It is 27 years since Black July – and just over one year since the war ended… in a remote mangrove in the North.
Gowri was 19 years old, her father was a clerical hand. It had taken Shanmugam 40 years to reach the position of Head Clerk. Shanmugam and his wife Shanthi’s only ambition was to see that Gowri enters university. They wanted simple things in life. Gowri to enter university, find a stable government job, and a lifelong partner. But then July 1983 happened. Shanmugam is no more. Both his wife and daughter continue to live in exile. They were the lucky ones. Despite having lost a husband and father and a house burnt to cinders. Having to start life with only the clothes they wore. There were thousands of Shanmugams who couldn’t leave. Who paid a lifelong price and continue to do so with a government suffering from acute paranoia. What else can you call it after the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order launched a programme to register all citizens of Sri Lanka, insisting the move would make Sri Lanka a safer place to live.
With this bogus objective in place the police and army have been given unlimited powers to “flush out” any “suspicious” Tamils. Only last week a journalist living on Lake Drive had an early morning call (5.30 a.m.) from men in military uniform seeking entry to her home. Asked why – they replied to “look for Tamils”. They then scrutinised the identity cards of the Tamil nationals and their registration papers.
In her chequered history Sri Lanka has done this before. In the 1960s there was no violence but it was equally telling – a language issue was brought up which drove the Burgher community away. This time to Australia and they have prospered. Sri Lanka has been the poorer for they were the binding force between communities. Yet, the nation shows no regret.
The Indian labourer who has contributed so much to our economy in the Hill Country and of course a few Chinese families were stateless for well over 50 years since independence. What a disgraceful indictment on a country that insists it is a thriving democracy. But hardly anyone cared.
When developed nations are moving to allow their citizens who are overseas to use their franchise at elections we are moving to disenfranchise those in the North and East who have fled.
There is only one explanation for all of this. The current leadership of this country is suffering from an acute attack of PARANOIA. How else can anyone explain the continuing abduction of journalists, (Prageeth Eknaligoda) attempting to reactivate the Press Council – which had no effect – and now trying to reintroduce draconian laws against the media – by giving a fancy name like Media Development Authority.
The tragedy of this comic situation is that all of this effort will result in further suppression of the freedom of movement and expression when action demands that the country be placed on a war footing to fight dengue. Shouldn’t the President and the cabinet of ministers concentrate in arresting the dengue menace as the priority now? Most elections are over – the presidential and general elections are over and won’t be held for another five years. But, why is it that when you switch the radio or the TV on you get the feeling that the President is being promoted as if another presidential election is around the corner?
Sooner than later the government will have to decide to call an end to trying to find the last of the LTTE cadres. Checkpoints will have to be dismantled and emergency rule ended. If the government for political reasons decide to continue the hunt for the remaining few cadres of the LTTE indefinitely, then reconciliation and economic development will be affected.
The government needs to consider the repercussions of over militarisation. It will not only create an issue of massive cost but also take people out of productive work. At the same time if the North is made in to one big military garrison then reconciliation will be a non starter. Normalcy is when there are no uniformed armed soldiers on the streets and police is there only to maintain normal law and order.
The other danger for the government is when the very same people who praise the government for the military victory get disillusioned when there is no peace dividend in sight. People expect the economy to grow, jobs to be created, services to improve etc etc. What has been proved over and over in this country is that our people are an impatient lot. They will not wait for years for the peace dividend. Without the country returning to normalcy very quickly, this peace dividend will not materialise and the government may find itself in political trouble much sooner than they expect.
For decades now successive ruling parties have killed, harassed and intimidated journalists they did not like. In the last few decades no single political leader or political party whether in power right now or in opposition can claim otherwise. No political leader can claim that he or she was not actively involved or kept quiet when journalists were being murdered.
During the decades of such suppression of freedoms of expression, astrologers went on making predictions including those that were political. They predicted the fall of governments, victories for political parties at elections and even some political personalities were told that they were going to become “king” etc., etc. Some of these predictions came true but most never happened. BUT NO ONE WAS ARRESTED, ABDUCTED OR KILLED.
Astrology in fact was the lucky profession. Astrologers enjoyed freedom of expression that journalists only dreamed of. However those good old days are over. The curbs on freedom of expression imposed by the current regime, has now caught up with them too. They will no longer be able to predict natural disasters, hardships for the people or to put it simply they can only predict ‘GOOD NEWS’. Like journalists, those astrologers who dare to otherwise will face the possibility of being killed, picked up by a white van and assaulted or politely told to choose another profession.
What is frightening is that all this happens now when the ruling party is enjoying an unprecedented wave of popular support following the defeat of the LTTE. And more so with the opposition in total disarray, the government should have nothing to fear.
Imagine if you can, what the response of this government would be when it is not so popular and the opposition gets its act together? One does not have to be an astrologer to predict that.