( February 6, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) After sixty-five years of Independence, the nagging question that reverberates in many a mind is: are we free? Sri Lanka did not go through the vagaries of a national struggle for independence, the likes of what India had to endure through nearly five long decades to gain Independence. Our leaders were not imprisoned nor were they harassed and tortured and deprived of basic comforts while being ostensibly engaged in an Independence struggle.
Our road to freedom and independence was comparatively easy and fraught with a much lesser number of obstacles and fights. Yet in all fairness, those who were at the helm of the national leadership at the time spent an enormous amount of socio-political capital that they had built around their families and clans. The fruits were, however, sweet at the end of this journey. The few who lost their lives at the altar of national freedom would be remembered for a long time to come. Our respect and admiration for those great souls are unequivocal and sincere.
When the country celebrates her Independence Day, one is invariably reminded of the great deeds of our national heroes, who in varying degrees made varying sacrifices for the sake of the country’s freedom. But the most pertinent question one asks in these trying times, especially in a country still trying to come to terms with emerging realities in the aftermath of a war-victory, is when we call ourselves ‘independent’, can we also call ourselves ‘free’.
Freedom has a very deep and profound connotation that encompasses the totality of mind, tradition, heritage and self-reliance. The true sense of the notion is often lost in the rhetoric when a politician tries to pontificate sitting atop the mountain of yesteryear’s achievements, while every blade of grass at the foot of the mountain is killed by repetitive blunders, making the soil barren of any nourishing ingredients to sustain its growth.
When President Rajapaksa addressed the nation from the ancient port city of Trincolmalee and when he reminded all Sri Lankans of the need and essentiality of living as one single ‘nation’ instead of varied racial segments, one ought to take serious note of his pronouncement that render true meaning to his words. Mere repetition of words that usually electrify a lethargic people would last only for the duration of the discourse. Sri Lankans are quite well used to long and winding discourses, especially when they are delivered from pedestals that seem to be out of reach for them. That is why the country’s leader, when addressing his people on the day the country obtained ‘independence’, ought to have delivered his address more as a visionary rather than a mundane politician.
Instead of making references to the war-victories – although the victory that was won could by no means be understated – and basking in the rhetoric impregnated verbosity, the President could have spelt out a grand yet realistic vision for the country. An all-encompassing vision that would detail the ways and means of uniting a ‘nation’ that is divided and thinking in parochial, racial and ethnic terms, would have helped expand the vision and scope of a people. It could have opened the weary eyes of the broad masses to the vistas of new horizons, horizons that are essentially more accommodating and conciliatory than what is divisive and narrow.
As Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his celebrated Gitanjali, “Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth;…”, we should rise above the narrow walls that divide us and threaten to destroy us, not only as separate individuals but as a cohesive nation that has survived many a peril and disaster.
A strong nation is one that can withstand the threats of divisions and then come to terms with those divisions and accommodate them without losing her national character. The President’s rhetoric was certainly ill-matched by the recent intrusions into the independence of the judiciary and fair-play and justice.
Freedom is much more than words and rhetoric; it’s a breathing, living reality that each and every individual feels in his marrow, invigorating every living moment of his being with hope and desire to achieve excellence. The question we need to ask in this 65th year of Independence is, have we reached that landmark?
- The Ceylon Today Editorial