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They rode onto the path of a suicide bomber to save the lives of others
Think for a moment what it would be like to ride onto the path of a suicide bomber, knowing very well that you could be blown into pieces. It takes a lot of courage. But fear is swept away, when courage overpowers one, in the determination to put country before self.
It was definitely 'Courage' that led 24-year-old Private K.D.R. Pushpakumara and 28 year-old Private D.M. Senevirathne to ride directly on to the suicide bomber last Thursday in Jaffna. Nothing would have stopped them. Forgetting their ambitions and hopes they sacrificed their young lives to save the lives of their superiors, no doubt leaving all those who survived the blast always in debt to the two heroes.
Private Pushpakumara along with his pillion rider Private Senevirathne of the Quick Reaction Team (QRT) were attached to Major General Ananda Hamangoda's escort. Like on any other ministerial visits to Jaffna, on July 4, they were assigned to escort Housing Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva's motorcade. Trained to be observant of onlookers, they had seen a woman heading towards the minister's vehicle. In order to prevent the woman getting any closer to the vehicle, Private Pushpakumara drove directly towards her. Seconds later there was a loud explosion, and the burnt bodies of the two soldiers lay close to the minister's vehicle, evidence of their gallant act. The Minister escaped with minor injuries, though 20 others including Brigadier Hamangoda died.
Meeting the families of these two soldiers, gave us an idea of the back- ground they came from and it was amazing to realise that they willingly sacrificed their lives, despite being the bread-winners of the family.
When The Sunday Times visited Lance Corporal Pushpakumara's (he was promoted posthumously) home in Narammala, the grief and agony the family had experienced was still written on their faces. Their home, a mud hut on the verge of collapse spoke volumes of the poverty and hardships the family endured.
From his young days Pushpakumara had dreamt of joining the Army or the Police. Finally when he turned 21 he had applied to the Army secretly. It was only after he was called for the interview that he informed his parents. By that time it was too late, and the family had given up hope of stopping him. In 1992, Pushpakumara joined the Army, and never looked back. Enjoying the tough military training he completed the riding course and joined the Quick Reaction Team. Ironically it was his quick reaction that killed him, saving Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and others.
Pushpakumara's father K.W. Sino said that his son was always stationed in the North but since he had come home regularly they did not fear for his safety.
"It was only last month that he came home. He never discussed his work with the family. Whenever we asked him he would say it was safe, and for us not to worry. I knew he would be careful as he was a very level headed boy. But we never expected him to come home this way. Fear was one thing that never controlled him". Sino said.
Pushpakumara was the bread winner of the family said his father. "I have five children. Two sons and three daughters. None of us have a steady job. We do odd jobs to earn a living. But Pushpakumara's salary was solely for the home. As our mud hut is almost collapsing, Pushpakumara was determined to build us a decent home. He was so happy to see the house being built but now we can't even think of completing it", he said.
Although Pushpakumara had never indicated that his life was in danger, he had always discouraged his friends from joining the forces. "He used to tell his friends that although he joined he would never allow them to do so. When they sought his advice he never encouraged them. Nevertheless he said that he was enjoying the life of a soldier. Even in his diary he had written that the happiest day of his life was when he was selected to the Army. If I knew we had to go through all this pain I would have stopped him", wailed Dingiri Amma, Pushpakumara's mother.
The news of their son's death had first reached them through the 6 p.m. news broadcast. "We always listen to the news. On that day too when we heard of the incident, my husband instantly said that another lot of our boys were dead. After a while they gave the names of the dead. Although they announced our son's name, we did not panic as my husband said that he was not the only one with that name. Still we felt uneasy", said Dingiri Nona.
By 10.30 p.m. a police squad had visited their home, inquiring after their son. "The officer asked me whether I had a son in the Army. I immediately asked him whether there was any danger and he said there was nothing to worry, that they were just asking about the family. They would have known that we were worried, for he then asked whether we had any relations living close by. The news was broken to my elder brother who lives in the opposite house" said K. W. Sino.
To the family the loss is unbearable. They and the villagers humbly request that Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva build a monument at the village to Pushpakumara so that his brave act will always remain in their hearts.
"As much as it hurts to know that my son is no more, we are equally proud that he had the courage, that he was bold enough to do such a courageous act. We only hope that there will be a monument in memory of him. We are not asking for millions but just a concrete slab to remember my hero. I hope the minister would take the initiative" said Dingiri Amma. The Minister had visited the home. "They inspected our hut but no assurance was given. They spoke in English and left" she said.
It was nine years back that Lance Corporal D.I.M. Senevirathne joined the Sri Lanka Army. He too was no stranger to danger, having always been stationed in Jaffna specially after he joined the QRT.
Lance Corporal Senevirathne's father still in shock over his youngest son's death said that no matter how much they tried to discourage him he was adamant that he join the Army.
"From the day he left home, we were going through hell. May be we were expecting this. The fear was so much that whenever he came home I used to advise him for hours. But he never really listened. Later on I gave up. I have never seen a boy so brave, he was never afraid of anything. May be he was born to fight in a war," he said.
Like Pushpakumara's family they too had heard the news of the attack through the evening news broadcast. "The moment my son's name was announced, I knew it was him, but we all refused to accept it, we kept hoping it was another. But the whole village came to our house and said it had to be him. Then around 7.00 p.m. it was confirmed. The news was broken to us by the police. But even before they got down from their jeep I knew it was the end. I think deep down in our hearts we knew but just did not have the strength to accept it. But the trauma we went through not knowing whether it was he who had died, killed us mentally and physically", he said.
Senevirathne had been the sixth child in a family of seven. Danger had struck him thrice earlier when he was shot while on duty.
It is difficult to accept my son's death, I think it would be much easier to accept if he died at battle. I think it's unnecessary to have such high government officials to visit Jaffna at the moment," sobbed Senevirathne's mother.
Their plea was also for the government to build a monument in the village Kobigane in memory of their son. It certainly would be the least we could do for the families, who have sacrificed their todays for our tomorrows, a thing for which we all are in his debt.
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