17 December, 2017

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Safety In Ignorance

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave” – Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass)

The Stono Rebellion of 1739 was the largest slave uprising in pre-Independent America. Many Southern states responded to this unexpected freedom-struggle with the Negro Act which imposed severe restrictions on slaves, including an education-ban. Knowledge, the slave-states realised, was inconsistent with mindless submission.

The unbanning is yet to happen, though the President indubitably can get it done with one call. Is the banning - and the delay in unbanning - aimed at sending the message that satire will be permitted only so long as its primary target is the Opposition?

The unbanning is yet to happen, though the President indubitably can get it done with one call. Is the banning – and the delay in unbanning – aimed at sending the message that satire will be permitted only so long as its primary target is the Opposition?

Today’s power-wielders are often beset by similar cares. The need to keep constituencies in pliable ignorance is not limited to governments. Religions tried/try to appear infallible through knowledge/information control. So do corporate-giants; a case-in-point is the unsuccessful attempt by ‘Dole’ to legally-restrict the documentary, ‘BANANAS!*[i], which depicted the connection between Dole’s use of pesticides and growing sterility among banana-plantation workers in Nicaragua[ii].

Thought control is impossible without information control. If people know, it is hard to keep them in thrall to mirages.

A ruler’s dependency on information control grows as the gap between rhetoric and reality widens. Attempts to hem and guide information flows become pivotal in places where lack of transparency is essential to the maintenance of societal-consent.

This month, the Censor Board banned the latest instalment of the popular satire, ‘Puswedilla’ – ‘The Common Welthings Summit’. Three days later the President reportedly called the playwright/director, Feroze Kamardeen, and promised to sort things out[iii]. The unbanning is yet to happen, though the President indubitably can get it done with one call. Is the banning – and the delay in unbanning – aimed at sending the message that satire will be permitted only so long as its primary target is the Opposition?

In absolute monarchies lèse majesté (offending the dignity of a ruler) was/is a punishable crime. There is nothing like humour to reduce these self-proclaimed divinities to ordinary level, and make their subjective people see the common clay beneath the dazzling gilt. Plus, President Rajapaksa is unsparing in his intolerance. He once condemned a song which mocked the rulers as ‘unpatriotic’ and proclaimed that “songs disgracing the country could help those who want to divide the motherland”[iv]. An astrologer was arrested for making an ‘unacceptable’ political-prediction. A leader with such a gossamer-thin skin is unlikely to be happy about a skit which mocks a matter dear to him. After all, inescapable billboards across Colombo hail the President as the ‘Great Leader of the Commonwealth’!

Uninformed Consent

According to the CPA opinion poll, most Lankans want to know how they are being governed. 72.9% of Lankans (72.4% of Sinhalese) believe that ‘news media should constantly investigate and report on corruption and mistakes by the government’[v]. Only a miniscule minority of 7% (6.7% of Sinhalese) think that ‘too much reporting on negative events like corruption harms the country’.

Despite this desire for knowledge, most Lankans display worrying levels of ignorance about matters of national significance. According to the survey, 79% of Lankans (82.2% of Sinhalese) think that Sinhala is the only national language. A majority has not even heard of the LLRC.

Most Lankans are probably unaware of the Colombo Night Races; and that closing down public roads and spending state resources (including the labour of the soldiery) on an event organised by a private company is illegal. Most Lankans are probably unaware that the rulers are wasting national wealth on private purposes. Most Lankans are probably unaware that their worsening economic woes are partly sourced in the spending priorities of their rulers.

Knowledge is the enemy of uninformed, thoughtless consent. The Rajapaksas would not want Lankans to discover the irresolvable contradiction between Familial Rule and popular wellbeing.

According to the CPA survey, most Lankans have not heard of the illegal impeachment of the Chief Justice. But of those who are aware of the impeachment, a majority believe it is unfair. Clearly knowledge of reality can prevent people from remaining prisoners of illusions.

Lankans do not equate dissension with treachery; 59.6% think that they should do something if they are not satisfied with the government. And increasing numbers of people are likely to become dissatisfied with the government, if they know how Familial Rule is imperilling our common future.

Little wonder then the Rajapaksas are hell-bent on keeping Lankans ignorant about the crimes, misdeeds and incompetencies of familial rule.

The regime is implacably opposed to the Freedom of Information Act and desires the reintroduction of criminal defamation laws; recently, Sajin de Vass Gunewardana, Presidential-favourite and the Monitoring MP for the Ministry of External Affairs, argued that criminal defamation law is necessary “to prevent heads of media organisations from acting like ‘underworld thugs’”[vi]. Only the fear of international reaction (in the context of the Geneva monitoring) compelled the regime to set aside plans to enact a punitively restrictive Media Ethics Law.

The Rajapaksas combine threats with persuasions to dissuade media in general and Sinhala language media in particular from carrying information which casts the First Family in a less-than-glorious light. The murder of Lasantha Wickremetunga still haunts the Lankan media; the fear generated by that broad-daylight assassination is being kept alive by the continued-impunity of the perpetrators.

Internet is under constant threat. Recalcitrant websites are banned directly (Lanka News Web, Lanka E News, Sri Lanka Guardian) or indirectly (Colombo Telegraph, Sri Lanka Mirror).

The regime, for obvious reasons, prefers to corrupt/co-opt rather than kill/abduct. The Media Minister revealed that 91 duty-free car permits and 496 laptops have been given to journalists[vii]. This Rajapaksa concoction of threats and blandishments has largely succeeded in getting the media to perform the task which once required Competent Authorities.

The end result is a state of lackadaisical conformity in which (as Gordon Levy said about Israel), “Soldiers, journalists and news-consumers automatically refrain from asking questions”[viii].

Book-banning “is more than the denial of a constitutional right; it establishes an ethic, a system of moral do’s and don’ts”[ix]. So it is with information-control. During and after Eelam War IV, ‘patriotism’ was used to maintain the myths of ‘Humanitarian Operation with Zero-Civilian-Casualties’ and ‘Welfare Villages’. Without the media’s unwillingness to appear ‘unpatriotic’, the regime may not have succeeded so well in hiding the Northern reality from the South.

With time, the task of damming flows of information is becoming thornier. The regime continues to use the patriotic card, but when the injustices happen in the South and the victims are Sinhala-Buddhists, information-control becomes harder, as the regime found out post-Weliweriya.

Consequently, the regime is trying out new methods to prevent the unravelling of Southern-consent. For instance, prejudices latent in the middle/upper classes are being used to ensure the still-birth of any societal sympathy for Colombo’s poor rendered homeless by the Rajapaksa efforts to turn the city into the exclusive preserve of the rich and the powerful. The argument of convenience was used to justify the eviction of pavement hawkers, even though the measure destroyed an important segment of the informal economy which provided gainful employment to many. Ethno-religious fires are being lit periodically to prevent that moderate coalition of the majority and the minorities which alone can imperil the regime.

Without loosening the Rajapaksa-grip on information flows, Lankan mind cannot be freed from fear, apathy, ‘narrow domestic walls’[x] and the ‘dead habit’ of mindless-submission.


[ii] The Dole Company’s law suit against the movie and threats of further legal actions made sponsors pull out, making it impossible for the movie to compete in the Los Angelis Film Festival. In 2010, a Los Angelis Court ruled in favour of the movie and the filmmakers were awarded nearly $200,000 in fees and costs – http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202475486486&slreturn=20131118195924

[iv] Daily Mirror – 3.5.2011

[viii] Haaretz – 6.7.2009

[ix] Book Banning in America: Who Hates Books – And Why – William Noble

[x] Rabindranath Tagore – Gitanjali

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Latest comments

  • 1
    15

    Doesn’t look like Ms T is knowledgeable either…

    English rulers, and the Colombo converts denied the great majority of poor Sinhala Villagers, the the basic human right of going to a proper school and getting a proper education for nearly two and a half centuries..

    The result was the total domination of the top end jobs like the bosses of the Armed Forces, Police Force, Doctors , Engineers, Lawyers, Judges by the Anglicans, Vellalas and the Christian Sinhala Elite who sucked up to the British big time.

    Thanks to Band’s free education and central schools , even Danapalas and Siripalas manged to get a proper education and decent jobs.

    But it took a long long time.

    And there is a long long way to go still to give the poor in the villages a fair go,

    And that is what knowledge is about, not the Night Races

    The Elite and the British suckers are still at it to wreak havoc and stop these poor getting a fair share , in this new beginning after 30 years of terror and mayhem which was allowed to continue with the support of the same lot.

    • 8
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      Another good one! Thanks Thisaranee. Keep up your good work. Our reading is the Rajapassa cookie is crumbling.. their days are numbered. The Economy is tanking and once sanctions are imposed Nivard Cabraal the crook at the Central Bank will not be able to borrow anymore $$$. Watch the rupee in free fall and the Sinhalaya Modayas who voted for Jarapassa will reap what they have sown,,
      The warnings about impending SANCTIONS against the Rajapassa regime in Sri Lanka are coming in thick! From Cameron to Akashi, the Pope to EU and of course the UN and US – Rajapassa will have to come clean or face the music. Gota is being read the riot act on no uncertain terms..
      The US is systematic and slow and moving ahead on the matter. Jaraapassa will not be able to play ball with the International Community for much longer even if he has conned SInhalaya modaya because of the lack of oppostion..
      MR Dallying meanwhile with African dictators who also have war crimes on their hands – Uganda’s Museveni and Kenyas’s Uhuru Kenyata and China to counter the gathering international storm over Sri Lanka will go nowhere this time. Rajapassa will be a scapegoat – caught in the great game between the west and China – let us watch the fun!

      Question is, is the frigging MORONIC opposition political formation with the UNP beyond repair due to Ranil Wickramasinghe’s dictatorship and collaboration with MR and Sajith Premadasa’s lies, corruption and incapacity) ,preparing Sri Lankans for the coming storm and international sanctions – to get rid of Rajapassa dictatorship before it destroys Lanka from within and without? It should be clearly saidn that the sanctions are NOT against Sri Lankan people BUT the JARAPASSA corrupt and criminal regime..

      • 2
        0

        How exactly can you enforce sanctions on “JARAPASSA” without them been on Sri Lanka?

        • 0
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          Double madam Thissaranee,we have to get rid of that Jarapakse at any cost.The war criminal bumped off that wonderful human being Prabakaran.If anyone insults you ladies in heat,Max Silva is always there.Lets get this fool Karunarathne Jayasuriya to do our dirty work and make sure that non homo Ranil& Ruwan grabs power.After that Madam it will be Xmas for us everyday.

    • 8
      0

      K.A Sumanasekera,

      UPFA had closed more than 1000+ schools in rural areas in last 10 years.
      Sri Lanka agriculture still much depends on Tea, Rubber, coconut started off by suddhas. Sri Lankan leaders were unable to improve the agri industry.

      So what had Lankan rulers achieved after independence? 3 civil wars & Rajapakse monarchy ? -:)

      • 0
        0

        Sumith, the over-whelming majority of voters believe that the Rajapakse ‘Monarchy’ is better than the Wickremesinghe ‘Democracy’ :)

    • 8
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      “English rulers, and the Colombo converts denied the great majority of poor Sinhala Villagers, the the basic human right of going to a proper school and getting a proper education for nearly two and a half centuries..”

      Sumanasekera, have you been dreaming?
      Do you realise that before the suddhaas came your ancestors and my ancestors were toiling in the feilds day in day out. Male children start life as workers in the field. There were no organised education at village levels. Only the aristocracy and the Royals and priesthood knew how to read or write.
      It was the suddhaas who introduced education to the ordinary people, cleared jungles and planted tea and Rubber. Organised villages to have schools. Brought in laws that prevented children from being exploited as labour and sent them to school to gain at least minimum education to read write and count.
      Your Kings never did that!
      Please go and brush up your history. Don’t mislead readers.

      • 0
        0

        As far back as 13th century Sri Lanka had 3 out of 10 tallest structures in the world. Jethawanaya was the 3rd tallest structure in the world at the time it was completed. So yes we had no education system that resembles the modern day but we had our own share of knowledge. You are free to talk for yourself but don’t talk for others without knowing their history.

        and yes British introduced the modern education system to us which is a good thing but that does not negate the fact that under british rule only the English speaking elite class(such as Bandaranayake) they created (not the original radala class) had all the privileges.

        • 0
          0

          “As the largest ancient stupa [5] constructed and one of the tallest ancient structures in the world, the structural ingenuity and engineering skills employed for the construction are significant.”
          So what.. A stupa in 3 rd century AD doesn’t say that people were freely educated!

          ” So yes we had no education system that resembles the modern day but we had our own share of knowledge. You are free to talk for yourself but don’t talk for others without knowing their history.”

          So Mr Liberal one, you admit that we did not have any organised education for the common man before the suddhaas arrived.
          That is the point you should realise! Yes the English educated benefitted. So what did the so called Singhala leaders do after the so called independence? Did they afford the benefit to ordinary people. No denied them all of it except for their own off springs! Sad state is that it still continues under the Rajapakses!
          The benefit of English education only for their progeny and that of their hench man! Not for the gullible Singhala modayas! They can do with their swabasha and continue to slave for the Royal family.

    • 0
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      Ooops Sumane! TS not knowledgable?
      You are knowledgable like all other self assumed pundits. Hence do not judge TS with your idiotic views. Learn to lead your retired life, gracefully.

  • 4
    0

    The destruction of the University system is mean to ensure that Sri Lanka becomes a HUB OF IGNORANCE so that Jarapassa can rule the Sinhalaya Modayas who vote for him in perpetuity!

    Long live Sinhalaya Modayas!

  • 4
    0

    What is this nonsense? What is wrong with slavery? Sri Lankans have to be slaves. They have to be slaves to the king of Sri Lanka not the queen of England or the President of America. Can you understand that? It is as simple as that.

  • 1
    4

    As sinhala Buddhist we proud what we do in just 65 years ….becaus we know after 500 years of continued fighting Singhalese again raise with thear proud..minority beggars will cry but Buddhist and Hindus will make true sri Lanka in next 50 years..

  • 4
    0

    Majority seem to be living in the Feudal Past. The new King Mahinda has been heralded by the likes of Jackson Anthony, Pseudo Prof Sooriyaperema and Ven Ellawals Medhananda. A cult of worship has been built around the family.

    “At that moment, Rev Medhananda says, young Mahinda Rajapaksa who held a `responsible` post in the university library, walked past Soratha Maha Thero`s room which prompted Soratha Maha Thero to comment, `You are a pundit .he is one day a king` .referring to young Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rev Ellawala Medhananda says that Soratha Maha Thero`s prediction has now come true.” –
    http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2009/10/49080_space.html

    As is the custom the rural folk worship their leaders even if they are the biggest scoundrels. It is believed that these “Human Gods” are chosen to guide the destiny of this hallowed nation. They can do no wrong. This is the root of the ignorance of the masses.

    • 2
      0

      Yes, this bugger was holding a ‘responsible’ post as an Assistant Library Clerk!

  • 2
    0

    according to the poll Overwhelming majority 72.9% believe the “news media should constantly investigate and report on corruption and mistakes by the government” going by the all the votes cast in favor of the current regime during past and recent elections can we assume that this same majority accepts and agrees with the actions of the current government. Are we Sri Lankan’s so blind to what is going on and that we are digging our own grave ?
    ————————————————————————–
    I am puzzled if not how come this same lot is being voted over and over again , or is there some illusion which keeps us all blind ! even if a die hard party politico resigns from his party and joins the ruling party still he is still voted to power.

    I think this shows our colors “Wasi pathata Hoiya” till we all made to beg! disgusting ! Wake up people !

    • 0
      0

      If the current lot is such a mess and you are so above them why don’t you come to active politics? There are many faults with Sri Lankans but this is the biggest one. There are so many to criticize and talk but few actually work to make a difference. Remember that there is a lack of decent politicians only because decent people don’t come forward and take the responsibility. We are part of the problem.

  • 1
    0

    Another doosra from Tissaranee keep it up.

    • 0
      1

      These are full tosses mate …..

  • 2
    0

    Another fine bit of Journalism. Great work. Thanks.

  • 0
    0

    Another crap from Thisaranee

  • 0
    0

    The rulers find it easy to mislead the rural folk. Just feed them with the news of some old LTTE stuff, get the various organisations currently in the news to start some protest to safe guard Buddhism and the Sinhala race , invite the three wheel drivers and private bus divers for a meal at the Temple trees and you will find everything else forgotten by these people. Thanks to Colombo Telegraph and others the illegal activities of the govt and the stooges are to some extent held in check. Great work CT keep it up.Going through the responses/reactions to Tissaranee’s subject article cannot ignore that some of the responses are to attach her on some irrelevant portions of her article while forgetting the real issue. This shows how blind some of us are

  • 1
    0

    Well Thisaranee,The challenge is how to take this message to the rural Sri lankans who are gullible and used to swallow anything the regime puts in their mouths.The English speaking minority who are used to read web based information are fully equipped with this level of knowledge and that itself will not change the general public opinion which is largely ignorant.Despite having faced brutal suppression of southern youth by extrajudicial means during late eighties ,they are reluctant to believe their forces could have done war crimes at the end of the brutal war. They don’t see this is the two sides of the same coins.Even after these guns turned at there children at Rathupassala ,they still remain in darkness and prefer to hide behind the shield of patriotism.they don’t realise we need an army which is devoid of rougue muderers who can pull the trigger as they wish which can seriously threaten the well being of every citizen of the country. They don’t realise penalising them is the best one can do to the good name of thousands of law abiding soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country.This is all due to the propaganda machinery of very shrewd regime and the suppression of free media which should play and intergral part in a vibrant democrasy.The present regime will go down to any low level to maitain their power grip and unless the mindset of the mass majority of rural population is changed no light can be brought to our besieged land.

    • 1
      0

      priya,
      You put it well in a nutshell – but the rural half educated masses are being brainwashed by the ruling polity that King Rajapakse can do no wrong.
      The next project is winning the presidential election by any means necessary.
      All goats will vote for him.
      They dont realise that the nation is ‘indebted to the hilt’ and that their children and their childrens’ children will have to pay – while the ruling polity enjoy their spoils.

  • 0
    0

    One of the hallmarks of a true democracy is the facilitation of the freedom of expression where the right to express does not impinge on the rights of anyone else. The moment the exercise of one person’s right infringes another’s, that becomes the limit at which a line should be drawn..

  • 0
    0

    Poor Sinhalese masses need to know what is happening in their country. They think their government is protecting them from the Tamils,Christians and the Muslims. They also think international bodies are all influenced by the Tigers. I hope some one of your caliber can write in Sinhalese to open their eyes

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