By Srima Warusawithana –
This was over five decades ago. Parliament then was in a stately building facing the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of Galle Face Green in Colombo.
There was a subject called Civics in our curriculum in those days when I was a schoolgirl. My father – the pragmatic man that he was, thought he should give me the opportunity of viewing Parliament proceedings. So he would take me regularly to sit in the gallery to follow the nations legislature at work. Before entering the gallery – we went on a tour of the massive place through huge wooden doors and lengthy corridors that seemed to my young eyes like a stately old-world mansion. When it was time for the sittings to begin we went silently into the gallery and took our seats. The speaker Sir Francis Molamure walked in ushered by the sergeant at arms bearing the mace. My father, sitting close beside me told me who he was and what his job was inside the parliament. The Prime Minister – it was D.S.Senanayake at the time and then came the other ministers and members of Parliament on both the government and opposition benches. It was delightful to watch and identify each one with my father’s help. They looked so stately and dignified in immaculate clothes – I saw Dudley Senanayake in the full white coat and trouser kit and also others – Sir John Kotelawala, Oliver Goonetilleke, SWRD Bandaranaike – all coming in and sitting at their appointed seats calmly and silently, perfect concentration etched on their faces as though they knew they had a responsible job to do. I listened to them – awestruck – each one a gem of a speech delivered carefully and conscientiously. The others in the assembly listened intently, without disturbing the proceedings in any manner. The Speaker was akin to royalty – so were the members of this august assembly – all educated in the highest echelons of academia. On our way home, my father told me about the qualifications and academic achievements of each of them – he a village lad but self-made – knew each of these men – their life stories and credentials – amazing when I think of all the little details he had gathered. It was another rewarding day when I had a glimpse of oratory and wholesome behavior in the most important institution that links with good governance of our nation.
That era is now a thing of the past and long gone away.
Parliament buildings are now in an even more picturesque area beside the Diyawanna Oya but vastly different in the conduct and decorum of the people who inhabit the place now. The seats are for the most part vacant, as the members seem to have better things to do outside. Even when they are there – some are seen sleeping. There are regular brawls, fisticuffs, foul-mouthing and filth uttered by one another. Parents like my father and teachers who used to bring students to give a practical lesson in Social Studies do not do so anymore due to the unholy, destructive atmosphere that prevails there. Thugs, racketeers, casino kings, bullies, uneducated hoodlums abound here and it is not even safe to be inside this place anymore. Speaker is ridiculed and often he cannot keep order inside. The members turn violent and even throw furniture to hit their opponents; once there was one of them grabbing the Speakers coat of arms and running away thereby disrupting the proceedings. One sat on the ballot box when a vote had to be taken.
I am sure those of my vintage reading this piece will surely recall what parliament was like in days of yore and how it is now. The latest is one member of Parliament abusing the Prime Minister in the most obscene Sinhala words and the Speaker warning him. This uncivilized individual should have been removed from the chamber as a lesson to anyone who thus pollutes the place thereafter. This indiscipline now seems to be an irreversible process.