By S. V. Kirubaharan –
The POLICE stand for politeness, obedience, a listening ear, investigations, consultations, trust and maybe other meanings too. Are all these respected in today’s policing? In Sri Lanka, one cannot say that the whole of policing is in jeopardy – there are good and bad eggs. The problem in Sri Lanka is that politicians as well as the wealthiest trouble-makers manipulate the police. History has proved that this doesn’t work in the long run. ‘The mills of GOD grind slow but sure’. Presently two DIGs and some other high-ranking Police officers are remanded in custody and another DIG has been sentenced to death.
On 23 November, I was not surprised to read of the arrest of K.L.M. Sarathchandra who was the former co-ordinating secretary of the Security Division of the former President and former Special Task Force (STF) Commander for misusing a state vehicle. The Sri Lankan press has failed to give any details of his ‘misuse of a state vehicle’, where and for what?
Those who don’t know the history of Tamil militancy may not know who Sarathchandra is. There are many reasons for the birth of Tamil militancy, but one should not forget that it intensified due to mis- handling by then governments as well as by the police.
Now-a-days, the majority of the people and some politicians in the South, as well as the security forces blame Pirapaharan without analyzing the root causes that gave birth to and intensified militancy.
I knew this Sarathchandra in the late 70s as the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of Annaikoddai Police station in Jaffna. Then he was a sub-inspector of Police. He was a tyrant not only in his designated policing area, but in the whole of Jaffna. To be frank, people in Jaffna then knew more about him, than about Pirapaharan – I am not exaggerating.
Here I will quote only a few incidents to show how he took the law into his own hands and his tyranny encouraged Tamil youths to become militants.
One evening, in his policing area, four school-going students were chatting on the door-steps of the library, as they leaving after studying there. This gentleman came in civil clothes with another two policemen in a car borrowed from a rich man and started to beat up all those students for no reason. I saw this incident. He beat them mercilessly until his baton broke into pieces. It is to be noted that after a few years two of those students died at a young age. These were natural deaths but his beating may have contributed to their death, for example by causing undiagnosed internal injuries.
I still remember he assaulted a young lawyer’s assassistant. The Lawyer had just passed out from Law College and was starting his practice in Jaffna. He made a complaint to the superintendent of Police in Jaffna.
While Sarathchandra was the OIC at Annaikoddai, he misused others’ vehicles. He also associated with an Ayurvedic practitioner who was criminally responsible for many unlawful acts. After Sarathchandra was transferred from Annaikoddai, this practitioner who was in association with him, was arrested by the CID for murdering one of his aides and dumping his body in a paddy field. This practitioner died while remanded in custody due to some illness.
Then there was the killing of two youths in his policing area at Navaly and another five youths on the same day in Jaffna. Sarathchandra was one of the people accused of carrying out these murders.
Regarding these killings, there were neither inquiries nor court cases. To be frank, this person is an example of how impunity prevails in Sri Lanka. The complaints about Sarathchandra are still in the archives of many lawyers in Jaffna. But he rose from the rank of sub-inspector to DIG with special powers in the Police.
Some excerpts regarding those killings are given below :
“On the 11th of July 1979. President Jayawardene appointed his nephew Brigadier Weeratunga, as commander of the security forces in Jaffna… On the same day, a state of emergency was declared in Jaffna, and a Public Security Ordinance gave the police and armed forces the power to dispose of dead bodies without an inquest.
On the night of the 14th of July, six Tamil youths were taken from their homes – three were never seen again. The mutilated bodies of two others were found the next day, and the sixth youth died later in Jaffna prison hospital. By this time a Prevention of Terrorism Act had been brought into operation. (Excerpt)
The mutilated bodies of the 27-year-old Inbam (Visvajothi Erattinam) and 29-year-old Selvam (Selvaratnam) were found near the Pannai causeway next morning and were handed over to Jaffna Hospital. They bore gunshot injuries and torture marks. Their skulls were broken. Indrarajah died two days after he was handed over to the Jaffna hospital by the police with multiple fractures and injuries he sustained due to the ruthless assault. Jaffna Hospital authorities held an inquest into the deaths of Inbam, Selvam and Indrarajah despite the emergency regulations which had done away with inquests. The verdict of the Jaffna magistrate, delivered on the death of Indrarasa, on 8 January 1980 was: “The death was due to cardio-respiratory failure consequent to renal tubular necrosis consequent to shock and hemorrhage resulting from multiple injuries. There is evidence of assault by Police. I return the verdict of homicide.” Similar verdicts were returned about the death of Inbam and Selvam. Of the six youths arrested on the horrifying 13 July night the other three, R. Balendra, S Parameswaran and S Rajeswaran, disappeared without trace. Balendra’s name still heads the long list of the disappeared persons from the Northern Province. (Pirapaharan, Chapter 20 Jaffna Turned Torture Chamber)
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Within days of its passage in July 1979, under the State of Emergency, a number of Tamil youth were killed including Inpam and Selvaratnam and their bodies thrown into the Pannai causeway in Jaffna. Four other Tamil youth, Parameswaran, Rajeswaran, Rajakili and Balendran disappeared, thus initiating the era of the culture of disappearances. These are just a few instances brought to light by the Amnesty International in their 1980 report: “…six young men, reported arrested in the days after emergency declaration, died in the custody of the police after having been tortured and the bodies of three of them have still not been found…..” (Tissanayagam, the convenient Tamil scapegoat for the State to keep journalists terrorised)
Due to the many complaints against him, eventually Sarathchandra was transferred to Valvetithurai – VVT in Jaffna. VVT was considered then to be the most difficult station in Jaffna. He used his political influence and got himself transferred out of VVT.
After a few years I came to know that he was attached to the STF. This was also not a surprise to me, because the STF has the powers of the police as well as the military which are very suitable for his tyranny. During his long service with the STF in the East, he was responsible for many notorious activities. There are numerous cases of torture carried out by the STF in Ampara, Akkaraipattu, Thirukovil, Kalmunai, Karaithivu, Kokaddicholai, Pottuvil, Batticaloa and many other places in the East. There were incidents in which victims were arrested and buried in sand up to their necks on the beaches then their hair and head were set on fire. There were also killings where people had tyres put around their bodies which were then lit and they were burned alive.
Parliamentarians and journalists who worked tirelessly to highlight the human rights situation in the East were killed one after the other within a short period – Joseph Pararajasingham M.P, Ariyanayagam Chandranehru M.P, journalists Taraki Dharmeratnam Sivaram, Aiyathurai Nadesan and others.
Our question is whether the present Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi will look into the whole record of Sarathchandra for action or will this just be an eye-washing inquiry about the misuse of a state vehicle?
If the above-mentioned VIPs are reluctant to go through the record of this notorious DIG, I presume that the Chief Justice can look into his service record for further inquiry and action.
Also the police can make further inquiries about the questionable STF circular/leaflet sent out in support of President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the Presidential election in 2010. In the interests of good governance there is a duty to look into all his notorious activities and the complaints made against Sarathchandra.
Rather than blaming Pirapaharan for thirty years of war, honest people should blame people like Sarathchandra for adding fuel to the militancy, encouraging Tamils youths to take up arms.
When Sarathchandran was accused of killing those youths in Jaffna, many did not know who Pirapaharan was. Such a police officer rose from the rank of sub-inspector to DIG of the STF and co-ordinating secretary of the Presidential Security Division. In such a situation, how can the entrenched culture of impunity in Sri Lanka be challenged?
My prediction is that, in 2020 both elections – Presidential as well as Parliamentary will instate Gotbaya Rajapaksa as Executive President of Sri Lanka and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. In such a scenario K. L. M. Sarathchandra will be Defence Secretary. In order to discredit Sarath Fonseka, more army officers will be ranked as Field Marshals. This will create a path for the tyrant regime to carry out more corruption and ‘tit for tat’ against the present Ministers and others. This is the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.