10 August 2016

A short story of a stink-hole that the law is not interesting in plugging

I hardly ever listen to the radio, but if ever I get the chance I try to catch a night programme on Siyatha FM called ‘Mama kemathi geetha dayaha’ (Ten songs I like).  The programme features 10 songs selected by some celebrity of one kind or another with short introductions explaining why each song was selected.  On one occasion the person selecting was well-known poet and lyricist, Yamuna Malini Perera.  I remember that I was not particularly impressed by her selection.  I can’t remember the particular song except that it referred to a father, but I cannot forget the reasons offered for her choice.

She described something she had seen as a child.  A man being dragged along the bund of a village tank late in the evening, silhouetted against the night sky, beaten with a huluaththa or torch made of dried coconut leaves bound together.  It was a son, beating his father, for who knows what crime.  The image had stuck.  It stuck with me as well. 

I knew we live in crazy times and that crazy times were always with us, not just here in Sri Lanka but all over the world.  Infanticide is not bound by time and space and neither is patricide.  All kinds of violence takes place in this tragedy-filled world of ours.  Still, that story jolted me.
Fast forward a few months and I hear another story.  I am giving a nutshell version here.

A boy, son of an alcoholic father, is raised by his aunt (father’s sister) and treated like a son and as a brother by his cousins.  Time passes, the boy grows up, is helped secure a decent job by his older cousins and ends up as a successful businessman.  He is rich enough to take care of his father, now very sick and incontinent.  The boy, now man, had a tough time growing up and this may or may not have scarred him in ways that prompted behaviour that is unacceptable and even criminal.  One day the father felt a need to relieve himself, but didn’t make it to the toilet in time.  He splashed all over the floor.  The son, livid, beat up the old man, forced his mouth open and urinated into it.  Worse, he called his cousin and complained about the old man, even as the old man pleaded, ‘Putha, I am sorry putha, don’t hit me putha, I couldn’t control myself putha, please putha, don’t hit me, I won’t do it again!’

Shocked, the cousin said he will come by and thrash the daylights out of this cruel man.  Both father and son were gone by the time he got there.  The son, when called on his mobile said that he had left the old man on the road and had given the location.  Beaten, terrified and utterly humiliated, the old man had only one request: ‘keep me with you until I die’. 

Ever since then the arrogant businessman has been calling his aunt and uncle who opened heart and home to a distraught and displaced little boy and abusing them in raw filth.  He has also been sending text messages to the cousins as well as all his friends and relatives, spreading stories that I do not have the heart to repeat here.  Requests to desist fell on deaf ears.  Finally, the cousin took the matter to the police and the man, in the presence of senior police officers spouted the same kind of invective at the complainants forcing the police to lock him up.

The question I have is not about the immemorial generational conflict, its dimensions, its inevitabilities and the pathways of resolution.  It is about the efficacy of the law to prevent such abuse. 

Mobile phones, the internet and other such technological devices that are part and parcel of the modern world were not invented to facilitate abuse and to enhance the entertainment of abusers at the cost of the victims.  They were meant to improve quality of life in a wide range of ways, enhance communication and facilitate efficiency in business, governance, the access to and delivery of services etc. 

Right now, there are people who derive some kind of warped pleasure by causing distress to others using these methods.   There is hate-mail and vicious stories being circulated on the internet with impunity from the laws pertaining to civility.  It is almost as though the internet was made for character assassination, and I am not talking of Wikileaks-type disclosures.  There is no substantiation-requirement to these communiqués and whether or not the claims are true is irrelevant.  Those mentioned remain scarred and violated which those who vilify them or paint them in colours they are undeserving of remain free and in most cases even anonymous. 

Phone abuse goes unchecked.  Some use caller identification facilities, but the abuser can always use a coin-operated public facility or one of the thousands of ‘communications outlets’ in the city to do his or her dirty work.  The victims have to deal with the trauma as best they can. 

In this instance, the perpetrator is known and identified by number and implicated by confession (unfortunately for him, since he could not control his arrogance and hatred), even though he has sought and failed to obtain the protection of powerful political associates and friends.  In this case the officer in charge of the relevant police station had stuck to his guns.   In this case, the victims placed faith in the law and the law responded or appears to be responding.  For now, at least.

I am sure that had the victim been poor, ‘unconnected’ to big-name politicians and public servants and lacking the resources to match fist with fist, cuss word with cuss word, rupee for rupee, he or she would have left the police station disillusioned, terrified and even traumatised.  These are elderly people we are talking about.  In their seventies.  Had they done any wrong, then the person who feels wronged has to let the courts pass judgment.  In this case, the abuser has all the connections and is rolling in money.  Only one things stands out: helplessness.  We are poor indeed as a society and a civilization if elderly people have to ‘grin and bear’ this kind of abuse.   One more thing: these are cowardly acts and reflect the character of the abuser more than the abused. 

We live in times where powerful politicians tie up public servants to trees, invite the media to capture it all on video and gets away scot free.  In such times, are we to assume that the law is dead and to live with the knowledge that we are legally crippled?  If the laws are not adequate, they should be amended.  If they do exist, they should find reference and relevance in action. 

As things stand, I am not sure who is incontinent, that old man, those responsible to ensure that technologies such as those concerning telecommunications, those paid to protect the citizenry from all abuse, including physical and mental torture, or the law itself.  Right now, it seems to me, that there’s a lot of piddling happening in places and ways not sanctioned by decency, law and civilization. 

There’s a stink.  I am not sure where it is coming from.  All I know is that it is too strong and too widespread for us to turn our noses in another direction. 

This article was first published in the 'Daily Mirror' in August 2011