29 September, 2020

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Who Is To Blame For Shaming Sri Lanka?

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena –

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

A chance conversation this week reminded me forcefully as to why and how Sri Lanka’s problems of reconciliation between communities and indeed, of post-war understanding between social classes remain so hopelessly tangled.

Excruciating angst of the middle class

This was when a matron domiciled overseas took umbrage at demonstrators holding placards against the government at international conferences, including the November 2013 Commonwealth Summit, querying plaintively as to whether this was not shameful to the image of the country. When asked for a precise clarification, her answer was ‘well, whatever happened during the war, are these not problems that should be sorted out within the country? Does not talking about this outside tarnish all Sri Lankans, making us objects to be laughed at by others?’

Taking these questions superficially, the sheer self-centeredness revealed thereby is veritably mind-boggling. So, it does not matter as to what atrocities were committed or continue to be committed post-war by a government, what matters only is that we are not ‘shamed’ internationally? And it is not the pain of Northern mothers and fathers asking ceaselessly as to what had happened to their disappeared children, (as much as the parents of Southern children asked equally anguished – and yet unanswered – questions decades ago), that is of concern but the excruciating angst of the middle class who writhe uncomfortably when visiting foreign heads of government are besieged by parents of the disappeared?

Moreover and crucially, is it not the government which has shamed this country through its manifold violations of Sri Lanka’s own law and the Constitution, including the unconscionable witch-hunting of a sitting Chief Justice some months ago? But this is not the issue. Rather, public demonstrations exposing subversions of governance are frowned upon by elites who whiz around in newly beautified Colombo and marvel in gaping wonder at mushrooming expressways built at magnificently corrupt economic cost.

Displaying scorn towards CHOGM

My reference to class at the outset of this column was deliberate. For it is important to understand that the question here is as much about class as it is about ethnicity. Let us examine the realities. In Sri Lanka, there is a politically and economically privileged Tamil class which is quite at ease regarding the trajectory of this administration’s policies since it vastly benefits thereof. These are not people who care a whit for their own people as much as the Sinhalese elite casually dismiss the ‘great unwashed’ as it were. It is not privileged Tamils after all who are on Jaffna’s streets asking for answers, post-2009.

And when the Southern insurrection was at its full horrific height in the late eighties, it was not the Southern upper middle class, (with the singular exception of the extra-judicial killing of Richard de Zoysa), which had to bear the brunt of the government’s counter-terror. Instead, these were the ‘ordinary’ Sinhalese as much as the ‘ordinary’ Tamils who now weep for justice. This is the enduring story of Sri Lanka. Indeed, even now and in these difficult times under an unbearably authoritarian Presidency, the most stinging critical commentary of government comes from the vernacular media which, for example, displayed its scorn towards the nonsense that was CHOGM is no uncertain terms.

Meanwhile let us not dwell beyond a moment on those parts of the Sinhalese and Tamil ‘diaspora’ whose shrill diatribes in either defending the Rajapaksa government or in crucifying it, is done most pleasurably from their Western domiciles or during whistle-top tours to Sri Lanka. This is not to say that the entire ‘diaspora’ should be painted with the same brush; indeed there are well informed and truly concerned people amongst them. Nonetheless, the voices that are heard are unfortunately otherwise inclined, as evidenced through this chance conversation that I had to my disconcerted surprise this week.

Exposing profound ignorance

At a deeper level, the extent of profound ignorance that emerges through such conversations is shocking. Did this questioner bother to ascertain for herself the fact that Northern parents had, in fact, moved nearly literally heaven and earth in the post-war years to find out what had happened to their loved ones? Mothers have despairingly shown me pictures of their disappeared children photographed behind bars at government detention centres by visiting foreign journalists. However, when they make the journey to Welikada and Boosa expending their meagre means, they are merely met with stony silence.

And are those who shudder at the sight of placard-holding demonstrators aware that President Mahinda Rajapaksa downwards to local members of parliament had been uselessly petitioned for answers? That the government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations as to the urgent administrative resolving of this outstanding issue had been disregarded? That the government’s limited response two years thereafter to appease growing international pressure was to appoint yet another commission of inquiry that is ongoing? And given our dismal history, we may justifiably be pardoned for abstaining from ecstatic rejoicing as to its efficacy until this is practically proven.

Following an excellent precedent

But the best answer to this deplorably uninformed objection that Sri Lanka’s ‘dirty linen’ should not be washed internationally, comes from none other than President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself who, in an infinitely more preferable avatar as an opposition parliamentarian, once waxed strident against the Southern disappearances of the eighties in the corridors of the United Nations.

Famously he was stopped at the Katunayake International Airport on one such occasion and ‘incriminating’ material taken away from him. Indeed placard-holding demonstrators were a most useful tactic practised by parliamentarian Rajapaksa at that time to whip up national fury and successfully unseat the governing United National Party.

Sri Lankan demonstrators, protesting against the atrocities of his administration post 2009, are only following in this excellent lead. Should they be blamed for this? One thinks not, surely.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    Who hacked LLRC website? When was it hacked?

    http://www.llrc.lk/
    Index of /
    .ftpquota
    Apache Server at http://www.llrc.lk Port 80

  • 2
    1

    Stop Sinhalese or Muslims settlement in among Tamils
    Stop standardizing education
    stop Sinhalese only official language
    these are the core of the problem

    • 1
      2

      But, how about Tamils settling in Predominantly Sinhala areas K Kailanathan ? double standards ? !
      Not sure what you mean by ‘Standardizing’ education ?

      • 3
        0

        @ruwan

        The Tamils who come and settle in predominantly Sinhala areas are not bought in by the government…they come on their own accord. On the other hand ‘state sponsored colonization’ is taking place when the government goes and settles Sinhalese families in the North and east to artificially change demographics of the area. Now do you understand the difference???

        • 0
          0

          It is the government’s right to settle people (Muslims, Tamils and Sinhala) on state land to reduce population pressures elsewhere and to bring fallow land to good use. The problems IS that some of the Tamils have got it into their heads that the State land, and the land belonging to the Sinhala and the Muslims, should be ‘theirs’ by right. No sane political leader would grant such ‘rights’ to a minority simply because they demand it.

          • 0
            0

            This is beyond your capacity to understand. Either you are born blind or blinded by the petty coins you received. Better to keep silent than exposing your stupidity.

  • 3
    0

    Demonstrations by Opposition …….No! Demonstrations by State…………….Yes!
    Accusations against State…………. .No! Accusations against Opposition…..Yes!

    Hence the Supreme State and stakeholders are responsible for shaming Sri Lanka.

  • 1
    1

    Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena,

    You have brought out two basic problems: Ethinic problem and poor being ignored.

    Please include the third: Mahavamsa Please read, – Mahavamsa An Insult To The Buddha! By Sharmini Serasinghe .

    Third one is the cause of the 1st problem. Second problem concerns both the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

    How to bell these cats? And more importantly, who will? Only the international community can: Sri Lankan leaders lack wisdom, will or ability to do this. Sooner the better for all peoples of the island.

  • 1
    1

    Kishali,

    Don’t you think it is well deserving that the “matron domiciled overseas” be shamed for her stupidity, inconsideration and servility to the regime – to that end, could you please name her? If you are shy or have reservations otherwise, could someone else please do the right thing and name this “matron”? It is the continued protection of such dastardly actions by such louts that has lead to the condemnation of the whole country.

    As for the responsibility of the current shame on the country, in my opinion, that responsibility falls more on the shoulders of the academics who failed us, particularly the servile ones headed by Dayan, Rajiva, Tamara and Peries – much more than on the Politicians, especially the uneducated gang that makes up our present regime. Let me explain.

    Politicians survive by their (a) cunningness, (b) ability to dupe and (c) vanity. The tax payers and Universities do not directly provide resources for the politicians to develop their talents and expertise to do what they do best in these regards. Our Politicians, in that respect, are doing a swimmingly-well job!

    In contrast, academics are expected to have some minimal ethical and moral responsibility to the tax payers who fund their education and post-education careers. In return, the society depends on their sincerity and integrity to guide the citizens in assessing and reacting to Government actions so as to contain the Government from inappropriate behaviour. When the academics bootlick the politicians for the measly crumbs thrown their way from their master’s tables, then they grossly fail in their responsibility to the society.

    For instance, if Dayan, especially given his education and upbringing, kept his personal aspirations aside and in 2009 and persuaded the Government to accept responsibility for impartial investigation of any misdeeds that may have happened at the end of the war, then the post 2009 developments would have been diametrically different.

    In the immediate aftermath of the decisive conclusion of the terrible war, even if any misdeeds had happened in the heat of the war, the exposure of such would not have generated condemnation anywhere in the magnitude as it is creating now. The few (or many) miscreants would have faced justifiable punishment, and rightly so, without that blame shaming every citizen as is happening now.

    Such fair action by the Government would have helped calm the aggravated Tamils, both local and the Diaspora – and the country would not be facing threats by internationals or fears of a re-emergence of LTTE. We would be well into the fifth year of genuine reconciliation – and the war would have truly and genuinely ended. There was no down-side to such an initiative, if only Dayan had pursued what his education dictated rather than his greed.
    Instead, Dayan decided it would serve him best if he could provide a win, that he knew was inevitably transient, but one that would get him some chest-thumping rights to prove his worthiness to the to the regime. So he begged, borrowed and bribed to get the necessary votes to shut-down any calls for a fair investigation. And, it is that action towards a win with nothing more than a momentary shelf-life, that set in motion the gears for further dictatorial if not moronic control of the nation by the regime, and in the process further antagonized the Tamils and now almost all of the civilized world.

    As such, will it be improper to name Dayan as the principal originator of the gathering clouds of shame on this once proud nation?

  • 1
    0

    According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the highest stage is Self Actualisation, which includes moral behaviour and lack of prejudice. Until one fulfills the lower requirements one does not care about these excellent qualities that help achieve your full potential.

    Many people lead mediocre lives hemmed in by their daily struggle for survival. So it is not surprising that those in the lower middle class prefer to mind their own business, not caring about others. They also nurse a fear against foreign intervention that is played on by the Govt.

    Way to get out of it is to help them realise that their security is linked to the security and well being of others. A difficult proposition in todays selfish and self centered society which is divided into classes and ethnicities.

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 0
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      Hela

      We know you don’t like anyone other than Sinhala/Buddhists but however much you protest the fact remain that the Jaffna library was not burnt down by LTTE.

      Were you part of the gangs who were sent to Jaffna to set fire to the building and rare ola manuscripts?

      • 0
        0

        NV,

        Your statement highlights that you know nothing or your absolute cunningness.

        None of what you say above could be attributed to me.

    • 0
      0

      Again…….the truth hurts…..

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 0
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      Thondamanaru

      Thanks for your observation however, S J Chelvanayagam was not trained by RAW in the art of Guerilla warfare. If I remember correctly it was VP and others who fondly remembered their training sessions later.

  • 0
    0

    I first encountered this “excruciating angst” as KPJ calls it when we were reeling from the brutal and criminal events of July 1983 which had resulted in the dispossession, displacement, injury and death of a huge number of our Tamil citizens. While many of us, even some one would label “Sinhala chauvinists”, were stunned and shamed and urged into remedial action, not infrequently grieving for friends and acquaintances who fell into the targeted community, there were others who were more concerned about “our image abroad”, which was, they felt, being damaged by articles and letters in the local and foreign press. Coincidentally, one of these was in fact “a matron domiciled overseas”(England) to whom I had written, deploring the situation here as well as the shocking silence maintained by our leaders for the first few days. She rounded on me hotly and it seemed to me that part of her concern for “our” image abroad was her inability to maintain her pride as a Sri Lankan, yet stand apart from what was going on in her country of birth. She considered me “unpatriotic” (a term I have problems with anyway) and almost treacherous. One should play down the seriousness of such events, she seemed to be saying.

    I wrote back that far from being concerned with our IMAGE ABROAD, I was worried about the REALITY HERE! (here, in this country that I have been fated to live in), and extremely worried that we were doing too little to arrest what might one day move into something like a war between the communities.

    Well, she has stayed in England, and I, for my sins, have stayed here. Neither she nor I have had much impact on the image or the reality, but she still hops over for the yearly holiday and is delighted by the so-called “beautification” of our capital city (tho I live in the city I am not one of the ardent admirers of this phenomenon) & the swish new intercity roads that make her trip that much easier. She doesnt want to know the negatives as part of the pleasure of a holiday is taking home the snapshots and memories of positives to a land where she doesnt have to endure the negatives day in and day out.

    As for me, my jaundiced eye, as I open a newspaper today, falls on a photograph of islanders in Delft queuing for water (truly a situation of “water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink”)for their basic needs, while elsewhere empty “spring water” bottles are strewn about rubbish heaps by better-off citizens, and fountains play all day to “beautify” Colombo’s roads for the visiting tourist. At one end of this tiny island are people living in almost stone age conditions, while less than 200 miles away, costly racing cars hurtle around public thoroughfares which have been got up (at public expense?), for the brief and selfish delight of a tiny fraction of wealthy people who seem to be living on another planet, so unaware are they.

  • 0
    0

    “Who Is To Blame For Shaming Sri Lanka?” Kuveni’s curse

    • 0
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      shankar

      “Who Is To Blame For Shaming Sri Lanka?” Kuveni’s curse

      As usual you are blaming the victims through Mahavamsa myth.

  • 0
    0

    War Criminals brought shame on Srilanka, their despicable behaviour tarnished already damaged image of Srilanka, the sorry State will pay for their huge mistake.

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