Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Celebration of Independence – What does it truly mean? Who are the real heroes?

This blog is meant to record events of my life in my current situation of trying very hard to use my limited resources, to build an enterprise based on growing crops in rural village small-scale agriculture, and make my produce available at a reasonable price direct to the consumer, having personally transported some of my produce long distances at the dead of night to bring it fresh to the table.

It is a very independent way of life that is full of every hardship imaginable, but one is willing to undergo all this for that word independence. In the same vein the Nation celebrating Independence also must realize that with that word are a lot of sacrifices. In the present context, the final victory now in sight has been achieved by a heavy price paid by the soldiers and the majority of the citizens of the land who have had to indirectly sacrifice some of their basic rights, and privileges as well as desires for this victory.

Please let us not forget the true heroes of this victory. They are the men and women who work so hard in foreign lands, and send their hard earned money back home, whose remittances now amounting to about US$4Billion a year, that has enabled the war to be fought, the soldiers to be paid, the expensive hardware and ordnance to be purchased from overseas, and the bloated government kept in relative luxury, and foreign travel, when compared with the families of those who actually remit the money.

I want to make a very important point on the above statement. The US$90,000 remitted by 45 maids working in Dubai at an average of US$2,000 each per year, will buy a tax free latest model BMW for a Minister. At today’s exchange rate after transaction charges the Mid East worker’s family receives Rs 225,000 for the year. If the government had devalued the rupee by 20%, the least that is immediately required, this family would have received a further Rs50,000 or a little over Rs4,000 a month more. The Beemer would still cost the same in dollars. However if our cash rich Politicians want to buy dollars after devaluation, they will have to pay 20% more in rupees, so it is the maid in effect who subsidizes the overseas travel of the wealthy, and their foreign assets.

Over 75% of the citizens of Sri Lanka were born after Independence and therefore, British rule is just part of history. A history nevertheless that to this day has affected the “National Psyche” that has resulted in the 30 year ethnic terrorist conflict. We must try and take all steps necessary to erase this Psyche and replace it with a visionary Patriotism one based on a global perspective, where personal differences are truly immaterial in the pursuit of freedom from want, from hunger, from bondage, where we can all think freely, talk freely and act freely, within international codes of conduct, ethics, and morality without impinging on other people’s freedoms.

Lets celebrate this day, by first thanking our heroes who are at work in their country of employment while we have a Holiday, and request that our leaders recognize their contribution, and do what is necessary to make their lives more bearable in their places of employment, by providing better facilities at our Embassies to ensure that basic rights of our citizens working there are maintained. We can only then be truly independent.


Anonymous said...

It is heart wrenching to learn that a maid makes only a $2000 a year. It hurts even more to learn how rich earn subsidized travel and goods on these peoples back. Then I realize that majority Sri Lankans makes less than $2000 a year. Now I understand your accounting you posted while ago. (I thought you were missing a zero).
You are a very courageous person! May you continue to be independent.

George said...


Thanks for this posting.

In the early 1980s, I taught English in the Sultanate Of Oman, a comparatively liberal Middle Eastern country. These were the early years of Sri Lankan housemaid servitude in that region. By the time I left in 1984, they were being traded at the airport itself. (That is, the local sponsor of the maid would sell her off to the highest bidder, more for sexual slavery than for household work. The better looking the woman, the higher the price.) The treatment of housemaids in countries like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and other Emirates countries was far worse. The situation hasn't changed at all and has probably become worse. To cite one incident, I read in the "Lankadeepa" newspaper about a Sri Lankan woman being told in Saudi Arabia that she had been brought to service the three grown sons of the household. She witnessed the death and clandestine burial of an Indonesian maid who had been brought to the same house previously. (These horror stories don't appear in English language newspapers.) Because Sri Lankan maids also work in Hong Kong and many of them had worked in the Middle East earlier, I continue to hear these horror stories. The Al Jazeera program "Witness" carried a documentary on the plight of Sri Lankan maids in Lebanon. It was so shocking that I no longer feel sorry for the Lebanese when they are bombed or attacked.

A doctor who works in the Seeduwa area, and who sees the plight of returning maids, once told me that we should take the lion out of the flag and replace it with a sketch of a housemaid, because, as you noted, they supply the foreign exchange that keeps Sri Lanka going.

Those luxury cars that the politicians and their kith and kin ride in, their foreign junkets, are financed through the tears of shattered lives, both of the housemaids and their families in Sri Lanka. As a nation, we should be ashamed of the way we export our women to the Middle East for physical and mental torture. I thought the trafficking would stop under a woman President, but ...

Enough said.

Rajaratarala said...

thanks George, I was moved by what you wrote. I just hope we raise the level of awareness sufficiently to address this, as it is still common to sweep under the carpet things we don't like to deal with.

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