24 June, 2024


A Climate Of Fear Verging On Hysteria

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

A short while ago, I documented the attack launched by lorry-loads of goons accompanied by two members of the local police, on Vesak Day no less, on residents of my neighbourhood.

The second chapter of that little saga was when six of those Tamils resident on the informal colony adjacent to the land on which I reside were sentenced to pay fines of, I understand, three thousand rupees each for being inebriated (in their own homes on land they have occupied for a significant amount of time).  While there seemed little doubt that these men were inebriated at the time and place concerned there appeared to be some significance to the fact that not one member of the three lorry-loads of marauders, allegedly from the North Western Province bailiwick of a Cabinet Minister with a known propensity for violence, were charged with any offence whatsoever!  I am sure that the fact that the former were Tamils and the latter Sinhalese had nothing to do with this turn of events!

You’d have thought that, unjust and unfair as all this was, that would be that.

However, the fall-out from lunacy that is perpetrated in this manner can go in directions that cannot be anticipated by those generating it.

In my continuing (and unsuccessful!) attempts to regulate an expanding waistline, I embarked on my usual “constitutional” fairly late one recent evening.  A short distance down the rough and lonely track that passes for a “motorable road,” I met a group of about a dozen youth accompanied by an adult, none of whom were familiar to me.   I asked, in the manner that is the practice in these parts, where they were bound and received the response that they were “going for a walk.”   Our access road is not exactly a hiking trail and the imminent stormy weather wasn’t exactly conducive to an evening’s stroll without benefit of raincoat or umbrella.  However, given the fact that none of the group fitted the traditional appearance of village “chandiyas” and appeared completely sober and unarmed I was reassured and continued on my way with my “guard dog,” all 10- kilograms of her, engaged in her usual barking at and chasing after assorted monkeys and giant squirrels.

The next person I encountered was one of our Tamil neighbours, much the worse for wear in the matter of having celebrated well but not too wisely.  However, he was coherent enough to exchange the usual pleasantries and he continued up the hill while I kept going down.

Soon after I’d begun to retrace my steps from the point at which I usually do, I was overtaken by another young man who greeted me (in English which was obviously not the language in which he usually communicated) and who, briskly, proceeded on his way to join his friends.

Thanks to the miracle of the mobile phone,  I phoned home to acquaint my “other half” of the volatility of what might develop given the fact that an inebriated Tamil could well encounter a group of Sinhalese youth after, only a short time before, being subjected to significant violence dished out by people of the same ethnic and age profile.

I suggested that the gate at the entrance to our home be closed and we both kept our fingers crossed, literally and metaphorically!

A couple of hundred metres up the road, I see a young Tamil woman proceeding in the opposite direction.  Again, I know who she is and the fact that she is as “ashen-faced” as her very dark complexion would permit is cause for concern.  I ask her whether she’d met the group of young men and she answers in the affirmative, saying that they were on the side of the road, a few bends farther on.  Reluctant to extend the conversation, she continues on her way in the manner traditionally reserved for the metaphorical “scalded cat!”

I keep walking and meet up with the group again, all stationary, on the verge of our “jeep track.”  I again ask them from where they were and get what seems like a very evasive reply.

I keep going and, with the rain beginning to come down, cover the 150 metres to my home as quickly as I can.

There I discover that my (inebriated) Tamil friend had already phoned my home suggesting that given the presence of a gang of young strangers on our road, I could be at significant risk!  And the employees still on the premises appeared to have been on the verge of launching a “rescue” operation on my behalf, the outcome of which I can’t but shudder to contemplate!

Subsequent investigations, via the usual (local) sources revealed that the group was a completely harmless bunch of young men from a neighbouring heavy-equipment training centre accompanied by their instructor and inquisitive about our sign-posted paying guest operation.  They had, obviously, lost their nerve when asked what brought them to our neighbourhood in rather unusual circumstances.

However, what is most disturbing is the potential volatility of absolutely harmless behavior thanks to the climate of fear and mistrust in what’s left of the Rule of Law in our area.  And mind you, that lack of trust in what exists in the way of law and order is despite an officer-in-charge of the local police that I’ve previously described as trying to practice the closest thing to “community policing” that I’ve seen in this country.  It was only thanks to cooler heads prevailing, that a totally unnecessary and potentially violent confrontation was avoided that evening.  However, in the absence of the rule of law, particularly in rural Sri Lanka, the climate of fear and uncertainty, particularly for “identifiable minorities” will continue with the attendant risk of very serious consequences.

The picture that accompanies this bit of writing depicts one immediate outcome of the state of affairs that prevails in our neighbourhood:  two of my Tamil neighbours parking their little truck and a three-wheeler in my front compound in the belief that they would be safer from attack there.

Welcome to the Debacle of Asia!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    Dear Emil van der Poorten,

    Now I understand a statement recently made by the BSS about protecting their villages from strangers from intruding minority communities. A pattern of hounding the minorities and ethic cleansing is emerging.

    From your name and your views, I realize that you have a compassionate outlook towards your fellow citizens.


  • 0

    Reminds me of the stories of the American deep south in the last century. There is definitely some type of racist fear here and the issue needs to be addressed. But then are we not all, whatever our race, living in fear of the nearest petty politician, buddhist priest, grama sevaka, and policeman? Add to that the local magistrate and judge. A fearful land like no other.

  • 0

    Dear Emil Sir;

    I canot beleave you,

    because, rsently I read in a news paper,

    “Sri lanka is one of the Safest place to live in this world”.

    How I belive him , If you say like this?.

  • 0

    Dear Emil, your latest missive from that sylvan glade in the sacred hills of our beautiful island sounds more paranoia than hysteria. From where I am perched there is indeed much paranoia in the land and everywhere there is foreboding as the vultures of opportunism (the military, someone ‘official’ with connections, your neighbours)circle those with something covetable; your land, your business, your women…..

    Impunity reigns in the towns and villages of our miracle of Asia wannabe. I suspect Emil that your beating heart would not have been still in spacious Alberta; perhaps it was those lines by Scott…
    Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
    Who never to himself hath said,
    This is my own, my native land!
    Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
    As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
    From wandering on a foreign strand!

    They say that the darkest hour is before the dawn but I fear that there will be many a false dawn before the deserving citizens of our warm and pleasant land are rewarded with happiness and peace of mind.
    Meanwhile, Thank You for weekly efforts and I look forward to your further writings.

    • 0

      Spring Koha:
      Thank you for that interesting intervention.
      Yes, like the man said, “It is hard not to be paranoid when someone is pointing a gun at your back!”
      Our rural residents, in particular, who seem to be really getting the brunt of the collapse of anything resembling law and order, certainly must be forgiven for what seems to be philosophical resignation to a life of fear, interrupted by crises of one kind or another from time to time.
      After several years back from a bastion of right-wing fundamentalism, what is most apparent to me is that Sri Lankans who were among the most politically feisty people in the world, seem to have resigned themselves to a return to a time when “might was (truly) right.”
      I can only hope I am wrong!

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.