24 February, 2020

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Emasculating Dissent In 21st Century Sri Lanka

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

As someone once said “It’s hard not to be paranoid when the b….s keep harassing you!”

Messages to “cease and desist” from criticizing our non pareil government which epitomizes peace and goodwill to all mankind (and some on the distaff side, too) have come and continue to do so from every direction, most, but not all , relatively innocuous, well-meaning and non –threatening.

However, recently, on the night before I was due to make a pilgrimage to the Sri Lanka Press Institute/The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka “Do” on the last night of July to accept an “also-ran” award, I was subject to yet another “coincidental” event.

We have, at the top of the hill on which my family has lived for a three generations, installed a gate to prevent unnecessarily easy entry into our premises.  This is something of very recent origin and owes its existence to the increasing incidents of what can only be described as banditry in the area, much of it driven by economic necessity rather than simple opportunity.

Since the “locals” are well aware of the fact that we do not have hoarded foreign currency, four million rupee watches and similar baubles on our premises, the installation of something as sophisticated  as a burglar alarm could be considered gross overkill.  That said, when one is aware that there are, in the vicinity, those who were, for reasons best known to the “authorities,” welcomed into the army, and given weapons training despite their criminal records, one would be verging on the ultra-stupid not to take minimal precautions at least, particularly when, thanks entirely, I am informed, to a Defence Secretary-order, no one over retirement age is permitted to own so much as a single-barreled shotgun for personal security!  Of course some of our local deserter “war veterans” with criminal records are suspected to have decamped with such as Uzis, T56s etc.

Anyway, when we were in the process of leaving our premises for Colombo before daybreak on July 31st, we were greeted by the sight, just outside our gate, of a completely vandalized direction sign and most of the flowering shrubs surrounding it uprooted and scattered around.  Since we did not have the luxury of the half day that it would take to register a complaint at the local “cop shop,” we requested one of our employees to make the required “entry” and proceeded to the capital city. When I called the Officer-in-Charge of the police station later that morning, he told me that he and pretty well all his officers were in Kandy on Perahera duty.  So that took care of any prospect of an inquiry into the matter before the trail ran cold.  However, our employee not only lodged an “entry” at the police station but also did some investigating of his own and uncovered the identity of the culprits, passing the information on to the police.

The scenario appears to have been as follows.

There was, in a nearby informal “colony,” a conflict typical of these unplanned and socially-chaotic entities.  All the protagonists were Tamils.  An individual from one group, not usually resident there, a three-wheeler driver, had recruited several friends from the town in which he operates, some miles away, and decided to deal with his family’s enemies.  They walk up the road late at night, having brought along an appropriate quantity of spirituous liquids and some “bath packets.”    Having consumed the dry and wet refreshment, they decide that they should leave evidence of their being there by smashing the bottles and leaving shards of glass for the feet of any unwary pedestrian traversing a right-of-way that is now little better than a glorified game path.  Up they come and on they go to the “colony” where, for whatever miraculous reason, a violent brawl is averted despite loud abuse which we hear from our home.

However, the damage to our signage and the destruction of the flower plants around it that we see the next morning is not the usual kind of vandalism.  It had to be done deliberately and took some effort to uproot a sign, the post holding which was secured in concrete.  It took additional effort to uproot a bunch of flower plants and shrubs and strew them all around.  All, in the dead of night.

Also, apart from one individual who was familiar with this part of the world, all the others were from the town several miles away.  What had added significance was the fact that they, unlike suspect No. I, were not Tamils.  They were Muslims and, perhaps even more significant, were reputed to be part of the “strong-men brigade” of a Muslim member of the local Pradeshiya Sabhawa who, in turn, was reputed to be the protégé of a senior Muslim politician with reputed to be connected to the upper levels of the national drug trade!

Most significantly, not one of the miscreants had anything resembling a grudge against or conflict with us.

If Alice was not in Wonderland but here in Galagedera, she’d be exclaiming that the narrative was getting “curiouser and curiouser!”

The mess around the scene of vandalism was tidied up, leaving the primary damage “as was” for the police investigation which occurred four days after the incident.  I was subsequently told that the miscreants were summoned to the police station and warned not to repeat their behavior.  The cost of repairs to sign board etc. becomes my responsibility as a result of this resolution of the problem.  I must say, though, that, given the circumstances, the local constabulary has done as well as can be expected.  This is because we have been fortunate in having an O.I.C. who has consistently displayed a grasp of community policing concepts which I have some familiarity with by virtue of working, not so long ago, with a police service that had an excellent international reputation for that particular mode of policing.

Another matter relevant to this incident appears to be the fact that some local politicians have made it their business to prevent repairs to a road serving yours truly (among a host of other residents), ensuring that it will soon become impassable to vehicular traffic, something of major economic significant to our  “paying guest” operation.  The politician whose goons were 4/5 of the brigade of vandals “happens” to be one of the bunch with control over this state of affairs.  His connection to the afore-mentioned “senior politician” with a less-than-orthodox source of income is also fascinating in the circumstances!

When one is trying to run a very small-scale paying-guest operation catering primarily to foreigners, access and signage (not to mention, personal security of one’s guests) is of critical importance.  Exercising the minimum in the matter of freedom of expression at the same time seems to bring with it the obvious challenge of staying solvent and, more important, staying out of a premature grave!

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    An awsome example of law enforcement – ‘the miscreants were warned not to repeat their behaviour’!
    They should have been at least made to sign a ‘confession’ of their ‘misbehaviour’ on the police information book and warned not to repeat,also noted and signed by them – with full names and addresses.
    Else, they are going to this again.

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    DAS:
    I suspect that you live, as I once did, in a country where the basic elements of democracy and the rule of law are taken for granted. In Sri Lanka the “dispensation” I received from the local police was something to be grateful for. Such is life for those un-allied to the Rajapaksas and their acolytes, I’m afraid!

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      Thank you for your article highlighting the problems of Srilankan citizens at large and these problems should be addressed without delay …
      But, please have a balance without targeting narrow political agendas …. When you write about countries where the basic elements of democracy and the rule of law are taken for granted, you seems to be in a fairy land …. Ofcourse, basic law is very very much respected in those countries …. But, if you go to a police station in New York, London, Sydney..etc to complain a incident like yours, they would never visit your place but a complain could be put to claim insurence.. I first handedly know the attention you get from police. When my apartment was burgled in one of your admirable country sometime back, as you, I wanted police to come and have a look … The police constable laughed at my suggestion and told me that his house was burgled last month and he put a complain to police to pursue the insurence. So, I had to be satisfied with a complain note at police station. One of my friend’s son was attacked in high way by a member of motorbike gang in one of your admirable countries and he was advised not even to put a complain by the police reminding them of the repercussions they would face.
      Definitely, Srilanka has law and problems for decades and it is not a new as portrayed by the some in ‘political’ industry … Ofcourse, this government has a very very big chance to improve the situation after elimination of terror thugs and it does not live upto the people’s expectation … There is no question that the law and order situation should be improved without delay. Citizens of the country should demand it as you did but without some other agendas …

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        Bruno Umbato:
        Who do you suggest we hold responsible for the current state of lawlessness in this country if not a government with UNPARALLELED, dictatorial powers? And if you choose to characterize what I have recounted as driven by “a narrow political agenda” I would suggest that you might consider the motivation of the perpetrators of what goes beyond simple vandalism, the details of which I have recounted in some detail.
        Simple burglaries, as upsetting as they are, do not come about because of a victim’s perceived politics. What I have described is clearly driven by a political agenda: that of the perpetrators and those directing them, don’t you think? How else do you suggest I frame these incidents? As an act of God?
        Incidentally, while I do not seek to contest the truth of any of the incidents you describe elsewhere in the world, suffice it to say that during a period in excess of thirty years I was fortunate not to have an experience of that kind despite working with a variety of people and being politically engaged in several provinces and a territory in the second-largest country in the world. Which do think is the rule and which the exception(s) in the circumstances?
        I would suggest that the simple steps we need to take in the current Sri Lankan context are 1) identify the problem, 2)decide what to do about it, 3)do what needs to be done to change a totally unacceptable status quo.

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          Thanks Emil for your comment … If you read mine you would notice that the encouragement to your writing and my unhappiness of the law and order of Sri Lanka. I wanted to highlight two things in the comment. One was to be different to a opinion (promoted by Srilankan haters) gaining currency in Sri Lanka that “SL is the only country where worst bad things are happening right now”
          Second one was to oppose the one of your comment ” … Such is life for those un-allied to the Rajapaksas”
          You say in your article, main culprit of the crime committed against you are Tamils/Muslim thugs leaded by a drug dealing muslim member of the pradashiya Saba … I very much believe your story as these things happening in SL … In your haste, you got Rajapakse into this instead of tagetting the real culprits there by diluting message about the real offenders … Theoretically, all ills in the country should go to the top.. But, isn’t it overshooting? It gives me to note ‘narrow poltical agenda’ remark in my earier posting. I know you are not a person belongs ‘katakatha brigade’ or ‘Colombian society’.
          Eventhough I have very much respect for the unbelievable thing Rajapkses achieved eliminating terror, there by stopping the disintegration of SL, I always believe in criticising the wrong things even God does. You should target Rajapkses as Federica Janzs did it in a recent article with many details exposing first lady’s brother, Nishantha Wickramasuriya (? Not sure exact name) for giving multimillion dollar contract of SL airlines without a tender. Could you remember the hedging Deal at CPC by Ashantha De Mel, ex chairman and another relative of Rajapakses … If you need to target Rajapakses, those are the real stuff needs tobe exposed …

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    Oh Bruno

    did you want to provide a definition of vacillation?

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    Bruno refers to the police attitude in the developed countries such as Sydney, or New York or London. If there is no physical harm to any one due to house breaking and theft but only loss of belongings then they take it easy because almost all the properties are insured. Hence after lodging a complaint to the police one could get the entire loss through insurance claims.

    But on the other hand if there is any one injured or killed then certainly police deal with such cases promptly. But in SL how many households are insured and all know too well how difficult it is to convince the insurance company to get the real value reimbursed if you are insured. Besides you have to oil the assessor promptly to get any where near the real loss.Because unless proved otherwise you are a crook or a fraud in SL.

    But in the above case it was not a theft but an act of violence and vandalism and it falls into a different category and it could even proceed to serious bodily harm and hence a prompt police action is vital.

    The vandals should have been charged in court and also should have been made to pay for the losses. Of course according to Sri Lankan traditions good thrashing is the best course of action. But police does that often to the innocent but not to powerful crooks with connections.

    SL is a lost cause. Look at the recent event where customs wanted to check contents at the Airport brought in from India but President orders the Higher up in the Customs to let the goods go and with it would have gone the Killing drugs worth millions. This is how he maintains and respect law and order of the land.

    So under these situation one cannot expect any thing better. Had the police officer gone beyond that then he would have been sent to KKS.

    But of course there are always apologists ever ready to sing the song, ” he saved the country from Tigers, so let him and his cronies do anything they want for ever”! In fact these “singers” do more damage than the rowdies and thugs who terrorise the innocent people.

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    Dear Nadesan,
    I accept the points raised by your comment in general as valid and true … But, i do not accept SL is a lost cause as it is being portrayed by various people with agendas …. I am not a apologist ever to sing a song ….. As a example, at the end of my comment I raised the corrupt practices fof the relatives of the top (details were published by Federica and believable …. Federica gave details unlike some here say statements “you know that big building is being built by so and so” ) … Raising these matters are very very important to good governance … But, it should be done responsibly …. Cheers!

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    Dear Bruno,

    You would agree that we are going from bad to worse and to my belief we have hit the rock bottom. Of course the absolutely corrupt political system is the only cause for this disaster. We have created a politcal culture where only “panthang karayas” and “yes men” can survive. One is made to say just yes in order to survive. Any one talking about wrong happenings is a trouble maker, terrorist or an LTTE supporter.

    Of course I admit that JR was the one who laid the foundation for this disaster. And others who opposed him then, started to follow his path lavishly as they got the taste of this system. In fact MR is making every step to further strengthen this system obviuosly fore him to remain in power.

    Only way we could stpo this disaster is by first the so-called leaders from President downward should set an example by their behaviour and conduct. But will they, my first answer is a big no. They will never, ever do that.

    So without that we can’t put the system in place. When there are absolute crooks at the top then what do you expect? Police, Judiciary, religious places, entire machinery are made up of yes men. Just see what happened to Godage, the Malaysian HC and the poor man was kicked out for speaking some sense.

    That is why I said that we are finished and no way out.

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