Sri Lanka: Grateful to whom — A view of Independence

It is almost a year to the 70 years of freedom celebration. 2018 is sure to have a big bash by whoever rules Diyawanna Oya. As Sri Lankans, let us hope that at least in this remaining eleven months we will see some genuine progress before the next celebration comes.


by Capt Elmo Jayawardena

( February 14, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) From the beginning of this month leading up to the 4th I heard every day the drone of aircraft engines and watched aeroplanes fly in formation over my head. It was a beautiful spectacle against the back-drop of a clear blue sky. The occasion was the celebration of Independence on the 4th of February and this was Sri Lanka Air Force training for the sky parade. The fly-past practices were obviously to fine-tune the formations flown by the Airforce pilots. The display was going to be over the Galle Face to show-case their flight skills. What flying I saw on the days prior to the Independence Celebration was very good, correct speed, correct line and the flying was well-coordinated and accurately done, no doubt about that part.

On the 4th the parades coloured the Galle Face, attended by the High and the Mighty and their honoured invitees in comfortable seats under the shades. Of course, we the ordinary lesser beings were on the electronic screens at home. The spectacle was all about the prowess of colonial-freed Mother Lanka governed by her own sons and daughters. Independence is an absolute ‘must’ celebration. It is the pride of a once-shackled nation. Those who have been under the yoke of colonial powers should remember the freedoms they have achieved and cherish the thought of shedding chains that bound us when the New World conquered the natives of this planet. Sure there must be a celebration, but what kind? And why? And what should we be celebrating? Most importantly who should we be grateful to?

I watched the Dialog version of the spectacle. The marching soldiers were a treat on the screen. The Tri-Forces displayed perfection as they marched representing their various units. Along with them rolled their hardware-loaded battle vehicles. Their commitment to serve the country was clearly on display and these are the young men and women in uniform to whom we should ever be grateful. They are the custodians of our homeland and our hope in the event of crisis. It wasn’t long ago that their comrades from thesevery same units paraded for independence celebrations of yester-year. Then they packed their bags and carried their firearms and went to the North or to the East to fight and die for a country to save its sovereignty. Shallow unmarked graves in sand dunes in the shade of scanty palmyrah trees do bear witness to their sorrowful sacrifices. Maybe a faded photograph keeps a memory alive in a semi-shanty home of loved ones who wept, or a line in a granite war memorial carries a name supposed to be for eternal remembrance. The story ends there of how the country was liberated, by those who shed their blood, mostly anonymous. It was our forces, our soldiers who fought ‘their war’ to free our country. The ones on the march in 2017 were of the same thread, irrespective of which regiment they belonged to. Maybe there is some mistake here in the true sense of gratitude. The leaders sipping cool drinks and sitting in the shade appeared to be the curators of our independent nation. They are the ones who get the salute from the masses that march in the hot sun.

It sure brings out the embarrassing question, to whom must we be grateful?

So we had a march past on Galle Face and the platoon leader yelled “eyes right” and the troops turned their heads in unison to honour the leaders who govern our independent homeland. The aeroplanes flew overhead in formation, fast jets, slower transport planes and hovering helicopters. The Navy had their gunboats drew sea-sprayed white lines across aquamarine waves demonstrating manoeuvers that made them look mercurial. Every possible armed force was represented in the smartly uniformed service personnel marching in precision. All this while Diyawanna Oya stood ramrod straight and watched the pageant basking in counterfeit glory as if all that Sri Lanka achieved for the last 69 years was solely and directly due to the magnificent governance politicians have given to our beloved homeland. (Among the whitened sepulchers there definitely were decent committed leaders. But that is a small numerical at present, getting smaller by the day and appearing sadly as going fast into extinction)

In the wilderness of my weird imagination I see a different parade. Why not keep the VVIPs in the fancy marquis along with their high brass company and change the marchers? Let the Tri-Forces take a rest, they have done enough for their motherland. Let’s get the real show on the road. Why not fill the parade with those that stand in front of the Fort Railway station carrying the protest placards seeking justice for the mismanagements and corruptions of our rulers? There would be so many, some right and some wrong but who would know the difference? The Lipton Circus clan, the SAITM objectors, the ‘Bond Avengers’ all can be part of the parade. They can also add more to colour the procession, COPE committee, Bribery Commission, FCID, Civil Rights Movements, Voice against Corruption and many others of similar interests so that the country would know whether we should be celebrating or crying in shame. If in our imagination if such a march ever takes place they should blare by loud-speakers to the nation Nanda Malini Gokula’s immortal song ‘Avurudu Dedahas Panseeyak.’ The lyrics match perfectly, that sure is the truth.

Anun kotawala, Agul atawala rajawethi mage un hamadamath
Mage raja daruwan mage jana daruwan gena baluwe naa kawadawath.
Doesn’t it say it all? Especially the second line, how Mother Lanka’s rulers NEVER took care of the people of this country.

Amidst the blowing of shining brass instruments that trumpeted marching rhythms and the ‘thump-thump’ of jack boots to the drum beats and the clash of cymbals the organizers should have broken the fanfare and taken a littlebreak to respect the truth. Let’s take an honest audit of the journey we have travelled for 69 years. True there was a conflict for 30 years that almost ruined the entire nation. But what about the aftermath? Political leadershave had time and space to charter our path from 2009. What did they do? What is the truth? Do we really know or have an inkling of what happened and what is happening in the ivory towers of Diyawanna Oya? The proletariat is mostly like headless chicken running around with vanishing hopes of a promised land. We have heard the wail of who stole millions and who stashed away billions almost like the national anthem. But where is the justice? Has anyone gone to jail? Of course some are in remand custody but they do get instant illnesses and shift their lodging to hospital beds. That is only the tip of the iceberg.

Forget the 69 years of freedom. Let’s look at what happened from 2009 after the conflict was over. Two leaderships governed us. Of course there was some progress. Let’s not deny that. But what about the mortal sins that came out of Diyawanna Oya? Every newspaper everyday has more headlines on corruption and mismanagement than any happy tidings. When is all this going to end? When is Mother Lanka going to make a ‘U’ turn and move on a genuine path of progress? Aren’t we, the ordinary Sri Lankans entitled to it? Look at those little children in lily-white uniforms representing every race and religion. It is their country and their future and their basic human rights that we are blasting away by tolerating the culture of politics that is being practiced.

It is almost a year to the 70 years of freedom celebration. 2018 is sure to have a big bash by whoever rules Diyawanna Oya. As Sri Lankans, let us hope that at least in this remaining eleven months we will see some genuine progress before the next celebration comes. We are not asking for the moon, not even a tree top, but basic rights to live in our God-gifted homeland and be governed by reasonable people who show some sensibilities and integrity. Of course the unanimous plea of all of us would be a common prayer, to see at least some sort of a reduction in the corridors of corruption.

That then would be the yardstick, and the catalyst to celebrate Independence and to sincerely know to whom we should be grateful.

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