A State Called Sri Lanka
By Ravi Perera
One of the most intriguing pictures emerging from the recent exposition of the Kapilavastu relics surely is the one that shows Malaka Silva, the son of Minister of Public Relations Mervyn Silva at the Kelaniya Temple where there was an exposition of the relics.
Thousands of humble devotees, dressed in traditional white stood patiently for hours, queuing in the hot sun for the moment when they could pay homage to the revered relics. They were not in a hurry. Every person around them would have their time in turn as the crowd moved at its own pace towards the inner chamber hosting the relics. Life which has brought them only mean servings, had also taught these devotees values such as patience, humbleness and equanimity. In their faces we see reflected the tired lines from years of relentless struggles with fate’s vicissitudes. As often is the lot with those living on the periphery of a poor society, theirs is an existence of wants, uncertainty and resignation. But it will be a mistake to assume that their lives were joyless. They smile easily and laugh much, with the joys of a simple nature, something like urchins merrily taking a dip in a dirty stagnant urban canal, unaware, uncaring.
In that crowd, the portly Minister, his son Malaka and the women folk with them, stood out. Their clothes did not carry the dust of a long hot queue or the grime of regular public transport. Their eyes were protected by thick sun glasses. The older ones, thanks to unvarying use of creams and facials seem to have developed strangely youngish faces, incongruously sitting on aging bodies. The younger ones strutted about like reluctant heirs to a political tradition, which called on them to occasionally indulge in cultural practices, by which the multitude around them seem to lay much store. Only duty compelled the political heirs to follow suit, there were better and more exciting things to do after all. Around them stood, alert and solicitous, public servants employed as body guards, providing a protective screen to the political family.
Buddhism, as we all know is not a religion of rites and ceremonies. Its philosophy runs diametrically divergent from the materialism that such events represent. But through the years these ceremonies have provided the form and impetus that religious institutions need for their continuance. Today such ceremonies have become a meeting place between a lofty philosophy and the political power of the State. In the process certain practices which surely would be repugnant to the sublime doctrine have evolved. One that stares us in the face is the stark reality that for the political family there is no queue. They drive right up to the top of the line and are ushered in ceremoniously. Sadly, it seems that religious institutions in search of political patronage have lowered their own standards and principles.
There is no question that Minister Mervyn Silva is a powerful representative of political power, as has evolved in our society. He travels about in a convoy of vehicles chock a block with armed body guards. He is a Minister of this government in charge of Public Relations, whatever that may mean. Recently the Minister took up a stand against animal sacrifices during certain religious rituals. A few years back he was involved in an unseemly incident at a government run television station, when the employees there turned on him, alleging that he was intimidating them.
Just a few days back Minister Mervyn Silva’s son Malaka Silva was implicated in an incident, which perhaps could be described as a brawl, during which some persons including a senior Army officer, were injured. Evidently the Police either want to arrest Malaka or at least to question him about his involvement in the incident. The incident in question apparently occurred at the Colombo JAIC Hilton, which is a plush apartment/entertainment complex catering to the very rich.
In a modern State, if such things happen we can expect the Police to act in a manner that confirms a due process. No one is above the law. But clearly that is not the case in Sri Lanka. Everybody is equal, but the politician and his family are more equal!
The manner in which a particular culture fashions a State is beyond the scope of one essay. Each country reflects more or less what the people of that country are made of. India at this moment is all what the Indians of this moment can achieve. It can be argued that Sri Lanka at this moment is what all our thinking, attitudes and talents can produce and there is no point in wishing for more.
But religion is a different matter. When religious ceremonies are held, there is no reason why various political figures and their sons should come to the forefront. As we all know many of our politicians have had criminal cases against them. Some of them have escaped punishment only by subverting the system. Apart from obvious criminality in the form of murder, assault and other violent acts, they are implicated in harbouring of criminals and also interfering with the criminal justice system. These are all felonies though currently ignored.
Apart from all that, it is clear that most of our politicians are corrupt to the core as well. It is alleged that our politicians have their grubby fingers deep in bribery, commission taking, influence peddling, stock market manipulating, voter buying and living luxuriously with public money. While doing very little economic work they have all ended up ‘ mega’ rich.
In the circumstances when the politicians and their near and dear ones take part in religious ceremonies what is that we see? We see the confirmation of the famous saying of Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) “Hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to virtue”.