Unity, professionalism, leadership; indispensable for future | Sunday Observer

Unity, professionalism, leadership; indispensable for future

 Prof. Rangika Halwatura                                         Pic: Rukmal Gamage
Prof. Rangika Halwatura. Pic: Rukmal Gamage

The Easter Sunday suicide bomb blasts and the riots targeting the Muslim community which happened in some areas in the North Western Province and Gampaha District after three weeks, are not as much assaults on minority communities but attacks on the poorest of the poor, said the Sri Lanka Inventors’ Commissioner, and Civil Engineering Professor of the University of Moratuwa, Prof. Rangika Halwatura.

It was an attack on the national unity, the positive social psyche that had started to build up, and the country’s repute more than on its economic assets. However, the poor and the poorest of the poor are the unseen victims of all the incidents which has happened since April 21, he said.

“Most of the time what we point out is what we see. But, there are many unseen who had been highly impacted by these incidences,” said Halwatura. The daily wage earners linked to the supply chains mostly in the tourism sector, fishermen, roadside vendors, carpenters, labourers and many more had been affected through the closure of industries, curfews imposed and other constraints after April 21. “There are people who wish death upon themselves rather than being alive, unable to provide for their families especially children. People who are alive but dying inside day in and day out,” he said.

Halwatura also noted that the incidences of violence had lately taken the form of opportunism transitioning from that of extremism of the first day, through a small minority instigated by sinister political factions. However, “the Sri Lankan constituency cannot be fooled all the time. People had had enough of partisan fighting and don’t want it anymore,” said Halwatura. For a society that is lost with no hope or trust in the authorities keeping law and order, in governance and its political leaders, the way forward would be to place the right person in the right position; appoint professionals to manage and administrate the affairs of the country while politicians should only provide meaningful and progressive leadership, he pointed out.

According to Halwatura, though Sri Lanka as a country had to go through extreme loss, mainly the loss of over 250 innocent lives, there was also a silver lining in that dastardly dark cloud. “People were frozen in shock. But, I was amazed by the way the society behaved. It was a time they united, shed religious and racial bias, took up a national identity, listened to professionals and returned to roots and core values. They were good in information management, seeking and disseminating. They learned how to absorb and sort out correct information. Though some factions wanted to misinform and mislead the majority could not be misled. Nothing could propel them into violence,” he said. Comparing the societal response to the Easter Sunday suicide bombings and Digana communal riots just an year ago, in April 2018, he said that the majority of the Sri Lankan society had proved that they have matured and have achieved mental independence or the ability to think through and arrive at one’s own decision, without being swayed and influenced by rumours and fake news items, however widespread.

Modern Sri Lankan society is crumbling at its foundation, he said. Decades of chasing wrong values and attitudes; the pursuit of material as against spiritual/moral wealth and knowledge instead of wisdom, had resulted in creating a creature neither human nor animal, who could only be called ‘inhuman’ in society. “It is only an ‘inhuman’ who could kill one’s own race, family and children for no particular reason. Not even animals do that,” said Halwatura. Taking an example from wildlife he pointed out that killing in the wild happens for a reason. Leopards, the top predators of the island won’t kill deer for fun, but only to sate their hunger. Neither would a leopard kill another leopard; nor deer its own. What happened on Easter Sunday was a result of the ‘inhuman’ or the ‘extremist’ the society had created.

It could be attributed in part, to the failure of our system of education where universities have not been producing graduates with open minds and universal understanding but merely degree holders whose competence is confined to narrow specialised areas. Now, the ‘inhuman’ created, is well educated but incompatible with society he or she lives in. This person has no interaction with the society, no equal social responsibility, does not have the expected skills, nor is the person ready for lifelong learning. This kind of person is not a holistic person able to think independently and rationally or balanced emotionally. That had paved the way for extremism in society which had lead to the suicide attacks of Easter Sunday, he reasoned.

To rid the land of extremism, the way is to lay the foundations of society again, upholding core human values, equal social responsibility and traditional roots. There is a huge gap between the cultural values and skills being transferred to the younger generations from older generations he noted. “It is our responsibility specially for our generation, we have not transferred the values that our parents have given us to the next generation. I do not suggest living within the old culture, there should be innovation and change however, the baseline should be the same,” said Halwatura. When such a society is created, extremism be it religious, racial or cultural, cannot exist as it cannot integrate with the values of such a society. “There had been such religious extremism even at the time of the Buddha, or Christ but they were not sustainable, they died. Extremism won’t last long in a strong society rooted in culture and fortified with human and humane values,” he emphasised.

However, the riots which started in the North Western Province and which claimed two lives three weeks after Easter Sunday, was mere opportunism, he reasoned.

Sri Lankan society underwent a system change after the Constitutional Coup of October 26, last year. People understood the real agenda of the politicians, that many are neither serving the country nor any purpose, but only achieving their narrow personal and political agendas. It was the professionals who ran the country at the time and society placed its trust in professionals. This was proven through how the society reacted after April 21, they trusted the armed forces with whom they felt safe, they listened to religious leaders and disregarded all the politicians. That is why the sinister political factions could not agitate people in the aftermath of April 21. The very same was the base of the second ‘riot’ , explained Halwatura. “Society’s reaction was threatening the existence of politicians”. They couldn’t even get 100 people around them except those for a payment of Rs. 1000 and a packet of rice.

“That’s why I said earlier that the second attack was not extremist but opportunist. It is very unfortunate. I am very sure, it was not done by Sinhalese or Buddhist or any other religious or ethnic community but by those sinister opportunist factions, who are political extremists. Both the Sinhalese and the Muslims should understand the fact. I see that people had already understood, that is why there is no rioting anywhere else,” he said.

The calibre of the country’s leaders has changed with time. Politicians have been shrewd in breaking down the core purposes and values of traditional society and establishing the measurement of ‘material wealth’ and ‘political clout’ instead.

“Look at the university academics today, they should lead dialogue and discourse in society. We have lost our purpose and our satisfaction levels. Earlier, the highest satisfaction of the academic was to build up a disciple who is better than him or herself, a doctor to heal a patient and a priest to preach to the whole community, and now see what has happened. Academics are the biggest failures in the country.

We are highly educated but have failed to achieve our purpose. What is the difference between a businessman, a politician and an academic if our satisfaction level is the same and are in pursuit of the same material wealth?,” he questioned.

However, contemporary politicians do not realise their limitations or their duty, he said. “Politicians are not managers, they are leaders. There are very good civil or public servants in the country with enough training and international acclaim, who know what to do best in the kind of emergency situation we faced. So, what the politicians have to do is to let them handle the situation and provide political backing. The problem with our politicians is that they don’t even know what they don’t know or cannot do,” said Halwatura. In trying to do what they cannot, they fail repeatedly and send the country on a downward spiral.

When such a situation prevails, it is the academics who need to take up their responsibility and give hope to the community who have lost hope and trust in its political leadership, stressed Halwatura.

“The community is lost and don’t have hope, they have clearly understood that with politicians the country is going nowhere. They need hope and a better life. I strongly believe the academics should come out and provide leadership to this community, give them direction and guidance. They need not worry about politicians any more. You can’t rely on them. You can’t trust someone whom you can’t rely on, it is the professionals that society has placed their trust on,” he said.

He also called for the handful of uncorrupt political leaders, to give up partisan politics, come out of their parties, forget racial and religious divides and forge a unity for the development of the country.

“Politicians are not managers, they are leaders. There are some good leaders in Sri Lanka. As long as they stay within their parties their leadership won’t come out. They should leave and group together and give leadership to this country. Not administrate and manage but lead. Identify your role and lead the country,” he said. 

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