17 October, 2017

When Bread Is Unfree And Circuses Are Not Enough

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“….the best defenders of our democracy are an enlightened people. Constitutional provisions alone can never guarantee democracy… People must know what democracy means. They must acquire experience in managing it, in resolving the problems it generates. They must have a stake in it. Only then will they fight for it” – Ranasinghe Premadasa (A Charter for Democracy).

90th Birth Anniversary of President Ranasinghe Premadasa

Just days after the fires of Aluthgama subsided, ‘NOLIMIT’ showroom in Panadura went up in flames.

2011 witnessed one of the most successful struggles in the annals of Lankan working class movement. A broad coalition of trade unions, political parties and civic organisations managed to beat back the Rajapaksa regime’s attempt to impose a kleptocratic pension scheme on workers (one worker was killed). The era of ethnic-overdetermination seemed to over.

Then in April 2012, a monk-led mob attacked an old mosque in Dambulla; a month later, the BBS was born. Minor religio-cultural disagreements were turned into massive political problems. The ‘Muslim Issue’ raised its head and grew and grew. Two years on it is dominating political and public discourse, pushing every other problem out of national sight.

Late President R. Premadasa

Late President R. Premadasa

For instance, forgotten is a real life-and-death issue which is devastating villages in the Sinhala-Buddhist heartlands of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa – the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Disease, death and ignorance are causing havoc in the lives of ordinary people, turning the health crisis into a multidimensional social crisis. According to Dr. Asanga Ranasinghe, Director of the Provincial Renal Disease Prevention Unit of Anuradhapura General Hospital, “patients’ families found it difficult to marry their relatives because prospective partners often feared higher susceptibility to renal failure.” [i] Hemantha Vithanage, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice, concurs: “People suffer from a fear psychosis and lack awareness. There is a belief that CKDu is communicable and even genetic. If family members are diagnosed with CKDu, others will have reduced chances in marriage. This health stigma is driving youth away from homes.”[ii]

If remedial measures are not taken, immediately, the NCP will face a depopulation problem, due to increasing death rates and migration. This in turn will impact adversely on the province’s economic output and productivity as well as the national economy. Even more worryingly, “there is evidence, according to WHO research, that the disease is spreading to the Southern, Uva and Eastern Provinces.”[iii]

CKD is disproportionately affecting Sinhala-Buddhist paddy farmers. Yet the issue is not a priority either for the regime or for the likes of the BBS. The self-anointed defenders of the nation were more agitated about a small Muslim prayer centre in Anuradhapura than about the sickening and dying farmers.

In the absence of bread, circuses alone cannot occupy public attention. There are two ways in which Oliver Twist’s demand for ‘More’ can be responded to. Dickens wrote of one way – punishment. The other way is to point the finger at a fellow orphan, who is different from Oliver primordially, and tell Oliver that he cannot have ‘more’ because the ‘greedy, avaricious alien’ (Jew/Black/Tamil/Muslim…. depending on the place and the time) is gobbling more than his share.

So the enemy is created and demonised. “The more a leader promises, the more he or she will subsequently have to apportion blame…. This brings us to the most dangerous use of scapegoats – the blaming of certain individuals to give governments the freedom to act in certain ways.”[iv]

Politics of Overdetermination

The four years of Premadasa Presidency was a time when growth and equality went hand in hand. Despite the outbreak of the Second Eelam War (and the devastation of the Second JVP insurgency), the economy grew while inequality decreased.

Today Sri Lanka is moving in the opposite direction. The economy is growing but so is inequality. As the ILO has warned, Gini Coefficient is on the rise; so is youth unemployment[v]. Given the nature of their dynastic project the Rajapaksas are incapable of shifting to a more balanced developmental strategy which offers some relief in the here and now to the majority of the populace. Given that critical inability, the obvious way out is to use the racial/religious card to give the majority the illusion of having a stake in the system. This is a key purpose of the refrain, ‘Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country’. It is by bringing race or religion to the fore that the regime can create a sense of identity between the Ruling Family and the Sinhala-Buddhist masses. That is the Faustian bargain the Rajapaksas have offered Sinhala-Buddhists: the belief that the poorest Sinhala-Buddhist had more destructive ‘power’ than the richest Tamil or Muslim.

Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism almost always had its right and left wing. The minorities were seen as rich and reactionary, pro-capitalist and pro-colonial/imperialist. This notion of the ‘privileged Tamils taking away the future of hardworking Sinhalese’ was a favourite refrain of Cyril Mathew’s anti-Tamil hysteria. JR Jayewardene allowed it for far too long because it served a useful political function[vi]. The focus on the Tamil enemy kept Sinhala attention away from the real reasons for their growing economic problems. As Newton Gunasinghe pointed out, class contradictions became overdetermined “in the Althusserian sense by the ethnic conflict” and how the Sinhala discontent “with the existing state of affairs has taken a false external direction against what is perceived to be the unreasonable demands advanced by already privileged Tamils”[vii].

The BBS et al are performing a similar function today. The anti-factual hysteria over halal, birth rates, the violation of Sinhala women and conversion through marriages are aimed at confusing and confounding Sinhala-Buddhists. The story of the reincarnated Tiger just does not fly. The story of the encroaching Muslim, who wants not a separate state but an Islamic Lanka, seems to have a greater resonance.

As we saw in the 1980’s, this is path to instability and upheaval, violence and bloodshed. But this too may not be unanticipated. Responding to the demands for reducing the military footprint in the North, Gotabaya Rajapaksa maintained that it cannot be done because, “The government is particular that there should not be another war in the county”[viii]. Similarly, recurring outbreaks of violence (of the Aluthgama/Panadura sort) is the best excuse to increase military presence in the South.

Colombo Central is the most ethnically and religiously pluralist electorate in Sri Lanka outside of the East. Growing up there enabled Ranasinghe Premadasa to understand that nexus between Lankan unity and the willing acceptance of Lankan diversity: “Part of our cultural heritage is a pluralist society. Sri Lanka has always had many ethnic groups, many religions and many social traditions. Our country and its integrity as a country do not depend on uniformity. The history and the future of Sri Lanka do not belong to any group. Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers have equal places in our society. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are all religions of Sri Lanka. Any government that is committed to a free and united Sri Lanka must be committed to these concepts.”[ix]

Aluthgama happened because these self-evident truths were forgotten. They require belabouring because the alternative is horrendously unaffordable, to Sinhalese, Muslims, Tamils and Sri Lanka.


[i] Mystery kidney disease spreads in Sri Lanka – Dilrukshi Handunnetti – IRIN – 6.3.2014

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People – Charlie Campbell

[v] Tax policy breeding inequality, injustice – DEW – Jude Denzil Pathiraja http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=80927

[vi] He was dismissed in 1984 from his ministry.

[vii] Facets of Ethnicity in Sri Lanka – Charles Abeysekara and Newton Gunasinghe

[viii] http://www.ceylontoday.lk/16-60896-news-detail-gota-says-army-in-north-to-prevent-another-war.html

[ix] Address at the annual Prize giving of St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia –12.11.1990

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Latest comments

  • 12
    0

    60% of all marriages in SL ends in divorce. The statistic is far worse than in any other nation I can think of. Sri Lanka proudly scores high on other indicators too such as high suicide rates, alcoholism etc.

    When all these problems exist why are some of these monks spending time inciting ethnic hatred?

    I can say quite confidently Gnanasara thero will probably never attain enlightenment. He should leave monk hood early as possible. That will be how he reset the clock back to the first meritorious deed. From that point on it will take another millennium spending time circling mostly in hungry ghost realms to achieve anything close to nirvana.

    • 2
      2

      Vibhushana

      “60% of all marriages in SL ends in divorce. The statistic is far worse than in any other nation I can think of. Sri Lanka proudly scores high on other indicators too such as high suicide rates, alcoholism etc.”

      What do you expect when the country has been owned and governed by 75% of the stupid people, Sinhala/Buddhists?

      “I can say quite confidently Gnanasara thero will probably never attain enlightenment”

      Who cares whether Gnanasara attain Nibbana or not I don’t want to share a room with him in hell (Sri Lanka).

      Gnanasara is but an extreme example of Sinhala/Buddhist generally accepted mindset. He is only articulating what most Sinhala/Buddhists believe in.

      • 3
        0

        What do you expect when the country has been owned and governed by 75% of the stupid people, Sinhala/Buddhists?

        Well, its somewhat of a quagmire isn’t it really hmm..? I suspect it will be a quagmire from the way one looks at it.

        I suggest you peek here first.
        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2325502/Map-shows-worlds-racist-countries-answers-surprise-you.html

        Despite the hallabaloo Sri Lanka is one of the least racist countries on the planet. Despite the noxious propaganda Sri Lankans are the only developing nation in top 10 most generous people. Despite the bad pres it has the most literate people in South Asia. Its also earns the highest GDP per capita in the regios.

        All this is despite Indian sponsored cross border terrorism and Tamil caste violence affecting Sri Lanka over 3 decades.

        So to answer to your original question, despite BBS Sinhala Buddhist owned Sri Lanka has done quite well compared to Hindus and Moslem counties in the region.

      • 0
        0

        Ghanasara needs psycholgical therapy to become normal first.
        This the state has neglected – see the every behaiours of the man being on the stage, no any kind of lay personalities has behaved to the vulgar manner strecking his fingers and shouting with unlimited volumes pumping all filth – that the young ones would ask their mummies what the meaning of… this is the typcial nature of a person who should have been brought up either on the street ( without any care and therefore the aggressions energies have been multipled)- in the childhood if things went wrong – nothing coming later would help them to resettle easily -is the reality when studying human psychology. But in a society, not much is done to study the personalities well – before them being introduced their own secret devious programmes, govt could have double thought. Anyway, now the lives have been taken – those lives lost be it end of the war or in lately occred Aluthgama attcks cant be given life again. If the megalomaniac has the smidgeon of the knowledge sympathy for a human life – nothing would have happened, but people rights have been saftgurded.
        Just the talk (palatable version), we the govt will get those houses rebuilt .. are just sinibola … As Mr Salley made it very clear even in 2006 the same stinky mouth of the Mahinda went on promising that, but not yet the compensation were given to the victimized of previous clashes.
        This man is like stinky politicians that make sky earth promises but would not do the least.. instead, continue with their own programes further festating the wounds of the injured ones.

    • 3
      1

      Muslims and Tamils must jointly canvass the West and the Muslim countries to boycott Sri Lanka’s goods and services:

      Time has come for them to make a concerted effort. This may be the best way to make the Sinhala Buddhist masses realize the folly of their state and the regime’s anti-Tamil anti-Muslim and anti-Christian actions.

      They may stop electing racists if their lives are affected by the racist madness going on for 66 years.

      • 0
        0

        Boycotting goods from SL will only affect the poor people.

        Why not bring travel restriction and economic restriction on politicians?

    • 0
      0

      We the buddhists in general dont wish any living beings anything bad. But for what Ghanasara committed sofar, he would not even earn a peaceful death. That is what my mind says to me now. At the time, student unrest in late 80ties were at its height, I just felt Premadasa junior should face it, – after few months I left the country, I heard the man was exploded into piece as not even face particles were able to find. This will be the next step anyone who harm the others. Here I have the feeling Gota and the president in power will also not earn a good end for sure. The way he goes forward is beyond all morals and ethics, though his SWEETY manipulative promises could further deceive the village masses.

    • 0
      0

      Not long ago – it was late 80ties, we suffered as no others times before. It was all because of the narrow steps taken by Rpremadasa. There we thought we would never want to see a president of that lowlevel to be elected for the island nation. But not even 2 decades later President Rajapakshes to be born and do the all illegal, unethical, unmoral things against own folks – this times also purposefully attacking muslim folks to show the world that the gravity of the problems within island nation is more than what the IC feels it – is no way acceptable.
      I truly believe that govt is behind all the attacks excecised against the muslim folks – since they the rulers have no choice right at the moment to go against the scheduled UNO crime investigation. Even if they thought Parlimamentary mandate could learn UNO a lession, that will have no validity since Rajapakshe has abused judiciary, police making the country a laughable stock to this day. No any other leader became this worst – let alone not Premadasa.

      • 0
        0

        Yes, this could well be.

        eLSE; they should long have arrested GAG… they did not know for their own reasons. Why ? Can anybody explain me why? If any other would have gone as GAG has been doing, he or she would have been arrested within hours.

        Sorry state has nothing but a presidential police spokesperson to defend them accordingly. THat is what we experience it today.

  • 1
    0

    Mr. T.Gunesekaran writes: (as stated by PM Premadasa
    “The history and the future of Sri Lanka do not belong to any group. Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers have equal places in our society. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are all religions of Sri Lanka. Any government that is committed to a free and united Sri Lanka must be committed to these concepts.”[ix]”
    Very humbling words from late Mr Premadasa. I doubt if any leader of Tamil political party would share those sentiments. All they want is to keep the NP for Tamils only and plunder the rest. No wonder Sri Lanka is in crisis. When the NP is 50-50 populated with the communities, they will be enlightened, the crisis will disappear.

  • 1
    0

    In sri lanka,most people are tolerant of other races and faiths.
    But, the successive governments “elected” by almost totally unfair and unfree ‘elections’,are intolerant – purely to indefinitely extend their hold on power.
    This is true of the present quasi-military-police dictatership.
    So far,we have never had a totally free and fair election,since independence.
    It is evident from above quoted Daily Mail survey,that most racially & religiously tolerant countries, have the most free and fair elections.

    Now the most extreme intolerant racial/religious fringe is whipping up intolerance/hatred, with the ‘indirect’ blessings of the ruling junta to enable another fraudulent presidential election.

    • 1
      0

      Justice you are WRONG. In Sri Lanka everyone is intolerant of everyone else.Hindus hate Sinhala Buddhists, Muslims and Christians, Sinhala Buddhists hate Muslims and Hindus and Christians, Muslims Hate Hindus and Sinhala Buddhists and Christians so who the hell are these people who are tolerant of other Races and Faiths? And what the hell are these “RACES” you are talking about???

      Those who believe in the theory of Races are RASCISTS!!! and it looks like you are one of them. Humans are a species – Homo sapiens – NOT a RACE whatever that may be. The only race I know of is this RAT RACE ..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCE3Ge4bCLk

      Enjoy and get rid of your big fat racism.

  • 0
    0

    You seem to be one of the few who see this “Gini Coefficient is on the rise” and understand its significance and also what is making it rise. Good to see some sanity around. Even the big brains at the big bank cannot see what this means and many of them do not even see it in the first place.

  • 0
    1

    What is TG wants is undisciplined and uncivilized anarchy.

    Even the most democratic west do not have this kind of democracy. New western democracies governed by former Europeans and British -subjects are a collection of so many different nations. They are basically police states where most of the people are heavily scrutinized by every way possible.

    Why TG is not comparing Sri Lanka to that kind of democracies.

  • 0
    0

    From the gutter To the gutter.

  • 0
    0

    It’s really really difficult for me to understand how Tisaranee G. continues to defend Ranasingha Premadasa even while being one of the strongest critics of the Rajapaksha regime. Probably because of my ignorance, I can’t see any difference between Premadasas and Rajapakshas. He reigned only four years, but he achieved much of what rajapakshas have. Suppose he was around for two full terms, unless he was capable of changing the constitution like Rajapakshas! When Dayan J was still honeymooning with Rajapakshas, he had the tendency to compare Mahinda and Premadasa.

    • 0
      1

      I comment solely because my name figures in this post. Surely, it is pointless to speculate as to why someone takes a particular stance? it is far more useful intellectually, to critically examine and rebut that position than engage in speculation. That would go for anyone who had the time to speculate on why Nirmal says or does X, Y or Z.

      While I cannot speak for anyone else, perhaps Nirmal and his co-thinkers may find some answers in the following quote from Neville Jayaweera, a First Class Honours in Philosophy from the University of Ceylon in the early 1950s and one of the most distinguished members of the elite Ceylon Civil Service. Ten years ago, writing on the occasion of the 80th birth anniversary of Premadasa in the pages of The Island, he concluded as follows:

      “The Premadasa story is a poignant, sad and tragic one. He rose from the boondocks of Colombo, disqualified by lack of education and disadvantaged by class and caste, an upstart in fact, to lead the party of the high caste landed gentry, the mighty UNP. He had never been to University but evinced an intelligence sharper than that of most of our national leaders since Independence, including several Oxbridge products and outstanding professionals and academics. His vision for SL was more inclusive, grander and more civilised than any conceived by any S/Lankan politician since 1948 but he had hardly emerged from the wilderness, when he was cruelly snuffed out within sight of the Promised Land. Premadasa was committed to the poor as no other national leader had been, before or since, and yet he lived to suffer the calumny of being accused of having caused their slaughter. He had a firm grasp of the higher Buddhist doctrines and was deeply committed to his religion but he was also profoundly respectful of all religions and recognised everyone’s right to worship freely. He was fully committed to rectifying the injustices inflicted upon the Tamils over decades, but was assassinated at the behest of their leader whom he respected and trusted above most others. Premadasa was sincerely committed to democracy, to the Rule of Law and to Human rights but was also by instinct a Gaullist and an authoritarian with an iron will.

      Thousands rejoiced upon hearing of his cruel death but if ever SL is to clamber out of the abyss, it will have to re-invent Premadasa. President Ranasinghe Premadasa was the ultimate tragic hero.” ( Neville Jayaweera, ‘Ranasinghe Premadasa: The Tragic Hero’)

  • 0
    0

    Nevile Jayaweera a First Class Honours in Philosophy from the University of Ceylon in the early 1950s and one of the most distinguished members of the elite Ceylon Civil Service says of Premadasa, ‘He had never been to University but evinced an intelligence sharper than that of most of our national leaders since Independence, including several Oxbridge products and outstanding professionals and academics.

    I wonder whether Premadasa evinced, Nevile Jayaweera also in the same category he had mentioned?

    Nevile Jayaweera also says, ‘Premadasa was sincerely committed to democracy, to the Rule of Law and to Human rights but was also by instinct a Gaullist and an authoritarian with an iron will.

    Why not Premadasa clearly displayed his Democracy and his commitment to Human Rights. Ask Richard De Soyza, he will tell you.

    Premadasa was so popular amongst Nevile Jayaweera, Dayan and crowd but the rest lit crackers when he was killed. There were ‘Sereppu Supas’ then and even now. These Buggers have the Gaul to come and boast, that amazes me.

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