A father’s anguish, justice denied

by Namini Wijedasa

First, they killed his boy. Now, he is being victimised for the loss of his son.

Voice often shaking with anguish, Kasippillai Manoharan spoke of how he couldn’t live in Trincomalee anymore. How each new day felt just like the one before it. Slow, painful and futile. I couldn’t see his face over the telephone but I could feel his grief.

A little over four months ago, Manoharan had been a contented doctor with a successful private practice. Now he has no patients. Sailors and other navy folk had sought treatment from him. They don’t any longer. He also had Sinhala friends. Some won’t ring or come by anymore. Not even to ask: ‘Doctor, how are you?’ And most times, when the phone buzzes, he worries that it may be another threatening call.

His wife Thevakuncharambal is also a doctor. She is in deep despair. She doesn’t practice medicine either. No more prescriptions to cure ill people. An Anglican priest visits the house regularly to pray and to provide whatever comfort he can.

Manoharan speaks slowly, disjointedly. But he manages to make sense. “I lost my son,” he says. “I have lot of threats. I have stopped my work. All are in depression. My daughter and elder son are in UK. Every night they call and cry. My wife is sad. What is our life? We just wanted peace.”

On 2 January 2006, Manoharan’s 21-year-old son Ragihar and four friends were shot dead near the Trincomalee beach allegedly by members of the Special Task Force. Moments before, a grenade had been flung nearby and the boys were suspected. The details of this case are already known. It was a gripping tale that caught international attention.

The LTTE exploited the incident for its overwhelming propaganda value while President Mahinda Rajapakse boldly went public, directing a senior DIG to take action against anybody found responsible for the incident ‘irrespective of their rank and position’. And after a meeting between Rajapakse and the foreign missions, the Presidential Secretariat said this: “The President informed the Co-Chairs (of the Tokyo Donor Conference) that an investigation is pending on the recent deaths of five students in Trincomalee and that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.”

No perpetrators have been brought to justice. The case regularly comes up before the Trincomalee magistrate but the police say they have no evidence. Nobody has been arrested. The Criminal Investigation Department has led a separate probe. Thirteen STF commandos were detained, questioned and released. Twenty-six firearms (including T56 weapons) that had allegedly been used in the crime were seized and sealed. The ballistics report came back negative. In other words, it said the weapons that were examined had not fired the shots which killed the boys.

Manoharan, the only parent who wasn’t afraid to give evidence in court, now says he wants to write to President Mahinda Rajapakse but isn’t still in the mood for it.

“I’m not interested in the case,” he says. “My son, he is already died. I can’t get him back. But now all say we don’t know the killers. Why? I was there. I saw light when the guns were fired. I heard shots. All fall down. Forces rounded up the area. Now all say we don’t know”

The Manoharans have four other children. A son and a daughter are in the United Kingdom. The two youngest boys live in Trincomalee with the family. One is 19-years-old and was due to re-sit his A/Levels this month. “He is not doing the exam,” Manoharan said, dispiritedly. “All the time he is coming home crying.”

His other son — the baby — is seventeen. He visits his brother’s grave every day. He has just received his O/Level results: Five As and 5 Bs. The boy is clever, Manoharan observes. Just like Ragihar, who was a chess and table tennis champion in the district.

What worry the family now are the frequent threats. They started on the night that Manoharan gave evidence in court. “Same night I got a threat call,” he said. “The voice said if you come to court as a witness, we will kill you and your sons.” The message was delivered in a mix of Sinhala and Tamil.

“After that I got threatening calls lots of times,” Manoharan continued. It became so serious that he complained to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. The mission told the police who instructed Manoharan to lodge a complaint. “I don’t trust the police,” he said, flatly. “Because they rounded up the area and after that my son was killed. How can I trust the same officers?” He refused to file a complaint so the SLMM did it on his behalf, sending police the letter that Manoharan had written them. There has been no reply.

Towards the end of January, some men came to Manoharan’s house on a motorbike and menaced him again. On 3 March, he installed call line identification in an effort to distinguish where the telephone threats were coming from. In desperation, he started disconnecting his phone line after 9.30 p.m. He wrote to the Asian Human Rights Commission, appealing for assistance. They issued a worldwide appeal urging justice and protection for the family. On 6 March, two men came again on a motorbike. They were angry that Manoharan had complained to the AHRC. An argument broke out that lasted around 10 minutes before the men went off.

On 11 March, Manoharan received a warning letter in Tamil. “It was not in original Tamil,” he said, implying that whoever wrote it was a different ethnicity. “Every day threat,” he said, quietly. “How to live like this, madam?”

Asked whether he was cooperating with the LTTE — and the Tamil National Alliance — to exploit the political aspect of his son’s killing, Manoharan started crying. “I don’t care about politics, madam,” he said, in a broken voice. “I never trust LTTE. They are fighting. I want peace. That’s the reason I left Jaffna and selected Trinco. Because all three communities are living here. If not, I should have stayed in Wanni or Vavuniya”

The family grieves over the life they once led. They had lived in Jaffna where both husband and wife had been doctors. After his retirement in 1993, Manoharan opted to move to Trincomalee. He says it was because all three communities lived in the district.

“I have lot of Sinhala and Muslim friends all over the country,” he noted. “Gamini Dissanayake was close to my father and my father helped to sponsor his election. P N David Silva, who is a well known businessman with a famous transport service, is my friend. Desmond Fernando, the lawyer, is my friend. The former SP of Trinco, Daya Samaraweera, knew Ragihar very well. Ragihar called him ‘Daya uncle’.”

“At the last election, LTTE said don’t go,” Manoharan said, referring to the November presidential poll. “But I went. I voted. Not only me, my dead son also voted.”

“Kindly inform people what is our plight, madam,” he pleaded. “Look how we are living. I have no single interest in politics”

Manoharan feels trapped. He wants to leave Trinco but says that it isn’t easy to move to Colombo. His two sons were born in Jaffna and have Jaffna addresses on their identity cards. He fears that they would be branded as Tigers. “I can’t stay here but I have nowhere to go,” he says.

This man’s case is not unique. It is also not unique to Tamils. Sri Lanka has become a nation where impunity is fashionable. Where faceless men and women are arbitrarily eliminated and are forgotten before the sun sets. Even Kadirgamar is a vague, year-old memory now.

Butchery has become a habit and justice an illusion. It is no longer possible to divine who is murdering whom. Toothless policemen smirk through their gums, giving lip to anyone who dares question their worthless investigations. The government cowers behind them, taking shelter. Commissions are appointed. Statements are issued. Not a damn thing happens. Today, the murders are too numerous to probe meaningfully. North, south, east, west. Everywhere.

The LTTE recruits kids and marches them off to the battlefield, to die like flies. Many, many civilians — the majority of them Tamil — are slain regularly by the Tigers without a flicker of guilt. The assassinations of five young men in Trincomalee mean nothing to them. For the government, though, every murder on Sri Lankan soil must necessarily mean more. Justice is not a luxury. It is an entitlement to all citizens. Even the Manoharans of Sri Lanka.

Democratically elected regimes are not given the reins of power to behave as terrorists do to tread down the same bloodied path leaving damp tiptoe prints around decaying corpses. [Source: Island]
[TamilWeek, May 21, 2006] –

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