31 October, 2020

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The Mob, The Police And The Freedom From Fear

By M.A. Sumanthiran –

M.A. Sumanthiran MP

‘Towards a peaceful environment to live with confidence, without fear of crime and violence.’ This is the current Vision of the Sri Lanka Police, unambiguously declared on its official website.

How many of us live today with confidence and without fear?

The government’s portrayal of the Police in Sri Lanka quite deliberately runs contrary to this Vision. In this article, I wish to examine the underlying message the government communicates to the public regarding the reliability of the Police, and to emphasize the dangers inherent in this message.

Every month, the President issues a statement declaring the inadequacy of the Police in Sri Lanka. The declaration goes unnoticed; yet the portrayal of the Police it seeks to reinforce in our collective conscience is clear. Many of us fail to detect the significance of the monthly Presidential Proclamation issued under section 12 of the Public Security Ordinance. The provision empowers the President to call out the armed forces for the maintenance of public order, if he is of the opinion that the Police is inadequate to deal with circumstances endangering public security in any area. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force are called out to maintain public order in each and every district of this country, signifying, in no uncertain terms, the inability of the Police to carry out this task.

In the context of periodic renunciations by the Head of State, should we dare ask why the Police fails to protect us? Police inaction should come as no surprise. It seems that no citizen in this country truly enjoys the right—even privilege—to be free from fear of crime and violence. The expectation of Police incompetence and the reality of Police inaction appear to be mutually reinforcing.

One of the grave—if not the gravest—threats faced by the minorities of today, comes from the incensed mob, bent on propagating fear and causing destruction. Hence it is Police inaction during mob violence that best measures the state of our society and the protections it affords to those who need the Police most. Police inaction during mob violence is so typical it has become an almost expected element in any incident. Several such incidents come to mind.

In April 2012, a mosque in Dambulla was attacked by a mob. The Police was informed of the impending attack. It not only failed to prevent the attack, it attended the ‘event’ and looked on helplessly as devotees were intimidated and prevented from entering their place of worship.

On 15 February 2013, the displaced victims of the Valikamam North High Security Zone held a peaceful hunger protest. As soon as the Leader of the Opposition left the protest, four Military Intelligence men went amok, attacking protesters and journalists. Yet again, the Police remained passive as the assailants destroyed equipment belonging to journalists and attacked innocent civilians. Despite repeated requests by TNA parliamentarians present at the protest, the Police took no action to arrest the culprits. And last week saw the attack on the TNA office in Kilinochchi by a mob carrying the national flag! I was present on that occassion when concrete stones and rocks were hurled for about half an hour while the Police looked on. Three persons apprehended by the people, including a CID officer, were promptly released by the Police. This was followed by a dastardly attack on the Uthayan Newspaper distribution office in Kilinochchi and employees were badly injured. Here too the assailants got away without any risk of being arrested by the Police.

Also last week, a mob attacked and vandalized a Muslim-owned business in Pepiliyana. Once again, the Police attended, but only to bolster numbers in the audience. Little was done to prevent or mitigate the attacks. In fact, there are photographs depicting Policemen haplessly looking on as the mob, which included Buddhist monks, vandalized the buildings.

One need not possess much imagination to speculate that, in each of these incidents, the Police was under strict orders to do just as they eventually did: remain passive. One might recall the distinct contrast in the brutal response of the Police to the protests led by students of the Jaffna University in November 2012. Hence there is little doubt that Police inaction during mob violence is quite deliberate—in effect, an ‘act’ of omission.

The message appears to be loud and clear; not only in the monthly Presidential Proclamations, but also in the manner in which the Police is repeatedly rendered powerless in the face of serious public disorder. The message is that the Police is incompetent, ill-equipped or simply unwilling to maintain law and order, even in a self-proclaimed peaceful society.

Why should this be of any concern to those who are presently left unthreatened?

The portrait of an apathetic or disempowered Police results in a type of dual psychosis. On the one hand, each Presidential Proclamation of Police inadequacy and each incident of orchestrated Police inaction create fear in the ordinary citizen. On the other, these events embolden the mob and remind them that law enforcement is more likely to be complicit in their deeds than to prevent them.

Lord Byron once wrote: ‘The sight of blood to crowds begets the thirst of more, as the first wine-cup leads to the long revel.’

I have often warned that the grievances of the ‘other’ rapidly become one’s own grievance. Today, the Tamil and the Muslim bear the brunt of impunity. Yet one might ask, how many Sinhalese who fall out of favour tomorrow might confidently rely on the Police to intervene in their moment of need? Take for example, the multi-ethnic, multi-religious group of lawyers who sought to peacefully protest the unconstitutional impeachment of the current Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in Hulsftdorp in January this year. The Police not only failed to protect the rights of this group, it in fact actively aided a pro-government mob in suppressing the protest.

In conclusion, I ask: is this portrayal of the Police deliberate?

The historical portrayal of the Police as an apathetic or powerless entity has been quite deliberate. It achieves two things. First, it drenches us in fear and reinforces the constructed need for a militarised society. We are forced to be tentative; to censor ourselves when we ought to speak; to stay home when we ought to get out onto the streets. Second, it empowers extremism. The mob is now infused with confidence to proceed with the knowledge of State acquiescence. Without the Police, the mob is merely an unruly gathering, soon to be disbursed. But the pogroms of this era have taught us well that the Police plays its part through carefully orchestrated acts of omission. This regime, with its penchant for identity politics, stands to gain from such extremism. Hence I am not afraid to call this deliberate portrayal. Freedom from fear is the hallmark of any peaceful society. But ours has been deliberately deprived of that freedom.

*M A Sumanthiran – Member of Parliament, Tamil National Alliance

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Latest comments

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    I think the answer lies in your statement -‘the brutal response(by the police) to the protests by the Jaffna students’.
    If the police do act victims will have to face both mob and police!

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    Mr Sumanthiran, the problem is not only applicable to the Tamils and the Muslims but we too the Sinhalese have a major problem with the police. You don’t have to fallout of favor for the police to be ineffective! We too have major issues with the police as most of us don’t go to the police if we have a problem with some one but will try to catch a politician to influence the police to take action! As for the students it happens even in Colombo! The problem revolves around the ministers having power over the police. Until this is sorted out we will continue to have problems with the police!

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      So Mr ruwan, where all gone wrong, whose fault? I will tell you since independence all sinhala leaders bloody criminals, still the same. We need a leader who can lead all the citizens of arilanka. As far as i know no one among the sinhala young politician. all behind sinhala budhist suckers. Total separation good for tamils and sinhal…

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      The Sinhala leaders and their governments have proved to the world that they are incapable of governing minorities…thus the world has to decide (Just like what happened in Kosovo…and S. Sudan…) to let the minorities govern themselves.

      The next step is clearly the ‘Eezham Referendum’ … the IC and the UN should supports it.

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        Not minorities even the majorities. That is what ruwan says. So the best solution is get someone else to rule.

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    Fear is an impediment to progress in a society. Some of the repercussions are capital flight, brain drain, and depletion of loyalty to country and it’s development strategies. Psychologically; it slows people down in confidence and trust with each other. If we do nothing, we will have yet another failed system of governance.

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    “How many of us live with confidence and without fear”?, asks Mr Sumanathiran,

    Had he put this question to the inhabitants before 17 May 2009 , it would have been an overwhelming majority of almost 90 % of the population including some Tamil cousins bar Mr Sumanathiran, his boss and his colleagues.

    Spending a month in Wellawatta, where half the inhabitant Tamil cousins live , there was no evidence of any fear or lack of confidence.

    Businesses are booming. the Video shop didn’t have even one Sinhala CD or DVD.

    Well dressed good looking families with kiddies board super luxury coaches every night heading to Trino and Jaffna,

    Traffic cops do a gem of a job on Galle Road to protect the pedestrians and their kiddies in morning and afternoon rush hours.

    And keep the well heeled in check their in teir expensive cars

    No robberies . no muggings reported for a whole momth.

    Almost all commercial name boards are in Tamil and or in English.

    No wonder Ms Pillay is playing dodgem…

    And Mr Sumanathiran must have moved house to Mullative and living with the TNA activists who were once employed by Mr Prabakaran during the CFA.

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      How does the LTTE come into this picture? If you don’t understand what Mr Sumanthiran has written about just keep quiet rather than showing your ignorance and stupidity by making totally irrelevant comments. Typical Rajapaksa asslicker! Rajapassa is presiding over a country that is on the verge of anarchy and this Sumana fellow seems completely oblivious to it due to his total allegiance to the master criminal Rajapaksa.

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      Uncle Sumane,please answer this questions

      for those attacked in Dambulla,Pepiliyana and Killinochici what did the police do? did the up hold justice?>

      did the police prosecute DIG Waidyalankaras sons attackers? the answer is a big NO,Mr sumanthirans questions is directed at all these incidents,that if there is a politically motivated attack or attack by goons with backing of politicos then can we look with confidence and without fear?

      and all you can come up is talk of LTTE who are long gone! shows your an ass licker of the Govt

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      Kohedha yanne? Malle pol.
      Sadly your responses Sumanasekera are not laughable.
      Ravi, the likes of Mr. Sumanthiran are struggling to get a point across – a workable solution for us all as a nation. Shouting for eelam ended in bloodshed. Lets give Mr. Sumanthiran a chance. His job is harder with having to educate a parliament with more animals than wilpattu.

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      @ Sumansekera

      you say “Businesses are booming. the Video shop didn’t have even one Sinhala CD or DVD.”

      Well thats 100% wrong if you go to CD world and other big CD shops in Wellawatte you can get English Tamil,Sihala and Hindi movies and music CDs’ infact i too have bought from them (they stock from Amaradeva to Jim Reevs to Mani Ratnam ) please dont lie

      also if you go to the less reutable CD shops then you als get Sinhala ‘wala’ movies too ;-) so your totally wrong in your statement!

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      That fear was created by who. They feared the military, the goatas, the white vans the planes that bombed, the thugs who raped, the mob who burnt. Put them out and see what happens. They are all in their barracks and temples waiting for the order. The fear too is waiting. Be realistic man. When every Tamils come on a plane and see the land from air there is a chill, a fear runs through his or her spine, that will remain till they leave. You are incapable of seeing the fear in a man. It is not in dress nor in the name board. The commercial names are in Tamil because Tamils buy their things. Even the product they sell overseas have got big Tamil words why . They want money. The Tamils have the money because they worked hard, no looting , no kidnapping, no thuggery.

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      Gunasekara,

      From your answer I take it that you come from rural village and spent only a month in Wellawatte and by implication you dont live in Colombo

      I am not sure what your message is from the following statement.

      Had he put this question to the inhabitants before 17 May 2009 , it would have been an overwhelming majority of almost 90 % of the population including some Tamil( people like Karuna, Douglas and the like) cousins bar Mr Sumanathiran, his boss and his colleagues.

      Are you suggesting that if you put the same question now the answer would be an overwhelming “no”.
      You might be right because the state terrorism which is now sweeping the Country affects only the civilised minority and in a democracy that is what you would expect.

      Businesses are booming. the Video shop didn’t have even one Sinhala CD or DVD. I THINK YOU POPPED INTO A TAMIL VIDEO SHOP where you would only find AR Reman videos.
      Well dressed good looking families with kiddies board super luxury coaches every night heading to Trino and Jaffna,
      These are Sinhalese families being sent to colonise the north by MR with a one way ticket.
      No robberies . no muggings reported for a whole momth. You are right not by ordinary muggers who have lost out to MR and his Thugs and that includes Karuna & Douglas.
      Almost all commercial name boards are in Tamil and or in English. There is a confusion here as you must have recently visited TN and referring to TN.

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    Mob behavior is an aberration, and Police can have a hard time dealing with unruly mobs, and my sympathies lie with the Police who generally will be come under “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” accusations.
    However, having traveled to many parts of the country in recent months, I as a law-abiding citizen, have found my encounters with the Police to be quite free of intimidation or evocation of fear. They have been extremely helpful with giving us directions and attending to our other requests, whether in Matara or in Jaffna. It is something of a transformation in the way cops treat the citizenry now, just as the same transformation has been experienced by us after the end of the war, with the Army and other security personnel. It is Peace no doubt that has brought about this change.No longer is everyone suspect.
    In general, the persons who have problems with Police and other law enforcement personnel are generally those who, in one way or another, are running foul of the law, act with guilt, or who try to assert their self-importance in the face of the law-enforcer. It is our own behavior that elicits a positive or negative response from the law enforcers.

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      Dear Maheshl

      Does the law operate irrespective of on which side of the law a person is? are the police allowed to act independently and of their own free will without diktats from higher ups?

      Unlike you, I am afraid to go to unfamiliar places anymore, thanks to the BBS and the mobs.

      I know that no one would come to my aid, for example if my wife was asked to remove her head scarf by a Monk.

      Do you live in cuckoo-land, where everything is hunky dory?

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    Mr Sumanthiran asks the question “How many of us live today with confidence and without fear”. Have a look at this exhaustive survey by the Asia Foundation carried out in 2010. http://www.asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/SurveyofSriLankanPeople.pdf

    It says:71% of the people felt that the Central Government was doing a good job. In the Northern Province it was 57%.

    73% said they have the freedom to express political opinions. In the Northern Province it was 36%, perhaps because of the restrictions on expressing opinions about LTTE.

    35% said they were dissatisfied with the way democracy works in the country. Among the Sri Lankan Tamils, only 28% were dissatisfied with the way democracy works. Only 14% said the country was moving in the wrong direction.

    3% said the number of crimes are increasing but in the Northern Province only 1% said the number of crimes is increasing. These figures do not support the views expressed by Mr Sumanthiran, but the survey needs to be repeated to look at the current situation and the negative trends.

    • 0
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      Truth,
      The Asia Foundation survey report does not state the category of persons who actually questioned citizens,the areas where it was conducted,ethnicity of those questioned and their income/social status.
      Opinions will vary according to these criteria.
      In sri lanka,one is very careful to state personal opinion on national and personal matters to strangers and/or those who may leak information to others.
      If questioners are accompanied by political henchmen,police,army,grama niladaris etc.true opinion will not always be given.
      If the questioner wants names of those questioned,this will cloud the replies given.
      If it is suspected that the information given would be available to political agents,true opinion will not be given.
      This report is not entirely the true opinion of citizens.

    • 0
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      Truth,

      The circumstances in 2010 were definitely better. Thereafter, things have been downhill on many fronts. 2013, this far , has seen deterioration accelerate . A new survey, with the same questions are likely to provide a different set of answers . The decline lis quite palpable now.

      Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

      • 0
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        You mean Sri Lankan survey? Will it produce any truth.? and in 2013

    • 0
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      Do you think anybody is going to believe for % figures. You are a Sri Lankan and you say please believe me . Is it what you are saying.
      Say “There was no war. Nobody died. Soldiers carry books not guns, It snows in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans dont lie. They don’t murder, They don’t rape, They don’t kidnap…..” – Please believe me I don’t lie I am a Sri Lankan.

  • 0
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    Police inaction is often reported. There is truth in these claims. In some instances video evidence is clear.
    I think we need to examine the avenues available legal and otherwise to prosecute the Police for their lapses. Surely the failure to perform one’s duty must be a serious offence?

  • 0
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    Thank you for posting an article from the great M.A. Sumanthiran. He is the hope for uniting Sri Lanka and healing it for all people. This man is Sri Lanka’s Abraham Lincoln….

  • 0
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    Mr Sumanthiran is not tainted by association with the LTTE like the TNA. He therefore has a unique position in parliament to put forward not only the tamil people’s but also the nation’s concerns regarding what is happening under the bandit Rajapaksa regime. What the Rajapaksa asslickers in and out of parliament fear is the courage and forthrightness with which Mr Sumanthiran expresses his views which find accord with the majority of decent people of all races and ages. mr Sumanthiran has the ability to unite the nation and be a leader in a democratic Sri lanka but the forces of evil associated with the Sinhala political parties will not allow this to happen. It is a shame.

  • 0
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    Mr.M.A. Sumanthiran ,

    You say “How many of us live today with confidence and without fear?”
    can’t you remember non of us , including yourself lived without fear during LTTE terrorists & V.Prabha the mass murderer was alive ? TNA MP’s got their speech approved by LTTE office before delivering speeches even at Parliament. Now of course you guys can speak without such fears.

    • 1
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      Oh really. No fear from Gota’s goons in white vans, Mervyn’s goons at public meetings. You saw what happened to the protesters at the chief justice’s impeachment saga when government sponsored goons attacked peaceful protesters. Open your eyes and see what is happening toyour fellow citizens under the Rajapaksa misrule and stop being his asslicker forever.

      • 0
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        Were there any Suicide bombings ? like 378 suicide kits exploded by your Son God V.Prabha & the gand.

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    Comments on Asia Foundation survey:

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran, I agree that the conditions were much better. The Stock Market was booming in anticipation of high growth and good governance.

    The 18th Amendment has made a mockery of democracy! Today it is difficult to find an independent person who is a supporter of this regime. Unfortunately, Sumanthiran who is perhaps the best of TNA politicians, is also serving the interests of the Tamil Diaspora rather than the Sri Lankan Tamils. Yes, we need a new report to measure the deterioration!

    Justice / Lanka Liar: Asia Foundation which is affiliated to the World Bank will not pay millions of Rupees to a reputed Market Research organisation such as Nielsen or LMRB for a distorted survey report. They indicate the accuracy as plus or minus 3% or 5%. There is no political interference in a World Bank survey. Read it and then come to your conclusions.

  • 0
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    There is no denying the fact that Sri Lanka has descended into a state of anarchy under MR and the article by Mr.Sumanthiran has to be analysed in the context of the following.

    1) Corrupt practices by police officers in third world countries.
    2) State of the country post LTTE.
    3) Callous disregard for civilsed standards by MR to complete an agenda of ethnic cleansing.

    How many of us live today with confidence and without fear?

    Frankly no one except the Leaders and the thugs who are responsible for enforcing mob rule.

    Before the Civil War we had some form of accountablity in terms of checks and balances taking into account the corrupt nature of the Civil running which is a common problem in 3rd World Countries and Sri Lanka is no exception.
    The government’s portrayal of the Police in Sri Lanka quite deliberately runs contrary to this Vision and it is by design to give the impression that the Government is doing everything possible to keep the police on check but on the contrary they have given the nod and the wink to do whatever is necessary to striffle any descent to interrupt Goverments agenda and to stay in power and MR is a master of deception and he was born in the Gutter and thuggery comes naturally to him.

    In the context of periodic renunciations by the Head of State, should we dare ask why the Police fails to protect us?
    The answer is no simpley because the Police are cting under orders and it will be a standard answer ” We are doing everything we can and we know it is a lie”
    Yes Police inaction should come as no surprise. It seems that no citizen in this country truly enjoys the right—even privilege—to be free from fear of crime and violence. The expectation of Police incompetence and the reality of Police inaction appear to be mutually reinforcing with just one qualification in that the incompetence is
    not because they are unable but it is due to the fact they are unwilling.
    One has to look at the countless number of cases some involving murder which leads back to MR reamin unresolved and Sri Lanka sets a precedent.

    In conclusion, I ask: is this portrayal of the Police deliberate?

    It is a big YES

  • 0
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    The attack on Uthayan is “media terrorism” by the GOSL. There is no point in the US sending warnings because the GOSL will snub them off.

    SL is a bad apple rotting the whole world because of the leniency by the US. Now, North Korea is engaged in military rhetoric against the US because it knows that the US was soft with SL after Tamil genocide and even if it commits genocide it is okay.

    The UN must immediately impose sanctions against SL as this is in violation of the recent UNHRC resolution against SL.

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