By taking bold to declare that ‘open economy has destroyed social norms and values of the nation’, Colombo’s Archbishop, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, may have touched a raw nerve in many inside the country and outside — and the conscience of most Sri Lankans, cutting across religions and denominations. How his non-theological sermon of the kind pans out in the coming days, weeks and months remains to be seen, however.
“Children were given the foremost place in our country. However the open economy has destroyed this because both parents have to work to support a family,” Cardinal Ranjith is reported to have observed, while saying the Holy Mass at the Madhu church. Telling the faithful and all that ‘children should be brought up with good values’, His Eminence justified how women have to go to work because “the cost of living is high”. However, “if your child goes astray the money you earn by working go waste.”
In this context, Cardinal Ranjith reportedly recalled the late Pope John Paul’s encyclical for non-working mothers to be financially compensated, as this “will encourage them and will help them to realize the importance of the hard work they do to bring up children”. If not the money a working father and mother earn will go waste.” He also recalled Pope Francis’ encyclical that the “period when a mother bears her child within her is a most important and valuable time of her life”.
As Cardinal Ranjith observed, “They consider motherhood as a blessing. Today many mothers do not want to give birth to children…We are living in a society where children are rejected…At the same time we curse god when we lose these blessings…The societies today go beyond legalizing abortion and even reject children who are already born.”
The Cardinal’s speech, of whatever has been published, focuses on two issues, one as the utmost concern and the other as the cause thereof. That children care is being neglected goes without saying. But then would it have been otherwise without what His Eminence describes as the ‘open economy’.
It is not about getting into a discourse of sorts on the subject. Instead, it is about the state of our children in a society and/or a nation without an ‘open economy’. It boils down to this: “Were children better off, were they getting better attention from their parents, especially mother, earlier, whatever be the nature of the economy? Did their parents, again, especially the mother, inculcate values in the children, earlier?”
Truth be told, the answer is ‘Yes-and-no’ at the same time. ‘Yes’ because there is a perceptible and accepted fall in the standards of ‘values’, for which the children (alone) cannot be blamed. ‘No’ because Sri Lanka is not alone in romanticising of ‘open economy’. The question is this: Could Sri Lanka have escaped that romantic spell, which continues to hold sway, since?
Before Sri Lanka embraced ‘open economy’ in the Seventies, people had fewer needs, lesser wants, and they were mostly a contended lot. Even when a substantial section of the population had limited needs and wants, they were not met, then. They are not met, since.
Yet, values remained. Today, there is a money value on every ‘values’ that Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, all of South Asia and all South Asians cherished. It is no more the case, it would seem. On this, yes, Cardinal Ranjith is dot on the mark.
The SLFP kind of socialist era fed JVP kind of left militancy based on wants. It came out in the open when the ‘open economy’ of the UNP kind came back to power. Yet, the society’s value-system was still mostly intact. Today, there is no militancy, either of the ‘ideological’ JVP kind, or the ‘nationalistic’ LTTE kind. But values are gone all across.
All the time in the world
A whole new generation of women have grown up, got educated and worked, first possibly as a past-time and now later on for earning money to support the family, as the Cardinal has rightly pointed out. Even their preceding generations worked, earned money – worked in farms, earned for the family’s bare needs. They did not have to send their children to fashionable schools first, then overseas for higher education and jobs – for the latter to earn in dollars and live off dollars.
A situation has now arrived where the parents who slogged for their children’s future, are left back and behind in their homes, when their children flourish and progress in life. When they were all relatively young, the parents did not have time for their children, because they were earning for the children’s future. Later, when the parents have the time, the children are earning, and for themselves. They do not have time for the parents, who have all the time in the world for them, and themselves, too.
Who is to blame for this? It is the parents and parents alone. While bringing up children as bright students, capable of getting into the universities nearer home and abroad, they were slave-driving them from one private tuition to another, all through the morning and all through the evening.
Along with comes peer pressure, not of children, but of parents. They have to live up to the Joneses, and for that their children have to pay the price. If the neighbour’s child is going for swimming lessons, your child has to, whether he or she can swim in the first place. If your sibling’s child is into music lessons, so should your son or daughter. If your friend’s kids are into some other off-school activity, your kids better do it.
In all this, the children of your neighbour, sibling, cousin and friend may be doing only one or two courses. The peer-pressure in you has made your children do all those courses that a long list of children are doing. You end up earning to pay the tuitions for all those classes. Then you find a reason and justification for owning a car, so that the children could be dropped in their tuitions one after another without loss of time and loss of comfort. There begins the life-long curse of EMI. Amen!
It is all a simplified version of the problems that the Cardinal has only outlined. The nation only has to look into the mirror, to know what the real problem is. When, however, was the last time, the nation held a mirror to its face and looked at it? If nothing else, the nation and its people just do not have the time for it, in the midst of rat-races like politics and more politics, money and more money, romanticising of money and more of it….
The problem with values-degradation accompanying ‘open economy’ is that they come as a package. It is based on and derives from the long-held western beliefs and is linked to ‘liberalism in thought, word and action’. The West believes in god, democracy and market economy.
You divest the system of one, and the entire system collapses. Or, that is how the West itself has come to believe and believe in it. That is how, it has been packaged and marketed to the rest of the world, Sri Lanka included. Sri Lanka too has thus come to believe it, believe in it.
The question does arise, how ‘liberal’ is ‘western liberalism’, how ‘democratic’ is ‘western democracy’, and how ‘open’ is their ‘open economy’. But the global alternative was/ is ‘god-less communism’. That is to say, you invest communism with greater ‘un-godliness’ and most of the rest of the world would stay away from everything else that global communism has represented, more so in the eyes and minds of the ‘receptor-people(s)’. Conversely, you package.
The converse argument is that you introduce ‘god’ into every ‘western liberalism’ discourse, and everything else, good, bad and ugly, gets sold as a package. Designed and intended, or accidental and un-intended, this is the truth of ‘western liberalism’ and the ‘open economy’ discourse and deeds that have accompanied it.
Nations like Sri Lanka did not embrace either global communism, or western liberalism, to begin with. The nation and the people have had their own ways of life and way with their lives. But globalisation of whatever kind from centuries and at times millennia back, has led to all this and more. Interactions with other peoples and nations across oceans brought in new religions, new cultures and with that new challenges – and also new economic opportunities.
Looking back, it was one such interaction that had brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, even if the oceanic distance with originator India was not as much as that to the Arab world, from where Islam came in its time, and to Europe, from where Christianity came centuries later. The question is if Sri Lanka, or any other nation or peoples, can create an iron-curtain of ideas and values, whatever those ideas and values be.
Today, in an even more globalised global-village place, where technology too adds to the woes on the ‘values’ front, even while boosting and diversifying economic options for nations and individuals, can anyone set out the correctives and push for their adaptation, by peoples and societies, nations and governments?
Values-education has to begin at home. In the case of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans at least, Cardinal Ranjith can make a beginning, see for himself the response from the faithful, apply course-correction, and try work with other faiths, their leaders, both of the religion and of their communities, and expand the reach, to see where and how the nation travels from then on – of course, slow and steady steps they would be, and they would have to be!
(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: email@example.com)