By Lasantha Pethiyagoda –
Despite the attempted lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic, there seems to be no abatement of the endemic corruption which has been a curse in Sri Lankan society. Where self-interest has trumped over common good, it is no longer a matter of shame, to be accused of corrupt practices. Amidst the clamour and naked greed fuelling the run-up to elections and admonitions by community leaders to choose wisely, such people are held in awe, and rewarded with loyalty for their ingenuity in fooling the people.
Where are the virtues of humility, love and compassion? Noble values have been replaced with crass hypocrisy, haughtiness and contemptuous behaviour towards dissenting people. This is done deliberately, to promote an artificial image of valour and strength in the eyes of the public.
Allied ordinary officials, two-bit politicians with dreams of lucre, strut about in self-assumed importance. This hypocrisy is in turn affecting the youth, who are emulating their peers, and indulging in lies and chicanery, while showing off their impunity, racing in powerful vehicles bandying big names painted thereon.
The jealousy, resentment and competition, that these parasites trigger, leads people with meagre means, to steal, demand bribes and indulge in antisocial activities like drug peddling and smuggling to finance their flamboyant lifestyle while TV news periodically highlight a drug haul to keep people fooled.
Crimes like extortion, kidnapping and even murder are often perpetrated with impunity despite loud public lambasting of dignified high officials by the people’s chief with appropriate camera angles and voice cuts. It is the extreme depravity to which our moral values have degenerated, when we find people being killed on the roads by reckless drivers or murdered for small pecuniary gains. These statistics do not seem to improve despite powerful rhetoric.
Many of these acts are unpardonable in any religion, with or without compassion and loving kindness. Nevertheless, people with such moral depravity, cannot be said to be “unreligious” as they are constantly fed the noble teachings via TV, radio and numerous sermons in temples.
On the contrary, most of these people are religious in their routine rituals, like offering daily prayers or flowers from another’s garden, worshipping at temples, and even engaging in philanthropic activities, like giving charities or donations to religious bodies.
To the diligent observer, their religious behaviour is a facade to hide their evil deeds, in the mistaken belief of atoning for their criminal, or immoral activities. The more enterprising among them, use religion to promote their personal or political interests, regularly turning to address and “reassure” the yellow-robed participants adorning the front rows of political platforms.
The ordinary beleaguered citizen in Sri Lanka is by nature weak and incomplete, and hence seeks divine help to overcome their inherently weak state, not knowing that the very people they look up to are their real oppressors.
They thus embrace religion to follow a path of self- improvement, worship, and pay monetary offerings to custodians of sacred places in the hope of getting peace in life, and salvation after death. In a sense, religion is the love and fear of the unknown, exploited to the hilt by their promoters.
While its root is faith and home base is the conscience, unfortunately for people the moral values that are an integral part of any religion, are rapidly deteriorating, making us religious nominally and largely ineffectively.
Most ordinary Sri Lankans follow religious customs, as a matter of routine, a ritual, without imbibing or assimilating its virtues in their lives and turn to religion only as an antidote to difficulties or uncertainties in life, praying for exam success, overcoming ill-health, or other benefit.
Most mainstream citizens claim to be Buddhist – Sinhala and boast about the five precepts yet speak half-truths, or untruth, for the sake of winning an argument, a contract or an order. Thus a salesman or a politician, resorts to making tall promises, in the hope of bagging an order, or a crucial vote.
Egged on by the successes of farcical politics, industries make misleading advertisements, to catch and hold the attention of the target audience. It is another matter that their products belie the claim, just as in the vile politician. Worse still are dubious companies, selling spurious products, backed by political clout, making a quick buck, putting the lives of the innocent millions in peril.
These contradictions in the national culture, are being effectively exploited by politicians, to sow seeds of discord, leading to communal strife which enormously benefits the rogues.
Sri Lanka cannot wear religion on its sleeves, to be used only at will. We must be religious in the real sense of the word, to be happy, and at peace with ourselves. For that we need an environment that is conducive to good morals. Building it is not the oppressors’ objective. We must learn to see through the façade and develop collectively to defeat our oppressors.