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It is easier to abduct a person than to get your kids ready for School

by Namini Wijedasa

State media reported last week that the government will upgrade security at the Colombo National Museum. One cannot argue with the merits of this move, however spectacularly overdue it might be.

Arumugam Weeraraju, father of missing human rights defender Lalith Kumar Weeraraju, left, Muruganandan Janatha, wife of missing human rights defender Kugan Muruganandan, right, her daughter Suranga, bottom right, and an unidentified relative wait outside the United Nations head office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Jan. 6, 2012-pic courtesy: AP

But one must object to the prostitution of the word “upgrade”. How the devil do you “upgrade” something that never existed in the first place?

The Colombo National Museum was established in 1877. Judging by just how easy it had been for robbers to escape with more than 250 valuable artefacts, you would think security arrangements are the same they were 135 years ago.

The police, bless them, have not yet let their department down by arresting anybody. Having long nurtured a reputation for being useless at combating crime, they seem reluctant to buck the trend

Theories galore

But they have, however, proffered various theories about how the offenders could have entered the museum and left unhindered with a stash of antiques. For instance, it is possible that they scaled the walls after the museum shut its doors and broke in.

It might also be that they gained access before closing time, hung around in tranquillity – as they evidently do in such cases – and stole the stuff after nightfall. Whatever it is, they left the museum and the police baffled.

Now bafflement is not an unusual state of mind in our police force. But given that the robbery seemed pitifully straightforward, you would think it wouldn’t stump them in the same way millions of other offences do. It was later discovered that a private security firm provided protection to the museum and that close circuit television cameras were installed.

There is indication that this was an organized crime, carried out with possible internal assistance. There were no doubt fingerprints, footprints and other evidence. And even if the police have no noses, their sniffer dogs do. Is this so hard to crack?

Is it again a question of incompetence?

Or are we just seeing a politically sponsored lack of interest?

And now the department has offered a reward of a million rupees in exchange for information on last month’s robbery. The way things are in this country, it wouldn’t be surprising if the miscreants themselves collect that million. But let’s stop the nitpicking and look at the broader picture: What does a little thieving at the museum matter when exceedingly worse crimes remain regularly unsolved?

In fact, we should be grateful for petty misdemeanours such as these. They make life seem relatively sanguine.

Take this matter of white van abductions. The practice is so pervasive and has gained such widespread acceptance that it deserves to be memorialized through a postage stamp. On the face of such a stamp, one could publish the picture of a white van without a number plate; or one could invite a nationalistic, patriotic Sri Lankan artist (of the type that wholly subscribes to every conspiracy theory this government has ever spouted) to paint a pretty image of a nice abduction in progress; or perhaps create a montage of various abduction scenarios. The possibilities are endless.

In Sri Lanka today, it is possible for six men to dismount from a white van, stop a vehicle at a busy roundabout – 200 metres from one of the country’s most heavily staffed police stations – and to forcibly whisk away a rich businessman. To put this in perspective, it is easier to abduct a person than to get your kids ready for school.

This is what happened to Sagara Senarathne, the SLFP organizer, former provincial councillor and brother-in-law of Minister Jeevan Kumaratunge. Three weeks ago, he was returning home from work when these delinquents hauled him into their van and sped off.

The incident occurred at Jubilee Post in Nugegoda, which is around the corner from the Mirihana police station. In fact, had Sagara shouted ‘budu ammo’ loud enough, the DIG, the SSP, the SPs, the IPs, the OICs and everyone else at this bustling police station would have heard him from their offices.

Call the president!

Sagara says the men demanded 50 million rupees to set him free. This was ostensibly kidnapping for ransom, which is also taking place amidst all the other abductions. But Sagara is one of the few lucky ones. He got out because he “knows people” and is “somebody’s somebody”. He is also not shy to say so, humble soul that he is.

He told one newspaper after his release that Jeevan called the IGP and “other influential persons” to secure his release. He told another newspaper that had it not been for Jeevan’s, the president’s and the defence secretary’s intervention, he would not have been alive today.

So now you know whom to contact, folks, should you ever get abducted.

And don’t assume it will not happen.

If an 11-year-old schoolgirl can be kidnapped on her way from Visakha College to her school van, it can happen to other children outside or inside other schools. If political activists like Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle can be abducted without a trace, it can happen to other activists (but not all of them will be flown to Australia at government cost so don’t try this at home).

If businessmen like Sagara Senarathne can be taken away at a populated junction, it can happen to other businessmen. If it can happen to hundreds of others – and it has – it can happen to anybody else

That is the kind of serene, peaceful, post-war nation we live in today. The police do nothing. They know nothing. So see – doesn’t robbery at the museum seem so much simpler in comparison? courtesy:

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