Making Sri Lankans Kinder, Gentler and More Caring People

Sunday Leader Editorial

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year – Avuruddha – brings into the open the noble, gentle and cultured practices of Sri Lankans of the past as well as the crass, hypocritical and venal acts acquired in recent decades.

These contrasting exercises will be witnessed during this season with young Sri Lankan children and students going down on their knees and even prostrating themselves on the bare floor to worship their parents, elders, monks, teachers and respected elders to receive their blessings while adults particularly those at workplaces too queue up with sheaves of betel leaves apparently to pay obeisance to their employers and administrators, of course with expectations of some form of ‘Avurudhu handout’. These very same employees throughout the year probably would have obstructed the smooth workings of such institutions and been cheeky to the bosses from whom they are extracting handouts. This is cultural blackmail of a high order.

On the other hand the sweet little children and students are seen respectfully worshipping elders on this day have also in recent times been seen on TV and newspapers hooting, jeering and shouting obscenities, on certain occasions, at their teachers and even their principals. Whatever the reasons for the protests – obviously instigated by teachers of the same school and even some parents who are the ‘jeer leaders’ – publicity given in the national media should be a matter of immediate concern to the educational authorities. Such publicity may be motivated by a desire for increased readership and wider audiences but could also inspire chaotic conditions now prevalent in some faculties of our universities!

While cultural practices evolve for the better or worse over a period of time, the practices of our ancients stand out in marked contrast in this Avurudhu season.

Viewing not only cultural practices but even the day-to-day behaviour of Sri Lankans then and now, particularly of the so called youth, could it be said that Sri Lankans are a kinder, gentler and more caring people than what they were, say a few decades ago?

Even the everyday language used today leaves much to be desired. Pundits should cogitate whether the Sinhala language has improved – in the sense of being kinder and gentler in its form of expression during the post-1956 period. The language of the ‘common man’ today is far cruder, ruder and vulgar than what it was decades ago with no respect shown to even their contemporaries. ‘Ooh’, ‘Mooh’, ‘Vareng’, ‘Palayang bung’, ‘Addo’ are among the printable crude lingo at play which was frowned upon before. The words are indicative of the uncaring disregard and contempt they have for one another. These words were used by their elders earlier for banter but much of that banter seems to have disappeared. The mood today is of aggression, insults and repression.

Yet, some of the old world virtues remain. Those slightly senior are called: Aiyaa or Akka (elder brother or elder sister), the younger are called Malli or Nangi. ‘Uncle’ perhaps of a relic of colonialism that has remained buried for long to surface in recent times not only in this country but in neighbouring India as well. Some elders however take objection to be called ‘uncle’ by urchins waiting to pick their purse.

The biggest paradox is the high form of honorific address made to a category despised by one and all: Politicians. They are addressed as: ‘Amathithuma’ and ‘Manthrithuma’ (Honourable Minister) and (Honourable Member), a form of parliamentary address that should be confined to the precincts of the House.

Recent reports indicate Sri Lankans who were reputed to care for their elders in earlier times are now becoming not only uncaring but callous and brutal even to their own parents. There have been reports from law courts where elderly parents devoid of income have been found locked up in ‘kennels’.

Prevalent social conditions such as unemployment, low incomes, and high cost of housing could be contributory reasons and a very effective social welfare scheme is necessitated. This calls for social insurance schemes where citizens make monthly contributions for their pensions. But the post-Independence culture of the country is such that calls for any such contributions would inspire Opposition political parties waiting on the wings to grab power, using the pension contributions as a justifiable reason to topple the government! Never mind if the poor die on the streets and are left there to rot, schools cannot meet the demand for entry of students or hospitals are compelled to have two patients on a bed and three under: everything has to be free in Free Lanka. Even private universities, where students can pay throughout for their education, cannot be tolerated: It is against the Free Education System!

With a near 80 per cent of the population being Buddhists it is the responsibility of Buddhist leaders – not only Buddhist politicians – to show a way to make Sri Lanka Great Again like the Glory Days of the past of which we are frequently reminded. Today, is Buddhism a way of life of Buddhists? The Panchaseela – the Five principles – provide the basic guidance to the laypersons in their day-to-day living. Uttering of falsehoods – lies – is one such restraint. If politicians blatantly violate this principle day in and day out and even join political parties whose principles they vehemently opposed at elections, to rule the roost, can they claim to any right to represent Buddhists?

Making Sri Lankans gentler, kinder and a caring people is much beyond the task of a newspaper and its editorialists. We can only report and comment and hope that we are taken notice of. There are the proclaimed and self -proclaimed saviours of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala Jathiya. Does this thought ever cross their minds?