By Malinda Seneviratne –
‘Wijeweera’s Daughter’. The title of a tragic novel that might never get written.
The families of failed revolutionaries (or terrorists, extremists and insurgents if you prefer that nomenclature) tend to be a far cry from beds of roses, especially if the particular individual has perished in battle. The near and dear of those who are successful in capturing power are talked about. Others fade away and become less and less newsworthy.
In the aftermath of the LTTE military leadership being vanquished, there was curiosity about Prabhakaran’s parents. For a while. Ironically (and thanks to painstaking efforts to twist context for the purpose of myth-making and mythologizing) enduring newsworthiness was obtained more from the dead, especially the terrorist leader’s younger son’s dead body.
The families of other slain LTTE leaders, in particular S.P. Thamilselvan and Sea Tiger chief Soosai, interestingly were accorded the privilege of leaving the LTTE-held narrow neck of land without pain of punishment (others were shot at in order to discourage). We know that the Sri Lankan Government takes care of them, that they live in comfort and gratitude and that the children are adequately insulated from the bloody history their fathers forged over several decades. They attend good schools and go about sans stigma of any kind.
But what of the JVP leader’s family? Rohana Wijeweera was apprehended on November 12, 1989. He was at the time posing off as a planter, living in Kotmale using the name ‘Attanayake’. He was shot dead under suspicious circumstances a couple of days later. At the time, he had 5 children, four girls and a boy who was the youngest. His wife Chitrangani was pregnant with his sixth child.
Fourteen years have passed. With the assassination of Wijeweera followed by the crushing of insurrection, public attention shifted to other things. We’ve had three Presidents after the man who presided over the decimation of the JVP was himself killed. We had 4 general elections. A thirty year long war was ended. A debilitating tsunami served to obliterate a lot of things, not just landscapes. Chitrangani and her children were naturally forgotten.
The news since 1989 was sketchy. It was reported that the family, spurned by their own relatives, were forced to seek shelter with the Army and later the Navy. They lived in relative obscurity in Trincomalee. The children did reasonably well in school and passed their exams. They were moved to better schools in Colombo. A surprise visit by Mahinda Rajapaksa when he was Minister of Fisheries had resulted, it is said, in the family being moved to the Navy facility in Welisara.
A few years ago Wijeweera’s family stirred public interest again; this was on the occasion of the second daughter getting married. The newsworthiness came from the fact that leaders of the breakaway group led by Wimal Weerawansa arriving at the function, upon invitation of course. The party had done what they could for the family, apparently, supporting Chitrangani and the children financially and helping them organize the wedding. Tempers naturally were frayed. That’s news. Wijeweera’s family, however, were incidental to the story. Happened. Faded away.
And then, just the other day, they made news again. The eldest daughter was arrested by the Police following a complaint made by Chitrangani. The girl, now 32, unmarried, apparently got into an argument with her brother and assaulted him as well as her mother who had tried to intervene.
That day of assault, however, was not random. This girl, Eesha, probably the only one in the family who was fully cognizant of the tragedy that befell them in November 1989, is said to have been as or more intelligent and studious as her siblings. There was a difference, however. She was wont to stare into space, to try count the stars in the night sky and spend long hours outside their ‘quarters’ in the Trincomalee Naval Base in complete silence. According to her mother, Eesha was a ‘difficult’ child, given to long bouts of brooding and ever ready to pick a fight with her siblings. She would lash out with tongue and fist, we are made to understand. On one occasion she had swallowed a fistful of pills that was part of her mother’s medication. That would count as a suicide attempt. She had to be flown to Colombo for treatment after she lost consciousness.
There is of course only so much that anyone can do, the State included. The party has done what it could. The Government has intervened. Apart from Eesha, the other children have grown up, educated themselves and are leading normal lives. A lot to be thankful for, one might say, given circumstances. And then again there would be many who would find no reason to pity or be generous, considering all the children orphaned, all the families torn apart and all the lives laid waste by the acts of their father. Just as the terrible tragedy of a 12 year old boy called Balachandran being shot dead is ‘dismissed’ by referring to the crimes his father is guilty of.
Children, however, are not to be blamed. We do not know if this girl’s condition was wrought by ordeals she had to contend with at a tender age or if it was due to something totally unconnected to that tragic turn of events. All we know is that Wijeweera is dead. The girl had no father figure in her growing up years. As unfortunate as any other fatherless girl. As deserving of attention. Not because who she is but in spite of who she is.
Bottom line. She didn’t get closure. Her father bears responsibility. We do too.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com