7:00 pm, 3 June 2018, Jaffna
I am at home quite flustered. About 45 minutes ago, there was a huge bang on our metallic fence and the sound of a disturbance. I went out to see what was going on.
Pipes are being laid down our road, Chemmany Road. There are mixed feelings in the community as the pipes need to go through our compounds. Engineer Barathithasan of the Water Board spoke to me and I persuaded some doubtful neighbours that it was for the good of us all. Apparently, because MP Sritharan of Kilinochchi does not want water there to be diverted to Jaffna, we will get expensive desalinated water from Thavadi. We were assured that the ADB would bear the cost for 7 years and even after that we would be charged the same per unit rate as everyone else in Sri Lanka. We agreed to the pipe-laying through our yards.
The work was begun. The pipelines came closer and tonight it was to pass through our compound. Then the bang.
Two JCB machines capable of a multiplicity of tasks like digging and carrying were at work. The entire crew was Sinhalese speaking and though courteous, could not communicate with us over things like whether we needed to take our van out as they planned to dig in front of our gate tonight.
It was a recipe for disaster. A tractor passing by was blocked by the JCB as it backed out to unload something. In the mind of the young men on the tractor, the JCB took too long to clear their way and it was Sinhalese thuggery. They returned within 5 minutes with a gang of ten or more men armed with poles – probably the people seen drinking at Kittu Park beginning early evening every day from the Jamunari area. Two female witnesses say they saw swords being carried by the men at the back.
A fight ensued. The tractor number plate was wrapped in cloth. They were totally drunk or under the influence of some drug. All were under 30, perhaps well under thirty. They smashed up the glass panes of both JCBs. The other was reversing on Chemmany Road towards Chemmany trying to hit the gang with the digging part that was swinging up and down as the machine reversed. The Sinhalese crew was sheltering behind this JCB as rocks were thrown at it and blows dealt to it with poles.
Our Vicar, The Rev. Fr. Steven Jebachelvan and Wardens were at a meeting. They came out. Father had already called the police. Suhanthan a former warden had his phone in his hand. I also had come out with mine. Thy swung a thick poleat Father, missed and then whacked Suhanthan on his arm. My wife was in a panic and pulled at me to get back inside, thereby spoiling my photos.
The rowdies went away and I too called the police. Line 119 was busy. On previous occasions, I had called them over regular accidents at our bend without result. I called again. The man was not sure if I was in the Jaffna Police area. He had not heard of Chemmany Road. I have previously complained about this to the SSP. As I told the SSP, there was a seemingly dead or drunk man on the middle of Kachcheri Nallur Road late at night one day. I kept calling 119 for a good ten minutes without being answered. I drove away fearing it might be a trick to rob me. . Nothing had changed. When I finally got through, I emphasized the importance of their coming quickly. They hung up on me.
Project Site Safety Officer Warakaula came by on his motorbike and called the police. He spoke in Sinhalese and got a good reception. It was a shock to hear the policeman at the other end telling him that they should have smashed them up since Warakaula had enough men. Warakaula, a decent chap, replied that it would create a communal issue but the policeman kept advising him on the wisdom of smashing up those who dared attack them. Father Jebachelvam also overheard this conversation with great clarity, his Sinhalese being good.
This really is the problem. The government is clumsy. It tries to give us water and then spoils it all by sending decent Sinhalese workers who cannot communicate with us. It passes rules on Tamil as the official language here, but the police cannot communicate with those whom they are here to protect. It makes an alliance with the TNA and then humiliates Mr. Sampanthan when it fails to deliver the promises made to him. I fear that just as Mr. A. Amirthalingam took risks based on promises by J.R. Jayawardene who cheated him and thereby undid Mr. Amirthalingam’s standing among Tamils who failed to understand, Mr. Sampanthan too is facing the same serious risk of being taken for a ride for nothing and losing his standing.
I hunted out a Tamil policeman and told him what I overheard. He was embarrassed and wanted to hear no more. “Go to the police station and make a complaint,” he said. “But I have already told you,” I told him. I suspect that if he had communicated that which I had asked him to report about Warakaula’s conversation, he would have been in trouble. “I am from another station,” he told me rather weakly and moved away.
Suhanthan and a Water Board worker were taken to hospital. Suhanthan has been discharged but the worker is warded.
Now, 8:30 pm, the intelligence services are here. They have spoken to Fr. Jebachelvan. He is highly worried. Will the police trouble the entire neighbourhood tomorrow? Will the gang come back to attack us for speaking to the police? “Stay indoors,” he advised me.
People like Father Jebachelvan, my wife and our domestic aid are in a panic. Do we need this kind of police? I suggest that the government make the police all Tamil in the North-East, armed with nothing more than batons. The excuse that Tamils do not apply to join the police is just that, an excuse. When Tamil recruitment is mainly of constables, such recruits will be like the constable who was embarrassed to hear my complaint about what the 119 operator advised Mr. Warakaula – a mere showcase puppet.
Recruit Tamils to the upper echelons of the police. If you think they will work for separation – a canard on Tamils – use the Army to keep us in check, but confine the army to barracks with minimum presence outside – occupying no more land than is needed.
In the meantime, I need to face tomorrow with the land in front of our gates being burrowed for the pipes instead of having finished the job tonight as planned.