The meaning of independence

Friday, 4 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

WHAT does it mean to be independent? As Sri Lanka celebrates its 63rd Independence Day today, the time has come to ask this question anew and re-examine who we are as a nation and what we wish to achieve.

How can a country be independent? At a time when countries are depending more and more on each other for trade, technology and investment, what does it mean for Sri Lanka to be independent?

How can independence be used as a way to achieve the future of Sri Lanka? These are in many ways baffling questions that are rarely asked, because not only are they difficult to answer, there are also many versions of what independence means to each citizen, making a consensus all the more difficult.

Most people are clear on the fact that an independent Sri Lanka should seek “development,” especially after the end of the three-decade war. But what does development really mean for Sri Lanka? Is development only about shiny roads and new harbours? Or does it mean something deeper than that? A nation where civil freedoms and integrity is respected and people have the right to engage in different beliefs, ideas and attitudes as long as it does not harm anyone else? Do they have the right to be free of corruption? The right to choose their leaders and live free from lawlessness? Are these the values of a truly independent nation? Should these be the ideals of Sri Lanka as it marches towards development?

The time to decide has come. If Sri Lanka decides to tread the path towards greater transparency, accountability and truthfulness, then the 63rd Independence will be marked indeed. Celebrations are not merely marked by large military parades edged with fighter plane displays and gun salutes; they should be celebrations of the heart. What do the people feel about their independence? Is it something limited to a flag on a pole outside their homes and offices or is there something more sincerely felt?

Change is never easy for anyone. For a country it is perhaps harder because, composed as it is of a variety of people, it has to listen to different versions and work out what is appropriate for the ‘Sri Lankan-ness’ in each of us. So there are many disagreements and discussions, to the point that sometimes it feels as if all we do is talk. But independence demands sacrifice; it demands that we take a good long hard look at ourselves and examine what we are heading towards as a country.

2011 is a crucial year on many fronts. Many expect the economic boom to escalate and Sri Lanka to enjoy significant growth, but these are counterbalanced by other challenges. Thousands of people have been displaced by floods and a strong food shortage along with the high cost of living will dampen economic indicators this year. There is also much concern over power devolution being further delayed and what it might mean for minority relations. There are the business challenges of finishing expensive infrastructure programmes, restructuring education and finding foreign investment to fuel both. All in all, a tough year ahead.

For an independent nation there must be an independent-minded people; a population that believes in the true ideals of freedom and democracy, while working hard to achieve their development goals. These ideals are what will make the development sustainable and inclusive and it is towards this that citizens must turn their eyes.