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Our Common Heritage One country – one land – one people

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By Ashley de Vos

(Continued from yesterday’s Midweek Review)

It was King Senerath the Sinhala King, in the 16th C, who transported 4,000 followers of Islam from the west coast and settled them on the east coast to save them from being routed, eliminated and even annihilated by the aggressive Portuguese. The east coast Muslims share this common ancestry. The assimilation into the general cultural matrix has been stifled by a ghetto mentality that grew out of a mindset where the women felt more secure in a ghetto, while the men were out trading. This is clearly seen in Katankudi and other such areas in the coastal zone.

Five Portuguese who wished to settle in the island free from Dutch discrimination, approached the Sinhala King and requested protection from the Dutch. There were Catholic priests in the Kandy court, who helped the King to correspond with the King of Portugal in the Portuguese language, and hence access was easy. The benevolent King invited these ex- soldiers and gave them a presumably disused Buddhist monastery to settle in. Their offspring who settled in the surrounding lands are proud of this ancestry. The Siripathula votive slab from the earliest Anuradhapura period that belonged to this early monastery, was still there at the site, when it was visited in late 2005. This area referred to as Wahakotte is today a major pilgrim destination for the Catholic community.

During the British colonial occupation of the island and into independence, those inhabiting the coastal areas of the country, who had already cohabited closely with the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, had favoured access to the ownership of lands. They felt superior on learnt caste lines, and were soon encouraged to participate in new professions. Their children had easy access to an English education, facilitated by a group of committed Christian Missionaries. This helped them to gain ready admission to the prestigious British universities and professions and in turn, to corner all the prized jobs offered by the British administration.

Those who benefitted from a missionary education, even from the north of the island moved to the metropolis Colombo in search of their fortunes. They built palatial dwellings, many from the north even married Sinhala women and relegated Jaffna that far off place, as a resting place to keep their older relations. The journey to Jaffna became less frequent.

If this is one country, every citizen has the right to live and work wherever they wish, and this has been amply demonstrated in the past. Sri Lankans should be afforded the privilege to live, work and purchase property wherever they decide even if it means enacting special legislation to facilitate this process. Why the special privilege only for some?

J.T Ratnam states that “some of the wealthiest Tamils came from Manipay. Most of them left their palatial buildings untenanted or in charge of some poor relation in order to reside and work in the metropolis. They returned home finally only in their old age, this was the rule.” (Jane Russell). Most professionals from the north, totally neglected Jaffna and instead concentrated all personal development on Colombo and other centres that were conducive to their chosen line of work. Prompting R.W. Crossette-Thambiah to record that “it was the Tamils living in Colombo who had the money and the prestige to become leaders in Jaffna” (Jane Russell). Many were reinforced by dowry wealth infused by the Malaysian pensioners.

These professionals who left the north to settle in the south should take some responsibility for all that happened in the north in the past 70 years. In fact, the later youth uprising was against the severe communal caste based hierarchy, disorientation and governed by an acquired strong caste difference that was forcibly perpetrated in the north. According to Jaffna Superintendent of Police, R. Sundaralingam, it was controlled by a neo-colonial Vellahla elite. In the Maviddapuram Temple dispute it included, even at times, beating of the lower castes with heavy Palmyra walking sticks, on any attempt to enter the controlled temple premises.

One always believed that the Gods had a widespread benevolence to encompass all groups of people, irrespective of status in life, but it seems that man has changed the paradigm to suit his own narrow desires.

Having enjoyed the benefits that an English education offered them, the English educated population remained silent when the larger Sinhala population was kept down for centuries by the three colonial powers, even castigated by the newly elevated caste groups in the south, who owned lands. They enjoyed all the perks that fell off the colonial table. As many of these people were far removed from their roots, they joined in the protest, when this large silent population was given a voice.

Those who criticised the new voice were mostly those who had enjoyed a privileged English education. Another marginalised group who may or may not have enjoyed the interlude, felt cheated; they left for greener pastures to Australia, the UK and Canada. Unfortunately, this generation continues to live in a time warp centred on the 1960s, craving for the good times and feeding on the special food types they had grown up with.

The same criticism is still flaunted as the reason for the plight Sri Lanka finds itself in today although many fingers could point in many directions. Many successful countries who had and still have a pride in their own heritage and culture have survived; they learned their mother tongue well and learned the colonial tongue later in life to become world leaders in their chosen fields.

What happened in Sri Lanka? The “Kaduwa” is nothing but the affluent English speakers laughing at the down trodden majority if they were to make a mistake in the use of the colonial foreign language.

Tourism has created a new generation that is able to converse in many foreign languages; they learnt the language with the help of the tourists who corrected them if they made mistakes, and they were never ridiculed or laughed at. Whether to sing alternate verses of the national anthem, or the whole in two languages, is not a great debate.

Sri Lanka has a flag, the only one in the world that celebrates pronounced ethnic division, a precise notification with a late beginning. Should we not change and go back to the flag originally hoisted at independence, this especially, as we all share a common heritage.

Much is discussed about the persons who have disappeared during the war, this recurrent issue, this wound, is kept ever festered, by generous NGO funding and is used as a clarion call to win sympathy especially when foreign dignitaries surreptitiously or otherwise visit the North of the island. Except for this controlled group, nothing is heard of the many more Tamil politicians, civil officers, lecturers, teachers, ordinary citizens and the hundreds of Tamil youth who were eliminated by the LTTE in the north, where is the regress for them? They have mothers as well?

Less is heard of the 800 or 900 policemen who were forced by the leadership of the day to surrender to the LTTE. They all vanished into thin air, a trick Houdini would have given an arm and a leg to learn. The 1,000 odd IPKF soldiers who were killed; where are their bodies? An IPKF battalion that went astray and never came back; the 5,000 odd Sri Lankan soldiers are still missing. The hundreds who were eliminated in the “border” villages, in the North Central Province, on roads, in buses, in the numerous bomb blasts. My friend, the charismatic Cedric Martinstyne, where is he, who was responsible?

The thousands of young men and women went missing in 1971 and the thousands of young men and women tortured and burnt on the roadside in 1988 – 89. They were all human; they had families, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and some even had children. Why is no one talking about them? Is it only fashionable to follow the International NGO gravy train?

The solution for facilitating and encouraging the sustainable development of a common heritage as a single country is simply to legislate and ban, and remove politicians or parties that survive on highlighting ethnicity, hatred and religious bias from the equation and instead introduce a new breed of specially identified benevolent technocrats chosen for their capability. Certainly not chosen from a group that has volunteered on the basis that they think, yes, they arrogantly think, they have the solutions to all the problems the country is faced with.

This will only lead to disaster, for a benevolent leadership.

The technocrats should be chosen after a careful and diligent head hunt to identify the most suitable and proven individual who is not only capable but also cares for and has a commitment to this country first. With a willingness to give all up to deliberate and run the engines of this country as patriots. But beware the arrogance of these espiocrats. They may need further education and training at a staff college on a holistic vision on where Sri Lanka would like to be in fifty years in the future.

Those representing Sri Lanka at the world stage should be focussed, well briefed, brave enough to stand tall and committed to the wellbeing of the country only, first, and should not be made up of the agenda driven dealers who are willing to compromise to be in the good books of foreigners with devious plans or to satisfy their personal ends: there are many such individuals around. These chosen technocrats with special abilities should be carefully nurtured. Running Sri Lanka, a country of twenty million, is not an insurmountable task; it requires honesty, discipline and commitment only. Across the pond, Mumbai is a city state of eighteen million run by a mayor and a council.

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, there are too many incongruous layers of superfluous repetition and astronomical cost escalation to satisfy mediocracy with their never ending assiduous demands and perks. It has now become a livelihood worth killing for. Much of it forced on us by the 13th Amendment, purposely introduced by India. The cunning “Big Brother Gift”, knowing full well that if implemented, Sri Lanka would never ever recover. This would always remain to the advantage of the hegemony of the subcontinent. We have witnessed the repercussions. This is where most of the support for the corruption stems from.

In the historical period, the kings did not administer the people; the village heads did and their word was respected and obeyed. No one from outside decided for the village. The responsibility of the king lay with ensuring that the unique irrigation system was protected and enhanced, secondly, there was protection for Buddhism, respect for other people and their beliefs, the continuation of the natural Sinhalisation process and most importantly, it was to ensure, the security of the people and the country from foreign invasions.

Kings who had an interest in Ayurveda planted the Aralu, Bulu, Nelli forests in the hope that someone, someday, may benefit from them. Our new guardians and extended families instead enjoy cutting the forests for personal gains, thereby, threatening the future water security of the whole nation and the biodiversity in the forests.

The holistic security of a country should always be decided only by the local security experts concerned, not by selfish emotional considerations by a group in a district, or by foreign “experts”. The security of a nation requires careful study and strategic understanding of the possible threats and with major contributions by the three forces charged with securing the country from illegal immigration and any other internal or external threats.

While there may be an argument that war technology has changed and that it calls for restricting the location of camps. The locations of the camps, even if it meant acquiring land, should be done according to a carefully studied, but strict pattern that suits the country concerned and not to suit “External War Consultants”. There are examples of a thousand bases placed by waring nations around the world in locations far removed from the countries concerned. Some through invitation, some located by way of war booty. All of them follow a single pattern.

Sri Lanka should avoid falling into providing a ready gateway to such a pattern. It should also stay away from agreeing to draconian treaties and agreements like the MCC and other related documents on the cheap, at totally discounted rates, only $90 Million a year for five years, permitting unlimited access to the use of the country under their own terms and rules. Sri Lanka is not for sale. What is implied in these documents are detrimental to the generations to come and would be regarded by them as acts of treason against an innocent people.

We the people need guidance by example; we don’t require a supercilious individual to tell us what to do, especially to interfere with the natural action of reconciliation and interaction, of coming together again, a progression that is usually built on mutual trust, an activity that the self-centred politician wilfully and constantly interfere with. From earliest times Buddhists and Hindus shared a common understanding,; this was to concretise in the 14th C after King Bhuvanakabahu introduced the shrine of God Vishnu as the protector of Buddhism into the temple complex.

Today, every Buddhist temple has a Vishnu shrine incorporated at the entrance, in a mutual respect for all. Unfortunately, fundamental Hinduism is raising its head for the first time on the island in the guise of the “Ramayana Trails” that was commenced by a desperate and irresponsible tourism industry. Will it lead to the building of a myriad of new shrines to Hindu Gods and Goddesses to commemorate events in fictitious locations is to be seen. A development that will host fundamental Hinduism, a progression this island could do without.

The people of this island, as a group of intelligent, enlightened humans, are capable of eliminating the years of induced suspicion that has been created by these self-centred politicians. The people can and will sort it out. These politicians should be kept away as they are more of an irritant, a hindrance to real reconciliation and a selfish, destructive element in nation building.

The unnatural rush, corona or no corona, to submit nominations for a future election, shows the unusual zeal in the rush to collect the spoils. Thereafter most applicants went into hibernation, to hell with the constituents. This is sensed, suffered and remarked on by the long suffering farming community who commented that they saw the people’s representatives only just before an election. These farmers should be trusted and looked after. Instead they are forced to sit on heaps of rotting vegetables and face the unscrupulous money lenders, head on.

Eventually, it is a scientific approach to agriculture that will save this country, not urbanisation and its proliferation of partner industry. If you don’t have markets, you cannot eat the products your industry will roll off the production line. But as proved by “Coronavirus” vegetables and fruit, you can.

Let reconciliation happen the way it should, a slow but sure natural process. As Sri Lanka moves forward, she deserves to be free of worthless heavy shackles. Let’s relegate them to the trash heap of history.

 



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Features

Sri Lanka’s external relations amidst power rivalries

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By Neville Ladduwahetty

“Relationship Not Normal, Can’t Be…”: S Jaishankar On India-China Ties

As reported by a NDTV Staff Writer (13 Aug, 2022}, “External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday said that India-China relations cannot be normal unless border situation is and added that if China disturbs the peace and tranquility in border areas, it will impact the relations further”. In view of the fact that the relations between India and China are dependent on the “peace and tranquility” in the border areas means that Sri Lanka’s relations with either at any time has to be complex; a fact that is bound to affect the pursuit of Sri Lanka’s own self-interests.

The latest manifestation of this rivalry relates to the convolutions undergone by Sri Lanka with regard to China’s Yuan Wang 5 (YW5), described by some as a tracking vessel and by others as a research and survey vessel, docking at the Hambantota Port. Sri Lanka under the former Presidency gave permission for the YW5 to dock at Hambantota. Under the present Presidency Sri Lanka wanted the arrival to be deferred following concerns expressed by India relating to their security. The latest report is that Sri Lanka has granted permission for entry based on a brief by the Sri Lankan Embassy in China that “the country will face dire economic consequences if the ship’s visit is not allowed” (Daily Mirror, August 13, 2022). The report adds that the decision was also based on the fact that India and the US “failed to give ‘concrete reasons’ for why they opposed its arrival”.

An earlier manifestation of this rivalry was in connection with an Asian Development Bank- funded solar power project in the Island of Delft. International Tenders were called by the ADB and the contract was awarded to a Chinese Company because their bid was the lowest. India objected to the project on grounds of security and the project was abandoned with Sri Lanka continuing to deliver diesel to operate the generators and provide power to the people of Delft. In this instance, Sri Lanka failed to ask India to provide “concrete reasons” for their security concerns. Instead, Sri Lanka caved in and abandoned the project at a cost to Sri Lanka’s own self-interest.

The reason for doing so was offered by a former Mandarin of the Foreign Ministry who stated that during construction China could plant devices that would impact on the security of India. The fact that Chinese contractors are engaged in various parts of Sri Lanka thus giving them ample opportunities to plant devices anywhere seems to have escaped his wisdom. Furthermore, the fact that YW5 with its reported capabilities could carry out whatever tracking it wanted without any formal permission from outside Sri Lanka’s territorial waters should have been sufficient grounds to inform India that its concerns do not have a “concrete” basis from the outset. Why Sri Lanka did not challenge India’s concerns in the case of the solar project reflects a onetime policy of “India first” at any cost to Sri Lanka’s own self-interest.

LACK of CONSISTANCY in POLICY

It is crystal clear from the two examples cited above, that there is a lack of consistency in the manner Sri Lanka addresses issues relating to major powers; a fact made more complex in a background of power rivalry. The question is whether lack of consistency is due to lack of a clear policy or a deliberately adopted strategy that is sufficiently fluid to enable whoever is in power to address each issue according to his/her imperatives. The former was the practice adopted in the past. For instance, Sri Lanka’s stated policy when it came to External Relations was Non-Aligned. In fact, Sri Lanka was a key member of the Non-Aligned Movement along with India and other mostly ex-colonial countries.

However, under the former Presidency this long held policy changed because the global context of a bi-polar world had changed, warranting a reevaluation of the Non-Aligned policy. Consequently, the stated policy adopted by him was one of Neutrality which he stated during his acceptance speech delivered in Anuradhapura. This policy was transformed to Neutral and Non-Aligned by the Foreign Ministry and its Secretary went further stating that the policy was “India first”. This lack of consistency is not at all helpful in Sri Lanka’s relations with nations in general, and lacks clarity and when it comes to issues amidst power rivalries.

Such inconsistencies should be avoided at all cost. For instance, if the Ministry has a different perspective on external relations to that of the President, the matter should be discussed by the Cabinet of Ministers and a collective decision taken since the Supreme Court has ruled that: “So long as the President remains the Head of the Executive, the exercise of his powers remain supreme or sovereign in the executive field and others to whom such power is given must derive the authority from the President or exercise Executive power vested in the President as a delegate of the President” (S.D. No. 04/2015). Furthermore, under no circumstances should the Secretary have a different opinion to that of the collective decision taken by the Cabinet.

NEED for CONSISTENCY

Though the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) still exists, Non-Aligned as a policy has lost its relevance because the context of a bi-polar world order in which Non-Alignment was relevant no longer exists. Instead, the multi-polar world order that exists today has given nation-states the freedom and license to pursue their self-interests. This situation has enabled India to ignore some of the core principles of Non-Alignment despite being one of its founding members. India developed defence related arrangement with Russia even during the glory days of NAM and continues to do so today. India also trained members of the LTTE to destabilise Sri Lanka and thrust devolution down Sri Lanka’s throat, all in the name of its own self-interests Today, India is actively procuring crude oil from Russia despite being an active member of QUAD with US, Japan and Australia. Sri Lanka too violated principles of the NAM when it supported the U.K. in the Falkland war, as an obligation for the outright grant given by U.K. to construct the Victoria Hydro Power Scheme.

What is evident from the conduct of nation-states is that at the end of the day, pure unbridled self-interest overrides commitment to bilateral or multilateral obligations. This then is the only policy that guides States when it comes to relations with other States, and when it comes to relations with rival powers the choices are hard but in the end, it is balancing priorities. Therefore, whether the stated policy is Neutral, Non-Aligned or even a combination of both, what matters are the decisions taken in respect of Sri Lanka’s relations with other States. Therefore, policies relating to External Relations should be a collective decision taken by the Cabinet, since too much is at stake when decisions are taken by others in the current context of power rivalries. However, since a State has to have a policy as to how it relates to other States, Neutrality is the preferred option since a policy of Non-Alignment is inappropriate in a transformed world order that is undergoing constant change because of rising aspirations of major powers.

CONCLUSION

Sri Lanka’s lack of consistency in respect of first granting permission for YW 5 to enter the Hambantota Port and later calling for its arrival to be deferred, and finally to reverse back to the original decision should be a lesson to revisit how decisions are taken when it comes to how Sri Lanka handles its external relations with other States regardless of their size and influence, or whether they are States engaged in power rivalry. What this experience has taught is that the decision-making process should be revised. Another lesson to be learnt is to not accept any concerns expressed by States at face value in the process of pursuing Sri Lanka’s self-interests. Instead, to require such States to show cause and “concrete reasons” for their concerns.

In the current context of the world order, the bi-polar world that existed has transformed itself into a multi-polar world, causing the policy of Non-Alignment to lose its relevance even though the Non-Aligned Movement continues to exist. Furthermore, this transformed world order has fostered power rivalries among aspiring States in the process of pursuing their unbridled self-interests; a fact manifested by India’s policy of “strategic autonomy”. How Sri Lanka navigates its own self-interests in such an environment is crucial for its growth and well-being. Therefore, in view of the seriousness of the issues at stake the decision making process when it comes to dealing with States in general and others engaged in power rivalries should be collective decisions by the Cabinet of Ministers backed up by a policy of Neutrality in view of Sri Lanka’s unique strategic location, since it is the only option left standing, because other options such as (1) Non-Alignment with any major centers of power: (2) Alignment with one of the major powers: (3) Bandwagoning: (4) Hedging: (5) Balancing pressures, are all unacceptable.

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Suppressing the struggle: Education and the Discourse of Class

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A file photo of the military presence at Galle Face during Aragalaya

By Anushka Kahandagamage

Protesters defeated the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime, making the Rajapaksas resign from their positions, premiership and presidency, of the government. After the collapse of the dynasty, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a Rajapaksa puppet, came to power with the support of a distorted majority in Parliament. Having got himself appointed as President, without a people’s mandate, Wickremesinghe began to suppress the struggle—the very struggle that led to his ascendency. Hours after Wickremesinghe took oath as President, at midnight, when the protesters were preparing to disband the major GotaGoGama (GGG) protest site, the military stormed in, violently assaulting some protesters, including women and people with disabilities. The military attacked media reporters, including BBC journalists, and destroyed the structures built on the location, prompting many to go to the GGG site in support of the protesters. A witch hunt would soon unfold, and, today, just weeks after Wickremesinghe came to power, arbitrary arrests are commonplace in Lanka, most recent and prominent, that of the trade union activist Joseph Stalin.

The Classed nature of the Discourse:

The Double Standard

National as well as international activists, academics, journalists, students, condemned the arbitrary violent attack on the GGG site. Social media was swamped with video footage of the attack, and posts, condemning the government’s moves. Many social media posts pointed fingers at the military, which was to be expected. But a notable and recurring theme was the link made between the military’s behaviour and its low education level – “Eighth grade passed Army”. Meanwhile, politicians from the ruling party (and others) publicly condemned the protesters’ actions, even calling them drug addicts (kuddo). The social media discourse targeting the military (low education) and the protesters (drug addicts), although coming from very different places, was steeped in a classed and classist language, and reduced their actions—whether of the protesters’ or of those suppressing the protest —to their level of education or social class.

Yet, there were surprisingly few discussions regarding the education level of the President, who commanded the attack on the protesters. There is no doubt that Wickremesinghe, whose past is linked with horrendous acts of violence, commanded the military to attack GGG. He is also behind the arbitrary arrests of protesters, the very people who placed him in power. While people are aware of Wickremesinghe’s violent tendencies, these inclinations are not discussed in relation to his education level. During the protest, when his house was set on fire, along with his personal library, many condemned the burning of the library, emphasizing the importance of ‘reading’ and ‘knowledge’. Ranil Wickremesinghe is seen as an ‘educated’ politician, well-read and knowledgeable about foreign policy and politics. A double standard manifests itself where the violent acts of the military (by no means am I trying to glorify the military) are criticized on the grounds of their ‘low’ education level, while the violence of Wickremesinghe garners little comment.

Violence and Education

There is no essential link between violence and education, rather capitalist structures have conditioned us to associate violence with under privileged groups and lower levels of education. Formal educational structures sustain hierarchies, power and, in our context, neo-liberal market economies. Education socialises the individual in such a way s/he/they come to embody dominant society’s values, beliefs, and attitudes. Educational institutions are particularly efficient in legitimising the current social order since they play a role not only in training workers in the strict sense of providing them with skills to be productive but also in the naturalization of social relations of production. Education thus entrenches the status quo, and, in that sense, is not an innocent space, rather a space where inequality and hierarchies are sustained and reproduced.

We associate ‘low’ educational levels, and underprivilege, with violence, as we are trained to do so by the political-economic structures which glorify the ‘learned’ and ‘wealthy’. While the military should not be glorified, under any circumstances, it should be understood that the soldiers, who attacked the protesters, on the ground, represent the disadvantaged classes, carrying out their ‘duty’ as commanded by a supposedly ‘educated’ President. It is an irony that society sees people who are directly involved in violence as the generators of violence, rather than the decision-makers who perpetrate violence.

Formal educational institutions, driven by capitalist values, serve to produce, reproduce and sustain such hegemonic narratives. Indeed, there is a link between our pathological social condition and our education system. While our mostly market driven education is trapped in narratives of employability, efficiency or productivity—needed to understand a phenomenon beyond what is given—human values and critical thinking remain neglected on the back burner. Under these circumstances, there is a great need for alternative education forms.

Counter narratives and alternative

forms of Education

Education has been crucial to the struggle to depose the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime. In this context, I am referring to the ‘education’ initiatives that have been a key element of the Aragalaya: education on democracy, the constitution, history of struggles, economy and so on. In the GGG site, groups connected to the protest as well as other initiatives organized debates and discussions to raise awareness about economic, political and social issues, to learn about how to utter the correct slogans and how to steer the struggle in the ‘right’ path. In doing so, hundreds of webinars were organized, numerous articles and posts written and videos uploaded. In the GGG main protest site, a library, university, college, and an IT centre were established to support ‘educating’ the people.

‘Education’ was a thread that wove the struggle together. There were (and are) different debates on education at various levels of the struggle where alternative forms of education were discussed, challenging hierarchy and institutionalized education. The protest has opened up a space for people to pursue alternative educational structures and build counter narratives. Unfortunately, most of these efforts ultimately fall, directly or indirectly, in to hegemonic educational structures, where hierarchy and Sinhala Buddhist hegemony are sustained in different forms. Similarly, the activists and academics, among the protesters, who tried to introduce alternative education forms and counter narratives often fell into capitalist hierarchical structures. The majority of the webinars and awareness raising forums were top-down in nature and were held in one language, discriminating against other language groups.

Furthermore, these forums were frequently clogged with ‘experts’ or the kind of academics who preach their opinions to the ‘uneducated.’

In conclusion, existing capitalist educational frameworks train one to discriminate, based on class and educational levels, normalizing certain ways of life and being. For example, it’s fascinating to see how Wickremesinghe was removed from the violence and education discourse while the military was at the centre of it. Alternative forms of education are needed to question and challenge these hierarchies.

(The author is a Doctoral Candidate in School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Prioritising protection of Government over the people

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by Jehan Perera

According to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the natural condition of mankind was a state of war in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all.”  Therefore, it was necessary for them to come to an agreement. The philosopher John Locke called this the social contract. Social contract arguments are that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. Constitutions set out the rules by which societies are governed.

 The evolution of constitutional thinking  since the 17th century that Hobbes and Locke lived in has been to find ways to regulate the powers of the rulers and protect the people from the rulers. Those who have power need to have checks placed on them. They need to be held accountable. If those who are rulers are not checked or held accountable, they invariably abuse their powers. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely has been a truism. Over the past 74 years we have seen that the rulers have used their power indiscriminately some more than others. PTA is an example of a law which was instituted to deal with the Tamil separatist insurgency over 40 years ago, but it still remains-to protect power of the rulers. In the past three years when the rulers of Sri Lanka held virtually absolute power by virtue of the 20th Amendment to the constitution, the situation in the country deteriorated. The country became bankrupt for the first time ever.

 The current debate over the 22nd Amendment is to ensure and enlarge the role of civil society to mitigate the powers of the politicians who are rulers. A key question now is with regard to the three civil society representatives who will be in the Constitutional Council. The present formulation of the amendment is that the civil society representatives will have to be acceptable to the majority in parliament (thereby giving the government final say). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s experience with constitutional reform has been  in the direction of further strengthening of the powers of the rulers against the people. The so-called reforms have invariably strengthened the hands of the rulers against the people and justified that it is being done for the sake of the people.

 ERODING CONTROLS

 The 1972 Constitution replaced the constitution that the country had inherited from the British colonial rulers. It ensured the independence of the judiciary and of the civil service and also had special protections for human rights and non-discrimination between ethnic communities. However, these protections were removed from the 1972 constitution that sought to empower the ruling politicians on the justification that they embodied the will of the sovereign people. It was argued that the elected politicians were closer to the people than unelected judges and civil servants. But being away from the people makes them non partisan, a value less understood. Judges were sacked when the new constitution came into operation and treated shamefully. The 1978 constitution repeated the activities of the 1972 constitutions. Judges were once again sacked and treated shamefully. At a later point they were even stoned.

 It is these cultures we developed that have led to the present crisis of lack of values beyond the economy itself and formed the base for Aragalaya. The 1978 constitution took the centralisation of power in the 1972 constitution even further and centralized it in the  office of one person, the executive president. He could now be even above the law, like the kings of old before parliaments that represented the people came into being. The first executive president of Sri Lanka, J R Jayewardene, said that the only power he did not possess was the power to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man. It is not surprising that with this power going into  the hands of the elected rulers, that the abuse  of power and corruption should grow without  limit. From being  a country  near the top of Asia at the time of independence, Sri Lanka  is today nearer the bottom. The life savings of its people have been halved in half a year and not a single politician has faced a legal accountability process.

 The 22nd Amendment belongs to the family of constitutional amendments  that began with the 17th Amendment of 2001. This  amendment was  agreed to by the then president due to the weakening of the government at that time. The  JVP  then,  as now, the party of the disadvantaged in society, gave the lead. The amendment resulted in the reduction of the power of the president and sharing those powers with parliament, state institutions and with civil society. The idea behind the 17th Amendment was to strengthen the system of checks and balances and thereby promote good governance in the national interest. The 19th Amendment that resembles it was the work of a coalition of parties that had opposed the abuse of power of the rulers they had just deposed through an electoral mandate.

 HIGH CORRUPTION

 However, the limitation on the powers of the rulers has never been acquiesced by those who would be rulers or belong to their party. The 17th Amendment was overturned in 2010 by the 18th Amendment that gave back to the presidency the powers it had lost plus some more. When this led to an increase in the abuse of powers by the rulers, the  successor government brought in the 19th amendment to once again reduce the powers of the presidency. This was in pursuance of the mandate sought at the presidential election of 2015. But once again in 2019, those who formed the next government overruled the 19th Amendment and with the 20th Amendment and gave back to the presidency its lost powers plus some more.

 It is under the 20th Amendment which is about to be repealed that the corruption and abuse of power in the country reached its zenith and plunged the people into unprecedented economic hardship and poverty. It is these hardships that gave rise to the Aragalaya, or protest movement, that culminated with the physical storming of government buildings and the forced resignations of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers. The shrinking of the middle class who have toiled a lifetime are now falling between the cracks and joining the poor and vulnerable created by the government in less than three years. Yet highlighting the priorities of the rulers, no  one of the seem to be thinking of compensating those who have lost their savings, only of compensation of what happened to a few of the rulers and their henchmen during the 2015-2019 period  or the Aragalaya period in which the houses of the rulers, much beyond their known sources of wealth and income were burned down.

 An Indian political analyst Dr Maya John, has written, “Although the Aragalaya targeted not only individual politicians like the Rajapaksas but also the wider ambit of corrupt political forces – as evident in the parallel slogans of “GotaGoHome” and “225GoHome” – the bulk of people’s energy was overtly focused on dislodging certain individuals from political power; indicating the tendency for the ruling establishment to still hold sway with the ouster of particular politicians. As the well-known Sinhalese proverb goes: inguru deela miris gaththa wage (exchanging ginger for chilli), we have simply got rid of something bad and got something worse in return. So, the Rajapksas have been replaced but the same ruling clique and political system remain intact; in fact, in a more offensive reincarnation.”

UNEQUAL TREATMENT

 The protest movement was a reaction to the social  tolerance limits, economic hardships, shortages, queues and steep price rises that in effect halved the general income of the people, with some suffering more than others. But the crackdown on them by the rulers has been both subtle and harsh in the present period. Those who gave it leadership are being picked off one by one, put into jail or being put on bail so that they dare not protest again. The unequal and discriminatory treatment of the protest movement is given the veneer of law which the government would he hoping would get it through the monitoring of the UN Human Rights Council next month and preserve the economic rewards of the EU’s GSP Plus, which is given to country’s that are making a genuine effort to improve the lot of their people, poor people not only the rich.

 In 2018, parliamentarians who attempted to stage a constitutional coup (which failed because the judiciary stood firm) sat on the chair of the Speaker of parliament whom they had forcibly chased off. They flung chairs and wrenched microphones out of their sockets. But none of them were punished even when the coup failed. However, those who joined the protest movement and sat in the chair of the president are being houndeds one by one and arrested. A protester who took the beer mug of the deposed president has been arrested. But ministers who are accused of corruption, accused reportedly even by diplomats accredited to the country, and ministers who have been convicted by the courts, sit on, in government. Such unequal and discriminatory treatment is likely to cause the sense of grievance to grow especially when the people are faced with price rises and shortages. They form the basis  to cause another Aragalaya.

 The current version of the 22nd Amendment which gives the rulers the power to pick the civil society members who will be in the constitutional council is not a sign that the government will heed the voice of the people. In this reluctance to be held accountable and to use power in a just manner, is a recipe for confrontation between the rulers and people in the future in which repression will be the response of the rulers who disregard the people. It may explain  why the military budget continues to take first place despite the economic collapse. Unless the people’s voices are represented truly in the parliament and the political processes, which can only come through a fresh set of elections, it is difficult to expect accountability in the system which is a formula for disaster sooner or later.

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