By Emil van der Poorten –
This is a piece that I wrote for the December 15th, 2007 – January 15th, 2008 issue of the now-defunct Montage Magazine. I’m leaving it with no effort at editing or updating for readers to decide what, if anything, has changed in Sri Lanka in very nearly six years.
And Then What?
With the Sri Lankan armed forces’ juggernaut seemingly on an unstoppable march and the prospect of the LTTE being vanquished (read Tamils of the North and East being reduced to abject fear and misery), what is in store for the country as a whole?
There have already been ominous signals of the emergence of robber gangs armed with sophisticated light arms running loose, it has been suggested, with the connivance of the local security personnel. In fact, in one small town in the North Western Province, there was a symbolic shop closure and protest by local merchants who had seen about two dozen break and enter thefts of their premises within a very short period of time. Their contention was that there was no way that this could have happened without the local constabulary, at the very least, turning a blind eye. What emerged from this attempt to obtain redress is anybody’s guess, because the climate of fear prevailing in the area has prevented the discussion of the issue any further, a general consensus appearing to be that to exceed the one symbolic gesture would be tempting the fates in a country where the law of the jungle enforced by white-van-driving Sri Lankan Ton Ton Macoutes prevails.
If the prospect of armed gangs running rampant wasn’t enough, the lack of discipline of elements of the security forces should give us pause. The better-than-a-hundred troops sent back from the UN Peace Keeping Force in Haiti for what one paper called “being naughty” should make us sit up and pay attention. The alleged sexual misconduct, inclusive of sexual assault of minors by members of an army that the President very recently proclaimed as being the most disciplined armed force in the world hardly merits additional comment.
A recent newspaper defined Sri Lanka’s response to anything resembling question, criticism or censure from sources outside the country as simply, “Deny” and “Defy.” Whether within the triumphalism that will be reinforced in spades after the subjugation of the LTTE (read Tamil people) even this response would be felt necessary, is anybody’s guess. After all, once you have established absolute power, it would hardly be necessary to fall back on Richard M. Nixon’s exhortation to his troops when the chickens came home to roost: “Deny, deny, deny.” In such a situation the ability of external forces to influence events in Sri Lanka is not something to wager on.
Apropos of the post-conflict prospect of people trained and exhorted to kill at every turn being cut loose on the land, there might be a few people even in this country, who are aware of the situation that prevailed in Guatemala when, after decades of terrible conflict, there was a cessation of hostilities. The guerrillas and soldiers who were demobilized were left with very limited choices. The obvious route for many of them was to go back to doing what they were trained to do and well practiced in doing – visit rape and pillage upon the countryside.
And what about the elites of this country, primarily those who live in Colombo? They will continue to live in the style to which they have grown accustomed with the crumbs from the table, so to speak, from the ruling kleptocracy. If they have to tolerate the occasional inconvenience of road blocks and traffic checks and “security sweeps,” so be it. That’s a small enough price to pay for being permitted to live above the commonweal! Their meals (on corporate expense accounts) in five star hotels and their annual sojourns overseas will be compensation enough for the occasional inconvenience of having to dig out an identity card demanded by an armed member of the security services. That this privileged lifestyle may be ephemeral in the larger scheme of things will be of little consequence. After all, sufficient to the day is the need thereof!
What of the fate of the great unwashed, particularly those living outside the capital city and anywhere outside where the security blanket provided for minions of the government might otherwise have provided them with shelter? A simple phrase might well describe their predicament: “Tough, buddy, them’s the breaks!”
The poor, particularly the rural poor will continue to eke out an existence, but just. Their more fortunate neighbours who aspire to something akin to a middle-class existence will be at substantially greater risk. Remember not only is the one-eyed man king in the land of the blind, his middle class cousin will be the natural target of the truly deprived living around them. And the self same middle class will be at greater risk because they often subscribe or aspire to an acceptance of “bourgeois, thuppahi” rules and regulations and a quixotic belief in human rights and the rule of law. Talk about living in a fool’s paradise (and, potentially, paying the price for it!)
If this seems like an apocalyptic vision for the immediate future of Sri Lanka, so be it. This writer thinks it is a logical and simple, rather than simplistic, vision of what lies ahead.