake and ask if you think it was right. These are the “political” events that we need to know something about.

Protest!

Go for public protests and rallies. This will require time, some inconvenience, and a willingness to accept a minimal level of risk. It is because of this that they are important. Quite apart from whether the protest succeeds or not, there is something about engaging in public protest, about publicly demanding change, that can be transformative. It builds confidence. It makes us more likely to resist when we are wronged. It deals a blow to the play-it-safe mentality which is lethal to a democratic ethos. In short, it builds civic character.

Riots May 1958 - A Tamil passenger was taken out of the vehicle and beaten up

Riots May 1958 – A Tamil passenger was taken out of the vehicle and beaten up

However, don’t just protest for “your” causes. Go for protests on issues that don’t affect you. Join the a May Day Rally. If you are a minority, protest about a majority issue and vice versa. We need to stand in solidarity with others, and this is one way that all of us can do so.

Find out about the past

Shortly after finishing my ‘O’ Level exams in 2006, I realized how little I was taught about post-independence Sri Lanka. My textbooks had nothing to say about Rohana Wijeweera and the two JVP insurrections, let alone why they came about. They had nothing about SJV Chelvanayakam, of the ethnic riots of ’58, ’77, ’81 and ’83, or of the Banda-Chelva and Dudley-Chelva pacts. Whatever the reason these (and other) events were excluded, it meant that many of my generation knew nothing about them. Or, they only knew those parts that were passed on within their communities.

Why do we need to know about the past? We do because each community in Sri Lanka sees itself and others in the light of these events. Past injustice, violence and betrayal all colour how people act today. If we genuinely want to understand the other, we need to know where they are coming from. And if we want to move on form the past, then we need to know what it is we are moving on from.

This is not a call for degree-level knowledge of our history. It is a call for a basic understanding about critical moments in the past. Reading up is one option, and let me suggest the interview section of the online book The Republic at 40 as a good place to start.[i] If reading isn’t an option (!) then speak to people who know, or go for public talks and discussions. Decide today to find out what incidents those in communities outside your own consider important, post-independence. Then, commit to find out more about it.

Say no to corruption and influence

I chose these two because they are widespread problems. We need to be willing to say no, to refuse to be party to corruption and the wrongful use of influence. This will be tough. This is where we decide how much we actually want a new Sri Lanka. Every time we bribe or wrongfully influence our way to what we want, we contribute to a culture where these things are normal. We make them seem OK, and we make it seem inevitable.

Quite apart from individual action, think about the implications of collective action in this area. What if entire groups of people decided to refuse to pay bribes to driving schools for their driving licenses? If all these people were failed en masse for doing so, what if they decided to file action, instead of deciding of giving in?

Dream

What sort of place do we want Sri Lanka to be in 20 years? We all know the vague answer to this question – “all communities living in peace and harmony” etc, etc. But what do we want specifically? What is our vision for Sri Lanka? If we decide to be realists, stuck forever with a vision for Sri Lanka that is limited by present possibilities, we will settle for the mediocre. Realism is useful, but we also need idealism. We need a big, bold, imaginative vision for what sort of society we want. Only then will we have the direction and energy we need for change.

For example, what do we want the Sri Lankan identity to signify? What common factors should bind us together, while also allowing us the space to be different as communities? I remember someone suggesting our quirky inventiveness – seen in the creation of the doosra and the dilscoop in cricket – as perhaps one aspect of that identity. What else should we add?

Or we can ask what we want our public transport system to be like. Of course it shouldn’t be one where our morning commute leaves us exhausted. But what should it be like, in a positive sense?

Or we can ask what can we do about the fact that proceedings in our superior courts are conducted in English, a language alien to many of those who need justice the most? Is there a way to make them more inclusive, while ensuring that everyone concerned knows what’s going on?

Conclusion

It is only when we become different citizens that we will see a different Sri Lanka. The suggestions above are, hopefully, a step in that direction. If they are too daunting, then start with something even smaller: be friends with people who are different. In a society where dissent and diversity are seen as negatives, that’s good enough! Also, if possible, rope in others who are interested, to join. Discussing, protesting, dreaming – all of this is made more powerful when it is done by a group rather than by individuals.

Making a new Sri Lanka will not be easy, and it won’t be quick. But it is possible. We just need to ensure that our inability to do everything does not stop us from doing something. Rather we must act as we can and then, one day, we will make a difference.

*This is a continuation of a previous article ‘Being a New Sri Lanka’ < https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/being-a-new-sri-lanka/ >

[i] Asanga Welika (ed), Center for Policy Alternatives and Freidrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom < http://republicat40.org/pdf/ >

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Latest comments

  • 10
    7

    Sanjayan I love your essays on A New Sri Lanka, love your insights, love your great ideals – love the way you are making a laudable effort to change people’s (mine included) entrenched attitudes and inject new thinking. May you succeed, more power to you and may your tribe increase!:)

  • 10
    5

    “Little drops of water amassing together to make the mighty ocean.”

    A timely, well-written, moral boosting, simple and inspirational article.

    Thank You Sanjayan on behalf of all positive thinking SRILANKANS.

    Hope this feeling of Hope and the vibe of positive change that is all around us will continue to flow amplifying day by day until SriLankan Society as a whole reaches the stage where we can be truly proud of as a vibrant and intellectually advanced Nation.

    • 5
      0

      “Let Dogs Delight to Bark and Bite”

  • 5
    5

    Good thoughts. Please continue writing.
    Participation in politics is not always necessary. But political awareness is very important.

    Sengodan. M

    • 5
      1

      He scrotches where its fun, not in the pains of the scars, Saintgotoven. His annals of school essays doesn’t necessarily reflect the political maturity, don’t worry He could fairly become an apprentice counselor.
      ….
      “Woe unto you also,ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.” Luke 11:46

  • 5
    2

    Usha……… who is going to keep a check on the additional power you have just bestowed on Sanjayan ????
    This is the very essense of Sanjayan’s essay?

    Though we are a vibrant Nation and Intellectually advanced, it is unfortunately for the benefit of other Nations.

    Hope & check on Power …………

  • 1
    0

    Whatever you do dont fall into traps set by the ex-colonial powers. They have declined beyond redemption and will use Srilanka as a pawn to fight their wars with their perceived major adversaries. Us Veddhas, Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Indian, Chinese, Afro-Srilankans, etc., are are just cannon fodder. We will see this sooner than later. The financial system are disintegrating as we speak.

    • 5
      0

      Don Jeronimo Azavedo, what’s in that “Us Veddah”, why not boldly tell “Native Veddah, the magnificent peacekeepers”.

  • 3
    6

    Sanjayan Rajasingham

    My dear young man I like your enthusiasm and you are starting out iun life but the task is not easy. We have a mountain to climb. It is not easy to change the Sinhala mind set that easily. We have been through hell for the last 64 years and beyond.

    In MS , RW, CBK and Mangala and few others we have people who are genuine in their wish to change Sri Lanka for the better. But they
    are surrounded by a sea of RACISTS who sadly form the Majority. But that doesnt mean that it is the end of the road.
    We have made a start by voting decisively to break the Camesl back and we have to get what we want with international help.

    Let me offer you some help

    In a democracy some people enter politics to serve the people , Some are forced to enter politics to change things that affects them and some are obliviant to what is being done eventhough it has an impact on them.
    But the Tamils in Sri Lanka feel disenfranchised as they have no power to make any decisions and it is no use pretenteding that we can and do. The last election was different was different

    1) There are several important things going on these days. Check out 1
    00days.lk and see if promises are being kept. Find out about the budget, and ask if it’s just another election gimmick. Check out the reinstatement of Shirani Bandaranayake and ask if you think it was right. These are the “political” events that we need to know something about.

    *** What can you do as Tamil to change any of the above. Frankly nothing.

    Protest!

    2) Go for public protests and rallies. This will require time, some inconvenience, and a willingness to accept a minimal level of risk. It is because of this that they are important. Quite apart from whether the protest succeeds or not, there is something about engaging in public protest, about publicly demanding change, that can be transformative. It builds confidence. It makes us more likely to resist when we are wronged.

    *** My friend who will organise these protest meetings and will it be countrywide.

    3) Riots May 1958 – A Tamil passenger was taken out of the vehicle and beaten up:

    1958 my uncle was chased into a Temple in Galle and a Pillair staute was put on him and set fire and he died. There was no one to save his life.
    1983 I lost another uncle in Anurdhapura. The mobs stabed him and when he was taken to the hospital they the mobs followed him to the hospital and prevented the Doctors from saving his life and he bled to death.

    4) However, don’t just protest for “your” causes. Go for protests on issues that don’t affect you.

    *** Where will you protest. In Colombo, Kandy , Galle, Kurunagalle or Pollanaruwa.

    5) Why do we need to know about the past? We do because each community in Sri Lanka sees itself and others in the light of these events. Past injustice, violence and betrayal all colour how people act today.

    *** If you speak to Racist Sinhalese ( sadly they form the majority) they will not admit that they have trated the Tamils badly.

    Say no to corruption and influence

    6) I chose these two because they are widespread problems. We need to be willing to say no, to refuse to be party to corruption and the wrongful use of influence.

    *** Get real my friend. We dont Rule the Country and we dont Run it.
    We have no say in the running the Country and our influence is marginal.

    Dream

    What sort of place do we want Sri Lanka to be in 20 years? We all know the vague answer to this question – “all communities living in peace and harmony” etc, etc.

    *** I hope your dream comes true. We have been dreaming for the last 64 years and I sometimes get up in the middle of the night following a bad dream and guess what. The horrors of ” Nanthikadal”

    7) For example, what do we want the Sri Lankan identity to signify?

    *** To recognise that I a Tamil first and then a Sri Lankan in that order.

    Conclusion

    It is only when we become different citizens that we will see a different Sri Lanka.

    *** It is only when we show respect for each other.

  • 0
    2

    Dear Sanjayan,
    Thanks for this delightful article. As I commented on your previous article, I feel there is hope for SL if more youngsters join you.
    It was disheartening to see comments from the ( I guess the older generation?) which are pessimistic.
    I have a request to make to the generation who are above 40 odd years old or even 50 and above to which I belong. Ours is the generation that has held such deep rooted prejudices, not only in SL but world over and contributed to the mess we all are in. We have closed minds, stubborness terrible egos and refuse to see the other person’s point of view. If we cannot have the decency to change and create a better nation/world atleast we can shut up and not discourage the youngsters who want to do it.
    It is said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing and to expect different results. This is what my generation is trying to do, can you see the insanity in the majority of us! With this mentality we are not going to move forward.
    Sanjayan is not asking us to climb the everest, he is suggesting small steps which we all are cable of doing, provided we have the true will.

    I also want to make a comment on what Kali says. I assume he /she is from the Tamil speaking community? and belong to the over 60 group. I am not for a moment justifying the horrible violence that was let lose on the Tamil speaking community, with the encouragement of rascist politicians. Such dastardly acts happen all over the world due to fear of each other. This fear is exploited by the rascists. Lack of understanding of each other and not engaging with each other contibutes, to rascists fanning the haterd and resulting in such violence.
    People are basically good, a baby is not born a rascist. When a child grows in an environment where it does not see his immediate and extended families engaging with other communities, and hears only one side of the story, fear and hatered starts to take over. The solution as you mention, is for us to engage with others (in a spiritual sense there is no other, but only an extention of oneself) and alley their fears. In the film ‘Gandhi’ there is a very powerful scene. Gandhiji is fasting and a man from the Hindu faith comes to him and says that he had taken part in the communal violence and had killed a child from the Muslim community. He wants to make ammends and also wants Gandhiji to stop the fasting. Gandhiji asks the man to adopt a child from the Muslim community and to bring that child up in the Islamic faith. When communities are close and trust each other, how can any rascist, self serving politicians can wipe up hatread?
    The Tamil speaking community especially the Jaffna community has never gone out of their way to mix with the other communities. They have even looked down on other Tamil speaking groups. When such isolation is practiced, is it not easy for rascism to thrive? For any relationship to work, the parties have to be open and honest, put aside their egos, and be willing to make ammends with humility. It is not humiliating, but it is empowering and it creats a true sense of freedom. This will create a peaceful SL and eventually a Peaceful world.
    My generation has a moral and ethical duty to clean up the mess we have created. We cannot go on doing the same thing and expect a different result.

    As SaiBaba says
    There is only one Religion, the religion of Love
    There is only one Language, the language of the Heart
    There is only one caste, the caste of Humanity
    There is only one God and he/she is omnipresent

    Blessings and Good Luck Sanjayan

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