No longer a nation of shackled and silenced sons..

No longer a nation of shackled and silenced sons..

There are songs that make you feel good and then there are those that hit you deep down and bring tears to your eyes, leaving a mark indelible.

In Sinhala, we call it බොක්කටම වැදුනා (stuck my gut).

The first time I listened to Visharada Nanda Malini’s legendary Yadhamin Bande sung by a young man strumming a guitar at the current protests going on against the President at the Galle Face Green, it struck a deep chord within. It went through to your heart like a knife and stayed there.

That song, defiant yet the determined call of a mother who questions why a nation that shackled her son for seeking a new world of equality and justice, needs the judiciary and the law, is a clarion call for us all.

Her song, as many of her other songs, sums up the current mood of the nation. In fact, when she came in person to the protest site and sang her iconic lyrics with a massive audience joining in, it was indeed a defining moment.

For all of us.

A vision in white, dignified and unhurried, she sings the dirge of a nation that’s been too long under the ruthless political clout of thugs and thieves. Nanda Malini has always been a legendary and defiant icon, pouring into song the struggles and pain of a nation in subjugation for so long that many thought it could not, did not have the will to rise up – some day.

That day came not too long ago.

It came when Sri Lankans felt the burden too much to bear. The fuel that never came, the gas that never was enough, the power that was cut for hours on end and the food that was increasingly becoming too expensive to eat ; the price of dhal skyrocketed beyond the reach of the average household.

It came first to Mirihana, my own neighbourhood. And no, the angry young men who marched towards the President’s house did not burn buses or attack the police. They were after work, angry at having to face power cuts and no fuel. Their cry was for justice. They wanted their lives back.

Their protest was however diluted with sinister elements introduced to the crowd to set fire to buses and cause mayhem. After all, explain to me why the armed police and STF watched while the man calmly set fire to the bus.

The drama that went on the entire night – our neighbourhood turned into a war zone while armed police and STF chased unarmed protestors, men and women, down lanes, firing tear gas and bludgeoning them as they ran to escape the tear gas.

It ended with over 50 young men being taken to a camp where the Special Task Force, once a respected elite unit of Police Commandos, assaulted and tortured them mercilessly before handing over to police. They were kept overnight with serious injuries in the police station at Mirihana. The lawyers who came early morning to see the young men were initially refused access ; there were plans to file charges against the young men under the Sri Lanka’s dreaded PTA. But all of it fizzled out, as most of their ill conceived strategies would do in the next few days.

In the end, as the young men, bloodied and injured but not broken, defiant against manufactured state terror, emerged at the courts to witness a true heroes’ welcome – hundreds of lawyers stood there on their behalf. For the first time in Sri Lankan history, a sea of black coated lawyers clapped and welcomed the heroes. Outside, normal everyday Sri Lankans welcomed them with open arms and relief.

They could have so easily been killed.

It was the kind of hero’s welcome no politician or a leader has ever received. It came from the heart of everyone present.

Nanda Malini’s song of defiance defined the first volley that was fired against a corrupt and a mismanaged Government – with the Mirihana protest.

The lyrics- power packed against the purile, empty and barbaric attempts of a state machinery operating under the curse of defiling a nation, touched me deep within.

Every time I listen to those lyrics, tears well up for the mothers who have lost their sons throughout our history.

යදමින් බැඳ විලංගුලා – මගේ පුතා රැගෙන යන්
ඉදිකටු ඇන ඇඟිලි තලා – දෙතිස්වදය පමුනුවන්
අළුත් ලොවක් ගැන සිතීම – දඩුවම් දෙන වරද නම්
කුමට එරට අධිකරනය – නීතිය සහ විනිසුරන්.

Take my son shackled and chained his fingers pierced with needles…tortured with 32 methods of torture

If thinking of a new world is a crime to be punished for, why do we need the judiciary, the law and the courts?

Those words had never rung more true or more apt for the people’s struggle that unfolded from that powerful moment of truth for us all.

Those words sank deep into my psyche – as the mother of a 24 year old son myself.

They stayed within me, turning into tears that poured for every son who dared to defy.

Her cry didn’t just embody the tortured young men at Mirihana who inspired a nation to come out against the corrupt Government – it also captivated the tears and cry of thousands of Tamil and Sinhala mothers who for years, have had to live with the ache in their hearts that come from losing a son – or a daughter.

The song ends with the mother saying that thousands more sons will come forward to take her son’s cause on to a bigger stage. And she, the mother , will be there to keep watch.

And those prophetic words have come true today – thousands of young men and women in search of a new Sri Lanka, one beyond the evil grip of one power hungry family, have come together to show the world that this indeed is the Sri Lanka we yearn for, now within our grasp.

Nanda Malini’s power packed lyrics have become a signature call for the people to rally to Galle Face, where they are determined to stay put – until they see change.

This is Sri Lanka’s finest moment. The best we can remember in a lifetime.

And the fact that she was there, the familiar figure in white, only added the lustre to the war cry.

යදමින් බැඳ විලංගුලා – මගේ පුතා රැගෙන යන්
ඉදිකටු ඇන ඇඟිලි තලා – දෙතිස්වදය පමුනුවන්
අළුත් ලොවක් ගැන සිතීම – දඩුවම් දෙන වරද නම්
කුමට එරට අධිකරනය – නීතිය සහ විනිසුරන්.

කකා බිබී නටන අතර – නරුම යහළු යෙළියන්
පන්දු කෙලින අතර ඉහල – පාසල් වල අමනයන්
රටගිනි ගෙන ඇති වග දුටු – මගේ එකම පුතනුවන්
එගිනි නිවන මඟ සෙවීම – වරදක් දැයි මට කියන්

ගිනිගන්නා රටක කෙලින – මී හරකුන් වැනි පුතුන්
කුමටද මට මහ විරුවෙකි – සිරගෙයි මල මගෙ පුතුන්
කෝටිගණන් බිහිවේවා – මගෙ පුතු වැනි තව පුතුන්
කිරි මව්ලස මම ඉන්නම් – එවන් පුතුන් ලඟ උතුම්

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…

Are you a woman voting for a female politician? Ask her what her plans for you are..

Are you a woman voting for a female politician? Ask her what her plans for you are..

As a woman who believes in empowering of all women, it is always wonderful to see so many women contesting the General Election this time. All parties have women on their ranks – the UNP is fielding some old and some new faces and so does the JVP. The UPFA too has women on board. As in other countries, women seeking the vote of other women, must be ideally be able to answer the questions we female voters would have.

Other than seeing their faces smiling down on cut outs, ads and leaflets, it would be wonderful to hear these ladies spell out specific plans they have formulated for the women of Sri Lanka. They do play a key role in the national political stage – but I as a woman need specifics and I’m sure so do other women. Can they address those issues and assure us of the kind of change they can bring?

Just addressing women’s issues would amount to lip service – can they go beyond it and promise change for women when they do get elected? Or they, as before, would put women’s issues on the back burner once elected, as we have seen many a time before, and let them be there?

Sri Lankan women have burning issues. From reliable child care to domestic violence, from supporting entrepreneurship at home so that they can bring in an additional income while taking care of the children and the home front to ensuring adequate support for Middle East returnees, women have to deal with these issues on a day to day basis. They struggle with economic and social issues. When all the political ha hoo has died down after the 17th, these issues will still exist for millions of Sri Lankan women. Are they going to be able to deal with those better because of the women who would have been elected to parliament by then?

The women in parliament can start with a major issue before going any further. They can attempt to make an attitude change towards women. They can start in the parliament itself – initiate change in how women are perceived in society. Take a bus ride and educate the commuters on why sexual molestation in buses is rampant and must be stopped because it violates the rights of women travelers. Encourage women to come out with their stories of abuse and rape so that the perpetrators can be dealt with. Ensure the gaps are closed in gender discrimination and abuse. Close the doors to the powerful politicos who abuse the system for their own ends. The list is endless but we can start somewhere.

Or will these women who are now seeking our vote forget the female voter once they are in? What all those seeking re-entry or first time entry to parliament must understand is that the voter of today is one who is very different from the one whom they faced at the previous general election. January 08th heralded in a new age for the Sri Lankan voter ; today, we know what is going on. Thanks to new technology and social media, voters cannot be duped anymore with fancy stories and promises from the skies. The facts cannot be concealed anymore – citizen journalists are empowered with their camera phones and nothing goes unrecorded. The politicians seeking the votes must understand this fact – unless and until they do, they are not likely to win. On the brighter side, they can now engage more efficiently almost one to one with the voters on social media. They can truly make a change that we can take note of.

The women contesting on behalf of all political parties must include women on their agenda – they will not have my vote until they do and I’m sure they should not have yours. We no longer believe nor trust in empty promises that sound wonderful but lacks the credibility of a plan that backs it up.

So, let me know – what plans have you, female politician, for us women?