By Emil van der Poorten –
Some nights ago, we were provided with very practical proof of what the Rajapaksa regime’s abandonment of anything resembling law and order means to poor people straining every sinew to make a living for themselves and their families.
As is almost traditional around these parts, those of us who own a few Durian trees that bear fruit, lease those trees out to people from the neighbourhood at fruiting season. While the net returns are probably far less than what might have been realised by harvesting the crop oneself with paid labour, the challenges of predators of the two- as well as the four-legged varieties are reaching insurmountable proportions and the harvesting is best left to those better able to cope with those circumstances and with, perhaps, more than a little larceny in their veins! This season has been no exception and a young man from the neighbourhood submitted his successful bid. He then proceeded to move his wife, three small children, his old father and mother and a young friend into a shack we have on the premises, to gather and safeguard the produce of the trees prior to transportation to a sales point. Let’s call him “M.”
History proceeded to repeat itself a few nights ago.
M and his father had taken a load of durians for sale in the former’s three-wheel tuk-tuk. They’d sold their durians, all day, from the side of the main Kandy-Kurunegala road and, having disposed of the fruit, were returning after nightfall to guard the trees once more. In the meantime, his young friend who’d remained behind, calls him on his mobile phone, telling him that they had been “invaded.” We too had heard and seen the headlights of two motorbikes going past our home in the direction of the durian trees which are adjacent to this road but about 400 metres away and significantly beyond sight of where we live.
In any event, M pulls into our yard and acquaints us with the fact that, not only have two bikes carrying four bandits gone up to the trees but they have been joined by about half a dozen young thugs who have made their way, by a footpath, about 2 or 3 miles from their village, and joined with their mobile cohort.
They’d first raided the lean-to from which M’s young friend was keeping watch and had then gone down to the shack in which M’s mother, wife and three young children were living and which contained the durians collected since the departure of M to market. They had threatened the women and children, grabbed the young woman by her blouse and generally terrorized all of them.
This information had been conveyed to M who asked for our suggestions as to what should be done. I said I’d phone the local police right away because the escape routes available to the motorbike-riders were limited, there being only one way out for them and, if the police sent some officers, they could be trapped very easily before they reached the main highway on their way home.
The Officer-in-Charge of the police station said he’d despatch a mobile patrol and we waited in anticipation of this happening.
In the meantime, some of the thieves had begun coming down the road from the durian grove and had met up with M and his father on their way up in the tuk-tuk. There had been an exchange of words and one of the four thugs had grabbed “M’s” father by the throat. This was more provocation than M could take and it led to an altercation which the thieves, despite their advantage in numbers, had got the worst of. They took off down the hill, leaving behind a not-insubstantial knife.
Soon thereafter, the terrified women and children as well as M’s father and mother arrived at our home and we sought as best we could to comfort, feed and house them for the night.
Despite our efforts to reassure those we’d given shelter to, it wasn’t easy not to panic ourselves when faced with the prospect of gangs of armed drunks roaming around, when one didn’t have so much as a pop-gun for personal protection! Suffice it to say that, on this occasion, the night passed without incident even though everyone did not sleep the sleep of peace and tranquillity!
This was not, by any means, an unique occurrence because every year that M (or anyone else) had been the successful bidder for the durian crop, they’d been subjected to these same tactics, by people from the same village, always armed with swords and knives and under the influence of alcohol and after dark.
The most recent news we had does seem to provide a light at the end of this particular tunnel. The local constabulary, headed by a man who must surely be the Last of the Mohicans insofar as still attempting to play the traditional role of the policeman – To Serve & Protect – has apparently succeeded in arresting several of the miscreants despite their living outside his jurisdiction, in the adjacent North Western Province in fact.
One can but hope that this heralds something of a return to peace in our neighbourhood, though I wouldn’t be holding my breath in anticipation of any such state of affairs occurring anytime soon!
No matter, the rank obscenity of those working hard to earn a living having their parents, wives and children, including, in this case, a babe in arms, subjected to this kind of terror is truly unbelievable. Or should be. But then this is the result of the impunity that this corrupt government has let loose on this country where no one is safe or immune from totally unprovoked and gratuitous violence unless they are connected to the ruling family or its sycophants.