Editorial | Sunday Observer


Will Dr.Shafi ever find justice?

In Sri Lanka, the authorities of law and order have a chequered history when it comes to fulfilling their duties in consonance with the Law and the Constitution of the country. The Police have been found wanting many a time in ensuring that crimes are prevented or investigated and prosecuted. The Judiciary has stood as a bulwark of the rule of law and held the Police accountable for violations of rights and wrongful detentions and, even disappearances but how well their victims have been recompensed and the violations adequately redressed is another matter.

The judiciary too, has had its bad moments in this country’s modern history. But perhaps more than any other institutional bulwark of this democratic republic, it has been the Judiciary that has stood out best in fulfilling its societal role.

Most recently, the brief fracas in Dankotuwa was deftly handled by some meticulous coordination between the local police and the local Magistrate. The Police, rather than turning a blind eye to racism and injustice (as it has often done under political pressure), on this occasion took swift and reasonable steps to defuse the issue of Muslim trader participation in a popular local market. They turned to the local courts and the local courts, in their turn, responded most reasonably and promptly in firmly challenging the local politicians’ tendentious resort to administrative discrimination. If not for this coordination between the Police and the Judiciary in upholding law and order, some political adventurers – seemingly fulfilling larger political interests aiming at keeping the communal pot boiling - would have harmed a minority ethnic community and ruptured the hitherto stable inter-community co-existence in the area.

Even more recently, we have seen a similar, if more momentous redress action by the Police in relation to the case of Gynaecologist Dr.Shafi Shiabdeen of the Kurunegala Hospital. After weeks of the hapless gynaecologist’s incarceration on seemingly fabricated charges and false allegations by various sections, the Police and, especially, the CID, have again come into their own in undertaking a systematic investigation of the whole sordid tragic affair.

After over two months of wild, irrational and brutally racist propaganda and rumour-mongering in various news media including some of the nation’s more prestigious newspapers, the unambiguous submissions to court made by the Police based on their professional investigations were like a gust of fresh air that doused the noxious fumes of race hatred and paranoia. In a matter of a few court hearings by the Kurunegala Magistrate’s court, the Police and the CID have clarified the whole set of issues.

But matters of ethno-communal security and physical survival cannot be easily dealt with, especially, in a society where major political factions are busy surreptitiously whipping up communal passions and fears for their own selfish purposes of electoral success. After decades of ethno-communal social violence in which both people and property have suffered immensely, it is not possible to erase inter-communal fears and suspicions with just court submissions, however lucid and categorical their findings might be.

Also, it takes both the Police and the Judiciary to tango in maintaining our equilibrium of justice and social order. Now that the Police have stepped up to rationally deal with what has become one of the country’s most delicate controversies – one that involves the sanctity of women’s bodies, their reproductive rights and capacities – it is the turn of the Judiciary to ensure that the findings of the Police are used correctly in the administration of justice.

Naturally, the targeted surgeon and his family will want quick resolution to the legal tangle so that the surgeon can be freed from detention on the one hand and, on the other, those perpetrators of what seems to have been a ruthless ‘frame-up’ are brought to book so that the racist persecution ends.

But the courts have to do more than simply give redress to the learned doctor and his family. The courts must also cater to the fears and concerns of those women and mothers whose bodies became the tool for those who created the whole false alarm of non-consensual sterilization. The women who now worry about their own health and reproductive capacity have to be provided with the most scientifically rigorous means of clarifying their health status.

It is up to the Judiciary to now ensure that this horrendous knot of inter-racial suspicion, fear and anger is carefully untangled. We are confident that, just as it has done in recent months when the very political bedrock of the Republic has been shaken, the Judiciary will step forward to demonstrate, once more, its integrity and resourcefulness.