As a Tamil I take the position that I am better off without the police because I get more harassment than protection from them. The video of an IGP assaulting an employee in a lift bears testimony to how committed the police are to law and order. I have dealt in my writings with how hazardous driving on the A9 is. I have been driven by my Sinhalese drivers at 110 km/hr. When stopped they make friendly small talk and move on. My Tamil drivers give their licence with Rs. 300 and all is well. One of my more careful Sinhalese drivers Amarasiri says he has never got a ticket except twice driving my van with NP plates.
I have detailed before my pleading not guilty after being falsely charged by the Mankulam Police of speeding. It was a satisfying exercise to be cleared by the judge; but a costly one that cost me several trips to the courthouse and a lot more than the Rs. 1000 fine. I would not have it differently because I hold my head high as a proud citizen never ever having given or taken a bribe.
However, my problem is when as a public servant I use my own vehicle to come to Colombo for Commission meetings or drive on personal trips. Those in Colombo will lack my perspective. In Colombo, if we make a mistake we get a ticket. Simple. We pay the fine as we should. The police rarely ask for a bribe fearing that the person might be quite powerful. Outstations, however, particularly North of Anuradhapura, we are stopped whether we make a mistake or not, in the expectation of a bribe so much so I am scared to drive to work. Having broken a shoulder and with doctor’s orders not to drive, it is very difficult for me. Standing in a moving bus is very difficult because I cannot raise my hand to hold the rails to steady myself or load my bags on shelves. So drive I must, or stay in Colombo. I will describe three recent traffic incidents from being trapped into driving to work.
Last year I had to take a missionary lady in my van. North of Trincomalee just South of Nilavely on the Nilavely Road, in passing a trishaw I accidentally crossed an unbroken line. Given a ticket, I would have happily paid and left it behind me. This policeman, dark skinned and hugely well-fed on food from bribes I presume, instead took my licence and said, “This is a forged licence. Your job will go. Would you like that?” I told him I got licensed 3 days after my 18th birthday, and if he thinks my licence is a forgery, let’s go to a police station. He said I would need to wait for the judge till Monday. The fine would be Rs. 50,000 he said asking me, “Would you like that?” He was illiterate and did not know that only parliament can remove a member of an election commission and it is unlikely they would act for my crossing a line. He, Bandara by name I recall, after seeing the European lady in the car across the street realized that he would get no bribe from me. He let me go without any ticket. His intention clearly was not to keep the road free of offending drivers but to get money for his cormorant-like overeating.
The second incident was a week ago. On Saturday 4 Jan. 2020 we had to attend a church conclave at Church of the Living Christ in Talawa. I was driving carefully, overtook a vehicle and returned to my lane just before a pedestrian crossing. A pair of crooks in uniform stopped us. One first claimed I overtook at the crossing. When I denied it, he said I should have stopped at the crossing. He strangely asked me if I wanted to pay a fine or go to court, and whether I wanted him to write a traffic ticket. It was code for a bribe, since either way a ticket had to be given and the fine is paid at the post office. I was wondering whether to go to court and be forced to make several trips to Galgamuwa where I would not be able to invoke Tamil as the official language as I had in Mullaitivu. My only witnesses were my wife, daughter and dog. Would I stand a chance when even in Jaffna after foolishly making a complaint against a Tamil politician for threatening to assault me, I have been regularly going to court for 2 years without a single hearing. The judges ordered arbitration (which they cannot force on me especially when my complaint is not a personal dispute) and threw out the evidence because the police (well-bribed I think) had sat on it for a year without submitting it to court. Worse, the attorney general the chief legal officer who should appear for me is sitting on the file in Colombo for months as if to delay the case further by tiring me out. Why bother!
As these thoughts raced through my mind, a car overtook another at the pedestrian crossing. A medical doctor’s sign was on the wind-screen. After a conversation there, that lady doctor moved on. Then the policeman came back to my side of the road. He told me that was a government servant and he hates to fine government servants. He claimed that my offence merited a Rs. 2000 fine but because I am a government servant he could make it Rs. 1000. I told him to give me the ticket and moved on with a Rs. 1000 ticket.
When I got to church, lo and behold! The doctor was there smiling: “I am glad he did not give you a ticket. A nice man. He let me go though I overtook at a pedestrian crossing and told me he is not going to give you a ticket either.” She had come for the same conclave as I.
If the police are interested in instilling a little more discipline than for IGP Pujith Jayasundara, they should really investigate the Galgamuwa policemen and ask Dr. Ms.Ilangasinghe. Her parish is St. Paul’s Church Kandy. She may feel reluctant to give testimony against a man who was nice to her albeit unlawfully, but I am confident she will not lie. The policeman may be identified from my traffic ticket pictured above. As to whether I committed a traffic offence or not, is my word against the crooked policeman’s. But there is a solid witness to say he treats Tamil drivers differently from Sinhalese drivers. With little confidence in the justice system for Tamils, I have sent a friend to pay my fine and retrieve my licence.
The third incident was last night, 12th Jan. I had driven from Colombo against doctor’s advice and my shoulder was aching so much so I had to lift my left hand and put it on the steering wheel which I could turn clockwise but not the other way. I had turned into the Eastern Campus Road at the sixth mile Post towards Konesapuri. A vehicle began following me. It was behind me for 4 km or so. At the end was my destination Baldaeus Theological College. The vehicle was a police jeep with policemen accompanied by green uniformed men whom I take to be from the army. If so, I think there are laws disallowing the army from travelling in a police vehicle. New dispensation?
The army-like leader asked for my documents and I asked why. My number plate says NP he said. Is there a law against driving a Northern Province vehicle in the Eastern Province?, I asked him. The soldier questioned me in Sinhalese and I told him I know only Tamil. He called a Tamil policeman who seemed friendly and free of the sour look of the army-like man. After all, it was the Eastern Province where the language of administration is Tamil. The army officer was obviously poorly trained to be so foolish as to admit that he had stopped me because of my NP number plate. When I gave him my licence, it was my temporary licence from Galgamuwa (the crooked cop had taken away my licence). At the end of my tether, it just came out that that is my licence because I refused to bribe your crooked police at Galgamuwa. That offended the officer. Having put my foot in I had to go all the way. I told him I have no respect for the police because they are always after money. He denied it. So I l told him, “Why you have that Bandara in your Nilavely police station who …” I told him the whole story. The translator seemed sympathetic and translated my story even though the officer seemed not interested. They looked into my van after my dog was taken out. They went away after photographing my temporary licence insisting they had a right to inspect an NP van while I insisted that as a law abiding citizen I can drive my NP number-plated van anywhere in Sri Lanka.
I am not very popular at the college today. The people here remember the massacres of civilians by the army in the wattai next door. They remember Nanthikadal. Our college administrator’s wife immediately went into her house and I heard her praying loudly for safety.
My relatives in Mutwal/Modera have been told they cannot let their dog out. Others have been told every flat must be painted white and not in different colors. As one lady in our conversation praised these changes, an older experienced aunt said “Rules are good but when there are too many …”
What is law and order? Security for some while making others feel threatened? Different laws for Tamils and Sinhalese? No prosecution of soldiers accused of ethnic carnage?
The president would do well to ponder on these matters. Simply asking people who I am promotes insecurity for me but not law and order for anyone. Refusing to try soldiers accused of war crimes also makes Tamils feel insecure while denying equal treatment in the justice system.