by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“A situation has arisen where there is a danger to the security of all of us and our families, beginning from the person holding the highest position in the judicial system”. – Manjula Tilakaratne, Secretary, Judicial Services Commission (Daily Mirror – 29.9.2010)
The main budgetary allocations for 2012 are out; and the winner, by a very wide margin, is the military. Rather the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, to give the money-guzzling Behemoth its full title. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s fiefdom is to get Rs.290 billion out of a total estimated government expenditure of Rs.2520 billion – i.e. 11.5%.
Health and Education will not get even half as much.
Naturally. The Rajapaksas do not depend on government hospitals or schools. But the Rajapaksas cannot do without the defence forces (including the police). The Forces are needed to keep the North quiescent in the absence of either a political solution to the ethnic problem or meaningful development.
The Forces are also needed to deal with the South, whenever this or that segment of Southern society becomes restive.The men in uniform keep the students and the lecturers at bay, deal with striking workers and demonstrating farmers; they help manage unfree and unfair elections and threaten winning candidates of the opposition into compliance. They evict the urban poor from their homes and the rural poor from their villages and farmsteads. Rajapaksa security and the Rajapaksa brand of development cannot be without them.
So the Forces must be beefed up.
This generosity towards the institution contrasts sharply with the meanness of spirit evident in the treatment of ordinary members of that institution. Not only are they made to do menial jobs in the civilian sector; when they inadvertently cause the ire of anyone connected to the Ruling Siblings, they are betrayed without a qualm. Thus a major in the Army Intelligence, with a service record of 17 years, was thrown to the wolves to save the hides of a ministerial brat and an ambassadorial brat.
In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, militarization like every other phenomena, is directed towards shoring up familial power and ensuring dynastic succession. From the point of that Rajapaksa agenda, Mervyn Silva, the minister – and by extension his son and the latter’s boon companions – are of far greater consequence than Major Chandana Pradeep, the ‘war hero’ who risked his life to defeat the Tigers.
The Harry Potter universe is divided into the Wizarding world and the Muggle world. According to Wikipedia, Muggles are the ordinary majority without any magical abilities. In the Rajapaksa universe too, there are two types of people: the magical ones and the non magical ones. The Ruling Siblings and their kith and kin inhabit the magical side of the universe. And they come first, always, because that is a Law of the Rajapaksa Universe. We, the people, are the non-magical ones, the Muggles. And we do not matter.
Once that simple equation is understood, Rajapaksa decisions – including the seemingly outrageous ones – cease to amaze.
King Kekille is a potent symbol of the absolute injustice which is visceral to absolutist rule. The many Kekille stories represent attempts by the powerless of a by gone era to use humour (often of the gallows’ variety) to highlight (and to come to terms with) the structural precariousness and insecurity of ordinary life in a lawless land under an arbitrary ruler.
Life in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka is beginning to acquire a disturbingly similar flavour.
When a Tamil youth in Elpitiya failed to call a soldier on leave ‘sir’, the soldier regarded it as an unforgivable political solecism and assaulted the young man. Subsequently, an orgy of arson and looting was unleashed on the young man’s village. When the villagers went to the police, the police arrested two of the victims.
But when Major Chandana Pradeep was assaulted by a group including a ministerial and an ambassadorial offspring, it was the major who lost out.
During the ‘grease-devil’ outbreak, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa thundered, “It doesn’t have to be Tamil Tigers. But anybody who attacks the military is a terrorist…” (BBC – 4.9.2011); except Rajapaksa kith and kin, he should have added, at least sotto voice.
The armed forces enjoy the right to impunity vis-à-vis almost all Tamils, most Muslims and many Sinhalese. But that impunity is not illimitable; it stops outside the charmed circle within which the rulers and their coterie reside in orgiastic splendour, at public expense. In a confrontation with even the least member of that charmed circle, even the most celebrated ‘war-hero’ is as powerless as the rest of us.
If Major Chandana Pradeep was attacked by an ordinary Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, the story would have had a different ending. The attacker would have been arrested and locked away; he would have been decried as a traitor. Everyone who matters in the Rajapaksa dispensation, from the President and the Defence Secretary downwards, would have rushed to the defence of Major Pradeep; in this they would have been vociferously joined by the Army Commander and innumerable other men in uniform. The Major’s statement that he was on duty would have been treated as a sacred truth.
Unfortunately for Major Pradeep his assailant was not a Sinhala Tom, a Tamil Dick or a Muslim Harry; it was a ministerial offspring (and his entourage). His assailants thus belonged to the charmed circle which in today’s Sri Lanka stands above the law like a giant malignant gnat.
Impunity and injustice are bedfellows. Neither is containable or controllable. They might originate as an isolated trickle, but in the absence of resistance they will grow into a might force of nature, as unimpedable as it is destructive. That is the moral of the story of Malaka and the Major.
And it can be the story of any Muggle.
Targetting the JSC
The Ruling Siblings are excellent at promising the exact opposite of what they are planning to deliver.
For instance, the Rajapaksas have no intention of sharing power even with fellow Sinhalese. But promises of devolution are something they make regularly, and earnestly. In another instance, in May 2010, the Siblings promised not to enact the 18th Amendment in the face of political, societal and public opposition. Once the opposition died down (because the promise was believed and the struggle was considered won and done with), the 18th Amendment was enacted with a great deal of secrecy and haste.
Given this history, current Presidential promises to respect judicial independence should be taken with a whole shaker of salt. Juxtaposing these verbose declarations with actual deeds would enable us to better comprehend the real state of affairs.
The President did not condemn the alleged threatening of the Mannar magistrate by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen; any more than he condemned parliamentarian Duminda Silva or Minister Mervyn Silva for their serial misdeeds.
That is because these ministers and parliamentarians belong in the charmed circle (for now) while the victims – be they public officials, presidential advisers, magistrates or war-heroes – are nothing more than ordinary, common-or-garden Muggles.
When the judiciary tries to protect its independence and the honour and dignity of its members, it interferes with Rajapaksa purposes.
Because the Siblings want a judiciary as subservient as the armed forces; a judiciary which will do whatever the Siblings want; a judiciary which will turn against its own members victimised by the Rajapaksas and their kith and kin.
Diverse measures will be used to subjugate the judiciary into such a state of gutless and witless compliance, from impeachment to acts of kangaroo justice.
For instance, “President Mahinda Rajapaksa had appointed a ministerial committee to probe a sexual harassment complaint against a top official of the Judicial Services Commission. The Committee appointed yesterday’s (Sep 26) cabinet meeting comprises Nimal Siripala de Silva, Maithripala Sirisena, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, ALM Athaulla, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dew Gunaskeara and Wimal Weerawansa. On the occasion, the President said he had received a written complaint by the father of a young female magistrate that his daughter had been subjected to sexual harassment by the JSC official” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 27.9.2012).
According to other media reports, the targeted official is none other than the Secretary of the JSC, Manjula Tilakaratne.
If justice is the purpose of the Rajapaksa move against the JSC Secretary, this is not the way to go. Mr. Tilakaratne can either be charged in a court of law (since the AG’s Department is under Presidential control, this would be an easy task); or a parliamentary select committee can be appointed to look into the matter. To appoint a committee of ministers is nothing more than a blatant attempt to tarnish the image of a judicial official who is standing up for judicial independence.
Mr. Tilakarante issued the JSC statement which warned the public about attempts to undermine judicial independence; he also confirmed that Minister Bahiudeen demanded the transfer of the Mannar magistrate. In the latter capacity he will be a key witness in any legal proceeding against Minister Bathiudeen. Little wonder then that he is being targeted by the Rajapaksas.
The total lack of ministerial backbone has been proven over and over again, be it vis-à-vis the 18th Amendment or the recent shenanigans of a ministerial and an ambassadorial brat. The Rajapaksa ministers will sing any song to save their impotent positions.
For instance, Minister Nimal Siripala, a member of the ministerial committee appointed to try the JSC Secretary, is at the forefront of the Rajapaksa assault on the judiciary. Last week, he informed the media that by addressing the letter containing the Supreme Court ruling on the Divineguma Bill to the Secretary General of Parliament instead of to the Speaker, the Supreme Court may have demeaned the parliament!
Can there be even an iota of doubt that this committee will decide what its overlord wants them to decide?
Incidentally, the regime is reportedly planning to impeach the Chief Justice, at some point. This may be a real plan or a mere threat. Either way, the aim would be to cow the judiciary into submission, to get the Divineguma Bill and other Rajapaksa-empowering pieces of legislation through.
The judiciary is one of the few things standing between ordinary Lankans (the Muggles) and total powerlessness. The day the judiciary becomes subservient to the Ruling Family, the occupation of Sri Lanka by despotism will be complete.
Do we wait, apathetically, until the jungle consumes us?