The unfortunate chain of events that unfolded in Jaffna a few days ago could well be the first of that magnitude reported for quite some time. The mob was asking for the physical custody of several men who were accused of gang raping and killing a young girl while the men were being produced before a magistrate.
Perhaps they were in a hurry to give the accused the harshest punishment without waiting for the usually slow legal process. Whether it was some spontaneous reaction from the people or the work of some organized group needs to be established through an independent inquiry.
However, some who were bent on making easy political capital out of it were quick to say that these were the signs of terrorism raising its head again and this sort of things would not have happened if they were in power. It is rather unfortunate that such irresponsible statements are being made by our political leaders at a time national reconciliation is of paramount importance.
If there were no such incidents or protests in that part of the country in the recent past, it was not because people were very happy and they did not want to protest because they had a perfect administration there during that time. The simple reason was that the military was in tight control, there was no civil administration in the North and they did not have democratic space to engage in any kind of protest.
Protests are a normal thing in any democracy and you see many of them in Colombo almost every other week mostly in front of the Higher Education Ministry or the UGC. In a democracy what needs to be done is not to prevent protests, dissention or expression of different opinions, but accommodating them and taking notice of the causes behind such protests and taking remedial action.
However, this particular wave of incidents exceeded the limits of peaceful protest and developed to be mob violence destroying state property, obstructing police duty and attacking police personnel. Especially since these developments have taken place for the first time after ending terrorism there can be natural fears among the people as to whether there is any return of terrorism. That is why there is a need to have a thorough investigation into the matter to find out whether there was any political or other organized group behind it.
In the event there is no proof to say that there was such organized group behind it, naturally it follows that it was some spontaneous reaction from the people against dastardly and inhuman behavior by a group of men against a female member of the society. Then the question will arise why such behavior when there are law enforcement authorities to take appropriate action.
The possible answer is that during the many decades of terrorism there was no democracy in that part of the country. The LTTE which had practically absolute authority over the territory did not have a fair system of trial. They mostly resorted to summary trials or kangaroo courts and harshest punishments were meted out against whoever they thought had perpetrated a crime. What people in the North majority of whom may be below the age of forty would remember is that kind of summary justice and not fair trials for every criminal.
The reaction of the Jaffna youth to the rape and murder in question would have naturally come from what they had seen and experienced in the immediate past and their ignorance as to how police and law courts function in a democracy. It will naturally take a reasonable time for them to experience what democracy is all about and see the value of having a fair system of justice.