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“Humiliation” in Sri Lanka: Is our society decent or civilised?

Mar 17, 2011 9:39:42 PM- transcurrents.com

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Avishai Margalit the Israeli philosopher wrote a treatise on the Decent Society from which I have quoted often. In it he defines a civilized society as one in which people do not humiliate each other and a decent society as one in which institutions do not humiliate people. My reason for frequently citing this is that throughout the yet to be resolved conflict in Sri Lanka and in parts of the country that were not direct theatres of armed conflict, issues of human dignity and decency abounded and yet do so be it on the basis of ethnicity, religion, class and dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy. Now as we are faced with the challenge of moving beyond the post-war to the post-conflict and with it an unprecedented opportunity to forge reconciliation and unity, Margalit’s treatise assumes a crucial importance and pertinence.

In response to international and national criticism of the inability and/or unwillingness on the one hand or the tardiness and lack of priority on the other to commence this process of reconciliation and unity, the regime points to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as proof of its commitment to effect reconciliation and unity. The shortcomings of the LLRC process apart, there are incidents that continue, are allowed to continue or are committed, that fly in the face of the declared commitment to reconcile and unite and which negate the spirit and raison d’etre of the LLRC. Moreover, attesting to and augmenting the cancer of impunity, nothing is done to prevent, deter and punish these acts of hate, of hurt and of harm.

The controversy over the national anthem is one. As reported, the rank ignorance and prejudice as well as the servility and silence of those who do know better that was paraded at the cabinet meeting which addressed the issue notwithstanding, the Deputy Director of Education in Jaffna who spoke out on the issue was murdered in cold blood on Boxing Day. This egregious insult and repudiation of out millennia of civilization and of the great religions that are practised in this country was barely reported in the non-Tamil media.

The headquarters of the Army in Jaffna is to be relocated to the LTTE War Memorial in Kopay. The debate, such as there is on this issue is on the web. It is littered with arguments about whether LTTE cadre were actually buried in the grounds, the LTTE being beyond the pale, the legality of the LTTE”s use of the land in the first place and Allied treatment of Nazi memorials. What is missing is the simple issue of the families of slain LTTE cadre treating the memorial as a space to remember and to mourn their loved ones, and the surely obvious question as to what this represents in terms of a demonstrable commitment to reconcile and unite?

It also begs the question of as to whether the denizens of the LLRC should take up these issues and remonstrate with the regime that incidents such as these – and there are many others which go unreported because of the fear of the victims and the fear and apathy of the media – undermine their work, impede reconciliation and send out the message that lessons are not being learned.

There is also a new Human Rights Commission, an institution one would expect to turn to in these circumstances. It is the first of its kind post 18th Amendment and therefore sadly not one in accordance with the international standard of the Paris Principles pertaining to such commissions or one that could reverse the demotion of our national Human Rights Commission by the international coordinating committee for such bodies.

All these nasty things- hurtful, hateful and harmful – stand. The hurt and harm and hate that spawned them unchecked become integral elements of public standards, ethics, morals, culture and sensibilities or yet more egregious examples of the lack of them. Anything goes as long as it is does not contest but uphold triumphalism and majoritarianism in praise of the dynasty and its consolidation power.

Consider for example the Prime Minister’s remarks in the parliamentary debate on the extension of the Emergency. Leave aside the farcical explanations of the source of his information, the message seems to be that the reason for extending the Emergency is that the LTTE though defeated is still around and still around as a security threat. The victory celebrations that we’ve had have clearly been premature and of the wishful thinking variety. It seems that the LTTE will be around as long as the Rajapakshas are and with them the Emergency as the standard operating procedure for regime security.

Consider the report about the political appointments to the Foreign Service. Those being appointed are friends and relations of the regime and with, on all accounts, little or no particular educational attainment or experience befitting a member of a once proud and professional service. It is indeed a national tragedy that the highly educated minister appears to be presiding over the disintegration of our foreign service. With these appointments along with a pet Poo-Bah to oversee the ministry and the sidelining of the service professionals by the Bells and Bates’, Pottingers and Potts at lavish cost and little success, our foreign policy has been reduced to knee-jerk jingoistic reaction, ill-informed, indiscreet statement in the interests of self-preservation and some bordering at times on paranoia.

Indeed we are at a point at which in any healthy, vibrant functioning democracy both the prime minister and the foreign minister would have had to go, nay, would have gone them-selves without prompting because their position in office was untenable.

Not at this court; not in this country. Perhaps it is the case that under this dispensation and equality of sorts applies. Margalit’s point about humiliation holds for citizens, be they average, ordinary or extraordinary. Be they even ministers.