National Government leaders, especially President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have been repeatedly stressing the need for all people to revive our Sri Lankan identity internally and externally. Some civic rights activists are even suggesting that we all should refer to ourselves as human beings.
Going still deeper and looking at it in a social justice perspective, there are only two classes of people all over the world - the oppressed, who comprise a vast majority on one side and on the other the oppressors including those who support the system of oppression and knowingly or unknowingly cooperate with it.
In this perspective and in line with the deep liberative spiritual values of all religions, there are some vital factors -steadfast love, mercy and compassion, respect for justice and equality and living in a way that enhances these virtues.
The hundreds of millions of impoverished people enslaved below the poverty line and not allowed to escape, are clearly among the oppressed class. A largely selfish self-centred and greedy world system threw them into this enforced poverty, which in classical Sinhala is described as daridrathavaya. Justice demands that we need to make a preferential option for them. In other words, justice calls us to support them in their struggle for liberation, for equality and the freedom to make their own informed choices.
Worldwide, especially after the oppressors enforced a globalised market economic system, some 40 years ago, the gap between the rich and the poor or the oppressors and the oppressed, has widened to monstrous proportions. The latest survey by the social justice movement Oxfam reveals the shocking and shameful reality that 62 of the world’s richest super-billionaires have more wealth and resources than half the world’s population of about 3,500 million.
Most people presume that military colonialism had ended soon after the Second World War. The open colonialism, where they came with their jackboots, guns and battle ships may have ended. But an even more oppressive economic neo-colonialism is continuing with the unseen hi-tech battleships coming in the form of trans-national corporations. In the forefront are TNCs dealing in pharmaceuticals, agro-chemicals and food.
They are operating powerfully in most third-world countries including Sri Lanka and those who are supporting them from within our country could be justifiably categorised among the fifth column of pseudo-patriots if not traitors.
For instance, President Sirisena in May this year launched a three-year national food production drive for Sri Lanka to grow its own grains, vegetables and fruits, without green vegetables and fruits, without importing loads of processed rubbish or junk foods and without importing expensive agro-chemicals, some of which are known to be toxic.
The goal was to make Sri Lanka a ‘Vasa Visa Nathi’ country. Recently the Government banned the import of one of these agrochemicals. But now there are strong moves, obviously sponsored by TNCs, to get this ban lifted.
So, is it in the health sector. In March 2015, after health rights groups had battled for more than 10 years, Parliament approved legislation for the implementation of a National Medicinal Drugs Policy based on Prof. Senaka Bibile’s Essential Medicines Concept. But one-and-a-half years later the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) is still struggling to give the people quality drugs at affordable prices. Similar operations are taking in place in food imports, especially milk foods, with multi-national companies adopting various tactics to prevent the revival of Sri Lanka’s own dairy milk industry.
In socio-economic and political areas, we need to deeply reflect on where we are –on the side of the oppressed or the oppressor. For centuries our people have lived together in harmony. Foreign oppressors created religious differences and after 1948 politicians created ethnic or religious tension for personal or party gain and glory. We need to become aware of this and the reality that the battle is really between the oppressed and the oppressor.