Crime And Punishment, In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka

For the Tamil families of Dilithura, a small village of mostly estate workers in Elpitiya, Galle, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year was not to be an auspicious one. Their tragedy, which ended in burnt homes and looted possessions, began with a simple, everyday inconsequence: a young villager not calling a soldier on holiday, ‘sir’. The enraged soldier reportedly responded to this non-crime with disproportionate and extra-judicial punitive action. According to the ‘Ada Derana’ Tamil website, he assaulted the young man, as well as another Tamil youth who tried to mediate. Subsequently, “around 30 youths had gathered at the location, beaten up the two Tamil youths and set fire to seven houses, push cycles, motorcycles and three wheelers. They had also got away with money and jewellery…” (Sri Lanka Mirror 16.4.2012). The villagers informed the police. Instead of arresting the perpetrators, the police detained two Tamil youths!

When seven Tamil families loose their homes and all their possessions because one Tamil boy did not call a soldier ‘sir’, does it not smack of collective punishment? If an outrage of this order can happen in the South, in 2012, what could not have happened in the North, in the midst of a total war without witnesses? If a soldier on leave can take the law into his own hands with such alacrity and impunity, in Galle, what cannot the tens of thousands of soldiers on duty do, in those villages beyond Omanthai, and beyond the reach of law?

The soldier’s actions would have been explicable if he believed, however mistakenly, that the Tamil youth was a Tiger. He did not. Military personnel suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) commit crimes, including homicide and suicide. The soldier’s assault on the Tamil youth could have been explained away as a result of (unacknowledged and untreated) PTSD, but not the subsequent orgy of looting and arson. The composite picture points to a crime of an entirely different order, a crime premised on and informed by the primordial identities of the perpetrators and the victims and the total imbalance of power between the two.

In the North, Sinhala soldiers rule; Tamils have only one right – the right to obey. Such a state of affairs is bound to habituate even the most junior soldier into being treated with grovelling obsequiousness by every Tamil. That mindset, born in the North, is permeating the South, affecting the manner in which the armed forces, as an institution, perceive and deal with Tamils, as a community. This does not mean that every serviceman will act as criminally as the soldier in Dilithura did; some will; many, due to an innate sense of decency or kindness or an inborn aversion to excess, will not. But all will have the capacity to do so..

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