Safeguarding Independence, the duty of all Sri Lankans
“For what avail the
plough or sail or land or life, if freedom fail?” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
(1803 – 1882), US poet and thinker
“To safeguard democracy
the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and
their one-ness.” - Mahatma Gandhi
The profound rapture generated by true independence swells beyond the
mere satisfaction brought on by worldly and material pleasures and gets
embedded deeply in the inner recesses of the human psyche. Very often,
it is when they lose it that men and women begin to sorely miss the
miraculous glory of freedom, and start yearning for it, heart and soul.
Once, a wise individual made an observation that is quite apt in this
context. He said: “We fully appreciate the glory of summer, when we
shiver in the freezing cold of winter.”
Freedom too is in this category. People begin to feel keenly the warm
glow of freedom, and its life-enhancing spasm, only when they lose it.
The average person does not give much thought to independence and
freedom, when he possesses them in ample measure. Those who took but
scant notice of independence and freedom when they could wallow in them
to their hearts’ content are devastated when they are bereft of
independence and freedom. The sadness that assaults their souls when
their accustomed freedom is gone is vast. When they are bathed in the
cosy comfort of freedom, many cannot fully savour the great good fortune
they are blessed with.
Mulk Raj Anand (1905 – 2004), the Indian writer, has crafted a short
story that underlines the subtle and indescribable ecstasy that
independence and freedom impart to a person. It goes this way:
A mother enters a carnival ground with her little child. The child
clings tightly to the mother's hand. As they go along, the child sees a
balloon man. “I want a balloon”, he says. Ignoring his plea, the mother
takes him along. As they pass a sweetmeats stall, the child asks for
them. Mother takes him along without paying attention to the child's
The child continues to ask for things that attract him – toys,
clothes and caps. Unmoved, the mother goes along, steadily gripping the
Suddenly, in the milling crowd, the child loses his hold, and is
separated from the mother. Lost utterly helplessly in the thronging
crowds, the child begins to scream. The carnival organisers rush to him
and try to comfort him. “Don't cry, we will give you balloons.” The
child does not need them at all. “I want my mother,” he screams.
The exasperated organisers offer him sweetmeats, toys, clothes – all
the things he asked his mother for. They no longer console him. Sobbing
and screaming, he keeps on asking for his mother. Bereft of the mother's
warmth and affection, the child would not be comforted by all those
things he so ardently yearned for earlier.
This exactly is the sense and essence of freedom. When we bask in the
warm glow of freedom, we yearn for a variety of things. We agitate for
boons and privileges, luxuries of life, houses and vehicles. Once
freedom is gone, one cannot quell the sharp pangs of dejection, anguish
and desolation, even if one gets all those things one so earnestly
yearned for, when one were free. However exquisite may be the luxuries
we are pampered with, in the absence of our freedom, even the indulgence
in such joys is accompanied by a soul-searing agony.
This explains why freedom is the true, living essence of the human
This deep-seated yearning for freedom is not limited to humans.
Stories abound about wild animals, torn forcibly out of their accustomed
habitats and off the bosom of their intimate packs and herds, being
stricken by the loss of their untrammelled freedom in the limitless
wilderness of their home. Stories record some chimpanzees captured in
the wild and caged, bashing their heads against the walls of their cages
and killing themselves. They cannot cope with their loss of freedom, and
the entailing loneliness. The harrowing dejection brought on by the loss
of freedom is common to animals too.
It is proper to refer to a highly impactful cinematic work screened
at a film event organised by the German Cultural Centre, Colombo
sometime ago. Strangely enough, the lead character in this film was a
woman in her eighties. The film was titled Lena Braque, after her name.
She leads a free life in her cosy little house.
An urban housing development project is keen to take over her house.
After tough resistance, she gives in with deep reluctance. As
compensation for giving up her freedom, she is assigned a place in a
home for the aged. The film depicts her arrival at this home, torn
forcibly off her freedom. She enters the room, sits on the bed and
heaving a deep heart-ranging sigh, takes a slice of bread. Her deep sigh
is as potent as a tornado, gushing out of her inner being, which is
profoundly troubled by her loss of freedom. As the story continues, at
the home for the aged she obtains a fund with the help of a mate and
moves to her own home. When she goes to this new place, where she is
once again free, she sits on the bed and takes a slice of bread and
heaves a sigh – as earlier. This time, her sigh is an ode to freedom
regained - a sigh of utter relief.
These preliminary observations have a functional value when we mark
the 65th anniversary of Sri Lanka's Independence from imperial rule. The
Independence we gained has a spiritual value as well. This aspect is as
significant as the historical and material dimensions of our
Over a span of nearly 2,555 years, 186 monarchs ruled this island.
There were also those who held sway over provincial regions. Although
there have been ups and downs in the progress of our history, the
inescapable fact is that we have inherited a tradition of independence
that stretches over 25 centuries. We held our own against the superior
weaponry and subtle conspiracies of incoming forces.
In 1815, a group of persons with their inner beings sullied and
darkened by power-craze, deluded by the receptions of imperial
intrigues, throttled the gush of freedom that had blessed this noble and
sacred land for ages. The independence that had enabled the emergence of
a gentle, but stupendous culture, unique in certain ways in the history
of mankind, came to a sad end. The freedom of the collective soul of
this island nation cracked and shattered.
Almost immediately after this tragic turn of events, the people woke
up aghast, fully realising the devastating impact of the loss of their
Depths of devastation
True to the axiom that it is after the loss of independence that
people begin to realise the tragic depths of their devastation, the
masses of Sri Lanka started to mourn and lament what they had thrown
away. Folk poetry articulated the mass sadness. Moved to the utmost
depths of their being, some determined to regain their independence,
even if lives had to be sacrificed. People rose up and were put down
with harsh, cruel and inhuman strategies.
The guardians of the people – the Bhikkhus - took active steps to
safeguard the heritage. In reprisal, the rulers, at times resorted to
‘scorched earth policy’ tactics. Whole regions where pro-freedom
feelings ran high were mercilessly scorched.
The leaders of all races and religions organised themselves in a
unified effort to assert independence. This movement was not at all as
vast or aggressive as the Indian freedom struggle. However, the imperial
representatives, adopting a ‘reign of terror’, resorted to arbitrary
assassinations and incarcerations of the leading ‘freedom lovers'.
History evolved and on February 4, 1948, Sri Lanka regained its
independence, as the outcome of a peaceful freedom movement. When we
were blessed with freedom after 133 years of imperial rule, the masses
rejoiced. The people received what they yearned for.
However, for nearly three decades in the 65 years of Independence,
Sri Lanka experienced its darkest era. Almost immediately after we
gained Independence, the world's worst terrorism smothered the civilised
life in this gentle, peace-oriented and compassionate land.
The masses in Sri Lanka, with tear-filled eyes, palpitating hearts
and fear-dominated days, nights and minutes, experienced with their own
lives, the tormenting pangs that come in the slipstream of lost freedom.
They experienced the worst physical pains and the sharp soul tortures
that the loss of freedom could bring. This was an era in which any
simple act – such as walking, waking, sleeping or gathering together
could mean death. Death lurked everywhere. Sudden loss of life became
routine. Terror reigned so extensively, that at times, people were
frightened even to breathe.
In recent history, Sri Lankans, living under the threat of the
world's worst terrorist unit, must have been the human community that
yearned and prayed for peace ceaselessly.
This time, restoring peace became a divine act. Unlike after 1815, in
this terrorist chapter, everyone felt threatened. When the leader
resolved to eradicate this hideous threat to life, he exposed himself to
a massive risk. After completing his mission, to the encomiums of all
life- and freedom-loving humans on Planet Earth, he ushered in True
Today, we celebrate two forms of Independence: the Independence
gained in 1948 and the Independence that brought freedom and
unthreatened living to the masses of this land.
Today, when we rejoice the achievements of Independence, we all have
an inescapable duty - Remember that freedom is hard-won. Nourish it with
commitment. Protect it from being betrayed. Prof. Tennakoon Wimalananda
discovered two documents while on research in London. One was a letter
written by a British officer stationed in Sri Lanka in 1814. Writing to
the Colonial Secretary in London, he said: “The big fish is in our net.
Shall we raise it?” Back came the answer from the Colonial Secretary:
“Do not worry. The Sinhalese people themselves will raise the net for
While keeping these words in mind, as thoughts for the Independence
Day, we should hear out Wendell Phillips as well. This is what he said:
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”.
George Bernard Shaw too reflected: “Liberty means responsibility.
That is why most men dread it”.
Today, for the second time, the national leader has won Independence
for Sri Lankans. Our duty is to safeguard this hard-won Independence. No
one can risk its repeated loss.