Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Caught between the real and virtual in Sri Lanka


I congratulate you on your continued publication on the web! I am truly happy that Sri Lanka’s contributions to the global community has not been merely such things as the record for the highest number of secret killings/disappearances reported to the United Nations Sub-Committee on Enforced Disappearances during the entire existence of that Sub-Committee (in 1989). We can now boast of not just a sports (cricket) team that won a ‘World Cup’ (even as war was tearing the country apart), but also a popular discussion website, GROUNDVIEWS, that won the Citizens Journalism Award for enabling concerned people to freely engage in exchange of ideas and experiences on some of the most critical aspects of Sri Lankan life. So, congratulations on your 1,000th posting!

But let me also express my surprise. What surprises me is that the Editor and other editorial staff of GROUNDVIEWS actually continue to exist seemingly both physically as well as virtually.

Why am I “surprised”? In this paradise island archipelago of ours which is currently controlled by a state that calls itself “The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”, over the past thirty years or more, possibly up to fifty media professionals or semi-professionals have been physically killed, while others have physically disappeared and yet others have been severely or mildly physically assaulted and injured or crippled and others have been threatened with physical death or physical harm. That is why I am surprised about you guys continued survival.

You may notice that I keep harping on the ‘physical’ dimension. That is because we have now gone beyond the era of the purely ‘material-physical’ and entered the epoch of the ‘virtual’. I am writing as Virtual Aryan because I am now all the more aware of the variations of existence.  In the past, we lived quite physically while all the while being taught in our Dhamma schools (on those rare occasions in the week when those halls were not being used for English tuition) that Existence also did involve the dimension of ‘maayaa’. In my psychadelic young adulthood, I was able to grasp the intricacies of Buddhist and Upanishadic philosophy somewhat better than I first did in my adolescent days sweltering in the soporific heat of Poya mornings in the temple halls. So I learnt that ‘maayaa’ can have many dimensions and that ‘reality’ could not be defined in any singular sense. In short, the Real and the Maayaa are not separate experiences but form a continuum of experience.

Even before I quite entered the world of the Virtual courtesy of the Digital age, I was introduced into the realms of the Virtual in my beloved Dharma Dveepa courtesy of the political and social practice of the people around me. The reality of the Real and the Duplicate Real was driven home most forcefully by the pervasive practice of a joyous Duplicity by Sri Lankans. A full two-thirds of the country’s voters in 1977 voted into power a national political leadership that promised to usher in a “Dharmishta” (Righteous) Society by implementing a regulations-free ‘open market’ economy and explicitly inviting the “robber barons” to come and do business here, exploiting our labour that was globally advertised as “cheap” and pliant and submissive.

In short, the people overwhelmingly wanted the preaching of Righteousness and the practice of economic robbery, snobbery and exploitation. Gambling was encouraged on a vast commercial scale for the first time together with other kinds of quite un-righteous practices like a non-legal sex industry.  Social responsibilities were de-emphasised while individual profiteering was upheld as the new virtue, the ideal. In fact the Preachers-cum-Politicians went as far as to enact a new Constitution of a Democratic SOCIALIST Republic while in the very act of dismantling most of the socialistic mechanisms and institutions that had been built up by previous regimes that had both practised and preached Socialism.

At the same time, the new regime of 1977, that had won the minorities’ votes by, for the first time, actually upholding the political concerns of the main minority community, then proceeded to further entrench ethnic majority domination over State and society and, worse, to forcibly suppress those ethnic minority elements that dared to protest such duplicity.

And this march of the Duplicate Reality has never stopped since those heady days of the Singapore model. Regime after regime proceeded happily in the Duplicate and the Triplicate and … and … .

For years now, we Sri Lankans have vehemently protested against the United Nations or other international bodies “intervening” in our country – not by sending troops but by attempting to impose conditions for aid or by sending inquiry missions. We are defending our Sovereignty presumably both real and virtual. At the same time, we have been excitedly sending off thousands of our troops to forcefully intervene in other countries under the auspices of and in the lucrative pay of, the United Nations and have not bothered at all about those countries’ sovereignty. Indeed, our own judges a now flying off to Fiji to serve a military dictatorship that has sacked its own judges and whose government is no longer recognised by an international body, the Commonwealth, of which Sri Lanka is a proud member. Both virtual and real justice, I presume.

I am grateful for the Digital Revolution that has taught me to intellectually transcend the pseudo confidence of placing trust in a single Real/Truth. I have learnt to firmly anchor myself in the precarious interstices of the various Realities even as these Realities shift from one virtual dimension to another. I watched joyfully in 2004 and 2005 as much of Sri Lankan society rode on the bandwagon of an unspoken ethnic chauvinism and religio-cultural domination all the while speaking the language and, proudly waving the flag, of ethnic equality and democracy.

An “Honorable Peace” was voted for and, brutally and bloodily fought for and delightfully won, with firm (fanatically argued) faith in the Spirit of Defending Democracy via the Bloodbath. Did someone in your own virtual columns argue that it is worth killing 50,000 Sri Lankans in order to defeat Terrorism and Separatism? I believe that not only has it been argued, but it has been endlessly justified and explained and analytically supported in the most urbane and erudite language. Congratulations on your brave use of the Freedom of Expression! We now have an Honorable Peace and I am sure this Honorable Peace is both Real as well as Virtual. I certainly do NOT think that our Honorable Peace is at all comparable to all those honour killings that go on all the time in the barbaric and fundamentalist corners of the Sub-continent that is just across the Palk Straits.

I am sure that we, or most of us, are all very proud of our Civilisation both Real and Virtual. After all, your Virtual magazine GROUNDVIEWS is upheld and facilitated by this Civilisation, is it not? You have not been killed yet, have you? GROUNDVIEWS has not been banned or electonically blocked yet, has it? At least not virtually. So there! Or, where?? Are you guys there?? For Real??

Perhaps you guys are alive only because you are Virtual?