Of hotel apartheid and back-to-Raj syndrome

Of hotel apartheid and back-to-Raj syndrome

Reading about some hotels in Mirissa refusing to serve Sri Lankan guests brought back memories of an era gone by.

It also brought back memories back when the civil war was in full swing and the only guests keeping the Sri Lankan hotels going were the Sri Lankans themselves. Even today, as much as I cherish every foreign visitor to Sri Lanka, whether backpackers who are plentiful or otherwise, I cannot help but be mindful of the fact that Sri Lankans still keep most of those hotels filled and the rooms occupied – just check whether you can get a hotel room in a luxury 4 star upwards hotel for the Independence Day weekend coming up.

Talking of discrimination, the actual reach of the whole thing goes much deeper than merely barring Sri Lankan visitors to a handful of hotels. One individual defending the gesture opined that he believed only unruly guests were unwelcome – in which case, the board must say so without mentioning “Only foreigners allowed’.

Are we in 2016 or back in the Seventies?

I can understand the part about unruly Sri Lankans – but what about hundreds of decent, law abiding, well mannered Sri Lankans who book into some of the most luxurious hotels not just in Sri Lanka but elsewhere in the world? Who has the right to make sweeping statements about all Sri Lankans when some of us can afford to stay at The Four Seasons and The Claridge without batting an eyelid?

In the West, as I write, a politically correct attitude in bending over backwards to deal with mass migration of a people from a totally different culture and background, has resulted in utter chaos.  It seems impossible to get the two to integrate while still sticking to freedoms the developed world takes for granted.

Yet, out here, in this part of the world, we see some ‘expatriates’ who , it seems, are unable to shake off an out of place colonial mindset when they come out here into the tropics get used to a different lifestyle, a zillion miles away from everyday life back home. Of course not all of them – there are wonderful expats from all over the world who have fallen in love with Sri Lanka and find living here such a wonderful experience. They add colour, refreshing change and perspective to a lot of going ons here.

My focus is the others , ones who acquire some kind of an sahib avatar when they are out here. Maybe its the way some of our own people, stuck in a time warp that stretches back to Raj days, treat the expats – with some sort of an outdated reverence. I knew one lady from Europe who mastered the art of lording it over policemen, bank clerks, security officers and other locals down the line. She liked wielding the stick at them.

Some have become snobbish enough to develop a total Raj mentality, complete with a penchant for cucumber sandwiches and all. Can’t blame them when they get spoilt when they land out here – the wide appeal of Sri Lanka to the world is still somewhat stuck in period movies, with occasional delightfully antiquated glimpses of a past rich with colonial heritage. I love it too – but it all becomes too much when the sahibs and the sahibas start behaving like the characters in the period movies.

In a world in which an Indian from Chennai heads Google, one of the world’s most powerful companies and a Chinese founded one of the world’s biggest e commerce companies, colour and ethnic background no longer holds water in any area. Whether it is about serving Sri Lankans in hotels or otherwise, the world today by and large, is colour blind.

Yet, in a country such as ours,  with some of us are still finding our way out of a colonial time warp, someone with shallow roots can easily get carried away into assuming that expats have some sort of a privileged position here. It can be an initial impression that is deceptive yet difficult to shake off when you go along with the perks of having help, someone to drive you, someone to do your grocery shopping and take care of the children. Harder when back home, you do all these things yourself.

Just walk around some sections of The Galle Fort – you will know what I mean. It’s difficult not to catch the drift there. Or hob knob with them at one of their favourite watering holes in the city and you will see the picture emerging. Not that I mind – I for one love the wonderful heritage the British left behind. There’s so much of colour and identity in the unique cultural mix we have had from the time when the Portuguese came on board and the Dutch followed. Yet, when it threatens to spill over to the common space we all call home here on this little island and emerges in a hundred little ways that send me warning signs of lurking discrimination, I get concerned.

I guess I have reason to be.

I am a citizen of the world – not just Sri Lanka. I understand and can relate to common issues we face and deal with everyday, no matter where you are from. I am sure you are too.

So the next time you feel the expat syndrome coming on, just take it easy and leave it at the door.

 

 

 

Ven. Sobitha Thero – the visionary who chose to stand in the gap…

Ven. Sobitha Thero – the visionary who chose to stand in the gap…

He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists but to all Sri Lankans…

For Christians, Old Testament history is full of those who chose to stand in the gap on behalf of their people and their nation – especially significantly during some of the darkest and the bleakest times. There were others ; Queen Esther was raised for ‘ a time such as this’ – (Esther 4 :14). But each of them was courageous, committed and chose to come forward at a time when others were too afraid, too timid or too indifferent to care.

When Sri Lanka’s time came to stand up and be counted, it fell upon a valiant Buddhist monk, Ven. Sobitha Thero, to do so. His calling was for a time such as this. Ven. Sobitha chose to stand in the gap, to make his voice heard on behalf of all Sri Lankans, against the powers of a dark and a vile dynasty of corruption and nepotism. He fired the first words and set about on getting civil society activated – and with it, awakened the nation into the possibility that there could be change – after all. He single handedly lit a flicker of hope in all of us that later became a light strong enough to cover the whole nation – whether we were Buddhists, Christians, Tamils, Moslems mattered not. What he inspired us to dream was that a concept of Good Governance was indeed a possibility for Sri Lanka. Good Governance may not have delivered on all fronts yet and there maybe issues as there always are – but what made the difference was that we defeated an impregnable monolith of a dictatorship because he dared to make it possible.

As social media posts reflect, all Sri Lankans – irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliations, chose to mourn this giant of a human being. He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists – he belonged to all Sri Lankans.

I still remember the day, under the Rajapakse regime, when they tried to gag Ven. Sobitha – this was fresh on the heels of his coming out strongly with the good governance movement. I remember seeing intimidating vehicles and troops outside the Naga Vihara Temple in our neighbourhood, one night. My husband Asoka and I wondered out loud – if the shove came to a push and the state chose to surround the temple and force the courageous monk inside to keep his mouth shut, would we the people, show our strength and challenge them?

That was not to be. Social media carried posts of the brave Buddhist priest being threatened by the then regime but nothing could – nothing would hold him back. He gave his all to bring the historic regime change in the country. He showed that it could be done. It was our Nelson Mandela moment – our Martin Luther King moment. It was his moment to step into the gap. He rose gallantly above all religious leaders of the country – and stood tall over the shifting of a nation’s perception that a perverted state could not be overcome. If anyone, history would credit him with that.

I remember the time when our shepherd, the Bishop of Colombo Dhilo Canagasabey called for the Christian community to take part in a Day of Lament to protest the impeachment of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake back in 2013. We made the effort but the baton had to be carried further than that – into the hearts and minds of people everywhere in Sri Lanka and it had to fall upon a leader of courage who were up for the challenge.

That leader stepped forward to be in a class of his own – in 2014. He sounded the clarion call. He stepped into the gap when the very words, good governance, sounded hollow enough to dampen the spirit of a nation subdued and crushed beyond repair.

True to his calling, Ven. Sobitha wasn’t happy with the results of the Good Governance in governing – he believed as many did, that more had to be done. And that is true. Yet, the significant step was that we had passed on from darkness to light, under his watch.

We owe him, as a nation, to ensure that the change he believed in was possible for Sri Lanka, will come. And that it will show our children the way forward.

May he attain Nibbana – I’m sure thousands of fellow Christians and those of other faiths join me in the sincerity of their hearts in wishing him farewell.

Casting the first stone…

Casting the first stone…

In the aftermath of one of the most despicable crimes against humanity committed against little Seya, we have entered the next phase and justifiably so. We must find the perpetrator and if possible, hang him. Some want to give him over to a mob while others want ISIS style execution. Given the heinous  nature of the crime, by all means yes. But if only we have the right man.

It was more a case of venting out our outrage, our righteous anger that burns against a man whose deprived mind was capable of doing things that a normal human being would not even consider.  And rightly so too ; every mother, every father, every one else wanted a part of seeking justice for Seya.

Unfortunately, the law enforcement officers still haven’t been able to find the man. The father was first considered a suspect and then the grandfather was a likely candidate too. As social media forums flowed with hate, the focus then shifted to a 17 year old who was said to be in possession of porn on his computer. But, as I write this, no proper culprit is found. Yet, in our pursuit for justice we as a nation have already judged and passed sentence on people who have not had anything to do with the crime.

As absurd as it may sound to some, one wrong doesn’t make another right. Every man present that night in Seya’s neighbourhood is not, must not be a suspect. The job of the law enforcement is to seek out the real killer ; speculation can only ruin life for by standers such as the girl’s father, grandfather or the 17 year old boy whose future, by now, probably looks quite bleak just by the virtue of his arrest on suspicion.

Hunting killers is a painstaking business – some police officers have taken years to follow in the trail of perpetrators before pouncing on them. Nazis who killed women, men and children in cold blood are still being hunted down and persecuted despite the fact that many of them are now in their nineties.

Sometimes, striving for swift justice to ease our own pain is not enough. Neither is assuring ourselves that someone, anyone must be caught and brought before justice. We must be able to wait upon justice, seeking the actual killer and not someone who may have done it or who could have done it. It will then become a mere courtroom drama and lose steam down the line, causing many to lose faith in a system of justice we want to believe still works, despite all the flaws.

Seya and the many other little girls and boys being abused, groped and violated, want us to deliver the kind of justice that doesn’t make sensational news on media just so that we can rejoice for the wrong reasons. They, I’m sure, if they could speak, would want us to act with wisdom , they would want us to outsmart the killer and the Paedophile and call their bluff.

They would want us to develop a system that would not just bring one killer to book but also plug the holes where more would-be perpetrators can score. They would want us to come together as a society to build a safe environment for children as much as we can. They would ask us what lessons we learnt from their stories so that other children can be spared the misery.

We owe them that much. Not just to cry out for anyone’s blood but to make sure, with our heads as well with our hearts, to ensure that we can find the killer using right evidence and not heresy.  That we are capable of rising above emotion and deal with it as a responsible, civilized society that can unlearn wrong perceptions and learn the lessons the little angels are teaching from up there.

In the meantime, let’s do what we can do – become better , more vigilant mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters so that in our own way, we can prevent another child from being abused.

We owe it to us and our children- and to Seya.

When angels fall…

When angels fall…

I am the mother of an eight year old girl who still likes to play with her Barbies. She doesn’t like to sleep alone. Like many other little girls, she likes to dabble with my make up and dress to impress.

I joined millions of other Sri Lankan mothers, sharing a grief that was theirs and mine,  when I saw the crumpled body of little Seya on prime TV. I felt violated when TV stations chose to show such macabre scenery ; not done in  civilized country. Come to think of it, there should be a ban on showing shocking images of bodies on media but we still haven’t gone there, it seems, despite all the talk about being civilized above all else.  Seya’s hour or two in the devil’s grip still evades me – I don’t want to even think about it. I’m sure no one does. Two little girls killed within a spate of a week – one along with her parents in Minuwangoda and the other, taken from her bed and sexually assaulted, her little body thrown in a ditch.

Now before we let ourselves loose on the emotional wagon hitched to demanding better laws, we need to address ourselves as mothers and fathers. Are we doing enough to make sure our children are safe – not in strange places but in our own homes and in our own personal spaces? Seya was taken from her bed – I wish her mother bothered enough to check the first time her father noticed the little girl was not on the bed, instead of assuming that she had gone to the grandmother’s room. We are mothers in charge of children whose very fate depends a lot on us – we cannot assume things. We need to always double check, always make sure the children are safe because one never knows when human beings can turn evil. And usually, the purveyors of such evil are among those closest to us.

Mothers and fathers need to be vigilant – parenting is a full time 24/7 job. It doesn’t stop when the kids grow up either. You need to be in the know, on the ball, connected to the daily rhythm of your children and generally be the eyes and ears all around. If you cannot, then you are not cut out for parenting in the 21st century. You need to get it into your system by default.

Sure, we need better laws. More importantly, we need better execution of existing laws – we need to upgrade the severity of punishment for crimes against children and women speedily, brought to a level of action, not just talk. We have heard a lot of talk but we need to be able to get things done – I certainly hope the new Minister in charge of Women’s & Children’s Affairs, Mrs Chandani Bandara will get started down that road.

We need to remember Seya – not now, but tomorrow and the next year. We know we forget a lot of things however sad, however appalling, when the story winds down. But we need to keep remembering so that somewhere in Sri Lanka, a little girl or a little boy will not face the same fate as her. We need to remember to lock our doors, check out strangers and pay more attention to what is happening around us.

When the perpetrator is found – I pray to God he will be – we need to make sure that as a society, we deal with such evil in a way that will deter others. We also need to have in place measures that will work towards minimizing sexual crimes ; a key step in this direction would be clamp down or restrict access to on porn sites ; Google recently bestowed upon us the infamous title of the country seeking the biggest slice of sex related material on line. We hope that the Good Governance Government will take the right steps in that direction.

We have too many lessons in the death of an angel to forget – it is my prayer and I know it is your prayer too ; may this be the last such tragedy we will hear about. RIP Seya – Sri Lanka weeps with your family..

What the General Election meant for us as a nation…

What the General Election meant for us as a nation…

It is The Day After.

It’s the day after the General Election. Just a few months ago, I remember waking up on the morning of the 09th January, with a feeling that would always stay etched in my mind. I was free, my family was free, my country was free. From dictatorship and a mad man’s grip. But the nightmare wasn’t really over , bits and pieces kept wanting to take Sri Lanka back by force, if necessary, to those stifling times.

All of which finally ended yesterday. At the ballot box. When millions of Sri Lankans chose to go the polls to elect the best among them, the most deserving, not in terms of adoration and popularity but in terms of making Sri Lanka the kind of place we want to live and thrive in ; one in which our children can live well and be content. I think the word is content – if you are content with your life, you have little to grumble about. Oh, yes, we had a lot to grumble about – not the beautifully paved roads and the gleaming shopping malls where most were window shoppers but the quagmire underneath those facades – one that was rotting with nepotism, vulgarity, mass murder and big time financial misconduct.

So what did it all mean, the election, in which the rogues went on parade once again, seeking votes from the poor and the vulnerable and surprisingly, even from the so called learned who could sadly be labelled the ‘educated but unlearned’. The few good men, if they could be thus called, found the manape pore a tough one but they persisted. I can honestly be glad that I voted for three honest men who contested. In the end, as they say, it is between you and God – you must be honest to your own self not only because you can then sleep well at night but also because it feels right to do so.

This election was unique because it involved the people. From a high octane social media overdrive that saw some of us virtually engaged round the clock, to one to one election campaigning, the people relished the role they played. As never before, Sri Lankans engaged the politicians with questions, queries and lagging doubts. Admittedly, as in the Presidential Election, social media played a key role in giving us voters that platform. Some of the contestants forgot that the ship of voter amnesia had sailed. In the era of smart phones and internet, every word uttered and every promise given, every insult to public intelligence, has been captured and could be plastered all over the web in a matter of minutes. Those who understood the power of voter capacity, did well to play it wise.

So where are we now? We are facing the prospects of a new Sri Lanka not just on economic terms. We face a new Sri Lanka on new terms of engagement. The government will be watched by a populace who are no longer afraid nor incapable of questioning those who are not doing their job. The rogues will be noted and called out. For the first time perhaps in the history of Sri Lankan politics, we have accountability as a key factor present in the new parliament. They will need to keep their promises because we will be monitoring them as the people who voted them in.

We need to stay connected the way we have done during the election – keep playing the role of the engaged active citizen..the citizen journalist…the vigilant..because we are dealing after all, with professional politicians to whom cat and mouse games are easy…our task as citizens is not done..will not be done until this country becomes the kind of place all of us can thrive in..

It is an exciting time to live in – these are indeed life changing times. Someday, we can tell our children and grand children, we remember the great change. The change that heralded in the new Sri Lanka…

A requiem for Wassim “Wassa” Thajudeen – Esto Perpetua

A requiem for Wassim “Wassa” Thajudeen – Esto Perpetua

At the school by the sea, the boys are introduced to sports at an early age.

The Thomians like to stress on their balanced education system, one in which sports and knowledge go hand in hand in order to build the personality of young men walking the hallowed portals of learning at Mount Lavinia.

My son, now 17, switched to rowing later on but at STC, he started rugby early on. Rugby is a Thomian passion, one they take very seriously. For the ruggerites of STC, it is more than a sport ; they live and love the game during and after the season. Wassim Thajudeen was no exception – he was a fine young player who showed much promise. In true Thomian fashion, he cared not for false bravado displays of so called false princes, true pretenders to a throne that seemed very real at the time. In the end, that was too much for the demons who could not stand his unspoken dominance, his talent, his capability on the rugby field.  Wassim “Wassa” Thajudeen, as he was affectionately known among his fellow Thomians, was a true blue “Preppite”, a boy from the STC Colpetty, my son tells me, and was indeed much loved.

I can understand that very well. At S.Thomas’, the boys didn’t know each other by their religion, cast or creed but by the fellowship they shared among a brotherhood of Sinhalese, Tamils and Moslems, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. It never occurred to them to divide their fellow students among ethnic or religious lines.How so unlike the false royal family and its bunch of rogues.

In Wassa, S. Thomas – and Sri Lanka lost a fine young rugby player who would have had a stellar career had he been allowed to live. In retrospect, we realise that we as a nation lived through such dark times that only the mercy of his Allah and my God could have seen us through. Today, as his mother still mourns the untimely loss of her beloved son, I can understand her pain. When you lose your son, you lose your world. And it is never the same again.

The fact that he was tortured and murdered has always been known albeit limited to the circles of Colombo’s dinner circuits – it was a whispered secret that today, is loud enough to be heard in the highest portals of justice. Yet no one dared to point fingers back then. Unless one wanted a free ride in a white van, never to return. But today, thanks be to God, it is different. We can take comfort in knowing that justice has come full circle. For Wassa and the many others whose lives were cruelly snatched during those cursed years of Rajapakse rule, there will be justice. That’s what Good Governance is all about.

Back in the day, I recall telling myself that this, too shall pass.

And it did. On January 08th 2015 – who can forget the sense of liberation and freedom of waking up to a Sri Lanka finally free of the Rajapakse curse.  As we stand on the threshold of yet another election, one that seeks to bring back the demons of injustice, murder, we would do well to remember his death and the deaths of countless others murdered during those long and dark Rajapakse years. Their blood, spilled long before their time and spilled in the most inhumane manner imaginable, cries out for justice.

All mothers still yearn for their little boys inside their grown sons – Wassa’s mother would have been no different. In her heart, I’m sure she still can hear his laughter, his little foot steps echo in the hall way. And what pain it must be to have to live through it. Losing a child is a lifelong nightmare. And there is a lesson for us all in that nightmare.

We owe a responsibility to Wassim Thajudeen, Prageeth Eknaligods and all those brave Sri Lankans whose deaths must not be in vain – we as a nation must ensure they are given peace in death, that justice is done as we head for the polls on the 17th. Let their murders be avenged with the perpetrators brought to justice. That should be our vision – and our goal on the 17th August 2015.

Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all things.Proverbs 28 – 5 – The Bible

“God commands justice and fair dealing…” – Quran 16:90