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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Skeletons of the past… Editorial , Ceylon Today

The trail of dead bodies might lead to anywhere or nowhere. Speculations are endemic that they might lead to either the ‘71 April insurrection or ’87 – ’89 terror era. Wherever they may lead, let’s hope not too many more corpses or their remains would be found.
What was discovered at the Matale Hospital premises tells a very horrific story. And the counting is not done, as yet. Mass graves, in the past, have left some morbid and stubborn impressions in the minds of the global community. They are not a total surprise to Sri Lanka either, the Guardian-State of Buddhism- the ultimate religion on ‘ahimsa’, non-violence.

The graves that tossed out hundreds of thousands of corpses of Jews in the 20th century Europe, by courtesy of Hitler, Himmler & Company, in effect had a very productive ending. It created the State of Israel, a ‘democratic oasis’ in the middle of a desert of Arab dictatorships. But, it also gave birth to another haunting global problem in a displaced people of Palestine, a festering international issue, the solution to which is still evading many a big power.

The mass graves that were found in the aftermath of the Second World War in the then Soviet Union, atrocities done unto Chechen and other ethnic populations in the then Communist Capital, have all  been well documented. Mass graves could certainly brag about such a storied past.

Nevertheless, nothing that can come out of these sepulchres, whether they are identifiable or not, whether they could be traced to origins or not, whether the remnants of the victims still are in a condition that deserve a decent and civilized burial, would substitute for the loss of loved ones to parents, sisters, brothers and spouses.

A seemingly routine process would not replace those who had perished under, maybe the most unspeakable horror or instant death. No official communiqué or a moving missive from a politician could bring back the departed. Yet, the most cruel aspect of this man’s inhumanity to man is his own acceptance and acknowledgement of the crime as ‘part of the act’- in other words, those who perished had perished, now get on with life.

In Sri Lanka too, the infamous Embilipitiya exhumations echoed the unheard cries and lament of parents who never knew whether their loved ones were still among the living or dead. Years later, when the bodies were unearthed, the gruesome character of atrocities committed by trained Army personnel, who we are sure, had their own children and loved ones, were summoned before justice and punished.

The body count at the Matale site has reached twenty seven (27) by Monday, 3 December 2012. How many more would be unearthed one could only guess. According to reports, every conceivable effort is being made to make this as a thorough an investigation as humanly possible. Never would a stone be unturned, they say.

Matale did not feature so prominently during the 1971 insurrection. But in the ’87 – ’89 era it was different. No place in the island was safe for those who rebelled against the regime and the ruthless forces of the late Ranjan Wijeratne spared no effort to halt even the more ruthless killing machines unleashed by the then Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Whether these mass graves appear in the Central Hills or in the Deep South or for that matter, in Mullaitivu up North, the bodies that emerge tell us only about horrendous crimes against humanity.  They do not tell us of their skin colour, creed or religion. For guns or daggers that killed these armed or unarmed victims don’t recognize such shades. Nor would the shameless excuse of ‘it all happened at a time of war’ exculpate those who carried out these inhuman excesses. In all circumstances, the gun is a great neutralizer. But when the victims who were felled were innocent unarmed civilians, the enormity of the offence would reach the threshold of patience even of the most patient saint.

These skeletons of the past might haunt our memories for a long time to come. Ravages of war would keep devouring the daily thinking of every man and woman, every husband and wife, sister and brother, parent and child. The stain of such crimes would tar the collective psyche of the Sri Lankan population and bear an unmistakable stench and odour. Such is the story of these skeletons of the past that tell a very tragic side of the story of Sri Lankan governance, in particular and the people in general.



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