Groundviews

Mohammed Irshad’s story and the banality of violence in the Rajapaksa regime

[Editors note: Also read I’m not mad to tie myself to a tree by the author, which appeared in the Ceylon Today newspaper.]

Giving up a pensionable government job as a Samurdhi animator, Mohammed Irshad fled Sri Lanka began work as a bakery employee in Saudi Arabia.

This is his story.

Mohammed Irshad’s name may be unfamiliar, but many know the incident he was involved with and is a victim of. He was the public employee who was tied to a tree by the then Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva on August 3rd, 2010 at the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha premises.

He was silent when the Minister tied him to a tree, accusing him of non-participation in a dengue prevention programme held on August 1st, a Sunday. For the next couple of days the image of him tied to a tree was seen with Islandwide to protests of the Samurdhi officers. What happened afterwards, however, was not as well reported. A letter came out in his own handwriting stating that he tied himself to the tree on his own accord. He appeared in a television channel and said that he did this to be an example for other public employees.

He was silent as the people laughed at him. As he himself gave up his rights and pride as a citizen and a public employee, the trade unions also had no option but to go silent and give up their protests.

Many were compelled to believe that the melodrama was joint production of this Samurdhi officer and Deputy Minister Mervin Silva. Mohammed Irshad was subjected to insults and was despised everywhere he went. He bore all this for 3 years. What was the power that guaranteed his silence and indignity?

This is Mohammed Irshad’s true story.

“It was not a melodrama. I am not a lunatic to be tied to a tree. I was patient for three years. But I can’t bear this any more. I want to tell this to the country. Otherwise, I will be really insane” he said with tearful eyes.

“August 3rd, 2010 was a Tuesday. When I went to the office, the Manager told me that the Deputy Minister had summoned me to the Divisional Secretariat. There, the other Samurdhi development officers told me that I would be tied to a tree since I was absent at the dengue prevention programme. I thought it was a joke.”

The joke, however, came true. The life of Irshad, a father of two, former student of Zahira College, Maradana and who had worked for 14 years as a Samurdhi officer turned upside-down.

“I told to the Minister that I was unable to attend the programme since both of my kids were ill. But he did not care me and tied me to a tree. I was helpless. All kept mum due to the Minister’s powers. Only one woman spoke against this injustice. She was also scolded. I soon forgot what was happening amidst extreme humiliation taking place before media and crowd.”

He just loitered around office the rest of the day and eventually came home after the dusk. By then, all in his family including the three and six years old kids had seen the incident in television.

Fathima Shirin Begam, Irshad’s wife, is an educated woman and tried to solace her husband and the kids. “I had no answer when the kids asked why Dad was treated like that”. She continued in trembling voice, “We were so far afraid to tell the truth to media. The cohorts of Minister Mervin Silva were after us. People in the neighborhood told us that white vans were visiting regularly and enquiring after us”.

“Still we are terrified,” she said sighing. “We can’t bear this. Even before my husband came home, an officer from his office called to home and asked him to come to the Divisional Secretariat.”

Irshad described what happened after he visited the Divisional Secretariat. “When I went there, a large number of cohorts of the Minister were present there. The Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabha Prasanna Ranaweera said to one officer called Jayatilake to take me to the Minister’s house in Park Road. It was late in the evening. The Minister summoned me to the upstairs. He asked me to forget this and promised to offer money. He asked me to sign a letter. I didn’t agree. I wanted to leave the place. Later Jayatilake told me that I would face trouble if I refused to sign. I thought of my kids and signed the letter. But I didn’t take any money”, Irshad notes in the video, breaking-down.

“But when I went to the higher officer’s seeking redress, all said that this was all an act for money. I can swear before God that I did this due to fear. Everybody knows who Mervyn Silva is and I had no courage to stand against him”. Irshad supported his family amidst utmost difficulties. He drove his three-wheeler for hires after office hours to help his family. Even his friends joked at him saying Minister Mervyn Silva had given him Rs. 500,000 and a house to silence him.

Later he met the Director General of Samurdhi Development Authority R.P. Bandula Thilakasiri and told that he was forced to sign the letter. The senior officer asked him to complain to the Police. But Irshad’s family didn’t like it, for fear of Mervin Silva’s powers. Fathima said, “My uncle is a lawyer. He also said that Mervyn Silva would trouble us if we lodged a complaint in police. We were hiding then.”

On August 4th, another group of Mervin Silva’s cohorts rushed into Irshad’s house and urged him to meet the Deputy Minister the same night. As the family members prevented him, he was asked to come early in the morning the next day. The next day, Irshad visited the Minister’s house with his wife, her elder sister and the brother-in-law in his own three-wheeler.

After a long pause, he described what happened there. “There was a crowd as on the previous day. Only I was taken upstairs. I was forced to say that I had tied myself on my own. I was afraid and had no choice than doing what was asked. That was the way everything happened. I didn’t attend duty for two months. Later I was given a transfer to Colombo on my request. Then I was transferred to Rajagiriya. I was unhappy since I was laughed at and insulted. They told me that I created a scene joining hands with the Minister”. Some publicly asked him to quit the job since the Minister had offered him a large sum of money. He craved to tell the truth but kept mum, thinking of the welfare of his family. However, he was under severe mental depression.

Irshad finally decided to leave for Saudi Arabia in November 2012.

“Minister Mervin Silva destroyed our entire family. I had no intention to leave this country. But, I would never return to this country. This is the world’s worst country in regard of the political culture. I never expect justice from this country” he says sentimentally.

“I reveal this after three years since I want none will face a similar fate in future. If I did this earlier, the Army officer who was beaten by Minister’s son Malaka Silva may not have said what he said.”

How many other Irshad’s must be there in our country?