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Democracy favours the Brave

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University lecturers and Legal Professionals are demanding the resignations of two very important figures. University Lecturers’ Trade Union, Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) is demanding the resignation of University Grants’ Commission Chairwoman, Kshanika Hirimburegama while the legal fraternity headed by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is demanding the resignation of Chief Justice Mohan Peiris. Both of these appointments were made during the Rajapaksa regime. To put if very briefly, both were political appointments.

Kshanika Hirimburegama and Mohan Peiris were not the only politically appointed officials under the previous regime, several judges were named to the Supreme Court by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to aid and abet in serving justice and almost all the Vice Chancellors of the universities were politically appointed to keep a tight leash on the university community, especially students. Add to it the number of unfair decisions given in all levels of the judiciary system and the Deans and Marshalls within universities who acted on the orders of the former Higher Education Minister, it is safe to say, that more than two people should be resigning from their positions in the aftermath of the dramatic fall of the Rajapaksa regime.
However, even the most famously corrupted like the CJ and UGC chairwoman are refusing to resign. Why is that? Leading officials of BASL and FUTA were among the enthusiastic campaigners of the Maithri Palanaya. This government should be receptive towards their grievances. But to the dismay of the BASL and the FUTA the most hated officials of their respective fields are still in office and shows no sign of going away and it goes without saying that both FUTA and BASL are threatening actions against these non-resignations.

While we must admire the enthusiasm of both University academics and lawyers in their attempts to get rid of most corrupted and politically bias authorities, it should also be critically highlighted that these attempts come a little too late to save democratic values in the country and these actions do nothing to protect and sustain democracy when they cannot be realised under most straining political situations. Or to put it in much simpler words, what were these lecturers and lawyers doing when the appointments were initially made? Well, they protested, handed over letters and petitions and eventually they got used to it, they got used to working under politically appointed bodies.

Why? Because the political situation of the country, under the previous regime required a much more vigorous and a strenuous fight for law and democracy, for autonomy of universities than what these prestigious lawyers and university lecturers were willing to offer. It required confronting the full power of the Mahinda regime, it required the risk of being white vanned and assaulted and may be more decisive than all that, it required risking their most beloved livelihoods. Lecturers would have had to opt for a trade union action, a continuous strike may be until the UGC chairwoman was removed, and the lawyers had to take the plunge and boycotted the court of still current CJ Mohan Peiris. However, both groups did not take the measures that should have been taken to prevent the country from plunging into further authoritarianism.

Democracy is a value, a process that comes alive only in the practice of it. This is a lesson that Americans learned in the past few months with Ferguson protests. In a country which boasts of democracy to the world, African Americans were jailed and beaten up just like in the streets of Colombo, when they agitated for the protection of their youth who were being murdered by none other than the police. Democracy, which we all thought was alive and kicking in America it seems was only so in theory.
While lecturers and lawyers are gearing up for another round of the battle, and this time under less authoritarianism and a government they themselves endorsed, it will be useful to remember that democracy,  even bourgeois democracy does not come with two days spent on the streets.

Lawyers cannot build the independence of the judiciary by merely wishing for it, they must act, protest and break all kinds of laws in the process to establish it. Bending in front of the limits of procedural democracy, without striding onwards towards a more meaningful, substantive democracy by asserting democracy as something that lives, instead of begging for it from the masters is what is required to get rid of the Chief Justice. If Mohan Peiris becomes the ambassador to even the most insignificant of the countries, under a secret deal made with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe as the rumours suggest, democracy will suffer and any win that the men in black cloaks might boast of would be in reality a slap on the face of democratic aspirations of the people. Lecturers too need to assert the autonomy of universities by simply practicing it, by not giving way to these political appointments. May be learn from their much younger counterparts, students who have been continuously struggling in spite of the jails and the exhaustion that awaits them.

The struggle will not be convenient, but both these groups must believe in the struggle. Practice of direct democracy, illegal democracy as it was proven last year with all the court orders against popular protest marches, is the route to the kind of democracy we deserve and anything that falls short will be futile.  Democracy will not fall at your feet, unless the people create the much needed gravity. At the end of the day, democracy, political and economical, is also a question of courage and determination as much as it is about the objective conditions that might or might not favour their victory.

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