By Ranil Senanayake –
It was about 1916 when the freedom fighter, F.R.Senanayake began organizing a response to the wanton killing and displacement of traditional villages, living on the land that businessmen wanted. Agri-business was after land, the people who opposed them and supported the villagers, were accused of being subversive due their ‘public service work’. As the Hon D.S.Senanayake, the first leader of democratic Sri Lanka stated when taken into custody by the British, “We prisoners were taken to the Police Headquarters and questioned about our public service work. “ Public Service Work had become a threat to the empire. Working in the interest of the people was frowned upon, working without a financial profit motive, was suspicious. In the face of all this suppression they strived and helped bring about our current nation. One would assume that this spirit of ‘Public Service’ that led to our independence, should have flowed into the present and produced a content, equitable society living in a clean, beautiful and healthy land. But looking around the land today, one sees a frighteningly different reality.
Sri Lanka has been betrayed! Our people have been poisoned in both body, as seen from the soaring rates of cancers and organ failures and mind, as seen from the soaring rates of suicides, murders and violence towards women and children. No amount of political spin can erase these realities.
There is also a disturbing pattern of media spin on critical issues, matters of serious public concern are trivialized, when media control is complete they are inverted. As great parts of China are severely affected by choking smog, a recent announcement in the ‘Chinese Global Times’, a response this smog, a product of their Unplanned Economic Development, was forcing closure of schools and creating health issues. So they claimed that smog has its own benefits and offers these (translated) rationalizations as to why smog can be good.
1. It unifies the Chinese people.
2. It makes China more equal.
3. It raises citizen awareness of the cost of China’s economic development.
4. It makes people funnier.
5. It makes people more knowledgeable (of things like meteorology and the English word haze).
There is of course global astonishment, even amusement at these comments. But it does illustrate the dire need for people to question the inane statements that are offered as a rationale to justify the process eroding our fundamental human right, the right to life!
It is true that today, our wells and groundwater is being poisoned by irresponsible industry. But rather than accept this truth and promote responsible industry, pipe borne water from great distances and large public costs are promoted. This means that the irresponsible industries run by political cronies are allowed to pollute our water unchecked. Is the continued access to established drinking water quality a fundamental right?
The air is being poisoned through the use of high sulphur fossil fuels and coal with its well known toxic properties. But rather than ensure relatively clean fossil fuel and move to renewables where the commissions and profits are lean, we have opted for highly polluting sources of dirty fuel because the profits to the agents and the traders are high. But the spin-doctors assure us that we have set standards, we are safe. While their masters poison the air for all of our children and us. Do not be surprised when one of the clowns parrot the Chinese “Smog is good for you” recipe.
Sri Lanka has reached the pinnacle of agrochemical use in 2013 by being the leading country in the word to apply agro-toxins into their environment. Perhaps the spin-doctors would have us celebrating the fact that we are the world’s number one. Perhaps they could say it unifies the Sri Lankan people in suffering unnecessary diseases and that it enriches the hospital industry. That will certainly add to our GDP.
Our environment lies in ruins. The often boasted ‘biodiversity hotspot’ belies the fact that more and more of our species go extinct every year with declining habitat and increasing disturbance. The fragmented forest strips become smaller every year. National statics hoodwink us into thinking that we have more forests than what we really have by counting plantations and village gardens as forests.
The level of social poisoning is fearful and seen in the massive increases in violence, including rapes and custodial murders. Our society is being poisoned and all these increases are met with platitudes with the protection of the perpetrators if they are linked to the political machine.
In Sri Lanka the right to life is being violated through the twisting of truth, so that the observation of the Buddha that “ Desire brings pain and suffering”, is turned into ‘Desire is good because it creates markets’. We have leaders demonstrating through their deeds and lifestyles, that lying, stealing and conspicuous consumption is good and we have monks promoting gambling as a virtue. In such a self obsessed, corrupted , acquisitive and brutal society, the public service ethos voiced by our founding fathers has little space.
The road ahead seems pretty bleak, pretty dark, but hope remains that the spark of selfless public service still remains in the heart of the population. Karuna, Muditha, Upekha and Metta are still values at the core of our being. However, if we allow the ‘economic developers’ to pervert and encourage the population to become mindless self centered consumers, the essence of who we are will be lost forever.