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Plod, Goon, and other PG-rated plug-uglies

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 2 December 2016 00:01

untitled-1I have a confession to make. A visit to the local constabulary reduces me – never the bravest of scribes, anyway (because I have far too much imagination to be sanguine about such things) – to a gibbering wreck. Of course, to be fair, I have never had to face any kind of choler at my friendly neighbourhood cop shop – in case you’re reading this, dears. It’s just that I know of (ok, heard of) too many folks who’ve marched into PC Plod’s amphitheatre of the aggressor feeling quite phlegmatic – and been frogmarched out of complacency into lock-up (or worse) coughing up all that phlegm (or worse). Makes one rather melancholic to hear that one’s worst waking fears about the state of low-level law-enforcement may be a nightmare to many if not most of the common or garden law-abiding citizenry.

The situation today has not improved my trembling mood any. Once upon a time, under the rule of men not entirely great – and I’m trying to be nice enough, here – the Police Department was the idle plaything of idolatrous despots and idiosyncratic dictators. IGP Goon, who sat somewhere near the top of a power pile in a de facto police state, was only diminished in eminence by the type of tin-pot tyrants who would proudly declare “L’etat, c’est moi” – if only they knew what it meant. 

When the powers that once were came to be justifiably displaced by a new dispensation who spoke and acted as if they knew what peace and justice meant, the populace understandably breathed a sigh of collective relief. Taxes may remain the same, they reasoned (and they were proven right in this pessimistic prediction) – but death in the local cop shop shall reign no more… sadly, still a consummation devoutly to be wished. 

Be the previous regime as brutal as it was, the status quo policing the state has neither recanted nor repented. In 2015 alone, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka recorded over 400 complaints of torture made by people in police custody. To add insult to injury, in a position reminiscent of that infamous motto of a bygone military regime (“zero civilian casualties”) a senior police spokesperson has nonchalantly admitted to “zero cases of police torture” being recorded. So something is still rotten in the state of Denmark, wouldn’t you agree, dears?


Top down heavy breathing

Part of the problem is that the rot starts at the top. The previous two or three regimes were bad enough, unabashedly embracing the Prevention of Terrorism Act like a long lost lover needing some friendly reassurance that the fires of passion hadn’t died. But the incumbent administration hasn’t gone all Platonic on this Draconian bit of legislation either. Even though the corpse of terrorism lies a-smouldering in the grave. On the contrary, to judge by the raft of proposed counterterrorism laws being mooted, the awful majesty of the law is having its screws tightened. What this will do to the um, nuts and bolts, of a people-friendly Police Department remains to be seen. “Quod erat demonstrandum,” our wise and learned Justice Minister is no doubt muttering under his breath at these pesky human-rights activists who make his job a, er, waking nightmare.

Sorry to come down so heavily on you this early in the morning (thank God it’s Friday), but there is more to the Peace With Justice which was implied in the new social contract we signed with your government than this! 

For one, as in (I almost wrote ‘other’) civilised countries, suspects arrested under any law – leave alone a heavy-handed one like the counterterrorism legislation being mooted at present – have the right to legal counsel … Importantly, before making a statement to the police recording officer. (In a sop to Cerberus, the new laws will allow a lawyer to access his or her client after the event.) 

For another, if the statement made sans legal advice sounds something like a confession in the officer’s ears, it can be made admissible in a court of law. The rub, of course, is that ‘zero cases of torture’ is as much a figment of the imagination as ‘zero civilian casualties’. For too many difficult, er, cases have been cracked for the Justice Minister to rest easy. And so we sympathise with the sleepless nights he mustn’t be enjoying lying awake thinking about members of the public unfortunate enough to get themselves arrested. But for the nonce we won’t mind his not so nice critics who have made the notorious suggestion that a pragmatic Justice Minister doesn’t mind too much a few, erm, inconveniences suffered by a minority of the majority law-abiding citizenry – if it helps the police to press their case… and curb the crime rate… and bring nasty villains to book… Hurray – “Ecrasez l’infame”: Erase the vile thing!

Last but by no means least, let it please the court to note the proposed counterterrorism laws – which sound suspiciously like a shortly abandoned agenda to tweak the Criminal Procedure Code, and which ignore counterproposals made by the Law Commission – are egregious in one other respect. They leave no room for manoeuvring by wily lawyers or clever lawbreakers keen to tweak their local constabulary’s nose… by dint of defining written or spoken words that threaten the unity, stability, etc., of the blessed State Of Peace in our justly policed domain. (Only thing is, I don’t look forward to explaining to my friendly neighbourhood OIC what ‘champion the cause of the underdog’ is, or what ‘speaking truth to power’ might mean … “Oh I see,” I can just hear him responding doggedly, his peace unjustly shattered.)


Long time ago in bedlam

I have another confession to make. I ache and yearn for the good old days… It was a time when I wasn’t good, I wasn’t old, and I wasn’t up to anything worthwhile being copped for during the day at least! Be that as it may, to start your weekend off on a happier note that when you started reading this column, here are some anecdotes from the gonzo journal of yours truly. Enjoy them… TGIF (if that’s the right word under the proposed new laws)!

Today, I can laugh about it. But in my salad days, when I green in judgment and cold in blood, it was not so funny. There was something shameful in being copped to begin with. To then be subject to further embarrassment in the cop shed was to go from the sublime (the freedom of the open road, a first bike, wind under the wings of your fantasy) to the ridiculous. At the scene of the crime, the polite enough traffic policeman had confiscated my identity card despite my heated protests. Now, in the cooler climes of the cop shed, insult was to be added to injury. Holding up my NIC with no little disdain, the copper called out what he thought was written there. (Go ahead, dears, and take a moment to check out my moniker at the head of this column.)

“T. Chitra!” he sang out. No one responded, naturally enough. “T. Chitra?” a little more tentatively this time. Now an interested silence: fellow offenders curious to see who the shy, silent criminal could be. A woman? An artiste? Some politician moonlighting under a pseudonym? “T. Chitra,” in a flat monotone of resignation in the persnickety officer’s voice, mulling over the eventuality that his fish had slipped the bait. Then a helpful chorus joined in to make the detection. Finally, unable to stand the cachinnation at my mauled nom de plume, I wormed my way towards the police sergeant’s desk. Never sounding less like Lancelot singing “C’est moi” in the musical Camelot, I coughed discreetly and confessed to being the party of the first part. Chuckles all round, and an incredulous stare from the copper who probably earned his measly pay that day at my expense.

This was not to be my only encounter with the Sri Lankan Inquisition. Hauled up before the awful majesty of the law on another occasion, I was treated as if I had committed lèse-majesté (that’s French for ‘high treason’, folks). First, the arresting officer – I use the term loosely – held my driving and riding licence loosely between his banana-shaped fingers and gawked loosely at it. Then, he held it at arm’s length as if he couldn’t believe what he saw there and wanted to distance himself from it. Finally he put it down on the table and proceeded to process other, er, applications sotto voce. No doubt he was shaken and stirred by my nom de guerre. Everyone else’s name was called out in soft, soothing decibels. When he reached the end of his work and could postpone the painful task at hand no longer, stern duty summoned him to pluck his courage out of thin air. Picking up my DL again and muttering “Once more unto the breach, me lad!” he called out what he thought was my name… in stentorian tones that would summon Lazarus from his tomb and all the other dead in all of human history from their graves. “D. Chicken!” “D. Chicken!”

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