By Vishwamithra –
“There is such a thing as a national conscience, and it can be touched.” ~ Charles Kuralt
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala village, 8 miles northeast of Kegalle town in Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. In 2011, there were 96 elephants, including 43 males and 68 females from 3 generations, living in Pinnawala. Its close situation to Rambukkana, an electorate known to have been represented in parliament by the famous Karunaratne family, siblings N H Keerthiratne and Asoka Karunaratne in the fifties, sixties and seventies and Samantha, Asoka K’s daughter later.
Rambukkana is a laid back sleepy town in Kegalle district. It’s somewhat of a difficult task to remember how to get there unless, of course, you are an elephant lover. The aforementioned Pinnawala elephant orphanage is just about few minutes away from Rambukkana and for those who are keen lovers of elephants, this is your place to be.
It was in the afternoon on April 19, just past 4 pm, that Rambukkana erupted and became famous (or more aptly put, infamous) for the first spill of blood at the altar of People’s Struggle for Economic justice. Precisely after 16 days of the first protest on April 3, opposite the Galleface Green, one innocent life was claimed by the struggle and the police officers who manned the protest site in Rambukkana town blinked first.
No such violence was ever advocated by the protesters nor should it be condoned, whether committed by either party, yet it’s inevitable that human lives will be lost until a mutually agreeable settlement is reached between the two parties, protesters and the government. This may well be the first sacrifice, but rest assured it won’t be the last. Such is ironical evolution of a revolution!
Public anger is peaking. Its borders are no more expanding; when anger turns into public fury there will be hell to pay. Any measures to mitigate its spread do not seem to be adequate, nor do they represent a result of strategic thinking. It’s even futile to assume that the current ruling family has any element of knowledge or competence to deal with such drastic situations of breakdown of public peace. Kicking the can down the road will not serve any significant purpose.
In other words, the Galle Face protesters have taken over the national conversation totally. Television news is being dominated by the protesters and their seemingly indomitable effort to draw public attention, not unto themselves but very aptly towards the very subject matter of the protest: suppressive cost of living, spiraling cost of fuel, scarcities of essential household commodities and unpardonable corrupt practices committed by the so-called First family of Sri Lanka.
From rural Medirigiriya to Dehiattakandiya, from Point Dondra to Point Pedro and from Colombo to Kalmunai, from all corners of the land only one refrain resonates and that refrain is asking Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to go home. An innocent protest march has turned into a national dynamic, the organism of which is eating into the very fabric of our collective political mindset. A culture is emerging from the deep resentment of the government’s incapacity, its incompetence and its all-consuming corruption and naked greed. On the one hand we, who live in these turbulent times, are unpleasantly unfortunate to experience this sociocultural mayhem and witness the political decadence, it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime privilege to be part of this upheaval which has attracted many a youth in the country.
A unique spectacle is unfolding before our eyes; a movement of people’s hearts and minds that were hereto been in deep slumber in the land of ‘comfort zone’, deceived by politicians and easy decisions procrastinated by an inefficient and incompetent bureaucracy; daily lives made miserable by scarcities; transport paralyzed for want of fuel; cooking made irregular and households despondent by non-availability of cooking gas and despite all this comical circus of sociopolitical ballet, the youth of the country is dramatizing an incredible sense of leadership and empathy for their fellow citizenry.
As was penned in my last column, the economic crisis that literally swallowed our country has indeed become a beacon of hope for the future. Whatever definition one can ascribe to sacrifice and determination and stoicism, our youth has shown that they possess all those enviable characteristics. The death in Rambukkana is, in fact, a harbinger of that sacrifice, determination and stoicism, all in one personified in our youth.
How long either side, the youth or the government, would hold on to their respective positions is anybody’s guess. But given the current status of the economy and its fluctuating and unpredictable behavior on a daily basis, the side that wins the battle might not be the ultimate winner in the probing eyes of historians who will have the hindsight because they will pen their analyses and judgments after the events have already taken their course crossing many a peak and valley. We do not have the comfort of that hindsight now; we are writing and reporting and chronicling the events as and when they occur in real time. Our judgments, our analyses and our ultimate reading of all what’s unfolding now may become totally imprecise and erroneous in the short term; but yet they may well be very close to the stark truth yet to manifest in the long term.
Allow me to hand that task to future historians. Nonetheless, for any one of us, disregard one’s immediate environment and ill-defining the context of events is no option,. The Rajapaksas have driven the country and its coffers and its citizens to ground. They buttressed their failing election campaign with some of the best branding minds in the country. Having been given the advantage of being branded at first as the war-heroes, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family may have come to the flawed conclusion that the war-victory also handed them an unqualified license to rape Mother Lanka. They were so clumsily mistaken. Mother Lanka may have been suffering under the threat of being vanquished by a brutal army led by that man, Prabhakaran and his Tigers. But when the sounds of guns fell silent, the Mother of all children who claim Lanka as their land of birth was not ready to expose her rarified interior to half-educated, self-centered family whichever ancestral home they claim as their origin.
The Deep South of Ceylon has had an illustrious history, beginning from King Kavantissa and King Dutu Gemunu. Those who hail from that part of our land are proud but not arrogant; they could be ruthless but with an unfailing trait of being merciful. The Rajapaksas cannot connect some un-connectable dots and turn a crooked one into a straight line. They, time and time again, proved that their unsounded allegiance to their kith and kin is not their strength, on the contrary it was their fatal flaw. Nepotism is certainly not an acceptable substitute for competency, nor is it one for enduring leadership.
They are all children of that unkind father called ‘accident of birth’. But what they performed after assuming power was no accident. All the siblings, sons and nephews consciously conspired to loot the country’s wealth; they willfully allowed themselves into the national assets which they thought was bottomless. The day it hit them that what they pilfered was what would have been saved as the country’s wealth, no longer could the youth wait without action. So was born the ‘Galleface Struggle’.
Without a leader but still with precise direction, without a prearranged plan but still with a sharply defined purpose, they got on to the streets, firstly in Colombo, then in Kandy, Kurunegala, Vavunia, Galle, Medirigiriya, Dehiattakandiya and the remotest hamlets in the land, the struggle spread its wings, capturing the imagination of the leaders of all religions, castes and faiths. The country’s conscience was awakened; her hearts began a vibrant beat; her collective mind appealed to the most helpless folks and they fascinated the wealthiest who led most comfortable lives.
The appeal is universal; the organization is spontaneous and the need is desperate. No political leader had the guts to come to the land of the struggle- Galleface Green. No turning back, no belated regrets and no compromise whatsoever. The Rajapaksas must go. They must abdicate power not for the sake of the country, not for the sake of their families, even not for their crude and uniquely corrupt themselves. They must go because it’s the right thing to do.
The youth celebrated their Sinhalese and Tamil New year on the Green. Both ends of the Green were like revolving doors- when one batch leaves another batch enters. Unplanned yet orderly flow of humanity consisting of artists, cricketers and other celebrities who felt left out decided that their glory and pomp is of no value or any relevancy if their mite is not contributed to this national fight. So they too came.
The lotus-eaters started their usual armchair critique. Their main question was as to who fills the vacuum created by the exit of the Rajapaksas. Do not worry and do not bother to find out who would come in place of the most undesirable rulers Sri Lanka has ever known. When the dust settles and all the chips are down there will emerge an assembly of leaders who shall lead this land to that un-promised oasis. Their hands will be busy and clean and above all un-bloodied!
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org