Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Dead men do tell tales

Photo courtesy Sri Lanka Guardian

Watching the current commentary on the mass grave in Matale “There are allegations that the bodies are those of victims of a small pox outbreak from a hundred years ago, while others believe they may be those killed by a flood some years ago.
” Makes one wonder if we are all suffering from a collective amnesia. The suppression of the JVP insurgency by the government was not just vicious in action, a sort of tit-for-tat killing for ‘their’ viciousness, it was a time when the sadists of our nation were given free reign to enjoy themselves before killing countless innocents. ‘Innocents’?, one may ask. Many people still consider all the dead of that time as hard core revolutionaries who were on a killing spree, but having been a witness at a dinner, to the response of a ‘brave’ leader of the time defended the criticism of ‘excessive force, with the answer “You fellows just don’t understand, if ten percent of the people taken out are hard core JVP, we will have broken the back of this revolution and you will be saved”. It was chilling, especially as I had listened the day before, to Mr. Edirimanne a manager of a warehouse, who had to spend nights separated by a wall from a police station by the river. He was shaking’ “ I know I have to stay here to do my job, but it is very difficult. Every night people are brought to a room on the other side of the wall from me. It begins with shouts and the sounds of people being hit, the screaming and begging begins, but the hitting goes on until the screams die down to a whimper that accompanies the dull thuds, when the whimpering stops something is dragged and the next thing I hear is the splash of something being thrown in the river “. Was this someone from the 10% or from the 90% who could never realize why they deserved such a fate?

Living in Mirahawatte the spectre of decapitated heads mounted on stakes, lining the Welimada road and the regular burning bodies by the Malpotha Bridge made for surreal commutes. Broken, burning bodies along roadsides were commonplace at that time. As I lived in the village, I knew well, terrified rural parents, having their children spend the nights hiding in the fields to try to save them from the killers. I wonder if anyone living in Matale (or any other town for that matter) ever remember anything similar? Have we all lost our memories?

To consider the mass graves at Matale with surprise, must mean that we have forgotten the reality that many of us experienced. It will be a tragic forensic inquiry that will tell how these people died. Were they all young?

When the killing was in full swing, one had to be deaf and blind not to see the horror. Railing over the injustice of what was being done, at whatever fora I could find, earned me, shadowy jeeps parked outside my home late at night. Then came the stories, whispered in fear, of people being doused with petrol and being handed a match to strike a light, of barbed wire and polythene tubes, of sadists taking a delight in visiting torture camps to see the ‘sport’ for themselves.

Much later, during Chandrika’s bid for presidency the posters with photographs depicting these horrors appeared throughout the nation. But true to form, the crooked politicians only used them in a cynical manner, this evidence served only their political ends to gain power, the deeds and the photos were forgotten soon after.

At that time some politicians shed tears for the violence and oppression, but looking at the delight that they display today in the oppression of all people, it is clear that these were very much tears of the Crocodile variety. Once in power they were as bad as the ones they pointed accusing fingers at.

To a nation that values giving merit to the departed, no action to remember or give merit to the dead has been encouraged, in fact such activities are violently discouraged. We have become the ghouls that we accuse everyone else of being. All of the killers, torturers and those who reveled in that horror past, still stalk the corridors of power. No amount of propaganda can ever wash this blood from our hands. Only an honest and truthful reconciliation process with full accountability can!

We are constantly in a state of denial. ‘How can we a Buddhist nation ever stoop to such inhumanity ?’ ,‘ We can never do those terrible deeds !” But now, like an accusing finger from the past, the bones of the tortured emerge at Matale. Confirming the fact that we can and that we did these terrible deeds, even at this late stage can be become honest with ourselves ? or will it take others to ignominiously drag the truth from these and other future graves, place a mirror before us and force us to face our demons?

  • Jayalath

    Throughout history at the out set new and correct things often failed to win the recognition from the majority of people and had to develop by twists and turns through struggle. Often ,correct and good things were first regarded not as a fragment flowers but as poisonous weeds.
    Copernicus ‘s theory of the solar system and Darwin’s theory of evolution were once dismissed as erroneous and had to win over bitter opposition.

    What is correct inevitably develops in the course of struggle with what is wrong . The true, the good and the beautiful always exist by contrast with the false, the evil and the ugly, and grow in struggle with them . As soon as some thing erroneous is rejected and a particular truth accepted by man kind , new truths begin to struggle with new errors.such a struggles will never end. This is the law of development of truth and naturally social .

    What should our policy be toward non rational,will it do to ban such ideas…. Certainly should not, it will not futile but very harmful to use crude methods in dealing with question about man’ s mental work. You may ban the expression of wrong ideas, but the ideas will be there.. Therefore, it is only be employing the method of discussion, critism and reasoning that we can really settle issues , mistakes must be criticised and poisious weeds fought when ever they crop up. However, such a critic ism should not be dogmatic, we must carefully distinguish between what is really a poisonous weed and what is really a fragrant flower.

    • Rodger Williams

      From the early 1972, our country has not witnessed such indiscriminate violence and brutality. Yes, indeed a Buddhist country at that!!. But here is a simple overview as it unfolded.
      The Sri Lankan armed forces were a ragtag units especially the Army and the Police. I was about 22years old and was an eyewitness to the well organized JVP and both Army, Police and even the Navy were no match for them as the forces were completely caught of guard.
      Travelling up the Colombo/Kandy road with a dear friend we witnessed the fresh, smouldering remains of about 10 police stations along the way and there was the odour of still burning flesh. Many of the policemen had been killed and others had escaped from the carnage.
      Working in Trinco for sometime, I was to witness many evenings the burning of bodies by the Army, on tyres with kerosene oil doused on them. There were children, old and young women who obviously had been raped and young men who had been tortured. The Army had no intelligence and were indiscriminately arrest folks on mere “here say”. There were instances along the Galle road, where dead bodies were strung up on lamposts.
      Many od the young people, young men and girls were arrested without a valid cause, as I stated early due to revenge and gossip and mere “heresay”. The girls were raped repeatedly and battons were forced into their vaginas, the young men were also tortured, raped and barbed wire was pushed up their anus and pulled out, leaving many to bleed to death, attempting to obtain information. This included many young Buddhist priests too.
      As a Pastor, many years ago, I was speaking in a small village Church up in the hill country and many of the dear older women shared with me how some of their sons and daughters went missing and the conservative estimate by many was 25,000. It may be more. These are all our very own Sinhala country men and women and these acts of violence, death and destruction cannot be covered up if our land is hoping to progress. Many personal involved insuch crimes have been promoted from the time of Mrs. Bandaranayeka and her daughter who followed in political power with the leadership of the UNP guily too.
      For real justice to take place,specially trained “Cadaver Dogs” need to be imported and in these hills many more skeletal remains will be unearthed. The land and people will face the wrath of Divine Judgment and will be devastating.