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?