SRI LANKA: Beginning of a New Peoples’ Movement Targeting Large-Scale Membership

By Basil Fernando

I have had the privilege of witnessing the birth of an initiative to create a people’s movement not affiliated to any political party, which targets a minimum of one million memberships. It will be entirely locally funded and independent. The new movement springs from the initiative of Victor Ivan, a veteran journalist and the Founder Editor of weekly paper Ravaya.

An invitation made by him has found quick response and, in many parts of the country, local support groups are being formed rapidly. The spontaneous response received from people from many walks of life, i.e. professionals, activists of many sorts, and the ordinary folk, is amazing.

The aim is to cause a PUNARUDDAYA, an awakening and enlightenment in the thinking among the people, as a stepping-stone for achieving changes needed in the country. The improvement of positive social attitudes, by standing up for the eradication of the influence of caste is one of the central aims of this new movement. Caste discrimination has been enriched in both Sinhala and Tamil communities for over a thousand years. Mental, psychological, emotional, and spiritual habits pervade, despite some changes that have taken place in recent decades. An over-all capacity building for self criticism is envisioned as the basic step to developing critical thinking and eliminating prejudices based on myths, such as belief in birth charts (Kendraya) and various practices based in astrology. Primitive forms of thinking are widespread and much of publication space in the media is taken up by ventures promoting backward thinking. People need to liberate themselves from such mind-numbing thinking patterns that paralyze their creative capacities. All forms of racial discrimination, and other kinds of discrimination, such as sexual and religious discrimination, which retard the peoples’ capacity to build bonds of love, friendship, and belonging, need to exposed and negated. These are essentials in creating a free nation.

The second basic aim of the new movement is a fight for modernizing the State mechanisms of democracy and justice. All these institutions have suffered a great fall due to ill-founded constitutional experiments that happened in the last few decades. As a result of such institutional failures, a situation of anarchy is in the making. People need to understand these problems and be equipped intellectually to play an active role in their societies to ensure their own betterment. The reform of justice institutions is essential to overcome the situation of anarchy.

In the past, there had been a blind belief that gaining political power is the only way to achieve changes. However, this belief has been belied over and over again. Experience of other countries show, change of mentalities of the people themselves is a precondition to any positive changes. When this is absent, people become victims of powerful political forces and become losers in the end.

Peoples’ initiatives are often high jacked by political parties, as many experiences in recent decades show. The Mother Front, which emerged in protest of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that happened in the late eighties, was high jacked by the opposition political party led by Mahinda Rajapaksa and used for his own self promotion: There are fears that peoples recent intervention to change the government has not resulted in bringing about desired changes.

It is necessary to learn from these experiences, so that these are not repeated again. A peoples’ enlightenment is the only foundation on which a truly democratic movement can be built.

I have expressed my complete agreement with these aims and promised to support this new movement. Local partners will also be encouraged to join this initiative.