By Vishwamithra –
“Life is too precious to be a spectator sport. We are no longer merely fans, rooting for the winning team. We are the team. We are the grown-ups. Whatever you believe is true, now is the time to give your respectful, inquisitive, and compassionate self to it.” ~ Vicki Robin
Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, poet, social critic, and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. Once he wrote thus: “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” All Sri Lankans, leaders, followers, the rich and the poor, the so-called high caste and the low, Sinhalese, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus, all belong to the two categories of those who are fooled as described by Kierkegaard. It is not a very flattering description.
Caught up in a chaos of crises, battered by scarcities and fatigued by standing in multi-kilometer long lines for the basic essentials of living, all Sri Lankans, after having been buried in a cemetery of ignorance, are finding it hard to resurrect, whoever the new Prime Minister or the Cabinet of Ministers. It indeed is a painstaking process for one to endure day after suffocating day in their lives.
What commenced at the beginning as a very promising and energetic uprising, Aragalaya is gasping for breath; its participants, today’s youth drawn from all walks of life, have realized that they too have to satisfy their family needs by standing in lines for a liter of fuel and cooking gas, for kerosene and food and even basic medicines. What was promised on the election platform in 2019 during Presidential Election campaign has vanished into thin air. The utopian dreams have been shattered and the castles that they built in their dream world have come crashing down.
Surrounded by their loyal goons and driven to desperation by the looming economic disaster, the Rajapaksas, instead of crafting plans and strategies to overcome the sudden but decisive turn of events that directly affected the body politic of the country, rushed to their comfort zones that originally gave them shelter however much temporary it was. They applied Band-Aids on a wound that had been festering and eating into the very marrow of the nation for decades. A generation after generation has been subjected to the invisible suppressive measures of a majoritarian parliamentary democracy. They transferred the focus away from the Galle Face green to the House of Parliament, mistakenly called the Temple of democracy.
Ever since the Aragalaya commenced, ever since the protesters emerged in the farthest corners of the land, in rural hamlets and emerging townships, the focus was on the purity and patience of our youth and their elders who participated in these protests. They voiced their anger; they exhibited their dissatisfaction and they mocked the very wheels of governance from top to bottom. They displayed a remarkable sense of balance on all fronts- caste, creed and religion.
For the first time since 1956, Sinhalese Buddhists failed to draw a line separating them from the Northern Tamils and Eastern Muslims. Catholic Nuns came to the assistance of a fallen fellow being without questioning their religious fidelities. One single family of Lankans succeeded in focusing their beacon of light on the current crises and political depravities of a ruling family.
An uprising of this magnitude was never witnessed on the streets of our country. Its growing popularity and its riveting attention by all social classes made the 1971 Insurrection look utterly puny. But for all that promise to disappear and become a mere thought of yesterday, some strange phenomenon must have occurred; such uprisings do not dwindle in a couple of weeks unless there was a fatal flaw in either the substance or the process of the movement that created it. But neither is the case. Then what happened?
To answer to that question, one must look inwards; one must see whether the very character and core of our national DNA is inherently flawed or otherwise, not in a very technical way or fashion, but in a broad panoramic sense. As much as one cannot attribute the current lethargy of movement of today’s Aragalaya to one single factor, one simply cannot be oblivious of the conspicuous historical behavior of Sri Lankan psyche throughout the centuries.
Being a subject people under monarchical rule, from the time Ceylon became a nation-country, governance being a dichotomy between the monarch and the subject-people; over the centuries we have become accustomed to decrees issued by the ruling King or Queen as against a more democratic structure wherein consensual decisions were reached after conference and discussion. This psyche of being subject people was passed down and even after the colonial rule under the Portuguese, Dutch and British governors, our people remained loyal to the rulers except a few rebels who called themselves more patriotic than the rest!
Every now and then, in the aftermath of gaining Independence in 1948, some segments of our population resorted to extreme measures by taking up arms against the ruling powers as evidenced in 1971, 1987-1989 against the incumbent governments and for a total system change. At the same time, one cannot forget the 30-year war engineered by Tamil militants led by Prabhakaran’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), which ultimately became a geopolitical issue in the Indian Subcontinent.
But the ultimate outcome of all these political skirmishes turned out to be fruitless; their objectives lost in the process of the battle and methods employed by the respective rebellion/terrorist groups reaching absolutely inhuman and vengeful levels. However, in the wake of all these episodes, the governing party became even more entrenched in their rule and accomplished to instill in the great majority of the people that they, the rulers were more patriotic than those who rebelled against an evil set of rulers and even more evil principles and policies. The complexity of the circumstances of such a sociopolitical milieu is telling and one cannot expect the journalists to provide the answers to these complexities.
The reason for writing such a seemingly justifying couple of sentences in this piece is plain and simple. It is not the job of journalists to provide answers to such complicated and thorny issues that confront a country on multiple fronts. The three branches of government, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are vested with that task. When they fall silent on the most consequential issues and instead willingly participate in the destruction of the fundamentals of our sociopolitical architecture, it falls on those who make writing and reporting about these events and personalities involved in these events as their profession, no sane person can argue against such free expression of thought, writing and action which is ensured as fundamental right in our constitution.
It is the noble responsibility of all who call themselves professional journalists that the fundamental right of expression free thought, however extreme it could be, to shed light on facts and facts alone. Judgment of such facts is entirely on the shoulders of the reading public. But herein lies the grave burden of judgment. Time and time again our voting public has been deceived, cheated and hoodwinked by their leaders. Aftermath of each election exposes this vulnerability of our people. This public vulnerability is not merely confined to Ceylon, nor is restricted to the Indian Subcontinent; it’s common to all countries which have chosen democracy as their system and structure of governance.
Nevertheless, ever since May 9th, in the wake of the infamous meeting at the Temple Trees where the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa held court and virtually unleashed his thugs on the Galle Face protesters, the national conversation shifted from the Aragalapitiya to other quarters, specifically to the President’s residence (at this time the presidential Secretariat was unreachable for its chief occupant, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa) and Parliament.
With the appointment of Ranil WickremEsinghe, once again the focus was shifted from the demands of the protesters to the appointment of RW as Prime Minister and the new faces of the Cabinet of Ministers. It was in effect a master stroke. Whether such a measure was adopted as a strategic move or a mere reaction to the day’s development, one would never know.
When Parliament started its customary proceedings, for the first time since the beginnings of the uprising, the people could watch firsthand their representatives and their priorities. They argued about their burned down houses; they argued as to who is to be blamed and who is to be spared. Parliament has met now more than two months and we are yet to see a comprehensive plan or strategy to overcome the current economic crisis and present an acceptable set of constitutional changes in order to stem the erosion of our sociocultural led by brazen corruption and nepotism.
The House of Parliament has become a House of the Blind. No member seems to see; if they could see, they deliberately chose to disregard the protruding incompatibilities and absurdities. Such is the sorry state of systems and structures. But, have we reached an impasse of the country’s drive? Are we still strong in our pursuit of supreme yet realistic goals? What has happened to the proposal submitted by the Bar Council of Sri Lanka? What’s happening to the talks with the International Monitory Fund (IMF)?
The people are still on lines for their fuel for vehicles and gas for cooking. The lines are ever lengthening. Supermarkets shelves are fast becoming empty. Prices of essential food items including rice and dhal is increasing exponentially. Very soon rationing of food items will be the order of the day. The darkest days of the Sirimavo/Felix era would be seen as most auspicious in comparison to the coming days, weeks and months.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org