The man and woman sat on two empty plastic chairs and stared vacantly into space. Maybe they were tired after the long journey from their village. It is not often that they left their village.
It was obvious from the starch white coat the man was dressed in that it had been hired for this special mission. The coat weighed heavy and crisp on the man’s shoulders. They were farmers. And they were the parents of a 23-year-old deceased soldier son who had gone to fight in war.
But their son was not given a hero’s status, nor a soldier’s burial. By far, it was quite a different story. “These things happen only to poor people like us”, sighed the mother who had let her son go to war because there was no other way they could survive the rising cost of living.
Twenty-three-old Ruwan Sampath Wickramasinghe had left home to join the armed forces in 2008. He had been stationed in the front defense lines. On 28 June 2008 he was shot and seriously wounded in battle. At that time, he had been serving as a Lance Corporal attached to the 7th Gamunu Regiment at Kiribbanwewa in Welioya.
But Ruwan survived that day to tell his story. After being shot, Ruwan had told his parents that though he did not know how he did it, he had dragged himself on his belly for several miles, back into the safety of his camp.
Back at the camp, he was sent to the hospital where the doctors strived hard to remove the bullet lodged inside his body; but they had failed to do so. So, Ruwan spent 21 days in hospital recovering physically and mentally from this ordeal. Finally he was discharged from hospital and told that the bullets will be removed on a later date. Ruwan was given a few days of medical leave to visit his home.
Ruwan received instructions to report back to service within a month, on 27 July 2008; and to his dismay found himself once again stationed in the frontline of defense. Ruwan informed his superiors that he found it difficult to function in the same manner as before with his bullet ridden body. However he was not afforded any concessions. Within a month Ruwan again took leave to go home and was again instructed to report back to work on 28 September 2008.
During his period of leave, Ruwan had repeatedly met with his superiors in Colombo requesting them for a transfer due to his physical disability. However Ruwan got no positive response. He had complained that his requests seem to fall on deaf ears. Then, since it was almost impossible for him to continue to work at the front defense line in his prevailing physical condition, he did not report back to work.
On 25 October 2008 and within a month of his decision to stay at home, Ruwan was taken into custody as an Army deserter. On 19 November 2009 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment and sent to the Wariyapola prison. On 22 December 2008 he was transferred from Wariyapola prison to the Bogambara prison—from where he had been admitted to the Kandy Teaching Hospital. Within 30 minutes of his hospital admittance, young Ruwan Sampath was dead.
Thus needless to say, it was quite a shock when Ruwan’s parents suddenly received news that their son had passed away. They rushed to the Kandy Teaching Hospital where their son’s body lay, but were not allowed to see their son’s body. Ruwan’s parents say the cause of death recorded by the Judicial Medical Officer is not clear to them. And no one had bothered to explain anything to them.
According to the information they later gathered, they found out that their son had been assaulted while in the custody of the Wariyapola prison he had died within 30 minutes of being admitted to the hospital. They had also discovered that despite the fact that Ruwan had sustained serious injuries from the assault, for three days he had not received any medical treatment.
Ruwan s mother says that by ignoring their son’s request for a transfer due to his bullet ridden condition, their son was forced to defy orders and stay at home. She says that their son was a healthy and brave young man who, after being shot, had managed to crawl for many miles to the safety of his camp.
She insists that their son was in no way shirking responsibilities. Her son was disabled while fighting for his country. The bullets had not been removed from his body; so he was disabled.
Ruwan father does not talk but stares vacantly into space.
Ruwan’s father requests that the prison officers of the Wariyapola prison and the commanding officer of the Gamunu Regiment headquarters take responsibility for the death of their son. On 7 January 2009, Ruwan’s father had complained to the National Human Rights Commission regarding this shameful incident. He repeatedly urges: he wants the responsible officers are brought to book. He wants justice for his one and only son whom he sacrificed to the war.
He murmurs softly: “These things happen only to poor people like us”.
Posted on 2009-08-06