Sheep No More…

Screen Shot 2013-04-13 at 7.15.37 AM

Image from video on the vigil, broadcast by News 1st.

(A Personal Response to the quashing of the first anti BBS protest on Havelock Road)

This evening (Friday, April 12th 2013) around 7.15pm on Havelock Road in front of the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi Building adjoining Laurie’s Road, I was reminded anew that there is no freedom in our land.

I am nearly 45 years old now, and for 30 long years, I have been reminded over and over again in different places, at different times that in many ways the citizens of Sri Lanka are trapped. We have been and still are, in fact increasingly so, trapped by our fear, our intolerance, our ignorance, our sheep like obedience, either to the powers that be or to our own desperate need to play safe and stay safe.

I am not a lawyer, a journalist, an academic or an activist. I am just an ordinary citizen who is sick of being intimidated by the forces that are empowered by us to protect us. I am tired of our short sighted, nepotistic governments, our corrupt politicians, our arrogant law enforcement officers, our extremist religious leaders, and our ignorant, complacent citizenry. I am just plain tired.

This evening I walked onto Havelock Road with my husband and two children to join my sister, her husband and some friends in gathering with the many who had come to symbolically light a candle in the darkness of our land, to protest through a silent vigil, the extremist politics of the now notorious Bodu Bala Sena who were at that moment in a meeting at their headquarters in the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi Building. I was almost immediately flung into a flurry of aggressive policemen, chasing us off, shouting at us to get rid of our candles, threatening us with arrest if we did not immediately obey and disperse! Across the street two Bhikkhus were shouting and inciting the Police. Some thugs appeared to be with them, yelling and gesturing wildly at us all. We were stunned. We had expected police and Bhikkhus, but not hatred; not violence; not such flagrant abuse of power, of position. In a minute my sister received a call from her husband, still across the street near the petrol shed. He had been arrested for standing there holding a candle in his hand! He had just walked up Laurie’s road and joined the crowd. Before he could figure out what was happening, he was in the jeep with a couple of others. No one would listen to him. They took him to the Bambalapitiya Police Station. An hour later he was released, but not before my husband was accused by a Policeman whom he went to talk to regarding my brother in law’s arrest, of being, because of his rather confusing name, wait for it – a Muslim! At one time being Tamil was pretty unsafe to say the least, now it is being Muslim! Others who had come earlier for the vigil had already been dispersed, threatened, a few arrested and later released. I am terribly sad, angry, above all tired. My dear fellow citizens, if you have not realized this already, let me tell you, democracy is dead in our land.

My children, nearly 10 and nearly 15 were with me. We live nearby, it was a lovely evening, a candlelight peace vigil, and we thought it would be safe. We were wrong. My son was afraid. My teenage daughter bemused. They asked if we should migrate! I remember being 15 in 1983. A year later everyone around me migrated to Canada or elsewhere. We didn’t. My dad said this was our country, we could not, would not, be chased away. Only rats leave a sinking ship he said. He didn’t mean those who had been affected by the riots, only those who took advantage of the moment to seek greener pastures. I thought he was too harsh in his estimate. I still think he was. We were fortunate; our Sinhalese neighbours’ protected us and kept us from being burnt. Others were not so lucky. Fear was everywhere. Many felt displaced, dispossessed. Were they Sri Lankan they wondered? Did they belong? So they left. Who can blame them? But I have never forgotten my father’s words. I understood what he meant. He meant, don’t run away when the going gets tough, stay and fight. He meant find a way to give to this land so that it will progress and prosper. He meant be proud to be Sri Lankan: In spite of everything, we are a good and able people.

But today Daddy, I wondered if you were right at all. The war is over. Though I don’t believe the means justified the end, I am glad it is over. I feel safe. I don’t wake up wondering if my children will come home from school today. I don’t hear a car backfire or hear a cracker go off and think ‘Dear God, another bomb!’ Well, almost I don’t. Peace takes getting used to for those of us who have spent most of our lives in a battle scarred land!

But there are signs of peace all around us or so we are told. Roads are being built, new ports and airports, cricket stadiums, shopping malls, the works! Never mind the land grabbing and homelessness in the North; never mind the water holes being filled to keep the errant wild animals away in the South. Forget the politicisation of sports; the skirmishes caused by ministers’ sons’, the biased, state controlled media and judiciary; forget the cost of living, the petrol prices, the electricity tariffs, disease causing garbage dumps being forcibly filled under Police cover amidst protests by the community; the incredible increase in rape and abuse, a testament to the lawlessness in the land. Forget it all. The war is over. We’ll forgive our government anything.

Harassment of Muslims?  Well they should really be more careful. After all this is not really their land right? Intimidation by Police? Just doing their jobs men! They have to keep the peace even if it takes force! The Bodu Bala Sena?  Oh just harmless Bhikkhus. Ignore them. This is all just media hype! State sponsored violence? So paranoid! They saved us from the terrorists remember? Give them time. Watch them take us forward. Just give them… time.

We are sheep. What do we have in common with New Zealand? There too sheep outnumber humans! Yet people came to protest today. Not many, but we came. We were dispersed aggressively. Never mind. We saw firsthand that the Bodu Bala Sena is backed by the forces which are controlled by the State. We saw truth. Oh, we have known it all along. But today it could not be denied. Our government is behind terror. It is behind extremist Buddhist chauvinism. It needs another cause to keep our people fear ridden, to condone military presence. This is how dictatorships are built.

The story goes a teacher once asked his students, ‘what is a democracy?’ and the reply: ‘a democracy is the freedom to elect our own dictators!’ This of course is what we’ve done. But who was it who said ‘you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.’ Ah, yes, Abraham Lincoln. So sheep no more! There are amongst us people who are good and able. Unafraid. So perhaps you were right Daddy. People came today. People who will stay and fight. The Police and the Bhikkhus made a mistake. They forgot that not all are always afraid. Sometimes aggression fuels the fire of protest. May it be so. May more of us ordinary, everyday citizens, rise up and protest. Forget our past? Forgive our governments? Give them time? No bl–dy way!

SCT – an ordinary citizen

  • kissifer

    ” They forgot that not all are always afraid. Sometimes aggression fuels the fire of protest. May it be so. ” Yes – May it be so!!

  • Dilky Joseph

    Brave! Also truly patriotic! May your efforts have a positive impact.
    We left, it wasn’t easy to leave. We felt time was running out for a future for our children and we were tired and fearful of the present and the future. I admire you and your family. Be safe! Wish you success. Success is inevitable surely it will dawn, as day follows night.

  • http://shameer.cu.cc Shameer Sheriff

    People are ignorant. Leaders are selfish.
    People should rise up whenever they see injustice. But they are afraid to rise up. Too much to lose. Best thing to do is, live in harmony and peace whatever happens.

  • Sahan

    Excellent writing. You are right. Someday, we will all stand up against injustice in our land. That day is not too far away. I admire your determination to stay on and fight. It seems so easy to go away but we all know that is not the right thing to do.

  • artist

    Even as a privileged Sinhala Buddhist, I feel fed up, insecure, trapped and lost. I don’t want extremist Buddhist puppets ruin my religion to satisfy political agendas. I don’t want brothers and sisters of other religions hassled for following their faiths. I hate discrimination, may it be racial, religious, sexual or otherwise. I don’t want any of this to happen… yet I am powerless to stop it.

    I can imagine how an ethnic minority must be feeling in this country. Unlike you my friend, I would love to get the hell out of here if I could. I just don’t want a life living in fear and constant struggle for freedom. There is absolutely no hope for a better life here, for collective thinking or harmony. We are all just faking it. That is how I, even as a sinhala Buddhist, feel. I feel saddened to see so many brilliant people leaving. I am trapped just as much as you are. This is ‘our’ struggle. You are not alone in this. Bravo for standing up for it.

  • Off the Cuff

    Dear Madam,

    “I am not a lawyer, a journalist, an academic or an activist. I am just an ordinary citizen”

    I am not too sure that you are just an ordinary citizen, I believe you are not.

    I could not stop reading the beautiful prose, you are a gifted writer, with a rare gift of conveying your emotion in your writing. You should seriously think of taking up writing as a career.

    I think you are very brave and wish you and your family prosperity and strength in the New Year that dawns tomorrow.

  • ReadandSeed Layla

    we all stood together that day. No matter what race or religion, what social background or lifestyle. THATS WHAT COUNTS! Thanks S for writing this article. I have tears in my eyes. Of frustration, anger and loathing. You told the world what happened. I applaud you.

  • Ramzeen

    I’m a Muslim and I was at the vigil too. Although approaching 65, I felt this irrepressible urge to offer silent protest at what’s been going on. It was a first time for me. The only other mass gatherings I’d been to,were funerals.

    Here we were, going about our daily routines, as we’d always done, when out of the blue came these missiles launched by a robed militia. Whaaat … we spit 3 times into food that is given no non-Muslims? We marry their women to increase our numbers? We rent out premises from the Sinhalese and then invoke God to sequester it on a permanent basis but since we have (cattle?)blood on our hands, only legions of prethayas and bhoothayas respond? Spewed forth from vocal orifices of robed men ( from whom we hitherto had heard words of peace, tranquility and equanimity)who could challenge their collective credibility?
    Mahinda Rajapkse, at the end of the war, had it all in the palm of his hand – but he blew it. And blew it bad. This poor managerial effort makes me question his touch with reality and ground situation. Perhaps the army of advisers are the clowns in his circus. Didn’t we offer him our obeisance and accept him as our King? Chiran Jayathu, Maharajanani – we all sang and even meant it!

    I went there with peace in heart and mind, a carefully paper-wrapped candle in my pocket and joined a band of decent men and women. I listened quietly to the braying of the khaki-ed oaf (his minions were less vociferous), lest I gave credibility to his unsubstantiated accusations of the place being infested with Muslims, Catholics and Tamils (was that a crime?). I watched aghast at the robed braggarts who swaggered under in the safety “law” and their pot-bellied loudmouthed layman lieutenant, shouting out epithets to the Buddhists in the gathering. He seemed to be an authority on the subject of Buddhist behavior,practices and even dress-code. He even said something about their parentage but I missed its content. Cocooned in the safety of robe and uniform he waved his arms and roared. In the meantime a would-be hero told him that action should be taken about the gathering and proceeded to punch numbers into his blackberry. Realizing perhaps, that discretion was the better part of valor, he was dissuaded. This self-appointed champion of the SinhalaBuddhists then declared that he was prepared to lay down his life for the country! He left the site, but not before giving a “patriotic” speech on camera.

    Although the vigil was a non-starter, the sight of the participants warmed my heart especially their quality. And it did a lot to dispel the sense of doom that had been dogging me. They were decent, forthright, upright citizens who had had enough. Although they could have relaxed at home shutting out the cruelty outside, they chose to be positive. My unknown friends, sad to say, the “rulers” of this land are blind to your talents, ethos and passionate love for land and religion. To me you symbolize the precious top soil that our rivers steadily wash into the sea. Presently the nutrition that all of you could offer to this one-time paradise,nourishes not even the soil.

    But Oh people! You are and were truly magnificent and your progeny will ultimately cleanse Sri Lanka.

    • dingiri

      A truly sad state of affairs. Since 2009, its been like watching a car crash in slow motion. I cant fathom if the people and govt. wish it this way or are too stupid to see the evil in their actions consequences of their misdeeds.

  • Safa

    The intentions of extremist like the BBS is to make life miserable for people so that they will leave the country. The objective to have a increased majority. BBS / JHU / Govt all play a numbers game. So if minorities decide to migrate, they win. Better to stay put and work for a better nation for all. Sri Lanka and its friendly people are worth it. These extremist are just a few but vocal and have the blessings of certain VIP’s.

    The Halal and other issues facing the muslims today are not that serious as what the Tamils went through since 1956, Sinhala Only. In a way Muslims are much more able to withstand these issues. Of course things can get worse.

    Another pogrom like 83? But will they? Maybe, they seem rather desperate. But the backlash and repercussions will be very serious this time around, at a time when we are facing Geneva, India and the International Community. The country cannot afford such a debacle, but you can never say when you are dealing with fanatics who operate on the fringes of sanity. For them martyrdom is an option when it comes to race and religon. Those who are sane need to put on the brakes to this suicidal trend.

    • Ramzeen

      We don’t need the BBS to tell us that we’re not wanted here. Like myself, I advise you to make arrangements to send your kids abroad and start a new life there. They wouldn’t understand all this hatred and harassment. Our kids have been brought in an environment of decency. So it’s time to face facts: things are not going to get better because even teachers have started to spread the BBS message to their kids and as a result, children of other religions are being side-lined. There’s even a female doctor in the National Hospital who has banned the shawl and other head coverings in her clinic and her nurses emulate their boss. So start now!

      • Jayalath

        To Ramzeen

        Thank you for the reply .
        Understanding between us is deteriorating badly and we should do some thing about it . I cannot comment about it because I have no clue to say what that person is upto .
        However , take care Ramzeen .

  • Ranjo

    When the came for Communits, I was silent, because I was not a communits…. Remember that poem? You are too late Madam.

  • Jayalath

    Going down in hysterics will not resolve our problems . And the repression and tyrannies were not lack in south Asian grounds for many years . Which we need to understand first place , we should refrain from issuing statements irresponsibly as we born yearsterday, and we are only now on time off of brutal war . I can understand your agony and despair . But we are enjoying today what we sowed in the past . Therefore we all are partners of what we moan for . Think about what your children have proposed you , shall we immigrate ? Im not wonder . How many people can immigrate 80% ? . Will imigrate or immigrating is the answer ?

    Some people can immigrate , they always do , and come back after little while because south Asians are not well recognised by the Europeans or American or Australians . The reason is we say some thing and do some thing . We cannot easily integrate to those life styles( except few), although we tried to dress up like those advanced people . Our mentality is very low and weak . We always ready to complain rather than trying and doing well .

    And I can see this writer has completely forgotten the past . ( I’m not a fan of this regime ) can’t you remember when J-R , was there Ravi Jayawardana was a king , when Premadasa was there his wife and cronies were the first . We remember sirisena Cooray and the platoon . These people did the same thing . Nawaloka hospital property was taken by them for peanuts under the Premadasa reign and the repression were worst than today . Can’t you remember , after that Chandrikakumaratunga , who were around her , Sanath Gunathiaka and other useless platoon .
    Please think about all who we had to rule our country .Who elected them , you and me . Therefore it is our fault . We have been doing the same fault along the history. Because we are insane and cynical .

    However , this is not the begining or end , we have long way to go , it can be wars or plagues or even famine . Because we have no habit of thinking about vicinity threats . As we still overwhelmed by the superstition and rotten cultures , this is our quality . We will fight for water tomorrow , not for the religion or Halal food . I’m afraid we may eat any thing then .

    Do we have any idea of what we can do to save our country to the people who will claim tomorrow ? May be like your children said , shall we immigrate .?
    I’m an emigrant , I know the taste of immigration and the place we secured .

  • Jayalath

    To Ramzeen and writer.

    I will give you an information ,which is a true and only I need to know what do you think about it . The location kandy at Anniwatta . There was a land for sale which was belonged to one of my friend’s family and the original price was 3 Laks for each perch .few days later a muslim person has arrived in a luxury car and offered for a 6 Laks for perch , and taken the plot . Not only that plot , few land around has been taken over by this person for extreme higher prices .

    So , my query is ,very Reasonable . You need to remember that I’m irreligious and respect to real life , without bias to idiotic religious extremism , any level of religious extremism that I reject without hesitation . Please looks at Boston Marathon in America , what an extremist can do to the society in a second .

    My query is , what do you think about that person who has paid double price to buy that property?
    Do you think those type of people have any hidden agenda to fulfill their motivations .?
    In a such aspect, how would you think that singhala people & buddhist monk would react after heard about such deal ?
    Do you realise any abnormality of the deal? ( the purpose of buying it double price )
    Do you think that singhala people will have rise of suspicion when such deals take place ?
    Do you think that people should not take it notice or ignore when such things happen around us ?
    Do you think that BBS is an out come of such behaviour or suspicious of Some groups of people ?
    If you propose what better governance meant to be, what proposals would you deliver to restore the equity & justice in Sri Lanka ?

    • Ramzeen

      Bro Jayalath rich people have personal agendas. Why should anyone be suspicious about him paying double? Some rich guys do this to avoid taxes. Even Sinhalese rich do that. BBS has poisoned the minds of the Sinhalese middle class so that Sinhalese teachers are feeding racial ideas to little kids. Anything that muslims do are suspicious now: even if they go to the toilet. Isn’t this foolishness?