22 May 2012

Today we (don’t) celebrate 40 years of independence

I didn’t know much about holidays when I was 6 years old.  I knew the days of the week, but I never counted the days thinking of a school-free Saturday or Sunday.  ‘Weekend’ was a known word but not something that was important.  My mother woke me up 7 days of the week and wake-up time was the time she woke me up. ‘School days’ were the days she hurried to get me to brush my teeth. That much I knew.
There were Poya days and other holidays and they were not anticipated with any extra relish.  So it was unlikely that I found anything special when a Tuesday in the month of May in the year 1972 turned out to be a holiday.   I didn’t go to school that day.  The next day, Wednesday, was when I encountered ‘strange’.  I entered Royal Junior School from the Kumaratunga Munidasa Mawatha side, then as now better known as ‘Thurstan Road’ and proceeded towards the Navarangahala, skirting the school ground to get to my class, 2F.  There was a strange structure between the Navarangahala and the ground, an elegantly constructed platform.  What it was, I got to know, only when I got home and saw the Daily News.  I can’t remember the headline, but I remember inquiring from my father, a civil servant, what it was all about and he explained.
That was the day we won our political freedom.   Until that day a lady called Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, aka Queen Elizabeth II, was the official head of state.  That ‘head’ or ‘headness’ shall we say was the final fetter of political subjugation.  It was ceremoniously torn asunder on May 22, 1972, the day that we got our first Republican Constitution. 

The occasion, if not the day, was made to be remembered by a commemorative stamp with the simple word ‘Janarajaya’ or ‘Republic’ written against a backdrop of a pretty picture of a sunrise.  That stamp was around for long enough, following the earlier ‘unmistakables’ of a bunch of king-coconuts and a bluish stamp of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, which was 10 cents and later 15 (over a crossed ‘10’). 

The political importance of that day was unceremoniously erased in 1978, when the UNP reverted to the colonial ‘Independence Day’, February 4th and for a few years May 22 was re-named ‘National Heroes Day’.  I can’t remember if it was a holiday even.  All I know is that May 22 was systematically erased from the public consciousness. 

The power of that erasure is such that I had forgotten about it until I saw a poster put out by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) commemorating the day we became a republic.  I know that commemoration and remembrance are not as important as the living of independence and a truly vibrant republic, but to the extent that we are a dependency that doesn’t seem to realize the fact or even care about it, and that our republic character is only evident in its breach, it seemed relevant to reflect on what May 22 meant. 

Let’s keep it to a few relevant facts.  First, to the extent that even formal ‘independence’ matters, February 4th is but precursor to and not the deal itself.  Too much is made of it, especially since May 22nd is ignored completely.  Secondly, it is the best ‘annual moment’ to discuss the dimensions of our independence.  We have no reason to indulge in self-congratulation because we are woefully dependent economically and have by and large been satisfied in letting others blueprint our development strategies -- policy packages which only further the interests of the blueprinters and not ours, ironically serving to further entrench dependency.  That condition of fettering, indeed, is what makes us most vulnerable when international bad boys (such as the USA, UK and the EU) needle us with preposterous charges and engage in insufferable arm-twisting. 
A gross blunder was made on that day.  Perhaps it was an innocent error by decision-makers of the day who knew little about history.  Then again, it could have been a deliberate slip on those who knew history very well and since fact rebelled against their outcome-preferences deliberately glossed over it.  On that day we ceased being Ceylon and became Sri Lanka.  What was not said at the time and said in hushed tones for fear of being name-called by those adept in the business of vilification, was the fact that Ceylon was the European corruption of ‘Sinhale’, the true name of the island, a fact inscribed in stone by no less a personality that Raja Raja I the marauding invader from what is called South India today (he refers to the island as ‘The land of the warlike Sinhalas’) as well as by countless travelers to the island.  ‘Ceylon’ should have stayed, and ‘Lanka’ should have reverted to ‘Sinhale’. 

The sleight of hand helped a lot of ‘divisionist’ operators and helped Tamil nationalism bleed into terrorism, one notes, not least of all with insane extrapolations of meaningless ‘multi-ethnic; multi-religious’ rhetoric  which did not even bother to footnote percentages and ignored the question, ‘are there any and were there any mono-ethnic, mono-religious polities, and if not what’s your point?’   
All that came later to me, but back then, it was another day of the week.  A Tuesday that was not recognized as such.  I remember May 23, 1972.  It was a rainy day.  The ground was muddy.  I walked up to that ‘platform’ where the important political moment was officially announced.  It was a nice construction. Simple.  It was story-less to the eyes of a 6 year old boy.  That memory stayed, though, and today, 40 years later, it says a lot more, much more than I would have ever dreamed that day, around 10 am, a few minutes into the school ‘interval’. 

I am thinking right now, ‘We should reflect more on that day, the 22nd of the month of May, in the year 1972’.   




Reactions:

14 comments:

sajic said...

a trifle provocative, dont you think Malinda? I do not doubt the facts that you emphasise so eloquently, but calling the country 'Sinhale' would surely have upset the minorities living in this country, in 1972? We had our problems from the onset of (so-called independence); I think 'Sri Lanka' was the wiser choice at that time.
Sri Lanka- 'resplendent island'.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

these things come back to haunt. have you noticed the out-with-the-bathwater tendency in the throwing of history-babies? it is that refusal to acknowledge and not the 'let's be sri lankans' that bother sinhalese, myself included, because the 'lets-be-sri lankans' comes accompanied by 'I am a Tamil' and 'I am a Muslim' and 'I am a Christian' flags with a tiny lion flag (if at all) pinned to the corner of the respective banners. i think a tendency to stuff under the carpet things that are 'hot' helped burn things up.

Jack Point said...

Hmm. I have seen reflections on the same subject by Tissa Vitarana, although this date has escaped public attention.

Perhaps because the 'independence' gained in 1972 was lost in the new constitution of 1978?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

interesting point jack. we have a culture of blacking out what came before (both good and bad) and 17 yrs of jrj-premadasa was enough time to erase a lot. plus there were other things to worry about than such 'technicalities'.

sajic said...

why dont you think of it in another way? Why cant a Tamil (or a muslim or a christian or a hindu) say 'I am a Sri Lankan' and hold the lion flag
with his ethnicity pinned onto a corner of it; and be proud of it.
What's wrong with being proud of one's own race or religion? and still think of oneself as part of this land and its many different people?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

nothing wrong at all. in fact i am for the full flowering of all nationalisms. an tamil-less, sinhala-less 'sri lanka' doesn't make any sense to me. perhaps our main problem is not our nationalisms but our insecurities...

sajic said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Pacha liyanne nathuwa Me link eke thiyana corruption gana hoyala balala ewa liyapan

http://www.gossip9.com/2012/05/blog-post_8604.html?utm_source=BP_recent

Malinda Seneviratne said...

mokadda liwwa 'pachaya' macho? :) anika, ochchara kekkumak thiyenavanam saho, obathumaama hoyala balala, soyaageneem publish karana ekane thiyenne? gossip = opa doopa. eka naraka deyak nemei....vena veda nethi ayata. cheers!

SANDIKA said...

it is so good to go back a little not a little actually about four decades back in the path of political history and refresh our political minds a lot. i think this is the year that we most of the time forget to talk or analyze much '1972' 'janarajayak' una eka hondada nedda mama danne neha reason is my political knowledge is 'nil' compared to you :)

i personally think you can express your ideas and opinions the way you prefer because this is a 'prajathanthravaadee' ratak am i right? yes i am right i think.

if you take two organizations that have set up having two different 'objectives' in mind but sharing same knowledge base with both the people involved in two organizations. people always suspects each other why? they do not trust each other. why? who knows? they live in fear with each other. Relevant parties generally think that the other party might take the 'kotasa' that come their way using some 'yati magadiyak' if you think a little we people have to live with all sort of minissu with different 'aakalpa' even if you work very closely with the parties you like giving 'upades' they need...... how they brain wash the people that they take in generally is a good thing to think of a little.
i am not trying to generalize the things here and i am not trying to apply this ideas of mine to the whole country or to the whole system.
here i m not trying to take a side of anyone im just trying to think all these things in a little balance way analyzing with the experiences i gained in the recent past. that is all.

i am not an enemy of anyone but the truth is that one needs to go deeper towards the 'intentions''fearful minds' of your co associates.

i know i sometimes share 'childish talks' with you but that is me you can't expect genius to be around with you all the time?

and dear friends .......

how can you claim an ownership of a land of this universe? this whole world belong to all of us. don't you think so? even the privately owned land of ours can we carry them to our next destination of life when we leave this world.

DON'T YOU THINK THAT THE 'TIME' HAVE COME TO STOP ALL THESE FIGHTING AND MOVE AHEAD WITH 'PEACE OF MIND' ESPECIFICALLY THINKING OF THE 'FUTURE' OF THIS COUNTRY WHAT EVER YOU MAY CALL IT' LANKA', SRI LANKA, CEYLON' TAPROBANE' 'PEARL OF INDIAN OCEAN' LETS STOP LAUGHING AT EACH OTHER. THAT IS SO SILLY I BELIEVE.

Anonymous said...

Me Malindaya maha pacha paththarakarayek, Mu Maharajage kunu hodala hodala uta hambuna Nation paper eke Editor kama.

Ane paw ban umba oiyata wada hondai Dobi kamak kalanam, Adu gane hithata awankawa jeewathwenawa...

Anonymous said...

gossip opadoopa? ay tho liyanna baya thota hambena anduwe salakily aduwei yai kiyalada? Umba oya karana job ekata kana koka adai ne ehema aanduwe kunu liwwoth, Ane ape salli!

Apita liyanna puluwan apith ohe wage Puka lewakala Paththara editorla wela thibunanam... Ane ithin api oya deke thune wada karanna lajjai, Ape ammala apita boru kiyanna, boru liyanna ugannala naha...

Malinda Seneviratne said...

liyana vidihenma therenava hediyaave tharamath hekiyaave tharamath. pau aney oya! :)

Malinda Seneviratne said...

ochchara editharai nam 'anonymous' pitipasse hangenne moko macho? ammala monava ugennuwath, konda kelin thiyaaganna ugannala nehe vage. pau.