Katuwapitiya 7 months since Easter attacks

21 November 2019 02:08 am - 3     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sri Lanka entered the 21st century amid a devastating civil war which took thirty years to end. But just a decade later, Sri Lankans were exposed to another terror attack on April  21 which shattered the country’s emerging peace. Post-war, Sri Lanka showed resilience and harmony. But how would Sri Lanka cope after the Easter attacks? 
To find out, Dailymirror visited Katuwapitiya. This was one of the worst-hit places where a suicide bomb at the St. Sebastian’s Church claimed the lives of 114 innocent people and injured scores more.  

 

There were outside mobs attacking the communities and threatening to destroy local Muslim and Christian unity. So we formed this interfaith peace group for people and clergy of all religions to integrate with one another and understand each other better

 

Aruna Shantha Nonis and  Mr Hadley
Pix by Kushan Pathiraja 


 

My role has now changed to becoming the primary caretaker of my two grandchildren aged ten and five

 

Traumatised but united

Recalling the gruesome events, 62-year-old Sylvia Fernando said: “My daughter, her three children and I went to mass that fateful morning. Suddenly there was a huge sound and we fell down. I looked up and saw my daughter, Thilini Harshani, lying unconscious and her second child with a huge cut on his face. My other two grandchildren were fine. The electricity was out and the place was dark. I called for help but no one heard me. Then a few neighbours saw me and came to my aid. My husband had come to the church to pick us up and I handed over the two grandchildren who were fine. I then rushed my daughter to hospital. I was injured too, but at that moment my focus was only on my daughter and grandchildren.” Ms Fernando said she knew her second grandchild, aged seven, had passed away from seeing how he was sprawled on the floor. The few months following the attack would see 35-year-old Thilini being transferred from various hospitals and many surgeries being performed on her. She is receiving post-operative care in Negombo after undergoing surgery in Colombo.  


Since the attack made her daughter a quadriplegic, Mrs Fernando now looks after the children. “My role has now changed to becoming the primary caretaker of my two grandchildren aged ten and five,” she said. She added that she and her husband use their pensions to look after their daughter and grandchildren. She was grateful to ‘Seth Sarana’, CARITAS and well-wishers for providing financial and medical support. 

 Sylvia Fernando and her grandson    

 

The few months following the attack would see 35-year-old Thilini being transferred from various hospitals and many surgeries being performed on her

 

She said the attack had made people in the area more united. “Katuwapitiya was a very united community, and this attack strengthened that unity,” she said. “The days soon after the attack, we couldn’t go out and we didn’t know that many people known to us had passed away. But now life is slowly going back to how it was, though it’ll never be the same again,” she added. Fear and insecurity is still present in people’s hearts. “I still feel scared to go to church, but I do so because I believe in God and my faith. My five-year-old grandson refused to go to church for a while because of the trauma. My 10-year-old granddaughter has nightmares. We are all traumatised, we are scared. But we are united,” she said, adding the attack was preventable and the government had taken the warnings lightly.   


Sheikh Abdul Rahman and Ms Shareefa Abdul Rahman

 

The Muslims and Christians here have been peacefully co-existing. This attack was unfortunate but I am grateful that the Christians here did not rise against the Muslims

 

Humanity first, religion second

Sheikh Abdul Rahman lives in Periyamulla, 2.5 km away from St. Sebastian’s Church. He echoed Ms Fernando’s views that the community was united. “The Muslims and Christians here have been peacefully co-existing. This attack was unfortunate, but I am grateful that the Christians here did not rise against the Muslims. There were a few cases where outsiders came and created issues,” he said.  


His wife, Ms Shareefa Abdul Rahman said immediately after the attack, no one could step out of their homes. “We could not attend many funerals of close friends because we were afraid,” she said. But they visited these families later. During these visits, she realised the children were traumatized by the attacks. Ms Abdul Rahman recalled a child who saw her approaching in her scarf had exclaimed that she had a bomb. “At first I was shocked. But I realized the child was so traumatized that for him the scarf and Muslims were symbols of terror,” she said. She said children needed programmes to help them deal with the trauma. “Kids absorb stuff like a sponge and trauma is detrimental to them. Their confusion should be cleared,” she added.  

 

He noted society was less united as people had differentiated themselves on race and religion. “The Muslims are differentiated by language


Believing that art can heal and unite, Mr Abdul Rahman conducts street dramas on themes of peace and harmony. He said local civil organisations should promote peace and harmony. He noted society was less united as people had differentiated themselves on race and religion. “The Muslims are differentiated by language. When living in a Sinhala majority area, they should speak Sinhala, and when in a Tamil majority area, they should speak Tamil,” he remarked. He suggested that mosques be open to everyone so people could familiarize themselves with Islamic teachings and faith. “There is still fear. But we should be optimistic and united, despite our religious and racial differences. Humanity first, religion second,” 
he stressed.  


 

The Sinhalese bodies would be given out first, and when Muslims came, they were hesitant. So I had to intervene and make sure everyone got equal and fair treatment

 

Interfaith peace group 

Sister Noel Christine was travelling when she got the news of the Easter Sunday attacks. She first rushed to the hospital to donate blood, then to the St. Sebastian’s Church and back to the hospital to help people. The hospital was tense in the hours and days soon after the attack. “The Sinhalese bodies would be given out first, and when Muslims came, they were hesitant. So I had to intervene and make sure everyone got equal and fair treatment,” she said.   


She recalled an incident she had to defuse and bring under control. “Some Muslim ladies walked into the hospital in their abayas. Some Christian youth started harassing them asking them to remove the abaya. I had to step in and mediate, not as a nun but as a Sri Lankan,” she said, adding it was imperative to remind people they were Sri Lankans first before belonging to any race or religion.   

Rev. Sr. Noel Christine


A few days after the attacks, refugees in Negombo were driven out of their homes. These were mostly Christians and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan. They were forced to seek shelter at police stations and at the Ahmadi Mosque in Periyamulla. Some were sent to Pasyala. Sister Christine had gone to the Ahmadi Mosque to serve the refugees. “Some 300 people were in the mosque for three months. They were not sent out except for extremely important reasons as it is risky for them to travel as they could have been attacked” she revealed. She said most had returned to their former places of residence, while others had rented out new places.   


“The refugees will be in Sri Lanka for just a few years until they get residency in another country. Their children do not go to government schools. The ZOA organisation was taking care of their educational needs, but now they’re funding their education and children were admitted to an international school nearby,” she said.   

 

A few days after the attacks, refugees in Negombo were driven out of their homes. These were mostly Christians and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan

 

Aruna Shantha Nonis, a freelance consultant and trainer, along with Mr Hadley and Sister Christine founded the Negombo United People’s Alliance. “There were outside mobs attacking the communities and threatening to destroy local Muslim and Christian unity. So we formed this interfaith peace group for people and clergy of all religions to integrate with one another and understand each other better,” said Mr Nonis.  


The group has monthly workshops and bi-monthly steering committee meetings. Sister Christine said it was a platform for people to understand and respect religious and cultural diversity. “As a member of the religious body and due to my work in Negombo for the past 40 years, I have the best interests of Negombo in my heart. We formed it so peace will once again prevail in this city,” Sister Christine concluded.  


 

Rev. Fr. Manjula Niroshan Fernando

 

Time will show different means to get attached to other communities. Most have forgiven the other community

 

Moving forward

Speaking to Daily Mirror, St. Sebastian’s Church Parish Priest Rev. Father Manjula Niroshan Fernando said the church had commenced programmes to ease people’s trauma. Some programmes are funded by the government, and some by well wishers. They are the Scholarship Programme, Housing Programme, Medical Support Programme and Family Support Programme. “The scholarship programme is for school-going children, toddlers who were directly affected by the attacks, or whose families were affected. It funds their school career. We have already bought some land for the housing programme. We will be building 24 houses in that land. The houses will go to families who were affected by the attacks and are in dire need of houses. The project will also support those who have got lands and want to build a house. Under the medical support programme, the church will fund victims’ medical bills and care for those who lack family support,” he explained.  


He added counsellors, priests and nuns were providing psychosocial support to victims and their families. Fr. Fernando said some were coping with their grief through faith while others were not.   

 

We will be building 24 houses in that land. The houses will go to families who were affected by the attacks and are in dire need of houses

 

On how people could move forward after the attack, Fr. Fernando said prayer services were being conducted on forgiveness. “Time will show different means to get attached to other communities. Most have forgiven the other community,” he said. He also cautioned people to be vigilant and alert to anything out of the ordinary. He urged the Muslim community to be more open. “Mosques should be open and accessible to everyone and Muslims should mix with the rest of society. We spoke to Muslim religious leaders. They are ready but fundamentalists are not complying, so Muslim religious leaders will be conducting programmes for that, and we have pledged our support too,” he said.  


 

Some 300 people were in the mosque for three months. They were not sent out except for extremely important reasons as it is risky for them to travel as they could have been attacked


As a member of the religious body and due to my work in Negombo for the past 40 years I have the best interests of Negombo in my heart

  Comments - 3

  • malini Thursday, 21 November 2019 02:32 PM

    wonder who really was the master mind!!

    The Truth is Bitter Thursday, 21 November 2019 06:14 PM

    The mastermind is Satan and his false prophet! Suicide bombers : We were told that you are Allah. Satan : You just got deceived. Welcome to Hell and now you'll are mine forever! Not joking, this is a serious concern. Anyone who picks up a Quran is equivalent to picking up a firearm! Read and understand for yourselves. This is the bitter truth. Be wise and be aware of the bigger threat at hand!

    Lankaputha Sunday, 24 November 2019 11:24 AM

    Entire article is to sympathize what happen to Allah the billah followers.


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