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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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Playing politics with science!

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It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

 

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

If you thought it was only our politicians who played politics with science, you thought wrong. Admittedly, ours are pretty bad as evident from the Dhammika peniya episode. We had our Health Minister freely advertising the concoction by ingesting it in her office and wasting the valuable time of academics by instructing them to test it for efficacy. Getting a pretty bad attack of Covid-19 demonstrated the idiocy of her action but she continues unashamedly to be our Minister of Health!

A Professor of Pharmacology turned politician did likewise. Forgetting what he taught his students, he supported the untested therapies, the explanation given by one of his colleagues being that he behaved as a politician, not a scientist! By implication, even scientists can forget science when they become politicians! Funnily, he was rewarded by being appointed the Acting Minister of Health the day the Health Minister was discharged from hospital, which was rather bizarre considering that during the Minister’s prolonged period of hospital-stay there was no acting appointment! Perhaps, fearing that he might take the bread out of her mouth, the Minister returned to office within a few days of discharge.

Although the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was very effectively controlled, the loss of efficiency as regards the second wave was due no doubt to allowing non-scientific ideas to creep in. The refusal of permission for the burial of Covid-19 victims in spite of a group of top scientists recommending it, made us look foolish and turned international opinion against the country.

The clamour for vaccination is a welcome sign, more so because the UK is continually producing evidence for the extreme efficacy of vaccination.

The UK was the first country in the world to start vaccination and has already vaccinated more than 21 million of its 66 million population. It started with the Pfizer vaccine, closely followed by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. EU, which was a late starter, was critical of the Oxford AZ vaccine. The French President Emmanuel Macron is obviously guilty of playing politics with science as he was one of the vaccine’s most vociferous critics, calling it “quasi-ineffective” for the elderly. As a result of political comments of this nature, more than half of EU countries limited the Oxford AZ vaccine to those under 65 years, in spite of the European Medicines Agency approving it for all age groups.

Another political appointee, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, had a public spat with AstraZeneca over gaining more of its vaccine doses and introduced a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; she was forced to reverse her decision, quickly. She then suggested the UK had compromised on “safety and efficacy” by approving the jab so early, despite the EMA reaching the same conclusions as the UK’s internationally-respected MHRA, which approved the Oxford AZ vaccine for all ages. Millions of doses of Oxford AZ vaccine, which they obtained in spite of criticism, remain unused in France and Germany. Why did they not have the generosity to give these to struggling countries like Sri Lanka?

Data released by Public Health England (PHE) shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections among those 70 years and over. Since January, protection against symptomatic Covid-19, four weeks after the first dose, ranged between 57 and 61% for Pfizer and between 60 and 73% for the Oxford AZ vaccine.

In the over 80s, data suggest that a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalisation, around 3 to 4 weeks after the jab. There is also evidence for 83% reduction in deaths from Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccine and data for Oxford AZ vaccine is awaited.

European aversion to Oxford AZ vaccine is, no doubt, due to Brexit than to science. Very soon, all EU countries would be forced by science to allow all age groups to have the Oxford AZ vaccine which, by the way, is the cheapest vaccine that is easier to transport and store. Politicians who criticised Oxford AZ vaccine have had to eat humble pie but they will no doubt come out with some claim to justify their idiocy!

A Belgian minister, Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker, has angered vaccine manufacturers by revealing sensitive and confidential commercial information – the price that the EU has agreed to pay for the leading Covid-19 vaccines. Though her twitter message was deleted quickly, screenshots taken show that the EU agreed prices for the three vaccines used at present are as follows: Oxford/AstraZeneca: €$ 1.78, Pfizer/BioNTech : €$ 12 and Moderna: $18.

Moderna, a Bio-tech company, which has not been profitable so-far, is heading for wind-fall profits and the drug-giant Pfizer will get richer. No one seems to have followed the noble gesture of AstraZeneca, which agreed with the Oxford group to provide the vaccine on no-profit basis.

It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

As Dolly Parton sang with a rewrite of her famous song ‘Jolene’ whilst having her jab:

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

 

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Who wants to live forever?

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The haunting lyrics of The Queen song and the almost plaintive tone in Freddie Mercury’s oh so unique voice, when he sang this song (particularly in his live performance at Wembley), echo through my mind these days. There are two main reasons why longevity is foremost these days.

The first, of course, being the pandemic that is among us. It may be the first time that the civilian population of the entire world is facing the possibility of sudden death, not from incoming fire or even suicide bombers but from an insidious, unseen, minute germ!

The second reason why the length of our lives and prolonging it for as long as we possibly can have been entering my thoughts, is when I see the scramble to get the anti-virus vaccine that I observe in the Pearl. Now, most of us are Buddhists and somewhere in those teachings is a belief that we come into this world with a certain amount of AYUSHA or length of life, and that when that is over the end happens and there is no choice. At least, that is the basic interpretation of undoubtedly very complex teaching.

If that is the case, why this scramble for the vaccine? Why are we using privileged positions (connections to rulers and politicians), connections to doctors, and even the Mayors of certain cities to short-circuit the waiting lists? Older people are complaining that they are being denied the vaccine, why? Those people have probably achieved all their objectives in life, completed successful lives, seen grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, why do they want to deny some young man or woman starting out on life with all those milestones to reach, the vaccine, particularly if they are devoted to the teachings of the Buddha.

Is it selfishness, greed, and avarice, things we should avoid according to these self-same teachings, or is it simply one-up-man-ship and the need to be able to boast that they got the vaccine when the “ordinary” man is still standing in queues and probably infecting each other due to the total chaos and non-observance of Covid protocols in these places of administering the vaccine? Think about it dear readers, especially those of you who have completed productive and useful lives, brought up “successful” children, and as is the way in our society provided them with houses, lands, dowries, and other ways of sustenance. Do we really need to join this scramble for the vaccine? Or, use our position of privilege to probably deny some younger person, with a life to live, the chance of getting it. Is it even our ego (something else we should control and make less significant in our lives and decisions) that allows us to justify our long existence in this world? They need my superior intellect, does this world and this society, therefore I must live as long as possible! Or, is it simply the basic animal instinct to live as long as possible, something that we as humans with our superior brains should be able to think around?

Here in Aotearoa, we have re-entered a level 3 lockdown in our most heavily populated city and a level 2 lockdown for the rest of our country. This has been due to certain non-observance of Covid protocols by people of a clearly identified community, living in a certain part of the city of sails, as Auckland is also known. This is the second time that the community, living in that part of the city has brought about an escalation of the pandemic and stricter lockdowns. It has brought more economic misery and spelled the end of the road to more businesses and enterprises. Now, in the Pearl, we may have resorted to attacking those communities and even rioting. All that seems to have happened here are of course the usual vitriolic racist attacks on the internet and a government decision to vaccinate those areas of the city first, in an attempt to control the pandemic. Wow! in the pearl either all these people would have been rounded up and locked up in a camp in the Vanni or locked down under strict curfew with the threat of being shot if violated. The jury with regard to if the Pearl alternative or the Aotearoa alternative of these should have been used is still out …

Maybe some readers are interested in the outcome of the threat that is looming over us from the upcoming United Nations action in Geneva? I have been trying to get some feedback from “intellectuals” currently living in the Pearl, but they seem distracted, and a feeling of helplessness seems to prevail. The incumbent Foreign Minister seems to think that a humble Indian Ocean Island with what strictly speaking, can be considered a failed or at least failing economy, can dictate terms to the UN, behaving like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Maybe our “new best friend” China, probably aided and abetted by Russia has lent strength to his arm.

Even a “victory’ for Lanka at the UNHCR to this resolution should not be cheered too vociferously, as the countries ranged against us will have long term plans. Every step of this government will be monitored closely. The loss of our garment exporting privileges to the first world could result along with other economic sanctions that would make the cost of living in the Pearl even higher.

One rather interesting possibility seems to be travel bans on certain individuals and freezing of their assets held abroad. Now that could be stimulating, especially if the numbers involved are made public! However, if that was the case, I believe the attempt to rectify the situation would have been given to a more competent person than “the bull in the china shop”!

I cannot resist putting this out dear readers and I apologise profusely in advance. What if someone like Ranil W, was in charge of foreign affairs? Do you think we would have had a more professional approach and had a better chance in dealing with the complicated nuances of handling UN diplomacy, in the long term? At least we may have not insulted and possibly humiliated the visiting PM of one of our allies, Imran Khan of Pakistan! On the other hand, Mr. Khan, you may rest assured that even if you had addressed our parliament, no member would have understood anything you said or even been able to decipher your immaculate Oxbridge accent. It is only those of us who have shut ourselves out mentally from the shenanigans or gone into voluntary exile who watch with dismay, who would have savoured your words and briefly wondered …what if … ?

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Thanks for quick vaccination; harmful dabblers in the occult should be severely dealt with

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There has been much in the daily press on vaccination against Covid-19 in this fair isle of ours, or rather in Colombo and its suburbs

Let’s put aside complaints and say praise be!

Most of what was media-written was on the ensuing chaos of not knowing where to go for the jab; how to get a token; which age group will be given it (apart of course from VIPs and politicians who were close behind frontline health workers). Mercifully, the authorities righted the initial wrong of deciding on prioritizing the 30-65 age group and neglecting the over 65s, who were placed second in the priority list in more enlightened countries following WHO strictures. And so lots have got the jab and we anticipate a drastic drop in infection and Covid death rates. Cass contributed her fair share of criticism in this column but not stridently nor unreasonably. She had not seen the privileged list that passed off as Municipal workers on Tuesday 24 February at the Public Library, Colombo 7, arriving in Mercedes Benzes and SUVs. If she had, her ire would have emerged in pure vitriol! One friend said she enquired from several sophisticates in the queue how they got there, but received mumbled replies. So, a Rose by any other name, even Do-Gooder, smells as bad when it goes unjust! Things got much better and the service worked smoothly once the MOHs came into their own.

What Cass notes in summarizing the issue today is thanks and gratitude to the government and the Health Services particularly, for vaccinating so very many so quickly. People who wrote about this issue, Cass included, were all praise for the actual data takers and vaccine givers. In certain centres, the old and disabled were queued in a different line and vaccinated within an hour.

The gratitude Cass renders is because only part of the total amount of vaccine was gifted by India and the WHO. Our government booked early and paid for the rest, and of the Oxford kind. This vaccine is admittedly relatively cheaper, but it had to be paid for, which cost the government bore. We have to appreciate the massive organization entailed and excuse inevitable hiccups. This fact struck Cass as a feeling of much needed security and elimination of fear was felt, and all for free. Also when a friend in Melbourne wrote they were as yet awaiting vaccination.

 

Black Magic and witchcraft in Sri Lanka

If you thought as Cass did that we would never ever resemble a dark Congo tribe resorting to occult cures or a re-enactment of shades of supernatural superstitious beliefs in witchcraft as in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, in 1692 (where some young girls caught prancing naked cooked up lies about good women in the village being witches), you and Cass were both mistaken. We’ve had these in different styles right here in supposedly majority Buddhist Free Sri Lanka with other religions holding people together, in the 21st century with some of our own doing brilliantly well in advanced scientific disciplines all over the developed world. Cass, as you now know, was born and bred in the hills of Kandy with its most sacred Dalada Maligawa and picturesquely situated quaint temples in peaceful green valleys with the sound of evening pooja bells, joined by Kovil tinkles and Sunday sonorous Church gantara and the cry of the Muzeen. We never had a bali or thovil ceremony. If an inauspicious time descended on the village or a household, it was pirith chanted by Bhikkhus. So to Cass what has been happening very recently is even stranger than to those who have village cousins who dabble in mantra and kodivina with kattadiyas in action.

I refer here to the stupidly preposterous belief in Dhammika’s peniya as both a prophylactic and cure for pernicious Covid-19. Where is that charlatan veda – oops sorry- Kaliamma devala kapurala now? Safe with his ill-gotten gains, we suppose.

The latest voodoo story, but with such a tragic ending, is that of the 9-year-old Delgoda girl who suffered an emotional (rather than mental) aberration and was subject to exorcism by caning her mercilessly. The exorcist could not be a woman; she must certainly be a sadistic aberration herself. Can you believe that she applied oil on the girl and used the cane on her till the kid went unconscious? Was the cane an ordinary one? At first I could not believe the story read in the papers – how cane a person to death, but it was a child receiving the torture and who knows what sort of ‘weapon’ was used. The mother definitely must be punished more severely. Maternal love, even in the animal kingdom, will never allow harming an offspring, so how on earth did the mother watch all that caning. One shot would have torn Cass to the defence of her child, or for that matter any child, with talons extended and blood now not turned to milk as the Sinhala saying goes, but to vitriolic fury. The woman exorcist with supernatural powers and the mother are in police custody. Why doesn’t she do a Houdini and astound handsome Police high-up Ajit Rohana?

People claiming superhuman clairvoyance and divine power crop up everywhere. Cass accompanied a friend to consult a girl in the suburbs of Kandy to find out where her hub had ‘donated’ a fairly large sum of money. This girl had given clear directions to find a lost Persian cat to a third friend; hence the visit. She was a pretty, soft girl of around 18. Once Cass and the other entered the room, the girl changed, was in a near trance and speaking in an entirely different voice, pronounced the reason for seeking her help and said “Look for a man always dressed in long sleeves and thinning hair parted in the middle.” The friend was baffled and defeated by this long shot, but finally she met a man of this description – the father of a girl in her husband’s office. She did not ask for the money!

Such ‘powers’ are temporary; maybe like poltergeist manifestations in a teenager’s home. But going for cures to them is unthinkable. Buddhist bhikkhus and maybe bhikkhuunis, so also certain Christian priests (the bulk of lecherous Father Mathew intrudes here) do have powers of exorcism. A medical doctor is the best bet, in any case, including even mental upsets.

 

Short Takes

Imran Khan’s all too brief visit was a successful veni, vidi, vici in spite of being snubbed ungraciously over the address to Parliamentarians (what a weak, threadbare excuse was offered – C-19 precaution!) and missing out two of our cricket greats: Michael Tissera and Anura Tennakoon from the list of cricket folk to say Hi to the great Cricketer at lunch at Shangri La. What was the success apart from charming everyone and showing off what a Statesman can look like and carry himself off? Why – the Muslims of Sri Lanka conquered. Burial was theirs or so it seemed. But hold it, is it gazetted or is this ‘yes’ like the Prime Minister’s definite ‘can bury’ pronounced in Parliament and then brushed aside and explained by the Gaman as “he was merely expressing his thoughts.”

Main headline in The Island of Wednesday 3 March:” PCol report on Easter Sunday carnage: AG won’t be given ‘sensitive’ volumes.” Why on earth? Is it X-rated and the AG underage?

Picture on page I of same issue of Dr Rajitha Senaratne arriving at the Colombo High Court to appear in a case involving two persons who accused then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of various crimes. We have long forgotten even a single word of what they said. They will not get off free is Cass’ bet unlike Aluthgamage, who emerged very recently from a court house free as a bird, accused of corruption, Cass recalls.

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