When former minister Siripala Gamlath left for Colombo, he had taken clothes sufficient for only two days as he intended to return to his residence in Polonnaruwa after a short visit. On Monday (16), a week after the terrible events of May 9, he and his wife returned to inspect the wreckage of their home [...]


The mobs destroyed not only our houses but precious memories too, say MPs


When former minister Siripala Gamlath left for Colombo, he had taken clothes sufficient for only two days as he intended to return to his residence in Polonnaruwa after a short visit. On Monday (16), a week after the terrible events of May 9, he and his wife returned to inspect the wreckage of their home and see if they could salvage anything from the rubble.

The mob that stormed Mr Gamlath’s house had looted what it could and burned the rest. He is especially pained by the complete loss of photographs of his children. “There were photographs from their earliest days. Those memories are now gone.”

Mohan P. De Silva's library was destroyed when mobs attacked his house

Mr Gamlath, who has been in Parliament since 2004, said the house was completed in 1996-97 with money he and his wife had put in to its construction. “I am a successful businessman and all that I have built is from hard earned money and not from politics. I now have only those clothes that I took with me to Colombo along with what I wear to Parliament,” he said. The ex-minister and his wife are now staying with their son on a temporary basis.

The houses of nearly 80 MPs – more than 70 of them allied to the government, were attacked in the violence in the aftermath of attacks on peaceful protesters outside Temple Trees and at Galle Face by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) supporters on May 9. Some MPs say they and their families are left with only the clothes on their backs while their children have been traumatised.

When a mob stormed the Anuradhapura residence of former minister Shehan Semasinghe on the night of May 9, they pulled out all the drawyers searching for valuables. They looted all they could find before setting the residence on fire. Mr Semasinghe comes from a political family. His father, former minister H.B. Semasinghe built the house in the 1970s “with great difficulty,” Mr Semasinghe told the Sunday Times. Despite their long association in active politics, Mr Semasinghe said they had never faced such attacks. “I’m told the house was stoned after the election of 1977 but nothing of this nature has happened before.”

Neither his grandfather, father nor he has any allegations of corruption against them despite their long association with politics, Mr Semasinghe said. “So what is the rationale for attacking us? If some people can be happy by making us homeless because we hold different political views, then let them be happy. We will not cry over this but will rebuild,” he insisted.

Former minister Mohan P. De Silva’s biggest regret is that the mob that stormed his residence in Galle destroyed his personal library containing books estimated at Rs. 1 million. “My wife and I built it up with great difficulty over many years,” Mr De Silva lamented. The attackers also torched his family home and office in Rathgama. The family home had been built by his father while Mr De Silva said he and his wife built theirs utilising a bank loan and from what he earned as a lawyer. They still haven’t paid off the loan and will have to continue paying monthly instalments though their home is now in ruins.

Many items of sentimental value were also lost including the certificate he received after taking oaths as a lawyer before the Supreme Court and photographs and souvenirs of his children. “We can rebuild houses, but things such as those can’t be replaced.”

The mob that attacked Ratnapura District SLPP MP Akila Saliya Ellawala’s residence in Balangoda did not have enough kerosene with them as they had used what they had to set fire to the residences of the chairpersons of the Balangoda Urban Council and the Balangoda Pradeshiya Sabha. So they set fire to his old jeep and the double cab of a friend parked at the residence. Fires were set alight by using the documents and files from his office.

A gutted vehicle at Akila Saliya Ellawala's residence

The house had been built by his grandmother in 1963 and many items of historic value seem to have been looted by those who came, he said.

A garland made from 18 Rs. 100 notes that had been given to him by a young schoolgirl when he was campaigning for the 2018 local government election was hanging in Mr Ellawala’s office. It was a unique souvenir so had sentimental value. When he inspected the damage later, the notes were missing, while various photographs of highlights from his political life had been smashed and destroyed.

The psychological damage too is immense. “My son is sitting for his O/Level exam next week and for two days afterwards, he was non-pulsed and couldn’t study. He was in Colombo but saw the videos of what had happened. There was even a Facebook Live video put up by one of the attackers and he had seen that too.”

The university-going children of his two local council chairpersons have lost all their study materials. “How can they recover from that?”

The houses can be rebuilt, but things of sentimental value are lost forever. Likewise, the trauma of what happened will remain in their minds, especially the young, Mr Ellawala pointed out.

Trincomalee District SLPP MP Kapila Athukorala has still not visited his home in Kanthale that had come under attack on May 9. It had been spared the fires but was smashed up while some items had been looted, according to the MP. The house that was attacked was his family home where he lived with his mother. It had been finished with a bank loan.

“I am the sole SLPP MP in Trincomalee and for nearly two years, I have been working alone in the 11 Divisional Secretariat Divisions in the district. I have been helping to build houses for the underprivileged here and about 350 to 400 houses have been completed so far. I haven’t discriminated against anyone and it is sad to see how this happened,” Mr Athukorala said.

Many MPs who spoke in Parliament during the four-day debate on the “damages caused to public and private properties due to recent riots” also related stories of the loss and heartache. Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena revealed that the mob that set fire to his ancestral home in Boralugoda had also destroyed the family library dating back 100 years and which had even been referenced internationally. “What sort of culture is this? Is this the sort of culture that revels in inhumanity?” he queried.

A visibly emotional Galle District MP Geetha Kumarasinghe recalled how she hid from a mob while it was attacking her home in Benthota. They had smashed and destroyed national and international awards she had received throughout her long film career. “I was planning to gift this house and the three acre land some day to set up an arts academy. Today, I say to those who attacked my house that what you destroyed was a house that had been built for you.”

MPs to get houses at UDA housing  scheme in Thalawathugoda

Parliamentarians who have lost their residences are entitled to new houses in an Urban Development Authority (UDA) housing scheme in Thalawathugoda.

The old MPs’ quarters situated in Madiwela are scheduled to be given over to a UDA investment project and the Thalawathugoda housing scheme has over 100 units that will be given to MPs who currently have quarters in Madiwela, Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga told the Sunday Times.

While the houses are ready, MPs have expressed reluctance to move out of Madiwela given the current security situation. “The Madiwela scheme has parapet walls but the Thalawathugoda scheme does not. Many MPs have requested that a parapet wall be built around the scheme as they are not confident about the security there,” Mr Ranatunga added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe clarified in Parliament on Wednesday (18) that the houses will be provided as a temporary measure. He said their ownership will not be transferred to MPs and will remain with the state.

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