|Sunday, 6 April 2003|
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Editor, Sunday Observer.
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The English phrase 'by force' has slipped into Sinhala popular jargon as the single word 'by-force' describing the arbitrary use of force to get things done. It is usually used to describe the actions of individuals or underworld gangs engaged in illegal activities or simply the use of physical force in personal confrontations.
Whether it is in politics, sports or personal conflicts, by-force has become a prominent trait of Sri Lankan life. The incident in Seeduva last week in which a Member of Parliament has been accused of attempting to forcibly secure the release of a suspect in a fatal road accident is nowadays all too familiar in our society: the transgression of laws and regulations to forcibly get something done for one's purposes.
The fact that it was a Parliamentarian, and a Government one at that, who has been accused of this incident of by-force is also hardly 'news' in this country. The accusation has yet to be proven and we earnestly hope that the MP concerned is proven innocent of the offence. But no one will deny that this kind of behaviour has become the norm and not the exception in our political culture, especially among political circles that are in governmental power at any given time.
The Government's prompt response to formally inquire into the incident and demand an explanation from the MP concerned is laudable. There has been many an occasion in the past when Governments have failed to pursue such cases of by-force by those supposedly responsible for governance and law-making. It is this tolerance that has enabled this violent political culture to flourish.
It would not be realistic nor just, however, either to expect that Governments alone to deal with this problem or to hold them solely responsible. While the resort to force by politicians as well as the tolerance of this behaviour by their political bosses has helped nurture the disease, the reality is that the disease is inherent in some form in our larger society. That is why, for example, Sri Lanka has such a high rate of homicides per capita.
While the Government cannot be held responsible for an individual politicians spontaneous behaviour, it is incumbent on the political leadership to rigorously investigate the Seeduva incident and act firmly to punish all those found culpable. This is the only way that the problem of by-force can be combatted.
That this resort to violence is a social phenomenon not merely restricted to the doings of individual politicians or gangsters is all too tragically demonstrated by the extremes of violence perpetrated by large political movements. Yesterday, April 5, was the thirty second anniversary of the start of the first violent rebellion by the JVP, which broke out in 1971 and was suppressed, also violently, within months.
That this 'by-force' on a social scale cannot be resolved by mere suppression has been proven firstly by the outbreak of an even more violent second JVP insurgency in 1987-90, and secondly by the continuing dynamism of the JVP as a political force long after the physical elimination of most of its original leadership including its charismatic founder Rohana Wijeweera. The dynamism of the LTTE and similar Tamil militant groups also shows that social violence is largely the articulation of unresolved social problems that are too serious for the affected people to passively tolerate.
All this means that there is no alternative to confronting the actual problem - be it individual by-force or violence and coercion on a social scale - and taking action to firmly deal with it. The Government needs support and encouragement rather than disparagement as it proceeds to deal with the Seeduva incident. Decisive and transparent action will certainly be a valuable step towards combating the menace of violence.
Produced by Lake House