20 May, 2024


Why A ‘System Change’?

By Vishwamithra

“If they answer not to thy call, walk alone, walk alone…” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

The hinterland of the country is sleeping. Its landscape is more conducive to a laidback life rather than a rat-race that is driving the urban dwellers to a mindless frenzy; its denizens have been used to the practice of agriculture for centuries. For them, the priorities are rooted in their family matters. Schooling for their children, repairs for the broken culvert close to their homestead and primarily putting food on the table are surpassing the absurdities of political rivalries and neighborhood disputes. Their religious activities are centered on Poya day visits to the closest temple. Interaction with the chief Monk has stimulated spiritual results and they keep their faith profoundly entrenched in the unquestioning fidelity to the teachings of Buddha.

With the first rays of the sun, the man of the household wakes up; mother of the children, one 7 years old and the other 11, makes the morning tea for the entire family and at the same time begins preparations for morning breakfast comprising of rice, dhal and pol sambol enough for the children’s midday meal too. The routine of rural life, totally dependent on agriculture, starts its regular cycle of universal existence which is harder for those who fall below poverty level. And those whose daily consumption exceeds one whole month’s earnings of a rural family have resumed their gross display of wealth in the fancy restaurants and five-star hotels in Colombo and other big cities. Such cruel disparities do exist and the politicians do not care whether such inequalities matter so long as they, the rural folks, cast votes at the next election.

Nishantha, a third generation settler in Galnewa who claimed ownership of the two and half acre irrigated land and half acre homestead from his father, has trained his entire family to dedicate their free time to the land that feeds them to engage in the basic agricultural practices. They comprise of releasing the water from the field-channels to their plot, maintaining elementary manuring of the home-garden vegetables, feeding the cattle (two of them) and other rudimentary chores that any rural family engages in their daily lives and so forth. Life is hard; its demands are never ending and despite the scorching sun in midday, Nishantha has learnt that its ‘gives’ and ‘takes’ are intermingled with desire and joy as Leonard Wolf explains so richly in his celebrated novel, ‘The Village in the Jungle’.

Nishantha’s story is just a microcosm of the whole settlement zone. Some settlers have reached the end of the line; they have mortgaged their land to the village boutique Mudalali on ‘Ande’ basis. They have become laborers on their own land. Such cruel realities have emerged to show the aftercare is far too behind the dreamy promises of the politicians who originally settled these hapless men and women on the dry-zone settlements. They can’t complain of the dire need and total lack of fertilizer. It was caused by the stupid and unscientific policy and its accelerated implementation of conversion into organic farming.       

The country nearly saw its economic death at the end of a couple of months ago; those who felt the scarcities which should not have occurred but for the fact that those who ruled the country engaged in barefaced corrupt practices and nepotism-oriented treatment of the general public. Dearth of tools necessary for those who experience luxuries of life, those who cannot walk one kilometer without a car were clamoring for petrol and diesel, those who are not used to cooking without gas were on the streets in Colombo and other urban townships were appeased by provision of those luxurious amenities. No more petrol or diesel lines; no more lines for cooking gas. But those who feed the country by tilling the land and planting the seeds of rice and vegetables were left in the lurch. But the total or near absence of fertilizer resulting in meager harvest and therefore meager incomes for the farmer community will have their telling effects in a couple of months. Will there be another ‘Aragalaya’; will the current ruler also run away from responsibility and duty? Nishantha couldn’t care less, for his priority is to feed his family and look after his two sons so that they could have undisturbed education. 

The gulf between the haves and have-nots is enlarging. The inequalities between the urban and rural sectors are threateningly snowballing. Will there be an explosion at the end of this maddening rush to self-satisfaction? Can the present ‘system’ of government withstand that explosion? Can the social-fabric enrich itself by change or will it be torn to pieces forever? Nishantha has studied the nuanced aspects of societal development and their inscrutable elements in the University when he was student of social science. But that education would not qualify him for a government job, for his political allegiances have been totally opposed to the winning party and its representative who had not passed GCE Ordinary Level in school.

Nonetheless, Nishantha is fortunate to inherit the land from his father who in turn inherited it from his father. Nishantha’s grandfather was the original settler. It so happened that the grandfather had only one child, Nishantha’s father. Nishantha does not have any siblings. But Nishantha has two sons. That is why he is so keen to provide a better than good education to his two sons. His efforts have been so far better than good. His elder son has passed the fifth standard scholarship and awaiting entry to a so-called posh-school in Colombo. But the costs are so much and belt-tightening at home is a necessity. No more birthday celebrations, no more new jewelry or sarees for his wife. The discipline that Nishantha has instilled in his two sons is paving the way for a more ordered life for them too.

Nishantha does not own a smartphone. He could afford it, yet there are more urgent needs in his life apart from the gossip and rumors that float around the social media; but he has told his two sons that such luxuries are just that – luxuries, not an essential. Nishantha’s education has afforded him that rare quality of intellectual curiosity. After each day’s tiring and weary labor on the field, he sits on a comfortable chair and reads; his particular interest in social change and systems of government and constitutional affairs have directed him to read more and more. He never tires of reading new ideas and new ideals. He is trying to train his two sons along the same path. His wife who was GCE Advanced Level-qualified gave up her teaching job to dedicate her labor and life for the betterment of a family she is trying to raise with her loving husband. They have identified their priorities, well and absolutely. It’s an exceptional and uncommon family indeed.               

The more and more Nishantha reads, the more and more he is convinced that the solution resides in a total change, a ‘system change’. But how could a farmer in Galnewa settlement start a system change. Rohana Wijeweera with his Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) tried his hand at changing the system and in 1971, the results were disastrous. Then he tried again in 1987 which ended up even in greater danger and calamity to our youth and the country. Wijeweera’s ideal seemed to be invested more in grabbing political power than instituting a system change. He borrowed, not ideas and ideals but empty slogans from Fidel Castros’ Cuban revolution. He wanted to be Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin on one. Today Anura Kumara Dissanayake is suffering the public’s hangover of such a misguided methodology of system change.

In such a chaotic and damaging context, how can Nishantha even think about a system change? But he realizes the validity and indispensability of writing down what his thinking is; where it’s leading him and whether his writings could effect a change in thinking of at least one more person. The constitutional changes that would be essential in order to contain corruption, do away with nepotism and enhance the economic stature of the country while safeguarding the fundamental human rights as pronounced in United Nations (UN) Charter occupy his mind now. He needs a person who has a legal and clear mind, another mind who feels the need for a system change. He needs a another mind that is totally engrossed in finding solutions for the precarious economic situation the country has been subjected by corrupt and dishonest politicians. It’s a monumental task, but a beginning has to be made. If his two sons are going to inherit a land and circumstances that could be better and more evocative than the ones that prevail today, he indeed has to make a beginning. And Nishantha made up his mind. He needs to act and he needs to act now.

He was reminded about an essay written by Margaret Mead, Anthropologist, author and speaker: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Nishantha realizes the value of reading, a habit and a good one for that, and he wishes to instill in his two sons that great habit. He called his two sons and spoke to them for almost half hour, before his wife spread the dinner on the table. Nishantha, after a long time, felt at home, relaxed and relieved. 

He found the answer to his question: a system change is necessary. 

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com  

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Beautiful rendition of village life written with a deep understanding and appreciation of it leaving the reader to conclude what system change would work from a his/her perspective ruling out the failed power grabbing system of Wijeweera.

    • 3

      Our Constitution is, according to the rulers, state of the art. Going by its various clauses, everyone is absolutely equal before the Law, anyone can practise their faith without fear, our representatives are democratically elected, blah blah blah. That is the system.
      But in practice, an idiot can be democratically elected, and he can dictate an agricultural policy based on youtube videos, absolutely ruining agriculture. As to the Law, the AG has been known to institute or withdraw charges according to the political climate. Chief Justices pursue adulterous personal agendas while preaching true Buddhism on TV. The Media ignores mountains of corruption by leading families, while pursuing baseless vendettas against Muslim doctors, in cahoots with vile monks and “patriotic” Professors .
      I don’t think that changing the system will do any good. The trick is in FOLLOWING the System to the letter. It was the colonialists who installed the system, and it worked relatively well till they left. Who broke it? Dear Vishwamitra, it was none other than Nishantha, his father, and his grandfather, who, quite likely on the sage advice of that village priest, consistently voted in rulers who always promised to liberate them from vicious Tamils, Muslims, speakers of English, promised free fertilizer and water. Nishantha must go look in the mirror to find the villain.

      • 1

        “It was the colonialists who installed the system, and it worked relatively well till they left.”
        OC,,relatively well for whom? Is it not the relatively well off that we have in mind here?

      • 1

        Old Codger,
        You have made all the valid points of what is wrong in the exciting set up, but pessimistic about the possibility of human ingenuity to radically change everything under the sun and have a better set up.

        The word Systemic Change or the system change means the same thing.

        The system has many sub- system- judiciary, legislature administration including Executive presidency, electoral system that included proportional representations for elections, the political culture, the way political parties are organized ,the way corruption and nepotism are tolerated and everything under the sun where individuals have no say , not a collection of individuals can do wonders!

        The system could be represented in a Venn diagram with sub systems are individual elements of the system- whole and parts . You also call system as a paradigm.

        This existing system whether designed by colonialists or by some local elites, it was done by humans and anther set of humans could make a change – a revolutionary change through a mass movement like aragalaya.
        Be optimist and we can change our country if not the world. If there is a will, there is a way!
        be part of the geat experiment in our living memory!

        • 0

          “but pessimistic about the possibility of human ingenuity to radically change everything under the sun and have a better set up.”
          Not human ingenuity. Sri Lankan ingenuity is what I doubt. Japan went from feudalism to beating Russia in one generation. We voted in people who took us from a budget surplus to bankruptcy in one generation.

  • 4

    Dear Vishwamithra: Your Nishantha has found an answer: ” A System Change is Necessary”.

    Is that a complete and conclusive answer? I doubt.

    In my opinion, your Nishantha must further address and DIG into his intelligence and endeavor to find answers to: (1) Do I need a “SYSTEMIC” change? (2) Do I need a “SYMPTOMATIC” change? OR “BOTH”.

    Aren’t we having “90%” correct “SYSTEMS”? We have. Then what is causing trouble? It is that balance of “10%” that caused the havoc. In that context, I would request Nidhantha to find ways and means to correct that “REPARABLE 10% that which has not been addressed by the majority of people but very conveniently “MISMANAGE/MISDIRECT and “UTILIZED” by the corrupt politicians and the bureaucrats including the Law Enforcement who run the “Government Machinery” that is based on well defined “SYSTEMS”.

  • 6

    … Wijeweera’s ideal seemed to be invested more in grabbing political power than instituting a system change.
    To me, it looks like that Vishwamithra finds something wrong with Wijeweera’s idea!
    What was wrong with that Vishwamithra?
    Doesn’t instituting a system change require to be seated suitably, with political power?
    How many Nishanthas can one count. I’ll give you my fingers as well, if you run short!

  • 2

    Interesting story. Thanks for the articulation. Aiming at a national suystem change is one thing. Dont forget sectoral change as well. Change can be effected in many forms. One can start small and grow a movement. Why not choose a local issue in one’s own area, get together a group of like-minded people, share information and develop strategies to gain more support both from people who share the issue and those in authority? Such work does not require an aragalaya. We understand the system in place is corrupt and it needs replacing. However, through local organising and action much can be achieved.

    • 0

      There is need to walk on both legs. The strategy you suggest is not an alternative to national mass mobilization.
      They complement each other.

  • 0

    Vishwamithra: Your statements (1) ” Wijeweera’s ideal seemed to be invested more on grabbing political power than instituting a system change. How else anyone could institute a system change?

    (2) ” He borrowed not ideas and ideals but empty slogans from Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution…” Haven’t Wijeweera incorporated those ideals and ideas in his campaign to capture power in S/L?

    (3) ” Today Anura Kumara Dissanayake is suffering the public hangover of the such misguided methodology of system change”. Isn’t AKD committed to doing the system change for the good of the country? Is it a “Hangover” or a “Committed Duty” by the people?

    I concur with Nathan. Thank you for being open.

  • 2

    It is time to dispense with niceties of polite choices and standing in queues to vote for your favorite parasites again, hoping for a better future with them. That method has failed miserably. There is one factor that should drive a different method. Hunger. Most ordinary people go hungry every day, eating a meagre meal to avoid starvation, while the parasitic class enjoy luxurious banquets as if all is fine in Paradise. Yes, previous revolutions that the JVP brought forth in the form of rebellions or insurgencies or even “terrorism” as the politicians liked to name them failed as not enough ordinary citizens supported them and played to the governments’ tunes instead, not knowing that the governments were the real oppressors. However, people would now hopefully understand that their governments are killing them, often slowly with starvation or quickly with lack of basic health interventions like emergency drugs or equipment. Social media is available to all. They do not watch Rupavahini to find out what is happening in the country but go on Youtube instead. Now is the time to make a clean sweep of things and bring in what Nishantha in the story has desired.

  • 1

    ‘The hinterland of the country is sleeping’
    This description well suits the village in Sinhala majority area. The ones in the North and East UNLIKE the ones in the laidback sinhala areas, has gone through many upheavels over the decades.
    The vilagers in the hinterland had been FED WITH wrong informations by the Sinhala politicians Monks and mass media. The ‘Aragalaya Movement should start to give them informations about the TRUE picture of the country in order to make SECTORAL changes that wOULD lead to a System Change of TSUNAMI PROPORTION that will sweep away the corrupt politicians in to the Ocean.

  • 0

    “System Change” – does it include change in mentality of voting public ?? In this case Nishantha seems to have made some positive changes, among family members. Nishantha and his family are concerned about human/ universal rights, quality of life, better future, prevailing corruption, among many other things and least bothered about race/religion divide. A system change to succeed ,should include every component that makes the system including families, community, education/ schools, work place, administration, parliament, elections, constitution – – – – – – .

  • 0

    Why A ‘System Change’?

    Our political leaders will know our priorities only if we tell them, again and again, and if those priorities begin to show up in the polls, country is engaged in corrupt practices and nepotism. Having Family Nepotisms transparency will not happen no one will point finger to his brother’s mistake. The root cause of poverty is social injustice and to lodge all power in one party with brther hood and keep them is to insure bad government, wisdom cannot be found in the chambers of parliament even with 224.why a system of brotherhood to rule a country.

  • 1

    “Life is hard; its demands are never ending and despite the scorching sun in midday, Nishantha has learnt that its ‘gives’ and ‘takes’ are intermingled with desire and joy as Leonard Wolf explains so richly in his celebrated novel, ‘The Village in the Jungle’.”
    Has the author understood what the novel was about?
    ‘The Village in the Jungle’ was not just about the joy and peace of life in village life.
    It is not packed with love and peace in the village.
    It is about real people, about cruelty, and has one greater characteristic– Woolf’s respectful treatment of the native in his narration, something rare among European writers of his time.

    • 0

      Why a system change is necessary? what do you mean by a system?. It is not a single system.
      it consists with a number of sub systems each act individually and interact with other elements and overall it is a complex set of things and it is something beyond any individual’s span. Only a mass movement could tackle it successfully.

      The failure of of Wijeweera’s first and second attempts for a system change(Marxist take over) may be due to multiple causes?

      There were various alternatives available even in those days.

      Wijeweera thought the system is protected and safeguarded by the security forces alone especially the police force.

      That was a wrong premise, and still it is and it is the cause for his downfall.

      JR changed the system and changed it in his own image.It was the efort of a small group, not the result of a mass movement.

      Ranil is a loner, but still believes in JR’s way.

      • 0

        JR destroyed the left and the entire opposition and brought them as manageable entities and made them irrelevant.
        The trade unions were paralyzed and simultaneously implemented his neo-liberal economic polices and almost succeeded.

        .But then when he tried his hands on the Tamils, that was his waterloo and his attempts failed , destroying himself as well as the Tamils, never to regain=his Presidential system , his proportional representation system,the domination of and neo liberal economic policies all failed , but continue to survive to this day waiting for the aragalaya to make the final change
        What is the system change at the present context?
        Abolish Presidential system replace it with a Westminster type parliamentary system with real participatory model, installed. Corruption free and nepotism free system, internal democracy within political parties established.
        .it is difficult, it has to be done, no alternative

  • 0

    System Change by itself is no panacea for multiple woes faced by the government. The current crop of politicians who are in power now should be sent home. What we now see is power-hungry and corrupt politicians robbing the government in the form of salaries and perks.
    The recent appointment of 38 State Ministers at a time the people were reeling under hyperinflation, devaluation of the rupee, the self-inflicted fertiliser crisis, shortage of fuel and life-saving drugs. It appears our politicians have not learnt anything from the Aragalaya protests.
    The government under President Ranil Wickremasinghe is committing the same blunders as the previous government under Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Corruption, criminal waste of public funds, cronyism, impunity continue unabated.
    The arrest of frontline leaders of the protest movement has exacerbated the political atmosphere. Before he was elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe was singing a different tune. He went to the extent of creating a website in support of Aragalaya protesters.
    It may be recalled that Ranil was also responsible for emptying the state Treasury. He is the one who ordered more than 300 luxury vehicles for MPs, Ministers, State Ministers, MPs, Chief Ministers and Ministers of Provincial councils, He doubled the number of members of the 336 local bodies from 4,486 to 8, 825 a staggering 49.16% increase.

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