By Kumar David–
In these days of gloom and doom it is an occasion for much happiness that the National Peace Council has conferred the 2011 Peace Award on Nimalka Fernando. I have been losing faith in Jehan Perera and his outfit for a few years now since he began to adapt – well to put it gently to adopting a much-restrained approach to the regime’s manifest violations of human and democratic rights. (Perhaps an unfair criticism; outsiders are never fully aware of threats against individuals and organisations). Recently however, many have commented on the pleasant surprise that Jehan and the NPC have again sprouted a backbone and I am thankful for that because by dint of perseverance and hard work the outfit has built up valuable influence and strength. Recognition of Nimalka’s sterling role as an indomitable fighter for justice and human rights in the face of, I am sure much hostility the NPC is likely to encounter from the sibling-state, is a laudable step in its redemption from erstwhile kowtowing.
Liberals are good chaps in ordinary times, opponents of racism, champions of good governance, and with access to networks that can mobilise urgently needed resources in times of calamity. In extraordinary times however, they lose orientation and imagine that homilies and good advice is all that is needed to penetrate the hearts and minds of governments hell-bent on totalitarianism. Of course I am not referring to Nimalka who makes no such simplistic misreading of the political space; she comes from different stables though I will have some grumbling to do before I finish this piece. Whether in the countries of the Arab Spring, Burma, Lanka or the crisis ridden capitalist West the liberal road has come to a dead-end; most glaringly in congealed (Syria, Egypt, Burma) or putative (Lanka) dictatorships. Dictators cannot be defeated by homilies and reasoned pleas, a lesson liberals are reluctant to learn, individually or collectively.
Nimalka the brave fighter
I have had a long close association with Vasu before I got to know Nimalka, though I must have seen, but taken no notice of a slip of a girl in some SCM office or bookshop in the early 1970s. Vasu was very much a part of the Vaama tendency inside the LSSP in the early 1970s, and when we were expelled in the late 1970s emerged as the mass leader of the NSSP into which Vaama morphed upon its incarnation as a separate party. All these years Nimalka was simply in the shadows. Now I will readily admit that I have not been all that farsighted; I did not foresee that Vasu’s politics would degenerate over the years while Nimalka would grow tall and stand strong. Vasu is no longer – well you know what I mean, it’s hard for old comrades to articulate these things – but Nimalka has grown in political morality and her achievements have abundantly earned this award.
There are three dimensions to Nimalka’s work; women’s issues, ministering to the needs of people who have suffered from natural or man made disasters and keeping up a determined fight for human rights in international spaces. There are others more qualified to write about Nimalka’s efforts in women’s and pastoral issues so I will only say a few words abut the international side because it is the aspect of Nimalka’s work that interests me the most.
Nimalka is one of the people who has brought the truth about human rights violations in Lanka to the attention of the world. I know perfectly well that she braved obstacles, faced personal threats and campaigned tirelessly. Her commitment was not narrow; neither personal gain nor small minded considerations of race or religion motivated her. It is not news that Nimalka and others were threatened with personal assault by Ministers of this government and her recent piece on the perils of militarisation is one of the best articulated analysis of this dangerous topic that none but the Marxists touch boldly. I am much honoured to call Nimalka a personal friend.
A bad blunder
A friend is one who can speak the truth to you and about you. You blundered when you cut your ties with the left and hitched up with the UNP. I am not sure whether Nimalka is a card-carrying UNPer or just a fellow traveller, but she is somewhere there. When you have been an active and vocal member of the left movement for decades (LSSP, Vaama, MIRJE, NSSP and DLF) how on earth do you do an intellectual somersault overnight to embrace the opposite creed? Were I to undergo such a transmogrification I would become a schizophrenic wreck. Now don’t tell me it’s like Saul’s epiphany on the road to Damascus or Gamini Kulatunga giving up the bottle; it jolly well is not anything so dramatic, nor has it been a theoretical or intellectual process. There were problems linked to occasional matters of internal unhappiness in the DLF, but nothing to justify a somersault on this scale. Did Nimalka feel that her Marxism was not deep enough to bind her? I don’t know, maybe she will explain sometime.
The UNP is not a place where Nimalka found her aspirations better fulfilled; an example is the national question. I am aware that a fairly large democratic minded group, Nimalka included, did believe that Ranil was serious when he was spouting federalism a few years ago. And I am also aware that they were incredulous when Ranil, in true UNP con-artist style, disowned federalism when it became electorally disadvantageous. This is but one example, there are others and there will be more and bigger ones to come. Nimalka in the UNP is a fish out of water; I hope she will find her way back before more damage befalls her political personality. Just look at the dregs in parliament these days, people like Nimalka will make a welcome replacement for this riffraff. Standing for parliament from a left organisation, if necessary in alliance with the UNP, now that would be an acceptable approach.