By Ameer Ali –
Pei aracandal pinam thinnum caththirankal (when devil rules scholarship eats cadavar), wrote the famous Tamil poet Bharathi, in his memorable Panchali Cabatham. He was referring to the silence of the learned at Dhuriyothana’s court, when the ruler’s brother Dhuchchathana dragged Pandavas’ wife Dhrawpatha by her hair to be stripped in front of everyone. It was Lord Krishna who protected her, which eventually became casus belli for the Battle of Dharma in Mahabaratha.
When one witnesses the callous indifference towards and outright dismissal of scientific truths, recommended by expert virologists and epidemiologists on the permissibility of burying Corona infected dead bodies, by a regime controlled by a cabal of ultra-ethnonationalists, one is amazed at the relevance of Bharathi’s prophetic lines to the current situation in Sri Lanka. All that the Muslim community (and Christians for that matter) demanded, was to allow them to observe their scripturally implied religious and human right to bury their Corona infected victims. The world of science backs their demand, but the President, his Prime Minister and all but one of their ministers, whose positions and power depend on the backing of an anti-Muslim and anti-minorities supremacist cabal, are prepared to dump scientific truths and admit politically manufactured opinions to cremate all infected bodies.
On the heels of the burial controversy came the destruction of Mullivaikkal student monument. In this regime, it appears that minorities do not even have the right to memorialize their lost ones. As a former Human Rights Commissioner asked, “Why do peoples’ loss, memories, pain, heartbreak & tears frighten you? Is it because you know that pain, tears and heartbreak are more powerful than weapons and force?”. The answer is simple. It is the same forces of ethnic hatred that burnt down the Jaffna library in 1981, which is now preventing Muslims from burying their Corona infected dead kith and kin and has also ordered the destruction of this monument. Knowledge is truth and monuments are reminders of truths. Both should be removed to allow darkness to prevail and the devil to rule.
President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in spite of proclaiming that he wanted to build a society based on virtuosity and discipline, is, in fact, structuring a society of permanent disunity, discrimination, injustice, fear and oppression. Nandasena’s true frame of mind was exposed when he addressed a crowd in Ampara a few days ago, where he reasserted his readiness to shoot anyone like a dog and drag the body as an exhibit, as he did to Prabakaran in 2009. Let the grammar of statesmanship pass the final judgement on this president. In the end, that would be his, and along with him the regimes’, Waterloo. One of the ancient epics in Tamil, issues a timeless warning to abusers of power: araciyal pizhaiththorku aram koottakum, meaning dharma or justice would be the angel of death to those who misrule. On a material level, the Ottoman writer Kinalizade, conceptualized the importance of justice and good governance as follows:
“There is no ruler without an army; and there is no army without revenues; and there are no revenues without cultivation; and there is no cultivation without equity and good governance”.
The rosy economic picture presented by a state minster in the parliament, and his braggadocio of project-led economic growth are ignoring the ground realities of an imminent debt default, falling revenue, widening trade deficits, depreciating currency, and punishing cost of living. History has no evidence to show that a disunited society with a discriminatory public administration can ever prosper economically and enjoy peace. Nearly seventy years of communal hatred seems to have reached its climax under the present regime. Covid-19 only added to an already sick Sri Lanka debilitated by the cancerous communal virus.
How to save this patient and prevent an impending calamity? The first thing to do is for the aggrieved, i.e., the Muslim minority at the moment, not to provide even a miniscule of opportunity to this regime, which is waiting to turn it into an excuse to become even more oppressive. Its aggressive stand against burial and enforcement of cremation, in the name of one-country-one-law, is to provoke an equally aggressive reaction from the Muslims, which would then be utilized to deflect the growing anti-regime discontent away from the rulers and towards Muslims. This is why it is totally irresponsible and dangerous for Muslim parliamentarians to raise their voice and speak emotionally in the legislature, particularly on the burial issue, because such speeches in turn bound to provoke unruly elements resort to extreme measures. The community has already suffered enough because of murderous behavior from such elements.
Some of these parliamentarians, who in the first place were a party to make GR what he is now with unrestricted autocratic powers, may now be trying to show a different face to their respective electorates to absolve themselves from that guilt. However, it is very clear that the government is not going to change its stance, and on the contrary, there may be more Muslim hurting measures under its sleeves, which would come to light soon. The one-country-one-law mantra will particularly hurt Muslims. An unprecedented degree of forbearance is therefore what the Muslim community needs at the moment.
The next step is for the Muslim intelligentsia and activists to join hands with a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual coalition of democratic forces in the country, and become its vanguard to bring about effective changes. Only in a democratic society under a leadership that guarantees equality of status to all communities and citizens, in matters of political, economic and cultural rights, that Muslims, Tamils and Burghers will enjoy peace and prosperity. Such a leadership has to come from the majority Sinhala Buddhists. That community’s historically famous image of tolerance and gregariousness has been hijacked by an intolerant gang of politicians and their hooligans that the country has lost its international reputation for democracy and its attendant liberty and freedom. It is heartening to hear however, numerous voices from this community that dare speaking out publicly and condemn what the current regime is doing in their name. These voices feel betrayed by the present rulers who promised prosperity and splendor but delivering misery and gloom.
To Muslims, the situation requires wholesale rejection of their current Muslim leadership, which sits on the fence, counting the odds of joining winning parties to advance the leaders’ own interests in the name of the community. This had been the sorry tale of Muslim politics since 1980s. Since that time, while the country was moving in one direction, and Muslim community, in the name of religious identity, was moving in another and thereby getting self-alienated, Muslim leadership in the background remained oblivious to these movements focusing singularly on the art of winning elections. That politics cannot continue any more, and that leadership has outlived its purpose. If the community wants a change for the better then it should seek partnership with those progressive forces that are striving to bring about fundamental changes to the constitution and art of government. Ethnicity, language and religion should play no role in choosing that partnership. There is a growing generation of young and educated Muslims, who are looking out for a new direction just as their counterparts within the Sinhala and Tamil communities.
Finally, there is an absolute need for behavioral changes among Muslims. The trend towards self-alienation in the name of identity must be reversed and the community should work towards re-integration with the rest of the communities. This does not mean giving up its religious and cultural uniqueness, but making them an integral part of the national mosaic. In other words, the time has come for undertaking serious internal reforms to avoid external threats. The task facing the Muslim intelligentsia today is to explain to Muslim masses the need for such changes and how to instrumentalize them through existing Muslim institutions.