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Swinging Between Enforced Piety And Protecting Law And Order

By Gamini Weerakoon

(April 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We owe our readers an apology for this column not appearing last Sunday. The reason is, we confess, an orgy of kiributh gobbling stretching for well over a year commencing from those sweeping victories in provincial councils elections to the presidential and parliamentary elections.Then came the Sinhala New Year where once again it was the traditional kiributh followed by the other delicacies. We confessed all this to our doctor who was reading our lab reports and shaking his head. ‘Your blood sugar levels will enter not only medical journals but the Guinness Book of Records too, he said and asked what other things we have been consuming.

“Well, doctor I am a Sinhala patriot and not one of those ‘English Speaking Pariahs’ whom one Gunadasa Amaresekera says is the font of all evil in this country. So as our patriots kept winning the elections, I kept eating kiributh like our leaders do on TV and front pages of newspapers and my ever loving wife kept poking handfuls of the stuff into my mouth even though there were no photographers around saying ‘that’s what you have to do if you want to go up the ladder.’ Can kiributh be all that bad? It’s from deep red rice from deep down south, the stuff which Dutu Gemunu’s yodhayas like Suranimala and Velusumana gobbled before marching on to A’pura?

What else did you consume? our physician queried. He was not interested in history.
‘Well, the traditional four Ks — Kavun, Kokkis, Kiributh and Kolikuttu which was supplemented with the five As — Aggala, Aasme, Athiraha, Anamalu and of course being a patriotic Sinhalaya washed down with generous doses of arrack.’

The doctor suddenly lost all his gravitas which doctors are famous for and appeared to be in need of a tranquiliser. ‘You are a chronic diabetic and confess to taking generous does of arrack?’ he exclaimed. ‘Don’t touch a drop of arrack’, was his stentorian command.

‘How about some whisky, brandy or even a beer?’

‘Not one drop of any alcohol and get out of this place before I throw you out’, he threatened.

We got out fast saying that he was like Mervyn Silva threatening liquor shop owners in the Kelaniya area who sold any liquor to the public.

Enter Mervyn Silva

With no offence to our doctor we must say that we saw some parallels between his advice and Silva’s declaration.

Mervyn Silva’s unilateral declaration of banning sales of liquor in the Kelaniya area came soon after his stunning performance of gathering over 150,000 votes (having collected only a near 2000 votes, the last time he contested Colombo Central.)

Enforced piety

Readers of this column would have observed that we do not like any person attempting to enforce morality on us through laws, regulations or thuggery and instead we have advocated compliance on conviction through dialogue. With doctors, we certainly have to take our own doses of medicine without argument for it is our wellbeing that is at stake. Perhaps Mervyn Silva too could argue that his action is also for the well being of the public! He too calls himself a ‘doctor’ of sorts but is he of the medical profession?

Whatever the reasons may be, he has no doubt placed President Mahinda Rajapaksa now basking in the glory of his recent victories, swinging uncomfortably between his commitment to moral piety and duty to protect the law.

Kelaniya temple

Indeed the Kelaniya temple is a hallowed place of worship for Buddhists and thus closing up of liquor outlets per se, it can be argued, is in furtherance of the last precept of the pancha seela. But what should cause concern to President Rajapakse is that this unilateral action of piety by one of his own MPs, is an illegal act. But now that wide publicity has been given to Silva’s order to close down liquor outlets, can President Rajapaksa as a pious Buddhist order that the liquor shops be re-opened? What of his entire much drummed up policy against intoxication: Mathata Titha?

The Excise Commissioner has been quoted by some newspapers saying that his permission is required to close down liquor outlets in a like manner. Besides Silva was not even an MP at the time of this illegal political bravado because he had not been sworn as an MP in the new parliament. He deployed his own vigilante squads (some would say goon squads) to ensure that the liquor outlets he ordered closed are kept closed.

Judge, jury and executor

Meanwhile, Silva a man of the people has gone the people’s way too. He has appointed by himself a committee to study the problem and make recommendations to him even though his legal standing to appoint such committees and the status of such a committee are very much in doubt.

This may be not the time for President Rajapaksa to engage himself in the frolics of Mervyn Silva but there are many people who will be watching how this blatant display of power grabbing and cowing down law abiding citizens will be followed by the President.

It may be well considered as a harbinger by Sri Lankan citizens of standing and those studying the prevalence of law and order in the country.

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