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Territorial policing in Ratnapura and a dreaded transfer to Jaffna



Premier Dudley Senanayake at Kapila Vastu Relics exhibition

(Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd.)
Kinglsley Wickramasuriya)

When I took over Ratnapura Division I found that there were a large number of pending disciplinary inquiries and out of this many were the cases where the charge-sheeted officers have been interdicted from service for trivial reasons that I considered to be unjust punishment. I called for all those files where disciplinary inquiries were pending from the ‘Strength Clerk’ and went through them one by one burning the midnight oil.

I worked on them even during weekends and saw to it that those that had been interdicted unjustly were reinstated. At the same time, I saw to it that the accumulation of those delayed inquiries was expeditiously disposed of and justice meted out.

While at Ratnapura, I started experimenting with the inspection methodology that I learned under DIG CR Arndt and systematizing my inspections of Police stations, visits, and night rounds so that I knew exactly what I was going to do next. With this, I kept up the surprise element in the Division so that no one knew at what moment and where I would surface. I eventually prepared a ‘Handbook of Inspections’, a virtual guideline for inspections based on management principles for the guidance of inspecting officers. Furthermore, I devoted my free time to developing the sports talent in the Division which enabled the Division win the coveted prize for seven-a-side Rugger.

The MP for Ratnapura once dropped in at my office and made representations on behalf of one of his constituents against Kuruvita Police and wished that I direct Kuruwita Police to take action that would favor his constituent. Accordingly, I made inquiries and found that OIC Kuruwita had acted properly. I informed the MP accordingly and left it at that. But the MP wouldn’t accept the position. He appeared in my office a second time and wanted me to do things the way he wanted.

When I made it clear that that was not possible, he threatened to have me transferred alleging that he knew what I was doing when I was in the ISD covering the UNP etc. I was surprised how he knew what I was doing in the ISD as what I did there was on a ‘need to know’ basis unless somebody inside had squealed against me. I told the MP that what I did at the ISD was none of his business and dared him to arrange a transfer for me as that would be the best that could happen to me at that time.

I had come to Ratnapura on transfer from the ISD because of the IGP’s position on promotions. By then I had come to a situation where I was sick of moving house now and then, and particularly arranging transfers for my wife whenever I went on transfer. Once she nearly lost her job owing to the Education Department’s difficulty in finding her a suitable school in an area to which I was assigned. Finally, having found a school in Colombo on my transfer to ISD, I decided to leave the family behind in case of future transfers.

Here in Ratnapura, I was without my family and was going through enormous difficulties, running a house. However, I had an understanding with the IG Ana Seneviratne who knew my problems that he would bring me back to Colombo at the earliest possible time. So, a transfer would have been very welcome. Nevertheless, I stood by the action taken by the OIC despite the MP’s threat, as that was the proper action to take.

In another instance when 1 walked into the Ratnapura police station one morning, I found Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, well-known as a prominent activist of the left, seated on a bench inside the station. I inquired why he was there and was told that he had been detained for hoisting a black flag on the road opposite the police station in protest against the government on some political issues.

When I went into the matter, I found that this was a bailable offence where a person need not be detained. Accordingly, I instructed the HQI to release him on bail without allowing him to become a ‘hero’ at the expense of the police action. As a result of his release, we avoided him making an issue out of the incident.

During the rainy season, Ratnapura town and the surrounding area get flooded. During this period police are called upon to play the good Samaritan rescuing stranded people, distributing dry rations to those marooned, and operating other emergency services. Floods sometimes cut my bungalow off from the rest of the town and I had to be transported by boat. Police depended on the Navy for boats for rescue operations and these boats were very useful for such duty. We had to work in close collaboration with the Government Agent and his staff in carrying out flood relief work. So the SSP Ratnapura and the Government Agent worked in close collaboration to provide relief to the community at such times. As a result, we developed a close relationship.

Meanwhile I did a round of inspections of several police stations in the Division on the new lines learned under DIG Arndt, developing a new management approach to inspections of Police Stations. Several OICs of stations treasured the reports I gave them based on how they managed their stations. They kept copies of extracts for future reference.

I too drew immense satisfaction from the results I achieved at these inspections. They were not mere `book inspections’ but real value-added assessments that gave proper directions to the OICs showing their strengths and weaknesses.

The exposition of ‘Kapilavastu relics’ was another important event during my tour of duty at Ratnapura. The sacred relics were brought to Avissawella and Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake graced the occasion. All security arrangements were arranged by me. Range DIG Sylvester Joseph was on hand to supervise the arrangements. The event passed without any untoward incident.

The much wanted transfer finally came in August 1978 to Mount Lavinia Division, thanks to IG Police, Ana Seneviratne who kept his word.

Mount Lavinia

Mt. Lavinia and Moratuwa Police Districts came under the Division. There was much crime reported at Mt. Lavinia police station. So much so that officers attached to the Crime Branch were unable to make use of their leave and were under heavy work pressure. Looking for ways to ease this pressure, I came upon a system of community policing adopted by my predecessor, Superintendent Vamadevan used during the communal riots.

That was mostly a system of joint `Neighborhood Watch’ by the citizens and the Police. I revived the system by establishing Neighborhood Patrols throughout the police station area with some success proving that ‘prevention is better than cure.’

Before my taking over the Division a mutinous situation had taken place at the Moratuwa police station where several juror officers had reported ‘sick’ over some issue. I became aware of it when the disciplinary inquiry file came to me after the completion of the disciplinary inquiry.

I took a very serious view of the breakdown in the discipline where even officers on probation had participated. I recommended severe punishment for the miscreants. The DIG, however, took a different view and dealt with those found guilty leniently.

Motor races and Bellanwila Perahera were two other major events that I had to look after during this period. In both these officers from outside the division had to be brought in for special duty. Looking after their discipline and welfare was a major and difficult commitment that needed previous planning and proper organization.

Motor races in Mount Lavinia were an ad hoc event organized at the behest of Minister Athulathmudali who was the MP for the area. I used a double-decker bus as my Command Room from where I could survey the entire area of operation. This was a new experiment I carried out later to be used successfully at the Bellanwila Perehara as well. The minister commended the security arrangements made for the motor races and was pleased that everything went well.

The Mount Lavinia police station was in a dilapidated state and was due for repairs. Having received funds to build a new police station the foundation stone was laid. Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and Range DIG Sylvester Joseph were present on the occasion.

Barely a year had passed when I was suddenly called up by the IG to his office and asked to go in charge of the Jaffna Division. DIG Cyril Herath who was in charge of the Northern Range was also with him. From their conversation, I understood that they were in a bit of a difficult situation to find someone to go in charge of the Jaffna Division. IG said that it was only for one year and that one year of service in the North was being made mandatory for all officers in the Department.

It was difficult to say NO to either officer, IG Ana Seneviratne or DIG Cyril Herath, and back out of the situation for they were two officers in the Department for whom I had the highest respect. Fearful though of the uncertain situation in Jaffna because of the prevailing political violence, I agreed to the transfer.

When I came home and informed the family of the impending transfer to Jaffna, they were highly agitated. I decided to go alone without the family leaving them behind in Colombo promising them that they could join me during the school holidays. Anyway, going to Jaffna was a fearful proposition not knowing what exactly was in store for you. That being how I felt about the transfer you can just imagine what the family situation may have been.

Apart from my security, I had to worry about running a house. Although the security situation had changed, government regulations regarding establishment matters had not. As a result, we had, to fend for ourselves as in a normal situation and bear the additional burden.

Jaffna (Community Policing Experiment)

So, I took the train and reported to Jaffna on August 5, 1979. I was picked up at Jaffna’s end by the HQl Gunasinghe who was waiting for me. There was a huge bungalow of Dutch vantage inside Jaffna Fort that was to be my official residence. Adjoining was the King’s House where the VIPs stayed when visiting Jaffna. My house was equipped with a few pieces of government furniture, an iron bed, a few chairs, etc.

A civilian office peon was prepared to cook for me. My driver was quartered in the nearby single men’s barracks and was available in an emergency. My office was just outside the Jaffna Fort. Inside the Fort were some tennis courts where some civilians played.

I came to Jaffna at a time when the government had declared a state of Emergency and sent Brigadier (Bull) Weeratunga with troops with an edict from President J.R. Jayewardene to annihilate terrorism in the North within 72 hours. The general atmosphere in the entire peninsular was one of eerie silence.

By 6.00 pm the entire peninsula would put up shutters and there was hardly a soul to be seen on the streets after dark. Fear, mistrust, and suspicion were the order of the day. So much so, that once when I visited Kankesanturai (KKS) the ASP told me that he would not go even to the toilet without his weapon.

But after about two weeks in Jaffna, I found that everybody including the police had misread the prevailing general situation.

Crimes were being committed by ordinary criminals blaming them on LTTE and going Scot-free. With the army moving in, the hardcore LTTE cadres left the shores and fled to South India. It was easy for ordinary criminals, therefore, to go on the spree pretending to be LTTE. With this assessment of the situation, I went before the Police in Jaffna HQ station and later all over the peninsular urging them that the solution lies with the community cooperating with the police and urging launching a campaign to solicit police – community cooperation. But the police were skeptical that anything worthy will result from such an approach. Their response was negative.

Albeit this negative attitude of the police, I decided to summon a meeting of the leading citizens of Jaffna town and I was careful to include TULF supporters among the participants. The Mayor of Jaffna Visvanathan was one prominent among them. All OICs of stations in the peninsula were also summoned to witness the proceedings.

In my opening speech, I analyzed the crime situation in the peninsula and the fear created thereby and convinced the audience that crimes were being committed by ordinary criminals in the guise of terrorists taking advantage of the current situation and that the need of the hour was public support for police to contain this trend successfully. My appeal for public support went down well with the audience and their response was positive.

Not even two weeks elapsed after the first meeting at Jaffna HQ that a case of public intervention in a robbery of an old couple in the Kopay Police Station area was reported. A few members of the public had grappled with the robbers, arrested them, and handed them over to the police. On hearing of this, I immediately proceeded to the police station, summoned those members of the public who braved the incident, and presented them with a letter of commendation for their bravery. The event was given wide publicity in the local press.

I went around to the other police stations as well with the same message to be hailed by the participants as a positive step with the promise of cooperation.This demonstration of support for the police from the community proved to the police that their negative assessment was faulty and that there was a large measure of goodwill flowing that has to be organized and sustained. I was wracking my brain about how to achieve this objective when suddenly I came upon an idea that helped me solve the problem.

Thinking of a solution I was alarmed that the current trend was one of a movement that had placed popular trust in me. This was not at all conducive to sustainability. If the movement was to continue even after I left confidence needed to be placed not on a personality but on a system or an organization. So, I decided to design a system that would be in the hands of the local people rather than on an individual.

Evolving of Police-Public Relations Committees in respect of each police station was the result. The Committees worked according to a given Constitution adopted by each Committee based on power-sharing and democratic principles. I went around the peninsula once again to each police station explaining the scheme and establishing the committees. The main idea was to bring the police closer to the community in a collaborative effort to ensure safety, peace, and harmony in the community.

To bolster this scheme police organized sports meets and celebrations during the Sinhala / Tamil New Year period as usually done by the police in the other areas of the country. People enjoyed these events immensely and thanked the police for their leadership. I was invited to several places for the distribution of prizes which I gladly did accompanied by my wife.

While I was in the process of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the community it was also important to win the confidence of the Catholic Church. Inspector Pathmanathan attached to Jaffna HQ Police Station paved the way for this. He took me to the Bishop of Jaffna and after a cordial conversation and explanation of what I was doing in Jaffna to restore peace and harmony, I was able to win his support for my campaign. Eventually, we were able to celebrate Christmas with Police Christmas Carols with the Police Band and the Cultural Troupe of the Police Reserve in attendance.

Apart from all this activity, considering the influence the TULF had on the general population in the area I thought it prudent to establish a rapport with its hierarchy if my program was to be successful. So, the Police—Community Relations program opened the door for a relationship with the TULF as well. I was open handed in my response to various requests made by the TULF that I could be generous with.

The high command was treated with all due courtesy and respect. After all, Mr. Appapillai Amirthalingam was the Leader of the Opposition. As the law order situation improved and tranquility returned in the peninsula, I paid a courtesy call t o him and briefed him about the law and order situation in the peninsula and my Police—Community Program.

He was pleased that I was doing my best to serve the people and promised every possible support stating that he did not wish to see any more bloodshed in the region. Taking this opportunity later and on the instructions of IG Police, I arranged a conference of all the Police — Community Relations Committees of the peninsula to review the work they have done. Mr. Amitralingam graced the occasion as the chief guest. Te event was attended by DIG (NR) P. Mahendran. Jaffna GA was represented by his Deputy.

Addressing the gathering Leader of the Opposition spoke of the bitter relations with the police that he and his wife had experienced in the past and that he was happy the situation has changed for the better with a word of praise for the work being done by the PCR Committees. He was empathetic toward the difficulties the police officers were undergoing. He repeated these sentiments in Parliament when he spoke on November 26, 1980 (Hansard Column 881-882).

Further, in the course of participating in these PCR meetings, I had the occasion to listen to some of the difficulties that the people faced in their transactions with the police. One major problem was the difficulty faced by the public in courts on account of the first complaint being recorded by police officers not proficient in the Tamil language. The maority of policemen were Sinhala speaking,

To overcome this problem, I immediately made internal arrangements to ensure that as far as possible Tamil Speaking officers were put on ‘Reserve Duty’ so that the first complaint is properly recorded to circumvent the legal problems in courts.

In addition, I started Tamil classes for Sinhala speaking officers with the help of volunteers and offered them all facilities in the study of the language. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity of learning the language myself as nearly all those came in contact with in my daily routine, spoke either in English or was conversant in Sinhala. Even my office peon whom I had given strict instructions to speak to me in Tamil avoided doing so. Nevertheless, this disability did not deter me from being close to the ordinary man on the street.

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Understanding policy of neutrality



Yuan Wang 5, Chinese research and survey vessel, at the Hambantota port in August, 2022.

by Neville Ladduwahetty

In order to assuage the apprehensions of India regarding the intended arrival of the Chinese research vessel Shi Yang 6 to Sri Lanka, an informed source of the National Aquatic Resources Research Agency (NARA) is reported to have said “a team of officials from the NARA would board Shi Yang 6 to observe research activities”. This act is “widely seen by Sri Lankan interlocutors as an attempt by the Government to signal to the countries which are at loggerheads with China that Sri Lanka is privy to what is transpiring in the whole process and to make sure that it will pose no security threat to any third country” (Daily Mirror, September 19, 2023).

Continuing the above DM report states: “Sri Lanka advocates a neutral foreign policy. However, India, Japan and the United States are skeptical about Chinese maritime activities in the Sri Lankan territorial waters since they fear that it is part of a major effort by China to systematically map the seabed across the vast swath of the Indian Ocean. They fear hydrographic data, collected in the process, can be used for security related purposes later …. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka insists that it is a neutral venue to all countries, and won’t allow its territory, be it sea, air space or land to be used against the security interests of another country, particularly India” (Ibid).


Sri Lanka is indeed encouraged and heartened by the stand the country has taken to exercise its rights in keeping with its stated policy of Neutrality backed up by provisions of Internationally accepted Customary Law relating to entitlements, such as exploring within Exclusive Economic Zones of Coastal states. However, this stand could be strengthened by incorporating provisions of International Law as stated in Part V of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea presented below.

By incorporating these provisions into the Corpus of Domestic Law, Sri Lanka would be in a much stronger position to exercise its sovereign rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone by way of imposing penalties on those who violate its provisions and in particular those who engage in illegal fishing and destroying natural resources by the fishing crafts of India and other countries.


Rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal State in the exclusive economic zone

1. In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:

(a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting conserving and managing the natural resources» whether living or non-living» of the waters superjacent to the sea-bed and of the sea-bed and its subsoil» and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone such as the production of energy from the water currents and winds

(b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:

(i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures:

(ii) marine scientific research:

(iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment:

(c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.

2. In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.

3. The rights set out in this article with respect to the sea-bed and subsoil shall be exercised in accordance with Part VI.


A top source that is considered to be familiar with Indian affairs is reported to have stated: “Sri Lanka’s neutral position is acceptable but it is doubtful for India whether Sri Lanka being economically weak, has the strength to maintain such an approach” (Ibid), and cited the example of India purchasing fuel from Russia despite objections by the United States. That top source has forgotten that India despite its power, once “invaded” Sri Lanka hoping to resolve the conflict in Sri Lanka and was compelled to return in shame having failed to fulfill its mission.

According to him “India can act in this way because it is powerful enough to resist any pressure…”. For India to buy oil from Russia despite objections from the U.S. means that these objections are relatively benign because the U.S. needs India as part of QUAD to counter China. However, this being a commercial arrangement, it cannot be compared with the legacy of despicable acts repeatedly committed against humanity of weaker States by so called “powerful states” in the pursuit of their interests.

It is evident that the “top source” is unaware that the International Order does not make a difference between “powerful states” and the rest, because one of the principal pillars on which the United Nations Charter rests states in Article 2 (1) that “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members”.

Furthermore, Principles and Duties of a Neutral State are based on International Customary Law, which in its Introduction states: “The sources of the international law of neutrality are customary international law and, for certain questions, international treaties, in particular the Paris Declaration of 1856, the 1907 Hague Convention No. V respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land, the 1907 Hague Convention No. XIII concerning the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers in Naval War, the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I of 1977 (ICRC Publication June 2022).

Despite the existence of such International provisions “powerful states” have not hesitated to brazenly flout its provisions in the pursuit of their interests most of which are warped imaginations.

For instance, it was India that imposed its will on Sri Lanka when it forced Sri Lanka to accept the 13th Amendment; an act that denied Sri Lanka the fundamental right of self-determination enshrined in Article 1 (2) of the Charter of the United Nations that state:

“To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…”. This Amendment crafted by India compels Sri Lanka to adopt devolution to Provinces as a form of internal government to satisfy the imaginations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. This was violently rejected by the People when it was first introduced and ironically even after more than three decades continues to be rejected not only by the majority but also by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Despite such rejections, India keeps insisting the Sri Lanka should live by its provisions; the latest being at the ongoing General Assembly Secessions in New York.

Under the circumstances, Sri Lanka has to come up with an innovative strategy within the provisions of the Constitution to get free of 13A because its entrenched contradictions hinder peripheral development. What is most objectionable about devolution as a concept is that it fosters the operation of Central Government and Provincial Government functions simultaneously that often are at variance thus perpetuating disparities within and among Provinces amounting to entrenching discrimination among the Peoples; a fact that is starkly evident among the States in India and other countries that have divested Central power.

Another practice adopted by “powerful” India is to overlook the violations committed by the Fishing community in Tamil Nadu at the expense of the Fishing community in Sri Lanka, by robbing the maritime resources and vandalizing the marine environment by resorting to bottom trawling within Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone notwithstanding the fact that it is a violation of Article 56 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Instead of raising such issues at bilateral meetings, despite the presence of the Minister of Fisheries, Sri Lanka has been trapped into commitment to issues of connectivity that bolster India’s influence over Sri Lanka.


While Sri Lanka appreciates and is proud of the position taken by NARA and the Government in respect of the intended arrival of the Chinese research vessel, Sri Lanka has to exploit all International safeguards to overcome potential threats from the so called “powerful states”. In a background where “powerful states” would not miss an opportunity to exploit the circumstances in other States, countries such as Sri Lanka have to depend on the shield or weapon of international law to protect their interests.

Therefore, for them, it is the codified rule of the Rights and Duties of a Neutral State and the incorporation of the relevant provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea into Domestic Law or the fact that its provisions are part of Customary Law to protect its sovereign rights and enforce its interests in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Such material should form the framework of a Standard Operating Procedure as suggested in a previous article (Neutral Foreign Policy in Practice, August 22, 2023). A strengthened Sri Lanka would then be in a position to avail itself of the resources of the International Court of justice, as other countries have done to seek redress. Furthermore, since they are numerically greater, their strength lies in a Rules based World Order and not on “power”, irrespective of its source.

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Some buildings with their attributes gone forever



Rest houses were places we grew up with and most had existed during the later years of British rule in Ceylon. Counterpart in India was called a dakh bungalow, or so Cass remembers from staying overnight long ago in one in Sanchi. Rest houses were really what their name implied: places to rest in; mostly for government administrators when they travelled on government business termed circuits. There were the circuit bungalows too but they were in remote areas and with much less amenities.

The best-known rest houses were Nuwara Wewa and Tisa Wewa in Anuradhapura, the one jutting into the Parakrama Samudra in Polonnaruwa, in Belihuloya, Ella, Hambantota Tissamaharama, Kankesanturai and Elephant Pass, and in Peradeniya, opposite the Botanical Gardens. They were well known for their gentlemanly keepers, most dressed in cloth and shirt, and the food served: excellent lunches with the invariable fried karola or hal messo; the wonderful coconut sambol and the fried red chillies which was not a usual homemade appetizer.

Now, most of these wonderful places of staying in comparatively cheap, are called resorts and expanded, losing the old-world charm, the warm welcoming ambience, and the spacious one storey roominess. They were tossed aside by hotels being constructed and so they too changed ‘shape’. One or two deteriorated – the Hambantota RH accompanied by the deterioration in standard of clientele too becoming more a water hole than temporary stay-in place. Some surpassed their previous selves like the Ella RH which was transformed to a high-end inn.

We often lunched and stayed in several times and remembered was the Peradeniya RH with its wide veranda with tables to lunch or dine at, looking across at the trees in the Gardens, particularly that variety which had red drooping down flowers bordered by bright red spathes which we called kukul kakul and even ate, delighting in its sour flavour. No more. None of the view of glorious nature; none of the almost al fresco lunching; none of the old-world charm and particular ambience of the old rest house. It has been rebuilt and ‘developed’ to a horrible state.

Change – for better, for worse

On a recent visit to Kandy after many years the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens was walked through, with plenty others, both local and foreign. One small niggle of doubt was the fee charged from foreigners Rs 3,500, Cass believes. Too excessive is her opinion particularly in comparison to what locals pay. We should not fleece foreigners though they are with dollars, pounds sterling, euros or whatever.

The gardens are excellently maintained; the orchid house glorious in its blooms and the banning of vehicular traffic very wise. Unlike many of our Buddhist places; visitors who found it difficult to walk much and toddlers were amply catered for by frequently running motorised open vehicles. The layout of the Gardens is almost the same as it was for many decades previous, but improved and maintained sprucely clean.

In sharp contrast was the Peradeniya Rest house. Cass forgot to note its name. The old building was so stately yet with a comforting, welcoming air about it. You usually parked yourself in the wide quarter-walled verandah at a table or in a comfy, un-upholstered chair. Now you are led to the first floor to a fully curtained room. Tall windows were all closed and the drawn curtains obliterated even a glimpse of the outside. Cass ordered rice and curry since she did not want a buffet lunch. Not possible to serve rice and curry a la carte was the waiter’s reply. Only Chinese dishes could be ordered. Cass was aghast.

Imagine not being able to order our basic meal in a restaurant that was a rest house previously with the reputation of serving the best rice ’n curry. You had to have the buffet if you wanted rice and curry; if you ordered your lunch it would be Chinese – fried rice, chopsuey, etc. Isn’t that a travesty? You are enclosed claustrophobically in a heavily curtained room with fans; cut off from fresh air and all the greenery around, and dictated to on what you eat. That is development for you!! Cass calls it mudalali aberration. The buffet was simple enough with a couple of additions like soup to a rice and curry meal costing 1800. Chinese was 1200.

Special committees

I am sure all adults of Sri Lanka object to President RW’s promise to set up a Parliamentary Committee to look into and report on the Easter Sunday suicide bombs in April 2019. A comment people make is that RW’s solution to any problem/matter is to appoint a committee; never mind the report and taking action.

You can bet your last thousand rupees that if a Parliamentary Committee is set up to report on the C4 documentary and its repercussions etc., all politicians will be exonerated and the ones who are pointed at as the accused, would be pronounced lily white. Zahran did it all by himself with ISIS control. We millions of Ordinaries too cry out against a fully local panel of investigators, and never a group of MPS.

A boxed news item on page 1 of The Island of Tuesday September 19 had this heading: CID takes over probe into gun attack on MP. The car with Anuradhapura District MP Uddika Premarathne was shot at. No one was injured. But quick as lightning, the Police handed over the hunt for perpetrators to the CID. They too will work overtime and catch the miscreants.

Good! But what happens over the several motorbike shootings and those guilty of distributing dangerous drugs and making this lovely island rotten with drug importers, peddlers and takers? Oh, those can be taken time over and never nail the guilty and punish them. Rather assist those caught and jailed to get out or at least attempt escape.

Heartwarming story

An Indian friend sent me this story which so gladdened my maternal heart. It is shared here so more mothers could feel appreciated.

Ninth Grader Ajunath Sindhu Vinayala of Trissur (Kerala), often heard his father brush his mother aside as “just a housewife. She does not work.” Ajunath was surprised because he never saw his mother not busy so he painted this picture (published with this article) depicting all the chores she did. His teacher sent it to the State govt office where it got selected as the cover for the 2021 gender budget document. The appreciative son with more of his pictures can be accessed on the Internet.

Almost all Sri Lankan mothers will agree with Cass that our sons and daughters are wonderfully grateful and caring people, with many living overseas but still visiting, transferring money and sending parcels of goodies and necessities. Bless them, we mothers/grandmothers chorus.

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Amunugama on Anagarika: A partial review



By Uditha Devapriya

In the course of his study of myths and legends, Bruce Kapferer observes that those who attempt to rationalise myths are as much in error as those who believe in their literal meaning. There are several points in his book with which I beg to differ, but I agree with this specific point. Myths have a logic and a life of their own, and any external compulsion to alter or rationalise them will be met with hostility. Kapferer’s other contention, that myths are continually being renewed and reborn, is also tenable. The narrative around which these myths revolve may stay the same, but the implications of such stories change from era to era. Millenarian platitudes about glorious pasts and histories, of utopic Edens before the Fall, whether in Buddhist or Christian societies, fall into that category.

I reflected on Kapferer when I reread Sarath Amunugama’s impressive book on Anagarika Dharmapala, The Lion’s Roar, the other day. Dharmapala has gone down as perhaps the most misunderstood national figure or figurehead in our history. For close to two centuries if not more, Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe got a bad press as well, but thanks to recent forays by Gananath Obeyesekere, we have come to understand and, as a nation, identify with the tragic figure that he was. Dharmapala, however, is more complex, because his writings and speeches lend themselves to a multiplicity of interpretations: out of necessity, he made it a point to speak differently to different people. Ultimately, I believe all national figures end up being misunderstood. Dharmapala was no different.

What Amunugama tries to do in The Lion’s Roar is to present Dharmapala in a new light. As one reads through his book, one realises how predictably he has been presented until now. Most contemporary assessments of Anagarika Dharmapala place him at the forefront of the Buddhist Revival of the late 19th century. Though, in later years, he broke ranks with the organisation which gave the revival its impetus, the Theosophical Society, he nevertheless maintained contacts with it. Sociologists and anthropologists have presented the Revival as having been led by an emergent, nascent Buddhist bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. The latter were constantly frustrated in their efforts to join the ranks of the former, a point which more or less pitted them against foreign traders and minority groups.

Anagarika Dharmapala

Until now, social scientists have been content in casting Dharmapala as a messiah, of sorts, of this petty bourgeoisie. Dharmapala’s actions certainly did not endear him to the up-and-coming Sinhala bourgeoisie. Unlike his brothers Edmund and Charles, he was alienated from the many elite and bourgeois groups which formed the basis of later political associations, of which the most prominent would have to be the Ceylon National Congress. That may have been because of Dharmapala’s own background, which stood a tier or two below that of the Senanayakes and the Attygalles. Sarath Amunugama goes as far as to contend that the death of F. R. Senanayake in India closed the possibility of an open conflict between Dharmapala and these families. Yet even Senanayake’s death did not wholly foreclose these possibilities, as the many press campaigns against Dharmapala shows.

Anagarika Dharmapala

Is it accurate, then, to locate Dharmapala at that crucial juncture between the formation of the Theosophical Society, the beginning of the Buddhist Revival in the late 19th century, and the emergence of a weak but aspirant Buddhist petty bourgeoisie in the early 20th? This is how social scientists have generally viewed him, so far.

Dharmapala himself may not have been conscious of his role here. Yet as Regi Siriwardena eloquently put it once, “[t]o say that any thinker or leader served the interests of a particular class is not necessarily to say that he was conscious of doing so, still less that he was hired or commanded by that class.” The ultimatum of social scientists and anthropologists, hence, seems to be that he became the ideological vehicle of these groups, that as the latter’s attitudes to foreigners and minorities hardened, they saw in him a definitive “ancestor from antiquity.”

Amunugama attempts to shed new light on Dharmapala’s followers and acolytes by bringing to the foreground groups which have been excluded from most contemporary assessments of Dharmapala’s life. Prime among them are what Amunugama sees as “subaltern” groups, among whom he includes the Sinhala working class. This working class, he contends rather convincingly, were swept away from their roots into the cities, where they confronted a new and different social order.

As they became more aware of the conditions of their existence and sought to transform them, they began to encounter foreign traders and minority groups, hired by the colonial government to counter the growing tide of trade unionism and Sinhala proletarian discontent. It is against this backdrop that they saw Dharmapala as a saviour, and not just a saviour, but someone they could call their own.

This is, to be sure, an intriguing point. Yet how “subaltern” were these classes Amunugama associates with Dharmapala? Without splitting hairs too much, I think we must bear two points in mind. The first is that, until the formation of a Left movement in the 1930s, no political association, however radical, envisioned a Ceylon falling outside of the orbit of the British Empire. This was as true of bourgeois reformist associations as it was of nationalist ideologues. Whatever “subaltern group” in Sri Lanka at this juncture saw things differently, in contrast to their mobilisation by the Left after 1935. In that sense Dharmapala fulfilled a role, however limited, for these groups. The Marxists could not have been more different to his ideology, as their struggles on behalf of Indian Tamil plantation workers showed. But then Dharmapala was no Marxist, even if a scion of his family – Anil Moonesinghe – made a seminal contribution to the Left movement of the country.

The second point recalls an observation Gananath Obeyesekere once made in relation to Dharmapala and his disciples: namely, that their attitudes to the Other – which Amunugama dwells on at considerable length in his remarkable study – were paradoxically activated by their alienation from their social and kinship groups. In their quest for “identity affirmation”, the Dharmapalists sought a negative identity for themselves, in relation to the Other.

I think that more or less explains the Sinhala working class’s affinity for Dharmapala, at a time of rising anger against foreign traders and minority groups, including the Malayalis. Such anger cannot be condoned, especially when it transforms into racialist feelings. But it helps explain why, in the absence of an anti-imperialist Left movement in the country, these groups could gravitate to nationalist figures – and why even as key a representative of the Sinhala working class movement as A. E. Gunasinha could invoke him in his struggles.

Does this necessarily mean Dharmapala’s politics were not anti-imperialist, or in the least radical? I think the jury is still out there, though I believe that Dharmapala’s emphasis on industrialisation has been missed out by those who see only his ranting against other social groups and ethnicities. Dharmapala once counted among his defenders a highly unlikely figure: Yohan Devananda.

Writing in the Lanka Guardian, in response to Regi Siriwardena, Devananda contended that Dharmapala “did perform an essential historical function in rousing the national consciousness against the foreigner.” I do not know what to make of this assertion, given that for Dharmapala’s followers, “the foreigner” has come to include all groups deemed “alien” in the country. But there is no doubt that he did, at the end of the day, serve a function. The question that countless scholars have raised, which Amunugama tries to answer, is exactly in whose interests he served that function.

The writer is an international relations analyst, independent researcher, and freelance columnist who can be reached at

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