By Emil van der Poorten –
The title of this might seem to suggest something significantly divorced by the so-called “Yahapalanaya” philosophy which is alleged, by at least a significant part of the English media, as having arrived or is in the process of doing so.
However, many of the same people who are chanting hosannas to this “arrival” were only too happy to see Gotabaya Rajapaksa “cleanse” parts of Colombo that were “contaminated” by poorer parts of the population (primarily Muslims), destroy trees with historic associations in the city of Colombo, replacing them with a sub-species of Iron Wood (Mesua ferrea) which is NOT the same as the Diya na which is our national tree. Together with this “cleansing” came the construction of expensive walkways meant to delight the eye where less costly paths which didn’t put life and limb at risk would have sufficed. Of course the same people chose to ignore the manner in which garbage was dumped right in the middle of poorer communities in and around the city of Colombo in order to improve the “better neighbourhoods” of Colombo. Simply put, massive cultural damage, the deprival of some people’s legitimate right to live productive lives, the creation of dengue mosquito havens etc. were considered fair exchange for more svelte figures, most of them of middle age and middle-income or better.
At the same time as the “beautification of Colombo” was occurring, the number of identical incidents where people in police custody chose, despite their being manacled, to jump off boats taking them to places where they had allegedly hidden caches of explosives or weapons in (unsuccessful) attempts to swim ashore, the number who chose, again while manacled, to grab the weapons whose location they had just shown to the defenders of law and order in whose custody they were at the time increased exponentially. The fact that those responsible for reporting these incidents to the media chose to repeat almost identical narratives each time didn’t seem to raise the suspicion of the readers of print publications or those watching TV newscasts on which these tales were told.
The middle-class reaction, by and large, was “good riddance of bad rubbish.” If it took extra-judicial action to rid our land of “2500 Years of Sinhala Buddhist civilization” of such vermin it was a little hiccup that could and should be accepted.
The response of those witnessing all of this irresponsible and criminal behaviour by those supposedly responsible to ensure just the opposite was not dissimilar to the legendary conduct of ostriches when confronted with peril. This is simply not acceptable in any country claiming to be civilized. You accept such exceptions and they are soon transformed into the rule. As simple as that!
That is what has happened in our case.
The fact that 99% of the population was not aware of even the existence of those who were, while in police custody, shot in the act of trying to retrieve weapons from a cache to which they’d led the cops or jumped overboard while handcuffed etc. etc is a simple fact.
How can you say “good riddance of bad rubbish” when you have no idea of even who the “rubbish” was?
Given these facts, I will not apologise for the following narrative which was provided by a friend.
Adjacent to his boundary wall was a tree that was leaning very threateningly towards his (my friend’s) home with the reality that when it fell over it would do extensive damage to my friend’s home and garden. He sought the owner of the tree without success, tried to engage the local law enforcement folk in his quest without success either and was drawing blank after blank because no one in the neighbourhood knew who the owner of the vacant building-lot was.
Then, one day he mentioned his futile quest to a three-wheeler driver who was taking him shopping and who also lived in the neighbourhood. The man laughed outright and said, “Sir, didn’t you know that that the owner of that land was abducted (“ussala” in Sinhala slang) a while back and that’s why no one knows of his whereabouts?” Mystery solved but the implications appear pretty obvious: if you accept that it is “all right” for people to disappear or be “disappeared,” aren’t the consequences of a wider public accepting that “reality” more than a bit scary? What happens when the public at large – 99% of which may not even know that you exist – accept a similar story about you “as the reality?” Isn’t it, simplistically put, that you were “probably a drug-dealer or something” and had it coming to you? The foregoing is not wild conjecture but a simple conclusion arrived at from the examination of simple facts. Message received? I certainly hope so!
Extra-judicial conduct of any kind is simply unacceptable in any society having any pretensions to being civilized leave alone practicing civility in governance.
While many of the middle class, in particular, want to pretend that the exercise of unchallenged power is a thing of the past, there is little evidence of that conduct being prevented from returning either under this regime or, particularly, if the previous Rajapaksa one returns.
Duterte and his extra-judicial executions in the Philippines are not the historical aberration that many would have us believe. It emerged out of a situation of near-anarchy in the matter of law enforcement which the more affluent countenanced because they had the (private) means to protect themselves, much as was the case in a Sri Lanka drowning in armed conflict of one description or another for many years. The Philippine public was fed up with law enforcement that went through the motions and permitted violent criminality. That laxity was not dissimilar to that of Sri Lanka where many people not in the seats of power and particularly those who were seen as dissidents, were at risk while the affluent and influential were protected in a variety of ways.
In desperation, Filipinos and Filipinas turned to a man who promised “cleansing” and proceeded to do so with gay abandon, probably killing off a few of the “bad guys” while killing off many who seriously disagreed with him and his politics. His cap of “public protector” was simply waiting to be worn, complete with bullet-proofing from public examination!
If we are not to follow the Duterte model, there needs to be tangible proof in the form of legislation, if need be, to make it a capital crime to exercise extra-judicial authority. There have to be dire consequences, prescribed in the laws of this land for any who attempt to subvert the law. This hasn’t happened and is not likely to do so until there is massive pressure exerted on those exercising authority over us to do so.
Even those accused of the most heinous crimes MUST be afforded due process of law. Nothing short of this will suffice and every one of us with pretensions to be civilized human beings has a responsibility to exert every sinew to achieve such an objective.