Colombo Telegraph

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

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