By Emil van der Poorten –
While the very title of this column speaks to the ultimate dichotomy of Sri Lankan life, for those of us who believe in democracy, law and order and the exercise of elementary decency in everyday life, it is a dilemma that we are compelled to confront every waking hour.
I have written previously of the need not to be silent in the face of the injustice and violence that is the current Sri Lankan reality, where a corrupt and amoral government has given new meaning to the word “impunity.”
While no one has ever contested the fact that Sri Lanka’s governing paragons of virtue dispense favours in a manner that pays scant regard to legality, leave alone principles or ethics, the recent boast that an allegation of huge financial irresponsibility, if not illegality, was to be “shaped” because the guilty party was “apey miniha (our man)” constituted the icing on that particular cake. However, seemingly because the icing still lacked a celebratory candle, it was provided in the form of the drive-by shooting of a member of a Pradeshiya Sabhawa in the heart of “Dr.” Mervyn Silva’s fiefdom. The dead man had been part of a high-profile group of rural politicians from the governing party in the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabhawa who had launched a very public and vocal campaign of opposition to the aforementioned “Dr.” If nobody has been paying attention to the fates of Sarath Fonseka and Shirani Bandaranayake, this should constitute a signal lesson about the consequences of defection and dissent: you do risk life and limb if you have the temerity to oppose one of the “anointed.” There is something more dangerous than simply raising one’s voice in opposing a government without a moral or ethical bone in its collective body. In all fairness to the modest “Dr”, though, he has decried the death, claiming that he had no part in it on account of the quality of the Buddhism he practices. Suffice it to say that I will not engage in a discussion of the quality of the modest “Dr’s” Buddhism at this point.
That it is more dangerous to defect from the ranks of the oligarchy than “merely” to voice opposition to its increasingly bizarre, unprecedented and arrogant actions is cold comfort given the most recent appeal by the Asian Human Rights Council to Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations in which they predict what is likely to follow the now-inevitable impeachment of the Chief Justice – a widespread outbreak of government-generated hysteria leading to the willy-nilly arrest and internment of anyone deemed to be likely to stand in the way of The Rajapaksa Project. That document is chilling in its detail and lack of the hysteria that accompanies anything that government spokesmen such as the earlier-mentioned “Dr” Mervin and that loudest of government mouthpieces, Wee Wimal Weerawansa, continue to spout.
The report speaks to a (logical) extension of the current White Van Culture when even those on the peripheries of any group critical of the current government will be picked up, indefinitely interned under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and, perhaps, have an even worse fate befall them.
All of this, while it qualifies as theatre of the absurd, is no laughing matter for those holding on to “out-dated concepts of democracy, the rule of law, human rights etc. etc,” inconsequentialities dear to the hearts of those whom Margaret Thatcher once described as “wets.”
Among those whom I’ve previously described as a distaff legion of the brave is one lady who has reconciled herself to the fact that, via White Van or otherwise, her journey to the afterlife is assured. Another one has fled the shores of Sri Lanka to a destination from which she has continued incommunicado, probably because of the proven reach of the White Van Project.
The glue that holds the current government together is that of corruption, pure and simple. Previously, if you sought anything resembling “success” in any endeavours, you sought the government’s embrace. Now, just to survive, you need to prove your readiness to actively participate in its activities. Otherwise, for starters, you will be subject to all kinds of “inconveniences.”
Take for instance, someone who is trying to cater to a niche market of those tourists who are interested in getting close to nature, reading, contemplating their surroundings, those things not associated with such as nightclubs, gambling and night races. You cut him off at the (business) knees! You have some of your local goons vandalise the signage for his operation. You destroy the access to his operation by running a garbage-laden agricultural tractor six times a day on a road that was barely a jeep-track to begin with and which is now reduced to a hazardous walking trail. How about refusing to do anything about a mosque and a temple that have their amplified messages, commencing even before cock-crow, at 4 in the morning, blaring across the valley that separates them from those seeking peace and tranquility?
Anyone in such a predicament has to be cognizant of the fact that, while this harassment is likely to continue indefinitely, life needs to go on for him and his dependants. Why so? Because the simple reality is that there is nobody and no agency to provide the protection which is taken for granted in civilized societies. Suffice it to say that this is a complex exercise which, perforce, has to be performed in within the constraints of what used to be the Rule of Law. Unfortunately, to divulge details would be to lose the capacity to continue surviving under these trying conditions.