The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Angels and demons


A trishaw driver in my neighbourhood was all agog with the news. The Butcher, the Baker, and the Cake-maker (the BBC of our ‘aerial’, as they say) had given him the gen. And now he was filling me in. A girl, and two boys. But not the eternal love triangle you would expect of such a trio. Instead, a grim story of red-blooded crime.

And then cold dumping of the dead evidence in a convenient canal once the brief fire had been extinguished. The rape victim was a young girl of seven, returning home after religious observances. Her stalkers, subsequent rapists, and eventual assassins are 16 and 18. One of them is a relative of the deceased. Her cruel and ignominious death has set ablaze the slum and shanty surrounds of the scene of her demise. And inflamed the bleeding heart of a shocked nation.

Pause awhile, passer-by, and hear the anguished cries of the dear dead one’s grieving left-behinds. Listen as the village and its ever-willing sympathisers add their loud laments at the passing of a child, from her potentially golden destiny so untimely ripped. To lie on a grey morgue slab… and then repose for ever under green grass turning browner by the day. Hear the hushed tones of the friends and family as they ask, Why us? Why her? Why like this?

Ask those in the know a few questions. How can this happen in the heart of a busy suburban borough? Where were the child’s parents and protectors? When will it be safe for a young lass to walk the alleyways of this hamlet again? Whose sons are the boys? Which circumstances in their lives led them to act so rashly, roughly, and ruthlessly?

Where do they get their attitudes, ideas, and urges from? What kind of a new generation is the system breeding? Who is to be held accountable for such heinous crimes? Why is rape on the rise?

The bonfire of the vanities

In the national press, the news is reported cleanly, coldly, clinically. On the internet, where facts are less sacred and comment much freer, the armchair critics are going to town and the backroom executioners are having a field day.
“Hanging is not good enough for the likes of these!” “Law can’t do enough to punish such criminals!” “Bring the death penalty back!” “Torture them slowly and let them also feel the pain!” “No mercy for such monsters!” “Kill those two!” “Stone them in the street!” “Burn their houses down as a lesson!” “Burn them all!” Etc.(And these are the least egregious of inflammatory suggestions online.)

On the one hand are those whose sense of justice knows no clemency. They believe that men are hanged not for raping women, but so that women may not be raped. On the other there are those whose outraged sensibilities scurry hither-thither and pin the blame willy-nilly on any passing scandal.

The politicians are to blame, the parents are to blame, the police are to blame, the press are to blame. Even the good names of venerable monks of advanced vintage who venture to molest minors under their sanctimonious mantle are dragged in the mud!
No one escapes the dragnet of the universal informal moral law that comes to the fore in sickeningly vile times such as these. A public rapist bailed out for Rs. 7,500.

A miscreant schoolmaster who abused his pupils with near-impunity. A five-year national average of 1,275 rapes a year, 3,030 cases of child abuse, and 4,000 complaints of sexual harassment. The serial raping of a 13-year-old girl by a gang of politicos and businessmen. Quite a few who may well have protested at the proposed beheading of local maids in stringent regimes overseas have quietly changed their mind about capital punishment for rapists. There are not too many conscientious objectors when the body floats in your backwater.

They do it with mirrors

Today, the conscience of a nation should have been far more stricken by the death of the maiden in question. But our souls have grown weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable by past and present carnage. First there was a brutalising, long-drawn-out war. (We won the war on Mars in the marketplace, while Venus was an unseen victim in back alleys.) Then the institutionalisation of criminal culture in the guise of patrimonial politics protecting its own turf.

Now the impotence of civil society in the face of a rising tide of armed robbery, backyard bullying of citizens by law enforcement, cold calculating thuggery by drug lords and robber barons bowing the knee to unseen mafia bosses. Colombo is burning.
In medieval times, it was believed that the instruments which led humanity into mortal and venial sins alike were mundane, petty, and cosmetic.

They comprised the likes of art, books, bits and pieces of jewellery, even fine dresses and rare perfumes, and especially mirrors. The remedy against the sicknesses of the soul that such trinkets could ultimately cause was to gather the lot in a heap, like so much rubbish extracted from refined homes, and burn the trash in the common square. It was a bonfire of vanities.
While there is still talk of burning rapacious boys, bhikkus, and businessmen alive, better that we add these inanimate objects to the flame. The needles and syringes of youthful drug addicts, that violent video, those pornographic books and magazines and newspapers, a sexually warped teledrama or three.

We may keep on doing this until there are no more bodies floating in nearby canals. Fair Ophelia floats in filthy water while we wail in vain as long as we attack the effect and not the cause. For we do not struggle against flesh and blood.

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