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
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
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.’