By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Everything is going to end in violence….and who knows what limits of madness will be reached?”- Georg Forster (Works XVII)
A Presidential Offspring hammers a referee, in full view of hundreds of spectators.
An Appeal Court Judge has a temper tantrum in an international airport and throws a water bottle at another Judge.
Fellow referees do nothing either to protect their colleague during the incident or to protest against it afterwards.
The Appeal Court judges have reportedly complained to the President, but nothing is likely to come out of it. The alleged tantrum-cum-bottle-thrower had been the District Judge of Tangalle from 1987-1990 and was appointed to the Appeal Court by none other than President Rajapaksa, in violation of the 17th Amendment[i].
Perhaps if the national media raised an outcry and society expressed its outrage, the President would have been compelled to do ‘something’. In the absence of any such reaction, it is easy for the President to do nothing.
Loutishness has become as much of a Lankan norm as injustice, abuse or corruption. Any Lankan – however non-political – can be victimised by a ruffian armed with impunity and cushioned by connections.
Rajapaksa rule is endangering Sri Lanka in far more ways than political or economic.
The arrest of Azath Salley under the PTA is symbolic of the political danger embodied in Rajapaksa rule; the electricity price hike is indicative of the economic damage the Siblings will do; the Mattala airport epitomises the environmental devastation of Familial rule.
But these may not be the deadliest Rajapaksa legacy.
In the same week that Rohitha Rajapaksa reportedly attacked a match-referee and Justice Sarath de Abrew reportedly created havoc in Bangalore air port, a student of a leading Colombo school allegedly stabbed to death a classmate. The murder happened during a discussion about organising a dansela for Wesak!
Someday, be it in years or decades, the Rajapaksas will exit the political stage, willingly or unwillingly. That their legacy will include an asphyxiated democracy, a ruined economy and ruptured institutions is indubitable. Will they also leave a society blinded by intolerance and addicted to violence?
Muammar Gaddafi’s long violent rule brutalised his subject-people; he taught them to discard pity and abandon decency; fear and self interest made them learn their lessons well. When the moment of liberation came, Libyans demonstrated that they had internalised too many of Gaddafi-habits. They killed opponents and dissenters and cheered as their former leader was dragged out from a drain and murdered.
When the military displayed the naked corpses of the Black Tigers who attacked the Saliyapura Air Force camp in October 2007, the South was outraged. That display of pity and decency was antithetical to the Rajapaksa project. In the next two years the regime made a successful effort to efface pity and outlaw decency.
During the penultimate stage of the war, some media outlets carried a picture of a Tamil family fleeing the war zone in a fruitless search for safety; an elderly man, a teenage girl and a young child (and a glimpse of a woman), sitting atop their pitiful belongings and holding their brown mongrel dog. That image should have invoked compassion in the South and would have just two years previously. Not any more; the Rajapaksa poison had seeped into Sinhala hearts and minds so deeply that pity (for the Tamil victims of war) had become synonymous with treachery and decency akin to a moral vice.
That odious morality the Rajapaksas taught and we of the South chose to learn did not die with the Tiger; it began to seep into the South and affect the way we look at everything, from anti-Muslim violence to child rape.
From being indifferent to the suffering of Tamils we have become indifferent to suffering of our fellow Sinhala-Buddhists.
For years after the victorious ending of the war, militarization is growing apace. This militarization goes hand in hand with a new commonsense which lauds power and strength and despises physical and politico-economic weakness. It has also rendered societally acceptable the zero-sum division of ‘us vs. them’. This intolerant perception, which equates difference with crime and dissent with enmity, has overstepped political boundaries into non-political spheres. According to this worldview, the one with whom we have a difference of opinion/problem becomes the ‘Other’ automatically; this ‘Other’ is always an enemy, out to undermine us in fundamental ways. This distorted logic justifies the use of violence as the first and only response in any situation, however petty, banal or personal. Arguments, discussions and debates become unnecessary; compromises are seen as betrayal. A no-holds barred total assault is enshrined as the only proper response to any problem.
This is the ideology the younger generation is made to imbibe. The young would see those with power taking the law into their hands; they would see Buddhist monks extol violence against the ‘Other’; they would hear words of pathological suspicion and hate.
With such a daily staple, how can they resist the plague bacilli of violent-intolerance?
Poisoning the Next Generation
Last September, a group of uniform-wearing students, led, abetted by a mob of parents, launched a violent attack on the incoming principal of the Vidyaloka Vidyalaya,Galle. Even police protection was of no avail; in the end the principal had to flee, to save himself.
This week, the students of that pre-eminent Sinhala-Buddhist seat of education,AnandaCollege, engaged in their own protest against their new principal. They contented themselves with shouting and lighting fire-crackers since the new principal had not arrived. What will happen when the new principal turns up? What will the teachers, the parents and the authorities do, in the face of this outbreak of hooliganism?
Violent intolerance is endemic in today’s Sri Lanka. Consequently it is but natural for the younger generation to regard intolerance as the moral-ethnical norm and violence as the most optimum way to settle any difference.
If this situation is not alleviated,Sri Lanka’s descent into criminality and ungovernability will be inevitable.
Sinhala-Buddhists, as the majority community, must take the lead in resisting the plague of violent intolerance. We must begin by abandoning our interminable search for ethno-religious enemies and political scapegoats. We must look inward; before we worry about other’s Sharia, we must take on our own Bodu Bala Sena.
When a discussion among a group of young Sinhala-Buddhist students about how Wesak should be celebrated ends in lethal violence, it says a lot about the abysmal level to which Sinhala-Buddhist society has descended.
The regime cannot resolve this issue; the Rajapaksas are a key part of the problem. They need to keep the plague bacilli alive in order to protect familial rule and dynastic succession. Preventive measures must be sought at societal level, as parents and teachers, religious leaders and opinion makers. But this effort will become an exercise in futility if we cannot let go the ‘us vs. them’ worldview. If we continue to cling to this ‘war mentality’, the day would not be far off when students assaulting teachers and children assaulting parents become as common as ethnic hatred or religious intolerance.
And our future will be even worse than our past, with or without the Rajapaksas.