”Mobs armed with swords and sand bottles, and so forth were on road sides about a kilometre from the Aluthgama fair while police was looking on. I drove the vehicle. There were five small kids, two pregnant women, three mothers, a girl, a boy and altogether there were 16. A police mobile was driven ahead of my van. Police was looking on as mobs armed with swords and clubs and so forth, attacked. The police mobile stopped at the place where the attack was taking place. The mobs also attacked my vehicle.” –
Member of Parliament, Palitha Thevarapperuma
Member of Parliament, Palitha Thevarapperuma
Armed mobs ruled the roost before the eyes of the police. Kalutara District, United National Party (UNP), Member of Parliament, Palitha Thevarapperuma in an interview with Ceylon Today said that he was attacked at the Aluthgama mayhem when he went to rescue a family.
Q:What happened to you when you attempted to save a Muslim family at Welipenna?
A: A Muslim man called Abdulla died at Welipenna. He died due to a heart attack when Sinhalese attacked the Muslim village. He was in his 40s. Muslims, according to their religion, need to bury the dead within 24 hours. His mother and sister wanted to come to Welipenna from Dharga Town to pay him their last respects. They went to the police several times, but the police did not agree to provide them with security. Finally, they called me and asked for my help.
Q:Who called you?
A: One Hussein of Welipenna.
Q: Why did he call you?
A: I am a friend of all communities. I safeguarded the Muslim village when it was under attack.
Q:What happened after that?
A: I went in my vehicle to bring them. I informed police before I went. I faced no problem when I went there. The problem took place when I was coming back with that Muslim family. Welipitiya area in Dharga Town had been attacked then. Mobs armed with swords and sand bottles, and so forth were on road sides about a kilometre from the Aluthgama fair while police was looking on. I drove the vehicle. There were five small kids, two pregnant women, three mothers, a girl, a boy and altogether there were 16. A police mobile was driven ahead of my van. Police was looking on as mobs armed with swords and clubs and so forth, attacked. The police mobile stopped at the place where the attack was taking place. The mobs also attacked my vehicle.
The shutters were broken. There were innocent kids at the back and I drove the vehicle without stopping in order to escape from the attackers. They attacked my vehicle for about a kilometre. I could drive no further. The windscreen was shattered and I could not view through it. Glass powder was strewn all over my body and in my eye too. I asked the passengers to lie down and drove the vehicle. Police did not take care of me. I drove to Aluthgama and directly went to Nagoda Hospital.
The vehicle had been smashed. There were sand bottles, clubs and rocks and so forth inside the van. One kid was attacked on the back of his head. The child was quickly transferred to Colombo General Hospital. It is difficult to cure him. The mother was admitted to Nagoda Hospital also in a critical condition. My eye has a cut inside. Blood was oozing from my head due to sand bottle attacks. We were attacked like that as police was looking on.
Q:How many more did you help like this?
A: There is a Provincial Councillor called Isthikal. His brother’s goat farm was also burnt. It was a big farm with about 3,000 goats. Isthikal called police stations in Matugama and Dodangoda but to no avail. He finally called me. I went there in my motorcycle all alone. We broke water pipes and thereby extinguished the fire. Finally police came, but blamed Isthikal for informing me!
A: The garment factory at Ittepana was set on fire in broad daylight while police looked on. 600 persons are employed in it. Sinhala shops in Matugama town too were ransacked. The Fisheries Corporation outlet was also broken in the night. A service station at Welipenna owned by Muslims was set on fire.
Q:Why did you take such risks amidst so much violence?
A: What’s the point in living when we see such inhuman actions taking place before our eyes? What is our humanity if we can look on indifferently while people are killed and 3,000 goats are burnt alive? I am against racism. Allowing Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) to demonstrate while there was tension was wrong. Racism was inculcated in the minds of the people.
Q:Why didn’t you help the Buddhist monk who was attacked by the Muslims?
A: It is a lie. Only the driver of the vehicle of the monk was beaten. Sinhala shops in Matugama were attacked and the monks said that the Muslims did it. Muslims did not even have food to eat. I personally know that the Buddha statue of Welipenna was attacked to blame the Muslims. This is a dastardly crime.
Q:Whatever you say, both sides made mistakes and were fighting each other?
A: Will a brother of yours look on indifferently when your house or property is attacked? Why did police give permission for that march to Dharga Town from Aluthgama? I went to rescue children trapped at a hostel in a school at Dharga Town. I went to Isthikar’s goat farm alone. If I went there with the Sinhala youth of my village I would have to take the responsibility in case they were attacked. Therefore, I went alone risking my life. This is not the first time I acted in this manner.
Q:What are the other incidents?
A: When I was contesting the provincial council election, communal violence took place in Villakanda, Horana. Sinhala mobs burnt the houses there and attacked the people. When I inquired from Kithsiri Kahatapitiya, he said he could not risk the votes amidst the election. I went there and helped the Tamils. When the results were out, I was second and Kahatapitiya was at the tail end of the list.
Q:Did you face a similar experience at the sacrificing of animals at a kovil in St. John’s Estate?
A: Bodu Bala Sena tried to stop it. They beat women and shattered offerings while hundreds of policemen looked on indifferently. People begged me to allow to do their offering. Police wanted to stop it. How can police stop “god’s affair?” It was their religion and religious freedom is granted in the Constitution. I did not allow the offering stopped and proved that there was religious freedom.
Q:Why is a Sinhalese worried about other races? Are you campaigning for votes or are you too good?
A: This is not about races. I help even animals. One day when I was returning from a ceremony in a temple, I saw an ambulance which was transporting a pregnant mother had knocked a mango tree and had fallen into to a water pit. I got down from the vehicle and jumped into the pit without checking it, there were crocodiles. I dived looking for the victim. Finally, I found her. However, the political representative of that village looked the other way. When 21 people died after a bus fell into a stream at Welipenna, everybody feared to dive there but I jumped into the water alone. That is my way. Otherwise I can’t sleep.
Q:What if you too are insulted by being given a Muslim name like Watareka Vijitha Thera who was named as Mohammed Watareka?
A: I sometimes think of giving up everything and devoting my time to religion. We have been branded as a savage race. That night, we guarded Welipenna village. Women were making their children sleep on their laps. Men were guarding the village. I will do my duty, despite whatever names they call me. I had two stitches in my eye and my head had a cut since I was attacked with a glass bottle. I also suffered shoulder injuries. That is how I rescued 16 people.
Q:You say that there is Sinhala extremism. Do you admit that there is Muslim extremism too?
A: They try to create Muslim extremism through violence against Muslims. There were no differences between us before this. I can point out a good example to you. Villages like Welipenna, Lewwanduwa, Girikola and Kudaligama were inundated due to recent floods. No Bodu Bala Sena came with a packet of rice or a tablet of Paracetamol. Veyangalla is a Muslim village. On both sides of it are the Sinhala villages of Girikola and Kudaligama. Veyangalla people gave food to both of those villages since they were affected by floods.
by Subhashini Gunarathna