10 December, 2019

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Building A New Generation Of Sri Lankans Who Do Not Crawl Before Authority

By Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

These are survivals from our medieval days. This is strange because most of the institutions of medieval  times have been demolished in Sri Lanka by now. This particular phenomenon, therefore, dramatises the fact that social values can outlive changes in the material condition of men which, in the first place, generated them.

A few days ago, at St Thomas School in Matara, Minister Mangala Samaraweera made an inspirational address invoking kids never to crawl and worship before persons holding authority. I thought that was an unusual speech for a Minister of a government, who typically uses such an occasion for political point scoring or political conning. Mangala came in as chief guest and as he entered the precincts a kid came up in greeting to him, knelt before him and handed over a shove of betel leaves in traditional fashion. This incident had been the occasion for the Minister to make this statement. And it was something that should have long ago brought to the nation’s attention.

“We must build a new generation of people in our country who do not prostrate and worship those in official authority,” exclaimed Mangala Samaraweera.

The Minister spelt out in detail as follows: we must worship (in the case of Buddhists) only the Buddha, our  parents and our teachers. Never prostrate before Ministers, MPs, Pradeshiya Sabha Councillors and so on. Plainly, this is what is happening in Sri Lanka. Ministers are worshipped, MPs, local councillors or anybody in the cloak of some level of authority are worshipped.

The irony is that most of these persons are downright corrupt. They rob, cheat, lie, murder and so on. In such a context, the mere act of prostration and genuflection is enough to boost the image of the particular person in authority. Such persons in authority simply love adulation and expect that from the people. They are addressed as ‘thuma,’ which is the short for ‘uthuma,’ meaning ‘noble one’-although the person may be a lout or cad as more often most pollies are.

Don’t go far away; just switch on the TV anytime. A person of some office is addressed  by media personnel as ‘oba thuma.’ Why not simply ‘oba?’ They wouldn’t do that as their tongues are twisted to say,’thuma,’ or ‘oba thuma.’ The problem is two-way since the recipient official would consider it insulting if it be that he is not so addressed. Both the social expectation  of the recipient  and the sense of  appropriateness borne by the giver are intertwined. It is one of those vicious cycles.

Human societies are generally status seekers as  elucidated by Vance Packard in his classic, “Status Seekers,” written long ago. That is how we keep our egos going. Self-esteem is crucial in our lives.  On the other hand the precise styles  of status seeking differ from culture to culture and the essential determinant of that style is the way in which society placates the seeker of status. In Australia where I live, a MP or Minister would feel ashamed  of himself  and thoroughly embarrassed were someone to come and genuflect before him  and address him. The status seeker here would pursue money that would let him purchase and consume ’high status,’ items like cars, homes, river -cruising holidays and so on. Unlike in England, there isn’t even an aristocracy here in Australia. Our society here is by and large egalitarian and it publicly flaunts egalitarian values.  The boss and employee of a corporation are ‘mates,’ or machangs.

In Sri Lanka, on the other hand, the boss talks down the employee. There is little bottom -up consultation. At village level, the master addresses his subordinate employees in a lower rhetoric. The Prime Minister is referred to by media men in Australia simply as ‘Malcolm,’ or ‘Mr Prime Minster.’ In Sri Lanka, it is ‘garu’ or ‘respected.’. The Sri Lankan President is  ‘uthumanan,’ or ’athi garu,’ although, in fact, he may be a blackguard or vile character.

These are all survivals from our medieval days. This is strange because most of the institutions of medieval  times have been demolished in Sri Lanka by now. This particular phenomenon, therefore, dramatises the fact that social values can outlive changes in the material condition of men which, in the first place, generated them. We have a free market capitalist economy, which even the strong ‘lefties,’ of the past were forced to embrace though still continuing with socialist slogans.  Most persons are able to rise above their inherited social status by making money. This is one of the beauties of the liberal capitalist economy. Although such a system can widen class cleavages it also can become the great leveller.

As a feudal by product, Sri Lankan society pursues ’thaththvaya,’ or status as an opulent value. You, I and others are  all in it-chasing status. I may be broke, but getting status makes me happy. This is one reason why caste distinctions are still hard to liquidate in Sri Lanka. Even if you are penniless  you take shelter in a ‘high caste,’ until you are forced to eat humble pie as we saw the characters in Martin Wickramasinghe’s “Gam perliya,’ were wont to do.

However, this can all be changed by deliberate social engineering. The fact that the act of crawling isn’t linked to material conditions of living is a plus point. The media and the schools must come together to re-educate our people. For instance, it is easy to get kids not worship but just to offer the betel. Politicians and other leaders must, like Mangala, can set an example. Democracy, the capitalist economy and modernisation must spread fast into the rural backwaters. Temples and churches can play a role. It is not a bad idea to have a national social summit to draw a plan for behaviour change.  If at village level we can build a critical mass of leaders of change that would be great.

Our youth and others must be able to walk with head high and dignity.

*The writer can be contacted at sjturaus@optusnet.com.au

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Latest comments

  • 5
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    But before Ranil and the white man

    • 0
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      Exactly. Right on target. Particularly the ‘white men’ who call themselves the ‘international community’

    • 1
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      “Building a New Generation of Sri Lankans, Who do not Crawl before Authority”!

      sach;- WHY?
      ‘Crawling before Authority’ seems to be the outcome of our ‘Free’ Educational System, which seems to have created a Generation that learns by Rote and Reproduces it to Pass Exams!
      I am ashamed of Sri Lankans who are afraid to think for Themselves, and accept any Garbage that comes from Some of Our Ill-educated, So-Called Elected Leaders.

      Let Our Children have a Good Education with access to English, so that they are Open to What is Happening in the Rest of the World, and not just to What is Happening in our little ‘Frog Well’

  • 5
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    If you are ‘STRAIGHT’ there is no need to crawl or fall at any body’s feet. But beware of those who fall at your feet they may pull the carpet under your feet.

    • 5
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      Mr. Jayasingha,
      I think it is rather inaccurate to say that most feudal institutions have been demolished in Sri Lanka.. On the other hand, they are making a strong comeback, 70 years after independence. The process is helped along by the fact that some topics are totally taboo for discussion, viz the caste structure of Buddhist Nikayas, recruitment of children to them ,or the efficacy of the Tooth Relic as an inducer of rain . The last is always trotted out in a knee-jerk reflex whenever there is a drought ,ignoring the fact that it has never worked.
      The despicable practice of teaching children to grovel before authority is another feudal relic . All of these flourish because nobody dares question our “ancient traditions”. Those who do are shouted down.
      The spread of other forms of obscurantism such as feng-shui and astrology, is heavily promoted by the media, who are more interested in profit than in education.

      • 7
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        “The despicable practice of teaching children to grovel before authority is another feudal relic . All of these flourish because nobody dares question our “ancient traditions”. Those who do are shouted down.”

        How dare you question our culture………what is culture? …………nothing but traditions passed down to be followed without question………..

        You’re a heretic that should be burned at the stake …………for questioning our culture/traditions

        Pass me the torch, let me light the fire ……………that’s the greatest service I can do for my nation …………..

        I’ll be venerated and spoken of for generations ………… for my act of patriotism of protecting the status quo of freeloaders/vested-interests that live off the hard toil of the beasts of burden………………….

        And life has not been devised by morality: it wants deception, it lives on deception — but we just don’t know it……….

        My ignorance is bliss !!! ………..not for me, but for my exploiters………………

        And 20 odd millions …………. are led like lamb to slaughter………………

        • 3
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          Nimal,
          I am sure you are going to have lots of compliments from the super-patriots (currently struggling with heavy dictionaries). For the wrong reasons.

        • 0
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      • 2
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        Old Codger; you are right!
        Buddhism is fast Turning back in to Hinduism!
        “Those who Recite many Scriptures,
        But fail to Practise their Teaching,
        Are like a Cowherd,
        Counting another’s Cows!”
        -Dhammapada Verse 19

    • 1
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      If you’re straight, you can’t get anything done. You either need to peddle influence, or crawl before authority.

      An example : As I am overseas, my sister handles my affairs in SL. She recently lost my NIC which was in her possession. She dutifully tried to report the loss to the police, who said they cannot take the report in my absence. Besides, such a report will apparently only be valid for 6 months – why it should be so is anyone’s guess. So on my next visit to SL, I will crawl and grovel before the police, lie about losing my ID the day before while on a bus, get a police report, and then `crawl’ before the Grama Niladhari who wields ultimate authority over whether to place a purple seal on a form that would ensure my NIC is replaced.

      As far as the likes of Mangala pontificate about standing up to authority without taking any measures to make any structural changes to how things work, I will crawl and grovel. Of course, I can peddle influence, but that is the greater of the two evils which I would rather avoid.

    • 2
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      Mangala Samaraweera has come across to me as someone who could be termed modern and futuristic; the kind this country badly needs but does not have. I have learnt that as FM (foreign
      minister ) he did a splendid job. Unfortunately in these columns the bad is brazenly overstated while the Good hardly gets a mention. There are quite .a few ministers who are doing good work but excessive space given to “doomsday predictors” ensures that no good is ever heard by the majority. It has taken an expat sri Lankan to state what should have been editorial stuff in all newspapers today.

  • 10
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    Well said Shyamon.The minister must be applauded for his comment.This is what we need .A nation with a back bone .Once I went for a conference in UK the presenters were freely answering questions put forward by the audience.There were many nationalities including few from our big neighbour .All were confident , straightforward and face to face discussions with white elite panel.One chap was quite meeky and backward hiding behind the crowd.His answers were simple yes and no with absolutely no confidence.
    I immediately thought he must be from my beloved land considering the body language.I spoke to him at the break and guess what I am spot on.
    I felt so sorry for all of us as the system has failed us in building our confidence.We were suppressed by our parents,teachers ,bosses and everyone who held power against us.This is a tragedy and the fruits of it is very visible as the country is robbed broad day light and only few are bothered to raise their voice against it.We have no idea about our democratic rights and also no idea about how to fight for them .Bravo for the minister for standing up on bahalf of our future generations and hope others will take him as an example .Our whole society should be re educated and at least let us start building confidence in kids to stand up on their feet without bowing down to every Tom Dick and Harry.

    • 0
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      Does Mangala Samarweera refer to the president as ATI GARU Janadhipathi THUMA or just Janadhipathi?
      Soma

    • 1
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      People from the bottom to the top are either ignorant stupid and corrupt and we need the colonials to put the country back.I doubt that they have the time for us.

  • 0
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  • 2
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    it would be also appreciated if the mahanayakas,instead of saying suhapathwewa to corrupt crimminell politicians,turn them away with their presents.all the best to hon. minister

  • 5
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    I find the habit of prostrating and worshiping politicians is continuing despite our education. In fact I am resentful even prostrating in front of the teachers, principals and dignitaries. When I visit homes, the little ones asked to prostrate when we take leave. They can just say ayubowan. Why do this. It is servile mentality. We should get rid of this from our homes, schools etc and naturally it will be put a stop to worshiping politicians. Can the Education Department issue a circular to stop this practice.

    I hope Min. Managala’s e.g. would be followed by others. Thank you CT and Mr. Jayasinghe for highlighting this.

  • 0
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    Mr. Symon: That “Inspirational” speech by the Minister must also be a good “Inspirational Awakening” for you too. Now make a start to live by that Dictum. But first make it known to your “Inspirational Leader”, your friend RW

  • 0
    2

    Shyamon Jayasinghe I think Ministeers speech was to go with the public sentiment. I heard, after the local elections people were starting to talk openly. they say, IF they can stal what happens if we steal in the open. I heard Ranil is treated like a Criminal or a conman walking free.

  • 0
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    In Sri lanka, everybody discuss the problem. Remember HOw Shyamon Jayasinghe nglected the problem just before the elelction,. Probabluy, now he is canvassing for MAngala Samaraweera for the PM post. But, it is Mangala Samaraweera who has discussions with LTTE in Singapore, in ordeer to get rid of Mahinda Rajapkse, IT is him who implemented it, Do you think still the Yahapalanaya functioning. Now IT is MISDITU, ORUMITHTHA -govt functioning.

  • 1
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  • 3
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    The minister is training his guns on a very very long shot. One would think people would at least silently listen to what he says. What silent thoughts ! I was reading the YouTube clip on this, the people there are to baying for his blood !!

    Tom R. is my boss. We were working in a poor country in Africa as expatriates. He told me once “When I left Arizona for my first expatriate job for Africa in the 1980’s, my boss told me that “Tom, those countries are poor for a reason. Dont feel sorry -otherwise you will not be able to do your job there. Their leaders and social upper class want it that way. They need poor, uneducated, servile labour to work in their factories and businesses, as domestic workers, as sex workers.” They have no reason to see that system change. I am not saying Lanka is the same. But may be it is….

    • 1
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      Janaka from Matara

      Tom did not tell you the complete sentence. Here it is

      “When I left Arizona for my first expatriate job for Africa in the 1980’s, my boss told me that “Tom, those countries are poor for a reason. Dont feel sorry -otherwise you will not be able to do your job there. Their leaders and social upper class want it that way AND are BRIBED, PAID and TAUGHT by us in the West. We need poor, uneducated, servile labour to work in their factories and businesses, as domestic workers, as sex workers, SO THAT We (in the West) can MAKE LARGE PROFITS.

      There you are fixed it for. you
      Case in point: Even Oxfam a charity. Highly paid Executives, spending pennies on Sex workers in developing countries.
      Was Tom one of those Executives,

      • 0
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        Yes, like those great defenders of the Free World, Marcos and the Shah, among others.

  • 0
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    I am surrey, President is taking another wrong step if he appoints Mangala Samaraweera as the PM. MANAGLA Awas consisitant when he was supporting the Tamil Struggle.

  • 0
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    Mangala knew what kind of problems existed when his father wanted to be successful in Politics. He does not like most of the presetn prominenet politicians. HE did not support even down south Sinhal Vaoter base. Instead, he was talking for Tqamils, Gays and Lesbians, Foreign involvementn in Sri lanka. IT is not just a few words that counts. IF president appoints Mangala as the PM, it is political harakiri.

  • 0
    0

    Better late than never, Mr. Minister, You aught to tell this to your fellow politicians past and present. If you have the courage please inculcate these values first in UNP caucus and then in the Parliament assembly. Our nation is suffering from inferiority complex
    which is a recessive character ingrained in our genes. Wonder if we are a degenerating race. We have enough and more examples of this ugly and embarrassing episodes.

  • 0
    0

    look around the world, we had two world wars, we had Hitler, we had South Africa, we had Eelam war, we had and are having Middle East War, the Muslim bombing each other. 1940s, 1950s, 1960s 1970s, 1980s, 1990s every decade we we thought the new generation will make the change.

    Communism is still strong in China despite new generation.

    MaRa was at one time a new generation. Putin belongs to new generation, Chinese PM is new generation

    Now we are in to the Millennia Generation.

    but corruption, discrimination, racism, religious hatred. etc etc are still ripe..

    so where is this perpetuating new generation?

    what we have is a new sex generation…LGBT generation.

    What is holding back the new generation of the day?

    the new generation of today is the corrupt political generation of tomorrow?

    why is that a Sinhala kid or a Tamil kid born today hate each other when they grow up.

    The old ruling Generation corrupting the new generation….handing it out generation after generation.

    What will make the change is the social media.

    a hash tag new generation

  • 0
    0

    Sorry we have reached the stage where Lankan fleas crawl, kangaroos crawl.
    It is worth crawling if there is a pot of gold at the other end.

  • 0
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  • 0
    0

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  • 0
    0

    The practice of crawling in obeisance begins at homes where parents initiate children into this slavish practice of prostrating. Then it is reinforced in schools. Requiring children to crawl before teachers should be declared “Cruelty to Children.” Teachers don’t remove their footwear; so children end up worshipping their shoes and slippers. There is nothing so demeaning and insulting to human dignity than one human being crawling before another, a bizarreness politicians have perfected to a fine art. Children should be taught to keep their spines straight and greet parents, priests and teachers. This practice which is of Sinhala Buddhist origin was not there in Christian schools. But, alas, it has “crawled” into them somehow; probably the carelessness of some modern day ‘Pansale Piyathumas”. This outrageous practice did not prevail among Burghers, Muslims and Malays. But somehow they too have had to fall in line with the majority. I would ask the Christian church authorities to take immediate action to abolish this abominable practice in schools quoting the Bible which requires, as a commandment, one to worship only the ‘ One.’

    I salute Mangala for his forthrightness. He is sure to come in for flak from higher-ups who drool over people prostrating before them, especially before TV cameras. As for accepting sheaves of betel leaves I hope Mangala will in future hand back the sheaves and ask the event organizers to go Maharagama way and learn.

    • 0
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      Clean slate: I have heard that when a sex crazy woman see a monk who is attractive to her, she will go on her knees and touch the monks toes as if in veneration.If the monk is sharp, he can have sex for the next 100 days – till he get tired of her on the bed.

  • 0
    0

    sbarrkum;

    No neither Tom nor I were working for charity or a charity.
    Case in point was not one on what outsiders can do to countries. It was about how the countries organize within themselves – that would govern how they can face outside threats or seductions.

  • 0
    0

    the indians introduced us to caste and the british to class
    though we are econmically modern we are socially still feudal
    mangala is too far ahead of us in his beliefs
    he has admitted that his views are too liberal for this country

  • 0
    0

    Crawling before politicians may be considered as slavish behaviour, but paying obeisance to your father, mother, teacher and elders is not bad practice per se. By paying obeisance to your father, mother, teacher and elders you are seeking their blessings. As long as there is no compulsion and no pretention we should encourage such practice. During a Hindu wedding ceremony, the priest asks the couples to worship their parents, grandparents to get their blessings. There is nothing wrong with that. I have seen Shyamon paying obeisance to young bhikkus during ceremonies like laying a foundation for a building. These days touch your feet with their hands as a mark of respect. There is nothing wrong with it.

  • 0
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    Shyamon Jayasinghe: Buddhism teaches that we should respect those who are worthy. We kneel infront of Sangha memembrs, parents and our matured adults. but, I do not think Politicians worthy of veneration by ssaying Honourable, Garu or Athigaru. I saw, Canadian Prime minister jogging alone and a group of thuggish looking guards were not covering him. but, In Sri lanka even the most crooked Minister who carries Pistol in his pocket, I heard, come to the PArliament Cafetaria to eat free food, leave his pistol on the table and all the thugs and him eat highly subsidized food. sSome say, One who had heart bypass surgery not long ago (Sri lanka also can do that) says his lines already clogged and has space only for a needle. I wrote this to show their exemplery behaviour.

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