Bringing Out The Bodies For Election

A macabre island ritual

The funeral procession for Lasantha Wickremetunge, 12 Jan 2009

It’s election time, which means they’re bringing out the bodies. The young rugby player found dead in a burning car. The editor shot with a cattle gun while driving, surrounded by a swarm of motorbikes.

The murderers are out, so out come the bodies. It’s become macabre ritual over the last decade. The murderers run for office and the bodies come out. Someone gets elected, the bodies go back in. It doesn’t matter who wins, justice will never be served. The accusers and murderers dine together, and not in hell.

It’s the families that are in hell, or purgatory. Wasim Thajudeen was 28, a young rugby player, a brother and son. Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Editor, was in his prime, newly remarried, with children that are now fighting his case. For us in the public these are just periodic and farcical news alerts. For the families this is the season of renewed torment. They cannot rest in peace. It is torture, of another kind, this parade of injustice.

“It is ridiculous to still say my brother’s death was an accident when it is scientifically and judicially proven — with a clear court ruling — that it was murder,” Ayesha [Wasim’s sister] said in an interview.

The man running for Prime Minister today (Mahinda Rajapaksa) said it was an accident, that Wasim’s car was going 175 kph, hit a wall and burst into flames. However, the investigation showed that Wasim had been beaten, placed in the passenger seat of the car and the whole thing lit on fire. A Rajapaksa family vehicle was at the scene, and telephone records have their security active and nearby.

None of this is surprising to Ayesha Thajudeen. “The whole world knows what Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family are like,” she told the Sunday Observer, “what more can ordinary citizens do to find justice in this country?”

The sad answer is nothing, because ordinary citizens only matter at election time, and we only matter insomuch as we can be distracted. So they bring out the bodies and bury them again, once the votes are in. Then the cases go silent.

In a letter to the current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Lasantha’s daughter wrote:

From the day my father died, you have invoked his name to win votes. My father’s murder was a prop in the 2015 presidential and parliamentary election campaigns that made you Prime Minister. You brought President Sirisena to power and won control of Parliament for the UNP, all by promising justice for my father’s murder.
As soon as you came to power, your priorities changed. When I met you at Temple Trees in February 2015 to appeal for your support in making sure my father’s killers saw justice, you told me that there were “other priorities” and that justice was “not just about Lasantha.” (FT)

Hence Ranil protects the Rajapaksas, whatever they say in public. It’s just musical chairs, this talk of justice. There’s a lot of noise while the elections are on, but when everyone sits down you can’t hear anything.

The dead are martyrs and must remain martyrs. That is their purpose, that is what they do. It is their role to be dead, it is the families role to grieve. One set of politicians plays the hero, the other the villians, and the TV show always gets renewed. But nothing happens.

We just keep watching. The families write letters and wait. They are joined by hundreds of lesser mortals, also waiting for their children, their family, their friends. Some don’t even have bodies to dig up. The family of the disappeared.

It’s a sick ritual and I’m tired of it. I have children, parents, sisters. I wouldn’t want them to suffer like this, I wouldn’t want them to be reminded of my death by journalists asking the same questions every five years. I wouldn’t want them sitting in impotent courts, writing impotent letters, while the potentates make various noises and exchange chairs.

We have a ritual in Sri Lanka, called a dhane. Every year we share a meal, to remember the dead. We’ve been having a dhane for my grandfather for 50 years. We have another ritual as well, called an election. There we devour the dead, and traumatize their families. This is a bad ritual. I’d like it to end.

Macabre sources

  • What they did to my father and why they did it — Sunday Observer
  • Ahimsa Wickremetunge’s letter to the current Prime Minister — Daily FT
  • Ahimsa Wickremetunge’s letter to the current PresidentDaily FT
  • ‘Rubbing salt in our wounds’: Thajudeen’s family hits back at Mahinda — Sunday Observer
  • The Thajudeen saga: Murder cover-up trial set to begin in October — Verite Research — Sunday Observer