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Tuesday, 16 August 2011






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On giving the Grease Devils their due

Among the few JVP posters of the eighties I could identify with was one pertaining to the law. It was something along the following lines: ‘paalakayini, thopilama thope neethi kadanavaanam, evata avanatha veemata apisoodaanam netha!’ Addressed to the rulers, it expressed the view that if the rulers themselves break the rules, then there is no compulsion on the part of the ruled to submit to them.

There are certain things about the concept of law and order that are timeless. Of course there are no perfect justice systems and there are no legal systems without loopholes. There is, then, in addition to clever criminality a political economy of justice. Still, there is a lot of rhetoric. I remember a song from Nanda Malini’s at-the-time popular album ‘Pawana’ (The Wind) about justice. Referring to a man incarcerated for having assaulted a rapist to save the victim, Sunil Ariyaratne pens the following lines:

Thulaava gena neth yuga benda redikadakin
Neethiye yuwathiya vejabei adanidukin

This can be translated as ‘The lady of the law, blindfolded though she is, lords over without concern’. It goes on to say that she stabs men like the one referred to with her sharp sword and vows to kill her instantly for this unpardonable crime.

Symbol of justice

The law is supposed to be impartial but countless poems and articles have been written about the blindness-interpretation of this symbol of justice. Partially blind, in every sense of the word, is what is implied.

Long years of being besieged by terrorism had made law and justice take proverbial back seats. Special legislation scripted into the justice system numerous caveats that allowed the state to go around the general rules pertaining to the exercise of authority. The elimination of the terrorist threat has now made it possible for these extraordinary mechanisms to be relaxed in their application. There is now talk of removing them altogether. This is good. The end of the LTTE did not mean the end of criminality. These days we hear of a strange creature called the Grease Yaka (Devil) doing the rounds and citizens taking the law into their own hands to deal with people suspected to have violated the law or are thought to be planning to transgress. The Police has correctly informed the public that being vigilant does not confer any right to prosecute and punish outside the judicial system. On the other hand, it must be noted that this taking-things-into-our-own-hands trend can very well be a product of the ineffectiveness of the relevant authorities. Moreover, both the criminality and the counter-transgression can be arguably justified by the numerous lapses of errant element among the rulers.

Politicians and law-makers

They say that not only should justice be done, it must seem to be done. The principle of proportionate treatment and also that of equality before the law must always be affirmed. Any sloth or perceived deliberateness in blurring relevant articles can and will be taken as licence for anyone to blur and thumb nose at the law.

Sri Lanka’s judicial system has had its black days, courtesy politicians and law-makers. It has on occasion shot itself in the proverbial foot. It has had bad days and forgettable days, but has not, by and large, disgraced itself. It is nevertheless under a cloud and that cloud has many cloud-makers as fathers, from law-makers, law-enforcers, judges and lawyers to a largely quiescent citizenry. The Grease Yaka is not some mentally challenged psychopath or random delinquent with time on his hands, energy to expend and violence to expiate from system. The Grease Yaka is a slimy creature that prowls all branches of the state, is an honorary member of the corporate world and has the incredible advantage of taking on the garb of Mr of Ms Ordinary Citizen.

State actor

It is easy to pass the buck on the law-maker or the law-enforcer. It is dangerous to assume one is law-maker and enforcer of course, but being responsible about such things include the need to adhere to established procedure, despite its possible flaws, ever agitating for improvement. The JVP line is valid, but only when all vestiges of decency and efficacy in the instituted mechanism have perished.

We have seen the principle of equality being blatantly violated, now and before, the difference being only in the matter of degree. Proportionality has been violated too. Politicians, law-enforcers, judges, lawyers and citizens have all gone overboard on occasion.

An individual is not a front and demanding decency from most quarters does not necessarily obtain it. For the most part, the flawed can get away by pointing flaw in the pointer. This is all the more reason why the pointer needs to correct flaw even as he/she objects to each and every flaw detected in both system and relevant state actor.

We can’t afford to spread grease all over ourselves and expect an un-greased system to fall from the sky by way of thanks. We cannot and should not, as citizens, take the law into our hands except under extreme conditions such as those which make insurrection not just legitimate but unavoidable. We can and should point out error, name names if and when we can substantiate that kind of name-calling. It is not easy being a responsible citizen. It is easy not to be responsible in a largely irresponsible society for one can easily fade into the crowd. All the more reason why one should resist such temptation.



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