An article by Ruwandi Silva published by the Asian Human Rights Commission
It was the late eighties.
Sri Lanka was heading towards more and more turbulent times dragging along the disillusioned and frustrated generations with her to a bottomless abyss. Widespread social inequality, rising unemployment, brutal state repression and sharpening ethnic divide provided an ideal platform for an unprecedented violent social explosion, not only in the Tamil North, but even in the Sinhala dominated South of the island. The strikers were sacked, ethnic minorities were brutalized and suppressed, dissident voices were silenced, opposition parties were banned, elections were rigged and every single obstacle was forcibly removed from the path leading to a constitutional authoritarianism.
The North was already in flames. The stage was set for a violent social upheaval in the South too.
My father was one among the 40,000 state sector employees who were sacked within 24 hours for participating in an island-wide strike action that demanded a reasonable wage increase to match the rising cost of living. The ruling United National Party government adamantly refused to negotiate with the strikers, eventually deciding to throw thousands of workers out on to the streets. My father, despite carrying the burden of supporting a family with two kids, refused to bow down and instead decided to leave the capital city in order to start a farm in a remote area in the central highlands.
The life in the farm was unforgettable. Unaware of the true difficulties of the life, a childhood surrounded by picturesque beauty of the mountainous region, became a wonderland that any kid would dream of. My father’s unending love spread over our world like a limitless sky. The friends who used to visit him frequently discussed politics and social issues while we were running around them. The conversations we overheard was full of stories about social injustices and discrimination, though we never grasped the true sense of any of it until we became No one of us ever imagined that our world filled with such a beauty and dreams was destined to shatter into pieces.
Outside our small isolated world, the society was engulfed in flames. The disillusioned less privileged youth in the Sinhala dominated South, followed their brethren in the Tamil North by rising up in arms against the state. Most of the frustrated social elements in the South of the Island were again absorbed into the rank and file of the Peoples’ Liberation Front (JVP), who staged the first failed armed uprising the post independent Sri Lanka in the ’70s. JVP’s ideology was mainly made up with a mixture of distorted socialist slogans and militant Sinhala nationalism. Even though the uprising reflected the increasing despair and hopelessness that was dominant within the poverty stricken Sinhala rural youth, the mode of the struggle took more the shape of a rightwing nationalist upheaval than a progressive revolutionary resistance. The democratic thinking leftwing activists in the South became the ultimate target of the JVP’s armed actions on the basis that such people were acting against the collective rights of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in the country.
My father, being a staunch enemy of majoritarian chauvinism, became increasingly critical towards the JVP’s actions and ideological positions without abandoning his criticism about the authoritarian regime. He was considered as an outspoken critique of the mislead youth and therefore became an open target of his enemies.
It was the 8th of November, 1988. Both I and my sister were at the school boarding house, after spending our weekend with my father as we used to do frequently. It never occurred to us that our lives were about take the most terrible blow soon after that fateful weekend. Before leaving the house hoping to go back to the school, we never dreamed that it would be our final farewell to the man who taught us everything about life and love.
On that fateful night, my father was brutally murdered along with four other friends. An armed gang of the JVP, surrounded our house before dragging everyone out to be shot in cold blood. Their bodies were brutally mutilated and the house we grew up was burnt to the ground.
We never heard him crying in pain. We never saw him in a pool of blood. We never even saw his mutilated body lying in a coffin. Therefore I still remember him as he always wanted us to remember him: A father with a heart filled with love for us and with unending passion for justice – As a human being made out of love and courage.
Nothing less – nothing more!
The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.
About the Author:
The author is the daughter of the subject of this article who was slain due to the violence prevalent in the country at that time.