“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”
– Isac Asimov
I started work as Consultant Surgeon at Base Hospital, Polonnaruwa in January 1982. At that time the ancient city of Polonnaruwa was very peaceful. There were incidents of violence with the victims being admitted to the surgical ward for treatment of their injuries. But these were caused by stabs, assaults with blunt weapons, trap guns and in some cases injuries caused by guns improvised by the local blacksmith called ‘galkattas”
Violence Erupts and People Threatened
With the explosion of a landmine in the Northern City of Jaffna in July 1983 the situation in the country changed dramatically especially in the North. In the Eastern Province conditions remained peaceful till about July 1985. An explosion of a landmine in Polonnaruwa at a spot bordering the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka was followed by violence in that Province as well. The Polonnaruwa District borders the Eastern Province and therefore the people began to feel the “heat” of violence. There were incidents on and off where people living in areas bordering the Eastern Province were threatened to leave their homes, attacked with sharp weapons or shot at to drive them away from their homes. The casualties invariably ended up at the surgical ward of the Polonnaruwa Hospital and became my patients. On many occasions I wanted to visit these areas with the Army Personnel to show my sympathy and support for the innocent victims, but this was not encouraged by the Army due to security concerns. With time the number of violent incidents increased slowly but surely.
April 17th 1987 was Good Friday. Good Friday is the day on which Christians annually observe the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. We had just returned home after the evening Good Friday service at our Parish Church in Polonnaruwa. News spread in the town that the Terrorists had carried out another massacre at a lonely place called Kithuluthuwa where the road goes through the forest. This was an ideal location for the terrorist to hide and carry out their pre-planned operation of killing innocent civilians. Kithuluthuwa is close to Habarana junction on the road to the Eastern City of Trincomalee, 35 km from Polonnaruwa. We did not have all the details of the incident at that time, but the Police requested us to be ready to treat the casualties. The staff at the hospital was alerted and all arrangements were made to receive and treat the casualties. Surprisingly, we did not receive any casualties at the Polonnaruwa Hospital that night.
The next morning we decided to visit the scene. There were no survivors. The victims had been taken to the District Hospital at Habarana which was close to the scene of the incident. Heavily armed terrorists had stopped buses going to Colombo, dragged out the passengers and mowed down 126 men, women and children. At least 75 of them were military personnel who were on leave.
Hospital Converted to a Mortuary
The Habarana Hospital had been converted to a mortuary. It was a pathetic site. There were dead bodies all over on the ﬂoor of the hospital wards for identiﬁcation by relatives. Outside the hospital were a large number of cofﬁns of different sizes which had been purchased at government expense. The local Politicians, Police and Army personnel were busy attending to various formalities regarding the handing over of the dead bodies to the relatives. There were no postmortems carried out on the dead victims. Once identiﬁed, the dead body was placed inside a polythene bag and handed over to the relative. A cofﬁn was provided and the funeral expenses were borne by the State. They had to hire a vehicle to take the dead body back home for burial or cremation only to be forgotten by the rest of the Nation. This was not the ﬁrst and certainly not the last massacre of civilians and service personnel that I witnessed in this region.
Sorrow, Pain and Anxiety
While the battles raged, people living in the North and the East of the country and others elsewhere had to pay an enormous price of being slaughtered by the two parties to the conflict. They shed their blood and a whole generation had to suffer for the follies and the misdeeds of power-hungry politicians of our country. The sorrow, the pain, the anxiety, the anger and the outrage was thrust upon the people living in conflict zones. This, I am sure would have been unbearable for them for many years and even afterwards.
Death of loved ones, the slaughter of kith and kin, the killing of innocent defense-less men, women and even children; the destruction of property have all been part and parcel of our conflict in Sri Lanka. All were affected by the horror and the stench of our conflict which involved the killing of one another: the people of one land.
For me the conflict in our country which continued for nearly three decades was too close, much too close for comfort as I witnessed at first hand all the tragedies associated with it. At that time nothing would have been satisfying for me as to millions of others in our resplendent land than to see peace ushered in!
I will end this sad but true story with two quotes by
Saint Mother Teresa …………………………..
Dear Reader, you might also be interested in my next story revealing the facts which I witnessed during July 1985 : “SCENES OFF THE OPERATING THEATRE” PART 2 (IPKF)’