By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know” – Aldous Huxely (Ends and Means)
Almost 60 fishermen died at sea, because the authorities failed to warn about an impending storm.
No one accepted responsibility, no one apologised and no one resigned.
A Deputy Inspector General of Police was arrested for abducting and murdering a businessman. Subsequently the police announced that DIG Vaas Gunawardene has been heading a murder-cum-extortion racket for years.
No one accepted responsibility, no one apologised and no one resigned.
The Defence Ministry runs the police. The Ministry’s über-powerful Secretary loves to hold forth about everybody’s business. But the increasingly loquacious Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is doing a Thompson and Thomson[i] on the Vaas Gunawardene issue; ‘mum’s the word’ is his response to the execrable deeds of his former underling.
How was DIG Gunawardene able to commit so many crimes, for so long? What was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s revamped, revitalised and refocused intelligence service doing while Vaas Gunawardene murdered and extorted, year after year? What guarantee does the public have that there aren’t other Vaas Gunawardenes, in the police and in the military? What steps is the government taking to protect the public from these uniformed-criminals?
Will the ultimate fate of Vaas Gunwardene be the same as that of innumerable other ‘criminal-suspects’, in the context of the Rajapaksas’ war against ‘Organised Crime’: shot dead while trying to escape?
When any individual/institution (religious or secular, public or private) is placed beyond scrutiny and above criticism, impunity proliferates and crimes multiply. The Vaas Gunawardene saga is an inevitable outcome of the Rajapaksa policy of freeing the armed forces and the police from public scrutiny and criticism.
In the last fortnight, the media carried several horrendous stories about wrongful-arrests and custodial-torture by the police. The victims of these abuses were not political activists/terrorist suspects but ordinary Sinhalese.
The cancer of absolute-impunity, which sprouted into malignant-life during the Fourth Eelam War, is now menacing the very same people who danced in the streets, in a triumphalist-frenzy, to celebrate victory, without sparing a thought for their Tamil brethren. Perhaps that mood of callous insouciance may not have become so pervasive had the regime allowed the media to report on the plight of ordinary Tamils. Due to the censorship, the South just heard about ‘humanitarian offensives’, ‘zero-civilian casualties’, ‘welfare villages’ and ‘Happiness Centres’. That ignorance gave an enormous fillip to the death of pity.
Once the Media Ethics proposal is enacted, the Sinhalese will know nothing about wrongful-arrests and police-torture, about abduction, murder and innumerable other horrors which befall their ethnic-compatriots. The resultant environment of ignorance will enable impunity to penetrate into every political nook and societal cranny, unimpeded.
The New Morality
This week, the son of a UPFA Pradesheeya Sabha member slapped the principal of his school. Last week, the monitoring provincial councillor for education in the NWP (another UPFA local-luminary) forced the teacher who disciplined his daughter to kneel in front of her class. The provincial councillor has since resigned but an improved future might yet await him. After all, Mervyn Silva resigned from his deputy-ministership, after he tied a public official to a tree, publicly; months later he was vindicated by the SLFP and promoted to the cabinet.
In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, all servitors of the Ruling Family are beyond the law. Mervyn Silva’s son allegedly attacked an army officer and got away with it. Duminda Silva, a suspect in the Kolonnawa quintuple-murder and Sampath Chandrapushpa, the chief suspect in the Khuram Shaikh murder, are likely to get away scot-free, as will Minister Bathiudeen who allegedly threatened a judge and Rohitha Rajapaksa who allegedly attacked a referee.
Last week, members of the Sinhala Ravaya manhandled and ‘arrested’ a group of Christian missionaries. This week, members of the Sinhala Ravaya reportedly set fire to a meat stall in Tangalle, while the police looked on. The Sinhala Ravaya is currently on a march from Kataragama to Colombo, to protest against cattle-slaughter. If the Tangalle incident is anything to go by, the march, while failing to save a single cow from the abattoir, is likely to cause irreparable damage to Sinhala-Muslim harmony. Incidentally, has the JHU/BBS/Sinhala Ravaya bothered to inquire how many kilos of beef the military consumes, per day? Or why the government permits the exportation of beef? If the JHU/BBS/Sinhala Ravaya types are sincerely opposed to cattle-slaughter, they should beg the government to ban beef-exports and plead with the military to end beef-consumption. Stymie the demand; and the supply will dwindle. Where there is a demand, there will always be a supply, legally or illegally. That is why America’s idiotically puritanical ban on alcohol failed (and why the US is losing the war on drugs).
The real purpose of the anti-cattle slaughter campaign (like the real purpose of the anti-halal campaign) is not to save bovine-lives but to cow Lankan Muslims into submissive-silence. The BBS-types want this for religious reasons while the Rajapaksas want this for political reasons.
Ultimately the Rajapaksas and their fanatical performing-monkeys will alienate and antagonise the Muslims just as their politico-ideological forefathers alienated and antagonised the Tamils.
Every political era has its own morality. Impunity is the fulcrum of Rajapaksa morality. In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, anything which does not challenge familial rule is good and permissible, while anything which endangers familial rule is bad and criminalised. The only real crime is that of opposing the ruling family. If one is a loyal servitor of the Rajapaksas, one can get away with every other crime, murder and child abuse included.
Little wonder then, if a provincial councillor thinks he can publicly humiliate a teacher and get away with it. After all, he belongs in a charmed circle where every crime is possible, other than the crime of anti-Rajapaksaism.
Familial politics is based on a mindset which equates the interests of the Family with public/national interest. The promotion/protection of the Family becomes the most important end and the primary function of power. Once dynastic ambitions are added on, governance becomes even more undemocratic, imbalanced and myopic. When a ruler is guided by a vision so distorted, his actions become irrational and even self-mutilating.
The societal cost of impunity is obvious. But impunity will eventually boomerang on the Rajapaksas as well. Rulers incapable of rational calculations and enlightened self-interest destroy themselves, as well as their subjects, as the fate of Vellupillai Pirapaharan demonstrates, again.
When rulers have one law for themselves (and their followers) and another law for ordinary citizens, societal resistance is the only way to slowdown the march of impunity. The Sinhala-South must understand that impunity is a common threat to all Lankans. If the virus of impunity is allowed to spread, unimpeded, it will explode into a moral-ethical bubonic plague which will make Sri Lanka an unsafe home for all her citizens, including Sinhala-Buddhists. Even the less favoured Rajapaksa supporters will be unsafe, as was made evident by the fate of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra.
Resistance is dangerous but there is no other choice if we are to avoid a future characterised by indecency, incivility and inhumanity, a future of marauding politicians, criminally-negligent functionaries, violent-fanatics and a system rotted to its very core.
[i] Of ‘Tin Tin’ fame