Bleak future for bomb victim's family
By Esther Williams
The little boy smiled brightly before running into the roughly built wooden
shack. Peeping from behind the door, "Mummy's not here," he called out.
The unusually slender limbs, dark circles around the eyes and almost bald
head of the frail child spoke of an illness that had stalked him - the
"This is one of his better days," remarked Amita Silva, his mother as
she walked in. Dinujaya was apparently born with a malignant tumour in
the abdomen. Having been diagnosed a couple of years ago, the seven-year-old
now has to go into the Cancer Institute, Maharagama every month. Over the
10-day period that he is usually there, he is given chemotherapy that is
administered through injections.
Although Dinujaya was operated on earlier, there is a possibility of
the tumour spreading. "We are yet to scan to see if he is responding to
the chemotherapy," says Dr. Aruna Wijeratna, the child's physician from
the Cancer Institute. "If the growth cannot be controlled, we may need
to resort to radiotherapy," he continues.
Spending ten days every month with Dinujaya at the hospital, Amita is
unable to take on any regular job. Her other children Nadisha, 10 and Chamath,
9, schooling at Buddhist Balika and Science College respectively, are invariably
left to the neighbours' care for food and other necessities.
D. M. Ranjith, father of the children who was injured during the suicide
bomb attack that killed the late Minister C. V. Gunaratne is unable to
contribute much to the family coffers. He cannot use his right arm now,
cannot grip or do any manual work. The Tristar Garment factory where he
worked as a canteen helper refused to take him back after the accident.
He was given Rs. 30,000 as compensation which soon dwindled away with so
many mouths to feed.
Their present abode, put together with planks of wood may not provide
sufficient protection in rough weather. Into it are crammed old pieces
of furniture, and many framed pictures, an indication of their having seen
better days. To make matters worse, the CEB last week cut their electricity
connection, as they failed to pay up the loan taken a few years back from
the Peoples' Bank. They had paid part of the sum in monthly deposits of
Rs. 300/- each time, but there was more pending and despite repeated appeals
to the Bank to waive the remaining amount, there was no relief. However,
the Bank has now graciously agreed to consider the case favourably on humanitarian
grounds and Dinujaya and family will now have their electricity connection
What the future holds for them is hard to predict. Silver Hands, a group
of eight women pensioners has pledged to assist them but the path ahead
is a hard one.
Priest of peace
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
He has seen many chapters unfold in Sri Lanka's long and arduous struggle
for peace. Fr. Alfred Alexander has been a peace activist for nearly 20
years, trying to bridge the chasm between the Sinhalese in the south and
the Tamils in the north, by taking people, the clergy including Buddhist
monks and the laity including politicians and civilians, back and forth
between Jaffna and Colombo. "I took them to the jungles to see the reality
on the other side," he says.
Born in Jaffna and educated at St. Patrick's College, Fr. Alexander,
60, is now the Regional Superior of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament
and is based at St. Philip de Neri's Church in the Pettah.
Passionate about the current peace moves, he stresses that they are
"radically different" to all other attempts in the past. "There is absolute
sincerity on the part of the government. Ample efforts are being made and
very positive signals being given to the other side to dispel doubts,"
Yes, he has spoken to the Tiger leadership, the people, non-governmental
organizations et al in the north who feel that it is a genuine attempt
on the part of the government to resolve this conflict.
This priest of peace who has visited Jaffna thrice in the past month
alone, spells out the signals — the barricades have been removed, embargoes
have been lifted. "Travelling to the north has been made easier. The hazards
have been eased," he says.
And the signals are being reciprocated by the LTTE. The ceasefire has
held and been renewed. Detainees are being released. "There is a climate
of trust. This has been strengthened by the fact that the government has
reintroduced Norway and Erik Solheim as the facilitator. That was a tremendous
thing." The comparison comes easily. It's like a husband and wife who are
having problems. They seek an intermediary who has no prejudices against
either side to find a win-win solution.
What of the very sensitive issue of de-proscription of the LTTE? "If
the government and people think and feel the LTTE is genuine in their participation,
de-proscription would help," says Fr. Alexander. "A situation of this sort
is a win-win process. There are no victors or vanquished. One party coming
to the peace table should not be handcuffed. It may be helpful to go that
extra mile to undo obstacles. I don't think the LTTE is demanding it, only
saying that it would be good if the government does it."
Harking back to 1994 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga swept into
power, he says the people of Jaffna were hopeful of seeing an end to the
conflict. But the then government did not treat it as a priority. Now,
however, the picture has changed. The LTTE, in a sense is constrained to
accept the olive branch because the present government is going out of
its way to give peace a chance.
On the demand for a separate state of Eelam, Fr. Alexander says it is
understood that there will never be Eelam, the need is "a certain amount
of autonomy". In his Heroes' Day speech, Prabhakaran indicated that something
acceptable to the Tamils would be the answer.
Getting to the root of the matter, this priest says that what Sri Lankans
aspire to as a nation is peace. But peace is tied up with the economy,
for the happiness of the people depends on routine matters such as job
opportunities and money for daily living.
Society is made up of different cultures, races and religions. "What
we need is a stable economy and stable peace. For a stable economy, the
war must be stopped. Violence will cease when the causes are identified."
Categorical about removing all negative influences which could derail
the peace process, he says there is no Tiger conscription in the north
but there seems to be a little bit of it in the east. "Perceptions are
different. Having a 'notion' that there is conscription is different to
the reality. It is not happening in the north, but there seems to be some
activity in the east. It is not the time to do it. We beg of them to stop."
Voicing the Catholic Church's stance he adds, "The ethnic issue needs
to be settled allowing the rights of the people, all people, to live with
Gamini Punchihewa on a landmark in the
history of Henerathgoda Botanical Gardens
Where Asia's rubber first took root
The seminal source for the propagation of the rubber industry in Ceylon
at the Henerathgoda Botanical
Gardens (Gampaha) was the Royal Kew Gardens in England.
The home of para rubber was the Amazon jungle in the Tapahos Plateau
in South America.
The rulers of the Amazon territory at the time did not permit foreigners
to take away any seeds or plants that were native to their forests for
propagation elsewhere. So it was without their knowledge that an adventurous
young Englishman named Sir Henry Wickham smuggled some thousands of these
para rubber seeds to the Royal Kew Gardens in England. Here the seeds germinated.
But of the thousands of smuggled seeds, only a small fraction grew into
It was on September 9, 1876 that the H.M.S. Duke of Devonshire left
the shores of England on her voyage to Ceylon.
The ship carried a load of para seedlings packed in '38 Wardian Cases'.
Altogether 1919 such seedlings belonging to the species Hevea braziliensis
were sent to Ceylon. Unloaded in the Colombo Harbour, they were first taken
to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens (established in 1822 ).
But the authorities were of the view that the best place for planting
these seedlings was the Henerathgoda Botanical Gardens established in 1876.
The climatic conditions that prevailed in Gampaha were said to be quite
similar to that of the Tapahos Plateau in the Amazon. Sad to say later
this particular para rubber tree species, native to the Amazon, had to
be exterminated as they were infected with the dreaded fungal disease called
Microcyclos ulei (the South American Leaf Blight).
An enterprising pioneer planter of the time Mudliyar A. de Soysa became
the first curator entrusted with laying out the gardens for the planting
of these para rubber seedlings in 1876. This was carried out under the
able guidance of Dr. Thwaites, the then Director of the Peradeniya Botanical
Much to everybody's joy, the rubber seedlings began to flower in 1881.
This became the launching pad for the distribution of these para rubber
seedlings, to other countries like Singapore, Burma, India, Australia,
Jamaica, Fiji, Borneo, East Africa, Uganda, Sumatra. Ceylon came to be
known as 'The Cradle of the Asian Rubber Industry set up in 1876'. A name
board to this effect is displayed in the roundabout terrace of the gardens.
Visiting the Henerathgoda Botanical Gardens, I met the present curator
D.H.A. Paramunugama. November 28, 2001 was a significant day in the history
of the gardens, as the planting of the second generation of para rubber
trees was held there before foreign delegates drawn from countries like
Britain, Burma, India, Australia, Jamaica, Fiji, Borneo, East Africa, Uganda,
Sumatra and Borneo. This ceremonial tree planting ceremony was done by
the Department of Agriculture in collaboration with the Sri Rubber Cluster
and the Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka. The species of the second
new generation of para rubber (Hevea brasiliensis germplasm) which has
been collected from Brazil recently by an international team, was planted
at this ceremony. It coincided with the 125th anniversary of the planting
of the first para rubber plant seedlings, Hevea brasiliensis in 1876.
Mr. Paramunugama said that the first para rubber tree No. 1 planted
in 1876, had died about fifty years ago but the No. 2 para rubber tree
also planted in 1876, withstood the rigours of time. It was unfortunately
destroyed by a cyclone in 1988. The spot where this tree stood is still
evident from the gnarled trunk roots.
A name board indicates its birth and death.
Mr. Paramunugama also showed us a few of those original para rubber
trees planted in 1876 that are still standing. There is one such towering
tree with a girth of 5.9 metres (19 feet), and a height of 41.0 metres
A portrait of the late Mudaliyar Soysa is kept in the curator's office
amidst other memorabilia.