Tears of innocence
Life in Madawatchchiya
Sinhalese peasants of Atamagaskanda return at dusk having built
bunkers to fortify their village.
To the Tiger (terrorist) held area, it is just a `hooting distance'
("hoowaka dura") the Sinhalese peasants said at this point in the
village of Atamagaskada, on the outskirts of Madawatchchiya. Here, in a
garden a weeping and shy Sinhalese schoolgirl ran indoors, as we entered
her property. Possibly, the sight of the camera and the writing
equipment, had suggested the presence of the press.
When words, finally came, Sugandhika Sarojanie Gunasinghe 17 said
that her father, A Gunasinghe 51, a home guard, assigned to defend her
village from sudden militant attacks was killed by Tiger terrorists,
along with two other home guards in November 2006.
The coup d' etat (one of hundreds carried out each year, often on
innocent civilians) had taken place in the wee hours of the morning,
while the three home guards, possibly, felt secure in their newly built
bunker. There was shooting yesterday, too, the villagers said. And in
another incident, a day before we were there, the Sri Lanka Army had
spotted Tiger movement near their camp in the cover of darkness and
retaliated, nullifying the element of surprise.
A home guard is required to work 12 hours per day on a two-shift
basis, taking up position as determined by the army, while being on the
pay role of the police. Sarojanie's family were well off while their
father was with them, considering the standard of living here. For
(notwithstanding the danger) the home guard salary of Rs. 14,500 per
month ($134.25) goes a long way in rural Sri Lanka.
And, in addition, after duty, the schoolgirl's father had worked
their rice field, which brought in another income.
Schoolgirl Sugandhika Sarojanie 17, on right, with her aunt
Anulawathie at their home on the border of Madawatchchiya.
Her mother Vijitha Mallika 38, who before her husband's death, helped
in the rice fields, keeps away, for fear of LTTE attacks. Mallika was
not at home, being engaged in her odd job occupation, when we went there
and her sister, Anulawathie, was with the schoolgirl.
Sarojanie's brother, Chathuranga Kumara 15, attends Ethakada Maha
Vidyalaya five miles away, and is too young to plough the rice field,
she said. Answering questions, Sarojanie broke down: "Now, we have no
source of income."
Sarojanie has a sister, Ishara Sevandhi 4, who hoped she would get a
chance of attending a pre-school.
This village once thrived on paddy cultivation from water obtained
from an irrigation tank called Atamagaskada Wewa built by the Sinhalese
The animals are the only occupants of this village by night; the
people go to safer ground, in a Buddhist temple. They feel more secure
in the protection of a few home guards. "When we are more in number, a
few of us may escape when an attack comes," another villager said.
Sarojanie was home for the evening having answered the ordinary level
examination paper that day, at her school, Madawatchchiya Maha Vidyalaya,
which is 14 miles away. Just two buses reach this village per day; the
first one leaves to Madawatchchiya in the morning and returns around
Most schoolgoers, boys and girls cycle to school. When cycles are
fewer than the students, two girls on one bicycle covering the 14 miles
The most frequent sight in this village are home guards and most of
the time they are on the move, peddling bicycles with their weapons.
Rice cultivation is not carried out without the protection of the home
guards or the army.
The eyes of the army and home guards are not on the roads; they face
the forest cover and watch for possible movement. The most lucrative
occupation along the border villages is being a home guard; it is also
the most dangerous occupation here. Being a home guard is counter
economic, for cultivation is neglected. Many bunkers were being built by
the Sinhalese peasants, here, conforming to the heightening attacks on
We were requested not to photograph the bunkers. Or, write anything
about the meeting of home guards, attended by us, where divisional
secretary of Madawatchchiya, Prasanna Madanayake was present.