By Emil van der Poorten –
I don’t know whether it was Karl Marx who said something about history repeating itself as farce, but the prospects for a young village entrepreneur of my acquaintance suggests the possibility of tragedy rather than farce.
I have in the past referred to the banditry that those who lease our durian trees for the fruiting season are subject to. To recap the scenario: we lease our durian trees out to the highest bidder who then proceeds to erect a watch-hut (pela) and, with the assistance of family and, perhaps, a friend or two, depending on the crop yielding enough to pay them a retainer, try to ensure that the predators, both the biped and quadruped brands, are kept at bay, the fruit harvested and then, either, sold to a retailer or the fruit retailed by the lessee himself who takes them down to the A10 highway connecting Kurunegala with Kandy.
What is seemingly a simple enough equation has ended up quite violently with major tragedy – loss of life – being avoided more by simple luck than any kind of planning on the part of the lessee.
For several years now, the successful bidder has been raided by drunken, armed thugs from a village several miles down the hill and, in fact, from the adjacent province. Our attempts to seek the help of the local (Galagedera) police to either prevent these occurrences or to arrest those conducting the raids has not been successful.
The raids have been accompanied by threat and violence. Earlier this year, the raid was a two-pronged one – 4 raiders on two motor-cycles and about a dozen drunken thugs who had come up a footpath, approaching the durian trees from a different direction. As I documented in a previous article, there had been an altercation, one of the raiders had been hit with a stick and his motor-cycle buddies who had already left the scene of the crime had to return to rescue him. The knife, a picture of which appears here, was picked up by one of my employees the following morning at the scene of the altercation, abandoned by one of the raiders in his hurry to leave!
While that knife is not as impressive as an African panga or a Gurkha Kukri, it could certainly inflict very serious damage on anyone at the receiving end. While we haven’t placed it in a display case or mounted it in some prominent place, it serves as a reminder of the risks that anyone trying to earn an honest and lawful living in this country now risks.
Subsequent to the altercation which resulted in the abandonment of the knife, both I and the young lessee sought the intervention of the local police. Succinctly put, there is little chance of preventive action being taken. The primary reason is that the durian trees are located within the jurisdiction of a police station in the Central Province and the thieves come in from one located in the North Western Province. One of the officers of the former police station told me, very simply, that the police with responsibility for the area in which the thieves’ village is located are hamstrung by the fact that the miscreants are part of the MP’s/Minister’s strong-arm contingent and are, therefore, immune from any form of police control! He described his colleagues in the adjoining police jurisdiction as “scarecrows” (“pambayo”)
Particularly since the young man who is again likely to be the successful bidder on the Durian tree lease has already received a stream of death threats from those he bested in the last physical confrontation, the potential for very serious violence is high, indeed.
As the lessors of the trees I expect it would be easy enough to wash our hands of the whole business with the (legalistic) response that, once the trees are leased, it becomes the responsibility of the lessee and the lessee alone to deal with any issues around the harvesting, storage and disposal of the fruit. However, some of us still have consciences and feel obliged to try to prevent criminal violence and ensure the maintenance of the basic laws of the land. In any democratic country, all of this would have been a “no-brainer.” One would have visited the local police station, laid the facts, inclusive of the previous violence, on the record and the police would have simply had any potential miscreants warned by the neighbouring constabulary if those individuals lived within their jurisdiction and that would probably have taken care of that. Here, it has already required all kinds of “contacts” being contacted and strategies being devised to prevent yet another “invasion” (or invasions) and, if that cannot be done, to seek means of self-defence of (unarmed) persons and their property by (unarmed) citizens. Not a pretty picture and one which points very directly towards extra-judicial means of defence of person and property being the realistic alternative!
That alternative, however, is not a real option for some of us for a variety of reasons, primarily because we have been conditioned not to take the law into our hands. However, necessity being the mother of invention, we are waiting for that proverbial “bolt from the blue” to provide us with a solution to our quandary!