Mother Earth rotates incessantly, not only around herself but also around the life-giver; the sun. The fear of the primitive man, in the darkness of the uncertain night, was whether the sun will rise again. In the next stage, as the sun rose and set regularly, it was not surprising, our primitive ancestors believed the sun went around earth. As science developed and knowledge expanded, it became clear that it was the earth that went around the sun, some scientists having to pay dearly for advancing such heretic views.
Although heliocentrism, the concept that earth and the planets revolve around the sun was first postulated around 3rd century BCE by Greek astronomer and mathematician Aristarchus of Samos; it was left to the 16th century Polish astronomer, mathematician and Catholic cleric Nicolaus Copernicus to present a mathematical model in support. In the following century, Galileo Galilei, the polymath from Pisa, presented confirmatory evidence based on telescopic data but ran in to problems with the Catholic church which supported the Aristotelian geocentric view. His critics quoted biblical references: “He (the Lord) laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved forever” and “The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises.” But Galileo argued that heliocentrism was actually not contrary to biblical texts as the Bible was an authority on faith and morals, not on science. In spite of this, he had to face the sanctions imposed by ‘the inquisition’ till death and was denied, even in death, the marble mausoleum Duke of Tuscany wanted to build due to the intervention of Pope Urban VIII.
Despite many aircraft flying around the world and ships circumnavigating the oceans, there are still who believe the earth is a flat disc and, indeed, there is an organisation called ‘The Flat Earth Society.’ These may be a bunch of eccentrics but recent events demonstrate, unfortunately, that a lot of us in this ‘land like no other’ are still engrossed in the darkness of faith and living in the past.
I watched a television channel broadcasting an astrology programme, predicting events on supposed movements of some of the known planets. Maybe, they should consider using the time, instead, to give a detailed meteorological forecast, based on scientific data including satellite weather mapping so that lives and livelihoods could be planned, avoiding natural disasters, which seem to occur with increasing frequency of late.
“Four persons have been apprehended with gold worth Rs.50 million which had been stolen from Sri Maha Badrakali Amman Temple at Galthanna in Kandy on September 25. The suspects, believed to be part of a six-member group that had carried out the theft, had been arrested while travelling in a trishaw.” Reading this news item in the Sunday Times of September 26, I wondered how a relatively-unknown Badrakali Temple could have so much of gold and wealth if not for the darkness of faith. I am sure a majority of this haul was from offerings made by so-called Buddhists. Lord Buddha attempted to empower and enlighten us, but what do we do? We pray to gods and offer them anything and everything including gold, either for a favour to ourselves or for a curse to destroy our foes!
Even at a social level, we are in darkness. Lord Buddha derided the caste system and pointed out that it was not birth but the actions that made one a ‘Brahmin’ or ‘Untouchable.’ But even some of our Sangha still propagate the caste system, denying higher ordination to some castes. Is this not the greatest insult to the Enlightened One? Are we too primitive to comprehend His message?
The other group that does not want this objectionable practise to be outdated is politicians. It is no surprise that they relish on caste, as they thrive on divisions to capture and retain power. This point was highlighted in the interesting article headlined ‘Minorities may decide Sinhala Buddhist President with no return’ by Kusal Perera (Daily Mirror, September 27), wherein he states:
“Caste is a factor though most wouldn’t want to talk. Parliamentary elections have both political party and caste selections; that make certain nominations almost compulsory, political parties would never ignore. In the previous ‘first past the post’ system, Matara electorate was the seat of the Durawa caste. The only time they lost the seat by a thin majority of 1,876 votes was in March 1960. Devinuwara was bastion of the Karawa caste. Ambalangoda was dominated by Karawa while Balapitiya by Salagama. Kolonne in Ratnapura was a Vahumpura seat. Rambukkana in Kegalle district and Kundasale in Kandydistrict were strongholds of Bathgama caste. Not only the UNP and the SLFP, but also Sama Samaja and Communist parties went along with these caste preferences.” As I have first-hand experience, I feel I am qualified to expand on this. It was my father Justin Wijayawardhana who was elected the first UNP MP from the Matara electorate in March 1960. It was the Communist Party, rather paradoxically, that introduced the ‘representation by caste’ concept which disadvantaged my father in spite of all his attempts to rid inequalities imposed by caste. In 1940s and ’50s Matara, males of some castes were not allowed to cover the upper-half of their body. He told me how he countered this by organising an ‘Aluth Avurudu’ festival with representation from all castes. Participants wore the national dress, sat together on mats to eat ‘Kiri Bath’ and other traditional sweets in the company of Chief Guest S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, leader of the Sinhala Maha Sabha. My father was the Matara branch Secretary and joined the UNP, when it was formed, continuing to be the Secretary of the UNP branch.
In addition to being a writer, well-known orator and part-time politician, my father was a respected teacher, one of the pioneers of Rahula College who helped illustrious Principal D.J. Kumarage to dawn the golden-age of Rahula. When my father proposed the vote of thanks on behalf of the Dudley Senanayake Government, Communist Party Leader Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe mocked that as there was no funeral in Matara without him, this would be the funeral oration of the government. He attended weddings and other social events too, in equal measure, and gained popularity in the electorate. Although the Matara branch of the UNP nominated him to be the candidate for the general elections in 1952 and 1956, the UNP hierarchy decided to parachute a businessman (whom the communists called a ‘harak-hora’) in 1952 and a retired District Judge in 1956, with no close connection to Matara, purely on caste considerations. The UNP hierarchy could not deny him the nomination a third time and he got the nomination in 1960, winning in the first attempt.
He lost the July election, at least in part, due to false propaganda. A malicious lie was propagated that he stated he would have to wash the seat before he sat in the Parliament, which consolidated the Durawa vote against him. More than the election loss, what hurt him most was this malicious lie. Fake-news is nothing new! Undaunted, he continued to work the electorate and was very confident of victory in 1965 but for the cross-over of Mahanama Samaraweera from the SLFP to the UNP, in the famous cross-over engineered by C.P. de Silva, Mahanama became the UNP candidate. If that did not happen, maybe the Matara electorate could have been able to strip-off the caste label!
Almost sixty years later, we are still talking of caste and living in the past. Wonder whether caste would be a deciding factor at the forthcoming presidential election too, as alluded to by Mr. Perera. It is no secret President Ranasinghe Premadasa attempted to rewrite his past. A request by him to write a biography with alteration of facts was refused by a relation of mine. Whether Sajith Premadasa would attempt to do the opposite to win votes is best left to conjecture, at least for the moment.
Already the prediction by an astrologer, notwithstanding the Sumanadasa Abeywickrema fiasco, is in wide circulation in the media, confirming the faith of some in the occult. Interestingly, the astrologer talks hardly any astrology, instead ranting endless insults.
Looking at the way all interested parties are behaving, the presidential system seems to be here to stay. Two of the candidates, at least, aspire to be a strong leader. We are approaching a decisive election at a crucial juncture in the history of our country; sadly, due to a failed Yahapalanaya, the word itself is becoming toxic. If we were to get out of this mess, what we need most is security, which was allowed to lapse to please foreign powers with disastrous consequences. With security re-established, tourists would roam paradise again and investment could be drawn. We need a strong leader who has shown the ability to perform, beyond expectations, any assigned task. It is time to forget caste, creed and religion, and make the right choice for the sake of a prosperous future. After all, prosperity is the great leveller!