Time for frank discussion

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A decision of a lower Court to dismiss the impact of a massive smear campaign regarding the private life of an opposition MP in hearing evidence about a case of petty theft must be hailed, especially in an age when the Sri Lankan judiciary faces a serious crisis of independence and competence. Panadura Magistrate, Ruchira Weliwatta declared yesterday that his Court will not be guided on media reports pertaining to the private life of UNP MP Mangala Samaraweera when the case regarding a break in at his residence in Bolgoda was taken up yesterday. Aided and abetted by vested interests, the suspect who confessed to police of having stolen a laptop and several bottles of whiskey from the Opposition Parliamentarian’s residence, has assisted state media and other institutions to carry out a massive campaign against Samaraweera, in a thinly veiled bid to have him charged under Section 365A of the Penal Code, an archaic law that criminalises homosexuality. Magistrate Weliwatte told lawyers that his Court would only be guided by the Police B Report and the hearing would only be concerned with the theft originally reported to the police. Given the media glare the petty incident has elicited, it became obvious that powerful elements were carrying out a smear campaign against Samaraweera and using the incident to attempt to decapitate the vociferous Opposition MP politically. Speculation was rampant that the MP could be arrested under the relevant section of the Penal Code. The only bright side of this otherwise unpleasant drama is that it has at last paved the way for a discussion on whether Sri Lankan society needs to address certain laws that do not reflect the values or reality of the present age. These Victorian values and codes of morality, the residue of colonial reign that Sri Lanka eschews with regard to all other areas, lives on. Misguidedly, the laws are permitted to remain in the books, as being necessary to preserve culture and tradition. Alien as they may have been to Sri Lankans in the beginning, where civilisation had been nurtured by the liberal and inclusive philosophy of Buddhism for centuries these Victorian values have now been so internalised that many believe these to actually reflect the true culture of this country. Laws such as those enshrined in Section 365A of the Penal Code are in fact colonial leftovers that do not find resonance in a pluralistic democratic society. The time may have come therefore, for Sri Lankan society to have a frank and mature discussion about these archaic laws forced on this country by a colonial regime several hundred years ago. It may be a time for introspection and a return to the true ethos of our rich civilisation which valued diversity and inclusivity for all those who called this land home. Such soul searching should not occur because it may be the fashionable thing or in an attempt to mimic the West. It should come about because it would mean a journey of rediscovery into the actual heart of our own civilisation, one that is based on a doctrine and philosophy of tolerance, compassion, peace and inclusiveness.