by Sachin Jayawickreme
(The writer is the elder brother of Rehan Wijeratne-Jayawickreme who is at the centre of the controversy regarding the assault on an Army Major outside the JAIC Hilton.)
First of all I must say that I was indeed surprised when I read the Sunday papers early this morning. I was expecting a bloodbath to say the least. Instead, what I read was both thought provoking and humbling and this is why I believe I should write this. I have given this matter a bit of thought and I thought I might contribute towards the debate in constructive manner.
During the next few paragraphs I will be wearing many hats, ranging from that of a son, a grand-son, a nephew, a brother and a law enforcement officer. Importantly, I must emphasize that this is NOT a defence of my brother by any means, nor is it meant to appear that I am jumping on the “My ancestors were great people” band-wagon. It is meant purely to emphasize certain points made in the POLITICAL WATCH Column yesterday, and to possibly add to the debate.
I will start off by saying that I am in a way happy to a certain extent to see that the social media is contributing towards helping create and sustain debate in relation to news stories of public interest. It is necessary that such debate take place, especially in an environment where there is debate in relation to the freedom of the media. After all, a free media is integral in the path towards having a robust democracy.
One issue that I take umbrage to and I will gladly engage in any debate with anyone at anytime, is the insinuation that the parents, grand-parents and other family members are to blame for the short-comings and failings of my brother. This is an antiquated theory which is to a certain extent true. But to ignore all other factors, such as the impact of friends and peers, the erosion of values, and a warped sense of reality amongst many others and focus solely on a person’s upbringing is prejudicial to the argument.
Yes, my brother and I are from privileged backgrounds. And I do not apologize for that. In fact I am proud to call Lofty Wijeratne and Mabel Wijeratne my grand-parents. I am proud to have a mother who during most of her early life managed to raise her children as a single-mother (an achievement in western nations which is held in high regard). I am proud to have a father who has recovered from life-threatening illness and is back walking again. I am proud that I have uncle’s and aunties who have showered me with love, respect, and patience. I am proud that I had the privilege to meet and get to know my step-father, the late Mano Wijeyratne.
BUT, I am NOT proud about what has occurred in relation to my brother and the choices he has made in life. In fact it saddens me. It angers me, and it frustrates me. And that is me feeling this way, down under in Australia. I could only imagine the stress and anxiety it is causing those back at home. I could also understand the frustration that the citizens in the country feel but I will leave that argument to those who actually live there. I do not have the right to comment or pass judgment while being away from the country for almost 11 years.
No one can turn around and say at any stage that my family from all three sides, the Wijeratne’s, the Jayawickrame’s and Uncle Mano Wijeyratne have been corrupt or have amassed wealth in ill-gotten ways. I challenge anyone to say otherwise and if they do, to produce evidence to suggest as such. Privileged we may be, but corrupt we are not. So, for those who are insinuating on online forums that this is the case, I say put your money where your mouth is and produce some evidence, even a whisper.
When people here in Australia get to know about my back-ground, they say “…you are rich”. I say to them, “I am not rich…my family maybe rich and they have worked for every penny they have”. My wife and I pay a mortgage, we both work full time, pay our tax, our bills and we live quite a comfortable life. Hardly the life of a sibling who’s family is corrupt.
I am currently a Law Enforcement Officer in Australia and have been for over three years. I have completed my University Education prior to that and I am also an amateur bodybuilder. Integrity, Respect and Ethics are things that are integral to the sort of work I do and these come easily as I have been instilled with these values from a young age.
So, the question is where have things gone wrong? What are the root causes of what culminated last week, which prompted calls in the wee hours of the morning informing me that my brother might get locked up for assaulting an army officer? I will try and keep my thoughts short and succinct.
Friends and Peers: I can proudly say that the friends that I keep in touch with on a regular basis in Sri Lanka have contributed to me being where I am today. They do not come from privileged backgrounds but are hard-working, loyal, respectful and have the same values that I hold in high regard and have mentioned earlier.
Some of them I have known from school, others as neighbours or as people who share common interests. What is glaring though is the fact that I do not have any friends, even acquaintances who are from a political back-ground.
We used to go out, get drunk, walk home for miles or 15 of us pack into a three wheeler and scrounge around to collect Rs. 200 so we can go to the beach and buy another bottle. We also used to take the bus to school, go to the shop for a plain tea and a bun and (try and sneak a cigarette before school).
Later on after finishing school, most of us got jobs. Wore a tie and a shirt and went in the bus to work (I got a job as a salesperson at Janashakthi Insurance for a year). We could not afford to go to clubs every week and run high tabs. We did not have armed guards following us around everywhere and we certainly did not even know what cocaine looked like.
Change of political culture: Once upon a time in Sri Lanka, politicians were educated, had university degrees, were great public speakers, did community work before they got into mainstream politics and instilled those same values in their off-spring. Fast forward to now and the landscape has changed. Sometimes you wonder if you are watching a scene out of a mafia movie. When I came back to Sri Lanka before getting married, I went to a couple of clubs with my friends.
What I saw both surprised me and saddened me at the same time it also educated me on how lucky I am to have parents and family who would have never condoned this type of behaviour and the things that went around in the clubs.
To this day I can confidently walk into any night club or night spot alone and not worry for my safety. Unfortunately I cannot say the same about my brother or the company he keeps.
Drugs, women, alcohol and the underworld: I have seen a lot of drugs in my time as a Law Enforcement Officer, but I am yet to see the quantities I have seen when I was in some clubs in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, I have not seen anywhere else, the amounts that are spent on the bar as I have in Sri Lanka. It is obscene to say the least. But that is the sad reality, Drugs, and women, in most cases foreign women from the Ukraine, Russia, Poland etc and the underworld. I can waffle on and on and on … but I will stop by speaking to my brother directly.
“You are an adult now, and well past being a teenager. The choices that you make in life will define not only who you are, but will also reflect on your family and friends. They will reflect on your ancestors and all that they have built in respect to a legacy and reputation which to this day people hold in high regard, but has been immeasurably damaged due to the poor choices you have made in life.
But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a tunnel albeit which you have got yourself into through your own doing. That light is that you dedicate the next few years to repair that damage you have caused, to right the wrongs of the past by proving that you can be a good citizen, a good son, a good grand-son, a decent human being.
The path forward to you is now to realise that life is not about wine, women and song. That to change the mentality in Sri Lanka that it is “Who you know and not What you know”, requires people like you to change their attitude towards life in general. That, you have a responsibility to honour the work done by your ancestors by working towards the betterment of the country, by doing community work away from the camera’s and publicity, by devoting your time towards helping the under-privileged and those without voices in our society.
If it’s a political profile you want to build, then the easy way forward would be to continue the way you are going. But, if you want to do the honourable thing, the manly thing then you would change the priorities in your life and take the long and hard road towards vindicating yourself and your family and creating a legacy which you can call your own”.