The recent correspondence on trees and the environment reminded my ageing memory of a fascinating bit of oral history I heard from a veteran Kachcheri officer when I was Government Agent of Matara. Driving along a country road he informed me that the old ‘maara’ trees that shaded the road, had been called ‘Lamasuriya Gus” long years ago. This name was to commemorate the British Assistant Government Agent LeMesurier, who ordered the planting of these trees to shade the bullock carts and peasants who wearily trailed these dusty roads.
This was obviously the same Civil Servant who established a settlement in Nuwara Eliya, and it is called ‘Lamasuriyagama’.
He has another claim to fame in the annals of the CCS – he contracted a ‘Muslim Marriage’ with an Englishwoman, without bothering to divorce his first wife! As a resut this interesting chap was booted from the CCS – its first black sheep!
Senerath or Sene, as he was affectionately called, passed away on January 7 plunging his near and dear and a host of his friends and associates into a pool of tears and agony. According to his wife in whose arms he breathed his last, death was instantaneous.
True, he had a few health issues which however did not warrant the kind of quick “exit” he encountered. Senerath, my son-in-law was a doughty fighter who braved his affiliations with great fortitude. The doctors who treated him were baffled by the composure he evinced when confronted with the complications he was doomed to go through. Admirable, isn’t it?
An alumnus of D.S. Senanayake College, he cultivated a strong link with the school and was an active member of the Old Boy’s Association of the school. After a brief career as a Demi Chef in a prestigious hotel in the Middle East, he showed his powers in Real Estate in later years. He was over the moon and basking in the success of his trade.
Sene was an entertainer par excellence. He ran an open house for his plethora of friends and associates. The gregarious animal he was, prompted him to hold musical evenings where singing and dancing went on till the wee hours of the morning. He sang with lilting and melodious resonance. “Baila’ was his forte good lord Bacchus was an indispensable invitee to his parties where he had free rein.
This popular personality was a compulsive humorist who left his audience roaring with uncontrollable laughter. His infectious smile is missed by many. His philanthropy extended far and wide especially to the poor and helpless people in and around where he lived. The received monetary assistance, dry rations and produce from his cultivations.
He had traveled widely and was planning to visit his son who is employed in New Zealand but it was not to be. His daughter had left to the United Kingdom just three days before her father’s passing. He was a loving husband to his wife Lalana and a fond father to Lakitha and Lasandhi. As his father-in-law I join them to invoke blessings of the Noble Triple Gem to help Sene to tread the path to Nibbana.
What has happened to the Sri Lanka Police?
The sorry depths the Sri Lanka Police has plunged into today is a disgrace to our country. Gone are the halcyon days when every policeman on the road or in the police station was looked up to with respect. Until recent times we had fewer police stations in the country and they were manned by very capable officers, be they Inspectors or Sub Inspectors. They knew their job, any offenses committed were quickly detected and the culprits apprehended without delay.
Very rarely did we hear of police officers resorting to graft, maybe except in rare cases where some officer would send a police constable to get his beef, fish, or other requirement from the market free of charge. Another important factor in yesteryear was that no officer boot licked politicians to get their promotions. There was no Police Commission, but the promotions were given to the deserving at the correct time. No junior officer was promoted over his seniors.
At that time, there was only one SP for each Province and four police Ranges, each headed by a DIG (Deputy Inspector General). Now DIGs are a dime a dozen and yet the work done cannot be compared to what was done by a few earlier. OICs of police stations are appointed today according to the whims and fancies of politicians. Any officer who fails to carry out illegal orders of the politicians is sure to be transferred to a difficult station. This change in the system is all for the worse of both the police force as well as the people.
It results in the police turning a blind eye to the illegal activities going on in their areas. These include distilling kasippu, brothels operating without hindrance and drug trafficking as most of these illegal activities are carried out by supporters of the area politicians. The politicians and the police function hand in glove as both parties are duly rewarded for their support of each other.
In recent times we have heard of the worst type of illegal actions indulged in by some police officers. Many ganja plants were detected in an SSP’s residence at a time the police were examining the bags of schoolchildren to check for narcotics being smuggled into schools. The sleuths should have searched the residences of the senior police officers first! Earlier there were three police officers in the Narcotics Bureau caught stealing drugs kept as court productions and sending stocks back into the drug market! Then there was the case of the policeman in charge of court productions who had removed the batteries from two vehicles and sold them. There were other policemen involved in treasure hunting and giving protection to persons felling valuable trees, sand mining illegally and even sexual abuse of underage children.
Now there are squabbles between gazetted officers and subordinates over matters which could be settled amicably. An instance of this nature was reported in the media between the SSP and the OIC of the Kebitigollawa police station. Earlier an SSP had filed a fundamental rights against a Senior DIG alleging he had been threatened by the latter. Such happenings were unheard of, of all places in the Police Department, in the good old days.
The police could not prevent the Easter Sunday suicide bombing which took the lives of over 250 innocents. The police have not been able to apprehend the mastermind behind this heinous crime to date. This on top of the murders of Lasantha Wickramatunge and Wasim Thajudeen. Most recently, the police have not been able to trace those who have threatened the Elections Commissioners even over half a month of the incident.
It is very rarely that we find senior police officers defying illegal orders given either by senior officers or political leaders. It was heartening indeed to hear of an SSP defying orders given to do something against his conscience. He admitted this at a meeting with the minster in charge and left the meeting saying he would not obey illegal orders. This happened long after a DIG stood up and corrected the lady President when she had said something wrong about the police. At neither meeting was the defiant stand by their colleagues endorsed by seniors present. A sad commentary on the way senior police officers behave.
It is only in Sri Lanka that about half the police force is deployed to protect the political establishment: president, prime minister, cabinet and state ministers and MPs. Add former presidents, their spouses and former speakers to this number. Whenever these lawmakers travel by road, there is a police entourage that accompany them. How big this is depends on the standing of the lawmaker escorted. In addition to the waste of manpower there is a huge drain on fuel at a time when ordinary people must make do with a modest weekly ration. The repercussions of this is there are insufficient policemen to check on errant and reckless drivers and prevent avoidable accidents. So also crime prevention by night patrolling of roads as was done earlier. With no terrorist threats today, why can’t each minister be guarded by a single personal security officer as in the past?
Hopefully, the next IGP will be one who had not stooped low to get the position but won it on his own merits. He would then be able to act impartially without carrying out illegal orders of political leaders and also will not give illegal orders to his subordinates. This would help the Sri Lanka police to return to its earlier glory and command the deserved respect of the public.
HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE
Professor Lakshman Marasinghe
(10 March 1934 -1 January 2023)
Professor Lakshman Marasinghe a world recognized authority on Private International Law, and a scholar of international repute, passed away on January 1, 2023. His loss is a blow to the scholarly pursuit of law both in Sri Lanka and around the world. Professor Marasinghe had a long and distinguished teaching career holding appointments as Visiting Professor of Law in many universities around the world.
He held an LLB degree with first class honours from University College, London followed by an LLM with distinction and a Ph D. He was an Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Windsor, Canada, and Visiting Professor of Law to many universities around the world including University of New South Wales, and University of Western Australia, Hong Kong,and Singapore. He was recently appointed to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Commonwealth Law and Education by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Born in Walahapitiya, a town near Chilaw where his father was a leading Proctor and later to be Crown Proctor, Prof Marasinghe had his secondary education at Royal College in Colombo. In school he showed no signs of the outstanding career that lay ahead, when he had to repeat his first year at Royal. Having enrolled in the last year of the Principalship of EL Bradby, Mara as he was fondly called by his classmates, found that at the end of the first year he was called upon to repeat. As a result he was compelled to join the students who enrolled in the school in 1946 of which batch I was one.
That was where our friendship began – 77 years ago. His inability to keep pace in school during the early years may be attributed to a pronounced stutter in his speech which may have not only affected his studies and progress in school, but also his self confidence. His progress in school was ordinary, and like most of us, he opted to choose science as his area of specialization with a view to a career in medicine. Having unsuccessfully made two attempts at gaining entry to the University of Ceylon, he set sail to the UK in 1955 with the aim of making another go at the elusive medical career which did not seem to beckon.
He then decided to do law and enrolled at the University of London. This was the turning point in his career and indeed his life. He finally turned to the career which not only beckoned him, but also embraced him, and was indeed the chosen one for him, if one were to believe in anything called ‘pre ordained”! A truly illustrious career in law followed. His valiant attempts at getting a foothold in a medical career disappeared as did indeed his stutter. Miracles do happen!
We lost contact with each other for many years when one evening in 1999 my phone in Sydney rang and when I answered the caller exclaimed in Sinhalese “Oya Karu da”? I had not spoken in Sinhalese for many years and I was quite surprised but managed to say “Ow mey Karu thamai” to which the caller replied ” Mey Mara katha karanne”. I only knew one Mara and the voice still sounded like him, and that was the beginning of a renewed friendship.
Mara and his then wife Farida were living in an apartment within the Campus of University of New South Wales where he was on a three month assignment as Visiting Professor. There was much catching up to do, and his many assignments with the University of New South Wales, and many shared meals between our families helped us immensely towards that end. I recall the many occasions on which during visits to Sri Lanka my wife and I enjoyed his hospitality in his home in Davidson Road, Bambalapitiya, the rooftop of which was a splendid setting for hosting a meal. He had a well stocked bar, but was not partial to alcohol, only occasionally taking a glass of wine, but that did not deter him from playing the role of a gracious host.
Sometime in I 1998, I together with some friends had launched the Ceylon Society of Australia of which Mara became a member within a year of its establishment. He was also a speaker at one of our meetings where he spoke on pending constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka. About this time he was appointed Chairman of the Law Commission of Sri Lanka and was the legal Director of SCOPP – the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process during the days of the Civil War. He was also a member of the Panel of Experts overseeing the transfer of power from the existing South African Govt to its post apartheid successor and was an integral part in the formation of the constitution of the latter.
The variety of his involvements in his professional life seemed to keep his restless spirit in control. He was always a rationalist, but practical in his views. He was active professionally till his last days when he was stricken with an illness which confined him to bed until his sad passing on New Years Day in 2023. His wife Rohini a lawyer and former judge of the Supreme Court has been a tower of strength to him, and is now destined to walk alone. Rohini currently serves as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
Lakshman Marasinghe leaves a legacy of acclaimed interventions on behalf of aggrieved persons and institutions in pursuit of justice. He is survived by his wife Rohini, former wife Farida, and Leelan, a son by the latter, with all of whom we condole on their sad loss. I grieve the loss of a dear friend from childhood days.May Lakshman Marasinghe attain the Supreme bliss of Nirvana
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