by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“….ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process”. Stanley Milgram (The Perils of Obedience)
The Rajapaksa regime’s obvious antipathy to the just demands of the university dons and its striking indifference to the ballooning crisis in the education system stem from a politico-psychological wellspring sourced in the Ruling Family’s despotic agenda.
A regime with a dictatorial project needs to create a future generation of perfect subjects willing and able to replace the present generation of imperfect citizens. A pivotal role in this transformation must be played by an education system geared towards producing not thinking people but human-automate of varying levels of competence and efficiency.
The Supreme Court, in its landmark ruling on the 2011 Z score imbroglio, declared that it accepts the right to education as a fundamental right and that “without education, neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained”. Indeed; without education a country can be made less careful of its rights and freedoms and therefore more convivial for tyranny in all its forms, including Familial Rule.
The Rajapaksas do not want a citizenry which thinks for itself, which doubts, questions and dissents.
They need a populace willing to accept the most outrageous lies and the most grandiose claims without even a first thought, a populace ready to obey even the most abominable of orders. For instance, under Rajapaksa Rule, a perfect grandmother will refuse refuge to a fugitive grandson, and perhaps even betray him to the state; this is evidenced by the fact that Danuna Tilakaratne’s (the son-in-law of General Fonseka) grandmother is being prosecuted for her refusal to betray her grandson.
A pliable, gullible citizenry is a sine-qua-non for any despotic project, particularly when it contains a dynastic component. Even those Sinhalese who regard Mahinda (and Gotabhaya) Rajapaksa with gratitude for their role in defeating the Tigers, even those Sinhalese who believe in Basil Rajapaksa’s developmental claims and promises would find it hard pressed to see in Namal or any other Rajapaksa progeny a future leader of Sri Lanka. To make such a preposterous transition work, the Rajapaksas need to mould a future generation totally incapable of critical and independent thinking and habituated into regarding dynastic succession as the natural order of things. This anti-liberating object is clearly evident in the regime’s decision to cancel English and IT classes for the next batch of university entrants due to ‘lack of time’ while persist in sending them to military camps for ‘Leadership Training’.
The current multiple crises in the education system are artificially generated, at least in part. No leader sincerely committed to the betterment of the education system would have appointed Bandula Gunawardana as the Minister of Education and SB Dissanayake as the Minister of Higher Education. The former attained fame and fortune as a ‘tuition nabob’; the latter is a tin-pot dictator with a proved penchant for antagonising anyone and everyone and viscerally incapable of conducting a civilised discussion/debate. Placing them in the positions they are currently placed was a recipe for disaster, and a fully intended one.
The regime would want an education system in terminal crisis; the regime would want the best of Lankan academics and graduates to leave in disgust. That way they can recreate the Lankan education system in the way they need it: a factory which produces technocrats at the upper end and labourers at the lower end, all united in their incapacity to think for themselves and their willingness to obey.
Since colonial days, education was an honourable occupation and a precious asset in Lankan Tamil society. Before Vellupillai Pirapaharan entered the scene with his Black Tigers, Lankan Tamils were world renowned for one thing: their academic and professional excellence.
The educational attainments of Lankan Tamils constituted a major problem for Sinhala racists. A key object of the ‘Sinhala Only’ was to create an artificial handicap for Tamil students and professionals, thereby conferring an unfair advantage on their Sinhala colleagues. The Standardization scheme too was aimed at creating an unbalanced playing field which advantaged Sinhalese and disadvantaged Tamils.
But Sinhala racists were not the only ones to have a problem with Tamil excellence in education. It was a problem for the Tigers too. The Tigers did not want thinking Tamils, because thinking Tamils possessed a greater potential to become dissenting Tamils (for instance, a thinking Tamil would have realised that killing Rajiv Gandhi was not just plain wrong but also plain stupid, from a Tamil-Eelam point of view).
The Tigers needed a society of foot-soldiers, cannon-fodder willing to embrace their sacrificial role with no demur. Thus the last thing the LTTE wanted was for schools and universities in the North-East to function, producing Tamils capable of thinking for themselves and understanding that the Tiger path was headed not towards an independent Tamil state but towards unmitigated disaster.
As the UTHR pointed out, “A living society is one that constantly renews itself. The means of that renewal is the creativity of the young. The exercise of that creativity requires freedom – the freedom of idealistic youth to pose the necessary moral questions concerning our direction and to demand change so as to check both injustice and oppression” (Report No. 13). The Tigers, whose raison d’être was fighting against the injustice and oppression of the Lankan state, were themselves unjust and oppressive towards Tamils. Consequently they needed a future generation moulded into accepting the injustices, the oppression and indeed the stupidities of Vellupillai Pirapaharan as the acme of justice, righteousness and brilliance.
The LTTE’s ideal student was one who believed as axiomatic the preposterously adulating definition of Vellupillai Pirapaharan expressed in the Sencholai (Red Blossom) hymn:
“A mother are you who feeds us milk of courage
A father who daily sings us songs of virtue
A teacher (Asan) whose wisdom will ripen into scripture,
0 Big Brother whose great love overflows” (ibid)
So it was no accident that the Tigers did everything they could to disrupt the school and university system in the North and the East. One more school student meant one less child soldier. One more university student meant potentially one more Tiger critic. The sort of education the Tigers wanted was the one provided at their Sencholai (Red Blossom) orphanages, where students were taught to venerate the Leader and accept his orders and decisions unthinkingly. Such a system, at its very best, would have been capable of producing brilliant technicians and technocrats capable of facilitating the Tiger project but not independent thinkers who understood its fatal flaws.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a man with a mission. He has planted a family tree and is engaged in conditioning the socio-political and psychological soil, so that it can take root and flourish. The Tiger path is the ideal road to achieve this aim since the Rajapaksas too want what Vellupillai Pirapaharan did: a ‘follow all orders’ and ‘believe all lies’ populace.
Without such a populace how can the regime maintain its myth of infallibility or its hub-and-miracle boasts, especially given the abysmal gap between Rajapaksa promise and Rajapaksa reality?
While Sri Lanka always had its share of criminal politicians, never did politician become synonymous with criminal as it is now. Show has substituted substance. Religion is everywhere and politicians never cease talking about morality while child abuse assumes epidemic proportions. The judiciary has brand new court houses but precious little freedom; the president has breakfast with media heads monthly even as freedom of information is equalled with national peril.
Elections are as rife as electoral malpractices which are practiced with unprecedented ubiquity and openness. For instance, Parliamentarian Lakshman Wasantha Perera announced informed the party faithful at a UPFA election rally in Matale, “Government politicians have been acting like thugs to win elections because they believe that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will protect them irrespective of what wrong they do” (BBC – 12.8.2012).
The regime plans to develop a ‘vibrant sports-economy’: “According to the Treasury, government investment in sports sector has increased significantly from Rs. 729 Million in 2008 to Rs. 1,923 Million in 2011. The capital investment has increased by 85% in 2011….” (The Island – 5.6.2012). But our Olympic entrants were not allowed to take their personal coaches with them (a refusal which reportedly affected their performance) while 30 officials travelled to London at national expense. According to Lankan sportsman Mangala Samarakone “he had pleaded with the authorities to ensure his coach came to the games, but it was of no avail” (The Island – 15.8.2012). Little wonder then that the country’s sports performance is declining even as the money spends on sports increases exponentially.
This contradiction is a microcosm of Rajapaksa rule and a warning of its ultimate end. Take for instance the Rajapaksa approach to political economy, the belief that one can borrow and spend unlimitedly on defence and on megalomaniac projects (such as the plan to put ‘Our Man in Space’) without pushing the economy – and with it the people – down a disastrous precipice. The connection between military over-spending and economic weakness is undeniably evident from little Greece to the mighty US. A country cannot borrow and spend on defence, without consequences.
This is sort of reality the Rajapaksas do not want us to see. The education system of their choice will help create a future generation congenitally blind and deaf to that reality.
The tragic history of the Tamils is both enlightening and admonitory. The Tigers arrogated all power unto themselves in return for taking on the Lankan Army. Most Tamils permitted this ‘friendly occupation’, either out of fear or because they were blinded by their just anger towards the Lankan state. In the end, the LTTE used that power to subjugate the Tamil people, to deny them the most basic rights which even the Lankan state did not deprive them of. If the Sinhala state turned Tamils into second class citizens in their land of birth, the Tigers made them into subjects of a self-anointed deity.
The Sinhalese may well find themselves in a similar plight if they allow the Rajapakses to act with impunity in return for defeating the LTTE. A good place to begin resisting such a fate would be to defeat the Rajapaksa plan to subvert our education system; and turn the next generation into willing and fitting subjects of President Namal Rajapaksa.