This is the generation whose first cry of life was the uprising
- Joseph Brodsky (Soviet and later American Poet)
Commencing his submissions before the Criminal Justice Commission for defense in arguably the biggest criminal case in Sri Lanka, the ‘main trial’ (maha naduwa) of leaders of the 1971 insurgency, Rohana Wijeweera said “This is not a plea from an accused to a judge; rather one from a representative of the oppressed class to those of the oppressors.’’
Mr. Wijeweera and his comrades were found guilty and incarcerated for varying periods of time by the commission, yet Supreme Court Justice A.C. Alles, who was one of the commission members, after retirement, dedicated his book titled ‘71 insurrection to Podi Athula, later known as Victor Ivan, who was convicted of high treason and Premawathie Manamperi, the young woman who was brutally murdered by the State for her alleged involvement with the uprising.
A prick of conscience
What makes a Supreme Court Judge dedicate his monumental book on probably the most prominent case he sat in judgment, to two young persons on the other side of the divide? Can a judge who convicted a person for high treason praise him in a subsequent book authored on the momentous events unfolded during the main trial? What made him honour a deceased detainee accused of armed insurrection? The answer lies in the fact that whatever said and done, any reasonable man could not be oblivious to the unjust, oppressive and discriminatory socio-economic-political and moral setup that gives rise to discontent among the downtrodden segments.
On April 5, 1971, the rural Sinhala youth rose up in arms against the centre-left government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which was relatively-fresh in power. The timing of the insurrection from the beginning was questionable as the people had not entirely given up hope on the regime at that point. Despite the element of surprise the assault initially had and the seeming paralysis of the State apparatus in responding to the uprising, the State was able to suppress the rebellion and try the leaders for high treason.
Most of the incidents that transpired in April 1971 are well-documented and hardly needs repetition. Yet, the society in general and the policymakers in particular did not seem to fathom the root cause of unrest among the youth as they erupted again in 1989. The point lies elsewhere.
Wijeweera recriminates the system
Have we created a just society that would leave no room for youth like Wijeweera to claim the society is divided into two segments as oppressors and the oppressed? Do the poor and marginalised really feel they too are part of decision-making in development efforts? Have the lower strata of society reaped the harvest of economic growth albeit we have achieved marginal and material development? Do the youth feel like they too are legitimate contenders for decision-making, not only in the State apparatus but in all spheres that matter?
Today, only a few believe in the classical Marxist Leninist class struggle culminating in armed revolution a la Bolshevik style. Many seem to realise that despite the lure of individual success, the national wealth is firmly concentrated on a few, reducing others to enjoyers of crumbs, yet credulous that they too would be able to partake in the feast one day. That seduces them to pursue individual and selfish goals at the expense of collective good.
When the Criminal Justice Commission punished the insurgency leaders, the underpinning theory was that they could not aspire or conspire to overthrow a government that had been elected by the ballot of the people. In that sense, it seemed the justice system was the champion of people’s sovereignty; as such the penalising seemed rationally-justified. Suppression of encroachers in that manner was supposedly to ensure the sovereignty of people to govern themselves remained as sacrosanct as it was supposed to be.
Naughty children, out!
Since we have punished those unruly individuals like Wijeweera and his ilk, we should now be out of the woods, home and dry, shouldn’t we? Since all the naughty children have been disposed of, the classroom must be so good, isn’t it?
I see the reader sneering sarcastically at my naivety; far from it, I know! The leeches, parasites and vampires, who suck the lifeblood out of Mother Lanka, pose a far greater threat to the sovereignty of the people. They rape the motherland and plunder her mercilessly. They usurp the sanctity people have vested on their representatives. The whole edifice of the State is on the brink of utter pulverization.
Yet, there is no justice commission or any other august forum to champion the cause for the people; a system that roared full throttle to punish the youth of this nation for their trespasses, seems oblivious, nay, puny, timid and tremulous vis-à-vis the grave transgressions of the high and the mighty. The very institutions mandated to uphold the sovereignty of the people have left them to be devoured by these greedy wolves!
No resistance seems to be emanating from any quarter to this all-pervading degradation that has afflicted the State apparatus, the legislative, executive and judicial included. Those who man those institutions enjoy the comforts, pompous aura and luxuries the toiling common man has bestowed on them with their sweat for common good. The politicians, the clergy, the justice system, law enforcement agencies, professionals and the civil service have been reduced to a band of marauders who ravage Mother Lanka on her deathbed, breathing her last.
A nation that crucifies its prophets
We run hither and thither, helter-skelter for saviours every election in every colour and symbol; only to be frustrated, disappointed and deceived immediately after. We supplicate to deity and the clergy like beggars for some respite. We hope against hope the justice system will do some justice, at least as an after thought or in its leisure.
We all turn our heads in search for the warriors of the Weera Puran Appu mould who would come to rescue Mother Lanka from these parasites and plunderers who have set upon her. Yet, it is all in vain!
A generation that could have stood up to these marauders in high places and in sheep’s cloth is not with us. We have prosecuted, jailed and finally crucified them, long ago. They have burnt in tire pyres and been executed in summary style by State military and para militia.
We have crucified and buried our saviours, and that too, long time ago!
Tomorrow is April 5, citizens!