By Emil van der Poorten –
I never cease to be fascinated by those who incessantly pillory “Colombians”, in reality those who seek to defend the concepts of law and order, the rule of law and basic human rights and who happen to live in our capital city. Their common place of residence provides the horde of Rajapaksa Sycophants with the opportunity to apply this “urban” stereotype to them.
What you will NEVER hear from these paragons of probity and virtue is so much as a reference to the plight of those they go to such lengths to pretend to represent, however obliquely.
What has brought this most forcibly to my attention recently has been the spate of headlines describing the prosecution of those (of lesser means and of rural origin) against whom the full force of the law is exercised, if local media is to be believed.
One of the more recent headlines had several villagers being taken into custody and charged for being in possession of porcupine flesh. While I am sure there is a law against the killing of any sentient being in this country – humans excepted in the matter of practice – this seemed a bit bizarre. As anyone who lives anywhere where co-existence with porcupines is a necessity of life will confirm, these rodents are the bane of anyone trying to grown anything for personal consumption or to earn a few rupees in the market place. The people throwing up their hands in holy horror at the killing of our oversized hedgehogs very obviously have no knowledge whatsoever of the fact that they are capable of completely husking seedling coconuts, ring-barking high-yielding rubber plants when they are barely out of the ground and being a monumental nuisance to anyone trying to grow whatever takes their culinary fancy! Ever since I remember, villagers who were able to locate porcupine “dens,” would smoke out these usually-nocturnal animals and dispatch them with a club and then, not to waste a source of very scarce (to the poor) and palatable animal protein, cook the meat in a form that would make it the centerpiece of a meal of rice. While this practice hardly seemed to make any serious dent in the porcupine population, it did affect some kind of control over their proliferation and provided a dietary diversion to (poor) rural people. To treat this practice as equivalent to the harvesting of rhino horn for the Chinese market is nothing short of ludicrous and provides yet another example of their absolute ignorance of rural life of these self-appointed guardians of it.
Now it seems that, in the manner typical to the administration of law in this country, while gang-rapists and murderers of even foreign tourists, roam free until foreign governments “apply pressure,” some Heen Banda and his young son are taken into custody and prosecuted (“persecuted” would probably be the more appropriate term) for being in possession of a dead porcupine and the matter reported in large type with an accompanying picture in “living colour” of those members of the constabulary responsible for the apprehension of these dangerous criminals. All of this could be considered simply ludicrous if it did not epitomize the manner in which “law and order,” better described as “low and odour,” is practiced in the Debacle of Asia.
Porcupines are just one example. The other is wild pigs which have become an even bigger menace to anyone seeking to grow anything either at or below ground level. Here, the stratagem used for their destruction is the setting of snares or “trap guns.” In fact, those two responses are also applied to the problem of porcupines.
While the term “snares” should be description enough of the manner in which the quarry is secured, a deviation from the main narrative seems required in the matter of “trap guns.”
What these constitute, in simple language, are tubes of hard metal, sealed at one end and with a charge of explosive at that extremity which is detonated by a “cap.” When the “cap” ignites the explosive, a load of assorted metal fragments which constitute the “pellet load” leaves the barrel in the hope that it will kill or disable the target. The manner in which all of this is supposed to happen is when the prey disturbs a trip wire, laid across what is believed to be a “game trail” and causes the “cap” to explode upon a primitive “trip-hammer” coming down on it.
Unfortunately, the application of this technology leaves more than something to be desired in that it doesn’t differentiate between the intended quarry and anything or anyone else happening to trip the wire. And that includes human beings walking along a footpath that has been deemed a game trail by a trap-gun owner. The evidence in this regard is irrefutable in the number of those living in these areas, in various stages of recovery – the lucky ones – having suffered these “gunshot” wounds! I’d require another whole column to even begin a narrative of those instances.
In our particular neck of the woods, it is porcupines, wild pigs and, very occasionally, barking deer (Muntjac) that are brought down by trap guns or snared in the manner described.
That trap-guns have, over the many years of their deployment, been a menace in rural Sri Lanka is irrefutable. However, I’d suggest that they provide a very real answer to the matter of crop protection and, rather than willy-nilly prosecution of the poorest of the rural poor, a nuanced response to the totality of the issue should be sought even though, there is no doubt that the preferred “bludgeon solution” of our current regime fits admirably into their philosophy of “might is right.”
The most serious threat to the production of food of any kind, however, has been the blight of macaque monkey. A recent headline in one English-language paper bemoaned the fate of several dozen of these found dead, suspected of being poisoned by villagers who couldn’t take their depredations any longer.
Only those who’ve suffered the attentions of these simians can adequately speak to the damage they do to crops, unattended personal property and goodness knows what else! A little story here that epitomizes the hypocrisy of local supporters of the Mahinda Chinthanaya, Divi Neguma chapter, would not be out of place.
When some kind of “Grow more food” campaign which those of a vintage able to remember similar initiatives during World War II, was launched locally and there seemed to be more “staff” distributing vegetable seeds than they had packets to distribute, I inquired from one particular local official who could not be faulted in his efforts to display his loyalty to The Regime, in what manner any potential growers of said vegetables were to protect them from the monkeys who had a track record of destroying such when they were barely out of the ground. His prompt response was that there was a whole scheme to trap these monkeys (and presumably inflict them on some other unsuspecting village in another jurisdiction!)
Out of curiosity, I followed up on this inquiry and subsequently discovered that one “monkey trap” had been deposited outside the office of one of the local functionaries, that it was “not in working condition,” “no one had repaired it” and that, after some time had passed, it had been taken away to parts unknown!
A footnote to “grow more food” in our area might be the fact that a friend had been at pains to bring me, from overseas, some tropical vegetable seeds which were considered “top of the line.” None of these have I been able to give away, free, to any of my neighbours who very politely, refused my offer on the grounds that they have no intention of feeding the neighbourhood’s vermin with their labours.
All the “Negumas” in the world are not going to work one whit if accompanied by the persecution of the poor who are trying to protect what crops they have, sometimes seeking also to provide otherwise-inaccessible animal protein for their children. This is simply cruelty practiced simply for publicity purposes and to salve the consciences of a self-righteous middle-class who don’t give a Tinker’s Dam about their less-fortunate rural cousins and are myopically focused on themselves and their efforts at self-aggrandisement.