judicial hunger for death?
Mass R. Usuf
It appears everything has a season. Now apparently is
the time where the hangman's noose is concerned. Diverse views are
expressed, when there should be no divergence at all - for, a decision
born out of divergence inherently lacks the very truth about a thing
that should hold fast for all times and remain immutable.
The day before
yesterday the noose prevailed, yesterday it was locked up and today
certain quarters are trying to lay it on someone's neck. This is
the transient nature of a decision that blossoms forth from a vacillating
base of diverse opinions, only to wither and to blossom again some
decades later. And the crime rate, never dips!
If we must look
for the truth that should hold fast over time, how are we to go
about the debates and discussions? Indulge in neither debate nor
discussion - evaluate various aspects of the case using wisdom governing
natural verities as the guide, instead of using personal and subjective
emotions as spearheads.
In the animal
world, a lizard eats an insect, a snake eats the lizard and a monitor
eats the snake. Death here becomes the negation of life by one,
to satiate the hunger of another. Death is not inflicted through
remorse nor revenge but by the basic natural verity of 'hunger'.
It is, by nature, meant to be!
then is; to snuff out a human life judicially - is it, by nature,
meant to be? Is it humane to bring about a 'judicial hunger', one
driven by a judicial tit for tat - life for life? It is not possible
if due respect is paid to the natural verity of protection of life,
above all human life. Consign a murderer to life imprisonment but
not to the gallows. The 'hunger' should have an affinity with protection,
not with death, even that of a murderer.
for tat propelled by a judicial hunger for death has never reduced
rates of homicide. The social history of the world shows it never
has anywhere. In Saudi Arabia, 120 persons were ruthlessly decapitated
in 2001. Nevertheless the crime rate is soaring despite this extreme
Is it going
to be any different in Sri Lanka? To think so is to delude oneself
and is a reflection of a poor understanding of social behaviour.
for tat that does not rope in the very life of an individual is
somewhat humane and we humans must maintain a humane society. A
murderer snuffs out a life. It is wrong. But for another, be he
empowered by a court of law or otherwise, to snuff out the life
of the murderer is also wrong. Two wrongs never make a right. It
would be right to put him behind bars for fifty years or for life
with no parole, as he poses a threat to the innocents.
has spoken about the sanctity of life. Such knowledge stems from
wisdom governing natural verities. Buddhism is replete with instances
where life is held sacred, even that of wrongdoers. Many scriptures
teach us to see God in man even if he is a sinner, for, in man resides
If this truly
is a Buddhist country then let maithree and karuna prevail. Let
a murderer rue in prison but let him not be murdered by the dictates
of some man-made thing called The Law.
For most hard-core
criminals, a quick death is preferable to rotting in prison. They
play with life and death and death is an easy way out should they
lose. Otherwise, why should drug peddlers continue to peddle drugs
in Saudi Arabia despite weekly, public decapitations for drug peddling?
So what is
to stop the contract killers and the army deserters from indulging
in crime? Certainly not the hangman's noose! This is one aspect
of warped social behaviour, which defies the threat of the noose.
As long as this defiance prevails so shall crime.
someone said, is a symptom. It can be ascribed to a warped social
development prodded by warped social values. To think that crime
can be totally eliminated is absurd. Good and bad thrive in a symbiotic
relationship. Both must prevail. There can never be a crimeless
society or one ridden with crime in toto. Nothing can be absolute.
A balance always prevails. By nature it is meant to be.
this balance tips the way of crime and the crime rate increases.
It happens when as mentioned above there is an increase in warped
social development prodded by warped social values. Correct the
warp on a social scale and the crime rate would dip - the call for
the hangman's noose would then be not so resonant.
have been many instances where an innocent man was executed for
no wrong done but owing to the vagaries of legal interpretations
and subjective views of members of the jury who are not all learned
persons and lacking wisdom, perception and understanding.
a whole would become culpable for the murder of an innocent. When
a hundred persons are to be hanged who can ever say there would
never be an innocent among them? Let him who says it pull the lever
first. One innocent life cannot be equated with any quantity of
those guilty. On this basis alone the vehement calls for the noose
should peter out.
In war and peace
Santiapillai and S. Wijeyamohan
War can be a mixed blessing to local wildlife and its habitat.
It can have both beneficial as well as detrimental impacts on the
impact of war on the environment is due to the fact that it tends
to keep people, including poachers, out of conflict areas. This
is attested by the spectacular bird diversity and numbers recorded
today from the Giant's Tank in the Wanni region, from where large
numbers of people fled during the war.
But this is
an exception rather than the rule, for in most instances, war tends
to do damage to wildlife and its habitat. Sri Lanka is no exception:
government troops and guerrillas have hunted wildlife for food.
Their impact would have been most severe on large mammals with slow
reproductive rates, as these are the ones that are likely to disappear
first. In addition, land mines have also either killed or maimed
an unknown number of large mammals.
After an interval
of 18 years, one of Sri Lanka's oldest and most scenic conservation
areas, the Wilpattu National Park, was re-opened on March 16, 2003.
Although the park still retains its charm, the ravages of the two-decade
long armed conflict can be seen from the destruction caused to its
forest and wildlife.
and the accompanying loss of wildlife are among the most common
legacies of any armed conflict.
The free availability
of guns during the war and the use of wire snares appear to have
had a serious impact on wildlife. Spotted deer used to be the most
numerically abundant large herbivore in Wilpattu National Park.
Today, its numbers have declined.
Wilpattu is not an isolated case. Other protected areas are also
in danger of becoming 'empty forests', if illegal timber extraction
and poaching continue unabated. Uncontrolled hunting of wildlife
not only reduces the populations of the target species, but more
importantly, it will cause landscape-level changes in habitats and
in Sri Lanka face the twin threats of habitat loss and poaching.
As commercial hunting is unsustainable, it is a far more serious
threat to wildlife than subsistence hunting carried out by poor
people living along the edges of conservation areas. Their impact
on wildlife is not as serious as that of the commercial hunters
or organized gangs of poachers.
of bush meat is sustainable at present only because they do not
possess the ability to cause serious environmental degradation.
However, the key element in bush meat trade becoming unsustainable
is demand, not technology. Thus, unless it is regulated, even subsistence
hunting for bush meat can become a conservation problem, especially
if the number of people who practise it increases.
hunting for edible wildlife is common in areas where refugees have
been resettled. In the Wanni, where hunting has always been a part
of the local culture, villagers hunt animals such as the jungle
fowl, land monitor lizard, black-naped hare, spotted deer, sambhur,
barking deer, mouse deer and wild boar.
kilo of bush meat in the Wanni are as follows: wild boar Rs. 40,
spotted deer and sambhur Rs. 70, jungle fowl Rs. 70. In comparison,
a kilo of chicken costs between Rs. 200-250, mutton Rs. 60, while
prices of fish range from Rs. 40-100 depending on the species. Jungle
fowl is in fact much cheaper than her country cousin. The land monitor
lizard is such a delicacy among the people of the Wanni that it
is no longer common outside protected areas.
the refugees who are resettled in the Wanni region suffer from either
chronic or seasonal under-nutrition. Poor diet influences mental
development. The effect of shortage of dietary calories is more
serious in young children under five years of age and in pregnant
and lactating women.
with a lack of calories, the body breaks down amino acids for energy
instead of using them to make new proteins. In comparison to vegetable
proteins, animal proteins are usually richer in amino acids, mineral
salts, trace elements and vitamins essential for growth. What is
needed is a mixture of plant and animal protein to ensure good health.
for the poor who eke out an existence, bush meat is not a luxury
but an essential source of much needed animal protein. It is also
a commodity that can be sold. The ultimate effect of a continuous
shortage of dietary calories is to slow down most human activities,
with the apparent exception of the rate of reproduction.
modern urban human communities cannot be sustained by the harvesting
of wild animals, it would be both difficult and unfair to ban the
trade in bush meat completely, especially if people living in poverty
depend on it for food and income. Hunting bush meat has become economically
important even in areas where the main source of income is agriculture.
Thus there is a need to regulate and manage the harvesting of bush
meat so that it can be made sustainable. Wild species are a renewable
resource, and hence harvesting them is perhaps the only sustainable
resource-use of consequence.
utilization of non-endangered wildlife can be achieved through game
ranching, so that they can be profitably cropped for human consumption.
It is a common misconception among many that forests in tropical
countries are the epitome of fertility and that all that is required
for the production of fine crops is the introduction of modern machinery
and mass production methods. It is true that there are limited areas
of high fertility, especially in the river valleys, but much of
the Wanni, especially the Mannar region is very arid. It is one
of the driest regions in Sri Lanka. The clay soil becomes rock-hard
during the drought season, making it extremely impervious to water.
a rational response to such seasonal variations in grazing and surface
water. On such arid areas, game ranching would be a much sounder
proposition than agriculture. Once game ranching becomes commercially
established, the extinction of the wild fauna will be unlikely.
Under natural conditions, wild herbivorous animals are in perfect
balance with the plants on which they feed. This has been established
long enough for the animals to become adjusted to their environment,
making use of all the food resources. The biomass of this wild fauna
can be large if predators are kept in check. Harvesting such non-endangered
herbivorous wild fauna in marginal habitats offers a way of preventing
the depletion of wildlife within protected areas. As Sir Julian
Huxley once remarked, "wild protein can yield more profit than
cattle or cultivation".
While the viewing
of wildlife in national parks has been a well-established and accepted
form of non-consumptive exploitation, the consumptive use of non-endangered
wildlife even outside protected areas is a thorny issue that is
bound to arouse controversy in such a predominantly Buddhist country
as Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the problem with wildlife is that the
people who wish to preserve it are rarely those who have to pay
the cost. While the relatively affluent foreign tourists and local
visitors enjoy a wildlife spectacle at minimal expense, the poor
who share their land with wildlife remain destitute.
The task of
promoting game ranching is formidable, and would require a change
of attitude from a large section of the population. It usually takes
a generation to change people's minds. Furthermore, in the absence
of minerals to exploit, the prosperity of the refugees who live
on marginal lands must depend on the careful exploitation of their
forests, fisheries, wildlife and the few patches of agricultural
Conservation Strategy supports such exploitation of wildlife, provided
it is sustainable and that the income so generated increases support
for conservation. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, conservation
funds from international donor agencies have failed to cater to
the needs of these people. Much could be achieved even if a tiny
fraction of these funds could be spent on improving the education,
healthcare and welfare of the children who live close to protected
to survive on a significant scale outside protected areas the needs
of wildlife should be reconciled with the legitimate aspirations
of the local communities. Game ranching of non-endangered edible
wildlife that is both abundant and capable of replacing itself quickly,
is sustainable and economically viable in many parts of rural Sri
must take into account not only ecology but economics as well. Placing
an economic value on wildlife will promote its conservation. In
the absence of economic incentives, no amount of legislation can
save wildlife outside the protected areas. As Norman Myers points
out, "conservation in the developing countries has to sustain
not only the spirit but also the stomachs".
is attached to the University of Peradeniya and S. Wijeyamohan to
the Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna
have feelings too
D. P. Atukorale
In a recent newspaper article, a female doctor mentioned
that fish don't feel pain. This is not quite true. Like human beings,
all animals including mammals, reptiles, birds and fish feel pain.
Even though fish don't scream when they are in pain, their behaviour
should be evidence enough of their suffering when they are hooked
or netted. They struggle to escape and by so doing demonstrate they
have a will to survive.
It has been
shown that fish have a highly developed system that may protect
them from severe pain following some injury to their bodies such
as might be inflicted by a large predator. This system releases
natural opiate-like substances (encephalins and endorphins) once
an animal is injured. The presence of the pain-dampening opiate
system implies that there must be some capacity to experience pain;
otherwise there would be little point in animals having evolved
such a system in the first place.
There may still
be some who will argue that we cannot prove beyond question that
any vertebrate other than man feels pain. We however, conclude that
if any do, then the evidence suggests that all vertebrates through
the mediation of similar neuro-pharmacological processes, experience
similar sensations to a greater or lesser degree in response to
universality throughout vertebrates of the neuro-pharmacological
basis for the perception of painful (and pleasurable) stimuli does
not permit us to agree with those who would recognize a difference
in this function between warm-blooded and cold-blooded members.
A hook causes
tissue damage when it catches and thus in medical terms, inflicts
injury. The conditions of competitive fishing (specimen hunting)
frequently demand that fish be retained for a prolonged period (in
water) in a keep-net, and also examined, weighed and perhaps photographed
(in air) before ultimately being liberated. All such procedures
increase the likelihood of injury to the fish.
of fish, when it is removed from the water, are subjected in air
to pressures greatly reduced and differing in nature from those
in water. Consequently there are greatly altered changes in the
various peripheral systems affecting lymphatic and venous blood
pressure and respiration. Bleeding tends to occur from the gills
and instead of dispersing, the blood coagulates and reduces the
effective respiratory surface.
are the effects of desiccation and particularly of handling on the
skin and gills. The outer surface of the fish does not consist of
scales, as is commonly believed. Scales are located within the dermis
(middle layer of skin). Superficial to them is the epidermis with
its mucus layer. The epidermis is a very delicate transparent tissue,
which provides the water proofing i.e. an essential part of the
physiological control of fluid balance between the fish and the
environment. It is also the barrier between the fish and a wide
variety of disease producing micro-organisms found in water. Handling
of fish, in a landing net or by hand, to remove hooks, will almost
certainly involve damage to this delicate layer. Severe trauma is
caused by holding a fish tightly in a dry cloth, which will remove
the epidermis from considerable areas of the body.
When fish are
severely stressed and exercised to exhaustion, they make extensive
use of their 'white muscle system'. A completely exhausted fish
will be unable to move for several hours after capture. During this
time it will be at risk to attack by predators or injury from its
1. Fox, Michael D.V.M. PhD "Do Fish Have Feelings"
The Animal's Agenda, July/August, 1987, pp 24-29.
2. Lord Medway
et al, Report of the Panel of Enquiry Into Shooting and Angling."
Sponsored by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to