21 June, 2024

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Government Celebrates Independent Of The People

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The day before Independence Day, a book launch took place at the Mangaiyar Mandapam Hindu Women’s Society in Wellawatte. The two books launched were biographies of a father and son who contributed to public life in Sri Lanka over the past century. The father was Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy a former speaker of parliament (known as the State Council during the British colonial period). The son was Yogendra Duraiswamy who became an ambassador representing the country in many foreign capitals who was also the Government Agent of Jaffna during the time of the civil war. I personally knew the latter and was befriended by him. He stood for non-violence and accommodation with the state as the best way to protect the interests of the Tamil people and the people-at-large.

Those who attended the book launch were mostly from an older generation. They had experienced the early hopes of Independence when the departing British rulers saw Sri Lanka as a potential “Switzerland of the East.” They had also lived through the drying up of those hopes during the decades that followed, which saw violence overtake the country, first in the south and later in the north. The music and décor of the meeting was from the Tamil cultural tradition but there was no sense of separation or division. There was a mix of Tamil and Sinhalese speakers and it was difficult to imagine a polity so ethnically divided as to have gone to war on the issue. The overall sense was one of unity and togetherness, which was symbolized by the playing of the music of the national anthem at the end of the event.

The biography of Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy illustrates a different time and different country, Sri Lanka that was. In 1911, the British rulers gave the people of the country the right to elect a single representative to the colonial legislature. It was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who won that first election, defeating his Sinhalese rival, Sri Marcus Fernando. Nearly three decades later, Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy ensured that history was repeated when he was elected speaker, defeating his Sinhalese rival Sir Cyril de Zoysa, KC (King’s Counsel as senior lawyers were known at that time who later became president of the senate). In both of these cases, the majority of electors were Sinhalese yet they voted for Tamils, as the racial divide was not uppermost in their minds.

Shrunken Polity 

The 76th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence from the British was marked in a manner in which the government was unable to reconnect with the best in our past. There was no public demonstration of national fervor or patriotism with barely any national flags on display. The Independence Day parade was a toned down affair necessitated by the economic crisis caused by borrowing more than the country is earning due to mismanagement and profligacy. On one side sat the dignitaries and on the other side stretched the green grass of Galle Face till the sea. There were no people, the general population was kept away, perhaps out of concern that they would protest against the government having a military parade when they and their families were hungry and malnourished as every survey shows, with the gap growing apace.

As a result, the country’s cultural art forms of dance, music and costume were absent, and only compensated by the presence of military units which was especially visible in the absence of the general population. A big golden coloured lion was wheeled down the road as a symbol of the majority culture. The richness of the polity, in which diversity is a cornerstone, was absent. The representatives of the country’s opposition political parties were also absent, including politicians from the minority ethnic and religious communities. The Independence Day event exposed the government as being an increasingly isolated one in which its one source of strength was its control over the security forces. They were the ones present on the ground and they were the recipients of more perks and benefits on that day. The president approved promotions for a total of 211 officers from the Sri Lanka Army and 1,239 Other Ranks of the Army. This has been the norm on Independence Day. Last year on account of the 75th anniversary of Independence the president promoted as many as 208 officers of the Sri Lanka Army and 7,790 Other Ranks to their respective next rank.

The government has also been systematically increasing the powers available to law enforcement agencies to quell dissent. The Online Safety Act gives broad powers to assess and remove “prohibited” content. The wide-ranging law prohibits “false statements about incidents in Sri Lanka”, statements with “an express intention of hurting religious feelings” and the misuse of bots, among other things. These will all be subject to interpretation by government-appointed commissars. The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act, Broadcasting Authority Act and NGO Act which are in the pipeline would give government-appointed decision makers the power to decide whether trade union action and political opinion can be subject to punitive measures as they are intended to harm the sovereignty and public order in the country.

New Alienation 

In the Tamil-dominated north and east of the country there was a reversion to a combination of black flag protests and general indifference. This has been part of a general trend since the ethnic conflict escalated during the first decade of the country’s independence. The Tamil people in particular whose representatives such as Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan were once able to represent the entire polity with the support of the Sinhalese majority have become alienated. Since Independence, and the installation of the democratic system based on majority voting by the general population, the Tamil people have found themselves to be a disempowered minority. This is not a situation they wish to celebrate for Independence brought them little, which the Sinhalese and other communities are now also feeling.

The promise that President Ranil Wickremesinghe gave nearly two years ago when he became president, and which he did not keep, would be especially disappointing. The president promised to solve the ethnic conflict in the 75th year of the country’s independence. Now it is the 76th year, and the government has not even been willing or able to implement the 13th Amendment to the constitution which devolved a limited amount of powers to the provinces. It is not only the ethnic and religious minorities who feel let down by this failure to deliver on promises made. The manner in which the government passed the Online Safety Act despite the appeals by the opposition political parties, civil society organisations, the UN system and the international community have called into question the government’s commitment to democracy.

The way in which the government is adamantly going ahead with the Anti-Terrorist Act after having passed the Online Safety law is clearly directed at closing the democratic space for all sectors of government that are not under the control of the government. As a result, those civil society organisations that were partnering the government in the Open Government Partnership (a multilateral initiative of many governments) have decided to withdraw from the process. There are similar concerns regarding the pending NGO Registration and Supervision Act. The draft law indicates that any action deemed to “affect core cultural values” and the “safety and interests of public order,” among others, can lead to the suspension and shutting down of individual non-governmental organisations. It is in these circumstances that a tsunami of opposition is growing and the government is preparing its fortifications.

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Latest comments

  • 20
    1

    What the Government is really celebrating is not the independence of the people but the dependence of the people. They are celebrating the dependence of the people on a few hundred corrupt, power hungry politicians. The money wasted on ‘independence’ day would have been better spent on feeding the poor.

    • 14
      4

      Sinhalese only Government and Sinhalese only military celebrated the victory of death of democracy, victory of corruption and victory of bankcruptcy.

    • 5
      3

      P
      The Independence day was not celebrated for five years I think since the Republican constitution of 1972 until JRJ restored it in 1978.
      But they celebrated the ‘Republic Day’ instead.

    • 4
      11

      No mention here of RENEWED COLONIZATION by US-UK-and the Colonial Club de Paris?! Sri Lanka’s lost Economic Sovereingty.
      Shame Dr. JP.
      Let’s focus on what matters rather than the Beggars wound of ethnic conflict that get you funding from the Euro-American War Machine.

      Lets focus on Debt Justice and Economic Independnece form Eurobond debt colonialism unfolding with the US backed Aragalaya puppet Ranil Rajapakse regime to sell off the country as the IMF Firesale.

      TIme for Dr. JP to stop playing Culture Wars and ethno-religious identity politics and focus on Economic Rights, Economic Justice for ALL Sri Lankans, and the fact that his donors are the biggest Rogue States and Human Rights violators on the Planet — pounding Gaza.
      Gaza needs independence and so too does Sri Lanka and the Global SOuth need to be decolonized from these foreign funded NGO hacks!

      US-UK and French military bases of occupation must be kicked out of Asian and the Indian Ocean World and sent back to North America and Europe and the Atlantic where they belong!

  • 19
    1

    A foreigner I met on the street asked me why there were so many armed personnel, riot squads, water cannons positioned all over Colombo on the day of Independance. I smiled sheepishly,

    • 8
      4

      People are like beasts.. They dont care about law and order.
      .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-dMtO1wXGU

  • 7
    3

    In order to send the messag across to former colonial masters, and the world, it should be within margins. That the govt did whoever whatever being said and done. Everyone might have their thoughts about it, but people are today trustning nobody. This is important as a country whoever whatever being posted for their sake. large portions of americnas and europeans dont know even the location of srilanka. English and some countries may be aware, but our geogrpahical locations too is not clear so many of the amerincans. But our rabblerousing majority woudl think that we are such a proud and powerful nation.

    Externally we dont know ho much it works wthin innerly in srilanka, but mostly it is thinkable they are far from building the society for common goal for the country. i would have been happier, on this independence day, if all parties could join hand together for common goals for the country which is now fallen on the edge of precipice by every areas. It is said, a scarcity of meciine is eimminent becuaes the mess created by former Minister of Health Keheliya is multifacented and linked for the loads of mecines that were already ordered.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3-M4h74040&t=4862s

  • 6
    1

    Government Celebrates Independent Of The People

    Government Celebrates Independent Day with depended to IMP

    When you rely on someone else you give them the power to control.

  • 7
    0

    Something worth noting:
    .
    “The biography of Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy illustrates a different time and different country, Sri Lanka that was. In 1911, the British rulers gave the people of the country the right to elect a single representative to the colonial legislature. It was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who won that first election, defeating his Sinhalese rival, Sri Marcus Fernando. Nearly three decades later, Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy ensured that history was repeated when he was elected speaker, defeating his Sinhalese rival Sir Cyril de Zoysa, KC (King’s Counsel as senior lawyers were known at that time who later became president of the senate). In both of these cases, the majority of electors were Sinhalese yet they voted for Tamils, as the racial divide was not uppermost in their minds.”

    • 6
      0

      VERY NEXT ELECTION, THEY (LOW COUNTRY SINHALESE) HAD NO CONTEST PACT!!!??? RAMANATHAN AND ARUNACHALAM BECAME HISTORY!!!??? No rocket science!!???

    • 5
      0

      Ruchira

      “It was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who won that first election, defeating his Sinhalese rival, Sri Marcus Fernando.”

      Do you know why?

      • 0
        3

        Good nature of our leaders – what else could it be?

  • 10
    0

    Not to pick holes Jehan……..

    Sir Cyril was not a Q.C. He was a practicing Proctor in his early years.
    It was not a practice then to confer Silk on Proctors.

    • 8
      0

      Plato,
      You are absolutely on the money! Sir Cyril de Zoysa, was a Leading Proctor, (Passed in 1921) practicing first at Balapitiya Police Courts – his hometown – for few years (5) and then moved to Kalutara Bar where he immersed himself in the Kalutara Bodhi Restoration!! He was President of ‘The Senate’ from 1955 to 1961 and made “Knight Bachelor” in 1955, as such addressed as SIR CYRIL. He wasn’t a Kings Counsel (KC) Pre 1952 or Queens Counsel (QC) Post 1952. Therefore, KC or QC after his Surname, would be considered out of Place!!
      Traditionally, Advocates and Barristers, (Before FDB combined and classified as Attorneys) were those who Gained Silk in recognition of their service!!! Proctors were Primarily, Instructing Counsel of the Supreme Court and/or Notary Public, they were classified as Proctor SC and NP, which I believe they had to pass special exam, and licensed accordingly and specialised in Land Transactions!

  • 13
    2

    Sir.Ponnambalam Ramanathan defeating Sir Markus Fernando and Sir.Waitialingam defeating Sir.Cyril no doubt showed Sinhala Tamil unity in a bygone era but the CASTE factor played a dominant role in both elections. Sir Markus.was Karawe and Sir.Cyril was Salagama. To this day this factor is practiced within the Buddhist Clergy.with different sects for non Goigama monks.

    • 7
      0

      Plato,
      I hope you are sure of this Caste Divide in Southern part of Sri Lanka (Meaning area outside North-eastern Sri Lanka), because the claim is that the people in South only use the caste tag for Marriage Proposals – as in Matrimonial advertisements – Not otherwise, all caste is overlooked by southerners UNLIKE THE NORTHERNERS in Jaffna!! Buddhist clergy I agree, that’s why we have 4 different sects!!!??? Prince Siddhartha, Gautama the Buddha, never preached that, but Facts are Stubborn!!??? Well, we have to accept it, Glaring Fact!!
      Really surprised that they still in 21st Century enjoy and maintain differentiation in Caste!? Perhaps it takes time, as these are very sensitive matters, indeed!?

    • 3
      0

      Plato,
      Four of them are not “Sinhalease”.

  • 14
    0

    Who Ranil has given independence to ……… and brought back to life ……. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk8rN-lZNCU

    • 9
      0

      This guy is Master of Misinformation, (CONNER) better than Goebbels!!??
      If i heard him right the country didn’t go Bankrupt during the SLPP/GR regime!!?? They didn’t stop paying Loans and honoured every bit of it!!? His fantasy!!!?? These good stories for uneducated rural Folk!
      The Loan due on 22nd March 2022 was NOT Paid!! No Funds and No Reserves even?? Only alternative was to Declare bankruptcy!! They DID!?
      MR resigned after that -9th May 22 and GR went away on flight May 2022?? Is he thinking we are all Apes, to have these wild monkeys as President, PM and Cabinet!!!??? Lies and Bl—dy Lies to TOP IT ALL!!??

    • 5
      0

      nimal fernando

      Is it possible for you to take Namal Baby with you when you go back to USA?

      • 4
        0

        Native,

        To hell with Pacifism and Buddhism: he should’ve been killed at birth!

        It’s the wellbeing of one man vs. wellbeing of 24 million citizens.

        Now you know why I admire Prabakaran ………. he had very practical efficient solutions to problems!!

  • 0
    0

    Come of Jehan, what independence, whose independence, who won the independence and from whom. The white masters just left and went after giving back India to Indians. That was the time we lost our wisdom, freedom and the survival instinct. Until then we were a prosperous country with very humble people who went about looking after their lives and of course carrying the whites in rickshaws and pallakkus. Then came the disaster with a few educated sinhala christians took over and soon Solomon brought “appe anduwa” and let loose the idiots to feel an imaginary power. The guys were too primitive and not ready at all to run a country. The sarong clad guys with broad black belt and a hanky tied around the heads were not ready. But whatever happened happened and now after 76 years we just concluded another festival called Independence Day. It was nothing but a big commedy with some out dated military left overs and some guys in unbelievable decorations unheard of their bravery and public are forcibly kept away. So we are in a state where the peoples freedom is taken away and only a few yes men and so-called powerful enjoy the freedom. Do we really need such a ceremony for an event that does not exist.

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