Among several issues raised by the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy in a newspaper article on July 15, 2007, was that of the tragic deaths of Tevita Malasebe, Nimilote Verebasaga and Sakiusa Rabaka. In that letter ECREA said, "We chose not to forget nor ignore the unresolved deaths of these men while in military and police custody. As many more have eloquently stated these men died while in the custody of those sworn to protect us; so here the nation watches helplessly as justice is ignored".
The most central event in Christianity is the event of a death and of a rising. This event is memorialised in the Eucharist, at the Lord's Supper where through the breaking of bread Jesus' presence in the community requires communal recognition of all that Jesus did for them. The remembrance of Jesus' life is also a remembrance of the way Jesus chose to bring about human liberation and salvation. The central function then of the Christian community is to preserve through living memory and experience the life of Jesus and the events that shaped the course of Jesus life; a life of unjust suffering, unmerited death and breaking through chaos and darkness to rise to new life.
The perpetrators, military and police, could very well see the deaths of Malasebe, Verebasaga and Rabaka as justice already served. The delay of bringing soldiers and policemen to justice reinforces this sense of things. Whatever crimes Malasebe, Verebasaga and Rabaka might have committed, big, small or insignificant, their deaths signified judgment made against the worth of their lives.
Sheltering soldiers and policemen from justice symbolically expresses perception of institutional worth over and against the lives of ordinary citizens of this country. If a life could be arbitrarily disposed of as being without worth then that would be one or three or more lives not worth remembering. Why memorialise the lives of worthless folks such as Malasebe, Verebasaga or Rabaka? Why should soldiers and policemen admit to killing worthless people? Jesus understands well the experience of being looked upon as worthless. He has intimate knowledge of deaths that are of no account to the powerful.
The deaths of Tevita Malasebe, Nimilote Verebasaga and Sakiusa Rabaka cannot and must not be forgotten. The longer the military and the police tactically delay bringing to justice those responsible for these deaths the more we see collusion and powerful protection of interests. The longer we wait for the doing of justice to the memory of Tevita, Nimilote and Sakiusa the more doubts we have about the 'clean-up' of elitism and cronyism. Cynicism of the vision of protecting the little people will grow as distrust of both military and police sink deeper and deeper into minds and hearts of the people.
There is another kind of justice that needs to be done, and that is justice to human feelings; the grief and sorrow, the fears and hurts and the 'unburied' loss of life which remain like open wounds to mothers, fathers, wives, sisters, brothers and children of the deceased. Justice, after all, is basically relating to one another in ways that cause no deliberate pain, sorrow, hurt or loss to the other. This is why justice cannot be viewed as 'faceless' because justice is a thing of relationships and in that context justice cannot be without the 'milk of human kindness'.
Malasebe, Verebasaga and Rabaka have gone but it is left to the widows, orphans and parents to await the doing of justice.
The waiting has been long and hard. The spiritual and psychological toll of waiting without knowing when the waiting might end must be devastating for wives, parents and children because only justice to the dead would set them free to move forward.
Theirs then is a double burden; the untimely death of loved ones and the endless 'dying' on their part. Instead of recalling their memories as the people would in a Christian community the memory of Tevita, Nimilote and Sakiusa haunts our collective psyche and gravely disturbs our rest because what lurks uncomfortably and fearfully behind every family is that the lot of Malasebe, Verebasaga and Rabaka could very well be the fate of other parents, wives and children.
When little bits of disconnected narratives about the deaths of the three men are put out to aid the molding of a 'true' picture in our minds, to assist us in the task of trying to interpret all the disparate contexts and experiences of their lives, (one, a lover of marijuana, another, un-neighbourly behaviour and the other, something vague), the narrative concerning the perpetrators is still out there.
It is protected narrative, still being 'cooked', still undergoing refinement. This is why the deaths of Malasebe, Verebasaga and Rabaka so disturb us. We simply do not know their story. And we certainly do not know the military and police stories either. The dead with their stories are lost; that of the living (families) muted. It is the worst fate ever visited on a family or a community because the story that is remembered is only that of suffering and death.
Spiritually and psychologically the living cannot fully celebrate their stories of loved ones because an indispensable part to their story is missing; justice. This is the story about how and why Malasebe, Verebasaga and Rabaka died and who prematurely ended their lives thus turning wives into widows, children into orphans and parents without children.
Until these narratives are told in public, truth and justice will forever elude the memory of the dead and lies and suppression of truth will continue to taint us all. The doing of justice is the only way that will restore human worth to all of us; the dead, the families of the deceased, the perpetrators, the military, the police and the people of Fiji.
The politics of policing grief, of constructing and reconstructing death narratives against the framework of 'national security' and the 'clean-up campaign', will result in clinically removing human feelings and hence humanity from our readings of reality.
Pitted against interests of national security, the bereaved will have little recourse for finding solace and solution to loss because the narrative of grief is most often the story of the weak and the powerless. It is interesting that in the Chinese tradition only deaths of upward relationships merit public recognition in community narratives and rituals as in the case of a son mourning a father. Deaths of downward relationships as in a parent mourning a child are not worth of public recognition. The most immediately affected persons in the deaths of Tevita, Nimilote and Sakiusa are the women and children. They can grieve but their societal status makes their grieving not noteworthy. For all practical purposes their dead and their sorrow are becoming the proverbial 'out of sight, out of mind'.
Should the deaths of Malasebe, Verebasaga and Rabaka and the grief of their parents, wives and children be relegated to the shadow land of amnesia? What happens if the families stop mourning and the village women stop wailing their laments, would their mourning and lamentations turn into a dark river of inner disbelief in our capacity to memorialise God's justice, which is resurrection after suffering and death? Chantelle Khan is the Director of the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education & Advocacy.