By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“….developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy……to get people to love their servitude. This is the, it seems to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions”. –Aldous Huxley (The Ultimate Revolution)
During his recent Ugandatour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reportedly enchanted by the servile conduct of the Ugandans he came into contact with. According to the political column of last Sunday’s Rivira, the Lankan President asked his Ugandan counterpart, “When we look at them (Ugandans) it is clear that they have a very obedient nature. How did you manage to make them so obedient?” President Musevini’s response was that this servility was a relic of the Colonial ethos, when White Masters kept their Black and Brown Subjects in total subjugation.
In a democracy uncritical obedience is a dangerous vice. Despotic rule cannot survive without uncritical obedience. Colonial rulers treated colonised peoples as political infants incapable of handling independence. Tyrants too regard their subjects as eternal political-minors, incapable of dealing with freedom.
Foremost amongst the freedoms considered dangerous by actual and nascent despots is the right to information, the freedom of the people to know what is happening in their own country. Over the years the Rajapaksas have managed to subdue most of the print media. Currently, websites are their main targets. In this month alone, de facto banns were imposed on several websites including Gossip Lanka and Lanka Eagle.
The Rajapaksa fear of a free and critical media is comprehensible. The Siblings have much to hide.
Take land grabbing. Currently this is a major problem confronting not just by the Tamil people of the North but also by the Sinhala people of the South. Parallel to the stealth campaign of demographic reengineering in the North, the Rajapaksas are conducting an even more secretive operation of class and partisan-political reengineering in the South. Their ultimate aim is to create a new demographic which will render difficult any democratic/electoral resistance to Familial Rule.
In the North, private lands are being expropriated to create new army camps and military cantonments. For instance, according to Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the regime is using the Land Acquisition Act to expropriate 6,400 acres of land to build a military cantonment in Jaffna: “….the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outside the so called illegal High Security Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not complete. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands….. Now suddenly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to others to occupy, who will become voters in the North. Similar notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, instructions have gone out to acquire all the land that the military deems necessary for its purposes”[i].
These cantonments and military bases are being superimposed on a Tamil terrain to break the existing ethnic contiguity of the North, thereby to render devolution impossible and to keep Tamils in a continued state of subjection. Its other – and no less important purpose – is to make it possible for the Rajapaksas to win elections in the North, with a minimum amount of violence and malpractices.
Most Sinhalese are indifferent to the issue of land-grabbing because they see it as a Tamil problem. The Rajapaksas would want this ignorance – and the consequent indifference – to last as long as possible. The plight of Colombo’s poor, who are facing the danger of being evicted from their homes en masse, has received some attention but the plight of the Sinhala peasants of Ampara who have been chased away from their traditional lands is virtually unknown. In 2011, the Lankan Navy grabbed more than 1,200 acres of land close to the tourist hot-spot ofPanama; consequently thousands of Sinhala villagers of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella lost their homes and their means of livelihood. A similar fate has befallen the fisher-folk of Kalpitiya.
When the state takes over private land for development purposes, it is obligated to provide the owners with either compensation or alternate lands. This is how successive governments in Sri Lanka conducted themselves, by and large. The Rajapaksas have developed a different method; land grabbing is being done, extra-legally, using the military. The issue is thus ‘militarised’ and garbed in the protective-attire of ‘national security’. This way the owners can be threatened at will, the Sinhala-language media silenced and environmental laws and archaeological regulations ignored. For instance, in Ampara, “though sanctions have been imposed by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out any development work on forestlands, the Sri Lanka Navy claims that such formalities are totally discarded when the Defence Ministry approves their projects. Speaking on the construction work carried out by the Navy in Panamain the Ampara District, Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya said that they have not followed any of these procedures nor would they require permission from the said institutions as the construction is being carried out on Defence Ministry land. ‘This is a Defence Ministry land and there is no necessity to obtain approval from any department to carry out any of our development work,’ claimed Warnakulasuriya[ii].
The Defence Ministry and the military are the law, not just in the Tamil-North, but even in the Sinhala-South. The ultimate purpose of these acts of dispossession is to fill the Rajapaksa coffers, buttress the Rajapaksa dynastic project and render difficult any effective national resistance to Rajapaksa rule.
The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims of land-grabbing have a problem and an opponent in common. Therefore coordinating their various acts of resistance into a single struggle makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, instead of this necessary and possible national campaign – ideally with the participation of the opposition parties – resistance is fragmented along regional/ ethnic/class lines.
The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to understand that they are not immune to Rajapaksa-injustice. The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to realise that the military, far from being ‘our boys’, are Rajapaksa tools (just as the Tigers served not the Tamil people but Vellupillai Pirapaharan). The Siblings do not want their Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims to find the common ground and mount a coordinated resistance. The Siblings want to atomise Lankans along ethnic, religious and class lines, to prevent a united opposition to familial rule from coming into being. The only Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity they want to promote is a unity in apathy and indifference.
The Rajapaksa project aims at the psychological reengineering of the Lankan people. They want an ignorant nation which equates difference with danger. They want a people more concerned about hemlines or eating habits than land-grabbing or child abuse. They want a nation seeped in mutual-suspicion and habituated into obedience.
They want a nation which, unconsciously, cooperates in its own subjugation and undoing.