Not all Sri Lankans are indifferent to abuse of the vulnerable; stories of a few brave souls?
Many outsiders wonder why informed Sri Lankans, Tamils as well as Sinhalese, stay silent about the abuses in their country. We are not talking only about the minorities and human rights or pro democracy activists who are targeted without public concern. But even cases of child rape goes unmentioned (1); of course such awful things can happen anywhere but where would so many children raped get so little attention? The most often heard reason or excuse, however you look at it is that security and business concerns prevent those within the country from speaking up. But sure this reason does not apply to those living abroad, especially those with few ties to Sri Lanka? If they can be motivated to speak up against the violations in Burma or feel sympathy for the destruction of the floods in Pakistan, surely they can feel some urgency and desire to do the same for their ‘motherland’?
In a revealing article, Sinhalese Human Rights commentator Tisaranee Gunasekara says (1) “What happens when a populace willingly abdicates its right to think, because it considers thinking burdensome and, perhaps, dangerous?… Did our gradual descent into moral indifference begin in the North, when we unquestioningly accepted the outrageous lie of zero-civilian casualties?…Indifference and impunity are mutually-sustaining cancers which cannot be isolated politically or geographically; eventually the South too will be consumed by these twin ills. The proposed barricading of the country would be aimed at guaranteeing the Rajapaksa right to impunity (according to the official narrative, national interests and Rajapaksa interests are identical). But the prime guarantor of Rajapaksa impunity will be our own habit of indifference. After all, what cannot be done to and on behalf of a society which remains unmoved by the rape of its children, three a day?.”
And she is not the only exception. In a brave speech addressed directly to and made in the presence of President Rajapaksa on his recent visit to Houston, USA, the Sri Lankan US lawyer, George Wiley said (2) “I have watched the land of my forefathers descend from Paradise deep into hell. No one can say with any certainty who is to blame. But the time for blaming is long gone…Your Excellency, Fate and Fortune and your great political skills have placed you at a unique point in History…Do not make the Tamils feel as though they are second class citizens…The Tamil people are naked and hungry looking for you to assure them that there is a place for them. Make sure they have one. You killed one Prabha karan, but do not let another one grow. You cannot prevent another one with swords and guns. You can only do that with your heart and wisdom. The compassion, truth, and justice you learned from the Buddha are the only weapons you will need…According to Dhammapada, Buddha said: Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule…Your Excellency, return us to Paradise ! Return us to Paradise!”
And finally, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is based in Colombo, has launched a dedicated website aimed at promoting and protecting human rights in Sri Lanka. Being the only group to challenge the 18th Amendment in court and despite repeated death threats to its Director, Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, promoting the thinking and talking of ‘rights’ – whilst other well meaning moderates have said you cant use the word “rights” and “there’s no point confronting the government” – is very brave. ‘People’s Rights’ (http://www.thepeoplesrights.org) will highlight and record Human Rights issues in Sri Lanka with an emphasis on Minority Rights and will contain updated and archived news reports, detailed studies and multimedia resources in English, Sinhala and Tamil. CPA has invited readers to submit and comment on content and is focused on making the site a hub for information about minority groups and their rights for all national and international policy makers, non-governmental organisations, academics, researchers and the media concerned.
We do not claim that the above are the only examples of bravery by Sri Lankans for Sri Lankans. We know of those such as Lasantha Wickrematunga who have paved the way for bravery such as the above and other countless attempts that go unnamed and unacknowledged. Sadly, the sum of all such brave attempts have still not been sufficient to make a difference in Sri Lanka and this is why we need to encourage the brave and encourage each other. Sri Lankans abroad – especially apolitical professional moderates and those who visit Sri Lanka for holidays and do business there – are well placed to serve as true friends, be a mirror and support those who need support.
For more information on the above:
(1) To read Tisaranee Gunasekara article:http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/10/24/the-land-of-the-indifferent/
(2) To hear and view George Wiley’s speech: (start from 6 minutes into the video)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei4cURPJdrY&feature=player_embedded
(3) To read more about the CPA and the People’s Rights Website:http://www.thepeoplesrights.org