From War Hero To Lottery Ticket Seller

By Ashanthi Warunasuriya

 

 Mahawaduge Chandrasiri Perera is a 48-year-old disabled war hero. Today however, he sells lottery tickets near the Ratnapura Saman Devalaya. Chandrasiri is handicapped having suffered injuries while he fought to protect this land and to free the country from terrorism.

Due to the decades long war there are many such disabled solders among us. If not for the sacrifices of these valiant soldiers, we would not be enjoying the freedom we have today.  It’s been nine years since the war ended.

On May 19, Sri Lanka celebrates the victory of defeating terrorism. Chandrasiri Perera was involved in ground operations during the war.

Hailing from Ratnapura, he is the youngest in the family and has two older brothers and an elder sister. After his O/Ls, due to financial issues in the family, he felt the necessity of finding a job to support the family. However with age, Chandrasiri too like most young men in the country, felt a compelling sense of patriotism and eventually entered the military at the Ampara, Mirissa Army camp on September 05, 2006. Having joined the 6th Regiment and later the 8th Sinha Regiment, he served as a Sergeant Major. In 2005, he also served in Haiti with the UN Peace Keeping Force for six months.

“I worked under Commanding officer Colonel Ramesh Fernando. Even today, sir calls us to find out how we are keeping. After we liberated Mavilaru and forging our way to Sampur, I was hit,” he recalled. That fateful day was the 16th of October 1992. The time was around 4 or 5 in the morning. In the midst of relentless LTTE assault, our valiant soldiers retaliated and kept marching forward despite the heavy assault. Sergeant Major Chandrasiri managed to pick up three of the grenades thrown by the terrorists and hit them back with it. However, with the 4th hand grenade he was not so fortunate and while he had picked it up and was about to fling it back to them, the grenade exploded in his hand. He lost one arm and an eye in the explosion.

He was rushed to the Polonnaruwa hospital for treatment and from there was transferred to the Army hospital.   He had to undergo treatment for around two years and from September 8, 2009, he stayed back at home, as he was unable to serve in the army any more due to his handicap. The day he was injured and the incidents that took place on that day will never be forgotten and will always haunt him for the rest of his life. “I remember being thrown high up before I landed on the ground. My eye was in one of my hands. Seeing that I was hit Rifle Bandara rushed to my assistance. But due to the explosion of the bomb in my hand, he sustained injuries to his stomach and he died. He died trying to help me. I will never forget, when I went to his house I thought he was alive. I could not believe my eyes but it appeared that Bandara had a twin brother and it was him and not Bandara,” he said.
These soldiers on the battlefield know not of night or day, as for them danger was prevalent all the time and they had to be on the alert. For Chandrasiri, there are many incidents that he would consider ‘unforgettable’ but one of the most unforgettable of them was where they were continuing their assault on the terrorists and moving forward from Mavilaru to Sampur, when they arrived at a village called Kattaparichchan. Everyone in that village had fled and there was one old woman who was unable to walk. She simply refused to leave her land and her house. She did not even have food to eat. “I could not help but remember my mother and grandmother. I carried this old lady and handed over to safety and went back. I will never forget that lonely life on the battlefield. Our forces never had any racial issues and they protected all alike irrespective of their race. We only had an issue with the terrorists,” Chandrasiri recalled.

For these soldiers their only aspiration at the time was to defeat the terrorists and liberate the country. However, despite the threat to their own lives and the dangers of the battlefield, Chandrasiri did not forget to check on the old lady that he had carried to safety. To his delight, she was safe in a refugee camp.
While the whole world was talking of human rights violations and Sri Lanka, the war heroes were the target of blame. We asked Sergeant Major Chandrasiri of what he thought of this situation. “It is unfair to blame the war heroes. We simply follow orders. All are like that. It is sad that the blame is placed on the intelligence units and other soldiers. No one had any personal need to do anything but our aim was to merely save the country from the terrorists,” he said.

While Chandrasiri was explaining the stand of the military personnel, we asked him who the real heroes were, based on the fact that he had much experience having fought most of the ground battles.

“The President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and all tri forces Commanders worked together. It was a combined effort of all of them that gave us the direction and strength to fight. The then President was the key figure as his orders were most crucial. While they were so supportive, they also gave 90% of the credit to the soldiers and military personnel who were actively engaged in the war. From the time of President Premadasa, when we were gaining ground and pushing back the terrorists, we were given orders to retreat. At such moments, we were very saddened and frustrated. When forging forward we lost many of our brave soldiers and when we are asked to retreat, we do so knowing that the blood of our brothers was spilled in vain. After 2000 and the Mavilaru battle we were very demoralised because of the actions of the leaders. Then when Sarath Fonseka became the Army Commander, I met him and told him that we cannot go on like this. He said that we are compelled to follow the orders of the leaders but assured that at the time there was a good leader who had taken over and that in the future that will not happen.

Over time we have had to retreat because of the decisions of weak leaders, but I must commend the leadership of Rajapaksa and Fonseka for giving us that backing to win the war and certainly they deserve credit for it,” he replied.

For his bravery and efficiency on the battle field, Chandrasiri was due to be awarded the Weera Wickrema and Weera Vibhushana medals for which he was recommended by his Commanding Officer Colonel Ramesh Fernando.  However, due to some administrative blunder he was deprived of his recognition. But, despite him having submitted the relevant documents in this regard, the Army Headquarters had notified him that the awarding of medals for bravery has now been suspended and in the event it is resumed, his request would be considered.

He is very disappointed about the manner in which these war heroes are treated after the war had been won. However, he holds immense pride in being a military member. However, he fears the future and is saddened about his current plight for two reasons mainly. One is that they being deprived of their well deserved recognition and accolades and the other is the issues connected to the pruning of their pension.

“I have no sadness about having sacrificed my limbs for my country, but I am sad that while some who did nothing during the war are being decorated and commended for doing nothing, soldiers such as myself, who have sacrificed so much, are being deprived of our due recognition, simply due to some administrative blunders. Because we were so engaged in the war, even our personal lives were put on hold. I was 34 when I got married and my children are still 5 years old. By the time they reach their A/L class I will be 55 years. At the rate our pensions are being pruned, by the time I reach 55, I will not receive the disability allowance. If anything happens to me, my wife will only receive the widow’s pension thereafter. I fear for my family’s future and how they will have to struggle to survive if that happens,” said Chandrasiri with great sadness.

“I have a friend who lives close to us in Elapana, Ratnapura. He died recently of dengue and has four children. Now his wife receives only the widow’s pension of Rs. 23,000 and they are suffering to survive. I am suffering from great mental distress too watching them struggle and knowing that this will be the plight of my family too in the event anything happens to me,” he lamented.

The President has focussed his attention to this issue and the good governance regime has vowed to come up with a plan to address this issue and hopefully these war heroes and their families will receive some solace.

The war heroes were compelled to take to the streets recently to fight for their rights out of sheer desperation as now that the war has ended and they are no longer required, their efforts and sacrifices are now forgotten. They ask if the lamps that were lit for them during the war, will only be lit again in the event another war happens.

We hope the government will not let the efforts and sacrifices of these war heroes be forgotten and they are given what they deserve. The hardships they have faced and the heart wrenching stories of their lives could fill many pages. They are the real heroes and rightfully, it is not the higher-ups that have experienced the real bitterness and hardships of the war, but these soldiers who fought in the front lines and put their lives on the line every single day for all of us, to ensure our freedom and safety. Today, we all live freely because of the sacrifices of these silent heroes.

Hence, let us not merely allocate one day to commemorate victory and those who fought for it, but these brave souls need to be appreciated every day as today, they are forced to struggle with not just their physical and mental disabilities and scars, but the torment of being forgotten and discarded by the very country they sacrificed so much for.

Therefore we earnestly urge that they be appreciated and due recognition be given to them for their services. Let us gather to make their lives more bearable, if not comfortable, for they gave all so that we could live free and safe, for they gave their tomorrow for our today!

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