Colombo, Human Security, Peace and Conflict

When servants of the people become oppressors in Sri Lanka

In the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. We elect a President, Members of Parliament, and Provincial Councilors etc using the powers vested with the people to exercise and enjoy that sovereignty through them.  But what is happening today is the reverse. We elect a bunch of people into office and instead of being the servants of the people, which is what they rightfully should be; they have all become our masters, a law unto themselves, from the top to the lowest Pradeshiya Sabha member.

Take the issue of VIP movement on our already depleted, over burdened roads that have become a menace to thousands of people, particularly those having to commute to the city on a daily basis. The freedom of movement that is enshrined in the Constitution now only applies to VIPs and their henchmen while ordinary people cannot even walk or stand one road when one of these high ups are doing the rounds.

Agreed that protecting VIPs is paramount in a country that is plagued by terrorism and our security apparatus seems to be in top gear to ensure that they do their job well. But now it has come to such point that, there is room on the roads for only the handful of VIPs that behave, not as if they have been elected for a brief period in office but as if the entire country has been turned over to them by a Deed of Gift for a lifetime of exploitation, while the citizens of Sri Lanka have to grin and bear all the their audacities.

Terrorism is a scourge that the entire world is affected by and is not a uniquely Sri Lankan situation. The government likes to rub it in time and again that the LTTE is the world’s worst, most brutal terrorist organization. That maybe or maybe not but there is an indisputable fact, and that is, this menace of terrorism is going to be around for a very long time and the sooner the government and the security establishment realize this hard fact, the better life would be for the citizens of this country.

What the security establishment needs to adopt are long-term methods that will not only ensure that security of VIPs but also the security of the people of this country and which are non intrusive into the everyday lives of the people. While the government likes to put on mighty big displays to show its “military friendly” image, the money spent on such extravagances can be used to give overseas training to those who map out VIP security plans so they learn to adopt methods used in other countries where despite the presence of high security arrangements in place, they are not staring in the face of the people every minute of the day and being a hindrance to their every day activities.

People generally appreciate the tough job that the members of the security forces and the police do which is why they cooperate to the best of their ability when required. We know that there are Emergency Regulations in palace that give extraordinary powers to the military and police and, yes they are needed to deal with the LTTE.  But today those powers are being used in such a manner that even law-abiding citizens are being treated as terrorist suspects. You could be walking on the road when a VIP is passing by and you have a soldier pointing an automatic rifle in your face or you could be standing on a road and suddenly get shoved into some else’s garden. You could be pulling over your vehicle to drop or pick someone up and would have a uniformed man treating you as if you committed a crime. This way all the personal liberties that every citizen in this country should be enjoying are being eroded one by one and very soon we will become a country run with the use of military might while having a democratically elected government in office. This country has been through even darker periods in its recent history but the people have never had the military or the police stepping on their toes in this manner in the past.

Our politicians need to take the advice given by two Indian judges who ruled last year that politicians should remain in the confines of their homes and offices if they feel threatened by citizens. 

”You should not let these men (politicians) to come out. Their presence in public places itself threatens the common men. I do not know why it has become a matter of prestige for them to move with 10-15 uniform security personnel carrying lethal weapon,” two Indian Justices T S Thakur and Justice Veena Birbal observed during a case last October. “It has become fashionable and a status symbol. The more people (security men) surrounds these people (politicians) the more prestigious they feel. It is obnoxious that common men are forced to stay on the sidelines and are prevented to walk on the pavements when the politicians pass through”, the Indian judges said.

These comments are very true of the Sri Lankan situation as well.  What those who enjoy almost absolute power in this country today should realize is that will be nothing but a footnote in the history of this country in a few years time.  How they behave while in office is how history will judge them. The Government has often referred to the people of Kilinochchi living in an open prison under the watchful eyes of the LTTE but does it understand that people living in other parts of the country too are beginning to feel the same way.  By all means eliminate terrorism and terrorists and go about in achieving that elusive “honorable peace’ but don’t trample on the civil liberties of the people while doing do.

The people of this country did not put you in high office to become your slaves.