By Ravi Perera –
In the aftermath of the impeachment of the Chief Justice, with the nation’s psyche still defiled with the ugly debris of the political/legal battle of a wrenching saga which gripped us for nearly two months, one could have easily by-passed the “where to be born index 2013”. Evaluating various socio-economic measurements is not a luxury a nation perpetually in crisis can indulge in. Given the drab realities of our existence, wishfully thinking of the “the best cities to live in, the top 10 tourist destinations in the world, countries with the highest quality of life, the best restaurants , the cities with the richest cultural life etc” seems a fanciful activity with no possible gain to be had. Besides, for the 20 million souls calling Sri Lanka their home the question of the best place to born in 2013 is a question a life time too late. But where the yet to be born are concerned, perhaps a question of responsibility for those considering parenthood.
Just to put you in the picture, according to this index Sri Lanka is an unimpressive # 63 among about 70 nations surveyed as to the best place to be born in, if such a choice were to be available to the unborn. Switzerland leads as the most desirable place to be born with Norway and Australia right behind it. The United States is at 16 while Great Britain has fallen back to a not so impressive 27(Japan is at 25). To get a better idea of the index we must look at the scores of each country. Switzerland the No #1 scored 8.22 while Great Britain gets 7.01, the difference between being about 1.21 points. Sri Lanka at # 63 scores 5.71while Nigeria the worse country to be born in, scores 4.74.
It may be argued that although it is not considered a good place to be born in, things are looking up for those like us who are ex post facto. After all, we have a President who is on a crusade against corruption in high places, a leader of the opposition whose broad forehead perhaps is indicative of a head well crammed with details of sub-clauses and protocols of international covenants before which we would slip and a Chief Justice committed to the hilt to national unity and nation building. What more can a nation asks for in the leadership department, one may ask?
But surveys such as the best place to be born (in 2013) give a darker, even sinister, interpretation to this golden picture. If one were to go by the declarations by the government news media, the shrill tone which belies the genuineness of its assertion notwithstanding, the country is presently run by a passionately patriotic cabal extremely sensitive to constitutional niceties .So what is the truth? Is the truth with those far-a-way-surveyors working on various data in the comfort of nice places to be born in? Or is the truth with that unprepossessing looking mob shouting themselves hoarse in front of the Parliament House( built with Japanese money and skills in the late 1970s) about the sovereignty of parliament ?
There was a poignant scene at one point in their demonstration. Two gleaming four wheel drive vehicles stopped by the sweaty slovenly looking crowd. From one of the vehicles alighted a well groomed politician dressed in sparkling white, obviously on his way to the parliament. His security detail took up position ready for any eventuality. The politician spoke to the crowd. The crowd smiled happily and cheered. The politician got back to his vehicle which then whizzed towards the parliament.
When parliamentarians like Wimal Weerawansa and Ranil Wickramasinghe speak of the concept of the sovereignty of the parliament it is obvious that they are talking about a very foreign idea. The idea of the parliament evolved in far away Britain. It is amazing that a country to which the notion of a bath is said to have been introduced only in the Roman era ended up a few centuries later as one of the greatest nations in the world ever. The idea of a parliament is only one of the innumerable contributions to the world, by that nation in its effloresce. In contrast, our style of government seems to have remained unchanged from the time of King Vijay to Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, two thousand years later. We developed no parliaments, comparable courts of law or for that matter any other democratic institution as recognized today. Nothing changed; every new event unfolded only a part of a revolving chain.
In the mimicking of cultures and institutions of another civilization, have we missed the essence? Was the virulent attacks on an almost defenseless Chief Justice and the nearly orgiastic ending of that drama the bricks and mortar on which the idea of a parliament was built? Surely the sovereignty of the parliament or for that matter any other institution means anything only if it is there to improve, strengthen and enhance human freedoms and dignity. That is the bedrock of the system we have adopted. Even a criminal is presumed to be innocent, the case against him must be proved beyond reasonable doubt before a select panel of his peers and after all that he still has a number of appeals available. It is a process that has won the acceptance of peoples far and wide.
It is said that in England the mere presences of an unarmed policeman is sufficient to bring most situations under control. His power comes from the acceptance by the populace of the essential justness of the British systems. In Sri Lanka on the other hand we saw that despite all the power play of the impeachment motion and the subsequent swearing in of another Chief Justice only naked power ensued its execution. Where such naked power has to be unleashed we surely cannot argue that there is general acceptance as well.
The motley crowd that greeted their representative in front of the parliament that day has another reason to cheer now. It is reported that the legislature may, in the event any one of them is arrested by the Police, extend the period of that detention, before he is to be produced before a magistrate. In other words, he will not have the protection of the law for a much longer period. But of course as their slogan said the parliament is sovereign.
It may be that the “truth” of any situation is relative. That day the crowd saw no wrong in the manner of their transport, the meals provided and even the payments made in return for their services. It mattered not that they had no real idea of what they were doing. That is the truth of an existence for those fated to be born in a not so desirable place. But in this world there are other realities, other truths as much as other parliaments. But one day if that crowd of simple people were to ask as Hamlet did “To be or not to be, that is the question:/Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/ or to take arms against a sea of troubles/and by opposing, end them”, will the truth appear very different?