15 August 2011

Have you heard of the Hokandara Wala (Pit)?

This morning (Sunday, August 14, 2011), on my way to Malabe in a threewheeler, I stopped for breakfast at a wayside boutique in Hokandara.  A few stringhoppers with a white potato curry and sambol was downed in a few minutes.  Then a cup of plain tea.   The opposite side of the road was as pastoral as an urbanizing landscape could be.  Paddy fields and through them a newly tarred road that must have been little more than a guru paara not too long ago.  Tree-line at the far end and above it all dawn yielding to the more insistent warmth of the rising sun.  Made for reflection.
At the back of my mind were thoughts of the long day ahead of me with multiple writing assignments and all kinds of deadlines, a function to attend in the evening and children to worry about.  It was balm and I soaked it all in.  Until Upul, my friend and three-wheel driver began to speak.
‘This is the infamous Hokandara Wala (pit),’ he said.  I had forgotten.  He related how over 50 people were shot and dumped right there, on the other side of the road. 
‘There was a family living in a house behind that clump of trees,’ he continued.  ‘The father, mother and their daughter were all killed.  They sent an iron rod through the girl’s vagina’. 
Who killed them and why, I asked. 
‘The police.  The JVP had tried to blow up a moving police truck.  They had failed.  The police rounded up everyone who happened to be around, including a fishmonger and killed them all.  It helped propel Chandrika Kumaratunga to power a few years later.  The skeletal remains were splashed across the newspapers during that election campaign.’
As we proceeded to Malabe, Upul told me other stories.  How all the young men went into hiding.  How one person, forced to pour kerosene and set fire to himself, did so but embraced the two gun-wielding men who had ordered self-assassination, dragging them to death in a classic case of dittadhamma vedaniya retribution or transgressions punished in the then-and-there. 
Who perpetrated these crimes against humanity? Who turned law-protectors into genocidal maniacs?  Where are the commissions of inquiry?  Why weren’t there calls for ‘independent international investigations’?  Were they not yet born, those who bandy around a sword called R2P (Responsibility to Protect)? 
Years ago, in 1987 March to be precise, a set of final year students dragged some second year students of the Arts Faculty, University of Peradeniya, to a room in Jayatilleka Hall.  At that time, Arts students who opted to read for a special degree, were forced to be ‘freshers’ twice; once when they entered the Dumbara Campus in Polgolla and again when they came to Peradeniya following the General Arts Qualifying Examination.  This lot didn’t care much for seniority and were not shy about taking issue with seniors on ideological as well as moral issues.  They were marked for ‘re-ragging’. 
The final year students tried to claim moral high ground, saying they were being generous and would give the juniors the right to express themselves.  My friend Sisira Premashantha, a star athlete who hailed from Nattandiya, now no more, said something that answers the above questions that came to mind this morning as I re-visited the UNP-JVP bheeshanaya of 1988-1990.
‘When I came to university I thought this was a place where the truth triumphed.  Now I know better.  It’s not the truth that wins.  It’s power.’ 
Twenty five years later, almost, I can do no better than quote the radical Fr. James Carney, better known as Padre Gaudalupe who ministered to the rebels during the civil war in Hondurus and is reported to have been tortured and thrown to his death from a helicopter in 1983 on the orders of General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez, was awarded the Legion of Merit by President Ronal Reagan , ``for promoting democracy in Honduras and whose portrait hangs in the Alumni Hall of Fame of the notorious School of the Americas:
‘One decides to fight tyranny; it is unfair to expect one to deliver victory!’ 

[Courtesy Daily News, August 15, 2011]