Wijith DeChickera watches with a mix of dismay and concern as selective policing drives the state of the nation to an unevenly policed state

June was once the month of bridals. Under pandemic conditions, it was hardly a time for sealing lasting relationships. However, romantic notions were under the old world order – now there’s plenty to bridle at over the reality on the ground following COVID-19.

On the one hand, the judiciary strengthened the hand of the executive arm of government by refusing to grant leave to proceed in fundamental rights cases filed seeking to challenge electoral and legislative actualities.

On the other, a lack of strong public disapproval signalled that the polity at large was content – or complacent enough – to permit governance by presidency alone to proceed apace. For better or worse, as may be seen.

The recent appointment of two presidential task forces to drive the executive will forward also sent out ripples into a citizenry that had once been dominated by civilian decision making. True enough, our once war-torn land experienced the militarisation of public spaces arising from the state’s response to insurgency and insurrection; but never in time of peace.

There was also an expectation after the conflict ended that Sri Lanka would transform from a postwar into a post-conflict society. At present, that trend has been trumped by the Supreme Court’s sanction for – not against – rule by the executive alone; at least in the interim, until the general election is held.

Whatever developments in militaristic bureaucratisation follow (or in the emergence of a hyper-presidentialism whereby, for example, term limits on holding presidential office only twice are rescinded among other legal clauses) are moot. These depend on the quantum of the majority vote garnered, reflecting a putative indulgence of the polity for strongman rule.

STATE OF POLICING In the midst of these political and constitutional developments, the actions of law enforcement in the land have caused no little concern – at least in liberal democratic or civil libertarian circles. For one, there was the selective policing in politically sensitive cases where the long arm of the law appeared to be considerably foreshortened.

In one case, the constabulary turned a blind eye on the funeral of a political scion who was mourned in public for an unconscionable time by curfew flouting supporters and political animals. In another case, the cops were conspicuously reticent too while supporters of another political son of a strongman of the past agitated for the release of an arrested ex-minister.

STATE TO POLICE NATION On the heels of the president’s appointment of a task force to police public morality came the shocking incident of a youth being allegedly manhandled by officers manning a checkpoint. The 14-year-old in question was autistic; and his rough treatment during and after his arrest had led to a public outcry – at least on social media.

Of greater concern could well be the inexplicable approach to policing in a state where no less than the president has sent out a clear simple message about the ethos of a nation that is being shaped in no uncertain ways today.

Where ‘discipline,’ ‘virtue’ and ‘lawfulness’ are the watchwords the public is expected to live by, the police are in the front line of violations.

That the real shocker was the subsequent interdiction of three police officers – ostensibly for dereliction of duty in failing to arrest the alleged miscreant – sent out ripples (and shivers) among the body politic. Could it be that while all beings are equal, some are more equal than others, and that the subtle subtext is that errant law enforcement may be exempt from law?

As to whether a country that is desirably disciplined, voluntarily virtuous, and well and truly lawful can be mandated by law, well that is another (if not unrelated) issue to be taken up.

NATIONAL POLICE STATE? Another blot on the banner of the Sri Lanka Police Department was the violent response it extended to peaceful protesters outside the US Embassy. Gathered despite a court order restraining them from protesting, members of a progressive political party were unceremoniously bundled into black Marias by cops in no mood for negotiation.

That bystanders were also brutalised in the process is unconscionable. To add real injury to insult, a number of women engaged in the protest – albeit one observing the requirements of physical distancing – were also manhandled and felled. Observers noted that contrary to common or civic courtesy, police did not read out court orders prior to dispersing the mob.

STATE OF THE NATION At a time when the US is the world’s cynosure for its treatment of minorities by dint of brutal policing, it is a pity that an older civilisation such as ours cannot set and lead by better example.

It is a great pity indeed that certain Mr Plods and a few PC Goons are undoing all the sterling work done by their more stalwart fellows under curfew.