Independence introspection

Every February 4, proves a time for introspection for the country at large. It is the anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence from colonial power, when after 133 years of living under the yoke of the British Empire, this tiny island’s forefathers won the battle for freedom and self-rule.
It is true that living in this day and age, a few of us have any recollection of what it means to be governed by foreigners. Most of our knowledge sources are the stories told by grandparents, books and monuments the imperialists have left behind. But there is one thing the present day Sri Lankan does know. He knows that ‘independence’ in its truest form, has to be much more than what we experience today.
Sri Lanka’s citizenry is far from being free. In fact, one might even say that the average citizen is incarcerated. Theirs is a jail made from food bills they cannot pay, children that need to be provided for, crops they cannot grow and job opportunities that never come their way.
Sri Lanka is far from free.
If freedom is defined by economic independence, then every child born in this country enters the world with the yoke of debt around its neck. The state’s debts owed to lending agencies and foreign countries are so monumental that every Sri Lankan owes someone somewhere thousands of dollars that they will never be able to repay in their lifetimes.
No, Sri Lanka is not free.
Her political history has been painted the colour of conflict; there have been defections and disloyalties, betrayal and mistrust that have pervaded the political sphere for over half a century. Statesmanship and true leadership are phrases present-day politicians know nothing of, caught up as they are in the politics of greed and corruption. Sri Lanka’s people have no charismatic state leadership to look up to and so they go to the polls year on year, to elect one corrupt politician over the other, alternatively. To hope for a better tomorrow under today’s political leadership would prove a futile exercise and so the sacred franchise, so hard won by our ancestors, have become nothing more than one more tool for politicians to exploit.
Independence must mean more than this.
In the North and East, Sri Lanka’s people, on whose behalf too the battle for independence from the British Empire was fought, live in appalling conditions and abject poverty, thrust this way and that with the changing tide of the ethnic conflict, at one time terrorised by a megalomaniac in Kilinochchi and at the other, by over-zealous government troops. Who will call them free, those beleaguered peoples, caught quite literally between the devil and the deep blue sea? ‘Freedom struggles’ are fought in their names and operations are undertaken to ‘liberate’ them from the terrorist, but which of them can stand up today and say with conviction, ‘I am free’?
And the tragedy, that these ethnic flames too were fanned by politicians no less; unscrupulous men whose lust for power overrode their considerations for this country’s future.
Add to our troubles that civil liberties have taken a severe beating in recent years, as successive corrupt leaders attempted to muzzle the citizenry through fear and the denial of their fundamental rights, and there we have it. A country and a nation state that is economically, politically, socially and morally bankrupt, offering little hope to its 20 million strong populace.
And this is why we look back on that first Independence Day so introspectively when February comes around. We look back nostalgically on the ties that bound those freedom fighters, (Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim) of our country so tightly together against the invader. We ache for the unfractured nature of pre-independence politics and the country that achieved self-sufficiency for the first time in centuries. We long for the country and the leadership that was in 1948: fresh from winning its freedom, starry eyed about the future and filled with fire to finally do justice to its people.
We look back for guidance, for answers, for some truth that will set this nation free from the yoke that has shackled it in the 59 years after the foreign invader left us to our own devices. Yes, February 4, is a day for reflection; reflection and prayer. Prayer that merciful change in our lifetime will bring home to us the true meaning of ‘freedom.’