Fear of Police, Under a Culture of Bribery
Just two Sundays ago, early morning returning from church on my scooter with my wife on the pillion, the police and the army were everywhere for the President’s visit. A policeman, an officer, stood at the middle of the Kandy Road – Kachcheri Nallur Road Junction expecting us to go round him. I told him to stand to a side and he seemed a little taken aback even as my wife panicked in case he retaliated. That is my point. We fear the police and do not see them as our guardians. That police arrogance is because they are not our police but rather the police of the central government coming here to get rich through bribes.
In an ongoing issue a policeman who is nice to us in court in a matter that has us trudging in and out over years, asked us politely for Rs. 50,000 over some personal difficulties in collecting his vehicle after repairs, promising to speak inside and get our matter finished quickly. It was not clear if the money was for him or the judge and it would be foolish to complain against him in a matter reeking with deniability. We have also heard of a district judge whose police bodyguard asks for money promising good results in court. Again, no point in complaining against the deniable. But confidence in the system is shaky.
In Jaffna former Mayor V. Manivannan made a speech during the 2018 local government elections threatening to assault me because I had, as a member of the Election Commission then, filed complaints against his Tamil Congress for several election law infractions. My complaint was on the direction of the Commission. I had to go to Jaffna to complain, and again to give his speech in 5 copies on CD. I trudged in and out of court and after a year discovered that the police, as the formal prosecutors, had not given the CDs to court. One day an Acting Magistrate (from the children’s court as I recall) ruled the evidence inadmissible as it would be unfair by Manivannan). What about fairness towards the people in elections as laws were violated? To this day I do not understand why that Acting Magistrate did what she did when Acting Magistrates usually do no more than set the next date. The Attorney General (now on the Supreme Court) called for the file to study it and has not returned it. So no court date can be set. That is the 5-year old story of an essentially dead case that is alive on paper. To this day I wonder who if anyone was bribed – the police, the judiciary or the attorney general.
The 13th Amendment to our Constitution is under intense discussion as we ask for full implementation. What is being mentioned often is police rights and land rights. Both are very important to Tamils and Muslims. Particularly if the police are to look after our safety, we must feel safe from the police with ourselves as their managers.
As I have noted before, when the Mullaitivu Judge ordered an enjoining order to be served on the Buddhist monks who were trying to take over a Hindu temple in Chemmalai, the police failed to serve the order. It was election time and I, through the Election Commission Chairman, warned the IGP (the same C. D. Wickramaratne as now but then Acting IGP) that there was trouble brewing, trouble that could disrupt the elections. He promised to look into it and did nothing. I raised it again when he came to the Election Commission. He feigned to be taking serious notes but did nothing. These have a lot to do with the Tamil sense of well-being and safety.
It was on Saturday that I went to Nedunkerni to distribute groceries from my children, students and close friends in the US to the very poor. While there the locals told me of Kurunthoor Malai Aathi Ayan Temple where Buddhists have erected a Temple displacing Hindus.
A lady (Sakuntala with 4 children and a labourer as husband) showed me her hut and the overgrown land that she is prohibited from cultivating for food or using to expand her house. They do not earn enough for the electricity connection. Most people have left the area. The school is closed because there are only 8 families. Elephants run amok at night. The neighbouring Sinhalese areas are crowded and the villagers there are waiting for the few remaining Tamils to vacate so as to take over their land. The government is creating intercommunal hatred by not prosecuting hate crimes by Buddhists.
Tamil owners must come back, says Mr. Poopalasingham of Olumadu who migrated from Udupiddy in 1976 and became a Federal Party Councillor. Or this will be another Manal Aru turned Weli Oya he says. Poopalasingham at 77 is stronger than I and can lift and arrange sackfuls of paddy. A son was killed in a fight with the army and his only other son was removed by the army in front of witnesses. CID men offer to return his son on payment of Rs. 3 lakhs but he lost his money without getting his son. Up to 2013 other CID personnel were offering him the son for Rs. 450,000 but he wanted to speak to him on the phone first before paying an advance. When they could offer no evidence, he stopped playing ball. But he is sure the son is alive. This happens because the armed forces are not Tamil.
The Poopalasinghams cooked me one of the best vegetarian meals I have had with thick curd, and gave me the juice from 2 King Coconuts to drink. In addition they gave me 10 King Coconuts and a bottle of homemade coconut oil to take home. Thanks to the Gotabaya science with fertilizers, they lost heavily this harvest, getting only 7 sackfuls of paddy instead of the usual 15-20.
If the President wants Tamils to join him in the country’s political and economic resuscitation, he should visit these people instead of business people all the time. He will know how we suffer without our own leaders.
I returned to Jaffna only to read on Sunday of a Buddha Statue erected at Nilavarai in the heart of Jaffna. An officer with good sense removed it quickly. The point is that we are very insecure without land rights.
There are then land powers so important to our safety in the Provincial Councils. Supposedly implemented, they are not. The President is on strong grounds in implementing laws already on our books. But few Tamils believe him since little of what he promised has come through. An example is army occupied lands. His corrupt Ministers whom he inherited from the Rajapaksas give us little hope.
Rights on the Books
BJP’s Tamil Nadu Head Kuppusamy Annamalai promised in Jaffna that a new message would come soon on the 13th Amendment (LNW, Feb. 14, 2023). As he put it, development programs in Northern and Central Provinces are near fruition. A new ferry service would commence between KKS and Karaikaal. Discussions have been initiated on a shipping service. India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has asked our President to implement fully the 13th Amendment. Expect new announcements soon he said. As a result the Tamil people will see great improvements in their lives, he promised. We are waiting.
Jaishankar has correctly advised TNA MPs not to neglect what we have while asking for more. The President has also endorsed this (LNW 14 Feb. 2023).
Language Rights in Court
Language rights are incorrectly portrayed as rights already given, on paper, that is. A few days ago (17 Feb. 2023) I was rather pleased to see the headline in The Island reading “TNA MP wants Jaffna court to send him summons in Tamil.” It was about Mr. S. Shritharan, TNA MP, who was served summons by the police written in the Sinhalese language to appear for an inquiry into demonstrations against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to Jaffna. Shritharan wanted it in Tamil. The police them gave him their translation which he declined saying it must have the Court Registrar’s imprimatur. The shrewd MP was right. It was a police inquiry and not a judicial inquiry.
At long last like our muscles that atrophy when unused, our unused language rights are being woken up from their state of slumber. Thank you, Mr. Shritharan.
Language Rights and Police Rights
These language rights also touch on our police rights when we fear the police. We in the North and East have got used to the police barking at us in Sinhalese expecting us to understand them. In Magistrate’s courts as I have seen, for simple offences by simple people like brewing liquor that need us only to say guilty and pay the fine, the police prosecute in Sinhalese, making a lawyer necessary.
Around 8 pm, Feb. 8, 2023 homeowners in Vali North protested ten soldiers looting their houses slated for release. The soldiers threatened them. The villagers ran away.
I hold the Power-of-Attorney for my brother-in-law’s house next to the Presidential Palace in Keerimalai. Thanking the President for doing the right thing by releasing these lands by daring our horrible army, I respectfully remind him of his duty to guard our house against looting. (During the war, soldiers made 6ftx6ftx6ft boxes out of doors and stuffed them with loot. They are back in business).
Implemented Language Rights Denied in Court
I was served an enjoining order in Sinhalese by a District Court. It was all Greek to me, so I went to plead for a copy in Tamil. The judge ordered me to come with a lawyer and it is recorded despite my right to appear for myself. I asked for a copy of the enjoining order in Tamil if I am to file an answer. That is not recorded but the enjoining order has been converted to an interim order without an opportunity for me to file objections. Judges control what goes into record. Since judges have the power to impose contempt sentences, I will say no more, except that there is urgent need for reform.
Lawyer friends with their heads in the clouds nonchalantly say we always have recourse to appeal. Oh yeah? To go to the Court of Appeal, paying Rs. 100,000 per appearance to Rs. 750,000 total (depending on the lawyer’s seniority)? And that is usually in cash to lawyers who rarely pay their taxes? The system stinks and is self-serving. This is where the President should begin his tax reform.
The Murder of the Tamil Language in Court
Usually when a language is used officially, it grows and flowers. We see that with Sinhalese. With Tamil too I have seen good Tamil from the NE Administrative Service Officers while there is also the unnecessary change in Tamil accepted in ordinary use – for example for “he conducted,” changing the word nadathinaar to nadaathinaar, and the interjection of Sanskrit words when there are good Tamil words. Grammatical violence like “valuable things is there” (LNW of 9 Feb. 2023) or “from every divisions” (John Keells’ Binnovate) is common even in newscasts and from pulpits.
That aside, I find the Tamil used by some judges to be horrid. In one short enjoining order by one of the most senior Tamil District Judges, I see the wrong spelling of simple words with the wrong -nu and the wrong -la which alter the pronunciation of the preceding letter, thereby rendering the meaning of the word unclear. A Tamil judge who should protect our language rights, is murdering the Tamil language even as he strips us of our rights that we are told have been given to us. Almost three months after complaining to the Judicial Service Commission and the Law Society, I have not even received an acknowledgement. That is the abysmal rule of law in Sri Lanka.
Far worse is the violence done to Tamil grammar. The said order prohibits entering certain premises by several unnamed students, workers etc. who were not party to the case and therefore not served notice. WhatsApp is transcribed as Waadasap. By prohibiting the use of WhatsApp and email, the order disallows informing students that they cannot enter campus. Instead of saying “approaching buildings,” it says “approaching in buildings” as if it is not physically approaching but approaching for a favour like love.
In fact, if students living 5 km away from a prohibited building go to another place 4 km away, have they approached the buildings and are they therefore in violation? The order redundantly uses the sense of entering 4 times in a sentence making its meaning unclear. Instead of saying “Should you violate this order, you will be guilty of contempt” it says “Should this order be violated you will be guilty of contempt.” The order therefore gives the idea that if others enter the premises without knowing they are under such an order, the main Respondent who was served the order can be thrown into jail. That is judicial terrorism.
A judicial order must have clarity and exactitude to be enforceable, but the judicial service seems incapable of writing in correct Tamil to make its orders have sense. Lawyers and Respondents in deference to judges obey based on what we think judges mean. That is not justice. Judges have no impunity and must be accountable. For that we need a vigilant JSC.
What I say here is fair comment and not contempt, especially when the Judicial Service Commission sleeps over our complaints. The Government Establishments Code, which the JSC would do well to read, says letters must be replied in 10-14 days, and when they cannot be, a reply must go saying when a reply may be expected.
Every right in the Constitution is a right that must be given fully. The President is right in saying he does not have to give us what is given and therefore what we already have. He needs to act firmly against judges, the police and army who stop us enjoying our rights.
SJ / February 28, 2023
“That police arrogance is because they are not our police but rather the police of the central government coming here to get rich through bribes.”
I wonder if the central government police are less arrogant towards lesser mortals elsewhere.
Ask any three-wheeler driver about bribes to the cops.
Captain Morgan / February 28, 2023
All these sad and depressing observations by the writer, which are unfortunately true, only serve to remind us that we Sri Lankans are a subhuman race!
Sinhala_Man / March 1, 2023
True, Captain Morgan.
We never thought some of these horrible things would ever happen.
On the other hand, we never thought a total system change was going to be possible Things have now got so bad, that total reset may be a possibility
“Sweep them all out!” may become the cry. But no, we know that a handful of the 225 must remain.
Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 483111444V)