Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
The black flags that the head of Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church has requested his flock to hoist this Saturday in silent protest against the Government’s inaction to secure justice for hundreds of innocents killed in jihadist attacks on Sri Lankans (2019), should be fluttering aloft the houses of all people, Buddhists, Catholics, Christians, Hindus and Muslims.
A cross on each door
That should be in protest, for not only what this Government has done but also for what all Governments have done, in laying waste this beautiful and bountiful land. This is not limited to the Easter Sunday barbarities, we must reiterate. In medieval times, when the bubonic plague swept across Europe, killing tens of millions, the houses of those who were struck by the curse of the Black Death were marked by a large cross, painted in either red or black. It is time that we followed this practice, to mark the Black Death of a political plague that is as potent as any natural born killer in destroying lives.
Perhaps this is what the Roman Catholic Cardinal should have called upon the populace to mark. The good Cardinal too himself may be advised, in classic Bibilical traditions, to wear sackcloth and ashes to atone for the reprehensible part he played in ushering in a two-thirds majority for this Government which appears to have lost all sense and reason. This is nothing remarkable. It was entirely predictable that any of our political regimes, given half a chance, would lose its head if conferred with extraordinary power.
Our history teaches that to us only too well. And yet, we commit the same follies over and over again, lament over and over again. Earlier, the State’s barbaric treatment of citizens was sought to be justified if not explained by ferocious civil and ethnic conflict that Sri Lanka had undergone. In the face of attempts to over throw the State, a Government cannot follow civilities, we were told. Yet, the past decade and a half has surely taught us, the devilish nature of that extraordinary lie. Even in the absence of conflict, there is no cessation of the suffering of the afflicted.
The remarkable expectation that justice would be served
This includes minorities who are used as convenient scapegoats by politicians hungering for power as well as the majority which is as much a victim as the ‘Other’ in failing to understand much less recognise the way they are treated as cannon fodder for the powerful. From the negligence of one Government over the Easter Sunday attacks to the failures of its successor in bringing the culprits to brook, (we do not forget the whispers that point to stronger culpability in that regard either), this is a record of abysmal failures. But what is remarkable is that a State framed by terror and counter terror, could have been expected to deliver anything but that same terror?
On what reasonable basis did the expectation of the promise of justice for Catholics butchered by smiling assassins carrying backpacks in 2019 rest, we may ask? This is a State that had killed children for ransom even after all the terrors of war had ended and moreover, made sure that any legal accountability for the same would be dissolved in the dry anguish of the tears of the mothers and fathers of the slain. This was all done remorselessly and in full knowledge of the sins so perpetuated. Now the Cardinal bewails the unfortunate result of conferring one man with too much power.
Along with him, senior Buddhist clergy who deepened the faultlines of majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism underpinning the pathetic plight of this land, join that chorus of laments. Are these worthy religious men so bereft of common sense that they would not have perceived the consequences of their own actions? That hard question must also be asked from professionals, judges, lawyers, heads of industry and commerce and motley civil society outfits who sang hosannas in hailing this political set of rogues as opposed to the previous lot. We are as much to blame as our politicians, let it be said.
Sad predictions and the fate of this land
Thus, the wanton squandering of this country’s impressive medical talent that was not harnessed to handle the global pandemic was inevitable. As much as a State defined by terror cannot be expected to deliver justice for victims, how else can a militarised State react other than to militarise its response to a global public health crisis? Some months ago, it was observed in these column spaces that Sri Lankans would soon suffer the same fate as the unfortunate populations of India, America and Brazil as a direct result of catastrophically bad leadership.
That sad prediction has now come to pass, striking down the elite and the commoner alike, regardless of boasts that ‘we are the first.’ As Sri Lankans die writhing on the floor of hospitals unable to accommodate hundreds crowding the corridors and spilling over to open spaces, as cardboard coffins line the roads of mortuaries and as exhausted hospital staff plead for relief, many themselves dying of covid-19, we are at crisis point. If our humanity was challenged before as a result of continuous war, now it is worse. If a passer bye dies on the road, in a bus or at the steps of a hospital, there would not be anyone to intervene.
On the road to this calamity that has overwhelmed us, each failure of the Government was as eminently avoidable as the political failures that resulted in the Easter Sunday attacks. This was not due to the protests that took place as activists and trade unionists were arrested by the Government. In any event, it is the Government which should bear the ultimate responsibility for the protests that were spurred by political decisions on education and the militarisation of educational institutions. This must be, in fact, the only Government in the world which would have been so unwise as to bait trade unionists in the middle of a raging global pandemic.
The Government must answer for each avoidable death
But in the larger scheme of things, the horrors of what we are undergoing was carefully choreographed from a while back. As shamans with witch tonics replaced health professionals and capable men and women at the Ministry of Health were booted out to make way for officials who lack common sense leave alone any greater efficacy in their denials even now that there is no ‘covid community spread,’ this is what a militarised State delivers for its people. Undoubtedly, each avoidable death of a Sri Lankan must be laid at the collective door of the Government.
Neither has the Opposition distinguished itself by any particular leadership other than scoring political points. In this Friday’s address to the nation, President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa warned that, the people may have to make more sacrifices if the pandemic cannot be controlled.Yet it is not the people who should be called upon to make sacrifices but the political establishment along their cheerleaders who have brought this sorrowful fate upon the heads of the populace. That hometruth must be conveyed to this Government in one spectacularly furious collective voice.
Indeed, the time to raise black flags to emphasize that point is now.
Courtesy: Sunday Times