By Dayan Jayatilleka –
As Hartal-2 approaches, it is useful to recall the glorious moment of Hartal-1, learn the lessons of the mistakes made and be determined to recapture and build upon its potentials so that opportunities are not missed and a progressive New Sri Lanka can be born.
A New Sri Lankan society and consciousness in being born in The Aragalaya. It is non-racist, indeed anti-racist; it is mutually tolerant and pluralist; it is solidaristic and inclusionary. It is the consciousness of the younger generation.
The ubiquity of the Sri Lankan flag is a supreme and superior act of subversion. The old patriotism, patriarchal, divisive, dominationist, is being replaced by the New Patriotism of generosity and mutual support. There is a new Sri Lankan family, multiethnic, multireligious, multilingual, multicultural that has come into being in and through the Aragalaya.
It is being created from below, from the old margins which have become the new mainstream. A new culture has been born.
For the new Sri Lanka to be consolidated, it is insufficient for it to remain multiethnic only in the southern two-thirds of the island. It is already manifest in the hill country and the East but it has to spread to the North.
It is little known that during the Hartal of August 1953, the kickoff rally at Galle Face was chaired by SWRD Bandaranaike, though the SLFP did not actively participate as a party in the Hartal. More strikingly, though the SLFP did not participate, the Federal Party did. The August 1953 Hartal therefore united the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities in struggle. The struggle embraced, as never before and never later, North and South, East and West.
What eclipsed that bright shining moment was that (a) the struggle was not fought to a finish by the old left, and (b) the successor UNP Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela was such a pro-Western caricature that he provided ready fuel for the Sinhala Buddhist lobbies lurking in the wings.
By 1955, using the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations, the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress headed by Prof Malalasekara produced a Commission Report which insisted on Sinhala Only. The bhikkhu lobbyists persuaded SWRD Bandaranaike to adopt it.
This would not have happened either had the Left and Bandaranaike or the Left and the Federal Party allied in 1956. Neither happened and instead when the Banda-Chelva Pact was signed and it came under attack from the Sinhala chauvinists, the Left did not step forward to defend it as Vijaya Kumaratunga did the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987, paying with his life. True, the Left bravely battled the Sinhala thugs in the 1958 race riots but it sat out the crucial political battle of 1957: the active defence of the Banda-Chelva Pact.
Today, the historic chance for convergence is being missed mainly because of the attitude of the established Northern political leadership which is far more interested in Constitutional agendas than in forging the unity of the North and South on a progressive, enlightened basis. They want instead to settle old scores and maintain the political and social isolation of the North.
Worse still, the very discourse of a leading spokesperson of the TNA, Hon MA Sumanthiran, is patronizing towards the Aragalaya, the South and the Sinhala people. His discourse verges on a sense of superiority and implicit racism, in the use of terminology such as “these people”.
Here is Mr. Sumanthiran speaking to the Political Editor of the Sunday Morning, Marianne David, last Sunday. Though her questions were excellent, his rhetoric is discordant, sectarian and more than a little offensive, to say the least.
“The north is a little amused that people are unable to cope without electricity for a week or two, when they have done that for a decade or two, without any electricity at all. They are rather amused that their brethren in the south don’t have any resilience to face this kind of hardship. They didn’t have fuel for 10 or 20 years. No diesel and no petrol at all, no batteries, power was totally out, but they managed. They grew their own food and they had alternatives that they worked out.
These are recent memories so they all remember those things and they don’t look at it as a major hardship. That’s one. They also produce; although the production yield has been affected by this chemical fertilizer policy, they do grow a lot of food. They are able to cope to some extent. As things get worse, I think they will also want to come out and protest. Right now, they are not doing that for two reasons. One is this, the other is that when calls come from the south for the north to join, etc., they have a justifiable question – that this did not happen from the south when the north bore a lot of attacks.
One or two people being killed on the streets is a huge issue here, but scores were bombed and destroyed not just during the final phase of the war but right through that period. Aerial attacks and carpet bombing were commonplace, but the rest of the country didn’t care. That is no reason to withhold support now. They may want to support the current protests; they think they are legitimate and particularly the youth are coming forward to do that, but they can’t forget the fact that when this was 100 times worse, these people did not open their mouths.” (The Sunday Morning)
What does Sumanthiran mean by “these people”? And why this particular use of “they”? Within the Aragalaya there is no “they”, there is only “us”. For the Aragalaya, “they” are the Rajapaksa clan led by Gota.
“These people” who are multiethnic and multireligious are waging the Aragalaya not because they are softies but because their threshold of tolerance of injustice is very low and their sense of sovereign agency is very high, so rooted and internalized are the values of democracy and republicanism.
One or two people being killed on the streets is a huge issue, because no one is waging a terrorist war here, using suicide bombers at that. When there was a civil war in the south, and another between North and South, “these people” withstood great carnage, resisted and emerged with democracy intact and the territory of their country reunified.
The people are rising up against the Rajapaksas’ ideology because the non-discriminatory country and devolved state they could have built was substituted by a hierarchical, hyper-centralized system.
There’s pre-Aragalaya time and Aragalaya time. On this island, there’s no “these people” and “those people”. There are only the Sri Lankan People. An authentic Sri Lankanness has been born in the vortex of the struggle, the Aragalaya