The impeachment, which will see the replacement of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake by someone more amenable to the state’s interests, has been described as the final nail in the coffin of democracy. So many nails have been hammered into the coffin lid over the years that you wonder if there’s room left for another nail. But the most interesting thing about the whole affair is that the coffin is borne to the graveyard by the people themselves, and they aren’t even in mourning.
In fact, they are chatting with their usual animated jollity about the weather, traffic jams and the like. The weather’s admittedly crazy. In the old days of empire, when a white man went dotty in the tropics, it was said that the sun has gotten to him. In our case, we have won our independence twice. First, it was back in 1948, without any unpleasant wars fought with the British empire. We were told emphatically a few years back, though, that true independence came only after at the end of a long and bitter civil war fought with one of the country’s own peoples.
In the meantime, few seem to have noticed that the weather had gone crazy. It was no longer the ordered, largely predictable seasonal weather of monsoons and off-season. That was lost, somewhere along the way, along with respect for constitutions, amendments and what we fondly remember as the rule of law. Instead, we have a schizophrenic weather pattern where nothing is predictable and torrential rain will crash down during the dry months and the sun will roast you when there’s supposed to be a monsoon.
In other words, both the sun and rain can get to a man (as well as woman) these days, which may be why all Lankans, high and low, seem to be obsessed with the weather (when they aren’t obsessed with traffic jams). That’s the sum of all conversation on the way to the cemetery. Kumbhakarna, who can’t be bothered with cumbersome umbrellas, keeps getting drenched stoically because he knows the sun will come out like a furnace in a few minutes to dry him to the bone.
Besides, it’s a safe topic of conversation. It won’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. It’s apolitical, has no unacceptable racial or sexual innuendos (never mind that all the rain gods of ancient times were males – rain nowadays has no gender bias). The law, however, is represented by the symbol of a blindfolded woman, which can be interpreted in various ways. First, no matter what any would-be feminists here might say, women still are second-class citizens in Sri Lanka despite the rosy picture painted by various Bandaranaikes and a solitary Senanayake. As for the blindfold, it’s supposed to maintain the impartiality of justice. In this case, however, it could well be the handkerchief given to people selected to be shot by firing squad as a matter of courtesy.
Starting with such troubled symbolism, the law is bound to be treated as a joke by our law makers. Since it’s the heart rather than the mind which governs our affairs these days, they don’t need to read books. Laws are made, interpreted and changed at will according to the pulse of the ‘people’ (which is really the pulse of those who rule them). But why do we need to split hairs? It’s a common fantasy that the ruler and the ruled are the same.
Which is why everyone’s smiling all the way to the cemetery, chatting about the weather. In case anyone has missed the point, the opposition leader is there to clarify. The other day, he declared emphatically that the judiciary ‘can’t topple a government.’ There we have it. Shut up and put up, while the umbrella industry has a heyday -- and it’s about time we had that dated image of some silly blindfolded woman holding a sword and a balance weight with one of a majestic male figure doing the thumbs up.