Tuesday, June 12, 2007

when good men do nothing

The forcible eviction of Tamils from Colombo drew much criticism from both local and international quarters, forcing the government to provide for the return of some of the evicted people back to Colombo. This latest action clearly makes mockery of the government’s initial claim that it was merely facilitating a ‘voluntary’ transfer of people from Colombo to the North/East.

Now that the Prime Minister has apologized for the incident, and His Excellency has ordered for a probe on who accidentally pressed the ‘evict-the-Tamils-button’, and also given the fact that the Supreme Court has issued an order preventing the police from carrying out further evictions, it’s most likely that the government will try its utmost to sweep this incident under the rug and assign the blame, by the looks of it, to some ‘rotten eggs’ in the police department.

Before the government completely succeeds in burying this issue under an avalanche of other muck and mockery so readily available in contemporary Sri Lankan politics, perhaps it is worth to carry out a postmortem on the incidents of 7th of June in Colombo.

The simple question is- what the hell were they thinking?

How did the architects of this ‘ingenious’ security plan managed to think, waking up a few Tamil lodgers in Colombo and pack them away to Vauvniya or where ever they came from would be a perfectly acceptable practice? What could have possibly given them that level of arrogance?

To understand the reasons we must first investigate the issue it self, what really happened on that Thursday morning? It certainly wasn’t a PR debacle as few people with the chintana-syndrome has suggested, it’s not something that should have been done, but more discretely! It was clearly a violation of both human and fundamental rights of those people; but to understand this issue merely from s a citizens rights perspective (however right and just) is too convenient.

The most persistent issue may turn out to be not the action itself but rather the thinking which went behind the action, and that thinking is not so much ‘racist’ but rather more arrogant and assuming, this government and its apparatus seems to believe that any action, legal or otherwise is completely acceptable so long as it’s is submerged in the mantra of ‘National Security’.

What happened was more than just an incident; it’s was an expression of how low this government’s morals have gone and an indication how high our collective apathy has gone.

It’s an enactment of what a few liberal-minded people kept telling us of what would happen if things are allowed to continue the way they were, many failed to listen and branded these critics as being ‘overacting’.

To an extend this is understandable. Since the success of liberal politics, or rather, a liberal critique of politics, often hinges upon a construction of a draconian beast- a repressive regime which is undemocratic, unfair and somewhat fascist.

So perhaps the message got diluted in the rhetoric, maybe it was the messenger, or maybe there wasn’t enough messages or maybe, just maybe it might have been us.

There were abductions of civilians in Colombo, ethnically-biased mass arrests, there were threats and violence against journalists and media houses, MPs, aid-workers were murdered, yet we chose to remain silent, recently the police chief proclaimed that they will stay within the bounds of law ‘as much as possible’ and the JHU claimed this was a Sinhala country, still we were silent, this plan to evict Tamil-lodgers was announced in the papers days earlier, even then, only a few spoke out. It took the action itself for us some of us to see what we have come to.

This is a classic case of the boiled-frog syndrome. The story follows if a frog is put into a jug of boiling water it would jump straight out, but the same frog put into jug of lukewarm water, gradually brought to a boil wouldn’t notice it until its too late.

We are like that frog, if not worse.

We have let the power of authority to increase so gradually that we haven’t noticed how coercive and arrogant they have become. With each small increment of government impunity we have tolerated, have made the next increment less noticeable, we have let this government get away quite literally with murder and silently watched by thinking of it as being ‘unavoidable’ and as a necessarily evil.

Now maybe it is unavoidable but for lord’s sake we must stop being so apathetic, what’s more appalling here is not what is said and done but what is not said and not done. We have got to speak out, and where necessary, take action. None of this would be assisting the terrorists, or unreasonable in times of war for allowing democratic dissent is specifically what separates a democratic government from a terror organisation.

Price of liberty is eternal vigil, and this country could certainly use a little bit of that.

First appeared in Groundviews

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