18 June, 2021

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Nurturing The Social Conscience Of A Nation

By Asanka D. Wittachy –

Asanka D. Wittachy

Asanka D. Wittachy

We are privileged to have lived through some of the most momentous times in the history of our beloved Motherland. In our lifetime, we have survived several brutal conflicts and a war, which pitted brother against brother, Lankan against Lankan and washed our once tranquil shores with seemingly endless tides of blood and misery. We have endured calamitous assaults of nature which inflicted mass suffering and grief on a scale which our minds still cannot fathom and we still bear the scars despite the passage of a decade. We have been manipulated, time and again into surrendering our freedoms and dignity, an inch at a time, only to awaken to the realization that we lived in a land stripped of democracy and rule of law. We are all weighted down by the shame of looking on helplessly, inactively as those braver than us, those who stood up for our rights, were dragged away to ignominious imprisonment or death.

Such is the tale of our lives, the legacy of our generation to date and yet deep inside all of us something has stirred. The fortitude with which we once faced the daily possibility of violent death by suicide bombers and the manner with which we rose as one nation, casting aside racial and religious divides, to assist our fellow Lankans during the Tsunami, are living proof of the inherent nobility and inner strength of the citizens of this blessed isle. It is the manifestation of the combined social conscience of our nation which refuses to submit, to surrender and promises always to endure.

Today we are at the cusp of a new age, a watershed moment in our nation’s history with the possibility to do what was denied all generations before us, be it under the rule of kings, colonial masters or those politicians who would lord over us. An awareness has dawned in the national conscience that we the people are sovereign, that we deserve better, that we have and always did have the right to determine our own destiny as all free people should. A force such as this is unstoppable and can achieve the impossible. The island which was once misnamed the ‘Miracle of Asia’ has proven itself capable of a ‘Miracle’ that the whole world must admire, for this is the first time in modern history that a dictatorial regime of this magnitude has been banished and democracy restored, not through bloodshed and violence but through the sheer courage of the people.

The all-encompassing question now for us as a nation is: Now what? Where do we go from here? Who or what is to guide us towards that ephemeral ideal of a better future for us and our children? An ideal that we all cherish in our hearts, regardless of political affiliation, religion or race. Is it the politicians, the religious leaders, the social activists, external influencers or is it up to us, the citizens? I would humbly submit that it is a combination of all of them but with one important caveat: That it happens under the watchful gaze and informed understanding of WE THE PEOPLE. We must, with one voice declare to the past, present and future would-be politicians and leaders that we will never again surrender our freedom, dignity nor our rightful claim to the bounty of our Motherland. That politicians will be held accountable, not only for corruption and misuse of power but also for the subversion of our democratic birthright, our vote. No more shall we stand idly by whilst those we place in power prostitute and subvert the professed ideals for which we sent them to represent us in parliament. And most importantly, we need to disabuse those politicians who breathe the rarefied air in the halls of power of the notion that we the voters are idiots who will forget and forgive the betrayal of our trust for the price of a rice packet or a false election promise. If we are able to achieve this, then we will have instituted a new legacy which will gain the respect and admiration of not only all free thinking people of the world but also create an example to inspire the unborn generations to come.

So how do we go about doing this? How do we harness the full potential of the social conscience of our nation when some of the electorate are not even aware of the true power of their own birthright? Recent events have amply demonstrated that our voter base is finally maturing. That voting for blind loyalty to party or ruling families is slowly being replaced by rational thought and informed decision. Yet we Sri Lankans are an emotional, passionate, fun loving and proud people and change does not always come lightly to us. It is precisely these qualities which create the ideal opportunity to instill the concepts of good governance and accountability within the very essence of every citizen of this country. The tool best suited to achieving this lofty goal is Art. Mediums such as poetry, books, music, painting, theater, television, movies and entertainment speak to the emotions and the soul of an individual as well as to their intellect. Our primary form of cultural expression is through these mediums and should the source material alter focus, then so shall the beholder be effected. Giving prominence and praise to the values that we want to inculcate in our new Sri Lanka will eventually result in greater acceptance and understanding of those values. Equally, artistic expression cannot be controlled nor subverted by any government nor political influencers and thus this medium of empowerment, once unleashed, is unstoppable. If sufficient numbers of artists, authors, singers, directors and entertainers of all denominations were to adopt this common theme for their creations for a period of one year, the message cannot but reverberate to all corners of our land. Let us extol the virtues of unity, fairness, dignity and good governance through our creative expressions and observe how Life will eventually imitate Art.

Let the politicians, police and the courts attend to the governance of the country and let the media keep all of us informed in a lucid and unbiased manner but it is the duty and privilege of all the creative people of this country to not only document the present social metamorphosis but also to give it direction. Let us not forget the past and thereby condemn our future generations to the depredations that we endured. Let us instill a monolith of confidence in our citizenry and further ignite the sparks of outrage into an unquenchable conflagration against any form of injustice. Let us forevermore inculcate the immense value of our dignity, equality and freedom in the hearts and minds of all Sri Lankans through the subtle influences of the arts. I would call on all those in our fair land with the gift of the gab or the touch of the muse to heed the clarion call of Mother Lanka. Help all of us to forge a new spiritual and emotional identity capable of transcending politics, race and religion. Together let us elevate this Sri Lanka, this mother to us all, to her rightful and esteemed place amongst the fraternity of nations.

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