“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything” – Plato
Recalling the dark days of repression has become the routine response of the administration to its critics. True. The internet is freely accessible. Public protest is permissible. The deep state is dismantled. We write and speak with no fear of physical harm. It happened when the people refused a third term to the ‘redeemer’ and elected a ‘reformer’ who promised to change the system.
A just society
How did it happen? It happened because of an aggregate enterprise of a citizenry, mobilised by the initiative of an exceptional leader, Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero who spearheaded the ‘movement for a just society’. The people made it happen. We owe it to ‘we the people’; nobody else. Read my lips.
Sobhitha Thero’s mission was not to replace President Rajapaksa with President Sirisena. His declared purpose was a ‘just society’. That he wore a saffron robe but fast acquired the repute of a secular saint is an important aspect of the political transformation that took place one year ago.
The significance of this detail occurred to this writer when listening to the portly Provincial Councilor Azath Sally. He offered a combative defence of the Presidential outburst against flying brassieres and the concert ‘Love and Sex’ in the town of Ampara.
“They wouldn’t have dared to do what they do today,” he admonished the critics of the President’s whipping remarks. “‘Gota’s Goons’ would have done the needful to the protesters,” he intoned.
By some strange coincidence Sally was followed on electronic media by the Mayor of Colombo Muzanmil. He announced that the organisers of the concert ‘Love and Sex’ will not be allowed to hold any more concerts in the city that he administered with great relish under the benign eye of his macho moustachioed earlier patron until 8 January, 2015. The people of the city, numbering a near million, remembered his mayoral excellence and rewarded Madame Muzammil with less than 20,000 preference votes.
The underlying refrain of the orchestrated responses in defence of the righteous outrage at the erosion of Sinhala Buddhist values by two prominent minority politicians was clear. Your freedoms are restored. Therefore be grateful.
President takes on ‘Webkarayas’
The President who first made his trenchant observations far away from the venue of the concert, returned to the subject in Colombo a few days later. Apparently taking note of his detractors in cyberspace he said that these people – the ‘Webkarayas’ – demanded the right to parade in the nude.
Now that remark was really unfortunate. He forgot about his Minister S.B. Dissanayake who, at the last Presidential Election, announced that former President Chandrika Kumaratunge should be “put down in the ground, trampled, stripped naked and made to run along the streets.”
The electorate which is usually ahead of the curve than most politicians punished him at the last Parliamentary Elections. The reformer President appointed him through the national list. A legal provision that helped him circumvent the popular will of the constituency.
If newspaper reports are to be believed, there is also a senior minister who caused titters and guffaws for an unfortunate episode due to his reliance on induced integrity in performance. One may rightly ask why this hullabaloo over moral degeneration of the nation ‘Apey Hamuduruwane’? Therein lies a tale. The initial admonition was made as an appeal to ‘Apey Hamuduruwane’.
Obviously, threatening a former president to be stripped in public or the drug-induced erectile integrity of an aging politician were not issues of sufficient gravity to cause concerns or make appeals to our ‘Apey Hamuduruwos’!
This missive is not about panties, brassieres or nudity of writers in the cyberspace. We saw Enrique Iglesias holding a brassier. We did not see the thrower. We did not see any exposed breasts.
So, we must ask: “What is the foundational logic of the Presidential outrage?” Why is it so vulgar for a plucky, vivacious lass to get on the stage and kiss the young Spanish heartthrob of a singer? Are we forgetting the Buddhist tale of Mathanga and Ditta Mangalika? – A story of passion.
Post-colonial Sinhala culture
No. This is our post-colonial Sinhala culture. I weep. I have five granddaughters. Are women to be only progenitors and homemakers? Why should their sexuality be subject to the monitoring of the Apey Hamuduruwos? Do Sinhala Buddhist girls constitute a eugenic avant-garde (pun intended) that would produce a morally superior Sinhala Buddhist tribe in plural Sri Lanka?
Should we not get back on track towards a just society? This is about reforms and the promises made to create a just society.
We cannot afford to ignore Sobhita Thero and hope to consolidate the gains of 8 January, 2015. His public activism from 1978 to 2015 needs to be comprehended in context. Over three decades of fighting incipient fascism, he turned from militant monk to secular saint.
He was the true ‘Apey Hamuduruwo’ of the Sri Lankan nation that is yet in struggle to overcome tribal trauma. When other ‘Hamuduruwos’ questioned his sanity, the Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities in unison called him ‘Apey Hamuduruwo’.
We should not allow his memory or his contribution to become a footnote in our contemporary political history. Sobhitha Thero led a civic enterprise. He did not lead a parochial retreat into a tribal refuge.
Sinhala Buddhist morality
Our leaders take up the issue of Sinhala Buddhist morals in a particular context. They situate our pristine values in the hands of the Buddhist clergy. This is not something new.
Sir Edwin Arnold in his preface to the ‘Light of Asia’ writes: “The power and sublimity of Gauthama’s original doctrines should be estimated by their influence, not by their interpreters; nor by that lazy ceremonious church which has arisen on the foundations of the Buddhistic Brotherhood or ‘Sangha’.”
The lazy ceremonious outfit is a far more politically potent outfit than in the times when Sir Edwin composed his epic poetry. In addition to being lazy and ceremonious, today they claim influence and authority far beyond their province.
By purpose, deliberate and designed, the ‘reformer’ President has embarked on a project to confront the ‘redeemer’ predecessor for the hearts and minds of the imagined majority of the majority. His vitriolic concern for Sinhala Buddhist values that are under attack is unfortunate. When preserving moral values becomes an emotional preoccupation, we lose sight of the rationale needed to determine what is just and equitable.
That is a serious retrograde step in the age of global connectivity. President Sirisena’s bid to outflank Mahinda Rajapaksa has made him a ‘slave’ to his project to capture the SLFP base. Aristotle tells us that a slave is three things: he is a tool, is not of his own, and lacks reason.