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Powerful zealots and the prisoners of Zen

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 15 September 2017 00:00


I have been thinking about prison and their inmates a lot recently. Not because it is the pleasantest of subjects. But because I have been bombarded by media, social media, and antisocial elements on the subject. And I’m beginning to smell a rat. Or half a dozen.

On the one hand, there is just cause to consider the present prison system. Our jails are overcrowded for starters. And there is no guarantee that those within the walls of Welikada and other accommodation courtesy the State are treated humanely. Or that they should be there at all – Or that they continue to languish in incarceration at the Government’s pleasure owing not to justice, but some injustice at best… Or, at worst, political victimisation and expediency – not to mention the draconian PTA. 

Nor can society rest assured that those who presently enjoy the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should be permitted to remain at large as they do. In the face of such damning allegations, indictments, rumours, suspicions, and the judgment and execution of the court of public opinion. 

If the allegedly criminal cabal that was Rajapaksa, Bros., & Co. is still at large, a huge question mark hangs over a justice system which jails minions complicit in relatively minor demeanours. While sharks swim in waters churned only by the occasional Charybdis of conventional token visits to the FCID. I may sleep with the fishes for saying this… but while the alleged killers of editors, reporters, and sundry dissidents (including dissenting prisoners filing FR cases against the then regime) are still out and about, no one may sleep easy now that only minnows go to gaol…

On the other hand, Government has an Augean stable on its hands. As media commentary (including, most pointedly, cartoonists) has reminded us, the prisons system itself is rife with crime, crookedness, and corruption. It is a convenient Lethe into which we forcefully dump the less desirable elements of society – including (in one fell swoop) thieves, rapists, armed robbers, and now hapless secretaries of suspect ministries under antidemocratic authoritarian regimes of the recent past… while sycophantic robber barons, royal henchmen, and loyal stooges enjoy immunity and impunity. 

It is also the crucible for future crime, in which a present cauldron or double-toil and trouble (drugs and violence) is forever bubbling at the cellular level. It was also the Labyrinth in which two score and more unfortunate prisoners lost their lives. In the still unsolved crime of the Welikada prison massacre. In which 27 petty criminals (some of them with secrets that a few grand larcenists may not want leaked into society) went silently to their graves.

Bat. Cat. Rat.

If ‘Good Governance’ is to have any meaning at all, it will have to bat around the wicket – and not only as regards inland revenue successes and audit bill lacunae. It will have to invest significant time, interest, money, energy, resources, in critically addressing and meaningfully resolving a plethora of prison system ills…

In the meantime, the cat is about to be let out of the bag as regards that prison massacre of November 2012. At the forthcoming literary fair of September, a book in the country’s most read language is scheduled to be released – ostensibly revealing the inside story of how a commando of armed men styled as State paramilitary forces entered a high-security prison and executed 27 inmates while making two others disappear off the face of the earth. 

If the exposé makes public what every private citizen has suspected all along, an erstwhile senior bureaucrat powerful under a previous regime might be in for the high jump. And many others complicit in the dastardly staged riot in order to execute the thorns in certain governors’ sides. No way can the axe now not fall when such knowledge becomes commonplace.

I, however, am not holding my breath. It is because I remember Victor Ivan’s ‘Bandit Queen’ – the book, not the lady – and how little effect it had on the saleability – of the lady, not the book. The sad stale truth is that years after the riots and executions, no one gives a pardon my expletive any more. Also those who do are cowed into silence or submission for fear of their lives. There is no knowing when the good days will end, and the bad and ugly return with a vengeance.

The reasons why I smell a rat are as follows:

  • I am a journalist. I know nothing. Until someone educates me in my ignorance.
  • I am an editor. Everything interests me. Especially when a gory story lands on my desk.
  • I am a writer. Being suspicious of everyone comes naturally to me because I know my own agendas in essaying anything. (Relax. I have no bias other than rattling the cage of rats who take refuge in ungodly abuse of power.) 

(In this case, I’d like to question not the happening itself, or the release of the book, but the timing of the release, and the sheer abundance of ‘media noise’ around the larger concerns and issues. Coincidence? Happenstance? I think not. In the light of all that has taken place in the recent past, my bet is on ‘enemy action’…)

Therefore these questions: 


(please return the pencil provided. do not pilfer it. please do not swallow the paper on which you write your responses. it contains a faint trace of cyanide.) 


1.After over two years in office, and despite so many promises as well as opportunities to investigate and punish violent crimes under the past regime, what has the Government achieved in terms of bringing once powerful but perhaps still deadly criminals to justice? Explore with reference to Realpolitik, the Bush Doctrine (“if you are not for me, you are against me”), and the dictum that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” in the context of bargaining chips at presidential election time.

B.Short Answers.

1.If you wanted the Welikada prison massacre investigated until the very moment you realised who the criminal mastermind behind the black op was, who are you? (HINT: Until recently you had a monopoly on what passed for ‘justice’ in this country…) 

2.If you used your power and your position to stage the execution of personally and politically explosive persons imprisoned, what should be your own fate? (Go to gaol. Go directly to gaol. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not collect any money, Monopoly or otherwise.)


1.Who wants to know the truth about the Welikada prison riot?

a.No one.



d.None of the above.

2.What then is the purpose of publishing a book that purports to expose the same truth?

e.To tell the truth.

f.To tell part of the truth and sell a pack of lies, inter alia.

g.To embarrass the government on its grotesque failure to book the real culprits.

h.To embarrass the previous government on its gruesome complicity in bloody crimes.

3.Where will it all end?

i.Somewhere, because we still believe in good government and other fairy tales.

j.Everywhere, because once the spaghetti hits the fan, everyone gets spattered.

k.Nowhere, because powerful vested interests are protecting the real culprits.

l.Don’t care, as long as it is not where the sun shines for me and my folks.

It is speculated that a ruling elite staged the riot and the excuse for the security forces to strike back to contain the threat – the ruse working to the effect of enabling the expedient execution of nuisance inmates filing FR and other cases against a corrupt regime. 

It is thought that the traumatised parents of the innocents remanded who were killed as collateral damage – and/or to make the rough injustice meted out seem like State control – are behind the pending book. It is felt that not a dent will be made on either the public consciousness or the political conscience of the present set of political rulers.

We are all prisoners of the kind of zen that sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil, seeks no justice against evil. While the worst who were full of passionate intensity get off scot-free because they were once among the zealots who saved, rescued, and delivered our grateful nation from the scourge of terrorism.

(A senior journalist, the writer was once Chief Sub of The Sunday Leader, 1994-8, and is ex-LMD: Editor, 2004-8. He has made a career out of asking questions and not waiting for answers.)

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