Sri Lanka is riding the crest of an unprecedented crime wave that is threatening to sweep the nation precipitously into the rocky reefs of anarchy. And while we flounder helplessly in the maelstrom of lawlessness and disorder, some of our politicians and policemen appear to have succeeded in turning the criminal justice system on its head.
For several years the country’s capital and its suburbs have begun to resemble the 1930s Chicago era of Al Capone with rival underworld gangs choosing public roads as battlegrounds. The gangs, which have been identified with suspected contract-killings, prostitution, extortion, robberies, abductions, hijackings and drugs and gun-running have been causing law enforcement authorities here with a massive security headache.
Many, many moons ago the country’s top prosecutor had said openly and with admirable candour that nearly 5000 criminals, suspected of grave offences, were at large in Colombo because of a reluctance on the part of the police to bring them to book. I am referring to a statement by the then Attorney-General, Sarath Silva, in 1996, who was later to become the country’s Chief Justice, who proclaimed at the time that over the last two years there had been nearly 5000 intances of grave crime reported in the Colombo area which the police had failed to investigate because of fears that the perpetrators might possibly file fundamental rights cases against them.
He had, in the same breath reminded the country’s judiciary that the victims of these crimes had not received justice and exhorted them to activate the police to make a genuine effort to apprehend the offenders. The country’s embattled police department around this period, had been pressed to establish its own legal wing following the refusal by the Attorney-General’s Department to defend policemen accused of being involved in several cases pertaining to fundamental rights violations.
Since May 1998, scores of police personnel, including several high-ranking officers, had been transferred out of city stations in a move aimed at crippling links between corrupt law-enforcement officials and the powerful Colombo underworld. But many policemen at the time claimed that the resurgence of underworld activities was linked to political patronage.
Some of the affected police officers maintained that several politicians were resorting to the exasperating habit of interfering in police investigations and arrests of notorious gang lords as well as impeding inquiries into political violence during elections.
What stands out with astonishing legibility here is the striking exactness in which the department had admitted for the first time that collusion among some of its personnel with the underworld has been a key contributory factor to the rapidly surging crime wave. The earlier responses to such allegations had been confined to mostly to denials and cover-ups.
Assuredly, at the most, there had been only a huff and a puff and possibly a mention of a promised threat to clean up the system. To those administrations will go the dubitable credit of making “goondaism” a fine and extra-judicial art, which has left a shocking trail of irregularities, not to mention the betrayal of justice.
On the other hand, the emergence of recurrent political meddling in the law-enforcement process is another infernal aspect which has contributed liberally to the significant increase in crime and obstruction of justice and must be summarily dealt with. There can be no compromise on this.
And no one could dismiss the truism that in the recent past, politicisation has provoked a rolling of many distinguished heads within the police department, following insidious witch-hunts by succeeding governments.
Clearly, there have remained a few tenacious survivors among the top echelon who have refused to cow to the demands of political pressure. But lamentably they among those who have paid the price for their independence by being overlooked for promotion, while many of their political lesser ranking boot-licking colleagues have leapfrogged over their heads.
The statement can be validated further by graver and more unpalatable pictures which have been emerging, such as allegations of escalating human rights abuses which have rocked the department to its very foundations. Among them are crimes such as gang-rape, disappearances and extra-judicial contract killings of civilians allegedly committed by officials entrusted to enforcing law and order. Now the present IGP Pujith Jayasundera has exhorted his troops to practise spiritual development before hit the streets. Soon after he was appointed to the top post Jayasundara had said he got the top job because he attended 35 ‘bodhi poojas’, seeking the appointment.
All regional police heads have now been asked to order all ranks to begin the day with Anapanasati meditation followed by a brief session of ‘maithri bhavana’ or loving kindness meditation. It’s all well and good if our law enforcement force is able to display such admirable virtues of kindness and empathy while dealing with the escalating crime rate. It is not a new phenomenon. It appears a copycat reaction on the local police chief’s part. It seems that Jayasundera had lately become aware of such programmes introduced in several Asian and Western nations including police forces in India, the US, Canada and Britain to relieve the stress-related activities of their officers.
Indeed, in several of these law enforcing departments the primary focus has shifted to police officer welfare and wellbeing. Police work often involves shift work, dealing with volatile situations involving emotional victims or pathological trigger-happy criminals, exposure to disturbing crime scenes, emotional and often facing highly stressful situations. This often results in police officers experiencing insomnia, anxiety, stress, hostility, depression and other mental disorders.
Studies on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been very positive, including the reduction in stress and anger in the police force. It can also improve attention on-the-job; decrease police hostility and violence, regulate emotions, enhance compassion; and improve decision-making. This in turn is believed to improve overall policing. Fair enough. Yet in all such cases every copper attending such activities does so voluntarily for their own well-being and peace of mind and is not dragooned into attending such courses.
Admittedly so, but the real problem as far as our police force is concerned is that how far will such an imitator mystical psyching out of our cops work from a practical point of view, with 15 minutes of meditation before starting their working schedule. For a harried force which has often been accused of shameful inaction, such enforced spiritual programmes will be regarded as a time consuming nuisance to be abhorred by crime fighters whose primary occupation is just that – to combat crime.
Common decency and following the tenets the justice system are the hallmarks of any law-enforcement agency. Spiritualism, religion and any beliefs of divine intervention as laid down by a believer of any faith cannot be forced down the throats of everyone entrusted with law enforcement. Already such blanket orders have manifested a murky side that has reached beyond the rumblings of disgruntled personnel and into the darker parts of the department’s soul. Sadly, several senior law-enforcement administrators have clearly displayed that they lack both the eminence of mind and plain guts so needed to protect the population and the good name of their department.