24 June, 2024


Can Sri Lanka Come Out Of Its ‘Deer In The Headlights’ Mindset?

By Mohamed Harees –

Lukman Harees

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest ” – Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (30 Sep 1928-2016)

It was reported that over 20 children fainted after going to school without food in three schools in Vilachchiya, Anuradhapura. In another incident, in Minuwangoda, another student reportedly consumed young coconut kernel for want of a proper meal in school. As UNICEF says, ‘families are skipping regular meals as staple foods become unaffordable. Children are going to bed hungry, unsure of where their next meal will come from – in a country which already had South Asia’s second highest rate of severe acute malnutrition. Amid the severe economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka, the women of the island country too are facing another predicament. With women losing their jobs in the textile industry, are forced to become sex workers, as per a report by the ANI.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has driven millions of people into hunger, poverty, while jeopardizing their rights to health, education, and an adequate standard of living. The recent political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka had attracted quite a bit of attention from the analysts, academia, and media alike. Various hypotheses and questions have been put forward in popular parlance. Although the root causes of these crises go beyond the Rajapaksa regimes, and were more deep-rooted, one blunder after another by Gotabaya regime paved the way for the island’s worst crisis since independence. For so long, Sri Lanka has been taken for a ride by the major political parties under election promises and fads. For so long political servitude made Sri Lankans to pay pooja to an utterly corrupt political leadership which swung from one colour or another at elections. 

This unprecedented economic crisis however appeared to change the blind pathway of the Sri Lankan electorate, when after a lapse of over seven decades, people of all nationalities came together and chose to wage an ‘Aragalaya’ and chase away one set of Robber barons who were particularly responsible for economic downfall in Post war Sri Lanka – Rajapaksas. The historic protests in Sri Lanka more or less transmogrified traditional political divisions. This in turn erased any ideological divisions that voters previously would have considered. Today, for all intents and purposes, the only division they see is between themselves and parliamentarians, particularly within the ruling party. Large-scale protests against economic mismanagement, ‘official’ corruption, and human rights abuses thus signified a historic landmark in the annal of history.

However, people of Sri Lanka who came out to the streets in millions, did not get the real change they expected and today caught in a ‘Deer in the Headlights’ mentality  -a state of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment, likened to the tendency of deer to freeze in place in front of an oncoming vehicle. When Gota was ousted from power, Rajapaksas’ party, ensured that a Rajapaksa ally (outside the family ,but who  will be a puppet and not a political threat to the ruling party) became the next President for the remaining tenure of office. The choice of Ranil W was therefore fairly obvious, as he has been living up to the reputation he has built as an ally of the Rajapaksas. Today, RW is virtually carrying a top heavy ‘Rajapaksa style’ team of ministers and advisors (with ‘corrupt with shady track records’), but offering temporary relief measures like  making available goods albeit at high unaffordable prices. People are now showing reluctance to rise up again against RW regime in the same way they did earlier, due to a lop-sided perception that RW is different and will do anything different.       

One type of incompetence  that arises when a sudden and rapid change of political scenario such as when a powerful iconic family dynasty was overthrown in a matter months of a people’s struggle, is the emergence of a deer in headlights— mentality. This mentality still persists among the people, when another Rajapaksa stooge came to power, in contrast to the wide expectation of a real political change. This type of incompetence emerges when the political environment  creates novel demands for the people who often do not know how to deal with rapid changes, even when they had the capability to continue their struggle to ensure their real expectations are met. The “deer in the headlights” fear people face is a deep uncertainty and panic which tends to keep them in one place or without thinking what the next step or solution is.

Although the public protests or Aragalaya lacked specific leadership, a core constituency or class group, which commenced in the form and style it did few months ago, it was not just a flash in the pan. Although it was seemingly directed at Gota and the Rajapaksas and the economic chaos they created, the spirit of this historic struggle was aimed at revamping and cleansing the entire corrupt political culture and misgovernance which have been a bane for Sri Lanka since Independence. In fact the recent UNHC Comprehensive Report acknowledges that ‘Sri Lanka is at critical juncture in its political life, and is in the midst of a serious economic crisis which has severely impacted the human rights of all communities and people of all walks of life. This has spurred broad-based demands by Sri Lankans from all communities for deeper reforms and accountability, and gives the Government a fresh opportunity to steer the country on a new path’. 

The High Commissioner thus urged ‘the new Government to embark on a national dialogue that would advance human rights and reconciliation and to carry out the deeper institutional and security sector reforms needed to prevent the recurrence of violations of the past…’ The wide call among protesters for therefore a “system” rather than “regime” change. However, what happened was a virtual swapping of a coughing spouse with one with a running nose as a Sinhala idiom goes! A ruler more arrogant and brutal than his predecessor! 

Despite international pressure, RW’s loosely knit government consisting of the same old wine in new bottles, continues to use force and barbaric laws like PTA to gag the mouths of those who stand up for people’s right to protest against State repression and silence lawful opposition. This iron fisted approach of a ruler with no public mandate, while throwing some economic crumbs bought from borrowed or begging money sadly appears to work. Sri Lankans are seen to be falling into an awkward lull by allowing their human rights to be trampled, on the premise of getting temporary economic relief is also an ideal example of a public Mexican stand-off with the State authorities! 

The same Sri Lanka which showed the world the power of the people to change corrupt regimes within a democratic setup is today showing reluctance to rise up when their rights are being grossly trampled using unfair rules in the lawbooks by a ‘Rajapaksa regime’ in another form and style. Fear has engulfed them and taken courage off their souls. ‘Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights’, Aung San Suu Kyi wrote in ‘Freedom from Fear’, ‘fear tends to be the order of the day’. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”

Realistically, there exists a huge gap between legitimate public sentiment and governance, with the public mood reflecting an unprecedented alienation of the citizenry from the regime, and yes! by unfortunate extension, the State. The State is totally insensitive to growing suffering of the people and fails to empathise with them. In an unprecedented scale, even the Sinhala Buddhist peasantry in the island nation’s rural heartland is totally fed up with political leadership and begun to forsake them. The nation gutted by this severe economic crisis cannot be extinguished by squirts of water by way of temporary economic perks to keep the opposition to the State at bay. This needs the commitment and backing of the entire nation, which unfortunately cannot be elicited by force or suppressing their just aspirations and rights for a rule sans corruption , social justice and freedom of expression.     

Using the law enforcement authorities as a pretext for more human rights violations is deeply concerning and reflects poorly on the new administration in Sri Lanka. The powers that be are seen to virtually suppressing people’s rights to freedom of expression, and arrest anyone who raises his/her voice against the corrupt administration, demanding real change. The RW government instead of starting afresh and break off from the cycle of repression of people’s rights is today taking anti-democratic measures which are further compounding the mistrust and fear in the people of Sri Lanka.  

As HRW says, Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is a legal blackhole. It has been used for over 40 years to enable prolonged arbitrary detention, to extract false confessions through torture, and to target minority communities and civil society groups.The PTA denies fundamental due process rights and removes safeguards that would help protect detainees from abuse, creating what is effectively a legal black hole. International financial institutions and governments that hold Sri Lanka’s debt or are involved in negotiations around debt restructuring have an international legal obligation to act to protect human rights in situations of economic crisis. Private creditors have a responsibility under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved. 

RW regime is averse to public demands and silent in committing to adopt anti corruption with appropriate scrutiny, enact procurement legislation requiring open bidding for government contracts and most important of all to recover stolen assets through UN’s StAR Initiative. As HRW stresses, Sri Lanka’s deepening economic crisis highlights the need for the government to be pressurized to give priority to the rights of the people and also insist that the government, along with the IMF and foreign creditors, act urgently to reverse the tide that is driving millions into poverty.

The Island nation, once considered a success story with its high levels of education and standard of living, has today become a nation with impoverished masses struggling to live with dignity and to overcome the economic crisis and political instability. Sri Lanka’s economic collapse no doubt needs immediate global attention, to rescue the worst affected from the ongoing crisis  to avoid another human tragedy. RW’s inner agenda to maintain the politically corrupt and elitist status quo in the guise of bringing a semblance of and a deceptive economic stability should be defeated for the sake of the future progeny. The greater tragedy will thus be to let go of yet this historic opportunity to make real political changes. Ultimate force for real change should come from within. The people of Sri Lanka need to come out of their ‘deer in the headlights’ syndrome and ensure that the creation of a new clean political culture and holding those responsible for this disaster to account, be on the top of their agenda and not give up the spirit of the ‘Aragalaya’ despite RW and his camp attempting to gag their mouths with repressive laws. 

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Latest comments

  • 8

    Even though the Children are going to school without food, and millions of people are suffering from hungry, and women are loosing their livelihood and unable to have their regular meals, some fake relaxation of electricity cuts and fuel supply are sufficient and they are happy to continue with the economic crisis without dealing with corruption with the increased borrowing from IMF, Japan, and India. Unless this attitude changes and implementing the necessary system changes, there is no hope this country.

    • 1

      What Naomi Klein called Humanitarian” Disaster Capitalism: is the name of the game with the UN agencies (WHO, UNICEF, FAO, ILO, WFP), which promote fear and disaster narratives but avoid a ROOT CAUSES analysis. These UN agencies are funded by big corporations to promote Global Governance as a cover for Re-Colonization of countries in the Global South.
      Sri Lanka today is in Debt bondage to the West with the US backed and brokered Bondscam Ranil Rajapakse regime, brought in by the CIA- backed Aragalaya to sell the IMF program! All parties and sides are remote controlled in an operation called FULL SPECTRUM DOMINANCE also via debt colonialism and bondage.
      Debt bondage occurs when a country or person is forced to work to pay off a debt. They are tricked into working for little or no pay i.e. depreciated currency, with no control over their debt. Most or all of the money they earn goes to pay off their loan. The value of their work invariably becomes greater than the original sum of money borrowed.

    • 1

      What is needed is a radicle change and to achieve that goal a new constitution is the answer, a constitution with term limits and age limits to parliamentarians with added minimal educational qualifications.
      This will also enable to minimize the culture of impunity so prevalent in the country.
      The alternative is the same old, same old with starving children and families.

  • 4

    ‘Deer in the headlights’? Certainly, the writing was on wall for many years but the majority Sinhala Buddhist vote base was mesmerised with the defeating of terrorism, showing minorities their place & ‘safeguarding’ Buddhism, so much so, we accepted war crimes as collateral, turned a blind eye to political corruption because they ‘saved the Sinhala nation’ & pardoned convicted murderers, even accepting them in Parliament.

    Anyone could see that SL was fast becoming another Zimbabwe years ago & now we are or almost, or already there, with over 106% inflation. Yet, those responsible continue to be in power or pulling strings behind the scenes & RW, who I thought was a decent bloke from a respectable family & a good education, has turned out to be just another selfish & gutless bum sucker. Maybe years in SL politics corrupted him but certainly Royal College can’t call him a distinguished old boy. If the people did not want him, he should have retired, somewhat gracefully, but if he wanted another chance to redeem him self, he certainly is not making any progress.

  • 0

    Can Sri Lanka Come Out Of Its ‘Deer In The Headlights’ Mindset?

    to come out Growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.

    The present parliamentarian are working hard to retire next year, The know people have measured by the achievements led to bankruptcy due to their deal habit, and no chance next time feed in new young hybrid to parliament, Great things happen nationally when topmost leadership is motivated and supported from below, we have to face and challenge the world in future as Ranil gone begging the future has to pay he and old parliamentarians will not be there, Our work is our most important resource to develop our people.

  • 0

    Each of us has a great potential to ridicule others as this that or another.
    But very few of us spoke up when it was critically important to do so.
    Some paid heavily for that folly.
    It is all too easy to yelp from behind a secure fence or even easier from a far away compound.
    Each of us can be a little humble and more constructive to seriously examine what can be done to change things around.

    • 1

      Its not a case of ridiculing or ‘yelping over a far away fence’ as you put it. The writings was on the wall but nobody took any notice. Some of my old friends even fell out with me & said I had no right to criticize because I don’t live in SL, although, I have dual citizenship. Maybe, it’s in our genes, we believe in quick & easy money, not earned but by deception, unfair means or intimidation. Therefore, bribing is acceptable & is the norm, It is not to expedite the work or for a more thorough job done but to do what one receives a salary to do. How can a country progress with such corruption? Even the so called educated are gullible in believing divine intervention, even promoted by backward politicians like Pavithra Wanniarchchi, Buddhism is rewritten, we engage in all kinds of frauds & dubious acts & then ask favours from gods (staunch Buddhists seeking favours from Hindu gods?) but worst of all, electing the same despicable thugs, murderers & yobs back to Parliament. It is up to the people of SL to continue with the ‘Aragalaya’ to demand a new set of politicians with integrity & put these current punks behind bars for crimes against the country & its people.

    • 0

      Sounds like lost courage? After the departure of Royal Pathama Poonchanam Vasantha Kumari, the compound of Kalai Kovil, UOJ, built by philanthropist Sir. Pon. Nythiananda, alias Devananda, is no longer protecting the hard toiling Stalinists? Are you not the one challenged that you can ridicule anyone (Specifically me) and wrote complaints to CT to get rid of the ones challenging your that idea? If that was not you then was it the commentators who cannot even spell his own name, the “Savasegaram” did? Leelage Malli and me do not write on parallel lines. But I often browse his comments because he is an honest patriot of Sri Lanka. He writes in plain & raw words without twisting, camouflaging, or concocting what he feels on the issues. I always respected him and if a point of him was disagreed it was another topic. People so comfortably dive in Mariana trenches of Velanai, Atahanagala and Medamulana, cesspools called Leelage Malli that no one else could go below him. Is that the story that crows take bath in Ganga hoping to get rid of their past sin and become swan is true? Why did you skip my question that “What is the religious notion called “adultery” and why do any secular governments have to have a law to regulate it?

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