South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Rosy Senanayake

My decision to enter politics and the commitment with which I take my responsibilities has always been based on the fundamental freedoms that we, as Sri Lankans, have enjoyed since independence. As a student, I remember my civic studies teacher explain my rights as a citizen as enshrined in the Constitution – something which were always taken for granted.

What happened on the 4th of February this year, a day when we celebrated independence from British rule, has surely to be the ultimate assault on such privileges.We were treated to an extravagant display of pomp and pageantry in the morning, followed by speeches that were meant to inspire the country.

All this was then turned into a farce when a peaceful demonstration was mercilessly targeted and savagely attacked that same evening.

The protest was to highlight the plight of General Sarath Fonseka, accepted by all – including the Executive- to be a vital factor in defeating the LTTE. On this day our only intention was to bring to the attention of the country that a grave injustice was being perpetrated on such a hero by incarcerating him as a common criminal. It is clear that a vast majority of the people feel accordingly and as citizens and as politicians, we have a duty to bring forth this travesty and to continuously ask for his redemption.  It is with this intention that we marched peacefully towards the Borella junction on the Maradana road, ironically away from the prison.

What happened is now well known, but my personal experience was particularly harrowing.

As thugs who looked very obliviously trained in such activity charged towards us with iron bars, clubs and huge stones, I was caught in the middle of what was a professional and well-planned operation.

By some miracle, I was able to get into a moving vehicle that was leaving – thanks to my personal security officer. In addition to physically protecting me, he was able to throw out a lit petrol bomb that was put into the vehicle from the rear; where the glass was already shattered by an iron rod. Many viewers would have seen on television the flaming vehicle pull away from a situation that was meant to cause serious bodily harm to all who took part.

In addition, my personal vehicle was smashed beyond recognition by the mob, breaking every glass and denting it all round in a wilful act of destruction. My driver, who held up his hands to protect himself from iron rods, had his fingers crushed and required emergency surgery – we await to see if he will be able to use his hands again.

It is now evident that persons who have been allocated to control this area, as it is the common practice of the present regime, had taken on the responsibility entrusted to them with a vengeance. It is also clear that those who have activated a personal vendetta on the General, since he announced his interest in politics, supported such an action.

I personally think that the greatest shame was the ‘see no evil’ stance by the Police; as hundreds of them looked on, we were subjected to ferocious violence. The guardians of the law, as we have always seen them, were clearly under direct orders to do nothing – an order so converse to their entrusted role. Knowing my father-in-law, the former IGP Stanley Senanayake, and the principles he stood for, it is unthinkable that the modern-day Police could have blatantly ignored such a crime due to political pressure.So what of those among us who consider this a serious violation of our democratic rights?

They are the silent majority that suffers quietly as extravagant spending by the state has resulted in no real relief for the people.
In a country where housewives dread the journey to the market and where embarrassed mothers endure untold agony when unable to put even the basic of meals on the table, we continue to borrow from international loan sharks just to keep going and to fund self-congratulatory tamashas.

The people of Sri Lanka little realize that we are mortgaged to the third generation to come, as they are hoodwinked by the state media and spin doctors to believe that prosperity is just around the corner. That is the very reason that we were attacked on Independence Day – a day set aside to celebrate the freeing of shackles from our colonial masters. The truth is a bitter pill and the message was that anyone how dares to excise their right to draw attention to such double standards, including the media, can expect retribution with an iron fist.

However, I write today to say that it will not deter us – or those who truly value democracy in this country.

As it is said, there are none so blind as those who will not see – the days of glossing over the shortcomings and laughing off the hard-pressed citizens with impunity are coming to a close. As many international autocrats have realized, you can sit on a powder keg only for so long and the resultant explosion will be first felt by those who oppress the fundamental rights of democracy.

Source: The Daily Mirror – 14.02.2011