Every month, the President issues a statement declaring the inadequacy of the Police in Sri Lanka. The declaration goes unnoticed; yet the portrayal of the Police it seeks to reinforce in our collective conscience is clear.
The provision empowers the President to call out the armed forces for the maintenance of public order, if he is of the opinion that the Police is inadequate to deal with circumstances endangering public security in any area. In the context of periodic renunciations by the Head of State, should we dare ask why the Police fails to protect us?
Police inaction should come as no surprise. The expectation of Police incompetence and the reality of Police inaction appear to be mutually reinforcing.
Police inaction during mob violence is so typical it has become an almost expected element in any incident. In April 2012, a mosque in Dambulla was attacked by a mob. On 15 February 2013, the displaced victims of the Valikamam North High Security Zone ,last week saw the attack on the TNA office in Kilinochchi by a mob, the mob attack and vandalizing of a Muslim-owned business in Pepiliyana.
Once again, the Police attended, but only to bolster numbers in the audience. Little was done to prevent or mitigate the attacks.
The message is that the Police is incompetent, ill-equipped or simply unwilling to maintain law and order, even in a self-proclaimed peaceful society.
The portrait of an apathetic or disempowered Police results in a type of dual psychosis. On the one hand, each Presidential Proclamation of Police inadequacy and each incident of orchestrated Police inaction create fear in the ordinary citizen. The Police not only failed to protect the rights of this group, it in fact actively aided a pro-government mob in suppressing the protest.
Lord Byron once wrote: ‘The sight of blood to crowds begets the thirst of more, as the first wine-cup leads to the long revel.’
The grievances of the ‘other’ rapidly become one’s own grievance. Today, the Tamil and the Muslim bear the brunt of impunity. Yet one might ask how many Sinhalese who fall out of favour tomorrow might confidently rely on the Police to intervene in their moment of need?