Another year… and the “prodigal sons” of Mother Lanka are in their element squandering millions of rupees for the pageantry in the name of the Diamond Jubilee (75 years) of National Independence. The present State is the antithesis of independence and democracy. Therefore, the veneer of patriotism is too flimsy to conceal the desire for personal glory on the part of those in the upper echelons of the hierarchy. The country’s economy is razed down by an avalanche of cataclysmic policy decisions by these same wise rulers coupled with corruption, fraud, nepotism, elitism, etc., all ably supported by their authoritarian regime. Violations of basic Human Rights and democratic values manifest themselves in every aspect of civilian life from education to health to freedom of speech. The country is inundated with debt, taken, and utilized in the most imprudent and unproductive manner, and its people are crushed by poverty and injustice while being cruelly subjected to exorbitant cost of living, and exponential hike in utility bills and taxation amounting to extortion. Whose independence, then, is being celebrated? Not the country’s or its people’s for certain!
The curses of mothers whose children are starving, the remonstrance of the young whose elderly parents are dying from the dearth of medication, the protests of professionals against unfair tax regulations, the fury of farmers abandoned by the authorities, will be louder than the canons firing and drums booming on Independence Day. We love our motherland and, therefore, respect the true heroes who liberated the country. However, basking in the glory of those proud forefathers, what moral right do the present leaders have to imagine that they share that honour? What is their achievement and what is the legacy they hope to be remembered by?
Is it the looting of the national coffers? Or the undermining of democracy? Or the oppression of the innocents? Or the overnight ban on chemical fertilizer which jeopardized the country’s agriculture immeasurably? Or the irregularities in and the mismanagement of the misadventures of the ships and Covid vaccinations? Or the racist agenda they promoted? Or the patronization of criminals and the injudicious Presidential Pardons extended to those whose guilt was confirmed by Courts? Or the politicization of institutions, including the Police and even, say critics, the Office of the Attorney General? Or the series of assassinations, abductions and forced disappearances of our people? Or the alleged setting up of functional torture chambers, the newest version of which is envisaged in the so-called Bureau of Rehabilitattion? Or the forced cremation of the covid-dead? Or the lives lost in fuel queues and the unprecedented explosion of LPG gas cylinders causing loss of life and limb? Or the underhanded attempts to delay and detract justice for the victims of the Easter Sunday Attack? Or the brazen betrayal of the protesters’ call for a complete paradigm shift in governance? Or is there some even more precious enterprise they can boast of? While they indulge in extravagant tamashas to mark public or private occasions, the people are left with, to make an understatement, bleak prospects.
Today’s release of Wasantha Mudalige, the Convenor of the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF,) after having been held for more than a hundred and sixty days under the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) without any basis, bolstered by fabricated accusations and false witnesses, no doubt saw the whole country sigh with relief and cheer with gusto. However, this should only be the beginning of attaining similar justice for the thousands of other nameless prisoners taken under the draconian PTA law. It is certainly a huge step in the right direction, but much remains to be done. In this regard, it is pertinent to mention that the US Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, in her address today, emphasized the need to amend PTA law in Sri Lanka to meet international standards. To repeal it altogether is a demand from activists as well.
When the people have the real freedom to live without harassment by the State, when the quality of life is improved so people do not flee the country in despair, when oppression is wiped out and equality and justice are established, when the culpable are locked safely behind bars, when the drug ring is seized and destroyed, when the plundered wealth is retrieved to resuscitate our dwindling economy, when Sri Lankans can be proud of their nationality once more, when Sri Lanka is able to rid herself of the recent blemishes of notoriety for child abuse, suicide, poverty, inflation, debt, human rights violations, corruption, etc., when democracy is fully restored, then, and only then, would we have a conducive atmosphere to celebrate Independence Day when its true spirit of freedom will pervade our lives.
While we sincerely salute the National Heroes and pledge loyalty and love to our Motherland, we cannot recognize the present leadership as deserving any such laurels as it perpetuates and defends the capricious path to ruin our economy, our society, our morals, the rudiments of our wellbeing. Even if they applaud themselves and literally blow their own trumpet, the lies and the liars shall eventually perish. What then, are the “great expectations” of these septuagenarians and others nearing or past that stage? To be old and yet, not wise, to have such people at the helm is a national tragedy. Their guilt is already written in our history in indelible ink that is redder than the carpet they like to tread on Independence Day. We must heed the advice of the learned such as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) Saliya Peiris PC, and benefit from the serious observations regarding the enforcement of accountability and the rule of law that he made in his speech on Black January recently. Unless each leader or citizen determines to reach a sincere and positive change of heart, remote are the chances of rescuing one’s reputation from infamy and blame. While there is opportunity still, one can either mend one’s ways or resign as those with self-esteem do in other lands.