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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2766

Lalin's Column: Shot in the foot.

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

The Island on 12 July 19 carried an article by a brigadier and later unsuccessful politician to boot, titled “Lessons from a parent killing at school”.

His motives from the title of his article onwards are questionable and the facts are completely pre judged and wrong. It follows that the ‘lessons’ to be learnt (for whoever it was meant), needs considerable indulgence to understand.

Despite the writer not naming the place or the people involved, it clearly referred to the shooting incident at Upananda Junior school, Manavila, Akmeemana where an ex SL Navy man Praveen Kumara died. There was also little inkling of any sympathy for the dead man in the desire to teach ‘lessons’ and spread fanciful fables.

The writer clearly and unfortunately without knowing the facts situates an environment that did not exist, events that did not actually take place except for the shooting. In addition, he makes judgments that appear to be preconceived and completely biased to support his own exposure to primaries of military knowledge. They too appear to have stumped him.

He starts with misleading and totally erroneous statements “The soldier had refused the parent permission to enter (the school) and shot him ….” This is pathetically simplistic. It has little bearing to the actual events that took place. Moreover, it makes the soldier look like he was a cold-blooded killer and casts serious aspersions on the way the army carries out duties in support of the civil power during emergencies. As it is completely unfounded, it questions the writer’s motivation.

The article ends cynically pre determining even the outcome of the judicial inquiry into the shooting. He dismisses it by saying “the outcome would be “the dead man is to blame or time will bury it”. This is extreme prejudice. It lacks even the slightest consideration for the young soldier’s trauma at taking the life of an innocent man albeit accidently and when on duty. Clearly the writer has little empathy for soldiers. Was he trying to publicize this fact? If so, who was he trying to impress?

The facts are as follows. There were just 2 soldiers present at the school. There were no policemen. Thus the police and military searches that he imagines took place before the incident are pure imagination like the rest of his narrative.

The school has 2 main entrance gates, one for the junior and the other for the senior children. The junior however has two entrances, a gate on the outer perimeter and another at the second.
After the children in the junior school are taken in, the soldier goes to the senior children’s entrance to help the corporal in charge. He goes back to the junior entrance when the classes end for the day at 11.45 am or if there is a need to do so.

Thus, the long spiel of 5 paragraphs and more than 350 words about aspects of the law, deployment of police and military and how searches are conducted was misplaced, redundant and meaningless.

When school finishes, parents collect their children who come up to the main gate escorted by their class teacher. On this day Pradeep Kumara had come at about 9.45 am to collect his daughter who was ill. It passed without incident completely contrary to the writer’s version that the parent was shot at this time. A teacher handed the girl to Kumara following the correct procedure. Kumara departed. At 11.45 am the teachers had escorted the children to the gate to be collected by their parents. Kumara was not there. Those children not collected (12) were taken back into the class room to await the arrival of their parents. Kumara came at about 12.05 pm, 20 minutes late, to collect his second child, a son.

Kumara being impatient at not seeing his son at the gate but ostensibly fully aware of the security measures, forced himself past the soldier at the outer perimeter gate and passed by the inner gate. The soldier realizing that security procedures had been breached overtook and blocked Kumara who was told not to proceed. This was the soldier’s duty. As Kumara showed every sign of going on, the soldier warned him not to proceed. He indicated he had a loaded weapon.

Undeterred, probably assuming the soldier would not dare use his weapon, Kumara started to grapple with the soldier. During the scuffle the soldier slipped and one foot fell into a nearby shallow drain, unbalancing him. The weapon went off, hitting Kumara accidently. That is the soldier’s version. It is far more plausible than the writer’s imagined account.

It is not known from where the writer learned that in case fire is opened, the soldier should have aimed ‘below the knee’. Since this was an accidental discharge of a weapon the question of where to aim did not arise in the first place. However even subalterns know that soldiers are trained to aim at the chest when ordered to open fire when on internal security duties . Further it is not easy to ‘aim’ below the knee as few people wear short trousers to expose their knees and it is especially difficult when someone is trying to grapple with the soldier. Shooting below the knee may cause a ricochet and hit someone totally unconnected in the rear as old soldiers would recall happened in 1956 at Mount Lavinia. It may however be how the police open fire under non-emergency conditions according to their practice.

The brigadier then recalls his basic training and that the ‘principle of minimum force was drilled well….”. He should recall that there were 2 principles before this and one after. The first two were ‘prevention’ (avoid escalation) and ‘necessity’ (to use force) even before ‘minimum force’ (firing a single round) becomes an option. The last principle was ‘impartiality’ (if there were 2 sides breaching the peace as in a communal riot). This last appears to be short in his meanderings.

The writer recalls for some strange reason a Maoist attack on a camp in Telangana (India) that apparently killed seventy. Here again the facts are wrong. This was not an attack on a camp but an ambush of the Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) returning from an operation in 2010. The camp (‘Silda’) attack was earlier and only 24 were killed. Facts are not de Silva’s forte or concern.

There is mention of Nehru and Gandhi and how they forged “one nation- the Indian nation”. What they have to do with the death of Kumara in Akmeemana, Galle District SL, is beyond understanding.

Further the writer, probably wearing his political hat, believes if any Service Commander ‘gave sensible advice to the government ‘that would be the end of his career’. Does this imply that over 70 years of independence Service Commanders gave stupid advice to survive? Does he know any of them that did so? He must speak to FM Sarath Fonseka and Lt Gen Mahes Senanayake and the SL Navy and SLAF commanders among others and ask them how they commanded, despite the writer’s passing concern for those who gave professional advice fearlessly. Such people there were and are and they were and are not only from the Forces.

The writer unabashedly refers the reader again to the ‘wisdom’ of the Indian rulers. They apparently never deploy their armed forces on internal security duties. Hells bells.

The people in North and East SL must wonder who the 100,000 IPKF, that had about 1,500 dead in operations in SL, were. In Srinagar (Kashmir) the natives would wonder what 500,000 Indian troops are doing there despite ‘wisdom’ being prevalent in extra large portions and why in 2018 an Indian army major took a hostage tied to the buffer of his vehicle to confront demonstrators. They must also wonder who killed over 70,000 Kashmiris over the last 20 years. He may have also forgotten what happened in Mumbai (Bombay) in November 2008. There were 174 killed, 300 wounded and 9 Lashkar e Taiba terrorists killed when the latter rampaged for 4 days with Indian Special Forces taking time to impress. He may if he takes his blinkers off remember Operation ‘Blue Star’ the Indian Army’s bloody assault in 1984 on the Sikh’s holiest place, the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the Punjab that left 493 Sikhs and 249 Indian troops dead. Tanks and artillery were used in the assault - on a temple. Is this the ‘wisdom’ in the Indian rulers the writer intended to promote – even though ignorantly?

However, the Easter Sunday tragedy, the shooting at the school and earlier at the road check point in Wattala must make the government reconsider the threat level and the requirement for troops to be deployed in the streets and in public places during low level readiness states.

Finally, it is, it is not for a retired officer to condemn soldiers on duty, slight all service commanders and make invidious comparisons with other countries without even attempting to know the actual and real facts. He may however have wanted to make a splash with the Indians. That may be as a politician surely. SL must grieve for 269 Easter Sunday plus 3 innocents killed thereafter. It is improper for anyone to exploit even one of these deaths to make ignorant, misleading and sensational forays in the media for any reason.

- Asian Tribune -

Lalin's Column: Shot in the foot.
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