Sri Lanka: The country without citizens.

Edited version originally published on Groundviews.

NOTE FROM AUTHOR:

For someone who is not in the least interested in politics – and is more often than not bored by it – my reaction to the 2010 Presidential Elections was surprising, even to me. Strangely enough though, I found that a lot of people felt much the same way. We were repulsed by constant news of violence; inescapable hoardings with their proclamations that our politicians loved us; posters that made the city walls disappear beneath them; partisan media stuffing propaganda down our unwilling throats; the promises of candidates that we knew to be false.

Yet, despite all this, we cared – albeit, rather reluctantly and in spite of ourselves. We still wanted to be in the know; we still tried to separate fact from the politicians’ fiction. We still agonized over who to support, fought with our friends and colleagues about that choice, and later felt guilty that we might be making the wrong one.

I for one became obsessed with these dilemmas, and, as a first-time voter felt totally out of depth in the process. On the night of the 26th as the results started trickling and then pouring in I sat glued to my television set, snowy with bad reception, and wrote them feverishly down in my journal, as if my pen might help me make sense of the outcome. It didn’t – and at about 3.30 am my writing had become so unintelligible that I had to give up and get a few hours rest.

It was at least a small comfort that I wasn’t alone in my peculiar fixation with the elections. Being a heavy Facebook and Twitter user, I realized that many people I knew – no matter their age – felt similarly repelled and attracted towards this pivotal election. Some posted the entire election results on their blogs, others constantly updated their statuses with election-related news; some spent their time reading and sharing relevant material and others – like me – couldn’t stop writing about it in any and all fora.

This article, I guess, is proof that this process is continuing.

* * *

I’ve heard it said by a prominent artist that there is no such thing as a citizen of Sri Lanka. That, we are a country without citizens.

The statement stuck with me, purely because I had no idea what he meant. But watching the unravelling chaos the election brought with it in the past weeks, I’ve been able to form my own interpretation (although I can’t be sure that this is how he intended his statement to be read).

Sri Lanka is a country of many publics – too fragmented or just too different to form one cohesive whole. This election enlightened me to this in a way nothing else ever has. Continue reading Sri Lanka: The country without citizens.

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The bigger picture

Published originally on Perambara.org.


Within minutes the crowd grows from a few random stragglers to a swelling, shouting throng. I stand there amongst the women, waiting to be body-searched by female security personnel and there are people actually shoving me, pushing to get to the front of the line – the quicker the search is done, the quicker they can rush to the other side and join their men in the fray. I feel conspicuous in my awkwardness, out of place wearing the embarrassment I always feel as invasive hands search my body for hidden weapons.

The search done, I attempt to cross over but security won’t let me pass. I wave my ministry media ID at them – it’s been a long day – but they look perplexed, as if they’ve never seen a woman media person before. Still, I am small fry and they are watchful of the crowd so they pass me on from one officer to the next. I don’t mind – media ID in one had and camera in the other, I utilize their confusion and start taking photographs of this dynamic, bursting crowd.

Continue reading The bigger picture