Commemorating the past is great if it brings sweet memories, but not if it brings dark moments like the Rathupaswala incident. The shooting at innocent civilians in Rathupaswala took place on August 01, 2013. People have spent a four-year wait awaiting justice.
The incident put a black mark on Sri Lanka’s history because it defamed the much adored Sri Lankan Army. The protesting public was shot at and were injured. Loved ones were lost, but a battle was won. When people in power do nothing to solve the severe problems faced by the public, they themselves stand up against the violation of their basic human rights. The legal proceedings regarding the incident began in court after many years. Court proceedings have been slow.
- The CID noticed the courts on August 9 that some evidence related to the shooting scene had been destroyed
- As many as 30 were injured. Some were disabled as a result of the shooting
- The Police, Divisional Secretariesand local politicians weren’t involved insolving the issue
Army officers involved in the Rathupaswala incident in 2013 were arrested by the CID and produced in Gampaha Magistrate Court on March 24, 2017. The hearing continued till April 07 and the accused were remanded till the next hearing, which took place on April 26. The case was taken up again on May 03 and May 17 and the CID informed the courts to obtain the testimonies of the Judicial Medical Officers (JMO) who conducted the postmortem of the deceased. On May 17 the hearing was postponed to May 31. Meanwhile, the CID questioned the victims- who were attacked- again and searched for remaining bullets from the scene of shooting.
When people in power do nothing to solve the severe problems faced by the public, they themselves stand up against the violation of their basic human rights
The period of remand for Brigadier Anura Deshapriya Gunawardena and the three others arrested were extended from June 14 to June 28 and then again to July 12 by the Chief Magistrate D.A Ruwan Pathirana at Gampaha Magistrate Court. Brigadier Deshapriya was arrested on May 25 by the CID for ordering the shooting of unarmed civilians who protested at Rathupaswala.
The CID noticed the courts on August 9 that some evidence related to the shooting scene had been destroyed due to the neglect of then Gampaha Police Commissioner Ranjith Masinghe. The next hearing is scheduled for August 23.
As those responsible didn’t care to solve the water crisis, they (Villagers) themselves took the initiative to obtain a solution
The weapons possessed by the three suspects have matched the description of the bullets found at the scene of the crime. It’s questionable how only three soldiers were arrested when there were more than 200 armed security personnel engaged in the shooting. The two people shot dead were students and they were identified as K.A.D. Akila Dinesh (17) and H.S. Ravishan Perera (18). The other victim, 29-year-old Nilantha Pushpakumara, died due to a blow on the head where his assailants had used a blunt weapon. As many as 30 were injured. Some were disabled as a result of the shooting while private and public property was also damaged.
The protest was held with the hope of obtaining a solution to the issue regarding drinking water in the area. The villagers were protesting because a factory in the area was releasing harmful chemical filled waste-water into paddy fields. The fields- situated in the proximity of the factory premises- became unsafe for agriculture. The villagers experienced severe problems regarding drinking water. This happened because the PH levels in the water exceeded the specified healthy limit. The Police, Divisional Secretaries and local politicians weren’t involved in solving the issue.
As those responsible didn’t care to solve the water crisis, they (Villagers) themselves took the initiative to obtain a solution. Residents of Rathupaswala, Weliweriya, Nedungamuwa and those living in adjoining villagers held peaceful protests where over 5000 protesters participated. The protests continued until they were attacked by the army troops-commanded by Brigadier Deshapriya Gunawardena-on August 01. The villagers, who ran for their lives, were chased, attacked and fired at. Many were injured. The remanded security personnel were accused of murder, attempting murder and severely injuring people according to sentences 300 and 296 of the Sri Lankan Penal Code.
“I tried to stop the shooting” -
Melan Perera Retired Army sergeant in Weliweriya
“I was given seven hundred and fifty thousand rupees on April 08, 2016 as compensation. But nobody can undo the things that happened to me and others. I can’t accuse the army or the police even though it’s true that I acted on behalf of the villagers in their struggle during the incident. They gave me what they promised. The former Government gave one million rupees for every dead person and balanced it somehow,” he said.
Many people are afraid to speak out. I am a former Army Sergeant and I tried to stop the shooting during the incident. I turned away some soldiers advising them not to shoot
“Many people are afraid to speak out. I am a former Army Sergeant and I tried to stop the shooting during the incident. I turned away some soldiers advising them not to shoot. Some of them shot me too. Unfortunately, the bullet meant to hit my knee struck my right hip bone because I bent down to protect myself. While I was in hospital for four months my three wheeler was seized by the leasing company. Anyway, I had to mortgage my wife’s jewellery to save it. And after that the monies I received as compensation were used to bail out the my guarantors who were jailed.
“I am now 48 years old and they have recommended a hip plate that can be used for a period of 15 years. But I am unable to replace it in the future due to the financial state I am in,”he said.
“An attacked family tells their tale”
Preethika Nilanthi, Rohan Patrick and their three sons who were in the thick of things at Weliweriya
“We were told to request for compensation, but we were unable to do so because we didn’t have medical reports to prove the damages to us during the attack carried out by the army inside the church. My husband had a severe headache for around three months due to blows to his head with a baton. He couldn’t work for some time. Meanwhile, we survived with our sister’s help. My son’s right arm was cracked in three places because he tried to save his younger brother, aged 9. Our three sons and two sisters were also there and all of us were attacked.
“There were over 70 armed men engaged in the shooting at the church. But why are they punishing only four of them? We request justice from the responsible people to punish the guilty,” Prithika and her husband opined.
There were over 70 armed men engaged in the shooting at the church. But why are they punishing only four of them? We request justice from the responsible people to punish the guilty,” Prithika and her husband opined
When the Daily Mirror checked the houses of the two students who died in the attack, it seemed that many people were attacked had left the area.
Rathupaswala villagers were first fighting for their right to have clean water and now they are waiting for justice. It seems they will have to wait a lifetime.
CID Special Branch OIC Chief Inspector Ranjith Munasinghe and Sub Inspector Upali Bandara are carrying out investigations following instructions of ASP B.S. Thissera, Deputy Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, under the guidance of CID Director Sudath Nagahamulla and the DIG Ravi Senevirathna.
“Punish all who participated in the shooting and those who ordered the shooting”
- Suresh Perera Chief organizer of Siyane Environment Conservation Association
A prominent individual among the protests who initiated the protests from the beginning, Suresh Perera, emphasized on the present situation regarding the supply of water to the villagers. “The Water Board doesn’t provide enough water for everybody to fulfil their needs. Even the Water Board itself has admitted that 28 areas coming under the purview of the Grama Niladhari Administration have been destroyed due to the water being polluted.
“Colonel Solangarachchi first began attacking with a baton and soon the shooting followed. It wasn’t just one shot, complete magazines were used to shoot at poor civilians who were requesting for pure water. Three people died and a lot more were injured. The shooting continued till midnight. The helpless people, who ran for mercy to the church, were also attacked,” he said.
The Water Board doesn’t provide enough water for everybody to fulfill their needs. Even the Water Board itself has admitted that 28 areas coming under the purview of the Grama Niladhari Administration have been destroyed due to the water being polluted.
It’s said that the villagers had several dialogues with Gotabaya Rajapaksa to solve the problem. However a political bigwig didn’t want Rajapaksa to solve the issue fearing he will gain political mileage. “Brigadier Deshapriya Gunawardena came here without a request from anybody and his sole purpose was to attack people. He was there from the beginning. The Geneva reports have given directions to punish those guilty. But the government hasn’t punished them yet.
“Even the Central Environment Authority doesn’t admit that the pollution of water was caused by this. They are bound to find out what happened here and provide solutions. Individuals holding high positions in government institutions are responsible for the destruction that takes place in the country. The nitrate level recorded in the water is more than 197%, when the permitted amount is 10%. The CEA should find out how this happened.
“The factory was completely shifted by February 2014. We were offered compensation on April 08, 2016. We think we were compensated fairly,” Suresh noted.
“We request the authorities to punish the persons who ordered the shooting to the ones involved in the shooting to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. It’s now more than three years. It’s only now that they have remanded the shooters,” he said.