By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“And these deeds were not committed by outlaws, monsters of raving sadists but by the most respected members of respectable society.” – Hannah Arendt (Responsibility and Judgement)
This week, the younger Rajapaksa, together with a singer, visited three leading national schools – Visakha Vidyalaya, DS Senanayake Vidyalaya and Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya – with the permission of their principals. The visitors reportedly distributed promotional T shirts, sang and asked the students to dance. It was only at Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya did they encounter any resistance. Several teachers and prefects reportedly objected to this irregular conduct and are now being threatened.
According to Iraj Weeraratne, the singer accompanying Rajapaksa fils, they faced no impediments at Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya. Responding to a question by Ravaya, he says he sang the Cricket World Cup theme-song and just “two lines of the song ‘Sweety Menika’….the rest of the song was sung by the girls while dancing”[ii].
The full song is available on the You Tube[iii]; these are the first two lines:
‘Kalu naughty kella sweetie Menika mage
Mama onna awa umma umma onè’
(A rough translation would read – My dark naughty girl Sweetie Menika, I am here and I want kisses)
Were these the lines the singer sang to the girls, inside the school, in front of the principal, during school hours?
Taste is an individual matter. This song is probably popular. It is perhaps much sung even on school trips. Those are extrinsic issues. But is this the sort of song school children should sing, in school, during school hours, and in front of their principal?
What sort of principal would tolerate such conduct?
Carlton Sports Club, according to its own Facebook page, is the sports wing of ‘Tharunyata Hetak’[iv]. Tharunyata Hetak was set up by Namal Rajapaksa to create an entrée for himself into politics and to bolster his father’s rule. During the Presidential election of 2010, Tharunyata Hetak reportedly “reserved 4,616 TV slots and 2,245 radio slots”, to promote the candidacy of Mahinda Rajapaksa[v].
Tharunyata Hetak therefore is a non-governmental organisation with a partisan political agenda.
Namal Rajapaksa should never have been permitted to enter government schools, during school hours, to promote a non-state sports tournament organised by a politically partisan NGO. Execrable though his conduct is, young Mr. Rajapaksa is not the main culprit. Given the nature of the Rajapaksa agenda and the Rajapaksa ethos, one cannot expect any member of the Ruling Family to act with discipline, decorum or decency. Namal Rajapaksa was obviously doing what comes naturally to him.
What about the rest of us?
Why did the three principals permit the visits, in gross violation of rules, norms and the best interest of their students? For instance, Mrs. Motwani, Mrs. Pullimood, Mrs. Jayasinghe, all their predecessors and most of their successors at Visakha would not have permitted such an incident, even if a refusal meant a punishment transfer, the loss of a job or worse. The craven conduct of the present principal of Visakha and the other two principals is symbolic of how far we have fallen, as a society.
Some of the teachers at Sirimavo Bandaranaike had objected to the visit and ordered the visitors out – reportedly. Why didn’t the teachers and the masters of the other two schools act in a similar manner? (I cannot think of a single teacher of my acquaintance, either at Visakha or elsewhere, who would have permitted such an outrage under their watch.) Their gross dereliction of duty, as guardians and guides of their pupils, is indicative of a society-wide moral and ethical abnegation.
Why aren’t parents objecting to their children being treated in this manner? Did the Minister of Education, permit this visit? Does this sort of visit happen, in less well known schools away from Colombo? Will the Opposition bring this up in parliament and demand an inquiry? What does the President, the self-anointed guardian of national morals, feel about the conduct of his firstborn?
More pertinently, why didn’t this story make banner headlines in the national media? The visits are not mere rumours; they have been confirmed by the visitors themselves. For instance, there is a picture of Namal Rajapaksa and Iraj Weeraratne with a group of Visakhians and a tweet which says ‘Thank you for the support extended’. Why did this headline news turn into total non-news nationally? What does this collective silence on the part of the national media say about media freedom and media culture in this country?
Abusive rulers cannot succeed without craven societies.
The Road to Hell
In February 2008, Carlton Sports Club held a car race, Carlton Motorcross, in Hambantota. It was organised by Namal Rajapaksa’s Tharunyata Hetak. Around 1,800 policemen and 800 soldiers were deployed to provide security to this extravaganza: “The highlight was the stalls that represented the military depicting their weaponry and achievement in the war against Tiger guerrillas. They were transported to the venue after being hurriedly dismantled from the Deyata Kirula exhibition”[vi].
Tharunyata Hetak is a non-governmental organisation. But the military acted as if it was a fully-fledged state entity. And this was when Gen. Sarath Fonseka was Army Commander. Sadly, like the principals of the three state schools, Gen Fonseka permitted this gross violation of rules and norms, if not laws, to happen. He allowed the Rajapaksas to use the national army under his command as their Praetorian Guard. Eventually, Gen. Fonseka and his entire family had to suffer the consequences of his willingness to permit the partisan politicisation of a national entity. When he became a political opponent of the Rajapaksas, the army treated him like a traitor to the nation.
Last year a provincial politician barged into a school and ordered the teacher who disciplined his child to kneel in front of the entire class. This week a key witness in the case was murdered and his body dumped in an abandoned well. Even the police admit that there might be a connection between the murder and the victim’s courageous willingness to testify against the powerful politician.
The politician thought he had a right to enter a government school and humiliate a teacher. That belief would have been sourced in two malaises which were always present in Lankan society but has assumed plague proportions under Rajapaksa Rule: the erosion of the lines of demarcation between the state and the rulers; and impunity.
The ruling family has set an example, treating state entities like private fiefs. Their minions are following suit. Namal Rajapaksa’s conduct will be noted by his acolytes and repeated, in an even more objectionable way, in other schools.
What happened at Visakha, DS and Sirimavo yesterday can happen in other schools tomorrow. L’affaire Namal is symbolic of the occupation of Lankan state and society by the Rajapaksas and the resultant erosion of independent/autonomous spaces and institutional decay.
A country with a degenerated educational system will produce not decent and honourable citizens but cowardly and self-serving automata, who will never ask why; just how much. That is how tyrannies and crime-hubs are made.
[v] Namal’s Tharunyata Hetak beats them all – Raisa Wickremetunga http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/01/17/namal%E2%80%99s-tharunyata-hetak-beats-them-all/
[vi] The Sunday Times – 24.2.2008