folk hero is born
In the year
1989/1990 when the whole coun try was engulfed in a reign of terror,
Somadasa Kotagoda Hetti was admitted as an Attorney-at-Law of the
Supreme Court. Like his colleagues he was fed with an ultra dose
of the dialectical materialism of Marxism and Leninism and thus
believed in the liberation of the oppressed by a class struggle.
During this time he would have seen a hitherto conservative Bar
which did not respond to the political anarchy and mayhem that was
surrounding the country suddenly awakening from a deep slumber.
Till then the Bar was a silent observer when others were being killed
so long as it did not come to their doorstep. But when lawyers were
targeted the profession and the Bar came out to defend the rights
of the people, when they took the responsibility they surpassed
every other non-governmental organisation and was in the forefront
in defending the rights of the people.
Kotagoda Hetti may have been one of the young lawyers who would
have applauded the leaders of the Bar who took upon themselves the
task of defending the rights of the people while even facing the
risk of being killed. Like most young lawyers who came from a rural
background, on being enrolled he had no money to begin his practice.
By that time though he had been able to save about Rs. 3000/=. He
then borrowed a few thousand rupees and bought a small Motor Cycle
and decided to go to Kekirawa where his young wife hailed from.
Kekirawa was developing into a booming agricultural township with
the accelerated Mahaweli Project and there was scope for young lawyers
who dared the jungle, wild elephants, malaria and the other hazards
of life. For many a young lawyer, Kekirawa, Tambuttegama and Mahawa
were places so remote from the life they had led, that it did not
beckon them. Young Somadasa would have gone to his native Elpitiya
if not for the bondage he had with Kekirawa through marriage. Even
he was driven to dispair by the poverty and degradation of the people
who lived in this remote hamlet.
agriculture the other major industry was distilling kasippu.. Necessity
compelled the farmers to drink cheap liquor in the form of kasippu
after a hard days work.. They were produced and charged in Court
for possession and distilling of kasippu. Like in any other part
of the country, there were instances of Police excesses in dealing
now a senior lawyer at the Kekirawa Bar. Even though he appeared
for criminals and charged a fee, never forgot the teachings of Marx
and Lenin and the left oriented politics. Like many lawyers who
appeared for the accused, realized that the evidence led by the
Police are often concocted, false and beyond the realm of imagination..
Whenever there was an instance of a person being harassed and assaulted
by the Police, Somadasa always took the side of the accused.
at Kekirawa changed with the advent of a young police officer who
was posted to the Galkiriyagama Police Station to eradicate the
kasippu industry. In order to succeed in his mission to eradicate
the industry he promptly acted on information given to him by the
villagers. The villagers aware of the youthful exuberance of the
police officer would send false petitions against their enemies.
Police parties led by the OIC himself would pounce upon innocent
villagers. Those who had never distilled kasippu were now being
falsely accused by their enemies and startled by the revelation
that they were in fact hooch dealers in the village. When they pleaded
innocence, the police party drunk with power and authority would
brutalise and assault them.
Hetti appeared for many of these villagers and was aghast by the
manner in which the Police had brutalised these innocent people.
He wrote to many human rights organisations and agencies describing
the predicament these villagers were placed in, but without avail.
The news reached Colombo and journalists from a tabloid newspaper
visited Galakiriyagama and interviewed the victims of Police brutality
and published their stories in the newspapers. This was sufficient
to earn the wrath and indignation of the Police, especially that
of the OIC of the Galakiriyagama Police Station. He launched a counter
campaign against Somadasa Kotagoda Hetti. He instructed his subordinates
to retain any other lawyer other than Somadasa Kotagoda Hetti.
of the OIC of Galkiriyagama baffled the people of Kekirawa. They
did not heed the threats of the OIC but continued to retain lawyers
of their choice. The news of these threats and illegal directives
were reported to Somadasa Kotagoda Hetti. When such a episode occurs
in the outstations, the Branch of the Bar Association meet and pass
a resolution and copies of such a resolution are sent to the Bar
Association of Sri Lanka. Delegates then discuss the matter and
condemn the actions of the Police. The Bar Association then refers
the matter to the Inspector General of Police and the matter goes
into cold storage.
At one of these meetings one or two lawyers who frequented the Kekirawa
Bar spoke lucidly on the predicament of their colleague. The Police
on the other hand did not take any notice of the complaints made
to the IGP by the Bar Association. The Police know that the inquiries
are only conducted to appease the parties who complained and that
the Bar Association would forget the incident soon after.
Much was said
about the actions of the OIC Galkiriyagama against Somadasa Kotagoda
Hetti. On the other hand Somadasa Kotagoda Hetti knew that a reference
to the Bar Association about the predicament he was in would not
deter the Police from doing what they had decided. Somadasa decided
to take a different course of action . Experience he had gained
taught him that the only way the Police could be brought to book
was by charging them in Court for whatever offence that they had
intermeddling with suitors was not something new. Though some seniors
try to pretend that this was of recent origin, touting existed even
in the glorified old days. The Intermeddlers with suitors law was
enacted in the year 1894 and was amended by Act No: 35 of 1917.
Hetti decided that enough is enough. He got his client, one Abeysinghe
to swear an affidavit to the effect that the OIC Galakiriyagama
had intermeddled with his case and had instructed him not to retain
Mr. Kotagoda Hetti and if he does he will inform Court of the previous
convictions of his client. The Magistrate, before whom this private
plaint was filed supported by ten out of fourteen lawyers of the
Kekirawa Bar, issued summons on the OIC Galakiriyagama.
It is common
knowledge that the Police hate to get into the dock as accused.
When they are faced with such a situation they are the biggest cowards.
All attempts to deprive Somadasa Kotagoda Hetti of his daily bread
had failed. The Police with all their executive power and the political
thrust of the local politicians would never give up. On the day
that the OIC Galkiriyagama Police Kirthi Jayantha de Silva was to
appear in Court there was going to be a massive protest against
the Court for having issued summons and against the lawyer for having
filed a private plaint. Somadasa Kotagoda Hetti immediately contacted
the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. He was directed to contact a 'gentleman'
and place his grievance before him. This 'gentleman' after listening
to the tale over the telephone addressed lawyer Somadasa Kotagoda
Hetti as ''thama'' and told him to contact "Korasagalla Lamaya"
and inform the Magistrate. Kotagoda Hetti could not believe his
ears. He was shocked that this 'gentleman' addressed him as ''thama''
or "thamuse" and called the President of the Kekirawa
Bar ''Lamaya''. Somadasa felt insulted by this 'gentleman' who addressed
him as ''thama'' and the advice given by him was commonplace. Later
in the night Somadasa contacted another senior and requested him
Kotagoda Hetti had become a folk hero in Kekirawa. He had shown
the more urbane, sophisticated and elitist legal fraternity in Colombo
the one and only way to deal with the Police who flout the law is
to charge them by way of a private plaint.
We the officers
of Court have a duty to protect not only our client but also the
profession. This cannot be done by placating and patronising the
Police and conducting seminars for them.