By Anushka Kahandagama –
The upcoming presidential election in the country has made social media a platform for heated political debates. The ‘national security’ has become a crucial part in these debates. At the same time, there are ideas coming to the fore concerning the ‘scale of violence’ performed by individual leaders, political parties, or groups. These two entities, ‘national security’ and act of violence’, are in no mean can be separated from each other. The unleashing of force by the state, against a group of people, a community or an individual is often being justified in lieu of national security.
In social media, while many discuss 1988/89 youth insurrection in relation to the presidential campaign debate, blaming one side and aiming for votes, the problem is a complex one rather simply black and white. The rebels were part of our own society. The structural oppression which pushed the youth to revolt against the state appeared from societies own ruptures. These revolts were intrinsically bound up with the social, political and economic structures of then Sri Lanka society and, wrong to analyse in isolation. The society was a fertile ground for violence which cost hundreds of lives. The structural oppressions of the society which were fueled by the ruling ideologies were performing a significant role in pushing the youth towards a revolution against the state. The irony was, the state was acting in a similar manner as the young rebels, creating a counter force through military and police against the youth, neglecting the existence of law and order. Both the state, as well as the youth rebels, released much violence. While violence cannot be justified in any means, it is to remember that, the ruling body was a democratically elected one by the citizens of the country and supposed to sustain law and order. However, instead of maintaining law and order and restoring law and order, the state was practicing ‘jungle law’.
On the one hand, the state is accountable for sustaining the oppressive structures through their ruling ideologies and pushing the youth towards an uprising and on the other hand, directly releasing military power against the youth by overseeing the procedures of judiciary. Against this background, it is illogical to measure the ‘release of violence’ of both the groups on the same scale. While any violence should not be justified or encouraged, state-driven violence has shaken the ground of the citizenship. When the state itself is practicing the law of the jungle, on the one hand, citizens lost faith in the law, and on the other hand, it motivates citizens to act as same as the state. Instead of restoring law and order and addressing the youth unrest, the state fired up the situation by adding to the mess which was already created. Similarly, the state is accountable for the youth unrest generated in the Sri Lankan Tamil society, which led to a brutal war which existed more than quarter-century. The consequent governments were responsible for maintaining the structural oppressions, which in return benefitted them by generating a vote base for the forthcoming elections.
With the high militarisation prevalent over for three decades, the state became an angry God with arbitrary powers. During as well as post-war periods marked with violence which considered ‘normal’ in the day-to-day lives of the citizens. As an example, in August 2013, a clash erupted between the military and the civilians in Rathupaswala in the Gampaha district due to a protest which demanded clean water. Civilians were complaining about the acidity of the water in the area due to glove factory wastage. The government sent the military during the height of the protest, and instead of using minimum force, the military used real guns to disperse the protesters. Forty- six people were injured while one person succumbed to his injuries. In a similar incident, in 2011, Roshen Chanaka died during a protest at free trade zone due to police inflicted wounds. During the same event, some protestors were permanently disabled, and many suffered from injuries. These are state-enforced violence. The so called national-security is for whom? If the state itself reinforces violence against its citizens, how one can rely on the state for ‘national security’. How one can discuss about ‘national-security’ without discussing the security of individual citizen? As per many arguments coming up in the social media platforms, state violence can be justified for the sake of national security. But, it is an irony to consider individual citizens as excluded units from the ‘nation’. Nation composite of citizens and protecting citizens is a responsibility of state, as a part of the national security.
*Writer is reading for MPhil/PhD in Sociology, South Asian University, New Delhi