22 May, 2022


Police Attacks & Good Governance

By Ashan Weerasinghe

Ashan Weerasinghe

Ashan Weerasinghe

The brutal police attack on the HNDA student protestors on October 29 urges us to re-think of the fate of ‘citizen-life’ in a country with an unbelievably corrupt political system such as the “Democratic” “Socialist” “Republic” of Sri Lanka. Especially, this allows us to safely assume that the police is no longer the ‘agent of protecting law and order’, as it theoretically promises. Political thinkers including Marx, Gramsci, Foucault and many others have said enough about the role of state apparatuses like police, military etc., within hegemony and the SLDP has given concrete evidence at several occasions during the recent past to argue that it is non other than a repressive tool at the hands of the dominant/hegemonic group. Gramsci has already shown the importance of such repressive tools to the dominant group to exercise its hegemony when the subaltern masses do not ‘obey’ and when the ideological leadership alone does not work. (Gramsci, 2000: 420). Is the present government conveying the message that it is not the extinction but an extension of what I often call the corrupt ‘Mahinda Ideology‘? Needless to say, behaviour of government institutions such as the police is a manifestation of the state attitude towards citizens.

This is a critical incident where the basic human right of freedom of expression has been severely violated by the so-called ‘guardians of law and order’. In attempting to disperse the protest, police not only fired tear gas and water canon but also inhumanely assaulted student-protestors with batons. Brutality of the attack became a controversial issue especially after photos depicting violent police attacks were published on the websites and social media as well as in printed media. One of the photos that show the brutality of a police officer beating an unarmed female student with a baton even when she is on the ground, has already gained wider attention. Social media, especially Facebook, is still full of videos that include the “criminal” behaviour of the police.

PoliceSoon after attack took place, a special media briefing was convened to give explanations on behalf of the police, with the participation of Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara and several other senior officers. Police Spokesman, as usual, claimed that the police had not involved in any ‘violent’ action other than using “necessary force” instead of “minimum force” to disperse the protest. However, he failed to define “necessary force” and its limits. According to his justification, police has all the powers to use almost any method, ranging from beating up not only with batons but also with “anything”, to even shooting. The primary objective of shooting for the Sri Lanka police, according to the Spokesman, is to “kill” (He used this word). Commenting on the photo that shows a female protestor being inhumanely beaten up by an aggressive police officer, SSP Champika Siriwardena interestingly said that the student protestors were never assaulted but were injured when they were trampled by each other. But the real photos are still available on the Internet. I do not know whether this officer was in good mental health in saying this, but I do certainly accept such a response from Police Spokesman, given the unpredictable nature of his post that has the capacity to make a good police officer a shameless lia!

Even though some politicians of the government including Rosy Senanayake, Mangala Samaraweera and Karunarathna Paranawithana have personally condemned the assault mainly by publishing statements on social media, the government in general has not yet opposed this brutal attack despite Prime Minister’s demand for a report. At least, the government must be careful enough to prevent its police from justifying the attack on media by using false information. President Maithripala Sirisena, beloved father of two children to whom “presidential protection” is also given sometimes, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, beloved husband of a high-feminist academic have an unavoidable moral responsibility to respond to such cases carefully.

Gramsci’s analysis of the organization of hegemony the dominant group has many things to teach us regarding the social-reality in which we live. For him,

“…the dominant group is coordinated concretely with the general interests of the subordinate groups, and the life of the State is conceived of as a continuous process of formation and superseding of unstable equilibrium (on the juridical plane) between the interests of the fundamental group and those of the subordinate groups” (Gramsci, 1971: 182)

It is by weakening/silencing these ‘interests of the subordinate groups’ that the fundamental or dominant group maintains its hegemony. The ruling group also likes to see that the worldview of the ordinary people is fragmented so that there are no chances of arising oppositional forces. Gramsci suggested that there are two ways of domination: (1) direct domination using armed forces; and (2) ideological and moral leadership. Gramsci stated that humans can best be ‘hegemonized’ once they are ideologically and morally subordinated or controlled by imposing the ruling ideology through ‘intellectuals of the ruling class’ (Jackson Anthony and Nalin de Silva under the MR regime are good examples for Gramsci’s particular use of the term “intellectual”. Everyone, capable of affecting ‘social-mind’ and hence with a specific social function is an ‘intellectual’, for Gramsci). But Gramsci was also aware that there could be certain situations where direct domination exercised by police and military is also necessary. Hence, hegemony of the ruling group needs to be understood as an ensemble of both forms of domination (direct and ideological). We know by experience that the police department is very much willing to serve its role to safeguard the dominant hegemony because of the politicalized hierarchy within the department itself.

However, police interventions do not always take plac as a strategy of securing the hegemony of those who are in power. Instead, it comes in the form of ‘disciplinary actions’ aimed at the wellbeing of the majority. It was on this basis that the said police officers attempted to justify the attack on the HNDA student-protestors by pretending that ‘they were just trying to prevent the protestors from disturbing the social life of others’. However, to be concrete, the sole operational logic behind such ‘disciplinary actions’ is this: ‘when you do not consent to the hegemony of the dominant, we are there to punish you for being ‘politically bad”. They have never been neutral welfare attempts throughout human history and Foucault has remarkably commented on the politics of disciplining in his book Discipline and Punish.

That is why it would be important to consider what Foucault has to say in the following text, especially if we are to make “real” sense of good governance:

“The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.” Foucault (1974, p. 171)


Gramsci, Antonio (2000), The Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935, David Forgacs (Ed.), New York: NYP

Gramsci, A., In Hoare, Q., & In Nowell-Smith, G. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers

Foucault, M. (1974) in N. Chomsky & M. Foucault Human nature: justice versus power, in F. Edlers (Ed.) Reflexive Waters: the basic concerns of mankind. London: Souvenir Press


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Latest comments

  • 4

    Ranil Wickramasinghe who likes to play KING in the Parliament of corrupt Modayas these days is today the biggest violator of the law.
    He bailed out the corrupt clown Wimal Weerawansa who should be behind bars for having 2 passports and his wife too..

    Ranil also has got a corrupt insider trader who does not have the qualifications running the Central Bank and ruining the economy by selling bonds and depreciating the currency.

    Arjuna Mahendran is a PIG and is going to turn Lanka into a PIGS country – like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain which are bankrupt..

    • 0

      Right on Don!
      Apparently each session of the parliament of corrupt modayas, where Ranil Wickramsinghe plays king of the court, costs tax payers a hefty sum of 4 million plus.

      There is need for massive cuts in “parliamentary privileges” and luxurious living for corrupt politicians who are the biggest law breakers in the land. That corruption has tricked down to the police which is also responsible for illegal tree felling and destruction of the environment in Central Colombo who also attack students.

      The parliament of corrupt modayas is what the whole country should protest against with the students. We need a massive demonstration against corruption outside the parliament of corrupt modays.

  • 2

    The brutality of armed forces including police in Srilanka is nothing new in this island. Srilanka had good forces one time but they have been modified as servants of corrupted politicians. Todays force is corrupted and institutaionally racist.

  • 1

    Ashan Weerasinghe,

    There is no need to quote arcane socialist diatribe here. Sri Lanka is not a socialist country and will never be. Our culture vultures led by the parasitic Maha Sangha armies will ensure that.

    What we have is a democracy planted by the Brits with the proverbial checks and balances that over time was perverted and moulded to suit the twisted minds of our politicians in this thrice blessed country. Brutality is evident in every sphere of life in Sri Lanka so what the police did to the protesting students was the usual way we resolve issues. When killing Tamils and Muslims is our ‘urumaya’ beating some protesting students is pea nuts.

  • 0

    The whole trouble with this country (people) is, we wait to witness an incident and go on the offensive and embark on a blaming game for some time only. If we are to look at the history, not so distant but within about last ten years, what have seen and what have we done to arrest such ugly situations, specially as far as “POLICING” is concerned. It is no secret that all the successive Governments and politicians are equally to be blamed and responsible for this rotten state of “Policing” in the country. When in Government, every politician thinks that it is “HIS” or “HER” prerogative right to “USE” and “ABUSE” the Police force. Then once turned into an Opposition, the very same politician thinks the Police must be taken task for every action or non-action in the event of any incident. This is the CORRUPTED POLICING CULTURE that we have come to inherit, whether we like it or not, over the decades. That ROTTEN CULTURE has eaten into the very labyrinth of the body of Policing. So, it is imperative that the whole of Police Service MUST BE revamped and restructured, if it is to be of service to the people. Now that we are equipped with a mechanism like the Police Services Commission; this issue must be addressed very urgently and it is of National Importance. If not, we will continue to see and experience very many of these types of ugly incidence and we will be left with no other option but to COMPLAIN and LET LIVE the SYSTEM.

  • 0

    Ashan Weerasingha ,

    “President Maithripala Sirisena, beloved father of two children to whom presidential protection” is also given sometimes, “

    Please be informed , President Maithripala Sirisena has two daughters and one son , not two as you mentioned.

  • 0

    Under the yahapalanaya government, the Police has taken to hand powers breaching the “police code” and gone beyond their limits to suppress even democratically undertaken peaceful protests by students, priests, civilians and in many instants state and private sector trade unions/workers. Like the custom officials, the police is also assumed as the most corrupted government/public service in Sri Lanka. Politicians when NOT in power accuse the police of much brutality misbehavior which should in deed challenged and brought to book, but once they come to power, they shield and defend them with long stories and dragging political jargon to suite the situation that can help those politically in power to take revenge against their political opponents. Recent incidents both in general and within the parliament have proven this situation very openly and clearly. “THE MUSLIM VOICE” totally, fully and vehemently CONDONE and OPPOSE the Police brutality against the University students that took place a few days ago. Noor Nizam “Convener, “THE MUSLIM VOICE” and Political and Peace Activist.

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