Justice vs. Forgiveness?
I was thinking about the case of Shramantha Jayamaha who was given a presidential pardon after being imprisoned for murdering Yvonne Jonsson. Why does this case hit hard? There are plenty of murderers in this country running scott free. Half are sitting in Parliament. But no, this was different.
Shramantha was 19, he was an adult but still a teen. He also belonged to a family that those in Colombo know. Yvonne, her sister Caroline and Shramantha are people we would have bumped into at clubs, friends’ parties, wherever. Yvonne could have been any one of us. So could Shramantha. They both came from known holes.
If a fisherman in the south murdered someone brutally and was given a presidential pardon, this would not have bothered us so much. We would assume it’s another ‘barbaric’ act from a barbaric Sri Lankan. We just don’t like to imagine that the barbaric Sri Lankans move with us and around us. That hits home. And that is why so many were angry that Shramantha was given a presidential pardon for a heinous crime on one of us. He should be left to rot and suffer the consequences of his unbridled rage.
In the midst of this turmoil, there is the question that one needs to keep asking – how did a boy from a so called ‘decent’ family end up behaving like this? You don’t wake up one morning and become a murderer. These things build over time. Yes a broken home is not easy but there are plenty from broken homes who aren’t murdering people. So if he murdered at 19, it’s safe to assume that the build up started when he was a child. When I watched the movie, Joker, I couldn’t help but draw parallels. Shramantha’s mother was accused of burning his bloody clothes which technically would have made her an accessory to murder. She has been a constant campaigner for his release. Is it because she could not accept that she was the mother of a murderer? And his childhood – riddled with God knows what traumas – would have aided in him becoming a man with uncontrollable impulses? What of his father? Did he feel guilt for what his son turned out to be? Whether we like to accept it or not, childhood neglect and trauma are primary reasons for people turning to violence and abuse. And neglect and trauma are not just physical. These are psychological facts. So the law of the land never addresses the root cause of this murder, in a sense. How two people brought up a son who at 19 committed murder. What made him into the monster he became that night? I doubt even he is aware. Sitting in prison without any psychological therapy or counselling won’t make you realise where that turmoil stemmed from. A PhD is certainly not going to address this either. And the unwitting victim in all this was Yvonne and her family.
And as long as we continue to allow these things to pass by, without addressing the issues faced by children today, we will inadvertently breed more Shramanthas. And as long as we allow money to pardon the crimes punished by law, we will be releasing more Shramanthas into society that will eventually pay the price.
In the midst of all this, one cannot help but wonder at misguided Christians and their notion of forgiveness. Forgiveness from God does not mean you are above the law. There can be peace only in a just society. And justice prevails when the rule of law is upheld. The law punishes wrong doers (justly) and thereby ensures the balance of the scales. Honestly, people need to stop taking religions out of context and applying it to all they see fit. You can have God’s forgiveness with genuine repentance and remorse. Your soul is forgiven. Not your legal sentence. Also then if you forgive one, you must forgive all. Prabhakaran, Hitler, Zahran, Duminda, I hope you are ready to forgive all of them. Because your forgiveness cannot be selective. That makes you a hypocrite. Christians have also forgotten that the world is not full of Christian believers. There are those of other faiths – some older than yours. Learn to respect those faiths and not assume everyone has to think the way you do. I remember seeing someone justifying Shramantha’s release saying, “He said sorry!”. Erm, so if one of us decides to be trigger happy and kill someone we say sorry and then voila, we get released is it? That is not how it works and rightfully so. I remember my father giving me dire warnings when this murder was first revealed because Yvonne’s coffin was sealed because her face was so badly bashed. That is not the work of just some ordinary murderer.
Whatever any of us may think, this pardon has set a precedence and reinforced the age old notion that money talks and that privilege and class are very much alive and kicking in our little island. Don’t forget that Shramantha will be just one of many to come. Whatever his story of a 3 year process, how are mothers and fathers of children still languishing in prison? Sole bread winners whose families are suffering without them? What of children imprisoned for genuine accidental crimes?
The world is an unfair place where justice rarely prevails. In the case of Shramantha, his sentence was justice in action. His family’s attempts to release him through monetary means has been a slap in the face to those of us who have some hope that justice will prevail. And no, Christian justification does not hold water here, just because the person concerned is known to you.