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The day the editor stood in the dock!

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(With Contempt of Court cases making news recently, we publish today an article written by E.C.B. Wijeyesinghe, a famous journalist of yesteryear on the Contempt of Court case against the Editor of the Daily News in the nineteen thirties)

One of the occupational hazards of the editor of a newspaper is to suffer for other people’s sins. There is, of course, a sacred precedent for this kind of undeserved torture: but you cannot put up that plea in mitigation of the punishment when you stand face to face with the majesty of the law. In case you are eager to know what I am driving at, let me say at once that this is just a preamble to a story about an illustrious editor of the Ceylon Daily News who escaped by the skin of his teeth from spending a holiday in the Welikade Prison.

His name is Herbert Hulugalle, who joined the ‘Daily News’ in 1918, when the paper was a toddler and helped the proprietor, D.R. Wijewardene for 30 years to tend it until it grew up to be a mighty giant. For 17 of these 30 years he was the Editor and made the newspaper the most powerful driving force towards Ceylon attaining political freedom. He severed his connection with journalism only after Ceylon became independent and then proceeded to shine in other fields. Hulugalle’s monumental work ‘The Life and Times of D.R. Wijewardene” is virtually the most authoritative and gripping narrative of perhaps the most exciting period of our history.

 

BUSYBODY

The seed of the trouble in this case was eventually traced to some busybody in the Law Library, who wanted to ingratiate himself with Wijewardene by feeding him with what he thought was a juicy tit-bit. Forty years ago, as now, the Law Library was a sort of clearing house for gossip and the younger practitioners waiting for briefs revelled in stories which had the slightest odour of scandal. They gave flesh to the bare bones of the naughty rumour and embellished it in such a way that there was a big gap between the authorised version and the revised version that was circulated in the corridors of Hulftsdorp. The story that reached the ears of Wijewardene, however, lacked the usual salacious sauce. It was built up on a much more serious theme, namely, that the Supreme Court judges were giving themselves holidays to which they were not entitled. It was a report without any foundation whatsoever but it was good material for a powerful editorial.

 

TROUBLE

Wijewardene soon got going. He was not the man who allowed the grass to grow under his feet. The Lake House telephone bells started ringing, but the Editor, Herbert Hulugalle, happened to be away. Wijewardene got hold of the next best man in the office to give expression to his indignation. He happened to be J. L.Fernando, who for many years wrote the Parliamentary summary and the weekly political notes for the ‘Daily News.’ From the tone of the Chief’s voice, J. L. Fernando knew that something strong had to be written, and that, quickly. Fernando, who was an Oxford man, put his best foot forward and produced the stuff. To make matters worse from the legal point of view, he gave it the somewhat sarcastic but sinister title ‘Justice on Holiday.’ Then everybody went to bed, happy that the day’s good deed had been done.

 

TOO LATE

But the euphoria did not last long. At the bewitching hour of midnight something stirred. It was Wijewardene’s conscience. The Chief, whose journalistic instincts for self-preservation were highly developed felt there was something wrong somewhere. He went back to bed with an uneasy feeling, but woke up at half-past four in the morning when the offending sentences began to haunt him again and again. According to what the Boss told Hulugalle, his first impulse at dawn was to take up the telephone and have the editorial altered. But it was too late. Before the cocks began to crow Wijewardene was consulting his lawyer friends to prepare a defence. Shortly afterwards, the fat was in the fire. There in the dock stood the meek and mild Herbert Alexander Jayatilleke Hulugalle, the innocent victim of circumstances, perhaps paying the penalty for some sin he had committed in his previous birth. As the Editor of the ‘Daily News,’ he had to take the full responsibility for what appeared in his paper. He knew it, the proprietor knew it, the leader writer knew it and, above all, the Judges knew it.

 

FULL COURT

There he was, arraigned for Contempt of Court before a Full Court which is an awesome thing under any circumstances. All the King’s Counsel and all the King’s men, down to the humblest Fiscal’s peon, came to watch the show. In Hulftsdorp and the precincts it was like a Roman Holiday with a harmless Christian being thrown to the lions. The Court consisted of the Chief Justice, Sir Sydney Abrahams, Mr. Justice M.T. Akbar and Mr. Justice F.H.B Koch. Wijewardene retained two of the most eminent practitioners at the Bar to defend Hulugalle. They were R.L. Pereira, K.C, and H.V. Perera, K.C. A better combination could not be found. When the talking began, it became apparent that Sir Sydney Abrahams was riled, not only by the editorial, but by an affidavit for the defence prepared by the great E.J. Samerawickreme, K.C. himself. That affidavit was so ingeniously worded that it sought to make excuses for the editorial without making a full apology. That annoyed Sir Sydney a little more. For the fact of the matter was that there was no defence whatsoever for the offending article. The judges had merely taken a vacation to which they were fully entitled under the Courts Ordinance, which the busybody at the Law Library had misunderstood.

 

CHIEF ACTOR

Sir Sydney Abrahams, the principal actor in the drama, eventually became a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He was Chief Justice of Ceylon for three years from 1936 to 1939. Of Jewish extraction, he was one of a trio of brilliant brothers, all of whom excelled at Cambridge in studies as well as in athletics. Before he came to Ceylon he was Chief Justice both in Uganda as well as Tanganyika. As an athlete, he represented Cambridge against Oxford in the long jump and 100 yards for three years, and then went on to be chosen as the British representative in the Olympic Games at Athens and Stockholm. He was the World’s Amateur Long Jump Champion in 1913. An athlete of that calibre had never before adorned the Supreme Court bench of Ceylon and he was generally regarded not only as a great sportsman but as a good sport. But even sportsmen lose their temper when for no valid reason, people try to be funny at the expense of the highest tribunal in the land. All the judicial lions, however, were not in the mood to devour their victim, but their leader could not be restrained because the highest court in the land had been held up to ridicule on baseless grounds. It was the title of the editorial, ‘Justice on Holiday,’ that hurt more than the contents.

 

CONCESSION

As a mild concession to the “Daily News” which then took pride in describing itself as the watch-dog of the nation, the accused was unleashed for the moment and allowed to sit behind his defenders, which he did biting only his own nails or what was left of them. Money was of no consequence to Wijewardene when it came to a fight. He was always ready to do battle for the freedom of the Press and stand up for his staff. In this instance, however, he knew he was on a sticky wicket. Hulugalle was sentenced, without much demur, to pay a fine of Rs. 1000 and to “imprisonment till the rising of the Court.” The fine was paid promptly because Wijewardene had sent one of his two trusted men, P.C.A.Nelson or E.E.C. Abayasekera, (I forget which one), with a large bundle of currency notes to cover ten times the prescribed punishment, in case it was only a fine.

But the fly in the ointment was the second part of the sentence. Imprisonment is imprisonment, whether it is till the rising of the Court or the arrival of Doomsday. Wijewardene’s strategy was now confined to finding a face-saving device. He decided to appeal to the Privy Council in London and retained Gavin Turnbull Simonds K.C. with Hugh Imbert Hallett, K.C. as junior. On the very day that the appeal came up Simonds was made a judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court. This was just a stepping stone of the Lord High Chancellorship of Britain. Hugh Hallett, K,C, also rose to be a High Court Judge, Queen’s Bench Division. All of which goes to show, that as in Ceylon, the best legal brains in England were harnessed to save Hulugalle. But alas, Justice was not on holiday even in the Privy Council and the appeal was dismissed. When the record of the case came back to Ceylon, Hulugalle was hauled out of his editorial seat once more in order to serve his sentence.

Luckily for him, he still possessed the black coat and striped pants in which he had taken his oaths as an advocate. Shaking off the moth-balls from these garments which he had not worn for fifteen years, Hulugalle slipped into the Supreme Court like a thief in the night, to take his punishment. Those who recognised him, wondered what he was doing in this strange attire. He sat among the advocates, poring over a New Law Report, but all the while serving his sentence till the rising of the Court. At the lunch interval the Registrar of the Supreme Court, Guy O. Grenier, an old friend, virtually took Hulugalle by the hand and led him to his sanctum where they shared Grenier’s sandwiches. Back in Court, Mr. Justice Poyser, the presiding judge, who had a keen sense of humour now seemed to be aware of the comedy of Hulugalle’s incarceration, as the accused was slipping in and out of chairs and pretending to be deeply absorbed in law books which he had not touched since he left the Law College, where Mr. Justice Akbar was one of his teachers. Poyser rose to the occasion. For some unknown reason he adjourned the Court much earlier than usual indicating the fall of the curtain on the case.

Poyser bowed to Hulugalle, Hulugalle bowed to Grenier and Grenier bowed to the Counsel, while the Court Crier shouted himself hoarse in a tone suggesting that justice will be done though the heavens fall. Hulugalle quietly proceeded to Lake House, where he received a warm welcome from his colleagues, but better still a substantial cheque from his Boss to compensate him not only for his pain of mind, but for the fine performance he had put up as an actor.

 

 

(From “The Good at their Best” Selected writings of E.C.B.Wijeyesinghe, Actor and Journalist)

 

 



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Opinion

The faithful Lankan matriarch from Negombo

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(UCAN) Every day around 7pm, octogenarian Sembuwalage Mary Hariyat faithfully recites the rosary and litany from her old prayer book with lightly frayed edges and irregular-shaped pages.She is never alone as she settles before the statues of Mother Mary and the saints at home. Among those around her are some of her growing brood of 24 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, not to mention her eight children.

“My prayer book and rosary are my weapons in times of joy and sorrow,” says the 82-year-old from the tourist village of Negombo, known as the “little Rome” of Sri Lanka because of its predominantly Catholic population.

The majority of some 150,000 Catholics in Negombo depend on fishing, just like many other coastal communities in the island nation. Despite a life hit hard by poverty, thousands of Catholic mothers like Hariyat are considered important in building up the local Church.

Hariyat never forgets to neatly arrange a small dish of raw white flowers and light an oil lamp before her prayers at home. On some days, she will burn incense sticks according to traditions passed down from generation to generation.But above all, Hariyat loves to teach the kids prayer rhythms and styles.

Her son Liyanage Samantha said: “It is our mother who taught us rhythms of all prayers. We learned every prayer from her. Now she is teaching our children and their children too,” he said. Her sons, daughters and their families credit her for teaching them how to live their Catholic faith.

“All my eight children and their children and grandchildren are devout Roman Catholics,” Hariyat proclaims with pride.

“I stay with one child for a week. That’s how I divide my time among all my eight children, week after week. If a family member is sick, I stay longer to help and serve in that house,” she says.Every word she utters hints at how grateful she is to God for everything she’s got.

“God has abundantly blessed me and all the members of my large family,” she saiys.

In February 2021, Hariyat suffered a severe heart attack and had to be hospitalized.  She says God and Mother Mary “stayed close to her during the terrible time” and if not for their blessings she would have been long gone. Like a true Sri Lankan Catholic, whenever she or a member of the family faces a problem, Hariyat takes a vow to visit national shrines on a special pilgrimage.

Most of the time it is Our Lady of Madhu, a Marian shrine located in a dense forest in Mannar district, some 220 kilometers from Negombo. The shrine is considered the holiest Catholic site on the island.Hariyat has been attending the August festival at the shrine since she was 20 years old. She even visited during the height of the Sri Lankan civil war, when the shrine was surrounded by refugee camps and shelled many times.After recovering from the heart attack, Hariyat accompanied by the family of one of her sons visited Our Lady of Madhu last June.

Her son too had recovered from a major illness even though the doctors had said he could not be cured. He could not stand or do any work and suffered unbearable pain that prevented him sleeping. Doctors said some tissue lining his spine was torn and could not be rectified.Hariyat recalled praying to Mother Mary for months to heal him. She believes that Mother Mary intervened at her request.

“My son had a major operation and the doctors wanted about 600,000 rupees (US$ 1,715) to carry out the operation. His children decided to hold a lottery to find the necessary amount,” she said. “I continued to pray to God, Mother Mary to heal him and vowed to bring my son” to Madhu and Kattara churches in Mannar diocese.

Hariyat said no operation was required and even the doctors were surprised with her son’s miraculous recovery.

“For more than fifty years, I have been going to Madhu and Kattara churches with my children. I have experienced many miracles in my life,” Hariyat said.

She remains as enthusiastic as ever about the pilgrimage to Hiniduma Calvary shrine and joins other Catholic faithful in walking around the small hill on which the shrine stands overlooking St. Anne’s Church and the Gin River quietly flowing beside it.Hariyat’s house is located in a beautiful village called Pitipana nestled between the sea and a lagoon. It is a village of fishers and except for a few families, everyone else is Catholic.

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Opinion

Evening with Julia Cameron

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We were treated to a Sri Lankan cultural feast on Sept. 9. It included old photographs, old paintings, glimpses of the old sculptures, temple paintings – together a cultural heritage most of our countrymen are ignorant or have little knowledge of. However prevalent Buddhist fervor has given some knowledge to the average Buddhist about the temple paintings that are a part of this heritage. Fortunately, the audience present at the film that evening comprised people familiar with what was on offer and continue their quest for more knowledge.

The evening was an ode to the life and times of Julia Cameron, who was born in India in 1815, but chose to make Sri Lanka her home. She lived for some time in the Isle of Wight in high society making friends with many famous persons like Lord Carlyle, Lord Tennyson and Sir John Herschel, the British astronomer, among them.

Julia, from a young age was interested in photography but it was rather late in life that she took to it seriously. Apparently encouraged by her friend Sir John (Herchel), she in her late forties went on to become one of the most famous photographers of the 19th century, best known for her soft focus photography. She is today considered one of the greatest photographers of all time. The short film screened on Sept. 9 was indeed a treat and revelation.

This was followed by another short film on the 43 Group. That included Lionel Wendt, well known to most Lankans. I don’t think he had the same international reputation that Julia Cameron did but enjoyed seeing his work again. Then came a series of pictures of paintings by our best known artists: Keyt , Ivan PIeris, Daraniyagala and Manjusri to name a few. The 43 Group had a great reputation at that time but are almost forgotten now. Its last member, June Somasunderam died a few years ago. Seeing these pictures was a pleasure, like seeing old friends. They are hardly seen today and maybe many are in private hands here and abroad.

There was also a short clip on a dance form making you aware of the many dance forms Sri Lanka has: up country, low country, ritual dances including one to drive away the devils and one to intervene between God and the supplicant in time of illness or bad times. Few people are familiar with these rituals, but they are not that many. Thanks to the Kandy Perahara, most people are familiar with the Kandyan dance form.

The creator of this lovely film didn’t forget the lowly kite which rose in splendor to the sky at the end of the film.We owe this pleasurable evening to two people whose intrepid research and study documented our cultural heritage for posterity. Thank you Ismeth Raheem and Martin Pieris.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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Opinion

PEOPLE’S FRIENDLY POLICE

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The Sri Lanka Police has come a long way from where it started having celebrated 155 years of its existence this year. I thought of adding my perception of how the police have changed from being people’s friendly force to one that has gone down in many ways.

Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) having been a colony under the British gained independent status in 1948 as a Dominion. We adopted the Westminster system of government and all other good things that the British were used to at that time. Even the police force was similar to the British counterpart in that they acted impartially without interference from the politicians. The officers in charge of police stations and their subordinates would carry out their duties without fear or favour. They never curried favour with the politicians and the politicians did not interfere in their duties.

However, all these changed after 1977 and the rot set in. Thereafter, the bootlicking started. Now most of the transfers and promotions began to take place according to the whims and fancies of the political leaders. Even when it came to the appointment of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), on many an occasion, it was a person who curried favour with the political leaders who got the position.

Sometimes the persons so appointed had got the promotion over more deserving and honest officers senior to them, who refrained from stooping to low levels. While the honest police officers did a job of work according to their conscience, there were the others who stooped low to get their promotions and perks.

For a long time as I remember there were nine Superintendents of Police (SPs), one in each province, and four Deputy Inspectors Generals (DIGs). Each province had a few gazette officers – One SP and a few ASPs. I believe it was President DB Wijetunga who got the cadre of senior officers increased with a view to accommodating more favorites.

It has come to a stage now where a Senior DIG is subjected to manhandling by the people for the wrong things he had done. This has never happened earlier. This happened because the people were frustrated and angry that the police who are supposed to look after the safety of the people turned a blind eye when political goons attacked peaceful protestors.

I wonder whether we will ever get senior police officers like Mr. WB Rajaguru. When he was a DIG, he used to go to the fish market which was at Saunders Place then, in a pair of shorts to buy the requirements for his home. Usually this is a task entrusted to a police constable by such senior officers, as in the Army where the batman must attend to these matters.

I have read a few memoirs of senior police officers (who never stooped to low levels to seek promotion) after their retirement and some articles in the daily newspapers where they have indicated how the standards of the Sri Lanka police have deteriorated so badly that they seemed to be ashamed to state they were officers in the police force at one time.

At least after celebrating the 155th anniversary, we hope that there will be change in the attitudes of the police in carrying out their duties. Of course, this will depend on the political leaders who must change their ways first.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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