On Democracy

14/03/2010

I’m a liberal, who believes every living being cherishes freedom, liberty. Liberalism is about freedom. More specifically, it’s about giving the greatest possible freedom to every individual, politically, economically, and culturally… We are democrats, even though we do not think it’s perfect. Democracy is majority rule, nothing more, nothing less. Of course, the majority is often wrong. They will believe any ridiculous lie if the one who tells it knows how to tell it. Yet we are democrats. Why? Because we believe in democratic traditions… Has democracy failed in Sri Lanka? Of course it hasn’t. It is Sri Lanka that has failed. We were given the universal franchise in 1931, just one year after the British parliament gave it to its own people. But why does it now look like a tyranny rather than a democracy? Because democratic tradition in Sri Lanka wasn’t strong enough to handle it… Ours used to be a country where sons killed fathers and younger brothers killed elder brothers to be kings. In other words, ours was a country where transitions of power took place through violence. A democracy lets the people get rid of the government without violence. In a tyranny it never happens that way. Take the last presidential election. What did we see before and after it? Killings, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests and detentions… Not only that, in a country like ours, loyal opposition is unheard of. Before the election, I told one of my UNP friends that some government propagandists had received death threats, and that if Fonseka won, those people would be assassinated. My friend thought that they deserved to die for the lies they tell. My response was a little undemocratic too. I punched him on his stomach… It is because the democratic traditions are weak that the people don’t care when one family takes full control of the government. Look at the faces of those people who attend political rallies in places like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or Mahiyanganaya. Can you even imagine them ever understanding the value of Human Rights? Can you ever imagine them understanding that allegations of war crimes being treated as treason is undemocratic and is ultimately hurtful to the country? They never will. At least not in our lifetime. Until the day they do understand, they will have a king. We will have a dictator… The aforementioned friend asked me whose side I was on. Can’t these people understand the ability of some of us to be a little idealistic?

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One Response to “On Democracy”

  1. N25 Says:

    Although I am not a fan of India–must be that Sri Lankan pride, even though I live in America–I have to concede that despite the roadblocks and hardships they face(many of them probably having to do with having a federal structure and large country with hundreds of ethnic groups), they have surpassed Sri Lanka in many ways. If anyone was told today that Sri Lanka used to be THE model colony, would anyone believe this, based on the state of the country? I doubt it(If you were to ask Sri Lankan nationalists about this, they would follow this up by saying something like ” but it was because because we were treated like blacks in apartheid Africa,” based off the comments of Douglas Wickramaratne)! Remember how India had to CLAMOR for freedom!? Well, Sri Lanka never really had to clamor for its freedom and was basically handed its independence on a stick–maybe that is why India is more successful as a democracy than Sri Lanka. They had to fight for independence while Sri Lankans–primarily the Sinhalese, though–were to busy building a nation based off of the past Sri Lankan(read: Sinhalese Buddhist) glory rather than building a nation. You can read more about this in The Broken Palmyra, by UTHR. What has triumphed in Sri Lanka is not democracy but majoritarianism, which, despite what nationalists might say, is NOT democracy. Since at least 1956, Sri Lanka has been going downhill. Prior to the passing of the Sinhalese-only act, when the british left, there was a general consensus that both Tamil and Sinhalese would be official languages. By the mid 50’s, however, this had changed greatly and Sinhalese was made the sole-official language. It didn’t take long for majoritarianism to rear its ugly head, did it? The primary view among many Sinhalese people in the legislature at the time was one of insecurity and ignorance. The prevalent thought seemed to be that since millions of people spoke Tamil across the Palk Straights(i.e. Tamil Nadu), why should Tamil be an official language of Sri Lankka? There was also paranoia that since Sinhalese was spoken by a mere 20 million people, it would be a dead language if action was taken quickly to make it official. This just goes to show the ignorance of many sinhalese towards Tamils. For instance, to date, I have met many fellow Sinhalese who claim that Tamils are newcomers to Sri Lanka and that the Tamil spoken in sri lanka is the same as Tamil Nadu Tamil. Oh, how wrong are they!!! The Tamil spoken in Sri Lanka–particularly the north and east, but ESPECIALLY the northern dialect–is very archaic and are considered to be, possibly, the oldest dialects of Tamil spoken in Sri Lanka. It is comments like this that make me feel that Sri Lanka will never really be put back together again. Sorry if this all seems like a rant and rather inconsistent, but as an American/Sri Lankan Sinhalese, i am simply amazed at how far down Sri Lanka has gone. Although the British may have done horrible things, we Sinhalese have no right to blame them for our current troubles, because we, frankly, have outdone them. We turned our model colony into a country that does not deserve the word ” model” within 10 feet of its name. Segregation in America was ended when white Americans spoke for blacks. Although the war is done, I wonder when Sinhalese people will ever speak for democratic traditions and the rights of the Muslims/Tamils to Sri Lanka and their grievances.

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