By Vishwamithra –
Another year is now history; nothing much to write home about. Politically, 2017 has been one of non-eventful year. For most of us, barring some personal achievements for a few, it has been a terrible disappointment. Seventy years after Independence, with thirteen elections, nine changes in government and two failed revolutions and another two aborted coup d’états, where have we arrived? That is not to forget a twenty seven-year war. The sighs and wheezes are many and inhalation of satisfying breaths are a way too few.
It’s not too late to change gear, not only to accelerate the speed but more so alter the course in search of that receding oasis of success. The journey after Independence has been one of winding and rough trekking. Some politicos may have succeeded in enriching themselves and they may have amassed wealth to secure the comfort and safety of a couple of their generations. That is the ‘blood money’ they have earned by hoodwinking the voter and securing that comfort and safety. Yet where has it taken the common man? That is the ‘sixty four million dollar’ question.
Religion has been desecrated; ethnicity soiled; language decapitated and culture totally wrecked. A nation of many ethnicities, languages and religions has been polarized and demanding more divisions. Caste divisions which everyone thought is a matter of history’s litterbin is still sustaining its ugly and obscene dynamic. Its manifestations are evident in marriage proposals published in the Sunday newspapers. Sri Lanka as a nation, Sinhalese-Buddhists, Tamils, Christians, Catholics and Muslims is still thinking, breathing and acting within a box, a cocoon of sort. All four attempts, two coup d’états and two revolutions, to go outside the box – outside the democratic framework of course- have ended up in failures. Yet no politician or any social-minded leader of any worthy repute has tried anything outside the box, within the democratic framework.
Is it possible to think outside the box and still retain our democracy with all its freedoms, that of religion, movement, expression etc.? One does not know because none has attempted. The culture that has set in during the last few decades, irrespective of the color of the political party-flag, has imprisoned almost each and every citizen in the country. From the government servants to the private sector executives and ordinary workers, from religious leaders to the media organizations, from laymen to clergy, from civil servant to domestic servants, the whole nation as a collective body of citizenry has been captured, enslaved and being consumed from head to toe by this new culture of money-worship and power-pursuit.
Politicians supply the oxygen and in turn feed the country with the same rusty, warped and degenerate set of values whose value is low and the price high. Why are we blind to its corrupting mechanics and embracing its extravagances? The answers to these questions perpetually stay concealed. As in all difficult tasks, mundane or extraordinary, from securing gainful employment for a University graduate to becoming a millionaire overnight to stopping smoking and losing weight, if one wants success, one has to want it. If one does not want it, one won’t have it, it’s as simple and uncomplicated as that.
Forty four-year-old Ray Goforth is Executive Director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), showing an assertive style as he leads the white-collar union in contract talks with Boeing on behalf of about 23,000 technical staff said thus: “There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: Those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed.” We in Sri Lanka belong to either of these groups. We are either afraid to fail or we are afraid that the one who tries will succeed. It’s not a very flattering description of a society intent on rapid advancement. We may not have Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela among us; we may not have Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy or Lee Kuan Yew with us; yet why not try with our own kind? Sounds like a utopian dream! I’m not talking about Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh or Castro. They too transformed their societies after a revolution and established dictatorships although they were mistakenly branded as ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, borrowing the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
But change, we need. Change we require but tragically do not demand it. Mere lip-service to change coupled with wild rhetoric on ‘transformation and revolution’ has killed our enthusiasm for change. It has deadened our curiosity and accelerated the moral decay. A meandering bundle of humanity, which Sri Lanka is today, from one guard-post to another, is looking more like a rudderless boat rather than a well-stocked cruiser navigated by an experienced Captain and crew.
Let us open this column to a national conversation. How far or how wide we can reach in this exercise, I don’t know. Yet inviting my readers to a potentially wild and crunching discussion on the path that our nation is taking is, in my humble view may be a, once again, make this an ‘outside the box-column’. Let it be. My only hope is that the readers realize the gravity and hopelessness of the situation; the gravity is serious, alarming, real and urgent. The corruption that has taken ahold of our culture is real; it is all-consuming. If we choose to be deliberately oblivious of this, then that also be. But that apathy will have a very heavy price. Then Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables would depict the true picture of our nation, gone astray and vagrant and pitifully forlorn.
The two failed revolutions launched by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) went outside the box. Yet they did not represent the freedoms of expression, religion, movement and other fundamental human rights as promulgated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Rohana Wijeweera, how effective a public speaker he was, how original a grassroots-level organizer he was and how dedicated a leader he was, his solution to the country’s burning issues is not acceptable at any time and in any given context. The failed coup d’états too constituted an alien concept for our lethargic nation. A military takeover of government is too alien a concept for our country.
In any context, we simply cannot give up our fundamental democratic freedoms and democratic system of government. Yet the sculpture of our Constitution should be along the lines of secularity. The priceless value of a secular constitution could be gauged only by testing it in a situation of chaotic community conflict. India is the greatest example in this. India has many religions and even more languages and ethnic varieties. Its main religion is Hinduism and language is Hindi. Yet it has a secular constitution. That constitution has sustained democracy in the most gruesomely violent times and amidst Muslim-Hindu riots. The Federal Constitution of India has contributed greatly towards that sustenance of democracy. Pros and cons of a federal constitution may be discussed without ungraciously discarding it. That is thinking outside the box.
Generations-old and archaic prejudices have killed our passion and curiosity. Those prejudices may be based on religion and language; they may be based on mythical superiority of a race; it may be based on a mythical belief that we are descendants of ‘Aryan’ race. On the other hand, Tamils in the North might passionately believe in Valmiki’s epic poem Ramayana. These prejudices are totally responsible for the corrupting of our collective soul and they have lessened our passion. If one needs to advance with the advancing world, one need to have that passion; the passion to be original, the passion to be daring, the passion to be uncomfortable with what is intensely wrong. The measure of a pioneer is not really venturing out, but sustaining the original passion and keeping going come what may. It is that passion that we are missing today. When passion dies, however much one tries to advance, the forward movement becomes more of a staggering crawl rather than an ecstatic gallop. When the excitement is absent, the expected gallop becomes once again a crawl and eventually a complete halt.
We as a nation has come to that: an unthinkable moral lethargy and cultural vacuum. Throw the Mahawamsa and Ramayana out the window. Both these national biographies may have outlived their usefulness. The decay of our culture has set in and it’s progressing rapidly. The effects may not be manifest now or tomorrow or day after; may not be in a year or two; but in five years’ time when our children look back at the society we have left behind, it will be unrecognizable. An amoral, uncultured bundle of humanity in search of its own identity would be meandering along hazy streets and smoke-filled board rooms. They would not know the difference between a well-cultured society and one without the nuanced measures of the human spirit. For they have not seen or experienced it.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org