I remember the first time I read George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm. I must have been about ten years old at the time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story about how the animals, tired of being treated as slaves and exploited by the humans who ran the Manor Farm in which they were kept, staged [...]

Sunday Times 2

Some animals are more equal…


I remember the first time I read George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm.

I must have been about ten years old at the time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story about how the animals, tired of being treated as slaves and exploited by the humans who ran the Manor Farm in which they were kept, staged a revolution and overthrew their nasty human masters. The animals subsequently ran the farm themselves, changed its name from Manor Farm to Animal Farm — and decided that the Farm should thereafter be governed according to their ‘Seven Commandments of Animalism’.

I remember being intrigued as a child by these commandments, the first two of which read as follows:
I. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy
II. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

The last and most important commandment of the seven was ‘All animals are equal.’

Some years later as a more mature young adult, I read Animal Farm again, and was able to understand that Orwell wrote this appealing story as an allegory – to deliver a message about how even the best intentioned revolution becomes perverted by the revolutionaries. The way a new society is structured may change – whether after a bloody revolution or a seminal election – but human (or animal) nature does not change. The newly empowered rulers sooner or later turn out to be just like the tyrants they replaced.

In Orwell’s book, the pigs (the cleverest of the animals, who had initiated the overthrow of the tyrannical humans) gradually change the seven commandments to suit themselves. The changes are not wrought abruptly but subtly, almost imperceptibly, so that the other animals do not realise that the principles by which they are being governed are being changed to suit those in charge. The final straw is when two of the older animals, who had been around at the time of the revolution, walk by the large wall on which the commandments were prominently displayed – and noticed that the important commandment ‘All animals are equal’ has been changed. It now read ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

These past few weeks, I have been musing about how Orwell’s ‘seventh commandment’ — one of twentieth century literature’s most memorable sentences — has become so relevant to the society in which we are now living in this country.

We ordinary citizens — the hoi polloi, if you will — are bound by rules and regulations promulgated by our rulers and their functionaries. We obediently stood in queues to get vaccinated with the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.  When the time came for us to receive the second dose, we turned up as instructed to be vaccinated — only to be told that there were no more vaccines. Priority appears to have been given to important and valuable members of our society such as politicians and even retired politicians – while Public Health Inspectors (the PHIs who perform such an important duty in the face of an epidemic) as well as nurses and junior doctors who are the backbone of our hospital system — are still waiting to be fully immunised.

Of course, the trade union of government medical officers that is presided over by Dr Padeniya, a permanent politician and part time expert on Pliny the Elder’s work (who when he has some time to spare from his important other activities functions as a paediatric neurologist) managed to get vaccinations for its members and their families. Stories are being told of folk who, related neither by blood nor marriage, were taken along by some GMOA members as their ‘immediate family’ to get vaccinated!

Another example of this ‘some animals are more equal than others’ attitude was demonstrated last month by Moratuwa mayor Samanlal Fernando.

Not content with the fact that the citizens of Moratuwa (unlike those of Jaffna) were being provided with effective vaccines, Fernando felt it his duty to give chits to his catchers so that they could be given their vaccinations before ‘ordinary citizens’ (like you and me) could get our vaccinations. He had even gone to the vaccination venue where, we hear, he threatened and harangued the doctor who was in charge of the vaccination programme. Sadly, history has shown us that politicians like him, although they get arrested and remanded, stand a very good chance of escaping the due process of the law – and even end up as members of parliament in years to come, elected by the votes of the very same catchers and pandan-kaarayas who were given chits to get priority in obtaining things all of us should be entitled to (like vaccinations, jobs and school entry)!

As often happens in our country, it matters not what you are legitimately entitled to get — but whom you know and who is willing to pull strings for you.

We citizens can clearly see that many of our politicians have adopted a “Do as we say, but don’t try to do as we do” approach during this Covid pandemic. There are many politicians today who keep showing us by their actions that they consider themselves ‘more equal’ than the rest of us. Travel restrictions, lockdown orders, curfews and social distancing are only for yakkos like you and me who cannot get a curfew pass.

We are today under the rule of legislators who genuinely believe that rules are for other people. They consider themselves, like the pigs in Animal Farm, as our keepers — in the same way that farm owners view the lowly animals labouring on their farms.

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