Home / Opinion and Issues/ The space is ours; the frame is ours too

The space is ours; the frame is ours too

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 5 December 2018 00:00

By Ruwanthie de Chickera

Frames of Resistance…

On 28 November, at the annual National Youth Drama Awards held at Nelum Pokuna, two young artists – Surin Chamara and Kasun Ukwatta– made a singular public statement against the prevailing political culture of corruption, greed and shamelessness in this country.

Like the quiet integrity of the 90-year-old Tamil civil servant, and the flamboyant courage of the young Sinhala artists, let us retain our approval and our association only for those who really deserve it

Dramatically,in full sight of a live audience, these two young artists refused to accept awards from the hands of two chief guest politicians on the stage – Udaya Gammanpila and Duminda Dissanayake. They insisted, instead, on receiving their awards from other officials who happened to be there.

In that moment, that awful Nelum Pokuna stage, which is still associated in the public’s mind with the corruption, greed and shamelessness of the Rajapaksa regime, became a site of dignity and of people’s resistance.

In that moment, Rajapaksa’s NelumPokuna stage belonged unequivocally to those two young artists and what they stood for –i.e.the absolute rejection of the politicians standing just next to them.

In that moment, those politicians who had so blatantly pushed their way into a public space and claimed it to promote themselves, were framed within this very same space – madeinto an instant spectacle of rejection, captured on camera, unable to stop smiling, having to keep clapping at their own public humiliation.

These are our sites of public resistance.They belong to us citizens.They must be claimed by us.

The very thing these two young Sinhala boys did so dramatically, in real time and in front of a live audience, was done a few weeks ago at a slower pace by Dr. Devanesan Nesiah – a senior Tamil civil servant of great repute and respect.

Dr. Nesiah, who received a Deshamanya award in 2017 from the hands of President Sirisena, returned this award to the President with an open letter stating his reasons for doing so, within the current political context.Along with the open letter was published a photograph of Dr. Nesiah and the President with the award held between them.

Within the context of Dr. Nesiah returning his award, that single picture – which was originally a picture of him being honoured by the President of this country – becamea picture of him rejecting the worthiness of the President to bestow honour on him.

That picture has now become one of the hallmark pictures of the events over the last five weeks in Sri Lanka.

These are the sites of public resistance.They really do belong to us citizens.But we must have the courage to claim them.

Sites of Resistance…

This is the nature of civilian resistance – and it rests on the fact that who we choose to associate with, and how we choose to associate with them, is ultimately, 100% within the control of each one of us.

Because of the public rejection from ordinary citizens like Ukwatta, Chamara and Nesiah, public figures like Sirisena, Gammanpila and Dissanayake will be remembered (at least in these instances) for their unworthiness and emptiness as men and as leaders.

We need to understand our own power.And we need to act on it.Public figures need endorsement – which means that politicians need our approval of them.This is what makes them legitimate.This is how they survive.This is how they grow.

Every time we pose for a photograph, invite to a ceremony, greet as ‘Honourable’, sponsor, bow, stand up, offer flowers, we are lending the politicians of our country our endorsement, our approval and our own personal dignity.

If this is ours to give, it is also ours to take away.

However, disturbingly, with the current continuing political chaos that has brought our country to its knees; politicians keep getting invited to events, keep getting put on stage, keep being venerated, idolised, and given podiums to speak from.And every time we give them this, they are claiming much more than our time; much more than that physical space on the platform.They are claiming our dignity.Our endorsement.

And make no mistake, in this climate of political breakdown, these men desperately need our endorsement.And also, make no mistake, in this climate of political bankruptcy we lend them this dignity by subjugating our own.

When citizens or organisations undiscerningly associate with politicians of questionable ethics, inconsistency, corruption, we lose something of our personal dignity and Sri Lanka loses more self-respect.We become more and more a country of abject, opportunistic subjects paying homage to our unworthy, opportunistic leaders.

As long as people are willing line up to receive favours, prestige, tax cuts, commissions, jobs, pensions and vehicles from our political leaders, we will be stuck in this loop of legitimising the continuation of corruption, inflated power and unprincipled leadership.

We will only gain as much as we are willing to give up.We will only retain what we never will trade.If we trade in our dignity, we lose our right to own it.If we accept the privileges, we lose the power to critique. 

Enough of the double game.Enough of the excuses.Enough of the casual hypocrisy.It is time we, as citizens, choose who we want to lend the dignity of our association to.Our public spaces belong to us.Who we invite into our lives, who we invite to our gatherings, our meetings, who we receive money from – all these things are entirely and completely within our control.

We need to take a stand – as individuals, as organisations, as corporate bodies, as industries; as schools, as professionals, as artists and primarily as citizens.We own our own bodies, our personal space – and collectively we own public space.

Let us share the dignity of this space with people that we respect, people that we endorse and people that we uphold as worthy of leading this country.Let us stand with them because we choose them.

And if there is no one worthy of this pride of place, let us stand alone, but together as a force that rejects this culture of political dishonesty and abuse of power – and let us reclaim these platforms as sites of civic dignity, values and service.

Like the quiet integrity of the 90-year-old Tamil civil servant, and the flamboyant courage of the young Sinhala artists, let us retain our approval and our association only for those who really deserve it.

Share This Article


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

Why didn’t they tell the President?

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The President appears to believe that he still possesses the full executive powers he derived from the Constitution when he was elected to his office in January 2015. Three months later, he sat during a tumultuous session in Parliament, and witnessed

The implications and consequences of the verdict, whatever it is

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Quite obviously I haven’t the slightest notion of what the Supreme Court verdict will be, unlike my friend Eran Wickramaratne who announced publicly (and rather curiously) that he doesn’t have the slightest doubt about it. However I do know, as a

Sri Lanka’s economy at crossroads: The 1972-76 Five-Year Plan and its diagnosis of economic ailments

Monday, 10 December 2018

The economist who produced ‘From Dependent Currency to Central Banking’ Professor H A de S Gunasekara, popularly known as HAdeS, was a legend in economics in Sri Lanka. The doctoral thesis ‘From Dependent Currency to Central Banking in Ceylon

Are you monitoring logistics cost in your supply chain?

Monday, 10 December 2018

On the internet a simple explanation of logistics says: “Logistics is generally the detailed organisation and implementation of a complex operation. In a general business sense, logistics is the management of the flow of things between the point of

Columnists More