Hope, because we are not alone

Nobody would argue that these are dark days indeed. In all things that we do, there is fear and uncertainty - about our existence, our future and the fate of this once paradisiacal island we call home. As a people, we are waging war on more fronts than one. Our security is in jeopardy, we cannot make ends meet, there are political wars erupting every day, social fissures that seem irreparable right now. In the north and east, our people have been rendered helpless - caught between the jaws of a brutal Tiger and a government that from time to time, refuses to accept them as their own. The south last week saw a further political division, the future consequences of which seem unclear and remain to be seen. No doubt this too, will have a negative impact on Sri Lanka which is sliding far too fast into a state from which recovery will be almost impossible. Two things are all pervasive in every corner of this besieged land - instability and hopelessness.
But history is replete with examples of how true heroes are born in times of terrible adversity. In fact, some would argue that it would take significant adversity to fashion a hero, for when times are good, saviours become redundant. When all else seems to be failing, Sri Lanka too has seen heroism, or at the very least some recourse from what once seemed like a most unlikely corner - the judiciary. Sri Lanka’s judiciary has been plagued by its own set of problems and has faced its share of criticism and on some occasions, blatant condemnation. Politics, which has pervaded every one of our spheres of governance, has not been absent on Hulfstdorp Hill. And yet, it would seem that in a moment of our history when her people have needed her most, the judicial arm of government has kicked in, igniting hope for the weakest of victims, that somewhere down the road, justice just might be served.
In the last few months, we have seen a Supreme Court and lower courts that have not been afraid to overturn the dictates of the seemingly all-powerful. In the Parameshwari hearing, the Dushyantha Basnayake hearing, the Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi hearing and the Tiran Alles case, the courts have provided redress where it has appeared that the law enforcement arm, guided by the establishment, were prepared to go to any lengths to exact political revenge. The defining moment came however, when a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, issued a stay order on an unprecedented move by the police to evict north-east Tamils from lodges in Colombo and ordered the government to offer them transport back to the capital from the ‘transit’ points they had been involuntarily bussed to the previous day. It brought tears to the eyes of the righteous citizen, to learn of such a judgement - one that forced an all-powerful administration to meekly bring over 100 lodgers back to Colombo and deposit them there. By their judgement, the courts accepted as people of this country and citizenry that a government had decided to disown 24 hours earlier, proving to those 300 helpless people that there was at least one arm of the state that would ensure justice were served.
There is no doubt about it. The judiciary has for the first time in recent history, stood firm and fair-minded on certain decisions that might in many cases be called ‘anti-government.’ It has chosen to exercise the power vested in them by this country’s people, without prejudice and fear of reprisal. In a country such as ours, no one, not even the judiciary is exempt from the threats associated with dissension, but the courts of Sri Lanka have chosen not to take the path of least resistance and to uphold the principles of rule of law, due process and equality before the law to the satisfaction of the people, if not the incumbent administration. It has chosen, perhaps to its own peril, to admonish even the government in power and its agencies for injustices committed against its people. And in doing so, it has become not only the people’s last recourse when all else was failing, but also their saviour.
When Montesquieu conceptualised the Separation of Powers that divided the state into the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, he anticipated that each arm would keep a check on the other. It was aimed at ensuring that the people were never left without voice, without recourse and without power. Sri Lankan leaders in the recent past have often abused the power vested in them by the people. They have chosen to use that power towards fattening themselves rather than serving the needs of the people they represent. Indeed, lately, the executive has failed the people and the legislature has been rendered powerless. There was never indication before this that the judiciary of this country would prove that Montesquieu ‘s theory was not hopeless in the Sri Lankan context. For the revelation and the commitment to justice, we the people applaud the court system. We thank them for the hope of a brighter dawn, despite the overwhelming darkness and for being courageous on our behalf when we have been bound and gagged. As long as we are thus represented, we can continue to believe that we are indeed, as citizens of a democracy, the rulers and the ruled; the beginning and the end.
In fact, it is in these terrible times that we have learnt a vital lesson in the pivotal role of the judiciary in a democracy - especially a democracy that is hanging by the hinges. Theirs is the power to overturn and theirs alone, the power to dictate terms to an administration that will pay heed to no other. If the Sri Lankan court system continues to stand strong in this period of adversity, the people shall derive great comfort from that. The courts have refused to abandon us; they have shown that even though things may seem irrevocably bleak, at least we are not alone.