Even as Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa rises from his seat this Friday to address the Commonwealth Heads of Government and looks at the carefully prepared speech couched in faultless diplomatic waffle designed to conceal truths with the glossy sheen of falsities, to varnish the sham with saccharine smarmed flourish, he must indeed wish he had [...]


Gloves off slam to C’wealth sham


Even as Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa rises from his seat this Friday to address the Commonwealth Heads of Government and looks at the carefully prepared speech couched in faultless diplomatic waffle designed to conceal truths with the glossy sheen of falsities, to varnish the sham with saccharine smarmed flourish, he must indeed wish he had it in his power to speak his mind, to give voice to what his heart felt, to say the truth even if it did hurt.

As he pauses on the podium to gauge his bearings and peers at his audience of equals seated before him, the leaders of 52 members of the Commonwealth of Nations come to crown him captain of the Commonwealth ship, he must hear the words of his advisers warning him not to speak of issues closer home to his heart, euphemistically called ‘country specifics,’ since it may touch upon sensitivities, since it may tread upon tender toes, since he may traverse where he should not dare to go.

Be that as it may, how he must wish that he could fling the crafted litany of invocations and supplications carefully contrived to appease the gathered flock, devised not to ruffle diplomatically permed feathers, and instead, throwing caution and his foreign ministry warnings to the wind, say “off with the pious pretense. Off with the flamboyant fiction, the fashionable fib. The time for truth has come and I must say it or forever hold my peace and be forever damned”

Putting on a colourful show: Sri Lanka gets ready for the upcoming CHOGM. Pic by Indika Handuwala

As his eyes rove Nelum Pokuna’s auditorium and pauses suddenly on two empty chairs, sticking out like two sore thumbs, the padded seats that should have held the Canadian Prime Minister and the Indian Prime Minister, the urge to break through the façade of diplomatic niceties must grow more intense.

Much controversy surrounded the holding of this conference in Colombo and the empty chairs he could see were evidence of it. Despite the many efforts made to persuade them to honour all with their presence here today, they had chosen to keep away. Their grouse was that they were not happy with the progress made in Lanka’s human rights record. As a result the nation’s image, his government’s performance had suffered much. Both Canada’s and India’s orchestrated actions, one’s curt dismissive rejection of the invite months ago, the other’s wavering stance on the fence had had its desired effect and had tainted the splendour of his Commonwealth coronation. And for one moment which encompassed time infinite there he was on the podium delivering the address every fibre of his body and soul dictated he deliver.

“For our part we accept that there are human rights issues. We don’t deny it. But who can cast the first stone? Is there anyone here who is free of sin, blameless of human rights violation? Hasn’t Canada her Aboriginals, the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis comprising approximately five per cent of the national population? And how has this paragon of virtue, which she makes herself out to be to the world, treated her own?

Let the record speak for itself. Under the rule of the whiter than white Canadians, these native aboriginals were forced to integrate themselves into Canadian Culture, were forced by law to assimilate into Eurocentric Society which many contend was a violation of the United Nation Charter of Genocide which Canada signed in 1949 and made law in 1952.

To subjugate a minority native race and then force them against their will to imbibe a half-baked culture they did not wish to absorb was the odious practice abhorrently committed against the Aboriginals. To be compelled by a ruthless government intent, without any qualms, on brainwashing their hearts and minds in order to make them become more amenable to control, to wean them from their proud ancestry and tribal heritage and transform them to be the servile, submissive, servants of a master race of Canadian whites exercising racial supremacy through unjust racist laws was the inexorable fate that befell Canada’s minority community of Aboriginals

That’s not all. Even more shocking is how, funded by the Canadian Government thousands of children belonging to these minority communities were forcibly taken from their homes, dragged away from their parents, denied filial love and care and summarily placed in Christian schools under a state sponsored programme called ‘residential schools’.

Twenty years ago while the Canadian Government was berating Sri Lanka, accusing us of violating human rights as we battled a brutal terrorist war waged against us, there was Canada, in calm peace time, callously and brutally dragging innocent children of the Aboriginals from their homes en masse and loading them to trucks and, reminiscent of the way the Jews were forcibly taken to labour camps by Nazis, herding the children to Christian schools to be forcibly converted to an alien creed they did not wish to embrace; and to undergo compulsory systematic indoctrination, giving a warped twist to the hitherto known meaning of ‘compulsory education’.

That these children suffered severe trauma under this enforced system, that they were denied parental love and care, that they were separated from their mothers, fathers, their grandparents their siblings and their loved ones, whilst the Canadian white child was brought up and educated in the bosom of the family, in the warm comfort of their homes, that they were deprived the knowledge of their ancestral languages that spoke in primordial tongue to the Aboriginal soul, that they were exposed and suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands and staff of these religious schools, are well documented and have led scholars to hold the opinion that Canada could be tried in a UN established International Court for Genocide after a documentary made by a Canadian clergyman Kevin Annet titled Unrepentant: Canada’s dirty secret – the planned genocide of aboriginal people in church-run Indian Residential Schools.

Five years ago the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Committee was set up to inquire into the ‘residential schools’ policy. The hearings are still ongoing and the report on its findings is still to materialise. In May 2010 the Lankan Government set up the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee to inquire into allegations of human rights violations committed by Government Forces at the height and heat of the last days of the thirty year old terrorist war. The Committee concluded its report and, in December 2011, submitted its recommendations some of which have already been implemented.
The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reason for not attending the Commonwealth Summit is that all the recommendations have not been implemented. What moral right does he have to make that demand of the Lankan Government and to hold it as the underlying reason to snub this multi nation event whilst his own government is dragging its feet with the inquiry into the atrocities committed under the ‘residential schools’ system? Or does he suffer the belief that saying a simple ‘sorry’ to the Aboriginals as he said in 2008 suffices to absolve the Canadian Government of all sins for this heinous form of discrimination perpetrated until the year 1996 for its majority race to rule supreme over a brainwashed and down trodden minority?

Twelve years it took for Canada to even appoint a commission to probe the pernicious residential school system operated under its auspices and the report is still not complete. This then is the Government that with sanctimonious humbug chastises and takes Lanka to task for a two year delay in implementing all the thirty five recommendations contained in the report of the LLRC, whilst its own institutionalised racist atrocities, which also involves forced sterilisation of children and three thousand deaths, are still in the process of being compiled by a committee that has sat on it for over five years.

If not for the fact that this is a commonwealth summit which happens to be held in Colombo and Lanka is called upon to play host and as such has no discretion in the choice of the guest list but has to invite all members irrespective of their backgrounds, the Canadian Prime Minister representing as he does a nation responsible for this vile and abominable crime against a helpless minority race of Aboriginals, would not be welcome even on a transit visa to the shores of Lanka.

Is this the high moral pedestal from which Canada with audacious spunk, spouts her hypocritical balderdash, froths with presumptuous insolence the barrage of calumny against Lanka? These unforgivable crimes against humanity revolt against the collective conscience of the civilized world, yet, remarkably stir not the British to neither condemn nor move India to boycott Canada? Whether committed in war or peace, crime is crime.

And what of India? What of her Dalits, the Untouchables whom Gandhi called the Children of God, and named as the Harijans? For centuries these people, condemned to the very dregs of the Indian social caste system, have been treated as pariahs and called so. Even today, so deeply ingrained is the hierarchy of castes in the Indian mental set up that the Harijans are allowed to perform nothing but the most menial of work, unofficially banned from Hindu Kovils, and interaction with the rest of society. In certain part of Southern India even the sight of these Harijans are considered to be sufficient to pollute a person of a higher caste. India’s panacea to cure this vile ill in their midst is to have outlawed any reference to them as untouchables, classifying them by the clinically sterilized unpolluted title of ‘Scheduled Castes”.

But the malady, by any other name, is malignant still; and though it may satisfy the mass of India to have officially purified their conscience by the use of euphemism as an artifice to conceal a people’s repugnant degradation, the Harijans remain condemned as before, shunned, like mangy dogs bearing fleas, for the branding birthmark stigmatizing their caste.
In the seething sewers of India’s stagnant poverty, where the Sun God’s rays never fall upon to illumine their abject suffering, when not all the sacred waters of the Holy Ganges can cleanse them of the indelible tattoo that brand their untouchable tribe, one hundred and sixty million Harijans breed the squalor of India, breathe the shame of her people.

But for the political sirens of Tamil Nad who can only see discrimination etched on every tombstone, ploughed in every furrowed field in pastures across the Palk Strait, who never fail to beat their breast and give howl to the wolverine wail over the supposed hardships of the citizens of another country, namely, the Tamil citizenry of Lanka, this sad and shocking scandal on their doorstep is not a cause worthy of their espousal; and they close their eyes and shut their hearts to the despicable continuing tragedy of their own countrymen and thus the roaring tumult of the Harijans’ woe remain silent, ignored and unbemoaned, their stigma stays shrouded in a sinister smog of brazen duplicity.

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