23 March 2018

The vehicles of corruption, from bicycles to Benz cars

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe didn’t mince his words when addressing newly elected members to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). He has told them what is expected of them and what is not. 

‘Save the city dwellers from Dengue, resolve the garbage issue and keep the city clean,’ he said. Now if any CMC member or indeed anyone elected to any local government authority had to have responsibilities outlined thus, it is sad.  However, Wickremesinghe was just warming up, it seems.  He quickly moved to what could also be called known-stuff but stuff that few talk about. Stuff related to corruption.

‘Don’t become politicians who search for luxuries after coming to the field as paupers,’ he is quoted as having said. He uses an apt analogy: ‘Some politicians own only a push bicycle when they come to politics but later obtain Benz cars. Don’t think of becoming such politicians.’

He’s correct. We have seen how politicians grow, literally and metaphorically. The tale has been told and retold my cartoonists across many decades. Cartoonists exaggerate for effect but in this case it’s fair depiction. Wickremesinghe has been spared and for good reason. He’s remained lean throughout his political life. 

Obviously there are those born with the proverbial silver spoon. They came into politics in a Benz car and still drive around in such vehicles. Well, some have expanded a single Benz into a fleet of plush luxury cars.  Cars are seen, bank accounts are not. 

In any event, he’s articulated a problem. He’s not offered a solution, though. If telling people, ‘aney, please don’t steal’ worked, we wouldn’t need a commission to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption. Indeed, we wouldn’t need courts. Judges and lawyers would be out of work. It just doesn’t work that way and Wickremesighe probably knows this.

Now we shouldn’t make too much of a cautionary note made by a party leader to greenhorn politicians. We should, on the other hand, talk about the problem which, sadly, neither Wickremesinghe nor his partner-in-governance President Maithripala Sirisena has done little about. Corruption. 

When Maithripala Sirisena announced that he would contest the presidency, former president Chandrika Kumaratunga said ‘he is the only one in the current regime who is not corrupt.’  We don’t know what Sirisena’s first vehicle was nor what he purchased last nor how.  Perhaps Wickremesinghe would know. That’s another matter. What we saw immediately after he won the election is Sirisena and Wickremesinghe with the obvious approval of Kumaratunga appointing to cabinet those who in their book were corrupt.  That was the beginning and that’s not to say that those in the United National Party were squeaky clean. They most certainly were not!

We don’t have to list all the wrongdoings of politicians in the ruling coalition. The term ‘bond scam’ would do. There was scam and there was aiding and abetting. Wickremesinghe and Sirisena both know all about it. The first COPE report was scuttled by dissolving parliament. Arjuna Mahendran’s innocence was claimed, the man was defended. The Attorney-General helped by choosing who to attack who not to. Those who were clearly under a cloud were bailed out with new positions. 

Clearly there are lots of loopholes and Wickremesinghe would know about most of them and also those who used these conveniences. Surely, it’s not only those in ‘other parties’ who moved did the bike-to-Benz number?   

There are no easy plug-all-holes solutions. The institutional arrangement needs to be fixed. The human resources are clearly inadequate, inept and corrupt. Political interference continues to be a problem despite the 19th Amendment. The Ministry of Law and Order is being treated like a hot potato by the Government, with three ministers being in charge of the subject over the last two months. 

More than all this, there’s what could be called a cardinal principle in the matter of sanctioning and encouraging wrongdoing. This is how it goes, as was pointed out editorially in a different newspaper about six years ago: if the boss is corrupt, he/she gives a license for corruption to everyone under him/her. If any person down the line is corrupt, it means that either the boss is corrupt or inept.  Lots of hats there and people are more than welcome to pick them up.  

If we have come to a point where newly appointed representatives need to be told ‘please don’t rob’ we are in pretty bad shape. One of the key issues and one which is either ignored or is unknown to the relevant persons is that the primary task of the elected is to represent and the make laws. They are legislators and not executives.

However, the moment the pernicious ‘Decentralized Budget’  was introduced (by a previous UNP government), each and every legislator got the opportunity to play executive in his/her electorate and in most cases without any consultation with other entities, political or administrative, authorized to handle development. When you execute at any point, you tend to forget the legislating function. When you have give people the license to cut corners and make bucks, it is silly to expect them to think of push bicycles and not Benz cars.  

To put it simply, when you take the village out of the hands of the villagers and put it in the pocket of the politician, you are facilitating Benz-dreams. Wickremesinghe is not doing anything of the sort, but he’s doing nothing to put things right.  

Asset declaration at arrival and departure is a must. A strong audit commission that can resist political interference is a must. Honesty and integrity are musts. It’s sad that we must mention these things to bicycle-to-Benz politicians.

Here’s an exercise for the UNP leadership: conduct a quick survey under two broad headings, ‘First vehicle’ and ‘Current vehicle’.  What was it, how much did it cost, how did you find the money, why did you choose it as opposed to something else, are the questions that need to be asked. It’s something all party leaders can do, if they have the courage or the moral authority that is.  

Also read:

18 March 2018

බළල් කුණට පින් සිද්ද වෙච්චාවේ!

චුවින්ගම් චූන් ඉවරයි.  බ්‍රේස්ලට් චූන් ඉවරයි. ෆෝක්ස්වැගන් චූන් ඉවරයි. ෆ්‍රී වයිෆයි චූන් ඉවරයි. ලම්බෝගිනි, රත්තරන් අස්සයෝ කතන්දර ඉවරයි. තාජුදීන් ගොඩගන්න වළලන නැවත ගොඩගන්න නැවතත් වළලන චූන් ඉවරයි.  යහපාලන චූන් විතරක් නෙවෙයි යහපාලන සිහිනත් ඉවරයි.  ඒ ගැන නම් දුකයි.  'සාමය' කුණුහරුපයක් කරපු අය 'සංහිඳියාව' වගේම යහපාලනයත් කුණුහරුපයක් බවට පත්කරලා.  

කොහොම වුනත් චූන් ඉවරයි.  ආණ්ඩුව ෆේල්.  ඒ කිව්වේ අගමැති ත් ෆේල්, ජනපතිත් ෆේල්. "නීතිය හා සාමය" විෂය කොට්ටේ පාස් කරන සෙල්ලමක් වගේ එහා මෙහා කරන අතරේ කුණු කානුවකට වැටිලා කුණු වතුරේ ගහගෙන ගියා වගේ දෙයක් තමයි වුනේ.  වැටුන ද විසි කෙරුවද කියල ෂුවර් නැහැ ඒත්.       

කොහොම වුනත් 'කුජීතයි' කියන වචනේ පාවිච්චි කරන්න වෙනවා.  ඒ වුනාට මේ දේශපාලන මොහොත පිළිබඳව  ඊට එහා ගිය දේශපාලන කියවීමක් අවශ්‍යයයි. ඒ සඳහා බළල් කුණක් පාවිච්චි කරමු.

මී කුණේ කතාව එන්නේ චුල්ලසෙට්ඨි ජාතකයේ. ඒත් බළල් කුණේ කතාවක් ජාතක පොතේ නැහැ.  සිද්ද වෙන්නේ හරිම සරල දෙයක්. බරපතල තත්ත්වයක් සාකච්ඡා වෙද්දී කතාව මැදට කව්රුහරි බළල් කුණක් විසි කරනවා.  සමහරු කළබල වෙනවා. සමහරුන්ට තරහ යනවා. අප්පිරියා හිතෙනවා.  කොහොම වුනත් අර සීරියස් සාකච්ඡාව නතර වෙනවා. 

කව්ද බළල් කුණක් මෙතනට වීසි කලේ? ඇයි එහෙම දෙයක් කෙරුවේ? මේකට දැන් මොනවාද කරන්නේ? ඉවත් කෙරුවත් ගඳට මොනවාද කරන්නේ? ප්‍රශ්න වැලක්. උත්තර කෝටියක්. රටේ දැවෙන ප්‍රශ්නය දැන් බළල් කුණ.  සෙසු ප්‍රශ්න අහකට. පසුවට. 

දිගන, තෙල්දෙණිය, අඹතැන්න සහ මහනුවර දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ වෙනත් තැන් වල ඇතිවුන ගැටුම්, ගිණිතැබීම් සහ පහරදීම් 'බළල් කුණක්' කියල කියන්න බැහැ. සිදුවීමක්, කැළඹීමක් සහ කැළඹීම ට පෙට්‍රල් දැමීම, ගිනි නිවන්න සමාජ මාධ්‍යය ට වාරණ දැමීම. මේවා සිද්ද වුනා.  

සාකච්ඡා කරමින් සිටියේ මොනවාද? මහා බැංකු මංකොල්ලය, එජාපයේ නායකත්ව අර්බුදය, කැබිනට් තනතුරු කලවම් කිරීම, පළාත් පාලන මැතිවරණය සහ ආණ්ඩුවේ වලංගුභාවය, හොරු ඇල්ලීම, හොරු ඇල්ලීම පැත්තක තියල හොරකම් කිරීම, තාජුදීන් ගොඩගැනීම-වැලලීම-ගොඩගැනීම, එජාප-ශ්‍රීලංනිප සන්ධානයේ අනාගතය, මෛත්‍රිපාල සිරිසේන සාධකය හීන වීම, සංහිඳියාව, ව්‍යවස්ථා ප්‍රතිසංස්කරණ යනාදිය ඉවතට. 

ඔන්න ඔහොමයි 'මහනුවර' බළල් කුණක් කරගත්තේ.  වෙච්චදේ හරියට සන්නිවේදනය කෙරුවේ නැහැ. කිරිඇල්ල මහත්තය කතාව සමස්ථ සිංහල බෞද්ධ ප්‍රජාවටම බැර කෙරුව. අන්තිමට බලනකොට එයාම කියනවා 'බුද්ධි අංශ දුර්වල වෙලා' කියල. දුර්වල කෙරුව එයාලම බව කිව්වේ නැහැ. ආරක්ෂක අංශ උඩ බලාගෙන හිටපු එක කිව්වේ නැහැ. ජනාධිපති ජපානයේ දී බොදු බල සේනාවේ ප්‍රධානීන් මුණගැහුණු බව කියන එකකුත් නැහැ.  

'මහනුවර' කියන බළල් කුණ සිය කාර්යභාරය අකුරටම ඉටු කෙරුව. දැන් ඉතින් අගමැතිට හරි ජනාධිපතිට හරි අගවිනිසුරුට හරි බඩේ අමාරුවක් හැදුනත් සමාජ මාධ්‍යය බ්ලොක් කරන්න ඉඩ තියෙනවා. ජාතීන් අතර සමගිය, රටේ ආරක්ෂාව, සංහිඳියාව තහවුරු කිරීම වගේ මොකක් හරි හේතුවක් ඉදිරිපත් කරයි ඒ එක්කම.  බළල් කුණක් විසි කරලා නෙලා ගන්න පුළුවන් අතුරුඵලත් තියෙන බව මතක  ගත යුතුයි.

බළල් කුණ පාවිච්චි කරන්න පටන් ගත්තේ අද ඊයෙක නෙවෙයි.  මෑත ඉතිහාසය දිහා බලමු.  අවුරුදු තිහේ යුද්ධය බළල් කුණක්. ඉන්දු-ලංකා ගිවිසුමත් බළල් කුණක්. සටන් විරාම ගිවිසුම්, සාම සාකච්ඡා, ව්‍යවස්ථා සංශෝධන, විධායක ජනපති ධූරය අහෝසි කිරීම, ඒකීය-ෆෙඩරල් කතා, ජාතික ගීය දෙමළ භාෂාවෙන් කියන්න ඕනද නැද්ද, ජාතික කොඩියේ හැඩය වෙනස් කරන එක හරිද වැරදිද, ක්‍රිකට් කණ්ඩායමේ පසුබැසීම්, රතුපස්වල, DCD, කැළණි ගඟට කොකා කෝලා සමාගමේ අපද්‍රව්‍ය මුදා හැරීම, රොහින්ග්‍යා සරණාගතයින්, මානව හිමිකම් සභාවේ සැසිවාරයන්, ඔය වගේ තව උදාහරණ දෙන්න පුළුවන්. 

අවසානයේ දේශපාලන බලවතුන් ට කිසිම හානියක් වෙන්නේ නැහැ. 'ක්‍රමය' එහෙමමයි. සීරියස් කතා කුණු කූඩෙට, බළල් කුණත් සමගම. 

චූන් ඉවරයි, ඒත් මෝඩ චූන් කාරයින්ට අවුලක් නැහැ. බළල් කුණකට පින් සිද්ද වෙන්න.

'බඹර' සඟරාවට ලියු වෙනත් ලිපි 

බිව්වේ නෑ....ටිකක් පෙවුනා!
පොහොට්ටු නම් පිපෙයි ජනතාව නම් හැකිලෙයි
මැච්-ෆික්ස් කරල ඇප නැති කර ගැනීම

16 March 2018

Thaji on Vajira: The granddaughter’s gaze

It’s just past noon on a Saturday.  I am leaning against a half wall at one end of a long hall.  At the other end, on the wall, hangs a portrait. On the floor there are around 75 students. All eager to learn how to dance or in some case the finer points of the art.  There are four teachers and a couple of assistants, probably senior students or members of the dance company. Two of the teachers have drums. There’s that drumming and the drumming of feet. Admonishment and encouragement. 

i let my eyes stroll from one end of the dance hall to the other and it’s a blur of red and black that I see. The play of drum and feet, the synchrony (more or less) of sets of students following instructions all fade out and I focus on the teachers.

At one end Upekha with a drum, unforgiving, looking out for the slightest misstep or sign of negligence or sloth; she’s training the senior students, those who had the potential to join the Chitrasena-Vajira Dance Company.

In the next section of the hall Thaji, her niece and the principal dancer of the Company, is handling 7-8 year old kids. She’s strict too but kind. Maybe she wants them to love dancing and is teaching them that there are no shortcuts to love.  

Then there’s Anjalika, Upekha’s sister.  There’s a group of older kids, 13-15 years of age. Yes, she’s firm too. They all seem to be. Maybe they have to be.  

All three are totally focused. Their commitment to the matter of nurturing, teaching and perfecting is absolute. I can’t see what’s happening at the other end of the hall, so i walk around the building so I can get a better view. 

And there she was. Vajira. She was overseeing the scholarship students of the Academy. They had to go through what was obviously a grueling set of exercises. She didn’t speak much. She watched. It was as though gaze was voice enough.  [Read also: Vajira: a story of inexpressible grace]

She was sitting on a bench against the wall. Above her hung the portrait of her late husband, the legendary Chitrasena. At first glance it’s as if he’s looking askance, almost ignoring what’s happening just below in that long dance hall. I felt, though, that he was looking beyond it all, at places he’s been or is at or where those below should one day go.

By and by the sound of drums and feet abates.  The classes are done. Most of the kids are taken away by their parents, some of the senior students remain for the afternoon session. The teachers have a meeting, the students have lunch. 

Vajira is not feeling too well, so she’s quiet. She talked enough. Done enough. The dance company is celebrating its 75th year right now and the dance school will reach that mark next year. They have lots of plans for the year. 

In April there will be a special performance by students under seven years of age. In June, there will be a grand three-day exposure, ‘Guru Gedara’.  The name refers of course to a residential facility to be built in the premises of the Chitrasena Kalayathanaya. The event will showcase all arts and crafts associated with dance. It would be a one-stop affair where visitors would get a flavor of everything that comes together to produce the splendid performances that the company is known to produce. It will all culminate in performances by the company and the students. A treat to look forward to, certainly.  This special year is to culminate in the production of one of Chitrasena’s ballets.

Vajira, who will turn 86 on the 15th of March, will be a part of it all.  And rightly so. After all, she’s been a part of that history. Long enough, one might say, but she would probably disagree. The dance never stops and therefore the work never stops.

Every Saturday she takes two classes. There’s one for adult students who began in January and another fitness/dance program for 20-15 students who are beneficiaries of scholarships granted by the Chitrasena-Vajira Dance Foundation. There are over 250 students altogether, but obviously she doesn’t handle all of them.  However, she has a fitness class every Monday which is open to anyone.

“It’s a seven-class program that’s based on Kandyan dancing,” her granddaughter Thaji explained.

“This is a set of exercises she developed in the early 1990s. It was actually something she developed for herself because it helped her in her dancing. It is a complete workout, from head to toes and between these the eyes, jaws, face, arms, hands, fingers, stomach etc.”

Thaji has seen it all. She practically grew up with Vajira and learned at her feet, literally and metaphorically, and not just about dance.

“She lived with us and took care of us.  She would want to feed me, but I was a poor eater. I gave her a really hard time, making her run around the table.”

And of course, like everyone in the clan, she taught Thaji how to dance. 

“I learned from her only when I was about seven. She taught me Kandyan dancing. Later my aunts Anjalika and Upekkha taught me. Archchi was very strict. In fact we were terrified of her. She is still strict, she hasn’t changed much! 

“I remember would make us dance the same step for half an hour.  We had to do it until we got it right. We were just 7-8 year olds in that class. We were naturally playful. I didn’t mind. The other kids in the class were going ‘oh god…!’ but I loved it. I was fully engrossed in it all from the age of 6 or so.”

For her, Vajira was and is the loving, caring and nurturing grandmother.  Vajira, being who she is as teacher and grandmother, taught her much.  

“I’ve learned so much from her. If I were to pin it down to one single thing, it’s discipline. She’s disciplined in everything she does, when it comes to dance and when it comes to day to day things; the way she keeps everything neat and tidy, the way she folds and keeps her clothes, takes care of her belongings.  Not just her personal belongings, but how she preserves even the costumes. We still have costumes from the 1940s simply because of the way Archchi stored, preserved and took care of them.

“She’s always been very particular about her eating habits. She is conscious of such things. She never overeats, but she loves her sweets. There’s always a chocolat kaella after meals, but then again, it’s always in moderation.”

Thaji believes that she gets her discipline from her grandmother.  Discipline when it comes to dancing and teaching, that is.  

“Order is something I would love to have in my daily life, but it is very difficult, but when it comes to dancing and teaching I don’t compromise,” she said. 

And determination, she adds. Maybe that’s part of the discipline, the no-compromise, no-shortcuts kind of attitude, the resolve to treat the vicissitudes of life with equanimity, to treat the art with devotion and pay tribute in the form of relentless and unforgiving training that is as much part of the dance as the performance itself. These Thaji has learned, mostly from Vajira, one feels. 

And now? 

Thaji smiles. 

“I want to give as much as possible to her what she gave to me. I want to take care of her to the best I can. It’s as if the roles have reversed.”

She smiles again. It’s quiet in the dance hall. A young woman who is grandchild and standard-bearer of a rich tradition has, in a few words, has just finished talking about a grandmother she adores and respects.  

The interview is done. I’ve taken down my notes. As I leave, people and images get erased, there’s no memory of drums and feet. There were colors but they are not important. All I remember are the words that Thaji said at the end of the class, words duly repeated by her students: ‘apa guru deguru niduk vethva, nirogi vethva, suvapath vethva…(may our parents and teachers be free of sorrow, may they be healthy and at peace).

What a blessing it is to be thus blessed almost everyday of the year by so many and especially a granddaughter who with love and veneration walks the path you’ve made simply by dancing and dancing and dancing. 

Vajira turns 86. There must be fulfillment. And peace.

15 March 2018

The government survives on dead cats!

The term is attributed to Lynton Crosby, a political strategist who has managed campaigns of right-of-center parties in several countries.  Boris Johnson, who employed Crosby during London mayoral elections explains the term thus:

“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

Dr Diyanath Samarasinghe, in what is clearly the best explication of the humbuggery associated with the recently concluded local government elections and especially the blatant disenfranchisement and hoodwinking therein, uses a neat example which is worth repeating here. 

Let’s first mention the dead cat. It has a name: The Excise Notification 02/2018 of January 10, 2018. This was to revoke Excise Notification No 666 of 1979, permitting women to purchase alcohol and to work in places where alcohol is sold. 

There was a lot of talk about it. Eleven women went to court invoking fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 12(1 & 2) and 14(1)(g) of the Constitution in spite of which the January 10 Excise Notification was revoked.  

Here’s the context. The  National Action Plan for the Protection and Protection of Human Rights (2017-2021) devotes 22 pages to the rights of women (pages 37-58). There are 26 goals therein, 40 objectives of which 29 are considered deliverable in the short-term and 99 activities. Only one goal, No 6, is about the promotion of women’s economic rights and independence, including access to employment. The relevant objective is worded thus: increased participation of women in the state and private sector employment. It’s a medium-long term goal. 

[For the record the seemingly comprehensive document on human rights says nothing of forced female genital circumcision or of gender inequalities related to marriage-age, divorce procedures etc.]

Against all this, the not-mentioned or alluded to business of allowing women to purchase alcohol and work in places where alcohol is sold, is certainly a dead cat, especially considering the gamut of issues pertaining to women included in the document and their prioritizing. 

And what did this dead cat displace from the table? The reduction of beer taxes which, according to Dr Samarasinghe ‘worked brilliantly for the relevant politicians and their alcohol trade masters.’ One notes that individuals who have never uttered a single word about reducing beer taxes have strangely enough called for it almost immediately after being appointed as Finance Ministers. Obviously officials prevail on them for reasons that are to obvious to mention. Mangala Samaraweera’s predecessors probably did not know of dead cats, we could conclude.  Beer, to put it in a nutshell, is a starter-drink which the industry uses to lure in the young. 

So that’s what dead cats do. Women’s rights activists jumped on the alcohol issue but are strangely quiet over ensuring 25% political representation for women, as Dr Samarasinghe observed. Indeed, if they had paid attention to the amendment to the laws pertaining to local government elections, they would have figured out what a farce it was, and not just for women’s representation. 

Dr Samarasinghe has laid it all out beautifully. In short, a) the public has  been deceived into believing that there has been a 60 – 40 seat allocation (first-past-the-post and proportional representation respectively), b) burdened by almost double the number of representatives, and c) almost all parties that have won the most of directly contested seats are denied their proper share of proportional seats.

It is not possible of course to name the recent violence in Kandy as a dead cat, although the Government has not covered itself in glory considering its sloth, incompetence, garbled messages, infringement of expression-freedom and in certain instances collusion with perpetrators. 

In effect, however, it serves the same purpose. Let’s flag some issues: a) Arjuna Mahendran and the Bond Scam, b) the mess that is the local government election, c) the government’s loss of legitimacy, d) the corruption of the word ‘yahapalanaya,’ d) the Russian ship, e) SriLankan Airlines, f) constitutional reform, g) gross incompetence across the board and h) the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister and indeed all the noise about his ouster as the Leader of the United National Party.

 All these are off the table. Digana, Teldeniya and Ambatenne, then, together, made a dead cat.  And now, following all that, there’s the issue of blocking social media platforms.

Minister of Digital Infrastructure Technology says that the government is contemplating the monitoring of social media usage. President Sirisena, speaking on the subject, said ‘if something is detrimental to society we will have to contain its effects despite it being useful in some other way.’ Champika Ranawaka called for ‘new regulations to regulate cloud applications like Facebook or WhatsApp to prevent their improper use.’  

The dead cat here is ‘hate speech’, what it intends to displace is the freedom of expression. The instruments of control once in place can be used and abused. We’ve seen this happen again and again. Weeding out the distasteful is a good thing but taste is subjective and preferences are political. 

Interestingly, those who have championed rights issues in the past have gone quiet over this issue. For them, and others who are shocked into silence and inaction by these dead cats, let me repeat something I wrote when the 18th Amendment was tabled in parliament.

“The worth of any new legislation should not be measured only in terms of its immediate benefits and whether the principal beneficiary is a political friend; rather, consider the relevant instruments in the hands of an individual who is politically at odds with you, someone whose ideas and practices you abhor.”

This government, more than ever before, needs conversation to cease. Clearing the table citing the presence of a dead cat is convenient. The government needs dead cats. Lots of them. The least that the citizen can do is to refuse to provide them.   

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com

පොඩි එකාගේ ඔළුවට ගැහුවම වීරයෙක් වෙන්නේ නැහැ මචෝ

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ටෙස්ට් ක්‍රිකට් කණ්ඩායම සංචාරයක යෙදුන අවස්ථාවකදී සිද්ද වුන දෙයක් ගැනයි මේ ලියන්නේ. මතක හැටියට දකුණු අප්‍රිකාවේ සංචාරයක්.  සංචිතයේ ලාබාලම ක්‍රීඩකයින් අතරින් කෙනෙක් නොසන්ඩාල වැඩකට යොමු කරපු ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ ක්‍රීඩකයෝ, සියල්ල දැක බලාගන්න පුළුවන් විදිහටයි සැලසුම් කරලා තිබුනේ. වැඩේ අතර මග ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨයෝ මැදට පැන්නේ අර ලාබාල ක්‍රීඩකයා ලැජ්ජාවට පත් කරන අදහසින්.

ලැජ්ජ වුනා හොඳටම. කේන්තිත් ගියා. ඒත් ටීම් එකේ ලොකු අයියලාට බනින්න තරම් පෞරුෂයක් එයාට තිබුනේ නැහැ. අන්ත අසරණ තත්ත්වයකට පත් වුනත් හිතට ආව කේන්තිය පාලනය කරන්න බැරි වුනා. තරහ පිටකරගන්නත් උවමනා වුනා. පිටකරගත්තේ මෙහෙමයි: තමන් තරම්ම කණිෂ්ට, ඒවගේම තමන් වගේම හීන්දෑරී වෙනත් ක්‍රීඩකයෙක්ට හොඳටම තඩිබාලා.  ඒ ක්‍රීඩකයා මේ විහිළුව සැලසුම් කරන්න සම්බන්ධ වුන කෙනෙක් නෙවෙයි.  ටීම් එකේ හැමදෙනාම වගේ බලාගෙන හිටපු එක විතරයි එයා කළ වැරැද්ද.

ඇත්තටම මෙහෙම වුනාද කියල කියන්න හරියටම බැහැ.  ඒත් මේක සුලබ කතාවක්. හැමතැනම, නිතර නිතර දකින්න පුළුවන දෙයක් තමයි වෙලා තියෙන්නේ.

කතාවට අදාලම පාර්ශවය හඳුනාගත්තත්, එයා නැත්තම් එයාල එක්ක හැප්පෙන්න බැරි නම්, මෘදු ඉලක්කයක් තෝරාගන්නවා. හොඳටම තඩිබානවා.  නිශ්ෂිතව වැරදිකරු මෙයයි කියල කියන්න බැරි නම්, හිත ඇතුලේ ඉන්න 'සතුරා' තෝරාගන්නවා තඩිබාන්න. ඒ සතුරා එක්ක හැප්පෙන්න බැරි නම් ආදේශකයක් නැත්තම් ආදේශකයෙක් තෝරාගන්නවා ගහන්න, පුච්චන්න, හිත හදා ගන්න, වෙච්ච 'අසාධාරණයට' හිලව් වශයෙන් නැත්තම් වෙච්ච ලැජ්ජාව සමනය කරගන්න.

මීට මාස කිහිපයකට කලින් ඉස්කෝලේ යාළුවෙක් ලජ්ජාවෙන් වගේ මෙහෙම දෙයක් කිව්වා: 'සියඹලා ගහ යට චැලෙන්ජ් කරලා හත් අට දෙනෙක් ට ගහල තියෙනවා ඉස්කෝලේ යන කාලේ.' එහෙම ගහගත්තේ ඇයි කියල අහනකොට අපූරු උත්තරයක් දුන්නා: 'චන්ඩි ලයිසන් එක තියාගන්න!'

 මගේ යාළුවා නම් ලයිසන් බේරගන්න චැලේන්ජ් කෙරුවේ එයාගේ ආධිපත්‍යයට අභයෝග කරන්න පුළුවන් කියල අනුමාන කරපු අයට. එහෙම අය ඉන්නවා. අලුත් පංතියකට ගිහාම චන්ඩි ලයිසන් එක ගන්න මුලින් ම කරන්නේ පන්තියේ ඉන්න උස මහතම ළමයට චැලේන්ජ් කරලා ගහගන්න එක.

ඒක වෙනස්. මේ වෙනස් ජාතියේ ලයිසන් එකක්. උදාහරණයකින් පැහැදිලි කරගනිමු. 

මාක්ස්වාදීන් නැත්තම් සමාජවාදීන් පැටලෙන්න ඕන ධනවාදය සමගයි, ධනේශ්වරය සමගයි. ඒත් අපේ රටේ මාක්ස්වාදීන් ගේ න්‍යායපත්‍රයේ ඕව නැහැ. ඒත් වාම ලයිසන් එක එයාලට තියාගන්න ඕන.  ඒ නිසා ජාතිය නැත්තම් ආගම, නැත්තම් මානව හිමිකම්, නැත්තම් සංහිඳියාව, නැත්තම් පරිසරය, නැත්තම් කාන්තා අයිතිය, නැත්තම් LGBT වගේ දේවල් අජෙන්ඩා එකට දාගන්නාව. පෙනෙන්නේ නම් එයාල තෝරාගෙන තියෙන මෘදු ඉලක්කය සිංහල ජාතිය සහ බෞද්ධ ප්‍රජාව. හරියට ධනවාදය පරාජය කිරීමේ සටනේ අනිවාර්ය කොන්දේසියක් වගේ සිංහල බෞද්ධයට ගහන එක. හරියට ධනවාදයේ ප්‍රධාන මිතුරා සිංහල බෞද්ධයා වගේ.  ඒවා එක්ක පැටලෙනකොට ඇතැම් විට ධනේශ්වරය එක්ක ඩීල් ගහගන්නවා. එහෙමත් නැත්තම් ධනේශ්වරයේ ඔඩොක්කුවට, සාක්කුවට කැමැත්තෙන්ම වැටෙනවා.

ජාතිය ගැන හිතන, ජාතිය ගැන කැක්කුමක් තියෙනවා කියන අය ජාතියේ අවුල් ලෙහාගන්න හදන්නේ නැහැ. ඒක ලොකු වැඩක්. ඒවගේ දෙයක් කරන්න මහන්සි වෙන්න ඕන. ඊට වඩා ලේසියි වෙනත් ජාතියකට ගහන එක.  ජාතියකට ම ගහන්න අවශ්‍ය නැහැ. ඒකත් ටිකක් බරපතලයි නේ. ඉලක්ක කරන ජාතියේ දුර්වලම කොටස් වලටයි ගහන්නේ.

ඒවගේ ම තමයි ආගමට උපාදාන ඇතිකරගෙන ඉන්න අය.  අදාළ දර්ශනයේ අන්තර්ගතය අධ්‍යනය කරලා නිර්දේශ භාවිතය වැළඳ ගන්න එක අමාරු වැඩක්. පහසු දේ තමයි වෙනත් ආගම් අතරින් 'සතුරෙක්' හදාගන්න එක.  ඒ සතුරාගේ දුර්වලම කොටස් වලට පහර දෙන එක. 

සැබෑ සතුරු නැහැයි කියනවා නෙවෙයි.  ඒත් ඒ ගනුදෙනුව බෙර ගන්න කලින් තම තමන්ගේ දේශපාලනික කුටුම්බයේ අවුල් බෙර ගන්න එක හොඳයි කියලයි හිතෙන්නේ.  කුටුම්බයේ අවුල විසඳගත්තට පස්සේ ඔය කියන විදිහේ සතුරෙක් ඉන්නවනම් සතුරාගේ නැට්ට එක්ක ගනුදෙනු කරන එක තරම් ආත්ම වංචාවක් නැහැයි කියලයි හිතෙන්නේ.

ගෙදර ඇතුලේ ගිනි නිවනවාට වඩා පහසුයි වටේම ගෙවල් වලට ගිනි තියන එක.  සාපේක්ෂ සීතලක් දැනෙනවා එතකොට. ඒත් අවසානයේ අවට ගෙවල් වගේම තමන්ගේ ගෙදරත් පිච්චෙනවා.

කවුරු හරි තමන්ගේ ගෙදරට ගිනි තිබ්බ කියන්නේ ආරක්ෂාව අඩපණ වෙලා කියන එක.  කරන්න ඕනේ මොකෙක්ටවත් ගිනි තියන්නබැරි විදිහට ආරක්ෂාව සලසගන්න එක. සමහර අවස්ථා වලදී ගිනි තියන්න එන එකා එක්ක ඔට්ටු වෙන්න සිද්ද වෙනව, ඇත්ත.  ඒ වෙනුවට එයාගේ පොඩි පුතාට තඩිබාන එක නම් මෝඩ වැඩක්.  අස්වැසිල්ලක්, මොහොතකට ලැජ්ජාව, තරහ වගේ දේවල් සමනය කර ගන්න. ඒත්අවසානයේ දී ඉතිරියක් නැති අර්ථයක් නැති වැඩක්.

11 March 2018

Towards liberating ourselves from the complicities of stereotyping

No, Kandy is not 'normal' and neither is 'Sri Lanka'

When the House Leader indulges in racial stereotyping it is a serious matter. The man has a poor track record on most counts, but this takes the cake given the context in which he has shot his mouth. 

Lakshman Kiriella has said “a resolution should be brought in parliament and Buddhists should apologize to the Muslims in connection with the violence in Digana and Teldeniya”. A lot can be said about this, but let’s leave that for later. 

Kiriella first needs to be praised to the heavens for his confession about intelligence services. He said ‘the state intelligence services had collapsed resulting in the violence in Digana and Teldeniya.’  

Now when did the state intelligence apparatus collapse? Overnight? Just because something happened somewhere? That’s hardly possible. No, what Kiriella is acknowledging is that the intelligence services were and are out of order. 

He has not expressed surprise and this should not surprise anyone. This Government from Day One vilified and harassed the entire intelligence service. Whereas in a post-war de-militarizing effort intelligence should be enhanced, this Government spared no pains to demoralize and cripple it.  

That’s the service. How about the Government and its intelligence? Do we even need to talk about it? No. It probably explains Kiriella’s statement, but let’s not go there. 

Let’s move on to this business of ‘Buddhists apologizing to Muslims.’  What is being implied here? That all Buddhists did some wrong to all Muslims? What kind of rubbish is that? 

Interestingly Kiriella, in this, is like a fellow traveler of the Bodu Bala Sena and the Ravana Balakaya, both being organizations that make totalizing claims and which have made stereotyping an article of faith.  They target in their rhetoric an entire collectivity. It’s the hambayo or thambiyo
that they rant and rave against.  

We’ve seen all this before. At a Galle Literary Festival the late Sunila Abeysekera claimed that there were people conflating the LTTE and the Tamil community. It was duly pointed out during the Q&A that followed that when some people say ‘The LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamil people’ then we need to ask ‘who is doing the conflating here?’  

Sunila, like many of her ilk, had forgotten that there’s a flip side to things.  However, if one is lachrymose enough, makes some ‘all-of-humanity’ noises and mix a few measures of feigned objectivity, one can hoodwink a lot of people. Thisaranee Gunaseka does it often but rarely as cleverly as she has in a recent piece titled ‘The beast rides again’.  

The word ‘beast’ comes up only in the title. It is appropriate. Anyone who attacks an unarmed person is a beast. What happened was beastly.  Thisaranee offers an interesting argument which expands that definition.

She has used Black July and of course what followed as convenient and even reasonable historical and political points of reference  to dissect what happened Teldeniya, Digana and elsewhere. This is what she says.

“The majority of Sinhalese did not take part in Black July. They didn’t have to. All they had to do was to shrug a shoulder, turn a blind eye. Indifference is neither neutral nor benign. Indifference kills and destroys.”

It pins responsibility on an entire community.  She says, quite rightly, ‘if the government is too timorous to do so, the demand and the pressure should from come from those Sinhala-Buddhists who retain enough sanity to see the deadliness of the future that is being made.’ She’s done her part as a ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ since she says ‘Kandy was set in fire in our name’ and later uses the phrase  ‘ff we, the Sinhalese, fail Muslims as we failed Tamils…’

And yet, she stumbled into the classic dialectical trap, ‘if you are not with us, then you are with them.’ So, in this case, if you don’t speak up against something then it means that you condone it. 

She is right when she says that ‘the extremism of the majority community’ is the most dangerous kind of extremism. At least, here, she has acknowledged that there are other kinds of extremism, not just the Sinhala-Buddhist variety.  But this if-you-don’t-condone-you-support thesis can be applied to other situations and communities.  Leads to conflation doesn’t it?

Then she descends into an ancient half-truth: ‘Sinhala-Buddhist fanatics strengthen fanatics in minority communities’.  True. The ontology is tendentious. It’s like blaming Sinhala-Tamil tensions on Bandaranaike’s ‘Sinhala Only’. Never mind that it was switched to ‘Swabhasha’ not too long after, but if you talk about ‘Sinhala Only’ (as you should) and not talk about G.G. Ponnambalam’s ’50-50’ or Chelvanayakam’s ‘a little now, more later,’ or the ‘Tamil State Party’ or Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s Tamil chauvinism that detracted from his struggle with the Sinhalese and others against the British, if you talk about Anagarika Dharmapala and are silent about Arumugam Navalar, all of which preceded ‘Sinhala Only,’ then you are being mischievous at best. 

If you talk of multi-ethnic and multi-religious (as you should) but don’t talk numbers and percentages, you are being mischievous, at best. Thisaranee, in this article at least, trots out the numbers but quickly slips to tired totalizing claims. We’ll get to that.

If you talk about all the failed agreements between Sinhala and Tamil politicians (as you should) but don’t talk about the implementation of important articles despite these ‘failures’ then you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about ‘Sinhala Only’ (as you should) and ignore the ‘English Only’ that preceded it for more than a century, if you talk about alleged ‘Buddhist hegemony’ and ignore the ‘Christian hegemony’ that had existed for 450 years and which included the destroying of temples and Kovils, murdering of bikkhus and the burning of manuscripts, you are being mischievous, at best. 

If you talk about secularism (as you should) and leave out the fact that there are more holidays for Muslims than for Buddhists and that the number of Christian holidays are four times more than that for the latter and that the Hindus have just 3, then you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about a Sri Lankan identity (as you should) but balk at the idea ‘one country, one law’ you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about the contribution of all communities to the achieving of independence (as you should) and forget that in terms of percentages (since percentage-free numbers can be misleading) it was the Sinhala-Buddhists who sacrificed most by way of lives lost and properties destroyed, you are being mischievous, at best.

If you talk about the heroism of Muslim members of the security forces (as you should) in the defeat of the LTTE and ignore the fact that the freedoms enjoyed in a terrorism-free land were obtained at the cost of much higher percentages of the majority community giving their lives and limbs, you are being mischievous, at best.

In short there has been a lot of shoulder-shrugging, blind-eyes turned and indifference. It's certainly very different to looking the other way when a beast is on the rampage, but if you are looking to go beyond moment and incident and try to figure out 'root causes' [another term frequently used in explaining (-off) the LTTE by the way] then these things need to be factored in. 

And so you get claims such as the following: “The triumph of violent Sinhala extremism in the South led to the triumph of violent Sinhala extremism in the North.” This is picking up the narrative at convenient points so that you can pin the blame on your preferred enemy. 

We’ve seen that a lot. We have seen terms such as the following: Sinhala State, Sinhala-Buddhist State, Majoritarianism etc.  All Sinhalese (or Sinhala Buddhists) are lumped together. A monolithic proposition, then, and a language trick that is used selectively. 

We’ve seen how people started talking about ‘Colombo’ and ‘Kilinochchi’ in the way that capitals are used as proxies for nations (e.g. London for the UK, Washington DC for the USA, Delhi for India). We’ve noticed how it became ‘North’ and ‘South’ and thereby giving an implicit horizontal split of communities leaving a neat 50-50 to be imagined by the mis-educated who have also been fed the numberless multi-ethnic and multi-religious story.  And of course they also talked of ‘Border Villages’ which implied there WAS a border.

Not innocent. Not by a long shot.  Put it all together and we are left with one beast, namely ‘Sinhala Buddhist’.  That history is several centuries old.  When a community thus vilified for so long in this mischievous (at best) manner is pushed against the wall, something can give, somewhere. Then if you act surprised, it’s simply because you’ve been slothful in reading event and nuance in the long history (as opposed to chosen slices of it). 

No, this is not to say that the BBS or the Ravana Balakaya are products of that pinning against the wall; that would be giving respectability to the beasts.  What is strange however is that those who said Prabhakaran was a product of a particular social, cultural, political and economic history, are refusing to talk about such ‘factors’ in understanding ‘products’ such as the BBS. It is easy, I know, to say ‘Wijeweera was a megalomaniac’ than to investigate how the JVP became what it did. The same with the LTTE and Prabhakaran. Delve into all that and you come up with stories that are resistant to one-line capture.

Thisaranee is obviously more sophisticated than Kiriella. Both, however, express the same conceptual error, that of treating communities as monoliths.  Kiriella is crude, Thisaranee is clever.  At least Thisaranee indulges in tokenism when talking about extremism other than the Sinhala-Buddhist variety; Kiriella does not. 

In the end, however, anyone who identifies with a community (as she has and as I do) must recognize that he or she can do something. We can stand up and say ‘no’. We can help our friends who feel threatened or anxious, in word and deed.  We can refuse to participate. We can refuse to stereotype. 

Thisaranee ends her piece this way: ‘If we, the Sinhalese, fail Muslims as we failed Tamils, history will not forgive us, and will punish us with a new and a worse war.’

The verdict of history (such things don’t really figure in the thinking of extremists; even a murderer in most cases has absolved him/herself of guilt before the act) and convictions of outcome are poor incentives when contending with the ‘demands’ of the moment. 

The choice is for the individual and in a sense the collective or at least segments of the collective. We can call upon our humanity. Regardless of all that, perceptions count. We are not arahats or saints; we are human and therefore frail. We can rise about all that and we should try to; but we can fail. If we fail, I believe, it is in part because we are stopped by the vicious, politically and ideologically malicious and deliberately misleading stereotyping that has marked the discourse on identity in this country.  

Conflate Tamil with LTTE and it is an insult. Among the insulted, after a while, there could be some who will say ‘alright, then I will be what you think I am!’ Conflate ‘Muslim’ with ISIS and you’ll get similar results.  Not all of them of course, but why lose those who can make a difference? It’s the same with all communities, the Sinhala-Buddhists included. 

So while we do the best we can to counter the extremisms of the communities we identify with, we can also resolve not to stereotype. It could mean something as simple as the insertion of a few simple caveats to the claims we make.  

Kiriella wants me to apologize, I will not. Thisaranee I believe wants me to not to fail Muslims; I will do my best not to, because she’s right about this even though she’s tendentious and Kiriela-like in her general position regarding Sinhala Buddhists.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com