By Arjuna Hulugalle
The Anglican Bishop of Colombo has called his fold to observe Sunday the 3rd of February as a “Day of Lament” as he is unhappy with the turn of events in Sri Lanka.
Will this act or his message make any contribution to making Sri Lanka a better place to live in or will it give further fuel to division and recrimination instead of heralding Peace and Brotherhood among the different religions and communities in a multi- religious and multi- cultural democracy.
If we lament for the state of the world, I will whole heartedly support it. 40 per cent of humanity are said to have psychological impediments (not mental disease). Anxiety and depression is a common affliction haunting many. This 40 per cent is not all concentrated in our country. Go overseas even just across the Palk Strait to understand this predicament. We have to therefore maintain proportions and wisdom when thinking badly of ourselves.
Catholic Bishops and hope
The Catholic Bishops was mercifully more positive. After a comprehensive visit to Mullikulam, Killinochchi, Thinagar, Mullaithivu, Puthikudiruppu and Kerpapulavu the Bishops issued a statement that in spite of so many hardships and shortcomings there seemed to be hope for the future as normalcy was being restored, even though at a slow pace. “Mega scale infrastructure restoration was being done and was commendable yet, we felt that the day to day needs of the people, too, needed to receive equal or priority attention” they stated.
These are profound words accepting realities of what has to be done and urging to do what can be done.
One thought is reiterated in their message which read as follows:
“Listening to the heart-felt sentiments of the people, regarding their life situation in the post –war scenario, the Bishops perceived that their main aspiration is to have a participatory role in all aspects of their lives as well as their day today decision making as all other citizens of Sri Lanka. There seems to be a serious lack of opportunities for the affected people to participate in the processes of their own governance as prevailing in other parts of the country….”
I am not convinced that in other parts of the country there is “a participatory role in all aspects of their lives as well as their day to day decision making”. Elsewhere too there is in many instances a “democratic deficit”. The major difference is that the people did not suffer the horrendous deprivation and suffering which the war ravaged areas experienced.
A way forward
This shortcoming of the can be rectified if it is handled wisely. Here too there is hope. At a meeting at Rideemaliyedda Divisional Secretariat, the Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva announced that Government was planning to bring back a political arm at the village level, namely the Gam Sabha or Gramarajya system. This system is in fact, embedded in the Mahinda Chinthanaya. It is only a question as to when this can be put into action. Timing and careful preparation is all important to make it meaningful.
The Divineguma is the first step. It is now the law of the land and it is important that its objectives for the betterment of lives of people are achieved with the full participation of people at the village level through appropriate mechanisms rather than by mere administrative fiat and a top-down bureaucratic or political approach. The Bill focuses on
* Agriculture phase – Mainly focus on home gardening
* Small scale industry phase – Mainly focus on cottage industries, handicraft sector
* Livestock phase –Mainly focus on fishery, poultry and dairy sector
The prime purpose of the Divi Neguma programme is to strengthen people’s economic status and minimize their dependence on the market for food requirements. The programme further aims to:
* improve nutritional levels
*reduce cost of living in households
* increase vegetable and food production by 25%
* increase per capita vegetable consumption from 134g to 175g per day
* create new income generation sources for families by selling excess production
* encourage entrepreneurship at the village level
The success of this needs very broad support of the entire nation. The Divineguma programme can meet the aspirations defined by the Catholic Bishops in the statement after their visit to the North. I am sure the Bishop of Colombo can also support this initiative. Divineguma may meet economic needs of the people and the country, which in itself is a gigantic step forward in the correct direction but there is still the problem of the “democratic deficit”. People in their own localities must be able to deal with own problems. An appropriate Unit is the GN division.
Need for new thinking
To achieve this the Gam Sabhas or the Gramarajya have to be constituted with a strong national philosophy. The colonial framework which was formatted for a population of 885,574 in 1827 to 2,400,380 in 1871 to 6,657,339 in 1946 have to be drastically altered to meet the population of 21 Million today. This needs experimentation and time. Half baked ideas will only lead to disaster. Efficiency in the administration of the government will only come with understanding, evolving, testing and creating appropriate conventions. All this will need time to mature. The start has to be from the village or ward, just as a child’s development starts in the pre-school, the kindergarten and the Montessori. Attitudes and character can be formed at that stage.