The reconciliation effort | Daily News

The reconciliation effort

Easter Sunday terrorist attack.
Easter Sunday terrorist attack.

Reproduced below is a summary text of the speech by Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, Member of the Commission, delivered at the Election Commission’s Jaffna Office. The foundation stone for a three storey building with the top floor to the Commission staff visiting Jaffna was laid on June 5.

Most recently after the bombings of Easter Sunday, Muslims were targeted and continue to be so. Recently the police said Tigers are Tamils and therefore Tamils are Tigers. All Tamils were targeted. Today they say the bombers were Muslims, so Muslims are bombers, and therefore Muslims are targeted and searched and interrogated more just because they are Muslims. It is to express solidarity with such oppressed Muslims that I am wearing my Sufi hat presented to me when I visited my daughter in Turkey.

Supposedly to find bombs carried under clothes the Ministry of Public Administration has introduced a uniform where men may wear Western or Eastern clothes, but women only the sari so that men may give release to their voyeuristic instincts. The Election Commission at our meeting on June 4 decided to reject the male voyeur-dictated dress code and told our officers that they may dress as they always did, and decided to ask the authors of the code to lay off. Even the Prime Minister and HRC have decried the code, the latter calling it sexist. They knuckled us on the head, we protested. The code will not be implemented, we are assured, but I harbour suspicions as to why it is still listed among valid circulars on government websites.

Language of administration

Democracy is about our freedom to make choices – what language we will speak, what religion we will practice, whom we will elect as our leaders, whom we may have as guests in our homes, etc. These choices are being lost. Muslims seem to have lost their choice of attire. Next, it will be you and I that will lose that choice. These losses occur when people try to expand – aggrandize – power by taking over authority assigned to others. Our sartorial choices in dressing were attempted to be usurped by the Secretary for Public Administration when he told us how to dress. That came a cropper when we refused to knuckle under his knocks to our heads. Then our language. Tamil is the language of administration and of the courts in the North-East according to our constitution. All of us in public service including MPs had to take an oath to uphold the constitution and there was a time when Tamil MPs were hiding in India to avoid this. Now, look at what is happening. The Police in the North speak no Tamil. Recently when I went to meet Headquarters Inspector Prasad Fernando he leathered off in Sinhalese to me when I know no Sinhalese. The public cannot take grievances to him because he cannot understand us. He and his likes are sent to Jaffna in violation of the constitution to show us who is boss and to lord it over us. How can the Police uphold simple laws when they are breaking our highest law, our constitution?

Then our judges! If you are charged with anything, the police will come and speak to the judge in Sinhalese. Poor clueless us! We need to hire a lawyer when we go to court even for simple matters. Judges are co-opted into breaking the constitution and robbing us of our right, and lawyers make hay while the sun shines.

They represent clients who most often need no lawyer and need only to plead guilty (but cannot for not knowing Sinhalese), pay the fine and go away. By not revolting we will continue to lose our democratic choices. We need to stand up as we are knocked on our heads even by judges who need to uphold the law.

Likewise, we have the power to elect provincial representatives and a Chief Minister. We are denied that power and like counterfeit currency, we have governors usurping the powers of our right to provincial representation and lording it over us with that counterfeit power rightly belonging to the Provincial Government.

Democratic governance

Then look at our system of democratic governance. We exercise our franchise, we elect representatives, the party commanding a majority of representatives forms a government with a prime minister, and the Prime Minister in consultation with the President appoints Ministers with subjects. Thus every walk of our life is governed by our representatives whose power flows from our franchise. That was our happy way of life. But now?

We are ruled instead by worthless ‘thugs’; not by our representatives. After all which is more important – the life of one 'thug' taking his own life by his free will, or our system of constitutional governance? Democracy has a bad case of life-threatening asthma.

The progressive robbery of our franchise does not end there. The Presidential Elections Act prescribes how the date of elections is set. The date is to be set by the Election Commission. Recently all three Commission Members met the President about the long overdue provincial elections and the soon due presidential elections. The said Act prescribes certain rules for setting dates. We told the President that the dates will be any time in the period between November 15 and December 7. It is now a tradition that if a sitting President does not contest or loses, he or she vacates office as soon as another is elected. Almost the day after our meeting the President went to India and announced that the elections will be on December 7, 2019.

Is our democracy in its last gasp? Not as long as we can take the knocks without bending down. Is the foundation stone we laid a gravestone for democracy? No, we must in Tamil tradition ensure it is a hero-stone on which we swear to fight with our all for democracy and our God-given rights as free men and women.

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