Groundviews

Proud to be Sri Lankan?

Citizenship, as I know it, is a means by which citizens of a particular country are recognized as entities of that country. I feel that citizenship gives each of us a sense of “belonging” and “responsibility” towards our motherland, and also a sense of “security,” that as holders of this particular citizenship, we’re ensured of our protection and wellbeing. At least, that’s what one would hope a citizen of a country is entitled to.

I guess we were called a “Land like no other” for a reason. That being, that we truly are like no other. The concept of “citizenship” as I mentioned above, is nothing but an illusion in our fair land. As citizens of one country, we hold no sense of camaraderie with one another. We’re told that a “good citizen of the State” obeys the State. That they should not question the State. That they should accept that the State only acts with their wellbeing at heart, and thus, all acts done by the State are always just. Our notion of “citizenship” is dictated to us by the powers that be, and we quite contently lap it up, like faithful little puppy dogs!

If the State tells us that a part of its “citizenship” must be harassed, ridiculed and stripped off of their rights, for the safety and wellbeing of the other part, we accept it. If the State tell us that a part of its citizenship must register with the Police and carry around a document with them at all times, to verify their reasons for residing in a different part of the country, to where they were born, in order to ensure the security of the other part of their citizenship, we think it’s fair enough. Now, approaching the 2 year mark since the end of the war, people, mostly in the Vanni, are still being registered door-to-door by the military. Part and parcel of the registration process is of course, that each house is given a registration number which is made mandatory to have marked on both your front door and you’re the outside of our gate. In addition, a group picture is taken of the entire family, and one member of the family (usually the head of the household) is required to hold up a piece of paper with their respective registration number on it, for yet another photograph to be taken (much like a prisoner would). The worst part though, is that these people think it’s “normal.” They think that if this is what needs be done for them to live their day to day life in peace, then, so be it. All this rings okay with the rest of us citizens. It is for the greater good after all. That too is only the few who know that such humiliating, undignified “processes” are even being carried out.

The State can randomly arrest parts of our “citizenship” on the faintest hint of suspicion, under a law that has been specifically designed to justify any unlawful acts conducted by the State, in order to uphold National Security, we see rationality in it. A part of our citizenship is still not permitted to return to their homes located within High Security Zones (HSZs) in the North, however, visitors to the North are permitted to go “sightseeing” inside those very HSZs. The rest of the citizenship sees the justice in this.

The State spends over one billion rupees on the Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) awards held in Colombo last year, but claim they have inadequate funds to house and feed their internally displaced citizenship around the country. It’s fine by the rest of the citizenship, because they got to see their favourite Bollywood Stars perform Live. Of course let’s not forget that a Star or two were taken on a goodwill mission “behind the wires” too, so it’s not all bad.

Similarly, the State has incurred hundreds of millions of dollars on a Port in the Incumbent’s hometown, Hambantota, which has been allegedly refused maritime insurance by Lloyds, London. Furthermore, the State imported 3 power train sets (each of which costing 3.5 million US$), of a fleet of 20 from India, one of which was tried out and failed on it’s first run due to complications including inadequate power supply. Irrespective of this rather pricey “hitch” though, it seems like the Government is planning to go ahead with the entire purchase without as much as a trial period to see if these trains are conducive to our railway system In yet another display of waste, our dear incumbent has successfully managed to garner a 300 million US$ arms loan from Russia, to safeguard ‘Post-War’ Sri Lanka, pushing us as a country, further and further into debt. How though could we even consider questioning such a “victorious” State as this? What ingrates we would be!

The State told us that until such time that they were able to “weed out” the terrorists from the non-terrorists, 300,000 of its citizenship (inclusive of new-born infants) had to be kept behind barbed wire, in deplorable conditions indefinitely, the rest of the citizenship nodded along as it did seem like the only sensible thing to do. Although most of this 300,000 have been released now, they are far from being free. Those not under arrest or being held in detention, are regularly questioned and harassed, have no proper homes, no jobs, no money and no access to basic amenities o facilities. In short, one part our citizenship is deemed ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ That too though is acceptable by the rest of the citizenship. Taking into consideration the current context of course.

The last stages of our war in 2009 which is said to have claimed over 40,000 innocent lives, although the UN estimates were lower and of course the States maintained its “miraculous” Zero Civilian Casualty rate As it was the most “comfortable” option for both ourselves and our conscience to believe that no innocents were killed in the last days of battle, we believed the State wholly and without question. However, let’s “assume” that having had access to eye witness accounts and footage, and having seen the UN figures, at least a seed of doubt in the State figures, started to grow in our minds? Say, we began to realize that maybe, just maybe, the State had decided to dispose of segment of our citizenship, so as to safeguard the rest of us. (The State being at the helm of such a glorious victory, which as a result has made both the State and the incumbent almost invincible and enabled him to rule over us for the rest of his days, having nothing to do with it of course.) This very State has the audacity to “condemn” another country doing the exact same thing it did? Is this State under the delusion that by it condemning another country’s atrocities, it by some twist of karma erases all the wrong it has committed? Does this State truly believe that it could be so easy to ‘pull the wool over (its citizen’s) eyes?’ Or is it? Maybe that’s yet another question for the citizenship.

Recently also on a post on GV, I actually had to argue the point on whether it was right to destroy a cemetery (Maveerar Thuyilum Illams) that did not in fact have actual bodies buried there. The post was about the desecration of LTTE cemeteries in the North, and building army camps in their stead. We’re not talking good guys vs. bad guys here (whoever they might be). We’re talking basic human decency and respect to the dead. A place where families come to bemoan their dead. A final resting place after a bitter battle. A memorial to those who fought a long, hard fight for something they and a part of our citizenship believed in. How can we call ourselves citizens of one country, if we deny a part of our citizenship such a basic human right?

And finally the icing on the cake. Everyone speaks of how cricket unites and how the entire country comes together to cheer our team on etc., etc., etc., Being so “united” though, were we even aware that many parts of this country did not even have electricity to watch the Final of this ‘so called’ “unifying” game! I was actually sending SMS updates to some friends in the North who not only did not have TV, but electricity also. I guess nobody found it to be an ideal commercial venture to set up giant screens in these neighbourhoods! How also is it possible for the same game that ‘supposedly’ unites its citizens, also wind up instigating violence against each other. Many youth have openly ‘liked’ this article on Facebook! To what depths have our humanity sunk to, if we’re able to justify attacks against fellow citizens over a mere Cricket match?

Where is that sense of “belonging” and “security” citizens are entitled to? If one part of a citizenship is made to feel abandoned and neglected, both by the rest of its citizenship and the State, is it any surprise at all that they should look to find that sense of belonging and security elsewhere?

One sided you might think. How else would the majority of a citizenship be kept safe, unless a State is to make a few unpopular (or in the case of SL, popular) decisions, for the sake of the greater good? Even IF the citizenship as a whole, is able to justify all of the above scenarios during a time of war, now almost two years since the end of the war, what’s our collective excuse? If we, as so called “citizens” are still able to stand by and watch other citizens undergo such levels of discrimination that it’s not only rendered at the hands of the State, but also endorsed by it, then perhaps it’s time we questioned the nature of this “citizenship” we claim to belong to. And we might also want think twice about what exactly we’re so proud about, when we beamingly proclaim to the world that we’re so “Proud to be Sri Lankan!”

Originally written for Options Magazine, a Biannual publication by Women and Media Collective, and updated for Groundviews.