26 November, 2020

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Being Evicted From House & Home

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Election-Related Violence – Part III

Not so long after the Sirima Bandaranaike government resumed ruling Sri Lanka, and with her brother, Barnes, appointed to the position of Public Trustee, whose subordinate I was under the terms of my late father’s Last Will and Testament, it was believed that the inevitable would befall me and my family – economic and/or personal “payback” for my support of the recently-deposed United National Party (UNP) government.

My first (very pleasant) surprise was Barnes Ratwatte who proved an eminently fair, decent and competent person. The other surprise was his Chief Accountant, a man called Gunaseela Vithanage, who played a leadership role in the Bauddha Jathika Balavegaya, that period’s reputedly intolerant Buddhist-oriented entity with a reputation, not unlike that of the current Bodhu Bala Sena! Gunaseela and his family became good personal friends of mine and I discovered that his wife and children (?) were practicing Roman Catholics!

Dr. Colvin R. de Silva was the recently-appointed Minister of Plantations and Doric D’Souza was his Permanent Secretary, the head of that Ministry’s administration. I had a nodding acquaintance with the latter and the Public Trustee department folks believed that my seeing Colvin in person wouldn’t hurt, my siblings having been his erstwhile political comrades. It was hoped that this meeting would spike the guns of those lining me up for political retribution by “acquiring” my land and livestock farming enterprise “for a (nebulous) public purpose.”

I did succeed in making an appointment with Colvin and Doric at short notice and, both I and the Public Trustee official who accompanied me were greeted cordially.

Colvin opened, in his typically charming manner, with references to the fact that my siblings were his (admired younger) comrades in years past and that he was well aware of the pioneering work I had done in crop diversification and non-traditional livestock husbandry. I remember, very distinctly, his dissertation on what he planned for the plantations of the country. While the intent was that, ultimately, “the people” would own the source of what was then the economic lifeblood of Sri Lanka, he had no intention of killing the goose that was laying the (economic) golden eggs at that time. Succinctly put, his complex plan for the plantation industries made eminent economic and practical sense both from the practical and (left) theoretical end of things. He made it crystal clear that he certainly would not be party to the economic disruption that would be the fall-out of behaviour driven by a need for exacting political vengeance.

In brief, Colvin’s plans were torpedoed by Hector Kobbekaduwa, driven by exactly those impulses that Colvin had decried and his need for power and authority over Sri Lanka’s primary economic engine. He brought to that initiative a capacity for the exaction of personal vengeance probably without previous parallel in Sri Lankan politics. He brought in his so-called “Land Reform” bill.

An addendum to that move could well have been that this piece of legislation was the “carrot” response to the 1971 insurrection where the “stick” had been Sirima Bandaranaike’s ruthless elimination of those romantic revolutionaries, the Che Guevarists. After all, give a peasant land and he will be eternally grateful to you, right?

As someone who’d known Hector Kobbekaduwa from the time I was “knee-high to a duck” and assuming that he knew what kind of person I was and the work I was doing in the mid-country of Sri Lanka in the matter of plantation land rehabilitation, crop diversification and integrated livestock development. I didn’t expect any grief from him or his Ministry.

I couldn’t have been more wrong!

First, he and Mrs. Tamara Kumari Illangaratne began looking for land belonging to me that they could take over. Not finding any in her electorate because my land was in the adjacent Akurana electorate held by one of the few surviving UNP members of Parliament, A.C.S. Hameed, she took over, installing a bunch of monumentally venal incompetents on it, land belonging to my two siblings.

During this time or immediately subsequently, Mr. H.S.R.B. Kobbekaduwa, Minister of Agriculture in Sirima Bandaranaike’s government rose in the House of Parliament and went on record in Hansard promising to “erase the name of van der Poorten from Sri Lanka,” or words to that effect.

What was most interesting about all of this was the fact that my two siblings, whose land had been acquired, were life-long members of the “left,” one of whom had had his head cracked open by a police baton for the first time, working for either Tamara Kumari or Tikiri Banda Illangaratne in a by-election in Kandy! Hector Kobbekaduwa, for certain, was aware of this fact and his (and Mrs. Illangaratne’s) conduct in that context hardly merits further comment.

Incidentally, that land was subsequently returned to my siblings on a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court which held that the acquisition was totally without merit. However, justice delayed is justice denied because my mother had already been denied occupancy of a home that she had built on that land for herself.

The next act of vengeance was a frame-up for a “hit and run” accident in Katugastota on a day when I had not so much as left my residence in Galagedera. That charge which was ultimately dismissed without a defence being called, provided ongoing stress to me and my family despite the fact that it was purely and simply a political frame-up. The one piece of wisdom that I garnered from that experience was a response to my sanguinity from a lawyer classmate of my brothers’ who told me, “Emil, just because you are innocent, don’t, for a moment, believe that a court of law can’t find you guilty!”

Before I was restricted to 50 acres of plantation land under the provisions of the Land Reform Act, I had diversified my holding to the extent that with the help of the maturing permanent crops, a flock of about 350 sheep, a dairy-cow herd which we were upgrading, a few beef cattle, some hogs, about a thousand laying hens and batches of broilers and Muscovy ducks going to market on a regular basis, my family and I were not likely to be knocking at poverty’s door in the mid-country of Sri Lanka at that point in its history.

There was one little catch here though: there was nothing to stop the government from “acquiring for a public purpose” every square inch of my residual land holding. I had seen this happen with a previous SLFP government that had taken over a cinema and the adjacent land by the side of the road near Kadugannawa where it, literally, rotted and became debris presumably serving a “public purpose!”

Exercising a level of secrecy that would have done some “who-dunnit” character proud, we prepared for our departure from Sri Lanka before the final axe fell. That we had not over-reacted was proved by the fact that after our departure, the cavalcade of slogan-shouting occupants of several agricultural tractor trailers that had comprised the forces taking over the land vested in the Land Reform Commission had driven into the front yard of what used to be our home and which was completely outside “their” land, the MP had alighted and with a grand gesture and to the cheers of his somewhat-inebriated supporters had said, “We are going to take this land and house as well very soon.”

In the matter of the last bit of property I owned in Sri Lanka being taken over by a vengeful government, my calculations proved right. Once the “target” wasn’t there, little purpose was served in taking over his land. However, the terminal damage done to what I had built in the form of an integrated agricultural operation was given the coup de grace by a combination of violence – executed and threatened – the exercise of uncontrolled political power and pure and simple malice. More than I, my wife and children, one a pre-teenager and the other a year old, paid the heaviest price in the matter of the dislocation of their lives.

Compared to most who were subjected to this kind of eviction, we were among the luckier ones who had family at our destination to cushion our landing. Nevertheless, it was a pretty awful business – being evicted from the land of your birth, even though it might have given us an understanding of what being a political refugee entailed!

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Latest comments

  • 8
    3

    Nationalization or taking over of Plantations in the Country, did it do any good to the Country? Today when you look at abandoned Plantations in all parts of the Country, proves what a stupid idea it was. What was the real reason behind the Estates take over? The lady Prime Minister wanted to destroy the political party UNP and take revenge from those who supported the party, which she suspected get the complete support of the Plantation sector. We need educated individuals with a good family back ground in the Parliament to improve the Country.

    • 3
      2

      Emil,

      QUOTE being evicted from the land of your birth, even though it might have given us an understanding of what being a political refugee entailed!UNQUOTE

      Sad to read about the unforgivable incidents you have gone through.

      However, even if the situations for some notherners and southerners could be case unique, yours can definitely provide them with inside information how they have to fight for regaining their lands.

      Do you think laws have been changed over the years in terms of serving more towards justice ?
      I feel Ruwanda and some other afro countries be better for safeguarding land rights. s

    • 0
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      Emil van der Poorten[Edited out]

  • 2
    3

    Thanks for this article. We all suffered from that Land reform act.

  • 6
    6

    Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.

    These were only some of indignities that decent people suffered in our time of madness.

    After all that, have we learnt our lessons? I think the answer is blowing in the wind.

    I still tell my friends, Sri Lankan and foreign who travel our beautiful island, “watch your friends closely, watch your enemies even closer, but most of all watch your back all the time”. Sad, I know, but experience is a harsh teacher.

    • 0
      0

      Yet another Maasai Mara- Zebra eating crocodile shedding tears.

  • 2
    2

    my advice, never forget, forgive , if you are a kind man, but never forget. This disgraceful history must be retold, without end

  • 0
    0

    Dear
    I am not sure whether you are the our friend “Vanda”, who was then a student of the faculty of Agriculture, where we met at the University of Peradeniya in 1974 (1974-1975). Sometimes, you may be an elder brother of our Vanda.

    • 3
      0

      Wimal Weera:
      The “Vanda” you refer to is probably my cousin Dr. George (Michael)van der Poorten who is now acknowledged as Sri Lanka’s foremost expert on butterflies (while his wife, Nancy, holds a similar position with regard to dragonflies!)
      I believe his recent publication, a landmark in the field of information about butterflies, may still be available at the booksellers.

      • 2
        1

        Emil,
        I have the chance to work with Dutch colleagues on an off. There for my own information I question myself as to why there are no yet politicians to represent lanken burgher community ?

        I believe nearly a total of 50k burghers living in the country today while most of them live as migrants to australia.

        I ve got questions also regarding lanken butterflies, good to know – your bro hs been expert to the area, I will contact him accordingly. Thanks – Colonge Germany

        • 3
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          Rarityminds:
          Can’t speak for the “Burgher community” because my family was one of those that identified themselves, accurately, as Eurasians.
          If you have an interest in that group, check out the work of my niece Menika van der Poorten who has put together some very interesting multimedia material referring to the Eurasians as “the lost tribe.” “Groundviews” might be a starting point and there was also a feature article about Menika in last Sunday’s Times, the newspaper that came out on the 27th.

          • 2
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            Emil:
            thank you and appreciate.

            This is what I thought about lanken Burgers until your information.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgher_people

            For me we are all srilankens but I am interested in learning more about all ethnic groups in our home country.
            Thanks also for info about Menika van der Poorten. I will try to read them all next days. The truth is we are more curious to know more about own country, when living out of the country; Sadly the truth.

            • 0
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              Rarityminds

              “For me we are all srilankens but I am interested in learning more about all ethnic groups in our home country. “

              We all are people in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho.

              For some reason the Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamils do not seem to get it?

              Is it the Mahawamsa Effect that has caused the Paras to believe only in Myths?

              Through a comparison with the mtDNA HVS-1 and part of HVS-2 of Indian database, both Tamils and Sinhalese clusters were affiliated with Indian subcontinent populations than Vedda people who are believed to be the native population of the island of Sri Lanka.

              http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v59/n1/full/jhg2013112a.html

              The Vedda Tribe

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f89NuukY32U&t=248s

              • 1
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                Thanks Amarasiri.

                From what some commnetators add to this forum, we see it clearly some mind sets are filled exclusivley with all hatreds against the minorities. I really dont know why ?

                Even after the long lasted war – for a period of 30 long years, obviously, nothing much is changed in those virulent mind sets.

                These men are the curse and stumbling blocks for the sustainable peace in this country.
                I truly believe there are a larger fraction among majority of the srilanken population bear the views of my kind today.

                Just because of some fractions still stay with their racial thoughts, I dont think they will ever succeed it.

                Jaya niyathai.

                I also thank Emil for all the inforamtion.

            • 0
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              He rightly says Eurasian.
              Lankan Farce like the Portuguese in the EU.
              Kachcheri’s or district secretariat of Ceylon after independence became a graft bowl.
              So many Tamils and Sinhalese borrowed Portuguese names then sounded like burgher and finally sinhala buddhist- now once again wriggling with the Portuguese names in the west.

              • 1
                0

                What kind of problem you see with Portuguese in EU ?

                Why you behave this way ? Even after 30 long year war, you buggers should see it right it was our mistake that created such wars in this beautiful island. Stupid idiots not being able to see it yet today, to attack minorities is no means acceptable. We need laws – rigorous laws to punish you idiots.

                Let them be if they wish to. What is your problem bastard ? Not being able to see it right yet today.
                Given everyone a chance-if they are born to this country. We are all srilankens.

                Sinhalabuddhists should be written out as one single word.
                Then only readers will get it.

                We have only one group of buddhists in thie country, those are the one who are born to Buddhism. All other whichever the way they may want to name them – are just racial groups working for political agendas of SOME ABUSIVE POLITICIANS. Example number 01 IS Rajaakshe proxy- thugs and buddhist fundamentalists. BBS work today, calling them as ” Sinhala buddhists” but displaying all evil nature of behaviours promoting violence rather than non-violence. Alone that proves the world they are facists and thugs that do the secondary work for politicians.

  • 1
    0

    One of the greatest crimes of the divisive and destructive 1956 Apey Anduwa Revolution was the inspired eviction of the very talented, educated and friendly Burgher community from the island. The Burghers had the same rights as anyone here but they did not feel safe to stay here. They have been here at least from around the 16th century but the land and properties of this community, in many cases, were robbed on flimsy, sometimes comical, reasons. I knew of a Mr. Dominic – a wealthy land-owner in Matara whose valuable land in town was acquired for the welfare of the fishing community. The sea was many miles away.
    I hope at least some in the government will take notice of Emil’s case and bring him badly needed justice.

    The contribution to the country’s overall good by the Burghers was far in excess of their small numbers. They shone in Sports, Music, the laws, music, education, governance etc. You name it they were there in their welcome presence. Socially, they were marvellous company.

    Now that good sense is slowly and surely returning to our political leaders, I hope the nearly impossible dream of seeing our very good friends – the Burghers – returning to the island, even under dual-citizenship arrangements, will materialise soon.

    Kettikaran

  • 5
    0

    This is really a sad affair, that many of us went through with the nationalization of the plantations! I am sure that the BURGHERS returning are mainly to visit and sometimes show their children the country that they grew up in. A ‘fools folly’ to return on a dual citizenship, and try to recreate the lovely life it was. In the blink of an eye, if you do make an investment as a dual citizen, you are just asking for a repetition of what Uncle Emil went through. Visit the country – Nilaveli, Kuchchiveli, the tea hills – but dont dare make it a permanent home, again.

    • 3
      1

      On target- (Thirisannos)leopards don’t change their spots.

  • 0
    1

    The tremendous contribution made to the development of Sri Lanka cannot be ignored. Colvin R de Silva the architect of the 1962 Constitution was a hypocrite besides his other distinguished qualities. He knew Marxism in theory but he never practised its principles He had numerous houses in Colombo given out on rent but they were all given out in the name of his children. His wife did not hide the fact that she wanted him to join the UNP. She would express her views openly Bensen

  • 0
    0

    The tremendous contribution made to the development of Sri Lanka by the Burgher community cannot be ignored. Colvin R de Silva the architect of the 1962 Constitution was a hypocrite besides his other distinguished qualities. He knew Marxism in theory but he never practised its principles He had numerous houses in Colombo given out on rent but they were all given out in the name of his children. His wife did not hide the fact that she wanted him to join the UNP. She would express her views openly Bensen

    • 0
      0

      “”He knew Marxism in theory but he never practised its principles “”

      C(like corporal) De Silva was the real urban terrorist who had Sepala the Alitalia hijacker released. He did practice One People One Nation.

      • 0
        0

        Omar:
        Are you in competition with Sumaney for unintelligibility? Or are you Sumaney under a different pseudonym?
        EVERY ONE of your comments about this piece display the same characteristics, hence the inquiry.

        • 0
          0

          You sound like the soothsayer Dr S. Swamy.
          You need to keep your mind (pseudo-intelligence with ageing) in a shelf and look with your eyes.

  • 2
    0

    Kettikaran:
    Thank you for your kind and considerate comment: “I hope at least some in the government will take notice of Emil’s case and bring him badly needed justice.”

    However, the damage done to me, my family and so very many others by vicious and vengeful people can NEVER be compensated and I don’t think any of the victims live in that expectation.

    What IS galling, though, is that the current lot, whom we expected would be at least a marginal improvement over their predecessors, appear to he no better than those that went before them: a bunch of self-aggrandizing bandits. The only difference appears to be that the slogans are different!
    Back to the JVP’s “Unuth Ekai, Munuth ekai” I suppose!

    • 1
      0

      Emil
      It is someone like you, with the advantage of name-face familiarity, should begin now to organise the small, scattered but splendid Burgher community (Of Dutch, Portugese, British and other origins) in the island to secure relief from the authorities for micro as well as macro issues. I believe the community’s numbers – that was in the 50,000 levels at its apogee in the 1950s – may now be lower. But I am sure members of the community that married into other communities may also wish to be identified as Burghers. That should arrive at a fair number. If you recall until the late 1960s there was a Nominated seat for the Burgher community from the time of the 1st Parliament. I recall a Poulier in Parliament around that time. At a time such as now when the State is redrawing the Constitution, the electorates and voting patterns a proposal of this nature might engage the acceptance of the State.

      Kettikaran

      • 0
        0

        Kettikaran:
        While I certainly appreciate your motivation, I have difficulty with the very idea of organizing on the basis of community (race,culture etc.) because I believe it was that divisive approach deliberately applied by such as the Bandaranayagams, for starters, that got us into this sorry mess.
        We need to organize on a much broader basis – that of principle, democratic practice etc. That said, I fear that, while I am prepared to invest what energy I have left, I don’t have a great deal of that commodity left as someone very close to four score years!

        • 0
          0

          To learn swimmng, you need to go into waters. If not today when ?
          I think you are among the few that may have all the knowledge and everything what Kettikaran kindly mentioned above. I think, give it try will help the silent masses of your community. All the best.

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