The Sunday Leader’s cartoon of a grease yaka. Looks remarkably like Mervyn Silva
I’ve said that grease yakas aren’t real. They may, however, reflect a reality. There is common abuse of women and crime and people don’t trust the police or courts to sort it out. In that atmosphere I think people are taking advantage of the fear, and innocent people are getting caught in the crossfire.
Abuse Of Women
Grease yakas are accused of creeping into home and abusing women. It may not be happening in such a theatrical way, but this abuse is happening.
If you are a female you literally cannot walk down the street without getting catcalls and other casual signifiers of abuse and rape. Many if not most school girls are masturbated at near or outside their schools, starting from a very young age. Riding a bus is often riding a gauntlet between groping guys and passengers that blame the girl. These are just stories I’ve heard first hand. I don’t know what the exact situation is in villages, but I think abuse is also there.
The police don’t do shit about it or even consider abuse up to rape much of a crime. As a woman, your only real recourse is to have a male relation or friend ‘thrash the bugger’. Hence, women are insecure. People can jump into the house and, preying on this hysteria, it seems that people are.
This is a problem. It is real.
Crime And Punishment
There are also any number of crimes ranging from theft to vehicular homicide which happen with some frequency. Which gets us to the second part of the grease yaka phenomenon. People are taking justice (or vengeance) into their own hands because they don’t trust the police. Why? Because the police actually don’t do their job, and if they do, it’s not much different from what a mob would do.
If you report a theft to the police, they don’t really investigate it and, if they do, they end up beating up the accused. Now, many people have somewhat logically concluded that they can do this job themselves. In the same way, if a drunk or anyone runs someone over, they can often get away with it with a bit of blood money. Thus, in many neighborhoods they will immediately drag you out of the car and beat you senseless if you hit someone. Which is excessive, but it still responds to a need.
Justice is not being done, so what we get is street vengeance.
What The Grease Yaka Signifies
What the grease yaka signifies is the broader problems that the Sri Lankan justice system doesn’t address, and the mobs that form are people taking ‘justice’ into their own hands. This happens on a daily basis, but now it’s become an acute epidemic, centered around the grease yaka.
And, indeed, there may be these cases of criminality. Judging by reports, there is a core of truth to the grease yaka and a halo of copycat crimes. But this is not an isolated incident. People don’t trust the police, they don’t trust the legal system and they do have real problems with law and order. Thus the statistical becomes supernatural. There is a problem. It’s not exactly this problem, but what people are expressing reflects reality. There is crime, women are abused and they don’t trust the police. That much is true.
For further reading, this column in The Sunday Times is worth a, uh, read.
Ordinary people resort to self help measures when they see no other option open to them. Mob violence is certainly not justifiable nor should this be tolerated in a law abiding society. But it is time and more that the government addressed the exceedingly severe problem of public confidence in law enforcement by concrete measures rather than only by rhetoric. It is not the people alone who are to blame for the current rash of attacks on police stations. (Kishali Pino Jayawardene)