“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and thus clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
H.L. Mencken (In Defence of Women).
Julampitiye Amare is now a forgotten man. Not so just six years ago, when he burst on to the national stage in a hail of bullets.
On June 5, 2012, a JVP pocket-meeting in Katuwana was attacked. Ten men arrived on motor cycles and opened fire on the small crowd (which included the current JVP parliamentarian Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa). Two were killed, many injured. The attack reportedly lasted for around 20 minutes. The police were called but arrived only after the attackers were gone. Even as the desultory investigation was beginning, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s Media Centre for National Security claimed that the attack was an outcome of the rivalry between the JVP and its latest breakaway, the FSP.
The victims knew the attackers, especially their leader. Julampitiye Amare was a well-known figure in the area. He was a man of many crimes, including murder and rape. Despite many eyewitness accounts, the police made no move to arrest or even question Julampitiye Amare who continued to strut about dressed in military fatigues and brandishing a T56. He was arrested only when he came to the High Court for another case. The presiding judge ordered him to be remanded. The police later claimed that they failed to arrest Julampitiya Amare because they didn’t know what he looked like.
Less than a fortnight before the Katuwana attack, in May 2012, the JVP’s paper Lanka had carried an investigative piece claiming that Julampitiye Amare’s immunity from arrest came from his closeness to the then first family, the Rajapaksas. i
That was how law and order was maintained under the strong leadership of the Rajapaksas.
Sometimes memory is an eel. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has forgotten its solemn promises to the electorate – the inane plan to build a third airport in Polonnaruwa being the latest case in point. Perhaps in tandem, the electorate has forgotten what life was like under the Rajapaksas. The case of Julampitiye Amare, who remained a free man despite the existence of more than 100 arrest warrants against him, was symbolic of the rampant crime and rampant immunity that was characteristic of the times.
Forgetting is an integral component of the Rajapaksa comeback project. If Lankans remember what the past was really like, a majority of them would not want to return there. So forgetting is politically necessary, including such causes celebres as the serial killings of Kotakethana in Kahawatte, the killing of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, and the brutal murder of British tourist Khuram Shaikh and the gang rape of his Russian fiancé. Let the past be re-remembered as a time of law, order and discipline; let the present be imaged as a time of chaos and anarchy. How did we live then? How are we living now? Did we live in a safe, law abiding country then? Are we living in a hell of criminality now? Not according to statistics. According to statistics, graves crimes have decreased – and not increased – over the years.
The dataii also shows a decline in other grave crime categories, including rape and child abuse.
Sri Lanka is not crime free or violence free. But it is less crime-prone and less-violent than it was four years ago. A fake news pandemic – and not facts on the ground – is responsible for the impression of the present as unprecedentedly lawless and bloody. The aim is political and partisan – exacerbate the ‘feel bad factor,’ and manufacture a pre-emptive justification for dismantling democratic rights and freedoms under a future Rajapaksa government.
Reimaging Hitler; Relishing Gotabhaya
Albert Camus defined Adolf Hitler as “the epitome of suicide and murder.” (The Rebel). Hitler ruled through murder; he ended his rule with suicide, his own. His legacy to Germany was defeat, death and devastation, both material and moral. Not the kind of leader a sane person would wish for.
Perhaps there is madness in the air.
Ignorance of history is common. It is possible that Vendaruwe Upali thero had no idea about what Hitler did to Germany and Germans. But ignorance of history cannot explain the monk’s expressed wish for a military government (led by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa). That desire is sourced in a visceral hatred of the democratic idea, and in an infantile faith in the efficacy of autocracy, however murderous.
A tweet by a self-declared Christian (I will refrain from mentioning his name as he has apologised for his defence of Hitler) says “Looking at the killings in Sri Lanka, I sometimes wonder who is in charge… The situation is reaching serious levels.” The question here is where did this gentleman ‘look’ in order to conclude that the ‘situation is reaching serious levels?’ Not facts and figures certainly, because statistics indicate the opposite.
Why don’t those who lament about a sudden crime wave and advocate the return of the Rajapaksas (especially Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his Hitler avatar) as the only solution check their facts first?
Crimes today are more brutal, often sickeningly so, but this too is not a post-Rajapaksa development.
That tendency began during the war years. As a police spokesman said in 2012, “….the murders committed in recent times have become more gruesome…. They cut and chop without a care. Sometime back rape was not followed by murder, however now rape is followed by murder.”iii
In his magisterial work on Algerian War of Independence, A Savage War of Peace, Alistair Horne mentioned the case of a French police inspector who tortured his own wife and children because of “what he had been required to do to Algerian suspects.” Wars brutalise societies and make them pitiless. Sri Lanka experienced a thirty year war and two insurgencies. Violence and brutality have seeped into the national bloodstream. We are a society suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Rajapaksas did nothing about the problem. The current government is no better.
In 2012, Dr Jayan Mendis, then specialist psychiatrist of the National Institute of Mental Health, warned, “We lived with a war for 30 years. All those who are 30 years or so were born, bred and schooled within a war situation….. They knew of war and war alone….. Now it is over. However what one grows up with is not easily forgotten. Some would want to kill any person who troubles him on even a small issue, just to get even. They know of killings and murder quite well. That is their experience”iv
Changing this societal mindset is the challenge before the country. It was there during the Rajapaksa years. It remains today. Nothing and no one is immune from it, including the Sangha, as this week’s brutal murder of a policeman by a monk demonstrates. Demilitarisation in every sense of the word, including psychologically, is necessary to escape this mindset of madness. The current administration lacks the political will to rise to this challenge because it would entail the contradiction of too many shibboleths. But bringing back the Rajapaksas will worsen the problem, because stoking hatred and breeding violence form integral components of their political modus operandi.
Three and half years out of power, the Rajapaksas remain unchanged. Violence, verbal or physical, is their first resort. When the New York Times piece about Chinese contributions to the presidential campaign coffers of Mahinda Rajapaksa appeared, some SLPP parliamentarians responded by issuing veiled threats against the two local journalists associated with the piece – Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wanaman. That response was a reminder of what awaits the media, if the Rajapaksas return to power, especially under a President Gotabhaya, the man who once said, “If they harm me, it is the country they harm.”v
On October 25, 2012, a businessman was chopped to death by two motorcyclists at Dickman Junction, Galle. The grisly murder happened in the full view of hundreds of people, including a policeman directing traffic. No one, including the policeman, intervened to save the victim. The story was barely covered in the print media. Only a few websites dared to carry the story.
Murder was far more rampant – and brutal – during the Rajapaksa years. It was a truth many Lankans didn’t know because the media was not free to write.
Autocracies do not make trains run on time. They just create the illusion of doing so by preventing the news of delays from being published.
Denial, obfuscation, covering up, that is how autocrats deal with problems.
When a soldier stationed in Jaffna murdered two of his comrades and killed himself, the Rajapaksa regime responded by imposing a news-ban. When asked about the ‘rape problem’ in Sri Lanka, the then ambassador (and Rajapaksa first cousin) Jaliya Wickremesuriya smilingly told The Washington Times, “…oya rapes this and that not taking any place in Sri Lanka… We have very disciplined people in Sri Lanka… Like any other country, we have, like couple of cases.”vi
That statement about a couple of rapes was made in 2012. In 2010, three children were raped/abused per day. As many as 1,169 child rape cases were reported in 2011 – a rate of over three a day. In the first six months of 2012, over 700 cases of child rape/abuse were reported – a rate of four a day.vii The Rajapaksa government responded to the growing problem of child rape/abuse by proposing a rape-marriage law which, if approved, would have enabled the rapist to escape prosecution by marrying his underage victim. The proposal was made by Tissa Karaliyadda, the Minister of Women’s Affairs (the first and only male appointed to the job) and warmly endorsed by Mahinda Rajapaksa himself.
In a related development, the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa (who is being touted as a kinder gentler alternative to brother Gotabhaya) said, “My opinion is that nobody can make men responsible for the violence against women. Women are responsible for it…” viii Little wonder, rape proliferated during the Rajapaksa years, far more than before or since.
That was how the crime-fighting Rajapaksas fought crime.
By 2014, another worrying development was coming to light – violence by children. In a timely article, warning about this problem, Kumudini Hettiarachchi mentioned how a 12- year old boy almost hacked his sister with a manne after breaking open her door and about a nine-year-old girl who stabbed her father in the back with a kitchen knife.ix
The Rajapaksa paradise was a land of crime and impunity, violence and indifference, a place where strong abused, weak endured and everything insalubrious was kept under wraps.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration is a government of and by clowns. But replacing the jokers with the Rajapaksas would be akin to replacing the bad with the infinitely worse. Weimer Republic was a pretty broken down place, but Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich (which mercifully for everyone ended in just 12 years) was a hell beyond even the most sadistic of human imaginings.
Memory is what keeps living beings from returning to worse places and worse times. When memory fails, anything becomes possible. That is the danger we in Sri Lanka is facing today.
iii The Sunday Leader – 1.12.2012
vi Groundviews – 6.1.2012
vii The real figure may be significantly higher; over 20,000 cases of child abuse may have happened in the first half of 2012, according to the National Child Protection Authority.
ix Rein in child rage immediately – The Sunday Times – 2.2.2014