20 September, 2019

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The Land Of The Indifferent

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third, Were axioms to him, who’d never heard. Of any world where promises were kept, Or one could weep because another wept” – Auden (The Shield of Achilles) 

The Lankan crisis is a multi-dimensional one. There is the political crisis which encompasses the crisis of democracy and the crisis of peace-and-nation-building. There is the economic crisis.

There is also a psychological crisis, a moral-ethical crisis, a crisis of values. This societal affliction was cast into sharp relief by two incidents which happened during the Wesak season.

The callous manner in which several doctors and nurses in the General Hospital treated a seriously injured patient has received a fair degree of publicity thanks to the efforts of Seylina D Peiris, the Good Samaritan who took the young woman to the hospital and witnessed the pageant of indifference first hand. This incident cannot be pigeon-holed as typical of the state sector, because similar horror stories have emerged from private hospitals as well, the most recent being the death of a young child at Nawaloka[i]. Nor is this problem limited to hospitals. It is present in every possible space, public and private, political and non-political.

In today’s Sri Lanka, a militarised value system ensures that weakness is scorned, strength worshipped and victims ignored. This is augmented by religious brands which enthrone empty piety in place of real kindness.

The state Wesak Festival was held in Buttala, under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. A few days previously, the local authorities poisoned 38 homeless dogs in the area to prevent them from disturbing the Wesak celebration. Can anything encapsulate the damning hypocrisy and the vacuous exhibitionism which pass off as Buddhism today than this act? Killing living beings in the name of celebrating the Birth, Enlightenment and the Final Extinguishing of a teacher who placed compassion to all living beings at the forefront of his teaching: is this what Buddhism is becoming in Sri Lanka?

This week 35 families in Dambulla were given 24 hours by the local authorities to vacate their homes of more than 3 decades. That callous order was made supposedly in furtherance of developing Dambulla as a Sacred City. As illegal occupants of state lands, these families may not be entitled to any compensation; but as human beings and as citizens, they are entitled to some sympathetic consideration. Rendering men, women and children homeless and destitute to protect a temple does not accord with the teachings of the Buddha.

According to another media report, 13 islands in Kalpitiya have been sold to foreigners. This will deprive thousands of people of their homes and their livelihoods. But this tragedy too will pass us by.

This is what happens to a country when pity dies.

When Pity dies

In October 2009, a man started throwing stones at passing vehicles in Bambalapitiya.

We all know, instinctively, that no sane man would throw stones at passing vehicles; that a man who does so is indubitably an insane one. The normal, ordinary, civilised reaction would be to restrain such a man and ensure that he gets some medical attention.

But in Bambalapitiya, on that day, monsters reigned. A mob consisting of policemen and civilians started chasing the stone-thrower. When he waded into the sea to escape from his demented pursuers, two policemen waded in after him and started beating him with stout poles. The footage shows the victim begging for mercy, but his attackers, immeasurably more unhinged than him, had none to give[ii]. In the end, he waded ever deeper into the sea in order to escape the savagery, and drowned.

Having caused a man’s death and watched him die, the two attackers and the more than 100 spectators returned to their momentarily interrupted ordinary lives.

Initially the police claimed that the victim died of drowning. But a cameraman from a private TV station had videoed the tableau of inhumanity. It was after the footage was made public that the police admitted that a crime was committed.

Eventually it was discovered that the victim was indeed a mental patient.

That grisly incident, and the moral depravity and lawlessness it embodied, was a forewarning of the rapid de-sensitisation and brutalisation of Sri Lanka.

In commenting on the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt said, “The deeds were monstrous but the doer…quite ordinary, commonplace”[iii]. Clearly her observation has a relevance far beyond that time and that place:

The men and women who watched passively as a defenceless man was beaten and forced to drown, the doctors and the nurses who ignored the plight of a patient (and watched television amidst the Wesak decorations honouring the Compassionate One) are not monsters; they are perfectly ordinary people, and in all probability, good family men and women in their private lives.

What does this say about our future?

Sri Lanka has had her share of times when ordinary virtues which underpin a liveable life such as decency, sympathy and kindness were in abeyance. The Black July, in which the killers were ordinary people rather than soldiers, militants or even terrorists, was an ideal case in point. That was a time when crime became the norm and legality the exception, when deeds of brutality were committed in the wide open, with pride – often to the acclaim/approbation of onlookers – while acts of mercy, of ordinary humanity were carried out in stealth. What made that horror even more appalling was the way it continued, day after day – every morning mobs would come out to burn, pillage and kill; every evening the constituent individuals would go home to their families, and to a few hours of normal existence; the same surreal process would be repeated the next day.

But until recently such descents into savage amorality were incidental and episodic; they flared up, lasted for a while, and died.

Today the germs have infused every fibre of Lankan society. Today no corner ofSri Lanka, no aspect of Lankan life is immune to the disease.

The culprits are not just politicians, though they too bear their share of blame in setting this devastating trend, especially by enthroning impunity in the name of patriotism. Religion, as it is institutionally practiced in Sri Lanka, is a part of the problem. It will build magnificent edifices while helping to create people devoid of basic human decencies.

The self-immolation by a Buddhist monk has merely added another layer of deadly violence to a society already choking on violence.

In the past, after atrocities happened, there would be some shame and guilt, and perhaps even some soul-searching. But that necessary, civilising practice died with the Humanitarian Operation and the Welfare Camps. Not only did we shut our hearts to natural human pity during the war and in its immediate aftermath. Four years later, we still have no pity to give; nor see a need for it.

Pitilessness is habit-forming; now it’s devouring our own.

The Rajapaksas can be ejected, democratically, someday. The political and economic crises can be resolved, to some extent, in a post-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka. But curing Lankan society of the plague of ruthless-indifference will be far more difficult, if not impossible.

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Latest comments

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    I do not believe the Rajapaksas’ can be ejected, democratically.The 18th amendment wasn’t bought in for nothing. But only time will tell.

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    Tisaranee Gunasekara What you say is true.Recently a motor cycle went into a skid and the rider and his companion was thrown off the cycle. The companion got dragged along the road and he was injured, Hardly any skin on his back was left. many motorists and three wheelers went past. Only one man stopped to take the injured to the hospital.In the same area a man fell senseless into a water hole and died asphyxiated. No body extended a helping hand.It is true that this lack of sympathy can be traced to the short comings of the war and the after math, but it is not the whole truth.The dirty morality introduced by the JRJ govt – a convicted rapist being released and made an island wide JP and the activity of the Buddhist monks have greatly contributed to this.If we want to change this it is high time that we took action against the monks first.When a monk sodomise a child one cannot say Saadu, Saadu and touch his feet and worship, when a group of monks take a young samanera who joined the temple in the morning and sodomise him to death cannot be covered up as the DMO of the area did, It high time that we took the law into our hands, emasculate such monks, monks who show wealth should have their wealth confiscated. I do not encourage killings but these monks should be severly punished.

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      Alone the VERY RECENT scene in which a monk bathed a gallon of gasoline and then putting the fire to burn himself – this people surrounded by him had been watching but not risking to save his life- is the latest, unthinkable and most known example that our people s heart are made of stone to this date. NO MORE MORAL COURAGE IS IN THEM.

      This is the country where war criminals have been respected as heroes. People are deaf and blind – no matter even their lovely are abducted or murdered. The human life has been given no value at all.

      Rajapakshe country <- Srilanka

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      Capricon,
      This the first time I heard of a young boy/man being “sodomised to death”.Such deaths are not given in forensic medicine texts.It is not possible unless he died of some other unrelated cause,condition or illness exacerbated by the ‘gang sodomy’.
      Are you sure of your facts?

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    You got to give it to Ms T for all her painstaking work to dig the dirt.

    One Mil visitors last year.

    A hell of a lot more this year and JKH can’t keep up with the bookings.

    Ranil’s Westminister mates have taken over from Indians. Perhaps JJ loyalists are abstaining.

    Nano Drivers must be happy because the Diasporians from Canada evedently tip better than the JJ crowd.

    The real leader of the world in China promised US$ 2200 Million for new Roads in addition to high teck hospitals in Kandy Matara and even in Colombo plus a rock solid defence deal.( TGTE, BFT, Miss Pillay and their IC ?.)

    Ms T’s this list of ills would have been a cool preamble to Ranil’s Westminister Model.

    The problem however is Ms T and her loyal supporters have to wait until Ranil wins both elections.

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      i could imagine such a heartless and inhuman reply if this were an article on mainly political issues, where you usually seem comfortable selling your own mother to ingratiate yourself to the regime.

      but what kind of animal, what kind of absolute third-class barbarian says what you have said about two innocent people dying while healthcare staff ignored them? Children, at that. Lay aside the politics, at least open your mouth and for once say something about this. “The real leader of the world in China promised US$ 2200 Million for new Roads in addition to high teck hospitals in Kandy Matara and even in Colombo”- what use are all these if all they do is ignore people who come in to get treated.

      K.A. Sumanasekara or whoever you are, before I was simply annoyed at your refusal to see the Rajapakses for what they are- now, you are less than a human for me and for anyone who reads this absolute bilge from you. Proclaim yourself a Buddhist all you want, but as far as I know, cockroaches have no religion.

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        Why you are so scared of people talking.

        It is you guys who are asking for all the rights and the rainbow-coloured Sri Lanka.

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          i thought i told you to go and watch Vin Diesel? :)

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      KAS -and you ‘got to give it to you’, not only for irrelevant responses, but also for mindless and insensitive ones. Where do you draw the line at your defense of the regime and their actions. Don’t you see ANYTHING wrong ANYWHERE, where they are concerned?

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        this. this is what we face now. a guy defends a system where it’s okay to beat a mentally handicapped guy to death, take anyone’s land for the slightest excuse, neglect a child until they die…

        people thought we had anarchy during the war. I disagree- this is anarchy.

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      K.A. Sumanasekera aka Leela aka the Realtor:
      Are you for real or do you just pretend to be demented? Please enlighten us because until you do it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry each time we read your disjointed crap.
      k.p:
      Do you expect anything but a grunt from this porcine personage? And please DO NOT insult cockroaches by comparing them to this creature!

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    Tisaraneee, thank god for a sane voice like yours that dares question the levels of barbarity Sri Lankans have sunk to. At this point of time, I personally take no pride whatsoever in admitting I’m Sri Lankan.

    I predicted at the height of the war that someday we would have to deal with the consequences brought on by such a long period of a war. I knew we would have to manage the post traumatic stress syndrome(PTSD) and other psychological side effects among the forces and indeed the surviving rebels.

    But I did not foresee “the rapid de-sensitisation and brutalisation of Sri Lanka” as we are witnessing among the common man. Recent incidents cannot be blamed on the war or TV or westernisation. They are symptomatic of a morally deficient and soulless population that just seems to have lost its way

    You are so right when you state “curing Lankan society of the plague of ruthless indifference will be far more difficult, if not impossible.”

    My heart bleeds for this lost nation…

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    Staff in the picture – are they still in employment? What about the person in charge of them? Is he/she still in charge?

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    I don’t know any country which is perfect. Sri Lanka is not perfect but better than most countries with a similar per capita income. What are your complaints?

    What is this quote you are using about two girls being raped and one boy being knifed by another? What is it’s relevance to your harangue of ridiculous complaints?

    Medical misadventures happen everywhere. I don’t know about the callous manner doctors and nurses treated one seriously injured patient, but I know that the vast majority of people who cannot afford private hospital treatment receive excellent treatment in the General Hospital, Colombo and the Colombo South Hospital.

    Personally, I avoid consulting doctors who are paid by the Government of Sri Lanka to provide eight hours service, but refuse to use any time-in and time-out machines in the government hospitals, to cheat the public by working much less than the prescribed number of hours. These busy overworked consultants often do not have the time to devote to their patients, but continue to be very popular.

    Stray dogs are a source of danger to the public but, some affluent dog lovers do not allow the local government authorities to do their duty of catching them and allow the rapid dogs to bite poor people who walk along public roads.

    As for the 13 islands sold to developers, do you have any evidence that any family had lived in any one of these islands without any wells and had entered the names of any one of these islands as their homes for two successive elections? We must not allow racketeers who hear that these uninhabited islands are going to be developed to profit by holding the investors to ransom. If there are any genuine inhabitants of these islands, it is the duty of the authorities to compensate them.

    If you are living in Sri Lanka, do not sling mud using such trivial examples and give the country a bad image. There are many things we can be happy about, such as our low unemployment, satisfactory growth rate, continued reduction in the percentage of people living below poverty level, opportunities for upward mobility with free education + books + shoes + uniforms and a mid day meal and grade 5 scholarships. We can be also proud of our Human Development Index.

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      No country is perfect .. This country is going from bad to worse to whatever that follows next. I can safely presume that The President only hears about the weather report ! That explains why he spoke against the naming of Mahesen.. But ironically not the corrupt dealings ,, violent protests on the street,, hate speech.. Etc,,

      Whats the point of having a low unemployment rate when the people of this country can’t get through the week with their earnings … We Sri lankans need to feel the benefits . If not it’s a worthless piece of paper filled with stats!

      I have had a similar experience at a government hospital but I had the luxury to walk out and check into a private hospital. There was no TV and the doctor in charge did take a look at the injury but did nothing! Told us to wait and wait we did for over two hours while he was engrossed in a conversation with his fellow colleagues.

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      @Truth

      As long as there are kaday going “Hear no evil…see no evil…speak no evil…” blind patriot sycophants like you, this country will never prosper.

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      Truth,
      In the fifties and before doctors on duty had to attend to patients within 15 minutes of admission or face disciplinary procedures.

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        Well the tables have turned now hasn’t it!!!

        But best yet is how doctors answer their phones inside the operating theatre..

  • 0
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    I wholeheartedly agree with Thisaranee, I wonder when we will cure this indiscipline arrogant pitiless SriLankan society.

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    If you systematically analyze the bizarre nature of rapes, murders and suicides, along with all the alcoholism related offenses taking place in SL, and that too in the unspoilt corruption free societies living in the rural suburbs, it is a shocking revelation, when you realize the depth of permeation this stranglehold is having on the population of this country. The lethargic judiciary dragging on for years to pronounce a judgement is ineffective to fight crime, and is of no help at all. The many social issues brought into focus by this writer are telling enough, but absolutely nothing will be done to address it. Ultimately this country will have authorities corrupt to the core, whilst it being infested with bribe takers (of recent times, even a DC Judge implicated), contract killers, drug lords, underworld gangsters who will align themselves as bodyguards of corrupt politicians who will rule the roost. All due to mismanaged administration, poor leadership and corrupt regime who think people can be fooled all the time, little realizing that they are only fooling themselves, whilst the people are getting smart to all their antics.

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    Sri Lankan society is in fact going through a very serious transformation. Government cannot be blamed for all the evils of the society, globalization is one of the reasons. Locally, urbanization can be cited as one of the reasons. Crimes, prostitution, bribery and corruptions have increased many folds, even judges accept and expects bribe to deliver favorable judgements. This is the price we have to pay for urbanization. Take any country, where prominence is given for urbanization. People are considered as commodities. People who work and live in urban areas are ‘sold Goods’. There is no value for human beings. Theories of classical thinkers are failing today.

    It is the religion which can come to rescue of human beings now. The religious leaders have a bigger role to play to mould the character of the younger generation.

    God save Sri Lanka. Ameen

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    Ayesha, I agree with you. In addition to the reasons mentioned by you, I believe that mother’s going to work as virtually slaves in Arab households has been a contributory factor. Unfortunately, the Governments continue to over value the Rupee and cause high inflation through high budget deficits, resulting in reduction in exports as a percentage of GDP, discourage foreign investment and increase the dependence on the wages of slavery.

    The downward slide in democratic norms and the Police force becoming subservient to politicians has further worsened the law and order situation. However, we still clamour for more power to the scoundrels masquerading as Provincial Councillors and Pradeshiya Sabha members, to make life intolerable for people living outside the Western Province. Very soon, we may find it impossible to get a parking spot in a hospital car park, if the foolish Western Provincial Council goes ahead with their proposal to ban collecting of parking fees by private hospitals in their private car parks.

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    A tribute to an absolute uneducated, Greedy, crook Muppet Actor.

    http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/05/30/306256/people-voiceless-in-swaziland

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    I agree with most of the article except for one point. I believe that someone who occupies someone else’s land or state land should be evicted regardless of the time they have been there. If they have been in illegal occupation for a long time their punishment should increase and not decrease as your article suggests. If there is state land available which can be given to people it should be given to the most deserving and not to the most boisterous who have commited a crime by illegally occupying such land

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    Tisaranee,

    1)Would you ask Barak Obama to resign ?

    Rape more common than smoking in the US
    http://www.significancemagazine.org/details/webexclusive/1424839/Rape-more-common-than-smoking-in-the-US.html
    http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/NISVS/
    The United States is experiencing an epidemic of sexual violence. New findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), nearly 1 in 5 women are estimated to have been the victims of rape, defined as unwanted completed or
    . In 2010, the study estimates that 1.27 million American woman were raped–equivalent to one woman every 29 seconds–and 5.1 million were stalked–equivalent to one woman every 7 seconds.

    2) Or Manmohan Sing to resign ?
    India
    More than 90,000 children go missing in India each year; more than 34,000 are never found. Some parents say they lost crucial time because police wrongly dismissed their missing children as runaways, refused to file reports or treated the cases as nuisances. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/22/indian-girls-rape-police-children-missing/2102711/

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