The Road That Once Was His

Smiling still, his face suggests no fear for freedom’s fire
Surely he’d doused it all; he’d tamed the people’s ire.
They had asked no questions; he’d hushed them with a crack-
A trail of lead in the head- two more in the back.
Had he not made them marvels? Won their bloody war?
Whose name decked the marvels? Whose decked the graveyard’s floor?
Then he’d played the chemist and into open wounds
Pressed hot words and saffron, and turned tigers into goons.
But the tear marks came, his face soon lost its hue
Underneath that tattered sheet, the wall that once was blue
Came the need for desperate change. You’ll see it in the cracks:
The hungry face for a freedom lost somewhere down the track.
Still he waits there smiling, lost in silent bliss.
And every man walks past him, on the road that once was his.

S.S. Bartlett

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On The Highway To Hell

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With Sri Lanka’s presidential elections less than two days away social media has erupted into a quite the mess. Supporters of candidate Maithripala Sirisena demand law, order, equality, and justice whereas supporters of the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, claim that the current government offers security, stability and the promise of a brighter future. It is no secret that the Rajapaksa government has built roads, highways, theatres and even *ahem* an airport at the expense of loans at exponential interest rates by the Chinese, they’ve missed out the most important, and crucial area of development; society.

I happened to witness the emasculation of the police force as they sat quietly in their trucks in Bellanwila when the radical Buddhist group The Bodu Bala Sena pelted a Muslim franchise with stones bellowing the derogatory racial term ‘thambiya’. Bricks, bridges and other fancy tangible trinkets are not necessary for the reconciliation process in a postwar society like ours. While highways, roads, and airports are forms of development they are only tangible forms of development Rajapaksa can lay claim to. They have become symbols to divert public attention from the core issues of society. Postwar sentiments are approaching putrescence and have now begun to exacerbate other societal issues.  The crack of cannons has long since settled and the LTTE have withered and perished -which is a mighty good thing, but Sri Lankan society still feels that familiar involuntary shudder whenever it is reminded of its ethnic diversity; fallow ground for any ethnic conflict. However there has been little room for reconciliation and repair and the Rajapaksa government keeps pressing hot irons against that wound. By keeping a semblance of insecurity and instability and letting ultra nationalist sentiments run riot the Incumbent can continue his appearance as a victor who ended Sri Lanka’s civil war and can therefore end the very instability he himself initiates.

Now with Sirisena hot on his heels and Rajapaksa unprepared for an election that has suddenly seen a wave of public disapproval of his government’s administration the regime has stooped to an all time low. Mudslinging social media accounts and fan pages on Facebook comparing Maithripala to Judas Iscariot have made the political debate an even uglier affair. I stumbled upon a Facebook post where a user who curiously decided to create her account after the announcement of the presidential elections claimed that those who vote for popular Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena should not use the roads and highways built under Rajapaksa’s tenure as president. Firstly, she clearly does not understand that infrastructure is eventually paid for and owned by the Sri Lankan people. Sri Lankan society has unfortunately promoted the sort of culture where we hand out “IOUs” to our political leaders for doing their duty in a gesture of subservience when our leaders are in fact answerable to us, the people. We have somehow mixed up our gratitude and laud the president for victory of the war while our valiant soldiers have been reduced to building racetracks for his children. “O Tempora, O Mores.” Sirisena himself in his interview with the Daily Mirror addressed this culture where he stressed that the “people have to get used to letting go” which itself is an experience.

With falsified and baseless claims of Sirisena abducting a child’s mother being broadcast on state media it is clear that the regime is panicking. For good reason too. Sirisena’s portrayal of himself as the champion of the agrarian community who promises to promote the representation of women in parliament, and pursue much needed law, order and justice in the country has amassed bus loads of people (from their own city too!). It hasn’t helped now that the Rajapaksa Government’s past has come back to haunt it. The Rathupaswala incident in 2013 where the army fired at citizens protesting for drinkable water ,eventually killing three individuals has resurfaced, the blind eye they turned to the Muslim community when they were being victimized, assaulted and oppressed has lost them their support. Even worse, recent slip-ups (completely unforeseen my Rajapaksa’s astrologers) such as Minister of “Higher Education” S.B. Dissanayake’s comment that former president Chandrika Bandaranaike should be stripped and sent naked on the road has given the people a glimpse of what kind of crass ‘thrada’ MPs make up Rajapaksa’s government for which the tax payer is forced to pay. Let’s not forget deputy minster of disaster management (no pun intended) who boldly and publicly claimed the current government has robbed the country sufficiently and therefore by electing a new government, the people will only usher a new band of thieves. “Preposterous” is insufficient to describe this absurdity. UNP MP Harsha De Silva notes how low the UPFA campaign has reached, distributing political merchandise in the form of Rajapakse clocks, motorbikes and exercise books to coerce the people into voting for him. Quite the violation of election laws.

This choice to follow a campaign of baseless slander and sabotage and bring down Bollywood stars for hefty sums rather than address the grievances of the people has left the regime with few cards to play. It is utterly absurd that a government which claims to be cloaked in patriotism must rely on Indian personalities to get its message across to the people. Yeah we’ve all heard the story about Salman Khan’s visit focusing on his “charity”. Have you also heard that I’m Batman? No? Thought so. So the next time someone reminds you about the Rajapaksa Government’s roads and infrastructural development , remember that development isn’t always about infrastructure and what comes first is the people and the society with which you live. The price of development is not being paid for with his own money but with your blood, sweat and tears. So don’t vote for leaders who only turn to you to extend their power and otherwise ignore your grievances. Don’t vote for leaders who resort to primitive measures such as blocking social media. Don’t vote for the leaders that take pleasure in slandering women, and rape the law.

Vote for yourself. Vote for society.


Image not owned.