Celebrating the Inheritance of Loss
Posted on February 10th, 2016

By Rohana R. Wasala

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd American president (1933-45)

(This is an ordinary citizen’s personal point of view, which is open to critical assessment against contrary opinions.)

Now that the Sri Lankan voters, the common people of the country, are awakening to the reality, we may feel fairly optimistic that a trend towards recovery will start soon, if it hasn’t already started. Recovery from what? Recovery from the political and economic doldrums into which the country has been blown out of course. The ship of the nation has been blown out of course by the ill winds of the unwelcome ‘change’ inflicted on it by meddling alien powers. Some of our people who supported that ‘change’ have celebrated it as a revolution and a victory. It is a case of a monkey praising its own tail; ordinary Sri Lankans have no reason to celebrate the change of government as such. In spite of its defects in other departments, the Rajapaksa government was doing everything possible to develop the country giving precedence to the north and the east over the other provinces and thereby steadily winning the hearts and minds of the people in the area which bore the brunt of the civil conflict; the separatist demand of the Tamil expatriates living in clover in Western countries was fast losing its appeal among local Tamils. The then existing realities of a fairly well managed economy, an independent foreign policy, equitable infrastructure development covering the whole island, and improving interethnic relations did not justify an out of the blue ‘revolution’.

And what is the reality now? The economic development of the country has come to a virtual standstill and the demand for the de facto division of the country on ethnic lines has revived with a vengeance. It looks as if the police and the media are being abused to cover up the failings of the government. Why blame the police (over, for example, excesses in tackling disruptive student demonstrators, and the apparent tardiness of law enforcement in the Ambilipitiya incident and its seemingly conspiratorial aftermath) when the truth is that the police are only a state agency that is under the control of the existing government led by whatever party or alliance that has managed to get a popular mandate to rule. Where is media freedom? Isn’t there suppression of news that the government considers harmful to its survival? Why is it that media coverage of the popularly well received motorcade from Colombo to Kandy on 23rd Monday, January 2016 by a nationalist organization known as the Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa protesting against the present government’s policies was effectively censored? (It is important to remember that ‘Sinhale’ refers to the country, not to a particular community.) Amidst such countless instances of misgovernment, the persecution is continuing of the principal members of the previous goernment and the government functionaries who worked under them, risking their all in the face of formidable opposition from the enemies of Sri Lanka. The anti-national nosy parkers are winning while the cabal of strange bedfellows that got together to topple a well performing government solely on the basis of alleged corruption are showing signs of breaking up. Meanwhile the  ordinary citizens are being lashed with the stingray tail of the rising cost of living. Disenchantment is rife even among those who cast their vote for the promised ‘change’.

While it is true that we are faced with  a variety of political, economic, and social issues of considerable complexity, there is no reason for despair. The problems will not be unmanageable if good sense is allowed to prevail among our politicians. We can’t choose our problems, but we can choose ways and means of solving them. We are a country that is supposed to enjoy representative government. The common people, the voters, of Sri Lanka have the power to decide who should represent them in the legislature and take policy decisions on governance on their behalf. But unfortunately, the present ill-assorted coalition between the UNP and a faction of the SLFP in the form of a bunch of infighting opportunists from its ranks, some of them electoral rejects, is making a mockery of that ideal of democracy, and miscalling itself a national government. There cannot be a genuine national government (i.e., one acceptable to the whole country as such) without the proper participation of the majority of the majority Sinhalese community which forms 75% of the electorate.

On its 7 pm news on 23rd January 2016, the Hiru TV  showed the arrival around 5:30 pm the same day of a motorcade from Colombo organized by the above mentioned nationalist organization called the Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa protesting against the policies of the present government which the organizers of the event alleged were not in the best interest of the majority community and the country as a whole. Hiru TV repeated the same news item the following morning. When a journalist told a participating monk among them that they were being accused of racism, the monk said, If speaking up for the legitimate rights of the Sinhalese is racism, then I am proud to be labelled a racist”. There was a large crowd of activists, who were displaying the ancient lion flag without the stripes representing the two minorities found in the current national flag. A group of monks were allowed to enter the shrine and worship there while the others stayed outside. During that time, there were some signs of tension among the people when the police tried without success to seize the flags they were carrying. But there was no indication of any untoward incidents taking place.

Hardly any newspaper carried this piece of news. The same probably goes for the electronic channels. This suggests that the government is not interfering with media freedom! The premier’s recent outburst in parliament against journalists only served to confirm our suspicions. Our hope is that the government will understand, at least belatedly, that no constructive ‘change’ is to be expected without the concurrence and active participation of the majority of the majority. The demonstration must be read as a peaceful display of disagreement by an organization of nationalists with the present regime that appears to be playing to the tune of a bunch of real communalists under the auspices of India and the America-led West. The Sinhalese are not exclusively Buddhist; there are non-Buddhist Sinhalese as well, and there is no doubt that they join their Buddhist co-ethnics in their national struggle. These are nationalists, not racists. Nationalists do not exclude the minorities. Sinhalese Buddhist unity does not mean exclusivity. Nationalism transcends ethnic boundaries. We are all one nation like our big neighbour India. India that consists of so many diverse racial groups speaking hundreds of different mother tongues is a single national entity. How strong the sense of Indian national identity is among the general populace of that country is a different matter. What we know is that constitutionally there is one Indian nation, and that it is not a collection of different ‘nations’ defined on the basis of language, religion, or skin colour. There is only one national flag, and one national anthem. Are Tamils in Tamil Nadu which is their original homeland allowed to sing the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana (composed in the Bengali language by Rabindranath Tagore) in Tamil?

I started writing this on February 4, 2016, the 68th anniversary of independence from Britain soon after the official celebrations ended. (But I have had to change its contents while watching events over the past few days, which only confirmed my initial assumptions.) Actually in 1948 Sri Lanka was granted what was known as ‘dominion status’, not full independence, that is, it became an ‘autonomous community within the British Empire’ with the British monarch as its nominal head. We became fully independent in 1972 with the promulgation of the republican constitution under the leadership of the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike. We are an independent sovereign nation with one national flag and one national anthem.

Sri Lanka may have made history this time by singing its national anthem in Tamil as well. The Sri Lankan national anthem was sung in Sinhala at the beginning of the celebrations. A Tamil version was sung at the end, giving it dubious significance, in my view. At that moment I didn’t know how people would react to this historical change. But I felt that it was not likely to engender feelings of mutual solidarity in the minds of Tamils and Sinhalese. If the proponents of this change were thoughtful about their reconciliation-promoting intentions, they would have had the courage to have the Tamil version sung soon after the Sinhala version in one go at the beginning, and both sung again, in reverse order perhaps, at the conclusion of the event. The facial expressions of the young Tamil singers, it seemed, gave the impression that they were not very enthusiastic about what they had been made to sing. The Sunday Mawbima (February 7, 2016) reported that while the national anthem was being sung in Tamil in Colombo, it was being sung in Sinhala the same day at the independence day celebrations held at Paranthan, Kilinochchi by rehabilitated LTTE cadres now employed as officers of the civil defence department. That certainly would be seen as a welcome development, if it was done in good faith. On the whole, I don’t think much about the national anthem being sung in Tamil also (despite its unconstitutionality which, if necessary, could be rectified in the future) if the good intentions of the government are reciprocated by the Tamil speaking Sri Lankan minority.

Some well meaning people have praised the move as a very constructive step in the right direction (e.g. Prof. Carlo Fonseka/The Island/Feb. 10, 2016). Nevertheless, many other people still wonder whether the unconstitutional change of the medium of the national song is going to bring the Sinhalese and Tamil speakers closer together or drive them apart even further? Couldn’t this be a sinister ploy of separatist sympathisers? The Northern Province Chief minister Wigneshwaran has visited the Naga Vihara at Naga Deepa and offer ed flowers at the Buddhist shrine there; he has praised the novelty of singing the national anthem in both languages. Given his pro-federal stance, his commendation of singing the national song in Tamil in addition to Sinhala cannot be taken as an unequivocal gesture. It is reminiscent of the discredited ‘little now, more later’ strategy of certain communalist Tamil politicians of the past. Days before the independence day, constitutional experts pointed out that singing Namo Namo Matha in any other language than Sinhala is illegal; and a Buddhist monk was heard saying that it would be the first salvo of federalism being imposed on the country. Federalism is not acceptable to the majority of the majority. ‘There’s the rub’, as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

If the national flag, another symbol of national unity, is treated in the same way under this Ranil-Maithri regime, we won’t be surprised. The surprising thing is that those who agitate against such controversial moves are castigated as racists. Will Sinhalese and Tamils be any more united than they are now if they sing the national anthem in their respective languages? Not likely. Rather the opposite is likely to happen. It will only further alienate them from each other. It was the late nationalist Arisen Ahubudu, Sinhalese scholar, educator and lyricist, who argued that our present flag with different sections to represent the different ethnic communities does not make for national unity, but instead keeps communal divisions explicit and confirmed. His suggestion was that the ancient Lion Flag should have been adopted to represent all Lankans without any division.

Actually, existing communal divisions are only superficial, particularly among ordinary Sinhalese and ordinary Tamils. Sharing as they do a peaceful nonviolent religious and cultural heritage, both communities are normally tolerant, compassionate and accommodating, despite the Sinhalese being always portrayed  as fanatical racists by the few separatist communalists there are. Of course, there have been rare occasions when indiscriminate violence was perpetrated against Tamils and even against Muslims by criminal elements among the Sinhalese, and reverse violence against the Sinhalese by similar elements from among the minorities, under the provocation of scheming politicians of all ethnic colours in the past. Much worse incidence of violence took place with state involvement in 1971 and in 1988-89, in which the victims were young idealistic Sinhalese men and women misled and exploited by some short-sighted Marxist politicians, and in which Tamils and Muslims were untouched. The governments of the times (led by the SLFP and the UNP respectively) and the murderously deluded Marxist rebel leaders involved were to blame. The ordinary Sinhalese Buddhists never approve of violence in the name of politics or religion; neither do ordinary Tamils and Muslims. All prefer to live in a single free, peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka.

We who are going to seed today belong to the first post-independence generation of Sri Lankans. We can talk about the tremendous positive changes that the independent Sri Lanka has achieved under various governments. It is customary to criticise politicians with or without reason. But no sane politician would mean to do evil for those they want to give leadership to. (Of course, we know that there are exceptions.) Every government since independence has contributed to the development of the country as a result of which we find ourselves today in a vastly different country to the one we lived in when we were children. More and more citizens have access to education and health facilities, accessories that make life easier, better houses, roads, and many common facilities which once used to be the preserve of the privileged few. The present generations may not be aware this, unless they learn about it as history, but that is not their fault; your attitudes are shaped, to a large extent, by the observable realities into which you are born. In his address at the independence day function, President Sirisena referred to what I understood as the need for working based on the experience of the ‘cultural’ children of 1948 for the welfare of the ‘technological’ children of 2016. No argument about that. In fact, that’s where we have been moving with difficulty all along, despite considerable resistance from certain communalist elements from among the minorities and political zombies from the moribund Marxist fraternity. Over the past nearly seventy years, we regained through our own collective efforts much we had lost during four or five centuries of foreign domination: our independence, our language, our culture and religion, our national dignity. But this artificial communal thing (the handiwork of communalist politicians) has been the perennial stumbling block. That problem too reached a stage where it started showing unmistakeable signs of being finally resolved with the defeat of terrorism in 2009.

Ivor Jennings, the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, had firsthand knowledge of the way the constitution that led to the grant of independence, the Soulbury Constitution, was drafted and of D.S. Senanayake’s role in drafting it. Jennings wrote that although people who had not read the documents (presumably, those relating to its preparation) thought that the constitution was produced by the Soulbury Commission, it was actually produced by Senanayake. According to Jennings ‘…he (Senanayake) was anxious for a Constitution which was so fair to all communities that they could forget that there were communities. When the distribution of seats was under discussion he was specifically asked how many Tamils he wanted in the House. His answer was typical: I don’t care if they’re all Tamils, provided they are elected as Ceylonese”.’ (Ref. Appendix II/The Life and Times of Don Stephen Senanayake by H.A.J. Hulugalle, M.D. Gunasena & Co. Colombo, 1975). When former president Mahinda Rajapaksa said, after the defeat of separatist terrorism, that there were no majorities or minorities, but that there were only two groups of Sri Lankans: those who love the country and those who don’t, he was harking back to those Senanayake sentiments. That is the attitude that the majority of ordinary Sri Lankans still share. But unfortunately, the attitude of most Tamil politicians has been the stark opposite of this both during and since the  Senanayake era.

When all is said and done, despite some shortcomings, the ousted Rajapaksa government brought peace and prosperity to the whole country on a non-communal basis. A trend towards consolidating interethnic harmony and goodwill started at economic, social and educational levels. All communities participated in governance and the economy was looking up. What we have seen since the enforced change a year ago is not very encouraging; it’s actually a reversal of the positive changes the nation achieved by defeating terrorism at a great cost, not only in terms of blood and tears, but also in terms of the country’s wealth. I, as an ordinary Sri Lankan, don’t think that the president unfairly calling his critics in the south (racist) extremists or the prime minister saying in a jovial mood that the ceremonial Thaipongal milk-rice in the north tastes better than its Sinhalese New Year equivalent in the south (both speaking from among Tamils in Jaffna, out of good intentions, no doubt) is likely to do anything much for enhancing communal harmony, for no sensible Tamil or Sinhalese would take their flattering, specious comments seriously.

It’s time those at the helm stopped trying to suppress opposition by endlessly harassing the still popular Rajapaksa who actually did a great deal to save the country without surrendering our national independence, sovereignty and security to outsiders in the face of massive roadblocks mounted on his path by the enemies of the country. No use flogging the dead horse of corruption. (By all means, deal with those guilty of corruption in a just manner with the cooperation of the opposition if possible. However, the problem of corruption or punishing the corrupt is not the biggest issue before the country.) Something important to remember is that even if Rajapaksa’s administration had been 100% flawless, the foreign aggression against him and the country would have been the same or worse. UNHRC head Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has come and gone. How reassuring are his statements ruling out foreign involvement in the investigation of alleged human rights violations and war crimes during the last phase of the civil conflict? (The real import of his mission here hasn’t come out in the media yet.)

The sordid reality today is that the current rulers, through their words and actions, are already justifying likely allegations of corruption and misgovernment against them on an even bigger scale than in the case of their rivals when, inevitably, the tables are turned on them in the future. While correcting their steps after self-scrutiny, they must turn their attention away from those who are out of power now and whose return they dread and want to somehow prevent. Instead, for the sake of the country the present administration ought to direct its attention where it is really needed: the rising cost of living, the falling rupee, stalled development, deteriorating law and order situation, endangerment of national security, steady growth of separatism, and erosion of democracy and media freedom, and a plethora of other burning issues. And they must finally, allow the voters to decide the future of our beloved motherland. Postponing the provincial council elections by one year is only one among many ways in which they are disenfranchising the people.

(Note: The appropriation of the phrase ‘the Inheritance of Loss’ in the title of this essay is with apologies to Indian American novelist Kiran Desai, the author of ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ , 2006)

Concluded

 

 

3 Responses to “Celebrating the Inheritance of Loss”

  1. SA Kumar Says:

    United Provincial Council of Sinhela Lanka for all of us !!!
    Live &let’s live .

  2. nilwala Says:

    The Joint Opposition with its 50+ members do not have a voice. The current Leader heads a 15 member group and is ONLY interested in the North and East. The problems of the people are thus at the mercy of a “Unity Government” which has no place in the Constitution. What IS RECOGNIZED in the Constitution’s 19th Amendment is a NATIONAL GOVERNMENT THAT REPRESENTS ALL PARTIES IN PARLIAMENT.
    The current Parliament is thus a SHAM and the business it conducts has no validity as it is comprised contrary to the Constitution, and its actions are clearly with little respect to the Constitution which is bent whenever and whichever way is needed to accomplish the Unity Govt objectives. Like with the National Anthem sung in Tamil language.
    It is an utter shame and and insult to Democracy for this Parliament to even consider calling itself DEMOCRATIC.
    The PEOPLE are completely without recourse or Parliamentary voice.
    LITTLE WONDER THEY GO BREAKING COCONUTS IN THEIR FRUSTRATION!!

  3. ranjit Says:

    Rohana the traitors who came to power by promising sun and the moon and uttering tons of damn lies deceived the people of this blessed land to the limit and now truth is coming out little by little for stupid people to understand the lies,liars and their actions. Sobitha didnt die naturally but due to sadness in his heart about the actions of these cowards and Indian lovers. OUT of several who supported this traitor Hitan two has already gone and we don’t know yet who will follow next but definitely it will happen thru a natural disaster. How many are cursing this evil trio because what they have done to this country to please PARA SUDDAS and the INDIAN HYPOCRITS. IRAQ and LIBYA were two great countries ruled by two famous leaders who looked after their people and keep their countries safe from evil satan for many years but unfortunately stupid people believed the satan and helped to destroy those historic countries and kill their own leaders, brothers and sisters within few months and years. Same things are happening in our country now with these three ugly ducklings .

    Buddhist priest’s were treated like drug addicts, pushed and putting behind bars like ordinary criminals for petty things by these Gestapo rulers. Gayboy acts like a carnival joker insulting our buddhist religion in public. Tamils and Muslims openly criticize our religion and buddhist monks but no action against them so why are we just sit and wait doing nothing? It’s time to think hard and awake before these dirty harry’s sell our country to outsiders and destroy the Sinhala race and our sacred religion Buddhism. Patriots get united under our great Sinhala leader Mahinda Rajapaksa who liberated our land when other leaders in the past and present feared the devil and sucked the assas of Para Suddas and the Indian parasites.

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