I am sure that there aren’t too many people even of my vintage who remember Peter Finch’s memorable line in Network, a film that earned him a (posthumous) Oscar, but suffice it to say that I can’t think of a more appropriate title for what I’ve chosen to write to The Leader this Sunday. We have gone, in this country, not from the sublime to the ridiculous but from the ridiculous to the totally absurd.
And who do we have providing the hosannas to all of this but a chorus of unbelievable sycophants who appear to have taken leave of what little intelligence the deity gave them in the first place. But that is perhaps an inaccurate statement, because this is not a question of IQ or some similar measurement of intelligence, but a measure of naked, unreserved ambition to sup at whatever trough those in power might provide them.
We have “rationalists” justifying every step of the Rajapaksa clan’s path to total and absolute power, we have erstwhile Trotsykyists performing semantic gyrations in an effort to prove that the current regime doesn’t preside over corruption that isn’t without equal even in Sri Lanka, we have Stalinists providing examples of self-righteousness that even the late comrade Josef Djugashnvilli would have envied. We have.… God knows what kind of aberrant creature of the 21st Century justifying God knows what horror that those of us who once lived in a Sri Lanka of decency and where the Rule of Law prevailed could never have anticipated.
This has become a country that the producer of the cheapest Hollywood horror movie would pay megabucks to have accurately described for his next pot-boiler.
Rather than try to describe what gives in 21st Century Sri Lanka, one might as well take any given day and choose a selection of story titles from the local media to provide an idea of what gives in this country.
Murders? Take your choice, inclusive of motive. Remember, though, that there are several members of the highest echelons of the government who have capital charges held in abeyance (until they “misbehave” as far as the ruling clique is concerned?) and even one member of Cabinet who has a murder charge hanging over his head in a jurisdiction right next to the “land like no other.”
Sexual assaults? The manner in which these are described in the media does appear to depend, to a large extent, on who the accused might be. If it is someone in or close to the seats of power, it becomes some kind of high-jinks gone wrong. If it is someone outside that charmed circle, particularly if the miscreant happens to have connections to the opposition to the Rajapaksa Regime, it gets described in the most lurid terms.
In one interesting incident, a candidate for the opposition United National Party in the recently-concluded general election was taken into custody shortly after he had filed his nomination and had bail refused until very recently. And on what grounds was he ultimately let off the hook? When the woman who had made very serious allegations claimed that she had made some kind of a mistake! I am sure this wasn’t some kind of flimsy frame-up and if you accept that as an explanation, I’d suggest that we both have the skills to take a trip up north of the Arctic Circle in order to sell oodles and oodles of refrigerators to some Inuit that I am sure are waiting with bated breath for our arrival!
Fraud? All you’ve got to do, if what happened (or, really, didn’t happen) in the case of a now famously notorious MP from across the river from Colombo was to get the message across that he is “close” to the powers-that-be and off he goes, wings unclipped, to commit more acts of derring-do or, in the eyes of the general public, act like the quintessential you-know-what with protection from above.
Appropriating land and valuable households in upscale parts of the capital city? All you’ve got to do is find some person who still has not been struck off the rolls as a lawyer and put together a document that describes you as the owner of some very valuable real estate that the owner has temporarily left to visit or settle down in a foreign clime. Hey presto! You are off to the races with a guaranteed winner in your pocket! Who is stupid enough to turn his or her nose up at the opportunity to become the owner of prime real estate at the cost of the fee (no matter how unrealistically high) to some shyster lawyer?
Abductions for political or financial purposes? Not only are these a part of day-to-day life in our land but it seems that even three-year olds are not safe from being snatched. The good news is – if there is such a thing as good news in these matters – that these ransoms appear to be negotiable as one was in the most recent reported case where the father of the very young child was able to bargain the ransom-seeker down to a figure significantly lower than the original asking price.
Some of the abductions for political purposes, unfortunately, appear to have a pre-ordained end – death – because the purpose of abduction does not appear to be to generate a ransom payment but to kill the abductee.
Break-and-enters? Home invasions? Our land is home to a veritable epidemic of these.
And what, pray, are our “forces of law and order,” as they used to be called, doing about this sorry state of affairs?
Very little, I’m afraid. In all fairness, you can hardly blame them, given the fact that any attempt to deal with a law-breaker could lead to interdiction, transfer and worse if the miscreant happens to have the right political connections.
Not only is the matter of political interference a very large problem where the application of the law is concerned, what is terminally bad is the fact that the rule of law has ceased to exist and it is, literally, the law of the jungle that prevails.
This is a matter that transcends political affiliations. It needs to be addressed at the level of Mr. and Mrs. Citizen Silva. It needs grassroots activism without “leadership” from some political big-wig (or not-so-big-wig).
The temptation to say, “Woe is me,” throw up your hands and retreat into some corner of your home would be understandable. However, before you give up the fight, remember that the poor beach folk of Angulana made enough of a rumpus that those accused of killing two young men of that area are in the dock today facing the consequences.
If the people of this country, some of whom will be reading this column, decide to talk to one another and organise some measure of protest, no matter how small, it could be a beginning of the sea change that is absolutely, critically essential at this point of Sri Lanka’s history.
The simple beginning that is required is for every “ordinary” citizen of this country to say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more,” talk to a neighbour or two and then do something, anything to show that they neither support nor accept the status quo.