(Tarot from here)
Written for this week’s Nation.
They say we elect leaders we deserve. I don’t like the tone of it; it reeks of anger, frustration and defeat. I prefer to say we elect leaders we understand; this would, perhaps, explain why we continually allow leaders to let us down.
What I am saying, in essence, is that we Sri Lankans understand betrayal, breach of trust, disappointment, instability, insecurity, violence, terror, helplessness and hopelessness – ample evidence of the fact exists in the constructs of society today.
We understand crime, we understand rape, we understand violence, we understand intimidation, we understand injustice, we understand prejudice, we understand division, we understand corruption, we understand excuses and we understand lies.
It must be so, for if we understood the opposite of these; faithfulness, unbroken trust, honor, safety, security, kindness, compassion, empowerment, freedom and hope; these would be the constructs of society today, none else.
If we understood what it would be like to live lives free of crime, with a people who would not tolerate rape and violence, where thuggery is rooted out, justice honored and upheld, prejudice dismissed and division discouraged – things would be very different; we would not so easily believe the excuses doled out, we would not so easily buy the lies.
We vote for leaders that promise change. We vote for leaders that promise fulfillment of the dream for a better tomorrow. We vote for leaders that promise to lead us up – out of the mess we are in, not down, further into the recesses of anarchy. But when the leaders we vote for fail to deliver, we accept the excuses made – for they are spoken in a language we understand.
We understand, accept and believe that foreign conspiracies are afoot and that the very survival of Sri Lanka depends on our unquestioning, collective patriotism. We understand, accept and believe human rights to be a four letter word, one brandished and uttered only by traitors in possession of what is known as ‘vested interests’.
We understand, accept and believe global economic forces to be solely responsible for the rising cost of living, that the damage to homes, possessions and swathes of land cannot be minimized and must be blamed on the weather gods only, and that all that can be done to end crime, maintain justice and uplift the standard and quality of living is being done.
We understand these things, because we know no better; because we imagine the Constitution to be a faded, yellow parchment on which unintelligible scribbling spells out archaic laws that are, in all probability, better for all the amending. We imagine human rights and democracy to be a Western ideal, and so dismiss the freedom and dignity it offers equitably to all human kind.
We understand these things, because we know no better; because we spend evenings watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy, the Big Bang Theory and Friends to forget the day spent with noses to the grindstone, earning our keep. We know no better because local radio stations spew forth inane chatter and local television stations do the same.
We know no better because our education system is rigged to disempower us and instill, instead, unquestioning acceptance and obedience; we know no better because inquisitive curiosity is quelled, and rebellion punished by uneducated teachers in schools, that for all its name and associated grandeur, are nothing but fading, failing monoliths struggling to keep up with the times.
We know no better, because having been subjugated in childhood, we grow up to be subjugated as adults; adults who, for all the swagger, sex, alcohol, drugs and parties, are as hapless, hopeless and as helpless as before; adults that continue to kowtow to any show of authority and intimidation, adults that unquestioning accept and obey.
We know no better because we don’t try; because believe our votes to be of no use, our fight to be fruitless, and our voices too weak. We believe our conscience to be wrong, and that of our leaders to be right; and so, in confused weakness we allow flagrant abuse to take place – we stand back and watch as our dignity and rights are robbed and our future and the future of our children is squandered.
Because we don’t try, we are not in possession of information that empowers us; (a simple Google search ‘Constitution + Sri Lanka’ or ‘Human Rights’ should suffice) – for if we were empowered, if we knew our rights and were in full possession of the freedom and dignity accorded to all human kind, I believe we would stand firm, stand upright, stand strong and stand in the way of those speaking a language of lies, barbarity, defeat, ignobility and dishonor– a language we – by choice – no longer understand.