The LTTE war lasted nearly thirty years and ended in May 2009. During the war ambulance sirens were screeching on the roads carrying the wounded or dead soldiers to hospitals. The public became immune to such hooters simply because the people had become numb to the wailing of sirens and only wanted to know ‘the number of dead or injured.’
In other words, people became impervious towards casualties, the dead or the wounded. It was not a case of being callous or heartless. Still, it indicated to the outside world the grave situation of guerrilla warfare in Sri Lanka and the number of innocent soldiers getting killed or maimed. Today, we hear of different kinds of deaths, mainly from motor accidents and the COVID-19 pandemic, spreading at an alarming rate, evident through newspapers or TV news bulletins.
The State education system has come to a halt with teachers and principals continuing to protests on the streets about a twenty-four-year old claim, ignoring the possibility of spreading COVID-19. Protesters are endangering the country’s entire younger generation with such actions. It’s a different type of war, yet the number of deaths on the roads and people becoming victims to the Delta variant is alarming.
Some point their finger at demonstrators marching the streets and want to know whether their claim is genuine at this juncture? The parents of children whose studies are affected blame it on a coup including some of the opposition political parties. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as the President of Sri Lanka, has accepted the teachers’ claim as being fair.
But the country is going through a financial crisis. Therefore, the Cabinet had decided to include teacher demands in the November 2021 budget. However, demonstrators led by Joseph Stalin want their demands met immediately; this is like a shot to the back.
Many say it is unreasonable and question why they could not wait a couple of months longer after having tolerated it for the past so many years. Being misled repeatedly, the protesters do not seem to trust the present Government or respect the President’s sincerity.
It is indeed a dangerous situation, the demonstrators’ illogical behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic can endanger theirs and others lives. All sins created by the previous Governments, by hoodwinking teachers and principals with bogus promises for far too long, as claimed by the protesters, have landed on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s shoulders with other problems.
Indeed, how can protesters have faith in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s sincere words when they were denied for many years in the past. Due to the country’s shutdown for more than a month at initial stages of the pandemic, the Government is facing a cash flow problem, especially on Dollar earnings. The world economy has also crashed throughout with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a precarious situation because striking activities automatically punish the young when the teachers boycott ‘online ‘ tuition classes during the pandemic when all schools are closed.
The rich will send their children to private schools and overseas countries at an expense. Still, it does not seem to bother the protesters. The general question is whether the word socialism used by some of the political parties means anything to them? Meanwhile, it is a clear indication that grouping in protest marches by the strikers will endanger the whole country by spreading the virus freely and creating new ‘teacher clusters.’ Simultaneously, what goes viral on the internet is about some JVP advocates sending their children to educate them overseas in countries like England and Ireland. At the same time, they turn a blind eye to the suffering of the impoverished local students at home who attend Government schools.
Police reports indicate a sharp rise in road accidents this year so far. According to the Police spokesman, ten to eleven people die daily in road accidents. There is supposed to be an increase of eleven deaths every twenty hours. The most recent casualty was when a kite string stretched across the road intertwined with a motorcyclist and killing the mother and her eighten-year-old son. What are the reasons behind such an escalation in road accidents and deaths? Because it is mainly due to erratic driving? Uncontrollable bus drivers, tuk-tuk drivers, motorcyclists pay no heed to the traffic laws in this country.
They drive on public roads thinking that roads are their domain. Public opinion is that many bus drivers become reckless at the wheel because they are already under the influence of liquor or drugs. Drug addiction today is a significant hindrance to Lankan society. The Government and the Police are trying to eradicate the drug menace, but drug usage spreads like a typical nose cold in Sri Lanka. Already the Police have arrested so many culprits, yet it is becoming a never-ending exercise on the part of drug Lords operating from abroad.
If not for the swift action taken by the Police and the Government, Sri Lanka would have notoriously become an international hub for the drug business. An abstract of the National Public Health Institute of Finland in Helsinki states drugs can cause behavioural impairment of the driver’s ability to operate safely. That impaired driving ability becomes a reality by consuming illicit drugs or their metabolite presence in a driver’s body. There is growing interest in using saliva in preliminary roadside testing in Finland, and legislation in Victoria (Australia) already allows oral fluid for evidentiary testing. The most concerning drugs come under the category of sedative-hypnotics.
Good ‘ole days
When we went to school, our parents advised us to walk on the right side of the road to face the oncoming traffic. Traffic Police visited schools every Monday of the week to instruct children on road discipline. But these exercises have flown through the window as time passed, causing more deaths on the road. The lack of adequate experienced staff in the traffic section appears to be another problem. The Police can easily pass the buck on such issues and get away with such lame excuses. The other problem could be that many Police Officers are engaged in security duties of the VIPs and ex-VVIPs and their spouses, by the dozen. The security officers used to protect VIPs during the terrorist war, but there is no war or a security risk now.
Then why should VIPs get additional members of the Police as security officers? It is a total wastage of public money on Police wages, plus overtime paid for extra hours (even when VIPs go for evening parties or hold ‘get-togethers’ at home)? The use of additional vehicles goes unnoticed at the Government expense with free petrol.
It is inconceivable how some of these Police and Army Officers sent to VIPs have become ‘domestics’ and ‘drivers’ by taking VIPs children to school and back or driving their wives on shopping sprees? Others just idle at VIPs houses. Are these requirements included in the Constitution? In that case, it becomes President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s responsibility as President of the Country to denounce such activity and to stop the wastage on Government coffers, especially when the Government has no money.
Poor Traffic Police
However, the Traffic Department alone cannot be blamed for road accidents. Pedestrians should also share the blame equally for behaving in an undisciplined manner on roads. It is a familiar scene when passengers of buses keep getting off the bus, on to the middle of the road, when the bus either slows down at traffic lights or stops at traffic light signals. In overseas countries, the bus driver closes both doors (entrance and exit) before picking up passengers. He only opens the doors at a bus halt. However, it does not happen in Sri Lanka even though some modern buses have such facilities. So, it is up to the Traffic Police to ensure the safety of commuters? Of course, there are few rotten eggs in the Police Department that have been exposed time and again.
In the prevailing circumstances, if the Police squad hasn’t got adequate officers to function appropriately, the Police Commissioner must emulate Winston Churchill, who once claimed during World War II, “give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” It should be the responsibility of the Police Commissioner to take appropriate action in liaising with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who listens to the difficulties of the public and officials equally.
New regulations or heavy fines may not work indefinitely, but such statutes will only last for a week or so in Sri Lanka, akin to new brooms sweep well. It also aids any errant driver to oil the palm of a corrupt Police Officer and get away with it. Compliments must go to decent and committed traffic Police Officers, who report to work at the crack of dawn and perform the arduous task of getting roasted in the blistering sun and soaked in the pouring rain to satisfy every section of society.
Drinking and Driving
During any festive season, a record number of motorists get nabbed for drinking and driving. Such operations should not limit to a particular festive season but maintain as an effective exercise on a daily routine. It is also regrettable to see the inefficiency of ‘Patrol Police’ in Sri Lanka. They do not perform any spot checks on the road, although they get powerful motorbikes and branded cars. In other countries, when a driver sees Traffic Police on a motorbike or in a panda car, the motorist usually becomes nervous, but not in Sri Lanka.
In the prevailing circumstances, it becomes the prime duty of the Traffic Police to maintain and enforce the traffic law to the very letter, irrespective of a person’s popularity or financial status, regardless of one’s position or power. In overseas countries the errant driver allows the Police Officer to perform his duty diligently. But in Sri Lanka, of course, despite the fact there exists a mantra called ‘ Law is common to all, the