“The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this”
— Ted Hughes; Hawk Roosting.
Since late, there is a fear that keeps getting reiterated by ministers and other persons in authorial positions — that they, no matter what, will not allow “conspiratory forces” to make out of Sri Lanka yet another Syria, Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. This sentiment, over the past few weeks, was expressed not only by several top ministry holders; but, also the head of state himself. The threatening demeanour — a forefinger wagging earnestness included — gives the statement both character and personality. Leaving aside their allowance of such a situation as it happened in the “Arab Spring(s)” or in Libya the premature battle cry against these invisible “conspirators” by itself shows that the top guns of the political establishment do get jittery over the destalibilizing impetus they see on TV.
Over the past few weeks Sri Lanka is becoming an even more difficult place to live in. The US imposed trade sanctions on Iran is the scapegoat of the escalation of cost of living — hiked overnight and with the teeth of all kinds of local businessmen on the government’s big ass — but, the tangible reality is that routine life among the Sri Lankan “average citizenry” is no more all that “real”. With fuel prices being put up overnight (the hike of diesel was Rs 31) enterprises from transport, fisheries, bakery foods to office transportation, gas and Milk powder have followed up with massive escalations in their prices.
The 20% increase on bus fares mean that the minimal fare on a Sri Lankan route would be Rs. 9. The Rs. 12 ticket would now be 16, even as the distance covered by that fare is less than 4 KM. The Rs. 25 ticket is 30. To get from Kandy to Colombo it is Rs. 145 (an unprecedented amount; and a semiotic horror to the previous Rs. 116). The luxury bus ticket for the same route is Rs. 290. The fact that the train fares are yet to be put up has resulted in an abnormal barrage of train commuters in the mornings. Compartments are unusually stocked with all kinds of office -goers in the main lines on rush hour.
The hiked cost of living is not complemented by any form of wage raise for the national labour. Nor has any allowance / subsidy been introduced with this sudden and unexpected inflection. The University Non-Academic Stff trade union has just won a successful bid at a salary increase — but this has no relevance to the issue at hand; for the motion was raised long before the economic turn around set in. In other words, when the Non Academics first struck Iranian fuel was crude, but plenty.
The “real” frustration of the people — the agitation of the People Downtrodden –, in that case, is yet to come. That anxious out pour would only happen in a few weeks / months from now, when the heavy weight laid on the people’s shoulders would become unbearable to tired limbs. The people would bear in silence the trauma of being under-paid, of having sticking bellies and of being discontent to the point of exhaustion; for, the Sri Lankan “average” people have never known / never been given the feasibility of a “leisure life” or a life of minimal comfort.
The governmental workers of the country are minimalists and are shirkers of their work that a “guilt” for not asking for more — by more I mean not a second serving, but something “solid” as repayment — has already been allowed and inculcated. The Sri Lankan, like the Greek Spartan, is encouraged to pilfer and steal — thus, dos not aim at gaining what they gain as a “right” or as the “due”; but, through shady movement and through the loopholes the System by itself allows.
The government, since the massacre of the LTTE in 2009, has been building a regimental hegemony and a new “elite” class consistent of the politicians, their proxies and well wishers. This is not a new phenomenon to countries like ours, where the ignorance and the under-efficient implementation of the law is prominent. But, with the fear factor of the LTTE removed and with the advantage gained by the removal of this sustained “enemy of the public” the definition of this “VIP Class” — a patrician entity which operates outside the law” — becomes more pronounced and persevering.
The new Patrician class with optimal political, social, economic and legal privileges, in turn, is cordoned off from the Plebien masses — the non-VIP “average citizenry” that are fed on “average” diets, earn “average” incomes and live “average” lives without any kind of agency or activism to respond to the forces that thwart them day-in-day out. The average basic salary of a governmental worker in the clerical division is between Rs. 20,000-24,000 a month (This is supplemented by numerous allowances and dubious tax retainings, that the employee gets a poultry Rs. 25,000-27,000 at the end of the month). This monthly generation is 1/8th to what a VIP kid spends in a prominent night club for two hours of drunken chaos.
The governmental fear of “public uprise” is justified by the thwarting the common man has undergone in all public and private domains over the past few years. The charges leveled against the state of human rights violation is just one slide of a consistent show. The suppression of people — their voice, the right to speech, their movement, their education, their right to leisure, their will to pleasure etc — can be neutralized with diversions and decoys. But, the limit of camouflage, for a state that pays much attention to coercion, eventually comes.
I would, however, not believe that the Sri Lankan lumpen All Of Us would rise in violent dissent. The body mass has been infiltrated and diluted by the shrewd and selfishness of political VIPs to the level that no one any more believes in “collective action” or agitating “causes” of social transformation. Under those circumstances, an initial step in “reforming” and regenerating the “public faith” in political activism is a commendable motion. The progressive “Jana Aragala” Movement (Movement of the People’s Struggle) is, by manifest, is aiming at such a broad platform to address the issues of the people, outside representation politics.
I am not a member nor an empathizer of the above movement. But, the working logic (and not necessarily their policy in practice) behind this movement’s current political project is necessary for a “re-grouping” of the scattered and silenced confidences of the dissenter. If dissent is to be officially combated with the faceless accusation of being “conspiratory forces” the government, like the last days of the LTTE, is clearly not reading the dynamics in the political changes of the day. Such clichetic denunciations have always worked with the uncritical, naive political mass (whose number, by the way, is substantial); but, states of “uncriticalness” and of “naivety”, too, are transitional. These conditions are bred and fashioned by the hunger you feel and the sense of your dignity that is suffocated. So, one cannot expect the people to be “naive forever” either. The messiah of dissent is always too close for comfort. More autocratic hegemonies with stiffer threatening forefingers were privy to the such.