மிக விரைவில் சித்தன் கொட்டில் புதிய வடிவில்!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Opinion: Tissainayagam, Richard de Zoysa and Professor Rajiva Wijesinha

(Published : Sunday Leader, 20 September 2009. Altered version.)

By Charles Sarvan

The ‘reaction’ cited below was published by you last week ("My intention was to stop the killing of youth", September 13, 2009). It followed your reproduction of the statement made by Mr. Tissainayagam in that court which handed down a sentence of twenty years hard labour on him. I quote verbatim:

REACTION – Sinhala bloggers
“In 1989, Tissainayagam translated some documents on the human rights violations of the regime for (now President) Mahinda Rajapakse, a key human rights activist of the day to be taken to Geneva. He was a hero then, but now a villain. Is this because then he was fighting for rights of the Sinhalese and now for Tamil rights?”

The question that concludes the above caught my attention. As I have written elsewhere, the whites who joined the struggle against apartheid in South Africa did not do so because they were “for” the blacks, but because they were against discrimination, and the brutality (and resulting human suffering and tragedy) which accompany the imposition and maintenance of injustice. White Americans from the North who supported Martin Luther King’s campaign were insulted (“Nigger lovers”), beaten and, in certain cases, murdered. Some of the most trenchant accounts I have read of Palestinian suffering are by individuals of Jewish origin.
One can identify three kinds of protest. The first would be if I were to suffer injustice as a member of a group; protest and work towards dismantling that injustice. A second kind of protest would be if I took an interest, for example, in the plight of the (to me) distant peoples of the Amazon rain-forest. It would be disinterested, since there is no hope of gain for me in expressing concern and indignation. (Increasingly, “disinterest” tends to be confused with “uninterested”.) The third and the most challenging is to speak truth to power when that power is wielded by one’s own group and, what is more, when injustice and force work to the advantage of one’s own group and, therefore, it can be argued, to oneself. The examples I have cited from South Africa, the USA and Israel arguably come within this third, and heightest, category.
To return to the question, “Is this because then he was fighting for rights of the Sinhalese and now for Tamil rights?”, the sickness of ethnic division (call it primitive “tribalism”, if you will) has gained such a hold in the Island that one now speaks of Sinhalese rights and Tamil rights, rather than of (fundamental, universal) human rights: human-rights recognise our common humanity, regardless of language, religion, sex or skin-colour. Writing about the late Adrian Wijemanne, I pointed out that his was a principled, essentially decent and caring, stance. Transcending narrow tribalism, he did not “fight for the Tamils” but for equality, justice and inclusion. If the Sinhalese had been oppressed, herded and corralled in prison camps, he would have been among the first to espouse their cause.
The position adopted by such individuals calls for rare courage and inner strength because they are execrated and abused as “traitors”; experience physical terror, even pay the final price of death. (The “cost” is borne also by those most close and dear to them.) At times of inhumanity, such individuals, their character and conduct, affirm our humanity, restore confidence, hold out some hope, give courage.
On the other hand, to go with the majority, to use unethically one’s intelligence and “cleverness” with language, has its rewards: public admiration and applause; media attention; appointment and promotion; entry into the higher circles of power (and the privilege and social status that that brings); invitations and deference. It is an intoxicating, addictive, cocktail that must make one feel successful, powerful - and smugly conceited. But it is a gaining of the “world” at the loss of what is best in us as human beings.
And yet, at moments of silent, honest, introspection, some of those who have “sold out” must look in the mirror of the past, see their earlier self and pause - however briefly, uncomfortably and hurriedly. As a poet wrote (albeit in another context) good is the life ending faithfully – faithful to the values, principles and ideals one believed in and cherished. Many souls, as noble as they were modest, both Sinhalese and Tamil, have refused to be intimidated, declined to compromise, disdained dangled prizes and rewards, and paid the price. And this brings me (not without a sense of irony) to Rajiva Wijesinghe. It was he who, several years ago, drew my attention to one such individual: Richard de Zoysa, political activist and poet. I conclude with extracts from my resulting review.
[Richard de Zoysa] was well known: a human rights activist, a fearless critic of political immorality and cruelty. As an actor (on stage and screen) and as a journalist and broadcaster, he reached many. In a time of unreason, of “racial” and political hatred and violence, he upheld the values of justice, decency and humanity. He was brutally murdered in February 1990, not having quite reached the age of thirty¬-two. His mother's attempts, despite State obstruction, to bring his killers to justice, excited national admiration and pity.
Sri Lanka is not without such individuals and, therefore (despite the present combination of suave falsehoods and appalling cruelty) not without hope of ethical and political redemption and renewal. When that awakening happens, many now wallowing in power and pride will be seen quite differently.

The Editor of the Sunday Island added the following. It must be noted that Mr Rajapakse’s protest comes within the first of the three categories discussed, namely, fighting for one’s own group.

“Totalitarian leader was once a young idealist fighting for human rights” - Excerpt

“The year was 1989. A violent youth insurrection that had terrorised the Sri Lankan populace was being brutally quelled by the state establishment. Bodies were burned on rubber tyres and the charred remains were left on every street corner. Hundreds of corpses were polluting the major rivers of the island’s south-west. Disappearances, arbitrary detention and revenge killings were the order of the day. With a government at the zenith of its power determined to crush the insurgency through force, leaving a trail of innocent victims in its wake, a young Sri Lankan opposition parliamentarian from the rural south decided to take a stand against the country’s deteriorating human rights situation and the state terror being unleashed upon his fellow citizens.
“Travelling to Switzerland without a penny in his pocket and on an air ticket purchased for him by a friend, the young politician entered the building of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva and parked himself in the lobby. Over several days, he waylaid every delegation passing through those halls, using each opportunity to tell members of the world community about the tragedy that was unfolding in Sri Lanka. So eager and relentless was the young man that he was finally given a special meeting at the UNCHR to present his case. Back in Sri Lanka he organised anti-government campaigns and founded organisations that looked into disappearances. He was, if anything, the face of the agitation campaign against the regime of the day, the street fighter determined to secure the rights of the oppressed and release them from the brutal grip of state terror.
“That man is now Sri Lanka’s fifth Executive President, elected to office in 2005. And so, beyond the signature moustache and the shawl he still wears around his neck, there is no resemblance between the starry-eyed Mahinda Rajapakse from Hambantota, fighting for the rights of his citizens in Geneva, and the corpulent, shrewd politician occupying the premier seat of power in Sri Lanka today. If we were to set aside the remarkable victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for just a moment, the other most significant legacy of Rajapakse’s presidency is the veritable death of the free Sri Lankan media.”

— Special Correspondent, The Independent

courtesy: The Sunday Leader,Sunday Sep.20,2009; Vol.:16 & No.11

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