06 February 2013

Tenderness will not be incarcerated

‘Independence Day’ is made for photographs.  Like other ‘days’.  The Poyas, especially Poson and Vesak, for example.  We see the same pictures every year.  Head of State addressing the nation is a ‘must have’.  Then there’s the spectacle of celebration captured from many angles. 

There are flags.  Television documentaries on how freedom was won, the landmark moments and the individuals who stood out in struggle to win and struggle to protect.  Radio shows where experts are called upon to reflect on the nation’s history and the meaning of independence.  The future too is talked about.  All this is ‘independence’ on February 4. 
Among the pictures that were taken and picked, one stood out for poignancy.  It is a common February 4 picture.  On Independence Day, in Sri Lanka, it is common for prisoners of many categories to have their sentences softened.  Naturally, some are released.  Hundreds, in fact.  It is a moment where the nation officially determines that forgiving can cure.  It is a moment when the nation unconsciously perhaps acknowledges that no one is perfect and that often the blemished roam free which the less flawed are incarcerated.  It is a moment of humility and giving, a moment of warmth and embrace. 

Prisoner-release at the gates of the Welikada Prison is a to-be-expected photograph.  But this year, on the fourth day of February, there was another prison story, another prison-photo and another moment of humility and giving, a moment of utmost grace. 
Not all inmates of Welikada Prison were set free on Independence Day.  Those who did not, for whatever reason, freed themselves in ways that many of those who are ‘free’ and who freely inhabit their own peculiar incarcerations cannot fathom.  They fasted.  They went without two meals.  Four hundred prisoners decided to forego these meals.  They were not on a ‘hunger strike’. They demanded nothing.  They ‘struck’ though.  They struck a particularly tender chord in all hearts that beat in people whose eyes can see.  

They requested the prison authorities to arrange for the money thus saved to be sent to a special fund set up to obtain an artificial limb for the Colombo University law student Achala Priyadarshini, who lost her writing hand due to a medical misadventure recently.  They owed nothing to the girl.  They have never set eyes on her.  But her story must have come through prison wall, her tragedy must have stirred something that brought a word, a thought, a plan and an initiative through the bars of a jail.  Whatever it was, it unbarred hearts and minds. 
We do not know what crimes brought these special individuals to where they are right now.  What we can say with certainty is that they brought with them something that showers warmth across the length and breadth of the land.  They had nothing material to gain, and yet they’ve gained much more than what a judge in a generous mood could give them. 

The entire country was saddened by Achala’s story.  Many came forward to help in whatever way they could.  This particular act of kindness and sacrifice does not in any way take away the shine from those other generosities, and yet, there is something special when those who have little to their name except perhaps tarnish decide to do the little something that helped a young girl who suffered a terrible loss.
Achala will be grateful.  The nation too, can be grateful, not just because some convicted people were kind but that they inspire their un-incarcerated fellow citizens to reflect deeper on the human condition and perhaps draw the waters of kindness from the limitless reservoirs of the heart. It gives that much more meaning to the word ‘freedom’.  It un-fetters in ways unimaginable. 

This Independence Day belongs to all citizens, but no one should begrudge these gentle folk of Welikada Prison a special national salute for what they did.   


Anonymous said...

This is the difference between 'media independence ' and 'real independence'.These prisoners celebrated real independence with the nation and it came from their good hearts.

මයියා said...

It is a wonderful gesture of the prisoners of Welikada. If the decision was come unanimously within the prison mates by them self then I do not reluctant to acknowledge it with my highest appreciation. But I am too pragmatic to believe such a scenario….

Achala was fortunate (even though she was ‘unfortunate’ to lose her arm as identified by the Doctor but not his negligence ) to expose her case to public in wider scale. However, there are many others whose have been gone unnoticed, with much more severe cases. Some of them had to pay the ultimate price as a result of doctors professional negligence.

The real solution do not lie in just merely addressing the isolated case of Achala. It needs wider actions to address the problem of professional negligence including of doctors, engineers, accountants etc. An insurance scheme for professionals is a good solution and it will help professional to compensate the agitated party, owing to their mistakes and negligence. This is a widely practiced solution to address the professional negligence by other developed countries as well. For example, recently irrigation engineer in Queensland, Australia has to pay the compensation as he was held responsible for flooding of Brisbane in last year.

By the way, Malinda, why don’t you remove this word verification which is appearing while commenting? It is really irritating and demotivating the commenter .

h. said...

Brought tears to eyes.