|Saturday, 3 January 2004|
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The rampaging "nut behind the wheel"
The slogan, "don't drink and drive", now somewhat jaded on account of being often quoted, nevertheless, offers Lankan motorists a sound bit of advice which, apparently, is observed more in the breach. As our front page news report revealed yesterday, New Year's eve in particular registered a phenomenal increase in road accidents caused by reckless driving, which in turn is attributable to drunken drivers. In other words, "the nut behind the wheel".
We are quite aware of the challenges in this context, faced by an already overburdened police, and would not like to be too critical of them for lax law enforcement; after all, it's practically impossible to prevent a "nut" from getting behind the wheel and driving with a dangerous nonchalance, which may bring death both to himself and others around him. However, the time seems to be right to impose prohibitive penalties on those who "drink and drive", and this need should be expeditiously met by the authorities. The higher the price to be paid for drunken driving, the less would be the temptation to break the law.
A related issue is, of course, the now unendurable traffic congestion which weighs oppressively on the common people who have no other mode of transport save that provided by the State and private bus sectors and the Railway. The hazards of travel faced by the common man in this situation of an excessive vehicle population, are compounded by ills such as indisciplined, reckless driving by errant motorists.
Ideally, ways and means should be found to contain within reasonable limits the country's vehicle population, while clamping down heavily on errant, reckless driving. To begin with, the Government needs to consider seriously, the option of issuing a moratorium on car imports, to enable the defusing of the current traffic crisis. In the alternative, a more spacious and efficiently motorable road and highway network needs to be installed. We do not believe unplanned and superfluous car imports are likely to do this country any good.
Another related issue is the seemingly unrestricted proliferation of liquor outlets and bars in the country. In our view, a clear causative link exists between these multiplying "watering holes" and the evils of the times, including violent crime and fatal, traffic accidents. We do not also see the need for inebriation and intoxication during the "season" but this is a complex issue which cannot be treated adequately in this context. Suffice it to mention that more liquor bars are tending to turn Sri Lanka into a liquor-imbibers paradise.
Social reform doesn't come the easy way. Some things, particularly those which are potential and real evils, may need to be uprooted from our midst, if we are to advance on the road to civilization. Moderation in everything is a pleasing option.
End all forms of slavery
The United Nations is marking 2004 as the 'International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition'. The UN has called for a universal recommitment to combat all contemporary forms of the scourge.
The UN's intention is to sound the alarm about all forms of contemporary racism, discrimination and intolerance, and to set the stage for a greater awareness of the need to respect human beings.
Slavery was widely practised throughout the world until the last century and many writers have chronicled the hardships endured by slaves. In Sri Lanka itself, the British brought Indians to work in the hill country tea estates. They remained stateless until Sri Lanka recently granted them citizenship, fully integrating them into the Lankan society and ending decades of injustice.
Even though slavery no longer exists in the strictest sense of the word, millions of men, women and children are still forced to work in very similar conditions. They are not paid properly; compelled to work at least 18 hours per day; given cruel punishments if they do not meet targets or make a mistake.
The UN and its agencies such as UNICEF have been focusing heavily on the issue of child labour, which is a worldwide phenomenon. Children as young as four are made to work under appalling conditions in a range of environments from households to quarries to factories. They are denied the basic right to education and often subject to physical and sexual abuse. The mental wounds inflicted on their growing psyche take a very long time to heal, if they heal at all.
Women who work as housemaids in a number of countries face a similar predicament. Sri Lanka, being a source of such migrant labour, has experienced the human suffering caused by brutal employers who are known to physically abuse their domestic workers. Hundreds of Lankan migrant workers have come back home in coffins. Some of the bodies were delivered without the vital organs. All these incidents must be investigated thoroughly.
The international community must take decisive steps to eliminate all overt and covert forms of forced labour and discrimination. The International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery has presented them with an ideal opportunity to move in that direction.
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