Colombo, Politics and Governance

Bus Terrorism and Justice

It was a busy afternoon on the Galle Road in Moratuwa and I stopped my vehicle at a pedestrian crossing to allow a few women and children cross the road.  The vehicle on the left lane also stopped and the people were now more than halfway across when a Matara bound Leyland bus squeezed through the left and overtook both vehicles along the curb, barely missing the people crossing the road.   The bus then cut across to the right lane and nearly missed another bunch of people about to cross at another pedestrian crossing and sped away.  The above scenario is a common site on our roads, but no one takes any action, so the unsociable behaviour from the bus drivers continue.

I took it upon myself to follow and stop the bus and to give the driver some feedback on his bad behaviour.   Unfortunately, my temper had got in the way and I could not string my words together coherently, so I left the scene.  The bus driver decided that I had no business pulling him up, so began chasing me further down the Galle Road.  His behavior became more erratic and dangerous trying to catch me, so I decided I should lose him by speeding further.   I then wondered whether I should have left all this alone in the first place and continued on my way, minding my own business.

This is our biggest dilemma.  Should we just turn a blind eye to this kind of unsociable and dangerous behavior or escalate it, even at the risk of further problems, hoping that the perpetrators will learn?

Having experienced many of these encounters with not much success in changing the general behavior, I now think we should look at the root cause of this problem, rather than take the law into our own hands.

I was deep in tought the rest of that journey wondering “what motivates such unsociable behavior, especially from people who are serving the public ?”.   My mind went to public transit systems in countries such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and London, Toronto and realized how they take this public responsibility for safety and good service so seriously.

What has gone wrong in a nation where our traditional social values are based on respect for each other, generosity and hospitality ?

I also wondered whether the driver had a family and children and how he would react if they were subjected to that kind of danger.

Does this behavior arise from liberal economic policies and privatization where competition and money making is the order of the day ?.

Why have we allowed such a free fall system to take root without rules based on ethics and discipline ?

Is money becoming the ultimate form of power in Sri Lanka ?

Where are all the good people and why are they silent ?

These are questions we all need to ponder on.

In my work with organizations both public and private as a leadership trainer, I come across hundreds of people every month who are concerned about all this.  They feel helpless in a system that seems so politicized and dangerous, so they go about their lives suffering silently.

How can Sri Lanka advance as a nation when its people are suffering these finds of indignities in the hands of a few ?   Where is the justice ?.

A nation without justice is a nation with low social esteem.  A nation with low social esteem will remain poor and disadvantaged in a globalized world.

Do we want to remain as such or should we speak out ?

Over to you.

  • Chandrakumara

    I wonder do our common people have any self esteem. Why no body inside the bus did not utter any word.

    I remember one incident that my wife encountered while travelling in a bus in Dehiwala. That driver was similar to the above discribed one was driving so erratically that my wife and another gentleman told him about it. He (the driver) did not say any word until that genleman got down somehere close to the zoo. Then he started on my wife so badly (that I can’t write them in here). Actually I should write them: he used wesi /hutthi /belli and so on. No body in the bus came to help my wife. She got off before the destination fearing that something worse could happen if she stayed. I was away from home on that perticular day. She did not go to the police. When I was told (over the phone ) incident it was night and I could not suggest my wife what to do. I also have memories of similar incidents about bus drivers, conductors and people who are getting sexual fantacy in buses. (We used to travell by bus all the time).

    Why people any bus do not speak against these behaviours of bus drivers and coducters. Once I read an article in “Vikalpa” journal. The title was something like ” Bus kondostharalata baya minissunta mona vivastha sansodanada?
    Can we blame politicians for all what we got today in our country?
    Before end I should mention that now we are living abroad

  • ashok

    Once my brother in law tried to board a bus and the driver suddenly pulled it letting the tyres go over his leg.He was in hospital for months and police did not take any action because of the maney spent by the bus “mudalalie”.Most of the bus crimes go unpunishable due to corruption and private bus oweners try to make money at any cost.If the law try to punish them then they start atriking.
    Private busses are the bane of our transport system.
    Corruption is so rampant in our country and that is why with the money bus mudalalis have controll the roads.
    There is a Roman proverb which says “The fish starts rotting from the head” and it means when the top of the government is rotting the rest of the body follows it.If you are a Buddhist you can see in texts how Buddha explained when the King is corrupted how the society starts rotting.Poor Sri Lanka!!

  • athula amarasinghe

    This happens not only in the Galle road. If you go to Kandy road, Anuradhapura road or any other main road situation is same as this. These Leyland buses making a loud noise and it caused for sound pollution. The drivers are handling these buses like toys. It was reckless and dangerous .traffic police are blinded eyes. They are not taking any legal action against them. These private bus operators from owners to conductors are friends of traffic police, from superior officer to constable. Private bus operators are the people who patronize traffic branches. They maintain mortar cycles, they provide fuel, they color washed traffic branch yearly or half yearly. If there is a transfer party in traffic branch they (private bus operators) providing liquor. Are any traffic police person can say this is not ? This private bus traffic police company should think about life of innocent pedestrians. The most people who faced for fatal accidents are not high level people in society. These innocent people are not traveling in Monteros, Prados, pejeros or BMWs with police pilots or escorts. Either they walking or traveling in a pedal cycle, motor cycle or public transport. so we should take this issue for the attention of police big chairs who handling traffic.

  • Despairing Citizen

    I have been particularly concerned with our road behaviour for some years now, and realise that there are some factors that seem to influence this:

    1. the lack of interest of most traffic police-persons in the quality of driving. I suspect that most of them cannot drive at all, and if any, they only drive two-wheelers, hence are absolutely clueless about vehicles with four wheels. Also they will act only if there is an accident, and now, with the no-fault insurance schemes, even that has abated. Also, traffic police in stations are used for other duties during the rest of the day, and are really overworked, and can hardly be expected to know what is right or wrong. It is not uncommon to see traffic police officers encouraging motorists to actually break road rules, oblivious to the fact that motorists see this as licence to do the same in the absence of the officer!

    2. with corrupt police officials, citizens are faced with despair, because even those at the top of the system are liars and unwilling to consider correcting their ways or those of their subordinates.

    2. the feeling that impunity is the order of the day. This is seen from the top of our structure to the bottom. Getting away with any ridiculous action has become commonplace. Bus drivers are always confident because, behind them are the ‘bus mudalalis’ (often police bigwigs themselves, or their relations)

    3. anything that will make money is prioritized far above the business of obeying rules and laws.

    4. getting ahead at any cost is acceptable in all fields, and so, also on the roads.

    What to do?

  • When Sri Lankan government is run by state terrorists, what do you expect the Bus drivers to do ? Be very peaceful ? you are joking.

  • Minanjal

    The bus driver’s behaviour is sypromatic of a much deeper malaise that prevails incresingly in Sri Lanka. The “I am OK Jack” (or malli or Thamby) mindset which makes most individuals look at and react to a situation from their selfish perspective is the cause of the plight the country is in today. Fraudulent elections? Never mind, I am ok. Innocent Tamils being abducted? They are only Tamils, I am ok. Young Soldiers and Tamils died? Not my problem, my kids are OK. 110 Ministries and rampant corruption? Dont worry, my job is safe and any way I might be the next to benefit from the system.
    A lot of this mindset is not new to the “animal” in all of us. But civilisation is about thinking of the greater good of the community, of values, of a deep sense of right and wrong and the willingness to stand up for what is right. Don’t blame the politicians – you elected them. Don’t blame Hitler, blame the Germans who elected him and then kept silent while he killed. Likewise, it is not President MR or his coterie (or even the pathetic bus driver chasing his daily income) who are guilty, it is the people who keep silent while this and much more goes on who are guilty. I have no hope for a society that has lost whoever its God, and its values of right and wrong, and is oblivious to the suffering of all those who live in the NorthEast of Sri Lanka or, for that matter, any one in the rest of the country (and on the road in Moratuwa) who is not in their family and immediate environment.
    This attitude and willingness to satnd by while atrocities were committed in their name spelt the end for Nazi Germany under Hitler. Perhaps, like Germany after 6 million Jews were killed, a fair and just Sri Lanka for all Sri Lankans too will rise from the ashes one day in the future. Meanwhile let us be thankful that there aren’t 6 Million Tamils left in the NorthEast.