Then They Came For… The Writers
Last week an astrologer Madura Peiris had his moment in time. Featured on a private news television station Peiris said that intellectuals, especially, writers who use their pen as a weapon, are destined to face bad times. This situation would prevail until the first week of April, he said.
This is indeed a profound statement. Sri Lanka is a nation with a rich and ancient history and astrological predictions of fortune and doom have always been part and parcel of its culture. It is not my business here to criticize the predictions of those ancient and renowned readers of the stars: but it appears that astrology is now being added to the white vans as a threat from the stars to curb the independence of journalism and the freedom of expression which is the essence of democracy. The people concerned will do well to remember that the pen may not win a battle but it always won the war.
The pen predicts that those who perpetrate murder, abductions and human rights violations with impunity at present will face a time of accountability in the near future.
If only the man could have predicted that those who carry out murder, abductions and human rights violations with impunity will face bad times ahead we could have believed him.
After all, that clearly appears to be the course such miscreants are destined for given the pressures being currently exercised on this Island nation by external forces.
But then again, maybe not. After all, in this banana republic we tout as a flourishing democracy abductions continue unabated – people are picked up and simply disappear. This continues to happen even as Sri Lanka was dragged into the limelight and placed beneath an international microscope with regard to alleged war crimes and human rights violations.
Another disturbing factor was when a Mayor no less and one from the ruling governing party at that was nearly abducted last week supposedly, by army personnel. Army personnel who later said they were only tracking an army deserter before the Mayor pulled out a gun and set upon them. Now there is a gem for astrologers to unravel.
But none of this must be written. For, according to the astrological prediction in question, for those who dare it will be construed as using one’s pen as a sword and so anything and all things diabolical can befall those intellectuals, academics and journalists, etc. Anybody who dares put pen to paper and call a spade a spade.
When will the Rajapaksas learn or wake up to reality that governments when elected are not expected to behave as terrorists but instead act with transparency and accountability.
The promotion of astrological forecasts to curb free journalism appears to indicate an innate fear in the current leadership of this country of a free and independent press.
Perhaps there is an explanation of sorts and that is that the current leadership of this country is suffering from an acute attack of PARANOIA. How else can anyone explain the continuing abduction of journalists, (Prageeth Eknaligoda continues to remain missing) reintroducing draconian laws against the media – last week the Ministry of Defence ordered that any news related item referring to the police or the military must first pass muster by the Media Centre for National Security which has on previous occasion not stopped short of calling various journalists at some time or another prostitutes and traitors.
To make matters worse we have a nation of gullible mental retards who call themselves patriots.
Madura Peiris better watch his back because if he ever dares predict something the Rajapaksas simply cannot or will not stomach – he will be the next to disappear. And who will give a jot? We will. Despite the fact that this government has perfected the White Van Syndrome to a fine art.
Almost all politicians and most Sri Lankans are addicted to astrologers. Most live by their predictions, others use them as an “indicator”, while a few just dismiss them. Recall how in 1992, the late R. Premadasa changed the name of Sri Lanka to Shri Lanka based on an astrological prediction which he believed would be good for the country and himself. He was murdered the very next year.
Whether astrology has a scientific basis or not is immaterial. It is part and parcel of the social fabric of this country. There are literally tens of thousands of astrologers in the country who will predict your future using numerous ways – reading your horoscope and palm reading to mention the two most popular forms.
During times of elections most of the political parties canvass the more well known astrologers to write to the newspapers and give statements to the electronic media predicting their victory and those who do so are rewarded with government jobs by the winning party or the winning presidential candidate. No one ever had any issue with it.
Until in 2009 a popular astrologer Chandrasiri Bandara was arrested when he predicted that the President would be evicted from office and that the government would flounder by September/October that year due to economic and political problems.
He was arrested when he told an opposition meeting that the prime minister would take over as president on September 9, 2009 and the opposition leader would become prime minister.
Of course unlike Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe did not believe him. Which is why he opted instead for a Common Opposition Candidate in the form of the then recently retired Army Chief Sarath Fonseka to run for election in January 2010, who in a matter of weeks met with his waterloo. Bandara failed to make that prediction unless he whispered it into the ears of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
In the meantime Bandara was arrested to investigate the basis of his prediction. Thrown into a cell the man soon changed his prediction and was later hired by a State institution from where he made sunshine predictions for the benefit of Rajapaksaland.
For decades now successive ruling parties have killed, harassed and intimidated journalists/writers they did not like. In the last few decades no single political leader or political party whether now in power or in opposition can claim otherwise. No political leader can claim that he or she was not actively involved or kept quiet when journalists were being murdered.
We can only hope this latest prediction of Madura Peiris does not bear fruit.
During these decades of suppression of freedom of expression astrologers went on making predictions including political ones. They predicted the fall of governments, victories for political parties at elections and some political personalities were told that they were going to become “king” etc., etc. Some of these predictions came true but most never happened. BUT NO ONE WAS ARRESTED, ABDUCTED OR KILLED.
Now they are.
Astrology was the lucky profession. Astrologers enjoyed freedom of expression that journalists only dreamed of. However those good old days are over. The curbs on freedom of expression imposed by the current regime has now caught up with them too. They will no longer be able to predict natural disasters, hardships for the people or to put it simply they can only predict ‘GOOD NEWS’. Which is why Madura Peiris probably said what he said last week hoping those who rule in Rajapaksaland would take note and give him an approving nod.
For if not, like journalists, those astrologers who dare do otherwise will face the possibility of being killed, picked up by a white van and assaulted or politely told to choose another profession. What is really frightening is that all this is happening when the ruling party is enjoying an unprecedented wave of popular support following the defeat of the LTTE. With the opposition in total disarray, the government has nothing to fear.
Imagine if you can, what the response of this government would be when it is not so popular and the opposition gets it act together. One does not have to be an astrologer to predict that. Only we at The Sunday Leader will dare. To use our pens as swords and put into print the writing on the wall.
“Fools!” Said I, “you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my voice that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoes in the wells
Simon and Garfunkel – Sound of Silence