By Padmani Mendis –
For our Nation which has gone through so much violence and trauma in living memory, it is of course imperative that “Security” is a priority. We expect consecutive governments elected by us the people to ensure that we as citizens have security. This every government promises repeatedly to give us.
When the civil conflict that ran to ground our country and our peoples was brought to an end in 2009 after a period of nearly 3 decades we believed that that was it. With peace, over time, a sense of calm settled on our nation. We began to hope again. Hope for a better future for us and for the generations yet to be born. Solders with guns left the streets, there were no more road blocks, no more body searches, no more waiting at cross roads for politicians to pass in their time, or for their motorcades to rush past with all important young men in white-gloves who were their protectors pushing us ordinary folk off to the sides. No more parents leaving for work in the morning not knowing whether they would return home after work in the evening. No more parents not knowing whether their children were safe at school. And in time, no more journalists being exterminated or disappearing. The mass exodus of our people, the nation’s most valuable asset, dwindled to a handful. With the promise of freedom and a better life, those who had fled during the era of terror began returning to us. To some it was home again, for others it was the joy of increasingly frequent but brief sojourns. And with them came also foreigners to enjoy the beauty and the tranquility that this country truly “like no other” has to offer.
And yet we do not have that promised peace any more. There was Digana, there was Aluthgama, there was Rathupaswala. And then just 4 months ago we had the terror that was the Easter Sunday massacres. Again we thought that was it. But no, it was followed two weeks later in Kurunegala by the horror of the attacks on sections of our own population by our own people. Lives and property lost. So once again we live in fear and the uncertainty of when and where violence will come to us. And the trauma and sacrifice that goes with it.
During the long years of conflict and that which occurred thereafter, the country’s greatest loss was the lives sacrificed. Young men and women from all over the country, but more so in the northern and eastern parts, in direct conflict with each other. And innocent folks who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or unfortunate enough to have been targeted deliberately. The loss of life is always the greatest concurrence of conflict and of terror because of its irretrievability and hopelessness. In times of conflict and violence the state appeared to fail in is primary responsibility to protect the lives of its people.
And so we want security. Security that government will protect our lives, our children, our property. We are promised this security through a well-disciplined armed force and effective intelligence services. This is Armed Security because it is provided by the armed forces. Armed men with guns once again on the streets, road blocks for searches and road blocks to give priority to politicians as before, body searches for us. Or as we experienced before, unarmed security dressed to look inconspicuous, dressed like our young men do, patrolling our streets and parks and other public spaces watching us constantly to make sure we behave as they would want us to. Security is one of the most important issues being talked about by the general public within the hottest topic of all, namely the presidential elections and the general elections to follow.
And so it is time to ask, is Armed Security the security we want?
Or do we want Human Security?
Is it armed security or human security that should influence our vote come elections. With armed security comes once more the curtailment of freedoms and control of lives and of the media. These are the primary means of providing security with the authoritarianism that must come with a leader who rules with and through the armed forces. Do we want to live our lives in fear of the authorities that run our country? The fear of our conversations being overheard and reported to those in “authority” so we may be ‘taken in for questioning”. The fear of losing the freedoms that we now enjoy, to speak freely, to move freely, to vote freely again at free and fair elections so that we may continue to choose freely our representatives. The fear of voicelessness. Or do we want most of all to be free to do what we wish to do but with no harm to others.
Human security takes as its primary responsibility the protection of life. But the protection of life is applied in a wider context. It applies not only to times of man-made conflict and violence but also to crises caused by natural disasters like floods, drought and earth slips; it applies to the ever growing elephant- human conflict with an increasing invasion by man of territory belonging to our elephants. It considers insecurity by threats to our environment, manmade and otherwise. It takes into account hardship caused by poverty with accompanying vulnerability and marginalization. These are conditions in which the majority of our people live as the gap between the rich and the poor keeps ever-widening.
With human security comes too human development to provide for us a better future. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) introduced the concept of “Human Development’ (or ‘Development”). Development describes the process which will take us towards human security. Human security describes a future with development that will increase our well-being, our happiness, our quality of life.
So when we select a government do we select one that will protect our lives with armed security or one that takes us further to ensure for us human security with opportunities and choices to develop the potential we have as human beings and with assured freedoms to do so. Human security looks at protecting our lives as well as ensuring opportunities and choices for us to develop as individuals and as the collective. From the development of ourselves and the communities we live and function in, human security and development includes as our collective, support systems at local, provincial and central levels. Human security looks at our safety and our development in it its totality. Isn’t this the future that we want?
To conclude, one might ask how we can know what we should expect from a future government in terms of our security as citizens and as human beings. First and most importantly we will find our answers in our past experiences during the long conflict and immediately thereafter. We will also find the answers if we glean through the policies and plans of the political parties who want our vote come election time. These are as we all know promises rarely kept, but it is after all the best we have. And if we choose correctly, at least we will have the freedom to tell them so when we are dissatisfied.
Which among those who compete to lead us begin their political promises with development strategies that will benefit the majority of our people (over 70%) living in rural areas and those living in urban poverty and their needs? Decent work for all to bring them an adequate income to support them and their families with adequate food and nutrition; effective changes in education to allow space for every child to enjoy their childhood, develop their full potential and grow up to be good citizens; special emphasis on those disadvantaged citizens – ethnic and religious groups, those with disabilities. And equally, a home for each family to give them a sense of self worth and dignity and start them off on the process that is development.
Which leader is most likely to include at the national level effective macro level economic strategies to raise the level of the country’s development and to give effect at the micro level to benefit all; shows concern for social policies that will bring communities together regardless of ethnicity and religion, ensures participation and contribution of all in the country’s mainstream and in the countries development; basic infrastructure facilities such as clean water, proper sanitation, effective disposal of waste, roads, railways and other public transport; protection of the environment and land distribution policies and programmes towards equality; motivates and provides the environment needed by the corporate sector to willingly contribute their best to the country’s growth. Safeguards future free and fair elections. And most of all gives the nation a voice and the freedom to express their needs, feelings and thoughts about government.
At these times with politicians come begging for our vote, roles are reversed and we become the decision-makers, the bosses. It is an opportunity we risk losing forever if we make the wrong choice. So what is it to be – Armed Security or Human Security?