Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban…. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it…”
— George Orwell (Proposed Preface to Animal Farm)
Every day, three children are raped in Sri Lanka….. Why aren’t we outraged?
The incarceration of Gen. Fonseka, the 18th Amendment or the Rajapaksa dynastic project are contentious political issues; not so child rape. Child rape is an abomination which everyone of us, irrespective of our politics or lack of it, can and must condemn, unequivocally and in unison. One child raped is one child too many; the daily rape of three children is a menace which must be eradicated from Lanka soil.
And, yet, silence reigns, two weeks after the Sunday Times report appeared (3.10.2010). Silence on the part of the government and the opposition, religious leaders and self-appointed guardians of traditional morality. Silence in the Parliament and outside. And a societal silence as reprehensible as it is astounding. Has indifference become a coarse habit which inures us to the most heinous of crimes and most barbarous of outrages, as long as we are not the victims?
There is nothing singular about our collective indifference to the proliferation of child rape. In the recent past, we reacted with equal indifference to media revelations about unacceptably high levels of child malnutrition and child poverty and debilitating educational standards. A country which is seriously concerned about its future cannot ignore a steady erosion in the safety, health, education and general wellbeing of a substantial percentage of its children. Yet there is no outcry, political or public, no parliamentary debates or public perorations, no crisis plans or emergency action programmes about any of these issues. We are learning to coexist with horrors and abominations, so long as they do not touch us personally.
Addressing the Istanbul Conference on Freedom of Speech, Noam Chomsky opined that ‘even more fundamental than the right to free expression is the right to think.’ What happens when a populace willingly abdicates its right to think, because it considers thinking burdensome and, perhaps, dangerous? What happens when a populace embraces indifference as a way of life outside of one’s private sphere? Did our gradual descent into moral indifference begin in the North, when we unquestioningly accepted the outrageous lie of zero-civilian casualties? We cling to that anesthetising myth even now, single-mindedly ignoring such dribbles of truth, as the statement by an Indian doctor, who treated civilian Tamils in the last weeks of the war, about ‘massive casualties among civilians’ (around 30,000; Hindustan Times – 1.6.2010).
Motivated by that same stupefying yearning for ignorance, we drew veils of concealment over testimonies by civilian Tamils at the LLRC hearings. Such as the testimony of Ratnasingham Easwary, who escaped from Tiger clutches on May 10, 2009 via the lagoon. When her boat was intercepted by the Navy, “we called out that we were civilians and asked them not to shoot at us. Yet minutes later eight shells were directed towards our boats from the Navy ships. Of the 20 who travelled in our boat eight were killed” (Groundviews).
The survivors were rescued by the Navy; subsequently Ms. Ratnasingham’s brother-in-law was taken away by the Navy; his fate is still unknown. In answer to a question, the witness reiterated that there were no arms in the boat and there were no Tiger boats close-by; they were all civilians and shouted so to the Navy many times, she said. Civilians died, and some avoidably. But we will continue to cling to our happy illusions, lest we are lured to think and to question our indifference…