Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
After relentless political patronage of a covid-healing ‘miracle’ syrup brewed by a ‘kapurala,’ (keeper of a temple cum witch doctor), who chants that he is possessed by the Goddess Kali, it is the height of unseemly irony for Sri Lanka’s Health Services Director to threaten legal action against the ‘kapurala’ and his despairing followers for creating a public disturbance in violation of quarantine regulations.
The law should operate in the reverse
If so, legal action may also be contemplated against a Government patronised private electronic media channel whose television anchors heedlessly propagated this syrup. And what about the culpability of the Health Minister herself, the country’s Speaker and other mindless Ministers who shamefully swallowed this concoction prior to authentication, leading to the upsurge of credulous belief in its powers? In law, the principle of reasonable causation or foresee ability is applicable on all fours here.
This legal test simply asks if the person causing an injury could have reasonably foreseen the general consequences that would result.
By that logic, are not all these individuals reasonably and ‘forseeably’ responsible for the tumult which continues to be caused by the charlatan witch doctor and his syrup?
That responsibility is far more than what he or the general public should bear. In any event, this worthy may soon have to take to his heels once his political patrons desert him. But as officials at Kegalle’s Divisional Secretariat complained this week that they cannot control his followers and we are told by health officials that the law will be activated, they must be corrected. That argument operates quite in the reverse.
Anyone who contracts covid-19 as a result of queuing up with hundreds of desperate people to obtain this syrup would have a good case in negligence against the Government, including the Health Minister and her compatriots for (officially) perpetuating this charade in the name of ‘local remedies.’ In fact, as established practitioners of ayurveda have complained, the fracas created thereto has given the ancient art of ayurveda itself a bad name. And the invocation of a goddess of death as the force behind the syrup, at least where this ‘kapurala’ is concerned, is not the least of these problems.
Lack of rational leadership at varying levels
Kali is commonly depicted as a demon warrior with one arm grasping a sword dripping blood and the other, a decapitated head of a male demon though she is worshipped in many countries also as a fount of energy and fertility. In any other context, it may be a tad amusing regarding this adoration of an avenging female power as a healing source for a devastatingly devious virus, aggravated in most countries (read, the United States as a prime example) by half-witted male leadership.
Such pronounced sarcasm notwithstanding, the solution lies less in demon goddesses and more in looking at sensible and far sighted decisions by female leaders who have ushered their nations out of the iron grip of the pandemic.
Examples of such enlightened leadership abound, most obviously the communication studies practitioner who became New Zealand’s youngest prime minister and the political academic unassumingly leading Taiwan. These are leaders who have demonstrated the successful tackling of a global health emergency not by preying on superstitions, miracle cures and ancient hatreds among communities that our politicians (male and female alike) seem to revel in. For there are serious repercussions arising from Sri Lanka’s touted magic syrup for covid which go beyond decrying the mindless behaviour of a thoroughly frightened citizenry.
In other words, that behaviour has been caused by a singular lacunae in rational leadership at various levels. That is where the ‘reasonably forseeable’ element that I referred to earlier, becomes relevant. The Kegalle ruckus over a demonic goddess and a healing syrup which increases in cacaphony each day, reflects what is wrong with us in general.
From canny utilising of witchcraft propaganda by politicians and their media spin doctors who purport to lead a ‘Buddhist nation’ to ‘expert committees’ whose ‘scientific reports’ as to why the covid dead cannot be cremated remain undisclosed, this ‘Saubhagya Dekma’ regime becomes self-contradictory by the minute.
This is not a time for complacency
The promise of ‘prosperity and splendour,’ the very basis on which President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his Government was brought into power, has been badly betrayed by its flag bearers. Signs of a once exultant heartland rejecting the Government are evident as politicians are hooted by their communities and rural budgets are defeated. These are warning signals that may well be heeded. More worryingly, lack of commonsensical leadership extends to those leading the health sector, some of whom we heard bleating this Saturday, that the pandemic has been ‘most successfully’ tackled in Sri Lanka.
Are such claims propelled by sheer complacency or desperation equal to the despair of people seeking ‘Kali Amma’s cure’ in Kegalle? These optimists must be reminded that their ‘most successful’ claim sits oddly with increasing numbers of afflicted patients in the Western Province including a high tally of the infected being detected by random tests. Moreover populous cities like Kandy and Ratnapura in other provinces have become multiple locations of infections this December. Sri Lanka’s map of high risk areas is pockmarked so much with red danger zones of high covid risk that it looks like a pictorial disaster site.
As such, these are not reasons for complacency or an ill advised patting each other on the backs as it were. Vacillation of the pandemic task force on crucial leadership decisions leaves much to be desired including a reported lack of preparation to bring in the covid vaccine being introduced in many countries. And those who catapulted this Government into power, including leading Buddhist monks, are reduced to bitter complaints.
Foremost is the lament that the former Director General of Health Services under whose direction, the onset of the pandemic was controlled ten months ago, is now planting trees after being shunted to the post of Environment Secretary.
An affliction of the nation’s spirit
Assurances of the Health Minister that this much esteemed public health sector professional has returned to the covid task force team are ‘greatly exaggerated,’ as Mark Twain once famously said on reports of his rumored demise. What does this tell us?
As the nation degenerates, with witchcraft replacing rational science and frantic excuses as cover for scarcity of good decisions, Sri Lankans are being crucified (literally) for the idiocies of its political and public leadership, in power or otherwise as the case may be.
Antipathy between communities has grown to such an extent that people go around removing strips of white cloth hung on Borella’s cemetary gates to mourn the cremation of a Muslim infant against the wishes of his anguished parents. This is well and truly an affliction of the nation’s communal spirit. And there is peculiar symbolism here, as deadly as the covid-19 virus itself. But for this affliction, there is no vaccine in store.
What remains is only the strength and resilience of the citizenry which must call the Government and the Opposition to account for their sins. Lessons from the ‘yahapalanaya’ times must be learnt and false promises of those in opposition yearning for their places in the political sun must be sternly spurned. Instead we must look upon the country’s political establishment as the virus attacking the core of its ordered functioning and act accordingly to demand accountability in every which way that we can, not as a “Sinhala’, Muslim,’ or ‘Tamil’ issue.
Long after the global pandemic passes into living memory, this defiantly collective resistance will be the only hope to an eventual (and hopeful) return to democratic health.