Another custody death
Another day, another custody death. The sight of relatives keeping the dead body of a fisherman from Wadduwa who allegedly died in police custody on the road and protesting for justice brings back similar memories that were witnessed last year and indeed, many times before that.
Readers will remember many examples including the Dompe youth who died in police custody and the public outcry that resulted in a standoff between the Police and residents. They may also remember several other incidents of families with men who were killed in police custody as was this fisherman, who was a 42-year-old father of two.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana has already told media that several officials in the Wadduwa police station have been transferred. Yet, what is unclear is whether the fact that the deceased filing a fundamental rights petition against the OIC of the police station was a contributory factor to the death – common sense says yes.
This indignation from villagers is, however, a delayed response as selected underworld figures without political affiliations have died in police custody for months on end last year. All such deaths followed a standard script of trying to escape while being transported by the Police and were accorded tacit approval of the public and the indifference by the media.
A total of 57,000 grave crimes were committed in 2010. Barely 25 per cent reached the courts for prosecution and only four per cent led to convictions. With a virtually defunct criminal justice system, the public at large has come to view the extra judicial killings as a rough and ready substitute.
Society, encouraged by the State, finds it easy to think in absolutes – such as the glorification of violence. Within this framework, there is no need for compromises and trade-offs between deterrence and punishment, required for the rehabilitation of criminals, especially when they can be removed swiftly and cleanly from the equation.
The killing of Gayan Rasanga followed the agreed script but backfired due to the public backlash. The State responded by following a dangerous routine of calling in the armed forces to quell a civil disturbance.
Although it is easy to blame the Police for its systemic brutality, the fault is not entirely theirs. An overloaded, sluggish, under-resourced and heavily politicised judicial system that does not care for the poor and victimised has burdened society with the need to find its own justice. So the people do – at a grave cost to everyone else.
Since politicians have time and again made it very clear that they are not concerned with cleaning up this mess, surface solutions such as transfers are metered out. There are no transparent investigations and it is highly unlikely that the public will ever get to know the real story behind this death.
It is also equally probable that this problem will continue to grow and undermine public confidence in the police and pave the way for more deaths. It is a grievous and dangerous trend to ignore but there is little interest in taking notice or finding a solution. Given such situations the Government cannot expect to promote human rights and indeed even state that the circumstances are improving in post war Sri Lanka.