“Scenes off the operating theatre”
During my tenure in Polonnaruwa there were incidents that brought fear and excitement while others brought entertainment. Fear and excitement was brought about by the activities of three (3) famous highway robbers / criminals who terrorized the area in the 1980’s. That was before the onset of North- East Terrorism in the country.
Today I bring to you the story of these three criminals, how they were apprehended and their fate thereafter at the hands of the Law enforcing authorities or their helpers in the area thereby eliminating the fear among the people. These incidents are rare and many would not have heard or witnessed such incidents or even imagined that such incidents occurred in our country in the past. Although the rate of crime has increased in our country, what I was a witness to is not a common scene. Therefore I decided to relate this story for your general information and as a matter of interest. It has nothing to do with my profession as a Surgeon. It is a matter to be handled by the Police and the Judicial Medical officers.
Now coming to the story, these high way robbers were operating in this District mainly at night. There were three well known men; better known by their Nom de Guerre, Podiwije, Robbery Jaya and Wanasara. Podiwije and Robbery Jaya were operating in the Minneriya / Giritale area, while Wanasara was operating in the area beyond Polonnaruwa Town towards Manampitiya on the way to Batticaloa.
They reminded me of Saradiel who occupied a cave on Castle Rock (Uthuwankande) on the way to the city of Kandy. Saradiel operated from the jungles of Uthuwankanda and robbed the rich to help the poor. This was not so with Podiwije, Robbery Jaya and Wanasara. They robbed not goods, but cash and jewellery to help themselves become rich somewhat like some of the present day politicians who also commit “highway robbery” in a different manner.
Special mention must be made of Podiwije who was feared as he always carried a pistol or a shotgun. The police did not dare to approach him or arrest him in fear of being shot at from his jungle hide outs. The police were in a quandary regarding their approach to arrest this notorious criminal. The local Police carried out a detailed assessment and also obtained information from the people in the area including some of his former associates. They came to the conclusion that the only way to nab him was with the help of an informant also known to him who would be rewarded financially if the operation was successful.
The Police laid the trap. They found an informant who was willing to carry out the operation according to the plan laid out by the Police. On the night of 11th December 1982, the informant, a friend of Podi Wije was asked to carry out operation “Giritale Jungle”. Armed with a pistol he was sent to the jungle hideout with clear instructions from the Police and on encountering the criminal shot him dead. The informant had carried out his mission to perfection and returned to inform the Police.
The Policemen in the area were jubilant that the man who carried out many a robbery on the high way causing much heart burn to the public and Police has finally been eliminated. The Head of the Polonnaruwa Police Division. He was elated. With a Police party he too went into the jungle and to the place where Podi Wije was shot dead. He could not resist using his pistol on a dead body and fired at his head. The Police Headquarters was informed that at last they have killed the famous high way robber in the jungles of Giritale. The Policeman was rewarded with a medal for bravery (for shooting at the head of the dead criminal) while the informant who carried out the task of killing the criminal was given a cash reward. That was the story related by the people throughout the District.
By morning the news was spreading like “wild fire” in the entire District that Podiwije had been killed. The body was brought to the hospital mortuary. People were flocking to the hospital to see the body of Podiwije. I had the opportunity to see this dead body with gunshot injuries on his head. The post-mortem was carried out by the DMO. The police ordered a public funeral. The undertakers were called-in and they did the needful in the mortuary.
“Body in coffin by the roadside”
The body of Podiwije lay in a cofﬁn by the roadside just outside the mortuary. The public came in large numbers and were in a queue to pay their “last respects” to the highway robber, a man from Polonnaruwa itself. The same day the body was handed over to the relations for a private funeral and cremation.
This was the ﬁrst and the last occasion I had witnessed a public funeral where the body of a notorious criminal was kept by the roadside for public “veneration” in the hope that others in the area will not take to this “profession”. The ploy seemed to work out well and highway robberies in Polonnaruwa were coming to an end and they only had to eliminate the other two highway robbers.
Robbery Jaya too operated at night not from jungle hideouts but from his hiding places in the village. He too carried a shotgun. However his operations could not continue for long. He visited a paddy mill at night with the idea of robbing cash stored in the office. The message went to the Police who made their presence swiftly and shot him dead. I was a witness to that incident as well. That night when I was passing the mill, I saw a large crowd gathered near the Paddy mill. I inquired as to what had happened and was informed that “Robbery Jaya” had been shot dead. Being the surgeon of the District, the Policemen knew me and allowed me to visit the scene. I had my camera with me and took a shot of “Robbery Jaya” lying dead on the ground with his weapon by his side together with his other belongings. This was another incident off the operating theatre which was interesting.
Whether “Wanasara” suffered the same fate at the hands of the Police or paid informants, I do not know! The fear among the people caused by the criminals in the District came to an end by good or bad means!
That then was the fate of the three highway robbers in Polonnaruwa in the 1980’s.
Dear Reader, Next story is a detailed study about a very regular problem we have around the world : ‘MOANS, GROANS AND KIDNEY STONES’