O Cassandra……….O Cassandra !
Posted on July 29th, 2018

Sugath Samarasinghe 

I was distressed to read her comment in her article in The Island of 20th July last Friday. I refer to the following comment by her.

Cassandra’s short comment: they joined the armed forces knowing full well this was in line with duty; they had to serve the country, run personal risk and save the country at any cost when called upon to do so. So the eternally touted boast they saved the country risking their lives has to stop. It holds no water with thinking people. They did save the country from the LTTE menace and the civil war ignited by those northern terrorists, but they had to fight and do their utmost to save the country as they were trained and paid to do so. It was their job, in short.”

For a moment it set me thinking, OK, that was their job to fight for their country. What if they did not, for the fear of allegations of violating any human rights of the terrorists and lost the war effort? Of course that does not mean that they committed ‘war crimes’ when they ultimately defeated the Terrorists.

Also it struck me whether they would think for a moment: Is this the kind of people to ensure whose safety that we fought and lost the lives and limbs of our colleagues?  Do people like Cassandra who trifle the life of citizens of our country, leave alone, the people who fought in the war, ever seen the horrors of the battle field? Have they ever gone through the anguish, pain and despair of the mothers of the thousands of such soldiers whose dismembered bodies were brought in closed coffins to their miserable village huts some of which were not big enough  to accommodate those coffins? Have they ever visited an injured soldier in hospital and shared his pain?  Luckily, most of them do not read the newspapers written in the language of the Casandra types. If they did, perhaps these Cassandras may have to rush for police protection.

  1. Let us agree since they were paid salaries they jolly well die in war. In the 1818 Rebellion of Uva thousands of our people died in their fight and lost all their young sons, cattle, food crops and other devastation by the British. They fought in an effort to take back their country that they ceded to the British I their desperation. Did they fight and lose their lives families and everything, because they were paid to do so by the Cassandra types of then?

She then goes on to say,”Secondly and most importantly, they cannot and should not threaten persons who are making decisions on account of the posts they hold. Here it is Dr. Deepika Udagama, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, an excellent, prestigious academic who has proved herself in all the positions she has held: senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo; Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Peradeniya; and now Head of the HR Commission of Sri Lanka. She is a pioneer in creating awareness on the broad subject of human rights to a wide audience, particularly university students, initiating and creating as she did in the early 2000s, the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, which is thriving and now recognized worldwide. She is an excellent speaker and equally fluent in English and Sinhala. That is a mighty qualification. Academics of her caliber should not be treated with the slightest sign of disrespect. Doubly so in this case as she as a woman, and deserves more respect.”

 

In this instance, with all due respect to Dr. Deepika Udugama, I would ask, was she not paid a salary to do her job, as much as the soldiers to die in war? Is it not a job hazard in her job to become subject criticisms and threats? In this country even judges have been killed in their jobs of dispensing justice. Did not some of the soldiers too had obtained high qualifications in their own trade of  Military arts and have earned Medals of honour, some of them posthumously? They are not different from Dr. Udugama in their own profession. Thankfully, she too did not lose any of her family members or friends in the war. So she could not be sensitive to the anguish of the surviving soldiers who painfully and helplessly watch their colleagues die in the battle field. So are we so hardhearted that we would not leave some margin for our war heroes. some who may be even still suffering from PTSD whilst fighting for the salary they were paid to ensure the safety of such ungrateful as Cassandras?

We hope this does not in any way affect Dr Deepika Udagama, more so in hurting her feelings. She deserves respect from all Sri Lankans; she has earned it internationally.” Would Cassandra entertain similar feelings for our war survivors, who have returned home after having secured the territorial integrity of our country after fighting for over 30 years, where several international Militaries in the world have evinced interest to learn how they did that?

I wish to draw the attention of the Cassandra types to the attitudes of a another kind of soldier who fought many battles to uphold the honour of our country in the field of international cricket when he was honoured to be invited to deliver the prestigious Collin Cowdry oration at the Lords.

Having recollected during his speech the terrorist attack in Lahore, Sangakkara recounted an unforgettable experience he had with a Sri Lanka soldier back at home. Sangakkara told the audience: A week after our arrival in Colombo, from Pakistan, I was driving about town and was stopped at a checkpoint. A soldier politely inquired as to my health after the attack. I said I was fine and added that what they as soldiers experience every day we only experienced for a few minutes, but managed to grab all the news headlines. That soldier looked me in the eye and replied: “It is OK if I die because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country. I was taken aback. How can this man value his life less than mine? His sincerity was overwhelming. I felt humbled.

For them, avoiding bullets, shells, mines and grenades, was imperative for survival. This was an experience that I could not relate to. I had great sympathy and compassion for them. “This war affected the whole of our land in different ways. Families, usually from the lower economic classes, sacrificed their young men and women by the thousands in the service of Sri Lanka’s military.

“Even Colombo, a capital city that seemed far removed from the war’s front-line, was under siege by the terrorists using powerful vehicle and suicide bombs. Bombs in public places, targeting both civilians and political targets became an accepted risk of daily life in Sri Lanka. Parents, travelling to work by bus, would split up and travel separately so that if one of them died the other will return to tend to the family. Each and every Sri Lankan was touched by the brutality of that conflict. An experience with which I could draw parallels. That was until we toured Pakistan in 2009.”

That is how Cassandra, sensitive people of substance react in these situations. The difference is that it may be in his blood. His ancestors may have fought in the Uva Rebellion.

Sugath Samarasinghe

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