For many years only a few brave Sri Lankans have dared to talk about the Government’s oppression, nationalist extremism, and refusal to address the aftermath of the civil war. Most of the leaders of public opinion in Sri Lanka have been either too scared or too complicit to speak out.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was President – Sri Lanka’s only woman President – for 11 years, her father was a significant figure in Sri Lankan history, and her mother – the first woman Prime Minister in any country – was Prime Minister for 18 of the 40 years between 1960 and 2000. She is also a lifelong member of the current President’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In its time, her regime was also significantly criticised over its handling of human rights, minority rights, and free speech issues. She is no dissident, but represents the most establishment of Sri Lankan views.
Yet last Sunday, at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, she gave the most extraordinary speech. You can read the full text here.
Spine-tingling quotes include:
“We have begun, in the past few years, to engage in an extremist discourse of Sinhala Buddhist exclusivism. Anti-terrorist emotions are being recruited to increase anti-Tamil, and now anti-foreigner and even anti-everyone else sentiments, by means of a massive State led media campaign.”
“I wonder when I see that today the State has clearly adopted authoritarian rule, not to strengthen democracy and human rights, but to do the opposite.”
“If we persist in the present policy of winner takes all, we certainly will lose the remaining members of the minority communities.”
“I shall remember till the end of my days the morning when my 28 year-old son called me, sobbing on the phone to say how ashamed he was to call himself as Sinhalese and a Lankan, after he saw on the UK television a 50 minute documentary called “Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”. My daughter followed suit, saying similar things and expressing shock and horror that our countrymen could indulge in such horrific acts. I was proud of my son and daughter, proud that they cared for the others, proud that they have grown up to be the man and woman their father and mother wanted them to be.”
If even people like Kumaratunga are now choosing to speak out, there must be hope that the tide is at last beginning to turn against the current government’s policies – and that the days of impunity, nationalism, and flagrant human rights violations are numbered.