By A. Kathiravan –
The North and South of Sri Lanka have seen armed insurrections. These are signs that the youth are revolted by the insincerity and hypocrisy of their elders, especially from the ruling classes. However, the new COVID restrictions and their arbitrary waiver to oblige the powerful show that we have learnt nothing about the absolute need for the even application of the rule of law and restrictive regulations.
It was last Friday 6 November that Government Agent and District Secretary, Mr. K. Mahesan, at a press conference announced the new Spartan COVID restrictions: funeral attendance limited to 25, weddings to 50, temple poojas to be done by the priest alone, eating houses to allow only take-out, etc. Masks and hand-handwashing are to be strictly maintained, with 1 m social distancing. Any function or gathering that is unnecessary, he said, is to be scrapped.
Bravo! Here was a man implementing rules that are ignored by-and-large by most. However difficult, the right thing was being done by Mr. Mahesan. The belt-tightening is necessary. Although the pain falls unevenly on some – hundreds of cooks and waiters at restaurants, and even more on workers being laid off, and on shop-keepers suffering loss of sales – the community is supportive of these measures and felt thankful to Mr. Mahesan.
By evening, however, it came to be known that that previous evening, Thursday, from 7 pm onwards Mr. Mahesan had hosted a farewell dinner to an officer who was retiring from the Kachcheri’s transport section. The sumptuous sit-down event was at Hotel Valampuri with some 50 invitees. Masks were not worn, and distancing not maintained as seen in the adjacent photograph – not even by Mr. Mahesan seen in a red sports shirt. The table setting again shows no distancing. The rush to serve at the back of the photo shows the passion for food overcoming health-guidelines.
Worse would follow that evening. People from Colombo are not to come out for fear of spreading COVID. Ordinary folk who came to Jaffna have been locked up. But Mr. Mahesan was hosting a meeting for over 200 high personages at the Kachcheri. There were government ministers, their security detail, and media units! Most were from Colombo. The MOH had protested in writing, prohibiting the meeting for so many in an inadequately sized hall. When asked whether the ubathesam, “preaching,” of the GA does not apply to the GA himself, the GA simply got angry. The MOH said objections had been given in writing to all concerned including to the Ministry of Health. But nothing moved. So health authorities kept their distance from the event.
By afternoon, the three-hour function was in full swing and in breach of all of Mr. Mahesan’s own rules. Protocol was breached when Jeevan Thondaman and the minister for Rural Development were confined to the backrow while Mr. Mahesan, GA-Kilinochchi, state ministers and sundry others were given the first row. The media men of the ministers who were seen crowding around the front to suck up to their ministers. I note that media persons who attended Parliament have been tested positive and confined – the same parliament where GA Mahesan’s distinguished invitees had recently been. Most Jaffna politicians were present. They too had been in that potentially infectious parliament.
The government and opposition politicians were seen to be good friends despite the speeches they make. Strangely Mr. Douglas was seen feeding a female, a prohibited act in Tamil culture except when that female is the wife, or a sister or daughter. A Federal Party elder from the 1970s reminded me of the ridicule that Sirimavo Bandaranaike was subject to during her visit to Jaffna when Additional GA Murgesampillai (maternal grandfather of Gajendrakumar Ponnablalam) garlanded her and newspapers asked if he had married her. Interestingly, during COVID some Christian ministers avoid coming into contact with the Communicant’s mouth when placing the host in it.
To cap it all, that evening 60 of the invitees were hosted by Mr. Mahesan to a dinner at another of Jaffna’s upper-class restaurants for the high-flying, US Hotel. The dinner was charged (I believe to the government) at Rs. 1600 per caput.
The MOH for Kopay ordered the Kopay Divisional Secretary to be home-quarantined for mixing in a large gathering that those from Colombo attended. Within a day, however, she was over-ruled by Mr. Mahesan and let loose in the population. When asked why Mr. Mahesan responded that he had done according to instructions from Colombo!
Is sauce for the goose not sauce for the gander? As a reporter I am angry that these rules do not apply to high officials while I need to eat out on work-related travel, and restaurants fitting my budget are closed. I am reminded about the Tamil adage about the house holder who hid in his room upon hearing a robber ransacking his house and when the robber had gone, put on a front of bravado ordering his servant loudly for all to hear, “Ey, Chuppiah. Get the stick to beat off the robber.” The press conference at the Kachheri seems to me a case of inability to apply the appropriate rules to powerful politicians while posing to us Chuppiahs that the Kachcheri is serious about the regulations.