Natural Justice: A story of impeachment and survival | Sunday Observer

Natural Justice: A story of impeachment and survival

Producer and Director Shaveen Bandaranayake scrubs through timeline to inspect the final cut
Producer and Director Shaveen Bandaranayake scrubs through timeline to inspect the final cut

Six years ago, Sri Lanka’s first female Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached through a process denounced as completely flawed and bereft of due process. Now her son tells her story of persecution and survival against all odds in a 19-minute documentary

The day is January 15, 2013. Impeached Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake is leaving her official residence at Wijerama Mawatha. The motion against her was passed in Parliament as per Article 107 (2) of the Sri Lankan Constitution with 155 votes in favour and 49 opposing.

As she leaves, her vehicle is surrounded by a mob of journalists desperately demanding a comment. The incident is harrowing, the first of its nature in the island nation.

“Our security is with you all. Look after us. Please look after the three of us. I am always with the general public. I have worked for 32 years without taking a holiday. I have not taken a single vehicle permit. Thank you,” the newly impeached Bandaranayake tells the reporters.

As the media pushes on police wrestle them out of the way to stop Bandaranayake from giving a statement. Police shout at the young driver in her car and commands him to continue driving.

This is how most of us are introduced to young Shaveen Bandaranayake- former Chief Justice Bandaranayake’s only child. Six years later, now 29-years-old, Shaveen is a law teacher, politician and a filmmaker with a masters in film-making.

“If I were to express what it was all like in one word it would be surreal,” Shaveen tells the Sunday Observer as he sits in a café. The same vehicle he drove his mother and father that day is parked outside. The dents caused by the journalists are still seen on it- haunting memories of dark days.

‘Natural Justice’

Shaveen is here to discuss his new documentary short ‘Natural Justice’. It depicts the first time Sri Lanka’s 43rd Chief Justice, who was reinstated on November 28, 2015, giving a candid interview of what she underwent under an ‘autocratic’ President. The turmoil, confusion and tested legal system are common elements the documentary explores, as well as the personal journey of the protagonist and her family.

A first person account by the former Chief Justice, ‘Natural Justice’ is expressed through recorded statements by political bodies and news items made public by the mass media. None of the actors, other than Bandaranayake, were interviewed because after six years much has changed- a coup, cross-overs, betrayal and change of policies of political figures that Sri Lanka is sadly immune to plagues the truth.

The documentary short was not premiered anywhere after its completion on January 15 this year, as it is submitted to the festival circuit. Shaveen hopes to release it in Sri Lanka within the course of the year. It is his plea to the public to not to forget.

Reaction

But is the 19 mins and two seconds long documentary enough to give justice to a story that is recorded in history as an exceptional event in Sri Lankan history? Shaveen’s intention is to release his work and see how it is embraced by the masses, and if the reaction is positive he will make a full length feature. Because there is much more to be said, of how the family went into seclusion after the impeachment, or how they distanced themselves from friends for the well-being of all as they were constantly watched and phones tapped.

Or how Shaveen was in class, last year in law school, when the impeachment really happened, and the lecturer who just received a phone notification looked at him and smiled, a kind smile, but the young man instantly knew what had happened.

Reasons

And then, why were the Bandaranayakes’ silent for the past six years? Shaveen explains there were three key reasons for this.

“One was for personal reasons. I needed time to research and go through everything so that the documentary will be cast in an objective narrative,” he says. Secondly, he wanted things to settle and see where the cards fell. Six years is time enough to see how politicos and people changed and how political parties used the impeachment to fuel their campaigns. It was also enough time to see how the legal fraternity changed.

And thirdly, it was to give his mother a platform to speak about what happened to her. “She is a very private person, and took her designation seriously. During the impeachment she was painted as the devil by some and a saint by others.”

With twenty-two million eyes on her, Bandaranayake did not get the chance to express her story in her perspective. Through the documentary Shaveen is giving the former Chief Justice an opportunity to speak the truth.

Through ‘Natural Justice’, related in Sinhala and with English subtitles, the world will know how an ‘unfairly’ impeached Chief Justice, with a very private life, fought to keep her family’s and her heads above the water. The incident- a learning opportunity to them to know who their real friends were and not, and to survive it, then six years later to make a documentary short to keep an everlasting memory.

Shaveen relates all of this to a quote by Randy Pausch, an American professor who said, ‘Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.’

Six years later

However, Shaveen says six years later Sri Lanka is still in stage one. “It is the same lot bickering among themselves and making little progress for the benefit of the society at large.”

He says it’s a systematic problem, because things in Sri Lanka are set up in a way that politicians are needed to get anything done. He said parties have to ensure that their candidates are ideal for the role they will play.

‘Natural Justice’ is a reminder that in Sri Lanka ‘Not everyone is equal before the Law’.

For more information visit www.naturaljusticefilm.com

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