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Unsung heroes

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The people of Galle are proud of a duo, a father and a son, who served the Police with distinction. Edwin Goonetilleke was Chief Inspector in charge of the Colombo Pettah Police station during the 1915 riots, at the height of the British Raj with the ‘shoot at sight’ order in force, under martial law. With five sub-Inspectors and 850 policemen under him, he was one of the original indigenous officers. In 1925, he had to retire prematurely at the age of 42, due to an accident at a gambling den in Horana.

Like his father, Tyrrel Goonatilleke joined the police as an Inspector and retired as the Deputy Inspector General Criminal Investigation Department, having served the police with distinction for 41 years. He was involved in the investigation of many celebrated cases in Sri Lanka, which included the Bandaranaike assassination case and the coup d’etat in 1962. In 1976, He was awarded the Sri Lanka Police medal for Merit. Many encomia came his way, as an honest and efficient officer who never used brute force in his investigations. His reputation in the country was unblemished. (Tyrrel was a friend of Ruhunu Puthra!)

 

***

During the 1971 insurrection, a popular inspector of Police, Inspector Thomas, was killed by a JVP sniper’s bullet, which hit him on his forehead. Ordinary folk mourned his death. They said that he was a really good-hearted inspector who never harassed people or took bribes and who was above board, adding that only the criminals feared him.

 

***

T. B. Werapitiya captained the Trinity College cricket team and later the university team and still later was selected as a member of the record-breaking All Ceylon team captained by Bertram Russell Heyn that toured South India in 1947. At the time he was teaching at Mahinda College and when the news broke that he had been selected, we, as Mahindians, were proud! Later, he gave up teaching to join the police, retiring as a DIG. In 1977, he was returned to the Patha Dumbara seat in Parliament with a majority of 10,497 votes and appointed as the Minister of Internal Security. At the time the intrepid DIG was a living legend in the police force.

When he was the Director, Police Training School, applications were called for several vacancies in the police for Sub-Inspectors. Many young men applied and those eligible were called for interviews. One of the youngsters failed the physical test because he was half-an-inch short of the required height. This young man was from a politically powerful family and the next day he brought a letter from no less a person than the Prime Minister himself, asking Sydney de Zoysa to reconsider his decision. Without a word Sydney went to the place where applicants’ height was measured, placed the PM’s letter on the ground, and asked the young man who had brought it to stand on the letter. “Sorry, my friend,” said Sydney when the young man had done as he was bid, “you are still half an inch too short. Now, get the hell out of here.”

Robert Marrs, the Principal of the University College, had given him an appropriate two liner testimonial thus:

“With him trouble,

Without him more trouble,

No doubt he was aptly named

‘No-Nonsense Sydney’.”

 

***

Temporary toilets numbering 1,800 were to be constructed in the billets housing the thousands of police officers who would be reporting for duty in connection with the Papal visit to Sri Lanka. Quotations were called from registered government contractors for this purpose. The caption at the top of the form calling for the quotations read as follows: “Construction of 1,800 temporary toilets in connection with the visit of his Holiness the Pope.”

One of the contractors who received the form, telephoned the DIG (Logistics) H. N. G. B. Kotakadeniya and asked: “Sir, I have just received your letter and the form, but I would like a clarification from you as I feel that you have made a mistake in the number of toilets indicated in your letter. In it you have mentioned 1,800 toilets. Sir, why does the Pope need 1,800 toilets? He is going to stay here for only 24 hours!

 

***

On the last day, before a High Court judge’s retirement, he thanked all those who had helped him to mete out justice, adding that he would never forget the smart salute of his Court Sergeant.

Speaking of Court Sergeants, a maintenance case was being heard by a young Magistrate, a man of charming manner. The petitioner was an attractive village woman, and she testified from the witness-box. The learned Magistrate began questioning her to clarify certain matters, and the woman completely carried away by the young nadukara hamuduruwo’s friendly and gentle manner, began indulging in a pleasant chit-chat with him. Those at the Bar Table sniggered audibly, and loud titters went round the court. The Court Sergeant, a strict disciplinarian, could stand it no longer. He jumped to his feet, and in a stentorian voice shouted: “Silence in Court!” Then approaching the Bench he told the Magistrate in a severe tone: “Sir, this may be a maintenance case but the maintenance of the dignity of this court is more important.”

 

***

“A young man from Galle got married to a girl from Kelaniya, and several of his friends from his hometown travelled to Kelaniya for the wedding. Lunch time was fast approaching but there was no sign of ‘appetizers’ being served. So, the bridegroom’s party explored the possibility of having a drink outside, and were informed by a waiter that there was a ‘joint’ selling illicit liquor nearby.

The wedding guests, in their posh lounge suits and ties, were enjoying their drink at this illicit joint, when a police party led by a young Sub-Inspector, swooped down on the place. For a moment the SI thought he had raided the wrong place, when he saw this fashionably dressed crowd. But finding it was the right place, after all, he told the wedding guests: “I will give you damn fools just five minutes to finish your drinks and get the hell out of this place!” It was good public police PR. This accommodating young Sub-Inspector must be quite a senior officer now, and no doubt a popular one.

 

***

No situation is so harsh or grim that it does not have the lighter or human side. During those traumatic days of violence and curfews, an elderly taxi driver of Galle went to Colombo on a hire, and having dropped his client, he was pelting back to Galle to beat the curfew, when he was stopped by two traffic cops on a motorbike. One of them began upbraiding the driver for speeding, and pulling out his notebook, was about to take down the man’s name, address, vehicle number, etc…, when the other cop had taken a good look at the driver, he told his colleague, “Just a minute machan, put that book away.”

Then, turning to the taxi-driver, he had said in a very mild and polite tone: “Uncle, you should not drive so fast. You know, the way you were speeding, we should charge you, but we won’t Uncle. I studied at a school in Galle, a place where there was no drinking water for us students. During the school interval we would all come into ‘your premises to drink water at your well. You were the only person living in the neighbourhood who had the kindness to allow us to do so. Everybody else chased us away. I shall never forget it. So, carry on uncle, but drive carefully.”

 

***

More than three decades ago there was this Tamil duo stationed in the South. One was an attractive young lady working at a Southern Courts Complex. She hailed from a village in Jaffna. A handsome young Sub-Inspector of Police, who by a strange coincidence, hailed from the adjoining village, was attached to a police station close to Galle. His official duties took him often to the court where the girl worked, and it wasn’t long before they met and struck up a warm friendship; everybody said that they were a perfectly matched pair, and awaited the inevitable outcome with anticipation.

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year was round the corner, and both being Hindus, the boy and girl went to their respective villages as tradition demanded, with the girl inviting the young SI to visit her home and talk things over with her widowed mother. So, soon after New Year’s Day, the young swain went to the girl’s home. The first thing the old lady asked him was what village he came from, and when he told her, the old lady’s eyes goggled with horror, for everybody in the boy’s village belonged to a certain ‘caste’. “Get out, get out,” she screeched, all but picking up the broom. Dejected and heart-broken, the young man retraced his steps. When he returned to his station in the South, he was a changed man. Gone was the fun-loving, devil-may-care youth everybody knew and loved. Instead, here was this brooding, uncommunicative, melancholic recluse.

The late Neil de Alwis was MP for Baddegama at this time, and he knew this police officer, and like everybody else, had the greatest affection for him. When he heard about the change in the SI, he promptly went to see him, and had an intimate chat with him. No doubt confirmed bachelor Neil must have shown the young officer the tremendous advantages of bachelorhood (which we too realise, alas, too late!) for the young man cast off his melancholy and once again become the happy youth everybody knew.

Unable to stand the pain of seeing him and knowing she could never be his, the girl applied for a transfer to a distant town. At the farewell party given her by her colleagues, she broke down and sobbed that the moment he left her home in Jaffna, that fateful day, her mother had washed the floor of the entire house and sprinkled turmeric water all over to get rid of the ‘pollution’ caused by the man entering it.

 

***

The driver and the conductor of the Deniyaya bound CTB bus from Galle were all out to earn easy money. They had five or six parcels of two bottles of arrack each, which were kept under the seats in advance, giving the impression that they belonged to the passengers. The duo would then drop these parcels at several pre-arranged places along the way. A smart Inspector of Police, one day stopped this bus and asked the passengers to get off with their belongings. The Police then found these parcels and took necessary action.



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Features

Rise of Dual Power amidst Covid 

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We had so many kings in our Sinhala Balaya of many centuries. There were many questionable deals on succession by members of this royalty, and others who came to those realms. But we have yet to hear of any brother of a ruling monarch rushing abroad in the midst of what may have been a national crisis, moving to a disaster.This is the stuff of Sinhala Power in the 21st Century. It is a show of the Raja Keliya – the power game, where dual citizenship is the dominant factor. The Sri Lanka, Mawbima home, is of lesser importance than the Videsha mawbima, especially if one’s health has to be handled by foreign medical sources; even if the Videsha Mawbima is the biggest affected by the Covid pandemic.

The appointment of Task Forces to deal with important issues facing the country and the people is the substance of the current Saubhagyaye Dekma – Vision of Prosperity and Splendour. Appointing a brother to head task forces of key importance is the show of dominant family power that prevails in this country today. But brotherly feelings are certainly not important when a dual citizen thinks of the greater importance of the Videsha Mawbima. The tasks of Economic Growth, Eradicating Poverty and Assuring Food Supply, as well as the more recent Green Socio-Economy must all be pushed aside, when the call of the Videsha Mawbima for healthcare is the stuff that matters.

This is the brotherly Vision of Prosperity and Splendour, or the Sahodara Saubhabyaye Dekma.

The Covid pandemic has certainly brought much contradictory thinking, especially in the government, on how the health of the people in this country, non-dual citizens, could be assured. Minister Udaya Gammanpila, a Cabinet spokesman too, is certain that mixed vaccinations of different brands and qualities, is the means to protect the people. 

Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, State Minister on the subject, thinks differently, on the lines of the WHO specialists, who have stressed there is no evidence so far to authorize mixed vaccinations. The other minister of health and vaccination issues is somewhat silent on this confusion in official thinking. Is a new pandemic syrup to be promoted by the power handlers?

Thank heavens that the Cabinet Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, is so far silent on this matter. She could come up with a new Sri Lankan Deshamanya scientific solution, such as throwing some of the Sinopharm and Sputnik (Chinese and Russian) into the nearby river, and using the mixed and river blended vaccine for people of the related province. She is sure to obtain the support of Ministers Udaya Gammanpila and Prasanna Ranatunga for such a crafty thinking of science, just as they shared her belief in the Charmed Pot Game or Mantara Kala Keliya to fight the Covid-19.

  We are now in the midst of what is known as a Lockdown. It is not a “Vasaa thabeema” in Sinhala, but a limit on travel – a ‘Sancharana Seemava’. The Police are very clear that anyone who breaks the lockdown rules will be arrested and brought to justice. We have seen the great joy that policemen showed in carrying non-mask wearers and other violaters of Covid safety guidelines, to be shoved into buses. How much more of such delights would follow when Covid increases its hold on Sri Lanka? What was the related Task Force, and its ceremonial uniformed head doing, when Indians were brought to Sri Lankan hotels for quarantine before travel to some Middle Easter countries? What foreigner from the Covid battered India was carried or courteously conducted to a place where lawbreakers are detained?

As we keep wearing our masks and distancing ourselves from others, there is much cause for concern, even beyond the Covid pandemic, on how persons arrested and detained by the police are killed by or in the presence of the  police. Two suspected and arrested persons have been killed while in police custody this week.  They are Melon Mabula or ‘Uru Juva’ and Tharaka Perera Wijesekera or ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’ These are persons with records of major crimes, possibly with much strong evidence, but not presented in court and any punishment order through the judicial process.

The police spokesperson, a person with a legal background, too, tells the people the details of all the terrible crimes these persons are supposed to be guilty of. It is a contemptible move to get public support for the killings. The Bar Association has raised concerns about these departures from justice. There must be much more protests, even with the Covid dangers.

One gets the impression that the prevailing dangerous situation due to Covid, is being used to carry out increasing violations of the law and the judicial process. This is certainly a major step back to the earlier years of Rajapaksa Power, when many such suspects were killed in Colombo and elsewhere, showing off police escape power. It also brings back memories of the killing and attacks on journalists by similar police and official forces of crooked power.

Are we moving to a new sense of Dual Power — where the judiciary is ignored and official power is the Rule of the Day? Is the power of Dual Citizenry to be the dominant force once Covid puts down the people’s power?

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Should ASEAN Free Trade Area be considered model for SAFTA?

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By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Economic integration is more important today than it has ever been for South Asia’s development. When comparing the impact of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)s South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) Free Trade Area (AFTA) in promoting trade amongst its member states, AFTA has been more effective in integrating the economies of its member states. SAFTA , on the other hand, has yet to make significant contributions to the integration of the economies of SAARC member states. The Success of ASEAN’s economic integration can be attributed to the willingness of Southeast Asian countries to embrace the tenets of regional integration. In contrast, SAARC’s model has failed to create a secure regional environment that is conducive for economic growth since its formation.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) member states signed the AFTA agreement on 28 January 1992. After the establishment of AFTA, the member states of ASEAN succeeded in signing trading protocols within the organization. The ASEAN model succeeded in creating one of the most successful free trade areas in Asia as well as globally. The establishment of AFTA has been an important milestone in Southeast Asia as a factor that facilitated the economic integration of ASEAN member states.

In the case of the SAARC, the signing of free trade protocols under the SAFTA agreement has been faced with several tariff and non-tariff barriers. Although both SASRC and ASEAN member states face unique challenges that affect trading within these organizations, it can be said that, unlike the SAARC, the ASEAN economic integration model has been far successful in promoting trade amongst its member states. For the SAARC, the liberalization of the economies of SAFTA signatories has been a crucial challenge. On the other hand, ASEAN has made notable progress with regards to trade liberalization, policy alignments, and intra-regional trade among Southeast Asian nations.

The specific trade liberalization challenges faced by the SAARC member states include concerns over SAFTA revenue allocation from member states, restrictive rules of origin, and negative sensitive lists. The sensitive lists adopted by SAARC member states have proven to be a significant hurdle to exportation amongst SAARC member states. This has particularly made it difficult for exports from small member states of the SAARC to enter into large markets such as India and Pakistan. Having failed to grant the application of  most favored nation (MFN) status that would have seen a significant reduction in the sensitive lists maintained by both countries, trade between these two regional powers has been problematic over the years. Notably, the trading commodities that are in the sensitive lists of a majority of the SAFTA member states have high export potential. Despite the various commitments made by SAFTA member states, countries continue to maintain long sensitive lists hence the dismal performance of SAFTA. 

In the case of ASEAN, the establishment of the AFTA agreement has provided ASEAN member states with a platform to exploit their export potential. The AFTA agreement has boosted the economies of ASEAN countries through its trade liberalization policies. AFTA has also entered into several free trade agreements with regional powers such as Australia, China, South Korea, India, and Japan. The ASEAN countries are now focused on creating an Economic Community for their member states. Notably, several countries have shown interest in being a part of the proposed ASEAN Economic Community.

It should however be noted that the massive success achieved by ASEAN’S AFTA as opposed to SAARC’s SAFTA is not flawless. For example, although ASEAN has made significant steps in eliminating tariff barriers amongst AFTA member states, Non-tariff barriers are still a key challenge to the AFTA agreement. However, when analyzing the progress made by ASEAN’s AFTA since its formation, the achievements and evolution are undeniable. ASEAN was formed in an era when interstate relations amongst Southeast Asian countries were characterized by political mistrust and strained interstate relations. Years later, the organization has succeeded in unifying its member states for a common course, an aspect that the SAARC still struggles with. 

Way Forward

If SAFTA is to become more effective and emulate AFTA’s success, the myriad of issues mentioned above needs to be addressed. First, downsizing the sensitive lists of countries in a time-bound manner will be necessary. Secondly, the issue of para tariffs needs to be squarely addressed. A starting point could be to reduce and accelerate the elimination of para tariffs on items not on sensitive lists and include para tariffs in SAFTA negotiations. Also, the non-tariff barriers to trade facing SAFTA member states need to be equally addressed like the tariff barriers. Finally, strengthening economic relations can be used to reinforce improving political relations in the region, particularly between India and Pakistan. To an extent, the success of ASEAN in achieving effective economic integration and its experience can be used as an external driver of SAARC and its SAFTA agreement.

About the author:

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

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Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic

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This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.

Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.

Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.

During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.

It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.

Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.

Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.

After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.

This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.

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