Kiralagala photos: A ‘sledgehammer approach’ to minor offences | Sunday Observer

Kiralagala photos: A ‘sledgehammer approach’ to minor offences

It was meant to be a fun-filled gathering. Seven students of the Engineering Faculty of the South Eastern University spent a day at a fellow student’s house in Horowpathana, Anuradhapura. The friend then took them to a site in Kiralagala where they spent time sightseeing and posing for photographs.

Some of the photographs they took were on top of an old monument. They posed on it, took photographs, and posted the best of them on Facebook. Little did they realise that later that these photographs would haunt them, sparking outrage from the authorities and sections of the public.

It all happened on Facebook’s Memories section. The ill-fated photographs resurfaced again. The students were now in their final year. Two of them were expected to be batch-toppers. The structure they took photographs on is a stupa built in 4 AD.

The law

On January 23 they were arrested and was later produced before the Kebithigollawa Magistrate’, and remanded till February 5. They are charged under section 120 of the Penal Code for ‘Exciting or attempting to excite disaffection’, section 138 for ‘unlawful assembly’, and 31B of the Antiquity Ordinance which says ‘any person who does in, upon, to, near or in respect of any ancient monument which is held sacred or in veneration by any class of persons, any act which wounds or offends or is likely to wound or offend the religious susceptibilities of the class of persons by whom such ancient monument is held sacred or in veneration shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction after summary trial before a Magistrate to a fine not exceeding one thousand rupees or to imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding one year or to both such fine and imprisonment’.

This is not the first instance that sterner action was taken against youth for taking photographs that was ‘disrespectful’ of a religious monument or site. The most recent of them was when a group of Advanced Level students was arrested for taking semi-nude photographs on Pidurangala Rock of Pidurangala Raja Maha Viharaya in September last year.

“We don’t condemn action taken against such acts, but the authorities should also consider the future of the young people involved,” says A. M. A. Atheeq, whose house the students visited.

Since the students were in remand they have missed a presentation that will affect their final results substantially.

“My son is a good person. He helps any person in need. This is not a crime like stealing or driving recklessly. They only took a few photographs. Look where he is now. My house is like a funeral house now,” Atheeq lamented. He said that stern action against such a crime is unwarranted, especially because there were no signboards to indicate it was a religious site.

However, the Assistant Director of Anuradhapura Archaeology Regional Office Gunathilaka Banda said stern action needs to be taken in such cases to prevent such incidents from reccurring. He added that not all historic or religious sites have boards indicating what it is, but it is the responsibility of the public to be sensitive towards religions and cultures.

After photographs of the eight students went viral, some others started circulating on social media sites depicting those of other ethnicities posing on the same stupa.

Sheik Sakeef Saam Thanweeri of Delthota, Kandy, said the law should be equal for all.

“Action has to be taken against a person who disrespects another religion.

These boys are Muslim, and they should have thought better before taking these pictures because it will only agitate people who will label it as a racist act. But these students did not know what this place was,” Sheik Thanweeri said.

He added that if others also took similar photographs at the same place they should be punished in the same way.

Youth

In instances where the police arrested people for defacing Sigiriya frescos, taking semi-nude pictures, or posing on a religious site one factor remains true to all- they were done by youth.

Criminologist and Senior lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Kelaniya, Dr. Anusha Edirisinghe said the education system does not leave space to mould a respectful generation.

“We teach religion as a subject in school, but we don’t teach the students to respect other religions. I think school is where we have to start,” she said adding that the youth these days are not sensitive to the feelings of others.

Dr. Edirisinghe said there are social norms and values that should be upheld by every one.

“These students are from the university. We can’t say that they are completely unaware of such norms and values.”

But is this a well-thought out approach to rectify such crimes? “Absolutely not,” says Attorney at Law Thishya Weragoda.

He said this was a ‘sledgehammer approach’ by the authorities involved.

Gossip sites

Weragoda said the issue went out of hand when certain ‘gossip sites’ picked the story up, and sensationalised it. “But did the authorities take the same action against the children of politicians or those well-connected? No.

They only take action against poor students who possibly cannot find their own bail money.”

Weragoda said the ideal way in which the Government can tackle such incidents is by telecasting awareness advertisements or other campaigns to educate the public on how sacred hese monuments or sites are.

“Arresting and jailing the youth for taking photographs is not the solution,” he stressed.

 

Comments