Colombo, Human Rights, Human Security, Peace and Conflict

The reality of living in a “Separate State”

Many Sri Lankans spent a peaceful Sunday at home. A typical lazy Sri Lankan Sunday spent lounging after a sumptuous lunch and browsing through the newspapers in a vain attempt to delay the oncoming week. I was one such Sri Lankan.

Going out was too much of a hassle with all the security concerns. The detailed recounting of the recent twin bomb blasts checked all enthusiasm of having a rocking Sunday.

You can imagine my surprise on calling a friend and having her quietly ask me how come there was no action taken to stop the mass arrests. What arrests? I had browsed through all the usual Sunday newspapers and even stayed home the previous night and caught the news bulletin, but there was no word of any arrests. And surely if something worth knowing about was going on I’d have got a news alert on my mobile phone?

I hurriedly covered my shame at being caught out of the “news” and told her that what was happening was shameful and that I’d speak to someone about it and get back to her.

I’m recording this down now many hours later, hoping she will read this somewhere (if I manage to publish it at all) and not hold it against me that I never called her back.

The truth is that many other Sri Lankans didn’t have such a peaceful weekend. On the contrary, they had an eventful weekend spent trying to obtain a meeting with the police officers of the various stations in Colombo to prove that their relatives were wrongfully being taken in under suspicion of terrorism.

Unfortunately all the crying and pleading fell on deaf years as the police made arrangements to transfer almost 100 of the 132 people taken in under suspicion to Boosa.

Fearing the worst, the parents of those captured flocked to the police station in a vain attempt to prevent the dreaded transfer to Boosa.

But the police managed to affect the transfer by taking the captives through the rear entrance and transporting them in two buses under escort of four armoured vehicles.

According to police sources, they were acting on the instruction of their seniors, when they rounded up Tamil speaking Sri Lankans all over the island and took them to Boosa.

Distraught parents arranged for buses to take them to Temple Trees to plead with HE the President on behalf of their loved ones, only to be told that they should not trouble themselves as HE was busy and would not be able to meet with them.

I can understand the security concerns given the last week’s tragic incidents. But surely when parents turn up at police stations with all manner of proof to show that they are indeed legitimate residents of the area through birth certificates, school certificates and all manner of documentation, they can be allowed to meet with the relevant authorities?

Afterall past experience tells me that captured terrorists have ready their cyanide capsules and will not hesitate to use it if captured. Or maybe sending people to pose as family members and forging proof of legitimacy to plead their release is a new and cunning terrorist plot.

It is Monday already and I’ve only managed to see one paragraph on the action that is planned by a concerned authority against what is called “indiscriminate arrests”. Very neat and vague. I haven’t spoken to any of my contacts in the civil society but it is apparent that other than them, no one else knows what happened and what has been done (or not) to remedy this shameful situation. The rest of us continue in ignorance after the popular adage that ignorance is bliss.

I was able to get the details only off Asian Tribune and an Australian online news portal that already around 1500 people have been arrested. Apparently the police and other authorities are not commenting on the situation, but it is understood that almost 400 people are being sent to the Boosa Detention Centre with a further 38 being held in the Kalutura prisons under emergency law. Many others are also held in various police stations, but families are unable to obtain any details of their loved ones.

I wonder that the news publications I read, carried all manner of stories, but failed to have even one line in some obscure corner of their publication which let the general public know what was happening around them.

I have often posed the question of “varying news” and “no news” to many media persons and I am faced with their unarguable response that the matter is too politically sensitive to talk about and they don’t want to court danger.

But I wonder then, what then is news reporting? Isn’t it just simply and truthfully reporting facts as they are? I can imagine that news stories may be the journalists’ interpretation of events. But surely we Sri Lankans have the right to read some good old truths? We do enjoy Carl Muller’s portrayal of society with all its dark and incestuous plots? Somewhat unpleasant to be discussed in public but true nevertheless? Sure we have the right to know what happens in our backyards?

I wonder at the comfortable ignorance the majority of us enjoy being in. We don’t want to be perceived as “not in the in” so we have cable TV, maybe an internet connection or maybe even a subscription to receive news alerts so that we have access to news from all over the world. But we don’t seem too perturbed by the fact that maybe something is happening right under our noses. We don’t mind that we may be the last ones to know. Some of us even don’t mind never knowing at all.

After my news alerts facility became a paid one, I thought I’d not think too much about the cost (in addition to all the other levies etc on my phone bill) and keep it as it would be useful to be in the loop. But as a paying customer I feel slightly let down that I was not informed and instead was made to look like a fool when my friend asked me if I had not heard. I’m seriously considering unsubscribing and I’m miffed that I didn’t save the details of how one should go about doing so.

I can’t help wondering if indeed Sri Lanka is two different countries, or maybe even two different planets, let alone two different states. I wonder where all those who clamour to preserve their motherland as a unitary state and preserve it’s sovereignty know that there very efforts may be creating a divide that all the well-intentioned rhetoric in the world will never be able to put together.

Sri Lankan special military and police squads are continuing to arrest Tamils across Sri Lanka, particularly in capital Colombo and in the districts in south, by conducting cordon and search operation. Tamil parliamentarians in Colombo on Sunday told media that the number of detainees has risen to 1,500 over the last 48 hours.

This wholesale arrest of Tamils have caused serious anger among the minority community, forcing them to take to street. Sources said over 350 have been arrested in Colombo, of whom 51 are females and they are now detained at Boosa detention camp.

Read more here Sri Lanka: Arrest of Tamils continues, detention camps overcrowded, detainees rises to 1,500