Of all the tasks of government, the most basic is to protect its citizens from violence.- John Foster Dulles
Commonly violence is defined as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual against oneself, another person or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation (Krug, Dahlberg, Mercy, Zwi& Lozano, 2002).
Political violence refers to acts of violence undertaken to further the political objectives. Violence is a common means used by people and governments around the world to achieve political goals. In this context Sri Lanka is one of the countries that is highly affected by political violence. The scale and intensity of political violence has increased in Sri Lanka over the past few decades. Violence has become a common occurrence during the elections in Sri Lanka. Violence pervades Sri Lankan social and cultural life.
Complex and multidimensional
Political violence and its associated factors are complex and multidimensional. There are many theories are associated with individual and collective violence. Based on social learning theory Albert Bandura argued that individuals especially children learn aggressive responses from observing, others, either personally or through the media and environment. Bandura further stated that many individuals, believed that aggression will produce reinforcements. These reinforcements can formulate in to reduction of tension, gaining financial rewards, or gaining the praise of others, or building self-esteem.
In 2002 the National Academy of Science indicated that violence can occur in waves with highly publicized crimes copied by others. The social learning processes reflected in, such contagious episodes include imitation and vicarious reinforcement.
Duncan Pedersen emphasizes the root causes for the political violence and of the view that in poor and highly indebted countries, economic and environmental decline, asset depletion, and erosion of the subsistence base lead to further impoverishment and food insecurity for vast sectors of the population. Growing ethnic and religious tensions over a shrinking resource base often escort the emergence of predatory practices, rivalry, political violence, and internal wars. (Duncan Pedersen-Political violence, ethnic conflict, and contemporary wars: broad implications for health and social well-being).
Sri Lankan Context
In Sri Lanka ideological differences, racial tensions and even personal grudges have amplified political violence and there had been many deaths and destruction of property over the years. Typically in every major election violence has become a common occurrence and during elections many people live in heightened fear and anxiety. Violent assaults , intimidation , murders , rape and arson had been reported in the past elections. Many perpetrators who commit such violence go unpunished due to political interferences and deficiencies in the criminal justice system. Therefore political violence has become an unstopable crime.
The collective violence is defined as instrumental use of violence by people who identify themselves as members of a group-whether this group is transitory or has a more permanent identity-against another group or set of individuals in order to achieve political, economic or social objectives.
William Kornhauser introduced the social attachments theory of collective violence and it deals with the influence of a person’s interaction with society on their potential for membership in violent groups. This theory explains that people who have no attachments to society are more likely to join a group in order to have a sense of belonging.
Collective violence is often social control: self-help by a group. It typically defines and responds to conduct as deviant. When unilateral and nongovernmental, it appears in four major forms lynching, rioting, vigilantism and terrorism each distinguished by its system of liability (individual or collective) and degree of organization higher or lower. ( Roberta Senechal de la Roche Department of History, Washington University).
In Sri Lanka, collective violence had occurred in the form of riots, protests ,banditry and gang warfare etc. Collective violence in Sri Lanka has taken place in political or ethnic dimensions and it has a drastic impact on mental health, as well as the economy.
The World Health Organization (2008) National Report on Violence and Health- Sri Lanka specifies that, immediately before the country gained Independence from the British in 1948, violence in any form was not common as it is today and had not assumed political or ethnic dimensions. Diverse causes that precipitated group violence too were almost non-existent and individual acts of violence – killings, rape, abductions, looting, banditry and so on were scarce with little impact on the overall social, order of the country. In the pre-independence period collective violence, if at all was in the, form of struggle for freedom against the foreign rulers. ( WHO National Report on Violence and Health- Sri Lanka 2008).
Fanon on Violence
Frantz Fanon -the well known French Algerian Psychiatrist designates violence as a cleansing force which frees the person from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores self-respect’(The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon). Commenting on Fannon ‘s theoty Peter Worsley is giving more dapth analysis in his article “Frantz Fanon and the Lumpenproletariat “. Peter Worsley states that violence is often thought of sentimentally, as a deviation from a, normal condition of natural order and shared understandings. Thus, violence is often treated as social “pathology”. Yet even the most, orthodox political theorists also recognize, often quite inconsistently that in the last analysis ruling Clites depend upon force, even if they, usually try to buttress their power by persuading those they rule that they have a legitimate right to rule.
In Sri Lanka many politicians use political violence to gain public attention, popularity and to induce fear among the opponents. Often the violence is marked by territorial aggression and the aggressor expects submissive behaviour , conformity and respect.
Scapegoating is a hostile social – psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. Sometimes political violence could emerge as an act of scapegoating. The French Philosopher Rene Girard described “scapegoat mechanism” in which particular groups are held responsible for various social maladies. These groups are demonised , excluded and then subjected to violence. The scapegoat theory of inter group conflict provides an explanation for the correlation between times of relative economic despair and increases in prejudice and violence toward out groups.
Over the years the phenomenon of Scapegoating has been seen in the Sri Lankan society and sometimes sinister political groups have targeted specific people or communities for economic and cultural decline. Sometimes it was done to achieve egoistic political advantages. These actions had caused deep mistrust , hate among the communities and violent conflicts were erupted in the past .
Childhood Trauma and Violent Behavior
Childhood trauma has a profound effect on brain development and it can negatively affect the person in relation with his / her behavior in the society. Children who had become the victims of collective and personal violence might carry anger and resentment towards society and it could erupt in a violent form. The researches indicate that majority of the former members of the German Baader-Meinhof Group that engaged in political violence had traumatized childhood. Many research confirm that the link between adverse childhood experiences and social violence.
Trauma and violence that people experience can pass in to the next generation and it can lead to a vicious cycle. A 1998 study by R. Yehuda titled Vulnerability to posttraumatic stress disorder in adult offspring of Holocaust survivors indicated that offspring of Holocaust survivor parents with PTSD have a higher lifetime risk for PTSD and report more distress after traumatic events. Therefore, sociopolitical violence has severe damaging effects to the population.
A large number of Sri Lankan children face sexual – physical and emotional abuse within the family circle, in school, in religious institutions etc. Many of the victims do not get any psychological treatment and often the time does not heal these traumas. They grow up with the emotional scars silently hating their perpetrators. Once they become adults they are ready to project their anger and resentment at any individual or group.
The violence committed by most of the members of the JVP during 1988-89 had tormented childhood and many were affected by maternal deprivation ( Middle East Syndrome) , cast related oppression and severe poverty. Some had the history of childhood sexual abuses. One of the members who had such a childhood experience committed a politically motivated crime ( shooting a family and then murdering their infant son with an axe in the Southern part of Sri Lanka) without any remorse.
The victims with childhood trauma frequently suffer from depression and anxiety and many have unresolved psychological conflicts. They have free floating anger and it’s easy to manipulate such victims and get them to commit atrocities by igniting their deep rooted hatred. (Voltaire once said “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”) Numerous political groups in Sri Lanka had recruited such characters to fulfill their political goals during the past few decades. The abduction and assassination Daya Pathirana (in 1986) assassination of Nandana Marasinghe (in 1988) and killing of Razmar Hussain of Matale (in 1995) signify such crimes.
Lumpenproletariat Factor and Political Violence
Uneducated under privileged social elements (commonly called as goons ) play a crucial role in the Sri Lankan politics since 1940s. Up to dated these elements are one of the decisive and conspicuous factors in the Sri Lankan politics. All the leading political parties use these social outcasts to get their dirty work done.
According Rev Udukandawella Saranakara Thero who was an active supporter of the Left-wing political movement in Sri Lanka revealed how their political meetings were violently sabotaged by hired thugs of the United National Party. In 1958 these social elements instigated racial riots with the help of local politicians. By 1960 many Members of Parliment had their own henchmen to attack the opposition members when necessary. During 1971 uprising many SLFP MPs used their goons to form a paramilitary group called Samanala Balakaya to fight the JVP rebels. While retreating from Balapathhava -Kegalle to Sinharaja Forest a group of JVP members headed by Samarathunga alias Bola Samare directly confronted with this para military group and six of them were later executed by the rebels.
After 1977 the political goons became more powerful and lethal. Gonawala Sunil was a powerful political thug and even the Police used to salute him. Similarly Sothhi Upali had police powers and sometimes pretended him self as a member of the Police Special Task Force. Baddagane Sanjiva was officially attached to the PSD (President’s Security Division). Today the political thugs like Julampitiya Amre operate with full political patronage and they have become untouchables.
In the recent past the lumpenproletariat factor has evolved in to a new operational stage in Sri Lanka. A large number of mob elements have entered politics by joining the provincial councils. By becoming local political members they get exceptional chances to evade Police investigations against them and also could engage in illegal activities (drug business / extortion / sex trade/ transporting and selling of illegal timber etc) without any legal interferences. According to the Police sources some of the the provincial council members of Kamburupitiya , Tanglle , Pujapitiya etc are charged with murders and sex crimes . But the legal procedure against these people have been decelerated due to various interferences and justice is not served to the victims yet.
Political Violence and Antisocial Personality Disorder
From JRJ to the present leadership every head of the state had his or her henchmen to carry out politically connected violence. They were either ministers or the members of the parliament or thugs with political patronage. Most of them were under educated and had violently inclined behavior. These mob elements had committed a number of atrocities and violent acts but they were always protected and safeguarded by their political masters. This phenomenon has become a naked reality of politics in Sri Lanka. These men were always above the law and had licenses to commit violence in the name of their political leaders. In the psychological context, these characters have deviant behaviors and fit in to the diagnostic category of Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD).
Antisocial Personality Disorder is a condition characterized by persistent disregard for and violation of the rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features of this disorder. The people with ASPD disregard the social norms and respect to lawful behaviors. They are impulsive as well as aggressive and with a slightest provocation they can commit violent acts. They are also reckless disregard for safety of self or others and irresponsible. Their characters are marked with lack of remorse. They are selfish, callous and remorselessly use of others to full fill their goals. They have chronically unstable, antisocial and socially deviant lifestyles. When these brands of men become politically powerful, they can do a vast damage to the country.
The Dynamics of Political Popularity in Sri Lanka
A large number of Sri Lankan politicians believe that violence would enhance their popularity and it could give enormous public attention. They customarily think that political thuggery is the key way of winning the hearts and minds of the public. Many use person directed , institution directed or social directed violence to achieve popularity and establish power. In addition some use indirect violence as modes of threats or sanctions. In the resent past some politicians have imposed unlawful -unconstitutional sanctions such as prohibition of selling meat , specific vegetables in their respective electorates.
There were no public outcry or protest following these unlawful acts and the public always maintained silence. The other poignant fact is that the election results in Sri Lanka indicate that the politicians who use violence have more chance to win and those who practice decent and civilized methods of politics had disappeared from the political arena. Therefore the voters have a great responsibility to elect educated and decent candidates who denounce violence and prevent political violence in the country.
Religious Fundamentalism and Violence
Religious fundamentalism has become a subject of much controversy and debate and it has become one of the contributors of collective violence in the modern world. In the past few decades, collective violence had occurred in Sri Lanka as a part of religious fundamentalism and this trend is aggravating.
The clergy who embrace violence and socially unacceptable disharmonise path are often psychologically deviated and they view people outside their religion or faith as opponents. They are governed by US vs Them principle. They lack empathy when addressing issues related to people outside of their religious circle and often justify violence against them. They preach hate and instigate their followers to commit violence. Often the clergy who support collective violence have had disturbed childhood and some of them had been the victims of sexual abuse. Their anger and resentments are generalized or projected to people outside their faith or ethnic group. They put forth their insecurities as threats to the religion or conspiracies against religion and use it to validate violence.
Annually a considerable number of Sri Lankan children become victims of sexual violence. Desolately some of the perpetrators have been identified as clergy and many of these molestations occur in various religious institutions. Frequently these abuses occur repeatedly over a long period. Sometimes the children with insidious sexual trauma get attached to the perpetrators (like in the Stockholm Syndrome) and they could become strong believers in their perpetrator’s religion or faith. In the later years these victims could become hate preachers and commit violence in the name of the religion.
Political Extremism that leads to Collective Violence
Laird Wilcox defines political extremism as taking a political idea to its limits, regardless of ‘unfortunate’ repercussions, impracticalities, arguments and feelings to the contrary, and with the intention not only to confront, but also to eliminate opposition with the intolerance towards all views other than one’s own by adoption of means to political ends which show disregard for the life, liberty, and human rights of others.”
Political extremism in Sri Lanka has vivid faces and the extremism is often masqueraded by using national feelings or religious ideology. Political extremist is one who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm, especially in politics. His antisocial components are often concealed and it can emerge when the time and situation is favorable. The political extremists often try to create a homogeneous society that is based on religion or ethnic group.
What is the deep psychology beneath creating a homogeneous society disregarding human rights, overlooking multi-ethnicity or multi-religious spectrum? This indicates the sadistic homosexual instincts inside the extremist’s mind. This feature was evident in Adolf Hitler’s mind. Hitler took every effort to create a homogeneous society in Germany. Hitler believed that the Aryan race was supreme to other races and did not have any racial tolerance. His extremism was connected with libidinous instincts. According to Henry Murray a prominent personality specialist at Harvard University, Hitler was confused about his sexuality. He directed his sexual sadism on his half-niece Geli Raubal and Geli later committed suicide. He has had unresolved sadistic homosexual instincts and took many unconscious efforts to repress them. Hitler ordered to terminate gay men probably he could not stand the repressed impulse that he had in his unconscious.
According to the DSM 4, homosexuality is not a mental illness but homosexual instincts mixed with sadistic traits and if the person is deeply troubled by it, a pathological condition may appear. A political extremist who is deeply confused with his sexuality unable to come to terms with his homosexual impulses would try to create a homogeneous society under any cost. He would be focused and make this extreme vision as his life mission. The German people once surrendered their liberty to such a person.
Political Violence and Democracy
Political violence manifests itself at all levels of social organization. The prolonged arm conflict in Sri Lanka has caused a massive and radical transformation in democracy justifying political violence. Free arm circulation aggravated the condition and violence has become a part of day today life. Many politicians facilitated such conditions and saw it as one of the easy ways to grab power and rule inspiring fear among the opponents. The vicious cycle of political violence affected every layer of Sri Lankan society.
Kristine Höglund, of the Dept. of Peace and Conflict Research – Uppsala University describes the nature of political violence in Sri Lanka.
……From the perspective of democratic politics, violence and insecurity may affect the election results or the outcome of elections in various ways. Threats and intimidation may be used to interfere with the registration of voters. Voter turn out may be influenced if large sections of the population refrain from casting their votes due to fear of violence. Assaults, threats and political assassinations during the election campaign may force political contenders to leave the electoral process or prevent elections from taking place. ( Electoral Violence in War-Ravaged Societies: The Case of Sri Lanka by Kristine Höglund )
When political violence is prevailing citizens have no equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. The violence does not allow people to elect their representatives democratically. There is a drastic power dis-balance and people lose the sense of trust in the political system. The power shift becomes unequal and there is no social justice in the state. In the long term, political violence could lead to lawlessness, anarchy, and terrorism.
Political violence in the first parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka
The first parliamentary election of Sri Lanka was held in 1947 and mob violence were unleashed on a larger scale. As a result of such action, one active supporter of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (pro-Soviet wing) was injured and became disabled. His 4-year-old son became heavily traumatized by this incident. As a boy, he realized that the people in politics made his father a disabled aggravating their living condition. In the later years, this disabled man’s son launched two insurrections (in 1971 and in 1988) causing a collective trauma in Sri Lanka. In both events, nearly 70,000 people lost their lives.
The Prabhakaran Factor
Ethnic riots were initiated as a part of political violence in Sri Lanka. In mid 1950s, some of the local politicians organized gang violence against Tamils for cheap popularity. When tensions rose between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, some opportunists fabricated awful stories to keep high emotions on both sides. There were rumors that Sinhalese women were raped and murdered in the North and there were similar exaggerated stories that stated brutal violence against Tamil women in the South. Rumors as well as true incidents contributed to racial violence that was initiated by both sides. In one of the events, a sacred Buddhist temple in the North was destroyed by hooligans who were motivated by some extremist Tamil politicians. Sir Oliver Gunathilaka took immediate and praiseworthy measures to restore the temple and he took deliberate efforts to keep the event away from the newspapers. Short sighted Sinhala and Tamil Politicians capitalized on these tension situations and sometimes aggravated it expecting political profits. In the North, people started having doubts about democracy.
Young Prabhakaran used to listen to the terrible stories that occurred in the Gal Oya riots (1956) and 1958 ethnic riots where the mob savagely attacked Tamil civilians causing many deaths. As the investigative journalist, M.R.Narayan Swamy describes young Prabhakaran was utterly ravaged when he heard the story of the violent murder of a Hindu Poosari in Panadura. The Poosari was burnt alive by the mob during the ethnic riots in 1958. Prabhakaran was determined to take revenge. He became very much focused and his made his entire life mission to fight the Sinhalese. At the age of 16, he committed his first antisocial act – setting fire to a CTB bus in VVT. When he became the leader of the LTTE he ordered a number of massacres including the Anuradhapura massacre in 1985 and the Aranthalawa Massacre in 1987 and hundreds of suicide bombings targeting Sinhala civilians. Hence, Prabhakaran launched his terror for three decades causing over 90,000 deaths in Sri Lanka.
Violence Conducted by the Radical Political Groups in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, several radical political organizations conducted violence to achieve their political targets. The JVP launched two insurrections in 1971 and subsequently in 1988. Tamil militant groups launched their violent campaigns since the 1970 s and the LTTE became the mainstream militant group that was in action until 2009 May.
As Professor Gamini Samaranayake highlights the origin and development of the JVP and the LTTE relate more closely to the social expansion and the lack of economic and political development in Sri Lanka since the beginning of the 1960s. Basically, both groups are more action-oriented than ideology-oriented and dominated by youth with a similar socio-economic background. ( Political violence in Sri Lanka: A diagnostic approach Gamini Samaranayake )
The former JVP General Secretary Lionel Bopage explains the genesis of political violence in Sri Lanka in the following account.
…..the Island’s post-1948 political leadership did not come into being as a result of a coherent anti-colonial struggle that unified its people. The neo-colonial establishment not only carried forward the policies and practices of the exclusively colonial, mono-cultural and unitary administration, which were not only incongruent with the culturally and linguistically diverse nature of its inhabitants, but also their socio-economic, political and cultural expectations.
The post-colonial Sri Lankan state never considered it significant to protect the dignity and security of marginalized and disadvantaged social groups. Domestic issues were viewed and dealt with in a mindset of a conflict paradigm. Peaceful demands for social equity, justice, security and dignity were continuously disregarded and/or violently suppressed. The indignity and insecurity caused by such attacks on the physical and psychological integrity of individuals and communities thus motivated them to take up arms.- (Political violence in Sri Lanka- L. Bopage).
The Ethnic Riots and Political Violence
The human rights activist Rajan Hoole points out that the politicians like Gamini Dissanayaka, Cyril Mathew etc insinuated ethnic riots as a part of political violence. (Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power: Myths, Decadence & Murder – Rajan Hoole)
The following extract is taken from Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After,” by L. Piyadasa, Marram Books, London (1984) which gives a comprehensive account how violence can be planned and executed by politicians.
In Kelaniya, Industries Minister Cyril Mathew‘s gangs were identified as the ones at work. The General Secretary of the government “union” the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (J.S.S.) was identified as the leader of gangs which wrought destruction and death all over Colombo and especially in Wellawatte, where as many as ten houses a street were destroyed. A particular U.N.P. municipal councillor of the Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia Municipality led gangs in Mount Lavinia. In the Pettah (the bazaar area, where 442 shops were destroyed and murders were committed) the commander was the son of Aloysius Mudalali, the Prime Minister’s right-hand man. And so on. Thugs who worked regularly for the leaders of the U.N.P., the Ministers of State and Party Headquarters, and in some cases uniformed military personnel and police, were seen leading the attack. They used vehicles of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (Minister in charge, M. H. Mohammed) and other government departments and state corporations. Trucks of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation’s Oil Refinery came from many miles away bringing the men who destroyed so much of Wellawatte. There is much other evidence of this sort. In view of the quasi-governmental nature of the “action,” the killings that took place may have been difficult for the eye-witnesses to resist … But in the neighbourhoods, after the initial shock, Sinhalese and Burghers organised themselves and kept off the gangs who had been sent to burn and kill.
How Nuwara Eliya was erupted following the minister Mr. Gamini Dissanayake’s visit, specifies in Sri Lanka – ‘Paradise’ in Ruins,” (Sri Lanka Co-ordination Centre, Kassel, 1983.)
The town was closely guarded by the army. All vehicles were checked. Bus conductors had orders not to transport Tamils. Minister Gamini Dissanayake came from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya to hold a meeting with party members. The day before, M.P. Herath Ranasinghe had arrested precautiously (sic) some well-known rowdies. Soon after the end of Gamini Dissanayake’s party meeting, they were released. These people went out immediately, well-equipped with petrol, iron rods, and other kinds of weapons, and tried to attack two Tamil priests in town. They managed to escape. Without having succeeded they moved on – another mob joined up with the first one. They laid a ring of petrol around a Tamil shop which was then burnt.
Electoral violence has become a widespread trait in Sri Lankan politics. It has profound effects on people and their perceptions about politics and power. As Kristine Höglund, of Uppsala University points out that the electoral violence is used for a number of reasons: to hinder people from voting, to prevent candidates from campaigning, to display discontent with election results, or to overthrow the outcome of the election.
Politics in Sri Lanka and in the Village Politics impede many aspects of life in Sri Lanka. In an anthropological study of a rural village, politics in Sri Lanka is described as “a consuming passion” (Spencer 1990) closely linked to nationalist and religious identity formation. State-based political patronage is widespread in Sri Lanka. State resources have been used by the party leaders for personal benefits, to reward political loyalty, to remain in power, and to undermine the opposition (Suri 2007).
Patron-client relationships are core aspects of party politics and organization in Sri Lanka. The party workers and supporters expect benefits in different forms – for themselves and for their family. Such rewards include, for instance, employment opportunities, state contracts and loans, or governmental welfare benefits (Suri 2007).
Series of violence were unleashed in 1977 elections and many people became victims. After the election victory in 1977, the newly appointed Prime Minister J.R Jayawardene gave vacation leave to the Police Department. The supports of the ruling United National Party openly attacked their political opponents.
Following is an eyewitness’s account that narrates the magnitude of violence that occurred mainly in rural areas.
“My father was a cooperative committee member during the Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime. We were not rich or privileged people and lived in a small house in Hasalaka area. My father engaged in farming and we had a 2-acre paddy land where our family members jointly worked. In 1977 election, my father openly supported for the SLFP candidate. But he lost the election to the UNP candidate.
Soon after the election, one evening a group of villagers came to attack our house. Many of them were our neighbors whom we knew for generations. They shouted slogans and then attacked our house with stones. The windows were broken. One person broke our main door with an axe. Some assaulted my father and humiliated my mother. We could not go to the police or seek justice. My father was upset about this incident and became ill. He was very depressed and disconnected with the people. He passed away less than one year after this incident.
Many decades have past now and I had finished my school education and now working as a schoolteacher. Sometimes I meet those villagers those who attacked our house in 1977. They are now old and enfeeble. Though I have no anger towards them, the events that occurred soon after the 1977 election are very much unforgettable. I still remember it like yesterday.
In the subsequent elections, this violent trend became a foremost factor in Sri Lanka. Murders, assaults, rapes and arson have became common crimes during election periods. In the infamous Wayamba Provincial Council, election in 1999 , 52-year-old woman was assaulted and stripped in public by a local politician.
An officer who was on the Election Duty at the polling center at the Anamaduva electorate in 1999 observed mob violence and documented his thoughts thus.
I was attached to the Reginald Directorate of the Health Services in Puttlam and called for election duty in 1999. There were many prominent politicians – local and national level and many instigated violence. Uneducated youth from the lower social strata gathered with these political elements. They were drunk and shouting in filth to the opposition party members. Some people were publicly assaulted and some houses were burnt. The police officers did nothing to stop it and just became spectators. I approached one police officer and requested to intervene. He looked at me as I was mad and said why should I interfere , this is all planned, if I do interfere I would get a punishment transfer to Jaffna tomorrow morning. I realized the policeman’s burden and thought for myself-this country left us no hopes anymore. I was ashamed to be a Sri Lankan.
(within a few years the said officer migrated to Australia)
In 2001 election, a new tendency emerged in the Sri Lankan politics and politicians used army deserters and ex combatants to initiate election violence in larger scale. Many combatants from various fighting units became deserters and joined the politicians. The culmination of the violence took place in Kandy on polling day for the General Election and ten Muslim youth were gunned down in Udathalawinna.
Udathalawinna massacre case in which General Anurudha Ratwatte, former Deputy Defense Minister, his two sons, Rohan and Chanuka were indicted for various election violence and also for the conspiracy to murder and committing the murder of ten Muslim youths on the general election day on December 5, 2001, at Udathalawinne in Kandy district ( Udara Soysa – Asian Tribune 2005). In 2006 the Colombo High Court acquitted all the suspects charged in connection with the Udathalawinna murder case.
A large number of combatants with battle trauma took part in election violence from 2001 to 2010 elections and some of them were believed to be undiagnosed PTSD patients. As military psychologists indicate, anger and violence are prevalent problems combatants with PTSD.
Matthew Tull, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson did extensive case work on PTSD and social violence. According to him, individuals with PTSD may have intense and unpredictable emotional experiences, and anger and aggressive behavior may ways of establishing a sense of control. Anger may also be a way of trying to express or release tension connected to uncomfortable emotions often associated with PTSD, such as shame and guilt. His research on Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans who screened positive for PTSD reported significantly greater anger and hostility than those in the subthreshold-PTSD and non-PTSD groups. Veterans in the sub threshold-PTSD group reported significantly greater anger and hostility than those in the non-PTSD group.
It’s a known fact that the traumatized soldiers can be used to commit political and social violence. This factor was seen in Somalia and in Rwanda. Extreme groups transform traumatized people into perpetrators of violence. At the end of the American Civil War, extremists formed KKK that conducted a series of racial violence in America through ex-soldiers. Many Lincoln brigade soldiers who fought in the Spanish civil war involved in social violence soon after the Great Depression.
Psychological Impact of Political Violence
There is a close relationship between political violence, mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. Political violence has a variety of discernible long-term effects on political beliefs and attitudes, behavior and behavioral intentions, emotions, and other psychological variables. It can massively affect the mental health of the people. People constantly exposed to violence and deteriorating social conditions, become emotionally insensitive and gradually losing their respect for the values of life. The “culture of violence” transforms people to believe that aggressive attitudes and violent behavior are normal and acceptable in an environment where violence is viewed as an acceptable way to get and maintain power and to solve problems. Therefore, psychological distress and mental disorders are closely connected with political violence.
Political violence has negative impact on public health and it causes erosion of socio-cultural values. When violence take place children and women become the most vulnerable groups and they are forced to bear the consequences. The political violence affect communities creating a profound functional vacuum. Violence affects people in individual and collective levels. Following community based collective violence people lose basic trust and often maintain a conspiracy of silence. Some plan revenge.
When facing violence communities disintegrate. The potential victims could become highly stressed, feared and could feel powerless. Fear psychosis dominates the community. As groups begin to fear for their safety, dangerous and, difficult-to-resolve strategic dilemmas arise that contain, within them the potential for tremendous violence….Ethnicactivists and political entrepreneurs, operating within, groups, build upon these fears of insecurity and polarise, society (Lake and Rothchild, 1996: 41).
Brandon A. Kohrt of the Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, did a clinical research of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and the impact of the Maoist People’s War and found that psychological distress and mental disorders in situations of political violence.
Political violence is linked to poor mental health outcomes at the individual and collective levels. People exposed to political violence have symptoms of traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and aggressive feelings and it can lead to a vicious cycle of further violence.
Raija-Leena Punamäki- Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki did extensive study on political violence in Palestine and according to him exposure to political hardships also increased mental health problems, which is a reminder of the price which people are forced to pay in order to cope with political violence.
The victims generally do not forget the violent episodes that they experienced and frequently plan for revenge. Hence violence turns in to a never ending cycle. There had been many reports that those who suffered election related violence during 1970 took revenge from their perpetrators in 1977 general election with the change of the government. For nearly seven years they repressed anger and hatred until they found an appropriate payback time. In one incident in 1977 July a foreman attached to the Sri Lanka Petroleum Corporation was attacked with iron rods by some ex workers and later the foreman succumbed to the injuries. The reason for this attack was that the SLFP backed foreman had assaulted some of the UNP workers and expelled them from the Petroleum Corporation soon after the 1970 election.
Ending Political Violence in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with high 91% literacy rate. This earthly paradise has been deeply traumatized by political violence for many decades. The violence has generated further violence damaging inner layers of the communities making it more dysfunctional. The politicians would not implement fruitful efforts to end politically motivated violence and ending political violence in Sri Lanka is a responsibility of an every citizen. When civil society is aware of the disastrous and manipulative nature of political violence, they do not support such action. When people have insight, they are not gullible or easily carried out by false propaganda that instigates political violence. When the civil society is strengthened , educated and well aware it is safeguarding democracy and become the guardians of social justice. When there is a strong , literate , politically conscious and civilized civil society, there is no space for political violence.