By Kshama Ranawana –
February began with news of the senseless killing of Mel Gunasekera, a well known financial analyst and journalist.
She had been stabbed to death allegedly by a would be burglar, who was caught within hours of the heinous crime, by police who identified him through the images caught on a Closed Circuit Television camera installed in a neighbouring home.
Hurrah then for the availability of CCTV camera’s in Sri Lanka. If only they are used to apprehend the villains of many other crimes committed in that country!
Reading the report of the murder and the agility with which the murderer was apprehended, got me thinking. If Mel had been killed or kidnapped because of her profession would the suspects have been so easily and speedily captured?
Apart from the abductions and killings of well-known journalists there are many others who have gone missing or have been killed. The culprits however, still roam free. As well, we’ve lost count of the number of presidential commissions appointed to look into such crimes and grown weary of waiting to hear the findings.
According to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development website, a hundred and five CCTV camera’s have been installed at main intersections in Colombo city. The camera’s have been very useful in identifying traffic gridlocks and accidents, ensuring safety of VIP movements and monitoring events within the city.
The CCTV camera which helped identify Mel Gunasekera’s assailant is reported to be installed in the home of the Chairman of the Ports Authority. On recent visits to Sri Lanka, I’d noticed similar camera’s installed in the homes of private citizens and wealthy business people.
What necessitates CCTV’s surveillance in the homes of civilians? After all, the Sri Lankan government is proud to announce to the world that, having rid the country of the LTTE, the island nation is now a paradise. A CCTV camera installed at the home of the Chairman of the Ports Authority, could have been justified during the era when the country was fighting the JVP and the LTTE. Why is it necessary for private citizens and public servants to have their homes under surveillance today?
Those who saw the attack on the Fashion Bug outlet at Pepiliyana, close to Nugegoda, would have seen a Buddhist monk throwing a stone at the factory’s CCTV to disable it. Several policemen looked on, while he repeatedly threw a stone like object at it. The outlet was attacked in the anti-Muslim hysteria which has taken hold of the country.
There have been many other instances where religious minorities have come under attack and the authorities have been slow to take action.
Earlier this month, Sunil Samaradheera, a resident of Wanathamulla, which is the latest Colombo inner-city area slated for evictions by the Urban Development Authority, was abducted. His crime? Daring to challenge the eviction orders. The residents, who have lived there for many years, have been asked to leave to make way for the grand plans of the government to transform Colombo and its environs into the playing field for the rich, famous and powerful.
Mr. Samaradheera was released hours later, unscathed, when fellow residents came out in protest. Perhaps those instructing the abductors would have realized that if Mr. Samaradheera was killed or ended as another missing person, it will not bode well for Sri Lanka at next months UN meeting in Geneva. There is also a provincial election to be considered.
The people of Rathupaswela, were not so lucky. Last year, three young men died when residents protesting that the water in the areas was contaminated came under attack by members of the armed forces. In 2011, a young man was among protestors who was shot dead by police, for agitating against the governments plans to introduce a pension scheme that was not acceptable to the people. And in 2013, a fisherman in the Chilaw area was killed when he and scores of other fisher folk protested the increase in fuel prices which made their livelihood less viable.
UNP parliamentarian Harin Fernando said it very eloquently in parliament recently, when he spoke on the proposed Land Act and Colombo Port City plan. He pointed out that the government is busy trying to build golf courses and race tracks, and legalizing gambling while the larger population of the country could hardly afford to purchase milk powder. He faulted government ministers for meekly going along instead of questioning and preventing such moves which would only benefit a privileged few.
Government ministers are not the only ones to blame. A larger sector of the prosperous population, who are enjoying the spoils of the casino’s and night racing are equally to blame. They seem to care little that a larger number of their countrymen live in near poverty. Cost of living has reached such high levels, that even middle income families are struggling to make ends meet.
A miniscule of Sri Lanka’s people will enjoy the race tracks and casinos and the high lifestyles. The majority will spend their days trying to eke out a living. Crime will increase, and so will the brutality as the income gap widens and injustices continue.
No wonder the rich and powerful need to live within the protection of CCTV cameras!