This biography looks at the post-independence history of Sri Lanka (from 1948 on) through the eyes of one of its prominent left wing activists – Lionel Bopage.

Sri Lanka is an example of a country that has paid a terrible price for the failure to convert its ethnic diversity into a wider national loyalty.

It is scholarly study that looks at how the elite who mainly resided in Colombo dominated all the major parties on the island. They played with the fire of ethnic rancour at the expense of national unity to stay in power; whilst ignoring the economic disparities their policies engendered.

The book looks at this failure and its consequences through Lionel’s own story.

His life has been filled with exciting and terrible events: imprisonment and torture, an insurrection which left between 5,000 and 10,000 people dead, communal violence and Lionel’s resignation from the post of general secretary of a major left-wing party because of its opportunistic fanning of resentment against the Tamils. He and his family were forced into exile because of a suicidal war between the state and his ex-party in the late 1980s, a war which resulted in over 40,000 deaths.

It is also the story of Lionel’s enduring marriage to Chitra, who, when he first met her, was a nun. The biography discusses their life in Australia and Lionel’s attempts to reconcile members of the Tamil and Sinhala communities here, attempts which have sometimes been rewarded and which sometimes have engendered bitter resentment.

The book puts the current issue of war crimes into a historical context. The covering up of atrocities and the killing and jailing of dissidents have been constant features of the country’s modern history.

Yet the story has a basic optimism. Despite the violence and the suffering, Lionel attests to an unconquerable hope that he and those like him might bring people together, redressing communal grievances and bringing about genuine power sharing in Sri Lanka.

Michael Cooke

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Bopage's Biography launched in Melbourne

Bopage's Biography launched in Melbourne

The biography Rebellion, Repression and the Struggle for Justice in Sri Lanka – The Lionel Bopage Storywritten by Michael Colin Cooke was launched in Melbourne at the Readings Bookshop in State Library Building in Melbourne.

Councillor Gaetano Greco of Darebin City Council opened the proceedings byexplaining how the project came about. A series of initial conversations with Lionel eventuated into an account of Lionel’s political life through the prism of socio-economic and cultural developments of post independent Sri Lanka.

Professor Damien Kingsbury of the Deakin University launched the book by highlighting its key aspects, in particular, how the elite of the country dominated the political discourse and the economic levers of society to such an extent that the country fragmented periodically into civil war and insurrections. He also noted the bravery of Lionel in the face of imprisonment, derision and exile in pushing for social justice.

Lionel started by reminding the audience of Marx’s dictum: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under the circumstances chosen by themselves but under the circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.

He pointed that the main struggle during his lifetime was between capitalism and communism and that struggle has shaped his life and philosophy. He went on to state that the island’s post-independence leadership instead of developing policy frameworks and implementing them on behalf of all, used language and religion as a sledgehammer to disguise the economic inequities of the island and its multicultural heritage. The book and his life exposes that and as a resulted expects the book to be contested by many.
The author highlighted that the book, unlike many other biographies from the island, is not written from the sensibility of the privileged but from the perspective of an individual who feels his karma is not to accept his lot stoically. Lionel like countless thousands of others rebelled against their inequity. He also highlighted how currently the island after many years of political, economic and constitutional changes and a civil war has not resulted in the lot of the majority. Their lives are still economically precarious.
At the end of the proceedings, the author and Lionel had discussions on a one to one basiswhile signing many books.
The launch was one of the very successful ones held at Readings said a commentator.

- Photos courtesy Ashoka Peiris

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