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How to get us all to Galle from Tangalle

[Sunday Times.lk, Sunday, 8 January 2012 10:42 No Comment]

Is it too early in the year to start lamenting the state of law and disorder in this country? I think not, to judge by the echoes from the gunshots on Christmas Day in Tangalle – which, even as you and I gird our loins for the rest of the tourist season (what’s left of it), are reverberating around Britain and Europe.

We refer, of course, to the egregious killing of an innocent sojourner in Sri Lanka – a sort of knight-at-arms (he supplied prosthetics for victims of war), alone and palely loitering, whom some unsmiling assassin with a knife under the cloak struck down in the prime of his youth (he was just 32). The gash across his throat was to add insult to injury, the carefree chatter of automatic weapons fire having cut out the visitor’s life quicker than it takes to say “too many petty politicos are violent thugs” backwards in southern jargon.

We may also make pointed reference to the ambivalent attitude of the authorities in the aftermath of the shocking slaying – first a resounding silence; then the deafening barrage of platitudes about rounding up the usual suspects; and finally the fading echoes of nothing worthwhile having been done to mete out justice, stem the tide, reverse the unwholesome trend.

This was not the first incident of murder and mayhem among the denizens of the south. Nor will it be the last if the culture of impunity presses its case. Which makes it all the more important, urgent, and imperative (we run out of adjectives faster than security thugs spray ammo) the authorities do something to get us all safely from the Tangalle Syndrome to the Galle Literary Festival type of event in the nick of time.

The Tangalle Syndrome

The climate of impunity that prevails in the land as regards apprehending and punishing political mischief-makers could be the undoing of us all. And we don’t simply mean the frightening off of 10,000 Russian visitors or 100,000 British tourists. But that too. Sri Lanka’s US$ 750-plus million tourist industry presently averages 850,000 travellers to our sunny shores; but if present trends persist, there will be more than a cloud looming over the targeted 1,000,000 tourists and US$ 1,000,000,000 in 2012.

In December 2004, our island-nation was poised on the brink of a record-breaking year for holidaymakers to our land when the tsunami washed over our eastern shores with a vengeance. Seven years later, a spate of gunshots in the south could hail the advent of a greater disaster – if the pattern is not identified soon enough by the powers that be. Because – although one swallow does not make a summer or one tourist killed does not flush the season down the tube altogether, there’s something about ‘death in the afternoon’ that does no one any good… especially when the powers that be, in effect, are holding the smoking gun.

Which is what they are doing when they refuse to take sterner action against perpetrators of such arbitrary violence, baulk at disarming the gangs of thugs in the guise of politicos who roam our highways and byways with their security contingents, and make sorry excuses for the state of the nation.

The Galle Literary Festival

That Sri Lanka is poised on the verge of some kind of economic recovery is perhaps not in doubt. We will leave aside the ramifications of the macroeconomic indicators and their reception in the credit rating Valhallas of the world aside for one moment. Today we dwell on the bold and beautiful possibilities.

tangalle-incident

Tangalle: Police at the scene of the crime

One shining showcase of Serendip’s potential is the Galle Literary Festival, which Harper’s Bazaar has described as “the world’s best literary festival”, and which – although it rakes in shekels more for the region and the organizers than our national coffers – serves to put Taprobane back on the world-events map.

A jewel in the crown of possibility that spans the gamut from whole new adventures in the realms of leisure and recreation – from ‘tea trails’ through nature/culture to the type of religious tourism that will see Anuradhapura arrest Angkor Wat, Arugam Bay washout Bali’s prospects, and Sigiriya’s pleasure gardens outshine Singapore’s entertainment domes as the amusement park of the east.

The reality, perhaps, is that we are dreaming; but a dream it will continue to be – if the powers that be don’t buckle up, knuckle down, bite the bullet of political expediency, and put a stop to the bedlam and carnage. Whether it is a kingpin among ruling party politicians or some two-bit hoodlum in a rundown neighbourhood, the ethos of violence with impunity must end.

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