Renton de Alwis: “When will we learn to think like Sri Lankans”
A plea to all Sri Lankans … regardless of race, cast or creed and to all leaders of nations who seek to take on what is ours to do. When will we learn to think like Sri Lankans and not as people belonging to different political parties, races or interest groups?
I know and agree that there had been and there still is much that needs to be made right in our political and social systems in many spheres. There is much wrong that I’m, like most of you longing to see corrected. There is still a lot of hurt, negative emotion, disappointment and even dismay in our midst. Yet, I believe that we need to protest and protest strongly, when other nations seek to interfere in what is basically our problem to solve.
There is so much hypocrisy in how powerful nations handle human rights issues, especially when it is about nations that are vulnerable. I, as a Sri Lankan who does not tag on to anyone’s line or need, not being a slave to any ideology, register my strongest protest on moves by any other nation, the UN Civil Rights Council or the UN system to interfere in affairs that are basically our own to solve.
Let us all get together and seek ways to implement just solutions to enable all Sri Lankans to live in harmony in this country, where every citizen’s right to live with dignity and honour with access to equal opportunities is assured regardless of their race.
We appeal to those nations that are seeking to subdue our human rights and freedom in making our own decisions, to refrain from such acts for with all our faults, it is we who need to seek and find solutions to our issues as an independent and sovereign nation.
Mine may be a lone voice, for mine does not have any political party lines or interest groups resonating in the background, yet I want you to know that mine is a true Sri Lankan voice of someone who deeply loves the country, who wants true peace to prevail in our midst and are yearning for the success of Motherland.
Indi Samarajiva: Have to be “everybody the same”
The Southern Expressway Bus is empty these days, so I’ve been taking it. Ended up in Hikkaduwa at a restaurant with a photo of Mahinda on the wall. The owner was railing against the government. “After two years, the government will be changing,’ he said. I almost laughed. The owner firmed his face and said, “Not think so. Going to happen.” “Nothing to do with the President and his family. It’s the small (people)” he went on. Referring to the local catchers and thugs.
This man’s main problem is that tourists demand alcohol (everybody wants a beer on the beach) and he can’t legally sell. But, every restaurant on the strip is selling. Yet, only certain people are getting busted by the cops. Those without political connections. “They catch me and the other guy,” he said. “That guy is political; he’s released before my eyes. Only catching a few people. Have to treat everybody the same.”
That, essentially, is the problem. I personally think that the problem stems from Mahinda and his family as much as from the catchers below him, but inequality (of opportunity) is the problem. For years the issue has been inequality between Tamil and Sinhalese, but inequality really slices in multiple ways (including race). The biggest inequality that people see today is those who are connected vs those who are not, loku miniya vs podi miniya, he said. That’s ‘the big man’ and the ‘little man’ and more precisely the size difference.
You can see it in the protests on the street. Ministers still have their vehicles. Mihin Lanka still has gas in the tank. Yet average people are suffering. Now these people are like, ‘What about me?’ Thus you get the bus drivers on strike, the fishermen on strike, all wanting in.
Then you get the teachers on strike, the nurses and other government servants. They want in too. Because the Sri Lankan people are not dumb and this isn’t a dictatorship. It’s their country and they want in. As much as most people respect Mahinda for ending the war, they’re really not too happy with the way stuff is being handled now. It was OK for the catchers and cronies to make their money while the tide was rising, but now that it’s gone out, we can see who’s swimming naked.
In this Hikkaduwa case, the owner wants to sell booze and he thinks the current policy is unrealistic and implemented selectively. This leads to corruption in the police and courts and ultimately hurts the local economy. He wants a level playing field for tourism, which the government is so proud to support.
Around the country, people want a level field for education, for jobs, for salaries, ultimately for opportunity. Mahinda did a very good job of holding Parliament together, holding the military together, and holding the country together in the end. Now, however, he’s got to balance the demands of a lot of people knocking on the door to their own house. All wanting in. As my friend said, “Have to be everybody the same. We do the business.”
Pradeep Jeganathan: “A stake in Sri Lanka”
Stakeholder is a relatively new word in a family of words that often mean less than they should. Grassroots and empowerment are slightly older words in the same family; which are soft versions for radical (root), dissent and protest. Each reiteration of these concepts has made them softer and softer, so that, they sound good at dinner parties and you can, as they say, ‘take them home to mother’. I am uncomfortable with the word, used in the context of radical politics, for this very reason; while it first invoked for me something like the Oklahoma land rush – ride in and stake your claim – now it suggests a bland cooperate style of looking good, as in ‘we will consult with all the stakeholders’ (while we make profits).
That said, what does it mean? A stakeholder has an interest so significant in something that she/he must be affected by the outcomes of that something.
Let’s say that something is Sri Lanka, this island we live in. And so, who holds the stakes? Does Robert Halfon the MP for Harlow, in the UK Commons have a stake in Sri Lanka? He is the author of a widely circulated article entitled, “The Sri Lankan government must stop persecuting Tamils and acting like a rogue nation,” which he says follows a major debate in the commons on Sri Lanka. His column betrays deep misunderstandings of the situation in Sri Lanka; but this is not what I wish to discuss. Let’s take whatever he says and ask, “Does he have a stake?” Well he has a stake in Harlow for sure, because he may wish to be reelected there, but does he have a stake in Sri Lanka? Well in an extended sense he does, because if his efforts to have Sri Lanka listed as ‘rouge nation’ are successful, then his chances of reelection could increase.
Stakes, as it turns out, also have a moral centre or, if you like, a politics. Robert Halfon has a stake, but I would argue it’s not a legitimate one – his career in politics will be enhanced by a negative outcome in Sri Lanka. And yes, that’s my moral or political judgment, and yes, you may well disagree.
What about others? Those of Sri Lanka descent in Harlow? Do they have a stake, even if they wish the worst for Sri Lanka? Yes they do, and it’s a legitimate stake I say, if they are also willing to take the consequences that go with nation being labeled a rouge state. If someone is willing to live in this country, and take it what comes with sanctions and boycotts, then yes their stake is legitimate I’d say – and I extend that to Robert Halfon, except it seems remote that he is going to be a neighbour any time soon.
The question of stakes came up, in a good way, when a Facebook group, “Sri Lankans without boarders, (SLWB)” began discussing a column I had written for The Nation recently. In their own self-description, SLWB is “…a growing not-for-profit network based in Toronto that provides young Canadian professionals of Sri Lankan origin with opportunities to connect, build and lead initiatives that promote peace and reconciliation in the Diaspora community in Canada and Sri Lanka.” The question of stakes was then posed to me, and my written view was, “only citizens of Sri Lanka have a stake in things Sri Lankan,” not everyone else. Now by this I don’t mean to say others don’t have a right to comment, to criticise and make their opinions known. And yes, I’d say everyone in SLWB who thinks they have a stake, does have one, because they can affect outcomes in Sri Lanka. It can also for a person of Sri Lankan descent, affect their ‘identity construct’ as Gayathri Fernando an active participant in that forum put it to me. Changes in Sri Lanka, the thing people have the stake in, change how they see themselves. That’s also an outcome.
I think stakes of those who live outside Sri Lanka, and who are not citizens, who do not really contemplate returning to Sri Lanka to live here – and that’s some, not all of the Diaspora, of course – are better elaborated through an alliance with a person, group or community that’s in Sri Lanka, that lives here with the consequences of what happens here. So it’s better that simply going with, ‘If I diss Sri Lanka I can get reelected in Harlow?’ Far superior would be, ‘If I criticize Sri Lanka, will it be a better place for someone I care about who lives there?’
And while this is my view, I’d say lots of Sri Lankan Canadians I’ve conversed with on this Facebook forum do seem to be guided by this simple principle; I thank them for the dialog, and look forward to more.
One response to “Renton, Indi, Pradeep: Three Perspectives for Lanka in THE NATION, 26 February 2012”
You might also find my article in today’s Nation relevant to this theme.