The Raping of Women and the Shooting of Girl Friends’ Friends: Stuck with the Topic of Militarism in Post-War Sri Lanka

The retention of a large bloated body of a military corps in a “post-combatant” context poses, among others, large sociological issues. At a time of peace, for what function is one to employ a military tier which was consistently fed and fattened for battle purposes?

The Lakbima (daily) newspaper of today (August 28th) reports of a pending court case where four military cardres had broken into a house in Horovupothana and raped a woman after tying up the woman’s teenage son to a tree. This is one of many not too infrequent news items of similar incidents and other “anti-social” and “socially dangerous” behaviour in which members of the Sri Lanka military have been associated with.

Last week, several newspapers had publicized a gunning down of two military personnel — a man and a woman — by a third militant, in what was hinted as a boil-over of a personal issue. News sources, including the Sinhala “crime weekly” Maanchu have in the recent past carried compelling articles of how men in the military “go militant” in their love lives — in shooting their ex-girl friends and girl friends suspected of being “sexually disloyal” to them –, of breaking into in laws’ houses and causing violence etc. In several stories, the perpetrator — after committing the act of offence — is seen to mutilate himself as well; often, by shooting one’s self or by being one’s own hangman.

In a series of recent hold ups, too, the name of militant cardres were mentioned. A recent hold up in the Gampaha district was thus reported and two of the gang who broke into the house of a top journalist along Dickman’s Road, too, were reported to be of the military. The spokesperson of the army had denied the latter claim, claiming that of the said suspects one was a “deserter” and the other was awaiting his formal discharge from the army.

In a move that was staunchly ctiricized by many including university acadmics and trade unions of the Ceylon Teacher Service the governmental appointment of chosen school heads as Brevet Colonels can be seen as a militarizing bid of public spaces and civilian tracks. Here, the Principals of the first set of such Colonel-ized appointments posing with Defence officials  (source: the website of Visakha College)

In a move that was staunchly ctiricized by many including university acadmics and trade unions of the Ceylon Teacher Service the governmental appointment of chosen school heads as Brevet Colonels can be seen as a militarizing bid of public spaces and civilian tracks. Here, the Principals of the first set of such Colonel-ized appointments posing with Defence officials (source: the website of Visakha College)

With these allegations, finger pointing and denials of sorts our attention is retained on issues of militarism as it operates in its numerous forms around our daily day-to-day spaces, and makes one return to  the de-militarization process in the aftermath of the war which culminated in 2009: a necessary procedure which, however, has been far from satisfactory. In fact, in total contradition to accepted norms and practices of demobilization, the aftermath of the war see a retention of troops, if not a supplementation of a large scale to the existing military corps. In the closing stages of the war, military recruitment in Sri Lanka — as a percentage — was the highest in the region and in Asia and between 2006 and 2008 it was then reported to have had escalated by 106%.

The retention of a large bloated body of a military corps in a “post-combatant” context poses, among others, large sociological issues. At a time of peace, for what function is one to employ a military tier which was consistently fed and fattened for battle purposes? Of course, the Sri Lankan government and the strategy-makers of military moves came up with plenty for the military to do: for in their unimaginative but effective reasoning, the curbing of dengue and the selling of vegetables, too, could be framed within the idea of “a battle” and a “humanitarian mission”.

Rambo walks the democratic world

Rambo walks the democratic world

But, the problem is not simply that — how are these soldiers, trained and geared to be Rambo-like militants, to be repatriated into the “civilian consciousness” and the “public spaces” of a non-militant category? In other words, how are these battlefield pawns to negotiate with the chess of day-to-day commuting: movements which involve situations, temperaments, emotions, feelings, diplomacies, subtleties, allowances etc which are a bit more complex and requires greater competancy than drilling holes in deemed “enemy bodies” under the command of some infallible God in command?

Leaving aside the drastic implications — and the implications and tragedies yet to be — of the militarization of public spaces and domains (for this is a fault of the government, alone, and the administration; and not of the military), the letting loose of a body of persons that possess battle and weapon training by itself is problematic. There are accepted citizen-militant ratios, but the tendency along which the country is being trained over the past few years is to prioratize the army “patriot” over the citizen. This, when all the fake rhetoric of the bent politician is done, is an abnormility, though in its state-sponsored, government-friendly manner it is “unpatriotic” to be viewed as such.

Civilian caught in alleged military brutality during the recent Weliweriya protest

Civilian caught in alleged military brutality during the recent Weliweriya protest

The military is the ultimate model of hierarchical rule. Within the military there are elite tiers for whom the benefits of the post-war days are more luxurious than to the low-ranked men, of whom some have had to rejoin the race against cost of living and the like. In addition to their medals of honour and other superficial knick-knacks, the perks in ambassadorial seats, corporation high desks etc are yet the preserves of the military elite. Times like these and the tensions and anxieties that ensue remind us the emphasis one has to lay on systematic and efficient demobilization and socialization. A militant is not to be socialized as a (army-conscript) mason or welder building shopping malls or manicuring the grass along newly paved walkways (laid by bricks brought from a governmental johnny’s brick press), or as a security guard who gets parachuted into places deemed fit to be dropped into by the government. The socialization process has to be well balanced with vocational, professional and industrial support and as it would address both the material and psychological aspects of the demobilized.

The long and short of the wave of crimes stirred by the military cardres in post-war times — be it shootings, hold ups, assaults, rape or even the arrogant show of muscle and the punch — is largely (though not necessarily on the main) caused by the abnormalities pertaining to de-mobilization and re-socialization into “civilian ways”. An inability to control rage, anger and frustration — negative impulses — and the tendency to seek answers to their emotional confusions by giving way to their violent urges can be noted. Battle-training and weapon handling expertise has (as it has always been the case) made militants fair candidates for violent and criminal livelihoods. Of course, the governental vision for the post-2009 aftermath has been frustrating in multiple departments; and has been their prerogative to keep the military “as it is”, but to revise it as a vanguard and buffer against voices of anti-governmental dissent and opposition: in other words, as a personal bodyguard, or a violent machine.

The state — rather than distancing the civil society from the shadow of militarization — has firmly set about absorbing the public spaces into the fangs of military control, making an attraction and spectacle of violence and inhumanity; making tanks, salutes, rifle butts and killing “enemies” the de facto norm. Then, when your girlfriend turns enemy, or her lover is an anxiety to your “manhood” you shoot them down the way you are made battle-hardy in blowing the brains of a “terrorist” or an “enemy of the state”. The military has brought this lesson home, to our putrid civilization. The “crime wave”, therefore, is just a symptom — like fever. We are a festering body and we are dying inside.

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