By Rajan Hoole –
Sri Lanka’s Black July – Part 32
While Ratnatunga is very silent on the ac- tions of ministers, he gives us a good deal of information about the actions of a particular Buddhist monk, Alle Gunawanse. It is clear that Ratnatunga highlights the role of Gunawanse (and Mathew) in the events of 1983 in order to diminish the culpability of the core UNP leadership. Gunawanse was known to be a maverick with a tendency to go out of control once he began to speak. There were several monks like Gunawanse, who began their careers by encroaching on state land and putting up a small structure. Their success depended on po- litical patronage. Gunawanse too encroached on crown land in Colombo 7 (Cinnamon Gardens) opposite the BMICH on Bullers Road.
It was well known to contemporaries that Gunawanse had strong links with Gamini Dissanayake and was a recipient of patronage from the Mahaveli Ministry. His humble struc- ture was replaced by an impressive one from state funds, and in honour of the Maheveli Project received the grand name of Maheveli Maha Seya. He also acquired a Pajero Jeep – the symbol of the new rich of the Jayewardene era. As an extremist he was very much in tune with Gamini Dissanayake’s politics of that period. Gunawanse was known to organise karate classes for his Buddhist Front and ministers had participated in black-belt awarding ceremonies. It is clear that in this (as in any other) opportunistic alliance between politician and monk, it was the politician who reaped the long-term advantages. Gunawanse came in a long line of monks who occupied such positions (e.g. Buddha Rakkitha Thero of the S.W.R.D Bandaranaike era who later featured in the latter’s murder trial). All of them eventually fell into obscurity.
Ratnatunga ascribes to Gunawanse an important role in the events of July 1983. He first appears (p.12) trying to whip up the emotions of the crowd at Kanatte cemetery. The monk, who was the leader of the Sinhala Mahajana Peramuna is presented on the evening of the 24th of July asking the Army funeral authorities to show the bodies of the dead soldiers before they are interred. There is an oblique reference to him (p.16) as the monk who had come uninvited to the cemetery, who, that same evening, led a mob down Cotta Road, Borella, with a list in hand. He was subsequently reported being seen at the Cinnamon Gardens Police station, having come in a jeep with a pistol tucked under his robes, demanding curfew passes.
The longest reference to Gunawanse’s activities appears on page 32 regarding the events following the late night cabinet meeting on 27th July. Here we find the President actually negotiating with Gunawanse. Although Ratnatunga’s account is very detailed, the main point and context are left out. The context was the telephone call from Indira Gandhi to President Jayewardene on the evening of the 27th. We will return to this in the sequel.
The Events at Kanatte on the Evening of 24th July
In our account of the events at Kanatte, we reached certain conclusions. The Government had decided to make the funeral a rousing occasion to be splashed in the media (including television). Ratnatunga’s account points to a different conclusion. Ratnatunga argues that Jayewardene intended a quiet and discreet funeral, and did not intend to capitalise on the deaths of the soldiers. While it may be true that the Government was vacillating, in the end, they decided on a public funeral. The responsibility for this decision must lie with Jayewardene. Ratnatunga argues that the decision to hold a public funeral was taken for practical reasons over which Jayewardene had no control.
According to Ratnatunga, it had been planned that the bodies would be sent to a funeral parlour, where members of the Cabinet could pay their respects discreetly. It is then claimed that Jayewardene’s security officer, Neil Weerasinghe, made an objection to the funeral parlour for security reasons. However, it appears that it would have been easier to ensure secu- rity in the funeral parlour rather than in the presence of a large crowd at the cemetery. It seems unlikely, however, that such an important decision during an extremely sensitive time could have been made without considering Jayewardene’s political motives. It must be re- membered that after these soldiers had died, some soldiers had gone on the rampage in Jaffna, killing 51 civilians. Honouring the dead soldiers in such a public way in the heart of Colombo was a crucial gesture. At the same time, the Gov- ernment refused to acknowledge the enormity of the massacre in Jaffna.
According to Ratnatunga another reason for a public funeral was the fact that the bodies were badly mutilated, and it was difficult to distin- guish individuals or even body parts (i.e. ‘what [part] was what’) (pp.12,14). According to the uncle of one of the deceased soldiers, whose tes- timony was referred to in Sect.9.4, this was not the position. The head of the lieutenant was out of shape, but the others were readily recognisable and certainly not in pieces. The decision to hold a military funeral in Colombo with full honours was ultimately taken in a discussion headed by Jayewardene without consid- ering the natural wishes of the families. The rea- son given to the families for a military funeral in Colombo was that the bodies had been mangled out of recognition, something that was untrue. This decision to have a public funeral led to great anger, since it prevented the fami- lies taking the bodies home for the customary private funeral.
The reasons given by both Ratnatunga and T.D.S.A. Dissanayake for the delay in bringing the bodies to Colombo for the funeral sched- uled for 5.00 PM are unsatisfactory. Ratnatunga cites a police message from Jaffna at 5.00 PM to the effect that JMO Jaffna caused the delay by wanting to perform autopsies on at least two bodies before releasing them. As with the bodies of the Welikade victims, it had evidently become awkward to dispose of the bodies without a legal procedure under ER 15A once they had come to the mortuary. But it would not have taken more than an hour or so to com- plete autopsies on two bodies. The real reason for the delay therefore lies with confusion among the organisers.
Ratnatunga does, however, provide confir- mation that the leadership originally intended to attend the public funeral, even though they were ultimately prevented by the hostility of the crowd against the Government. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Gamini Jayasuriya, along with Mayor Sirisena Cooray encountered abuse from the crowd when they walked towards the site of the funeral about 7.00 PM. This discouraged Jayewardene and the others from attending. It was then that the public funeral was abandoned. About the same time the airborne Army Commander was sent back to Jaffna on Jayewardene’s instructions. In an hour or two, the UNP’s shock troops were imposing their order on the streets. We have argued that Jayewardene’s actions here are far from innocent.
To be continued..
Part four – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Cover Up
Part five – 30th July 1983: The Second Naxalite Plot
Part seven – Black July: Thondaman & Muttetuwegama
Part nine – Tamil Merchants In The Pettah – Post July 1983
Part eleven – Sri Lanka’s Black July: The Question Of Numbers
Part fourteen – Circumstances Leading To The Magistrate’s Inquest
Part fifteen – Welikade Prison: The Second Massacre: 27th July 1983
Part seventeen – Welikade Prison Massacres: Postscript
Part eighteen – July 1983: Planned By The State Or Spontaneous Mob Action?
Part nineteen – July 1983: Ranil Wickremasinghe Followed Cyril Mathew
Part twenty one – Events Of 24th July: What Were The Army’s Orders?
Part twenty two – Black July: Further Evidence Of Advance Planning
Part twenty three – Black July: The JSS Goon Squad Regime
Part twenty four – Institutional Implications Of The JSS And Black July
Part twenty seven – Black July: Justice Of Peace Gonawela Sunil And The Killings In Prison
Part twenty eight – Prison Massacre And The Alitalia Hijacker Sepala Ekanayake
Part twenty nine – Black July: Further Indirect Evidence Of State Involvement
Part thirty – Blak July: Remarks & Testimonies In Retrospect
Part thirty one – Black July: Some Missing Threads
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To be continued..