Photo courtesy JDS

This was a part of well-loved hymn I would love to sing during the early years of my school career. I cannot actually remember whether these words were omitted by then as they are now, or if I sang it without disdain at that time. As I became politically aware, these words stirred resistance within me as I felt that it was contrary to my faith and the book that guided it. It came back to me as I read last Sunday’s paper and other recent reports of the attempts being made at grabbing land, the poor who have had promissory deeds or real deeds evicted without any compensation, the Mews Street fiasco but very specially the video clip of the political offspring doing some threatening of what would happen to people if they do not vote with the current political juggernaut.

What came back to me was actually in question form. Why have not any of the religious leaders protested? All religions of Sri Lanka have common ground in that they call for concern for the poor, albeit could be for selfish reasons. Why cannot we see any problems with a situation, which places the rich man in Colombo and puts the poor man to be in the outskirts?

This article desires to question very specifically leaders of the Christian faith. The protestant ethic we have been told by many a management historian was one of the propelling forces of industrialization. A people enjoying freedom from spiritual bondage due to the sacrifice of another felt a stirring within them to be productive for the good of the larger community, which was to be their act of gratitude to the one who sacrificed for them. True enough that capitalism squashed all such altruism, but there was always a voice in the wilderness. Why is that voice missing in this island nation?

Having mentioned the protestant ethic it might sound absurd to talk about the Catholic Church. Maybe frustrating the poor is not a cardinal sin in the Catholic Church, or maybe the Cardinal feels that nothing done by the current regime can come close to being put into the sin bin. If the plans to beautify Colombo by removing all that is displeasing to the eye people included is carried out, a significant number of those affected will be from the catholic community. The protestant church having made some noises in the pre May 2009 era is reported to have come under fire from both sides of that divide and might have decided that the apples look better when in the cart. The new evangelicals might be the biggest surprise here. Proclaiming loudly that the whole book is meaningful and needs to be practiced, have they succumbed to the constant accusations that the means of their increasing influence is due to unethical practices and have decided to be safe rather than serve? They make some declarations under names of umbrella organizations, which are unknown and thereby ineffective, though non-have been made with regards the eviction of the poor.

What is so disgusting about the phrase “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate…”? Quoting Professor Rodney Barker who is Emeritus Gresham Professor of Rhetoric,

“This long since omitted verse from ‘All things bright and beautiful’ is often quoted slightly derisively for the distance that is supposed to exist between the assumptions of the Victorians, or at least some of them, about social hierarchy, and our own. The relative positions of the rich man and the poor man were as immutable, natural, and God given as the purple headed mountains or the river running by. God made them what they were, high and lowly, and ordered their estate but there is an equally interesting assumption in the verse that is less noticed: rich and poor are synonymous with ‘high’ and ‘lowly’. Social status is not only fixed and God given, but it is measured, equated with, determined by material wealth. This skeleton in the cupboard verse of the hymn points out, in musical form, a defining characteristic of ideology in both the long and the short twentieth centuries: It reveals the classification of society, the account of social identity, principally (not of course exclusively) in material terms, in terms of control over or access to material resources, in terms of wealth, property, land, houses, capital.”

What is disgusting is that it is not keeping with the Christians book. It results out of syncretism with the popular culture of the day, and was thrown into the dustbin of Christian history or so we thought.

Evicting the poor is not about beautifying the city, it is about access to material resources, in terms of wealth, property, land, houses, capital. We judge wages paid to the labor force based on how much three square meals would cost the laborer and the amount left over. We keep ignoring the larger families that are at home, ignoring the aspirations of their children, ignoring that a work day lost due sickness, lack of business or in the past a curfew causes undue frustration. In short we are ignorant. Now consider that those who provide vital labor have to travel from afar to their work place causing further expenditure from their near non existent resources. Think of the extra time consumed in such travel. More importantly it is good for the well-to-do to see daily the lives of those who are struggling and their families. To see their life style and the meager resources with which they manage. Not to cause them pride as to what they have inherited or achieved nor as a punishment for their wealth but to elicit the purpose for which they have been blessed. At least for some it could be a moral mirror to do what is right.

Our poor have become so servile they most probably will be travelling from somewhere way beyond Godagama having got up at 4 in the morning in an overcrowded 170 bus on a humid and sultry morning, plying on the Parliament road and contort their neck to view an air taxi landing on the new lake made by the armed forces on what was the Waters Edge golf course earlier, to take people from a highly developed high-rise residential complex to the airport or some leisure destination, and be thankful that the country has made progress. That would quite fit the description of the poor man at the gate.

This article was aimed at the religious leaders of the nation. The loss of morality is the responsibility of the moral rather than that of the vile. As I have closed in on the stunning silence of the leaders of the Christian faith I conclude with a quote from the book,

What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
simply because you have the power to do so.
When you want a piece of land,
you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
stealing his family’s inheritance.

We Need a Voice. If we don’t call for reform we will have rebellion.

  • Economic frustration -> mobilizes votes and opinion -> puts people in power -> power -> wealth (in this country anyway) -> hubris and failures of memory. “Kala guna salakamu” works in only one direction.

    • joker

      kumsyo you make some valid points. But if these lands really belong to the people who you imply they belong to in the poem, why don’t they file court action, or why doesn’t the UNP and its army of powerful lawyers file a class action suite for them.

      The reason I think we all know, most of these lands are government lands, occupied illegally (be it for years or decades).

      The land is valuable, it can have a lot of economic benefit to the national economy, ‘technically’ to the benefit of all citizens. If it’s a matter of deciding what is of greater good,’slums’ or ‘development’ one would think a rational person would choose ‘development’, unless of course you are one of the slum dwellers.

      What I disagree with in the evictions is the way the people in power has gone about the evictions. I would have opted to build alternative houses, provide deeds before evicting the people thereby, at a certain level, leave the people in a better situation than they had found themselves (although this would be arguable).

      It would be wonderful if critics could propose alternatives at the same time they complain about this and other things. There has to be a point where people stop finding all the possible faults in positive things that are done and start providing an alternative options that will achieve better results and do less harm. e.g. if you don’t like Ranil who do you want to replace him with?

      I just don’t see any alternatives to what the government is doing in this piece of writing.

      • Wallflower

        Why does not the Government evict those squatters from the Strict Natural Reserves of this country?

  • This is great!finally a Voice..
    God bless you Kumsyoh.
    May this be just the beginning.. let many more like- minded people band together to help our brothers and sisters in this land.

    “Doom to you who legislate evil,
    who make laws that make victims –
    Laws that make misery for the poor,
    that rob my destitute people of dignity,
    Exploiting defenceless widows,
    taking advantage of homeless children
    What will you have to say on Judgment Day?
    when doomsday arrives out of the blue?
    Who will you get to help you?
    What good will your money do you?

    -From The Book-

  • A vast majority of people remained silent when innocent Sinhala youth were killed by the armed forces during the 2 JVP insurrections.

    A vast majority of people remained silent when Tamils were killed and their houses burnt in 1983.

    A vast majority of people remained silent when the Tamils in the ‘No Fire Zone’ were bombed into the stone age.

    A vast majority of people remained silent when around 300 Tamils in Colombo were evicted and sent back to the North & East by the defense secretary a few years ago.

    A vast majority of people remained silent when over 3,00,000 Tamils were held captive in euphemistically named ‘Welfare Camps.’

    A vast majority of people remain silent even when there is overwhelming
    evidence that war crimes were committed by the armed forces especially during the last days of the war.

    A vast majority of people remained silent when General Fonseka was imprisoned and terrorists like Pillayan, Karuna, KP, George Master and Daya Master remain free and live in the lap of luxury.

    So it’s not surprising that a vast majority of people remain silent when thousands of people are being evicted from Colombo because they have lost their souls. A soulless society.

    Like in the land of the lotus eaters, where the primary food of the island was lotus fruits and flowers and were narcotic, causing the people to sleep in peaceful apathy…a vast majority in this country have turned into a bunch of kiribath eating, cracker lighting, Jayaway waa shouting apathetic people. May the Gods have mercy on their souls…

    • Shehan Jayawardene

      PresiDunce Bean

      I completely agree with your viewpoint.

      Antonio Grmaschi’s Hegemony cannot be defined in a more perfect setting than in today’s Sri Lanka.

      This clearly a Matrix like situation minus The One

      As it says in the Good Book “What would it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul”
      our Powers That Be might not have heard of that.
      BTW I have been following your comments in GV for sometime and find them quite interesting
      Please keep up with your good work !

  • The Sunday Times told us of the pathetic living conditions of the poor who live behind the Bambalapitiya railway station..’The birds of the air have nests, but the sons of the earth have nowhere to lay their heads’.
    Over 30 people living in shacks,no roadside tap for drinking water or washing their clothes etc.The sea is their bath tub and the beach their bathroom..there are 2 dilapidated toilets – without water of course.They eat when they have a bit of food.
    Can anyone at least fix their water problem? they’re desperate.Thanks so much.

  • Sene

    I think the important question here is what are the Christian priests doing? They should be setting an example but in Sri Lanka it appears as if the priests are in their castles while the poor are at their gates? Money and more money is raised to build bigger and better churches and fund the lavish lifestyle of the priesthood while the rest of the people struggles to make ends meet on a daily basis. Add to that child abuse, involvement in politics (some Christian priests actively urging people to vote for one or another political party from the pulpit), idol worship, threatening the families of converts etc etc and it’s a real sorry state. To be honest, it seems to me as if the Sri Lankan church worships money and not God.

  • Ward

    The last 6/7 decades have been blessed with advances in science and technology. But if the politicians chose to pamper the ethnic majority and to oppress ethnic minorities to get to, and to stay in, power ….
    …… ………
    they couldn’t think of better ways to live.

    Why is it exacerbating and not ebbing?

    Buddhist monks ask for GSP

    Catholic Archbishop goes further …..

  • Ward

    When will a critical mass say ”not in our names” to:

    M. Rajapakse, 15 June 2011: ”If I make any devolutionary concessions to the Tamils, it will be curtains for me”.
    Presidential hopefuls in the past few decades have also been saying so:
    L. Athulathmudali, 4 Feb 1985: ‘’Proposing a federal constitution will be political suicide.”
    R. Wickremasinghe, 13 May 1997: “We are a political party. Like any other political party, we will not do anything that will not get us into power, nor would we do anything when we are in power to lose power.”

  • Ward

    ”When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
    When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
    You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance”:
    Sri Lanka to establish ‘new village’ for IDPs, 20 September 201:

    ”Preparations are being underway to construct 600 Acer new village in Kombavil for remaining IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) who are in Manik Farm relief village at present. ….”

    Why should they be settled in a” new village”?

    Shouldn’t they choose where they want to live?

    Is it sociologically and psychologically good for them to go into one village determined by the Defence ministry?

    Dear sociologists and psychologists, will you say something?

    Architects, economists and townplanners, will you say something?

    • wijayapala

      Dear Ward

      ”When you want a piece of land,
      you find a way to seize it.
      When you want someone’s house,
      you take it by fraud and violence.
      You cheat a man of his property,
      stealing his family’s inheritance”:

      Why are you criticising the Eelam cause all of a sudden??

      • sam

        unfortunately Wijayapala seems to have understood the following in the wrong context.
        “When you want a piece of land,
        you find a way to seize it.
        When you want someone’s house,
        you take it by fraud and violence.
        You cheat a man of his property,
        stealing his family’s inheritance”:

        It refers to the present government’s (land theft)policy of grabbing the lands in which belonged to the Vanni Tamils before the war and forcing them to settle in a jungle and settling Sinhalese in the land belonging to these people!!!Land theft in the guise of High security zone, establishing army camps in private lands belonging to the displaced people!!!

  • Nikhil

    Interesting topic. Asian Tribune runs a story of how Sri Lankan Catholic priests are playing a part destroying religious harmony through their actions in Mannar:

    Public outcry against Crosses and Statute illegally planted across Mannar

    …It is suspected that a group of Christians with the blessing of the Bishop of Mannar is installing Statute and Crosses in public places that are common to all religious communities.

    Mannar is predominantly a Tamil administrative district, where Tamils and Muslims who lives in the district, are speakers of Tamil language. Majority of the Tamils are Catholics, rest Hindus and there is an equal amount of Muslim population too in Mannar.

    Religious harmony was prevailing in Mannar until recently when Crosses and Statutes begun to emerge in public places which are common to all the communities. There is a common allegation that these symbols of Christian religion are planted with the blessings of the Bishop of Mannar to convert innocent Tamils as Catholic Christians.

    I just wonder when religious dignitaries will actually play a role that promotes peace and harmony.

    • @ Nikhil

      You said, “There is a common allegation that these symbols of Christian religion are planted with the blessings of the Bishop of Mannar to convert innocent Tamils as Catholic Christians.”

      So what about the Buddhist statues that are appearing all over the North & East after the war? With who’s blessings are these statues erected? And is it to convert Tamils as Buddhists?

      • sam

        Very good reply for @nikhil from PresiDunce Bean!! Some people are under impression that the sinhala Budhist are the “chosen people” and that they are above the law!!!