The midnight children of our first Independence day will be 50 years on February 4, 1998. All those over 50 years of age surviving today were born during the colonial period. Hence, the majority of our present 18.3 million are the Born Free-those who saw the light of day, breathing the air of a free country.
"I do not think that there is anyone without a soul so dead as not to rejoice that we are a free nation again," said D.S. Senanayake, the nation's first Prime Minister, welcoming the handover of power by the colonial masters. His words encapsulate the mood of a people who were very much alive at the time to the momentous transition which marked the occasion - the handover of a nation's destiny to the sons and daughters of the soil.
Having traversed 50 years as a free nation, the 50th anniversary of our independence is a fitting milestone to assess our journey. What are our achievements and our failures? Have we chosen the correct path or do we have to change course, are questions that assail our minds on this occasion of stock-taking.
No country emerging free from colonial exploitation had a path strewn with flowers, as it were, but rather one cluttered with brambles and rock. Except for those predominantly white colonies of America, Canada and Australia, those in Latin America, Asia and Africa had more problems at independence than they had before-the whiteman's burden.
Looking back over the past 50 years, recalling the same words of the Father of the Nation, can we rejoice on our jubilee Independence? D.S. Senanayake was a man of vision. He carried forward his policies in irrigation, land settlement, power and food production with even greater commitment after 1948. The country was transformed from a mainly rice importing country into one almost self-sufficient in the staple food. The implementation of the accelerated Mahaweli Programme in the 1980s can be viewed as an extension of this same vision.
Impressive gains have been achieved in education, health and population policies. In the post-independent Sri Lanka, the most disastrous experiment has been the attempt to implement a socialist economic programme-nationalisation of vital areas of the economy, notably transport, plantation and industry. This exercise ended in total failure. In consequence, Sri Lanka has not been able to achieve and maintain a satisfactory rate of economic growth to realise the aspirations of the people.
Worse is the rise of violence, social disruption and terrorism that have ripped through the social fabric of post-independent Sri Lanka. Two youth revolts, one in 1971 and the other in late 80s are estimated to have cost the lives of 20,000 and 40,000 respectively. The tally of casualties in the on-going North-East war includes 20,000 civilians, 15,000 security personnel and many thousands of terrorists whose exact numbers are not reliably known. Besides, many thousands are maimed for life and hundreds of thousands are displaced in the war-torn areas and border villages. The ravages of war in terms of money are enormous. The conduct of the war alone costs Rs. 45 billion today. The continuing conflict is undoubtedly the most serious set-back to economic recovery today.
The moral degradation of society is alarming. Allegations of corruption are heard everyday. Bribery and abuse of power are rampant. During 50 years this country has plunged into the abyss of moral decadence.
What better evidence of this decline can we have than the words of our President who says that 80 per cent of the public service is corrupt. Of course the people in turn accuse the politicians of the same malady. This then is the sad legacy of 50 years of self-rule.
In this context, on our Jubilee Independence we certainly have very little to celebrate but much to beat our own breasts.
Breaking from the shackles of five century imperialist reign
Mother Lanka is being bedecked to celebrate five decades after Independence.
Portuguese, Dutch and the English
Exploited us, our valuable tea, rubber, coconut, spices and so on,
But, the British will you nod?
Left us the legacy of English education,
By which we have been showing colours on different spheres.
Can we transform this into a festival of economic freedom, No, we are still to travel a long way.
In the 40's and the 60's Lee Kwan Yew made us an example and said,
'I will make Singapore another Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
But, now, vice versa we are on the reverse.
No one will deny the cancer of Internecine war
Has made us to pay heavily.
Let's all unite burying hatred.
To build up Lanka as a growing giant
Like Singapore or Malaysia.
Then our diamond jubilee will be worth a 'Kohinoor'
According to The Sunday Times of 4th and 17th January 1998, the National Joint Committee and some Buddhist prelates have objected to the visit of Prince Charles to our country to be the Chief Guest on the invitation of the Government at the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of our Independence. They would welcome him on condition the British Monarch or the Prince on her behalf, tenders an apology for the massacres of Sinhala people during the rebellions of 1818 and 1848.
This attitude is quite unfair and ungracious coming from a Buddhist country. If one looks at these unfortunate events in our history against the backdrop of world history, one would find that armed rebellions by subjects against the lawful rulers, all over Europe and Asia - before truly democratic forms of Government became widespread, have been put down with severity, causing loss of life and property.
The British Government was the lawful Government of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from 1815 when the Kandyan Chiefs with the help of the British forces deposed the last native King of Kandy and accepted by treaty King George the IV of England as the lawful sovereign of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on behalf of the people of Ceylon. Therefore, when for whatever reason some sections of Kandyan people rebel1ed causing loss of property and lives in 1818 and again in 1848, the lawful government at the time put down these rebellions with great severity. .
The thinking behind the tendering of a 'belated' apology rises from the case where the Emperor of Japan is supposed to have apologized to the Korean people for the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army of occupation in Korea upto about 1945. Here, these atrocities including the dragging of thousands of Korean women to be sexslaves in Army camps happened in modern times when democratic institutions were in force in most parts of then world. We should not view the unfortunate events of over 150 years ago from our modern democratic bearings, when we enjoy individual rights as civic rights, fundamental rights etc.
Regarding the Waste Lands Ordinance which caused some misfortune to the Kandyan peasants, I would like to present a different angle to what is generally accepted. If the Waste Lands Ordinance was not passed, the forested hills of Central Sri Lanka would still be under heavy forest cover instead of being fruitfully covered with millions of acres of tea and rubber, which brings and has brought a great amount of wealth to our country. The British are gone but the capital wealth they created is with us.
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