A popular saying goes that the elephant doesn’t really know it’s size – probably until it gets challenged. In more ways than one, the saying bears resemblance to what we as a nation experienced with the ousting of a dictator regime. Until the 09th rolled around as any other day, there were those among us who couldn’t fathom the width, the height and the breadth of people’s power in action. It seems even after years of being mistaken for masses bottle fed on regime doctrine, there were those brave among us to rise upland challenge a government that was increasingly ignorant of what the people desired.
Now that we have acutely become aware of understanding and comprehending just how the people could challenge tinpot dictatorship, we can take comfort in knowing that this is only the beginning. This is not some foreign news we are watching on CNN, wishing that what was Burma’s can be ours too. This is the change we brought about, you and I and we are heirs to that change. We chose to make a difference because we knew that Sri Lanka without change would have become uninhabitable, at least for those in their right minds.
Now that change has come, is our task done? Or is there still a long way to go. And before we can boast that we would not hesitate to do the same if the new government fails to deliver, let us remind ourselves that this mammoth victory of people did not come overnight. It came after a decade of jackboot dictatorship under a family that increasingly thought of Sri Lanka as their backyard. In the same vein, it would take time before the jackals are brought before the law, before scheming robber barons of the Rajapakse era are brought to book. Yes, it would take time because law is fair to all and cases must be built painstakingly. They say fools rush in where angels fear to tread ; nothing applies better than that adage here.
In the same vein, it must be noted that justice should be delivered to the nation swiftly and without holding anything back. The robber barons, the vile politicians who sucked the blood of the people and the brood of vipers who thought they had an open cheque to rob and steal under the Rajapakses while the masses went to bed hungry, should be dealt with in a manner that will see them punished in the long term. Not for them the satisfaction of becoming heroes in hand cuffs posing for television cameras only to be out on bail a few days later. For them, it must be the slow but steady coil around their necks and long term jail sentences that will hopefully give them enough time to languish at Welikada and contemplate how they can, someday, redeem themselves from their sins. Not for them the in and out facade of going to remand prison but staying actually in all comfort at the prisons hospital.
Judgement at Nuremberg was one of my late father’s favourite movies. An avid Brando fan, he imbibed in me early on a thirst for quality Hollywood movies. He and I used to watch those Hollywood classics and this was one such movie. The film starred two of Thathi’s favourites – Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift and was based on the military tribunals held at Nuremberg to deal with Nazi crimes against humanity. There is a scene in which Montgomery Clift acts as a man persecuted by the Nazis by castration and takes the witness chair. A scene that is packed with emotional impact, as an innocent victim of the Nazi regime finally facing his tormentors.
More than a tit for tat, the movie depicts the human drama of the Nazi war machine that brought about crimes against humanity and the men involved in carrying out those orders. It was a finely woven tapestry of just how an otherwise seemingly law abiding hard working nation such as Germany could fall under one man’s power and stay silent in the face of his regime’s atrocities that even now, shocks the world beyond belief.
There are parallels between Hitler’s Germany and Sri Lanka under the Rajapakse clan. The silence of the people was mistaken for submission on all fronts by the Rajapakses. The fact that we as Sri Lankans waited for the moment when we could use our ballot against his bullet, forms a cornerstone of contemporary Asian history. We dared to take on an all powerful man who was completely lost in his lifetime dictatorship dream and we won. At Nuremberg, there was no fast lane for justice but one that was slowly but surely built upon cases ; justice here was not to be delivered in angst but in the determination of ensuring that the punishment delivered is one that lasts, matching up to the height of atrocities committed.
We need to keep in mind the first post election moments of elation. Moments frozen in time, reminiscent of the first taste of freedom. It was the ultimate dream come true , freedom from the Rajapakses. I will never forget the morning of January 10th 2015 , waking up to a country that was free. A moment we had cherished , prayed fervently for and yearned for. It will always be a moment that will stay in memory and one I will share with the children , reminding them that it took all of our effort as a nation to rescue our country from the brink of disaster. That moment defined my responsibility as a Sri Lankan ; collectively, we had won.
Having secured our nation, we await the next phase of justice, economic empowerment and a citizen-government partnership that will see Sri Lanka get back on the road to success – success on the world stage as a respected nation once again instead of a rogue state, success on the economic stage as a country packed with potential and capability, not with political goons and inefficient yes men.
And that, whether we like it or not, will take time.