Diamonds for whom?

Sixty years is a long time to remember, especially for a nation notorious for a very limited storage of collective memory. So after that long a time, since this country gained independence, it is but natural that many of us might not regard this event in the true sprit it deserves.

The day Sri Lanka celebrates as the one on which she broke the shackles of colonial rule, is ironically, one of the least free days for Sri Lankans living in the capital. Security becomes the primary concern, but officials also claim to be loathe to cancel the pomp and pageantry that marks each February 4, cloaked as it is in a tight security net. Tomorrow, the fighter jets will fly over Colombo skies and the great naval vessels, Sayura, Samudura, Sagara and Nandimithra will strut their stuff along the coastline of the capital, displaying the country’s military might and self-defence mechanisms as their Commander in chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, diplomats and honourary guests will applaud politely.

It means an entirely different thing to the man on the street however. Independence Day today, is more about several days of inconvenience on the roads of Colombo, which culminates in a grand parade held under tight security that the masses get to watch only on television. And what’s free about that?

So what is this Independence all about and to whom is it relevant? Is it yet another excuse to take a well earned break from the daily chore of carting ourselves to work?

Whether one is a university professor teaching eager young minds the science of politics or idling at the village grocery shop discussing politics, there is a universal acceptance among Sri Lankans that politicians of this country were the cause of the country’s downfall since Independence. The obsession with party politics since 1948, has taken this once blessed land down a slippery road that is even today leading us to the nadir of despair. This memory of post Independence Sri Lanka, with its many political upheavals, youth uprisings and terrorism, makes us conveniently forget that there was a time when we, as a people, were second class citizens in our own land, we were the slaves of a colonial master and that we would not have found our emancipation if not for a group of people who cast aside party, race and other differences to fight an unified battle to liberate this country from 400 years of subjugation.

For the present day Sri Lankan, it is almost impossible to fathom such unity. Even as the country stands upon a knife’s edge – economically, socially and militarily, not a single statesman has risen from the political rabble to say, ‘this fight belongs to all of us – it’s time to rise together.’ Instead, fractured and bleeding, Sri Lanka limps along to her diamond jubilee of independence. Where once she was the jewel among the new republics, today Sri Lanka has been left far behind by her peers, not to mention her neighbours – countries that have neither the resources nor potential that Sri Lanka has been blessed with.

Today as we celebrate our sixtieth year since gaining independence, let us hope and pray that we will be blessed with another generation of freedom fighters, this time to free us from the shackles of war and poverty that have entangled us, to deliver justice to the discriminated, to liberate us from the vicious cycles of corruption and violence that engulf every aspect of life in this country. There was once such a generation of leaders, is it really beyond our dreams to hope for another in our lifetime? Perhaps, by some chance miracle, when we celebrate our 70th year of liberation from the imperialists, every Sri Lankan will no longer suffer under the yoke of hunger and war. When the collective destiny of our nation is no longer tear-filled and despairing, only then shall we be able to claim that we are free at last.

Sixty years!. We have come a long way. A diamond jubilee for a nation that was reborn and reshaped after centuries of living by the rules of the invader. Sri Lanka is capable of becoming so much more. Peace, prosperity and the ability to determine her own destiny – these are the birthrights of Sri Lanka’s children - a right freedom fighters of yesteryear fought so hard to secure. As children of this great nation, it is all we can do to hope that even though our todays are so very fragile and insecure, our tomorrows might be somewhat better; that Sri Lanka’s spirit, if nothing else, will prove, like the diamond, unconquerable.