To elect their man. What for? If this man comes, then I can dig earth, mine sand, kill anyone, rape, import ethanol, traffic drugs and that is why they go to any distance to have their man made a king…….In Sri Lanka bro, from the birth certificate to the death certificate, everything is a fraud. That bro, is the fault of the system…..”
These are very words (in Sinhala) of Ranjan Ramanayake, picked from a long answer he gave some journalists on 11 November (2019) when he was questioned on corruption (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MOCfjX5cwA)
Ramanayake’s assessment of the Sinhala society was proved right on February 10 last, when District Forest Officer Devani Jayatilake had a lone battle against political pressure to stand for her right to act within the law. It was on behalf of the local culprits that Ramanayake told about, the State Minister Sanath Nishantha stood for pretending he was for the People. Some in social media appreciated Sanath Nishantha’s disciplined language and behaviour, forgetting he is still at large on bail allowed by the Chillaw Court. He is an accused in a criminal case with his brother who was chairman of the Arachchikattuwa PS in attacking the Divisional Secretary Arachchikattuwa. He knew quite well, any fisticuffs could end bail for him. Thus, his stooges were allowed to play tough that day. The loud silence of other State officials was also a silence that endorsed this political thuggery. Except for one gentleman who spoke out at that meeting, as Ramanayake said, the larger majority stood silent and endorsed corruption and fraud.
There were many other government officers before Devani Jayatilake in Gampaha who faced threats and insults, trying to enforce law and act within the law. Last year (2019), during Good Governance rule, Divisional Secretary Ms. Niroshani Pathirana of Polpithigama too faced such threat, when a JVP PS member walked into her office with stooges and demanded she accedes to his request. Despite threats, she refused saying she works within her mandate. (https://twitter.com/i/status/1227961624415395840) Yet, in social media she was no hero, with only some random mention and few who praised her.
In November 2016, again during Good Governance rule, a saffron thug in Batticoloa by the name Ampitiye Sumana threatened a Tamil Grama Seva Officer using utter filth in front of a senior police officer and few other police personnel, demanding no action be taken against Sinhala residents illegally settled in State land. “Keep in mind you fellow, if any of these Sinhala people are moved out of these lands, the Muslim and the Tamil judiciary will be done to a finish” he threatened the Tamil GS Officer in front of the police. Instead of confronting, the Tamil GS officer kept silent till the police officer took away the saffron thug (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un5AYq1rPGk) to continue with his duties. It is unimaginable how a public servant could attend to his official duties in such a life-threatening environment. Yet for most social media activists this Tamil GS Officer was not even worth mention. Leave alone him being praised a hero, he wasn’t even seen by the majority in social media as an honest public servant and nothing went viral for him.
Though there are no mainstream media coverage and no viral sharing of videos and posts in social media, there are enough and many public servants who honestly and independently attend to their duties and thus face threats and insults for acting within law. For anyone to be crowned a “hero”, majority of the Sinhala Buddhists in social media, have their own criteria. The first and the most important criteria is being a Sinhala Buddhist. Even if the officer undergoes death threats, faces physical assaults and insults in carrying out his or her duty honestly and as the law permits, he or she will not be recognised for praise and applause, if not Sinhala Buddhist. That explains why the Tamil GS Officer in Batticaloa was not as important as the Sinhala Buddhist Devani in Gampaha for the vast majority of social media addicts.
The second important criteria to be hyped as a “hero” is the geographical positioning and that invariably is Western Province for economic reasons. There too, Kalutara district is no more noticed as important with Gampaha making a vibrant presence in this growing free market economy. It is thus the city-based huge market that makes a “hero” more valid for recognition. It is where political power is very conspicuous and the market matters the most. The distant and rural Polpithigama though Sinhala Buddhist nor Batticoloa in the East therefore cannot compete with Negambo in Gampaha.
The third is the possibility of giving stubbornness of the officer an anti-Rajapaksa hue. Hyping Polpithigama Divisional Secretary standing her ground to act within the law would have exposed “Good Governance” rule. Therefore, to have named her as an independent, law abiding honest public officer would have made good governance rule look no different to “Rajapaksa rule”. That therefore is no qualification to be hyped as a “hero”. Also, highlighting the plight of the Batticaloa GS officer’s issue would prove good governance far more racially savage than even the Rajapaksa rule. Therefore, he too does not qualify to be a “hero” of Sinhala Buddhists.
What needs to be therefore stressed is, it is the Sinhala Buddhist supremacist mind set and the irrational anti-Rajapaksa sentiments of the Colombo associated middleclass that decides “heroes” in this society and is hyped through social media. Even those who come with mega projects for “tree planting” in city pavements and in urban backyards while thick green forests are logged without any “heroic protests” against them and “Feminists” who try to feel their way into sectarian stardom with “women are that, they stand against corruption” forget they are also back-packs in this Sinhala supremacist, anti-Rajapaksa middleclass trending. On the first glance, there are contradictions in them. But according to Ramanayake’s simple explanation, there are no contradictions in terms of political parties. That in fact is the truth. Contradictions are not between different elements in the fray for big money and publicity. Contradiction is between those who make money in this free market economy and those who are marginalised and left out. That as Ramanayake said is the fault of the “System” and shows how much the Sinhala Buddhist supremacists support this faulty “System”.
Devani, who was not even offered any special incentive by the Department head nor by the government that immediately said they would “safeguard” her (from whom it wasn’t said), today is only a partly conscious rebel in this filthy “System”. She is thus being venerated by those in social media who are more interested in projecting themselves as against corruption and lawlessness, by creating a “hero” out of her. They have taken upon themselves to “honour” her, on behalf of the “Nation” which is only a “nation” of Sinhala Buddhists. There are some who wants her made the head of department and some who wants her transferred to Nuwara Eliya to clean up the mountains, not even taking time to think another transfer in 03 years to Nuwara Eliya would only be a “punishment” for a mother of 04 little kids. All displaying how insanely selfish, petty and primitive they are.
They don’t even want to know that to allow Devani to continue with her good work, shouting loud in social media demanding “Don’t lay hands on Devani” is not going to help her, nor provide other public officers the space to work free and independent. They are not interested in engaging in a dialogue to find answers for serious issues at hand. Their most important interest is to exhibit themselves as “Just” and “Honest” men and women. But that does not contribute to cleaning up the system and in safeguarding Devani and others. Therefore, social media activism needs to be elevated to a more intellectual and wider platform, beyond the Negambo mangrove forests and public officer Devani. It should broaden into a dialogue that would provide for an integrated national development programme that would safeguard the environment and all ecological sites and also establish an independent and an efficient “Public” service. In that, likes of Devani should also accept their uppish and haughty attitudes shamelessly exhibited in public saying, “We are not here with all our education to do what these odd villagers want”. They need to accept they have a social responsibility entrenched in their official role as public officers to accommodate the needs of the People. They too should contribute therefore to a social dialogue in how “public participation” can provide for “checks and balances” in policy making and in implementation too.
17 February, 2020
(A slightly enlarged version from my Sinhala post in FB)