By Arjuna Ranawana –
If you ever visited my verdant and beautiful home town, the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka in the last 17 years or so and went to see it’s more revered landmark, the Temple of the Tooth, you should have noticed that the road going past the building on the side of the Lake is closed.
The closure runs from the point at which a little road down to the Lake on the Buwelikada side beyond the temple to Dalada Veediya.
Now the reason why the road is closed is to ostensibly prevent terrorist attacks against the hallowed Temple which we locals simply call the Maligawa or Palace.
Yes, despite its universally recognised place in the hearts of Buddhists worldwide, and an iconic international heritage site, this place was attacked twice by terrorist groups. The first attack was by the Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya – a now defunct nationalist military arm of the JVP in 1989. The second, quite devastating attack was by the LTTE in 1998. The DJV was apparently trying to steal arms from a military detachment at the temple. The LTTE strike was typically a pure terror attack aimed at killing civilians at a non-military target and also hit at the sentiments of the majority community by attacking a place which has iconic, historic and cultural importance to them.
In the face of such strikes it is reasonable that the road leading up to the temple be closed to better police the historic sites.
But it is perplexing to me why the road still remains closed as the threat of an attack on the Maligawa has changed dramatically.
The LTTE’s military capability to make a strike at a target such as the Maligawa was destroyed more than five years ago. The DJV as a military force does not exist anymore. Also the men responsible for both those attacks are now ensconced safely on that island in the Diyawanna, and lord it over us, mere mortals!
But what does that little road closure mean really to the people of Kandy? And does it matter?
It does matter to many people of Kandy because of the daily ordeal a lot of residents are put through. Anyone wanting to go into Kandy town from the Buwelikada end has to go all around the Kandy Lake, four kilometers of torturous traffic. The affected residents include those from the burgeoning residential regions around Digana.
During the morning school hour this round the lake trip can be particularly nightmarish. There are several major schools around the lake and the traffic around them at the best of times is bad. Add to that the traffic trying to get downtown and you have a truly hellish Asian traffic jam. This means an additional hour of the trip to school for a child attending Girl’s High School or Kingswood for instance from Buwelikada.
The end of the war has brought much relief to traffic in Colombo and many other towns and cities across Sri Lanka. The barricades have disappeared along with the previously ubiquitous parapet walls making the city of Colombo in particular more accessible.
But in Kandy and this particular place there is no change. The Kandyans I am told reliably have protested behind the scenes. They have petitioned their politicians and even the President to no avail.
Iin Toronto, Canada for instance City Council would have spent several million dollars debating it for months and perhaps found a solution, or postponed it for the next election. If it happened in India or Bangladesh there would have been a screaming, stone throwing mob looking for a joust with the police.
But in Kandy there seems to be no such thing.
These Kandyans, as we all know, are capable of great deeds and much bravery. Remember for centuries they kept the marauding mercantile powers of the age, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British at bay? So what’s hold them back now, why don’t they take on a few piddling local politicians and have their road opened?
I think I know why.
Like most Sri Lankans, the Kandyans are also apathetic about much of what is going on around them and have mostly lost their will to resist authority. While we may have been very brave fighting invaders or secessionists, successive governments of Sri Lanka, almost from the time of independence have ruled with the knowledge that our people are prone to revolution. And therefore every time there has been an uprising, even sometimes legitimate protests, they have been put down with increasing brutality.
These days the world may be focussed on the horrific carnage at the end of the Eelam War, but those of us who lived through the two JVP insurrections will remember the bodies that littered the land at the time. In all these periods there was no respect for human rights, or natural justice at all. All sides in the political spectrum are responsible for those violations.
And what all that has done is make a majority of the people very afraid and accepting of the corrupt and abusive tactics …………………
And with that mentality, the residents of Kandy will have no hope of that road being opened any time soon.