Thursday, February 4, 2010

Independence?

They came, they saw, they conquered

They stole, they doled, they wandered

We talked, we fought, we thundered

We won, we stalled, we blundered


I’m clearly no poet but if I could sum up our post-independence history, that’s how I would do it. It has been 62 long years since our first prime minister, the honourable D. S. Senanayake, proudly hoisted the national flag that black and white February 4th morning (I say black and white because the only footage available of that historic moment is, sadly, in black and white) and, looking back, we have to ask ourselves how far we’ve come.

A lot of blood and sweat was shed to achieve independence from our colonial masters, and although some might argue that we didn’t “win” our independence but it was merely given to us purely for the sake of circumstantial expediency, the fact remains that our national heroes of all ethnicities, religions and castes fought tirelessly with much vigour and patriotism to win our freedom and that freedom struggle paved the way to achieving Dominion status in 1948, effectively ending a 133 year British occupation (yes, it was an occupation – in many ways).

However, decades later, it is safe to say that those national heroes must be spinning in their graves.

Our freedom struggle, although not a perfect one, was unique in that it was a true manifestation of the hackneyed phrase ‘unity in diversity’. The Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers were all united, at least on the surface, in the face of a powerful foreign adversary and they were able to work towards the one common goal of gaining independence for Ceylon – and they pulled it off.

What ever happened to that unity? Why were we not able to hold on to that? Where did we go wrong?

We are now divided along lines of ethnicity, religion, financial status, political predisposition, etc., etc. Not that such division wasn’t always there, but back then it wasn’t so apparent and we had the capacity to not let that get in the way of moving ahead as a nation. What changed all that?

Take a look at the results of last week’s Presidential Elections for instance. There is a clear division of the vote along ethnic and financial lines. While an overwhelming majority of the rural Sinhalese voted for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Tamils in the North as well as voters in the heart of Colombo and other urban areas voted en masse for General (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka, which begs the question, WHY?

Why do the Tamils feel that they must not vote for the preferred candidate of the Sinhalese, and vice versa? Why does the so called Colombo Elite not want to elect a candidate not backed by the UNP for once? Aren’t we all part of the same citizenry? This is not to say that everyone should’ve voted for one candidate and not the other, but shouldn’t we as a country give priority to the bigger issues, such as, I dunno, the freedom and the resultant, (albeit short-lived) togetherness and harmony our forefathers fought so hard for? Shouldn’t we all at least vote as one nation?

The country is at an important crossroads now. A three-decade-old bloody, meaningless war has come to an end. We’re in the threshold of achieving economic stability, if not fast paced development. Isn’t it high time we put these petty differences behind us and moved on, at least as a mark of respect for the likes of Mr. Senanayake to whom we owe so much? It's better than celebrating them once a year, isn't it?

Think about it.

Image courtesy Wikipedia.

3 comments:

PseudoRandom said...

Hmm...can we really say that our people were united across ethnic lines during the fight for independence? I dunno. I'm more inclined to believe (and I blogged about this last year) that we only ever worked towards improving conditions for our own 'kind'. The only 'unity' was in that we didn't appear to sabotage each others' endeavours. It's highly likely that my knowledge of this part of our history is a bit patchy, but if you look at the schools that were founded as part of the anti-British movement, there is no sign of integration, no sign of unity. Just a sign of co-existence. Co-existence works when you're all being ruled by a foreign power, but not when you have to rule each other.

As for voting patterns, my personal view is that a political party should focus on their political ideology, and should aim to represent the entire population. Unfortunately a large proportion of political parties in SL simply focus on their ethnic identity, thereby marginalising everyone else. And the fact that they don't really have a 'plan' for the country just makes them glorified lobbying groups.

Regarding the election, could it be that Tamils in the North voted for SF because the TNA was backing him? And regarding the Colombo elite, the UNP is perceived as the only party that will rule in their favour. And then of course there's the "my father and his father voted for Party X so I shall too, even though I have no clue what their policies are and if they're good for the country" sentiment.

And as for putting our differences aside, I couldn't agree with you more...not because of DS or anyone from that era, but because if we don't work towards the development of our country, no one will.

P.S.- sorry, got a bit carried away!

Chavie said...

errr, what PR said... ;)

But no, I believe there was unity in our freedom struggle. The Lion flag for instance, although now called the symbol of the Sinhala chauvinists, was proposed as the national flag by a Tamil or Muslim MP from Batti. There was something called the Ceylon National Congress, having members from all communities, which later became the UNP. Now, divisions began to emerge as a result of opportunistic politicians like SWRD who took legitimate concerns of the Sinhala community and made the Tamils scapegoats, like Hitler with the Jews and (like Pseudo once blogged) the BNP with the immigrant community. (read that post btw, applies a lot to what happened with the SLFP in '56 too)

But I believe now, that all the communities in this country have been through a lot together, everyone's grown up with the fact that this country is diverse, and that everyone should enjoy equal rights. The new generation at least. So hopefully, we can move on. I hope! :)

P.S. Loved how you ended your article about Jaffna with how we owe it to our country to help build peace! :)

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