9 December, 2021


Sri Lanka: A Shameful Land Like No Other? 

By Lasantha Pethiyagoda

Lasantha Pethiyagoda

First, a question: If everyone in a given society directly or indirectly cheats everyone else, will there be any winners? A poor country practicing the values of grand capitalism have two groups of people. The industrialists and the political class on the one side and the ordinary citizens on the other. The former are the exploiters and the latter the exploited. The exploiters are well set for any contingency and will flee or escape any calamity. The exploited will be caught in any cross fire or disaster visited upon the state.

Tourism magazines referred to Sri Lanka as the resplendent isle, the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Ironically, it has been branded as “A land like no other” or even ridiculously “The miracle of Asia”. The exploited people of the land see it otherwise.

There is a relatively new hierarchy of values practiced in Sri Lanka which reverse the traditional order, and have infiltrated our fundamental institutional structures (education, labour, politics, economy) through which destructive social norms are endorsed and crystallized.

People now tend to take great pride in conforming to this socially-constructed emerging hierarchy of values, defining themselves, their worth and success in terms of volume of money and extent of power, proceeding blindly in a vain search for happiness, while the very foundations of the land are crumbling beneath their feet.

Rampant corruption in every conceivable sector has now become a curse in society, and is eating into its very foundations. Amazingly and absurdly, it is no longer a matter of shame, to be accused of corrupt practices. On the contrary, proponents of this despicable “art” are implicitly held in awe, and almost always rewarded for their ingenuity and duplicity.

The noble virtues of humility, love and compassion, foundations of our Buddhist culture have been replaced with crass hypocrisy, arrogant haughtiness and contemptuous behaviour towards people who represent compassion, honesty or integrity. This is done deliberately, to deter any resurgence of ethics or semblance of decency and thus promotes a culture that has already destroyed the land’s vital institutions.

In government offices, even ordinary officials and puny local politicians, strut about in self-assumed importance. This is in turn affecting the youth, who are emulating their peers, and indulging in masquerades that include lies and chicanery, to show off their ill-gotten possessions.

In other words, ordinary people have been overwhelmed by the pragmatics of the “corporate bottom line” that dominate our life-stage decision-making, turning money, which is essentially a means, into an end in itself, while turning fellow humans, ethically understood as “ends in themselves” into mere means of self-gain.

This engenders a constant state of jealousy, resentment and competition. It then triggers people with meagre means, to steal and indulge in antisocial activities like soliciting bribes, drug peddling and smuggling to finance their lifestyle.

It is the extreme depravity to which our moral values have degenerated, when we find people being murdered for small pecuniary gains. Everyone in this poor country seems pre-occupied with money. Our children seem encouraged by parents, peers and societal norms to embrace wealth accumulation as their prime objective. One dares not revolt against such paradigms created by the market culture although social costs are ongoing and most palpable to all.

These attitudes and behaviours are unpardonable in any religion. Nevertheless, people with such moral depravity, overtly seem to be religious.

Most of these people are “religious” in their daily routine, like offering daily prayers, worshipping at temples, and even engaging in philanthropic activities, like giving charities or donations to religious bodies.

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.

A people oppressed by hardship are by nature weak and incomplete, and hence seek divine help to overcome this imposed weakness. In the corporate business sphere, investors do not see investing as anything but a financial one. Instead of viewing investment as an opportunity to use excess funds to support socially responsible corporate activities, investors are motivated simply to use undistributed profits to make even more money for themselves, while maintaining a veneer of sensitivity by engaging in public activities that the state is responsible for.

Meanwhile, the helpless embrace religion to follow a path of self- improvement, and worship in the hope of getting peace in life, and salvation after death. In a sense, religion (largely Buddhist) has become representative of the love and fear of the unknown, completely antithetical to its original purpose.

People seem to follow religious customs as a matter of routine, a ritual, without imbibing or assimilating its virtues in their lives. They turn to religious fervour when faced with difficulties or uncertainties in life, like when they are in pain, or are facing anxious moments because of ill health or tension. Thus religion, that basically teaches us to lead a pious life, has been reduced to satisfying our need, or for emotional security only.

The reason for this is the highly materialistic nature of Sri Lankan society. In their haste to acquire the material comforts of life, they have obviated the basic tenet of religion that is morality.

People habitually speak half-truths, or gross untruth, for the sake of winning an argument, a contract or an order. Thus a salesman, television advertisement or a politician, resorts to making tall promises, in the hope of bagging an order, stimulating an addiction or a crucial vote.

A company makes misleading advertisements, to catch and hold the attention of the target audience. It is another matter that their products belie the claim. Worst still are dubious companies, selling spurious products for making a quick buck, putting the lives of the innocent millions in peril.

It is therefore obvious that moral values have deteriorated to such an extent, that people are ready to exploit religion to serve their vested interests. The corrupt-to-the-core politicians, playing on religious sensibilities of the people, persevere in garnering votes and consequently more power and clout.

Basic economic theory suggests that physical resources are finite while our needs and wants are infinite. As such, failure to install another moral paradigm to consumption is a recipe for disaster. While this is not an inherent or necessary problem, in Sri Lanka it is socially constructed largely by how money has been prioritised above values and relationships.This contradiction in the social psyche, is being effectively exploited by politicians, to sow seeds of discord, leading to communal, domestic and industrial strife.

As evident in progressive countries, development in every sense is about the well-being of a nation’s people, and so it is values, relationships, and ethics that should be the end while wealth and power are merely secondary kinds of means. Therefore, we cannot complacently wear religion on our sleeves, to be used only at will.

Reintroducing the idea of moderation, equanimity and spiritual growth into this highly commoditized and materialistic society that can ill-afford luxury for the people is a battle of severe adversity.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 18

    A good discription of Sri Lankan society. But bottom line is human conscience has gone now..
    Due to bad politics..

    • 22

      Right on Lankan Lasantha!
      Lanka is a land of Fake Buddhism, Fake democracy, Fake post-war reconciliation, and Fake Development, which benefits the local and global 1 percent. While farmers commit suicide, the corrupt agriculture Minister fattens himself on Renting towers worth millions, like Ravi K’s Condo paid with Bondscam funds, looted from Central Bank and Lankan people.
      “Development” / projects today are a massive bi-partisan, UNP-SLFP, debt trap and Fake- reconciliation and corruption racket (Money politics in Social Science lingo), operated to advance the business and security interests of Fake Aid donors (USA, China, India, Japan, etc), and corrupt politicians. (Pay to play is the name of the Fake Development aid/loans game in Washington DC)
      Consumerism and Corruption rackets are 2 sides of a coin.

    • 0

      Yes absolutely true. Bad politics and corruption by Politicians has been the root cause of the current state of affairs in Sri Lanka.

    • 3

      I agree. Fully. Please also see my letter to the editor of Daily Mirror of 22 June 2018 at P A8. Same theme.Its time to stop the talk and start WALKING. I am ready to join. We still have around a year left to make the difference. I am Brigadier Ranjan de Silva. My contact details are – Mobile 071 222 8043. Email – rpcdesilva@gmail.com.

  • 16

    A true picture of the current situation on this once lively, beautiful and peaceful island called ‘Ceylon’. Oh! what a pitiful state she is in. Unbiased very well compiled, Mr. Pethiyagoda.

  • 19

    Lasantha you are spot on. I salute you for your integrity,honesty, conscience and courage . The decline was initiated by the politicians years ago for their own gain and further exacerbated by the so called religious heads. What you see now is “hitting the bottom”. You can see this here in CT with loads and loads of comments which are outright racial, abusive and nothing but hatred to fellow human beings.Almost 50 years ago, my now deceased father not only taught us but made sure we respect all religions as one. Even after his demise the shrine room in our house reminds his teaching. When we pray we pray to Lord Buddha,Jesus,Hindu idols,Quran verses/quotes, Guru Nanak, Jainism and even mother Theresa and Gandhi. “Thank you so much Dad for keeping us humane and You could not have given anything more valuable than this to us.”

  • 13

    Yes. It’s a shameful nation which labels itself as ‘pearl of the Indian ocean’ , ‘a land like no other’.. These are just phrases to attract tourists and nothing else. We Lankans know how much of pain it is to live with the rising cost of living, racism, political instability, to name a few. No wonder why so many people escape to foreign countries.

  • 9

    Mr. Lasantha Pethiyagoda: Thank you for , at least briefly. but “on the spot” hit at the “Himalayan” high stinking garbage dump created in the Indian Ocean by the “People” and “Administrators” making a resplendent living in it. You said: “The corrupt-to-the core politicians playing on the religious sensibilities of the people in garnishing votes and consequently more power and clout”. Yes, true. But WHO is to be blamed? The obvious answer is “PEOPLE”. Why do these “PEOPLE” accept “LEADERSHIP” of the corrupt, very well knowing and experiencing that they are “corrupt-to-the core”? No doubt, “religious sensibilities” are one among many other “sensibilities” that these corrupt leaderships exploit to gain “power and clout”. There are many other factors, such as “Tribalism” named as “Sinhala”. “Tamil”, “Muslim” and still prevalent “Caste” classifications and the latest emergence of “Rich Elite” comprised of “Criminals” in “Businesses”; “Bureaucracy ” “Religion” “Media” and “Social Groupings”. This “Rich” and “Enriched” army has overrun the then social structure and its value systems and converted into a “Garbage Dump” now floating in the Indian Ocean. Recently, at a seminar, the present Auditor General Mr. Gamini Wijesinghe said: “If a proper audit is done into the affairs of governing , more than half of the Bureaucrats would be living in jail”. What more to say? What is the solution and the roadway to recovery? A “Brand New Elite” of “Selfless”; “Benevolent” “Professional” GROUP has to TAKE OVER.

  • 11

    Nicely written, Mr Pethiyagoda. One thing is that we ape a new view in the West that greed is a good thing. So, people have become individualistic and boost themselves whenever they can through ostentatious living. Since money is lacking in traditional ways, everyone takes to get it through corruption, fraud or other means of deception.
    But, there is a difference from the West that you do not point out. That is the crass nationalism of the Sinhala- Buddhist politician which enables his corruption through the smokescreen of extreme nationalism. He raises this smokescreen and plunders his own people. Keeps them in Sinhala Only ignorance while sending his children to the UK with his corrupt money. The obvious example is Rajapakse, but there are others on both sides of politics. The Mahanayakes who should be moral guardians are satisfied as they have their comforts and participate in stoking the smokescreen. So, we move rapidly to the abyss. We have to send more women to work in the Middle East.

  • 12

    Sadly we are a nation that refuses to accept the truth or take the blame for our actions. Not only that we aid and abet the wrongdoers vociferously.!!
    Take the example of The Buddhist monk Galagode Gnasara who was recently found guilty, rather than accept the verdict of the courts’ people including fellow Buddhist monks are protesting his innocence.

    Then there’s the recent ball tampering issue involving the Sri Lankan cricket captain Chandimal in the West Indies, the cricket board in Sri Lanka was quick to denounce the guilty verdict contrary to the clear video evidence implicating him in his misdeed.
    obviously, this kind of behavior sends the wrong message to the young ones thus..” Don’t worry You can do wrong we will defend you”.

    • 8


      I am In my Eighties now, and long for the Ceylon (Sri Lanka) of my Youth.

      We were Free and Unafraid; no White Vans, No Grease Yakkas; We Practised the Religion of Our Choice with No Preferential Treatment by the Government; We spoke and Studied in the Language of our Choice, without bringing Racism into it.
      In our Schools we did not Know or Question, whether our Friends were Ethnically different from us!

      We Practised the best Multiculturalism in the World! How did we lose those Standards?

  • 7

    People are not interested in changing the system that has enslaved them since Independence.
    So why should the Politicians and their proxy Business faces bother ,they just make hay while the sun shines and hibernate when its cold (when a new Government makes it in) They are having a time of their life taking turns.
    To date I am yet to see any sincere politician come up and suggest a system that will be completely transparent, accountable ,will have within the house a powerful peoples representative ,strong knuckles on law & Order ,instead a Minister recently ridiculed such a notion ,stating we can’t be like first world countries like western and he further commented laughing away even Singapore is only known to be least corrupt .
    He probably lost the spirit of setting the norms ,the whole idea is to first set up a system ,and then endorse it rigorously without favour or preferences.
    It is the people who must make an effort.
    If only known the common man knew exactly how much of our resources are robbed ,how much of our money is siphoned out ,from which the poor can have decent homes ,good healthcare ,good transport , good affordable food and best of education.
    Seems there will remain intact the Same old political system and only faces will change ,the ill gotten money will only keep growing while the poor continue to struggle ,suffer and remain as Slaves.
    The educated and smart young who have a way out must leave within two years and build their future outside ,just remember coming back is simple ,but in future the way the world is closing up , our young talent may not have a way out .
    Sri Lanka with its heavy burden of debts , no matter who comes to power ,will only borrow ,more and first take care of themselves and their families and friends and just do an eyewash with whatever little that remains .

  • 5

    USA under Trump is fast catching on Sri Lanka on the” shameful land index.

  • 3

    “foundations of our Buddhist culture”

    “Schopenhauer used the word “will” as a human’s most familiar designation for the concept that can also be signified by other words such as “desire,” “striving,” “wanting,” “effort,” and “urging.” Schopenhauer’s philosophy holds that all nature, including man, is the expression of an insatiable will to life. It is through the will that mankind finds all their suffering. Desire for more is what causes this suffering. He argues that only aesthetic pleasure creates momentary escape from the Will. Although the concept of desire may be influenced by Buddhist teachings, it should not be treated as direct reference since desire is not thought to be the fundamental nature of human beings in Buddhism.”

    • 3

      Desire is natural to man. The English philosopher spoke of a felicific calculus that is that man does acts to promote his personal happiness but avoids those which cause him harm. It is a principle he advocated could be used in punishment. You punish so that the pain is greater than the pleasure so that the calculus requires you to avoid the pain. Religion teaches us to subdue desire. The Buddha taught this but the Buddhist priests don’t seem to understand, promoting Hitlers. Hinduism teaches that the five senses desire pleasure but that subduing them is the way to bliss. We have forgotten these teachings. In the days of the credit card and consumerism, it is easy to stoke desires and not think of the pain that comes later.

    • 0

      Nimal Fernando, you better give up attempts to dabble with philosophy go back to running the B&B on stolen land, under your real name.. Your comment, quoting your Jew ancestor Schopenhauer (who is on record saying that the so-called European philosophy is only scratching the surface of weighty issues, compared to Indian philosophy) shows you are a clueless idiot about such issues. Bugger off.

      • 3

        Buddy, Philo SoferPS833′

        Ha ha ha ha ha …………… this is the exact reaction I wanted!

        First, you had to create a new handle to write this …………. you can’t post it under your usual handle ……..That says something; isn’t it? :))

        All of that crap I copied word for word directly from Wikipedia to see what sort of reactions it’ll elicit :))

        As I’ve written many times before I believe all religions and philosophies -Eastern or Western – is bunkum ………….. good only for guys like you :))

        I post some crap to ruffle feathers to observe reactions

        I saw your reaction coming from miles away ………….. The Lankan adult-mind fascinates me like no other! :))

        That’s the reason I frequent this forum :))

        Unfortunately you are in the Lankan minor league ……… just filled with emotions and anger and not very interesting. :))

        But if you try hard …….. you can always improve. :)))

  • 1

    Very good Article. We have destroyed our Cinhala buddhist culture and have accepted the westen value system. The need is as everybody says some leader who loves the couuntry and force the people to do what need to be done. Remember even in the West, JFK asked what not the country do for you, instead ask what I can do for the country. Anyway, in brief what we need is a RAJANDU govt in the old Asia. the leader should not be one who is coming to fatten his bank account and live the life of a KIng or emperor. Remember those days, these kings used to walk under cover inside their territory lookinng for people who are suffering. We do not have such leaders. when they get the votes they think they are kings and emperers.
    PRactically speaking we donot need the so-called Executive president who is not executive but he can be subjugated easily by the executive parliamentarians and the PM. A PM who are elected by the people would be able to overcome many problems. Any good politician who is not corrupt but from any party should be able to contest the PM

  • 4

    A superb article. A sad story of how this beautiful nation has gone to ruins. The people are to be blamed as they cannot think beyond their noses.

  • 4

    What is wrong with us the Fobes openly states that MR has many billions of US dollars and even Anura Kumara Dissanayaka sahodsraya also has billions of dollars. From Where did these fellows get ths money obviously they robbed us.

  • 3

    You are correct to the extent that we should be ashamed of producing characters like you who haven’t got enough intelligence to work out the mechanisms of the international mafia deploy to demolish the social, religious and cultural institutions of the formerly colonised countries, so that they could run these places according to the ‘achcharu’ culture they have concocted for us. In the meantime these thieves will suck the blood of our poor people. People like you, who ignorantly embrace their value system see things in reverse. Pity you!

  • 2

    And t crown it all, we have a Traitors / Rouges at the helm.

  • 2

    Then get out …what are you doing here?

  • 3

    I am really worried about our country. We are in a grave situation. Our economy has gone to the lowest level. We have no place in Asia or in the globe. World may call as a rouge nation. All the blame should go to Sri lankan citizen for selecting corrupt politicians and tolerating all theses nuisance

    • 1

      L Perera;
      Do Sri Lankan Citizens go to the Polls to elect their Representatives?

      We are left with a Choice between Two Sets of Greedy, Corrupt, and Incompetent Political Groups.

      Abolish this System and call for People like Lasantha to Put forward Candidates of His Calibre, so that we have a Real Choice of Educated People, who Love their Country, and Work For Her Welfare!

      Let us Hope that the ‘People’ have the Intelligence and Guts to recognize Such Candidates.
      The only Qualification required at Present, to become a Politician, seems to be ‘The Gift of the Gab’!

  • 3

    What a brilliant article, please get this translated into sinhala and tamil too, i hope each temple, church, kovil and mosque will at least read this out once to their devotees.

  • 2

    Lasantha, Your write up is an eye opener to every one except for the vile politicians including the so called Leaders present and past, let me not mention about religious leaders out of sheer respect for all religions. The entire Nation is sitting on a time bomb, while the two leaders are playing the role of Nero and their acolytes are dancing merrily. Aren’t there any elected MPP in parliament with a grain of salt who could say enough is enough and warn the two leaders either to hit out or get out. We hope and pray that our country be spared and not be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah.

  • 0

    Lasantha Pethiyagoda
    Almost all countries have this shame to hide.
    Myanmar is in fact quite open in the genocide of Rohingyas.
    US separating infants from mothers.
    Australia’s inhuman treatment of asylum seekers.
    List is incomplete
    SL is not at top of the list but right up there close.

  • 0

    Mr. Pethiyagoda,

    Excellent write-up. You have captured SL society’s deterioration very well.

    But I have a slightly different take. When there is no rational evidence of any God, religions, though seeking to enforce a moral order, still drum into people’s heads contradictory ideas and falsehoods. This leads to enshrining and legitimizing hypocrisy as a way of life from childhood.
    Even though Buddhism is an atheistic religion, at the societal level people still attribute some divinity and infallibility to the Buddha and his teachings, so Buddhism is no exception to this general rule.

    I have argued ever since I was in Grade 9 back in Jaffna that religions themselves are rooted in falsehoods and promote dishonesty. And that fundamental error (and dishonesty) permeates every aspect of life.

    Despite such hypocrisies everywhere, there is some semblance of order in certain societies. Sri Lanka and many other countries haven’t found such order. The countries that have found such order probably have a higher percentage of well-behaved and reasonably well-educated people above a certain threshold, who have over several generations gradually adopted secular moral values despite still living with a certain amount of hypocrisy in their religions. So it is about reaching that threshold– a critical mass of people with enough secular morality, liberal values and integrity, whether they are religious or not. It is such a critical mass that can counteract the sheer absence of any such values in a large number of a country’s citizens. I see this phenomenon happening in the US right now when the country is facing some crises under Trump.

    Simply asking people to adopt aspects of religious values in the face of deep contradictions in such religions, often displayed for all to see by the clergy themselves, will not lead to any real change. Values should be founded on the truth, and the truth is that religions have no basis in fact.

  • 1

    Excellent! Spreading this narrative written in Sinhala and Tamil is essential to get the message to a wider audience!

  • 1

    Colombo and Suburbs are now a huge prostitute hub.
    Pimps operating freely ,some with tour agency under the disguise Sri Lanka Miracle ,while politicians are selling the Country ,some pimps with high life style are selling pxxx they are even importing from all over ,there is one that has mostly Arab customers the owner is actually a pimp.but portray as Tour agent
    We demand the government to put an end to this ,all massage parlours are fxxk shops , ,they have fake doctors ,they are protected by some politicicians .
    How did a certain spa which was a small time beautician school suddenly make billions ?
    Drugs ,prostitution ,smuggling ,money laundering and contract killing is widespread in Sri Lanka
    Has the Fxxxing Tax buggers checked how these buggers are living such a high life style in a country with a dead economy ?
    The Tax buggers are after poor people who have saved few laks half starving and by investing on FD. While smugglers ,Pimps ,drug pedders ate minting money with zero taxes
    The bloody citizens of Sri Lanka are ninetynibe percent dumb.
    They hardly know what’s going on,
    Last government did it in style closed door these buggers are doing open doors

    The politicians are curse

  • 0

    Dear Author and all participants,
    What a relief to see all Sri Lankan participants are realizing the truth brought together by the excellent writing of Mr.Pethiagoda. When the more active politician controlled media and Journalist write, this forum goes hysterically a racist forum. Looks like the world can hope to see more informative and non political non racial and non religious forums that will drive some sense in the heads of all the actors and kids placed in responsible positions.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.