By Emil van der Poorten –
Shortly after I returned to Sri Lanka, in an effort to protect vulnerable crops from all kinds of vermin, I sought, with the assistance of a schoolmate of mine, a permit to purchase a single barrel shotgun (SBBL).
This was one of two requests I had of this old friend, a senior cabinet minister then (and now). The other was a request that “something” be done about the now-notorious and completely illegal garbage dump in our vicinity. Better than ten years have passed since the latter abomination was set up by a Pradeshiya Sabhawa (outside its own boundaries, no less!) and nothing has happened to alleviate a situation where the headwaters of the Deduru Oya are being contaminated by everything inclusive of hospital waste, two drinking water springs have been polluted beyond belief and the approach road has now reached the status of a stream whenever there is anything resembling a shower of rain!
However, in fairness to my friend the Minister, he warned me at the get-go that he was not going to be able to do anything about the garbage disposal cum neighbourhood devastation issue.
He did, however, assure me that given the fact that I had not recently waged war against anyone, least of all the Government of Sri Lanka, I would have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary clearance for the most basic of firearms.
Did I have a surprise coming!
I spent an inordinate amount of time and effort obtaining character certificates, spending time in the local police station, visiting a Senior Superintendent of Police in Kandy etc. etc. I also succeeded in meeting the Government Agent (I don’t now recall his current designation) in Kandy on more than one occasion and that was batting .500 in baseball parlance because I visited his office more than twice as often as he would deign to see me.
In any event, having been put through more hoops than any self-respecting circus performer would care to remember, crunch time arrived when I succeeded in “cornering” the head of Kandy’s Administrative Service, asking him why there was this inordinate delay in issuing me a permit for a weapon that not even a village idiot would employ in any effort to unseat the duly-elected government of Sri Lanka. At last a simple straightforward question got a simple straightforward answer. He could not, not “would not,” Issue me the required permit as a Senior Citizen I was prohibited from owning a firearm. I was told that this stipulation was not in the Firearms Ordinance or whatever the document that dealt with qualifications or disqualifications of those seeking to own a weapon for a legitimate purpose and that it was an insertion by the Defence Secretary himself.
Given my friend, the Minister’s, assurances, I challenged the G. A. and after a bit of a heated exchange where I quoted the Minister – his Minister at the time – he agreed to commit the ruling to paper. In all fairness to the man, he did and that was the end of my attempts to safeguard any crops we might try to grow on our land which I expect the government could now “acquire” because of its reduced productivity!
A little footnote to that chapter was the suggestion that, since I was “too old” to possess a Single Barrelled Breech-Loading shotgun, the problem could be solved by one of my progeny making application for the required permit. When I informed them that since both my progeny were gainfully employed in a country, literally, on the other side of the world from which I doubted they’d be prepared to pull up stakes in order to deal with marauding wild pigs, giant squirrels, porcupines and monkeys in Sri Lanka, the response was an “Ohhh……………!’
Anyway, all of the preceding is relevant background to what I am about to relate.
The man who acts in a supervisory capacity in our agricultural enterprises, phoned me one evening to inform me that his wife (a grandmother) had been hospitalized due to a knife attack by a neighbourhood thug. Even in a country where the rule of law is conspicuous by its absence, the circumstances of the attack on this woman were more than ordinary.
The victim’s granddaughter, a pre-teen, and her mother, while on the way from their home to the home of the little girl’s grandmother had been subjected to a sexual attack by an inebriated man. They had escaped by running as fast as they could and, when they got close to their destination, where there were a few other houses as well, the attacker had retreated. The grandmother had then accompanied the little girl’s mother on her return journey because the young woman was, understandably, very apprehensive about another attack. Lo and behold, the molester jumps out of the bushes and tries to attack the younger woman again. The grandmother tries to fend off the rapist with a stick she picks up from the side of the path. The flimsy stick breaks and the man proceeds to slash her with a knife he is known to always carry with him. Many of the cuts required several stitches at the district hospital where her husband took her on his motorbike when he returned home after work and found her bleeding at home.
When the police showed up to make an arrest, the slasher was gone and couldn’t be located at his place of residence – his mother’s home. Subsequently, after yet another abortive effort, I understand that a seven-man posse apprehended the man two days later.
The interesting part of this tale is that the man, nicknamed “Ahinsakaya” by someone in the community with a particularly warped sense of humour, was, not so long ago, spending time in an army camp and boasting that he had had weapons-training. His attempt at sexual assault is also not without precedent. He is a violent criminal and on several previous occasions has accosted schoolgirls returning home along a quite lonely road that serves us as well. On one of those occasions, he had held a knife to the throat of a little boy who was with the schoolgirls and threatened him with death if he was to corroborate any complaint that the girls might make to anyone.
Not on that or any of several similar occasions did these girls ever complain to the police. Their explanation to me was simple, “We are Tamils, sir.” I would leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about what that simple statement meant given the circumstances.
“Ahinsakaya” is not some rare “no-goodnik” who slipped into an army camp due to some sentry’s oversight. He is one of the three known thieves with a propensity for violence and alcohol abuse from this neighbourhood who were known to frequent army camps – at least one of whom was recruited into that force – with access to combat-weapons during the times they were away from their homes.
I expect defenders of the status quo in this country will find some twisted logic in the fact that a law-abiding citizen without anything resembling a criminal record is refused permission to own a single-barrelled shotgun for the protection of crops, by virtue of his age, while three individuals from the same neighbourhood with criminal records as long as the average citizen’s arm have access to combat weapons of a sophistication and destructive capability that most of us can only imagine. That logic not only escapes me but seems to escape every one of those sane adults with whom I’ve discussed this episode.
Welcome to bucolic rural Sri Lanka!