By Emil van der Poorten –
This column should, probably, have, as the last letter in its title, the word “nightmare” rather than “reality” because that is precisely the state this country has reached.
While I certainly do not, through personal experience of its history, subscribe to the view that the current Debacle of Asia was ever paradise on earth, I certainly remember a better time in its history – pre-S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike certainly – when we seemed to have more than a fighting chance of fulfilling the promise of continuing to be the pre-eminent democracy in the region.
Warts and all, the Uncle Nephew Party of the Senanayakes, Kotelawelas and Jayewardenes practiced a brand of democracy to which the current pretense does not bear the slightest resemblance.
Yes, the elites, by and large governed and they constituted not much more than 10% of the island’s population. However, thanks to a sense of noblesse oblige or belief in the rule of law being absolute, the vicious violence that is the ruling reality did not exist. I distinctly remember the sense of horror with which many of us greeted the mysterious “suicide” of Dodampe Mudalali held in detention by the CID in their immediately-infamous 4th Floor. Particularly since the Che Guevara uprising of 1971, not a hundred, nay a thousand, Dodampe Mudalalis committing “suicide” would even merit mention on the back page of any of our tabloids or broadsheets today. Think about it, folks, even such a seemingly outlandish statement would hardly raise a ripple in our Land of a Thousand White Vans!
Apart from the White Van Disappearances that have become a dime-a-dozen in this country, we have a virtual procession of prisoners in custody hanging themselves with ingeniously constructed nooses while still others are taken into custody and then have to be shot “in self defence” while trying to escape on their way to revealing hidden caches of contraband, guns, ammunition or whatever. The stories that accompany these deaths verge on the hilarious either because of or in spite of their banality.
An interesting vignette is the story of the most recent major outbreak of violence at the Welikade prison. The media trumpeted the fact that they were on the scene throughout the conflict and that the pictures showed several prisoners armed with the automatic weapons they’d broken out of the prison armoury. To my recollection, there was only one prisoner in one picture that fitted this description and one could hardly be certain that the man appearing in the photograph was toting an automatic weapon in the first place!
Even if the entire Sri Lankan nation did not swallow this rather grim fairy tale hook line and sinker, I heard hardly a whimper from those who are constantly extolling the state of discourse and disputation that allegedly prevails in the Disaster of Asia today!
Now we hear that, leave alone hand over (yet another) of those famous “Reports to the President by a Commission of Inquiry” appointed by him, that report has been further delayed. Surprised? If you are and you are an Eskimo from Anchorage, I’d like to sell you a very large refrigerator!
In any event, even IF this great and, I am sure, revelatory Report is handed over to our reigning monarch (or one of his siblings or progeny who are his heirs) I wouldn’t exactly, as the saying goes, bet the family farm that it will EVER see the light of day. After all, it doesn’t take the genius of an Einstein to anticipate that future behavior invariably follows past patterns of conduct!
I have tried to inject a modicum of humour, if not wit, into what I have written up to now and if it comes across as laboured, I crave your indulgence because it is certainly not easy to adopt a jocular tone with regard to matters that are, literally, those of life and death.
A colleague for whose skills and integrity I have nothing but absolute admiration, described our Monarch as viewing the world from an upside-down position. That was being kind because it suggested simple misapplication of one’s faculties. To me the facts suggest otherwise. They suggest, in that old but nevertheless appropriate phrase, Hannah Arendt’s old phrase – the banality of evil.
None of what is happening in this country that should cause absolute revulsion in any civilized society and certainly in an allegedly Buddhist one, can be described as accidental. All of it flows from a culture deliberately created by those who rule this land with an iron fist.
The rapes, the gangland killings, the brutality that exceeds the bestial doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in a culture that either actively or passively encourages it. The Caligulas of this world didn’t simply pop out of the ground like some exotic and unique bimmal/hathu (mushrooms to those unfamiliar with the Sinhala language). As aberrant as the behaviour of such monsters was, they were a creation of the culture and civilization that spawned them.
That the violence and cruelty that was a day-to-day reality in this country for nigh on three decades certainly conditioned a nation into an acceptance of this horror is inarguable. However, I don’t recall ANY nation that endured the horrors of the worst conflict of its kind in the history of the world – World War II – having what we are experiencing in epidemic proportions in this land that claims to be the epicentre of Buddhist culture and civilization. Not even the fact that we are governed, overall, by those who conduct themselves as dictated to by the occult explains what this country is currently experiencing.
If ever there was an occasion when the seemingly simplistic “Those who are not with us are against us” bears application, this is it.
Are you for the violence and corruption and cruelty that assail Sri Lanka today or are you against it?
More important, if you are against it, what are your prepared to do about the horror that threatens to engulf all of us?