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Commonwealth, in Nineteen Eighty-Four

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four”.
Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

( November 10, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Commonwealth Summit will cause no traffic jams; the public will not be inconvenienced; there will be no disruption of normal life.

So the government has decreed.

The public are being advised to avoid many of the most-used roads. Schools are closed, at a time when teachers and students are busy preparing for GCE OL exams. Universities are closed – so that the students can study the Commonwealth, “in freedom and with a clear mind, from their homes” according to the Chairperson of the University Grants Commission, Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama1 (whose husband was made the VC of the University of Colombo in violation of proper procedure and despite the opposition of university academics2).

Traffic jams in Colombo are an everyday occurrence. When some of the roads are closed, some of the time, this normal congestion cannot but exacerbate. But such logical, rational assumptions are abhorrent to the regime. The public is being told to disbelieve the evidence of their eyes and ears and accept the regime’s version, unquestioningly: “A road will be closed for about 20 minutes when a head of state travels by. Even during the closure public will have alternative roads for their transportation. No shops or state institutions will be closed. Therefore the public will face no disruptions to their day-to-day life. Everything will continue as usual”3.

Anyone disagreeing with this version of reality will be committing a punishable offence. According to DIG Anura Senanayake, “Police, including their intelligence unit, have already begun investigations to nab such people”4.

Such repackaging of reality would be a trivial matter for a government which conjured up ‘the Humanitarian Offensive with zero-civilian casualties’ and ‘Welfare Villages’.

Persuading the populace to abjure critical thinking and mindlessly accept the ‘official truth of the moment’ is a key pillar of Rajapaksa governance. That is why the Siblings scuttled the Freedom of Information Act and attack media freedom. An informed citizenry, capable of analysing facts and deriving their own conclusions, has no place in the Rajapaksa scheme of things. What the Siblings need are an obedient people who will believe whatever impossibilities they are told to believe.

Most Sinhalese went along with this charade. They accepted the Rajapaksa lies about the war – and even about the out-of-favour Sarath Fonseka - because they believed the biggest Rajapaksa myth of all – that the Siblings are the saviours and protectors of the Sinhala race and Buddhism. Beguiled by patriotic rhetoric, the Sinhalese thought that the Siblings genuinely represent majoritarian interests; and that abuse will remain a Tamil fate.

The regime has already dismissed as a fabrication the latest channel 4 video which seems to depict the Tiger cadre/broadcaster Isaipriya alias Shoba being captured unharmed by Lankan soldiers5. If accurate, it would prove that Ms. Isaipriya did not die in battle – as the regime claimed – but was murdered (and abused) while in captivity – a gross violation of the Geneva Convention.

On Saturday, the BBC aired a new documentary claiming that the Lankan froces “have been involved in the torture and rape of Tamil civilians as recently as this year”6. The regime is bound to dismiss this too as a fabrication.

There is a disturbing similarity between the above incidents of abuse and an event which took place in the village of Kolambewa, Ayagama in the Ratnapura District, where two policemen allegedly abused a four year old boy. According to media reports, “On the 5th two policemen in civilian attire had come to the house and inquired from the child about the father. When the child started crying they inserted a ladappa stick inside the child’s pants and left....”7 The child’s 9 year old brother had witnessed the entire incident. The child is suffering from urinating difficulties and is being treated at the Nagoda hospital.

Is this too a Diaspora/NGO fabrication? Or is it a warning that abuse and impunity recognise no boundaries and can victimise not just Tamils (and Muslims) but also Sinhalese (including 4 year old children)?

Is it a mere coincidence that the brutal attack on unarmed protestors in Weliweriya was carried out by the 58th Division under the command of Brigadier Deshapriya Gunawardane – heroes of the final offensive of the Final Eelam War? The people of Weliweriya did not think so, and called their attackers, ‘savage war-heroes’. A poster in Weliweriya read, “You fought for a drop of water and became a victim of the weapons of the savage war heroes…. We will indubitably hate those monsters in all lives”8.

Are the people of Weliweriya being punished continuously because they refuse to reject their own memories and accept the regime’s version of truth?

Last week, Asian Human Rights Commission revealed details about an ongoing case of torture of a suspect in custody, in Bandaragama9. Nothing happened.

Less than 24 hours after the Organized Crime and Corruption Prevention Division of the Police Headquarters raided a gaming centre at the Salaka building, all 23 members of the Division were given lightening transfers out of the Western province10.

The lesson is obvious – law-breaking policemen can get away with impunity if their victims are the poor and the powerless, of whatever race/religion; law-abiding policemen will be punished, if they interfere with the illegal activities of the power-wielders and their kith and kin.

In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith is tortured in the labyrinthine bowels of the Ministry of Love, until he agrees that two and two can be “four, five, six…in all honesty I don’t know”. The Rajapaksas do not want Lankan people to put two and two together and come up with four – from the connection between abuse in the North and abuse in the South to the correlation between the Commonwealth bash (plus other Rajapaksa extravaganzas) and the growing economic hardships in the South.

When Insanity Is Sanity

Thyroid cancers are fully curable; but the absence of necessary medication in the Cancer Hospital is needlessly endangering the lives of patients, according to Dr. Parakrama Warnakulasuriya of the GMOA. A patient generally has to wait for about three years to get the imported medication which can save his/her life!11

The same Sri Lanka is spending Rs.24 million on imported fireworks, for the Commonwealth Summit12.

The Rajapaksas are understandably cagey about the enormous sums spent on their Commonwealth-bling. Possibly in consequence, the Central Bank has not published income/expenditure figures for the first half of 2013 (due in August). According to published figures, in the first quarter of 2013, total revenue and grants decreased by 4.2% compared to 2012, while recurrent expenditure increased by 2.3% and capital expenditure and net lending by 21.7%6%. Public debt went up by 6.3% (Rs.6.3 trillion by April 201313).

The regime wants us to believe that the Commonwealth-blinge will not worsen this already insalubrious economic health of the nation. The regime wants us to be sanguine that this path will not spell ruin for the country and for us.

The regime wants us to accept that two and two is anything but four. The Rajapaksas can survive and prosper only in such a ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ landscape.

1 http://www.inside.gossiplankanews.com/2013/11/iriu-ksjdvq-fokafka-fpdi-wohhkh-lrkak.html
2 http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/172-opinion/30820-colombo-uni-vc-appointment-politicised-or-ethical.html?tmpl=component&layout=default&page=
3 http://www.srilankamirror.lk/news/11617-spread-lies-about-chogm-go-to-jail
4 Ibid
5 http://blogs.channel4.com/miller-on-foreign-affairs/sri-lanka-tamil-familys-distress-footage-daughter/430
6 http://www.deccanchronicle.com/131109/news-current-affairs/article/sri-lanka%E2%80%99s-unfinished-war-bbc-documentary-air-saturday
7 Lankadeepa – 8.11.2013
8 http://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/weliweriya-factory-workers-ordered-to-report-for-duty-on-22-august-residents-face-daily-struggle-for-water/
9 https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-man-is-being-tortured-at-bandaragama-police-station-now-ahrc/
10 http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-47124-news-detail-punishing-the-diligent.html
11 Lankadeepa – 8.11.2013
12 http://www.srilankamirror.lk/news/11626-rs-24-million-fireworks-for-chogm
13 http://www.ft.lk/2013/11/04/data-delay-dilemma/

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