By Basil Fernando –
This article is linked to “The Mind Of Junious (A Parable)“
There is complete agreement among everyone who has taken a serious look at what happened in the event that is called the Black July of 1983 was in fact an organised violence by the country’s head of the state at the time together with many of his cabinet members and also active members of his party in many parts of the country. The purpose of this article is not to go into the details of these acts of violence but to examine a different question. That question is what kind of thinking could have existed in the mind of a group of country’s most leading politicians when they themselves are in power used mobs in order to carry out one of the worst series of acts of violence beginning from the capital spreading into the rest of the country.
These rulers of the country did not see a contradiction between the very idea of ruling and the very idea of organising what is mildly called riots but something which was very much worse than just a riot. The burning of houses, killing and otherwise harming individuals, enormous damage caused to properties and above all displacement of a large section of population in many parts of the country.
Under normal circumstances it would have been the duty of the rulers to put down such riots, protect the victims, protect the properties, restore law and order and to ensure that peace prevails. Besides, the rulers will do all they can to identify and to bring the culprits who were involved before the law so as to assert their own authority as against the chaos that those who wanted to cause violence would bring about. Under those circumstances, the ruler becomes the protector and the guardian of the victims in the first place and then the entire society.
If we go a step further and ask that if there is no such authority to rely upon on situations of violence whether in a small scale or in a large scale as it happened in July 1983, how could a society survive? Even more important is the issue that under those circumstances, how could the state survive. If those who are the operators of the state set upon themselves the task of being creators of chaos and violence, what then would happen to that society as a whole and also to that state. This is the question that should have been asked and even now should occupy the minds of anyone who thinks seriously about the nature of the Sri Lankan state, the nature of the Sri Lankan society and the events that have followed ever since these events in July 1983.
Why has this not become one of the major issues in the study of politics in Sri Lanka? What is the kind of state that could allow anyone including the Head of the State to engage in open call for violence and also open supervision of violence and open encouragement of violence and open protection offered to those who have engaged in such violence? At the heart of it is the issue of the legitimacy not only of those who engage in such violence but the legitimacy of such a state.
This becomes even more important when we consider that after such an enormous destruction of the State itself and also the rejection of all the basic ideas that goes to legitimise the existence of the State have been so blatantly rejected what has yet been done in order to ensure that such a situation has been accounted for, such a situation has been reckoned with and all the remedial measures has been taken in order to restore the legitimacy of the state which has suffered from this enormous destruction? The answer to that is that nothing has been done from that point of view and it has never been part of the political discourse in Sri Lanka to come to a reckoning about this assault on the very nature of the social organisation and the political organisation and what it stands for.
What kind of political philosophy or a political logic could survive after such an event has taken place? No known political philosophy could justify this situation or explain how a people who were being exposed to such a situation could thereafter survive as an organised society. Being an organised society presupposes agreement on at least some very basic conceptions and perspectives. Most basic of that is the existence of a State that is capable of guaranteeing the protection of the people from every form of violence. Naturally, normal forms of various kinds of violence are controlled by the criminal law and the enforcement of that law is strictly within the country. However, if, beyond the normal forms of often very individualised acts of violence are superseded by a large scale violence then the state is expected to use all its resources in order to bring the situation back to a normal situation as soon as possible. However, what is not expected is that the state will paralyse its own security forces from taking action against such overt forms of violence and even worse this apparatus itself is encouraged to participate in this violence and give protection to those who perpetuate such violence.
Where is one to find explanations in political terms for any of these actions? If, no attempt is made to examine this tremendous violation of all known principles of political philosophy, what could one expect of such a society and also the state that is in charge of that society
If the state itself is in such a big crisis, would it not have been the first priority to deal with that problem before making the attempt to resolve any other problem. For example, is it possible even to expect that an economy could function for the benefit of a society so long as the state that runs that nation has fallen into this kind of abysmal violence. Is it therefore a surprise that ever since these events in July 1983 all possibilities of organised actions or rational actions in order to keep the economy functioning and trying to work for greater economic stability or prosperity became simply impossible in Sri Lanka. Therefore what we are dealing with in terms of presently experiencing the most devastating economic crisis is a predictable outcome of the collapse of the State and the resulting collapse of the social fabric within Sri Lanka. From this it follows that without addressing the problem of this abysmal destruction of the State, if not addressed, it would not be possible to address any of the economic challenges in the dismal circumstances being faced in the country.
Therefore there is a need to ask what kind of mentalities or political logic were working in the minds of the Head of the State at the time and his team and some of whom most actively supported this violence. They were active participants of this massively criminal action. It was also a highly planned action where months ahead lists were formed whose houses should be destroyed, who should be dismissed from jobs and professions and what kinds of lessons should be taught and the like
Things become even more bleak when it is now being established that the main purposes of this violence was to destabilise the electoral process, a judicial process which was to examine the validity of the highly questionable referendum and was directed towards personal political survival of the head of the State and his team and particularly to keep the majority in the parliament whose times of electoral validity has expired in power. Should that be the case then what there is to speak about legitimacy, legality and the rationality of the kind of State that has come to be in Sri Lanka.
The continuity of the collapse of the basic institutions of the Sri Lankan state demonstrates its devastating impact through great crimes that resulted in the Easter Sunday events in 2019. The mobilization of the state security apparatus itself for carrying out what is considered the worst terrorist attack in Sri Lanka demonstrates how state institutions themselves can be turned into an insurmountable obstacle to peace and security in Sri Lanka. There is a continuity of a collapse with which time is become evermore uncontrollable. Saving the people from the possibilities of misuse of the state itself against the people is perhaps the most prominent challenge that requires serious reflection.