I had a dream…. No, I didn’t cross a stream. Instead, I found myself seated in the public gallery of a courthouse. A Tamil youth who has been in detention for years without any charge or prosecution was being produced. The only perceivable reason for his incarceration turns out to be an “opinion” of the Secretary of Defence that he poses a threat to national security.
As to what constitutes such a threat or the reasons for the “opinion” is something to which nobody in the courthouse -- including the learned judge -- is privy to. So the “suspect” is promptly re-remanded and sent back to detention, the location of which, is known only to the divine.
An elderly person, judging by his attire to be a Hindu priest, aghast and shocked by the proceedings ventures to express his dismay by uttering a few words of anguish inside the court. The guardians of law in uniform swiftly pounce on the unruly delinquent who was later sentenced to two years RI.
I wake up in utter jubilation and a sense of pride that the dignity and the grandeur of the system has been upheld and those who take lightly the rule of law has been deservedly punished.
Then I fall asleep again and... I had another dream…
I am seated yet again in the courthouse. This time some “intelligent” men who have been made suspects after investigation and with convincing prima facie evidence implicating them in the abduction of a journalist, are produced and again, remanded. A bald-headed person in saffron robes gets up and accuses the system of victimizing “patriots”. Undeterred by the timorous and deferential pleadings of the guardians of law in uniform, he proceeds to threaten the wife of the abducted journalist with death. To the relief of all, nothing untoward happens to this personage as he walks out of the courthouse, still engaged in verbal excesses!
I wake up again. Without any emotion, being fully aware even in the dream that it is prudent not to show emotion in these types of situations.
In my third dream, I become aware that the robe-bearer is sentenced to six years RI! At the same time, I hear many voices suggesting a Presidential pardon to this ‘priestly’ personage. In a second, Article 12 of the Constitution flashes before my dreaming eyes. We all know that it is not safe to rely on particular details we see in our dreams, yet this sentence dazzles in crystal clear letters.
All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.
Back to the stark reality; I wake up, feeling proud to be a citizen of a country where the Constitution is upheld to the letter. If not for the quick measures of restraint from my beloved wife, who is next to me, I would have danced on the bed, hardly able to contain the joy of a law abiding citizen. In fact, the bliss of that emotion has not left me to date and keeps getting better with every day that passes by.
Presidential pardon is a thing that none of the lesser mortals understand. The manner in which it has been exercised in the past
Our country is heading for unprecedented heights
Presidential pardon is a thing that none of the lesser mortals understand. The manner in which it has been exercised in the past is public knowledge. Not only does this outrageous liberty given to the executive tend to blur the distinct line that the concept of separation of powers that a constitutionally governed democracy envisages in the first place. But in the context of specific occasions in which it has been evoked, it makes light work of judicial findings based on evidence that emerge in a trial or judicial inquiry.
Galabodaaththe Gnanasara who acted in so disrespectable and contemptuous a manner surpassing any conduct hitherto reported inside a courthouse, it is said, is to get the pardon. In any event, his lawyer has confirmed the intention of appealing to the Supreme Court. Even if the same fate that befell him at the Court of Appeal repeats itself, he has little reason to despair. He has the benefit of the Executive of this country at this point anxious to be in the good books of the so-called Sinhala-Buddhist voters in 2020. He is not alone in this respect as the other two top national leaders are abreast with him in this regard.
Gnanasara is not the only monk in prison; he is in the company of 15 other monks doing time for various acts of delinquency. Hardly a whimper emanates from the Mahanayakes, pious Buddhists or politicians for their cause; in fact, if not for the controversy regarding the prison jump suit, many would not have known that such a number of clergy were behind bars.
So what causes a stir in this particular case? In what respect is Gnanasara different from other monks? To be precise, what could be the logic behind a pardon, if that becomes an eventuality? The answer lies in the Socio-Politico-Religious dynamics that have been shaping ground realities, power and governance for the last two decades. A hegemonic Sinhala-Buddhist ethos that symbolized a war mentality and a general mode of life underpinned by a majoritarian and dominant national psyche has not only outlived by far the war effort; it has spilled over to all areas of life, undermining the rule of law, civil society structures, constitutional rights as well as impartiality and objectiveness of the criminal justice system.
Even leaders who have not constituted part of that ethos are now being constrained to play along to the tune of retrogressive, hawkish and majoritarian power wielding by Sinhala Buddhist extremism. What seemed to be mere fringe, in the blink of an eye, has usurped the centre and would not yield the stage to the tolerant and non violent Theravada Buddhist outlook which has been, at least, the theoretical mainstay of social life in this country for decades. It is gradually laying siege to all three arms of governance which are seemingly being paralyzed with fear of imminent seizure of power through a Hitler-like figure in the future. The euphoria is attaining proportions of unbridled thuggery and violence directed at all and sundry who dare to utter a syllable in dissent. Gnanasara is only the tip of the iceberg!
From secularism to a theocracy
Europe managed to separate institutionalized and power wielding religion from the affairs of the State centuries ago and attained the socio-economic and political development that they have today. The Middle East did not manage to do that and despite standing on fountains of wealth in the form of oil reserves are unable to even aspire for such development. In fact the entire middle east languishes on the cusp of disintegration. We as a country, for our part managed for the good part of a century after independence to keep retrogressive forces of majoritarian religious inclinations at bay through progressive forces led by secular-oriented leaders. The only leader who used those forces for expedient power grabbing was SWRD Bandaranaike, and promptly paid the price. The present and would be leaders would do well to keep the lessons of 1956 and 1959 in mind.
In the words of the one time PM of this country, Sir John Kotelawala, “You need to keep tied up dogs under leash all the time! When those dogs are rabid with racist and supremacist hallucinations, the tighter the leash, the better”!