By Mahesan Niranjan -
Time and again we have seen that when power is excessive, highly centralized and has no purpose, its consequences are ugly and show up in all sorts of ways.
Six months short of thirty years ago, I found myself in a situation to be ashamed of being a Sri Lankan. That was July 1983 and the J.R. Jayawardane government had decided to unleash violence on the ethnic Tamil population. Thugs roaming the streets of Colombo and elsewhere looted and burnt property, and beat up and murdered Tamils. The Police and armed forces were ordered not to interfere, if not to actively take part. The week of carnage went down in history as amongst the most shameful days of the way we managed our country ourselves since the British granted us independence in 1948.
Happily though, in July 1983, I was not in a position to actually feel that shame. Being at the receiving end of JRJ’s mischief, I had other pressing things in mind, like jumping off a second floor balcony, scaling a wall, running into the Maradana police station, getting help to rescue my uncle and family who were hiding in a toilet while their flat was being ransacked and looking for my brother who had gone missing. When your mind is preoccupied with survival, shame does not come into the picture.
Now, in January 2013, as the Sri Lankan Parliament passes a resolution to impeach the Chief Justice — on flimsy charges and a kangaroo court process, and thereby drives the final nail in the coffin in which lay any notion of democratic governance in our country, that sense of shame has returned, and haunts me. Unfortunately for me, this time there is nothing to distract from feeling that shame. The picture of thugs outside the Courts beating up protesters, with the police looking on, is an image fresh in my mind from Borella junction in 1983. The callous and irresponsible remarks from politicians about all of it being a diaspora conspiracy, a minister on television referring to a judge of the Appeal Court as “the Tamil one” as a way of undermining his judgement, and another in Parliament commenting “we have told the judiciary to go to hell”, brings memories of JRJ blaming the evil that he masterminded on the (then) imagined JVP threat to peace and stability of our country.
Anyone who is not convinced of the sense of shame I am talking about, please consider the act of a jeering crowd cooking kiribath (milk rice) on the road outside the residence of the Chief Justice. If that is part of our millennia old culture, how different is it from the one that beheaded the young housemaid last week?