Daily News Esitorial
The ruckus kicked up by our disabled war heroes, at the Department of Pensions, on Thursday, should not escape the attention of the authorities, who have been condoning such unruly behaviour from these groups for far too long. First, it was the sustained protest carried out by the disabled soldiers on the busy streets of Fort and Pettah, and, then the more violent agitation near the Lotus Road roundabout, where they succeeded in breaking through police barriers, in their bid to enter the High Security Zone housing the Presidential Secretariat, ending with police teargassing the protesters.
The latest shindig assumed more serious proportions, with the protesters, in fact, succeeding in storming a government institution and causing damage to its property. They (disabled soldiers and their family members), on Thursday, broke into the Pensions Department building to protest, what they claimed was the denial of interim payments promised to the families of soldiers killed in the war and those who suffered permanent disabilities. What is more, they virtually held the Commissioner of Pensions hostage, after breaking through the police cordons. But, more seriously, accompanying the soldier families were a mob who were more vociferous than even the disabled solders who harboured a genuine grievance, clearly showing a political hand behind the whole incident. The besieged Commissioner, in the end, was forced to meekly acquiesce to the demands of the protesters, under threat of bodily harm.
True, the government is placed in a dilemma in this connection. It cannot be seen to be mistreating, or running roughshod over the disabled soldiers or the family members of the departed war heroes, given the sensitive nature of the whole affair. There is always the Joint Opposition, waiting in the wings, to pounce on the government for any harm that may befall the disabled soldiers as a result of police action, like, when one such protester was injured in the eye, following a police teargassing, at the Lotus Road incident. On that occasion, JO members summoned press conferences and paraded the injured soldier, accusing the government of being ungrateful to our war heroes. Hence, the restrain adopted by the government, whenever demonstrations featuring the war heroes are staged.
However, this kid glove treatment appears to be wearing thin, with the agitators getting emboldened, and improving on their last act, as seen by the intensity of Thursday’s protest, where outsiders too were co-opted into the project. It was indeed sad that the Pensions’ Commissioner was left to the mercy of the mob, with even the police showing a reluctance to act firmly.
It is time that the government took a firm decision. It cannot allow mob rule to hold sway. Besides, the issues confronting the disabled war heroes were not the makings of the Yahapalanaya Government, but a legacy of the Rajapaksa regime. But, no agitations were held at the time by these disabled soldiers to win their demands. Like the GMOA, and the Anti-SAITM brigade, whose grievances date back to the Rajapaksa era, the disabled soldiers, too, have picked up the threads and are going hammer and tongs against the Sirisen-Wickremesinghe government with a clear intent of boosting the political fortunes of their mentors.
The government cannot afford to have mobs breaking into its departments and threatening its officials. It should act with resolve to ensure the fate that befell the Pensions’ Commissioner will not visit another official. The disabled soldiers may have made great sacrifices on behalf of the country and paid with their limbs. But that should not give them a license to run amok and challenge the government’s authority. The Police should be given the go ahead to halt the trouble makers in their tracks before they storm government buildings with the mob and cause damage to state property.
For too has the government adopted the soft approach vis a vis protest demos of disabled soldiers. Not only that, it should also expose the political hand that is guiding these elements.
Police protection for girls’ schools
The incident where a group of Big-Match revellers stormed a girls ‘ school and ran amok, scuffling with teachers, and, chasing after female students, should open the eyes of both the education authorities and the law enforcement, to find ways to rein in Big Match miscreants. In the aftermath of the incident, the IGP had taken special measures to forestall a repetition, such as placing police security near selected girls’ schools that are vulnerable and also organising special mobile patrols. While the measures are to be appreciated, police protection granted to a girl’s school, as a result of an external threat, must be a first in this country. Besides, the measure is also reflective of the helplessness of the authorities of the boy’s schools involved in Big Matches in disciplining their charges, a sort of abdication of their responsibility, now being transferred to the police, although a majority of these schools are considered among the elite ones.