The title from my school days refers to a cat thinking that when it sees no one, it is safe. Likewise our rulers seem to think that blocking out Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. ensures that no one can see us or our friends bashing our Muslim brethren and enjoy that barbarian moment as we act out our Mleccha (barbarian) instincts. With firm action, the riots should have been stopped on day 1. Instead, social media showed the police, the STF no less, laughing at one of the victims.
It is argued that the blackout is really to prevent rogues spreading hate speech. Wrong! When hate speech is engaged in, we can track down the rogues and bring down the law on them. In contrast, with a blackout, would we have seen the STF laughing at a Muslim victim, a high ranking naval official bashing up a reporter, and all the other viral videos that exposed the lawlessness of our law enforcement personnel?
A blackout ensures that both, attacks on the innocent and hate speech by the violent, are not seen. Hiding the attack helps the rogues get away. In contrast, hate speech on record ensures that those putting out hate speech can be tracked, identified and prosecuted; whereas suppressing hate speech ensures that hate-mongers spread their hate by other means and still cause the same havoc.
Be mindful also that we now live in a society with free information. To suppress any information is to go back on the principles behind RTI.
On the other hand, our government historically never prosecutes anyone unless really cornered. In the Bindunuwewa Massacre that included a 12 year old LTTE suspect being murdered, a Trial-at-Bar convicted the killers, and after everyone was happy that the killers had been punished, the Supreme Court freed them while attacking the 12 year old conscript as a terrorist in the judgement.
Racism flows from Lanka’s top. The President and Prime Minister are on record calling the killers of Mullivaikal heroes and promising that they would not be tried in international courts as they had promised in Geneva. The President is enjoying in Japan the company of BBS monk Gnanasara giving respectability to the man making Muslims feel insecure here.
During the recent elections, one evening I received a complaint of a UNP election meeting at a temple in Jaffna. I went there, took photos and filed the complaint with the Complaints Unit of the Commission. Last I heard, it had been lost track of.
The Prime Minister on 5 Dec. 2017 bowed low before monks and under the National Sasundoya Program promised to build 1000 Temples using state funds.
As the elections drew near, the TNA’s Mr. M.K. Sivajilingam produced an election complaint with the UNP Manifesto specially redesigned for the North. Now 1000 Buddhist temples would be built for the North and East alone, and it was claimed that a special allocation of Rs. 500 million had already been made. Whoever designed the manifesto should have known that in the North and most of the East it would have been proof of colonization by the state leading to loss of votes. So it was a case of jingoist hate speech by the UNP to rile Tamils and Muslims anxiously looking for safety in their homelands through devolution, and not real election material.
That aside, we now have a credible complaint. I asked the Complaints Unit of the Election Commission what plans there are to prosecute the persecutors who issued such a manifesto designed to make minorities fearful. I was told that we never rush to prosecution, and in the first instance issue a warning to make the accused aware of the law. I asked whether there is any need to educate a national party that violated the very law it was partly instrumental in passing? Alas, alas!
Our laws seemingly are propaganda to show we are a civilized people when we really are barbarians. Several Muslim clerics are on record making hate speech against women. Instead of jailing the clerics, the Commission sent Muslim messengers saying there is one man on the Commission who will push for prosecution when human rights are violated and another, a PC, who insists on the rule of law. The Commission was told not to worry because the cleric will no longer dare to repeat his threat. I think he has been encouraged by the implied impunity. I fear now that it will be done again, perhaps through other clerics who will know that they too will be entitled to warnings.
Dr. Deepika Udagama, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission spoke at the National Symposium on the Role of Independent Commissions on 17 March 2018. She noted that HRC decisions are often ignored. So too, she said, even orders by our courts such as to the police to investigate something. In contrast she emphasized, in India HRC orders are forcefully implemented because civil society is always alert and exerts pressure when orders are ignored. She concluded that when there is impunity, and violations of the law go unpunished, we have a very bad situation.
We actually have a ghastly situation. Bond and other bribery prosecutions, the Office of Missing persons, prosecution of the murder of five boys in Trincomalee 11 years ago by state forces, etc. are suddenly moving after the new government went to sleep in 2015 upon winning the elections to return us to the rule of law. That movement is because our friends in the West and India who care for a righteous Sri Lanka are watching and pushing. I hope that once the UNHRC Sessions are over we will not return to our usual slumber and offer impunity to all our friends.
Even the offer of special deals to our accused criminals – I wonder, whether they are communally biased. Arjuna Mahendran has an Interpol red notice out. Arjun Aloysius is jailed and had great difficulties in getting pampered treatment at the prison hospital. They both probably deserved this. But consider – how many others not turning up in court got open arrest warrants issued or how many sent to jail were refused the comforts of prison hospital? How many accused murderers in the army are offered the protection that comes with diplomatic assignments? I suddenly feel sorry for Mahendran and Aloysius.
We live in a racist society ruled by many racists in government. Have you noticed the many signs on the roads with children telling us things like “father do not speed,” “father buckle up,” etc? Perhaps mothers do not drive in Sri Lanka. However, what takes the cake is the sign on Galle Road at Ramakrishna Road in Wellawatte. A Muslim boy is shown pleading with his father to give him also a helmet. I found it deeply offensive, playing on the caricature that Muslims are not law abiding – especially at a time when Muslims are attacked. One Muslim academic I showed it to asked me to go public. A senior Muslim SLAS officer excused it saying “Oh that is because Muslims do not wear a helmet close to their homes.”
The latter, I think, may be properly described by the late Prof. Karthigesu Sivathamby’s words about Christians in Jaffna in one of his last works. He says “The Christians in Jaffna live ghettoized and oppressed” (odungiyum odukkapattavarhalaahavum). My SLAS friend surely is in this category to excuse this ethnic caricature by government.
Indeed, so many high ups from the Ministry of Transport and the RDA must see it every day. But they seem to see and yet not see because their conscience is dulled. That is common among racists who think they are good people.
When I say we are a racist society, I mean all of us. As the anti-Muslim riots raged, two of my Tamil friends asked me separately, “Do you trust the Muslims?” My reply to both was “If you were a Muslim, would you trust the Tamils after Ponnambalam Ramanathan called them the offspring of low caste Tamil women, after we ejected them from Jaffna and robbed them of their possessions, after we shot them dead in mosques as they prayed, and after we dashed on walls the heads of their babies in border villages as reported by the psychiatrist who treated the armed boys that committed that infanticide on the orders of their high command and were driven mad by their troubled conscience?
M.A. Sumanthiran, ITAK MP, correctly apologized publicly for what we Tamils did to Muslims. I assess that he lost a lot of support among Tamils for doing this. Retorted a TNA leader, “why should he apologize when no Muslim leader has ever apologized for the killings they carried out?”
The madness has to stop somewhere. The responsibility is the government’s as our elected leaders. Keep the promises of 2015. Return the country to the rule of law. Prosecute the “national heroes,” the bond scammers, the hate speech mongering Mullahs, and election law violators. And, yes, please stop trading on hate and religious triumphalism to win elections.
Closing our eyes like a cat by shutting down social media does not stop the hatemongers. We lose the means to identify them while they will trade in their evil messages by other means.