It all began around midnight on Sunday last week when the police, acting on a tip-off surrounded an ancient bungalow deep inside Uva Paranagama in the Badulla District and confronted a bizarre gathering of nine people, including two women and a toddler — all of them clad in white.
It appeared that the group was engaged in some kind of ritual since the place was littered with baskets of fruits and flowers and other items that are usually placed before an offering seeking divine favours.
But what raised suspicions in the raiding police party were a freshly dug pit found in a room inside the house and a sleeping infant dressed in pure white.
| HQI Wijesinghe with the raiding party and the seized offerings.
Another interesting find was a zodiac chart complete with instructions with auspicious times. Written on the chart, among other things were instructions for the mother to feed the baby at the given time and later pinch the toddler forcing her to choke on the feed.
However the chart stopped short of mentioning any harm to the child but nonetheless this was enough for the police to promptly arrest the multi-ethnic group made up of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims as there was suspicion to suggest that the group had attempted to sacrifice the baby in search of so-called hidden treasures.
Among those arrested were the toddler’s parents, grandparents and four others including the owner of the house.
The group was from Meepilimana in the neighbouring Nuwara Eliya district.
“Their intention of the suspects is more than clear. It appears they were making arrangements to sacrifice the baby believing in the myth of finding some hidden treasure as a result,” said Police Senior Superintendent (SSP) Jayantha Fernando.
“However investigations are continuing on several other aspects as well, but attempted murder is high on the agenda as for now”, SSP Fernando said.
Dharmawathie Rambukpotha who currently occupies the house said her son along with the others had been digging up the place for the past one months saying there were hidden treasures buried in the premises.
She told police that she had cautioned her son on the excavations saying that the roof may cave in at any time. Her son replied by saying that he would buy a new house when the treasure was found.
P. J. Jayatissa, a villager said he was out of the area attending a funeral and on his return home was informed that a group of persons along with an infant were occupying the old house.
Earlier there were many rumours that some persons were digging the premises in search of hidden treasures but we did not treat it seriously, he said.
“However when the story of the child surfaced I became suspicious and entered the place to investigate. It is then that I saw that arrangements had been completed for some kind of offering. The next thing I did was to inform the Uva Paranagama police, he told the Sunday Times.
Uva Paranagama HQI D. Wijesinghe who conducted the raid and rescued the child said that all suspicions point to an attempted human sacrifice, and investigations are currently being carried out towards this end.
Child Protection Authority (CPA) chairman Jagath Wellawatte said there had been no documented case of child or even adult sacrifice in modern history although such things were known to have occurred in the past.
(Additional reporting by K.R. Rajamanthri in Uva Paranagama)