Bruno Cooke

Police Harassment in Sri Lanka: Fines, Bribes and Batons

When news breaks of attacks on religious sites or conflicts between religious groups, foreigners get together and discuss. When word gets round of a series of houses being broken into, we keep our doors locked and lights on at night.

Foreigners are assumed rich and often are, assumed to be naïve and promiscuous and to be wearing rose-tinted glasses. Indeed, they/we often are.

We do not speak Sinhalese and we do not understand the nuances of the Sri Lankan legal system. We are vulnerable and moneyed and do not wish to be detained in police custody. Indeed, the extent to which we do not wish to be detained is such that we are willing to play the game and accept the fine, well aware that the money will be immediately pocketed. It is a convenient way to avoid the frightening unknown. [...]

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Sexual harassment in Sri Lanka — ubiquitous. Are women safe?

Shocking statistics abound, yet travel bloggers, tourist boards and travel agencies are ardent in their praise of Sri Lanka’s invariably hospitable locals. We have a duty to inform.

Piquing the interest of straight men in what are perceived to be “women’s issues” — sexual harassment, misogyny, domestic abuse — can be bizarrely challenging. “Causes” like feminism, trans rights, or pro-choice campaigns are of no interest, because they seek to increase representation for members of other clans. Sexual violence statistics are shrugged off because they are just that — statistics. However, ask this man how he would react if it was his sister, or his mother or daughter, and a switch will flick. [...]

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Police Harassment in Sri Lanka: An Anecdote

What can you do?

Laura holds out her hand and asks for the keys back, at which point he raises his hand, as if to hit her. This, oddly, or not, is where time slows down a little. He has raised his hand at Laura. At roughly the same moment, the other man is taking my phone, by force, from my grip. He unclasps his baton from his waist and holds it high above his head, like an executioner.

I ask myself: What is going on?

Read more on Medium

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