By Mass L. Usuf –
“Respect other people’s feelings. It might mean nothing to you, but it could mean everything to them.” – Roy T. Bennett
Today, it is extremely sad to see the basic and simple instinct of feeling in man has eroded making him numb and insensitive. This is the result of a continuing gradual social transformation catalysed by several factors. Social scientists would be better positioned to explain this phenomenon.
Feeling is an emotional state. It manifests anger, sadness, love, affection, happiness in a person. Many thoughtful expressions by various personalities describe feelings. It has been said, “when a person stops feeling he becomes a graveyard.” “Pain of hurt lasts a lifetime.” “Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.” Famously, Confucius said, “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”
In relation to feelings, I put myself in the shoes of Hejaz whose woes are publicly known. I tried to draw a parallel to one of my own experiences of a different kind. Certainly, not even a close comparison to what he had to painfully endure. Yet, some remote semblance familiar to his feelings and the feelings of his wife and that of his parents.
I go back to several decades, when we, as newly married, lost our first baby two days after birth. Coincidentally, he died on my birthday. After couple of years, I was offered a foreign employment opportunity. At that time my wife was pregnant with the second baby. I was undecided about going abroad given the experience of our first baby son and the trauma my wife went through. Finally, at the airport I bid a tearful farewell to my parents and my wife. These tears had the mixed emotions of both joy and sadness. Joy that I was going to earn petro dollars – good for the family. Sadness, as I was going away from my loved ones. In this sadness were other feelings like fear, doubt and worry about the unknown, as I was travelling to a foreign land for the first time. By the way, the month was April.
The mixture of feelings for Hejaz of course, was totally different. It was everything excepting joy – fear, doubt, distress and worry.
Condescending And Deceptive
“Pain of hurt lasts a lifetime.” When you are a respected person in society and an acknowledged professional among the legal fraternity, you naturally carry an aura of personality within you. Anything that offends or undermines that distinction demoralizes the person.
On April 14, 2020 a few persons who had earlier deceptively called themselves as health officers on the phone, entered Hejaaz’s house saying they were CID officials. They handcuff him, then removes it. They question him, search his Chambers and tell him that he is under arrest. As a legal practitioner, it immediately challenges his reputation and a forceful invasion of his privacy. Is such conduct deliberate? To purposely demoralize a person psychologically. His wife who is a foreigner was pregnant with their first baby. One can imagine the agony, uncertainty, anxiety that would have overwhelmed Hejaz and his wife. How is such behavior characterized, as domineering, arrogance, high handedness or polite, humble or civil? “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.” (C.S. Lewis)
The Eventful Tweet
Time passed on agonizingly with fading hopes as each day dawns until 15 November 2020 when people read the following tweet from, Justice For Hejaaz@Justice4Hejaz – “Early this morning Hejaz’s wife gave birth to their first child. Hejaz still remains in detention without charge as he was for the past 7 months and missed the precious moment of welcoming his baby daughter into this world. How long do we have to wait for Justice?”
Missing someone and not being able to see (your own first baby) them is the worst feeling ever. The answer to the question raised in the tweet is of course difficult to answer given the uncertainty on several fronts. However, for the countless number of well-wishers seeking justice for Hejaz, there was a thin line of hope when the bail matter was taken up. “Romesh de Silva, President’s Counsel who appeared for Hizbullah, told the Court of Appeal that his client had been in remand for over two years without a reasonable allegation to go through such an ordeal. It was argued that he had been baselessly accused of holding Arabic Classes for children in Puttalam. He has also been falsely connected to the attempt to bomb the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo, in April 2019.” (Island, 03.02.2022).
A sigh of relief on 07 February 2022. Sri Lankan court granted bail for him. Yamini Mishra, South Asia Director of Amnesty International welcoming the development said: “Ever since he was arrested in April 2020, prosecutors have only brought baseless accusations against him. Hejaz is a respected lawyer and minority rights activist who should have never been detained in the first place.” An important observation she made was “hundreds of others remain in detention for charges related to ‘terrorism’ which the authorities have repeatedly used to target minority groups and state critics.”
For the wife and parents who were hither and thither between the synthesis of hope and despair the month of February 2022 brought some relief. Hejaaz was granted conditional bail after being incarcerated for more than two years.
I managed to press on with my foreign job for one year with great difficulty. During this period of physical separation, I began to value what we all generally take for granted – the true meaning of parents, siblings, wife and children. What is love, affection, warmth, care and attachment? In the meantime, my wife had delivered a baby girl and I was not close to her at that momentous event especially, after our earlier experience.
I resigned from my job after the completion of one year as I just could not continue being separated. My parents, wife and our little baby girl were at the airport to receive me. All were happy and did the traditional bear hugs BUT, my little daughter refused to come to me. She started to cry staring at me. I was a stranger to her. I felt very sad as she was partly the reason for my hurried return. It took some time for her to acknowledge my presence in the house and being close to her mother.
I was imagining if Hejaz, too, went through the same experience. This are human feelings which many people forget or callously ignore whenever they are in a state of power, position or domination. A person can be a President or a Prime Minister or from CID, TID or any place but that person cannot deny the universal truth that he or she is first a human being. Unfortunately, empathy which is a quality of good character is hardly seen in many people. Being sensitive to the feelings of other people is seen only in those who have had such an upbringing.
Do Justice To Detainees
Following the Easter Sunday attack and arrests, hundreds of Hejaazs are going through this agony and in a state of depression. Regrettably, not many to voice their concerns. Several parents waiting in anxiety as each day passes anticipating their sons’ freedom. So many wives and children longing to see their husbands and fathers back home.
To empathise is to say, “I have feelings too.” This plea is for the Investigators, the Attorney General and the other relevant authorities who wield power. Please empathize with those who have been detained for far too long. Let the rule of law apply to these persons.
“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.” – Louis Brandeis.
*The writer can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org