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Navi Pillay Came Here to Create Waves but the Govt Reaction to her Caused a Tsunami

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Gamini Weerakoon

Navi Pillay got the goat of most Sri Lankans last week during her visit here but did she deserve the mass hysteria that broke out – particularly in the media?


President Mahinda Rajapaksa met Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at Temple Trees on Aug 30-pic by: Sudath Silva-news.lk

Those who wanted to register themselves in the role of ‘patriots’ had to say something devastating about Pillay for public consumption. And Pillay too was as devastating, unlike what a diplomat should be, according to that famous quotation: “A diplomat is a person who would tell you ‘go to hell’ and in such a way that you would actually look forward to the trip”. She said, ‘go to hell’, and hell was what she meant.

It was common knowledge that Pillay was coming here to make waves. She did that and the government reaction caused a tsunami. The week-long barrage of anti Pillay invective, particularly in the state media, could even elevate her to a state of a heroine in the world of human rights. It may have been good politics in view of the three Provincial Councils elections close at hand – particularly in the two predominantly Sinhala provinces – but bad for Sri Lankan diplomacy and international relations. This is an area in which the Rajapaksa regime is most vulnerable right now. A controlled, low-key reaction by the state, sans the hysteria, would have resulted in a much less elated Pillay and the cheer squads of the UNHRC.


To make matters worse the Andare of the Rajapaksa government, Mervyn Silva, kicked the bucket while addressing a public meeting at Maradana.
Silva considers himself funny – and many, such as organisers of celebrity shows, also do – with his perverted sense of humour. He made an uncouth and uncultured marriage proposal to the 71-year-old UN diplomat for no conceivable reason. A cabinet minister, the Minister of Public Relations, descends to such low levels and does this at a time when the reputation of the country is at rock bottom. It is as the Sinhala saying goes Uda balagena kela gahanawa vage (Looking up and spitting).

Last week Youth Services and Skills Development Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, at a news briefing of the UPFA, expressed deep regret and his disappointment at the utterances of Mervyn Silva as they went against the cultural norms and religious values of the country. He apologized on behalf of the cabinet for Silva’s mischief.

While the apology tendered by Alhapperuma on behalf of the Cabinet, even though belated, is welcome, it has to be pointed out that it is not the cabinet or Alahapperuma that should be expressing regrets but Mervyn Silva himself. Silva has been committing innumerable outrageous acts during the past few years and has been able to get away.

The public will want to know from the all-powerful Executive President Mahinda Rajapaksa the reason for the immunity granted to Silva. We doubt whether any other party member of the governing party would have been able to get away with such disgraceful conduct. The president should realize that the tolerance that has been extended to Silva is being interpreted as though his acts of provocative idiocy are made with the blessings of the ‘authorities’.

One interpretation to this horrid proposal of Silva is that it has been an antidote to the bitter Pill(ay) the country has been forced to take.

It is not only diplomats and politicians that have to suffer from the consequences of Silva’s antics, but also Sri Lankan professionals working abroad. Being considered as a citizen of Asia’s Banana Republic, or failed state, is not what these highly qualified Sri Lankans deserve.

Gone to the dogs

Sri Lankans go to very great lengths to protect their ‘culture and centuries old civilization’ when any speech or act can be interpreted as one derogatory to it.

The recent report that brought good cheer is of two beautiful dogs of the Police Kennel being married at a special ceremony on a poruwa. However it has caused the ire of Minister of Culture and Arts T. B. Ekanayake who held that it was derogatory to our culture and civilisation.

On our part we consider dogs to be Man’s Best Friend and the poruwa as not something quite sacred. We know of scoundrels dressed in their best suits or Kandyan regalia who have refused to climb the poruwa until the father-in-law handed over the promised dowry. How many of those who had got on to the poruwa while a bevy of girls in their high pitched voices belted out jayamangala gathas broke the ceremonial knot tied on the poruwa a few days after the joyous event and went separate ways?

Should we take our culture so seriously enough to forget life’s joys or is this ban on marriage of dogs just playing politics to the gallery?
In contrast, the same week a woman animal lover in Britain was seen walking down the aisle with her pet dog and donkey! The British at least know how and when to laugh.

What we Sri Lankans need to worry about is not so much dogs getting on to the poruwa, but the country going to the dogs.

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