The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Stand up, speak out, shut up, sit down…


As a child, I was bullied in school by a select gang of gentlemen drawn from the crème de la crème of my peers and betters. There was, I am now willing to wager, something about my pure idealism and noble countenance that attracted them like insects to an incandescent flame. Either that or they couldn’t resist pushing, pulling, and punching a puny mortal like me. Yes, dears, I was less than Charles Atlas’s “97-pound weakling”. So schoolyard terror often descended on me like an Assyrian coming down like a wolf on the fold.

But all of that ended when one day, having sobbed and sniffed and consoled myself that truth and justice would prevail in the end, I struck back like the proverbial cornered rat (or is it the Jedi that I’m thinking of?). When a bully shoved me to the hard ground of the quadrangle, I stood up rather than scurry off or slink away – shirt out, knees bleeding, brow sweating profusely – and let fly with my satchel-bag. No one was more surprised than my tormentor, save perhaps me. To cut a long story short, he retreated in the face of scrawny flailing arms and spastic Bata shoes kicking out in aggrieved rage.

And he didn’t come back.That minor victory remains with me to this day. And the boot being on the other foot brought out the best in the erstwhile coward you now, er, see before you. After one realizes that bullies are craven at heart, you have an advantage that you must strike home with skill, timing, courage. If only to prevent those dirty rats from having their way again or yet another field day (the return or revenge of the Empire – or whatever). Thankfully, the school by the sea presented this stripling lad with many more opportunities to stand up for himself – and others. Advocacy for justice is like a potent pill that stimulates you in places alcohol or other addictive substances can’t reach.

There is a point in these reminiscences. And if you will cease and desist from your threatening gestures and curious looks, I’ll tell you. This is it. A time has come when everyone in our society must stand up for what is good and true and fair and pure and – but you get the point! Because the schoolyard of our society, our culture, our civilization, is suddenly full of bullies. We see them everywhere.

From the thrones, virtues, dominions, and principalities who pass for our powers that be; to the trishaw driver coming in the wrong direction up a one-way street, who thinks that just because he flashes his headlight at you and honks like a hyena out of Hades, he has the right of way.

Today, there is a dearth of champions of growth with equity, development with integrity, peace with justice. Yesterday, when all our troubles seemed so far away, there seemed to be a panoply of knights (of both sexes) in shining armour to sally forth against repression, oppression, suppression.

Tomorrow holds nothing but depression at the plethora of ills that mortal flesh is heir to and which are imposed on us by a brazen new order of aggressors in authority, bureaucrats with boons to crave or axes to grind, and two-bit politicos who think that might is right and will fight anyone who opposes it or them to prove their point.

There was once, not too long ago that it is now time out of mind, a pantheon of heroes contending for the common good. But many if not most of them have by now hung up their spurs in disgust and dismay, turned traitor to the cause under duress or delight in bribes offered to soften their resolve, or simply lie silent in the grave. (Let us honour if we can the horizontal man, though we honour none but the vertical one.)

Don’t get me wrong, dears. This is not a clarion call to mount a white charger and go off tilting at windmills like some misled media moguls are sometime wont to do. You don’t have to be a fearless iconoclastic editor of a yellow journal to dig at the rotten roots, uproot corrupt plants, and fell trees fit only for burning.

Your duty, right, and privilege as citizens of a country that is still a democracy the last time we checked begins where you are. At a store or supermarket checkout counter where first come is not always first served. In your neighbourhood, where the high and mighty push everyone around, in the same way the rich and powerful in the larger community do with the nation at large.

On buses, where women are pressed. In places both domestic and scholastic where children hard-pressed by exploitative adults. Against lawmakers and law-enforcement who’re lawbreakers.

The cost? There may be one! That it is worth paying is proven by the present outspokenness of many angry young men today who were once bullied as children. There is something wrong with our society that will take more than skinned knees and bruised elbows to fix. Thank you to those – like a brave young woman writer who stood up recently or a forum of concerned citizens which keeps speaking out – who have said their piece, done their bit, and can now shut up and sit down… Well, once all the bullies have finally fled!

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