By Mudliyar

A 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.

This Somadasa 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.

Other than 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 with criminals.

Somadasa was 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.

The scenario 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.

Somadasa Kotagoda 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.

The attitude 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 committed.

Touting and 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.

Mr. Kotagoda 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 for assistance.

Mr. Somadasa 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.

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