Sri Lanka: How violence was institutionalized?

| by  Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

(October 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the aftermath of the Mulleriyawa local election violence that left four dead and one seriously injured, many are expressing their disgust at violence in general and political violence in particular. Violence has been embedded in our body politic by both a culture that accepted it and a system that legitimized it. Violence also begot more violence. It was a vicious, ever- escalating and cascading cycle.
The first JVP insurrection seeded the process of entrenching violence as a tool of governance. Sirimavo gave legitimacy to this trend. The Tamil militancy, the LTTE phenomenon and the second JVP insurrection and the associated violence and terrorism, reinforced this trend.
The SWRD sneer that the FP politicians who streamed back to parliament with injuries, after being assaulted by harbour thugs were ‘Wounded Soldiers’, was the beginning of violence being encouraged and condoned by politicians. A paralysed SWRD, who did not know how to control the 1958 riots, for which he created the conditions, represented the beginnings of political leaders and politicians who did not know right from wrong. The Police Force that was supposed to protect civil society and control violence was inherently violent and used violence as a first recourse and not as a weapon of last resort. It became with time a valuable asset to violent and corrupt politicians.
Controlled violence is indispensible to policing, but should be a deterrent rather than a primary tool. This is not so in Sri Lanka. The armed forces are trained to use violence as the primary tool, but in a disciplined manner. The armed forces to a very large extent have maintained this discipline in recent years. However, criminal elements have been given a free hand to exercise violence indiscriminately by the politicians and a corrupt and politicized police force. Many politicians take pride in behaving like street thugs and are tolerated.
The first JVP insurrection seeded the process of entrenching violence as a tool of governance. Sirimavo gave legitimacy to this trend. The Tamil militancy, the LTTE phenomenon and the second JVP insurrection and the associated violence and terrorism, reinforced this trend. JRJ exercised violence as a fine art and institutionalized state violence. JRJ used violence to even cow the judiciary. His response to any crisis was violence. He set out to teach the Tamils a lesson through the 1977 and 1983 riots and the nation begot more violence as a result. The executive powers JRJ granted to parliamentarians and other political operatives though his new constitution, gave violence the muscle of political power. It has come to a point violence has become indispensible to politics and governance. Those with criminal tendencies have the advantage as politicians. It is a qualification to become a politician. Those who have exercised power subsequently have not hesitated to use this evil tool and have done little to curb it. This culture has also filtered down to the people and is becoming the first resort in any dispute. Violence has become so endemic in our country there is a need to use violence to curb it! Violence has become a sort of vaccine to treat violence! It is comic, but true.
A nation that was aghast at Mrs. Sathasivam and Mrs.Kularatne murders was benumbed by the violence and death taking place with increasing intensity and frequency. Possibility of violent death stalked us everywhere- north, south, east and west. Deaths do not shock society any more. Deaths relating to war and terrorism have been brought to an end. However, violence is considered an essential tool in politics and governance yet. Politics and governance have been criminalized and as a result criminals have become politicians. No one party and people are immune from this.
We are a nation in need of recovering our conscience and moral compass. We the people have to demand better standards from our politicians, law-keepers, judiciary and the lawyers, and have to adopt such standards in our individual lives. The law cannot remain an ass to be abused. It should rule our lives as a nation. No one should be above the law. The insidious manner in which violence has crept into our society and thought processes and taken a grip is frightening. This is the next war that has to be fought with vigour and decisively won.
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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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