Puttalam town: Where fear and suspicion still reign

By Saradha Mohan Kumar, Pix by Sanka Vidanagama

It has been two days since the emergency law was lifted, but Puttalam town on Friday looked like a war zone with security forces deployed and army tanks parked around the town. The “grease yaka” appears to have the island in its grip, as more attacks are reported and people struggle to get back to their routine lives.

Moulavi Muzammil

“The situation is not getting any better, it is only becoming worse,” kurukkal (kovil priest) Venkata Sundarasharma in Puttalam said. “We don’t understand who could be doing this. There was some peace after the end of the war but now the ‘grease yaka’ is destroying it,” he said.

At 3 a.m. on Thursday, a 70-year-old woman was reportedly attacked by a “grease yaka”. He allegedly jumped into the house through the roof, scratched her face and vanished. The woman the mother of a kurukkal in Udappa, was initially admitted to a local hospital but was later taken to the Colombo National Hospital.

The previous day, activities in the town had come to a standstill as residents mourned the death of a police constable who was attacked by villagers apparently for no reason. The incident has triggered fears of community clashes in the district.

“Muslim villagers are scared of the consequences of the killing of a Sinhala policeman,” Chief Trustee, Grand Mosque in Puttalam, S.R.M. Muzammil said. “We (the board) strictly condemn those who attacked the policeman. He was innocent. We want the attackers to be caught. We are not protecting or backing any of the culprits”.

Scene in Puttalam town

About 25 people have been arrested in connection with the killing of the policeman, the Sunday Times learns. On Wednesday, religious leaders in the district met to discuss the issue and advised people to maintain peace, Moulavi Muzammil told the Sunday Times.

He said board members along with other religious leaders, police and armed forces were protecting the town and villagers have been told to remain calm and avoid gathering in the streets unnecessarily.

Moulavi Muzammil also said that the mosque board fearing further agitation has requested that the army stay on to monitor the situation. He denied some media reports that stated that the mosque had provoked the killing of the constable. “We are puzzled why these grease yaka attacks are occurring in Muslim-dominated areas,” he said.

Scene in Puttalam town

Meanwhile, Muslim women in Puttalam and Kalpitiya are afraid to go to the mosque in the evenings, thereby affecting their routine Ramdan activities.

The Moulavi also said although authorities, including the Defence Secretary, did not believe in the existence of grease yakas, several people say they have seen one and there is proof that he has attacked many.

Tension arose between the police and the villagers as the latter started taking the law into their hands, he added.

“People stand guard at night armed with swords and other tools. But, police say it is their duty to take action and the villagers should complain to them. Until now police haven’t caught any grease yaka,” he said.

Meanwhile area parliamentarian Niroshan Perera charged that security forces were assaulting people. Last week, a man who allegedly had a heart problem, died after being assaulted, according to him.

“The medical report said he died of heart attack. But, everyone knows how he died. I raised the grease yaka issue in Parliament, but didn’t get any response. The government thinks all the stories are being fabricated and that the opposition is trying to create an issue.”

He said that the people were not making up the stories. “We should be able to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “ There’s a lot of tension in the area because of the military presence . We want the government to find the grease devil so that the people can get on with their routine life,” he said.

Constable Bandarage was to be a father in a few months

By Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe

Twenty-nine-year-old Police constable Nawaratna Bandarage, who was killed by a Puttalam mob was to be a first-time father in a few months. Bandarage returning to the station after traffic duties was set upon by a group of men armed with clubs, knives and swords at Majestic junction.

Police constable Nawaratna Bandarage

He was an unfortunate victim of the yet-to-be overcome grease yaka, whether he is a myth or a reality. He was mistaken for a grease yaka by the mob who had decided to take the law into their hands.

“Despite pleading for his life, the killers did not have any mercy. They cut him with sharp swords; it was pure barbarism,” the dead constable’s elder sister, Chandrika Menike, said.

A resident of Jayagama in Nochchiyagama, Bandarage joined the police force as a constable in October 2006. After undergoing training at the Kalutara Police College, he began his career in Trincomalee. He sought a transfer to Puttalam after he got the happy news that he was to be a father for the first time. In January, 2011 he was transferred to Puttlam.

“We grew up together amidst poverty. It was with much difficulty that my brother passed the Advanced Level. Knowing that he could not continue with studies, he decided to join the police,” Chandrika said.

Bandarage was taking care of not only his expecting wife, but also his old parents and Chandrika’s two children.

His wife Nadeeka Sandamal, was not in a state to talk to us when we visited their home. Police have arrested some 20 suspects involved in the mob attack and recovered the knives and clubs alleged to have been used in the attack.

A humble home that would have been filled with joy with the arrival of a baby now a scene of mourning
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