My greetings to Sivarajah, or Chivan as we called him, the brain behind this Simon Ranaweera Sivarajah Institute of Tamil teaching Tami to Sinhalese Let me start my story with Nallammah. According to an uncle of mine, well before I was born, she was a beautiful widow with a year-old infant. Of the Vellala caste and a strict Hindu, it was the end of the road for her, as by Hindu law few would willingly marry her. Then along came Simon Ranaweera from Matale. He married her; giving her a new lease on life.
The Simons ran a bakery together, and raised hens, cows, and goats. They did well. The children were raised as Hindus. Chivan’s sisters went regularly to the Nallur Temple to give flowers and sweet rice. We lived across each other, and feasted on their pukkai (sweet rice) and other goodies for their festivals. Only the neighbourhood knew who they were, as Simon was their surname. They were so Tamil that Sivarajah was called Chivan in authentic Tamil fashion. None of the children knew Sinhalese. Chivan was like an elder brother to me. His younger brother my bosom friend. Chivan went to Jaffna Central College where he studied under the Rev. Dr. D.T. Niles and soon joined the Sri Lanka Police force. He sent money home. The family did well.
There the story changes. During the 1983 riots, Chivan’s bag from the upper floors of Colombo’s Police Quarters went flying out of the window to the ground. No one was apprehended or punished. He idled in Jaffna fearing to go back to the police who broke the law rather than uphold it. Then he went to the Middle East as a Security Officer. Tired of separation from family, he returned and set up this school to teach Tamil to Sinhalese with his Tamil wife. Like his parents, he was enterprising, seeing and creating new opportunities.
What went wrong to make Chivan lose his original happy life? He lacked the protection of the law. In this country anyone can bash Tamils and getaway with it. Impunity, it is called.
Recently, there were reports of a Buddhist monk trying to take over a Hindu temple at Chemmalai near Mullaitivu, the way Kathirkaamam and the temple by the University at Peradeniya were taken over, and the way the Hot Water Springs at Kinniya and Koneswaram Temple in Trinco are being shamelessly taken over. The Mullaitivu Magistrate issued a stay order when the aggressive monk died, and his followers tried to cremate him on temple premises which was polluting by Hindu law. As the problem was brewing in election time, through the Election Commission a warning was sent to the Acting IGP who promised to look into it. He did nothing. Court orders were not served. And Buddhist monks joined by Gnanasara Thero violated the court orders. No punishment. Impunity if you are a Tamil basher.
Now a private plaint has been filed by MP Shanthi Sriskantharasah, who lived through the carnage of the last battles of Mullaitivu and came out with one leg missing and with haunting memories of rows and rows of dead civilians drawing flies lined up on the floor after being killed by our army. Where an independent Attorney General not looking for elevation to the Supreme court should have moved court for contempt but failed us, she attempts to give justice to the Hindus of Chemmalai by charging the SP and OIC who failed to serve the warrants, and Gnanasara Thero, who in a charade promised good behaviour after going to prison for contempt of Court was let loose by the president, came out, and did exactly as he was expected to do – break the law in Mullaitivu and threaten Hindus. I have lost hope. We, all of us, lack the protection of the law. Tomorrow it will be our turn.
Colvin R. de Silva famously said “Two languages one nation. One language two nations.” He forgot his own dictum and paved the way to separatism through his constitution. The armed forces and the police that are to uphold the law, regularly violate the thirteenth amendment by refusing to recognize that Tamil is the language of administration in the North and East. Today we heard schoolgirl Miss. Akashini Fernando (who was speaking of Tamil dicta and their equivalents in English) tell us “The law maker cannot break the law.” The opposite is what is happening in Sri Lanka. Our Parliamentarians are like the chain-smoking father who tells his son not to smoke. We have no protection of the law. When the Palaly airport opening had all speeches by our political leaders in Sinhalese with no translation provided, our leaders violated the constitution recognizing that Tamil is the official language in Jaffna.
Our top leaders do not understand what Miss. Fernando knew. They break the law and we lack the protection of the law.
The law says that murders must be punished. Mr. Veluppillai Prabhakaran broke the law and had to be punished by the law. Instead, all indications are that he was executed without due process. The law requires an inquiry, but the law failed him and therefore failed all Sri Lankans. When Meera Srinivasan, correspondent for The Hindu, asked of a candidate the serious question (which in any democracy the press would pursue) about what happened to the hundreds of LTTE cadres who surrendered, it became a laughing matter. Our press failed us by not following up. Several cases of rape and murder in the North-East are falling by the wayside through seeming police collusion and judicial fear to uphold the law when judges do not know who the next President will be.
As we go into elections, one candidate promises to release all soldiers lawfully convicted to jail terms. Another candidate vowed that “He was ready to take responsibility on any allegations made against the Sri Lankan Security Forces and suffer any punishment on behalf of them.” They promise to break the law for our votes. It can bring about “attempt to” charges if our Attorney General is good and conspiracy charges against a candidate who promises to let murderers loose. Together we Sri Lankan like the rats in the Pied Piper of Hamelin, are being led to the infamy of universal jurisdiction of international courts as the sane voice of Mangala Samaraweera warns us.
In essence, this election is about promising to break laws to win votes. Surely there are laws against promising to break laws? The dark policies being promised threaten minorities in a communal electorate, and we fail to see the gravity and iniquity of the policies being promised. The point is easily lost because Sinhalese candidates are promising favours to those who killed Tamils. To put it starkly with clarity, what if a candidate campaigns saying instead of what is being promised against Tamils, “Vote for me (a Sinhalese) and I will hang my opponent (who is also a Sinhalese), when I am elected”? We would then see how horrible and unlawful this election is. That is exactly what some leading candidates are promising the electorate, but against Tamils.
Is the election about the Commission presiding over this vulgar competition to outdo each other in breaking laws at Tamil expense? Is that being a good Commission? I am advised that a good member of the Commission does not comment on these things. However, the Commission’s constitutional mandate is to uphold all election laws. I assert that the Commission is failing the nation in not framing the legality of election promises in context and hiding behind an old-fashioned fuddy-daddy notion of propriety. As a result, serious personnel issues at the Election Commission that threaten the integrity of elections, and mistakes in past elections remain undiscussed and undisclosed to a public that has a right to be informed.
There is no protection of the law for the tens of thousands of Tamils murdered by our soldiers. There is no protection as we wait to see who will win to release convicted murderers to run amok causing havoc.
Remember: the constitution gives us the law. The law gives us elections and the ballot to choose our government. We must use our ballot. Saying they are all bad and not going to vote, is to allow the most wicked to come into office and claim our endorsement. We must not boycott the elections which still offers us choice, however limited. The Sinhalese parties have calculated that rather than working for peace and justice, there is more to be gained by pandering to Sinhalese communalism.
I thought we – all good and decent Sri Lankans – had an easy choice of voting against the killers and rogues asking for our vote. Now we have candidates vowing to protect killers. It is not Hobson’s choice as the pro-boycott lobby says, because we do have a choice. At this point, we must use our ballot to vote against the most wicked, and vote into office the least wicked of the candidates.
The alternative is clear. In the US there was voter apathy sweeping in Donald Trump. Voter turnout peaked at 61.1% when Obama came in first in 2008, and dropping a little to 58.0% for Obama’s second term in 2012. There was utter apathy in Trump’s year of 2016, turnout dropping to 56.0% with voter apathy increasing as a result of Bernie Sanders’ being left out of the race. (Data from Professor Michael McDonald’s United States Elections Project).
And the result, as put to us by public speaker George Takei (Sulu in Star Trek), an Orangutan, an Ignorant Moron, got into the White House.
Vote we must, for Simon Ranaweera’s legacy of living peaceably with our neighbours. We must learn to think like little Miss. Akashini Fernando.
*Based on a lecture at the Simon Ranaweera Sivarajah Institute of Tamil delivered at the Kasbewa Town Council Piliyandala to celebrate Sri Lanka’s trilingual policy brought about by the Thirteenth Amendment.
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