THE POLICE HOSPITAL: A LEAP INTO MODERNITY
(EXCERPTED FROM MERRIL GUNARATNE’S “COP IN THE CROSSFIRE”)
At the time the Police Hospital was placed in 1996 under my supervision, it was an appendage of the Department of Health Services. In fact it had been so for well over 30 years. The Health Services had actually relegated the institution to the status of a “rural” hospital. As a result, only the buildings and furniture belonged to the police; the medical and paramedical staff were answerable entirely to the National Health Services. To have designated the institution a Police Hospital was therefore a ‘misnomer’. The Health Services also supplied the required drugs and medicines to the Police Hospital. It had been assigned 10 medical officers, of whom four were registered medical practitioners. None of the medical officers had post graduate qualifications.
The Police Hospital thus was hopelessly placed to cater to a service of over 50,000 officers and men. Due to poor resources and facilities, officers injured in the war had invariably to be warded in the National Hospital. Many policemen were reluctant to visit the hospital for even outdoor treatment at that time. Since medical and paramedical officers as well as minor staff were members of trade unions, a strike orchestrated by trade unions in the health sector affected the Police Hospital as well. There had been occasions when pharmacists had locked the pharmacy and taken the keys away at times of strike.
Since the National Health Services administered the hospital, senior police officers attached to it were unable to maintain good disciplinary standards. All that could be done was to report complaints of shortcomings observed to the health authorities. The medical lab technologist at the time even dipped the needle in dettol before extracting blood from a patient’s arm! Disposable plastic syringes had not even been introduced to the hospital. It was therefore not surprising that daily attendance of patients was extremely poor at the time I was assigned the task of administering the hospital. Officers did not place confidence in the hospital since only extremely basic OPD treatment was provided by it.
After 1994, when I found it increasingly difficult to perform duties as Senior DIG (Ranges) due to the prejudices entertained by the government, I informed the Inspector General of Police, W.B. Rajaguru, that I would like a change, preferably to a post which would enable me to administer the hospital as well. It was my desire to accept the challenge of raising it’s standards. The desired change in my duties came about in 1996. The IGP informed me of the government wished to shift me out of what I would describe as “territorial functions” which was my familiar terrain. He therefore thought it appropriate to assign the “Support Services” arm to me which included “inter alia”, the administration of the Police Hospital. I was extremely happy to accept this change, since I could then settle down to work without constraints and fetters which had earlier inhibited my work. Once the administration of the hospital came into my hands, Senior Superintendent of Police Lionel Gunatillake, was appointed Director of Welfare, following a proposal made by me to the IGP. Upon being appointed, Lionel figured actively and enthusiastically in the rapid transformation that was set in motion.
As a first step, I decided to request Dr. Reggie Perera, Director General of Health Services to post more medical officers to the hospital. At the time of my visit to him, I had not thought of plans for the Police Department to take full control of the hospital. Perhaps if Dr. Perera had looked at my request favourably, I may not have embarked on such a radical course of action, as took place later. The Director General assured me that he would post more doctors, but a few days later informed me that it was not possible to offer more medical officers since the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) was opposed to it, being disinclined to upgrade the hospital from the status of a rural hospital. I then realized how helpless we were in regard to our efforts to improve the quality of our own hospital.
It was in these circumstances that I decided to seriously explore ways of achieving the total transfer of the hospital to the Police Department. At this time, the Sri Lanka Police Reserve (SLPR) was also under my supervision, and I was aware that there were several vacancies in the ranks of Senior Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Inspector and Police Sergeant in it. Funds were allocated annually to the SLPR but returned, since these vacancies remained unfilled. I made a written proposal to the IGP that we obtain the approval of the Ministry of Defence to have the hospital transferred to the department. I also proposed the enlistment of medical and para-medical officers as police reservists under the Sri Lanka Police Reserve Act, in view of the availability of vacancies in ranks from Sergeant upwards. The IGP approved the blueprint submitted. We prepared and sent off a memorandum to Secretary of Defence with a request to obtain the approval of the Cabinet for the hospital to be transferred from the Health Services to the Police, and for authority to enlist medical and para-medical officers as police reservists. The approval given by the cabinet to our memorandum set the stage for the radical transition I had in mind.
Dr. Keerthi Gunaratne, the Chief Medical Officer, played a prominent and valuable role in achieving the transition from the Health Services. Once the formal transfer from the Health Services to the police department was effected in mid 1997, it became necessary to formulate appropriate schemes governing enlistment, promotions, and terms and conditions of service. Several from medical ranks including physicians, an anaesthetist, a surgeon and a large number of medical officers were enlisted to the ranks of Senior Superintendent police, Superintendent of Police and ASPs’ respectively. In respect of para-medical ranks, viz. nurses, pharmacists, lab technologists, radiologists, physiotherapists etc., certain obstacles relating to financial matters had to be surmounted. Basically the problem was that a Sub-Inspector’s total emoluments ran below what para-medical categories in the National Health Services earned.
Although difficulties were not experienced in enlisting medical officers, prospects of attracting para-medical officers therefore remained dim so long as this matter was unresolved. To bridge the gap and attract para-medical officers to join the hospital, special allowances for them were recommended by the department to the Treasury. The payment of these allowances was later approved after a series of discussions with Treasury officials. With the transition, giant strides were also made in installing a wide range of technical facilities for tests, diagnosis and treatment.
The OPD of the Police Hospital, as a result of improvements, became a hive of activity daily. Large numbers began to flock to the hospital for “in house” as well as outdoor treatment. Patients also began to benefit from the clinics of a large number of Visiting Consultants whose services were entirely honorary. They were offered police ranks as incentives. An operating theatre and an intensive care unit were also completed. Police patients were as far as possible provided drugs and medication free of cost.
Dr. R. Ellawela (Surgeon), Dr. G. Nanayakkara (Anaesthetist), Dr. Mrs. Harshini Fernando and Dr. Mrs. Manjula Ranaweera (Physicians), as well as Medical Officer Dr Sunil Pathmasiri were pioneers who actively contributed to the successful transformation of the hospital from it’s rural status to a modern one and to be identified as a police institution. These qualified professionals were so exemplary that their enthusiasm, commitment and efficiency had an infectious impact over the medical and paramedical staff in the hospital.
In conclusion, it must be pointed out that the transformation of the hospital was not achieved easily. It was a story of sweat and toil, with impediments placed by the Health Services trade unions from outside, and fears and concerns expressed about the planned transformation by certain serving senior officers of the Police Department. The hospital became a boon to all officers, the retired ranks in particular, with extensive arrangements in force for treatment of varied ailments, and the availability of free drugs and medicines. Then IGP Rajaguru provided enthusiastic patronage to the project. The vision of a modern hospital could not have become a reality without his inspiration and support.
THE HOSPITAL, 25 YEARS AFTER. ( This is not part of the book)
I do not know whether a police service elsewhere in the world could boast of a police hospital. I had in mind, plans to improve it in course of time to reach the heights of the military hospital. But I retired not long after its creation.
It is sad but true that the hospital has declined considerably over time. Commitment to the work ethic of a disciplined service, output, a sense of urgency, speed and quality in respect of repairs, renovations, innovations, procurement of drugs, materials and equipment are areas which have seen a serious deterioration of standards. The availability of the two physicians to treat patients is acutely inconsistent. In fact, a retired Senior DIG Leo Perera died in the hospital due to strongly suspected medical negligence. Clinics by Visiting Consultants are being arranged in respect of a number of illnesses. Unfortunately, most of them arrive extremely late, or do not sometimes arrive at all. It is possible that this shortcoming is due to the authorities failing to look after them adequately. Worst of all, the retired police lower ranks who travel from far out to the hospital for treatment receive a poor service.
I would attribute the current plight of the hospital to three major factors. First, all medical and para medical staff do not hold ranks in the police reserve now. Of 58 medical officers in the hospital, as many as 26 are civilians. They no doubt enjoy trade union rights, anathema to a uniformed service. The work ethic required in a disciplined service invariably suffered, with the hospital assuming the appearance of a civilian organization. At the time of the inception of the hospital, it was made mandatory for all medical and para medical ranks to be police officers so that those enlisted would imbibe the discipline required in the service and work with a sense of urgency. Those enlisted as police officers should, before being assigned such ranks, go through proper training and orientation as well. It would be preposterous to offer a police rank without the beneficiary being trained. The required work ethic therefore suffered still further with untrained medical officers merely carrying police ranks.
Second, the key slot, Director of Police Medical Services (D/PMS) is held by a police officer.The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) is a doctor, but he carries only responsibility, whilst the director enjoys power and authority. ‘Dual control’ is repugnant to the efficiency of any institution. The CMO who holds a police rank should be appointed as Director so that he could administer the hospital. I think this serious drawback should be remedied without delay. A hospital cannot be run by a police officer, as much as a police station cannot be administered by a doctor!
Third, police headquarters should treat the hospital like a department, with a separate administrative apparatus. It should have an Establishment Branch (for enlistment and Promotion schemes etc) a separate Tender Board, Finance Branch etc, so that speed and quality would be achieved in postings, reforms, progress, renovations, and procurement of drugs and materials. If such a structure is not in place and the hospital is serviced with structures familiar with police ranges and divisions, there would be danger to life and limb of officers requiring urgent medical attention because of inadequate attention and inordinate delays. In view of chronic inadequacies by police headquarters to put the hospital back on it’s feet, I now begin to wonder whether my enterprise to pioneer a modern hospital had been futile. At the time of inception, the ambitious project envisioned hopes of reaching the standards of the Military Hospital. 25 years later, it appears a distant and elusive goal. Rather, what the hospital now requires is plenty of oxygen for it’s mere survival.
Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?
By Maduranga Kalugampitiya
The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!
While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.
What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.
Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.
Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.
Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.
In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.
If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.
In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.
(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Selective targeting not law’s purpose
By Jehan Perera
The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.
Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.
But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.
The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.
Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.
In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.
The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”
Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.
The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.
Girl power… to light up our scene
We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!
The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.
Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.
It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.
Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).
Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).
Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.
They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).
Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.
The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.
Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.
She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.
“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”
With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.
“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.
Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!
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