Friday 5th May, 2023
The Vesak Full Moon Poya Day falls today. It is usually celebrated on a grand scale in this country, but this time around there has been a noticeable decline in festivity owing to the prevailing economic crisis. Pandols and danselas, where food and beverages are given away, are few and far between unlike in the past. Exorbitant electricity tariffs and the very high prices of decorative materials have made this Vesak less colourful, but decorations, etc., are only mundane frills that can be done away with. What should be of concern to us instead is the widespread moral decadence, which is reflected in the ruthless exploitation of the public during an unprecedented crisis in this predominantly Buddhist country.
Politicians, especially those in power, draw heavy flak for furthering their interests at the expense of the public, and they, in fact, deserve all the sharp barbs they receive. Thanks to them, this country, which was once known as the ‘Granary of the East’, is begging for loans and food aid among other things. Decades of economic mismanagement, corruption, abuse of power and theft of public funds have left the people struggling to dull the pangs of hunger. Survival is the biggest challenge most people are facing.
The self-important politicians never miss an opportunity to make a public display of their religiosity. Gotabaya Rajapaksa took oaths as the President, in 2019, within the precincts of Ruwanweliseya, and his Cabinet was sworn near Sri Dalada Maligawa the following year. But they made a mockery of their much-advertised commitment to upholding Buddhist values; corruption thrived on their watch; the theft of people’s money continued; misfits were elevated to high posts, the economy was mismanaged, and the country became bankrupt. Worse, they have not cared to mend their ways. They continue to line their pockets while clinging on to power like limpets. The only thing they allocate, with a generous hand, for the consumption of the public is tear gas.
Politicians are however not alone in thriving on the misery of the public. Most members of the business community are no better. They are fleecing the hapless people, who are struggling to make ends meet. Eatery owners jacked up the prices of their products exponentially when cooking gas prices went up. Gas prices have dropped considerably and so have those of vegetables, flour, etc., but the eatery owners callously refuse to pass the benefits of these price reductions on to the public. In this country, the so-called price stickiness is always disadvantageous to consumers.
It is not only the producers of goods who fleece the public in this manner; those who provide ‘services’ also do likewise. Bus and taxi operators increase fares when fuel prices go up, but they do not effect corresponding fare reductions when fuel prices drop. Ironically, private buses and taxis in this country look like mobile shrines with all kinds of religious symbols being displayed.
‘Loudspeaker sermons’ that Sri Lankans are treated to on a daily basis, and other such religious practices do not seem to have made any contribution to improving the moral and social behaviour of many people. Otherwise, the ordinary public would not have been exploited in this manner.
Following the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, we witnessed some tragic scenes, where savage elements sprang into action and stripped the victims of the killer waves of their valuables while they were battling death. One wonders whether there is any difference between those acts of savagery and the ongoing exploitation of the unfortunate people who are struggling to feed and clothe their children amidst the worst-ever economic crisis the country is facing. This is something that religious leaders, especially Buddhist monks, ought to take cognisance of and do something about, urgently. The need for a robust social reform movement cannot be overstated. Political or economic reforms alone will not do.