By Basil Fernando –
A mother of a 14 year old girl made a complaint to the Haputhale police, that her daughter had been abducted by two men who were the conductor and the driver of a private school bus that takes children to school. The girl was forcibly taken to the driver’s house and despite of her pleadings to let her go the driver then raped her.
The girl was later taken to a judicial medical officer at the Diyathalawa Government hospital and in his report the JMO confirmed that the girl was raped.
After the complaint was made to the police station, the accused driver and the conductor were both brought to the police station and where the girl identified both of them as the culprits of the abduction and the rape.
However, to the utter surprise of the family of the young girl, both suspects were released on the same day and they now remain at large. The offences of statutory rape and abduction are non-bailable offences.
The family of the girl have complained that they suspect foul play on the part of the police as the driver is relatively an affluent person in the area and the girl belongs to a family of estate workers, from a Estate in Haputhale. Ethnically estate Tamils, they are a devoted catholic family, well known to the people and the parish priest in the area. The family believes that their weak economic position as estate workers and their minority status ethnically and by way of religion is the cause for neglect of their complaints by the local police. The Assistant Superintendents of the police of the area have also been informed about this crime.
Investigations into crime is a primary obligation of the State. Investigations into serious crimes such as statutory rape and kidnapping are imperative duties of the police acting on behalf of the state. The failure to investigate and to prosecute such serious offences threatens the very idea of the state itself. If the State fails to investigate and prosecute serious crimes, the very legitimacy of the existence of the state is itself being challenged. The challenge to the state in this instant comes from the local police station and its superior officers such as the Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASPs). It is the duty of the IGP and the Government to take the officer in charge of the Haputhale police and the ASP who is supervising this police station to task, immediately and take appropriate action to investigate this crime.
As the two accused in the rape and kidnapping has been identified and have even been brought into the police station, and were thereafter released, creates a reasonable suspicion that some kind of foul play is involved. If, the suspects of serious crimes can escape by way of resorting to bribery or to any other such influence, the entire social order is threatened by such actions.
However, neglect of investigations into serious crimes, has become a common feature in Sri Lanka. It is only when a crime turns into a scandal and much publicity is generated, that some kind of intervention takes place particularly in the rural and remote areas.
We wish to illustrate the serious nature of the obligation to investigate and prosecute crimes by distinguishing from the manner in which even most difficult cases are being pursued by the police in countries where rule of law is maintained as compared to this case.
The BBC Radio English Service, today reported, a case that took place in London when a few months ago, a body of a man was found on an early morning on a hill. When the police were informed and arrived at the scene, they found the body but despite a thorough search they could not find any way of identifying the person as there was no identity cards nor credit cards on the person, nor any other means by which the person could be identified. Forensic examinations later showed that the death was due to taking poison. Though the obvious conclusion was one of a suicide, the matter did not end there. The investigating officers having found only train tickets in the clothes of the deceased, attempted to trace the origin of the journey of the deceased through the tickets. They found that the tickets have been issued at a particular station in London. The investigators examined also the cameras of that particular train station on the basis of the timing of the journey indicated by the train tickets. They were able to find some photographs of the deceased through station cameras. However, none of these could lead to the identity of the persons. The investigators spend a lot of time, in the vicinity of these areas looking for any clues about the identity of the person. However, they could not find any indication of the deceased or a missing person in that area. By now, several months have passed but the investigation was continued. As there was nothing to indicate the name of the deceased the investigators named the body in the mortuary as Neil. Just to give it some identity and to also pay respect as a human being. On further examinations the only noticeable mark on his body was an iron plate fixed onto the ankle which indicated some surgery in the past. With careful examinations of this iron plate the investigators were led to the conclusion that such iron plates have been manufactured in Pakistan. With that evidence, the investigations shifted to Pakistan. They have been then able to find the particular company that makes such iron plates and are now looking into few hundred persons who have had such surgeries in order to establish the identity of this person. The investigation is still ongoing and the investigators indicated in their interview with the BBC, that they were hopeful that they will be able to establish the deceased person’s identity and hopefully his story.
If you compare such an investigation into a person whose identity itself cannot be established with the case we have from Haputhale where the suspects of statutory rape and kidnapping have been brought to the police station and have been identified by the victim, and still left at large – it is not difficult to expose the contrast of the seriousness with which an investigation is been pursued by the investigators in London and those in Sri Lanka.
Understanding of this contrast is very essential to grasping the extent to which lowering of the standards have taken place within the Sri Lankan police with regard to investigations into serious crimes. What that indicates is how the very moral standards in the country regarding the value of life and regarding the obligation of the state to prevent crimes have degenerated so much within Sri Lanka.
The investigators in London who were pursuing that case for months were not doing so out of a sense of pleasure or of adventure. They were merely carrying out the duties that have been assigned to them with an understanding that on the carrying out such investigations, lies the sense of security of citizens.
What is even more shocking than the neglect by the police, is the societal acceptance of this neglect by the people at large. We do not see the kind of outrage that is provoked elsewhere when the police and the law enforcement agencies neglect their basic duties. Such a neglect on the part of the people is possible only when the moral standards have reached a very low ebb in a society. This should be a matter of serious concern for all those opinion makers and others who are concerned with the future of Sri Lanka.
Should we allow our police to kill our freedom? That question must be asked, particularly when people are suffering from such police neglect, like the family in the Thotugala estate. If the weakness of such a family is that they are young, can be kidnapped and raped, and if the rest of the society keeps silent the entire community pushes itself into a position where they make themselves deserve the humiliating manner in which they are being treated. Those who keep silent when the poor and the weak are being trampled upon have no reason to complain when they themselves will one day be trampled upon.
The new IGP has spoken about the need for a people’s friendly policing. However, it needs to be pointed out that such friendliness is not merely a publicity stunt. It is not for smiling policeman that people are looking for. They look for those who carry out their duties with seriousness. What the people demand is that their policing service should not pave way for a societal breakdown.
Would it then be wrong for the family of the victim in Haputale to feel that they have been completely let down by the country’s premier law enforcement agency and its government?