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Learning the ropes at the Police Training School

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(Continued from last week excerpts from the memoirs or Retired Senior DIG Edward Gunawardena)

When training commenced there was never a dull moment. The routine consisted of early morning parade with rifle exercises or PT, lectures on law and police work from breakfast to lunch, motor cycle riding in the afternoons and games at which all ranks joined from 4 p.m. onwards (this was termed “games with the men”). Twice a week a night patrol was also compulsory – one before midnight and one after. I still remember a trainee Sub-Inspector who often accompanied me was Dhanasiri Weerasinghe, more famous as a cricketer.

The rigid programme that had to be followed by the trainees was certainly made pleasant by the trainers who were police veterans. These Inspectors were not lacking in humour. Ekanayake The Chief Lecturer, James Senaratne, Terry Amarasekera, Rosairo, Petersz, Jaleel and Alex Abeysekera were all hellbent on impressing on the young officers that there was no other sector in the government Service superior to the police. Stanley Senanayake and Fred Brohier had separate informal sessions with the three of us. These discussions were to impress on us the standards expected of gazetted officers in discipline, general behaviour and demeanour and professional ethics.

Sergeant Major Nallawansa had a knack to make us laugh at appropriate moments even on the parade ground. When we saw the Police Band on the parade ground, he turned to Mahendran and in his deep baritone voice said, “Sir, that band will play at your funeral!”

 

The Communal Riots of 1958

Barely had the three of us completed ninety days of training, an event of historical significance was to take place in which the police had to play the decisive role. Since S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike came into power in 1956 with “Sinhala only in twenty four hours” as the main plank of his election platform, friction between the Sinhala and Tamil people had been simmering.

As early as the post election months of 1956 clashes had erupted in the Amparai District which had been quelled early by the Police. But with radical politicians from both sides of the divide fomenting unrest the bubble burst in May 1958. With the murder of an influential Sinhalese in Batticaloa District and rumours spreading of all types of gruesome harassment such as the cutting off the breasts of Sinhalese women, virulent hatred spread like wildfire. Initial hesitancy on the part of Bandaranaike to deal firmly with the Sinhalese aggressors aggravated the situation; and violence soon spread to all parts of the island.

Kalutara District was one of the worst affected. Incited by radical local, criminally inclined politicians, all the Tamils of the district in both the urban and rural areas in mortal fear, began to seek shelter at police stations. Murder, arson and looting was reported mainly from Panadura, Kalutara and Beruwala. The Police Training School was not an operational institution. The task of maintaining law and order was the responsibility of the Kalutara police division that was under Superintendent Sol Goonetillake. The talk among the officers at the Training School was that the Kalutara Police had failed.

In the meantime large numbers of destitute Tamil men, women and children began to seek protection in the school. The Director, on his own initiative was quick to make arrangements to accommodate the hundreds that were streaming in. They had to be provided with food, shelter and security. The three new ASPS took to these tasks like ducks to water. The three of us began to experience in full measure the humanitarian nature of police responsibilities. Violence had reached a peak when the state of emergency declared by the government began to take effect.

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, the Governor-General, took charge of the situation and the police was given full emergency powers. Sydney de Zoysa, DIG, the man considered ideal for such a situation was in charge of the entire western coastal belt from Colombo southwards to Galle and beyond. One of his earliest tasks was to give Sol Goonetilleke, SP Kalutara, a respite and entrust Stanley Senanayake, Director of Police Training, with the task of restoring law and order in the Kalutara District.

The Police Training School had two distinct tasks. The first was to provide the necessary direction and leadership to the police of the district to prevent mob violence, arson and looting. The second was to provide sustenance and protection to over 2,000 refugees who had been accommodated in the vast premises. In both these tasks I had to play a leadership role. I revelled in leading armed mobile patrol units and making arrests. I also gladly took on tasks that provided succour to the refugees. One was to aggressively assist the Director in the requisitioning of food stocks from dealers in Kalutara to feed the refugees. In this task A.M.S. Perera, the Govt. Agent of Kalutara and Francis Pietersz, the AGA who was a civil service cadet, were extremely co-operative. It was an irony of fate that Indrani Gomesz, the fiancee of Francis Pietersz, and her parents who were respected teachers of Holy Cross College had to be accommodated in the Training School as refugees. They were comfortably lodged at the Magul Maduwa, the assembly hall.

Something significant that I was able to observe early in my police life was the spontaneous manner in which women could rise to the occasion for the fulfillment of tasks that required understanding, sympathy and care. Overcome by fear of death or physical hurt this mass of refugees were a pathetic sight. They were not political propagandists or terrorists. They were innocent beings that belonged to humankind. I saw how they sincerely worshiped Mrs. Maya Senanayake, who by her looks and behaviour stood out as the leader of the men and women that catered to their needs.

This inner expression of gratitude was seen as many women and children turned hysterical when they had to be taken to a camp at the Colombo race course to be sent to Jaffna. To them Maya Senanayake had provided a safe and comfortable home, Jaffna was only a dream against all the care and safety they were enjoying. They were apprehensive of what was happening outside the Police Training School.

The order to take the majority of these refugees (or Internally Displaced Persons — IDPs) to the Colombo Race Course had to be meticulously planned. Twenty buses of the Ceylon Transport Board arranged by the G.A. Kalutara reported to the Aluvihare Grounds of the PTS (Police Training School). Once all the evacuees had boarded the buses, boxes containing food parcels (bread and seeni sambol) and bottles of water were handed over to the bus crews. Security was of prime importance. Once the motorcade was formed the rear was brought up by a ‘riot truck’ with armed policemen. Inspector James Senaratne was in charge of this riot truck. Several Jeeps with armed policemen led the way. I was in the first Jeep armed with a Sterling sub machine gun. The fear was that the convoy would be attacked by organized Sinhala criminal activists particularly when passing Wadduwa, Waskaduwa and Panadura areas. However the journey to the race course was smooth and uneventful.

Of my stay at the PTS what I remember most is the humanitarian operation referred to above. The image that existed in my mind of the police as a crime busting entity full of risks and adventure changed dramatically when I witnessed the role that the police played in the alleviation of human suffering. The leadership role played by Stanley Senanayake and his wife, Maya, most certainly impacted on me to a great extent. They, by their exemplary conduct convinced me that the police as a profession can do much to make ordinary people comfortable and happy. As I progressed along in the police I realized that the opportunities for such consolation were indeed plentiful in day to day police work.

By the time I left the PTS for field training in the Criminal Investigation Department and the Colombo Police Div. I had learnt criminal law adequate for police work and covered a lot of ground on the theoretical aspects of this work. However, I would like to emphatically maintain that the first hand experience I had of the communal riots equipped me with the confidence so vital in decision making under critical conditions. It certainly exceeded what could have been acquired in years of training. This is what experience is all about. Surprisingly we still come across people in high places who try to equate experience to length of service on the job!

The stint at the PTS, apart from basic policing and police administration taught me many more things including the importance of physical fitness, riding of heavy motorcycles, to aggressively play soccer and rugger and above all the riding of horses. It was with the greatest of ease that I took to horse riding. I was the first out of the three of us to pass the riding test. I remember this test was conducted by Sydney de Zoyza and Cecil Wambeek. The test consisted of trotting, cantering and galloping. The acid test was when the horse had to jump over a bar. With the police stables getting ex racers from the Turf Club I had the opportunity of riding even Christmas Stocking and Devilment two thoroughbreds that had won the Governor’s Cup, the blue riband of the local turf.

An impression strongly etched in my mind of the Police Training School of the fifties was its cleanliness and the orderly manner in which all the activities were conducted. It did not take time for me to realize that the Director and the entire staff were strictly following a tradition that had taken root at PTS when it commenced in the forties under the pioneering leadership of Sydney de Zoyza. The roads, the buildings, the open areas, the parade grounds and the artificial lakes were spotlessly clean. They stood testimony to the discipline of the institution, the hallmark of the PTS. Without being told or reminded I began to discard my cigarette butts and empty packets to the bins. I learnt not even to throw away a used match stick; and I began to pick up little bits of paper if they did appear on my path. The Japanese 5 S concept was not even heard of then!



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President picks up the gauntlet

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by Jehan Perera

By proroguing parliament President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given the parliamentarians, and the country at large, a reminder of the power of the presidency. There was no evident reason for the president to suddenly decide to prorogue parliament. More than 40 parliamentary committees, including important ones concerning public finances, enterprises and accounts have ceased to function. The president’s office has said that when parliament reconvenes on February 8, after the celebration of the country’s 75th Independence Day on February 4, the president will announce new policies and laws, which will be implemented until the centenary celebrations of Sri Lanka’s independence in 2048. Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew transformed Singapore from a relatively underdeveloped and impoverished agrarian society into one of the world’s most developed countries in the same 25 years that the president has set for Sri Lanka.

President Wickremesinghe has been getting increasingly assertive regarding his position on issues. Recently he attended a large gathering of Muslim clerics, where he was firm in saying that society needs to modernise, and so do religious practices. He has also held fast to his positions on reviving the economy and resolving the economy. There have been widespread protests against the tax hikes being implemented which have eroded the purchasing power of taxpayers. First they had to absorb the impact of inflation that rose to a rate of 80 percent at the time the country reneged on its foreign debt repayments and declared bankruptcy. Now they find their much diminished real incomes being further reduced by a tax rate that reaches 36 percent.

But the government is not relenting. President Wickremesinghe, who holds the finance minister’s portfolio, is going against popular sentiment in being unyielding on the matter of taxes. He appears determined to force the country away from decades of government policies that took the easy route of offering subsidies rather than imposing taxes to use for government expenses and development purposes. In Sri Lanka, the government’s tax revenue is less than 8 percent, whereas in comparable countries the tax revenue is around 20 to 25 percent. The long term cost of living off foreign borrowings rather than generating resources domestically through taxation has been evident for a long while in the slow growth of the economy even prior to the economic collapse.

13TH AMENDMENT

Another area in which the president appears to have taken the decision to stand firm is the issue of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict. This problem has proven to be unresolvable by governments and political leaders who give deference to ethnic nationalism. Being an ethnic nationalist in the context of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious divisions has been a sure way of gaining votes and securing election victories. No leader in Sri Lanka has to date been able to implement the compromise solutions that they periodically arrived at, the last being the 13th Amendment. Earlier ones included the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965 which could not even be started to be implemented.

At the All Party meeting that he summoned to discuss the ethnic conflict and national reconciliation, President Wickremesinghe took the bull by the horns. He exchanged words with ethnic nationalist parliamentarians who sought to challenge his legitimacy to be making changes. He said, “It is my responsibility as the Executive to carry out the current law. For approximately 37 years, the 13th Amendment has been a part of the constitution. I must implement or someone has to abolish it by way of a 22nd amendment to the constitution by moving a private member’s bill. If the bill was voted against by the majority in the House, then the 13th amendment would have to be implemented. We can’t remain in a middle position saying that either we don’t implement the 13th amendment or abolish it.”

The 13th Amendment has not been fully implemented since it was passed by parliament with a 2/3 majority in 1987. Successive governments, including ones the president has been a member of variously as a minister or prime minister, have failed to implement it in a significant manner, especially as regards the devolution of police and land powers. When parliament reconvenes on February 8 after prorogation, President Wickremesinghe will be provided the opportunity to address both the parliament and the country on the way forward. Having demonstrated the power of the presidency to prorogue parliament at his discretion, he will be able to set forth his vision of the solution to the ethnic conflict and the roadmap that needs to be followed to get to national reconciliation.

IRONIC PERSECUTION

It is significant that on February 20, the president will also acquire the power to dissolve parliament at his discretion. By proroguing parliament, the president has sent a message to both parliamentarians and the larger society that he will soon have the power to dissolve parliament with the same suddenness that he prorogued parliament. On February 20, the parliament would have been in existence for two and a half years. The 21st Amendment empowers the president to dissolve parliament after two and a half years. Most of the parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party are no longer in a position to go to their electorates let alone canvass for votes among the people. Under these fraught circumstances, they would not wish to challenge the president or his commitment to implementing the 13th Amendment in full.

On the other hand, the taming of parliament by the president does not guarantee the success of an accommodation on the ethnic conflict and a sustainable political solution. The ethnic conflict evokes the primordial sentiments of the different ethnic and religious communities. Political parties and politicians are often portrayed as the villains who led the country to decades of ethnic conflict and to war. However, the conflict in the country predates the political parties. In 1928, in response to demands from community leaders in Ceylon as it was then known, the British colonial rulers sent a commission to the country to ascertain whether it was ready for self-rule. The assessment was negative—the Donoughmore commission wrote that the representatives of the biggest community held to the position that their interest was the national interest. All the representatives of the smaller communities who were divided one against the other were united against the biggest.

An important role therefore devolves upon civil society not to fall prey to the divisions that come down the years. There is a need for enlightened leaders of civil society to work with commitment to explain to the people the need for a political solution and inter-ethnic power sharing that the 13th Amendment makes possible. There were signs of this during the height of the Aragalaya when the youth leading the protests called publicly for equal citizenship and non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and caste. They pledged not to be divided by ethnic nationalist politicians for their narrow electoral purposes. It is ironic that the government led by President Wickremesinghe has made these enlightened youth leaders the target of a campaign of persecution instead of making them a part of the solution by constructively engaging with them and issuing a general amnesty.

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Privatisation of education and demonising of students of Lanka

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Student union leader Wasantha Mudalige with prison guards

by Anushka Kahandagamage

Sri Lanka is trapped in debt due to decades of corruption and short-sighted economic policies. To come out of the trap or, I would say, escape the moment, the government is seeking loans from the IMF, or anybody else who is willing to lend, no matter the conditions. To this end, under the IMF’s tutelage, the government is seeking to privatise education, aware that it will face the wrath of the people. In this setting, to suppress the protests, the government has adopted a strategy of demonising students, in the public education system.

School children as “drug addicts”

A media empire, which has strong ties with the current Lankan regime, recently sent shockwaves through schools, and their communities, by reporting cases of school children hooked on harmful narcotics. Following these reports, there were many write ups, social media content and stories published on the menace of drug addiction, among Sri Lankan students. That media network even released a video, interviewing two schoolgirls who claimed to be addicted to harmful substances. In the midst of the media frenzy, the police carried out surprise checks in schools, searching students’ bags. The state humiliated and terrified school children by using the police to conduct surprise checks in the schools and peek into the students’ backpacks, instead of investigating the avenues through which dangerous drugs enter the country. After a week, the Minister of Education claimed he was unaware that the police were conducting surprise checks in schools, with sniffer dogs, adding that there was no need to deploy the police force for this purpose. If the Minister was not aware that the police raided schools, it is not surprising that the state would also turn a blind eye to how narcotics enter the country. While there is a risk of students addicting to dangerous drugs, the state cannot place all the blame on students. Instead of taking responsibility for the state of affairs, and acting to keep harmful substances off the island, the state places the burden on schoolchildren and simply refers to them as “drug addicts.”

Bhikku students as “alcoholics”

The next example is from the Buddhist and Pali University, in Homagama. Similar to the first story, the same media network reported some irregularities occurring in the University. Those irregularities included the student monks forcing incoming students, also monks, to consume weed, liquor and party. Following this news report, some investigations were conducted in the University and empty liquor bottles were found in an abandoned well. Then we witnessed several press conferences where University authorities questioned the student monk leaders. While one cannot and should not disregard students’ violence upon another student, it is interesting to note the way the government is taking up the particular incident, at this particular point of time. There was a massive social media campaign to show that the student-monks are immoral and unworthy of education. It cannot be a coincidence that the student monks, at this University, were actively involved in the Aragalaya. In other words, the government was trying to defame the University, and the students, by labelling them as oppressors and alcoholics.

The Rajapaksa regime continuously used Buddhist monks, in their political operations, especially to incite conflict and win elections. The state has frequently deployed Buddhist monks to further its nationalist agendas. When the state used monks for their agendas, including to instigate violence, the monks were not framed as ‘immoral.’ The higher Buddhist authorities did not take action against groups, like Bodu Bala Sena, or Ravana Balaya, or their violent activities. It is ironic that the Government seems to be concerned about the ‘morality’ or ‘discipline’ of Bhikkus at this moment when many student Bhikkus have joined hands with the people to protest against the state.

University students as “terrorists”

The last example is the most pressing at this moment. On 18th of August, 2022, the police arrested Wasantha Mudalige, the Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Along with him, the authorities detained Hashan Jeewantha and the convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), Galwewa Siridhamma Thera. The state labelled the politically active university students as “terrorists”. Again, this cannot have happened by chance; we all know the Aragalaya against the Rajapaksa dictatorship was heavily influenced by the Inter-University Students Federation and the Inter University Bhikku Federation. The student unions were the muscle of the people’s protests against the oppressive and corrupt regime. The Ranil-Rajapaksa regime labelled the student leaders’ terrorists and started arresting them.

The state’s stamping of University students as terrorists is a folly. If the state labels its own youth as “terrorists,” it means that the state has failed miserably because it is its own actions that have pushed them toward what is labelled as “terrorism.” The state should take a step back and reconsider its decisions.

Privatization of Education

The government and the government-validating media demonize students, labelling them as drug addicts, alcoholics and terrorists. The government undermines and defames the country’s student body. By doing so, the government is strategically isolating the students from the larger society and eroding public faith in them. Ironically, drug addicts, alcoholics, and terrorists are all confined to the public school and state university system, not private educational institutions. The media propagates the idea that students enrolled in the state education system are ‘immoral’ and ‘disobedient’. Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the puppet President of the Rajapaksa allies, proposes a new economic system which he thinks will counter the current balance of payment crisis. The proposal includes establishing an educational hub in Sri Lanka, which promises to privatise higher education in the long-term.

The state agenda of privatizing education is not a recent one, but it has been reenergized by the Ranil-Rajapaksa government in the context of crisis. Well before demonising the students, in the public education system, in June 2022 the government, national education commission, came up with an education policy framework.

Biased towards Rajapaksa ideologies, the national education commission that developed the policy, proposed to expand the privatization of higher education. In their report, the committee presents a table demonstrating how Sri Lanka allocates less money on higher education compared with the other middle-income countries. The next section outlines the way Sri Lanka relies more on government grants for higher education than other middle-income countries, which is confusing and contradictory, perhaps reflecting the grossly inadequate overall investment in higher education in the country. Then the report goes on to analyse how the poor school education system creates an unskillful student who is unable to think critically. It finally recommends promoting private participation in higher education, not only through funding but also by matching the curricula to fit the market and increase the “employability” of students. While on the one hand government pushes for privatising higher education, on the other, it demonizes the students in the public educational system. The State has seized the problem by its tail. The government is unable to perceive its own flaws in short-sighted policymaking, law enforcement, and corruption, and instead accuses and defames students, to distract them from its concerted effort to privatise education.

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

(Anushka Kahandagamage is reading for her PhD in the School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)

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Janaka…Keeping the Elvis scene alive

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Janaka Palapathwala: Recreating the Presley era…through song.......

For the past three years, local performers have certainly felt the heat, where work is concerned, beginning with the Easter Sunday tragedy, followed by Covid-19 restrictions, and then the political situation

Right now, there seems to be a glimmer of light, at the end of the tunnel, and musicians are hoping that, finally, the scene would brighten up for the entertainment industry.

Janaka Palapathwala, whose singing style, and repertoire, is reminiscent of the late Elvis Presley, says he was so sad and disappointed that he could not reach out to his fans, around the world, because of the situation that cropped up in the country.

However, he did the next best thing possible – a Virtual Concert, early last year, and had this to say about it:

“The concert was witnessed by so many people around the world, in 12 different countries, and I take this opportunity to thank all those who showed a great interest, around the world, to make the show a mighty success. Lasantha Fernando of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the USA, went out of the way to pull a huge crowd, in the States, to make the concert a massive success. Lasantha, by the way, has done many shows, in Minnesota, including a concert of mine, four years ago.”

Toward the end of 2022, the showbiz scene started to look good, with musicians having work coming their way – shows, sing-alongs, events, overseas tours, recordings, etc.

Janaka added that the Gold FM ’70s show was back after six years, and that the music industry is grateful to Gold FM for supporting musicians with such an awesome event.

“Also, the unity and the togetherness of the Sri Lankan western musicians, scattered around the globe, were brought together, once again, by the guidance of Melantha Perera.

“The song ‘Baby Jesus Is Fast Asleep’, written, composed and directed by Melantha, was a true Christmas gift to people around the world.”

Referring to his career, Janaka said that these days he is involved in a mega video production project.

“I intend to do a road show for a total Dinner Dance Promotion package, titled ‘Janaka with Melantha and the Sign’.

“Phase One of the project is already completed, and we are now heading for the second phase, where we plan to get Sohan Weerasinghe, Clifford Richards and Stephanie Siriwardane involved in the cast”.

Janaka also spoke excitedly about his forthcoming trip to the USA.

“I’m so excited to tour the USA, after three years. The ‘Spring Tour USA 2023′ is going to be different.

“I’ve done formal concerts, in the States, but this Spring Tour will be a series of Dinner Dances where I would be seen in action, along with the top ranked DJ of Washington D.C., Shawn Groove, and some of the best domestic bands in the States, and I can assure all my friends, and fans, in the US, that this new venture is going to be doubly exciting.”

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