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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 monarchs.

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 dusk.

Most schoolgoers, boys and girls cycle to school. When cycles are fewer than the students, two girls on one bicycle covering the 14 miles is common.

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 them.

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.

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