Revenge and vengeance as a tool of justice
The moral issue, which encompasses the driving force behind
punishment, is based on the concept of revenge. Human development and
progress has not impeded the base and animalistic feeling of revenge.
A protest in front of the US Embassy in Colombo.
Most religions have yielded to the pressures of the community to
accept the barbaric theory of ‘Tooth for a Tooth’ and ‘Blood Money’
which has governed barbaric societies from prehistoric times.
The only way to ensure peace and equanimity among the people is to
give them an opportunity of taking part in causing pain and harm to the
aggressor. This was found to be the most humanistic way of appeasing the
Even today, the masses, driven by their hidden subconscious
psychopathic desire to cause pain to the wrongdoers, have motivated
novelists and film makers to translate such psychological trauma and the
baser instincts into their works to attract readers and film-goers to
enjoy the ‘just desert’ to the villain. From Homer to Hamlet and Don
Corleone, in God Father, are examples of such barbaric traits.
This concept of revenge, even if it is fulfilled, fails to satisfy
the ultimate ambition of the person who entertains this feeling. It is
now a scientific fact that has been observed by behavioural scientists,
that instead of fulfilling the desire to cause the utmost harm to the
perpetrator of the alleged crime, the people dream of punishment in the
most cruel and barbaric methodology to satiate their desire to cause
harm, not only to the perpetrators of that crime, but to their families
too. Therefore, simple methods of punishment or even ultimate
punishment, which could be imposed legally; the death penalty, would not
suffice the cruel expectations of the victim.
Scientists believe that according to popular belief and culture,
venting aggression ultimately purges one’s soul and rids it of the pangs
of emotional psychological feeling in the victim or their families. But,
it has been found that the human feeling is largely governed by the
society they live in, and the morals they believe in.
The researchers have found that even after the punishment of the
perpetrator of a crime, the human mind is such that they would retain
the wounds, created by the aggression, unhealed and, therefore, the
concept of punishment would not end the desire of the victim to continue
the thought of causing further harm to the person who had been punished.
In the United States, in some states, when the death penalty is
imposed, the family of the victim is permitted to witness the ordeal of
the condemned man, either suffering on the electric chair, or the
suffering one undergoes when a lethal injection is administered to him.
This clearly exhibits the American Society, and its values, and its
cultural and moral ethos. As many people have predicted, the Americans
have taken one very giant step forward from barbarism to decadence.
No amount of killings by gunmen, who shoots at random at school
children or innocent pedestrians, will permit the American public to
change the gun laws. They revel at the notion that one could use a gun
to defend one’s limb, property, and trespassers could be shot at will,
in defence of one’s property.
Terry Aladjem, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at
Harvard, published a book, ‘The Culture of Vengeance and The Fate of
American Justice’. In that book it was clear that this reactive American
justice, driven by vengeance is a threat to democratic justice, and
which eventually justifies the invasion of Iraq, as invasion against
He exposes the myth of American justice which supports Capital
Punishment, and believes that no nation should seek to justify vengeance
as a force behind its justice system.Today, we are faced with
insurmountable opposition to the manner in which we won the war against
Prabahkaran. The US resolution would be tabled at Geneva on the basis of
the innumerable reports and a final report prepared by Ms. Navi Pillay.
One of the things that I cannot comprehend is that they want to seek a
so-called International Independent Investigation to look into the
alleged war crimes committed by the heroic forces of Sri Lanka. The West
in supporting the resolution is imposing on us the theory of vengeance,
as a mode of obtaining justice for those killed during the last few days
of the war.
They believe and continue to believe that the only reconciliation
possible is through an International Investigation, and punishing the
guilty by sentencing them to long years of imprisonment.
But, those who propose and support such investigation, fall back to
the system that should be deplored by every civilised human being as it
would support the theory of vengeance to obtain justice.
To understand whether this would lead to peace and reconciliation
between the two communities, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, it would be
prudent to examine the past conflicts and the resulting position which
arose after such incidents.
In the 1971 insurrection, thousands of people were killed by misled
youth, who believed that they could stage a revolution and overthrow the
legally elected Government by the use of force, mainly having in their
arsenal old 303 rifles, stolen from the police and contraptions made at
home called ‘hand bombs’. Eventually, thousands were arrested, some were
met summary justice and the others faced court trials. But, the public
at large were not hostile towards the young revolutionaries, nor did
they seek vengeance from them for the untold crimes they committed. When
Wijeweera was finally released from jail by JRJ, he addressed one of the
biggest rallies ever to be held at the Town Hall.
People cheered and applauded the convicted criminal who had been
pardoned by the President. Similarly, in 1987, when the JVP and the DJV
created mayhem and killed thousands of innocent people and shot at
people who came to vote, the Sinhalese were very angry and after the
dust settled down, those who were not killed in the fighting came back
to society and many of them were elected as Members of Parliament.
Even today, there are families who have lost their family members due
to the JVP-DJV insurrection and people bear no remorse or anger or
vengeance against them. Even during the Peace Accord, hardcore
terrorists were released as a condition of the Peace Accord.
These were terrorists who had killed thousands of people and when
they were released there were no protests from even the main opposition
party. Some of them were facing life imprisonment and went back as free
men and joined the movement again. When the Peace Accord was abrogated
and when the LTTE resumed fighting for a separate state, those hardcore
terrorists led the campaign against the Sri Lankan Government.
Even today, Karuna who was the Head of the Military Wing of the LTTE,
and Commander Eastern Province, renegade and joined the Government and
came to the South. It was the Sinhalese who gave him protection and now
his young second in Command has become a Minister of the Government of
the Central Province and the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province.
Karuna Amman, has become a very popular Minister, loved and respected by
the Sinhalese. There were intermittent news items that he was
responsible for the killing of the Arantalawa Buddhist Priests, and the
600 police officers who sacrificed their lives without a fight. They
were supposed to have been killed by him. This, Karuna Amman vehemently
denies. But, I have not heard or seen anyone seeking vengeance from
Similarly, Kumaran Pathmanathan, the man who was responsible for
supplying arms and the sole supplier to the LTTE, is now under the
protection of the Government. No one has sought vengeance from him. In
fact he is being protected by the Government of Sri Lanka as India wants
him as a person who was a co-conspirator in the Rajiv Gandhi killing.
There are demonstrations every day but I am yet to see a
demonstration seeking vengeance or justice from these two individuals.
Similarly, Daya Master lives freely in the country without any threat or
intimidation from anyone. Even the rehabilitated hard core terrorists,
who have been released after rehabilitation, could live in any part of
the country without any difficulty.
The reason why the Sinhalese are not seeking revenge, justice or
vengeance, is, I believe, because for the last 2,500 years, we have been
nurtured in a very different tradition than the old biblical principal
of, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. One of our main characters is
Angulimala, who chopped fingers from innocent people and tied them up
into a necklace. But Buddha emancipated him and he attained Rahath hood.
If any learned members of the TNA or the Diaspora feels that peace and
reconciliation between the two communities could be achieved only
through an international impartial investigation into the alleged war
crimes that were perpetrated in the last few days of the war, they have
never realised the truth about the Sinhala community.
Even today, it is an indisputable fact that the Sinhalese are a
forgiving race driven by the tenets of Buddhism. The Sinhalese are a
nation who voted in the 1994 elections when Chandrika came and canvassed
votes, the main political promise was the establishment of peace between
the warring LTTE and Sinhalese. Sixty Two percent of the people, mainly
Sinhala Buddhists voted for Chandrika to usher in lasting peace. At that
stage they did not mind even if Prabahkaran was given a portfolio. That
is the essential difference between the Sinhala Buddhists whose driving
force is compassion as dictated by Buddha.
If the West feels that by prosecuting Army Officers for alleged war
crimes they committed, that would create another indivisible wedge
between the two communities and any hope of peace and reconciliation
would be doomed. We do not believe in revenge and vengeance as a tool of
justice. Today, the international community should really seek whether
they could ever satisfy their mythical ideals of reconciliation and sow
hatred among the communities. Most Sri Lankans have forgotten or are
trying to forget the horrendous war on terrorism which lasted for more
than 30 years. The resolution based on the US and Western concepts is
rubbing salt into the wounds that are slowly healing.