We had a true son of the soil in Parliament on Tuesday. Uruvarige Vanniyale Aththo is his name. He is the present Veddha Chief. Bare-chested and sporting a long beard with grey streaks, he walked up to the Speaker s gallery with his characteristic aplomb with his trade mark axe on the shoulder and sat there somewhat bemused. Parliament was thus graced by the presence of a real leader after a lapse of decades!
What on earth brought such a decent human being to Parliament? He must have been as flabbergasted and disoriented as an upasaka mahattaya straying into St. John s market. It was only a few years ago that a group of school children in the public gallery cowered and blubbered, scared out of their wits, when a free for all broke out below and volleys of raw filth were freely exchanged. Luckily, no such incident was reported on Tuesday. Else, the Veddha Chief would have mistakenly judged the voting public by the conduct of their representatives in that assembly. His fellow countrymen, Vanniyale Aththo would have thought, were an uncivilised lot.
Had the Veddha Chief intended to gain something from his visit, he must have been disappointed. He has nothing to learn from our blokes in kapati-suit. It is the politicians who have a great deal to learn from the Veddhas on matters such as deportment and demeanour and the much-talked-about good governance. A few years ago, when the Tigers were on honeymoon with the Elephants to father a solution to the conflict, parliamentarians had many overseas junkets, which came to be dubbed federal tours . They were being taken all over the world to study devolution. So, why not organise some study tours and take politicians to the Veddha territory to learn good governance, which has become a lucrative business in this country. (There has been a proposal to set up an All Party Conference on Good Governance from some quarter, as pointed out in a letter in this newspaper today. It is nothing but an NGO gundu (ruse) to make a killing. Some gullible foreign government will fall for that proposal and the NGO kaakkas (crows) will have dollars and pounds jingling in their pockets.)
Politicians can learn a lot from the Veddhas on leadership and peaceful coexistence as well. The Veddha chiefs don t subject their people to parasitic exploitation in return for leading them. They keep the community together with a set of unwritten laws and customs. They don t demand respect of their followers. Instead, they command it. They don t create schisms within their community for personal gain. They lead simple lives just like others without being a burden on the community. They are the undisputed sons of the soil but they are no believers in a homeland as such. All that they ask for is freedom to hunt and gather in the forests as they have been doing for millennia. Ironically, attempts are being made on both sides of the so-called ethnic divide to identify themselves with the Veddhas in a bid to bolster their claim of being the first inhabitants of the island. The lunatic fringe on either side won t spare anything or anyone in trying to prove its superiority!
Those tree-felling politicos must be made to learn at the Veddhas feet their environmental lessons. One may recall Red Indian Chief Seattle s words of wisdom: `Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing, and every humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.` The Veddhas, too, are guided by a similar Weltanschauung. It is not greed but hunger that drives them to exploit their environment, but in a sustainable manner.
Whether the Veddha Chief came to Parliament on his own or on someone s invitation is not clear. However, it is our considered opinion that he and his people must be discouraged from venturing far afield in the hostile terrain of politics where creatures worse than wild beasts abound. The Veddhas are often sighted at various places in the company of VIPs who condescendingly pose for pictures with them. The so-called cultural safaris are also on the increase at the expense of the Veddha community. They have manifestly had a deleterious effect on the lives of the Veddhas, some of whom have taken to modelling of sorts. Tourism has led to certain rackets such as imposters selling honey and venison.
The best way to help the indigenous people is to just let them be. They must not be exposed to the outside world and TV cameras for someone else to gain mileage. Their assimilation into the mainstream society is inevitable as has been the tragic experience of the aborigine down under, and a section of the gypsy community in this country but let that be part of a natural process.
Above all, the leaders of the Veddha community must be dissuaded from associating with lawmakers and visiting political institutions lest they should emulate politicians. If that happens, not even all the devas in this country numbering 330 million, as it is popularly believed will be able to save the poor Veddhas!
May their fate be different from ours!