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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2736

Independence - is there any meaning to Sri Lanka?

By Quintus Perera – Asian Tribune

When the average politician apparently does not know the true meaning of democracy, can anyone in Sri Lankan could have the inclination to find out the true meaning of Independence, because independence is part and parcel of democratic set up. When one speaks of democracy various people have different connotations as the worst dictator would proclaim that his government is the best democratic government.

The word democracy has derived from the Greek words demos – kratein – the people to rule. The essence of democracy then be the people of a country to rule through a form of government - representatives elected by popular suffrage. In Sri Lanka this type of government existed, until with a new constitution where executive presidency was created, vesting the power on a single person with room for him apparently to become a dictator.

With the time with ups and downs over the years a civilized world has emerged and the democratic way of government emerged through this civilized world which set up the norms of what a democratic set up is. Many who did not understand the true meaning of democracy have come to the conclusion of majority rule. Yet democracy is by the people for the people and thus it is essentially a rule by consensus and not by majority. So we have to discuss about independence within the overall framework of democracy and we must find out whether there is a democratic rule in the country for the people to enjoy freedom, liberty and independence.

What is freedom? What is liberty and what is independence? They all lead to one meaning that is living as free men and women according to their conscience – living free within accepted norms. Only the democratic governments are able to provide the conditions conducive for such living. In short governments are needed to ensure the rights of the people where governments should ensure that one person should not infringe the rights of another. In the same tone governments should not infringe the rights of the citizens.

As all democratic governments are people oriented and as they should have to be ‘by the people for the people’ in all their activities and in all the government spheres the people’s participation and involvement should be there. In workers’ matters there are trade unions, in overall citizens’ matters there should be strong human rights protection organizations, there should be strong rate payers’ associations, there should be travelers’ associations, there should be consumer protection associations and likewise there should be people’s associations to protect each individual from another and to protect people from adversaries from the governmental authorities. These organizations must have to be properly established and they must have to be given enough power to act and settle matters of the people.

In Sri Lanka though successive governments proclaim that they are ‘democratic socialist republics’ they are neither democratic nor socialist as on the one hand people are not allowed to involve in management or administration of the country but only the politicians in power and the state officials and on the other hand they are neither socialist as their taxation policies are very aggressive and there is no machinery whether these taxations are bearable for the people. Apart from taxation almost all the services governments tends to charge the people.

All the bastions of people’s freedoms are now curtailed on the pretext of ruling the country under Emergency Regulations where the normal law which could to some extent provide protection are suppressed. Now the people are not free to move and in short the authorities suspect every citizen of the country of carrying illegal weapons and explosives except for few politicians. Highest protection is offered for these politicians than the people. On the pretext of security, people are being harassed and their day to day life is being disturbed.

In this grave scenario only the government celebrates the 61st anniversary of Independence today and where are the people in these celebrations? This is a country where Independence Day celebrations were conducted under Curfew.

Though the president is also elected, the other elected representatives of the people, part of whom form a government, would have to be subjected to the dictates of the executive president. This fact could be demonstrated by how these elected representatives forfeit their power as they would attribute that all the development and other plans emanate from the leader.

Freedom or liberty is defined as the right of individuals to act as they choose referring to individual liberty as well as the achievement of sovereignty by a people called national freedom which often connotes civil and political rights, such as the right to economic opportunity, education, shelter, right to live and a host of other rights that are clearly spelled out by the United Nations.

With the concentration of power in a single individual and the speed at which the rights and privileges of the people are escalating, almost all individual rights are apparently suppressed by governmental authority and imposition of various laws at the will of the government without the participation of the people. Thus there are no rights, no democracy and no freedom and so nothing for the people to celebrate.

By law the collection and disposition of garbage is the responsibility of the local authorities and the Central Environmental Authority is empowered to take legal action against such local bodies who failed this task. But instead of local authorities are taken to task people are punished for the disposal of garbage, while due to the failure of the local authorities to properly dispose garbage, various diseases including dengue that often kills people are on the increase.

Another instance how the state corrode the rights of the people could be amply demonstrated when consider the operation of public transport, where the rights of the commuter is not defined in that the bus crews could load any number of passengers but what is prohibited is not to carry passengers on the footboard and not the excessive overloading, an utter foolish way of governance.

The people’s rights must have to emanate from the people themselves, through such organizations like rate payers association, train travelers associations, bus travelers association, in schools parents and students associations, consumers associations, trade unions and so on. Trade unions are a complete apathy where most of them politically motivated and some associations exist, but are mostly government sponsored.

Ensuring the security and the safety of the people is an undeniable divine duty of the Government. The escalation of insecurity of the country is the doing of respective governments and it could be the results of some individual leaders, application of individual theories on national issues. This fact apparently clearly spelled out by Dew Gunasekera, Minister of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration in his Keynote address at the International Seminar on “Towards a Durable Settlement on the Way Forward” held on January 26th 2006 organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

He said "We are completing 50 years by June this year since the Language question (SWRD Bandaranaike’s Sinhala Only that give rise to the entire ethnic crisis) emerged in this country. We have co-existed with conflicts, confrontations, violence, wars during this period. We have debated on Parity of Status, Reasonable use of Tamil, B-C Pact, D-C Pac, Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, Devolution Package, Draft Constitution of 2000 etc during these years. 58 years of Independence is a history of missed opportunities in the context of nation building" (meaning there was no freedom in Sri Lanka during the 58 years).

Improper governance by governments due to the sheer negligence of the politicians in power has contributed to loosing all rights privileges and liberties of the people. This negligence has created economic chaos, heavy increase in crime and violence, prices sky rocketing, severe unemployment problems, nauseating youth unrest – all because the governments failed to ensure the people’s rights - suppression of freedom.

When the government speak of Independence Day Celebrations innocent Tamils in the Colombo City and elsewhere are subjected to harassments by the security forces. They could be taken into custody on suspicion of various offences under Emergency Rule at great humiliation.

This is not confined to Tamils. During the escalation of violence of JVP – Government conflicts the people of entire South has suffered as there were abductions and murders in large numbers of people from both sides.

Since some time people tend to believe that governments are corrupt as these politicians themselves trade charges against each other, of corruption, malpractices, waste and bribery and these charges are very high when these politicians are in the Opposition. Bribery and corruption of politicians leads to many crimes. When people point out these then they tend to be suppressed. Under Emergency the suppression would comes easy and handy.

The failure of successive governments to hold free and fair elections causes a major suppression of people’s rights. There were bloody violent elections, the notorious Wayamba Elections and in another 10 people at one incident were massacred with shooting.

Thus, February 4th every year would have been a great day for all Sri Lankans, but sadly the greatness has faded away through the passage of time, since the country won her independence in 1948, and the ordinary man on the street is left with no freedom to celebrate while it is cruelly taken over by the State and its politicians.

While the State so proudly celebrate Independence, human rights groups who are concerned and fight for the lost freedom and rights of the citizens, calls for a new wave of freedom fighting calling upon the government to stop police brutality and the saga of fabrication of charges against innocent people to cover up their brutality. While there are laws to prevent police assaulting people, there had been number of police cell murders.

In Wattala one person was severely assaulted and was warded in a private hospital on a life saving device for weeks to save his life. In a fundamental rights application to the Supreme Court, the victims was awarded Rs 8 lakhs as compensation and another Rs 8 lakhs as medical expenses. Later the police officers who were accused with the assault of this person was prosecuted on criminal charges in the High Court. But he was gunned down and murdered and this is the way the State safeguard its citizens.

The incident sent shock waves through the human rights fighters and they are now agitating to have a witness protection scheme in place.

Human rights activists rally round the theme of "Liberalize from the bondage of Torture" with special reference to the Act No.22 of 1994 against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading Treatment or Punishment demanding the government to fully implement this act.

Torture is common-place with State terrorism, on the pretext of either crime prevention or counter-terrorism, but to the naked eye it appeared either as committing a crime to prevent a crime or simply torturing the innocent for political or getting personal vendettas fulfilled. The government commits the crime of torture on various pretexts with ignominious repression.

Laws such as Prevention of Terrorism Act and more seriously under Emergency Regulations, under which the government is empowered to promulgate various provisions that would tighten the noose on whom the authorities find fault

These human rights activists would indicate that people here are not free, their movements are restricted, their privacy is encroached, women are indiscriminately molested and raped, and did not know at what time they would be taken into custody for flimsy reasons, in most cases illegally.

The decay of freedom in this country is so enormous, it even deteriorated to the extent of Colombo High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekeratne to be arrested and was proved that it was illegal. The judges Forum of the International Bar Association was concerned over the unlawful arrest of Judge Tillekeratne indicating that such action was likely to affect other judges who might be fearful of taking decisions which were unpalatable to the government.

Those reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg and the poor, the ignorant the marginalized suffer silently as they are powerless and without means to stand against the atrocities of the State, specially against the force exerted by law enforcement authorities, as litigation has necessarily become a matter of rupees and cents.

Any government must stand by for justice and rule of law. Anyone found breaking the law and found guilty by a Court of Law, must be dealt with accordingly, irrespective of the position and stature of the convict. In the past ministers were found guilty by Courts of law. It appears that the State has not taken due cognizance of these convictions as they were charged for violating the rights of the people and thus violating the laws accented by the very same Parliament of which they were members.

Above all the major duty of the State is to ensure people’s rights. But the government’s so-called development plans and strategies aggressively and blatantly violate the rights of the people. Slaughter and massacre the Wet-lands by reclaiming them. Most instances, poor squatters along the edges of these wet lands are uprooted for the benefit a few multinationals.

Over the years governments in Sri Lanka implemented many development projects, but there is no assessment how best they contributed to the lives of ordinary people. If they are properly assessed, these assessments would reveal how these projects carved into the people’s basic rights.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in a magnificent way joined the UNP to get the 17th amendment to the Constitution through and the government as well as the opposition paved the way to establish several independent commissions, including the Constitutional Council, Independent Police Commission, Independent Judicial Service Commission, Independent Election Commission and the Independent Public Service Commission. The attempt was unique in the annals of history of the Independence of Sri Lanka as if all these commissions are established the rights of the people would be automatically established.

But today things are different as once the terms of these independent commissions according to law was over, as certain legal requirements could not still be met some of these commissions could not be re-established and thus now the country has returned to the old style.

What subsequently happened showed that no government is prepared to fully implement the 17th amendment, the reluctance of ensuring the people’s rights. Therefore no government has a right to celebrate Independence. Celebration of Independence is purely a matter for the people, as independence should reflect through them.

- Asian Tribune -

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