Somewhere along the Way, Something Went Terribly Wrong

By Aamer Mostaque Ahmed
May 21 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Misogyny is not a new phenomenon in our country. It is an age-old trait that has somehow become a part of our national psyche. I knew that though; I have known that for a long time now. But what I failed to recognise was the extent of it. I never for once realised how deeply enrooted this trait had become in our country; it is the dark side of our culture.

Illustration: Alberto Ruggieri

Illustration: Alberto Ruggieri

Can a culture possibly have a dark side? The short answer is, yes. Deeply ingrained social behaviours and norms, born out of hatred, malice and arrogance, can lead to the creation of a darker side of culture. And unfortunately, or rather tragically, misogyny has become such a part.

“She is a woman and thus she should be subjugated.” “She is a woman. Why would she need a promotion?” “She is a woman. So, how can she be this successful?” “How can ‘SHE’ achieve such glory?” And lastly, “She was raped? She must have done something wrong. She must have done something to deserve this!”

These utterances, mentioned above (because most the people in our country utter these lines in their minds) have taken the lead among all opinions. Rational thoughts and legitimate claims have taken a back seat. Rights, equality and even social justice are fading into the background.

The realisation about the deeply entrenched misogyny hit me hard very recently as I got embroiled in arguments regarding rape victims. I was astonished to find many people pointing the finger at the victims rather than the rapists. In most of those arguments, I was the sole voice, one against many, arguing for something for which there should not have been any argument in the first place. I felt cornered. I felt alone. I felt enraged. Don’t they understand what a heinous crime rape is? Don’t they realise that rape in our society means condemning the victim to a living death?

This country of ours was born through the sacrifices of many. Hundreds of thousands of women suffered at the hand of the invading army. They raped the women. They maimed them. They killed them. Some of those stories are so horrifying that it defies reality. With such horrible experiences, we as a nation should have had a united front against such an atrocious crime. Yet somehow that is sadly not the case. People here still try to find faults with the rape victim and not with the actual culprit. A sick standard has been developed over the years for women in our country, and the majority of the people in this country still measure women with that same sick standard. It is being used to measure the “character flaws” of the rape victims even today in order to shift the blame on them. One would have thought that things should have improved with the current reach of education in our society, yet it feels like things have got worse somehow.

What went wrong then? Does it mean that our families are failing to instil good values and a sense of ethics in the minds of the next generation? That does not seem to be the case – most of the people I have argued against have a good sense of ethics and good values instilled in them and many of them practice those values and norms in their lives. But it is this one thing where they cross the limit and enter the chasm of despicable thinking, and they do not even realise what thoughts they are putting forward. That women have rights (to mobility or professional success for example) and deserve respect never had a place in our brand of “values and ethics” in the first place. Our edition of “values and norms” has encouraged misogyny through its complete aloofness to these ideas. The prevalent norm was always about the subjugation of women. Sadly, the trend never changed and has led to the birth of a sordid and convoluted thought process which fails to make a distinction between a rape victim and the rapist. Misogyny has always gone unchecked in our country and now it has grown into a monstrous predicament.

There are also those who find pleasure in subjugating a woman. They find pleasure in disrespecting a woman. Those are vile creatures and many of their stooges have found voice through the spread of information technology. Many of those, whose dirty thoughts once prowled in their own minds only, are now finding comrades whose thoughts are equally vile. They are becoming a united front and the presence of misogyny in society is providing fuel to their agendas.

Something somewhere went terribly wrong along the way in our society and we have started to pay a high price for that. We cannot ensure that women in this country and this society will enjoy safety, security, equality and equal opportunity. There are very few people who believe in those ideas, and unfortunately, it is people with the opposite views that rule.

But, what went wrong can always be amended. A new beginning can always be initiated. Now the question is, are we ready to bring about changes? Are we ready to welcome a new dawn?

The writer works in a Financial Institution and has co-authored the Elza Octavella comics series.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Sri Lanka and New Economic World Order

By the Sunday Times editorial team
May 21 2017 (The Sunday Times – Sri Lanka)

China hosting a mega event this week not only announced that it has arrived on the world scene as a major economic power-house, but telegraphed its vision for the next 30 years and more. With the US now on reverse gear advocating nationalism and protectionism, China has become the new face of internationalism. How the roles have reversed.

In an article on Page 8 (ST 2), a Sri Lankan-born UN diplomat lucidly explains China’s ambitious US$ 124 billion plans aimed at linking Asia with Europe and Africa, by road, rail and sea. The ‘One Road; One Belt’ initiative was attended by leaders of 29 countries, including Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, 1,500 delegates from 130 nations, NGOs, the IMF, World Bank and the UN Secretary General.

To calm any unease that this was the Chinese dragon romping through the world stage, China’s President said; “We will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. We will not export our system of society and development model, and even more, will not impose our views on others”.

India was not impressed. For one, the road link cuts across disputed Kashmir. India boycotted the forum while the US and several European nations sent low-level representation, clearly smarting that they are being slowly, but surely upstaged by China.

The world is witnessing the re-emergence of two former Communist giants of the past — Russia and China which split on dialectic Marxism only to re-emerge as economic superpowers through free market policies they once derided as “Capitalist pigs”.

For the new Chinese initiative to be altruistic, is too good to be true. Those dealing with the Chinese negotiators on the Port City project and the Hambantota harbour know only too well how they drive a hard bargain and exploit the weaknesses of corrupt local politicians in developing countries when doing business.

Parallel to the ‘One Road; One Belt’ initiative, China has invested US$ 100 billion in an Investment Bank and the BRICS Development Bank to break the monopoly of the West-dominated IMF and World Bank and their grip over countries like Sri Lanka.

With the anticipated inflow of funds not forthcoming from the West despite a new Government more amenable to it here in Sri Lanka, it is becoming clearer that this country’s economic future rests on the broad shoulders of India and China. By accident or design, the previous Government recognised this fact, but played its cards wrong.

This Government will need to learn from past mistakes and look to the future as this ‘New Economic World Order’ unfolds.

Plantation workers are Sri Lankan citizens of recent origin
Indian scribes accompanying their Prime Minister last week to Sri Lanka were only half-joking when they said that their leader of over a billion people at home also loves to meet their diaspora overseas when he travels. This might have been after he got a rock-star reception in the United States.

And so, the story goes, that his office must have contacted the High Commission in Colombo and asked it to organise a similar event here; except that that there’s no real Indian diaspora in this country. The next best thing was to arrange a mass meeting in the central highlands where a sizeable crowd could be mustered of those categorised as “Tamils of recent Indian origin”.

No wonder, the Indian PM told the cheering crowd at Norwood estate in Dickoya last week; “We rejoice at the success of the Indian origin diaspora as they leave a mark across the world, near and far”.

The ancestors of these plantation workers were brought to this island from southern India as indentured labour by the British planters because the Kandyan peasantry whose lands were plundered under a Waste Lands Ordinance refused to work for the colonisers. It was an age when Africans were taken as slave labour to the cotton fields of America, but they have no allegiance any more to their country of origin.

The plantation workers here are now fully-fledged Sri Lankan citizens with voting rights. Their long struggle for citizenship has its roots in the Citizenship Act of 1948 which made them “stateless”, but that Act was modelled on the Indian Citizens Act which debarred Nepalis from citizenship in India.

If their line-rooms had portraits of Mahatma Gandhi it is understandable. And the Indian tri-colour displayed at Dickoya would have prompted the visiting dignitary to say; “India beats in your heart”, but it also raised concerns whether India was stirring the pot for a permanent fifth column here.

In an era of dual-citizenship, and a foreign citizen signing local currency notes, having allegiance to two countries may — or may not — be an issue as it was before. Parliaments still insist on allegiance to one country, but even Ambassadors are now allowed to represent a country while also being a citizen of another.

Minister Mano Ganesan, a frontline leader of the plantation workers sidelining the traditional ‘hereditary mafia’ that led them for decades, put things in perspective while addressing the crowd, “Our loyalty to our Motherland Sri Lanka is not a divided loyalty — we are only a bridge between the two countries”.

They were classed as ‘Tamils of recent Indian origin’ to distinguish them from the North and East Tamils whose ancestry dates further back to India, and who, in fact, looked all along at the plantation workers as people of a lesser god. To the eternal credit of the plantation Tamils, they had no truck with the North/East separatist movement of recent times.

It is, therefore, the bounden duty of the Government to embrace these Tamils not as those of recent Indian origin, but of recent Sri Lankan citizenship. They are the ‘natural increase’ of those people who opted to remain in Sri Lanka under the Sirima-Shastri Repatriation Pact. Young people in the plantations do not want to be ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ anymore and prefer city jobs with technical skills or in supermarkets and foot massage centres. Labour is going to be an issue in the plantations unless the industry ventures into some form of mechanisation. Importing indented labour once again, as is feared with new Economic agreements repeating colonial history, is not an option.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka