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Recurring shame

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 23 January 2018 00:00

If naming people is enough to shame them, then Uva Chief Minister Chamara Sampath Dassanayaka and his cohorts would have no place to hide in Sri Lanka. Dassanayaka is accused of forcing the principal of Tamil Girls’ Maha Vidyalaya in Badulla to kneel before him and then pressurising her to deny it. After the incident hit headlines Dassanayaka steadfastly denied any wrongdoing dislodging education from his portfolio but the incident is symbolic of deeper issues such as abuse of power and the systemic disempowerment of women in Sri Lanka. 

The Principal was reportedly summoned by Dassanayaka because she refused to admit a student into the school by allowing her preferential treatment above other children on the waiting list. If the Principal’s version is to be believed, she was simply doing her job. As a female professional making her kneel is an indication of additional spitefulness and a particularly virulent form of humiliation not seen being meted out to male teachers. Even after she found the courage to complain the Police have made her undertake a psychological test to ascertain her mental fitness, despite the fact that she is the victim, while the Chief Minister continues unburdened in his office. 

After the news reached President Maithripala Sirisena, a fresh investigation was ordered but there is little public trust in the Chief Minister being held responsible. The reason for this is that a member of his party, who at the time was North Western Provincial Council Member Ananda Sarath Kumara, in 2013 forced a teacher to kneel after she disciplined his daughter, but was subsequently appointed by Sirisena to be the SLFP organiser for the area.   

This is just one example of overwhelming power and impunity handed out time and again to politicians and their hangers on. The deep politicisation of the public service has meant that once proud professionals such as teachers who were revered in society are little more than puppets in the hands of politicians. If one is a woman the repercussions are worse.

President Sirisena recently backed the reversal of legislation allowing women to purchase alcohol on the grounds that it would harm Sri Lanka’s culture. But the truth is that alcohol has no part in the matter. Women in Sri Lanka are not given due respect in society and are rarely safe from male dominated power structures, of which politicians hold the top rungs. President Sirisena and his supportive cabinet ministers should understand that this “culture” is not progressive in any way and attempting to hide this reality with hidebound assumptions about women and their role in society simply makes the issue worse.     

What is evident from this is that politicians, whether they be provincial or otherwise, firmly believe in their bone marrow that they are above everyone’s censure, especially those that voted them into power. This is the grossest and most demeaning understanding of democracy but it is intentionally practiced and promoted in Sri Lanka.

The absolute power and impunity in Sri Lanka’s political structure has eroded the moral and ethical blueprint of society as a whole and yet, it is allowed to endure because people do not act. There is a saying that people get the government they deserve; by the look of things Sri Lankans have a long way to go.

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