An Open Letter to Dr Anuruddha Padeniya and others
First I must say that I am just an ordinary member of FUTA, a member in the periphery and the following ideas are my personal views. Hence they have nothing to do with FUTA’s official views. Further, I address you by your names, as I still believe the majority of the GMOA will never endorse the role you have been playing so far and continue to play, especially regarding the FUTA struggle.
In reading your recent statements at the last stage of the FUTA trade union action, I got really shocked. For more than three months we campaigned for our demands, facing innumerable difficulties ranging from mudslinging to death threats. Our salaries were not given and we were threatened to be sacked. We went to the people making them aware of our demands; wrote a number of articles explaining the root causes of our demands and their national importance; conducted many media briefings; organized various protest activities culminating in a long march and a mega rally. We are proud that we could gain the support of many media personnel and networks, students, political parties and civil society organizations, respective citizens, other trade unions, and the general public. I think it is not wrong if I say that the FUTA struggle was the “talk of the town” for the past three-four months. Above all, we are proud that we could bring the topic of education crisis in Sri Lanka to the forefront of public debate in present Sri Lanka. Despite the criticisms and allegations leveled against the FUTA struggle, its members showed a great commitment and dedication to this cause and, I hope history will give due respect to our struggle.
The government found your statements useful to come up with the excuse that they could not meet our demands. The government media highlighted your statements spicing them up with their usual hate speech. However, these are not the worst effects your statements have had on our struggle. Your statements badly affected the public respect and credibility we had won and that is what I am really worried about. During a period of more than three months, our members worked hard to gain that respect and credibility; they went from town to town meeting the public and talking to them; collected signatures; went through financial difficulties; walked miles and miles; became targets of humiliation, insults, mudslinging, and hate. In spite of all these obstacles we faced, FUTA succeeded in gaining the public support, respect and credibility. FUTA, in a sense, became a hope to people concerned about education and the future of this country. The worst effect of your sudden appearance in the scene and irresponsible statements was the degeneration of this public opinion. Although, fortunately, the vicious forces were not smart enough to highlight this factor and make use of it against FUTA at that crucial moment, unfortunately it had a clear impact on the public mind.
It is really unfortunate to know that you have understood FUTA’s demand for a ‘special category’ (I personally believe FUTA should have avoided this word ‘special’, which caused much debate. In fact, the word ‘separate’ would have worked better in bringing the necessity into attention.) in such a parochial way. FUTA’s demand for including university academics in a ‘special category’ has a history of its own. In brief, it came out during the FUTA trade union action last year, just as a mechanism to make it possible for the government to meet some of our demands. It has nothing to do with any idea of ‘superiority’ over any other profession as you have understood (or as you have made an issue out of it as a result of being manipulated by some other forces.) FUTA’s demand for a ‘special category’ came out as a solution to some of the practical problems the government had always been bringing up when it comes to solving our problems (or a solution to their nice way of ignoring our demands).
Dear Drs, as a proud member of FUTA I must say, my union which has a clear vision and commitment towards its social responsibility has never and will never promote any idea of ‘superiority’. In fact, especially during the period of trade union action it clearly promoted quite the opposite in practice: the image of a simple and down to earth, professional that can reach and share the sentiments of the ordinary people, which is very well embodied by our president and many of our leading members. We are not dreaming of living like a superior group in this half-rotten country in which all the democratic values are being violated openly everyday and in which people are waiting for a hope. This is a country where corrupt politicians and their idiotic sons, smugglers, drug dealers, murderers, and all kinds of anti-social elements are privileged as ‘special’ beings. In that case, if you are against a particular group being privileged as ‘special’, you should first of all set into war against this ‘special’ group but not against the FUTA demand for a special/separate category which was suggested just as a mechanism to overcome practical problems.
Many of us have come from ordinary family backgrounds and we are honest and sincere to our roots. It is funny that you think a group of ‘ordinary people’ are campaigning for ‘a special identity ’, collecting signatures from other ‘ordinary people’ in this country! But the ordinary people we met on the streets understood our simple message in a simple way. They were clever enough not to make this simple point too complicated; or they were not hypocritical to make an issue out of nothing; or they were not manipulated by a hidden force behind them to do so.
It is very clear that either you have not clearly understood FUTA’s demand, or you just appeared in the scene merely to work out a given contract. Both the hastiness you showed and the particular moment you entered the scene prove the latter, as I understand. The way you have acted is not expected of a office bearers of a trade union, specially a trade union of respective professionals, but not even from a responsible average citizen.
Among many a disappointing factors surrounding us, in this country, both health care and education systems are still in a position we can be proud of. They have contributed immensely to our society by making the nation healthy, educated, and empowered; placing it among the top in some of the human indices. In addition, they have played an important and historical role in maintaining and assuring social justice in this country.
All the FUTA demands, including the much debated demand for a ‘special’ category, synthesize into one final and broad vision i.e. saving state (funded) education, including the state university system. By reducing this greater and broader social appeal just to a matter of ‘superiority-inferiority’, you did a bad mistake (or you were manipulated to do that ‘mistake’, perhaps). It was so pathetic that you were not only insensitive to the broader social implications of the FUTA struggle but messed it up at the eleventh hour by violating even the primary ethical code between trade unions.
As I have already mentioned, a vast majority among us are products of free education and the state university system. Directly addressing the conscience of its members and making them conscious of their social responsibility is one of the great impacts the FUTA struggle has made on its membership. Although they were “defeated” with the support of people like you, now they are stronger than ever and will continue to fight for their cause. We all know that a vast majority of GMOA members are also products of free education and the state university system. Although they lack good leadership with a view, philosophy, responsibility, and conscience as we in FUTA have, we strongly believe they will come forward soon and move beyond their ‘leaders’. We have a beautiful dream of fighting in solidarity with a future GMOA led by genuine leaders; fighting in solidarity for a better future in this country rather than fighting over fruitless ‘superior/inferior matters’.