Acts of god and godsends
Posted on June 17th, 2016

By Rohana R. Wasala

According to the last census (2012), the total population of Sri Lanka is 21 million; the Sinhalese account for 75% of it, Tamils (+ Indian Tamils) 15%, and Muslims 9%. In terms of religion, the percentages are as follows: Buddhism 70%, Hinduism 13%, Christianity 8%, and Islam 10%. (To get these percentages, for the sake of clarity, I  rounded off the decimals to the nearest integer.) In order to create consensus of opinion regarding any issue and to establish national unity, this information should be borne in mind and taken serious notice of  by any concerned person with a sense of humanity and fair play even if they happen not to be too familiar with the ancient history and the dominant non-violent, peaceful Buddhist culture of our country. The hastily improvised ramshackle contraption that is running on the fuel of unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and wrong doing against the previous successful Rajapaksa government, while pretending to be an unstoppable juggernaut seems to be rolling on unmindful of the significance of this basic truth. If they have to  effectively disenfranchise the reasonable majority of Sri Lankan citizens in order to implement their solution to the separatist problem, while restoring the country’s economy to the pre-2015 level, their scheme will be a non-starter.

Sri Lankans emerged from the shadow of 30 long years of armed terrorism, the most ruthless of its kind in the world in recent times, with the crushing of the Tamil separatist rebellion in the north in 2009. However, they could hardly breathe a sigh of relief or celebrate in peace that nationally important, momentous occasion without being criticized. Ordinary Sri Lankans’ spontaneous outpouring of innocent joy  and their unobtrusive rejoicings after so many years of suffering under  terror were condemned as a show of triumphalism. But these poor people willingly resigned themselves to a few more years of economic hardships and personal sacrifices as a large part of the country’s economic  resources had to be used for bringing in urgently needed development to the north and the east , which had had to bear the brunt of the military conflict between the lawful Lankan state and the unlawful LTTE, and which had been prevented by the latter from reaching  the moderate level of development that the rest of the country enjoyed even under difficult conditions created by their rebellion. The people in the south did not grudge this, being always mindful of the fact that the people who live in those areas are their own kith and kin.

It is a fact that is usually ignored or obscured by communalists who are traditionally opposed to the unitary status of the island state that  race, religion or residential address does not cause any discrimination against any citizen in any domain including the most vital central departments of national life in Sri Lanka such as education, employment, business, industry, media, state administration, security, law enforcement and justice; all citizens enjoy equal rights wherever they are. But lack of English may handicap Sinhala and Tamil speakers equally who are monolingual in their own mother tongues, and that has nothing to with any ethnicity based discrimination. In fact, the Sinhalese suffer more on that account, naturally because they are in the numerical majority, and also because the Sinhalese children generally tend to pay less attention to English language learning for a variety of explainable reasons, a shortcoming the educational authorities must remedy.

Ordinary people know that the government was not fighting against Tamils, but some dominating Tamils of the Sri Lankan diaspora, and some communalistic Sri Lankan politicians that they sponsor, deliberately hide this truth from the world for their own ends. Most of these Tamil migrants found their way, both through legal and illegal means, to the rich West as economic refugees, falsely complaining of alleged ethnic persecution and genocide at home; and today they are being cynically used as block votes by opportunistic politicians  of those countries who don’t care at all about the immense suffering that the vast majority of the people in Sri Lanka have been subjected to because of the Tamil separatist problem. The reality, however, is that there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. There is no need for ‘reconciliation’ because there has been absolutely no enmity between the different ethnic communities that form the Lankan population; they are already living usual harmony. Because this is an obvious fact, I need not provide referential evidence. What is sorely needed is for all the people who make Sri Lanka their undisputed homeland to be left alone to sort out their remaining problems by themselves without the partisan interference of global powers which are themselves at cross purposes with each other. It is the Western neocolonialists and Indian expansionists who exploit the separatist problem to achieve their own ends.

Military operations were launched  against the intransigent terrorists when repeated peace overtures by successive Sri Lankan governments had come to nothing. This was not different from the state’s legitimate response to the armed terrorism of the JVP (staged exclusively by disgruntled young Sinhalese) in the south in 1971 and in 1988-1989: a duly elected government had a duty/responsibility to protect its citizenry and its territory from armed insurrectionists who resorted to violence. But the JVP and the LTTE had different motives and different ideologies between them. The JVP was engaged in a class war to replace the existing government on each of the two occasions; it was not so well organized nor so well armed as the LTTE, and it lacked material support from abroad, though there might have been implicit moral encouragement from foreign sources. In the case of the Tamil rebellion, it was an armed communal struggle launched to carve out a separate state within Sri Lanka. It was estimated that about 60,000 young Sinhalese died in the two southern insurrections, of which the first occurred during an SLFP-led government and the second during a UNP administration. In these insurrections, many human rights violations were committed, by both sides, but mostly by the state security forces. Global human rights activists, Western powers, were silent then, because they were not concerned with what happened in the south, or where members of the majority Sinhalese community were involved, and probably also because neither the southern districts of the country nor the Sinhalese feature in their regional geopolitical agenda. The global powers that are arrogantly interfering in our internal affairs by twisting our arms forcing us to do their bidding (through the UN, IMF, etc), are at the same time having our myopic current leaders wrapped around their little finger by merely flattering them with empty handshakes.

The recent disasters that struck Sri Lanka, one after the other, led some to muse philosophically ‘It never rains but it pours’. In a politically charged time like this, such proverbial wisdom has no place. The harrowing events have provoked political commentary, which directly or indirectly linked them with the Tamil separatist problem.   First we saw torrential rains causing massive landslides in the middle of the country burying a number of persons alive, wiping off whole villages from the mountainside out of existence, and destroying houses, schools, hospitals, and other private and public property. During the same bad weather many low lying places across the country went under water, rendering thousands homeless and destitute. Some VIP’s joking that the disasters were the answer to the coconut-dashing ritual of the Joint Opposition against the government did not produce much laughter and was not adequate to relieve the suffering of those unfortunate villagers. But it reflected a popular tendency among politicians to politicize even natural catastrophes in order to use them as weapons to attack their rivals.  Though, as we saw, the government tried to organize relief, the media channels, voluntary organizations, and privately motivated good Samaritans did a great deal more to help the affected people. The prevailing opinion among the populace is that the government disaster management mechanisms should have been more efficient. Another instance of this politicization was when flood relief distribution and resettlement activities in the communally mixed areas seemed to have acquired an unacceptable communal character according to a video clip I saw on the internet. However, in such situations, a few minutes of unavoidable delay in reaching a particular community by an MP from a different community can provoke adverse speculation about that MP’s intentions, however genuine they may be in reality. Media and the general public should be cautious in responding to such news.

The floods were an act of god, like the tsunami nearly twelve ago. But the same description could probably not be applied to the more recent disaster: the Salawa camp ammunition depot at Kosgama blowing up. The army camp was razed to the ground. Miraculously, the incident happened on a Sunday (5 June) and that too as late as 5:45 pm, which served to minimize casualties; only one soldier was reported dead. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe immediately offered to repair or rebuild, as necessary, the houses that were damaged or destroyed. His reaction was almost a reflex action. This was a demonstration of Ranil’s usual crisis management knack. I remember, as reported in the papers then, how he adroitly brought under control a potentially chaotic situation that could have followed the assassination by the LTTE of President Premadasa on May Day in 1993; he paved the way for a smooth transfer of power, in terms of the constitution, to D.B. Wijetunga, then PM, as successor to Premadasa at that critical juncture.

But the initial tardiness of the government authorities in responding professionally to the tragedy  provoked the shell-shocked civilian neighbours of the camp , apparently most or a fair number of them disabled soldiers and their families, to curse them in their frustration, which is no joke. Of course, we can’t blame the authorities for failing, in the emergency situation, to act so quickly as if they had been gifted with some divine prescience. While still thin clouds of smoke were rising from smouldering debris at Kosgama, northern provincial council chief minister Vigneshwaran was urging the visiting British high commissioner to bring pressure on the government to  remove certain army camps from the north. Probably Vigneshwaran treated the Salawa tragedy as a godsend for people like him: they can make unreasonable demands based on this suspicious incident. But locating or relocating army camps is a job that must be left to the government. Is that how Vigneshwaran is reaching out to the south from where volunteers went and distributed donated relief supplies from the south among flood victims at Kilinochchi just a few days before that. Of course, if the army camps in the north are situated in similarly vulnerable places, they need to be relocated elsewhere. The Salawa camp had been set up at that spot when Chandrika Bandaranaike was president as an ad hoc measure, and the place was sparsely populated then. In the increasingly desperate times that ensued due to armed terror, the security aspect of the camp was not properly addressed, while the camp expanded. In the meantime, the surrounding area became more populated. According to former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a major portion of the ordnance was taken to other depots in his time. Plans were ready to remove the rest of it to Oyamaduwa camp near Anuradhapura. But the army seems to have put this on hold with the change of government. One and a half years after the change of government this destruction happened. One cabinet minister, usually innocent of general knowledge, was heard blaming Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for the explosions, on what grounds it’s not clear. His opponents are suggesting more rational arguments to counter his allegations. Such quarrelling will not relieve the suffering of more than 300,000 innocent people who have been effectively rendred homeless.  What is now needed is to rebuild the lives of the people affected, leaving what actually happened at Kosgama for investigators to determine.

Our people are not the dumb asses politicians want them to be. In fact, they are far ahead of politicians in their knowledge of politics, and in their insight into how they behave. The high literacy that they enjoy generates a high level of awareness about their democratic rights and responsibilities among the voters. A glance at the media of every domain – print and electronic including social networks, and online publications – will convince one that, fortunately, the citizens of Sri Lanka both young and old, as befitting responsible members of a democracy, are paying due attention to these things. Foreign made solutions to foreign made problems that have been inflicted on the country cannot be shoved down our throats so long as we are free to assert our democratic will.

2 Responses to “Acts of god and godsends”

  1. Christie Says:

    The Gods and Brahmas of Indians.

  2. Neel Says:

    Virtually all electronic media appears to be paid by politicians and therefore biased and unashamedly one sided, including comments allowed by editors.

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