Devani Jayathilaka the young woman Forest Officer who stopped State Minister Sanath Nishantha in his tracks is the viral favourite of Social Media these days.
The Gampaha District Forest officer objected to Nishantha’s attempt to take over government forest lands for a children’s playground in Negombo.
The video of her arguing her point and standing her ground in the face of intimidation from the Minister’s goons has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, and the comments on Facebook and Twitter are very complimentary bordering on adulation.
Even the government she stood up to, joined the chorus. Probably they had no choice or they wanted to share a bit of the sunshine falling on this officer.
On Thursday the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunewardena said that the whole Cabinet “stands with her.”
S M Chandrasena the Forestry and Wildlife Minister echoed those sentiments and offered an absurd excuse for Nishantha. “He would have been ignorant of the Wildlife Protection Act,” the Minister said. Really?
He told reporters that it was the people who elect men like Nishantha and “if we don’t give nominations to these people there won’t be anyone to nominate for the elections.”
In the meantime, Social Media took the opportunity to try and figure out why an officer simply doing her job to prevent irreparable damage to the environment could become such a celebrity.
After all, she was doing the job she is being paid for.
On Facebook, Upali Karunaratne wrote that “in showering praise on Jayathilaka, Sri Lankans were condemning the lawless, unjust country we live in.”
Karunaratne added, “when someone does stand up to this state we need to rally around that person and create unity amongst those opposed to injustice.”
He went on to say that Sri Lankans have been rendered impotent by the way this country is run.
“The way political power is used illegally, the law which bends to political power, are the seeds that have brought about this impotency,” he wrote.
There are many spirited Public Servants who have stood up to our corrupt system. Last year’s winner of the Integrity Idol award presented by Transparency International based on public votes went to a school principal.
P A C Priyadarshani, Principal of St Mary’s College in Mathugama tackled one of the most contentious issues in the country which is fraught with corruption – admissions to Grade One in government schools.
Priyadarshani set up a points system and admitted children strictly according to that. She came up against people who offered her money and of course political pressure, but she withstood that.
And the Jayathilakas and Priyadarshanis are a rarae aves – rare birds – in this country.
That is because our lawless system has seen to it that corrupt politicians will encourage and promote officials who feed into the graft and greed.
These two courageous women are anathema to most of our politicians.
So what will the outpouring of love, praise and adulation for Jayathilaka mean?
Will there be a revolt of the Public Servant, pointing out the law to the errant or ignorant politician?
Or will there be a crackdown on such spirited rare people who are the true patriots?
Many people who voted for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are expecting him to produce an honest and upright administration which will work for the ordinary citizen.
This incident must put pressure on our politicians to clean up the system and make it just and fair.
Those who voted for the Yahapalanaya coalition in 2015 also wanted that. They were deeply disappointed.
Will we be fooled again?