Sunday Celebrity: Interpol drug expert R. Sundaralingam, a one-man NGO
Former Additional Director-General of Police of Sri Lanka and Interpol drug expert, Mr. Ramachandra Sundaralingam, can be said a ‘one-man NGO’ in India, working on drug abuse and prevention, making use of his rich experience and expertise, based in Chennai, post retirement.
There are people who retire, and their knowledge, service-minded disposition and social commitment, do not make them retire. Mr. Sundaralingam is one such. He, who had made several presentations at international and regional law enforcement conferences, is at present available in India; ready to work on any programme in the campaign on drug abuse for the benefit of police, customs, NGOs, universities, IT world and the general public.
Like former President Mr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who goes ahead with “igniting children with scientific temper”, Mr. Sundaralingam is on “enlightening school and college students against evils of drug abuse.” So far he says he has addressed about 6000 students.
“It is a matter of regret that drug trafficking and organized crime has become the most profitable enterprise in Europe today," he says in a talk with Asian Tribune. “According to the Interpol database, involvement of Sri Lankans and Indians in drug trafficking is only minimal compared to other countries.”
Mr. Sundaralingam says that the smuggling of huge quantities of heroin to neighboring Sri Lanka may possibly be only for stocking and for rerouting to the Middle-East when the prices go up. That there is no seizure at the exit point in Sri Lanka does not mean that the drug is not going out of the island. However, he hastens to add that there is no proof of organised syndicates in Colombo working with mafia gangs in Europe.
"Unless there is international cooperation, the menace cannot be checked. Once we lived in hope. Now we live in fear given the mafia and organized crime operations in Europe", he says.
"Today, youth culture is merging with the drug culture," he says. Despite stringent measures enforced in countries such as Malaysia, China and India, chemicals essential for the manufacture of heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs are diverted to laboratories in drug producing countries.
"From 10 kg of opium, you get one kg morphine; and from one kg of morphine you get one kg heroin. Between 300 and 400 tonnes of heroin or morphine are available in the illicit market today," he says
Drug war best met at classrooms
Mr. Sundaralingam feels that it is important to win the drug war in classrooms rather than courtrooms. His advice: Drug abuse is often a result of underlying problems or a broader malaise. It is therefore important to address the potential causes and not just the abuse in isolation.
From his 17 years of service with the Interpol as a police officer, he observed that the fall of communism and the globalization thereof have been the most catalytic moments that throttled the drug trafficking and propelled it into new heights hitherto impossible. He remarked “today, the mafia, by their contrived use of global platforms has made the episode of globalization, a terrible curse”.
Quoting from his experience, he says that ‘80% of cocaine is produced in Columbia, 80% of heroin from Afghanistan’. He added that the UN mandate aimed at reducing both the supply and demand for drugs. The incorrigible nature of drug traffickers and addicts is such that they have, in the compulsive mood, committed horrendous crimes and misdemeanors.
Speaking of Afghanistan, he remarked that ‘of two sons in a family in Afghanistan, one embraces al-Qaeda and the other opium’. He added that smitten with poverty, drained of hunger, eclipsed by grief, the people of the nation have took to producing opium.
India remains most vulnerable, positioned as it is between West Asia, the world's largest source of heroin, and South-East Asia, the second major producer of heroin and synthetic drugs, he says. Momentous changes in the geo-political, economic, communications and technological domains have had a major impact on illegal drug-trafficking.
“Yet, it has also opened up better avenues for preventive action and control. There is greater awareness and determination on the part of law enforcement agencies to control the drug trade, besides more cooperation among member countries to dismantle drug organisations," he says.
He points out two roll-model that has affected the present-day youth after the two legends-- Sachin Tendulkar and Osama Bin Laden. A 12 year old in Afghanistan, growing up in a decrepit, misogynistic, malevolent, pestilential and metamorphosed society, finds refuge in AK-47, burns a house here, and kills a man there, aspiring to become Osama Bin Laden one day. A 12 year old in India, with MRF bat in his hand, whirls the timber in cramped streets of every city in the country, breaking a glass window here, a car’s window there, and dreams of becoming Sachin Tendulkar one day.
He implores all to respect the tradition that India is host to, the culture and family values by their inherent apparatus have saved us from the capricious minds outside. He advices one to embrace the culture that we are, and not dilute the atmosphere that piques the curiosity of the young ones, that lets the young ones dream of becoming Sachin Tendulkar one day.
"The international drug crossing, where Europe is concerned, starts from Kabul and moves into Europe via Istanbul. Today, illicit opium is the most valuable cash crop in Afghanistan. If a family has two sons, one son stays at home and the other joins the rebel movement. What can be done in such a situation? In Afghanistan and our North-East frontier, the two easily available commodities are AK-47 and heroin," he says.
The growth of international drug trafficking networks, burgeoning insurgent groups which provide protection for the production areas and benefit by obtaining arms illegally, and political upheavals in several countries in the Balkans, Asia and Latin America have led to an increase in drug-related crimes. Another important factor is the demand.
His ‘warning went unheeded’
Sri Lanka’s terrorist problem probably could have been nipped in the bud had only Colombo heeded his warning way back in 1970 when he was posted as Superintendent of Police in the North Sri Lanka.
About Mr. Sundaralingam, writes former Army Commander and Defence Secretary Gen. Cyril Ranatunga in his recently released book “From Peace to War, Insurgency to Terrorism”: “Unfortunately, his (Sundaralingam’s) advice and warning went unheeded. His report was duly filed and forgotten.” The then SP of Jaffna district Sundaralingam had warned “The traditional trade and movement of illicit immigration and sarees disappeared…From late1970s the items smuggled changed to gun running. And magazines propagating Tamil nationalism...”
Rekindling nostalgic memories about Jaffna he knew in the 60’s and 70’s he says, “ Law and order was its best in this period. The Jaffna man was a peace loving, reticent personality and the Northern province recorded the lowest crime rate in the country. Whatever disputes there were, were confined to minor pockets arising out of localized issues centred on caste based temple entry and related biases.”
Like the recent Vedarnayam Shiva temple entry for the Dalits led by Collector in Tamil Nadu, Sunderalingam organised temple entry (Mavattupuram temple), opposing the leading politician of the day there—C. Sundaralingam, the Tamil leader who in fact gave first voice for separate Tamil Eelam. It was Sundaralingam vs. Sunderalingam. War of C. Sundaralingams, an astute leader and an academic who thought Mathematics to the British roayalty went on in the temple entry issue in Maviddapuram in the Jaffna peninsula and in the end .Superintendent of Police Sundaralingam had his way.
The former who propagated for separate Tamil state was creating divisions within the Tamil community—the caste Hindus and the low caste fishermen, pallas, etc. Prabhakaran belonged to the fishermen community. Sundaralingam’s initiative to eradicate caste discrimination in the region—particularly temple entry, use of public wells, etc brought equality in the region.
Mr. Sundaralingam held No.2 position in the Sri Lanka Police Service in 1986 as Additional Director General, when he was handpicked by Secretary General, Interpol , Paris to serve as a Drug Specialist at the Headquarter in France. His depth of knowledge and studies on Drugs related crimes world wide made him a recognized Interpol’s leading Drug Expert. He served Interpol for 17 years until 2003, the longest serving police officer in the history of Interpol. “International Drugs Expert”
During his tenure, he had the distinction of addressing numerous international and regional conferences. This included briefing to VVIPs at the White House, Pentagon (US), Scotland Yard (UK), the UN, etc. To his credit he was the keynote speaker at the 10 annual meetings of the European Police Chiefs, organized by Interpol (1992-2001).
The UN office on Drugs and Organised Crimes (Vienna) have listed Sundaralingam on their panel of experts. He was the only Interpol officer to appear on the BBC Pasnorama Program, interviewed by the well-known war Correspondent Jeff Thompson on the Colombian Drug Mafia.
Several of his related articles on drug related subjects have been published in the prestigious international ad national bulletins.
When he retired from Interpol in 2003, the Secretary General, Interpol designated him to function as an “International Drugs Expert” to assist Interpol member-countries. On a proposal by three former directors of CBI and Chairman of Board of Customs, Excise and Narcotics (New Delhi), Sundaralingam has taken temporary residence in India to assist Indian Law enforcement agencies.
During last 5 years he has addressed several conferences and seminars on subjects relating to Global Drug criminality. The Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of School Education (Tamil Nadu) have also utilized his services to give a series of lectures on the dangers of Drug Abuse among Youths, and awareness programme for the benefit of students in universities, colleges and senior secondary schools in Tamil Nadu.
- Asian Tribune -
By Gopal Ethiraj, Chennai