Colombo Telegraph

Nepotism: It’s All Relative

By Arjuna Seneviratne –

Arjuna Seneviratne

The last time I had to visit a police station to sort out a problem with my driving license, I called up my uncle, a retired ASP who called up the OIC who talked to the sergeant who frowned at the PC who got off his butt instantly and solved my problem without my having to even go to the cop shed. Recently, when a friend was in the GH-ICU,  my wife got her student’s mother who was a doctor at the place to give us hourly bulletins that were far better than any we would have received if we had sat down to high tea with the attending surgeon. Easy. Simple. And who needs to navigate that little known and less understood monster generally known as “staying in line”? Why, for crying out loud, engage in a fruitless and time consuming activity when we can just jump the queue and have done with it?

Regardless of the type of bureaucratic process involved, Sri Lankans, as a nation, bypass due process as a matter of course. In fact, due process is the last and least preferred modality of engagement when dealing with any kind of societal process that can be even slightly resistive.  Whether it is obtaining a bank loan, getting an approval for our plans for a house, getting out of paying a traffic fine, springing a buddy out of jail, seizing state land for development, getting a contract, choosing a person to manage some area of a business… all of us, without exception, have thought, said or done things similar to the following:

“Ikram is a high up in that place isn’t he?”

“Speak to uncle Para putha, he will get the paperwork sorted out at the ministry for us”

“Maybe their technical track record is better than ours but the chairman is married to Avanthi’s sister no? Avanthi men? Sene’s daughter? Remember? I helped her get a good college in America? Contract is ours. Not to worry…just one phone call”

“No no, not Senthil. Who is this fellow and whose is he? That’s what I want to know. I don’t trust him. Some bloody outsider. So he is qualified so what? He will sell us out mark my words. Better put our Pali’s brother in that position”

“Don’t try to bribe the bugger machan he will kick your proposal into the dustbin but send him four lorry loads of sand, he is building his house and he would like that. Trust me. Done deal.”

“Damn in! He got the inside track because his buddies were more powerful than our buddies”

Bypassing due-process to unfairly leverage position, networks and physical resources for personal gain is ingrained in the very core of our national psyche and, measured against this broadest possible definition of the word “corruption”, we are, as a collective, as a citizenry, corrupt. Not just one or two, most of us. Some do it out of choice, some do it because they see no other choice, some don’t think twice about it. Regardless of the reason why we do it, none, but none, actually see anything wrong with it. Regardless of the level of empowerment and regardless of our specific social stratums, this is what we do. This is the way we engage society. This is the norm.  This? Is Sri Lanka!

So, why are we, in the majority, prancing about like cats on hot coals, lambasting everything from the beautification of Colombo to the new highway to Kandy, pointing fingers at everyone from “the family” to the bureaucracy to the army to the clergy and shrieking “corruption..nn..nnn..nnnnnn….” in a cacophony of noise worse than an entire battalion of screwing felines?  Why do we rattle our teeth loose gnashing them together at the unfairness of it all? Why do we pour vitriol and scorn on every single man jack we perceive to be aligned with systemic corruption? Why do we air our hatred at such things as nepotism or internal circles of trust? Why, in a nutshell, are we pointing an accusing finger at any and all when three fingers are pointing back at us?

Two words. Alignment. Inequity. A lot of us are wrongly aligned and a lot of us are unfairly prevented from unfairly bypassing due process. Basically, we called the wrong people “friends” and we are reaping the non-benefits of that heinous crime. I am amused at the incongruity of it all. When we scream in anger, howl we don’t at corruption per se but yowl we do at the lack of opportunity for our own circles of trust to engage in the same thing. When we claw the walls in frustration, we don’t rake the infrastructure only because of  the thought that the friends and family of the rightly aligned are making a lot of hay, but rather, because we bake in our own misery at the thought that our friends and family are living fringe existences because of our bad choices in alignment.

People look silly when they do such things. Regardless of the millions of “righteous” excuses that people may give themselves and the world. “Righteousness” and “fairness” in our type of society are slogans only for those whose ability to be unrighteous and inequitable has been either curbed or cauterized. Transparency and accountability are useless lenses for us when they are subsumed and micronized by the lens of corruption. If nothing else, then the litany of thirty five years of reneged election promises of successive politicians of every size, shape, color and agenda, the murderous desire of small men to obtain power at all costs and the drooling madness of citizens killing each other over ideologies that trigger emotion over circumspection should prove this.

This is the age of street-smart political agendas where it is not the most law abiding driver but rather the largest bus that gets the right of way. This is the age of humungous busses mostly plying routes to either ethnicville or religiocity. This is the age where circles of trust are only as valid as their goodness-of-fit for a particular self serving purpose and the safest option is to use the most powerful vehicle that can serve that purpose. If one is fair or righteous or both, one doesn’t hop on any of those busses be they big or small, destructive or vulnerable for all of them are moving down the same iffy passage to doom.

Rather, one gets the heck off of the darned street.

That way, one is not responsible for the carnage created by a runaway juggernaut.  That way, one would see alignment and inequity against their proper framework of reference and perhaps, even continue to use them as one has always done without attempting to second guess the impact of others using the same process on a bigger stage for a larger audience. That way, one would have made a very right move, that way one would have made a very fair move, that way one would have made a very wise move. However, make no mistake, that way one would not have made a very smart move.

Me? I’ve never voted for anyone in my entire life so, for whatever time I have left on earth, I can duly lay myself down to a relatively calmer sleep, processing out the tiredness that I bring upon myself by pointing my own misbegotten index finger at anyone, at everyone, and cackling insanely at the insanity of the “average Sri Lankan citizen”.

*Other articles by the same author can be found at 

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