By Lionel Bopage –
Comrade Saman Wagaarachchi had joined the JVP in early 1977 while we were still being held incarcerated for our role in the April 1971 uprising. Later I heard that he had supported strike action taken by the workers of Galle Harbour and the Ceylon Cement Corporation site in Galle. My association with comrade Saman’s family commenced during the Galle bye-election held in December 1979. Since then comrade Saman and his family became strong supporters of the JVP and comrade Saman became a full-time activist. He was active in the Socialist Workers’ Union. Comrade Upatissa Gamanayaka was its secretary. Comrade Saman also assisted in the activities of the Society for Socialist Culture, his main contribution being to organise poets and writers in an affiliated group.
Comrade Saman was the editor of a pamphlet of poetry we published at that time. I can recollect leading artistes such as Monika Ruwanpathirana, Rathna Sri Wijesinghe and Ven Wilegoda Ariyadeva Thero making contributions to it. He supported multifarious activities associated with training and organising the performances of ‘Songs of Liberation’ (විමුක්ති ගී). His sister, comrade Samanmalee Wagaarachchi was a member of the group of vocalists, until the show was banned for the third time in early 1983.
Comrade Saman was also involved in our attempt to produce the drama ‘Not a Withered Flower’ (මිලානවූ මලක් නොවේ). The drama was based on the real-life story of comrade Premawathi Manamperi. The government appointed Public Performance Board set up to scrutinize such drama productions, banned it during its very first performance. The reason being that the leaders of the UNP, in particular Mr R Premadasa had been opportunistically using a distorted version of comrade Manamperi’s life story for their political gain.
Comrade Saman was a close confidante of comrades Rohana Wijeweera and Upatissa Gamanayake. Sometime towards the end of 1981 and at the initiative of comrade Prins Gunasekera, comrade Rohana had held a discussion with Mr Maithripala Senanayaka, who was the leader of the breakaway faction of the SLFP led by Mrs Sirima Banadaranaike. As a result of this discussion, comrades Wijeweera and Gamanayake had organised a group led by comrade Saman (to the best of my recollection), to sabotage the rally held by the SLFP after the breakaway faction left the party. Mrs Bandaranaike was to address this rally.
Gampaha Police had arrested some of the JVP cadres, including comrade Saman, who had been involved in this incident. They had been severely tortured, particularly comrade Saman. The Police had hung him from a rafter and beaten him. Some members of the politbureau did not even know that such a decision to sabotage the SLFP rally had been taken, organised and implemented. The same evening, comrade Gamanayake rang me and asked me to do what was needed for getting those arrested to be released on bail. I remember being pretty upset about this whole incident and having a heated argument with comrade Gamanayake about it. The Police had remanded those arrested at the Mahara maximum security prison. I visited them the next day and was able to get them released on bail sometime later.
After I left the JVP in 1984, I lost contact with comrade Saman. However, after being forced into exile in Australia, I visited Sri Lanka in the latter part of the nineties. Comrade Saman insisted that I come back to Sri Lanka and continue the politics we have been advocating at the time. However, I had lost my Sri Lankan citizenship and several applications to the government for my dual citizenship had been disregarded. So, I didn’t have a chance of returning to Sri Lanka to stay there on a permanent basis.
Later on, Saman abandoned left politics to an extent, to become a close associate of Mr Anura Bandaranaike and the SLFP. Thereafter, he gradually moved closer to the leadership of the UNP. This was a time when members of the ruling political class were unscrupulously using their political status and authority for personal and financial gain, but Saman was never a self-centred person. His political focus was to always serve the interests of the common people the best way he thought he could, without seeking personal gain.
In spite of our political differences, we were able to work together as friends on several issues associated with human and democratic rights of the people. During the elections we worked together on a broad platform of defending those rights and the principles and practice of good governance. During this period, he was a leading figure in the campaign for media freedom and agitated against the murder and forced disappearance of journalists. In the early 1990s it was a well-known fact that comrade Saman played a prominent role in organising protests against the abduction and murder of a well-known television news anchor. the late Richard de Zoysa by a death squad linked to the then government.
Our last contact was about a month ago, but he did not mention about his illness. I assumed he was all right but regret that I did not have the opportunity to talk to him about his illness.
As friends and comrades who traversed the same political path until we went on our own ways, we were able to work together on many important political issues. I respect and admire his empathy towards humanity. At this moment we bid him goodbye, I salute him for his strong contribution towards social progress. Chitra joins me in offering heartfelt condolences to his family, relatives and friends.
Saman’s memory will be held safe in the hearts of many for a long time to come.
Goodbye, our dear friend!
Lionel and Chitra Bopage