Dialogue workshop at the Matara Town (26-08-2017)

This group from Wewahamanduwa consisted of all males. They provided a detailed background of violence in Matara area tracing back to the time of independence to recent times. Following statements were made by the participants during the final presentation using this illustration.
“…I’m Jayatissa Kulathunga. I assume I’m the eldest one in our audience today. I’m seventy four (74) years old now. I was born in Wawahamanduwa village and studied at Wawahamanduwa Wanigasekara School. I did my higher studies at the University of Kelaniya but I finished my degree in the Magazine Prison. That happened due to my association with the 1971 JVP insurrection and I was under arrest for four and a half years inside the prison. I completed my degree in 1972 and only was released in 1975. I got married in 1975 and worked as a teacher in several schools. Then I retired after working as the Principal of Benthara national School. So my life was filled these kinds of chapters and from the experience I had, I always dedicated myself to social services. As the Nilwala River project jump started, I have involved in the scheme to make a real change and I’m completely dedicated to its progression. Since I’m very old I can trace my memory back to the days we gained our independence. The 1947 election was the first election took place in Wawahamanduwa – Kanaththegoda area.
1: “…During 1940s the power of this whole area was under the influence of authoritarian rule of the aristocratic elites. The Matara area was mainly controlled by these feudal class elites and poor villagers had no say in the decision making even in village level. The Wawahamanduwa – Kannaththegoda area was under the control of Martin Wanigasekara family. As we have shown in this illustration all coconut, rubber and tea estates belonged to this single family and more than of half of the villagers were their peasants. Apart from the Kotikawaththa Temple, 75% of the lands belonged to the Wanigasekara family. So when I was born in 1943 I happen to have an abnormal blood clot appeared in my head. None of the villagers had any means of transportation apart from the Wanigasekara family. My parents hurried to get me in the hospital for medical assistance. My father has ran to ask for a cart from Mr. Wanigasekara for hospital ride, where he has furiously scolded saying that there are no carts arranged at the Wanigasekara mansion for low lifers. But his wife has been very kind to my father and had ordered a cart arranged for him. My father has taken me to see Doctor Wickramasinghe and get needed help for me.
2: “…During 1947 election I was just a kid. But I remember how my father worked Mr. Harry Abeygunewardene’s political campaign. My father and all his companions worked continuously to see his victory. I remember how he carried me in his shoulders and how I was holding a pineapple, hooraying for the leader, because the party symbol was also happened to be the Pineapple. My father and his bunch of friends were under the threat from the Wanigasekara family nonetheless they continued their work. The Wanigasekara School was the only polling station for the Wewahanaduwa area and only Wanigasekra and their closest allies could enter to cast their votes. The Wanigasekara’s didn’t allow others to place polling stations on their lands for the purpose of election. So my father and his friends have placed a table at this junction and had been holding the table from touching the ground for hours with a standby guy in a bicycle. They have been on the lookout for police or thugs of Wanigesekara family where a whistle from any side could dismantle the process. That’s how our fathers and fellow villagers sparked the first canon against the feudal system in this area. The real transformation took place in 1952. The transition of power from the village gentry to the hands of commoners began with our youth involvement. We managed to get hold of the power of this injustice system by arranging our very own associations, committees and raising awareness of villagers about their rights. With our efforts we succeeded in distributing the resources which were enjoyed by a handful of this village. This transition took place from 1952-1956 with the attempts made by us.
3: “… Next the floods occurring in Matara also creates sort of violence in this area. I have information about the floods occurred in Matara since 1882 but I will stick to more recent ones. The 1969, 2003, 2008 and recent 2017 floods were the main catastrophes Matara endured. The 1969 floods took a great toll in our community and this made us to organize and put forward a plan to manage this flood situation. Since 1950s, Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe was the pioneer in this plan and with his lead in 1983 the Nilwala River project was launched. This was a failure. We struggled to get a solid solution to revisit the plan but no success has been attained yet. We have plans to manage this disaster but nobody listens to us. You may have seen how numerous politicians including Minister Mangala Samaraweera promising he would do his best to stop the floods. Nobody in this world can stop floods not even gods. What we can do is manage the disaster caused by this force and get an auxiliary benefit from this. We all know the havoc caused by Howangho River in China. It’s called as the Agony of China but do we hear tragic stories related Howangho floods now? No! Because their policy makers have identified the damage and have created river ways to lower the flood in to remote dry lands in far away China to gain benefits for housing, irrigation and agriculture. So there is not a single politician in Matara who has that intelligence to limit the damage caused by floods. We have politicians who manipulate people. They even use the situations of flood to garner votes for next elections. They are in need of flood, but we are not. So we are in still struggling to get things right by pushing forward with our plans. The Galle and Matara districts become affected by floods annually and the Hambantota district becomes affected by drought. If we could send the waterways in to Hambantota, the people there could use it for their own needs. This need lies with the people. But the people are being neglected by the politicians. That’s really sad.
4: “…Next incidents are the phases of 1971 and 1989. The 1971 insurrection was launched by the offspring of the 1956 generation who were underprivileged and faced the discrimination of their rights. This was an armed struggle which was done in a wrong manner by the youth. Their grievances of not having a source of income, no occupations or way to feed their parents manifested in a struggle for power spearheaded by Wijeweera. This was a struggle done in wrong manner and I was one of the members who opposed this violence. The first discussion which discussed about the coup to topple the elected government of 1970 occurred in the Kelaniya Vidyalankara University. It was headed by the leader Rohana Wijeweera and I was sitting with him face to face during this discussion. Me and some of my friends said the armed struggle to be a vain effort and we opposed for the armed resistance. I explained how we all would perish since we had no weapons, no army or organized farmers or peasants to initiate such scheme. Wijeweera didn’t listen to us and moved ahead with this plan. He isolated us within the group. So then the JVP insurrection took place on 5th April in 1971. We left the JVP group. But we did something utterly stupid next. With the hope of creating another movement we attacked the Embassy of United States of America in Kollupitiya where one police inspector killed in the attack. Sixteen (16) people were detained along with me for this incident. This was the reason for my arrest and four and a half years of imprisonment in 1971. The trial found us innocent and we were released in 1975…”
5: “…The 1989 insurrection was completely different from 1971 unrest. What we had in 1989 was massacres done by uneducated youth who had no political knowledge unlike the 1971 rebellion which was at least spearheaded by some intellects. I also became a victim during this unrest. I was doing a survey in our area about the access to sanitation of our villagers during this time. One day when I returned from my survey back to home, I saw lot of bicycles in our yard. The lights were also switched off. As soon I entered the house a man all covered in black cloak dragged me by the hand and asked my name. Then he made me sit next to my wife and children on the floor. The man spoke and said they are from the armed unit of the JVP and have clear orders to kill me and display my corpse in the junction. This was a very sensitive and traumatic experience. I asked them what is the reason and my wife started to yell at them asking what I have done for such punishment. They told us that they have examined charges carefully and we are not in need to know them. When I insisted they said three charges against me. Writing of three letters dishonoring the party, assisting for a burial of a corpse and assisting the final service of a diseased in the village were the charges. It took all my strength to lay my reasons for innocence and I talked incessantly to save my life. Frankly even though how much I pretended to act brave, I was sweating heavily and my whole costume was already wet and I was shaking from the fear of death. Then one blew a whistle and more men appeared from inside the house. They all gathered in the yard and discussed. Then they said they found me innocent but have to paste 15 posters in village for the JVP. I said I cannot do that with the work I am involved in society. So I have so many experiences to share like this. These gangs waged this struggle for their personal gangs. We didn’t benefit in these efforts. We learnt lessons from these and used them to make welfare of this society…”
Another participant shared his stories to conclude their presentation.
“… We have laid out three main chapters in this illustration. The time from 1947-1956, 1971 unrest and insurrection of 1987-1989. And also the occasional flood situation in Matara too. The pioneer for the management of floods was initiated by Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe back in 1950s and my father also worked in these efforts with him. We learnt the history of our town, villages from our elders. So we know they have involved in a great deal to the development of this community. We became the front in the movements against the aristocratic control in our community and we continue to do so. The struggle and the persuasion to represent the rights of underprivileged was a duty in our bloodline. The terror phases of both 1971 and 1989 erupted in the time we managed to secure some status in our families in employment and it was disturbed too. In 1971 I was working in Colombo. When we were at the bus station to catch the bus to home, the army threw our bags to the ground and went through them throwing everything to the streets. Our rights were seriously violated. We had to walk home for 5-6 kms by foot. It was a cruel regime…”
“…During the time of 1989 I was working in Matara. My friend who spoke earlier failed to mention that it was us; in fact his friends were the ones who pasted 15 posters behalf of him to save his life. I will mention one incident happened to me. One day around midnight a JVP gang knocked on my door furiously. My wife didn’t let me answer it but I knew if I don’t things would get really ugly. A gang of men around 10-15 dressed in all black burst through the door and there was one guy dressed in a white cloak. His eyes were the only thing I could see. He asked me where I was at around 9 pm. I was returning from a place of my friend and on my way I got caught by a JVP gang. These lot have come here to do the inspection. I told them that I was returning from chatting with one of my friend and I didn’t do anything wrong. They told me they that JVP ordered curfew starts at 9 pm and my disobedience show signs of disloyalty to the JVP. The man in white cloak asked me when I would put an end to the politics of mine. I replied saying my politics will end the day I see my hopes are realized. I said how I have been always on the sidelines of politics and my involvement was to serve the underprivileged section of the society. Then he asked whether I have gained any personal benefits in politics. I replied how I have been faithful to myself not to seek personal advantages from politics. They left warning that they will arrive soon. After two weeks they returned. They asked me for my gun. I said I have returned it to the police. Then they seized two boxes of bullets and two empty shells. They turned my house upside down to search for guns. They seized all documents of mine which belonged to associations, committees I have membership and posts. They also seized my party membership card. By this time they found a toy gun which belonged to my four year old son and kept bugging me that it was indeed a real gun. After that they tried to get me out of the house and my whole family made a commotion dragging me and hugging me. They got out of the house and warned that they will abduct me again. After they left I got out of the house and went in to the jungle and hid myself in a large tree hole and spent the whole night there. After much discussion I stayed my nights in a place belonged to my relatives in Matara after work. There are so many experiences like this. I never backed down from involving in social services and at every step I was shaken I got back up. We formed many committees and associations in our area for the welfare of our community. In 1991 with the experience I ran for the election in Divisional level and worked as an agent for 20 years. During the last flood we launched massive aide and relief campaigns in this area where politicians failed to do such things. Some people who were not affected by the flood got aide and relief too. We went forward to bring justice that time too. So like that I have so many experiences to share too…”

This group within their group discussion and through the final presentation discussed the incidents related to the 1983 Black July, which was not discussed by any group in previous programs. During the final presentation following incidents were discussed by participants.
1: “… This was one of the violent incident happened in Walpala, Matara. There is a famous Cinema Hall in Matara town and during 1980s it was managed by a Tamil person called Mr. Somasundharam. They transferred from Jaffna and were living in Walapala. When the July riots started the Sinhala thugs attacked their house by cutting down all the coconut trees around the house. The fallen tress one after another ruined the house. The man was not at the house only his wife and his two daughters. The eldest daughter got late to run away and one of the thugs attacked her with a big rock. This happened while we were watching. She screamed and fell. Some of us tried to help her. And the thugs scolded at us saying we are unpatriotic scums. They were trying to seize her but fortunately a police jeep arrived there. I was only a kid back then and we were helpless. I remember that they moved to Jaffna and later we got the news that the girl died due to the internal damage caused in that incident. These waves of violence operated in the name of patriotism are not for the preservation of a race or religion; they all are for the personal gains. And I was working as a resettlement officer in the Southern Highway project for five years. We were resettling families in the areas of project carried out. There were Muslim families mainly occupied in fisheries in Dewata area. Our compensation was mainly offered to the wife of the family. One Muslim woman took her compensation and tried to run away with her lover, leaving her child and man. I mediated in the fight and managed to resolve it. Now they are living in peace. It brings me mixed emotions of sadness, sorrow as well as happiness when I remind it…”
2: “…This incident happened in 1989. There was a notorious chief in our town that was quite famous for his politics and connection to the gangs. He was running a shop in the Walpana junction. He was a staunch UNP party member and even a closer ally to a gangster politician in Dikwella area. In 1989 he received letters of intimidation by JVP to leave his politics. Being a thug himself he continued being in UNP and his wife was scared to death about his safety. One evening I went to town to buy something and I saw a commotion erupted in the town. The shop owner had been killed in his own shop. Due to his ties to the politics and ruffians soon the town became a ghost town. People ran and locked down their shops, houses. It was like curfew was ordered. This murder and all killings in this part of done by an army soldier working in Panagoda camp who had connection to the JVP. Nobody suspected him since he came home in weekends, did the dirty job secretly and went back to the army next day. The contracts or the coups were given by a person who were closer to the victims; that’s the saddest part. The killer has fled the scene in a vehicle and one person who assisted him, happens to take the road leading to our land and he has crossed to the other side. Next day the police arrived at my doorstep to question me. When I stepped outside my house it was surrounded by Police jeeps and with gunned policemen. Since I was also a member of the JVP party they suspected me. They asked who used the road to cross from here. My wife has also seen another relative of the victim crossing the road that time. Later it was revealed the innocent relative was afraid of JVP gangs so he took a shortcut from here. I also went to the funeral of the victim. His casket wasn’t even allowed to raise above the knees. We later found that the person who gave the hint to kill the victim to be a relative of him. Now that person is a powerful politician in this area with ties to parties of JVP and SLFP…”

This group consisted of all females predominantly engaged in fisheries expressed their experiences ranging from JVP insurrections, Tsunami and flood situations. The following comments were made in their final presentation
1: “…This is the 1989 JVP insurrection. This family lived in a hut made of coconut leaves. Their house was located in the hill side and down the hill was the town. What happened was one day the JVP and the police had been on a fighting. When they started shooting each other with guns, one bullet has gone through this hut. Fortunately the mother and the daughter who used to live there were saved from it. They left the place immediately…”
2: “…We had an elder in our village called Some Bappa (Some Uncle). He was very socialized, kind and was kind of a person who takes leadership and help people. He became a nuisance to JVP gangs because of his friendly manners. One night around 10 pm we heard people running in the street and were chasing someone. Then we heard Some Bappa screaming “God! I’m done! I’m done!” Nobody left their houses and was scared to death when they heard the guns being fired. Next morning Some Bappa’s head was placed on a wall to be displayed. He had been shot and decapitated…”
3: “…The JVP gangs intimidated us all through by pasting posters all over the place. They threatened us not to light lamps, make fires after 6 pm, turning on televisions or radios…”
4: “… This incident was very violent. The JVP gangs threw bombs at a police jeep at Hapugama. Several died from the explosion…”
5: “…The JVP gangs often used fishing boats carry out their night patrols and killings. Nobody knew who were on the boats. This became a harassment to our fishing community…”
6: “… The Tsunami affected our respective community and we lost our friends that day. Me and my husband was saved because we stayed at home for breakfast when the waves struck. Later we heard the noise and saw the waves. That was a terrible day…”
7: “… This here is the recent floods occurred in Matara. Our housewives cooked massive meals and arranged lunch packets in large numbers to be distributed for the flood victims…”

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