29 October, 2020

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Writing Down Our Own Narrative

By Lakmali Hemachandra

Lakmali Hemachandra

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984

Sanjeewa Bnadara, the convener of the Inter University Students’ Federation was remanded for the grave crime of participating in an unlawful gathering. Some comments posted as responses to a news report, in an online edition of a leading English newspaper, on the remanding of Sanjeewa Bandara, called for him being remanded forever, applauded the government for controlling the unruly students, chastised him on wasting public money and ruining the future of the students and reminded him that his job is to study not to lead student agitations against the government education policy. One comment even warned him not to take the country back into the terror days of 1989, the year I was born in. During a TV interview one of the questions that were posed at the remanded student leader was whether the next step of the student movement is to take up arms against the government.

I will not question the double standards of the Rajapaksa regime that arrests a student leader who conducts a protest march but not the monks of the Sinhala Ravaya who burn down shops in Tangalle, for the truth that is known to all of us is that we live under a law that persecutes us when it pleases, when we displease the puppet masters. However, it is important that I tell my story; share my experience as a student of free education that Sanjeewa Bandara is trying to protect from the privatization policy of the state. It is important that I tell the people who are listening because information, real information would help us to make better decisions, information will dwell in our conscience and demand that we take actions, but most of all information will break through the lies that bind us to the myths, created by the propaganda machine of the state.

Is Sanjeewa Bandara really the enemy of the people, the perpetrator of violence that the masses are anticipating, as the inevitable consequence of student agitations? Should he therefore be remanded forever, or dare I say murdered secretly to save the population from a catastrophe? Should he be expelled from the university because clearly he is not complying with the requirement of finding a job after completing the degree? Are the students who protest government policy on education a vicious, evil and a selfish group that prevents the rest of the population from accessing higher education? Are we dazed by the puppet masters’ lies to the extent that we cannot see that privatization policy of the government is destroying our public education system? Are we trapped in the reality created by the state so much, that we forget who is responsible for violence, rather who has always been responsible for violence?

Noam Chomsky an American Linguistics Professor, in one of his speeches about public education states that “”If you want to privatize something and destroy it, a standard method is first to defund it, so it doesn’t work anymore, people get upset and accept privatization”. Privatization is not a tool of efficiency, those of us who travel in private buses daily, must know it better than anyone else that just because something is privatized it does not mean that it is going to be efficient and does away with all the inconveniences in a publicly owned system. I am sure the public was overjoyed to accept the privatization of the transport system under the government of J.R Jayawardane because that meant more buses, because that meant fewer crowds. However that also meant that public control of the transport system was now going to be under private control, that only responds to profits which meant that bus fees were going to be raised regularly, that buses would not run in routes that were not highly populated, that our votes at elections would have no control of the transport system of the country. The rules of the game were set according to the maximization of profits for a few individuals who own fleets of buses. That is privatization, not the rosy picture that S.B. Dissanayake portrays to the public who are tired of the public education system that does not work anymore, for the simple reason that it is not funded anymore.

When the University lecturers went on a continuous strike last year demanding 6% for education, the government responded to it by cutting back education funds to an all-time low of 1.5%. When Sri Lanka Medical Council refused to let SAITM graduates practice as doctors because they did not have clinical training in a teaching hospital, the government pumped 600 million rupees to build a teaching hospital for a privately owned institution. When there are vacancies in the University system for medical students, the government awarded scholarships to students to study at SAITM and enrolled fee paying students into the vacancies in the state universities. Privatization of education is the government policy on education and I am not saying this because Sanjeewa Bandara ragged me, I am saying this because in the University that I study in, students are compelled to study with the minimum resources, libraries are not equipped with updated books, canteen does not provide nutritious food, students are not provided with adequate hostel facilities, even the existing facilities are not maintained properly, the university buildings are falling apart from the toilets to the lecture halls and lack of resources are wrecking a university that was once majestic and bred intellectuals.

Is Sanjeewa Bandara responsible for the deliberate government decision to cut back on education spending to pave way for private education establishments? Is Sanjeewa Bandara responsible for the dismal state of the Sri Lankan universities? Privatization is not limited to the higher education institutes, schools around the country are either shut down because of lack of resources or compelled to charge fees from the students to provide for themselves. The tragedy of the girl who was forced to steal coconuts to pay the cleaning fee for the school exhibited to the country the state of education in Sri Lanka.

Free education system was established in our country through a bill that was passed in 1947 which was debated in the parliament for four years but Sri Lanka is not the only country that has a free education system, Soviet Union had a mass education program that was funded by the state, Cuba to this date has a free education system that aims at mass education. Non Communist countries like Finland, Sweden and Germany also have education systems that provide education without charging fees from the students.  The myth that free education is a burden on the state expenditure can only be justified if the Sri Lankan state was not giving tax holidays to Australian businessmen to open casinos. The myth that the government does not have the money to spend on education can only be justified if millions were not spent on importing luxury cars for the Commonwealth summit.

It is not a matter of insufficient funds, but a matter of prioritizing on what to spend on. The government can spend to educate the people of the country, to provide them with medicine, to invest in agriculture, to build houses for the homeless, to create jobs for the jobless. Instead it is spending on national security to make sure that militarization of Jaffna is in place, to make sure that dissent can be crushed when it gets in the way of the despotic regime, and it is spending money on building empty harbours, airports and highways that do nothing but drag the country further into debt and poverty. The economic policy of the current regime is not compatible with the condition of poverty that more than 40% of Sri Lankans live under. Privatization of education is even more problematic in a largely poor country like Sri Lanka for it will deprive the poor majority of the country an opportunity in education and a chance at social mobility. The medical degree at the University of Peradeniya was priced at a mammoth 7.5 million rupees that most Sri Lankan parents cannot afford.

Then why do we believe the lies of the higher education minister who promises more education opportunities to the students who are left behind at A/levels when he is not even providing proper opportunities to those who have already made it to the universities? When S.B. Dissanayake says privatization is going to create more opportunities, can he point at another country and prove it to us, because the story of most countries from USA to Brazil and UK to Chile is that privatization only leads to disparities in access to education. Why does not S.B. Dissanayake educate us about the similar debate on budget cuts on education that exists in United Kingdom? Do we have the information we need to make the right decision on privatization? Why does not S.B. Dissanyake tell us that privatization of education was one among many atrocities that USA committed in Iraq after the invasion in 2003? Is it not possible that Sanjeewa Bandara is actually aware of the history of privatizing education and therefore is only trying to warn us about the misfortune that will fall on this country if the majority loses access to education? After all students are more in touch with the education  sector and the nature of their activities, their task as students make them aware of most things that others are not inclined to know. May be the reason that we are not wary of the state of education in this country is because we do not know enough and when everything is burnt and destroyed, universities and schools are sold to the highest bidders it would be too late to reverse the cogs of history.

The bitter truth is that neither Sanjeewa Bandara nor the IUSF can put up a brave front against the government policy of privatization without the students and the parents demanding the state to allocate more funds for education, to revive the fallen free education system, to put public interest back in its agenda. Free education system in Sri Lanka that gave generations an opportunity at education and social mobility, will die a slow death if the people continue to direct their anger at a puny student leader who is fighting a lost cause for a people who wants him jailed.

I do not know Sanjeewa Bandara personally but I do know other students who are sacrificing their youth and ambitions to protect a system that gave them a chance at knowing the world. I would not think twice to march with them to protest against privatization of education because contrary to what S.B Dissanayake or Bandula Gunawardhane might say I know that most students who study in state universities are doing so under extreme hardships and I know that most of my friends would not be lawyers and doctors if not for the education that are given to them for free, because they simply cannot afford it. I am the third born in a family of five children and my parents would have never been able to spend for my higher education, even if they were able to buy a future for my older siblings, if not for the free education system.

The reality of privatizing education is that most of us studying in the universities would not have been able to get that education had it been privatized already. Privatization of Universities would mean that only the children of wealthy parents who can afford to spend 7 million will be able to become doctors. How anybody can support such a notion while knowing the social reality of the country we live in is beyond my imagination. Therefore when I walk for free education I am not doing so because Sanjeewa Bandara brainwashed me into believing it, but because I believe that education is not for profit, that education is bigger than profits. It saddens me to see these comments asking for the persecution of student leaders because these students are honest people who are fighting a mighty state for something they believe in, for something they want to protect for everyone. They are not idiots who fail exams; they are intelligent students who think it is their responsibility to shoulder the weight of saving free education.

I was born in the year 1989 when the Premadasa regime was killing students around the country, I would never know what happened to them, how much is true and how much is not. Their story is not a part of the official history of Sri Lanka. A recent article by Gamini Viyangoda truthfully stated that the people who talk about an imagined fear of walking in the roads during the war time would not talk about the days when they were holed up in their houses while the government killed their children by thousands. I entered the university in 2009 when the war ended and the story of those who were murdered during that time because the majority of this country called them terrorists would not be a part of the official story of Sri Lanka either. The youth who were murdered during 71 insurgencies and the people who were murdered and robbed during 83 riots, Sri Lankan history is filled with narratives that will never be told because they reveal to us that we the people stood by and watched when the politicians, the puppet masters made fools of us and set us up against each other, that we mercilessly applauded when the oppressed were brutally massacred. The true history, the true story of our people who are murdered from time to time are erased form our memories because we never tell our stories.

The official story of Sri Lanka has made racists out of most of us and terrorists out of the others, the fact that most of us are only guilty of believing what our puppet masters tell us never goes down in the history. Therefore the official narrative of Sri Lanka does not include the oppressed, the tortured, the massacred, the dissidents, the terrorists and the ordinary citizens who are silent through everything. In the official story Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya are made the agents of the people but not the L.T.T.E, in the official story Sanjeewa Bandara is the villain not S.B. Dissanayake and the governments, who rob our chances at education and then murder those who fight for it. We need to stop repeating this narrative and think are we really racists, terrorists and religious extremists? Is that the identity of the people of this country? Do we really need another harbor? Do we really need another highway? Why are we not talking about education? Why are we not talking about healthcare? Why do people in this country blame each other but not the rulers, never the rulers for their misery?

History is what the rulers tell us it is, what they want us to believe, history is what gives us pride and history is what shames us to silence and passivity. In the midst of cruelty and injustice that will breed chaos and violence, under the thundering power of an evil regime that is indifferent to the misery of the masses, living in times of opportunism and fear that results in indifference and apathy we must always repeat the truth like a mantra so that our story, the story of the ordinary citizens will be remembered. Writing down our own narrative of what we experience every day, talking about our individual experiences of injustice and poverty will eventually create the collective consciousness that Sri Lanka desperately needs to revive the humanity and morality that it lost through years of exploitation, years of blatant lies and years of unimaginable human misery.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    Most of the The Puppets At Diyavannaa oya Piggery got some sort of free education from the expense of tax payers money and still looting.

    Shame to say, Many of those morons are Sinhalese,and NAME’SAKE Buddhists.

    And now they are trying to vadalizse the free university education and promote Privatised and militarized of education system for personal gains.

    and produce Vass G like robotic killers.

    Will the Curses of masses fall upon them??????????????.

  • 1
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    Thumbs up!!

  • 1
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    Excellent article by this young woman. Good luck to her and those like her,who fight for what is right.

  • 1
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    Thank you, Lakmali, for an honest and very accurate description of the problems in education and the only solution for what ails it.

    I am the product of one of what are sometimes referred to as the “elite schools” (Trinity) though one would be hard put to justify that boast judging by some of their more recent products!

    However, I and many of my contemporaries believe in the absolute necessity of free primary, secondary and tertiary education in this country. To say otherwise, is not only untrue and stupid, IT IS NOTHING SHORT OF CRIMINAL.
    It is not student activists who should be incarcerated, it is those who are visiting this criminality on our country. And when that happens, I suggest that the keys to their cells be thrown away immediately!

  • 0
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    Dear Lakmali Hemachandra,

    Thank you for the article.

    “I will not question the double standards of the Rajapaksa regime that arrests a student leader who conducts a protest march but not the monks of the Sinhala Ravaya who burn down shops in Tangalle, for the truth that is known to all of us is that we live under a law that persecutes us when it please”

    Why are you accepting such double standards? Wake Up!

    The student leader is expressing a particular viewpoint. Yes he should be free to do that.

    It is your country. It does not below only to the saffron robed terrorists, who do not work and live off people’s efforts.

    Double Standards? One Standard for Sinhala Buddhist Monk Terrorists.
    and no Law and Order.

    Another standard for others? Do Not put up with it. Wake up and fight for your rights.

    Remember the Arab Spring? Egypt. Tunisia?

    Then the double standard spreads.

    If you remain passive, they will trample more.

    Awadiyaw! Wake Up!

    • 0
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      OLD L S S P ERs TACTICS NOT WORKS NOW.

      those days are gone.

  • 0
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    If she gets a chance to go to a western country, definitely she will change her ideas.
    Today in school, free education has no meaning. Many teachers involve in private tuition while children from grade 1 to AL, attend to private tuition classes. Almost all the students pass their exams because of their private tuition. Ask a parent, how much they spend on private tuition classes.
    So, what is the wrong having private universities. Wealthy people send their children abroad to have good higher education since they do not have private education option. Parents takes loan to send their children to private universities now and I have heard they loud that option. Even I got a loan in 1980s to study in public university because my parent had no money to spend on me. I supported JVP lead struggles against Ranil’s Education White Paper. But now I understand, what mistake I made supporting it.

    Sanjeewa Bandara was a JVP student(now Peratugami) few years ago and did not complete his free education in the university. So he wants others to do the same thinking it is the way to protect public education. What I see is that today only a few students use public education to get most out of it.

    • 0
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      Dangoda:
      You must come from Angoda from what you say.

      Every student from the primary to the final stages of seconddary education in the western countries DOES NOT PAY a penny for their education. You are either a liar or a total ignoramus. Maybe both!

      And even if post-secondary education has to be paid for, students can access loans at less than the regular commercial rate, with relatively easy re-payment conditions after they graduate.

      Keep your mouth shut if you don’t know wtf you are talking about. And that goes for the rest of the Rajapassa and Dissanayake pandankarayas, including Sarath Amunugama, who keep lying over and over again!

  • 1
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    Lakmali,

    Alas, you, like many others, have fallen into using the ‘free education’ phrase which gives the impressionable all the wrong signals. There is NO such thing as ‘free education’. Some one is paying for it; usually the government, using taxes from one source or another. And the sad fact is that those who use the state education system suffer a significant disadvantage when they compete with those who attend fee paying schools. When my father complained about the exhorbitant school fees he had to pay for me, my grandmother told him ‘what are you complaing about the cost of education, wait and see the cost of ignorance’.

    The problem in SL has been identified; the GOSL has for many years UNDERINVESTED in the education system. You, we, all know it.

    Lakmali, spread the word. Ask you fellow students and teachers/professors NOT to burn down the assets but to campaign with increasing vigour for the investment that is needed, for the sake of community and country. Good leadership is required and this struggle is a legitimate one for the young people of this country. YOUR FUTURE is at stake.

    Good luck as you all seek to build a better future!

  • 0
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    The future of Sri Lanka needs more people like Lakmali ! Be careful not to “rise” too early and suffer the fate of those who were killed in 1989.

    Be wise, take your time and ensure that you are never made to change your standards and the ethics you believe in.

  • 1
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    People who are onlookers talk of an Arab spring like uprising when Students Unions or Trade Unions go on strike or march on the streets.That shows their enthusiasm to get rid of a corrupt government.The issue here is the arrest of a student leader demanding more allocations for Education from a meagre 1.5% and stop privatising higher education.He has talked on behalf of most of us who are silent spectators.People should point their fingures at sky rocketing corruption. With the money spent on the hedging deal a loss of USD 162 mn 2700 engineers could have been produced, what the country needs for the next 15 years. If the money was commercially invested it would have been enough to provide 4500 students enter University annually.These figures were calculated by a few professionals. All these are apart from the millions robbed by people in power.Now to come back to the question of Sanjeeva Bandara being jailed and the good among us are throwing stones at him. Are we sure we are stoning the real culprits who are destroying education,health of our people with low quality saline,destrying every aspect of people;f lives with low quality petrol etc.By the way is their law enforcement to destructive acts of Bodu bala sena So shall we come to the rescue of Sanjeewa Bandara and jail the rel culprits.

  • 0
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    Dear Lakmali Hemachandra,

    I admire your wisdom and courage in pointing out all the injustices, and lack of honest leadership in Sri Lanka.

    I am really amazed that at as a youth, you have an enlightened view of the situation in the country. You understand the plight of the poor and the oppressed communities.

    I am in my sixties and I would say that from independence we never had a genuine leader with vision for nation building: All the leaders introduced and exploited anti-Tamil sentiments to come to power or stay in power. Now anti_Muslim/Christian sentiments are propagated by the people in power. This way people’s attention is turned to destructive pursuits, rather than constructive progressive actions.

    Look at Singapore where, Lew Kwan Yew the leader from independence, much after Ceylon, had the vision to unite Chinese, Malays and Indians lead to make it become a first world, rich country. The per capita income of Singapore is near the top globally. It is a unique former colony of Britain to break out of the pack and reach its height, all because of enlightened leadership.

    Whereas Sri Lanka has lost hundreds of thousands of talented people to foreign countries. Almost all of them got free education, but the racial policies drove them out.

    I don’t know whether you are a Buddhist, but at least you are a person genuinely following the teachings of Buddha.

    We need a person like you to lead Sri Lanka: Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Christians will follow you happily.

    However, an out spoken person like you will face danger in the lawless situation prevailing.

    Best wishes to you,

    Thiru

    • 0
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      Dear Thiru,

      The SL government is working on changing the demography by settling Sinhalese in the North — just as it did, and continues to do, in the East. This IS lesson they learnt from Mr Lee. You know, In Mr Lee’s Singapore, even allocation of housing in a block of flats is controlled by ethnic ratio, so that ghettos of communities don’t form.

      And you might also want to read a bit about how wonderful Singapore is from here:
      http://singaporedissident.blogspot.co.uk/2007/09/singapore-government-sanctioned-cold.html

      Would you still say Singapore should be our role model?

      • 0
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        Strawberry and Cream,

        Singapore history is short and different, in the middle of Malay sea.

        In Sri Lanka Tamils in the North-East has been living there historically for at least three millenniums! It was called Eelam then. They had traded with King Salomon’s merchants.

        Sinhalese history begins later, only they are larger in number.

        Read what Lee Kwan Yew said of Tamils of Eelam in his book – somebody must tell the Sinhalese and the Tamils to go separate ways!

        Read your history. Portuguese capture Eelam, lost it to the Dutch, then to the British and then to Uppe Aanduva!

        Ask Lakmali Hemachandra for wisdom, she will see the reasons in my view.

        Thiru

  • 0
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    Thank you for writing this article.
    It definitely is blood-boiling to see the injustice and the blatant violation of ethics and laws that has become a trend, the norm, in this blood sodden land. One has to only listen to the empty, twisted, ambiguous, vague, hazy words and arguments pouring out of this corrupted regime to prophesy the bleak future that will fall upon this island like an incurable plague. (if we aren’t contaminated already)
    Those who have eyes that WANT to see this will see it.
    If free education is crippled, so will the country.
    In a few years after free education is strangled, Sri lanka will be like a vehicle running on low quality fuel imported by the government.
    Viva the Establishment!
    Keep writing Lakmali.
    Thumbs up.

  • 0
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    To the very brave author of this piece. This is beautifully written, articulate and I applaud you for being young and telling it like it is. You are truly an asset to this country. I hope you keep telling your story and keep inspiring us young people to be well informed and better citizens who have the ability to think for ourselves, have a strong sense of right and wrong and not blindly follow what is spoonfed to us.

  • 0
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    First of all I want to understand whether Lakmali is a graduate of a Sri Lankan University.

    LAkmali, I appreciate your view points as an immature youngster. In short you were trying to justify that University students fighting and protesting on the road is right.

    I am a graduate from a Sri Lankan University and was a student between 1981 and 1984. That was the last lap of peaceful university education. Though we had protests even the protest organizers understood that no student should hinder education of others and they were mindful to hold protest during non exam times and even planned the dates after receiving the govt grants. We felt sorry for the poor masses as we, in University used peoples money for our education. I am happy that we graduated and help our country immensely even by remitting our hard earned money abroad. I hardly remember any protests in Medical faculties. We as non medical students never expected their participation as their studies are different to other university faculties.

    Lakmali we cannot correct our political system and corrupt nature of politician who are in power and politicians who are trying to grab power thru protests. I agree there was a time opposition could throw governments thru protests. But Lakmali not any more.

    Our people suffered 30 odd years tremendously. I can remember how much we were disturbed when we heard violence. people are fed up of listening and seeing violence behaviour of anyone. No one appreciates it any more even though people suffer economically. can’t you understand people value mental peace than anything else? You cannot blame the current government alone for economic problems. We won the war on loans. Commanders who ran forces were in the forces over 30 years but never got facilities or equipments to fight the ruthless but bogus enemy who danced according to international community.

    As academics and learned people we must understand that people need to see different way of approach to University problems. Students must come forward with suggestions to up life their education system to face the future with dignity. Isn’t it pathetic some of our graduates cant even talk or write in English even after several years of passing out as graduates? Isn’t it shameful? Will Any of the students leaders who took this poor undergrads to road be responsible for them. I dont’think so.

    Will Sanjeewa Bandara understand this? He wants to be a politician to criticise and protest but not correct the system. They can survive only if the system remain same. The people who finance them want system to remain same.

    My suggestion is that undergrads should not come out to road to protest and show their character and quality to public and international community, I have seen in paper some non graduates had commented about attire and looks of some protesters . It is shame to say they are university students.

    Lakmali , please encourage a forum where by student leaders, lecturers and University administrators come under one umbrella to improve our university system. We need our University system to fight alongside International Universities. There is dearth of qualified doctors , trained graduate teachers.. By this way we can correct the Uni system at least within next 10 years.

    Dear Undergrads, you came through a bad education system to University and you are now trying to change the system within 4 years. Many had tried but failed. Please get the opinion of former students leaders the views about a real student fight and they also will tell you where they failed. Please take example of recent railway strike. No politicians were involved but it was 100% success due to the collectivity of workers of all grades. If it had been lead by politicians even government would have tried dirty tricks to stop it. I don’t justify strikes as a modern way forward. But my point is to say that collectivity in University community could solve many problems.

    Thank you for reading.

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