06 June 2020

David Dungay couldn’t breathe either!

Workers of the world unite! We shall overcome! The people united (‘and armed,’ some interject) will never be defeated! Sí, se puede (‘Yes, we can,’ motto of the United Farm Workers of America, proposed by Dolores Huerta, its co-founder during the 25-day fast by Cesar Chavez in Phoenix, Arizona)!


‘I can’t breathe!’ That the word or rather words in the street. It’s on t-shirts. It’s on buttons. It’s on posters. It’s on memes and thousands of posts on various social media platforms. It’s being shouted out in hundreds of protests all across the United States of America.

Why? Well, one man couldn’t breathe. Simple. Simple? Well!

George Floyd couldn’t breathe because the knee of a thug was pressed hard on his neck. A police officer’s knee. A white police officer’s knee on a black man’s neck. Since then we’ve seen countless videos of police brutality from all over the USA. Thousands of protestors have been arrested (is the ‘international community’ calling for sanctions, calling for UN peace-keepers to be sent to Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Washington DC etc.? Shhhh…..). Police dogs have been unleashed on  protestors. Handcuffed protestors have been assaulted. Police cars have waded into protesting people. Teargassing too, which in this Covid-19 pandemic moment amounts to biological warfare. 

But this is not about all that. Since George Floyd couldn’t breathe and indeed stopped breathing altogether, people have started talking about racism and police brutality in other countries. That’s how I got to know about David Dungay.

It happened in November 2015. David Dungy, a 26-year-old Dunghutti man from Kempse, Australia, suffering from diabetes and schizophrenia, was weeks away from being released from Long Bay Gaol in New South Wales. Guards stormed his cell when he refused to stop eating a packet of biscuits. He was dragged to another cell, held face down and injected with a sedative. The partial footage released to the public is supposed to have been harrowing.

This are his last words, as per the video:

I can’t breathe please!
Let me up!
I cant breathe!
I cant breathe!
I cant breathe!
I cant breathe, please don’t!
Let me up, please!
Help Please!
I can’t breathe!
I can’t breathe!
I can’t breathe!
I can’t breathe!
I can’t!
I can’t!

The New South Wales coroner, Derek Lee, determined that none of the five guards should face disciplinary action since their conduct, in his view, ‘was limited by systemic efficiencies in training’ and was ‘not motivated by malicious intent’ but ‘was a product of misunderstanding.’  Neat wordage, that.

Leetona Dungay, David’s mother, asks the pertinent question: ‘If Aboriginal men held down a white man until he was dead, where do you think those men would be? In jail for life.’

George Floyd had to stop breathing or rather have his breathing stopped so I could learn about David Dungay, Kumanjayi Walker, Cherdeena Wynne, Joyce Clarke and Tanya Day and Ms Dhu, the known names of First Nations peoples killed in Australian prisons.

Maybe the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison is living in a different country from Australian citizen Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law, University of Technology, Sydney. Morrison reacted to the murder of George Floyd thus: ‘And so as upsetting and terrible is the murder that took place, and it is shocking … I just think to myself how wonderful a country is Australia.’

Thalia Anthony has responded to Morrison’s notion of a ‘Wonderful Australia’ in an article titled ‘“I can’t breathe!” Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody,’ published in the website www.theconversation.com:

It is ‘wonderful’ because we do not see the horror inflicted by the criminal justice system on First Nations people. It is ‘wonderful’ because we do not ever call their deaths in custody ‘murder,’ using instead the euphemisms of ‘accident' or ‘natural causes.’ It is ‘wonderful’ because we have so normalized the passing of First Nations people that we are never shocked when they are killed. It is ‘wonderful’ because we have a vocabulary to defend police officers responsible for racist violence, including people doing an ‘extremely difficult job.’

We know she’s writing about Australia, but if we didn’t it would be a narrative that describes First Nations people and non-white peoples in the USA. And Canada too, let’s not forget.
There’s police brutality that stops people breathing. There’s institutionalized, systemic racism that stifles people.

Knees on necks. It’s not just the George Floyd story, not just a shorthand for a North American narrative played out over and over again for several centuries. And ‘I can’t breathe’ is a literal and metaphoric capture-all statement of fact that it uttered again and again and again but is deftly deleted from the story simply because it would tear apart the ‘wonderful’ picture of these nations.


ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදීන්ට මොකද වුනේ?

රට. දේශය. දේශප්‍රේමය. දේශීයත්වය. ජාතිය. ජාතිකත්වය. ජාතිකවාදය. සමහරුන්ට මේවා නයාට අඳු කොළ වගේ. ඒ වුනාට එයාල සමහර ජාතිකත්වවලට, වර්ගවාදවලට සහ වර්ගවාදීන්ට, ජාතිකවාදවලට සහ ජාතිකවාදීන්ට, ආගම් සහ ආගම්වාදවලට  ලව්. චූටි කොන්දේසියක් තියෙනව. සිංහල වෙන්න බැහැ. බෞද්ධ වෙන්න බැහැ.

එක වෙනම කතාවක්.

මෙතන වැදගත් වෙන්නේ ජාතිය දේශය වගේ දේවල් වලට සහ ඒවා වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී ඉන්න අයට එරෙහි වෙන අය ස්ථානගත වෙන්නේ කොතනද කියන එකයි. එයාල ජාතිය දේශය වගේ දේවල් වලට ඉහලින් නැත්තම් ඒවායින් ඔබ්බට ගිය තැනක ස්ථානගත විය යුතුයි. විශ්වීයත්වය, ජාත්‍යන්තරය සහ ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදය පූජනීය දේවල් හැටියට සලකන මේ අය ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදීන් හැටියට නම් කරන එකේ වරදක් නැහැ.  

මන්ද එයාල දේශනා පවත්වන්නේ පොදු මානව අයිතීන් ගැන. විශ්වීය මානව හිමිකම් ගැන. පොදු මිනිසත්කම් ගැන. කොටින්ම රටකට සුවිශේෂ නොවූ, සීමා නොවූ දේවල් ගැන. ඇතැම් අවස්තාවලදී එයාල අරගල කරන්නේ 'ජාත්‍යන්තර මැදිහත්වීම්' වෙනුවෙන්. ජාත්‍යන්තර ප්‍රජාවේ කණස්සල ගැන කියමින් ප්‍රතිවාදීන් බියවද්දන්නත් උත්සහ කරනවා. ඔය කියන ජාත්‍යන්තරයේ බලවතුන් ශ්‍රී ලංකාව ගැන නිකුත් කරන නිවේදනයි මෙයාලගේ නිවේදනයි බොහෝ දුරට සමාන වීම අහම්බයක් කියල හිතන්න අමාරුයි. කොලින් පවල් කියන විදිහට මේ 'මානවවාදීන්' ඇමරිකාව දියත් කරන නැත්තම් දියත් කරන්න බලාපොරුත්තු වන යුද්ධ වල 'බල ගුණිතයන්.' පවල්ට අනුව එයාල ඇමරිකාවේ සටන් පෙරමුණේ කොටස්කරුවන්. කොලින් පවල් කියන්නේ ඇමරිකාවේ හිටපු හමුදාපති. ඒකත් මතක තියාගන්න ඕන.    

හරි. ඒත් ඇමරිකාව කියන්නේ 'ජාත්‍යන්තර ප්‍රජාව නෙවෙයි නේ' කියල තර්ක කරන්න පුළුවන්. එහෙමද? ගෝලීය දේශපාලනයට අදාළ වන ජාත්‍යන්තර ප්‍රජාව කියන්නේ ඇමරිකාව. එක්සත් රාජධානියත් යුරෝපීය සංගමයත් ඇමරිකානු අයියගේ දේශපාලන උවමනාවන් වෙනුවෙන් කටයුතු කරන සුවච කීකරු මල්ලිලා. කැනඩාවත් ඔස්ට්‍රේලියාවත් ඒ කටයුතු අනුමත කරන්නන්. එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ සංගමය මේ කටයුතු සාධාරණය කරන්න සුදුහුණු ගාන ආයතනයක්.

ඉහත ලියා ඇත්තේ පෙරවදනක් කියල හිතාගන්න.

දැන් කාරණය කතා කරමු. අපේ ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදී වීරයන්ගේ මාතෘභූමිය මේ දවස් වල අර්බුදයක. ආයතනගත්වුණු ජාතිවාදයත්, පොලීසියේ තගරියත් හේතුකොටගෙන ඇමරිකාව පුරා උද්ඝෝෂණ. ජෝජ් ෆ්ලොයිඩ් ඝාතනය කරන තැනට මේවා ක්‍රියාත්මක වුනා විතරක් නෙවෙයි, ඝාතනයට එරෙහි වෙන අයටද මේ ජාතිවාදය සහ තගරිය අත්විඳින්න වෙලා තියෙනවා.  

කෝවිඩ්-19 උවදුරක්ව පවතින තත්ත්වයක් තුල කඳුළුගෑස් ප්‍රහාර එල්ලකරන එකට කියන්න වෙන්නේ biological warfare කියල. පොලීස් ප්‍රහාර හමුවේ බිමට ඇද වැටුණු උද්ඝෝෂකයින් සපා කන්න පොලීසිය පොලීස් බල්ලෝ මුදාහරිනවා. මාංචු දම්මටත් පසුව උද්ඝෝෂකයින්ට අසීමිත විදිහට බැටන් පොලුවලින් තඩිබානවා. පොලීස් වාහන උද්ඝෝෂකන් අතරට ධාවනය කරනවා. දහස් ගණන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගන්නවා.

මේවා ඇමරිකාවට අලුත් නැහැ. ඇමරිකානු ජාතිවාදයේත් පොලීස් කෲරත්වයේත් පළමු ගොදුර ජෝජ් ෆ්ලොයිඩ් නෙවෙයි. සතවර්ෂ ගණනාවක් පුරා කළු ජාතිකයින්ට, ස්වදේශීය ඇමරිකානුවන්ට නොහොත් පළමු දේශයන්හි ප්‍රජාවන්ට සහ වෙනත් සුලුජාතිකයින්ට  අත්විඳින්න වුන දෙයක් තමයි මැයි 25දා ජෝජ් ෆ්ලොයිඩ්ට අත්විඳින්න වුනේ. දශක ගණනාවක් ලොව පුරා රටවල්, ආණ්ඩු සහ ප්‍රජාවන්ට මේ දෙයම අත්විඳින්න වෙලා තියෙනවා. මානව හිමිකම් උල්ලංගණය කිරීම ඇමරිකාවට නතිං.  මානව හිමිකම් උල්ලංගණය කිරීම ඇමරිකාව පූජනීය දෙයක් ලෙස සලකනවා. 
 ඇමරිකාව ලිබියාව නම් ඩොනල්ඩ් ට්‍රම්ප්ට අත්වෙන්නේ මුවම්මා ගදාෆිට අත්වුන ඉරණම ද? එහෙම අහන එක සාධාරණයි. පොඩි වෙනසක් තියෙනවා. ඇමරිකාවේ අද සිදුවන දෙයට සාපේක්ෂව ලිබියාවේ මහා දෙයක් සිදුවුනේ නැහැ. ලිබියාවේ සිද්ධ වුන දේ ඇමරිකාවේ සන්නිවේදන බාහුව විසින් ලස්සනට ප්‍රසාරණය කෙරුව. 'බල ගුණිතයින්' තමන්ගේ වගකීම ඉටු කෙරුවා තමයි. ඒ කෙසේ වෙතත් ලිබියාවේ ඇතිවුනේ ගිණිපුපුරක් නම්, ඇමරිකාවේ අද ඇතිවෙලා තියෙන්නේ ලැව්ගින්නක්.

මේ වන විට මාධ්‍යවේදීන් 33 දෙනෙක් අත්අඩංගුවට අරගෙන තියෙන අතර 143 දෙනෙක්ට පහර දීලා තියෙනවා. තිස් පස් දෙනෙකුගේ කැමරා ඇතුළු වෙනත් උපකරණ විනාශ කරලා තියෙනවා. මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ට වෙඩි තියල තියෙනවා.  රබර් උණ්ඩයක් වැදී එක මාධ්‍යවේදිනියකගේ ඇසක් අන්ධ වෙලා තියෙනවා. තර්ජන, ගර්ජන, පහර දීම්, අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම් වැඩි වෙමින් පවතිනවා.

ඒත් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදීන් නිහඬයි. මානව හිමිකම් ගැන, ශිෂ්ටත්වය ගැන, ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය ගැන පපුවට ගගහ බෙරිහන් දුන්න අය මීක් නෑ. පොලීස් මර්ධනයට මුර්ගත්වයට විරුද්ධ වුන අය හොයාගන්නවත් නැහැ.

හරි නම් එයාල මේ වෙන කොට එයාල නියෝජනය කරනවා කියල කියන සිවිල් සමාජය දැනුවත් කරන්න මහන්සි වෙන්න ඕන. ඇමරිකානු තානාපති කාර්යාලය ඉදිරිපිට  උද්ඝෝෂණයක් සංවිධානය කරන්න ඕන. අඩුමතරමින් ඇමරිකානු තානාපතිනියට බාර දෙන්න පෙත්සමක් ලියන්න ඕන, පෙත්සමට අත්සන් එකතු කරන්න ඕන. 

මාධ්‍ය නිදහස, අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ අයිතිය ගැන නිතර නිතර කියවපු අය කෝ? මානව අයිතීන් ගැන නිතර නිතර කියවපු අය කෝ? ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය ගැන නිතර නිතර කියවපු අය කෝ? කෝ මේ මානවවාදීන්? කෝ හෙජමනියෝ? කෝ (ගල්)ලිබ්බෝ? කෝ මාස්ක්වාදීන්? කෝ වම්මු? කෝ ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදීන්?

ඇමරිකාවට එරෙහිව සම්බාධක පැනවිය යුතුයි කියල නොකියන්නේ ඇයි? 'ආරක්ෂාකිරීමට ඇති අයිතිය (Responsibility to Protect)' ගැන කතා නැත්තේ ඇයි? ඇමරිකාව බිඳවැටුණු නැතහොත් අසමත් රාජ්‍යයක් (Failed State) කියල නොකියන්නේ ඇයි? ජාත්‍යන්තර ප්‍රජාව මැදිහත් වෙලා ඇතිවෙලා තියෙන තත්ත්වය සමනය කර යුතුයි කියල නොකියන්නේ ඇයි? චොවිඩ්-19 හේතුවෙන් මිය ගිය මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයක් ආදාහනය කිරීම ගැන කුපිත වුනු මානව හිමිකම් සභාව නිහඬ වෙලා තියෙන්නේ ඇයි කියල අහන්නේ නැත්තේ ඇයි? සාමය එපාද? සංහිඳියාව එපාද? ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය, මානවවාදය, ශිෂ්ටත්වය එපාද? මේවා ඇමරිකාවට අදාළ නැද්ද? ඇමරිකාවට අකැපද? 

ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදීන් නිදිද? ඇමරිකාවේ ජාතිවාදය විසින් එයාලව හාන්සිකරවලා ද? එයාලට බැරිද අලයිනා බී ටෙප්ලිට්ස් නෝනාට පොඩි ලියම් කෑල්ලක් යවන්න. මේ විදිහට...

ටෙප්ලිට්ස් නෝනා වෙත වේදනාවෙන් ,

මානව හිමිකම්, ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය, සාමය, සංහිඳියාව, සුළුජාතීන්ගේ අයිතිවාසිකම් පිළිබඳව දශක ගණනාවක් ඔබගේ රජය සමග ඉතා කුළුපඟව කටයුතු කර ඇති අප දැඩි වේදනාවකින් පසුවෙන්නෙමු. ඔබගේ රජය ගැනත් පොදුවේ ඔබේ රටේ විදේශ සහ ස්වදේශීය ප්‍රතිපත්ති මගින් කියවෙන ජාතිවාදයද, ත්‍රස්තවාදයද, ම්ලේච්ඡාත්වයද අප නොදැනගෙන නොවේ එසේ කටයුතු කළේ. නමුත් උද්ගත වී ඇති තත්ත්වය ඉතාම ලැජ්ජාසහගත බව කිව යුතුමයි. 

අඩුම තරමින් සිදුවුනේ මරණයක් නොව මිනීමැරුමක් බව මාධ්‍යයට ප්‍රකාශ නොකිරීම බලවත් අත්වැරැද්දක් බව කිව යුතුමයි. ඔබ තුමියගේ වචන තේරීම අවාසනාවක් බවයි අපගේ වැටහීම. ලජ්ජසහගතයි මැතිනියනි.

මාධ්‍යවේදීන් වෙත එල්ල කරන ලද ප්‍රහාරයන් පිළිබඳව ද අපට කියන්න සිද්ද වෙන්නේ ද එයමයි. ලජ්ජසහගතයි මැතිනියනි. ආයුධ සන්නද්ධ සුදු ජාතික අන්තවාදී කණ්ඩායම් ඇඳිරි නීතිය උල්ලංගණය කරද්දී ඔවුනට එරෙහිව පොලීසිය ක්‍රියා නොකිරීමද ලජ්ජසහගතයි මැතිනියනි.

වැරදි ලෙස වටහා නොගන්නා ලෙස අප ඉතා උවමනාවෙන් සහ බැගෑපත්ව ඉල්ලා සිටිමු. ඔබතුමියටවත්, ඔබ නියෝජනය කරන ආණ්ඩුවටවත්, ජාතිවාදයෙන් සහ ම්ලේච්ඡත්වයෙන් සැදුනු සහ පවතින රටටවත් ලජ්ජා වීමට කිසිත් ඉතිරි වී නැත. ලජ්ජා-නිර්ලජ්ජ මායිම පහු වී සතවර්ෂ ගණනාවක් ගත වී ඇති බැවිනි.

'ලජ්ජාසහගතයි මැතිනියනි' කියද්දී අප කතා කරන්නේ අප ගැනමයි. අපට නිර්වස්ත්‍රව අපගේ/ඔබගේ වගකීම් ඉෂ්ට කිරීම අතිශයින් අපහසු වන බව අමුතුවෙන් කිව යුතු නැත. එනමුත් උදාවී ඇත්තේ එවැනි තත්ත්වයකි.

ලජ්ජසහගතයි මැතිනියනි.

මීට විශ්වාසී

<ඔබේ රට විසින් හාන්සි කරවා ඇති ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදීන් ගේ අත්සන්>

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ජාත්‍යන්තරවාදීන් අඩුම තරමින් මෙහෙම දෙයක්වත් නොකලොත්  එයාලට මානව හිමිකම් චන්ඩි ලයිසන් අහිමි වෙන්න ඉඩ තියෙනවා.  ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදයේ ටවුන් රාළලාට විසල් අහිමි වෙන්න ඉඩ තියෙනවා.

අවශ්‍ය නම් මෙන්න ලිපිනය.  ඇඳිරි නීතිය ලිහිල් කරපු ගමන් යන්නයි තියෙන්නෙ.

210 ගාලු පාර
කොළඹ 3. 

04 June 2020

Where have all the ‘internationalists’ gone?

Nation. National. Nationalism. Nationalist. The are words that make certain people react the way a cobra does when encountering andu leaves as the idiom goes. Of course its certain nations, certain things national, certain nationalisms and nationalists that they can’t stand. Yes, anything that is even agues linkable to ‘Sinhala’ and/or ‘Buddhist.’  That’s another story.

What’s relevant here is this: if nation, national, nationalism and nationalist make up ‘anathema,’ what does it make them? Logically, ‘larger than nation.’ They get located outside or above ‘nation.’ Internationalists, then? After all, they do go overboard with things international and universal, don’t they?

They lecture one and all on universal human rights. They speak of dire responses from the ‘international community.’ They work closely with various UN agencies. Their missives mimic those of certain diplomatic missions to the point that it would be silly to believe that they are not working together. Indeed, Colin Powell noted that such people (especially NGO operatives) were a key element in US military efforts. They are, he acknowledged/confessed, ‘a force multiplier’ (in Washington’s wars). ‘They are an important part of our combat team,’ he added. Powell, is the ex-Commander of the US Army Forces Command, no less.

Wait, that’s the USA. And the USA is not ‘The International Community.’  Is it? Is it not? The international community, to the extent that moves and shakes indicate movers and shakers is led by the USA with the UK and EU as adjuncts, Canada and Australia as quiet approvers with the UN system as sanitizer.

Well, things have gone a but awry in the ‘motherland’ of the internationalists of late. Consider all the spontaneous protests against yet another product of institutionalized racism and policy brutality. Consider the concerted response by the police. That which was hidden is now out in the open.

Teargassing protestors in a Covid-19 pandemic context is essentially biological warfare. Assaulting and setting police dogs on protestors already brought down to the ground, some handcuffed to boot, is absolutely horrific. Police cars steamrolling over protestors is not exactly affirming human rights protocols. Well, it’s not as if the USA ever gave a hoot about violating human rights. They’ve thumbed the proverbial nose at such things all over the world. And at home too, one might add. Ask First Nations people and minorities, if you are a doubter. There have been thousands of George Floyds.

If the USA was Libya would Donald Trump’s fate be different from that of Muammar Gaddafi? That’s a legit question with the following qualifier: Libya was nothing like the USA of May/June 2020 and much of what it was had everything to do with a pernicious media drive to deceive and exaggerate orchestrated by Washington. And of course the ‘force multipliers’ did their part of the ‘combat.’ As they have in other parts of the world where the US wanted to defeat regimes or movements antithetical to US interests or safeguard friends.

The internationalists here are silent. If human rights, decency, democracy are as holy as they make them out to be, if police brutality is an abhorrent as they claim, if media rights are as sacred as they make them out to be, shouldn’t they be at least stirring up ‘civil society’ to lodge some kind of protest? Shouldn’t they be collecting signatures for a petition to be handed over to the US Ambassador? Shouldn’t they be organizing at least a token demonstration outside the US Embassy?

As I write 33 journalists have been arrested, 143 attacked and the equipment of at least 35 reporters damaged while covering protests. They’ve been shot at (one woman was left permanently blind in her left eye when she was shot by a rubber bullet), pepper-sprayed, threatened, assaulted and arrested. Where are the media rights worthies who come out of the woodworks whenever their political masters want them to? Where are the rights-brigades that rant and rave over freedom of expression? Where are the humanists, bleeding heart liberals and self-labeled leftists, Marxists and revolutionaries?

Why aren’t they invoking R2P (Responsibility to Protect), that pernicious doctrine frequently referred to in calling for international intervention in countries Washington has decided to love to hate? Why is there no call for economic sanctions? Why is the UN not being urged to intervene with peace-keeping forces? Why isn’t anyone saying ‘The USA is a failed state’?

Well, the USA does have veto power, but surely it’s risk-free to make that call? Even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have issues statements of condemnation (weak, incomplete and carefully worded of course, but still!). Even the Human Rights chief of the UN, Michelle Bachelet has expressed objection. She has, employing the classic device of equivalency, taken pot shots at protestors, urging them to go about things peacefully. She’s not uttered a word about how peaceful protest was made untenable by violent cops. Still, she said something. Better than nothing.

‘Nothing’ is what our internationalists have at the moment, it seems. Absolutely nothing apart from the perhaps mandatory post in social media by individuals.  Maybe they are at a loss for words. If that’s the case, here’s a letter they can use as draft.

Dear Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz,

We, the undersigned, having worked closely with your government in championing human rights, democracy, peace, reconciliation and the protection of minorities, even within operational limitations imposed by the political and ideological interests of your country, are appalled by the open and unashamed violation of every single tenet of democracy and human rights in the USA since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer who held his knee against the man’s neck even as he pleaded that he was unable to breathe.

We are appalled and shamed by the fact that you have refused to call it a murder and chosen to use the word ‘death’ almost as though there was no police brutality whatsoever.

We are appalled and shamed by the violence unleashed on journalists and the deliberate infringement of freedom of expression.

We are appalled and shamed that armed white supremacists are defying curfew with impunity, clearly operating as adjuncts of the police or as vigilante groups that have the blessings of the relevant authorities.

We note with utter consternation and understandable perplexity that racism is systemic in your country and that your government has never been serious about democracy, human rights, decency or even civilization.

Please understand, Ambassador, that the actions of your government and indeed its predecessors, now and over many decades, has compromised our work. Indeed, it is doubtful that we could be of any assistance to you as force multipliers in your combat team.

Please understand, Ambassador, that the United States of America can no longer pretend to be what it is not. It is undoubtedly a rogue state, a failed state and what George Floyd and those who protested his murder are experiencing today is what nations, regimes and peoples who have fallen out of Washington’s favor have suffered for decades. The police in over 75 cities where protests have broken out are obviously taking a leaf out of the operational bible of the world’s self-declared policeman. 

Finally, we fear that all this will bury once and for all your efforts to thrust the MCC Compact down Sri Lanka’s throat.

Yours Sincerely

<Signatures of organizations and individuals>

Of course they can edit it, leaving out the truths they love to hide. They can make it harsh. They can delete the sarcasm. They can write two letters in fact; one for the press and a single-liner of reassurance: ‘don’t worry, we are on your side.’ Well, they don’t even have to write it. A phone call would do.

For now, though, they are silent. They are caught in the headlines of heavily armed rogues in a rogue state willing and able to threaten, arrest, maim and kill and indeed are doing just that.

Back to the original question. Where have all the internationalists gone? Pretending to be asleep, perhaps? More likely, that’s exactly what they never were. Not internationalists. Just force multipliers. Ground-clearers for troops of one kind or another.


I can't breathe Ms Teplitz
Those who kneel are actually standing


I can’t breathe, Ms Teplitz

On the 25th of May, 2020, something terrible happened in Colombo. A set of police officers accosted a citizen who did not belong to the majority community. The man was suspected of giving a bad cheque. He was assaulted, handcuffed and even as he said 'mata husmaganna bae (‘I can’t breathe), one of the officers pinned him down, knee on neck. The man died.

There were protests in Colombo. Riot police baton-charged and tear-gassed protestors. Water cannons were used. Rubber bullets were shot. Police dogs were unleashed. Police cars ploughed through demonstrators in various parts of the city. Unarmed, handcuffed people were punched. Over and over again. People who had fallen, were punched on and pummeled mercilessly. Televisions crews were attacked. Equipment destroyed. The media, state and private, ‘fixed’ the narrative: ‘a criminal, an unruly mob, vandalism…the police merely moved in to keep the peace…they didn’t start the fire, they are merely quenching fires lit by anarchists.’

There was outrage. There were missives from several diplomatic missions, the USA one included. Ambassadors called and wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Statements were issued to the media. Dr Fernand de Varennes, Extraordinary (!) Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, castigated the Sri Lankan Government for promotion of violence against minorities, in diplospeak of course. International human rights organizations were livid. Sanctions against Sri Lanka were recommended. Michelle Bachelet, chief of the UNHRC, expressed dismay in a missive full of veiled threats.


Didn’t happen here. Happened and is happening right now in the United States of America.

The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina B Teplitz knows what has been happening in the US for centuries. She knows what happened on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis. She knows what’s happening right now. Brutal. Racist. Insufferable Unpardonable. But Fenand de Varennes is extraordinarily silent. So is Michelle Bachelet. The Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington, DC, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka are silent too. Those NGO personalities in the rights business who sneer at nation and nationalism here in Colombo are not affirming their internationalism either.

George Floyd said ‘I can’t breathe.’ George Floyd was not allowed to breathe. George Floyd is no longer breathing. Are you breathing easier now Ms Teplitz, I wonder. Is your America, that of genocidal, white racism breathing easier now, I wonder. Who had a knee on whose neck and who is kneeling now, I wonder.

There’s video footage of all this, Ms Teplitz knows. Its streaming in from New York, Houston, Harrisburg, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Detroit and other unhappy cities in her country. The United States of America is burning. The good people of that country are standing up. They want to be counted and they are being counted too I have no doubt, not for benevolent and happy purposes either.

LeBron James was spot on when he picked up and posted two images, one of George Floyd being kneed and another of Colin Kaepernick kneeling while ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ was being played before a San Francisco 49ers preseason game in 2016. ‘This ... ... Is Why,’ read the legend above the pictures. And this was the question LeBron put to one and all on Instagram: ‘Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you? #StayWoke.’

Black people and other minorities did not have to wake up. They were up and their nightmares were not associated with night and slumber. George Floyd’s murder was not a one-off affair. He is one of many. The various Police Departments in major US cities are notorious for racial profiling, mindless brutality against non-white suspects and soft-gloved approaches to white miscreants. The judicial system is racist and the proof is in the highly disproportionate number of inmates who are non-white. White racism’s knee has been on minority-neck for decades. No, centuries.

But Ms Teplitz knows that this knee-on-neck is not a phenomenon that is peculiar to Minneapolis or Los Angeles or New York or Washington DC or any other major city in the USA. It sums up in fact US Foreign Policy. It’s not a Donald Trump thing. It predates the US President.

The US will not let anyone or any country that gets in the way of US interests (access to and extraction of resource, securing and maintaining markets and acquiring strategic assets legally, through arm-twisting or simply by implementing guns-in-booty-out policies). It uses knee on neck on nations   and leaders who say ‘no can do.’ Those who will not be brainwashed with tall stories about free markets, growth and such, will be cajoled and bribed. Those who will not submit will be subdued. Knee on neck. Proverbially, speaking.

There’s a cry that’s rising from all over the United States of America. ‘I CAN’T BREATHE.’ That’s how George Floyd is breathing right now. That’s how this man, who pleaded, ‘let me stand,’ but was not allowed to, stands today.

The world can also say, ‘I can’t breathe!’ The world can agitate against the kind of kneeling that’s ‘all in a day’s work’ for the police in the USA. The world can stand up. And if the world does not, then breathing will not be an option. Standing will not be tenable. Maybe, just maybe, considering that the Government she represents is on its knees on many counts Ambassador Teplitz might understand now something of the condition of asphyxiation. She might be unexpectedly finding it hard to breathe. That would be extraordinary, Fenand de Varennes (who got hot under the collar over Muslim Covid-19 victims being cremated in Sri Lanka) might in his less complicit moments conclude.

She says, ‘the US Justice Department has announced a full criminal investigation into the circumstances of Floyd’s death.’ Death? Interesting choice of word. It was MURDER, Ms Teplitz knows this.  And there’s not a word in her media release about the absolute brutality unleashed on protestors after the murder of George Floyd. Humbuggery much.

‘I can’t breathe’ is a worldwide cry. It is a cry flavored by the last breath taken by a 46 year old man in Minneapolis, George Floyd. It’s a ‘#staywoke’ slogan. Let’s not sleep, for there’s a good chance that we will be kneed while in dreamland.

Those who kneel are actually standing


03 June 2020

Those who kneel are actually standing

Colin Kaepernick knelt. He didn’t kill anyone. He was protesting. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback sat down in the third preseason game of the 2016 season when the US national anthem was being played. He explained, ‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.’ He added, ‘there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.’

What was it all about? For those who didn’t know or didn’t want to know, knowledge came in September that year. Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott were shot dead by the Police. Kaepernick stated, ‘this is a perfect example of what this is about.’ He would kneel during the anthem prior to every 49ers game that season.

If you are black in the USA you are twice as more likely to be killed by the police. And black people make just 13% of the US population. If anyone dares say that there’s no institutionalized and brutal racism in the USA, that person is not doing the math.

I remember a man named Amadou Diallo. On February 4, 1999, this 23-year old Guinean immigrant was shot and killed by four New York City Police Department plain-clothed officers—Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss. It was a case of mistaken identity, apparently. When Diallo reached to get out some identification these decorated officers (no less!) Put 44 bullets into him. He did not carry a guy. A jury in Albany, NY acquitted them of all charges.

It didn’t begin in 1999 though. The history of the USA is one of theft (land from the native peoples, the first nations, who were slaughtered) and violence (the nation was build by the labor of enslaved people and for those who don’t know history, Abe Lincoln wasn’t against slavery, he wanted to shift labor from the cotton fields to factories). There was systemic racist violence before Lincoln. It was there with the Ku Klux Klan. It was there in 1999. It was there in 2006. And it was there on May 25, 2020.

George Floyd, 46. He died in Minneapolis police custody. An officer was caught on video kneeling on the handcuffed mans neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and stopped moving. Protests erupted all over the USA. The police responded. Violently. In one instance, a cop car plowed through protestors.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James posted a photo of the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck along with one of Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem. Here’s the caption for the Instagram post:

'This ... ... Is Why.’ And he asked, ‘Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you?? #StayWoke.’

Kaepernick and Bron are iconic for multiple reasons. They are both sportsmen. Personalities. Kaepernick knelt. He was in fact standing for something. He was also making a stand against something. The police officer knelt. He was standing for something that many police officers and the entire American system stands for. Racism. Brutality. It’s a sport. Well, it could be called a sport.

Consider this picture. There’s the one of Floyd, who is alleged to have written a bad cheque. There’s one of a white man who kidnapped one and killed two. Says it all doesn’t it.

Sport. Winners. Losers.  Is it as simple as that, though? No. It’s brutal. It’s racist. We are talking of two men. They both knelt. One stood for something and the other stood opposing that something. George Floyd is dead. He is not breathing.

Do we understand now? Do we? Do we? Or is it still blurred?

Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

Do you have a plan?
Strengths and weaknesses
It's all about partnerships


02 June 2020

The Constitutional Council and its discontents


The 17th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in October 2001. It took more than a year for it to be implemented, perhaps because lawmakers suddenly realized that they had in their haste in fact legislated against their own interests.

It was all about the Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions. It came with flaws, but the intention was good. In short, it was a mechanism designed to curb the powers of the executive president since the abolition of that office was proving to be difficult, even if such a move was advisable given the reality of the illegally passed 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The ill-advised 18th Amendment wrecked all of that with the then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, replacing the Constitutional Council with a Parliamentary Council. The 19th Amendment, if one goes by the rhetoric of its advocates, was about restoring the ‘independence’ of the various commissions and re-curbing the powers of the executive president. In theory. In a nutshell there were four key elements: a) presidential powers to dissolve parliament, b) the appointment and removal of the prime minister, c) the notion of a national government d) the institution of a constitutional council mandated to recommend appointments to independent commissions.

Now, let us mention, parenthetically, that the Supreme Court pointed out serious flaws in the draft amendment and that the lawmakers rather than amending it essentially rewrote it, effectively giving the proverbial finger to the judicial arm of the state.

Later, both ‘a’ and ‘b’ above were brought into question and led to wrangling over interpretation, throwing the country into confusion for several months. The third element, that of a national government was essentially a device to circumvent limitations on cabinet-size. We will talk of ‘f’ shortly. Suffice to say that from draft to legislation and implementation the Yahapalanists turned the 19th Amendment into a classic case of how not to engage in legislation. It was an unadulterated example of classic constitutional tinkering.

The fourth. The Constitutional Council. Now this body is, in theory, the key to the affirmation of the idea of independence when it comes to the various commissions. Obviously the level of independence as evidenced by composition and of course the individuals that make the Council would be what reflects the level of independence in the commission it helps constitute. Composition, then, was key.

This is what Chapter VIIA, Article 4 gave us: the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the President’s appointee/representative (from Parliament), five persons nominated jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (of whom two would be Members of Parliament) and one representing political parties or independent groups in Parliament to which neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition belong (not necessarily a Member of Parliament).

In effect then, at best, we would have six politicians and four independents. How a body in which politicians make the majority reflects ‘the diversified character of society’ is obviously something that the lawmakers weren’t worried about.

Let’s consider the composition of the Constitutional Council. In 2015, we had the ex-officio members. The President nominated Champika Ranawaka (a serving minister, no less!). The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition decided they will each pick on and then come up with three names jointly. So the Prime Minister nominated Wijeyadasa Rajapaks (yes, also a serving minister) and the Leader of the Opposition nominated John Seneviratne. The ‘independents’ were Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, the well-known leader of the Sarvodaya Movement, Radhika Coomaraswamy (a well-known operative in the advocacy industry) and Shiby Aziz (former Attorney General).

In 2018 we had the following apart from the ex-officio members: Mahinda Samarasinghe (President’ nominee), Thalatha Athukorala (Prime Minister’s nominee), Chamal Rajapaksa (Opposition Leader’s nominee), Bimal Ratnayake (representing ‘Other Parties’) and the three ‘independents’ — Jayantha Dhanapala (a strong backer of the then regime operating in forums ostensibly to further the cause of democracy but typically remember the term when the UNP is in political trouble), Javed Yusuf (with SLFP roots but politically compromised much like Dhanapala) and Naganathan Selvakkumaran (whose loyalties are unknown and therefore gets the benefit of the doubt).

So we’ve had constitutional councils that were politician-heavy and political compromised, effectively mangling the idea of ‘independence’ in related institutions. Add to this ‘independents’ whose independence is nothing more than not being official members of political parties. Track records reveal however the extent of their independence, politically and ideologically. The same is naturally reflected in the commissions that they set up with the difference that the members of such bodies are neither politicians nor have stated political loyalties. ‘Stated’ is an important word here, let us not forget. It deceives more than clarifies, hides more than reveals.

If the 19th doesn’t work and if we still want ‘independent’ commissions, then the 19th should be amended. That’s obvious. An alternative course of action would be to do away with independent commissions which have, over the past 18 years, proved to be ineffective in affirming the ideal of independence. It would be better to have accountability. In a word, representation. In other words let the executive branch of the state and the relevant protocols of appointment and promotion prevail. The Parliamentary Council (as per the 18th) is far more honest and its effectiveness as good or bad as the Constitutional Councils that followed.

What’s fundamental here is what underlines the need for such commissions, namely the ineffectiveness and even corruption of systems. In other words, the lack of safeguards regarding the same. It’s like the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) and of course the many Presidential Commissions of Inquiry we’ve had over the years. Their constitution clearly imply that existing systems (courts and police) were and are (as the case may be) ineffective. The logical course of action would be to institute systemic reform. While the need for quick action is understandable, system-fixing should not be supplemented by such ad hoc measures, one would think. However, such fixing has been abandoned altogether and the remedies have been marked by one thing and one thing alone. Political expedience. Victimization, yes. Vendetta, yes.

And so, if we were to go with the commission of the moment, if you will, we need to talk of the Election Commission. We have that ‘august’ body telling us that distributing relief in the form of a Rs 5000 hand-out is wrong since it gives a political edge to the ruling party, even as it argues in court that it is unable to conduct elections! That’s having the cake and eating it. The proverbial raevula as well as the keenda. Mahinda Deshapriya is washing stuff, immersing it all in muddy water and washing it. Again and again. As per hoda hoda madey daanava.

He has hand-picked public officials with known political loyalties to say ‘we can’t help you conduct elections.’ Arguably, even if one Divisional Secretary, for example, says ‘no can do,’ then the doing of it has to be postponed. The reasons may be mischievous of legitimate. I would assume it’s the latter. However, if just three say ‘can’t’ and 253 say ‘can’ then it would seem clear that elections can be held. Special measures can be put in place to sort out the problems in the problematic three divisions, surely? But Deshapriya hangs on to the ‘three’ and says ‘no.’

And then we have Ratnajeevan Hoole, who is now a member of the Election Commission and now an independent citizen. Officially above politics and political parties, but in reality politically and ideologically committed to the line taken by the Tamil National Alliance. He slips and flounders often, like when he wrote about M.A. Sumanthiran’s take on federalism (‘we will go for it without naming it’). Does anyone know the third member of that commission, one should ask? The third member is present more in absence, given the penchant that the other two have for issuing statements, Deshapriya as per official requirement obtained from being Chairperson and Hoole because he is, well, Hoole, a maverick and confused political creature if ever there was one.

Who appointed these people? Why, the CC, the Constitutional Council! How so? Why, the 19th Amendment!

Obviously this is not the moment to go for constitutional reform with respect to the 19th Amendment and all its flaws. Matters relating to the holding of parliamentary elections is before the courts. The court will determine in its wisdom, so let us not presume anything here. However, sooner or later, we need to go for system-fix and not sticking-plaster solutions. Integrity, clearly cannot be obtained from constitutional article and relevant caveat. Efficiency, on the other hand, can be the issue of a robust institutional arrangement with a clear procedural regime.

So what can we say about the Constitutional Council as per the 19th Amendment? It’s easy to say ‘the less said, the better.’ We should talk about it and such a discussion will certainly not cover with glory its architects, those parliamentarians who voted for it or their relevant cheering squads.

Field Officer Jayatilleka Herath

A few young men randomly met at the 'Gemba' Canteen of the Arts Faculty, University of Peradeniya. It was in the early 1990s. They had just completed their final year and were awaiting results. Dreams of revolution shattered in bursts of gunfire and the splashing of blood, and acutely aware of the limitations of strength, individual and collective, they were sober about the future but hadn’t lost their humor.

The immediate post-university period, especially for Arts Faculty students is about finding a job. That’s how the Sunday Observer became a must-buy. And they shared anecdotes about applications and interviews, old ones passed from generation to generation and their own experiences too.

‘I got a temporary job as an RA,’ someone said. That’s ‘Research Assistant.’ In fact that was the first job for many. ‘I’m applying for an FO post,’ another said. That’s ‘Field Officer,’ probably in some NGO. ‘There are vacancies for SOs and SAs,’ someone informed; statistical officer and statistical assistant, respectively.

H.M. Jayathilaka Herath, the Baron Munchaussen of the batch with a considerable reputation for embarrassing his friends with distorted and/or exaggerated narratives of real events, had to have his say: ‘I am now a PFO.’

‘PFO? What’s that?’

Here’s his deadpan response: ‘Paddy Field Officer...machang…pathveema aave ela dige [the appointment [letter] came along the [irrigation] canal.’

It was not the first time he made his friends laugh. He had us in fits from day one and even today, 35 years later, ‘Hera’ or ‘Moona’ as some know him, never fails to raise our spirits. The stories of how he played tricks on friends who hadn’t seen him for years and therefore could not recognize him would make a book. 

Anyway, armed with an honors degree in Economics, he passed the ‘tax officer exam’ and joined the Inland Revenue Department. Not his cup of tea; the man wanted to work directly with people, helping them better their lives. A hands-on job was what he wanted. After a brief stint at Sarvodaya, he joined the Planning Service.

Hera considers his tenure as Director, Divineguma at the Ministry of Economic Development as his best years. ‘It was all about getting people out of the welfare-mentality,’ convincing them that they could do something for themselves. Today, Hera is the Director General, Department of National Community Water Supply. I have seen this tireless public servant help develop hands-on skills of graduate trainees. I know of his work at ‘Divineguma.’ A field officer in every sense of the word.

Hailing from Thumbulla, Nikaweratiya, he now lives in Malkaduwawa, Kurunegala. Forced to be home for a change (he’s spent his entire career criss crossing the length and breadth of the island) and unused to being idle, Hera went outdoors.

He has grown bitter gourd, snake gourd, ladies’ fingers, cucumber, kekiri, mukunuwenna, turnip, spinach, corn, pumpkin, string beans, brinjals and watermelon in a 15 perch plot of land overgrown with weeds belonging to his sister.  Apparently his son Dewmini Deshan Bandara had cleared the land. Hera, his wife Wyanga (Deputy Principal, Sir John Kotelawala Vidyalaya), their son and daughter Thilakshi Nishadi had turned into ‘field officers.’

All this in addition to what they’ve grown in their own garden: six coconut trees, nine pomegranate trees, two guava trees, two each of two varieties of mango and three jambu trees. They had grown ladies’ fingers and brinjals too. ‘Fifteen kilograms of bandakka. We distributed the harvest among those living in this housing scheme,’ he said. Typical of him. He has named the vegetable plot ‘Covid Garden.’ He has to make us laugh. Again, typical of the man.

That’s H.M. Jayathilaka Herath for you, ladies and gentlemen. A field officer. An FO. A special kind of public servant. 

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
When the Government lowered the bar The Theory of Three Chillie Plants The story of an aththamma and an aththa The underside of sequestering Potters, named and unnamed Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten  When the Welikada Prison was razed to the ground 
Looking for the idyllic in dismal times 
Water the gardens with the liquid magic of simple ideas, right now  
There's canvas and brush to paint the portraits of love  
We might as well arrest the house!
The 'village' in the 'city' has more heart than concrete
Vo, Italy: the village that stopped the Coronavirus  
We need 'no-charge' humanity 
The unaffordable, as defined by Nihal Fernando
Liyaashya keeps life alive, by living  Heroes of our times Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer