Scene from Lasantha’s funeral march
Today Lasantha won the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. In death. I think he might also be cheered that the Sunday Leader lives on, and that his life has inspired so many Sri Lankans into action. Personally, there are two events that have spurred me into service. One was the tsunami, and the other was Lasantha’s death. The tsunami obviously, every Sri Lankan was united at that time. But why Lasantha? Why did he matter?
Follow The Leader
I rarely read the Leader, I rarely read the papers at all. It stresses me out too much, you need four stomachs to process the ruffage. But while the Island is its own brand of sloppy bullshit and the Times is warmed over bullshit, and the Daily News is the whole bull, while all these things were spread on the table, the Sunday Leader stood out.
Any Given Sunday
Any given Sunday you could pick up the Leader and it was insane. All the other papers have a bias (as in a biased owner) and they stick to a plot. The Sunday Times is from a UNP family, the Island is kinda JVP, the Nation is bought by a Mahinda catcher, Lakbima News is owned by a bookie and SLFP candidate. The Leader, however, just pissed off everybody. I was always like, can you really say that? I guess you can’t.
I’d always assumed the Leader would be there, yelling at everybody, carrying that weight. Until it wasn’t. That’s why it was such a shock when Lasantha was killed. People die every week, but I figure they weren’t that important if you only hear about them when they’re dead. But everyone knew Lasantha, everyone knew the Leader, and – like cutting a rook in the first rounds – it was a shock. But they did. They killed him with a cattle prod or something in his car, the autopsy hasn’t been released. They killed him in the street.
Colombo In The Streets
Then, for the first time in my circles, Colombo took to the streets. For me, Lasantha’s funeral was the first time I ever marched in the streets. I’ve always been like fuck it, it’s too hot, it doesn’t change anything. But this time it did. It changed me.
It’s a fundamentally different experience walking around Kanatte junction in the middle of the day. It’s like tromping around a civilized city at dawn. You realize that the city is yours, that this earth is yours. From a car you’re just passing through, in between places you own or rent or have permission for. But marching on the street in fuck-off numbers makes you realize that this land is yours. And that you can do something about it.
Once More Into The Vacuum
Since Lasantha died there’s been a vigil at Alexandra Circus every Thursday. I go there and hold a candle. Since then I’ve been meeting concerned citizens every week. We organize stickers, petitions, letter-writing. Tiny, probably pointless things. Through that group I met people sending relief to the war refugees and injured in the North. And I went to the Vanni, to see. And I’m excited to vote, I researched and met some candidates, I’m praying that I get the correct form this time. I’m involved. And there’s hundreds like me.
I realized that we took Lasantha for granted, he was out there all alone, and he died. But now he’s not alone. Those people on the street didn’t go home. We’re still talking, we’re still organizing and we’re changing our nation and ourselves. So what they did was they killed one man, but they gave life to many more. They woke up a segment of Colombo that’s been fully Kumbhakarana for years.
I’m not saying that Lasantha’s death has created some movement that’s going to change the world or Sri Lanka or anything. I don’t know. But I do know that it’s changed me. In fact, I write for the Sunday Leader now.
To quote the last line of Lasantha’s last editorial:
Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.
At the time he died, I don’t think we deserved his sacrifice. But I think, in time, we will. The international awards are great, but I think Lasantha would be most proud that he has changed Sri Lankan people and that they, some day, may change the Sri Lanka he loved and served.