The Continuing Tragedy In Chilaw Four months After Police Shooting
By Nirmala Kannangara in Chilaw – Pictures by Pavitra Jovan De Mello
Jesumaria Kingsley, a fisherman from Chilaw was among the hundreds of fishermen who staged a peaceful protest at Sea Street, Chilaw on February 15 against the kerosene oil price hike. The Police fired live bullets to disperse the protestors. One fisherman was killed and three others were seriously injured. Antony Fernando, also from Chilaw, was killed instantly while Kingsley, Roshan and Regal were disabled due the firing. Government’s failure to provide financial assistance to fishermen who became disabled due to the police shooting in Chilaw in February has led to one victim commiting suicide. Jesumaria Kingsley, one of the fishermen who became crippled after a police bullet shattered his knee, committed suicide on June 15 as he did not want to be a burden to his family. Forty-year-old Kingsley was found hanging from the roof rafter exactly four months after the incident.
A father of four school going children, Kingsley was an active fisherman who worked hard and went to sea every day. To provide a comfortable life for the children and wife, Kingsley did not leave any stone unturned. However all his dreams to build a house to live in, to provide three square meals to the family and to give the children a good education were shattered on that fatal day.
Since Kingsley was confined to bed it was his thirteen-year-old son Tujen that had to work to feed the family. Unlike the father, Tujen is still too small to go to sea and is not strong of body to do any work as a labourer. Instead he loads fishing gear to boats every evening and in the mornings he helps to pull the catch from the nets to the beach. He earns around Rs.200 – 300 a day.
Not wanting to be a burden to his teenage son and the rest of the family, Kingsley has told his children that he wants to end his life on many occasions. “But who knew that he will stick to his word? When I came home after washing the clothes around 1pm on that particular day, I could not believe my eyes when I saw my husband hanging from the rafter. It was my second son that came and cut the rope.” said Jenita. Kingsley hobbled around with the use of a crutch but could reach the low rafters of the roof in his humble abode.
According to Jenita, Kingsley was disappointed as no one from the government or from the opposition came to help him although there were many government politicians around when he was in hospital.
“When they knew that the government and its forces were at fault, they came rushing to the hospital to give many assurances – to look after the family and to provide financial assistance till Kingsley could stand on his feet. However these promises became yet another ‘political promises’ as those who wanted us not to give any detrimental interviews to the media, which would affect the government, are not to be seen now,” said Jenita.
She said Minister Milroy Fernando and several local government ministers gathered at the hospital soon after her husband was admitted and pleaded with them not to make a big issue of it.
“I believed that they will really look after our family. They all came to us to keep our mouths shut but where are they now? Even UNP MP Range Bandara promised to give us a boat when my husband was in hospital. He too failed to fulfill his promise. After my husband committed suicide Range Bandara bought a boat for us and it will be handed over to me officially on the 29th of this month,” said Jenita.
Now Jenita does not have any clue as to how she is going to run the family without any support other than from the church.
Thirty-three years old Roshan lost four of his fingers in his right hand at the same incident. He, however, says that it was a hand grenade that was thrown which he tried to ward off with his right hand that led to this disability.
“When we were taking part in the protest, the STF from the beach park side fired at us and threw hand grenades. Without knowing that the object that was coming my way was a grenade I put my hand in front of my head to prevent it striking my head. It was too late when I understood what that object was. I am a right hander and without my fingers I am unable to do any work. But I go to the beach to somehow remove the trapped fish in nets to earn at least a hundred rupees to look after my parents and my sister,” said Roshan.
“It was the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, Karu Jayasooriya, Range Bandara and a few more that came to see me. Although they promised to help me financially they never came later. I have to go to Colombo hospital to show my wounds, but how can I afford to go to Colombo when our daily income is not more than hundred rupees. When I went to the Chilaw hospital to get the wound dressed, I was asked to go to Colombo as amputations are done in Colombo,” said Roshan.
From the appearance, 32-year-old Sebastian Regal looks healthy but he cannot speak a few words continuously due to a bullet embedded in his chest.
Showing the scars Regal said that he only could remember walking in the protest march towards Chilaw town. Everything went blank thereafter. When he gained consciousness he found he could not raise his right hand nor could he talk even a few words continuously.
According to Regal, the bullet in his chest cannot be removed and his right hand is clinically dead due to another gunshot injury to his shoulder.
“I get a severe chest pain when I speak more than a few words. The right hand is swollen and is very heavy. I need the support of my left hand to hold the right as it would not move. There is no purpose of my living further but still I cannot leave this world as Kingsley did because of my family,” he claimed.
“The only difference between Kingsley and me is that I can walk. But what is the purpose of that when I cannot do any work and earn money for my family. I do not have a house and live at my sisters with my wife and two children. My wife goes to the beach to help the fishermen to sort out the fish and bring in Rs.100 or 200 which is not sufficient to survive,” said Regal.
Regal thanked parliamentarian Range Bandara for helping him to buy medicine. “Although the government claims that they provide free health service to the people in government hospitals I want to ask them in which hospital free medicine is given. From the time I underwent two serious operations (where the doctors gave up hopes at one time), I was given prescriptions to buy medicine from pharmacies.”
Showing the medicine to us, which he had bought from private pharmacies, Regal said that if not for Range Bandara, he (Regal) wouldn’t have survived even these four months.
“My monthly medicine alone costs nearly Rs. 3,000 and it is Range Bandara that foots my bill. No one from the government came to see us although they have gone on TV promising to look after the affected families. How can they look after us when they wanted to kill us at the protest? This is a country where people cannot hold peaceful protests to win just demands. Only the government stooges can hold protests and block roads to protect the government,” added Regal.
When we visited Anthony Fernando’s family, the fisherman who was killed at the February protest, his wife Niluka Sudharshini, who came back to Sri Lanka from Dubai upon her husband’s death, accused the government for not giving any financial assistance to the family.
“When I came back, government politicians thronged this house and made promises to the media that they would ensure a better life for us. They also insisted that we don’t give any critical interviews to the media. Other than the half a million rupees the police gave us, which was deposited in the bank accounts of the two children, no one came to help us out.
Sajith Premadasa, Range Bandara and Karu Jayasuriya gave Rs 25,000 each and other than that no one even visited us after the funeral to see how we are surviving. When it comes to an election time, there would be hundreds of politicians that will remember us, but now we are left destitute,” said Niluka Sudharshini.