Taking stock of a shameful time
By Malinda Seneviratne
The anti-war folk dreamed up an interesting signboard for the
demonstration regarding the killing of TNA parliamentarian K.Raviraj.
‘Shame’ it said. In Sinhala it was even more interesting. ‘Lajjai’ is
also a confession, as in ‘I am ashamed’. Someone might even say
There is a lot to be ashamed about. As citizens, each and everyone of
us should be ashamed to live in a country where the law and order
situation is such that people get abducted, tortured and murdered while
the perpetrators go free. We should be ashamed that we live in a
country where fellow citizens don’t have access to basic needs and
especially food. We should be ashamed that we have a government that
does not seem to have a coherent plan (whether categorized under
‘negotiations’ or ‘military’) to eliminate the deadly threat of
terrorism so that this horrendous situation can be reversed. We should
be ashamed that we have a government that doesn’t seem to be doing much
by way of arresting the deteriorating law and order situation in the
The government has a hundred and one reasons to feel ashamed and so too
the opposition, which is anything but effective or even coherent. And
Raviraj, if he was watching from somewhere, would have felt ashamed
The demonstration, so-called, was advertised widely. It was not
‘massive’, say, compared to the JVP protest march that ended at the
Norwegian Embassy a few weeks before, but it was ‘massive’ in relation
to the numbers that self-styled ‘peace’ activists have managed to bring
out on other occasions. The cynics would say, ‘yeah, and that’s thanks
to the UNP trying to grab a piece of political capital,’ but that’s
hardly an issue here. The principle cause for shame is that the murder
of a citizen, a parliamentarian, a person who chose to articulate his
views democratically even if what he articulated was arguably seditious
in content, did not warrant a truly massive outpouring of outrage.
The JVP and the JHU, naturally would not want to have anything to do
with the anti-war people, but could these parties, given their
resources, not have done more to express condemnation?
There is a secondary reason for shame and this is why I read that
signboard as ‘confession’. The organizers, as has been pointed out by a
wide spectrum of the public, have been extremely selective in the
expression of grief. Kethish Loganathan was killed. Lakshman Kadirgamar
was killed. Countless others who were non-combatants in the same way
Raviraj was a non-combatant, were assassinated in cold blood. Those
murders were acts of terrorism. They too indicated that huge holes
exist in what we call ‘law and order’. Even if we spread the field to
describe it in the language they prefer, i.e. ‘failed/failing state’,
all of them are victims of acts that cannot be sanctioned in a civilised
society. Where was the grief? Where was the creativity that came up
with a signboard called ‘Shame’ (a confession though it turned out to
There was no aerial bombardment at Vihara Maha Devi Park that evening.
But when the first drops of rain fell, people left. Had Raviraj’s
corpse served its purpose? Is there no truth in the following (wry)
comment by a journalist covering the ‘demonstration’: “there is no peace
movement in Sri Lanka, there is only a peace market”? Or the
interjection, ‘No, what we have is a peace gnarugnuruwa’?
What kind of shame should be felt by those who quickly pointed the
finger at Douglas Devananda and those who insinuated that the EPDP was
responsible in some way, almost as though they were witnesses to the
murder, especially when they have fought shy of blaming the LTTE for
other such murders because ‘the investigations are not over yet’? Did
they pause to wonder if Raviraj’s life was more worth than that of his
bodyguard, Lakshman Lokuwella, if he was less of a father, less loved
and less loving?
Does the TNA, as they agitate in parliament, dwell on the shame of
looking the other way when fellow-Tamils are hunted down and shot on the
orders of their masters in Killinochchi?
And since we are on the subject of shame, let us reference the larger
scandals, the reasons for shame that are attributable to the high seats
of power. To put it bluntly, what of ‘the president and his merry men
Three hundred and sixty five days ago, the country got a new President.
Mahinda Rajapakse showed a manifesto, he got a mandate. He came with
promises. Sure, on election day he did not have a party and the day
after he became president he would have found that he didn’t have
‘friendly’ officials either.
He has used a year to consolidate, obtain a party, ‘manage’ the
opposition including the JVP and appears to be making some headway in
taking on the LTTE, both militarily and at the negotiating table.
Whereas there was resignation and capitulation in all previous dealings
with the terrorists, in the very least under Rajapaksa we have not had
to suffer humiliation at the hands of Balasingham and Co. Is this
reason enough to be happy?
Even as of today there doesn’t seem to be a cogent plan of action,
military or otherwise, aimed at defeating the LTTE. Where is the road
map? What are the landmarks indicating that progress is being made? So
far, nothing. Shameful, one can say. What of good governance? Why is
he sitting on the appointments to the Constitutional Council? Why is no
headway being made about necessary reforms that make for pragmatic and
efficient independence institutions? There are serious corruption
charges against the President’s ‘near and dear’. There is perceivable
nepotism. He may win the battle against terrorism, but the more
important war of putting the country right will be lost the way things
are going. The President too can confess ‘lajjai’.
Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP can also hang down their heads. This
is the arguably the worst opposition we have had in decades, more
preoccupied with the internal affairs of the party than operating as
watchdog on behalf of the people. For Wickremesinghe, party leadership
counts more than winning elections or democracy within the party. As
such he’s just another two-bit politician and by no means a statesman.
Some of his detractors are using the leadership crisis as an excuse to
jump over to the other side, entertaining hopes of cabinet posts. The
less said the better, but the word ‘shame’ cannot be deleted from that
particular political equation.
The word shame is applicable to other entities. Norway, for instance.
The word shame is not applicable to some entities. For example, the LTTE.
What they’ve done to this society and in particular the very people they
claim to represent ought to make them ashamed, but that would be little
consolation (if they understand that word, that is). Describing that
despicable political reality requires a new lexicon.
But why, one can ask, should we even bother about the LTTE? Shame is
something we need to deal with ourselves in the first instance. That
requires deep self-reflection and it is such meditation that will prompt
better and more credible engagement with forces that are detrimental to
the common good. ‘Can we be larger than we have been so far?’ is the
question that we face, as individuals, organizations, community and
political entity. It is a question that requires serious engagement and
therefore strength of character. Mahinda Rajapaksa downwards. Time
will tell whether we are deserving of better times.