By Basil Fernando –
Gayashan, who was missing, has surrendered to the Hambanthota Police Station. He has been wandering in various places for about 8 days after he fled the police station after being tortured. Finally, he telephoned a Buddhist monk, who intervened to help him to surrender to the police.
Thanks to media interest, the matter of the boy going missing was discussed all over the country. The Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara is reported to have spoken with the father of Gayashan, promising that he would do everything in his power to find the young man, or take serious action if something has happened to him.
There are several aspects of this case that are worth considering, particularly in the context of Sri Lankan police commemorating the 150th Anniversary of its existence. In fact, age-wise, the Sri Lankan police is much older than that, as it was started immediately after the British captured the Maritime Provinces. The year of founding is therefore 1795.
As the institution is that old, it is worth considering whether many of the things that are known to have happened in Gayashan’s case should have happened at all.
It is now well established that the reason for the arrest was related to the theft of paddy bags, from a storage house in the area. Three young men were arrested, and they were coerced to accept responsibility for stealing these paddy bags, despite them, in fact, vehemently denying any such theft or involvement. Surely, officers belonging to an institution as old as this one should have been given at least the elementary training necessary to investigate a matter that is, at best, a petty theft. Why did these officers, who are all mature men, decide so easily to do this “investigation” in the manner that they did? If this question is asked from any common person from any part of Sri Lanka, it is quite certain that the common answer would be that “this is what they do all the time”.
Surely the hierarchy of the police are quite aware of this common practice, of harassment of the ordinary folk by their police throughout the country, year after year. They know that this is what has happened for over 200 years. Still, neither has a finger been moved to stop this nonsense, nor have the persons who hold authority over them, the parliamentarians, the Ministers, given the slightest thought to ask whether one can ever build a nation when the police are engaged in this kind of sheer silliness.
The next stage is even more shockingly trivial. The young men are taken to a safe place inside the police station itself and then they are severely beaten up. For what? To get them to confess and admit to something that they claim that they have never done. Now, according to the law of Sri Lanka, as contained in the CAT Act No 22 of 1994, each of these policemen who directly or indirectly participated in this torturing, have committed a grave crime, deserving a punishment not less than 7 years rigorous imprisonment and Rs 10,000 as fine.
Here, again, there is a stark incongruity. The alleged stealing of a few bags of paddy, even if these young men have done it (there is no proof of it at all), is only a petty crime. What the police officers have done according to the Sri Lankan statutes is a grave crime. Surely, if logic has any place in policing in Sri Lanka, these officers, their superiors, and their masters should see this incongruity.
But perhaps, because logic has nothing to do with all this, no one is able to see, that this is what sheer madness is. And as we have stated before, this madness is not something that affects the police occasionally, it happens all the time, in all the police stations, throughout the country.
In terms of supervising each of these police stations, there are two persons with socially important positions. One is called the Officer-in-charge of the police station (OIC) and the other is called the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). Officers who hold such ranks throughout the country see the kind of madness that is seen in this case, everyday. And they approve it as the proper function of policing. Again, we may ask why they have distanced themselves so much from reason and logic, let alone the law.
Even as the IGP has talked to the father, promising that he would do all that he can, there is no report at all about these police officers who have violated Sri Lanka’s law relating to torture and ill-treatment, arrest, and production before court. The only thing that has been done is to transfer these officers to some other police station. And we are expected to believe this is an ominous act of punishment. Again, if you go back to the earlier incident, three young men suspected of alleged petty theft are severely tortured but the policemen, who committed the graver crime of torture and ill treatment, are only transferred.
Even in this instance, we could ask what has the IGP done to the relevant ASP?
After all, it is the ASP who is the immediate supervisor of the Police Station. His functions are laid down in the departmental orders and these orders have also evolved over more than a century.
The fact is, no ASP has ever been taken to task for not doing the job that he is supposed to do, which is to supervise the police station. If, even in a small company, the supervisor fails to do his or her job, he or she would be sacked. But, if a senior police officer fails to do their job, there is no punishment.
Again if you go back to the original incident, alleged theft of a few bags of paddy leads to arrest, detention, torture, and disappearance. But when a senior police officer fails to do his job, there is no punishment.
What is the scale that is applied here about “right and wrong”? Surely, that scale is not usually applied in the rest of the society. It simply goes to show, what the society considers rational and what has come to be regarded as rational within police stations are indeed very different.
The parents and relatives of Gayashan took all the precautions possible to protect his twin brother, because they were afraid that the police would catch hold of the twin brother and claim that they had found the missing Gayashan!
If that had happened, it is likely the twin brother would also have been beaten up, to force him to confess that he is Gayashan. Now this is the way local people have understood the police and the way the police mind works. As always, ordinary folk with their common sense understand the social absurdities that others refuse to see.
Again, we see an incongruity, bordering on lunacy. But those who hold authority do not want to open their eyes and see such a state of absurdity.
Now, this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice announced the appointment of many Committees, to look into all forms of human rights abuses in the country. These Committees are an addition to a large number of other commissions.
We are made to believe that these committees and commissions will bring us our deliverance.
Are we to merely see the same circus being performed again and again?
The answer lies not only in Gayashan’s case. It also lies in how the sheer irrationalities mentioned above will be addressed, or in how they will remain unaddressed.
After the surrender, the spokesman for the police said that the police officers had made false entries in the books stating that only two boys were arrested, while in fact they had arrested three, and that actions would be taken against them for that. However, the more serious problem is the fact of the torture of the three young men, and torture is a serious offence punishable with 7 years of rigorous imprisonment and a RS 10,000 fine under CAT Act No 22 of 1994.
It was to escape torture that Gayashan ran away. However, at present, the police are ignoring the fact of torture, maybe because torture is practiced throughout all police stations. For several years now, there have been no prosecutions under the CAT Act, despite there being complaints of torture almost every day.