Excerpted from Senior DIG (Retd.) Merril Gunarane’s ‘Cop in the Crossfire’
Confrontation with a mob intending to cause harm to employees of Dasa Industries, Dalugama, Kelaniya in early 1978
At the time of the UNP Iandslide victory in 1977, I was serving in what was then known as the Intelligence Service Division. Shortly after, I was posted as Senior Superintendent of Police, Kelaniya Division. Late Minister Cyril Mathew was the MP for Kelaniya at the time.
One evening in early 1978 whilst I was in my office, ASP Kelaniya, Dharmasiri Weerakoon, informed me that a crowd had gathered at the entrance to Dasa Industries, Dalugama; that Minister Cyril Mathew was present with them and that the employees of Dasa Industries anticipated being attacked when they emerged from the work place.
I took steps to assemble a riot squad with tear gas and baton parties and rushed to Dalugama with the ASP. Minister Mathew was standing about 30-40 yards outside the entrance to Dasa Industries, surrounded by an assembly of people. At 5.00 p.m. or 5.30 p.m. the assembled mob commenced attacking the workers who were emerging from the “Dasa” premises.
I gave orders to the baton party to quell the mob and arrest the ring leaders. On observing that the police were not prepared to tolerate the lawless acts, the Minister left Dalugama in his car whilst the mob dispersed, a few of their members having been arrested by the police. The Minister did not question my actions subsequently, nor was I victimized for restoring order.
Violence inside Vidyalankara University premises in March 1978.
Not long after the Dasa Industries incident, I was in my office one morning in March 1978 when police channels informed me of unrest in the Vidyalankara University. I could not gather precise, accurate information since the Vice Chancellor (VC) could not be contacted. It was then the practice for the police to enter the University precincts only at the request of the VC.
At about 11.00 a.m. a person who identified himself as a police constable from Grandpass police station spoke to me in office and said that he had come from the campus premises where he was attending lectures as an external student. He further said that a large number of unruly persons had advanced along the road leading to the campus and attacked the students within the campus premises. He also spoke of an injured being rushed to General Hospital Colombo, but was not certain whether he was a student or a member of the mob.
I had a riot squad assembled and left for the campus with the only ASP available to me that day, ASP Maxie Perera. The two permanent ASP’s were following a training course. I made it a point to take only one armed constable, and he too in my car so that he would be under my control if the firearm had to be used. When turning into the campus from Colombo – Kandy road, I observed a fairly large crowd at the turn off to the campus. Minister of Industries Cyril Mathew was with them, standing by his car. A number of State Corporation vehicles were also parked in proximity.
We drove up to the University office. I observed students on corridors appearing agitated, and in a state of fear. A lecturer told me that the students had seized one of the invaders, assaulted him and that he had died while being transported to the hospital. I had arrived just when the mob had regrouped to attack the campus in strength with intent to wreak vengeance.
I deployed the police aggressively across the campus road to obstruct and confront the mob if they ventured to move in the direction of the students. About this time, I saw Minister Mathew’s car moving in the direction of Colombo. Shortly after, I received a call on the police radio ithat the Minister wished to see me at the Peliyagoda police station. I advised ASP Maxie Perera to act decisively if the miscreants came in the direction of the campus and rushed to Peliyagoda police station to meet the Minister.
He was seated in the office of the Headquarters Inspector. I extended courtesies whereupon the Minister asked me : “Who asked you to come there?” I politely replied that in view of violence and unrest within the campus premises, I considered it my duty to step in to restore order. The Minister then asked: “Can you withdraw your men”? I replied, “I am sorry sir, I cannot do that.” He then left the police station and traveled in the direction of the campus again.
I too rushed thereand observed the Minister leaving with his supporters in the Corporation vehicles. A very serious situation was thus averted. As in the case of Dasa Industries, Dalugama, the mob preferred to retreat on realising that police would act without hesitation to quell violence. I remained in the campus premises and arranged security within and its environs so that students could leave the premises safely.
The evidence to be led at the inquest also appeared to have been manipulated, for two witnesses had emerged to offer a different version of events. Pressure was being exerted for the Peliyagoda police to keep out of the inquest proceedings and the evidence of the police constable from Grandpass who had furnished the first information in my office.
I met the Magistrate in his chambers and proposed that he call up those who had witnessed the incident at the inquest proceedings. I thereafter instructed the constable concerned to be present in the courthouse at the time of the inquest, which he did. He was thus able to offer his version of events.
Nonetheless, the false witnesses put forward by interested parties implicated a young Buddhist priest named Reverend Baddegama Samitha who was remanded and later indicted.
On the following day, my DIG, A.C. Lawrence, told me that the Defence Ministry was abuzz with the theory that the police had “spoiled” the plans that had been hatched to subdue the left student unions. I realized that my timely intervention for which I was being blamed, averted a serious crisis though it thwarted the designs of Minister Mathew.
Ironically had I failed to exercise due authority in time and underraduates were injured by the mob which sought to wreak vengeance for the murder of their colleague, I would yet have been blamed for a situation which could have embarrassed the government and reduced its political standing. I wasted no time in seeking a transfer out of Kelaniya in a move to pre-empt orders being made for it. The IGP transferred me to Kurunegala at my request.
Subsequent to his student days in the Vidyalankara University, Ven. Baddegama Samitha shot into prominence, and was at one time a Provincial Councillor and Member of Paliament. He passed away recently. Had the police failed to intervene when hordes of thugs decided to invade the campus to seek revenge for the death of a member of their mob, the life of Rev: Samitha who was the student leader of unions at the time, may have been seriously endangered.
The police constable from Grandpass police who was an external student of the Vidyalankara University, had been dismissed from service for making me aware of volatile developments occurring within the campus premises! It was on such information that I moved to act quickly. I was convinced that Peliyagoda police were in cahoots with the minister for information of gathering developments was not brought to my notice by them. The office of the SP was about a quarter mile distant from the police station.
In the aftermath of a sweeping victory by the UNP in 1977, and with the opposition in total disarray, many in the political establishment abused the law in several areas, watched by a pliant or inept police who were further rendered helpless by a mute police headquarters. My efforts to enforce the law firmly were therefore somewhat uncommon at the time.
It was my plight in such an environment to be accused of working against the government. It was ironic that a DIG, who later became IGP, had been heard saying in police headquarters that “Merril is tactless. He is causing problems to police headquarters”. It was such “tactlessness” that saved the lives of endangered campus students.
English in Mathematics
By R.N.A. de Silva
“Which subject did you have most difficulties with, having switched the medium of instruction from Sinhala to English?” I posed this question to a Sri Lankan student who was following a pre-University course in an educational institution in Hong Kong, having completed studies up to the GCE Ordinary Level programme in the Sinhala medium in a leading girls’ school in Colombo. “It is definitely mathematics,” she replied. Having served as a teacher for a long period of time at this educational institution with students from over 80 countries, I realised the above-mentioned view was shared by other students, too, who had to change the medium of instruction to English. This does not seem to make sense as one would have expected mathematics to be the easiest subject to follow as it has its own symbolic language. Why then has this situation arisen?
I would like to separate these difficulties into two categories:
1. Hastiness due to mindset
2. Vocabulary issues
Sometimes hastiness can automatically occur due to the mindset that mathematics should be easy to follow even if you change the medium of instruction as you are dealing with symbols. This attitude can cause enormous problems as students may skip instructions or avoid reading the question fully and concentrate only on the symbolic part of the problem
As an example, consider the following question.
The graphs of lines 3y = 5x + 1 and 2y = 7 – 3x intersect at point P. Find the coordinates of P.
Seeing the word ‘graphs’ and the two equations, a student maybe tempted to draw the graphs of the two lines and thereby find the point of intersection, which is a time-consuming affair. If it was read properly, the student could have noticed that the solution can be obtained by solving the two equations algebraically, which is much more efficient.
To a fast reader, obtaining the correct answer to the following question can be a problem as it may end up with just finding the value of x.
If 2x+3 = 5x-3, find the value of 2x+3.
The students need to be trained to read the question fully and understand what is required to be done, before attempting it.
The time spent to grasp the aim of the question is not wasted time.
Many children consider mathematics as an alien language consisting of symbols and expressions. Most of the difficulties that students encounter is related to vocabulary. The mathematical interpretation of the meaning of a word may differ from the meaning given to it in the English language. The word ‘find’ in mathematics means to obtain an answer showing the working while in the English language, it refers to discover or search. The following sketch shows the funny side of this difference.
Two of the words that has caused much confusion are ‘or’ and ‘and’.
In general usage, A or B is considered as either A or B but not both, as shown in picture.
However, in mathematics ‘A or B’ means ‘it can belong to A or B including intersection’. This is shown in picture.
The above, in normal usage is interpreted as ‘A and B’. However, in mathematics A and B refers to only what is common to A and B as shown in picture.
Here are the mathematical meanings of some of the other words which can have a different meaning with the English language definitions.
– Obtain the only possible answer
– Mark the position of points on a diagram
– Obtain the answer (Working need not be shown)
– A number that does not change
– Having the same shape but not the same size
– To show a result using known information
– A procedure such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc.
– A member of a set
– The extent of space occupied by a solid
The following illustrate some of the difficulties that the difference of meanings brings:
How odd these odd numbers are? The even numbers are even stranger.
Don’t be mean and help me to find the mean of these numbers.
Is right angle the right answer? Let me write it on the board.
The polysemous nature of some of the mathematical terms make it confusing for the students in the understanding of mathematical concepts. Mathematical terms have precise definitions to describe numerical relationships. At times these definitions resemble the everyday usage meaning but there are instances where the definitions notably differ. Consider ‘in general’ as an example. In mathematics there can be no exceptions to a result if it is considered to hold in general. However, in everyday usage, if a claim is said to be true in general, it would mean that it is true most of the time, but exceptions are possible.
To add to the problem, there are some terms such as ‘degree’ that can have many different meanings within mathematics while having a different meaning in everyday use. In mathematics, degree can refer to the measurement of an angle, the complexity of an algebraic equation and a unit of temperature.
Although mathematics deals essentially with symbols, it is taught through the medium of language which is the major means of communication. Students build understanding as they process ideas through language. It is important for students to give emphasis to the familiarisation with the mathematical vocabulary and at the same time understand the difference of meanings of terms mathematically and everyday usage. Teachers have an important role to play here in highlighting such terms and using them in different contexts for comfortable acclimatization. As Marcus Quintilianus quoted, “One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.”
(The author is a senior mathematics examiner of the International Baccalaureate Organization and a member of the faculty of the Overseas School of Colombo.)
Success with debut single
Fred-James Koch: Lots of airplay for ‘I’m Runnin’
Fred-James Koch seems to be more in the news, these days, than his illustrious father, Alston Koch.
The turning point in Fred-James career is, undoubtedly, the Hollywood film ‘Night Walk.’
His role in the film is two-fold – actor and singer.
It’s, in fact, his singing of the theme song, ‘I’m Runnin,’ that has generated quite a lot of excitement, among music lovers.
The song is now being heard, world-wide, over radio (in Sri Lanka, on Sun FM), while the video, too, has been seen by many, on social media.
An Australian magazine, ‘Music Injection,’ had this to say about Fred- James:
“Fred- James Koch has written an incredible theme song for the movie ‘Night Walk,’ called ‘I’m Runnin.’ Just released, this song is engaging and gives us a sense of urgency, as the song builds. Fred-James vocals have a unique tinge to them and with the video having scenes from ‘Night Walk,’ it encourages me to watch the movie. ‘I’m Runnin’ features AZ Sheriff.” – Jen.
Following the debut spin for ‘I’m Runnin,’ on The Music Director programme, on 88.3 Southern FM Melbourne, the track was also played on the All New Saturday Ausmosis programme.
And, guess what! It’s now No. 3 on the Australian Top 20 Download chart. and No. 2 on the Australian Top 20 Stream chart.
Inklings of change in national reconciliation policy
By Jehan Perera
The government comfortably overcame a vote of no-confidence in one of its key ministers over the rise in the price of fuel. Those who expected to have greater numbers supporting the no-confidence motion miscalculated that the apparent differences and rivalries within the government would be uppermost. Any government, or institution for that matter, would have its internal differences. The current government is better secured against these differences that might otherwise split it into different competing parts on account of the familial bonds that bind the leadership together. The President, Prime Minister, newly appointed Finance Minister, as well as the former Speaker who is now Irrigation and Internal Security Minister, are closely knit brothers who have gone through trials and tribulations together.
An iconic photograph of recent times would be the joy on (then) President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s face when he embraced his brother (then) Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa shortly after the latter survived a suicide bomb attack at the height of the war. The brothers, however, have different strengths and constituencies. They have different groups who follow and advise them, and each of these groups would prefer if their leader was the first among equals. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comment that he has another eight years in which to achieve his goals has been widely discussed. It would send a signal to others in the polity that it would be premature to gather around another member of the family at this time in anticipation that the baton would be passed on at the conclusion of the President’s current term in 2024.
On his part, the President has been promoting the institution he once served and to which most of his confidantes belonged or continue to belong. The institution of the military is one where the closest of human bonds can be forged, because on the battlefield each depends on the other for their lives. In his early period in office, the President has been promoting the military, both serving and retired, wherever he can, as ambassadors to foreign nations, as Covid health guideline monitors and as a supra grade of administrators in government departments. It is often the case that those appointed to these positions are not the best suited to the tasks they have been set to do. But the President evidently trusts them and they are his support base. Unlike any other president in the past, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not a member of a political party. Civil society organisations have periodically called for a non-party presidency who is non-partisan in decision making.
However, there is a need to challenge the excesses. The president’s pardoning of a soldier who was held by several courts, including the Supreme Court, to have deliberately killed children and (adults, eight in all), outside of the battlefield may be due to his conviction that loyalty to the military counts most. However, the President is expected to uphold the system of checks and balances, and if he favours one institution at the expense of the others, it leads to a weakening of the entire structure of governance. Another looming challenge is that posed to the autonomy of institutions of higher education and specifically the universities. The government decision to vest the Kotelawala Defence University with powers to accredit other institutions of higher education is a threat to the freedom of thought and expression. The military hierarchy who will head the KDU can be expected to have values that are important to the military, but not to democracy which is based on human rights.
The KDU law needs to be opposed as indeed the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has urged along with opposition political parties. At the same time there are other issues on which civil society can consider giving constructive support to governmental initiatives. For instance, they do not engage with NGOs who provide a variety of services complementing the work of the government. The most important of these is the national reconciliation process. There are indications that the government is shifting its stance on the issues of post-war reconciliation. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory on a highly nationalist platform won him a big majority of votes of the Sinhalese ethnic majority. The government felt empowered to publicly declare its intention to withdraw from the post-war reconciliation process initiated by its predecessor government with support from the international community. This was followed by withdrawal from UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015 co-sponsored by the previous government.
However, the four subsequent internationally driven resolutions against Sri Lanka, emanating from Geneva (UNHRC), Ottawa (Ontario Parliament), Washington DC (US Congress) and Brussels (EU Parliament) seem to have led to a serious rethink within the government about its policy towards post-war reconciliation. All four make human rights and the ethnic conflict their centerpiece. Though not yet publicly commented upon, the signs of change are two-fold. The first is the increased visibility of the US Embassy in meeting with the leaders of the Tamil and Muslim parties. The media has reported that US Embassy officials discussed issues of post-war reconciliation efforts, devolution of power, rule of law and the Prevention of Terrorism Act with SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem. Recently, a US Embassy delegation, led by Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz, held similar discussions with TNA leader R. Sampanthan where the focus was on the proposed new Constitution.
The second sign of a change is the statement from the Presidential Secretariat announcing a recommendation, emanating from the President Commission of Inquiry for Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward headed by Justice AHMD Nawaz. This is with regard to the EU call for the abolishing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act long seen by those promoting national security as part of the country’s first line of defence. The Commission said that it cannot agree with calls for repealing the PTA but Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism law should be reformed in line with similar laws in other countries, including the UK. This would be aimed at affirming Sri Lankan sovereignty and national security interests, which are important to the government’s voter base, while complying with the requirements of the EU parliament which has called for the repeal of the PTA on the grounds that it violated human rights.
The Presidential Secretariat statement also contains a significant section in which it mentioned that “It is the policy of the Government to work with the United Nations and its agencies to ensure accountability and human resource development in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. The Government is committed to providing solutions for the issues to be resolved within the democratic and legal process and to ensure justice and reconciliation by implementing necessary institutional reforms.” This is the first official indication that the Government is reconsidering its earlier position that it would blaze is own path with an indigenously generated reconciliation model which would not require international assistance. In this context it would be useful if the government focused closer attention to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Goals.
Veteran Tamil political leader V Anandasangaree, who has championed Tamil rights for a long time, and whose son is a Canadian parliamentarian, has referred to these recent developments and said that the President who holds the defence portfolio, Prime Minister and Finance Minister being members of Rajapaksa family could ensure genuine post-war reconciliation. He also urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government not to leave the problem for a future administration to resolve, but address it now. If the President is to successfully address the problem that has eluded a solution since independence, and been the biggest disaster to Sri Lanka’s development, he will need to broad base his support at multiple levels. He will not only need the support of the ruling party, led by his brothers, as well as civil society, but also that of the ethnic minority parties and the opposition political parties. This will require patience, dialogue and self-sacrifice, and the need to break from past and chart a reconciliatory course of action.
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