By Lakna Paranamanna in Kebithigollewa
The picture of a lamenting father holding the bloodied, lifeless body of his young son was circulated worldwide by the Sri Lankan government during the conflict period, to depict the atrocities of the LTTE against the masses of Sri Lanka. The image was one among many, following the Kebithigollewa explosion in 2006. The grief-stricken father, D. K. Dasanayake had held up the inert body of his young son and said, "Mekada Mahinda Chinthanaya kiyanney? (Is this the Mahinda Chinthana?), to the President who visited the area that day to console the victimised families.
Six years later, Dasanayake is still haunted by the final minutes of his wife and son who lost their lives in the explosion and upon visiting the hamlets of Halmillewa, Yakawewa and Kohongallawa villages which were most affected by the blast, it seems as though its residents are still trapped in those fearful memories, poverty and hardships even three years after the end of the conflict.
" Six years later, Dasanayake is still haunted by the final minutes of his wife and son who lost their lives in the explosion and upon visiting the hamlets of Halmillewa, Yakawewa and Kohongallawa villages which were most affected by the blast, it seems as though its residents are still trapped in those fearful memories, poverty and hardships even three years after the end of the conflict "
However, despite their bitter memories, the villages seem to have recovered from the tragedy that bloodied their soils six years ago. The sides of the bumpy, poorly kept paths leading to the villages were full of greenery with little yellow butterflies flitting around. The stark pain that had gripped the villagers was evident only upon entering the hamlets; upon passing one house after another - abandoned and dominated by the wilderness.
A father, still lamenting. . .
"E Kaalakanni dawasey indala gama paaluwata giya miss (The village became desolate since that ominous day) . . .," Dasanayake, whose pain moved the minds of millions who empathised with the causes of the LTTE, says. "This village was full of life and joy despite our fears of living midst a raging battlefield between the military and the LTTE. Apart from my immediate family, I lost 28 other relatives that day. The screams and wails that reverberated throughout this village still echo and life has never been the same," he says staring into the distance with tear-filled eyes. Today, only 90 of the original families who resided in Yakawewa have returned.
A home guard, he says the entire village was rapt with fear and a feeling that some misfortune was to befall them, days before the blast. "The night before the blast, I had a terrible dream around 4 am - a group of LTTE cadres was shooting the post I was stationed. When I attempted to retaliate, my gun melted in my hands . . . that feeling of defenselessness was more traumatising than death . . ."
A few hours later, Dasanayake's wife, son and parents embarked the bus 63-2548, to reach Kebithigollewa to attend a funeral in Vavuniya. "They had boarded the bus around 7. 10 am. and about 7.20 am we heard a loud blast and I knew the bus had met with some danger." Grabbing his gun, Dasanayake had rushed along the bus route, to find the bus titled to a side and the wounded passengers jumping out of the back window of the bus. He does not wish to recall the events that followed because of the painful memories of the bloodied body of his young son and wife.
Her family wiped out
He beckons his neighbour, D. B. Padmawathie to speak of her despair. For the past six years she has been burdened with a guilt she could never be rid of and one which she would carry to her grave. "Mey minissu maruney magey dukata pihitawenna gihilla (These people died in their attempt to share my woes)," she says, wiping the tears off her wearied face, with her waned cloth.
The ill-fated bus was a 48 seater, but had been carrying close to 190 passengers that day. Most of the villagers had been on their way to the Kebithigollewa town to attend the funeral of Padmawathie's second son, a homeguard in Vavuniya, shot by LTTE cadres while he was on duty. This mother has been burdened with the feeling of responsibility for the loss of the lives of those who had boarded the bus on that day, to share her grief.
"All I can recall is a loud blast and the sight of my mother lying next to me in a pool of blood. I remember that feeling of wanting to scream for help but all I could muster up was 'Aiyo' and hours later, I found myself on a hospital bed at the Anuradhapura hospital," Padmawathie relates, recalling memories of that doomed day. Not only did Padmawathie lose her second son, but her two younger children and her parents who were accompanying her to the funeral. She never saw the bodies of any of her three children.
"The afflictions of residents in border villages were endless, 'miss,' and they still continue . . . We sacrificed our children to defend this country and in the process, our families turned victims. Three years after the end of the war, we remain ignored by the rulers - from those who should ensure our welfare . . . We lived in fear and darkness for the past three decades and have not yet seen the light at the end of the tunnel," she says with grief - wiping the tears off.
The suffering continues
Dasanayake joins the conversation once more, his voice more stern and his face clouding with anger. "The people in these villages suffered for decades, living amidst the depths of poverty and the fatal effects of the conflict. Parents lost their sons, wives were widowed and children were orphaned, but the magnitude of pain we experienced during the bus bomb was far worse. Our suffering did not stop there and the next round of hardships crippled us when we were moved to the displaced camp established a few miles away in Boralukanda."
"We were dragged literally into a wasteland. The soil was dry and rock-strewn and there was hardly any shade in sight. Each family was provided with a small shelter, made of roofing sheets. There was not even a proper water supply and we would go on for days without a shower at times, to save water to drink," this grief-stricken father said, sharing the villagers' woes. Some of the villagers had returned to their homes amidst the continuation of the battle. Once the conflict ended, the families had been instructed to leave. "But most families did not want to leave because they did not wish to be reminded of their lost kith and kin.
The water supply was disconnected so that we would be forced to leave," Dasanayake says adding they were not provided any assistance from the government or the local governing bodies during their return home. "We were not even provided with any assistance to transport our belongings back home."
The forgotten dead
The mass grave where the bus bomb victims were buried is part of the wilderness, with neither a trace of the graves nor the lives that lie beneath. The villagers, unable to raise funds to set up a monument in remembrance of the victims, have set up a half built bus stop opposite the site of the explosion.
Dasanayake says the villagers feel isolated and ignored by the government, and their hardships prevail - amplified than ever before. "Since our return, we have not received a cent to rebuild our livelihoods or our destroyed homes. Whatever has been restored so far, has been through our effort. The majority of the villagers live off agriculture and have been unable to claim ownership to their lands, due to the absence of a deed. The authorities reject our requests and have not provided alternative methods for us to obtain our deeds yet," he adds.
Sunil, a surviving victim of the Kebithigollewa explosion and resident of Yakawewa points out, the hardship toughest to mount is the lack of adequate infrastructure. "There is about 15 kms to the Kebithigollewa town from our village and only one bus runs through to the Kebithigollewa town. Due to the bad roads, the bus does not travel through the entire village now and on certain days it does not operate; the villagers have no method of transportation. If someone falls ill, it costs Rs. 600/700 to travel to the Kebithigollewa town in a trishaw. We are still in the process of building our lives and it is difficult to spend such exorbitant amounts for transport," he points out.
He folds up his left trouser leg and points at the scars. "My leg was broken in three places during that bus bomb and these are the scars left by the shrapnel. I am unable to engage in any hard work now and it is impossible for me to walk several miles to the town . . . The area politicians have not done any service to us. Except during election times, I don't think they are aware of these hamlets that exist in the backwoods of Kebithigollewa," he says, with frustration.
" We were dragged literally into a wasteland. The soil was dry and rock-strewn and there was hardly any shade in sight. Each family was provided with a small shelter, made of roofing sheets. There was not even a proper water supply and we would go on for days without a shower at times, to save water to drink "
A plea from a forgotten hamlet
These villagers had lived amidst such fear during the conflict; they say not a single meal could be taken in peace. "I would hand the gun to my mother when I sat down to have my meals at home. When we leave for duty we felt it was the final time we would be leaving our homes. . . This tragedy that befell Kebithigollewa could have been avoided if the authorities had listened to our pleas - the military camp that was in this area during the 1990s, was removed following the ceasefire. Despite our repeated requests for security, a greater number of homeguards were stationed at the Kebithigollewa police. The authorities ignored us then - they keep it up even now," Dasanayake says with disappointment, adding, "The Tamil people think we reap all the benefits and we think they reap all the benefits. But eventually, none of us have benefited except the politicians that come to power. . ."
Many believe the Tamil community to be the most downtrodden during and after the conflict; that the woes of the Sinhalese ended the day LTTE leader Prabhakaran was killed. The hamlets of Kebithigollewa are sufficient proof that the situation is not so. Upon speaking to the IDPs in the North, where the majority are Tamils and the residents of the border villages where the majority are Sinhalese Buddhists, it was evident that irrelevant of their ethnicities, the hearts of these people were not yearning for complex political rights or separate territories. Their simple wish was to live a contented life, no longer gripped by the adversities of poverty and to have a shelter which they could call their own.
The grief and torment of these villagers was exploited by politicians to pump up their political campaigns and to create an attitude shift in the world, concerning the ground situation in Sri Lanka during the war. However, when it came to providing a solace to their grievances, it seems none of the exploiters can even recall the existence of these people,
"We are not asking the government for much - just for them to fulfill their duties towards us, as citizens of this country," Dasanayake said, as he wiped the tears that rolled down his cheeks, tears that spoke of the unspeakable woes borne by these villagers - all these years. Pix by Pradeep Pathirana
Comments - 4
sach Thursday, 29 November 2012 05:30 AM
how can we help them?
mohamed asfar Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:15 AM
LTTE arrogance never had a limit. they paid the ultimate price for that. god bless all who departed. god bless the surviving relatives who can feel peace in their hearts.
sarath Saturday, 17 November 2012 07:21 AM
Thank you for bringing up the story. The victims were so innocent and helpless that their voices didn't have the deserved place in the media. May peace prevail in the hearts of their loved ones. God bless people of Sri Lanka and it's brave leaders and security forces who stood up to the imperialist dictat and stopped the terror from it's soil.
SL Wednesday, 14 November 2012 03:32 PM
God bless the Security Forces and the leaders who finished the LTTE menace!
Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.