By Srimal Abeyewardene
It is with great sadness The Sri Lanka Reporter announces the passing away of former senior DIG and Director of Crime Detective Buerau of Sri Lanka police and International Drug Expert of the Interpol R. Sunderalingam on December 29 in Chennai where he resided after retiring from the Paris-based police organization.
According to an obituary in the media a private funeral was held in Chennai.
In my career as a crime reporter in Sri Lanka for more than 25 years I met the honest, affable police officer R. Sunderalingam and I was lucky to meet such a fine gentleman and a great humanist.
Though, our friendship was official he treated me as a good friend.
I first met him when I was working as the crime reporter for the Times of Ceylon. Our first meeting was in Jaffna where he was serving as the Superintendent of Police. I was in the north covering a terror-related incident and Sunderalingam was very helpful to me and the friendship we struck in the Jaffna police station continued throughout his career in the Sri Lankan police and during his senior Interpol position as an International Drug Expert.
Even after his retirement from Interpol in 2003 he kept in touch with me from Chennai which became his home after his brilliant international career. Seventies were the beginning of ethnic tension in Jaffna and I travelled there quite often to cover various incidents and I was the first media contact he thought of when there was news, worthy of press coverage. The success of a crime reporter depends largely on the contacts he develops within the police and security forces and I couldn’t ask for a better contact than Sunderalingam.
I was in touch with many other officers within the police service but it was Sunderalingam I turned to, when there were crimes in need of press coverage.
He came on transfer to Colombo in the late 70s and took over duties as the head of the Colombo Detective Bureau when the country was experiencing an unprecedented spike in crime combined with the rising ethnic tension, both in the north and the south of the country. Sunderalingam was a very busy man but he always made sure to reserve time for me and I met him every working day in the morning in his office.
After I joined the Ceylon Daily News in the early 80s Sunderalingam left to accept the Interpol assignment in 1985.
A product of Peradeniya University, Sunderalingam joined the police service in 1956. He served as ASP in Ambalangoda from 1961 and was transferred to Jaffna in 1966 where he served till he was transferred to Colombo.
Many people believe that Sundaralingam left the police service in 1985 as he was offered the key post in the Interpol. This may be true but very few people know that his home in Nawala was burned down during the 1983 Colombo riots. I am not sure whether he was hurt over this incident, but I know that he went to the then IGP’s office, removed his official badges and placed them on the table saying that he was resigning. A surprised IGP told him, “Sunda, you are going to be the next IGP.”
He calmly said, “I don’t want to be the next IGP” and walked out of the police headquarters without compromising his integrity.
As his friend for many years I know he was one of the most impartial policemen ever to serve the country with dignity and love. He treated everyone alike with no racial or religious bias. In fact, while serving in Jaffna he fought hard to eradicate caste discrimination removing limited entry to Hindu temples to certain castes in the northern peninsula.
Sunda, you were a true officer and a gentleman who served the world to make it a better place for humanity, without any discrimination. Rest in peace my friend! People will forget you but history will not!
This is an email Sunderalingam wrote to me in 2017:
Good wishes and Happy New Year 2017 to good old friend Srimal A.
Friday January 13, 2017 at 9.02 AM
Greetings and good wishes from Sunda former Sri Lankan and Interpol police officer. Mr. Esa Para of Toronto did mention to me that Sri Lanka Reporter founded by you is doing great service to the Sri Lankan community in Canada. Keep it up. I remember the days Srimal A of Daily Mirror gave a boost up for Colombo Crime Detective Bureau set up by me in 1973 and inaugurated by then PM Sirmavo B. Those were the glorious days of the Sri Lanka Police.
In fact, I visited Sri Lanka after a lapse of six years two weeks ago. I visited Police Headquarters on the special invitation of IGP Pujith Jayasundera to receive a special award for my contribution to
Sri Lanka Police for 30 years from 1956-1985. This was an unforgettable day, as I last visited the Colombo Police Head Quarters 1985 after a lapse of 31 years. Strange, I was welcomed by IGP and 50 senior officers; none of them worked with me. They must have joined post-1985? This is the greatness of Sri Lankans, you are remembered irrespective of the community, caste, creed etc.
Several journalists known to me were keen to interview me for scoops??? I avoided them, to avoid controversy. Having served at Interpol HQ Paris/Lyon France for 16 years, I am currently on Interpol Program with Indian Agencies. I am designated by Secretary General of Interpol to function as an international drug expert. This gives me a lot of job satisfaction to share my Interpol experience with senior Indian law enforcement officials. I am happy to observe your energetic family members are publishing the Sri Lanka Reporter.
All the Good Wishes.