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Celebrating the Deaths of ‘Others’

03 Feb 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

People in many parts of the country lit fire crackers when Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed in a suicide attack by the LTTE on May 1, 1993 and people in many southern parts of the country shared “kiribath” and lit crackers over the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran by the army on May 19, 2009. 

How did you feel when the news about the tragic death of State Minister Sanath Nishantha first reached you? Did it make you feel sorrow or happy? Indeed, we all might have felt either one of the two, though sometimes we might have regretted rejoicing over the tragedy later.
There is a debate now going on in social media over celebrating deaths, after the same social media circulated a lot of cheery posts on the death of Sanath Nishantha. The general perception is that rejoicing at deaths is bad and a state of degeneration of one’s civility. But how many of us can avoid taking pleasure over a death of a person whom we hate is a valid question, though the majority of us tend to hide our elation or the satisfaction over the death of such a person. 
Sanath Nishantha had been a controversial politician in the Gampaha District who had earned wrath and hate from his opponents by his statements and actions. He made headlines by conducting an illegal motorcycle parade without number plates and helmets during the 2020 general election campaign and again by an argument with a female forest officer in the same year over his insistence to clear a part of a mangrove forest to make way for a playground. 
He was arrested by the CID in connection with the attack on the peaceful protesters on May 9, 2022 in front of the Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo Fort - two sites of protests which had been named by the protesters as “MainaGoGama” and “GotaGoGama.”  During a YouTube interview he had said he would have killed even a hundred people, had the protesters or their supporters laid a finger on him or his leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, on that day.  
However, many of those who hated him over such incidents are not saints either. The only difference is that they are not on the ruling side now. For an instance, one would recall an incident taken place not long back but on July 26, 2017 where a group of thugs who claimed to be the residents of Kolonnawa launched a massive attack on striking workers of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation near the Kolonnawa oil installation. 

Sanath Nishantha was on the wrong side at a wrong time when he died in an accident along the Katunayake Expressway on early January 25. He was an ardent supporter of the Rajapaksa family and dared to vividly showcase it at a time when the public anger against his party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Rajapaksas is overwhelming, due to the agonizing effects of the current economic crisis. 
In spite of the leaders of the SLPP and President Ranil Wickremesinghe claiming that they have rescued the country from an economic catastrophe citing the absence of public agitations and long queues for fuel and cooking gas, the level of suffering by the people has multiplied now compared to what was experienced by them in 2022 amidst queues and demonstrations. The frustration and anger among the masses is being well manifested by the galloping upsurge in the public support for the JVP/NPP these days.  
Hence, the negative posts in social media about Sanath Nishantha’s death have to be taken as those not only targeted at him but also at the political camp he represented. It was also a manifestation of the frustration, whether it is civilized or uncivilized. If a similar fate befell now on those who were behind the attack on the petroleum workers in 2017, we sometimes wouldn’t read jubilant posts in social media, as they are not on the wrong side at the moment.
Celebrating deaths is not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka and in other countries. We can witness or at least feel this wherever there are rivalries, conflicts and hatred not only in the field of politics but in other fields as well, especially where money and other resources are involved. Intolerance of dissent and disagreement even in democratic politics and religious matters also leads to prayers for death and attempts on lives of others. For instance, many people openly prayed for the deaths of certain Ministers of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government who had fallen victim to the Corona virus in 2020. The Easter Sunday terrorist attacks were an extreme manifestation of intolerance.
People in many parts of the country lit fire crackers when Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed in a suicide attack by the LTTE on May 1, 1993 and people in many southern parts of the country shared “kiribath” and lit crackers over the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran by the army on May 19, 2009. The hate and aversion against the Ranasinghe Premadasa government overshadowed the jubilation of a section of the people over the custodial killing of JVP founder leader Rohana Wijeweera by the army. One would wonder whether there were people in this country who hated these men but did not rejoice when the news of these incidents first reached them.
However, everybody accepts in public that praying for the death of others or taking pleasure at their deaths does not go well with the accepted norms in the society. But feeling jubilant or weeping over a death is something innate and effortless, though the former might be inhumane. Therefore, many do not let their hearts out. However, their affiliations, political or otherwise, would speak. Some preach humanity while hiding their real feelings. Others express their feelings sometimes openly or through fake accounts in social media. The elation or sorrow mainly depends on the relationship with the deceased.  
Government members are lamenting these days that fake account holders of social media are praying for their deaths by way of ‘praying’ for the bliss of Nirvana for them (“Nivan Sepa Lebewa!”). However, it was just months ago that they too took pleasure over the deaths of some of the Aragalaya activists. Exactly one year after the attack on the protesters at Galle Face Green, former Minister Rohith Abeygunawardena on May 9 last year, pleasurably said so in Parliament. He said “One Kattadiya who performed a ritual to remove the President at the Aragalaya site was later killed in a lightning strike. That’s number one. There was a library at the Aragalaya and the librarian committed suicide. The person who made Vesak lanterns in black is now at the National Institute of Mental Health, Angoda. Another main activist was killed after being hit by a train. The person who insulted Mahinda Rajapaksa died suddenly in Lanka Hospital.” 
Weren’t these expressions of joy?
Politics has not always been peaceful wherever in the world, as it is a struggle for power, and thereby a hunt for wealth and resources. Hence, except for a few leaders like President D.B. Wijetunga all others have resorted to violent methods to suppress opposition and dissent, prompting both oppressors and the oppressed to pray for the death of people on the other side and to celebrate overtly or covertly the deaths of “others.”

Jubilation over the deaths of political leaders has been more evident if they are brutal, despotic or repressive, as people take the opportunity to release their pressure that had been accumulated over time. During the Premadasa administration, tens of thousands of people were abducted and killed mainly by the forces and groups supporting the then government and those who rebelled against the government. The LTTE killed anybody who seemed not to be prepared to toe their line. Hence, a sense of relief was released in the form of lighting fire crackers when Premadasa, Ranjan Wijeratne, Prabakaran and Wijeweera were killed.
Therefore, the current situation can be deemed to be a collective degeneration of the society. It could apparently be minimized only by minimizing repressive actions by the state and de-radicalizing the society.