An Ode to the Watchdogs of a Hegemony

By Vihanga

“Lucky are those who died under the stumbling ramparts of Troy”.

At the end of the party there are those over-enthusiastic few who keep on dancing till the DJ packs up his things and pulls out the plug off the system. Earlier on in the day, these dancers may have been aware of the numbers that were dished out, but once in rhythm they would simply dance on and on irrespective of the track or the beat. The final phase of the government’s war against the LTTE saw several media-oriented agents who, in the course of things, became “voices to reckon with” where the discourse of conflict was concerned. Suddenly, the Uyangodas and SG Liyanages – the likes who dominated the said discourse at the capacity of intellectuals – became the thin oozings of a different and distant age. As the war drew to its last laps the articulations of a “pro-war” agenda became the mandate of an “emerging” sphinx in the guise of the mainstream media and several media-related agents (to whom I would be referring in the course of this piece).

Sri Lankan Army, 2009

Well, in a state given into all forms of ethics and concern for consenting adults, the military offensive ended with the head of Velupillai Prabhaharan being vulgarly paraded across the media. While the “majority of us” lit crackers and ran innocent riot the more patriotic of us wondered as to whether this annihilation of the LTTE would win a “desirable and respectable peace” for the Tamil identity of this island. Many of us feared the rise of an extremist Sinhala hegemony – which, unopposed and undetected, would manipulate the military success and the vacuum of a genuine Tamil representation – to cripple the cultural history of that one-fertile Northern peninsula from the face of the history of this – our state. Such skeptics were given all kinds of names by extremist Sinhala forces – “traitors” and “non-patriots” being just two. The tears of our fears were not long in coming. Before long it did not require a rocket scientist to identify the monolith towards which the state mechanism was driving the prospects of a “future peace”. In a rational tone, nor could one accuse a one-sided and unopposed majoritarian power hub to work towards a hegemony – for isn’t that the privilege of power, anyway? But, this hegemony is formed at the suppression of the Tamil population of this country – who, by virtue of their evacuation of the war zone, are now concentrated in so-defined “welfare camps” that seem to serve the welfare of none; but, the sadistic monolith of an extreme Sinhala chauvinism.

As stated at the outset, the last phases of the war fashions a small exclusive group – in/voluntary henchmen of the “war agenda” – whose office was to justify and glorify the military offensive. These persons were located across the global spectrum and included, among others, intellectuals, state appointees, hitherto mediocre journalists and celebrities. A group of the visual media who baptized themselves as the “war reporters” became the biggest selling item on TV – bringing the (selected) scenes from the war front right into your sitting room. In a media culture that was like the playhouse version of “war reporting”, these chaps in military camo and gal helmets became the ministers of instilling in the people a “pro-war mentality”. In a country where the average citizen is not conversant in her human rights, ethnic-plurality, multiculturalism and the like – a country where the average citizen is kept uneducated for the benefit of the ruling political class – such an evocation of “violence” was not too difficult either. Soon after Prabhaharan’s fall, the “war reporters” were summoned to a special awards presentation in recognition of their valiant services upfront.

While the “war reporters” were heavy with their toll, the majority of the media in the Southern Sri Lanka, too, showed undisputed loyalty to the state war agenda. Between January and October 2009 the media has been muzzled watchdog that peed on the people – being reactionary and infected with selective laryngitis in their functions (However, as this is written, I see a slight change of this backboneless strain, as some media stations are stirring and beginning to lift their heads above ground level). The rhetoric of Nalin De Silva and the De Silva ilk shot with vigour to the forefront of “national opinion”. Dayan Jayathilake – a worthy brain of our time – ferociously defended the war mandate in international fora. The likes of Malinda Seneviratne became the voices of the day – writing columns by the score and engaging in nationalist dialogue in the open media. These were, at one level, quite farcical to the touch – these dialogues where Malinda, Dayan and Dr. Fonseka were gripped in intense discussion. Everyone pretended that the integrity of the nation was at major stakes or something; while what was being battled out was the necessary rationalization for the path to hegemony.

Helen of Troy

In the post-war aftremath, Dayan Jayathilake was sent home. Whether he returned as a “veteran” or “de-mobbed” depends on one’s sense of euphemism. But, Jayathilake’s removal gave the man himself a burp from which he, now, gradually seems to recover from. As the Daily Mirror carried it, Jayathilake hadn’t the foggiest as to why he was removed. It is quite ironic for Jayathilake, who started his career as an ultra leftist in arms, to have ended up in the fog. It is best that Jayathilake remains there, for a dawning of the reality, – that he is the used and discarded arm of a growing autocracy – would not sanitize his conscience; which, unfortunately, is the case. What has, then, happened to Malinda Seneviratne? In the post-war aftermath, Malinda continues to make ripples unleashing his judgment on each foreign delegate that happens to land at Katunayake. Malinda Seneviratne, is as good a spokesman you can get where the “defense of hegemony” is concerned. He plays, at a quasi-intellectual capacity, the role the mob of the Roman senate fulfilled in its day. However, Malinda, too, seems to be opting for a break – his “Morning Inspection” on the Daily News last week, for a change, was not about a foreign delegate that is thorny in the governmental eye; but about the film “Bindu”.

The likes of Malinda Seneviratne, Nalin De Silva, the JHU (whose media wing had riveted into activity since late; for whom, collecting signatures to denounce the USA at the United Nations is more pressing than the humanitarian crises of the so-dubbed “welfare camps”) and the National Freedom Front are nothing but in/voluntary arms of the consolidation of a hegemonic pillar. These are the vanguards of the ivory tower of a narrow political band which is “role playing” re-settlement in order to throw dust on the eyes of the international community. Speaking to BBC, the British Minister for International Development, Mr. Foster expressed his displeasure of how the work regards to the IDP re-settlement issue is crawling at tortoise-pace. The displaced Tamil people have become no one’s “priority” really. The man dressed and paraded as the “representative” of the Tamil identity, Mr. Vinayahamurthi Muralitharan, is but a gentle soul presiding a ministry of which he is a namesake. He, too, like Jayathilake is a necessary pawn to the building of consensus at this necessary hour. Same as Jayathilake – he, too, may not be all that crucial an agent tomorrow.

Swarnawahini - pioneered "war reports" from the North

Desmond Mallikarachchi – the Marxist political analyst – had made a statement the other day to a national paper which begs our attention. Mallikarachchi forecasts that the Tamil identity of the island would, with time, be synonymous with the identity of the “oppressed class” of Sri Lanka. There is much food for thought in Mallikarachchi’s words – for the Tamil IDPs detained in the North essentially constitutes the cultural and social representatives of the Northern Tamil civilization. Today, they are kept away from their home lands in the manifested name of de-mining. Then, there is the rumour of the government contemplating re-settlement patterns for these displaced – where the density of the Northern Tamil would be diluted, by camping artificial colonies. There is also much talk of army bases going to be set up in order to monitor the movements of the re-settled people. Amidst all these, all talk of the 13th Amendment, too, seems to have disappeared in a white van. Contrary to power sharing and/or devolution what the Tamils face here is the fate of a “subject people” in an imperialist cleruchy.

Is this what the Sinhala extremists deem as “peace”: a wholesale re-arrangement of the historic and cultural map of the North? For whom is this “peace”, then? This is no peace for the Tamil identity or their battered sense of culture and historicity. This may constitute “party zone” for the narrow oligarchic authority – the torchbearers of the pomposity of an intolerant and chauvinist Sinhala extremism. The context reminds us of Virgil’s words in his “Aeneid” – where the desperate Trojan survivors cry out: “Lucky are those who died under the stumbling ramparts of Troy”. The cry of the Tamil identity in our contemporary, in spirit, cannot be of much difference from those of the quoted Trojans. Whether the indifference of the majority-Sinhala government is a sin is debatable point. But, if they are of sin, the entire nation will have to pay for those sins at not too distant an appointment. May I live a short life. May I have no children of my own.


NOTES:

This piece was written some months ago — the week Malinda Seneviratne wrote a review on “Bindu”; and the week Desmond Mallikarachchi had spoken to a Sinhala weekly saying that the Northern Tamil identity of Sri Lanka, in time, would be synonymous to the identity of a Marxist “prolitariat”.

This piece, if I remember right, was discrded from a national newspaper on the grounds that it was too “provocative”. Either it was rejected; or else, I was directed to submit a reformed version of it.

One sentence from the original draft has been revised in this submission.

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