Sri Lanka: East Has Become Bihar-Like
Sri Lanka: East Has Become Bihar-Like
The abduction of Varsha and the Extra-judicial killings of the Alleged Abductors
Sri Lankans looked at their TV screens and newspapers last week with shock and shame as the story of the abduction and killing of six year old Varsha Jude Regi of Trincomalee came to the attention of the entire nation. Although much has been talked and written about this horror story, the real societal meaning has been glossed over. The abduction has taken place in an area where abductions for ransom are now quite common. People, depressed by the absence of the rule of law or any sort of protection, appeared to show pleasure when they heard about the extra-judicial killings of such abductors. These are clear features of a place where law does not exist. The other area in the Indian subcontinent which has become infamous for similar abductions and lawlessness is Bihar in India. Now the common saying in India is “if you are from Bihar do not tell anyone.”
Varsha’s tragic story is that this six year old went to school on Wednesday 11 March. By noon she was allegedly abducted by a person trusted by the family to teach the computer to her and her brother. He was known as “computer-uncle.” The abductors thereafter began negotiations with the relatives and the father who is working in the Middle East. The kidnappers demanded a Rs 30 million ransom. While the family members were negotiating giving a Rs 1 million, the girl’s body was found in a bag on Friday, 13 March. Her throat had been slit and the bag containing her body was left in a drain on New Moors lane in the heart of Trincomalee town.
Adding more to the horror of the story, two persons, Oswin Mervin Rinawushan and Vardharajen Janarathan were both found dead while in police custody. The police reported that after Rinawushan had been arrested and in police custody, he was taken out and that he then attacked the police. In retaliation the police shot him dead. The story relating to Janarathan is that when he, too, was taken out by police in handcuffs, he managed to pick up some cyanide and swallow it. It is said that there are a few more suspects. It is very likely that if they are arrested something similar would happen to them as to the earlier suspects.
Further adding yet more horror to the story, the two main political parties of the east TMVP and what is known as Kuruna’s party accused each other of being behind the kidnapping and the killing of the little girl. The TMVP has been accused of being behind the murder because the school bag belonging to little Varsha was found in the TMVP office. The TMVP stated that together with two thousand of their former cadres, Kuruna has joined the Sri Lanka freedom party and they had taken with them some of the office equipment of the TMVP. The issue for the public would not be which one of these groups is responsible but that it is the new political guardians of the Eastern province that are allegedly behind the assassination of little Varsha for purposes of ransom.
It has also come to light recently that there had been several other earlier abductions for ransom including a leading businessman, a manager of a movie theater and a bus conductor in Trincomalee. They are of course in addition to a much larger list of such abductions.
a. When abductions become a common occurrence; this is a clear indicator of the breakdown of law enforcement. This is not a surprise in the East which was a theatre of civil war for a long time and which has come out of the control of LTTE not long ago. However, the role of government under these circumstances is to re-establish law enforcement as its number one task. The government has not approached the matter in this way and perhaps the government is not even capable of addressing the matter in this way. The reason the government is incapable of dealing with the matter is because, even in the safer area in the South, the failure of the rule of law is an admitted fact. A government that is not capable of imposing the rule of law in more safe areas in the South cannot be expected to be capable of ensuring the rule of law in the East.
b. Handing over the East to political groups which have no commitment to the rule of law; perhaps due to the very incapacity to uphold the rule of law, even in the South, the government has been willing to hand over the East to anyone so long as they do not oppose the government. The primary concern seems to be to accept electoral support from anyone who wishes to give it, irrespective of whether they are bandits or political criminals.
c. People’s pleasure in seeing extra-judicial killings of abductors; the police seem to be quite happy that the arrested abductors are no longer alive and even state that people are very happy about their deaths. This kind of mental attitude is a sad demonstration of people’s helplessness in the face of failed law enforcement. In such situations people either take to lynching of alleged criminals themselves or are quite happy when the police do it for them. Almost daily stories of this kind are heard from Bihar. Sometimes a few people are killed in what is called encounter killings. Some video clips have been published in which a policeman on a scooter is shown with the alleged suspect tied to the back of the scooter and dragged along roads in a public place. When humanity descends to such a wretched situation, the only pleasure they can derive is to see cruelty perpetrated on their alleged tormentors. Any consideration of law or due process does not even enter their minds.
d. The entire population accepts the police story of the way the suspects had been found dead and do not want to probe it further to find the truth. Almost everyone suspects the police story about such deaths in police custody. In fact, no one believes these stories are true. But neither the government nor any other agency will want to probe into the matter. Any probe will surface too many additional factors which government and society are unwilling to deal with. To the extent of such unwillingness, the situation of lawlessness will remain unchallenged. Again, this is another similarity with Bihar. The problem of lawlessness is so complete and complex in Bihar that even the central government of India has not taken any significant action to deal with that part of India.
A Society Crippled by Shock and Shame
Sri Lanka today is a society crippled by shock and shame. It cannot even deal with such a humanly moving tragic situation of a child’s abduction and murder as in the case of Varsha Jude Regi. It is just another incident and another tragedy. To forget the tragedy as soon as possible is the best way out. Put the entire blame on the alleged abductors and then feel happy that those suspects are no longer alive. When the human psyche reaches such a state of uncaring, only extremely bold decisions by governments, with foresight enough to want to re-establish the rule of law, can rescue such a society again. Today, however, the leaders of the present regime are themselves the prisoners of the same situation. They can only shed crocodile tears for the loss of a child like Varsha.
It is civil society that must take the initiative and try to break out of this base condition of lawlessness seen everywhere in the country.
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.