Trivialization of Civil Society and the Promotion of a Sitcom Psyche

Sri Lanka is by all means a “trivialized” national space – or so it is being fast corroded into, through many recent programmes by the regime; thus accelerating to death the last remains of “democratic breath” which, since the 1960s, have been tested for stability. Perhaps, in a few years’ time, it will be taught in school text books that to “be democratic” is to be what the soundtrack is in the trivialized space of a sitcom: to laugh out real loud at a given cue. Our people through multiple mechanisms are being surely and neatly led to that state of straightjacketed regimentation and this would be no problem for the under-developed citizenry without an advanced capacity to critically engage with the tides that surround you; but, for the others it would require some adjusting: but, with the pressurized silencing of academics, intellectuals, thinkers, alternatives, internationalists, humanitarians, the options are fast running out for those who opt not to play a part of the sitcom.

“Trivialization” runs havoc from government policy, policy execution, state accountability, responsibility in security, the bureaucratic practices to areas connected to the “safeguarding” of civil society, such as the law and media. To take a random example, consider the case of the Faculty of Law student Achala Priyadharshani, who had to pay with the loss of her arm owing to negligence and incompetence. This, from Priyadharshani’s view, is the worst deep she at her point of life could hit – and without a fault on her part, too. But, what guarantee do we have that justice will prevail and the system will remedy itself by careful self-reflection? If the bureaucratic track record is something to go by, there is very little hope of justice being meted out, which, for a Law student, could be a sorry irony.

We are instructed where to laugh

We are instructed where to laugh

Speculations aside, consider the Rizana Nafeek case. What we could not redeem through our diplomatic links and foreign relations, we now let out with a furor of the Shariya Law. As several writers to this paper, too, had cautioned over the past months (but this is a general crisis on the loom), an assortment of Sinhala Buddhist fanatics of high political patronage are on a crusade in search of Muslim blood. Their KKK-like fangs have, in separate incidents, already stirred commotion in several areas in suburban Colombo and several other “provincial” towns. Though nothing detrimental has come out of these instigations, the fact that these terror-mongers and hatred-brewers have not been booked or reprimanded suggests a political backing that either facilitates their acts; or, at the most, approves of them.

The vibe of xenophobia which is being stirred can be set as a parallel to the anti-Semitic pogrom of early twentieth century Europe. Historical and literary evidence which highlight the emergence of the anti-Jewish campaign of the Nazis during the 1930s are not by any means in want. The anti-Jewish blood lust drummed out by intense “patriotic” motives, addressed at and channeled through the “majority” ethnicity of Germany ring alarming bells, especially since a heavily bled wound of thirty years is still far from recovery. What has the highest authorities of the state done thus far, to intervene with these disturbing trends that aim petty arguments at our Muslim brethren? If 1983 is to be taken as a cue – since most of our current Ku Klux Klan membership disregard the lesson to be learnt there – bureaucratic intervention may come a light year too late, if it is come at all.

The trivialization of politics and a-politicians (who even suck at dancing) being sent to office on the back of ignorance.

The trivialization of politics and a-politicians (who even suck at dancing) being sent to office on the back of ignorance.

The anti-Muslim vibe is born out of “trivializations” while its treatment, too, is “trivial”. At the heart of the matter – in addition to fundamentalist insistence – there is also cultural and economic anxiety. The frantic short messages being forwarded “among Sinhalayas” caution how “the capital” is to be “lost to” the Muslims and Tamils. In a recent message I received (forwarded to me by a young person of 18, whom I promptly responded to), an sms quotes a census report where 40% of Colombo’s population is Muslim, with 33% of it being Tamil and 19% being Sinhala. The consistency of the numbers aside, to my reading of history, Colombo had never been a “majoritarian land” for Sinhala or Buddhists. Its capitalization was based on its trade and commerce, which was multi-ethnic with a strong Tamil and Muslim bias. But, the hate-mongering is done without any consideration for history or evolution – for the fanatic can “trivialize” lineage for his political project: to breed an inter-ethnic fire.

A somewhat unenlightened monk from one of a chauvinistic group had recently insisted that Sinhala men should be allowed five marriages, as a means of combating the population growth of the Muslim community and as there can be no two laws in one country. This simplistic statement which shows the narrowness of reading culture and the alarm at being numerically neutralized was given “top story” status by a media house. The Muslim Marriage Law is by itself a complex document and marriage is sanctioned with social and economic flexibility in mind. Its trivialization can pump up one’s fantasy. But, the road to “eternal reconciliation” is a wide berth from such divisive, lunar-influenced provocation.

[Written for the Nation]

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