Bitter Harvest And The Bitter Pill

Preachers both of the religious kind and in the media variety – editorialists and the like – tend to read in their own interpretations into national holidays. Religious preachers for millennia have been telling their audiences of what the national day is all about and how they should be celebrating it, etc. We leave the revered and respected preachers of religions to their time honoured tasks unless of course they stray into the minefields of politics which is common ground to all.

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year has been an occasion of celebration to the vast majority of people from the distant past and even today it is a day to celebrate gathering the main rice harvest for the year. Rice in Sri Lanka has been the main strategic material from the days of monarchs to this day’s petty politicos. It was the main currency of the day for kings of yore – to hire people, underlings and also soldiers to defend themselves.

Even today in Sri Lanka and most Asian countries rice is politics. Crop failures mean drastic impacts on economies making unstable and even stable governments totter.

Pre and post-Independence governments of Sri Lanka led by D. S. Senanayake realised the importance of rice production. Till quite recently Sri Lanka was dependent on imported rice to feed its people. In the ‘50s and 60’s the stability of governments was threatened by strikes in the Colombo port which halted the flow of imported rice to the country. D. S. and Dudley Senanayake converted vast tracks of malaria infested jungles in the Dry Zone into smiling paddy fields and brought the country close to self-sufficiency in rice despite the doubling of population in three decades. J. R. Jayewardene, with his Accelerated Mahaveli Scheme achieved self-sufficiency.

But Sri Lanka’s staple food is under threat once again. Farmers in the Rice Bowl of the country are dying of an unidentified incurable kidney disease while our medical profession that claims to be the best in the world are out on the streets supposedly fighting for maintenance of their ‘high medical standards’.

On the heels of that disaster comes the crippling drought that has ruined the impoverished peasantry. Their harvests are only a fraction of the usual bounty. Farmers are financially ruined and in debt. They don’t even have clean water to drink. The 2017 harvest is a very bitter harvest for them

It is in the framework of this grim tragedy that there are ongoing activities to celebrate Avuruddha – the national festival. In reality there is nothing to celebrate about. There is no bountiful rice harvest which is the causa celebre of Avuruddha celebrations.

There is no proper crop insurance scheme in this country and it is doubtful whether any unfortunate farmer has been able to obtain relief. The government has to step in even though it is buried deep in the Hambantota seas with a $ (US) 15 billion debt incurred by their predecessor.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures. We doubt whether there would be objections from any quarter if there are drastic cuts made in salaries, allowances and other perks of parliamentarians who appear to be enjoying la dolce vita while the farmers who toiled in the blazing heat to put a plate of rice on their table are in an abjectly poor and feeble state. Such a measure by itself will not suffice to meet the needs of the affected farmers but other austerity measures such as increased taxation of commercial ventures and personal incomes of the dirty rich could also be brought in. The people’s representatives are those who constantly pledge ‘their last drop of blood’ for the people or fast to death for various purposes. Let these modern day Sri Sangabos be put to test.

Meanwhile what do media preachers say in their daily perorations? Not very much for the toilers of the soil but daily barrages of attacks to bring the Yahapalanaya down and install their former benefactor. Anything to attack the government gets priority.

On Friday when the good doctors went on strike throughout the country with the declared motive ‘maintaining medical standards’, we failed to observe any condemnation in the media of this reckless medical escapade that endangered lives of tens of thousands of poor Sri Lankans.

Dying for a worthy cause, he did not mind, a patient remarked but he would not die for this ‘maintenance standards’ about which he knew not.

How many more strikes will patients have to endure and how many times will death strike the hapless? Is this the bitter pill of the medical profession for the Avuruddha?

Religious teachers on radio, TV, temples and churches should remind the good doctors that saving of lives, particularly during the period of national celebrations, should be their prime duty. Media preachers should make it clear whether this is a medical issue or political issue obfuscated with medical jargon to achieve political objectives.

1 Comment for “Bitter Harvest And The Bitter Pill”

  1. malin

    At last, your editorial touches on the cushy lives the Parliamentarians enjoy at the cost of the basics for the majority people “as
    Yet shown in the following statement
    Quote We doubt whether there would be objections from any quarter if there are drastic cuts made in salaries, allowances and other perks of parliamentarians who appear to be enjoying la dolce vita while the farmers who toiled in the blazing heat to put a plate of rice on their table are in an abjectly poor and feeble state”.

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