Words, Memory and History

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Political rights have been preserved by traitors….the liberty of the mind by heretics.”
Robert G Ingersoll (The Great Infidels)

( May 25, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Brigadier Deshapriya Gunawardane, the officer who led Operation Weliweriya, has a new job – Military Attaché of the Lankan Embassy in Turkey .

Brigadier Gunawardane and three Lieutenant-Colonels implicated in the Weliweriya killings were suspended, with fanfare, in late August 2013 and reinstated, with stealthy silence, eight months later. Now, according to the illegally-censored website Sri Lanka Mirror, Brigadier Gunawardane will join a select band of military-favourites who adorn Lankan embassies across the world.

Brigadier Gunawardane is a ‘War Hero’. He served as a lieutenant-colonel in an army unit which will be accorded a place of unparalleled honour in the triumphalist Rajapaksa history of the Fourth Eelam War - the 58th Division. 

Last week, the meda carried exposés of two of the most inglorious episodes of the Fourth Eelam War - a call-by-call account of the ‘White Flag Incident’ and unpublished pictures of the final hours of LTTE newscaster, Ms. Issipriya. If these verbal and the pictorial accounts are authentic, they demonstrate the degrading and horrific depths to which a segment of the Lankan army sank during the final days of the war.

Neither account indicates a soldiery on rampage, uncontrollable by the hierarchy. Both accounts indicate that prisoners-of-war were murdered systematically, and under orders.

The Tigers committed innumerable atrocities against Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala civilians, not against orders but as per orders. Similarly, Lankan atrocities of the final war happened due to the presence of discipline, not its absence. 

Under orders of not, the uniformed men who carried out such horrendous deeds belong in prison. They are a disgrace to the country, the nation and the military. They are also a danger to Lankan society, including the people of Sinhala-South, as the Weliweriya incident clearly demonstrated.

The 58th Division has been implicated in the White Flag incident . It could not have been an accident that the same division was dispatched, in battle-mode, to Weliweriya. The people of Rathupaswala may have thought they were opposing an ordinary factory-owner. But in reality they were opposing Dhammika Perera, the premier Rajapaksa economic agent, and thereby challenging Rajapaksa business/financial interests. Who better to undertake the task of teaching such ‘traitors’ a memorable lesson than the ‘war heroes’ of the 58th Division?

When the killing was over, a Rathupaswala villager asked a soldier why he did not use rubber-bullets. The soldier replied, “We can’t mollycoddle people with rubber bullets” .

That is the real face of ‘war-hero’ in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka.

The Siblings needed unthinking, brutalised killing machines to do their work in the North. They will need unthinking, brutalised killing machines to prop their regime nationally, including in the Sinhala-South.

Mahinda, Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are implicated in the latest account of the ‘White Flag Incident’. If accurate, this would indicate why the Rajapaksas are dead set against a genuine inquiry into alleged war-crimes. Not because they fear the reaction of the army; they persecuted the hugely-popular war-winning Army Commander without the slightest fear of any ‘reaction’. Not because they want to protect ordinary soldiers and officers; when Mervyn Silva’s son attacked a senior Military Intelligence officer, the Rajapaksas protected the political-brat and humiliated and punished the ‘War-Hero’. The Rajapaksas insist on impunity because any genuine inquiry might implicate them. It is their own welfare they are worried about (including their capacity to own assets in/travel to the US); not anyone else’s safety or honour.

The killers of Weliweirya will never be punished. As participants/witnesses of the final phase of the war, they would know what happened, including, the genesis of criminal orders. The Rajapaksas need their silence.

The Need for Infidels

A new volume of Mahawamsa, dedicated to President Rajapaksa, is being written.
According to this Rajapaksa history, Fourth Eelam War will be a pure and sinless endeavour won by King Mahinda and General Gotabhaya.

That history cannot have a place for the non/anti Rajapaksa army commander Sarath Fonseka or the murdered prisoner-of-war Ms. Issipriya.

Nor can it include some of the most discreditable deeds of Tiger leaders.

Tiger-leaders had a no-surrender creed. Civilian Tamils and ordinary cadres suspected of violating this were murdered. And yet, a large number of top Tigers tried to save themselves and their families by doing deals with the enemy. Ultimately, a majority of the Tiger hierarchy proved to be as careful of their own safety as they were cavalier about the safety of their cadres and people.

But this hypocrisy and cowardliness of Tiger leaders cannot be a part of the official history. The pleas of Tiger leaders cannot be written about without giving credence to the tales about murdered prisoners-of-war. The faux Mahaveer reputation of Tiger leaders is thus safe from Mahinda’s Mahawamsa.

In Rajapaksa history, there will be no ethnic problem.

In the run up to the 2005 Presidential election, the UTHR stated, “What we fear is the rhetoric of the dismissive approach, which is calculated to appeal to that segment of the Sinhalese electorate that constantly asks without desiring an answer, ‘We are mystified, come, explain to us what this Tamil problem is all about.’…. Rajapakse has now brought it back to the mainstream.”

Indeed; Rajapaksa history will state that Tamils never had a specific problem before, during or after war; that Tamils were happy before and after the war and misled during the war.

Rajapaksa history will mention Weliweriya victims as dupes of economic-conspirators.

According to the CPA’s report on mass-evictions in Colombo, “Of particular concern are the involvement of the military controlled UDA in forced evictions the modalities of which are similar to those employed in the North and the East…..and the scale, which according to some estimates, could even dwarf displacements in Northern Sri Lanka during the final two years of the war” . Rajapaksa history will not mention the half a million people forced out of their homes, except as health-hazards and criminal-risks.

Rajapaksa history will not mention how the democratising (and wholly indigenous) 17th Amendment was replaced with the despotic 18th Amendment, to save the dynastic project. It will be silent of how elections were turned into managed spectacles and how the state was transformed into a familial-preserve by deliberately violating/erasing all lines of demarcation.

The Impeachment travesty will figure as an act of justice; the media will be declared to be freer than the wind.
Rajapaksa history will warp the collective-memory of this generation and shape the collective-memory of the next.
Robert G Ingersoll finished his book, ‘The Great Infidels’ with a rhetorical question: “What would the world be if Infidels had never been?”

Well, believing in a geo-centric, miniscule and immutable cosmos for instance, as per the Bible.

The word ‘history’ derives from the Greek word, historia, meaning learning through research and inquiry. But when history becomes a creed, its first premise is not ‘inquiry’ but blind-belief. Mahawamsa is such a ‘history’. Its Rajapaksa volumes will be even more creed-like, with a traitor’s label ready for the doubters.

Creeds cannot be deposed without infidels. A heretical mindset will be needed to unpick and unravel Rajapaksa history.

  1. Sri Lanka Mirror – 24.5.2014
  3. Reported in the Sunday Times – 11.8.2013
  5. Information Bulletin No. 39 – 1.11.2005
  6. Forced Evictions in Colombo – The Ugly Price of Beautification