Sri Lanka: Ms. Edrisinghe, Sinhalese and a Graduate Teacher shares her views on policing in Sri Lanka

What do you think about the policing system of Sri Lanka?

I cannot be satisfied with the Sri Lankan police. They were established as a state institution which was intended to protect the law and order in the country. As such, the police should deliver their duty equally towards rich and poor. Everyone should respect the law of the country; all should be equal before the law. No one should be allowed to misuse the law for political, financial or other reasons.

When we talk about the existing situation of policing in Sri Lanka the best example is Minister Mervin Silva. There were plenty of media reports regarding the incident in which he tied a government servant to a tree. This incident happened after a child died of dengue fever in Kalaniya, the minister’s electorate. The civil servant angered the minister by not attending a planning meeting that he had arranged so Silva tied him to the tree and humiliated him in public while claiming that he was responsible for that. Later, despite several protests, the government did not take any action. Silva was briefly suspended from his ministerial post while an investigation was conducted. However, he was reinstated when, after manipulation of the report, it was announced that the government servant tied himself to the tree. Further this servant apologized to the minister for the inconvenience caused to him. The truth was suppressed and this happened due to the influence of the high ranking police officers and the high profile politicians.

We have to refuse these kinds of disgusting incidents. These cannot be justifiable in any case. This shows the way how police work in connivance with the politicians and under the influence of rich people. Until they get rid of these influences we cannot think that the police could serve the general people impartially.

What is your opinion on police torture?

Considering the audio and visual reports we see and hear the situation has proved to be the worst. I do not have words to explain the situation. As the police system is presently seriously under political influence any politician big or small can manipulate the process. So police torture is rampant. Following the instructions of politicians the police officers engage in torturing innocent people in many cases.

For example, we have observed on many occasions the police have brutally tortured university students in deference places. On one occasion the Minister of Higher Education, SB Dissanayaka, went to participate at a ceremony held in the University of Peredeniya. There were protest organized by the university students and it was reported that some students from the Engineering faculty also participated. The police arrested a large number of students and detained them, disturbing their education. The reason given was that the police were not able to identify the particular students that caused the protest.

Another incident happened in the Ruhunu University. On that occasion police tortured a large number of students after entering the student hostel. They were assaulted for no reason and one of them paid with his life. The police later claimed that the deceased had been assaulted by a fellow student. This shows how brutal the situation is. I think we have to consider the situation and pay attention for certain reforms with command responsibility by the police. If the students have committed certain crimes they should be responsible and they have to be brought before the law. Anyway this is not the way of punishing them. I think we have to work toward this to eradicate this disgraceful situation soon from our society.

What is the relationship with police and the public?

There is no sound relationship with each other. What is the reason for the distance between the public and the police? We have to think on that. I think the main reason would be the corruption of the police officers. The malpractices and frauds of the police have frightened the people towards them and have created frustration among them. Then how we can keep a hope for a good relationship?

We can clearly see the evidence that police officers are taking bribes from the people. My father made a complaint to the police over a land dispute recently. The incident was based on the fact that the adjoining land owner interrupted the pathway to our land which was belonging to my father. Then a police officer from the station came to inspect the scene. While the officer was making inquiries the other man assaulted my father physically and scolded him with obscene language. But the police officer did nothing to prevent it. Immediately after the questioning and observing the scene the officer went to the house of the other man. When he returned he informed both parties to come to the police station on another occasion. My father went to the police station at the time mentioned but the neighbour and the relevant police officer did not appear. Finally my father inquired about the police officer and was told that he had gone for special duty. My father was given another time for the inquiry and when he returned once again neither the officer, nor the neighbour was present. Frustrated, my father went there for several occasions but not get any relief. Finally we heard that this particular police officer had taken Rs. 2000/= on that day from the other party.

My father was eventually told that the police could not intervene that he should to go to the Mediation Board or courts. By that time my father was seriously frustrated and depressed with the malicious prolonged delays of these police officers.

If the police are taking such bribes and manipulating the whole legal and justice process then how can the general public believe in them? If this is the situation how can there be a possibility for building a relationship between the police and public.

If you have a problem do you go to police to get relief?

Certainly I think we cannot get any relief from the police. According to the incident that happened to my father I think though we are having problems and we cannot believe that they can deliver relief or protection for us. But we know that there are particular occasions that we need to make police complaints. For example, if we lose a National Identity Card or in a case of theft, we need to make a police complaint to the nearest station. Those are necessary to initiate administrative procedures. So willingly or not we have to go to the police station. So personally I never expect any service other than that from the police. If I have a problem I will make other alternative arrangements to get rid of them or get a necessary relief. I don’t have that trust with this institution.

I think in the incident that happened to my father he was subjected to degrading and the worst treatment in a most perverted manner by police officers. He is well respected man in his society. If we gave a bigger bribe than the other man definitely my father too would have the relief that he needed. My father is a very obedient citizen and he follows the law with utmost respect. Finally we have to get justice even though we are innocent after giving bribes to the police. Is that the reality in this society?

Is there are law pertaining to prevention of domestic violence in Sri Lanka? 

I have heard that there is a special law for that. But I have not seen that it is getting implemented properly. In the families where the mother has migrated abroad for a job and the father is addicted to alcohol they can experience a terrible situation in Sri Lanka. This situation is rampant in the families who are depending on labour and are not literate. For example, there is a family living in a village close to my school. In that family the mother has migrated to the Middle East for a job. There was an 8 year old girl and the father is alcoholic. One night the child fell sick and was taken to hospital where it was discovered she had a sexually transmitted disease. Later the child died.

The father was arrested and questioned by the police. He admitted that he had exploited and sexually abused children. This situation happens as these villages are economically week and facing difficulties in socio economic problems.

I know that there are many such cases that were directed to our school counseling teacher. She listens to the cases of students but she can do nothing other than listen. There are horrible rape cases as well as sexual abuse cases. The teacher cannot take legal steps because it is the students that have to face future consequences from their own parents.

For example, one mother of three had to go to assist a Buddhist religious ceremony held in a neighbouring house. The children are under aged and the eldest is 9 years and the eldest one was told to keep the younger ones company. At midnight a man of 20 years went to the house and sexually abused the child. This had been witnessed by another child who informed the story to our school counseling teacher. The counselor called upon the victim child and verified the incident. But she was not able take any action against the culprit due to the fear that she had to go to the court to testified. She has further feared that the child’s life would be threatened.

But finally the child who witnessed the abuse informed the incident to the parents of the victim who complained to the police. The child was sent for a medical examination which gave positive results of rape. But finally it was reported that both parties have come to a settlement of Rs. 5000. Such amount of money is a much bigger amount for the people living in this village. They are suffering with enormous economic difficulties.

But later news of this incident spread out among the villagers. The child was exposed to further victimization by the hooligans of the village. Then the father had to take the child out from school as well. That is how the education of that child was ruined. This is what happens to the innocent if they look forward to proceed with a legal case. These are very pathetic stories. Though there are laws in the country when it comes to implementation these innocent people never get justice. These people belong to poorest among the poor. They are illiterate. So if the government or any of its organs need to implement the law benefitting these innocents they have to work with deep knowledge of their situation.


The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

About the interviewee

Ms. Edrisinghe (not her real name) is 36-years-of-age, Sinhalese and a Graduate Teacher of Edamegama, Warallagama.

Document ID :AHRC-ETC-003-2011
Countries : Asia
Date : 14-04-2011