“No man is an island … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…” from John Donne’s Selected Prose.
Hardly have I lifted my pen off the page listing some of the shameful shenanigans of the reigning Sri Lankan oligarchy that has rendered the scales of justice asymmetrical, causing it to tilt tangibly more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and lamenting the State’s ruthless terror tactics, than I hear the devastating news of yet another police shooting!
It is stale news now, but shall remain fresh in our memory that on the nineteenth of April, Rambukkana lost an innocent son, Chaminda Lakshan when police opened fire at what has become a ubiquitous sight on our soil, namely, a public protest demanding fuel. This is only one more life lost in the eyes of the ruthless rulers and their uniformed hellhounds, nothing more than a speck of dust that you flick carelessly off your sleeve. Not surprisingly, such incidents bring out the heartless attitude of the honourable worthies of the ruling party seen in their feeble attempts at justification, usually undone, though, by their own egregious utterances. If, in their dreamy world of self-aggrandizement, they regard themselves as proud trailblazers, then they had better realize that their dismal trail is stained with blood from incidents such as the 2001 point-blank range shooting of ten youths in Udathalawinna, (in which a present MP, condemned for his recent macabre prison stunt, was charged, and acquitted years later); the shooting of Roshen Chanaka in 2011 at Katunayake FTZ; the shooting of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra also in 2011; the shooting of Akila Dinesh, Ravishan Perera, both teenagers, and Nilantha Pushpakumara, a young man, in 2013 at Rathupaswala; and the brutal butchering to death of Saleem Ameer, in front of his wife and children in Kottaramulla, Puttalam, in the anti-Muslim riots of May 2019, etc. The list is infernally long and thus defies enumeration. The perpetrators may choose to forget the past, but each dark deed shall loom as a shadow haunting them like the relentless ghost of Banquo and, to borrow a notion from where he hails, all the seas surrounding our little isle shall not cleanse the blood from the hands of the evasive offenders. Overcome by guilt the tyrant, priorly a brave warrior, cries, “No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red” (Macbeth Act ll, Sc. ll.)
No man is an island… what one does, whether good or evil, will have the consequences it deserves, fitting in kind and degree, and will impact the world accordingly. Turning, therefore, from guilt-laden red towards lighter, rosier hues, one rejoices at the little victories that occur daily asserting the democratic rights of the people which some unprincipled members of the police shamelessly strive to disrupt in crude and malicious ways. The sound discretion of determined protesters and selfless legal professionals, however, have countered such moves deftly. Hence, it was possible to get the police officer who shot Lakshan arrested. Yesterday we saw the arrests of thirteen student protesters near the parliament after undue manhandling by police, only to be bailed out by the efforts of truly dedicated lawyers who voluntarily appear in their dozens offering both moral and legal support. Special mention must be made, with sincere thankfulness, of the Kaduwela Magistrate who stood firm to safeguard the rights of the protesters.
Our hearts go out to every Sri Lankan committed to the present struggle for the rights of the people! We congratulate them on their perseverance and their peaceful ploys of protest which tactfully disarm any assailant by refusing to give any grounds for retaliation. What we witness now is the nascence of a new national identity that nobly transcends the ethnic divide; the crystallization of the supremacy of people’s sovereignty, a veritable diamond lying dormant so far in the deep mines of the “national mind”, now duly unearthed and in the process of being polished to a brilliant finish; the awakening of an autonomous civilian conglomerate calling for a complete overhaul of the present corrupt regime, beginning from the resignation of the Head of State, the instigator of a series of grave and baneful blunders, blighting every sphere of life in our country.
Considering the thousands of youth and migrant workers who enthused injudiciously during the last presidential election, their eyes dazzled by the grossly exaggerated glamour of “Gota” and their egos flattered by Sinhala chauvinism, it is essential to remind all Sri Lankan’s now to ensure that they do not join the protest merely as it has become a trend. Prof. Asoka N.I. Ekanayake, in his article titled “The Millions Who Hurt Without A Change of Heart” describes the voter behavior of 6.9 million people in the 2019 Presidential Election in the following words: ” It is tantamount to an act of collective national suicide bordering on madness.” He outlines five broad characteristics of these voters and insistently questions whether they have sincerely discarded them to become a wiser and more mature voting population. The five qualities attributed to them are racism, foolishness, selfishness, indifference to corruption and a distorted sense of religiosity. He advocates a true change of heart. Yes, without that readiness to repent and turn over a new leaf, the spiritual stamina needed to carry through today’s public protests to a successful culmination will sadly be lacking.
Fighting for a national cause should not become a case of passively flowing in and out with the ebb and flood of the tide of public opinion. Rather, every single citizen must deeply appreciate the cruciality of the hour by maintaining awareness of unfolding events, by guiding oneself and others with critical thinking and by being alert to any acts of sabotage which may be cleverly concealed to ambush the unsuspecting crowds from within. Saboteurs may promote propaganda such as sweeping generalizations condemning all seventy-four years of post-independence Sri Lankan rule as corrupt or dismissing all parliamentarians as equally inefficient, for example, which distort the correct perspective on the current crisis. One must identify the root of the problem specifically in order to address it adequately. The challenge is not to discern simply right from wrong; the socio-political tangle does not come in black and white; many shades of gray complicate it. Close scrutiny and a rational approach must be adopted to prioritize the most pressing issues. It is heartening to see that most activists are driven by a clear vision and exemplary non-aggression. They are bound to come out victorious from this treacherous quicksand created by the government as they face it with apt calm and without panic. Their courage and dignified composure make all Sri Lankans proud!
The “leader”, on the contrary, is behaving in a most unbecoming manner, hiding behind iron fortifications. There is not much difference between animal enclosures in the zoo and these “hidey-holes” where he chooses to entrap himself given that his bestial nature is only too well exposed. One moment I picture a giant leech in there adamantly clinging on to suck more blood from its mother(land) although it is already satiated and is on the verge of falling off owing to its own gory gluttony. Another moment I hear a sheep, bleating out nonsense, which then shocks me with a sudden howl until I realize it is a wolf in disguise. Then I peep inside once more to see an ostrich with its head buried in the sand but otherwise shamefully bare. This zoo yields reptile, parasite, bird, and predator all in one – a monstrous creature if ever you saw one! It is invertebrate, slimy and slippery, and rabid to boot. But even the minimal dignity of being a life form is denied when I picture a balloon inflated with myths of heroism that leaks and loses air; out of control, and uncouth as it deflates, it flits frantically for a few frenzied moments until fate flings it forcefully and unceremoniously for the final flop onto the floor of sprawling failure.
Meanwhile, a State of Emergency has been imposed effective from midnight (May 6th) substantiating the notion that the state is hellbent on quenching its bloodlust while also displaying its spineless sadism in wanting to unleash its violence on an unarmed and thus defenseless people. It is not the first time that the so-called custodians of the law violate it in order to provoke the peaceful protesters into some impetuous action, which in turn will be used to justify severe repressive measures by the armed forces. We condemn yesterday’s inhuman assault, even before emergency laws were imposed, on the “Anthare” – members of the Inter-University Student Federation – in the vicinity of the parliamentary complex. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the High Commissions of Canada and USA among others, representatives of the UNO and EU, and several other Human Rights organizations have promptly and vehemently opposed the imposition of the State of Emergency. The government must comply and completely avoid the bloodbath that may ensue if it persists in infuriating the public any further. Another matter of concern is that although the officer in the case of Lakshan was arrested, the politicians who allegedly gave the order were not brought to book. That ulterior forces are at work becomes evident also from the withdrawal of official security, an entitlement, which was available so far for the Kaduwela Magistrate. This is a typically petty and mean threat from superiors for having dared to act independently and truthfully as she had done.
No man is an island… but in our case one man was allowed to become the sole owner of a whole island and its people. Who is responsible for this catastrophe? This monstrosity? Talking of monsters, contrary to the common impression, Frankenstein is not the monster but its creator. Who then is the Sri Lankan Frankenstein, the author, of the disastrous decision of vesting unlimited power in a despotic and destructive ruler? Can one simply blame the millions who voted him in? That might be a simplistic approach. The reprehensible role of the media that overpowered the people’s perception with its convincing image-building and continuous circulation of myths and lies deserves a study of its own. Further, the twentieth amendment, we are aware, is the most recent catalyst. However, the past has more to offer. One recalls the former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva’s public apology in 2014 for giving a ruling in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He admits that had the ruling been against the latter the country would have been saved! One is reminded of the famous lines by John G. Whittier: ‘For of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been!”‘
These are words of profound regret but it is profitable to learn from the past and avoid similar lapses in the future. The present predicament would have been averted entirely if the CJ had sealed MR’s fate. His brother would never have been able to muster sufficient support but for MR’s popularity. Another person who paved the way for the present rule is Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, former Minister of Justice of the Yahapalanaya government who prevented the arrest of the present president:
“Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe on numerous occasions has vowed that he will not allow the arrest of former Defense Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa for any excesses during his term as Defense Secretary during the decade long Rajapaksa rule.” (groundviews.org article by Hilmy Ahamed, Dec. 27, 2016)
Does that lead us to yet another source of the present plight?
And to add to all this, now, we hear the repeated assertion by Nagananda Kodituwakku, a well-known public litigation activist and 2019 Presidential candidate (or an aspirant there unto) that the whole nomination process of the current president was illegal! He usually spares none from his vitriolic remarks and boldly implicates former Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya in an “act of deliberate negligence” in accepting nomination papers for GR’s candidacy. NK has filed a Fundamental Rights petition in which one of the complaints is against the former Chairman of the EC for committing “a punishable offense consciously by accepting nomination of Gotabaya Rajapaksa… despite the grounds available for rejecting his nomination…” (article by Victor Ivan, “Was the last presidential election a fraud?” ft.lk March 11, 2022). It is NK’s custom to bring in Ali Sabry, the President’s personal lawyer, now holding two ministerial posts, as heavily responsible for facilitating a smooth nomination which may otherwise have faced legal obstructions. Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, a former member of the said EC, and a respondent in the petition in hand, regrets that his effort to verify whether GR’s American citizenship had been formally renounced to qualify him for nomination, was discouraged by the Chairman who had later indicated that they should wait for other candidates to raise their objections, which they had every right to do. This brings us to the next accusation by NK against all the other candidates, especially Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake, as neither, or any one of the others, had objected on nomination day! Is there anyone, then, who hasn’t conspired to bring GR to Power? It is worth noting here, however, that two civil rights activists, namely, Gamini Viyangoda and Chandraguptha Thenuwara, “challenged the validity GR’s Sri Lankan citizenship” by means of a petition but “the Appeal Court unanimously dismissed the case”in early October, 2019. (Article by Ranga Sirilal, Reuters.com, Oct.4, 2019). The mystery deepens while also revealing a discrepancy in that not everyone sought to clarify the same issue: some question his US citizenship while others focus on his Sri Lankan citizenship.
To return to the ground reality, the inexorable influx of protesters into the arena of revolutionary activism is clearly not received or responded to by the government in a manner conducive to progress. Instead, while it adopts a stonewalling strategy, it happily stagnates in blissful ignorance and arrogant denial. However, not everyone will tolerate this absence of reciprocation and, therefore, measures are underway from different quarters. Together with the firm stand of the “Anthare”‘ the people’s protest is immensely strengthened by the May 6th island-wide strike with the phenomenal participation of more than a thousand Trade Unions, the biggest since 1953. Such historic solidarity should make the message palpably perceptible to the powers that be. It resumes on the 11th if there is no decisive outcome. The body politic afflicted with a consuming cancer, vociferously calls for immediate remedy. Thus, virtually every town and village is ardently pursuing the protest. With the initiative of the BASL, its proposals for urgent measures to resolve the current economic and political stalemate have been discussed and should, ideally, be implemented without delay under a new joint leadership while giving the highest priority to the people’s unvarying and rightful demands, of which the most conspicuous one at the core of this upheaval is that the President must step down. All decision-makers, advisors, legislators, and foreign mediators must work towards solutions that ensure the achievement of this potent public aspiration with immediate effect.
One concludes with the realization that, in spite of the lapse of time and our critique of Colonialist texts, the remarkable relevance of the English bishop and hymn-writer Reginald Heber’s memorable words about our country are worth our contemplation:
“What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile.”
(From “Missionary Hymn, 1819)