By Kusal Perera –
Another Vavuniya prisoner dies – DM news (08 August, 2012)
AG finds evidence to file action against Minister – DM online (08 August, 2012)
Ayurveda employees on street protest – Lankadeepa online (09 August, 2012)
Mob led by Buddhist monk takes away Pillayar statue from Panama kovil – dbsjeyaraj.com (06 August, 2012)
US Buyer severs ties with Lankan supplier over labour issues – The Island (07 August, 2012)
Summing up the crisis that’s swelling within this “Cuckoo land” under common labels, could be easier done than quoting news headlines.
Salaries, percentage allocations for education and University Don’s strike; the Z-score scramble, students, parents and university admissions; Ministers, Deputy Ministers, PC and PS Members in assaults, extortions, abductions, sexual abuses, rapes, murders and crimes; tender violations by Ministers; diesel and petrol hedging deals by politicians and henchmen; politically backed “push and dump” looting in the Colombo stock market; plunder with EPF investments under CB Monetary Board; data tinkering, fraud and mismanagement charges on CB Governor; accusations about a CEB mafia, undeclared and declared power cuts; heavy prime land grabbing by powerful politicians; these are not all, but were common issues sifted from recent media reports.
We have thus far come to live without any sensitivity and an apparent lack of any serious political will to get on the feet and start rebuilding ourselves, as a democratic, inclusive society for 20 million people and their generations to come. This seem plainly the fault of the socially embedded educated, professional and influential leaders in society including editors and journalists without doubt, who opinionate and forge social thinking. This is a social segment that for now enjoys the power and the riches as individual social capital accumulation, in a heavily consumerist, non productive but rich Western Province (not Kalutara district though), at the expense of migrant housemaids, garment sector workforce with 83 per cent women and the plantation sector labour, again with over 80 per cent women, all who earn over 63 per cent of our annual foreign earnings. Present day racist politics created through decades of populism, sectarian and ethnically engineered power brokering, competing for more and more racially fired constituencies, is politics of such middle class social leaders.
Such societies don’t bring along a conscious next generation into society that interacts with a social outlook. Its plain and clear in the youth that was educated and groomed to live blind in this society, with a failing education system. For almost 30 years – most issues do overlap with the ethnic conflict and the beginning of the open economy – we have not had youth activism that acted with a social conscience and dialogued on how this country could or should move forward.
Until the mid 1980’s, we had the privilege of walking to the Colombo Public Library auditorium in the evenings to sit through intellectually interesting social debates. There was something most week days. They ranged from direct politics to cultural interactions to abstract art and anything else. From Prof Gamlath’s blitzkriegs against all “Left” groups and personalities except against himself, through many middle of the road literary sermons from men like Sunil Ariyratne, H.D. Premaratne and Kapuge to culturally rebellious youth, some who called themselves the “80 Kalliya” (Clan), but wouldn’t know where they were heading, but still rebelling for a difference. They had booklets and pamphlets thrust on you, one after another on topics and themes that picked from poetry to prose to politics of the grass roots and the elite. There were specialised discourses organised on world literature by journalists like Vincent Kurumbapitiya, with invitees like Sunanda Mahendra, Karunaratne Amarasinghe, Sugathapala de Silva digging into Shakespeare, Dickens, Lawrence, Brecht, Saul Bellow, Kundera, Garcia Marquez, Narayan and more such like. There was also the “People’s Bookshop” opposite Nippon Hotel, Slave Island, ready with all the Soviet classics translated into Sinhala, for anything less than ten rupees.
The 90’s was being set to take a different route, with over a decade of economic liberalising eating into collective thinking. The mad individualised rush to have the better of a consumerist world, saw little of such social dialogue, when the 80’s fizzled off. With the 1987-90 savage insurgency by the JVP massacring most “Left” and democratic activists and their social organisations, the possibility of any further social activism was throttled to lie limp. Within that, the schools and the universities too were left disoriented. Exams delayed, university intakes doubled to gain lost time and the quality imparted, immaterial and cared less.
The 90’s also saw other social options being designed, either as singles or in their combinations. Premadasa’s annual “Gam Udawa” that swept the rural society into a recreational frenzy with high priority, was more than a week’s play. On the airwaves, the advent of Hindi or adopted versions of Hindi cinema over TV and also in VCDs (later in DVD format) kept entertainment locked and personalised in sitting rooms, both urban and rural. They displaced “news” that were then barred on air through TV and gave way to cheap and drab family tragedies in the form Sinhala teledrama that replaced social dialogue.
With new technology that came in with the open economy, the print media too turned into colourful features, bringing in awesome stories than the best and the latest news. A mismatch between technological speed and time that thus evolved, still remains. The “reader” is left to gulp stale information and speculated stories on Sundays, with the broadsheets edited and compiled on Thursday and hitting the news stands on Saturday mornings. This in fact has made Friday and Saturday print media, more a habit than a necessity.
What has taken off from there is far worse. While this has left the rural polity and the urban lower segments off the hook of information dissemination, living glued to third rate “Tele soaps” and carbonated “reality” shows, the urban middle class youth have got into solitary fun and gawky, animated games, far removed from everything around them. Its awfully bewildering now to see a dozen school kids playing games in the afternoon, inside tiny cubicles totally alone, silent and glued to a 12 inch LCD screen. Two decades ago, a dozen kids to stay voluntarily isolated within tiny cubicles in the afternoon, would never have been possible. The new millennium has thus given way to a new trend that breeds social networks in the cyber world of variously frustrated, but pitifully isolated, urban youth.
Their isolation from society, their empty shallowness is heard loud and screaming in songs they turn out as technically advance and visually provocative products. The past 20 years at least have failed to produce a versatile artiste who could stand as tall as Amaradeva, Jothipala, Victor, Latha, Nanda or Nirosha Virajini, among many others of similar fame. The past 20 years have not been able to produce a lyricist, a songwriter linguistically subtle, thematically sensitive and collectively emotional as Sekera, Lucien Bulathsinghala, Ratna Sri Wijesinghe or Yamuna Malini and others with high repute.
The new, jagged and punky performers, they have been ignorant about social issues and have even failed to romanticise their own modern “individualism”. So much so, most youth who make a mark in present day “Star” talent TV competitions, still prefer to try their vocal skills on renditions by Jothipala, Latha, Mallawarachchi, Victor, Indranie and their still popular contemporaries. Today, the “stars” are not there to stay as those “golden oldies” do, but streak across a dead pan sky. You’ve got to catch a “falling star” now.
All this while, the whole public education system left nothing palpable for knowledge growth and no answers sought on long term development. The quality of teachers and teaching itself had also dipped low, with no attention paid. Except for a few metro schools backed by parents with money and political power that try to keep pace with evolving economic patterns, it is company owned private international schools with foreign curricula that are trying to meet the challenge of producing youth for the urban labour market. The private sector has upped that possibility with tertiary education as well. For those with a wider career outlook in the city and access to urban opportunities, the trend is CIMA, CIM and other professional diplomas and degrees from foreign universities and technical colleges for a good fee.
All these years whilst the private sector was trying to find resources they needed and till the “Z-score” proved its nothing but a farce, around 20,000 youth from the large majority of pupils in public schools in this “Cuckoo land”, went through crumbling State universities and then queued in front of the Fort Railway Station demanding government jobs for graduates. Last few years have dumped many thousands of those graduates in government jobs, with this regime trying to diffuse political protests going viral. Divisional Secretariats have crowded dozens posted for jobs there isn’t and without space for none to sit. Often they are told to sign their entry in the morning, get back home and return to sign their exit for the day in the evening, to assure the salary is paid.
These 20,000 unfortunate products of free education are marched annually into ramshackle State universities with no resources. It is also about the rest, over 300,000 each year who are mercilessly dropped out of rural schools, having either failed at the O/L exam, or at the A/L exam and with no tertiary education available anywhere within this free education system. Neither can the stagnant, rural economy afford to provide them with adequate and permanent employment, nor decent income generation, with scores of NGOs providing “livelihood”, “skills” and business “training” for thousands each year, but getting them nowhere.
What of these youth ? Where do they go, for a future ? The city, the parasitic life in urban society, can not absorb them in any way. The space there was when Colombo under British colonial rule absorbed village youth who came in search of jobs and found many to choose from, is no more. The new youth the city may find possibilities for, are not those who come from villages. The city can not have too many youth from villages, waving “mosquito racquets” from city pavements to passing cars. Its this lost youth in this new millennia, who has to go marching behind politicians, to find some government job, a small contract, a Korean job, or a piece of land without title deeds, to toil for a living.
A few weeks ago in Rajanganaya colony, one of the largest begun in 1963, I went about meeting with elderly farmers who were demanding their “farmer pension” unpaid since January this year. A youth, possibly the third generation there and in his early twenties gave me a pillion ride, to Thambuttegama. He was in a blue T-shirt with a chief politician’s name and the number printed in the rear of it. I asked him if he is working for this person at this PC elections. Not his time, he said. So that was the T-shirt he got at the previous PC elections. This time, he is working for another, whose brother is a minister in the government. The reason ? That gives an opportunity to “apply for a job” in the ……. services department, he says. Why couldn’t he get a job, the last time ? Last time his elder brother got a contract to cement a few kms of road. How far has he studied ? “Sat once only” he said and has just two ordinary A/L passes. Why didn’t he try a second time ? “No use. A waste of time…..From here, there’s no chance.”
Almost six years since leaving school, where would he end up ? In a completely atomised, politically dumb society, State power is politicised and decides the fate of rural youth. The politicised society makes some into local politicians and most into side kicks of the district parliamentarians, or the electoral organiser of the ruling party. They then gain control of local Samurdhi recipient lists, job lists and run errands on behalf of the MP, going to State offices in the area and contacting the police too. With local political party structures dismantled and made inactive, they become the village power hub, known to all and consulted by all. A sort of a young “LTTE cadre” who once dictated life in Tamil villages, albeit without weapons in the open.
A count on the number of Local Government members accused and in remand prisons for drug dealing, crimes, sexual abuse and rape, would prove how power corrupts the rural youth much faster than the urban youth. The urban youth romanticises the Face Book, in isolated self pity. The rural youth revels in his new role with political patronage, allowed to misuse power in a militarised post war society. None has concerns about the other and the society, where the elders have comfortably forgotten the values learnt, in growing into a competitive world.
Social injustices, human woes and rights violations, all now pouring out as direct and indirect repercussions of the war that was fought for ethnic supremacy, are day to day issues even in the Sinhala South. For a society that was very much more open and accommodative, clean and dignified when it started life after independence in 1948, a brutal 30 year war against a section of its own citizens to end up with massive destruction to life and limb, private and State property, public infrastructure and the environment, can not be allowed to linger on with such putrefying debris.
To accept life with continually growing, unchecked, politically motivated arrests, torture, abductions, extra judicial killings, custodial deaths, breakdown of social trust on law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, in lieu of winning a military conflict against a “separatist, terrorist” outfit, is far more disgusting and too heavy a cross to bear for the future.
Summing up, its common sense that we would not be able to solve any of these issues, taking them up as separate and isolated issues of moral degradation that needs more Sunday schools, more religious teaching, more religious clergy entering politics to clean up the political culture and as some demand, more stringent laws going up to bringing back capital punishment.
This society should buckle down to serious dialogue in understanding how its education mess, its growing economic disparity and its stagnant rural economy have all grown into a complicated, complex whole and in working out answers, that would treat all as equals, with equal opportunities, instead of talking of election promises. This “Cuchoo land” needs a wake up call.