Poson, governance, disaster recovery
Even as Poson's shining moon plays
hide-and-seek with lowering monsoon clouds, many of the worshipping
faithful, especially in the hill country, will remember those affected
by the recent natural and human-made disasters that have struck this
land and its people. Lamps and incense sticks will be lit in memory of
those buried and maimed by the collapsing mountainsides, and, for the
secure future of those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed.
The Sri Lankan Buddhist devotional event of Poson Poya Day
commemorates the formal arrival of the Dhamma in the country, sometime
in the reign of King Devanampiyatissa in the Anuradhapura kingdom in the
3rd Century BC.
The Buddha Dhamma would have had its followers among the population
in Lanka even before the arrival of the Arahant Mahinda-led missionary
group. But it was that legendary meeting and dialogue between monarch
and monk that led to the adoption of the Dhamma by the ruling clan,
thereafter, introducing a new religious and ideological dimension to the
State in Sri Lanka: a symbolic and discursive resource that has served
polity and society here these past millennia.
The symbolism of a powerful new philosophy and doctrine of life and
destiny has protectively cloaked this 'resplendent isle' over the
centuries helping the island society face up to numerous challenges
ranging from political struggles and internecine war to famine, disease,
economic crisis and foreign invasions.
The Sri Lankan polity neared a major institutional crisis in recent
years due to abuses and plunder by political leaders. Complete systemic
collapse was avoided in the nick of time by daring political manoeuvres
and painstaking efforts by activists and politicians to meet the crisis.
Over a year after that momentous political change, the prospects of
'righting' of many wrongs may seem, to some - especially those impatient
for a clean-up - a yet distant future, perhaps too distant for the
credibility of those who promised and, now, must show action for change.
There is probably a particular disillusionment among those who have
worked for regime change and now want not only the new regime to stay on
but also want the changes to be implemented forthwith. Older citizenry,
whose expectations are tempered by long experience and knowledge of the
real challenges, may be more patient at the slow pace of remedial
action. But the younger citizens - the new generation voters - may
expect more, and quickly, in terms of delivery by their elected leaders.
Hence, hopes may be dashed quicker among such new, and more naïve,
political constituencies who may, in premature disillusionment, soon
seek elsewhere for alternative leadership to break out of the perceived
quagmire. Lurking in the murky wings, of course, are many volatile
options ranging from religious fundamentalism, secessionism, to 'New
Age' obscurantism and ethnic fantasies of domination.
Such deviations from more stable and harmonizing social norms and
conventions are ever present to mislead the desperate and un-inspired
away from wholesome and comprehensive solutions and futures.
While poverty is the ever-present principal marker for social
dissatisfaction and frustrations, nationalism lies in wait to enrapture
the frustrated, leading them precipitately to divisive and selfish
'solutions'; as if the rollercoaster ride to quick fixes is the way to
The way different groups of people, some being the survivors of
natural disasters and, others being those affected by human-made
disasters, are recovering today from their respective predicaments, is a
window on to the world of opportunities opening up and closing in this
Most of the people of Meeriyabedda, in the Badulla district, or, at
least, the few in those villages who survived the horrific mountain
collapse in 2014, yet remain in tents on open hillsides, poorly
protected from rain and mud and, in an insecure social environment.
Nearly two years after they were cruelly dislodged from their homes,
these people remain with mostly nothing and yet await a roof over their
The people of Aranayaka are a little better off being also still
camped out and yet to return to their normal habitat. They, too, do not
have hope for a quick fix, being remotely located and, perhaps, 'out of
sight' being 'out of mind'.
It is ironic that people most affected by the human-made explosives
disaster in Salawa, have been the ones most quickly attended to by the
authorities. Perhaps it is merely the coincidence of the institution
primarily responsible being the Army, a highly disciplined and
professionalised, military force, which, therefore, wishes to protect
its own pristine record by moving fast and efficiently to ensure that
all affected are rehabilitated and compensated without delay.
The Army being, in effect, the 'perpetrator' of that military
disaster, wants to protect and enhance its institutional reputation by
being seen to be prompt in its actions. In the case of the other two
disasters, the causes are natural and hence, there is no human
institution to be directly held responsible. Thus, there is no
institution either in Meeriyabedda or Aranayaka, that feels compelled to
save its reputation or prestige by acting swiftly and efficiently.
And is the location of Salawa in a more populated area, close to the
capital city and adjoining busy travel routes, also a factor - the
chance to showcase one's efficiency and social responsibility? Is it
that the impoverished peasants and estate workers in the remote hills of
Aranayaka and Meeriyabedda, respectively, are too far away from the
public eye for anyone to care?
The silvery moonlight of Poson embraces all and leaves out none. As
does the Dhamma, should not also the faithful?