by Victor Ivan
The overall content of the social psyche of the current Sri Lankan society has run down to an appalling level of deterioration. The degree of degeneration is such that it has reached almost the point of putrefaction. This phenomenon is rather obvious and it can no longer be concealed. The religious institutions i.e. the temple, the church and the kovil have failed in rescuing the country from this predicament.
Various political movements both capitalistic and socialist and many other diverse political movements too, have equally failed in arresting this trend.
In this back drop, both religion and politics have become a part of the problem itself rather than playing a redemptive role in the process. The failure is not restricted to a particular segment, place or thing. It has become a universal scenario pervading almost all spheres and every aspect of social fabric.
Deterioration of Social Psyche
The violent conflicts had become a common feature during the past thirty years. Some of those conflicts remained intra racial in character while some others assumed the character of inter racial conflicts. However, in the final analysis one can safely conclude that factors such as race, caste, religion, language, culture and politics have contributed significantly towards these conflicts in one way or the other. The number of people assassinated in this process by different parties is exceedingly high. But no one knows the exact number for sure. Yet, it can be safely presumed to be more than one hundred thousand. Similarly, we do not know the race, caste and religion which the victims of these assassinations belonged to.
A considerable number of wives lost their husbands owing to these conflicts. Parents lost their children. The number of children who lost either their father or mother is also very high. People had been assassinated singly as well as collectively. Some of them had been assassinated in a manner depriving them of even the last respect that they deserved. There were Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus among the victims. There is a large number of victims who have been maimed for life due to injuries sustained in the process.
Their number can be three to four times more than the number that got killed. They still continue to live amidst us as living epitomes of violence. The number of violent incidents that occurred during this period was extremely high. But no proper inventories of these incidents have been taken. Moreover, there was no consistent pattern in the assassinations and the assaults launched. There were instances in which Sinhalese had been assassinated by Sinhalese and Tamils by Tamils. In other instances people of one race resorted to killing those of the other race. Those who escaped death with injuries were compelled to live witnessing the on going violence and atrocities and lamentations of the beloveds of the victims. Thus, when one group was dying physically the other group that survived had been dying spiritually.
The circulation of weapons and the number of people using them increased rapidly. Both the rebels and the armed forces used them to intimidate and subdue their opponents and kill them when they refused to obey their dictates. Society was compelled to obey the orders of the rebels or the official armed forces unquestioningly for over 30 years. Disappointingly this situation had dried up the fountains of free thought.
In this process, not only the rebels but even the government was obliged to manipulate the infamous criminals to support them. They were formed into an active force and trained in the use of weapons. There was even a policy adopted in providing them with modern weapons. As a certain portion of deserters of the government security forces and the rebel groups invariably tend to engage in underworld operations, the underworld in turn turned out to be a mafia organization using modern weaponry and modern criminal methods. Politicians employed notorious criminals as security personnel.
The former in turn were obliged to defend the criminals providing them with political protection. Consequently, criminals enjoyed political protection and while ensuring the safety of the politicians, continued to pursue their brutal practices. Even the police seemed to support them when they knew that they were within the halo of politicians. Or rather, the police adopted a policy of simply turning a blind eye when they were engaged in criminal acts. Consequently, the criminals continued committing their usual crimes with impunity without fear of being punished by the law.
They were engaged in the acts of killing, looting and taking ransoms. The consequent criminal atmosphere not only accelerated the crime rate but also made a corrosive and destructive impact on the social psyche and the spirit of society. The response of electronic and printed media in this context was such that in reporting this situation, instead of resorting to allay the pathological conditions created in the social psyche and the spirit of the society it adopted methods that further aggravated the problem.
The increase in the crime rate is such that, as has already been pointed out in a previous article, the number of people found guilty at least once for murder, looting, burglary and rape has been reported to be over 500,000 (this is the number of persons still alive and aged less than 70 years). This represents a share of 9.15 percent of the adult population of the country. This data reflects only one side of the picture. There has been a serious decline in the Rule of Law in the country over a longer period. On average, only 4 percent of criminals tried before the courts of law in Sri Lanka are found guilty. It is not a congenial sign. At least 75 percent of the criminals put on trial must be punished if the law and order situation is to be considered socially favorable.
Some criminals have committed consecutive crimes with impunity without being arrested by the police. This is primarily due to two main reasons. One is the political protection they enjoy and the other is the breakdown of the Rule of Law. For example, there were over one hundred warrants issued by the Courts against the infamous criminal – Julampitiye Amare. Similarly, there were a large number of warrants issued against a noted criminal known as Wambotta who was eventually assassinated. Dhammika Perera, the most infamous criminal in the country at one time, had committed over one hundred heinous crimes. The names of such people as Beddagane Sanjeewa, Sotthi Upali, and Gonawala Sunil can be added to this list. The picture that emerges when we add the number of criminals who continue to engage in the acts of crime without being found guilty at least for once is rather shocking.
In this ugly socio political atmosphere which has been growing over a long period, it appears that even the gods have fled the sacred precincts that they had blessed previously with their divine presence. Thereafter, the devils in divine garb have taken possession of the sacred shrines. Consequently, the pilgrims to these holy places were compelled to worship not the real gods but the devils in divine garb. This situation has exceedingly contributed to exacerbate the degree of deterioration already set in the social psyche and the spiritual values of the people. The deterioration in the social psyche has had its pervading effect on almost everything and everyone. It has affected not only religion and politics; but even the aesthetic fields such as the arts, literature and culture have come under its influence. Equally, the adverse impact of this trend has made its stamp on politicians, religious leaders, journalists, artists, intellectuals, professionals, farmers and labourers as well.
The Nature of the Distortion
This phenomenon can be presumed to be a peculiar distortion caused in the contemporary social psyche as the consequence of a combination of causes such as fear, distress, shock, tension, complexities and helplessness that affected the social life consecutively over a long period. This distortion has resulted in creating a society which is characterized by sadistic tendencies such as the desire to acquire wealth by whatever means, callous disregard for law and order, propensity towards corruption and fraud, tendency towards oppression and revenge, excessive desire to exhibit religiosity and spirituality and the readiness to discharge sexual urges by any low and uncivilized means.
How can we overcome this problem? If the government had a proper assessment of the situation, perhaps, it would have been possible to find a solution for this crisis at national level. Had there been a proper and genuine investigation into the circumstances that led the Sinhalese youth in the South at one time and the Tamil youth in the North later to plunge themselves into an armed struggle, it might probably have revealed how factors like caste and religion, the serious defects inherent in the system of governance and the administrative policies in operation had resulted in creating this great crisis. It would also have paved the way for realizing the need for reforms that are required for the promotion of national integration, establishment of the Rule of Law, a system of governance and a social system that would inspire the confidence and respect of everyone. If this was done, it would certainly have generated a profound social dialogue on these issues while at the same time serving as a social therapy capable of remedying the social psyche that is afflicted with anomalous distortions as outlined above.
The current head of state is a leader with a practical vision. He had the prudence to win the war against the LTTE. However, he seems to be lacking adequate foresight required for effecting the great transformation that should have been initiated immediately after the war. It is important to note that after the war, the country has entered into a complex phase which is fast changing with unusual rapidity. It is undoubtedly a historic phase .The demands of this phase are intricate and not so easy to grapple with using just a simple vision.
The historic phase that the country has entered into with the ending of the war will not stop at demanding a reasonable and just solution to the Tamil problem alone. Instead, it demands an overall transformation in the entire institutional system that encompasses the whole country. But, the preference of the head of state appears to be to keep away from the need for a great social transformation and only to find solutions to the Tamil problem. That is also limited only to the material aspects of the problem.
There has been unprecedented progress in segments such as resettlement of displaced people, rehabilitation and release of LTTE activists, integration of Tamils into the police service, implementation of the trilingual language policy for the whole country and upgrading infrastructure facilities in the areas affected by war.
Apart from these, the government has still failed to restore the most important aspects namely the restoration of respect and esteem that they had been deprived of. The weakest feature inherent in the reforms initiated by the government has been that the solutions have been confined to ad hoc measures ignoring the need for far reaching solutions aimed at transforming the entire socio political system.
Obsolescence of the Political System
By the time the war came to an end, the corrupt political system in the country had reached a point of decay and could no longer be used for the good of the country. The system of governance bequeathed to the country by J. R. Jayewardene was not an efficient or sound system capable of inspiring the confidence of all communities.
It was an ad hoc combination of several contradictory systems that lacked consistency. It was a corrupt system that conferred all the powers in one individual, the President. It left no room for the Rule of Law and distorted and diminished the democratic process.
At the time the war ended the political system that prevailed in the country had reached the point of obsolescence that could no longer be continued with without appropriate reforms being introduced. Also, with the ending of the war the serious deficiencies of the system were exposed. Historically, the survival of all political parties except that of the ruling party which controls the state power became exceedingly weak.
Currently all opposition parties remain virtually confined only to their name boards. Ironically, history has offered the ruling party a temporary, but historic opportunity to effect the great social transformation that the country needs today. History demands this transformation. Consequences of the failure to make use of this opportunity can be grave. It can even bring about the collapse of the entire political system together with the ruling party that has hitherto survived. Apparently that is what is happening now.
Under the present context, there is no need for any external pressure from the opposition parties to make a burst in the government. Even a small technical defect is enough to cause a great explosion in a machine which is in an exceedingly dilapidated state and paralyze it. Probably, it can be reckoned to be a condition decreed by history. The probable outcome of not responding to this historic need can be compared to the fate of a decrepit house that is in danger of imminent collapse and requires to be demolished and debris thereof removed before it falls on its own.
Where does the Solution lie?
Is there anything that those who sense the impending danger, in such a situation, can do? Those who feel the need for change must not sit still in dull despair. Instead, they can form themselves into a small group and discuss the issue and point out to the chief householder and the rest of the people living in the house of the danger of occupying the dilapidated house. Most likely, the chief householder and the majority of the residents may not agree that the house will collapse soon.
They have lived in this house for a long period. It has remained in this condition for a long time. Whatever may be the level of dilapidation, it never collapsed. As such, they might tend to convince themselves that it may not fall down so soon and therefore, it would be possible for them to live there for some more time. Naturally, there is a resistance inherent in people in abandoning the old abode without having a new place to move to whatever the level of decay of the present house.
The next thing they can do is to abandon the old house which is in imminent danger of collapse and move into a temporary hut for the time being as an interim measure and start building a new house wherein all residents of the old house could live amicably and with a sense of respect. As the reader might question as to why I have used the phrase that “all residents of the old house could live amicably and with a sense of respect”, I feel it is appropriate to illustrate it further. I have used this phrase symbolically.
A considerable number of people lived in the house which was in near collapse. They all had common ownership of the house. They belonged to different races, different castes, and different religions. They used different languages. The service delivery and facilities provided had not been equal. The best section of the house had been occupied by those who belonged to the majority race, majority caste and majority religion. The majority group wielded the power over the others. Even those who hailed from the majority race but belonged to a different caste or a religion were given step motherly treatment. Similarly, there was no difference in the policy adopted towards the others who did not belong to the majority group.
There was no peace among the residents. The race, caste and religious differences often led to disputes. There were frequent quarrels among them. Some of them clamored for a decentralized administration in place of the central control that was in operation. There were various attempts to win their rights. Yet, there was no change in the system. The rifts and disputes that prevailed among the residents accelerated the process of decay of the house. The residents were unable to focus their attention on the decaying of the house due to the constant disputes among them
Let us presume that the small group that we mentioned above has abandoned the old house before it collapsed and moved into a temporary shelter and tried out a little experiment. This group consisted of people belonging to various races, castes and religions. They all lived in the temporary shelter as equals. Therefore, their life was free of disputes.
They discussed and reviewed the factors that had affected the inequalities and realized the futility of such differences thereby being able to put up with such differences. They learnt the art of living with mutual respect and love. They drew up a good plan for the construction of the new house which could be used by those living in the old house as well. Moreover, they even formulated a plan for its internal administration which ensures preservation of the individual identities of the residents and equal rights for all of them, thereby creating a congenial atmosphere that allows them to live in harmony and with mutual respect.
Apart from planning for a better house, they even envisioned a just and fair system of management for the new house. They even formulated a contingency plan to minimize the damage that may be caused by a sudden collapse of the old house. Furthermore, they explored the possibility of making use of the old house as a relief center in the event of an emergency and made a prototype to that effect.
In conclusion, what I wish to emphasize in this allegory is that even a small group of people with honest intentions and right attitudes could lay the foundation for a better socio-political system.
The temporary shelter that was erected after abandoning the old house can be compared to a “political ashram”. It is an institution that helps cleanse the spirit of the people and help them gain wisdom. The founder group of this political ashram should consist of men and women belonging to all races, castes and religions. They must be men and women of commitment with pioneering abilities.
First of all, they must cleanse themselves in case they have soiled their hands.
They must be able to live by truth and love. They must be honest and wise and be guided by a consistent purpose. A body of men and women so inspired, if they choose, can profoundly influence the future. Courtesy: The Sunday Leader