all towns are
one, all men our kin.
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from "Detention, Torture and Murder" by S.A.David, B.A. (Architecture) Melbourne, Diploma in Town Planning (Leeds, UK), the then President of the Gandhiyam Society, and published in November 1983. The writer was one of the lucky ones who escaped death in the infamous Welikade Prison Massacre in July 1983. He later escaped from the Batticaloa jail.
Under the Buddha Dharma regime of President J.R. Jayawardene in Sri Lanka anyone can be arrested and detained without trial, anyone can be murdered and buried without inquest.
Still Sri Lanka is a model democracy of the third world praised and supported by the Capitalist nations of the world led by America and followed by Germany, Japan, Britain and the White Common Wealth and the Arabs. This is a crying shame to the intelligence' and conscience of 20th Century humanity.
Although the Prevention of Terrorism Act refer to the whole of Sri Lanka its application has been reserved for the Tamils and particularly the Tamil youth.
Under the PTA of Sri Lanka a person can be detained for periods upto 18 months (renewable by order every three months) if the Minister has reason to believe or suspect that any person is connected with or concerned in any unlawful activity. Unlawful activity includes even pasting posters on walls punishable with death.
There has been ridiculous instances when Judges of Courts have ordered detenus were taken to Remand Prison, their names entered in Prison Registers and then the provisions of the PTA invoked and the detenus brought for torture to Army Camp. Such is the working of Buddha Dharmista in Sri Lanka.
The bitter pill of the PTA has been sugar coated with an apparently humanistic provision to allow appeal within twenty days of arrest to a Board of three members. This is purely to circumvent International human rights considerations. Yet in application of this provision diabolical intrigues are observed.
I am now 59 years of age. By dint of sheer honesty, intelligence and hard work I rose from humble village conditions to work as architect and Town Planner in Sri Lanka, Australia, UK, Nigeria and Kenya. With passing of Sinhala Only Act in 1956, I resigned my post as architect in Sri Lanka Government and went overseas, as I truly felt there was no honourable place for a Tamil in Sri Lanka.
The statements of two senior politicians at this time still ring in my ears. Senator Nadesan said, "We have come to parting of the way; let us depart in peace" and Dr. Colvin R. De Silva said, "One Language two Nations." Time has fully vindicated their foresight.
In 1972, I came back to Sri Lanka to devote myself heart and soul to alleviate the suffering of my people, the Tamils. After intense study by reading and personal observation of many systems around the world in Europe, America, Israel, Africa and Far East I chose the Gandhian model as most suited to the genius and traditions of the soul of my people and proceeded to systematically to bring my people to the Gandhian way of life.
Together with Dr. Rajasunderam of Vavuniya, a tireless energetic worker, in five years we had built up a sound network of District Centers throughout the traditional homelands of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. At the time of our arrest, 450 pre schools with an average of thirty students each were providing daily milk and triposha and Kindergarten teaching facilities to village children.
Twelve model one-acre farms in Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa were showing the villagers the simplest safest and quickest way to economic social and cultural revival. Mobile clinics equipped with basic preventive and curative medicine were making regular rounds to outlying villages. A training center was preparing thirty to forty young women, every three months for Gandhiam work in their own villages. In addition, Gandhiam with other social service organizations was assisting 5000 refugee families from Tea Estates to settle down to safe life among the traditional Tamil villages.
The quality and quantity of Gandhiam work impressed Foreign Aid Organizations and Tamils living overseas so much that we were receiving and operating on an yearly budget of Rs. 5,000,000/-.
The charges on which we were arrested as told in the indictment given to us on 22 July 1983, three and a half months after the arrest and solitary confinement, torture of body and mind were:
We could be sentenced to fifteen to twenty years of imprisonment on these charges.
I have experienced partial freedom and enjoyed it. I wanted total freedom for myself and my people. Instead, I was caught up in total bondage. It was hell. Now I realize total freedom would be heaven indeed.
At 11-30 pm on the 7th of April 1983, there was a knock on my door at Room No.9 at the YMCA in Colombo. I answered the door, CID and police officers walked in led by Mr. Punya De Silva, A.S.P. They opened all cupboards, drawers, boxes, seized all documents and ordered me to follow them without any clothes for change.
In fairness, I saw compassion in the faces of some officers and one officer had thoughtfully brought me breakfast from his home. I was questioned by Mr. Wijetilleke, CID, who was very polite but another officer was constantly threatening me. He rushed at me with clenched fists, and hit me on the shoulders, ordered me to raise my arms and stand in that position for nearly half an hour. Next day, Mr. Punya De Silva cross-examined me.
At the end of the cross-examination this officer had the courage of his convictions to say,
A great load was taken off my head. To my dying day, I will remember with gratitude Mr. Punya De Silva and Mr. Wijetileke who treated me with extreme politeness.
That evening I was told that the Minister of Defence had ordered me to be detained in the Army Camp at Panagoda. Mr. Wijetileke took me to Panagoda, handed me over to the Army. Immediately he left, nearly 20 soldiers surrounded me, ordered me into a corner. Someone gave command and a soldier hit me on my chest. I urinated. They ordered me to take off my shirt and trouser. All of them had a hearty laugh at my nudity and there was loud obscene comments. The ordered me to walk out past the soldiers and as I went, they struck me with hands and legs. I was taken to a solitary cell and locked up. In the morning, fellow Tamil detenus distributing brushes for cleaning and pouring tea cheered me up.
From then on during the morning and evening inspection Commander Udugampala would threaten to kill me. Soldiers on guard would welcome with leather belt and razor blades and order me to put my hands raised and rotate. They would scold me in obscene language and curse the Tamils. I was not able to meet a lawyer for a fortnight. Immediately I met Mr. Kumaralingam, Advocate, I told him my experience and requested him not to communicate this with army one fearing the Army will retaliate. But he sent telegrams with highly exaggerated details to the President, Army and Police Chiefs. In three days, Army got wind of Kumaralingam's complaint and I was put in hand-cuffs for four days and nights continuously. I was not allowed to bathe for two weeks and not allowed any reading materials.
There was Jayadas, a young man of 24 who had no connection with any rebel group. He had given 50,000/- rupees to an agent to obtain work in the Middle West and the agent to get rid of him, handed him to CID and now he was in detention. He narrowly escaped death at Welikade prison and still is in detention at Batticaloa prison.
There was Balasingam, a man of 50 years nearly blind. He had transported dynamite to dig a well. He was arrested and was in detention. With aid of powerful Singhalese Advocates he was released just before the murders at Welikade prison.
There was Ganeshalingam, aged 26 from Vavuniya. A gun had been thrown into the shop where he was working when he was not there, at Vavuniya by rebels who attacked the Air Force. He was detained and murdered at Welikade prison.
There were many youths who had carried posters. There were youths who attended classes on Marxist Philosophy. There were youths who were taken with books on Eelam, a Separate state for Tamils.
There was Dr. S.A. Dharmalingam, 75 years old who after the savage massacre of the Tamils at Trincomalee by Navy personnel had called the Tamils to defend themselves.
There was Kovai Mahesan, 46 years old, editor of Suthanthiran who was openly advocating Eelam over the past decade.
All were classed as terrorists, detained and tortured, irrespective of age or status, treated worse than condemned criminals.
The extent of the irresponsible and vindictive nature of the arrest and detention of Tamils under the infamous PTA can be gauged from the above accounts.
One day Commander Udugampola came drunk and opened my cell, ordered me to strip and lie face down on a concrete bench. He ordered three soldiers to trample my back and legs and hit me on my buttocks. They left me exhausted on the bench.
On another day, he came drunk entered my room with shoes in his hand and hit me on my head and face. My lips split and started bleeding. He ordered me to wash, allowed me to sleep naked throughout the night.
In comparison to the torture meted out to the other detenus I must admit I was mildly treated. Dr. Rajasunderam was severely attacked, his left arm dislocated, his ear drums broken and left on several occasions unconscious on the floor. Manickam Thasan and Robert were singled out for ferocious attacks and for weeks after the attack, they would drag themselves to take their meals.
More than the physical torment the psychological torment was the most unbearable. Eelam was the center of all obscenities and every soldier whenever he felt like it, would cast rude remarks about Tamils and Eelam.
One of the most unbearable incidents at Panagoda was the sadistic habit of regularly bringing school cadets between ages of 15 to 20 at week ends and allowing them to watch, grin and cast remarks at us as we were ordered to double up and remove our food placed on the floor in front of them. A running commentary on each of us was given by some soldiers to those boys. The Army is perhaps taking care to raise a new generation of Tamil haters to maim and torture Tamils in years to come.
There was a Corporal with morbid curiosity to see nudes. He ordered me one day to undress in my cell. I refused and from that day till I left Panagoda whenever he was on duty he would subject me to mild torture. He would order me to stand on the bench in the cell with hands raised for hours on stretch. He would order me to keep jumping in the cell for hours on end. He would order me to keep turning around for hours. There was no use complaining as complaint will bring more torture. Once I complained against a Corporal, so together with the Sergeant on duty, they handcuffed me to the iron gate of the cell but released me in half an hour on the arrival of the Commander.
During the days I was kept handcuffed for four days and nights continually one cold night my hands and legs became benumbed. I felt numbness creeping towards my chest. I was in mortal panic. Uncontrollable shiver seized me. I was falling away from the concrete bench. All the while the Corporal on duty was calmly watching me, as if he wished me to wriggle to death. I remembered that the compassionate Sergeant was on duty and called out to him. He came, removed the handcuffs, rubbed down my hands and legs brought a blanket and asked me to lie down and sleep. I told him if the Commander came he would punish me and him too. He said the Commander was on leave and not to worry and have a sound sleep as he was in-charge that night. He said the Commander was on leave and not to worry and have a sound sleep as he was in-charge that night.
A very painful yet novel torture remains etched in my mind. When Commmander Udugampola was away, another young commissioned officer came drunk one day, ordered us, about 34 in all, naked into the courtyard. It was a rainy cold night and there was 3 inches of water in the courtyard 30'X60'. He asked us to lie flat on the ground and drag ourselves on our hands and knees up and down the courtyard pool. The officer and the soldiers were highly thrilled at this ingenious method and were rocking with laughter for days after the event.
I heard from other colleagues, later at Welikade where I got a chance to talk to others, the detenus had been beaten to death at Kurunagar and Elephant Pass camps. Bottles, iron rods and sticks have been driven into rectums, chilli powder smeared and smoke forced through nostrils and mouth, beaten with iron bars and iron pipes till bleeding, cut with broken bottles, beaten and kicked unconscious, starved for days, forced to eat food with excess salt and kept chained to wall with hands raised for months continuously. Some were in detention for over two hand a half years and undergone torture all these years.
In the midst of all these bodily and mental torture a pure ray of boundless compassion has left an indelible mark on my soul. I experienced to the very limit of its content the compassion of the great Buddha. This is the nature and action of a Sinhala Army Sergeant. As the detenus were being beaten and kicked and hanged he would look with tear-filled eyes on us and when all was quiet, open the cells and apply balm and rub down and cover us with warm clothes.
All the sad moments I have gone through are as nothing for this rare meeting and companionship of this great soul. How noble and how great Sri Lanka could have been if its leaders could have had in their soul a hundredth of the compassion in the soul of this Sergeant.
Around the middle of June 1983, the detenus bringing brushes and brooms and tea whispered that we were to be taken to Welikade prison. There will be no more torture. We will have visitors, allowed to talk to others and read books and papers. Generally, there were smiles, sometimes jokes and laughter in the cells after this news. The day of partial deliverance did come on 27-6-1983. We were taken to Welikade prison by a convoy of military trucks, armoured cars and jeeps good enough for a full scale battle. The compassionate Sergeant unable to contain his utter disdain of the Army tactics openly remarked, "I will take these 34 people to Jaffna and bring them back alone in a CTB coach!." This is the measure between truth and falsehood.
At the Welikade prison there was no fear of physical attack. But the condition of food, toilet facilities and sanitation in the cells was primitive. In the first two weeks almost all contracted bowl disease. Some were taken to prison hospital and ill treated by Sinhala prison doctors and nurses. The rice was full of stones and food was tasteless and insipid.
Only fifteen minutes was allowed for outdoor exercise. For 23 hours and 45 minutes we were locked up in solitary cells. Ten minutes were allowed for morning ablution and toilet. If we wanted to go to the toilet at any other time we had to shout and beg the jailers to open our gates, which was done with reluctance and some times with rude remarks.
The case against me and Dr. Rajasundaram was taken up in the courts at Buller's Road on 22-7-1983. On this day, Dr. Rajasundaram requested the Judge to transfer us to Remand Prison. The Judge agreed and both were transferred to Youth Ward along with the Reverend Fathers Dr. Dharmalingam, Dr. Jayakularaja, Mr. Nithiananthan and Kovai Mahesan on 23-7-1983.
On 25-7-1983, the Sinhala prisoners attacked the detenus in the Chapel Section of the prison and murdered 35 persons along with Thangathurai, Kuttimani and Jegan. From eye-witness accounts of our colleagues, Kuttimani's eyes were gauged out and his blood drunk by his attackers. After killing six Tamils along with Kuttimani in one wing, a boy of 16 years Mylvaganam, had been spared by the attackers and was crouching in a cell. A jail guard spotted him and stabbed him to death.
The 35 dead were heaped in front of the statue of Gautama the Buddha in the yard of the Welikade prison as Minister Atulatmudali so aptly described as a "sacrifice to appease the blood thirsty craving of the Sinhala masses." Some who were yet alive raised their heads and called for help but were beaten down to death in the heap.
The attackers then made entry into the other wing through openings in the first floor but the jailors there refused to give the keys and persuaded them to leave. 28 Tamil detenus in this wing were transferred to the ground floor of Youth ward and nine of us were accommodated in the First Floor. All was quiet on the 26th.
On the 27th at 2.30 pm there were shouts around the Youth Ward and armed prisoners were scaling over boundary walls and starting to break open gates in the Youth Ward. Nearly 40 prisoners armed with axes, swords, crowbars, iron pipes and wooden logs appeared before our cell and started to break the lock.
Dr. Rajasundaram walked up to the door and pleaded with them to spare us as we were not involved in any robberies or murders and as Hindus we did not believe in violence and as Buddhists they should not kill. The door suddenly opened and Dr.Rajasundaram was dragged out and hit with a iron rod on the head. He fell dead among the crowd.
The rest of us broke the chairs and tables in the cell and managed to keep the crowd at bay for half an hour. The Army arrived, threw tear gas bombs and dispersed the crowd. The two soldiers lined up eight of us and were taking aim to shoot us when the Commander called out from below to them to come down. Then the soldiers chased us down and all who escaped death were lined up on the foot path in front of Youth Ward. As we walked out we saw corpses of our colleagues around us and we were allowed to live.
We were ordered to run into a mini-van and removed out of prison compound and loaded into Army truck. We were ordered to lie face down on the floor of the truck and few who raised their heads were trampled down by the soldiers. All along the run to Katunayake Airport some soldiers were cursing Tamils and Eelam and using obscene language. We were kept at the Airport till early morning. We were refused even water. We were taken into an Air Force plane and ordered to sit with our heads down till we reached Batticaloa airport. From here, we were taken in an open van to Batticaloa prison. Here, we were received with sympathy and smile. Hot tea was served to us. We felt we had returned to sanity and some measure of safety.
Batticaloa prison by comparison was heaven on earth. We were behind bars, of course, but there was human dignity. In Batticaloa we learned that a maximum security prison was being built in a feverish hurry at Homagama in the Sinhala area. With all the nightmarish experience of the past, we could well imagine what hell it would be for the rest of our lives. We resolved to break jail even in face of death and after meticulous co-ordinated activity from inside and out we broke jail on 23 September 1983. We are happy that all political prisoners have escaped from the clutches of the blood thirsty Sinhala savages. We have dedicated ourselves, if necessary at the cost of our lives, to free the Tamils from the stranglehold of the Sinhala demons.
After missing Uma Maheswaran's group with which I was to escape I was finally traced and brought back to safety by his agents. The ingenuity and the expertise with which they organized and executed my escape is a thrilling episode in the history of the Tamils and I hope some day to relate it in detail so that future generations of Tamils may know that even in the darkest hour there was courage and bravery among the Tamils reaching down to humble homes in villages and jungles of our land...