Last Sunday night, Arunodhaya Mawatha at Obeysekarapura in Rajagiriya looked like a battle ground as a battalion of police attached to the Welikada Police Station ransacked and destroyed the home of B. Shashi Kumar after assaulting him mercilessly following an alleged incident of a policeman ‘peeping into a bathroom where a young woman was having a bath’.
Balasubramaniyam Sashi Kumar, a day labourer who got married to Jeewanthi Gomes just one and half months ago, was sharing a simple house with his brother’s family. On Sunday around 7.30 pm, two policemen attached to the Welikada Police Station had arrived at his house and walked into the bathroom claiming they were searching for heroin. The search was thought to involve Shashi Kumar’s mother who had a previous record of having dealt in narcotics and was sent away by her own sons as they did not want it to affect their families.
While conducting the search, a policeman in civvies had allegedly peeped into the tiny bathroom which had no door and only a piece of cloth to cover its entrance. At that time Shashi Kumar’s wife Jeewanthi Gomes was taking a bath. According to Shashi Kumar’s sister-in-law one of the policemen had allegedly touched Jeewanthi inappropriately and she had screamed.
Hearing her scream, Shashi Kumar had rushed towards her and when he objected to the policemen being there, they had allegedly assaulted him mercilessly. The neighbours, who had gathered outside after hearing the scream of Jeewanthi could not enter the house to help him as it was locked from the inside by policemen. Meanwhile after bleeding from his nose and mouth due to the beating he received, Shashi Kumar had fainted. His aunt Arumugam Shahikala had managed to force her way into the house and had taken him outside.
“We forced the door in and got him out of the house. Two policemen, Prasanna and Welagedara were beating him,” Arumugam Shahikala, Shashi Kumar’s aunt, said. Shashi Kumar, who regained consciousness, had thereafter been attacked again and he retaliated by hitting one of the policemen with a stone. The policemen fled through the backyard leaving the motorbike they came there. The neighbours had rushed Shashi Kumar to hospital.
Later, the same night, a police battalion allegedly led by the Officer-In-charge of the Welikada Police Station had allegedly arrived at the home of Sashi Kumar and had completely destroyed the house along with the few pieces of electronic equipment they had including a cassette, an iron, a ceiling fan and a washing machine.
When I came home from hospital, our house was completely destroyed and my two children were crying on the side of the road. One of them said to me, “Amma we don’t have a place to sleep,” M. Shashikala (28), Shashi Kumara’s sister-in-law told Daily Mirror. “Whatever belongings we had were brought by my husband who works as a labourer in Saudi Arabia and everything, including my children’s school books have been destroyed,” Shashikala lamented.
“We heard Bappa (Uncle) screaming inside the house while the two policemen were beating him up,” Nadin and Nadun, Shashikala’s 3-year-old twins who were outside the house when Shashi Kumar was being beaten up, recalled.
“This all started with a police officer peeping into the bathroom while my sister-in-law was having a bath. They beat malli (younger brother) who intervened after he heard her screaming,” she said.“What right have the police got to destroy our hard-earned belongings. Is it just because we are poor and helpless,” Shashikala said.
“While I was having a bath I felt somebody was peeping from the curtain and when I looked there were two strangers standing there and I screamed,” Jeewanthie narrated her harrowing experience.
‘ Accused of selling ‘Kudu’
However when Jeewanthi went to the hospital to see her husband the following day she found her husband handcuffed to the bed and that he was being guarded by a policeman.
Shashi Kumar who was being treated at the Colombo National Hospital was charged with possessing heroin and had been remanded till June 30 by the Magistrate.“It is my husband who was beaten up by the police but now he is being held by them on a trumped-up charge. Where is the justice in this country,” young Jeewanthi cries. “He is not a drug addict. He works as a helper to a mason. If you look at his hands you will see it,” she said.
She said that she feared for the life of her husband as he had told her that he had heard one of the policemen saying that he would be killed.
‘Destroying public property’
It was not only their belongings that had been destroyed as a result of the attack on the home of Shashi Kumar by the police. The electricity meter which was the property of the Ceylon Electricity Board, a public property had also been destroyed in the attack.
“We saw a policeman breaking the electricity meter with a pole. This was a dangerous act for if there had been an electric shortage all of our houses would have been without electricity,” an eye witness said.
When residents were questioned about the actions of the police they said that it was the usual practice for the police to not only walk into houses but bathrooms and toilets as well even if women were in there.
There were a lot of people who saw what happened here but nobody will come forward to give evidence against the police because they know that they will be implicated on false charges, specially narcotics, by the police, Michael Gunasekara (53), a resident who had seen the incident, said. I saw whole thing from the top floor of my house and it was an inhuman act to destroy this house, he said.
He spoke on the bitter reality of ‘witness protection’ and said that he was sure that he would be implicated in the incident and would be indicted in the High Court for speaking to the media about this incident.
“I will surely have a case before the High Court for speaking like this in addition to being beaten up,” Gunasekara said. Recently I was taken to the police station while playing cards inside my home and was forced to track down a drug addict or a person who sold heroin. “Am I a policeman to do the police work,” he questioned.
Determined to fight the injustice caused to them, the family had immediately lodged a complaint at “Sahana Mediriya” at Police Head Quarters about the alleged police assault on Shashi Kumar and the destruction caused to their house.
“We also complained to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka about this. When we went there, the officers said that it would have been better if we had brought pictures of what had happened,” Arumugam Shahikala, Shashi Kumar’s aunt said.
Meanwhile following the media attention on the incident, Shashi Kumar’s family had been summoned by the Senior Superintendant’s Office in Mirihana and their statements have been recorded and the police had promised that action would be taken against the police for the injustice done to them.
However when the Daily Mirror contacted a senior police officer in the area, he shrugged off the incident and branded Shashi Kumar a ‘kudda’ saying the entire family was involved in selling narcotics. When asked about the damage done to the house, he again played it down remarking that such characters don’t have much in their homes (implying that any damage would be negligible and not worth talking about).
This raises several serious questions about the conduct of our police force and their attitude towards working class neighbourhoods. Assuming residents to be criminals (as implied by labelling someone a ‘kudda’) is the best way to alienate them.
Even if one assumes that Shahi Kumar dealt in drugs (which he denies and there was no evidence to back up that story) the police have no legal right to damage his home and its meager belongings. It’s the best way to turn an honest man into a criminal.
Police brutality is nothing new in Sri Lanka. This harrowing case reported from Obeysekarapura, a poor working class neighbourhood just outside Colombo city limits at Welikada, is ample testimony to the inexcusable way the police department treats the less privileged citizens of this country.