16 November, 2018

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The Delights Of A Rural Existence: Terrorism In The “Colony”

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

The disintegration of a large plantation adjacent to us, resulted, first, in the plunder of timber trees, rubber, cocoa and other less-valuable large vegetation, followed by a mass “squatter intrusion,” for lack of a better term, on what was from the time of the “coffee days” an orthodox, commercial plantation.

What were initially very primitive shacks have grown into modest houses financed primarily by female adults remitting funds from, basically, is their slave-labour in the Persian Gulf.

One of the early dramatic events in this state of affairs was when a businessman from a small town some kilometers away from these squatter colonies brought in a group of thugs to evict those who had made little parcels of this land their domicile for about the past quarter century.  He claimed to have title to a substantial block of this land consequent to “purchase” from a member of the Buddhist clergy who had himself “bought” the land from a Member of Parliament of the time who had acquired it from the Land Reform Commission or the State Plantations Corporation when the latter had simply walked away from the formal plantation that it was managing. An interesting devolution of title stemming from totally dodgy conduct, to say the least! That episode which threatened to end in murder and mayhem had a relatively happy ending when we assisted the intruders to escape with their vehicle from an irate mob. My account of this little episode was published in the print media subsequently. That train of events appeared to have been settled to the satisfaction of the settlers/squatters by some kind of Reconciliation Board which held that the occupants had title by virtue of prescriptive right if for no other reason.

For lack of a better term, I shall seek to describe what followed over the last couple of years as a kind of “social development,” though the term suggests progress rather than the retrogression in social conduct that has occurred.

The clots of settlers can, essentially, be separated by ethnicity, the Sinhalese, by and large, living in groups separate from those of Tamil ethnicity. One thing both groups have in common is the depredations of parasitic elements who seldom leave their homes for employment but choose, instead, to steal the produce from the lands adjacent to where they live from which the resident owners have gone for the day to work elsewhere primarily as helpers in the building trades. NOTHING, literally, is safe from their depredations. Pepper, coffee, coconuts and jak fruit (what the monkeys and giant squirrels haven’t destroyed! Even such things as cooking utensils and hand tools are considered fair game by those who loiter in the area while their neighbours journey on foot or by bus to daily employment away from their homes.

Of course, some of those of greater entrepreneurial bent, engage in what is one of rural Sri Lanka’s major cottage industries – making bootleg liquor, “kasippu.” Here, again, by virtue of the haphazard settlement which has prevented anything resembling acceptable motorable road access, law enforcement of even the most sporadic and rudimentary nature, is next to impossible.

Result? The emergence of a group(s) of petty criminals who are beyond the reach of a police force seeking to deal with their law-breaking in a formal manner.

This state of affairs has worsened to the point where some of these individuals and families have begun to terrorise their neighbours, threatening them with physical violence and sometimes carrying through on those threats if they try to resist their depredations.

In a strange way, the last couple of years of law enforcement, where justice was dispensed in a relatively even-handed and orthodox manner has led to a worsening situation for those who choose to live by the book. It seems that the time when “justice” was dispensed arbitrarily at the whim and fancy of those in uniform had restricted the thieves and drunks because there was always the lurking fear that a victim might have enough influence with a politician to have that politician direct the police to beat up or incarcerate the miscreant.

Strange are the results of justice being reintroduced even to a limited extent!

Where is all this going to end? I would suggest that it will end in extreme violence when some victim cannot take the theft of his meager belongings, the sexual harassment of the female occupants of his household or the physical threat he is constantly under from drunken louts. Even the worm will turn and the people who are the victims right now are not in that category because of cowardice. They “grin and bear” because they are too busy earning a livelihood and looking after their dependents to retaliate. However, it is unrealistic to expect them to continue in this manner because these are not invertebrates, just hard-working, decent rural folk, and will, very soon, break and react with dreadful consequences.

The real tragedy will be when they are pushed beyond endurance and commit a capital or major crime and are removed from society until they are found not guilty of the most serious of offences, released without punishment or with mild legal consequences. In the meantime, the real victims of this state of affairs – their dependents – will, in fact, be punished for the transgressions of the real aggressor.

The foregoing is a sad state of affairs, indeed, but one which can only be dealt with by a sea-change in the current reality. Is there hope of such a dramatic change? You tell me.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    No chance of a sea-change at all Emil, pigs will fly first. What you have described is repeated all over the country. The same attitudes, the same corruption, the thieving, the bribing etc.

    A sea-change, or any change for that matter, can only occur if a new generation of children are taught how vitally important their civic duty is. This has to come from the top and has to be imposed in every school. Parents can bring their children up well, but once the child reaches adulthood he will be exposed to the current reality and will have to conform, bear with or emigrate.

    Our nation is governed by an even bigger gang of thieves, so example from the top is hardly likely to happen.

    • 3
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      Taraki:
      It’s hard to argue with that realistic assessment. However, as someone in the twilight of my life, I keep hoping for better things for the people of Sri Lanka than the terrible culture that their rulers have nurtured over the years, beginning with JRJ, in particular.

  • 1
    0

    Hi

    Thank you for a very grass root level look at all our social ills with a factual event as an example. As Tarik said we need more rudimentary level ‘civic responsibility’ education to all our people through out the country. I can confirm this was the same issues I faced with in the North too and I understand this continues to this day too. You would have expected a parliament full of lawyers since inception in 1948 to address this first as part of laying foundation for the Nation Building exercise? But then again this political elites embarked on creating much bigger blunders impossible to solve in any human society such as National question? such is our fate…we elect them so who can blame them for not focusing on simple social justice issues?? We had a bunch lawyers as politicians is so inappropriate for Nation Building activity?? most conflicting think one can ever do in any professional outlook unless you are there in parliament for all the wrong things.

    We need a serious of this kind of articles for discussion as suppose to constitutional discussion??

    Thank you once more.

    • 0
      0

      Thiagarajah Venugopal:
      Thank you for your measured response. While I am not surprised by the fact that the breakdown in law and order is nationwide phenomenon, it disappoints me and even though the problem is larger than if it was confined to only a part of the country, what is also true is that, being as widespread as it is, more of the general population are effected by it and need to actively participate in efforts to cure the malady.
      We have to start somewhere, though, and start soon.
      Any ideas of practical approaches to get this job done?

      • 0
        1

        Hi

        I always thought specially since the war end we could utilise all the resources in the security apparatus to focus on providing the entire Nation with a Secret service net work/Policing/Manning the entire Nation with armed forces every square mile providing safety and security to all the people 24/7. It did not happen.

        Then the Police force/SAF could be further developed to take care of law and order issues it did not happen.

        Basically resources are not being diverted to the most important aspect of life protecting the most vounerable.

        Unless we have a National situation that allows the GOSL to think on Nation Building issues as suppose to National question issues locally and internationally it is difficult for GOSL to respond to such scenarios.

        How effective can be the Vigilante groups/Local residence associations when so much of thuggery is involved??

        I really can not think of any other way unless is a collective National drive….perhaps MP’s could collectively discuss this at the parliament? I see this will be pushed to the bottom of the action list based on the current climate once again??

      • 0
        0

        Since is a social issue mixed up/compounded with power misuse issues is it possible we can forma very local community based groups who can go house to house with the police escort and talk to each household amicably asking for support on crime related issues and information/crime watch type of programs on TV highlighting the plight of people where we focus on a priority list nation wide/community CCTV can help?

        Some of the issues are poverty related too and is an unresolvable issues world wide. Members of Parliaments can work with Community workers? Many of us need physhlogical help specially the abusers could benefit from counselling but we have no such set up/qualified social workers??

  • 0
    0

    Emil.
    I missed out on your essay with the political circus currently going around.
    Sea-change you wrote.
    Frankly, I have read a couple of Ph.D thesis from the present generation of scholars who use this term endlessly.
    With your vocabulary as vast as the ocean, I was taken aback when you have recourse to use this term.

    • 0
      0

      Plato:
      “Sea change” was the term that most readily came to mind as the one most easily comprehended. Hence, my use of it.

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