By Basil Fernando –
An incident reported from Waligama, Matara demonstrates the kind of very saddening situations which has been experienced by people in terms of the spread of Covid-19.
A young girl in a family was detected of having been infected with the virus and was taken to hospital for treatment. The rest of the family was asked to quarantine themselves by staying in their own house.
They stayed for three to four days using all that they had in terms of food and other necessities and finally that came to an end and they needed some supplies. As there was the fear of Covid-19, nobody came to their help. Even nobody came from the health department or any other government service to inquire about them or to help them in anyway.
Finally the father, (49 years old man) decided to come to the town and to get some food and other items. The lockout has been imposed in the area but he had no alternative but to go and try to get some basic items. As he was walking, he came across two policemen who were on their motorbike. Some questions were asked probably about why he was breaking the rules and walking on the street. The man would have tried to explain but it turned out into an exchange of words between the two policemen and the man.
Near the two policeman was a person who is working for the police as a cook and a cleaner and doing odd jobs like that. The two policemen asked their helper to assault this man who was having an argument with them. At first, the helper hit the man not so hard twice. The two policemen insisted for him to hit hard. He did so and the man fell on the street. The two policeman who were watching thereafter went away in their motorcycles. All these has been caught in CCTV cameras.
As he was fallen, a bus was passing and it went over the man and the man died as a result.
Then the question came about the fact that there is a Covid patient in the family and there was the refusal to hand over the body to the family on that account. Family has to even to seek the help of the courts to get a order that the body should not be burnt and that it should be allowed to be buried after a postmortem. The postmortem was held and naturally because of the Covid situation, no family member was allowed in the vicinity.
Now it is said that even the man also had Covid and only very few close relatives are allowed even to attend the funeral.
This story is not told with the view to place blame on anyone. But to illustrate the tragic situations people can face under the present circumstances in Sri Lanka. Probably, the two policemen were also on the street not very willingly. Almost everybody is taking precautions by staying at home and protecting themselves, which is what they should do. However, the police officers are asked to work even without leave and they are supposed to be running around all over the place attending to so many things and trying to deal with all kinds of complications arising out of the Covid situation.
Perhaps, if the policemen were aware of the pathetic situation under which this man has come from home and was trying to get some food, they may not have dealt with him in the way they in fact did. This is not said in any way by way of excuse about the behavior of the police but may be to indicate the kinds of problems that many people who had to do various duties relating to the Covid-19 were faced with. While that is there on one hand, there is also the problems of people who runs out of food and other basic items and who definitely need help.
Managing a situation of epidemic or which is widely spreading is of course no easy task. However, it is the duty of the government and the various layers of people who are attending to and coordinating the work of the government under these circumstances to develop various means by which the extreme situations could be avoided. There are many countries which has managed to do this and whereby extremely tragic incidents like this have been avoided.
This surely is not the only incident of this type that may be happening. However, this should give some food for thought to everybody to ensure that state of concern and care prevail to protect and to help people who are living through extremely abnormal conditions.
Now let us look at the different characters involved…
What could the two policemen say as arguments to defend what they did and what they did not do? Why did they not have a short moment to talk to this man who would have told them a story that would have moved them and that would have made them want even to do some act in order to assist him? Why were they not able to understand something as simple as the situation of a man who was going in search of food for himself and his family?
What would they say in defense of asking a helper in their police station to assault this man? If the man had done something really wrong, and if they reacted in anger, that is one thing. But to get someone else who was there and order him to assault is completely another. It is even worse when the helper did not want to hurt the man too much, the police insisting that to hit this man harder.
Perhaps the police did not want to hit him themselves because there were cctv cameras around and they would have known it. If that is the case, it does not make things better but much worse.
Why didn’t the helper refuse to do or evade doing what he was asked to do? He could not have helped noticing that the man was in a helpless condition and yet that did not make any difference to him.
Once the man was fallen on the road, why did the two policemen leave the place without in any way trying even at least to get him out of the main road where he was likely to face an accident?
Why did the driver of the vehicle run over on the body of this man? He was already fallen on the road and any vehicle coming that way would have seen that. He could have stopped the vehicle or tried in other ways to avoid the accident. Instead, the driver ran over the body.
Even after that, there was no attempt to stop and help the man or take him to a hospital. This driver has not being arrested even as of yet.
There would also have been at least some passers by. What were their reactions?
A man was left to die.
Since after the death, there was no attempt at all to help the family to deal with the dead man in a decent way. When the family somehow got to know and arrived, they found that there were plans to burn the body. They had to seek the help of a lawyer to get the order from a court, disallowing the cremation of the body and also to have a postmortem.
Even through all these orders, even after the death, there was no attempt by any of the authorities to be helpful to the family who has suffered the tragedy.
Are these all some kinds of accidents or is there something much more deeper going on? Does the matter of a family going hungry is no longer a matter of any significance? A matter of getting someone by the police assault another, is that also something that no longer matters? Is the running of a vehicle over the body of a man and causing his death, is that also another occurrence like many others that are taking place on the roads? Same type of questions could be asked about what happened after the death.
The more important issue is not that. What is most significant is as to whether asking these questions any longer any relevance. Are these questions belonging to a different time and bygone period? Asking questions about tragedies seems a futile exercise in itself.
This is not just about one thing. But this seems to be the overriding situation about everything. A government writes a bill as they did in the case of the Colombo Port City Commission bill. It is taken to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court finds that it is substantially against the constitution. Just within two days some amendments are automatically included and the bill is passed. Is there any point in asking whether that is the way the laws should be passed? Is that the way to deal with the problem relating to laws that contravene with the constitution? Is that the way to conduct a debate in the parliament ? The answer would be what is the point in asking any of these questions.
We have reached a stage at which no arguments are needed to justify or to contradict anything. Power is exercised because exercise of power itself is the justification for the use of the power. No other justifications are necessary.
We no longer live in a situation where laws are violated but we are in a situation where the word ‘violations’ themselves does not have any significance. In fact the word ‘law’ itself has no significance.
Although this particular incident and other incidents that are happening everyday demonstrates this fact, no one any longer takes notice of it. Absence of law and a sense of law enforcement is a matter of no significance. Filing of charges on serious crimes is also not a matter of much significance. All this could happen and not happen, by an act of power. Not by an act of logic or an act of law.
The parliament itself seems to be a place where arguments no longer matter. Shouting at each other is the game. And the game is shown in the television. If it was done by way of a drama, people would consider it as a comedy. That a scene in the parliament and a scene in a comedy is not very different seems also to be a matter of no significance.
It is not possible to suggest a solution to the problem faced by this man who went out in order to by some food for his hungry family. Whatever may be done at the moment if there is some pressure would at the end nullified by a total indifference to all these things.