17 May, 2022


Mass Grave In Matale: A Cause For Grave Concern

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

The discovery of a mass grave in Matale has elicited horror in certain circles.  It is no doubt a horrifying discovery.  The horror is such that it is also natural for people to ask questions and demand answers.  It all depends on who is asking, who is being asked and who ends up answering.

In the West there is a word that is used in post-death or indeed post-anything situations: closure.  Investigations help, we are told, not just to bring perpetrator to book but for the aggrieved to find ‘closure’.  The Matale grave is over two decades old, we are told.  The dead were the victims of the bheeshanaya, many seem to think.  They may be right.  The question is how did the loved ones of the victims find ‘closure’?

Most were Sinhala Buddhists.  The parents didn’t get to see the bodies of their sons and daughters.  Some assumed they were dead because they were aware that abductions had actually taken place.  Some couldn’t have known.  Twenty years is a long time.   One stops waiting.  Other tragedies sweep over earlier ones.  Joys, sporadic or otherwise, give respite. The diurnal takes over and new routines over-script older ones.  In most cases, merit (pin) would have been ‘transferred’ subsequent to almsgivings.

One can argue, effectively, that death is the only unguent that takes away the burdens and pains of loss.  Loss is personal.  Grief is personal. At the same time we are talking about mass murder. We are talking of crimes against humanity, and of course ones which escaped the eagle eye of chest-beating human rights activists.  These activists who talk of ‘justice for the living’ and ‘accountability’ should not be stopped by crime-date.  They can go back to the horrendous crimes against humanity perpetrated by European hordes in Sri Lanka for five long centuries, including the breaking of temples and construction of churches over those ruins, the burning of ancient and invaluable manuscripts and other such acts of vandalism.  They won’t.  Must we?

Yes, and no.  Yes, because society and civilization require answer to query.  No, not if it is a selective exercise. And ‘no,’ if it amounts to turning mass graves, bones and such into a political football.

The JVP, which lost hundreds of members in that period of terror, has demanded an investigation. Interestingly, though, the JVP has called for investigations into allegations of their own wrongdoing.  It’s a win-win situation. Victims of JVP terrorism were not buried in mass graves.  They were all clear cut assassinations where life was taken and body left behind.

The thrust of the JVP’s rhetoric on the Matale grave has little to do with the horror and the need for ‘closure’ but to gather some political mileage by way of pointing fingers.  Pointing fingers, let us be clear, not at the regime of the time but at individuals associated with that regime who have crossed over to the present regime.

The JVP ‘pacted’ with the UNP during the last Presidential election.   It dare not upset fellow travelers in the political wilderness.  This is logical and understandable.  It also points to humbuggery about victims and their loved ones.   The UNP, for its part, has been silent, although those UNP stalwarts who are aiding and abetting clearly pernicious moves to manufacture crimes against humanity purportedly perpetrated by the security forces, has the moral obligation to comment. They’ve been silent.  Not strange.

How about Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera, Sunila Abeysekera, Nimalka Fernando, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, Basil Fernando, Kumar David and J.C. Weliamuna?  Is their silence a different kind of political football with the dead?  Are some victims not newsworthy? Are some murders not worthy of investigation?  Does that have something to do with who did the killing and does this silence indicate where these supposedly ‘neutral’ commentators stand party-politically?

None of these people wept the kinds of tears they weep now back then when the UNP regime slaughtered unarmed youth in their hundreds on a daily basis. They don’t need ‘closure’ now because they didn’t need closure then, should we not conclude?

Way back in the early nineties, Mangala Samaraweera helped set up an organization called ‘Mau Peramuna’ (Mother’s Front), which was also a ‘footballing’ of sorts, where the then ‘recent’ inconsolability of mothers whose children were billafied and probably murdered, some burnt alive, was tossed around for political gain.  Why is he so silent now?

No one can really dismiss investigation-call on account of the length of time that’s passed.   This is why those who are shedding tears over crimes that are said to have happened cannot remain silent about Matale.  The USA, Canada, Britain and other EU countries must speak out. They have not.

These are matters of grave concern.  These are matters to think about for if footballing is the intent then closure is of secondary import to the questioner.  That’s adding insult to injury.  Not just the dead but the living too would be turned into pawns in a political game.  This cannot be something that the nation wants.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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  • 0


    Could I interest you in a number of books which describe in some detail about all what had happened in that period you have suddenly woken up to.

    These were mostly written by Lawyer, Author, Campaigner, Activist, Columnist (a good one at that) KISHALI PINTO-JAYAWARDENA and research and publication were mostly funded by NGOs. If you want to learn something about grief and human rights please type her name in Google search you will be surprised how this lady is managing to churn out this many good books, quality reports, etc.

    I can tell you I am ashamed of men from Sri Lanka.

    JANUARY 2010


    Study on Prevalence, Determinants and Causes
    of Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or
    Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Sri Lanka
    Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

    Habeas Corpus in Sri Lanka


  • 0

    Each one of those who you have mentioned above had extensive run ins with the UNP government of the late 80- early nineties – the decade you are referring to. As much as their lives are threatened now by the Deshapremiyo of today, their lives were threatened by the government goons of that era.

    • 0

      Bang on, Aruna. Malinda obviously needs to research his facts. Of course we know he loves to bash those who speak against the Rajapakasa’s. He, like many others today, prefer to ignore the fact that all those who denounce crimes against humanity do so, irrespective of which regime they speak up against.

      All those mentioned and many others were driven underground, during that period because they dared to be critical of the UNP.

      Malinda also wants to know why the USA, Canada etc have not yet spoken out. When there are various theories about the remains that have been discovered, how does he expect these countries to speak out.

  • 0

    Thanks for highlighting this issue.Recently we read an editorial in Island on this same subject.
    Those so called champions of human rights (depending on US dollars!)are completely silent.This issue will not bring them any benefits as there is no ethnic factor involved.Thus no sexiness for them to parade at Lipton round about.
    I remember during CBK’s presidential campaign a poster of a weeping mother was portrayed everywhere. unfortunately nothing happened after she came to power! This is political football.

    There is no such thing as integrity in politics!

  • 0

    We seem to be leaving all the talking to the NGO’s and IC. As a society we are dead silent about anything that happens even on our door step. Hypocrisy is wide spread and not the sole monopoly of NGO’s and the international community, it begins right on our doorstep, at home.

  • 0

    It has been commented that this nation twice removed from its genepool, the genes for activsim. In 1971 the government ‘removed ‘up to 20,000 or more of the educated, poor. Those who attended university or demonstrated interest in radical politics, were young or unemployed were singled out for liquidation. The next progrom was in the late 1980’s when over 60,000 were ‘removed’ without a word being uttered in protest on any international stage. These people never passed their genes on. Genetically speaking, we removed from our race a large percentage of the traits for high intellectual potential and activism. Metaphorically, It has become the time of the bottom feeders in our gene pool to manifest themselves as the intellectuals and leaders.

    I have been one of the many thousands of Sinhalese who rushed out to help our Tamil brethren in the face of the centrally organized goon squads and mob arousers that were set loose on the country in 1983. Living in the village at Mirhawatte, it was very clear that the attacks were directed and carried out by outsiders. No one from my village participated. Yet, up to today, the Sinhalese people are made to carry the blame and the shame for the atrocious action, conducted at the behest and by a group of very evil people.

    (R.Senanayake 1910, Clowns and Jokers, Neo Printers, Colombo )

    We have won the war with a horrendous loss of lives of both combatants and innocents. But neither this loss nor the loss of our youth is ever addressed publicly to date. To a nation that values giving merit to the departed, no action to remember or give merit to the dead is encouraged, in fact such activities are violently discouraged. We have become the ghouls that we accuse everyone else of being. All of the killers, torturers and those who reveled in that horror past, still stalk the corridors of power. No amount of propaganda can ever wash this blood from our hands. Only an honest and truthful reconciliation process with full accountability can!


  • 0

    Malinda queries:

    “How about Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Jehan Perera, Sunila Abeysekera, Nimalka Fernando, Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, Basil Fernando, Kumar David and J.C. Weliamuna? Is their silence a different kind of political football with the dead? Are some victims not newsworthy? Are some murders not worthy of investigation? Does that have something to do with who did the killing and does this silence indicate where these supposedly ‘neutral’ commentators stand party-politically?”

    Malinda you should obviously know the answer. These NGO mafias will not talk about crimes committed by the various UNP regimes. Have you ever heard of Americans and the Europeans who are the pay masters of these NGOs making any fuss about the atrocities committed by the past UNP regimes? They were all silent. Reason. Pure and simple – UNP regimes were with the Americans and the West. Therefore, there was no problem for Washington or London or Paris. MR is seen by them as close to China and hence all these cries about human rights and humanitarian law violations.

    • 0


      I find your comment fascinating not because of it content but because what it misses.

      Geopolitics and Geoeconomics dictate the outcome of all conflicts. Maintaining an affordable stability is always the driving force. LTTE, JVP and the state were/are allowed to operate within a set of unwritten rules and unpublished parameters.

      End justifies means, including genocide, corruption, torture, all forms of human right violation.

      It is up to the people to wise up.

      Many criticise the state not because they find anything wrong with it but because they crave to join the establishment and become statists themselves. Once they have been granted the honour being part of the establishment, they see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil of the state and its rulers.

  • 0

    Majority of NGOs do not deal with the class based inequalities. Because their political economy is no different to that of the capitalist state. These NGOs are responsible for the demise of the labor unions and jettisoning of class based struggles from progressive politics. They in fact reproduce the same forces that they purport to transform.

    At the same time if not for some of these NGOs ethnic inequalities would not have gained much visibility and human rights violations relating to ethnicity would have been completely suppressed. Unfortunately we lack NGOs that incorporate class, race, gender etc, in their struggles. The government defines ‘Non-governmetnal’ identity (of the N) of the NGOs. In the capitalist economy both the NGOs and the state reproduce each other for the service of capital. They both discipline the society to function according to the logic of capital. In doing so they suppress class based politics. At the same time the anti-NGOism in some countries is also not about NGOs but legitimization of oppressive forces.

    • 0

      I must also say that NGOs and State arose due to more or less similar contradictions in the political economy or at least situated in those contradictions. I have no issues with foreign funding as long as they are used for right purposes. It is funny that anti-NGO lobby has no issues with foreign funding for everything else in the country, but not for NGOs. It is the lack of justice that often draws people towards the NGOs. But the very political economy of the NGOs imposes limits on what that can deliver. Am i fan of NGOs, no. But I understand the contradictions.

  • 0

    The regret my dear fellow is that in our country anything and everything must take on an ethnic hue. MS is no exception as his opening gem suggests; “The discovery of a mass grave in Matale has elicited horror in certain circles.” He hastens to guide us readers as to who these certain (emphasis mine) circles he alludes to are: as in his people, the Sinhala Buddhists. Now that he has clothed his argument in ethnic terms, he is free to assume that Non Sinhala Buddhists would not be found among the 200 plus men and women who were buried there.
    This was not an uprising confined to Sinhala Buddhist youth alone; many Muslims and Christians were caught up as well. It is an insult to the families of the youth who without exception died a gory death to trivialise this tragedy in ethnic terms. “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” is an apt quote from Henry David Thoreau to remind people like MS these were not cheap deaths. To use a convoluted ethnic argument as the basis to berate human rights advocates is a travesty. .
    The security apparatus under the then government disposed of those who were opposed to their regime irrespective of ethnicity and political aspirations. The extra judicial tactics used to quell the ’89 uprising were an extension of post ’83 strategy of impunity. This presence of a ruthless killing machine, unable distinguish between ethnicities, is the stark reality that eludes MS. He may wish to deflect this truth arguing that a majority of the perpetrators and victims were Sinhala Buddhist, and thus the lack of concern shown by the international community.
    He argues that those who call for “closure” and in the same breath accountability for Tamil victims seem luke warm in their response to the deaths of Sinhala Buddhist youths. Let me remind MS what John Donne has to say about death;”Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind”.
    We need not point fingers at the international community; we need to act at our level. Even if we don’t condone their actions, acknowledging that these young men and women paid the ultimate price of life in exchange for liberty for others is a must. The death untimely or otherwise of all citizens be it Sinhala Buddhist or Tamil must diminish us. There is no shame in helping the families of the victims grieve. Further, to help heal festering wounds the atrocity that visited the youth in ’89 and beyond as an undignified as it was needs to be investigated. With this acceptance, accountability will be easier to deal with and as MS disparagingly says help Sri Lankans and the world at large to find closure.
    He may not believe in grieving, finding closure, and moving on. With that exception established I am sure the majority of us want to get on with our lives with the dignity and respect each one of us deserves without ethnic and nationalistic rhetoric being brought to bear on us.

  • 0

    Hey Malinda I thought you are to be sacked by MR who you suck up to??MR is reported as having said that you cannot run a newspaper- even a teeny weeny one like The Nation

  • 0

    This id not from Malinda Seneviratne -CT

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy

  • 0

    Malinda, because they are Sinhalese Buddhist they need closure? but the thousands of dead tamils in the north don’t deserve anything? Dont plead for an investigation because they are ‘your people’, but turn an blind eye because the tamils in the north were your enemy!! You third world bloggers are part of the communal problem.

    • 0

      All are our people regardless of Sinhalese, Tamil,Muslim and so on.

      If third world bloggers are part of the communal problem may I remind you that you first world are responsible for teaching this disgusting communal behavior to us.Remember before Portuguese, Dutch and Brits came to Sri Lanka there was enough harmony among various communities.British implanted racism in this country and practiced divide and rule.Now trying to teach the whole world how to behave!!

  • 0

    As one of the many journalists and HR defenders at the time that the atrocities were committed against us by the UNP regime at the time as well as the DJV, I need to pipe in a bit. Boy we lived in equal fear of the govt and the JVP whose representatives are now all in parliament! I cannot remember whether Mr Seneviratne was a journalist working in SL at the time so perhaps this experience is new for him. As Aruna points out we were under attack then and are under attack now! Regimes and individuals don’t really matter. The truth matters and there is just a simple new gang of pandangkarayas now, who write to wash the crap out of their masters linen. And there are a new gang of goons and partisan cops who will do the bidding of the master.

    To set the record straight there were similar responses made by Western governments at the time. There was a young Human Rights lawyer called Mahinda Rajapakse who made representations in Geneva and was Lionised by the Western Media including the BBC. Eventually the Premadasa administration compromised very intelligently to bring in the ICRC to Sri Lanka. Under RP’s leadership implemented by Lionel Balagalle the armed forces of SL went through a real transformation that contributed greatly to the ultimately inroads that were made against the LTTE.

    • 0

      Arjuna Ranawana says:

      “Under RP’s leadership implemented by Lionel Balagalle the armed forces of SL went through a real transformation that contributed greatly to the ultimately inroads that were made against the LTTE.”

      Please bear with me. I am bit thick and I do not understand many things that is happening in this country.

      What sort of real transformation are we talking about here?

      Did Lionel Balagalle stop armed forces using fire power.

      Did he teach the armed forces the art of pillow fight which ultimately made inroads in the war against LTTE, in other words was it a war against LTTE without a shot being fired?

      Please note many of those members of the armed forces/police who participated in the war against JVP in 1971 were holding middle or senior positions between 1987 and 2001. Those who held middle raking positions were holding senior positions between 2005 and 2009.

      What was the qualitative difference that Arjuna Ranawana had witnessed between 1971 and 2009? Perhaps the qualitative and quantitative changes in weapons that were used since 1971 or perhaps the collusion among the big powers including India during and after the war.

      In the period between 1971 and 2009 hundreds of thousands of innocent people had been killed. The only constant is the Sri Lankan state. The state has taken precedent over peoples life. Statists run the country the corrupt politicians want to own the country. There is no dividing line between the state, its rulers and their cronies, hence plenty of scope for history repeating itself.

  • 0

    Your people would be rubbing sticks together and using bow and arrows to hunt game if ‘US’ first world didnt show you how to advance… wait an minute the average Sinhalese still walks down dirt roads, I guess your people really havent advance

    • 0

      Dear David,
      It is not fair to ignore your insults.You hardly know the history of Sri Lanka.When the westerners (the forefathers of US) lived in caves and hunting like animals Sri Lankans had great civilizations. This was about 4th century BC.The city was Anuradhapura.It had arguably the most sophisticated irrigation system in the world.It had a 9 storied building known as Brazen palace.Please refer to wikipedia or similar source of reference to learn some Sri Lankan history before commenting.

      I do not have time to give a history tutorial.
      Of course the development and civilizations were destroyed by foreign powers and we lost it altogether after western suckers invaded.

  • 0

    David George

    “Your people would be rubbing sticks together and using bow and arrows to hunt game if ‘US’ first world didnt show you how to advance”

    What is wrong with rubbing sticks together and using bow and arrows to hunt game?

    Have you ever care to learn about eco friendly way of life? For your information, it was an Irish physicist who discovered the principle behind matches, not American. An English chemist who first first friction matches, not an American.

    As you know I am bit thick therefore I am not “knowledgeable as you are. Please tell us what you mean by advancement and how did US show the rest of the how to advance?

    You ignorantly say:

    “wait an minute the average Sinhalese still walks down dirt roads,”

    Why do you find walking down a dirt road funny or whatever?

    Are you a born Yankee dick or became one by mere association?

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