It was a historic day for Sri Lanka.
In a democracy, “the people” are sovereign; Presidents and Prime Ministers are actually the sovereign’s regents. On July 9, the sovereigns of the country “stormed” the regent’s abode and took it back. I, too, joined in.
What was impressive was the orderliness of the crowd. The President had fled before the crowds entered the presidential palace, so we will never know if the crowd’s behaviour would have deteriorated if he had been there (their lives have been so devastated by this man; no fuel, no gas for cooking, and a desperate food shortage looming, with the prices soaring). I was fascinated to hear, more than once, people being told in no uncertain terms: “Do not damage it. It is our money that will pay for the repair.”
Clearly, an old civilisation like Sri Lanka’s has much to teach to those who arrogate to themselves the purity and perfection of the epithet “white”, to wit the United States citizens who stormed the Capitol on January 6 and spewed destruction typified in the gallows they prepared to “Hang Mike Pence”.
Signally, unlike on January 6 in Washington, one saw no destruction nor any baying for death in and around President’s House in Lanka on July 9. What I saw was what the Chinese culture calls ‘The Mandate of Heaven’ clearly being withdrawn from this regent.
As I wended my way home, I encountered a single, united band comprising priests of the Buddhist, Christian and Muslim faiths marching together along the streets of Fort on their way to President’s House. What a sight.
Earlier in the day, I had tried to visit a friend of mine who lives in Bauer Building, a block of flats more or less next door to the President’s House. I was going to leave my bicycle there before joining the protesters. Since bicycles are in high demand in Lanka today and their prices have soared due to the lack of fuel for motorised vehicles, I was nervous about parking my bike on the roadside. But, by the time I reached Fort, the neighbourhood of President’s House, the crowd was dense and we were all beaten back with tear gas just past the Colombo Hilton Hotel. I experienced it as a nose gas; it burnt my nostrils more than my eyes! A new experience for me. So I returned home, had lunch and then went back on foot.
Late in the evening, the news broke that the Prime Minister’s house had been set on fire. Most Sri Lankans feel that karma had visited him. They speak of how this man had supervised the most abhorrent act of cultural vandalism of the 20th century (if we exclude the two world wars). This was the burning of the Jaffna Library, the largest in Asia. It is supposed to have had some 96,000 volumes, ranging in age from a few years to reputedly over a 1,000 years old. Its documentation of the Jaffna kingdom was its downfall. It was a Tamil kingdom in a country where the political “class” has demonised the Tamils for over a generation. Their objective was to frighten “the majority community into a minority consciousness”, as I once heard a local author put it.
They have foisted on the Sinhala community of the country the notion that Lanka is rightly the homeland of the Sinhala people, “hideously otherising” (to use the pithy epithet of the neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor of Oxford University) Tamils and Muslims as interlopers. This “minority consciousness in the majority community” has been bad enough to have precipitated a civil war that lasted nearly 30 years.
Now we will wait to see what unfolds in Lanka over the next few weeks.
Ranjan is a Colombo-based healer, academic, and wellness coach who practises across borders.