24 March, 2019

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Do Fish Drink Water – Does Nepotism Matter?

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

Initially this writer could not comprehend the furor over young Mr. Daham Sirisena accompanying his father to New York. It was possible that his official role was that of a ‘private secretary’ who also happened to be the son of the President. To all appearances it was much ado about nothing.

Mr. Daham Sirisena expressed his anguish at what he felt to be unjust or unwarranted criticism with the plaintive words ‘My dear friends, ‘What is Nepotism? This query in cyberspace opened up a new debate and a Pandora’s Box. The occasional opening of a ‘Pandora’s box is not without its merits. The mythical ‘Pandora’s box when opened released misery and sadness but left hope behind. We too can find some hope in this public discourse on ‘nepotism’. It is very unlikely that his response was purely his own. Image engineers can be quite counterproductive. The debate is far more serious. It is a feud between Sovereignty of hypocrisy and Universalism of modernity.

Maithripala Daham

*President Sirisena and Daham in London| File photo 

What is nepotism? The word nepotism derives from the Italian word ‘nepote ’ which means nephew. In days past, the illegitimate progeny of Popes were explained away as “nephews”. They often received paternal patronage. This practice of papal preferential treatment added the term ‘nepotism’ to the lexicon.

Ours is not a rule based culture. Ours is a relationship based culture. How else can you explain the hierarchical succession of our ‘Mahanayake’s who through generations happen to belong to a tiny cluster of villages in the Matale district? The sacerdotal succession in the ‘Siyam nikaya is testimony to institutionalized nepotism in the Sinhala Buddhist ethos. The accepted tradition of well-endowed Temples was to ordain a nephew to perpetuate succession. Today the ceremony is covered on live television.

The Anagarika Dharmapala Trust’ consisting mostly of grandnephews of the revered Anagarika- the ‘homeless ascetic’ is currently engaged with the Mahabodhi Society in the District Court of Colombo over the title to its temple property in the proposed Megapolis! That is nepotism of the ‘Buddhist Hamu’ class.

Yet we live in interesting times. There is great disorder under the heavens and the purebred resist the hybrid with much muscle.

This is the time for us to resolve the dichotomies of our public morals by situating the conversation on good governance, nepotism, corruption, cronyism and human rights in the Universalist frame.

To begin with, Good governance is not home grown in the Mahavamsa land. This is our problem in Geneva as well. The imperialist and decadent west presumes that society should function in a Universalist manner. Political behaviour according to these neo colonial regime manipulators and western theorists should be regulated by laws that apply to everyone. Now that is precisely the grievance of Mr. Gunadasa Amarasekera and Mr. Wimal Weerawansa against Poor Mr. Rajavarothiam Sampanthan.

The calibration of the Capacity of the state to ensure good governance measured against universal benchmarks is a very late 20th and early 21st century phenomenon. The sobriquet ‘Uncle Nephew Party ‘was not resented by the then UNP. Even today Punchi Premadasa is in reluctant cohabitation with JR’s nephew. Comrade Tissa Vithranes the nephew of a Trotsky adherent claims titular succession in the LSSP. Had Mrs. Feroza Muzzamil succeeded in her bid, UNP general secretary Mr. Kabir Hashim woud have had his sister in law in Parliament.

The father and son combinations, husband and wife teams and sons and daughter trekking the paths of glory in family tradition makes our parliament a hybrid of representative democracy and incestuous feudal archaism.

We condemn nepotism but are reconciled to its practice. The reason for our collective tolerance of nepotism, corruption and human rights abuse is because we are not ready for corrective action. Instead we rationalize our ambiguity on grounds that it makes little sense to be “the only one” who has read or heard of Immanuel Kant.

Corruption, Nepotism, Irrational chauvinism are all forms of behaviour. These patterns of behaviour cannot be singled out and defined unless we contextualize how the particular society functions. The advanced democracies are mainly to be found in the west. The western cultures evolved through the ages of renaissance, enlightenment and discovery are rule based. The people in those cultures trust the system.

We in our system trust our family first, friends next and others perhaps.

Our politics are based on personal relationships. That was demonstrated when seven election rejects were appointed to Parliament and rewarded with ministerial office. It was a classic demonstration of organizing governance based on personal relationships and mutual obligation. How can loyalty to cronies be sanctioned and filial or familial loyalty be condemned?

Universal ethical norms are based on the behavioral expectations of the rational individual from which individual responsibility, dignity and individual human rights are derived.

The Sinhala Buddhist world view refuses to acknowledge human beings as individuals but as a single overarching consciousness and a connectedness that is tribal.

The classical Buddhist doctrinal position on free inquiry is contained in the ‘Kalama Sutta’. It is where the Buddha exhorts the Brahamin Kalama “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, “the monk is our teacher.” When you yourself know: These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill, abandon them.” Free inquiry is the one Buddhist ideal that has been utterly distorted in Sri Lanka.

Daham Sirisena accompanying his father is no big deal. That he was allowed to speak for the younger generation of his country at an international event too should not be held against him. Obviously the President would have been advised that his son could play a constructive role in New York. President Sirisena should heed Kautilya who warned his King how difficult it was to detect when exactly the fish drank water. Or do the fish drink water?

Nepotism is considered wrong in some cultures mostly in the west. The lyrics of this hauntingly melodious Sinhala song by Victor Rathnayake encapsulates the distance we need to trek.

“ඔබ මතු බුදුවන දවසේ 
මා රාහුල කුමරුන් සේ 
සෙවන පතා, අද මෙන් පැමිණෙන්නෙමි
 සුළැගිල්ලේ එල්ලී… !

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Latest comments

  • 15
    1

    It was absurd for Sonna boy to accompany his dad on the jaunt.

    It was mockery when he tried to explain and escape from it. Should have kept his mouth shut, come home and let another event take over.

    The whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test.

    Then we are Srilankans, no ? We are immune to unwanted smells, no ? Until the bloody roof falls on our heads.

  • 9
    3

    You too…Sarath ? ep tu Sarath? I never thought you would be an apologist for nepotism. Western or otherwise nepotism in our country brought us misery and hardships. Your tales about mahanayakes ascendancy, pope and nephews does not justify an elected official’s preference to his own blood relatives at the expense of scores of other eligible candidates. MR is an elected official not a religious leader who’s authority ostensibly has an assumed divinity – at least in the minds of devotees. Devotees generally suspend reality and logic when it their religious matters. That’s the nature of religion.

    So, please stop trying to hold a candle to MR and his son.

    • 1
      0

      [Edited out]

  • 6
    4

    People, get a grip! Leave Daham and his trip to the UN aside. I am not defending this wrongful act. Be that as it may, don’t we have more pressing problems to resolve at home like the recent upsurge in gruesome kidnappings, murders and bank robberies that have exacerbated crime; investigate and prosecute those who are suspected of financial crimes and extrajudicial killings; bring justice to our paddy farmers who cannot sell their produce; social health and kidney epidemic among farmers that have been forgotten; the mismanagement of our economy; Central Bank fiasco; our kiss of death to national cricket and most other sports. Add to these issues the more serious UN sponsored resolution against our country. Everyone of these issues I have highlighted need priority than to argue over morality of a kid who tagged along with his father to the UN. Let young Daham Sirisena experience the inner working and the weak links of the UN that has been in my view, a totally useless organization no worse than the NATO, EU, World Bank and IMF that are mainly set up to drive Western interest by imperialists. Let Daham tour New York City, inner city and Harlem, and see for himself the hyped “Utopian democracy” and cronyism in capitalism that are promised by the West is nothing but far from reality. Let Daham experience how democracy itself is been hijacked by mega corporations and “mainstream” media from the vestige and domain of her people. We should assist and help open this kid’s eyes to reality and give him real lesson in life.

    • 1
      2

      Ha! ha!… you think he is going to New York to see the Inner City, the poor, destitute and deprived ???? And that it will be a learning and enriching experience where he will find out that the Western Utopia is just so much hype ??

      I will eat my hat if he even a homeless person outside the Waldorf and the other places where he will actually be hanging out !

      Pull the other one, why don’t you ?

  • 7
    0

    Another thought provoking piece by Sarath de Alwis.

    Thank you for enlightening us with what really is said in the “Kalama Sutta”.

    I recently saw publicly posted pictures at a website where Sri Lankan sons and daughters, many with modern western egalitatian education were publicly worshipping thier parents on their knees with forehead on the ground, on stage, at a ‘aluth avurudda’ function in Sydney Australia. It is but natural that nepotims must follow from such traditional cultural contraptions.

    If we defend and fervently cultivate all facets of this ‘wakutuweyang’ society, where we are made to worship anyone with any authority, no matter how utterly reprehensible they may be, we must then accept nepotism also.

    Oh brother, we have such a long way to go.

  • 15
    0

    Notwithstanding Sarath De Alwis’s clear explanation to help us understand events in New York, I have to disagree with his conclusion that ‘Daham Sirisena accompanying his father is no big deal’. It is.

    Daham Sirisena, is a callow young man with a haughty and arrogant sense of entitlement, and prone to violent outbursts, usually when backed up by his security detail. He has an unreconstructed character, and has not been held to account for violent incidents in which he played a leading part. In these times we live in a global village and his sullied reputation has spread far and wide. Contacts have told me that there were guffaws behind the hands he shook. This would have been a distraction, and an undermining of our President’s judgement. Daham, would be best advised to retreat and clear his name. If done with sincere humility, there is much that he can do, hands on, to show that he is not in the mould of the other brats who have plagued our country with bad behaviour and cheesier smiles.

    As for the youth event, most of us can think of at least a dozen or more decent young people, infinitely more qualified and capable of representing our country, and who would project an altogether far more favourable impression of our young people.

    I commend all those who have taken time to comment. Not to do so would be to accept that ‘everything is fine and dandy’ and that would only lead others to think that this is perfectly acceptable behaviour. It cannot be. Entitlement leads to impunity and impunity may well lead to another diplomat getting a slapping, or worse. You know that is the last thing on our minds

  • 1
    1

    Sarath de Alwis, [Edited out]

  • 8
    0

    Splendid read. Nepotism is ingrained in our political culture from old times. Our kings, following the Indian traditions, were considered divine. The idea one finds across Asia. In Cambodia, the Angkor Wat was a massive complex built to establish the divinity of the king. Power, in our culture, radiates from the person of the king. It first goes to those close to him-his family. Asoka was nepotistic. He chose his son and daughter to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Maithri was following an old tradition. Maybe, the son, in the absence of his wife, knows when he should take his blood pressure pills better than anyone else.

    In India, we have the curse of the Ghandi family. An Italian au pair, who went to learn English in the town of Cambridge, leads the oldest political party and very wise men and women kow tow before her and her politically immature son. The examples are many in South and South East Asia, indeed globally when you take the Bush family or the Clintons into account.

    Yet, these do not provide an excuse for nepotism. We strive towards a meritocratic society. We tell our young that all are equal and the prizes are open to everyone. It is not good if the President promotes his son without telling us what his competence is and why he is preferable to other young people (unless, of course, he is useful in reminding him of his blood pressure medicines, in which case, he should not be entitled to the perks he seems to have).

  • 5
    0

    Sarath is a [Edited out], so how about Rajapaksa father son brother and family in politics and in government? Should we continue the same way with Mr Yahapalana?

  • 10
    0

    Oh come on! This may be erudite but it is way too long and meanders.
    The simple point is this; given the current (post-January 8)context it was very unwise of President Sirisena to have taken his son along and allowed high profile exposure to the media. QED!

  • 2
    16

    So what if the President take his own son to the UN there is no problem at all coz his son wants to learn something new and get to know so that he can do something for the youth of Sri Lanka but our own people don’t understand and they want to make some sort of stories this is our Sri Lankan culture.Forget what people say you carry on with ur duties Mr.daham

    • 1
      0

      So what ?All sons and daughters of all fathers should be given the same opportunity of learning if they are of equal competence to the President’s son.

  • 2
    4

    Very illuminating article, please translate the song verse

  • 6
    2

    Sarath de Alwis

    RE: Do Fish Drink Water – Does Nepotism Matter?

    “To all appearances it was much ado about nothing.”

    “What is nepotism? The word nepotism derives from the Italian word ‘nepote ’ which means nephew. In days past, the illegitimate progeny of Popes were explained away as “nephews”. They often received paternal patronage. This practice of papal preferential treatment added the term ‘nepotism’ to the lexicon.”

    “Ours is not a rule based culture. Ours is a relationship based culture. How else can you explain the hierarchical succession of our ‘Mahanayake’s who through generations happen to belong to a tiny cluster of villages in the Matale district? The sacerdotal succession in the ‘Siyam nikaya is testimony to institutionalized nepotism in the Sinhala Buddhist ethos. The accepted tradition of well-endowed Temples was to ordain a nephew to perpetuate succession. Today the ceremony is covered on live television.”

    Yes, Sinhala culture is nepotism based culture. Karave Caste was not allowed to be ordained.

    “The father and son combinations, husband and wife teams and sons and daughter trekking the paths of glory in family tradition makes our parliament a hybrid of representative democracy and incestuous feudal archaism”

    Yes. From a Sinhala cultural viewpoint, Mr Sirisena and Daham Sirisena did nothing wrong.

    From a democracy viewpoint and due process and meritocracy viewpoint, yes it was wrong.

    Well, D.S. Senanayaka Selected Dudley Senanayaka.

    SLFP Selected Srima Bandaranaika.

    Sri Bandaranaika Selected Anura Aandaranaika ans Chandrika Bandaranaika.

    Mahinda Rajapaksa selected a Village full of nepotistic cronies..

    The list of Sri Lankan nepotism is long…

  • 5
    0

    An interesting view and excellent post – as usual!

    However, I don’t think that “Free inquiry is the one Buddhist ideal that has been utterly distorted in Sri Lanka.”

    In my view, the whole crux of the Gautama Buddha’s philosophy -ie: The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, has been forsaken by the great majority of our ‘so-called’ monks, who are more concerned with power and ‘business’.

    What we are left with is a travesty of what the Buddha left us with. And the tragedy is that most ‘Buddhists’ here go along for the ride!

  • 4
    0

    MERIT, meaning achievement, qualifications, skills of a person should be the basis for selection to attend such meetings as the Youth Summit of the UN.
    Merit based promotions and selection to all government posts should be the operative word for.

    This article should be translated to educate the Sinhala Moda public who vote consistently for corrupt politicians, rather than for those who are educated and not corrupt.

    But this article LACKS a positive statement that MERIT based society rather than a corruption and cronyism based society is what Sri Lanka and Sinhala Buddhist hierarchy needs. Such positive statements are needed to educate the Sinhala Modayas.

    It is sad that the word merit is not used in this article to point out the alternative and better path for development.

    • 0
      0

      The purpose of this article was to [Edited out]

  • 4
    0

    Lovely content, I wish it actually expressed an opinion…but then again that’s the hard part isn’t it ?

    Express an opinion and the cyber warriors tear you apart !

  • 2
    0

    One salient point the author made I do agree with, that “Free inquiry is the one Buddhist ideal that has been utterly distorted in Sri Lanka” – politicians and their offspring, amongst others, has turned free inquiry into freeloading!

  • 11
    0

    Sarath, though I agree with much of what you have said in your essay, during the Presdential election campaign the Sirisena promised us “yahapalanaya” and pledged he will shun family patronage. He was voted in on purely on that promise, and not for more of the same as provided by Mahinda.

    8 January was therefore a watershed moment with the expectation that we won’t see President Sirisena behaving the way Mahinda did. Alas, the new President promptly appointed his brother as Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom! May be he is well qualified for the job, but were other candidates considered and was there any transparency in the appointment?

    Then recently Sirisena’s daughter (who has no official position) goes round the country dragging government officials along doing her thing, however noble.

    Now the son (of Pasikudah assault fame) is flying to New York (presumably on tax-payers money) without an acknowledged official designation, sitting at the UN General assembly meetings and hobnobbing with Presidents and world leaders!

    Not only is the ordinary citizen is watching all this unsavoury drama, but the rejected opposition is recording all this with utmost glee.

    Just because wrong things were preached/practiced in the past do we condone those as best practice to be continued to eternity?

    Nalaka, you are more intelligent than that, and the Victor Ratnayake classic you quote won’t cleanse the wrong-doings.

  • 1
    0

    Correction. I meant Sarath not Nalaka in my concluding remarks.
    Apologies to Nalaka!

  • 6
    1

    “”Ours is a relationship based culture.””
    Commenced with Buruva`(portugese Buro) Shape shape shape culture of bad English logic.

    What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value.
    Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual.
    Asians of Chinese cultural background, values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient.
    Values of sinhalese- wisdom of the foolish one- Shape shape shape culture of bad logic and extra hindsight- 2500 calle.

    With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries…
    SARC countries in particular are like the little boy mop rubbing the poo all over in a relational data base as he has no identity of his borrowed cultures from sharia law The old fart seated on a tree to be worshiped- wisdom of foolish buddha.

    “”Our politics are based on personal relationships.””

    Is it not plain that `passion` rather than reason rules the world at large??

    The English have got bad logic, but very good tentacles in their brains for sensing danger and preserving life.

    “”The Sinhala Buddhist world view refuses to acknowledge human beings as individuals but as a single overarching consciousness and a connectedness that is tribal.””

    The Bestiality Beast is yet to be a Biped of the human world.(mahawamse)

    The wisest man is often one who pretends to be a `damn fool`- chinese buddha.

  • 3
    1

    Sarath de Alwis

    Mark Tully of BBC asked Indra Gandhi about nepotism within her party and the state.

    She was reported to have said that Indians valued extended family social system.

    • 3
      0

      Twisting their way.

      Here is a sample:

      A Nigerian politician was arraigned on huge bribery.

      Judge: How do you explain you bribing the Official?

      Defendant: We all carry with us tokens of respect, when we visit elders. Such gifts are part of our tradition, aren’t they your Honour! How does that become a bribe, in my case?

      Judge: But your gift is valued at millions!

      Defendant: A poor villager may gift a hen. Another may gift a goat. The value of the gift depends on the ability of the giver, won’t it be your Honour? How does something within my means become a bribe?

      Judge: The defendant is acquitted.

  • 3
    1

    He was accompanied with all most all official tours but P.media never show him

  • 1
    6

    It certainly matters in some human rights NGOs such as the Asian Human Rights Commission…..doesn’t it Basil?

    • 2
      0

      they got their knickers in a twist with the magnificent idler.

      Whom you seek has gone far from this world of passion.

    • 2
      0

      John Stewart Sloan ,

      getting a paycheck or getting results?

      War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
      in the island of Ghosts and Slippery Slitherer (yakkas and nagas)

      Humanitarian Operation (Hindian Passion like Bollywood)

      When we become biped we see `reasonableness` so shake hands but they wriggle their own. shape shape shape.

      In every period England was able to fight the right war, against the right enemy, with the right ally, on the right side, at the right time, and call it by a wrong name.

      Equality of opportunity is utopia even in the west it is passion for millennial

  • 4
    2

    Nice fkg defence of liar Sirisena and his Clan. Mr Sarath Lickspittle can now expect to receive “something” to enjoy in his dotage.

  • 3
    0

    Oh Tempora, Oh Mores ! What is it with our SriLankans, we are the first to cast ‘the stone’ but the last to acknowledge that we too are guilty of committing Nepotism at every turn publicly or privately, whether a public figure or not. None of us are paragons of virtue, you have had your say now call it off. What is done is done, just move on !!

    • 0
      0

      @ElDorado
      Did you have the same cavalier attitude toward the Rajapakse’s nepotism and sense of entitlement ?
      Just asking ..

      • 0
        0

        human stupidity has no limits- ask the buddha ; they are happy people.

  • 0
    0

    Mr De Alwis,
    While I really enjoy what you contribute to this publication, I have to agree with Spring Koha:there is a time to call halt to what we KNOW to be a major contributor to the ultimate misery of everyone in this country. And this is that time.
    To hell with “tradition” if that was what Sirisena Jnr was following! Let’s at least try to take the first steps away from nepotism which, particularly recently, showed in SPADES what it could lead to, inclusive of death and dismemberment.

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