Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We went in ‘Solidarity’ we found ‘Repression’ and we returned ‘Chastened’ by reality.

The Incident where the Dehiyattakandiya OIC assaulted Students who gathered for a peaceful protest on Sunday 29th July, 2012

I was with the Students who came from Colombo, we left on the 11.50pm bus from Pettah to Kaduruwela(Polonnaruwa). We had to take our seats by 10.30pm as otherwise it would be standing room only. We did not take the direct bust to Dehiyattakandiya at 10.15pm, because when we arrived at the bus stand at 8.45pm, all seats had been taken and standing through the night would not have allowed us the energy for the day ahead. I write the latter for readers who do not understand the travails of the majority of people when it comes to normal activity such as travelling distances.

Having arrived at Kaduruwela at dawn we caught an SLTB bus to Dehiyattakandiya in the Digamadulla District and Ampara Electorate, a Rs77 bus ride, that took over an hour and half. It was cool with the sunrise and its colors in the east on the lush paddy fields travelling through Manampitiya, Dimbulagala, Kalukele and Siripura. The bus diverted from the main road to take school children in uniform from the isolated villages to Temple on Sunday morning, a stark contrast to the ‘lama saris’ worn in the Western Province, an indication more of the economic hardships of these villagers, who do not even have the luxury to sew and wear the latter, having to walk distances even to the bus stops. We found ourselves at the Clock Tower at Dehiyattakandiya at 7am, our scheduled time for the demonstration was 11am and we were expecting people from Polonnaruwa, Bibile, Mahiyanganaya and Kandy.

There was a news item on the previous morning, that a student upon receiving her ‘A’ level results reissued with the new Z score, had taken poison and had been admitted to the Dehiyattakandiya Hospital. After a quick discussion, the Sarasavi Yovun Peramuna, the University Students wing of the National Youth Front of the UNP, decided to go to Dehiyattakandiya and protest in solidarity, as this has been an issue the SYP has been protesting since December 26th when the results were first issued and various levels of action had been taken to request the powers to view the subject with importance and not indifference, as it was the lives of students in Sri Lanka and their futures that the Government was playing poker with!

It so happened that Sunday was the most inconvenient day for all those around to come to our demonstration. The UNP youth members of the Dehiyattakandiya Pradeshiya Sabha who in reality could give us assistance, had already left for the rally scheduled for 10am in the SAME ELECTORATE in Ampara, over 100km away. The leader of the opposition was the keynote speaker and so it was a must attend event for them!

Our members in the Polonnaruwa District were engaged in their own electoral activities and meetings, due to the upcoming Provincial Council Elections, and so were unable to send a contingent to support us.

At 11am we were under the shade of a tree at the roundabout, about 10 of us waiting for the arrival of our colleagues from other parts, when a police vehicle drew up, a burly six foot six hunk of a man, a Chief Inspector, and Officer in Charge of the Dehiyattakandiya Police Station got out of the vehicle, and asked us what we were doing, to which we replied that we were waiting for our colleagues before we engage in a peaceful demonstration in regards to the Z score calamity and its aftermath.

He immediately turned aggressive, saying that no one has any right to demonstrate in his area, and demand that we immediately leave the location, and he picked up our property, the cut outs and banners, still unfurled as we had not begun the protest, and got his staff to put into his vehicle. He effectively grabbed them, stole is more like it! and begun ordering us around. We had law students amongst us and told him that what he had just engaged in was a gross violation of the law, and that he had absolutely no right to do what he was doing. We were not engaged in a protest march, we were not obstructing a highway, (if anyone knows the size of the Clock Tower roundabout in Dehiyattakandiya will know there is nothing to match it in size in Colombo!)

He started to hit our colleagues who were now vociferous at his action, the word ‘athin payin gahuwa’ is more appropriate. To the credit of the other police officers around, they did not hit any of our colleagues and only tried to restrain the resulting commotion. If we had done anything wrong he should have arrested us! instead of beating us with his bare hands. I was just horrified at the arrogance of the local chief law enforcement officer!

For different reasons of my own, I could not join in the fray as I was still nursing an injury, and was not able to walk without the aid of the walking stick. The injury was another case of the abuse of the law, where 18 months to the day, the police escort vehicle of the Minister of Justice, crashed into my pickup in Minneriya, destroying my vehicle, and severely injuring me, where I was extricated to be taken to hospital not by the minister’s fleet, but by local people. I have yet to receive a cent in compensation for the huge loss I have suffered at their hands. Such is the rule of law today! That is another story.

In the resulting melee, three of our team was injured and two were dispatched to hospital in Dehiyattakandiya in a vehicle of a Mahiyangana Organizer who had just come after the incident had finished.

The other injured member was the Secretary of the NYF who promptly called the Leader of the Opposition who was at a rally in Ampara, and was about to get on the podium to speak, and briefed him of the event. Within 5 minutes of the incident, the Leader of the Opposition addressing the huge crowd gathered in Ampara, addressed the crowd and informed them that our Students engaged in a peaceful demonstration were illegally attacked by the Police in Dehiyattakandiya, at which point the whole contingent from Dehiyattakandiya almost fell of their chairs in complete shock at the events in their turf, that they were not part of!

The media was present, and I am not happy with their performance! It was the voice cuts from our team soon after the event that the radio stations carried within minutes on their news channels. The local media also depends on the grace and favor of the local OIC for protection, news, and help in their work. They will NOT do anything to jeopardize that! We even suspect that the OIC was about to use the local media to turn the story round to say that the Students attacked him! That is the very serious point here. It is only when there are no local connections, like national media, national politicians, and national student organizations, that can come into the local issues, which without bias and prejudice address some of these issues. If the locals get involved their loyalties are necessarily compromised

What does all this really boil down to? It is simply that the main law enforcement officer in the local areas in Sri Lanka, act as if they are rulers of their areas, not tolerating anyone from elsewhere for ANY reason. They in cahoots with the local politicians, appear to terrorize the local people into submission. I suspect, the locals did not support us was for that very reason. They can accuse people with trumped up charges, and poor people have no way of obtaining the legal redress in the villagers, whereas in the main towns, there is better representation to assist people in cases of injustice.

This incident opened our eyes to what takes place in rural Sri Lanka today. The power of the OIC, and the fear they generate over the local people. It is no wonder that the local politicians are those engaged in most of the crime, or at least are stakeholders therein. It is a combination of the top cop of the area and top pol that even opposition politicians have to engage in an accommodation with. After all once the event came to light, the opposition elected members of our party, were a little cagey to go against their own top cop. He can make life miserable for them. After all they interceded on behalf of their local people, when they have a brush with the law, fair or not. It is they who have to face the wrath of the local OIC if he turns out to be unreasonable. Think about it for a moment, and a whole restructuring of the institution is required.

The original reason and intention of our demonstration suddenly takes second place to the much more serious allegation of “misuse of the law, and the justice system”, to instill fear and terror on the local population. For his fate the OIC today, faced students who were not frightened to talk back and tell him he was wrong. The village people do not have that courage and knowledge, so the law is misused in this way.

It is high time that the Rulers realize that (I am afraid they realize it and use it to their own political advantage and survival) and do something to bring back the rule of law to the country. Remember, when we feel safe in our homes not confronted with this issue, we must realize there are others who are not as fortunate and we must fight for justice for them. Otherwise when there is abuse of power that affects you, there will be no one to fight your case.

Ranjit Hulugalle                                          Ranjit.Hulugalle@gmail.com

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