Photo courtesy Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Sanctity, or rather a loss of sanctity, anchors the meditations that you will find in the few passages below. A recent article in the Economist made a mildly facetious account of the current administration’s efforts to create a Sri Lankan society grounded in ‘good values and ethics.’Â The article goes on to discuss the paradox of vice-and-virtue squads in the land that also produces Wonderbras, and of the all out war on public displays of affection. Now, the PDA has always does give many a little discomfort, and Internet pornography really is somewhat unnecessary.Â Our beloved president may be taking things a bit too far with his ‘moral rage’, but admit it, there is a little prude inside all of us that wouldn’t mind a modicum of moderation in society. If this administration were to stop at a little necessary tweaking, one could find a way to compromise with Rajapakse’s moral policing. Unfortunately, the denouement of Rajapakse’s misguided efforts at morality will be reminiscent of the strictest of Protestant ethics, reservation, restriction and censure that have polarized Western society and incited the fundamentalist rage of the modern. The preservation of the sanctity of morality only leads to an increased sense of nihilism, and a loss of the immense beauty that is complexity and difference. What have we lost, and what are we being reduced to? Soulless, culture-less automatons drudging our way through an unquestioned existence?
Note the reaction to Mervyn Silva’s boorish remarks on the Megastar programme; his victim hung her head and stayed silent, and the audience roared with laughter, titillated by the man’s daring, unable to critically understand the implications of the openness of his statement for gender relations, governmental authority and, worse, the state of Sri Lanka’s media. Is this audience to be the receivers, the participants of the much-needed discourse on rights and societal healing that plagues our post-war island? They laughed on cue, in a manner not dissimilar from a tinny laughter track on a bad American sitcom. Rosy Senanayake’s welcome intervention was cowed down, not only by Silva’s oafish squawking, but also by an audience that egged him on. There has been a violation of our receptive sensibilities for the decent and the sacred. There is a fine, fine line between that which is darkly humorous and that which is a dark abomination, and few in the audience seemed to be able to perceive this.Â There has been a violation of the sanctity of our sense of right. It is a colonization of the mind and the spirit that must be overthrown.
No better example do we have before us of this violation of the sacred that the recent vandalisation of the Jaffna library. Within the walls of a library are housed the receptacles of knowledge, documents carrying the stories of our world, sounds of the furtive whispers of our ancestors telling us our story- giving depth to the meaning of our existence. That a library can become the site of such destructive activity is a visible manifestation of the rot that is eating away at our sense of higher culture, which is reducing sanctity to an unknown ‘Other’. It is symptomatic of the fact that, as a people, we are willingly attaching ourselves to the manipulative logic of a purist, perverted nationalism with not even a moment’s pause for thought.
This article has used the phrase ‘higher culture’, but is not used in an elitist sense. A higher movement, a thought, occurs in a location of the spiritual sense of one’s intellect and one’s soul. We have all had these moments where we experience an appreciation of knowledge, of beauty, and of upliftment. Such experiences are not the sole property of a highly educated, cultured elite. These are universal aesthetics of value and of right, of a moral imperative; why is it so easy for us to let our sense of humanity go? Why is it that we have let the rhetoric of a modern construct of a religio- nationalism divide us from an ethic of social justice? Perhaps one is wrong to worry at this thread of ‘cultural loss’. Building upon this argument, however, the more disturbing element that has emerged is the absence of a moment of resistance. Certainly, those of us who are still concerned about the future of Sri Lanka will continue in our efforts to bear witness, to speak out in our familiar for a, and to document this moment in our history.
Yet, there is a growing sense that such docile engagement is not enough, it only continues in never ending circles of vituperative argument between one camp and the other. What is needed in Sri Lanka, now more than ever, is a significant people’s movement, a harnessing of an ethic of social justice and considerable and aggressive demand, not from the halls of the NGOs or the liberal left, but from the grassroots, for the return to the sanctity of right. This movement must come from the people, from an inner sensibility that must have an incandescent hatred of injustice and intolerance, and through its strength of numbers it must stymie this administration’s narcissistic march toward what will eventually be a totalitarian state, if it is not one already. What is needed is a very significant, and if necessary militant, call to arms. The time for speaking and documenting is over. The people must march, they must strike.
The impetus for this , and the organization of a counter consciousness into Â a formally aggressiveÂ movement will be the responsibility of civil society, from the liberal left who must find real connections to the grassroots to stir their emotive need for progressive change. Sadly, as the events surrounding September’s 18th Amendment show, only the JVP has the necessary pulling power to bring the masses onto the streets in protest.Â Civil society, clearly, needs to overcome this disconnect, to step down from abstract and lofty argument within its organization andÂ to redefine its relationship with the grassroots so that the necessary change can be affected.Â This reconnection, indeed, will be the first step toward the forceful eviction of the Rajapakse regime.